"All the world is but a stage.."
- Wm. Shakespeare
"It's a beautiful ring, Taneka." Judy looked up at the radiantly happy young woman. "How could Joey afford it? It must've cost a bundle."
"I didn't ask. Honey, when the one you love gives you a
ring, the last thing you ask is how much it costs." She picked up her hat and coat.
"Lord, I don't remember the last time I felt this happy. Just, please,
don't let me wake up if this is a dream." She paused in the doorway.
"Sorry, but I've got to
run. Joey and I are having a late dinner after his rehearsal."
After the door shut, Judy turned to Julie. "Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for her, but am I the only one that sees something wrong here? What prompted such an outporing from a person who has never won awards as mister high fidelity?"
Julie paused in the act of lifting a cup of tea to her lips. "People do change and even ones like Joey grow up. Maybe he realized how lucky he was. Taneka's good for him and he's good for her. I'd been hoping that something would happen as they'd seemed to be getting close lately."
Judy shook her head. "I know Tan's been getting close. I'm still not sure how much Joey has been. I expected them to go together for at least another year before he popped the question, if ever."
"Well, I guess a leopard can change its spots."
Judy smiled. "Well, I do know one thing. If he ever does her wrong, he's going to be a sliced and diced kitty. That's one young lioness who has her own set of very sharp talons." She leaned back. "Not to change the subject, but how are you and Chandler getting along?"
Julie shrugged. "On and off. Mostly we go out and have fun." She grinned. It's my one chance to stick Ross with the kid and I take full advantage of it."
"But it's only fun? Nothing else?"
"Maybe. I went down this road once with Ross and once
you've been burned...." She grimaced and a shadow of pain drifted across her face.
Judy squeezed her hand and they sat silently remembering the sweetness of first
love and its sometimes bitter aftertaste.
"It's bitter." Monica screwed up her face. She shoved the offending decanter back at the waiter. "Now what are we going to do, George? The luncheon is just beginning and this sauce can't be just whipped up. It has to sit overnight at exactly thirty seven degrees Farenheit."
Julie's brother George called over to the head Chef. "Hey, Francois, do you have any 'quick fix' for Number 11?"
"In the big cooler." The Chef replied, not even looking up from the pot as he gently stirred it to prevent crusting. "It's in the red bottle."
George turned back to the waiter. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go down stairs and get it. Mrs. Cunningham will not want to be kept waiting." He turned back to Monica. "And did you learn anything from this?"
Monica sighed. "To always check and see that things are done right."
"No. That will drive your assistants mad. There's
nothing worse in a kitchen than an old mother hen clucking over everyone's shoulder.
The lesson you should learn is to be always ready for the unexpected and the little
tricks to get you through. Check with Francois later. He'll give you some
receipes and tips that'll help prevent disasters."
"What happens when none of those work?"
He grinned. "Why do you think cooking is an art? Sometimes it's the art of the impossible."
Monica sighed. "It seems I still have a lot to learn."
"I'm glad to hear you say that. All young chefs think they know it all. The great ones admitt that they are always learning. Mark my words. You're going to be one of the great ones."
Monica smiled weakly at him and was almost floored by his next question. "So. Would you like to see a show after work on Tuesday? Taneka gave me tickets to the one your friend Joey's in."
Monica could only stare at him. Her boss was asking her out. She needed to talk to someone fast. She'd stall and ask Pheebs or Rach for help. "Can I get back to you on that?"
Hey, do you think I'm hitting you up for a date? Francois, am I hitting her up?"
"Only if you have impure thoughts. Otherwise it's purely platonic." The Chef blew gently on the spoon and tasted the contents. "Hmmm. Needs another ten minutes."
"See, Monica. Even Francois says it's all right."
"Now," Continued the Chef as if George hadn't said anything. "All men always have impure thoughts."
"Thanks, Francois." George flicked a radish at him.
"You're welcome." The Chef caught it in mid air and tossed it at Monica who fumbled it twice before she caught it. The Chef winked at her. "Don't worry about the boss, I think he's in training for the priesthood."
George scowled at him and the Chef nonchallantly went on stirring. George snorted and turned back to her. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Do you want to see the show or not?"
He looked so eager and sincere that Monica felt her reservations melting away. She might regret this, but it could prove interesting. "All right, as long as you stay as pure as possible."
"Deal. I'll pick you up at seven."
"Hi, Honey. Why the long face?" Ross asked as he entered the kitchen of Monica's appartment.
Rachel looked up and tears sprang into her eyes. She held out her arms. "Hold me. Hold me and don't let me go."
Ross quickly obliged her. "You know I don't need an invitation to want to do that." He gently stroked her hair while she cried. As the sobs died down, he asked. "Now, what happened?"
"I just finished talking to my mom. She told me they are going through with the divorce and that there will be no reconciliation."
"Well, it isn't like this was unexpected."
"No, but I think I understand Chandler now. You know it's inevitable and yet you keep hoping that somehow they'll work it out. Then when they don't, you feel betrayed. It's like all their lives together were a lie."
"I guess for your mother they were. Especially if your dad was like Berry, fooling around with other women, then there was cause for that."
Rachel hugged him harder. "I don't want to talk about it. I just want to make love to you until your eyes pop."
Ross got a silly grin. "I love you so much." He whispered as they swung towards the bedroom together.
"You'll get your chance. Monica went shopping with Pheebs." She drew him through the door, pulled him to her and kissed him hard. Nothing existed but the two of them in an endless now as each pleasured the other and received pleasure in return.
Some time later, she was happily tracing designs with her index finger in his chest hair and thinking about moving lower when the doorbell rang loudly. She lifted her head and a slight frown wrinkled her brow. "Who could that be?"
"Let them wait." Ross tried to capture her hand but she dodged him.
Rising quickly she slipped on her robe and headed for the door. "I'll be back in a moment."
"I'm not going anywhere and dressed like that, neither are you."
The person at the door began pounding on it. "I'm coming." Rachel snapped.
She opened the door and stumbled back as a tall, bushy-haired man flung himself by her. She had barely recovered before he had sunk in a sprawl of limbs on the couch. She stared at him. "Daddy?"
He raised weary eyes to her. "Hi, Rach. Sir prized?"
"Dad, what are you doing here?" Rachel tied her robe tight around her waist and wrinkled her nose in disgust. "You've been drinking."
"Correction. Not only bin drinking, eye plan to do sow until I blot dis whole day out of existence." He looked up blearily as the bedroom door opened.
"Hi, Mister Green." Ross tied his own robe as he bent over to look at the man on the couch. "I think you need something else to drink." He straightened up and made pantomine motions to Rachel suggesting the pouring of a cup. She nodded and went to put on the coffee.
"Thasss a good idea, Rossie. Gives us something to really get us stinko."
Ross frowned at the corruption of his name but decided discretion was the better response. "I take it this is a reaction to the divorce."
"Ewe could shays that." He lifted his bottle. "Here's to the end of everyting." He took a healthy swig.
Ross sat in the chair across from him. "Now, I know it seems like the end of the world. But endings can be beginnings and there will be other..."
He didn't get to finish as Rachel's father shook the bottle at him. "There will never be an udder. There will never be an udder. She was all I ever wanted. All I ever needed." He placed the bottle on the end table and abruptly buried his head in his hands. "Oh, my luv. How could you dew dis to me. I loved you sow."
"She obviously didn't return the feeling."
Rachel stared in anger at him. Ross swallowed. "What I mean is..."
Mister Green ignored him. "She kept saying. 'Now, I'm free of my Barry.' He stood and rage drove the alcoholic fog back momentarily as he knocked the bottle across the room. "Berry is a son of a bitch!! A two timing pig!! I'm glad that my little girl never married that SOB. How dare she compare me to that louse."
"Daddy, then why did you want me to marry him?"
Her father swung to face her. "Because I thought he
would be good for you. All the time you were growing up, you never took anything
seriously. I thought a dependable man would be good for you as you seemed to be
taking after your mother. Then, I began to hear rumors about his playing the field
even after you two were engaged. When I confronted him, he had the nerve
to laugh and accuse me of the same thing."
"What did you do?" Asked Ross.
"What did I do? I decked the SOB and went and told your mother that we had to call off the wedding. It was a mistake."
"Daddy, when was that?"
"Just before I left on my trip to Helsinki. Barry was one of the reasons I changed my mind and helped your sister get her education. I didn't want to see her life ruined like we did yours. Like your mother's still trying to." He subsided back onto the couch. "God, I feel thick."
"What do you mean still?" Ross asked.
"That Bloomindale job and thas guy David." Mister Green swayed as the full brunt of the alcohol returned.
"What do you mean, Daddy?" Rachel was wringing her hands.
"Asssk her. She ranged it. Hatess Rosssi.
Really hates." He keeled over on the couch, leaving Ross and Rachel to stare
at each other in shock.
"Hey, Taneka," Joey said as he came down from the stage. "What did you you think of my performance tonight?"
She put her arms around him and smiled up at him. "I give it three stars."
He frowned. "Only three."
She stroked his cheek tenderly. "I'm saving the best reviews for your performance later tonight."
Joey grinned back at her but before he could reply one of the stagehands interrupted them. "Sorry, Joe. There's a phone call for you on line three."
Joey continued to stare at Taneka, becoming lost in her deep brown eyes. "Did they say who they were?" He murmurred.
"It's someone called Veronica and they're calling from Hollywood."
Taneka started to let go. "Honey, you'd better answer that. It aint ever good to keep the hand that feeds you waiting." She frowned when he didn't move. "Joey?"
"Uh, yeah, you're right." Joey leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "I'll be back in a moment."
"You try and lose me, love. See how far you get."
Joey turned away and made his way back between the props with a heavy feeling growing in his stomach. Oh, God. Not now. Let it not be her. He wasn't due in Hollywood for another month for the shooting and he hoped then he could avoid her.
He picked up the phone and dodged two heavily made up mimes as they went silently by in a gesturing conversation. "Hello."
"Hello, Joey." Said a sweet, sexy voice that he knew all too well.
"Hi, Veronica." He said with resignation. It was just who he had feared, the woman who had got him the part in LA. The only thing he'd had to do was betray Tan and sleep with her. "How did you find my number here?"
"Your agent in New York gave it to me along with your home number."
Joey cursed silently. He really should have listened to Tan and dumped that woman agent after the way the agency headquarters in LA had treated him, but she was still the only one that would represent him here. "Have they changed the shooting date?"
"They cancelled the picture."
"Damn. I needed that like a hole in the ...." But he smiled as he said it, feeling both relief and frustration.
"I got you something even better if you're interested. How would you like to work with Kevin Costner and Harrison Ford? They need an Italian hood for a shooting of a Tom Clancey novel and I immediately thought of you."
"Hey, that's great. When is the shooting?"
"Not so fast. You have to come out for a pre-screening on the tenth and if you pass that then you get a reading before the director, James Cameron.
"This is unbelievable. I'll be there."
"Good. You know my number. And I can really help you out. Guess who they got doing the screening? You help me get it off and I'll see you get the part. See you in five, sexy."
Joey stared at the phone. "I'm doing it again, aren't I?
Rachel paused in the entrance to the dining room, looking about for
her mother. She finally saw her at a back table in the restaurant engaged in an
intimate conversation with a muscular young man with a bushy black mustache. She
quickly made her way across the floor but when she reached the
table her mother did not even look up. She only noticed when Rachel cleared her throat twice.
"Why, Rachel, how nice to see you again." She rose and embraced her daughter before turning to indicate the young man who had also gotten to his feet. "This is Alphonse. Alphonse, this is my daughter whom I've told you so much about. Alphonse is very big in the recording industry."
He grinned as he took Rachel's hand. "Not so big. Only third vice president in charge of new talent."
"That's only this afternoon." Mrs. Green smiled fondly at him. "You mark my words, he's going places. Unlike your father.
"Uh, Mom, Dad's the reason I'm here."
"Has he been bothering you again?" She turned to Alphonse. "My ex never knew when he was unwanted. He wasn't as sensitive as you." She got a big teethy smile in return. "I'll bet he was drunk too."
"Well, yes he was." Rachel was wishing she hadn't come here. What had Chandler described being the kid in a divorce was like? Oh yes. A walnut between a steel plate and a sledge hammer. Neither the plate or the hammer are the worse for wear but look out for the nut. Rachel felt very much like that nut.
"In fact he said some things that disturbed me enough that I..." She glanced at Alphonse. "I'd really like to do this in private."
Alphonse looked at Mrs. Green who nodded. He got to his feet. "I will check my pager and rejoin you in, say ten minutes?"
After he left her mother knocked back her cocktail and looked expectantly at her. "Well, what did the dear-old drunk have to say?"
"Mom, did Daddy ever tell you that he was opposed to me marrying Barry?"
"Of course not. He was the one that pushed the whole thing. I'm really sorry, dear, that I even went along with it, but he was still dominating me. God, I'm glad I'm free of him. Now, what else did he say?"
"Mom, did you help me get the job at Bloomingdale's."
"Why, no. You did that all on your own. Oh, I see
what that SOB's up to. He's trying to infer that I interfere with your life and try to
control you. Well, you can forget that, my dear. If anyone has influence with them,
it's your father. He did some silly surgery on a vice president of theirs or
something like that." She looked up and saw Alphonse approaching. "We must really stop and chat again sometime. Give my regards to that hunky friend of yours, Jose."
"Joey." Rachel rose to her feet.
Her mother airly waved a hand in dismissal. "See you, my dear."
Rachel left, feeling very much like powdered nut.
Joey paced back and forth in the elevator as it rose up towards his
apartment. God, he had to stop this. He was going to destroy everything if he
kept on lying to Tan. But if he angred Veronica he'd likely lose his big chance in
Hollywood. Did he value Tan's love more than his desire for an
acting career? Or did the career come before everything? Or, he paused as he thought, is it that I don't want to give up my bachelor freedom, the ability to be a bee flitting from flower to flower?
He wanted to tell Tan everything but he knew that would destroy them. He fingered his collar and swallowed. It might even mean his neck. Well, he'd gone ahead and ordered the airline tickets from that computer registration service and they should've arrived by express mail today. He could still send them back. Or would he?
He heard Tan talking inside to Chandler and forced a smile on his face as he opened the door. The smile was ripped into nothingness as he confronted a teary-eyed Taneka. "Joey, who the Hell is Veronica?" Behind her Chandler spread his hands in helplessness.
"Who?" Joey managed to get out. He had a feeling the world was about to fall on him.
"Veronica, the white bitch who just called here. I recorded part of it." Taneka was trembling as she punched the button on the answering machine. "I see my lover, has a maid, well you can give him a message for me, Aunt Jemima. The screen has been moved back a day and if he wants to get some good white sex, catch the next flight...." Her fist smashed the answering machine into silence.
"Hey," Said Chandler. "That was a K-Mart blue light special." At her look he shrank back holding his hands up. "But, feel free to do what you want. Just don't break anything I don't have a receipt for."
Taneka advanced on Joey. Her fists were clenched so tight that they trembled. "Who the Hell is she, Joe?"
Joey glanced to Chandler but his roomie was already beating a retreat into the bedroom. An inspiration struck. "She's one of those sick groupies. Remember I told you about that one from the soap that used to follow me. That was her. She's still acting out the soap scenarios."
"Are you shitting me?"
"Tan, that is one really sick lady. They must've just let her out of rehab and obviously it didn't take."
She turned, grabbed a white-and-red marked envelope off the table and ripped it open. "Then what's this?" Joey stared in horror at the airline tickets in her hand. "Passage to Fantasy Land?" He tried to speak but no words would come.
"God-damn you, Joe." She shoved by him, heading for the door.
"Tan, wait!" Joey grabbed her shoulder. She swung violently around and rammed her knee up high and hard between his legs.
"Get your fucking hands off of me, you lying bastard." Joey who was wirthing on the ground made no answer except to gasp for breath around his pain. "Don't you ever speak to me again. We are through."
The door slammed and through a red haze Joey saw Chandler leaning
over him. "So, that's what happens when you screw yourself. I don't think nine
out of ten pharmacists are going to reccommend it."
Monica looked up from her magazine as Rachel came through the apartment door. "Why the long face, Rach?"
"Did Ross tell you about what my Dad told me last night?"
"He told me and then said you went to see your mother. What happened?"
Rachel flopped down in the couch and ran her hand through her hair. "She denied everything. Now I don't know who to believe."
"It's 'whom', Rach. I hate it when nobody can use that word right."
"Whatever. Did Ross get my Dad home?"
"Considering your Dad is still sleeping in my bed, I don't think so."
"Oh gee, Monica, I'm sorry."
"It's all right, I wasn't getting very much sleep anyway. I've been worrying too much about the fact that my boss just asked me out."
"George? George asked you out? Monica that sounds wonderful."
"Rachel, you know I make a policy of never dating coworkers. It just makes trouble. If I tell him no, even if he takes it well, it'll always be there between us and if I go out with him that'll change everything too."
Rachel frowned. "I never thought about it that way. I guess I should never have dated any of the customers at the Central Perk when I worked there."
"How many did you date?"
"I lost track after ten. That's where I met Paulo."
"But that's customers. Coworkers is different."
Rachel considered. "I went out with Gunther once. It was interesting and he was a perfect gentlemen. We had no trouble afterwards."
"Have you ever seen how he looks at you?"
"Most men look at me like that. Where's Ross."
"I think he said something about seeing that fellow at your work, the one who got you the job there."
"David? Oh God, I hope he didn't." She got to her feet and grabbed the phone. "Monica, you know how protective Ross gets of me. I've got to call David and warn him so he can cool Ross off." She listened for a minute. A look of horror came over her face and she abruptly slammed down the phone.
Monica came to her feet and reached out for Rachel who was reeling, white with shock. "Rach, what is it?"
Rachel fell into her friend's arms. "Oh my God, it was my
Joey stood in front of Veronica's apartment door in LA listening to the bell chimes die away. God, he felt like crap. He'd never thought that Taneka leaving him would hurt so much. He winced as a shot of pain came up from below. More than he'd imagined.
Veronica opened the door and leaned there, half out of her bathrobe. "Hi, lover. Come in I'm just running the bath water." She ran a manicured hand along his cheek. "You can help scrub my back."
Joey followed her in. Maybe he could use the old line about pleasuring her above himself. Tonight that would be no lie. He placed his rain coat on the hook provided and rubbed his hands. He kept on rubbing. "Out damn spot, out." Now I'm quoting MacBeth. He turned and looked at the mirror. "Well, do you have anything to say?"
There was no answer. He turned towards the bathroom. He noticed he was rubbing his hands again. Think of something else, anything else but Tan. "Oh Juliet you are the sun..." No!!! Be strong. You can lick this. Good riddance to her. Who needs a girl who flys off the handle so easily?
"Coming, Lover?" Joey gathered up his courage and entered the bathroom. He found Veronica lying in a tub filled with suds. On the shelf above her several bottles gleamed in different colors.
"You're a blond this time."
She smiled and indicated the bottles. "Like the chameleon I take whatever color suits me."
He looked at her and saw not a naked woman but the crocodile who had bedeviled poor Captain Hook in Peter Pan. He blinked and the blond was back.
He got the sponge and began to rinse her back. Instead of feeling soft it felt like scales. Joey flung the sponge down. "Damn it, Veronica, why did you call my home and tell Taneka all those things."
Veronica just lolled back and smiled. "Forget her, Joey. You have me."
"Yeah. I've got you. Damn it, do you know what you did?"
"Joey how far did you think you were going with that black anchor tied to you?" She lazily lifted one foot out of the tub. "I think white on white is so much better than black on white, don't you?"
"No!!!" Joey slammed his fist into the wall.
"Why, sugar, someone might actually think you liked that little black pickaninny. You really are a good actor. Now get over here and take care of me if you want to pass that screen test in the morning."
"Yeah, I'll give you what you deserve." Joey grabbed two bottles off the shelf, ripped their tops off, and upended them on her. "Dye you devil, dye!!" He stormed out of the bathroom while behind him Veronica shrieked.
He was halfway down the hall when she threw open the door and screamed. "You'll never work in this city again!! I'll see to that!"
He turned and stared at her. One half of her was colored a
bright red, the other a deep purple. "That color scheme suits you. All
you need is the broom." He strode off as her shrieks echoed behind him. But he
didn't hear them. All he could hear was Taneka's sobs. Why, oh why did it hurt
so much to grow up?