She hugged the picture to her. Of all the memories that had proven to be lies lately at least there was still Grandfather.
She held the picture at arm's length and said wistfully. "I wish you were here, Grandfather. Grandmother has told me so much about you and your compassion. Sometimes when I'm lonely or sad I talk to you. I hope you don't mind but there are times when I feel you are standing or sitting in this room and listening with kindly concern to everything I say no matter how silly or stupid others think it is."
She hung the picture carefully on the wall opposite the couch. She could look up at it there whenever she wanted to. The kindly face seemed to warm the whole room. She reached out a hand and touched a creased cheek. "I have to go see Monica now. I'll be back later, Grandfather."
Monica's place seemed like it hadn't changed since Christmas day. Joey and Chandler were still discussing with Monica the insensitivity of their gifts and Rachel and Ross were still spitting at each other like scalded cats, if they talked at all.
"Like, cookies are such a great gift." Chandler drawled at Monica as Phoebe came through the door.
"Which would you rather have, Chandler." Monica said sweetly. "Something you didn't like the looks of and had to wear or something that looked nice and you could eat."
"She's got you there." Joey replied, poking Chandler with his elbow.
"So have these cookies." Chandler dropped one on the table. It made a loud ceramic sound. "What did you do? Make these with Fixodent?"
Monica shrugged. "So I had some mocholate left over."
Both of their heads snapped up. "You didn't?!"
"Oh stop looking so worried. I threw that stuff out weeks ago." She reached down and picked up the offending cookie. "This is a ceramic tree ornament that I made in art class before I lost my job."
Joey breathed out. "Tree ornament?"
"Sure. I gave you a box of them, too."
He turned green, grabbed his stomach with one hand and ran towards the door. Phoebe smiled at him as he flung the door open. "Going somewhere, Joey?"
"Upstairs, to puke up about two pounds of glass." The door slammed behind him.
Phoebe turned towards Ross who was lying sprawled across the couch with an open book lying across his lap. He was staring miserably at Rachel who was pretending to ignore him while she puttered around in the kitchen. "How are you doing, Ross." Phoebe asked.
"How am I doing? I don't know if I was better before we started talking or not."
"How do you want your tea, Mister Compulsive, Obsessive?" Rachel asked from behind them. "Five tablespoons of vinegar or six?"
He shuddered. "See." He turned back towards the kitchen. "I'd really prefer it with sugar, Rachel."
"Too late." Came the retort.
Phoebe made a face. "Eueh!"
Ross shuddered. "Then, I guess I won't have any tea."
"Darn. Now I'll have to throw it out."
Ross sighed. "It's been like this all day."
Rachel emerged from the kitchen carrying the cup in one hand and upended it on Ross' head. He yelped and then looked around in puzzlement. "Hey, this is cold water."
She smiled. "I knew I forgot something else." She carefully spooned out three tablespoons of sugar onto his head before turning and marching off to her room.
He sighed and after catching the towel that Monica tossed him, he dried his face off and dabbed at the surface of his book. "At least she didn't damage the book Monica gave me for Christmas."
"What's it about?" Phoebe asked.
Monica looked up from soaking up the carpet with a paper towel. "It's a biography on Einstein."
"You mean who was he. He's been dead for over fourty years." Ross turned the book over and held it out towards Phoebe. "He was a Nobel Laureate in physics who revolutionized the way people looked at the world. Here. His picture's on the back."
Phoebe reeled as her world came crashing around her. "Grandfather." She whispered - her soul filled with all the agony it could bear. She had been lied to again. She turned and grabbed her coat.
"Where are you going, Phoebs?" Chandler asked.
"I'll be back." She couldn't tell them. Not so soon after the incident with the guy in the picture frame. She felt so horribly stupid.
As the door slammed behind her, Ross looked around plaintifully. "Was it something I said?"
Phoebe had no idea how long she'd been walking. Her mind had been too filled with bitterness and anger for her to pay any attention to her surroundings. She was furious with Grandmother for lying to her. How much of anything could she believe about her real father from a woman who kept a fake picture of her husband on her wall? But most of all she was angry with herself. She felt so stupid. To actually think someone like Einstein was her grandfather. This was a new low even for her.
She only became aware of how far she'd strayed when a voice said from behind her. "Give me your money, chickie."
Turning slowly she saw a squat, brutish man standing behind her in the alley way, waving a switchblade in one hand. "Please," She said, holding out her purse at him. "Take the money but leave me my ID cards."
"No promises." He snatched the purse and rummaged through it, spilling her cosmetics and hair brushes into the snow. He looked up in anger. "Five bucks! You only have five bucks?"
"I haven't been paid yet. Please, take it and go."
"I'll take it, but I can't get a fix for this. I ought to ..."
Another voice interupted him. "The lady asked politely, mein freund. I'd take what you got and go."
Phoebe stared at an elderly man whose face was obscured by the light from the window behind him. In his hand he twirled a heavy wooden cane.
The mugger didn't hesitate; his switchblade slashed out. There was a sharp 'thock' and the knife went flying as the cane intersected his hand. Before the thief could recover, the point of the silver-tipped cane had driven deep into his solar plexis. He bent over the cane and pitched onto the pavement. There was the sound of retching.
The elderly man bent down for a second and when he straightened he held her purse with her possessions out to her. "I would suggest that we leave this cur to the only reward he so richly deserves."
She did not object when he took her by the arm and led her from the alley way. It was only when they were out on the main street that she recovered enough to try and thank him.
He brushed it aside in a gentle rebuff. "Any gentleman would've done the same. But you, my dear girl, look positively dreadful. Come and let me buy you something to warm you up while you recover from your ordeal." He led the way down the street and two turns later she realized they were coming to the Central Perk.
He led the way inside and it was only when he turned to take her coat that she finally saw his face. She gasped.
The craggy face lit up in a smile. "Ha. You see the resemblence do you? It's my greatest curse and blessing at the same time to resemble such a man as well known as he. Go on and say it, my dear girl. I do look like Einstein. But that's not possible, I mean that I am he, for Einstein died long before you were born."
"This is so strange." She said in wonder as he assisted her into her chair. "I have a picture of you - I mean of him at my apartment. I thought he was my grandfather."
He seated himself in the chair opposite her. "There can be worse things than to think of such a man as your grandfather."
"But he isn't. That's the whole problem. My Grandmother lied to me when she said he was and I believed her. I feel so stupid."
He reached out and patted her hand. "Stupid is not something someone like you should be feeling. Being fooled by those you should trust the most has nothing to do with your intelligence."
"It's not just that. It seems that I'm always doing stupid things that everyone laughs at or I say things that other people find odd."
Two steaming cups of tea appeared on the table and she paused to drink hers. It was a herbal tea just like she always ordered. She wanted to ask him how he'd known but he was already talking.
"I will tell you a story that will make you feel better. This Einstein that I resemble did you know that he flunked out of school?" At the increduluous look on her face he hurried on. "No. It's quite true. He flunked not once but twice and even when he barely got a passing grade he never went on to college. His teachers said he was too silly, a dreamer, who would never amount to anything. But he was not stupid for he saw the world in a different way than everyone else and in the same way you're not stupid. Just because your ideas don't fit in with everyone elses, doesn't mean they're any less valuable."
"How did he become so famous, a Nobel Laureate?" She asked.
He smiled. "Partly by never giving up and partly in having someone who loved him and believed in him. His beloved wife who was the first woman to get a degree in physics in Europe encouraged him even in his darkest days when he was trying to support a growing family on the salary of a mere patent office clerk." His eyes got a dreamy look to them. "Even though later they separated under the pressure of his growing fame they never really lost that special bond they shared."
She sighed. "You make me wish he'd really been my grandfather."
"How do you know he was not related to you? He may not have been your grandfather but he had several children and maybe you are in some distant way his relative." He smiled at her. "I'm sure that he would be deeply flattered if you kept on thinking of him so."
She considered this. "Maybe I could consider him like a godfather."
He nodded in delight. "He would be pleased and I'm sure that he'd love it if you kept on talking to him when you're troubled." He pulled out a watch on a chain and looked at it. "Mein Gott, I did not realize how late it was getting." He took her arm. I have an appointment to keep and I am keeping you from your life. You surely have better things to do than to stand here gabbing with an old man many times your age."
A moment later she found herself out on the street. He squose her hand and started off down the sidewalk. "I never got your name." She called after him.
"You may call me Uncle Al if you like."
"Will I see you again?"
The voice was fading into the snow and darkness of the evening. "You may count on it, liebchen."
She turned and almost collided with Ross. Chandler and Monica were just behind him and Rachel stood towards the rear with Joey who was still looking a little queasy.
"Phoebe, are you all right?" Monica asked.
"We were all worried about you when you rushed out of the apartment." Rachel said.
"I'm fine, really. I was nearly mugged but some kindly old gentleman helped me and we just finished having tea at the Central Perk."
Ross raised his eyebrows. "I don't think that's possible."
"Because," Rachel chimed in. "The Central Perk has been closed all day for New Years. Otherwise I'd be at work."
Phoebe stood there digesting this bit of news. It suddenly struck her that she'd never told Uncle Al about talking to the picture. She looked up at Ross. "What was Einstein's first name?"
"Huh." He blinked. "I believe it was Albert. Why?"
"No reason." She smiled to herself. She'd keep the picture on her wall and whenever she felt down she'd talk to it. She had a feeling Uncle Al would be listening.