It isn't that Chandler doesn't like Ross's sister. Or that she isn't nice or kind of funny or doesn't make really, really good mac n' cheese. Actually, there isn't anything bad about hanging out with Monica at all. It isn't even about Monica. It's mostly about people. Other people. All the people. Most people.
"Are you hungry?" Monica asks the question like it's a defense mechanism -- Chandler knows how she feels, probably too well -- and sort of looms over him on the couch. She's got one of those enormous dollar cups of diet coke from the gas station across the street, the end of the straw pink with lipstick. It stands out against the rest of her apartment, which is warm and small and smells like vanilla all the time. Chandler comes here on Fridays for an hour or so, eats her food, watches her TV, listens to her stress about cooking school and her parents and that five pounds her mother keeps telling her to lose that she's perfectly okay not losing.
He mostly just listens, because during the week he talks a lot to make people think he's doing better than he actually is. He isn't doing bad, really. But he isn't doing great, either. Not great is better than the sort of pit of sadness thing he was feeling last year when his dad ditched him for Christmas (again) and his mother had to go to Europe over Thanksgiving (again) and his pet turtle Lola had died (not again, because that would be weird) and his econ professor told him he had a bright future in business (for the first time, with a smile, the kind of smile that said I expect the best from you).
"Yeah," he says, looking up at her. "I'm fucking starving."
Her face lights up and she practically throws the cup of soda at him and heads into the kitchen. "Perfect. I've got this recipe for class I wanna try out, and you're going to love it. Most likely. If I do it right."
"Well I'm an only child, which is Latin for guinea pig, so you know." She snorts and opens her cookbook while Chandler digs around in her fridge for a beer. "I hate this week."
"You hate every week."
"Yeah, but this week's got, like, a special garbage feel to it."
She puts a hand on his shoulder and goes around him to get a bowl from the cabinet. Her fingers brush his ass, and it's on accident, but it gives him a weird rush while Monica doesn't even notice. Chandler pretends he doesn't either.
"So you still haven't told your folks, huh?" He moves out of her way and sits down at the mismatched kitchen table, watching her ears turn red. "Sorry."
"No, it's okay. Sometimes I need someone to remind me that I'm living, like, an enormous lie."
"I mean it's good they haven't found out yet."
She shrugs, measuring out some flour and pinching salt from the bowl. Her fingernails are painted blue, which he's just noticed. It's a nice color for her. For anyone, really. "Ross is pushing me to tell. But Ross is a big dumb suck up, so whatever."
"Hey, he doesn't--" Chandler's phone buzzes in his pocket and he sets his beer down to pull it out. "Speaking of."
"Tell him he sucks."
chandler: your sister says you suck
ross: stop hanging out there alone it's weird
chandler: ur weird
ross: ur isn't a word it's you're
chandler: oh my god i hate you
"Is he correcting your grammar?"
"Oh, you know, it wouldn't be a day without Ross reminding me that I speak like a backwater heathen." Chandler tosses the phone onto the table and leans back. "Look, I know you don't want to talk about this and I know that I, of all people, should not talk to you about keeping secrets from your parents. But cooking school makes you happy. Don't you think that you being happy is what they want?" Monica stares into the bowl she's mixing and shrugs. "I'm dumb, I know that--"
"I don't think you're stupid, Chandler."
"I am, but--"
"No. You're not. And I don't think that." She finally looks up at him. "I never have."
Chandler feels weird about staring back at her, but looking away would be weirder, because they're having a moment, or something. He clears his throat and finally nods, standing up instead and going into the kitchen. "Can I help?"
"Okay, I said you weren't stupid. I didn't say you were useful." But she's smiling and handing him the bowl to keep mixing anyway.
It's the best day he's had in a while, weird sexual tension and all.
"Do I have a sign on me that says moron?"
Chandler looks up. "Do you want me to answer that?"
Ross tosses a pen at him and leans back at the kitchen table, scrubbing his hands over his face. "I don't get it."
"You said that."
"I mean, what's not to like about me?"
Chandler shrugs. "Should I make a list or just summarize?"
"Dude, Rachel Green is out of your league and she has been since you were kids, okay? Now stop. You're gonna give yourself an ulcer and then I'll have to listen to you bitch about that, too."
"Okay, so she asks for math help."
"Because you're her friend. She asked me for help in our stats class. She's gonna pay me twenty bucks an hour."
Ross frowns. "She's not paying me."
"Oh. Did I say twenty?" He tosses the pen back. "Build a bridge and get over it and stop throwing things at me!" he shouts, swatting at another pen that comes sailing at him. "Jesus."
Chandler doesn't mind living with Ross -- senior year, he could definitely do a lot worse. But the obsessive way Ross gets down on himself is a skill even Chandler hasn't quite perfected. It's one thing to hate yourself. It's another to turn it into performance art. He sighs and gets up. "Dude. You gotta chill out. Rachel isn't even done with school yet. She doesn't know what she wants. She told me the other day that she was just studying psych because if she changed her major again her mother would actually strangle her. And I kinda believed her."
Chandler rolls his eyes. "She's twenty. Of course she's stressed." He goes to the fridge and digs through the leftovers, picking up a carton of noodles. "How long has this been in here?"
"Like a week?"
"Oh that's good." He tosses it into the garbage and leans back against the counter. "Hey, uh, your sister's like. Cooking a whole fish or something, right?"
"Yeah, it's for our parents. I think she's telling them she dropped out."
"Oh. Well, uh, you know. Good for her. Should we get Chinese?"
Ross closes the lid of his computer. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm great. Why?"
"You're acting weird."
"Dude. It's me. I'm always weird."
"Normally I'd give you that. But you're acting extra weird. Every time--" Ross narrows his eyes. "No. No, no." He stands and points and Chandler is not comfortable with this development, like, at all. "No, no, no."
"Okay, just because you're saying it doesn't mean I get it."
"You have a crush on my sister!"
Chandler raises his hands. No one's accused him of having a crush who isn't eleven. "Excuse me?"
"You have a crush on my sister!"
"You're right, and she won't even go to the winter formal with me!" Chandler reaches out and gives Ross a little push. "Come on, man, get it together. I do not have a crush on your sister. I just worry about her a little. Like I worry about Joey."
"You don't worry about Joey."
"Sure I do!" He doesn't. "He's always broke." The first truth. "And there was that one time? With the STD scare?"
"That was a UTI."
"And it was very painful, from what I understand." Ross raises an eyebrow. "Dude. It's like a friend rule, or something. You can't date your best friend's sister."
Chandler definitely kind of wants to date his best friend's sister.
It hits him in his business law class, not quite like a train, but more like a backpack to the back of the head. Mostly because a girl's bag actually hits him in the back of the head, for the love of God. And it's weird, because it happens, and he turns around to say something, but the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, "I have a crush on Monica."
All four people sitting around him move, because college is like middle school, just more expensive.
Joey's the only person he can tell.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I can't tell Ross, I already lied to him. I can't tell Phoebe because she'll sing about it. I can't tell Rachel because she'll tell Monica."
"Oh, that would just be awful. The girl you like knowing you like her." Joey drains his beer and rolls his eyes. "What are you, fourteen?"
"Twelve, actually, but people say I look older."
Joey shakes his head. "You're not doing you or Monica any favors by keeping this to yourself."
"Actually I'm doing myself a huge favor, mostly because if Ross finds out, he may actually kill me. I live with him."
"Ross won't kill you. He's a shrimp."
Chandle scowls. "He pinches, okay? It hurts."
"So what's your other option? Be single and miserable and complain about it all day?"
"That is what I do now."
"How about instead of that thing, you do the other thing and tell Monica how you feel."
Chandler shakes his head. "She doesn't feel the same way."
Joey shrugs. "You don't know that."
"Because why would she? What's super great about me?"
Joey holds up a hand. "Okay, man. Now you're just, like, fishing for compliments or something. Just eat your pizza and go over there and tell her how you feel." He pauses. "Actually, no. You don't get anymore pizza." He closes the box on Chandler's hand, trying to walk away with it.
"Ow! I bought this. And ow!"
"Big baby. Go! Get out of here! And you better go to Monica's."
Chandler massages his fingers and wipes them on a napkin. "Yeah, okay. I'll go over there. But if this blows up in my face I'm blaming you." He grabs his keys and coat and opens the door. "But if it goes great I guess I'll, you know. Have Phoebe write it into a song." He closes the door behind him, and he's fully intending on not going to Monica's because he isn't as self-destructive as everyone thinks he is -- but his phone buzzes and it's her and there's nothing quite like the siren call of the girl you're falling for asking if you can come over just to talk.
When he knocks on her door, it's pretty obvious she's been crying.
"Hi." She closes the door after him and blows her nose. "Sorry."
"Hey, it's okay. You want some coffee or something? I think I know how to use your coffee pot. Probably." She laughs and nods, going over to the couch and sitting down. "What happened?"
"I mean, nothing. I guess. I told my parents about school and they were totally okay with it. And I was feeling good and so I went out to do some shopping and I met this guy. And then we went out and it was going great and then he just like, looks at me. And he says that I'd be way prettier if I was just, like, ten pounds thinner."
Chandler kind of drops one of the mugs on the counter, loudly.
"I mean, he wasn't mean about it."
"Oh no. No, no, that wasn't mean at all." Chandler abandons the coffee and goes to the couch. "That was just some public service he was doing, right?" He sits down and takes her hand. "Monica. That wasn't just mean. It was cruel. It was like a brand new level of asshole. He broke the asshole sound barrier. Did you hear a high pitched whistling noise? Because that's what was happening." She laughs into her tissue again. "You're beautiful the way you are."
"I know that. That's why I left him at the restaurant."
"Yeah. After I sent the most expensive bottle of wine in the place to his table." She grins and pulls her legs up under her on the couch. "It was like a hundred dollars."
"You sent the entire bottle?"
"Wow. I'm impressed."
"I can handle myself out there."
"Oh, no, I didn't doubt that. I'm just impressed that you thought about that so quick. I'd think of that like a month later in a public place surrounded by people I don't know and just start making noises because I'm an idiot."
"I told you already, you aren't stupid."
Chandler shrugs. "I am a little."
"No. You aren't." She takes his hand, now, tossing her tissue away. "I just got upset because I was having a great week and then this guy thinks he can talk to me like that. Like he can actually talk to me that way. What, I deserve it because I don't wear a size two? And I skip my aerobics class twice a month?"
"I skip mine three times a month, so you're way ahead of me."
Monica rolls her eyes. "Anyway. It's a stupid thing to be upset about. I know I look good."
"A guy was a dick to you and you got upset. That's okay. Those are your feelings. You're allowed to feel them."
"I know that, too."
"This is kind of a teaching moment for me, too, just so you know. You're doing a great job with that, by the way. I'm learning a lot." She laughs again and squeezes his hand before letting go. Chandler misses it immediately. "I'm being a little serious, actually."
"Yeah, I..." He clears his throat. "I've been meaning to tell you something for the last couple of days. Well, I guess I've been meaning to tell you for a while, I just kind of figured it out by myself. I had help, sort of. Joey helped. I'm not doing myself any favors with this, am I? I'm not. Okay. I--"
"Chandler." He looks up quickly and she's smiling, but she's got that look. "Spit it out."
"Right. Okay." He nods. "I've, uh. I've got, like, a huge, massive crush on you. Like, pass you a note in class big. Slow dance under the disco ball big. You know. I...like you."
"You like me."
"Yeah. I kind of want to kiss you and date you and not tell your brother for at least a couple days."
"Oh." Monica sort of draws in, looking tiny in front of him, which Chandler doesn't like. He pulls her hands away from her lap, unfolding her to him, so he can see all of her.
"Hey. I know. This is weird. And kind of out of the blue--"
"No. It isn't. It's...no." She shakes her head, ducking down and staring at the place where their hands meet between them. She runs her thumbs over his knuckles. "I...like you, too. I have, actually. For a while."
"You didn't pick up on it?"
"I know you don't think I'm stupid, but that's actually not totally true."
She pulls him closer. "No, really. You're smart and you're funny." She leans in a little closer. "You're pretty cute, too."
"Well I already knew that." Chandler can feel her breath against his cheek and he knows his palms are going to get sweaty and embarrassing so he reaches up to brush their hair from her face. "I guess we should probably do something about all these mutual feelings, huh?"
"Are you gonna kiss me?"
"Yeah, alright." Chandler tucks his hand behind her head and draws her in. Someones is calling him. Probably Ross, considering what time it is. He reaches into his back pocket and silences his phone, tossing it on the table before they both fall back into the best kiss he's ever had, and probably put the most work into.
Because it's worth it, you know. When it's a girl like her.
"It's like we had sex. Except you're wearing jeans and your eggs are burning." Chandler glances into the skillet where his eggs are definitely not yellow anymore -- mostly because he's been watching Monica all morning instead. With her hair and her hands and the way she drinks coffee.
"Shit." She laughs, getting up to rescue him and their breakfast before they have to call the fire department.
"How about you let the cook do what she does best and you can sit at the table and look cute?"
"Is that what I do best?"
"Well, it is in here." She kisses his cheek and swats his ass when he turns toward the table. "Is Ross still trying to figure out where you are?"
"Yeah. I think Joey might have told him about what I said."
"You told Joey that you liked me before me?"
"Well I'm gonna assume you told Rachel first."
Monica shrugs. "Yeah, but I was drunk the first time, so I don't think she believed me." She slides eggs onto a couple of plates and brings them over. "By like the third or fourth time she figured I was just kind of grasping at straws because, you know, you're my brother's best friend and there's like a rule or something."
"You know, I think there is? But I'm not an expert on violating trust between friends. This is kind of my first foray into the field."
"You're not violating his trust."
"If he knew what we did this morning, he wouldn't agree with you."
"There's nothing wrong with good oral between good friends."
Chandler snorts into his eggs. "Never, ever say that to him. Not yet anyway."
She laughs and takes his hand. "I'm not afraid of Ross. What I'm afraid of is you getting weirded out and not wanting to do this again. Because it was fun, and I'd kind of like to keep doing this."
"Yeah me, too."
All of the texts on his phone are definitely from Ross asking where he is and where he's been and who he's with and, more specifically, if the thing Joey said was true because if it is he better hope Monica's door is reinforced.
chandler: you told ross
joey: it was an accident!!!!
chandler: ur lucky i'm in a good mood
joey: you guys duck?
"Joey's never figured out how to turn off his autocorrect and it's never stopped being funny." Monica rolls her eyes and puts some toast down while she cooks more eggs. She turns on the radio in the kitchen and plugs her phone into it, turning up the music while she plates more eggs. Chandler gets up to help, sliding his hands down her side.
He's happier right now than he has been in months. And it doesn't matter that he knows Ross is sending him angry texts and it doesn't matter that Ross is going to be mad and upset because the two of them can handle Ross.
It sort of feels like right now, the two them can handle just about anything.
"You are not the boss of me, Ross, so why don't you just buzz off--"
"Oh that's mature! Butthead--"
"You did not just--"
"Yeah, I did!"
"Hey are they still fighting?" Joey drops down next to Chandler outside Monica's door, knocking them both over.
"Dude." Chandler shoves him off and sits up again, leaning against the wall. "Yeah. For almost an hour. I'm not allowed in."
Joey settles next to him. "Because it's your fault?"
"That's not what they said, but probably." He pulls his phone out. "Now it's been an hour. I don't know why he's so upset."
Joey shrugs. "If you did one of my sisters--"
"I did do one of your sisters."
"Oh, right." He thinks for a minute, then nods. "Yeah, I can see why he's pissed."
Chandler rolls his eyes. "Yeah, but--" The door swings open and Ross is suddenly there, looming over them. Chandler scrambles to his feet, tries to maybe shrink into the wall behind him. He swallows thickly, dragging Joey up by the collar of his shirt. "Um. Hi."
"The only reason I don't hit you is because she asked me not to." Ross points dramatically behind him where Monica is definitely mocking him. "We're not done talking about this." He heads down the stairs, presumably to hiss at passerby.
Monica leands against the door frame, her arm outstretched. Chandler takes her hand. "Sorry," she mutters, and he lets her pull him in so he can kiss her forehead. "He's an asshole."
"He's just being your brother."
She looks up at him, smiling and kissing his chin. "Look at you. Sticking up for him."
"Do you like that?"
"I might." Monica wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him in.
"Okay, don't do it in front of me!" Joey shouts. "I just got used to the idea, okay?"
"Joey, you told me to do this."
"Yeah, well that doesn't mean I want to see it. You got food in there?"
Monica nods, stepping aside so Joey can go in.
"Is that true what you said?" Chandler asks, pushing the hair out of her face.
"Yeah, there's cake in the fridge."
He rolls his eyes. "No. About...about us. Your brother. I don't know," he mutters. "Just--"
"Everything is true, Chandler." She pulls him down and kisses him. "Everything. I promise."
It isn't easy, being a fuck up and being in love. It's hard to juggle being crazy about someone and wanting to crawl into a closet and hide under a blanket and not come out for a few days. Sometimes it gets hard when you're ready to be open and the other person isn't. It's hard, but a lot of times, it's worth it.
Chandler's crazy about Monica, and everyone's crazy about the two of them together -- except for Ross, who is a baby and isn't allowed over unless he's going to be nice about it. Rachel's rules, actually.
And sometimes even Ross is okay with everything. Even Ross looks at them and says they're good together. Sometimes they aren't and sometimes nothing is at all, but they make that work, too. Because what's the point, you know, of trying to be in love if you can't work at it? Even when you feel like you can't. People say you can't love someone else until you're completely in love with yourself, but Chandler thinks that's bullshit.
Sometimes loving someone else helps you figure out what you love about you.
"Everything," she'd said. And she wasn't talking about what she loved about him and Chandler knows that. But pretending she did -- it helps him like himself a little bit more, too. Because they are messy and incomplete, even when they're apart.
But Chandler would pick being a mess right there with her than being alone any day.
And, eventually, Phoebe writes a song.