The Road Not Taken

An orginal fanfic by: Gene Carver

First Salvo


Julie blinked. What was that awful sound? Oh, damn. It was the phone. She sprawled across the bed reaching for it, the slippery thing dancing and jiggling away from her groping fingers. She could hear a familiar voice at the other end as it fell to the floor. She dived down and scooped it up. "Rachel. What's wrong?"

"Everything. Ross and I had a fight."

Julie sighed. Was that all? "Rachel, get a grip on yourself and tell me exactly what happened." She turned on the light and went to check on her daughter, holding the portable phone to her ear.

She was thankful to see that the noise had not wakened Alice who was teething and could be very hard to get back to sleep once awakened. She smiled at Ross' daughter and gently closed the bedroom door behind herself. Reassured she sat down on the edge of her own bed and listened until Rachel finished her story.

"And," Rachel concluded. "I told him that he was driving me crazy.

Pushing, pushing. I told him we needed to take a break from each other. "How did he take that?"

"Have you ever seen those pictures of the big-eyed puppies? He looked like one of those holding out an injured paw. I almost relented. It took all my control to not run after him."

"Rachel, you still love him don't you?"

"Of course I do. I told you I just needed a rest from the pressure he was putting me under."

"But you didn't tell him that you still loved him and this was temporary did you?"

There was a long silence. "No, I didn't. I thought he understood that."

"Rachel, this is Ross we're talking about, the original insecurity poster child. If anyone is going to misunderstand, it's him. Besides I've seen that look you describe before. He had it for months after Carol dumped him. Ross is acting like you ended it."

Julie could almost see Rachel frown and pull at one of her wayward strands of hair like she always did when she was perplexed. "But I wasn't saying that. I still love him. I just wanted him to understand that I was not his beck-and-call girl. I didn't mean I wanted to end it forever. Oh, Julie, he can't possibly be thinking I don't love him?"

"With Ross, anything's possible. I should know." For an instant she was back at the moment of her own breakup with Ross, remembering the pain. She shook herself. That was done with and the one who mattered now was Rachel who needed her help. "Do you know where he is now?"

"No. He left without saying anything. Oh, Julie, what am I going to do?"

"Damage control. But to do that you've got to talk to him and I really mean talk. For now, start calling. Find out where he is. Do you want some company?"

"I'm not alone right now. Mark came by and stayed to support me."

"Mark? Who's Mark?"

"He's the one who helped me get my job. He's been really supportive and become a good friend."

Julie decided that this was not the time to question Mark's motives in all this but knowing Ross she was willing to bet that he at least saw Mark as part of the problem. "All right, Rach. I'll give Alexi a call and see if he knows where Ross is. I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything." As she hung up, she wondered if Rachel having Mark over there was going to prove to be a bad mistake.



Ross dialed Rachel's number with a finger that trembled. It had to be a mistake. He must've misunderstood her. God let her be home. Let her say she still loves me.


A man's voice. He knew that voice. MARK!!! Ross slammed the phone into the receiver and bent over weeping. It was over. Over. Over. His sobs broke off and his head came up, fire burned in his eyes reflecting the anguish in his soul. Goddamn it, if she felt free to play around then so could he. How long had he been played for a sucker by her and Mark? Well, I don't need her. I'll show her. I'll show him. I'll show them all. He strode away from the phone. He was going to take Chloe up on her offer.

Outside the bar Alexi shook his head, sending raindrops flying. Crazy American weather. It wasn't anything like a good Russian winter. There, when it got cold it stayed cold. Here, it could never make up its mind whether it wanted to be Miami Beach or Siberia. Maybe tomorrow it would be like along the Volga. One could only hope.'

He pushed his way through the doors into the bar, wincing at the sounds that passed for music here. Rockmonoff, it was not. Was Ross here? He hoped so, as he was tired of looking. How could there be so many bars near Monica's apartment and how could he've missed them all before this? There. Wasn't that Chandler and Joey coming in the other door? They'd been recruited by Julie just like he had. Maybe they'd seen Ross. He began to make his way through the crowd like a small human tank.

Before he reached them he collided with someone who was all arms and legs. He reached down and extracted the man from the front of his vest. A smile lit up his face. "Ah, Ross, I've found you."

"Let me go!" Ross' breath smelled heavily of liquor.

"To do what, tovarich?"

"To do what a man's got to do. Rachel's with Mark over there." Ross tried to break Alexi's grip. He would've had better luck with a crowbar.

Alexi looked around. "Over where? Is this Mark a new friend?"

"Friend? Ha! Snake in grass is more apt. The SOB stold Rachel from me."

"Ross, my friend, you're very drunk. Not for a Russian but for an


"Let me go, Alexi!" Ross swung with all his power behind him and drove his fist into the big Russian's midsection. He gasped. His hand felt as if it had slammed into concrete.

Alexi just smiled and shook the finger of his free hand at him. "I'm sorry, Ross, but Julie asked me to get you. She wants you to talk to Rachel."

"Talk? Don't you understand English? It's over. Fini. Kaput. Now. Let go! I have to get to Chloe. At least she wants me."

Alexi glanced at the woman Ross' waving arm had indicated. She was

indistiguished by any feature except her availability and being a veteran of many a bar, he knew the type well. "I will not let you do this, Tovarich."

Ross broke into tears as Alexi lifted him up in both arms and bore him like a child from the room. Behind him Joey glanced at Chandler. "Don't you think we should make Alexi stop and at least hear Ross' side?"

"Sure. If you've a great desire to be roadkill. I tackled that man mountain once and I ended up like Wiley Coyotte. I'm listening to my little voice this time."


"The one telling me that nine out of ten doctors don't recommend that as a healthy lifestyle."

"Where's your friend going?" Chloe called to Chandler as he and Joey made to follow.

"Lately? Straight to Hell." Joey nodded in agreement.

Chloe shook her head. Too bad. He'd been real cute. Well, she was sure she could find some action elsewhere. This was her night to howl.

Night Maneuvers


Phoebe was wishing that she'd never decided to cut through Central Park after dark. For one thing it was so black out. Of course that was because it was dark. That in itself wasn't so bad. It was just that all sorts of 'wonderful' people came out in Central Park after dark. The least she could hope to encounter would be a purse-snatcher. There were lots worse things lurking in the shadows. "With the way my luck is going lately with men, I'll run into Dracula or at least the Wolfman." She thought. She sniffed and rummaged in her purse for a Kleenex.

"Shh." Someone said. She looked around apprehensively and finally made out a dark shadow sitting on a bench just off the path.

"I beg your pardon." She dropped the Kleenex and pulled the strap of her purse over her shoulder, ready to run if the shadow even moved in her direction. Why, oh why, had she listened to that environmental activist who'd told her that Mace was a major source of ozone-unfriendly fluorocarbons.

"Don't move. Don't say a word." There was a tremble of excitement to the voice. The shadow she noted was holding a stick pointed up into the night sky.

She decided that for the moment she'd do what he said, but at the first aggressive move she was going to see if she could break the Olympic record for the mile.

There was a long period where the figure on the bench didn't move. As her eyes adjusted more to the darkness she could see that the stick was moving slowly in the air and something was swinging at the end of it, something that fluttered and bobbed. "Come, baby. That's it. Come to me. That's a girl." The man jerked the stick causing the object to dance and weave in the air.

Just as she decided she was going to run for it anyway, something large swooped down from the night skies. For one second the night was filled with the beating of mighty wings, which sent gusts of air swirling around her. A bright flash nearly blinded her. When her eyes cleared the thing was gone, leaving only the stranger dancing excitedly up and down. "I got her! I really got her this time!"

A flashlight came on and the man rushed by Phoebe to examine a camera mounted on a tripod. He kept crooning softly to himself. "Oh, yes. That'll be beautiful."

"What'll be beautiful?"

He turned his head and blinked as if really noticing her for the first time. "Why the picture of course."

"Picture? What was that thing?"

"That was Evelyn, my elusive little girl." When she didn't respond, he added in explanation. "She's a great-horned owl. I've been trying to get this shot of her for weeks and you almost ruined it." He turned away and began disassembling his rig.

"An owl? But she was so big."

"About a four-foot wingspread. Just a little girl." The camera and tripod disappeared into a bag and he reached up and pulled the triggering wires down from the tree.

"Do you do this often?" Close up he was no longer terrifying. If anything he reminded her of Joey, a Joey with Ross' personality.

"Often? Not as often as I'd like and not as successfully either. Ah, but we all can't be Jack Hanah or Marlin Perkins. Not that I'd want to be, mind you. You ever see that clip where the monkey climbs on Jack's head, grabs his ears and screams? No thank you, Mutual of Omaha. I prefer my own Wild Kingdom."

Not Joey. She amended. Maybe a little bit of Chandler and some Fun Bobby in his mix.

He turned to her. "Would you care for an escort to the edge of the park? There are some predators here, a lot crueler than Evelyn."

"I thought you'd never ask." She fell in beside him.

"Aren't you worried about muggers out here at night?" She asked after a minute of two of silence. From the way his upper shoulders moved, she could tell he was in good physical shape but not overly so. Definitely not a fitness fanatic.

"Well, yes. I wouldn't do this without my friend Virgil."

"Virgil?" Phoebe couldn't see or hear anyone else near them.

Before he could reply another shadowy figure stepped out of the brush and the moonlight glittered from metal in his hand. "Dis is a stickup."

Phoebe clenched her purse in her fists. Not now. Not when she thought she was safe. Next time she'd have a six pack of Mace.

Her companion put his bag down and faced the thief. "That would not be a wise thing to do, my friend."

"Why? You going to hid me oer the hed with yer camera?" A flash of light came at them from the long, metal barrel as he gestured casually, showing complete contempt for anything they might do.

"No. I'll let, Virgil take care of the hostilities." Her new friend made a gesture. With a deep-throated snarl something leapt out of the shadows and swept the would-be robber to the ground. There was a final flash as his gun went flying off into the darkness.

The two rolled over and over and then one was on top of the other. There was a low-throated growl and the thief went rigid. As they approached Phoebe saw that the man's throat was being held firmly in the jaws of a very-large collie.

Her escort knelt. "Now, if you're not going to make any more trouble, I'll tell Virgil to let you go. Oh, you can't speak. Just raise your right hand once if you agree. Good. Virgil, let'm up."

Virgil backed away growling. The thief got to his feet slowly and when the collie didn't attack, turned and ran. Her friend dusted his hands and picked up his bags again. "I don't know what I'd do without Virgil. He's better than a forty five and a lot more accurate in the dark." The dog panted happily up at him as it rubbed against his legs.

When they reached the lights Phoebe held out her hand. "I'm Phoebe Buffay and I want to thank you."

He took her hand and smiled. "Gus, Gus Malone. Glad to meet you Phoebe. And you've already met Virgil." The collie woofed and cocked his face at her. The lamplight revealed him to be a hodge podge of blue, black, brown and white that a fancier would've immediately identified as a blue merle.

In the light she could see that Gus' resemblance to Joey was even more striking. Moreover, his hand felt warm and seemed to radiate strength that reached down inside her and made all the fear go away. "Would you like to get a cup of coffee? My treat." She finally made herself break the contact that was sending shivers along her nerves.

Gus paused as if regathering his own thoughts before he replied.

"Actually, I avoid anything with caffeine in it, so I'll just have a diet soda if that's all right with you?" He smiled and the grin seemed to reach deep into his eyes.

As they headed down the street to the Central Perk, Phoebe thought she could hear the flap of mighty wings overhead. A smile curved her lips. Between we two women, Evelyn, I hope I can be as lucky as you are in my hunting.


Loose Lips Sink Ships


"I'm sorry, Gunther. The man wanted an expresso and not a cappuccino." The new girl, Lily, looked like she was about to cry as she handed the rejected cup back to her boss behind the counter at the Central Perk.

Gunther suppressed a weary sigh. Lily was trying hard but she certainly wasn't Rachel. For that matter who was. And he couldn't blame Lily for not knowing the routines yet. "No harm done. You'll catch on soon enough." He set aside the unwanted cup and filled her a clean one.

As he watched Lily heading back to the table he was again reminded of Rachel. She'd been just like Lily, not knowing which end was up and look how she'd turned out. Rachel was class. There was no doubt about that. Her smile could warm the coldest winter day and her eyes -- you could drown in those eyes. He shook his head. No, Rachel deserved the best and only the best.

What she saw in that Ross, he'd never know. If she asked him, he'd tell her Ross was all wrong for her. Ross had no confidence and a jealous streak so wide it might as well be paraded on a Rose-Bowl float for everyone to see. What she needed was someone to build her confidence in herself, not a clinging, whiney wimp. If he could find a way to break them up, he'd jump at it.

He shook his head again. Gunther, you've got to stop talking to yourself. It's the first sign of senility. He picked up a towel and went to clean the tables. He was just finishing up the set nearest the door when Alexi came through the door with Ross under his arm. He was followed quickly by Joey and Chandler.

Speak of the Devil and he appears. Gunther's lip curled. And drunk as a skunk, too. He put his towel down and placed his hands on his hips as Joey ran up to him.

"Do you have any black coffee?"

Before Gunther could reply sarcastically that coffee was just about all that the Central Perk served and would he be a little more specific, please, Chandler quipped. "That's like asking an Eskimo if he has snow or Dolly Parton if she has breasts." He made thrusting out motions in front of his chest.

Joey blinked but got back on track. "We need some really strong coffee. It's for Ross."

Ross who was being held up by Alexi lifted his head and snarled. "I don't want any coffee. I want Chloe."

Gunther signaled Lily who brought a large pot over. While she poured he stared at Ross with no sympathy in his heart. "What happened to him and who's Chloe?"

Alexi shrugged. "Comrade Ross got sad, so like good Russian he tried to drink sadness away. Not being Russian, it not work for him."

Chandler held the cup out to Ross. "He had a fight with Rachel."

Gunther's heart leaped. Could the end be coming? That would account for why Ross was drunk but it didn't answer all of his original question. "Who's Chloe?"

"She's the copy girl and she's a real knock out." Joey declared. "And it looks like he'd have scored if we hadn't come along."

Gunther's lip curled. This confirmed his opinion of Ross. He was a self-centered jerk. With a wonderful woman like Rachel, the first time things get rough all he could do is think of hurting her and patting his own ego. Ross was definitely not the right man for Rachel.

Ross abruptly fell over and his head smacked into the tabletop. Chandler lifted his chin up and stared at the blank eyes for a moment. "Doctor, I think we just lost the patient."

Alexi nodded and gathered Ross up in his arms. "Come along, tovarich Ross. We take you home."

Gunther watched as they trooped out the front door. Maybe the Lord did answer prayers after all. So Ross had a fight with Rachel and then tried to hurt her by sleeping with someone else? Well, that SOB was not going to do harm to Rachel if he could help it. This just might be the lever he needed to show her exactly what type of jerk Ross was.

Lily picked up the cup and mopped off the table. "Gee, Gunther, do you think Rachel and Ross will still be a couple after this?"

"I can't say, but it doesn't look good." He glanced at his watch. "Looks like business is getting slow, Lily. You can break early if you want."

"I'll stay, if it's all right. There might be a late rush."

He nodded. She was a good kid. Rachel had had the same enthusiasm. "You let me know if you need a ride home."

"Thanks, Gunther." She took the cup back to the counter.

"No need for thanks," Gunther said softly just out of her hearing. "I take care of my girls."

He turned as the front door opened and Phoebe came in the door with a young man in tow. Was that a dog with them? Gunther sighed. The night obviously wasn't over.

Mine Fields


Gunther moved quickly to intercept Phoebe and her friend. "Sorry, no dogs allowed unless they're for special assistance."

Gus Malone turned around half way through the door of the Central Perk. "Oops. Sorry, Virgil, you'll have to wait outside." The collie made a soft whine and went and laid down with a grumble just under the window. His eyes were riveted on the door and movement through it brought him to instant readiness.

"Sorry." Gus spread his hands out to Gunther. "Virgil is such a part of me, sometimes I just forget he's there."

"No problem. Good evening, Phoebe. What can I get you two?"

"Hi, Gunther. I'll have rosehip tea." Phoebe was pleasantly surprised to find that Gus was offering to help her out of her jacket. It had been quite a long time since someone had done that.

Gus draped her coat over the chair and looked up at Gunther. "I'll have a decaf, please." Gunther nodded and went off to fill their order.

Gus frowned as he watched Gunther. "I know that man from somewhere."

Phoebe looked puzzled. "He's been the manager here for as long as I've been coming here and I don't think I've seen you here before." She smiled slightly. "And believe me I would've remembered if I had."

He continued to frown. "Wasn't here. It was something I read about. Well, it'll come to me eventually. In my line of work I remember faces."

"And what is your line, besides photographing owls and rescuing damsels in distress?"

Gus sat down in the chair. "I'm a special investigator."

"Oh, you mean a private eye?"

He looked a little embarrassed. "Something like that."

"Gee, I never met a gumshoe before." At his quizzical look she replied. "I've read the Mike Hammer and Mickey Spilane novels. I've seen the Maltese Falcon a zillion times, you know."

He looked even more embarrassed. "I'm not that type of special


"What other type is there?"

"Promise you won't laugh." At her nod, he continued. "I deal with the paranormal." He looked as if he expected her to break out laughing.

Phoebe got a bright gleam to her eye. "You mean you're a Ghost Buster?"

"That's what most people say. I won't blame you if you don't want to continue this conversation."

"Oh gee. This is wonderful you know. I had a personal experience with a ghost once."

"Oh?" This time it was his turn to look at her strangely.

"It was nothing scary. It was Ross' aunt Gertrude. It seems she was lonely and just wanted to talk. She showed up at a seance that we did as a gag." She laughed. "That ended the seance very quickly, believe you me."

Gus smiled. "That holds for most ghosts. They're just confused. They often don't know what happened or why they're here. That's most of what I do. I help them figure out how to get where they belong or move on."

Phoebe leaned forward. "Gee, that was like the time that elderly lady's spirit possessed me. She just wanted to make her good byes."

"Tell me more." Gus leaned forward and their fingers touched for the briefest of moments, sending a tingling shock up their arms. They both smiled.

"Here's your drinks." Gunther set the steaming cups down on the table. He shook his head when neither one noticed him. A few minutes later he got that impression even more strongly when they left without even touching their drinks. They were both talking animatedly.

Gunther sighed, picked up the drinks and was just starting to head for the counter when Rachel came through the door. "Oh, hi Gunther. Have you seen Ross."

"Yeah, I have. His buddies brought him in here to try and sober him up."

Rachel looked surprised. "Ross was drunk?"

"As a skunk. If you want to talk to him, you'd better wait until


"Oh, Gunther, this is all my fault."

"Your fault?" Gunther tensed like a coiled spring.

"We had a stupid fight. I told we needed to cool off. I think he

thought we were breaking up. Oh, Gunther, I've got to make it up to him."

Rage coursed through him. Damn it. He wasn't going to stand there and see a person as wonderful as Rachel debase herself for a cretin like Ross. "From what he said tonight, you don't owe him a thing."

"What do you mean?"

"Ross apparently went after some other woman tonight, someone named Chloe."

She reeled and Gunther put out his hand to steady her. "I'm sorry, Rach. I really am sorry for you."

"I don't believe you. You're making this up."

He shrugged. "Ask Joey and Chandler. They were apparently with him."

"I will." She turned and shoved her way out the door. It slammed violently behind her.

The Past Creates the Future


"I hope you won't be too shocked by what you see." Gus fumbled with the key to his apartment. "I wasn't planning on bringing guests by tonight."

"I don't think any mess could shock me." Phoebe declared. "Especially, after seeing Joey and Chandler's place."

"It's not the mess I'm worried about. It's my partner. There." The door swung open with a click.

"It's about time you got home." The voice was deep and sounded as if it was coming from a mausoleum.

Phoebe stopped and put her hand to her mouth as a bright, luminous figure floated up in front of her. "Your partner's a ghost."

Gus shrugged. "Who else better to help a paranormal investigator solve neither world crimes?"

The ghost seemed taken back by Phoebe's presence. "Who is this, Gus? You know how I hate unannounced guests."

"Sorry. Phoebe Buffay, this is my friend Harry. Phoebe has had experience with others of your kind, Harry. So there's no need to get huffy or try rattling chains." In a soft voice he said to Phoebe. "Harry doesn't like to have his last name divulged. He's become so much of a legend that he prefers you guess it."

"I haven’t rattled any chains in thirty years. It's so expected that it's gauche. And you, Gus, should remember you can't whisper and keep it from a ghost." He turned to Phoebe. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Phoebe." The ghost made a half bow.

"Gee, I haven't had anybody bow to me before. Should I courtesy?"

The ghost grinned. "No. I had that done to me in England during one of my tours and it just seemed so, so un-American. Hey, Gus. We had another call from that guy in England by the way. Keeps saying the game's a foot. Wants our input on his case."

Gus shook his head. "If only he'd remember he wasn't really Sherlock Holmes, just an actor who portrayed him, then we might be able to help him make the transition."

"I think he's enjoying himself too much to want to do that. He's having more fun with the fantasy than he ever did with real life." Harry replied. "I think his problem is the fact that he has two men claiming to be Watson and he can't choose between them. He wants you to convince the phoney one to move on."

"He should consider himself lucky that the five other actors who played Holmes didn't decide to hang around and compete with him. I'll give it some thought. Were there any other calls?"

"Only about ten. I left the notes on the reading table by the phone."

"Thanks. Do you remember a man named Gunther? Somehow I think he was involved in a case of ours." He then described Gunther in such detail that Phoebe realized that he had to have a photographic memory.

The ghost paused in thought. "Yes, I do." He said finally. "And it was his sister we helped. A sad case that one. She was killed during a fight with her boyfriend while they were driving a little roadster. Better they should've kept their eyes on the road. She kept wanting to apologize to her brother but she couldn't bring herself to tell it to him directly that he'd been right all along about her relationship. So she just kept making noises in his house at

night. Unfortunately he'd moved and she lost track of him so she kept right on haunting the house until I set her straight. We never met him personally, only saw his pictures. This is great. Now, I can tell her where he lives."

"Gee." Said Phoebe. "That might explain why Gunther acts so weird at times." She wondered how Gunther would react to a ghost who would only communicate by banging chains or pipes in his house.

"And talking to me is not weird?" Harry grinned at her.

Phoebe grinned back. "No, it isn't, Harry, or should I say Mr. Houdini."

"Gus, you told her." The ghost pointed a spectral finger at Malone.

"I'm just as surprised as you, Harry. How did you figure it out, Phoebe?"

"Why it was quite easy. Remember that seance I was involved in. I did a lot of reading on them and the people who investigated them." She smiled at Harry. "You look just like your pictures."

Harry shook his head. "Gus, look out for this one. She's got more brains than most. But I should know that." He turned to Phoebe.

"Albert says to say 'Hi', Phoebe and he wants you to drop him a line sometime."

Phoebe nodded. "I haven't talked to Uncle Al in months. How is he?"

"Fine. He says that you should tell those physicists that gravity

isn't the only problem in their unification field theory."

"I'll have to discuss it with him. I hope he's read Steven Hawkins' latest article on the subject."

"I told you she was smart." Harry grinned at the stunned Malone.

Malone shook his head. She talks to Einstein about field theory. Gus this one may be too smart for you.

Show Down


Julie tapped her fingers on her teacup in exasperation as she listened to Ross' tale. It was an all too familiar story as far as she was concerned. Ross had no self-confidence and it was going to destroy his relationship. However Ross didn't see it that way. He was going on and on about how Rachel had not considered his needs, his wants his... Oh God, he was like a little kid. She stared at him, as if seeing him for the first time.

It was a dream you fell in love with, girl. Your hero worship swept you away and when he turned out to be so kind and gentle you were lost. Now you see his other side. That gentleness is a mask sometimes for his own insecurity.

What would Ross be like if he wasn't so underconfident? She shuddered a little. He might just be another Joey. She prayed that Joey was going to be serious with Taneka. If he just used her for a good time like he had so many others, that was one lady who was not going to stand for it. By the time she'd get done with him, he'd be wishing she'd gelded him.

She could understand that feeling. She'd felt something like that after Ross dumped her for Rachel. Ross' problem was that at times he was too concerned over his own happiness and not enough about that of others. She'd hoped that he'd matured in the last year, but it seemed he still had some growing up to do.

For that matter so did Rachel. Julie shook her head. She had felt Ross' misery when he'd told her about Rachel hugging Mark after she got the job and not celebrating it with him. She could still see him standing there with his hands outstretched while his girl was in someone else's arms. She didn't think Rachel was cruel, but she could be thoughtless at times. Maybe Ross and Rachel were a lot a like in that respect. Neither had learned yet that to make a relationship work you have to be concerned about the happiness of the other person involved.

She noted that Ross was repeating himself for the third time and decided it was time to talk to him now that he'd gotten his anger poured out. She'd better do a good job of it or there was a chance that her daughter would lose Rachel as one of her parents.

"Ross, I want you to stop for a minute and think. You've been going on and on about Mark and Rachel and their so called affair." She raised a hand to stifle his protest. "Ross, I'm sorry but you haven't offered one shred of proof that anything was happening between the two of them. For one thing I talked to Rachel that night. Mark came over there to help her while she was trying to find you. When I talked to her she was frantic to find you before you did something stupid. She wanted to tell you she loved you."

Ross looked stunned. His mouth sagged and then closed slowly. "But all that stuff with Mark?"

"What stuff? Again where's your proof? Ross let me ask you this. What would happen if you tried to publish a scientific paper using only data like that? You'd get a big rejection slip is what would happen."

Ross frowned. "But it's not the same thing."

"Ross, a commitment for life is even more important than a published paper and if you don't think that way, then God help you."

"Are you saying I might be wrong?" His lower lip trembled.

"Jumping to a wrong conclusion would be more like it. You've got to ask yourself this. Do you love her?"

"Of course I do. I've always loved her. She means everything to me."

"Then you've got to trust her. Would she lie to you? If you believe that then you don't have a relationship."

"But her and Mark?"

"What about you and her? Did you ever talk with her about Mark and the situation at the office? Or did you just decide on your own that you couldn't trust what she was telling you?"

Ross slumped. "I didn't talk with her about it. I guess I was afraid what I might hear." He got up and stood before the door to the kitchen. "I blew it, didn't I?"

"You flunked Relationship 101. Thou shall communicate. Thou shall trust. Thou shall love the other as much as thou lovest thyself." Julie got to her feet. "But enough preaching from Saint Julie. You have a relationship to save. Thank God you never slept with that other woman or you wouldn't have even a chance.

The doorbell rang. Julie activated the speaker, listened, and frowned. "It's Rachel. She's come looking for you."

"You didn't call her?"

"No. I wanted to talk to her first. God, she sounds angry."

Ross gulped. "Is there a back way out?"

"Ross, get some backbone for once. This isn't some demon coming after you. This is a woman who loves you and who's been hurt by you. She's partly at fault here too, but this is not the time to air that. Choose, now. Run and lose everything or stay, tell her the truth, and maybe gain everything."

Ross took a deep breath. "Let her in, please." His voice trembled and a nervous tic appeared at the corner of his lip. He rubbed at it in distraction.

After a couple of minutes there was a sharp rap on the door. Julie reached over and deactivated the magnetic lock from the control panel and the door swung open to reveal an angry Rachel.

Her hair was disheveled and her eyes were glaring. She slammed her purse down on the end table and strode up to within three feet of Ross. "I talked to Gunther and I want to know who the hell Chloe is!" She shouted.

Ross turned around looking for help but Julie just shook her head,

indicating he was on his own. He turned back to Rachel. The truth? Maybe Julie was right. In the mood Rachel was in a lie would be fatal. He spread his hands as if in penitence. "Chloe was a bad mistake. I was angry and hurt when I heard Mark on your phone and thought I'd lost you. I was tempted to pick her up. And I thank God that Alexi was there to stop me because he kept this damned fool from hurting the only woman he really loved. I have no excuse except that the thought of loosing you drove me to drink too much. Rachel, I promise you I'll never look at another woman again."

Some of the steel went out of Rachel. "You never slept with her?"

"No." He held out a hand but she made no move so he dropped it back by his side. "Rachel, there has never been anyone for me but you. I thought I'd lost you and it drove me insane."

"Ross, you never lost me, but you were driving me away with your

clinginess. I just wanted you to trust me, to let me make my own decisions."

"Believe me, I've learned my lesson. Tell me, Rachel, do you still love me?"

A small grin crept up at the corners of Rachel's mouth. "You really do love me don't you?" It was if she was just realizing for the first time how special their love was.

"More than anything." He stepped closer and this time she allowed him to take her in his arms. "After all you are my lobster."

Her hand touched his cheek. "And I'm yours until the seas dry up

and blow away. However, we're going to have to set some ground rules here to avoid this ever happening again."

Ross nodded. "One of them is going to be that we trust each other

totally. You can have tons of handsome guys crawling all over you at the office and I won't care."

Rachel smiled impishly. "Not even a little?"

"Well, maybe a little."

Rachel ran her hand through his hair. "And I promise I'll tell you

everything that's happening there and let you know if anything is bothering me."

"That's good." He leaned over and whispered something in her ear. "How's that for communication or are we still on break?"

Rachel got a devilish grin. "Break's over but let's wait until we get home." She seemed to flow into his arms. "I'm glad you didn't sleep with her. That's something I would find hard to ever forgive. Oh, Ross, I do love you."

Julie watched unseen from the doorway as they kissed. I wonder what would've happened if Alexi hadn't been there to stop Ross from making that mistake? Ah well, Robert Frost said it best in his poem "The Road Not Taken." Was it something like that one choice made all the difference? I think Frost chose the road less traveled and in this case I'm glad they chose the easier road. She went back to the bedroom to check on Alice and tell her that she still had her other mommy.



That night a weary Gunther dragged himself to bed. He had to cut out these late night closings. Hopefully Rachel was now free of that idiot Ross. He pulled up his covers, reached up and flicked the light switch off.

There was a period of silence, just long enough for him to almost fall asleep when the night was split into little fragments by an ear-splitting banging and crashing as if someone was smashing metal pipes together. He sat bolt up right in the bed and stared around. The noise got louder. "Oh, no. Not here, too. I moved once to get away from banging water pipes."

He held his hands over his ears but the noise got worse. He didn't know it but his sister had found him again.


The End