An orginal story by Gene Carver

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction - Sir Issac Newton

Screen Test

Joey walked across the LA street with his head down, ignoring the rain dripping down his neck and the honking drivers. He didn't care anymore. Let someone shoot him. It would be appropriate, considering what he'd done. A wise man once said that you don't know what you have until it's gone. The guy was right. He had a hole in him as big and black as a smoking asteroid crater. "Why did I do it, Tan? Why?' He asked himself.

"You fool." A scornful internal voice sneered. "You had it all. All you had to do was sleep with Veronica and pass this screen test and you would've been a big star. But no. You had to listen to your damned conscience and strike back at Veronica for what she did to you and your girl friend."

"You can go to blazes." Joey snarled. "I listened to you all my life. You convinced me that self-gratification was the only thing that was important. That morals didn't matter. Well, I've got a news flash. They do matter when you hurt those you care about. I'm not listening to you again. If Jimmney Cricket wants to apply for the job as a full time conscience, it's open."

"Name, please." A strange voice said.

Joey looked up in surprise and found that while he'd been immersed in introspection his hind brain must have been on auto pilot because he'd arrived at the screening without being aware of it. "Joseph Tibbiani." He replied to the young man behind the desk.

"Very good, Mr. Tibbiani. You're right on time. Here is the sample script. Go in the next room. You'll have five minutes to prepare and then they'll shoot."

Joey nodded and took the script. A quick glance showed him there were only five lines and that he would be reading with an actress who was probably already bored out of her freaking mind this late in the day and ready to scream after rereading the same lines fifty times. When he entered he saw that he couldn't've been more right if he'd tried. The girl looked like she was already stoned.

"Mister Tibbiani." He winced at the electronic echo. He looked up. Veronica was up there in booth with another man facing the mike. She looked more then ready to sink the knife in. He saw that she was wearing a black scarf tied tightly around her head. A small grin spread across his face. That must've been a powerful dye concoction. The smile she gave back would have been at home on the face of a cobra. "Screening 75. Joseph Percival Tibbiani. Good luck Percy." She said. Joey winced. If the gang ever heard that middle name, he was dead.

"Let's get this over with." Said the actress. She put her gum on the arm of the chair she'd been sitting on.

Joey nodded and looked up as the man's bored voice echoed around the room. "I want you to know a little of the background here. You have been rejected by your girl and you're having a confrontation with her. You're a mobster and no one does this to you. Jack, set the boards."

A fat, bald-headed man who looked like George from Seinfeld stepped up. Beads of sweat ran down his face and soaked his shirt as he snapped a pair of boards together. "Tribioni, Take 1."

"Tibbiani." Joey corrected.

"Whatever." The fat man yawned and stepped out of range.

The girl drawled. "Geez, Marco. How did you find me?"

"It was easy, Shelia. I just followed the stink." 'Yeah,' he thought. 'This whole thing stinks and that bitch Veronica is up there smiling as she watches me die.'

"You always knew how to make a lady feel wanted. Why else do you think we broke up?"

"Because you can't recognize quality when you see it." 'Jesus. These lines stink. I stink and I bet Veronica is up there laughing her head off.'

Anger ripped into him and he forgot the script as it fell from his hands. He spoke not to the actress but to Veronica. "But the real reason, is that you're a four-wheeled bitch. You used me to get what you wanted. Well, I got news for you, babe. No one'll ever do that me. Not ever again. There are some things more important than fame or money and you'll never know what they are even if someone rubs your oh-so-perfect face in them. And now, having seen you again, excuse me while I go throw up."

He was shaking with anger as he turned on his heel and left not seeing the shocked look on the girl's face. Behind him Veronica laughed. He didn't care he was out of there. The Big Apple was going to look mighty good. At least there he knew who his friends were. He wondered if Alexi wanted to go to the Russian Tea Room again. God, he needed to get blasted.

He stormed through the studio door and out into the street, ignoring the shouting behind him. Luck was with him as a bus was just getting ready to pull away. He swung up into the door and shut out everything but getting home.

The man in the booth turned to one of the runners. "Get Mister Cameron, asap. I want to show him this. We don't need anymore tests. We've found our man. Veronica, get me his number. This guy could be a big star."

Veronica smiled. "I'll look it up." She bent over the computer console. 'I can't believe this. But you're not going to win, you bastard.' Her finger stabbed down on the delete key and she whisperd as the computer swallowed up the life of one Joseph P. Tibbiani. "Good-bye, Percy."

Achiles Heel

"Rachel." Ross pleaded through the locked bedroom door. "You can't hide in your room forever. You've missed work the last three days and you're going to lose your job if you keep this up."

"I don't care." Said the dispirited voice through the door. "Just leave me alone."

Ross started to knock on the door again but was interrupted by Chandler. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. The last one who tried that got this." He held up a dangling shirt sleeve, miming a lost hand.

Ross ignored him. "Rachel, honey. At least talk to me."

"Why? So you can rub it in? You once said it best. I'm only a waitress. That's all I'll ever be good for." There was a muffled sob.

"Ross," Said Chandler. "I'm sure five out of five doctors would not reccommend following that line with anything coherent."

Ross glared at him. "Rachel, I love you. I want to help you, but I can't if you shut me out."

There was no answer. After a long pause, Ross suddenly whirled and slammed his fist against the door frame. His face set in a rigid mask, he strode towards the door.

"Where you going, buddy?"

"I'm going to see Rachel's dad and mom. This crap is going to end."

At that moment the same line was being repeated almost verbatim in Julie's appartment by Taneka. "And that's when I kicked the s.o.b. where it did him some good." She finished up.

"Right on, girl." Judy clapped her hands together.

Julie frowned. "Are you sure you did the right thing?"

"What!?" Judy exclaimed. "She caught him cheating on her. Of course she did the right thing."

Tan stared at her friend with a puzzled look. "Julie, he had the tickets to LA to go see that bitch whom he was two timing me with. He dared to lie about her while I had the tickets to LA right in my hand."

Julie shook her head. "But Tan, you never even gave him a chance to explain. I don't doubt he was lying about her, but you need to get the real explanation from him or you'll always wonder if you did the right thing."

"That's bull." Judy snapped. "Tan, don't listen to her. I've told you and told you that Joey will never be mister high fidelity."

"You were sure right about that, girl friend."

"Are you, Judy?" Julie shook her head. "Tan, I've gotten to know Joey a lot better since Chandler and I started dating and there's something you should know. Chandler said you were the first woman who Joey had dated who was not an M&M."

"M&M?" Taneka looked puzzled.

"You know. They melt in your mouth. You eat a lot of them, but you don't save them. Chandler said you were different. You weren't an M&M but more like an Everlasting Gob Stopper. When I asked what he meant he said I should rewatch Willy Wonka. He also said he thought his bud was finally developing a conscience because he'd finally found someone to love. He thinks Joey is truely in love with you Tan."

"Joey with a conscience. Hah." Judy snorted. "Tan, let's go get drunk. It's better than listening to this drivel."

Taneka wavered and then drew herself up. "I came to you for sympathy, Julie, not criticism." She grabbed her coat and pulled open the door. "Good bye, girl." She said with finality. Judy pulled on her windbreaker and hurried after her.

"All I'm saying is that you ought to listen to him." The door slammed. "Then, again you probably won't." Julie said to the empty room. She hugged herself and shivered. "I feel very cold all of a sudden." She wondered if this was the end of her circle of friends.

Don Juan Comes Calling

Alexi looked at his watch and then around the smoke-filled Russian Tea Room. "I wonder where tovarich Joey is?"

"Probably picking up the hat check girl." His companion said.

"That's what I like about you, you are so funny."

The woman shrugged. She watched Alexi through narrowed eyes. "You know I wouldn't be here unless you had asked. Joe and I have a long history." She broke off her gaze and stared at her glass. "Maybe that's what I like about you. You view the world with the simplicity and honesty of a child."

Alexi smiled. "There no other way to look at world. Otherwise it drive you mad." He looked up and waved his hand. "Tovarich, over here."

Joey made his way through the crowd. He shook Alexi's hand and said. "Hi Pheebs. I didn't expect you to be here."

"Observant and just as wrong as ever, Joey."

Joey did a double take. "Ursula!"

"Give the man a prize."

"What are you doing here?"

"Playing Marc Anthony." She threw her drink down in one toss.

Alexi signaled the waiter before turning back to Joey. "I hope you do not mind that I brought my girl friend. A woman's perspective might prove helpful with your problem."

"Girl friend." Joey sat down. "There has to be some good in you, Ursula, if Alexi likes you."

"Alexi's choice of friends is one area where he and I do not agree." Alexi gave her a pleading look. She sighed and squoze Alexi's hand. "But I did agree to listen. Besides it's no fun cutting you down. You're too big a target. I promise I won't play Anthony to your Brutus if you behave yourself."

"I'm glad." Joey said as he took his glass and filled it with vodka. "Anthony praised Brutus right into being run out of town by a lynch mob."

Ursula looked a little surprised. "I wasn't sure you would get the analogy from the play Julius Caesar."

Joey took a drink. "You'd be amazed how much I've learned recently." He turned back to Alexi. "You've got to help me. I've got to get Tan back. I've made the biggest mistake of my life."

Alexi swirled his drink around a few seconds before answering. "I have known her for nearly six years. She is not... How shall I say it?... Very forgiving."

"Damn it, Alexi. I'll do anything."

"Anything?" Ursula curled her lip. "Even give up your career?"

Joey took a deep breath. "Yes. I blew a screen test in LA by not sleeping with the bitch who broke us up. Tan means everything to me and I found it out too late."

Ursula put her drink down and stared at him. After a moment she shook her head. "You're really serious."

"I said I was."

"I never thought I'd live to see this day. Do you remember why we broke up? I was pissed with the way you were treating me. There were only two things that mattered to you - your career and sex. And you'd lie to keep either going. It was the lies, Joey. I got so sick of being used. In fact Pheebs pissed me off when she tried to break it gently to you. Gentle? Hah! She would've done you a bigger favor by telling you the truth." She glared at him.

Joey wouldn't meet her eyes and lowered his head. Finally Alexi said. "Joey, you are my friend and I will try to help you." He shook his head. "What is it that makes the broken-hearted seek me out? First, tovarich Ross and now you." He took a drink. "Well, it matters not. What's important is how do we convince Taneka?"

Ursula said softly with a gleam in her eyes. "I have an idea."

Affairs of the Heart

"I'm glad you could see me, Mister Green." Ross said as he slid into the chair in the office. "It's really important."

Dr. Green looked up from a folder and nodded. "I appologize for keeping you waiting so long. It seems like I get more patients everyday. You know what the saddest thing is? It's the children with the degenerating hearts. It... " He shook his head. "Sorry, I just had to tell some parents some very bad news."

Ross swallowed. "I hope I'm not taking too much of your time but I do need to talk to you."

Dr. Green pursed his fingers together. "I'm sure you have lots of questions. I'm glad that she told you."

"The problem is that she won't talk about it."

Dr. Green picked up a manila folder. "That's understandable. Heart surgery at her age is always a risk and it frightens some people."

"Heart surgery? Rachel?"

Dr. Green looked up in puzzlement. "Your mother. Isn't that what you're here to talk to me about?"

Ross could only stare at him open-mouthed.

At the same moment Joey, Ursula, and Alexi were gathered in a back alley below Taneka's appartment.

Joey looked askance at Ursula. "Are you sure this is going to work?"

"No. But do you have a better idea?"

Alexi lifted his violin to his shoulder. "When I nod, tovarich." He swept the bow across the strings as his fingers played up and down the bridge. The strains of the Romeo and Juliet opera swept up the alley and into the sky.

After two-three minutes several windows crashed upwards. "What the Hell? Who the f--k? It's beautiful. Shut up, you moron, I'm trying to sleep." Alexi kept on playing until he heard the voice he was waiting for. "Alexi, is that you?"

"Yes, tovarich Taneka. I come on an affair of the heart. I ask only that you listen." He nodded to Joey.

Joey with sweat poring down his face began to recite Romeo's lament on the death of Juliet. He got through several lines before he heard Tan say. "Joey?" He kept on, knowing that he was mangling the lines and that only Alexi's music kept him from being a complete fool.

When he finished he turned his head upwards and said to the unseen woman. "Tan, I was a fool. I lied to you and I don't know if you can ever forgive me. I can't even forgive myself. But I know now that I really love you. Please, let me talk to you. I promise I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you."

The sound of arguing came from above. Suddenly Judy yelled. "Go to Hell, Joey. She doesn't need you, you lying b--tard."

Joey said softly. "I'll be here all night, Tan. Please talk to me." He bowed his head. He never saw the vase that hurtled down out of the night and struck him to the ground.

Ursula cried out. "Oh my God. You've killed him. Look at the blood."

Taneka screamed.

Alexi raised up his friend's unconscious body and stared up at the white-faced Judy who was leaning out the window. "Judy, call 911." He turned to the woman leaning over them. "Ursula, your plan failed."

Ursula hid the mallet behind her back which she had been prepared to hit Joey with when the bombardment she was sure would happen started. Her face was white. "It worked better than I thought it would." She whispered.

Courage of the Heart

Rachel didn't even look up as the hammering began on her door. "Go away, Ross."

"Rachel." The voice was filled with tears and was not Ross'. "Please come out. I need you and Ross needs you."

Rachel got to her feet and drew the sashes of her robe around her waist. "Monica?" She shook her head. "No one needs me. I'm not worth anything. I'm just a waitress. My mother showed me how much I was worth."

"Rachel, please. Our mother is dying and we both need you."

Rachel's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, my God." She flung open the door and fell into her friend's arms. "Monica, I'm so sorry." They hugged for several seconds while Ross watched from behind. She broke off from Monica and flung herself into Ross' arms. They kissed hard with tears running down both their cheeks.

They were all sitting on the couch when Ross explained what Doctor Green had told him after his mother authorized him to. She was going to require a quadruple bypass but she also had a large aneurism which might burst but that they couldn't repair it without destroying the heart. Her chances of surviving both surgeries were only twenty percent and that there would be three months wait between surgeries.

He had just finished when the phone rang. Monica picked it up. "Hello. Who? Ursula. Can you call back? What? Where? Oh God, we'll be right there." She hung up. "Rachel, get dressed. Ross, call Chandler. Joey's in Good Samaritan with a broken skull."

A somber group of friends sat in the emergency room. Ross and Rachel clung to each other and stared at the door. Ursula kept ringing her hands until Alexi held out his arms and she finally let him comfort her. Julie held hands with a very somber Chandler. Taneka sat over in a corner sobbing softly. Judy kept glancing at her, afraid to say anything.

Finally, a doctor came out of one of the waiting areas. He introduced himself and then announced. "Your friend is one lucky fella. He has only a mild concussion." He shook his head. "It could have been a lot worse. Another inch to the right and he would've probably been killed."

Chandler asked. "Is he awake?"

"Yes. We're going to keep him over night for observation." He looked around. "Who is Tan?"

Taneka got to her feet and raised her hand. "That's me."

"He insisted that if you were here to be sure and let you in. You can have about ten minutes."

As she left he asked. "How did the vase happen to hit him?"

Judy gulped. "That was my fault. I was arguing with Tan and knocked it off the ledge."

He nodded. "The police will need you to fill out a report."

After the doctor left, Ursula asked Alexi. "Is that how it happened or did she throw it?"

He shook his head. "We'll never know but I hope for Judy's sake she's telling the truth.

Taneka edged in to the room. "Hi, Joey."

Joey looked up. "Tan, I love you."

"Oh, Joey. What am I going to do with you?"

"Marry me, Tan. Marry me. Then you can spend the rest of your life getting revenge."

Taneka sat on the bed. "Joey, I'm not sure I can committ like that. We have to talk. You hurt me bad and I need time."

He smiled. "I'll settle for that." And held out his hand. She smiled back and took it in her own.