A.N. I took my time with this chapter because I knew the critics would come down hard on me if I messed up a show as universally revered as Friends. I was happy to squeeze many of my favourite quotes into this chapter, most of which are Chandler's lines because the writers adored that guy, judging from the material he was given. Anyhow, please reassure me that I have risen to the challenge in your many opinions by REVIEWING. (P.S. I'll be back with another chapter of Life As A House next week).

Chapter 11 – Friends

A young couple walked up the stairs of an apartment building to stand before a dark green door. It was clear that the male portion of the couple was not happy to be there, and even his usually perky girlfriend had a weary look to her, as though this was a scene they had run through too many times.

"Jackie, I swear, if this apartment doesn't work out for us, I am going out into the alley and staking a claim on the first empty cardboard box I see."

"Steven, I know we've looked at a lot of apartments but I'm sure the perfect one is out there for us. With the perfect friends."

"Perfect friends," Hyde scoffed. "There's no such thing."

Jackie pulled a crumpled piece of paper from her jacket pocket. "OK, Janet said to go to this apartment and ask for Chandler Bing. She left the keys with him for the empty apartment next door." She rapped on the door and it was soon opened by a square-faced man in his 20's.

"Yes?"

"Uh, is your name Chandler?" Jackie asked.

"Uh, yes, yes it is."

"Chandler Bing?"

"Do you know me or are you just really good at this game?"

"We're Steven and Jackie," Hyde interjected. "Our realtor said you were holding the keys for the empty place next door."

"Oh, yeah, sure. Come on in, I'll just go get them."

They followed Chandler into his apartment. Jackie raised an approving eyebrow at the large porcelein dog in the corner, Hyde raised an approving eyebrow at the two excessively comfortable Barca loungers in front of the big-screen TV. Just then an extremely handsome young man walked in from the bedroom.

"Hey Chandler, have you seen the duck lately? It's really weird, I haven't seen him since thanksgiving at Mrs Levitz's in 26B – remember how she made such a point of us bringing him over the night before?"

"I knew that turkey tasted funny," Chandler said, snapping his fingers.

"Do you think she got to the chick as well?"

"Nah, he's sulking in the back. See, before he disappeared the duck pissed him off, said that eggs came first."

Just then Joey caught sight of Jackie who was regarding him with wide eyes. At once he brought out his best line. "How you doin'?"

"Whatever she's doin', it's with me," Hyde cut in with a frown.

"Oh my God, you're Dr Drake Ramorez!" Jacke squealed, jumping up and down. "I just love your show." She turned to Hyde. "He plays my favourite character on my favourite soap. That line you said on yesterday's episode gave me chills – you know, when the nurse said, you're the only one who can save her Drake."

"Oh yeah," Joey said with a wide grin. He supplied the next line in a melodramatic voice, "Dammit, I'm a doctor, I'm not God. "

"Well, there goes my whole belief system," Chandler said. He tossed some keys up in the air, dropped them and then casually picked them up as if he meant to do that. "So, you ready to look at that apartment?"

They agreed and all four trooped over to the apartment next door. To the homeless couple's relief, it was significantly better than a cardboard box. In spite of Joey's initial flirtation with Jackie, which Hyde recognized as an automatic Kelso-like response more than any real threat, he found the two men quite likeable, although he did wonder exactly what was the nature of their relationship (with a name like 'Chandler', either him or his parents had to be gay). But Jackie was not crazy about living in a boy's club.

"Aren't there any girls who would be our neighbours?" she asked.

Before Chandler could answer, Joey stiffened like a bloodhound catching the scent. "Oh. My. God," he cried.

"Hey, that's my line," Chandler was indignant.

"Do you smell that?" Joey's face broke into a wide grin. "It's jam!" At once he burst into a sprint and tore out of the apartment, barely slowing to open the door of the opposite apartment.

"To answer your question, Jackie, yes, we do allow females in the building, although the Tenants Association prefers that they be kept quiet and not shed too much hair." He led the way at a more relaxed pace to the opposite apartment. "Allow me to introduce you to our favourite three."

Jackie and Hyde walked into an apartment, which had much more of a feminine touch than Chandler and Joey's, to find Joey having his knuckles rapped by a striking brunette in an apron.

"Joey, keep your fingers out of my jam pot," she ordered. She then saw the young couple with Chandler. "Oh, you must be the couple that were checking out 22B! I'm Monica Geller and this is my roommate, Rachel Green."

"Hi," a beautiful golden-brown haired girl greeted, putting down her Cosmo magazine. Jackie quickly scanned her from her perfectly set hair, designer clothes down to her Manilo Blancs and recognized a kindred spirit.

"Omigod, I love your jacket," Jackie cried. "Is that Ralph Lauren?" Rachel nodded proudly. "I don't recognize it from the catalogue."

"It's not out yet," Rachel explained. "I'm head of marketing at their Milwaukee office so I get all these free samples to test out." She motioned towards her bedroom. "Would you like a sneak peek at the new Fall line?"

Jackie's mouth fell open in awe, then she turned to Steven and announced, deadly serious, "We have to move here."

Before Hyde could respond, Monica chimed in, "Oh, that would be great! We could use some new blood around here You probably wouldn't understand, but we're all such close friends that we don't often get the chance to meet new people."

"We understand better than you think," Hyde said.

"Also, then we'd have another couple to do couple-y stuff with," Chandler added.

"Oh, who are you dating?" Jackie asked.

Before Chandler could answer, Joey interrupted. He had been stealing finger swipes from the jam pot bubbling on the stove while Monica was distracted with the new guests. "Why don't we ever have jam?" Joey said accusingly to Chandler, licking his sticky fingers.

"Because the kids need new shoes," Chandler answered in a mock-housewife voice.

"Oh right," Hyde said, enlightened. "I thought that might be how it is."

"What? No! I'm with Monica," Chandler corrected with a touch of anxiety. "Why do people keep assuming I'm gay?" Just then the front door opened once more and a good-looking (though slightly-geeky) man entered with an attractive blonde whose hair was held together by a complicated arrangement of braids, hair clips and ribbons. They were both dressed smartly. "Well, don't we look nice," Chandler complimented. When everybody just looked at him, he said sadly, "It's because I say things like that, isn't it?"

"Ross and Phoebe, meet Steven and Jackie," Monica introduced.

"Everyone calls me Hyde," Hyde corrected, shaking hands.

"No problem," Ross said knowingly. "Everyone calls me Dr Geller."

"Who calls you that?" Monica asked.

"People who respect the importance of paleontology." Everybody just looked at him until he caved. "Fine, everyone calls me Ross."

"What exactly is paleontology?" Jackie asked. "Is that like using pastels as colour contrast? Because maybe that's something I could try."

"Nah, it's all about studying mouldy old dinosaur bones and fish fossils," Phoebe explained. "Ross only got into it because in college everybody was like 'you gotta pick a major, you gotta pick a major.' So, on a dare, he picked paleontology. So what do you do, Jackie?"

"I'm not really sure. I've been trying various lines of work but I haven't found anything that really suits me."

"Oh, I know!" Phoebe cried excitedly. "You should get a teaching degree and become a second grade teacher. That would be perfect for you!"

"Why second grade?" Hyde asked.

"It's so much better than first grade when you don't know what's going on and definitely better than third grade. Y'know, with all the politics and mind games."

When Jackie looked to be actually considering the idea, Hyde murmured in her ear "Remember little Jackie."

"Hey, that kid disappeared on Donna's watch, not mine," Jackie reminded. "As far as the Big Sister program is concerned, I was a role model. Or at least legally unchargeable."

"Anyhow, we were thinking we'd get some coffee and hang out at this little café we always go to," Rachel interposed. "Yeah, it has great atmosphere and this really comfy couch and armchairs that by lucky chance are always empty whenever we walk in. Would you two like to join us?"

Hyde and Jackie looked at each other for a moment, smiled and then said together, "Yes."

……………………………………………………………

One week later…

"Hey, have any of you morons seen Jackie?" Donna asked as she entered the basement. "She was supposed to help me pick out some new clothes for college but I haven't seen her all week."

"Tell me about it," Kelso groused. "Hyde has totally gone to ground since he and Jackie found that new apartment last week. I mean, Fez and I had to graffiti Officer Slater's garden wall on our own last night and because Hyde didn't show up there was no-one to remind us not to sign our names." Kelso shook his head morosely. "Turns out my old drill sergeant is not an art lover."

"I fear Jackie and Hyde have been lured away by those… Friends," Fez said with loathing. "This is all their fault."

"What, you mean those people they met when they were looking at that new apartment?" Kelso asked. "What's wrong with them?"

"Nothing is wrong with them," Fez said. "That's the problem."

"I think Fez may have a point," Eric unexpectedly agreed. "From the things they've said about them, it sounds like their new buddies do tend to show us up."

"I had no idea you guys were so insecure," Donna laughed. "As if two people as socially offensive as Hyde and Jackie would ever find friends as tolerant of their quirks as we are."

"Maybe they're at the Hub," Kelso suggested. "We should go looking for them."

"You don't care about Hyde and Jackie, all you are thinking about is your stomach," Fez declared. He shared a look with Kelso. "Damn, I have to respect that."

Soon the four friends were heading off to the same hamburger joint that had been their traditional hang-out since they were kids. On the way to their destination, however, they happened to pass a cosy little café called Central Perk and what Donna saw when she casually glanced through the large plate glass window sent her into a goggle-eyed double-take; there was the missing couple, laughing and sipping cappuccinos, surrounded by their new friends.

"Eric, look!" She grabbed her scrawny boyfriend and pushed his face up against the window.

"Oh my God," Eric cried, taking in the sight. "Hyde is laughing - and there isn't anyone bleeding or humiliated in sight."

"And look at Jackie – she just accepted a coffee from that waitress without insulting her polyester shirt."

"Guys, this is serious," Kelso announced. "If we don't take drastic measures, those people – four of who are almost as good looking as me – could steal our friends away."

"It's whom," Donna said.

"No, really? What did I say?"

"Who."

"Well, now I feel foolish," Kelso said. "Thanks a lot, Donna."

"It takes bad grammar to make him feel foolish?" Eric monologued.

"My friends, as usual you have not only missed the point but it has skipped past you, blowing raspberries as you drive your car over the cliff of shut-the-hell-up," Fez interrupted. The three young people stared at him, incomprehension written over their faces. He pointed frantically at the window. "Hyde? Jackie? Remember the mission?"

"Oh shit," Eric said tensely, glancing through the window again. He turned back to his friends, white-faced. "Hyde just crossed his legs – not just the regular way either but that way where you have one ankle balanced on one knee."

"It may already be too late," Kelso gasped.

"Don't say that," Fez cried, grasping Kelso by his shirtfront and shaking him.

"C'mon, men," Donna ordered, grasping the door handle tightly. "We're going in."

As the four friends approached the intimate gathering from behind, Eric murmured "Look at them, acting all grown up and sophisticated. They're probably chatting about the new line-up at the opera house, or the latest bill before the senate."

"You know what's weird," Chandler said contemplatively. "Donald Duck never wore pants. But whenever he's getting out of the shower, he always put a towel around his waist. I mean, what is that about?" The Friends, including Jackie and Hyde, all nodded sagely at his observation.

"Yeah, that was really over our heads," Donna snarked to the boys. She turned her head sharply. "Kelso, stop nodding!"

"What? He makes a good point."

"Why, look who's here," Eric said loudly, drawing the attention of the close-knit group. "It's our old friends, Hyde and Jackie. Who we've known for years. Hey, aren't you going to introduce us to this wonderful bunch of… strangers?"

"Uh… sure. Foreman, Kelso, Fez and Donna, meet Ross, Phoebe, Monica, Rachel, Joey and Chandler."

"Oh sure, he uses their first names," Eric muttered. "Me, I'm just Foreman."

"Foreman, huh?" Chandler said. "I don't know – looks like only three men to me." A lone wolf howled in the distance. "Oh come on, people, they can't all be gold."

"Hi," Donna planted herself in between Jackie and Rachel on the couch, forcing Rachel to move over. "I'm Jackie's best friend, Donna."

"Really?" Rachel replied uncertainly, her eyes darting between Jackie in her perfectly fitted pants suit and Donna in her jeans and oversized plaid shirt. Then she looked up at Donna's intimidating face. "Of course you are! Why, you two go together like… like chocolate cake and mustard."

"Donna, Rachel just invited me and the other girls to the Milwaukee Spring Fashion Show next Saturday," Jackie said excitedly. "Isn't that great?"

"Oh, afterwards we should go to Delmonico's for a high tea," Phoebe proposed.

"Ooh, I love high teas!" Monica declared. "All those tiny sandwiches with the scones and the little cakes and a big bowl of cream you dip everything into."

Chandler looked at his girlfriend fondly. "There's just a big ol' fat girl in there trying to come out, isn't there?"

"Would you like to come, Dana?" Rachel asked politely.

"It's Donna," the redhead growled. "And no thanks."

"Fashion isn't really Donna's strong suit," Jackie broke in, patting Donna's hand sympathetically. "But hey, next time there's a tree-felling competition or some sweaty sports thing we'll all be there with you."

"In spirit," Rachel amended.

"Well, obviously."

"Actually, it's good timing that you four have joined us," Ross said to the newcomers. "You're just in time for an historic moment. Hyde and Jackie were about to sign the lease for their new apartment."

"Oh, this is so exciting," Phoebe cried, clapping her hands. "Once you move in, then you'll really be one of us."

Eric, Donna, Kelso and Fez exchanged horrified expressions. Their two friends would be taken over by these pod people? They could not let that happen.

"Joey, could you hand me the lease?" Hyde asked, motioning to the papers on the table in front of Joey.

"I wish I could, Hyde, but as you can see, I'm swamped," Joey prevaricated, lounging in his armchair.

"Let me get that for you, buddy," Eric said, whisking the document away. "Ah hah!"

"What's with the Ah hah's, Eric?" Jackie asked, puzzled. "Did you just see a spider or something?"

"A spider," Chandler yelped. "Where? Monica, kill it!"

"No, I mean 'Ah hah' as in 'I have now confiscated this infernal document which was in grave danger of yuppiefying you both'." Eric made a self-deprecating gesture. "No need to thank me."

"Foreman, will you quit with your babbling and just hand over the damn lease," Hyde demanded. "I want to get this sorted out so we'll be all moved in when our new coffee machine is delivered."

"The Kruffs 3000 was an excellent choice," Ross commended.

"Do you think so? I wasn't sure if the foam attachment was as good as the earlier model."

"Will you listen to yourself," Eric cried. "Hyde, this isn't you! You don't sit around in cafes sipping cappuccinos and chatting with guys in business suits."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Hyde denied.

"Hyde, man, it's written all over your face," Kelso said sadly. He swiped a finger over Hyde's upper lip and held up the evidence. "See – milk foam."

"That… that doesn't prove anything!"

"And Jackie," Donna said sternly. "Since when do you prefer scones and crumpets to a cheeseburger?"

"They both make a good case," Jackie said weakly.

"Hey, I've got a question for you two," Fez joined in, unexpectedly delivering the killing blow. "Just tell me this – when was the last time you two had a circle?"

Jackie and Hyde exchanged a stunned look as realization washed over them. "We.. we've just been so busy," she protested.

"A circle?" Ross said curiously. "Hey, we love a good circle, don't we guys?"

The six Point Place Friends looked with surprise at the six Apartment Friends. "You do?"

"Sure, in fact Gunther has everything we'll need behind the counter. Chandler, you clear the table and I'll just go and get it."

"You see?" Hyde said, nodding with approval. "I told you these guys were cool. They even hang out in a café that allows circles. How badass is that?"

"Here it is," Ross called, holding a square box in his arms. "Is everyone in the circle? Great, let's begin." He placed the box in the centre of the table. In large cursive letters the box read "Trivial Pursuit".

"I call blue," Joey said.

"You were blue last time," Chandler whined. "It's my turn."

Hyde backed away in horror. "Eric," he whispered. "Do you still have that lease?"

"Yeah."

"Good." He shared a look with Jackie before saying, "Give it to Kelso."

Without another word Eric passed the papers to Kelso. "Why are you giving it to me?" Kelso asked, unsure of his role, until he tripped over a tiny coffee table, sending the lease sailing through the air onto the gas burner of the kitchen stove, where it promptly disintegrated into ashes. "Ohhh. I see."

Slowly they backed away from the people who were now so caught up in rolling dice and trying to guess the native language of Mesopotamia they did not notice them leave.

"Man, that was close," Eric said as they walked out into the fresh air.

"Steven, do you think we made the right decision?" Jackie asked doubtfully. "After all, they were all so funny and charming and sweet to each other. We could have had that."

"Jackie, you know I don't do sweet," Hyde reminded her.

"Except with me," she corrected, taking his hand and smiling up at him.

He relented and dropped a quick kiss on her lips. "You are always my exception."

"Except now we are homeless again," his girlfriend sighed.

"Hey, Kelso; is that apartment in your building still up for grabs?"

"You bet it is," Kelso answered with a big grin.

"What do you say, Jacks?"

Jackie looked around at the four eager faces, smiled and surrendered. "I say nothing beats old friends."

After the cheering had died down (as well as the embarrassing outburst of happy tears from Fez), Hyde said "Who wants to go to the hub? I could really use a cheeseburger."

UP NEXT: IT'S A SURPRISE (WHICH IS KEZZTIP SPEAK FOR I CAN'T MAKE UP MY MIND YET BUT I'LL THINK OF SOMETHING)