"Hello wife," he smiled.
"Hello husband," she replied and he could hear that she was smiling as well.
"What are you doing?"
"I need you to help me decide."
"If you had a choice between wild mushrooms stuffed with rice or grilled asparagus spears wrapped in avocado, which would you choose?"
He was stunned silent for a quick moment and then he sighed. "This is about that dinner thing, I take it?"
"The caterer came by and dropped off some sample menus. It all sounds so good, I just can't decide."
He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "You're determined to go through with this."
"You said last night you were okay with it" she said, and he could hear the disappointment in her voice.
"I am," he said quickly. "I just want to make sure you're sure about this."
"Well, I am," she said and he couldn't help but grin at the stubborn tone in her voice.
He knew once she set her mind on something, there was no changing it. He didn't think he'd be any real help to her in deciding anything - considering his expertise in food went as far as the menu at Kelly's - but he also knew that this dinner party was important to her. So with a deep breath, he said, "Alright, then. Tell me the choices again. Wild mushrooms and what?"
The second phone call came just one hour later.
"I'm having trouble deciding again," she said.
He grinned and turned to Max, who was in the office with him, "Give me a minute, Max."
Once he was alone in the office, he said, "Go ahead."
"Carmelized onion soup or poached garlic soup?"
"Uh …" he trailed off, having no idea what either choice she mentioned was exactly.
"I think the carmelized onion soup might be the way to go, but the poached garlic sounds good, too, don't you think?" she rambled.
"Sure," he said, grinning again.
"So, which do you think?"
He shook his head in bewilderment and his grin grew. "The first one."
Numerous phone calls later and he had helped her choose something called arugala salad, greens with some kind of cheese from a goat, chicken with some sort of blackberry dressing and a dessert with a French name that he had heard before, but never actually tried.
He was just getting ready to head out when his phone rang again.
"I forgot one thing," she said before he even said hello.
"What's that?" he asked and he could see Max and Milo biting back smiles of their own as they watched yet another silly, enamored grin come over his face.
"It's going to be next Saturday at 6 o'clock. Could you tell Sonny, and have him invite Kate. And Spinelli, and he can bring a date if he wants. And …" he heard her take a deep breath before going on, "could you tell … Carly as well?"
"I'll tell Sonny and Spinelli, sure," he said. "But are you sure about Carly?"
He was met with a long silence.
"I'm sure," she said quickly.
"Yes!" she snapped, and his grin grew.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you, too husband."
"Damnit," she muttered to herself and balled up the piece of paper, tossing it aside.
She saw him quirk one eyebrow up at her, but he remained silent.
She set her jaw and started again.
She drew a rectangle. She drew one small box at the short of the rectangle, another small box at the other short end. She drew six small boxes down each long side of the rectangle.
She sat back and stared at the small boxes, gnawing on her bottom lip.
She wrote one name in one box, a second name in another, then a third name. She let out a frustrated groan and flipped the pencil over, roughly erasing the names she had just written down.
"This is hopeless," she muttered, tapping the pencil against the coffee table in frustration.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him put the newspaper he had been reading aside and scooted over so he was pressed next to her on the couch. "What's up?" he asked.
"I'm just trying to figure out the seating arrangement," she sighed.
" 'Seating arrangement'?," he repeated. "Are you gonna have those little cards with people's names on them at this dinner thing?"
"It's a dinner 'party'," she smirked at him. "And, no. There won't be place cards. Nothing that formal. I'm just going to tell people where to sit."
"Why can't they just sit where they want to sit?"
"Because that's not how a dinner party works, husband," she said with a mocking, arrogant tone.
She watched him pick up one of the many balled up pieces of paper off the floor and smooth it out. "What's wrong with this one?" he asked after reading it over.
She glanced at the names and said, "You can't have couples sitting next to each other. You've got to spread them out."
"Why?" he asked looking at her as if she was crazy.
"Because that's proper dinner party etiquette, that's why," she smirked again.
"Oh," he said and crumpled up the paper again, tossing it aside. She let him pull her back against his chest, as she tapped her pencil against the sheet of paper, in thought.
"What if …" she said and wrote a few names down.
"Can't have Nikolas sitting next Jax," he said, propping his chin on her shoulder to read what she had written.
"Why not?" she said, and then it dawned on her. "Right. The whole Spencer thing. Okay …," she erased the names.
After thinking for another minute, she wrote down another series of names.
"How's that?" she said.
"Spinelli next to Sonny?" he said with a chuckle.
"What's wrong with that?" she asked.
"Sonny can only tolerate so much of Spinelli," he said with another chuckle.
She let out a frustrated sigh and erased the names again. After another couple of minutes of thought, she wrote down more names.
"You've got Carly next to Robin?" he asked.
She erased the names roughly and wrote down yet another series of names.
"Now you've got Carly next to Kate," he said.
She let out an aggravated cry and tossed the paper and pencil onto the coffee table.
She leaned back against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her, chuckling again.
"Do you know what I think you need?" he asked, his lips pressed against her ear.
"What?" she said, nuzzling her head against his mouth.
"A distraction," he said and she could feel his lips turned up in a smile as he kissed his way down her neck.
She closed her eyes as he nibbled down her neck, and when she opened them, they fell to the list on the coffee table. She gasped and sat straight, "If I move Spinelli over one, it might just work," she reached for the paper as he groaned and laid back against the couch.
He took one look at what was laid out on the bed and went into the bathroom.
He watched for a minute as she fixed her hair and then cleared his throat to get her attention.
He saw her look at him in the mirror with a question in her eyes.
"I'm not wearing a tie," he said.
He kept the dead serious look on his face as she rolled her eyes at him and smiled.
"I'm not," he said again.
"Alright," she gave him a mock, stern look. "I figured it was worth a shot."
He grunted in response and finally gave in, grinning at her in the mirror.
"The boys?" she asked.
"Just dropped them off at Sonny's with Leticia. When I left, Cameron and Morgan were already playing with one of Michael's video games and Jake fell asleep on the ride over."
He sat down on the edge of the tub and just watched her as she finished with her hair and began to apply light make-up.
His eyes traveled up and down her body, which was dressed only in a strapless bra and a pair of barely-there panties.
His eyes darkened as they rested on the curve of her ass, peaking through the edge of her lacey panties.
"Don't even think about it," she said, interrupting his thoughts.
He raised sheepish eyes to meet hers in the mirror and didn't say a word. Instead he checked his watch and gave her a lecherous grin.
"Nuh-uh," she turned and grabbed his hands, pulling him up so he was standing. "Out. I have to finish getting ready," she turned him around and pushed him out the door.
He was just buttoning up his shirt when the doorbell rang.
"Can you get that?" she called out from the bathroom. "That's gotta be the caterer. I'll be down in a minute."
He went downstairs and let the caterers in, directing them to the kitchen and dining room.
He was just about to head back upstairs when she came walking down the stairs, wearing a green slip of a halter-dress that molded to her upper body and flared out from her waist.
His eyes followed her every step of the way until she stopped before him.
"Jason? Is something wrong?"
He swallowed thickly. "You look beautiful, wife," he said, pulling her into his arms.
She smiled up at him and ran her hands along his shoulders, smoothing out his blue dress shirt. "You're not so bad yourself, husband."
He leaned in to kiss her, but stopped when someone spoke behind them.
"Um, excuse me, Mrs. Morgan?"
He couldn't help but smile at the look of utter delight that crossed her face at having been called "Mrs. Morgan."
"Yes?" she asked, peeking over his shoulder at the caterer.
"We need you in the kitchen, when you get a moment."
"Yes, right away," she said and pulled out of his arms to go into the kitchen.
He sat down on the couch and watched as his wife ran out of the kitchen, into the dining room, back into the kitchen, back out into the dining room, then into the living room, where she straightened picture frames that didn't need straightening, plumped pillows that didn't need plumping, smoothed out table linens that didn't need to be smoothed out.
He was in awe of the nervous energy that was practically radiating off of her. He had only seen her like this a handful of times before - when she was really getting into a painting, and when she was in the midst of an emergency in the hospital.
He remained silent, his eyes following her every move, finally reaching out to still her hand when she rearranged a vase of flowers on the coffee table for the third time.
"Hey," he said and she snapped her head up, bringing bright, nervous eyes up to meet his. "Everything's going to be great, you know."
"You think?" she asked, releasing a pent up breath.
"Yeah," he said with a tender smile.
Just then the doorbell rang, at 6 o'clock on the dot.
"I'll get the door tonight," he said, running one hand soothingly up her bare arm as he stood.
"Okay. Thanks," she gave him a brief smile.
He leaned down to press his lips lightly to hers. "I love you," he said.
"Love you, too."
He walked to the door and took a deep breath before opening it to let their first guest in.