This is the worst date Chandler's ever been on in his entire life.
He's pretty sure this is the worst date anyone has ever been on in the history of the world; years from now, it will be studied to find the point where everything went so horribly wrong—and that's probably the moment Chandler decided to break up with Janice over dinner, because, really, what the hell was he thinking? There's no way this isn't going to end in public humiliation for both of them; this is the second time he's had to break up with this woman, and Janice is apparently incapable of controlling the volume of her voice.
Chandler's grateful the place is nearly empty at this time of night. Iridium isn't his favorite restaurant—it's much too ritzy and high-dollar for his tastes—but Monica's the head chef who indulges him in conversation when there's a lull in the kitchen, which happens a lot. And sometimes she brings him free appetizers even though she's technically not allowed to. So it's a win-win.
Janice is slurping her Coke through the straw. "So, got any interesting cases, Special Agent Bing?"
Chandler groans internally. He doesn't like to brag about his role as a Federal Agent, because there's nothing to brag about. People hear the phrase "FBI" and think of well-dressed badasses kicking down doors and collaring perps, but Chandler represents the more mundane aspects of the Bureau: sitting at a desk from seven a.m. until about six p.m. slogging through old case files. "No, I'm still a rookie," he says, forcing a smile. "They give the good stuff to the veterans. I'm basically the coffee-and-sandwich guy." He chuckles, but it doesn't feel right in his throat. It's hard to swallow the reality that he's got a boring job even when he works for the goddamn Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"Don't worry, sweetie," Janice coos. "Your time'll come." He knows she's trying to be supportive, but he feels like they've had this conversation too many times.
"Yeah, I know, but, uh..." Chandler grits his teeth and decides to just get this over with, like ripping off a band-aid in one quick swipe instead of prolonging the agony. "Look, Janice, there's no way for me to tell you this. At least, there's no new way for me to tell you this. I just don't think things are gonna work out." He might actually squeeze his eyes shut as if bracing for a blow.
After a moment of terse silence, he opens one eye to look at her. She's not frowning or glaring murderously at him—or brandishing silverware in a particularly threatening way. "It is?"
Janice nods. "Because I know that this isn't the end."
A nervous little laugh bubbles out of his throat. "Oh no, you see, actually, it is."
But Janice is shaking her head, a wry smile on her lips. "No, it isn't, because you won't let that happen. Don't you know it yet? You love me, Chandler Bing."
"Oh, no, I don't!" His voice goes a little too high and panicky there.
"Well, then ask yourself this: why do you think we keep ending up together?" Because Chandler makes unbelievably poor life choices. "You seek me out. Something deep in your soul calls out to me like a foghorn: Janice, Janice! You want me. You need me. You can't live without me, and you know it. You just don't know you know it."
Chandler's following the twists and turns of that last part when Janice moves over to him and presses one last kiss over his mouth. "See ya," she says sweetly, the clip-clop of her high-heels fading as she walks away.
Chandler wipes the remnants of her ruby-red lipstick off of his mouth. That went surprisingly well; there was no humiliation—just confusion on his part—and no bodily harm. So maybe this isn't the worst date he's ever had.
Monica's face appears in the small, round window to the kitchen, and then she's pushing the doors open and rushing over to his table. "So, how'd it go? I didn't hear any screaming or crying or anything melodramatic."
"It was surprisingly civil. Except for the part where she's convinced I'm in love with her, and that—and I quote—'something in my soul calls out to her.'" He makes a face. "It had all the conviction of that speech Jack Nicholson gives in A Few Good Men."
"Okay, I was wrong about the melodrama." Monica sits in the now-empty chair across from him, and Chandler pushes his fork around on his plate. She waits patiently for him to speak again, because he only gets this timid and awkward around her when he's been building up to something.
"What if she's right?" Chandler finally asks in a quiet voice.
"About me not being able to live without her. I mean, yeah, okay, the sound of her voice and her laugh makes my balls instinctively jump back up inside my body, but..." He shrugs and lets the end of that sentence peter off.
"You didn't want to break up with her?"
"Oh, I did." Chandler fidgets in his chair. "But there's a good chance I'm gonna be assigned to a new squad soon, and it'll be a bitch of a commute."
Monica looks at him with hurt surprise. "You can't put in a request to stay here?"
"I can, but it won't change anything. So, maybe there's a part of me that didn't want to get in too deep if I'm just gonna end up pulling out."
Monica makes a face. "You really need to work on your phrasing."
He feels a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. "That was completely by accident."
The bell above the front door pings, and a huge group of impeccably dressed men and women stroll in, each one wrapped up in boisterous conversation with another. Chandler counts about ten people, but seven of them look exactly alike. "How many of that girl are you seeing?" Chandler asks Monica.
She laughs a light, airy sound. "They're sisters. That's the Tribbiani family. They come here all the time, sometimes in a bigger group than this."
The name sounds familiar, but Chandler can't remember where he might have heard it before. None of the curious strangers are paying attention to Chandler or Monica, too absorbed in greeting the waiter like an old friend, so Chandler thinks he can get away with gawking for a bit. There's an older man and woman, maybe fifty-ish—they must be the mother and father; their clothes are conservative but still finely tailored. The seven sisters have the same dark hair and light skin—they must get their hair styling tips from Janice, Chandler thinks—their wrists and necks adorned with ostentatious gold jewelry. The other girl is toned and tan, with blonde hair waving past her shoulders. Her only obvious piece of jewelry is a gold necklace.
The blonde must be dating the other guy sitting with them, who's tall and lean and muscular with messy dark hair and full lips and, oh no, Chandler is fucked, because he literally cannot look away. He barely hears the clang of his fork dropping against the plate. His mouth might be open a little in awe. That might be a thing that happens.
"See something you like?" Monica teases, following his gaze across the room to the dimly-lit table in the back where they're all seated. Just as she says that, the handsome stranger looks at her, then locks eyes with Chandler. Chandler nearly flails his way out of his chair trying to appear nonchalant. He ends up staring at his plate, like he's trying to make the leftover French fries levitate with his mind. He just knows his face is about twenty different shades of red, none of them flattering. "His name's Joey," Monica says, because she is beyond pretending she doesn't know the reason for the frantic thrum of Chandler's pulse. "But I really don't think he's, uh, into guys. He shows up with a different girl almost every week."
There is absolutely no reason for Chandler to feel disappointment over that, but lo and behold, here he is: Disappointment City.
"The sisters are Gina, Tina, Dina, Mary-Angela, Mary-Therese, Veronica, and Cookie," Monica continues. "Don't ask me which one's which. They've been coming here forever and I still don't know. The older guy is their father. There's a rumor that the family's tied up with the Mafia." She says it like it's a punchline instead of scandalous gossip.
Chandler turns his head to look at Monica with wide eyes. Now he remembers how he knows the name; one of the case files he looked over the other day mentioned a Tribbiani in connection with some old mobster still on the lam. This could be a ticket to something bigger than a desk job—if Chandler can find something concrete about the alleged mob connections, there's a good chance he can stay in the New York division instead of being shuffled off to God-knows-where. "Do you believe that?"
Monica shrugs. "I don't know, it seems so...theatrical."
Chandler fixes her with intense fervor. "The Mafia is real, Mon. You know that, right? It's not a theory some stoner came up with on a particularly thoughtful day."
"I just can't see it." She turns her head to look at them again. "They look so...normal."
"Well, it's hard to build a crime syndicate when you look creepy and untrustworthy."
"Speaking from experience?"
Chandler scrunches his mouth up in a mix between a frown and a pout; Monica just laughs at him. Then she stops laughing, because, holy shit, Joey is coming over to their table, and Chandler doesn't know how not to panic.
"Monica! Hey!" Of fucking course his voice would be attractive too. Joey wraps her in a hug that Chandler wishes he were part of. Monica hugs him back and tucks a curl of hair behind her ear when they break apart. "Long time no see!"
"Joey, you come here, like, twice a week."
"That's a long time to me!"
Chandler isn't having much success looking at things that aren't Joey. He tries to appear casual and disinterested, but he's pretty sure his face is the same color as a tomato right now.
"So, who's your friend?"
Oh no. Chandler nearly jumps out of his skin. He feels his stomach twist and knot under the weight of Joey's gaze.
Monica gives Chandler a surreptitious glance of approval, and Chandler takes a half-second to think about his approach here. He should definitely use an alias. The Mafia never kills Feds, but if Joey and his family are connected to the mob, they might lay low for a while if they trace Chandler back to the Bureau. Also, his real name is stupid, and he wants to make a good, suave impression here.
But what bubbles out instead is: "Oh, uh, I'm Chandler." Goddammit. Chandler hates his life. He really does. But he's already fucked this up, so he's just going to roll with it. "Chandler Bing."
Joey smiles, and, wow, if they weren't in public Chandler would absolutely be disrobing now. "Bing?"
Chandler chuckles nervously. "You should meet my uncle Bada."
It takes Joey a moment, but then he's laughing. Chandler can feel his entire face getting hot. He wants to make Joey laugh all the time. "You're funny!" Joey looks over at Monica. "Where'd you find this guy?"
"He lives across from me," Monica says, giving Chandler a thumbs-up when Joey looks back at him.
"You got somethin' special for me back there in the kitchen?" Joey asks her, wiggling his eyebrows.
Fuck it, now Chandler's thinking about having sex in the kitchen with Joey. He contemplates stabbing himself in the hand with the fork to give himself something else to think about.
Monica flashes Joey a quick smile. "Comin' right up." Chandler groans internally, assuming that's an innuendo, but Joey doesn't follow her through the kitchen doors. Instead, he watches her walk away, almost appraising, and then sits in the vacant chair across from Chandler.
Chandler doesn't know what to do with this. He figures he ought to say something, because sitting in silence is just creepy and unsocial. So he forces up what he hopes is a friendly smile, but he feels like an idiot.
"She sure is somethin', huh?" Joey says, tipping his chin in the direction of the kitchen.
"Oh, yeah, Mon's great."
"She seein' anybody?"
The smile falls away. Chandler frowns at his plate and struggles with his disappointment. He's an idiot if he thought a guy like this would be interested in him. He's got bad enough luck with the opposite sex—why does he have to like men too? It's like he's been biologically programmed to strike out twice as often.
Chandler pushes his tongue around the inside of his mouth before he says, "I think your friend over there might have something to say about that. Y'know, the blonde you came in with?"
Joey chuckles, leans back in his seat. Chandler can't help but notice how far Joey's got his legs spread. "You mean Angela? Nah, she's just a friend."
"You two seemed pretty, uh, friendly." Chandler has absolutely no idea why he's still talking right now—okay, he knows exactly why: because he talks a mile a minute and cracks stupid jokes when he's nervous, and Joey is ridiculously attractive. "But that's to be expected, because you're, y'know, friends, and, oh man, do I need to stop talkin'!" Chandler shoves a ketchup-sodden fry into his mouth.
Joey's shaking his head a little, a smile tugging on the corners of his lips. "You gonna give me a straight answer or not?"
"No, she's not seeing anyone," Chandler grinds out. "But, hey, here's a radical idea: ask her yourself. You don't seem like the type to have any trouble talking to women."
Joey looks a little bewildered at that, his cheeks flushing pink, and, oh God, Chandler really hopes he didn't just offend the guy by subtly hitting on him. Why is this one of the only tables in the restaurant without a candle centerpiece? He could use one to light himself on fire.
Monica emerges from the kitchen with a slice of cheesecake that she sets in front of Joey. Chandler feels the urge to sing her praises and fall at her feet, but Joey already seems to be questioning Chandler's sanity, so he opts to just sit there quietly and think about climbing into Joey's lap.
"You're too good to me," Joey says, grinning at her before digging in to his dessert.
Monica pats Joey's shoulder and looks in Chandler's direction. "So, Chandler, Ross called. He can't make the game this weekend."
Chandler pouts at this turn of events, but Joey does something adorable and makes him forget the letdown: "What game?" he asks around a mouthful of cheesecake.
"Oh, just—just a hockey game. Rangers-Penguins." Joey's eyes go impossibly wide. Chandler wets his lips and does the stupidest thing he's ever done in his life: "I, uh, I guess I've got an extra ticket now. You wanna go?"
Joey blinks, and before Chandler can breathe he's saying, "Really? Yeah! Thanks, man!"
Joey looks way too excited about this. Chandler rubs the back of his neck. "I'm going too. You—you know that, right?"
"Yeah?" Joey stares at him, bewildered.
Chandler just asked this stupidly-hot guy out on a date, and the guy actually said yes. He's very aware of his breathing right now. He might be breathing too loudly. He should stop that. "Okay, I was just making sure you knew I'm involved in this, that I'm not giving you the tickets so you can take Monica or Angela or somebody who isn't me, because as the, uh, guy with the tickets I feel I should be involved in some way"—wow, this went downhill quickly—"okay, thank you, goodnight!"
Chandler nearly stumbles over his own feet trying to escape from the table. Monica smothers a laugh with her hand and stops him before he can leave. "Breathe, Chandler," she says softly.
Chandler pushes a hand through his hair, takes Monica's advice and sucks in a deep breath. Joey's staring up at him, wearing a cute little smile; Chandler really wishes he'd stop doing that because it makes it hard for him to think. "So, yeah, if you still want to go, just, uh, meet me at Central Perk this Saturday at six."
"No, the players feel much more refreshed and energized in the morning."
Joey just huffs a laugh and shakes his head. He's probably second-guessing this whole thing. Chandler wouldn't blame him at all. "Alright, see ya Saturday, Bada-Bing." Joey stands up, pulls Monica into another one-armed hug. "Thanks again, Mon. You're the best."
Chandler glances down at the plate to see the cheesecake is gone. Christ, did the guy make it disappear with his mind?
Monica's grinning at Chandler once Joey's returned to his own table on the other side of the restaurant. "You're welcome!"
Chandler lifts an eyebrow. "For what?"
"Uh, hello? I just set you up with Joey!" Chandler just stares blankly. "Ross didn't actually call. I just said that to give you an easy way to ask Joey out."
Chandler beams, flattered by the gesture. Then he gives it a moment of thought. "What about Ross?"
Monica gives him a dismissive hand-wave. "Whatever. Just don't take him. He'll get over it. He's probably too busy with Carol and Susan anyway." Chandler still feels weird about it. Monica's watching his face. "But you're really gonna have to work on your conversation skills. That was almost surreal."
"Oh, c'mon, could he be more out of my league?"
"He said yes."
"He was just being nice," Chandler insists. "He's not interested in me." It shouldn't hurt so much, but it does. "While you were gone, he was trying to find out if you were single or not."
"He could play for both teams," Monica says with a shrug. "Like you."
Chandler frowns at that, though he's not sure why. "Or maybe he's just a huge Rangers fan."
Monica smiles and places a hand on his arm. "Try not to worry so much, okay? You're not as"—she searches for the word—"undateable as you think you are."
"Really? Would you go out with me?" Chandler's really insulted that Monica just laughs at him. "What? Why is that so funny?"
"You made a joke, right? So I laughed."
Chandler's self-esteem is taking a brutal beating tonight. He should just pack it in and stop trying. "A little too hard. What, am I not boyfriend material?"
"Why don't you ask Joey on Saturday?"
"If he shows up at all," Chandler mutters, stealing one last furtive glance at Joey before pushing away from the table.