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Scene 111

"Johnny?"

His eyes shifted to her reflection in the rearview mirror.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Shoot."

Alexis gave him a look. He tried not to smile.

"I mean, sure."

"You live alone, right?"

"Uh huh."

"Are you a take-out kind of living alone person like me, or do you actually cook real meals for yourself?"

Johnny shrugged. "A little of both. When I'm working longer shifts it's easier to pick something up on the way home or order in. But on my shorter days or days off, I like to cook something decent and healthy."

"Are you any good at it?"

"I'm no Emeril or anything, but…"

"Who?"

He chuckled. "I cook pretty decent."

"Huh." Alexis nodded thoughtfully.

Johnny glanced back at her pensive face. "Are you hungry? Do you want me to make you something when we get back home?"

"No. No, I…"

She paused for a long moment, and Johnny waited patiently for her to continue. As he slowed down for a red light, Alexis suddenly slid forward on her seat and grabbed the corners of the empty passenger seat beside him.

"I want you to teach ME how to make something."

The car came to a somewhat abrupt halt.

"I'm sorry…what did you say?" He turned and looked at her in confusion, sure that he'd misheard.

"I w-want to make dinner…f-for Sonny." She answered falteringly, almost as if she was asking for Johnny's permission.

"You…oh."

"Will you help me?"

Johnny was overwhelmed. It was the last request he'd ever expected Alexis to make of him. But it was a request that made him oddly thrilled. She wanted to reach out to Sonny - to make up for whatever hurtful exchange happened between that morning. Wanting to cook a meal for him was about the sweetest make-up gesture Johnny could imagine. And he smiled broadly at the earnest expression in the big brown eyes looking to him for help. Alexis frowned suddenly, lifting her head away from the headrest.

"You think it's a bad idea." She said flatly.

"I think it's a…"

"You're right." She shook her head and pushed herself back into her own seat. "Never mind."

"Alexis…"

"It is a bad idea." She crossed her arms and sighed. "A REALLY bad idea."

"I don't…"

"He'd probably think I was trying to kill him."

"Will you let me finish a sentence, please?"

Johnny's strong tone finally shut Alexis up. She bit her lip and slowly shifted her somewhat wounded eyes his way.

"He'd think the same thing that I think - that you wanted to do something special for him."

Alexis smiled sheepishly, and with appreciation. "That is what I want to do."

The car behind them tooted. Johnny looked up at the back window and gave a short wave to the driver before turning back around and switching his foot from the brakes to the gas.

"All right then. I'll teach you how to cook something for Sonny."

Alexis's smile grew wide as she bounced back up to the edge of her seat and grabbed hold of the headrest in front of her.

"What should we make? Any suggestions?"

He shifted his lowered gaze in her direction. "Besides you sitting back and putting on your seat belt?"

"You sound like a broken record."

"If you'd wear you seat belt then I wouldn't HAVE to sound like a broken record, now would I?"

"I just got a very strong flash of you as a soccer dad, trying to be all authoritative with stubborn kids who won't listen to you because they know you're a…big ball of mush."

Johnny's face tingled with heat. Blast! She'd made him blush again.

"Sorry." She offered weakly through a stifled laugh.

"No you're not. But you will be if Sonny ends up with nothing but burned toast on his plate because you had to try cooking him dinner on your own."

He grinned and cast a sideways glance her way. Alexis cleared her throat.

"Did I say ball of mush? I meant, force to be reckoned with."

"How does lasagna sound?"

"Complicated."

"It's not. And Sonny likes it. Do you like it?"

"Yeah. But I think we should stick to something a little easier - no, a LOT easier to make because I want to do most of the cooking myself instead of you ghost cooking it for me."

"Ghost cooking?"

"I want to be able to tell Sonny that I made it and have it be the truth. Unless it's really lousy, of course, in which case I'll blame it on you."

"It won't be lousy." Johnny began to turn a corner.

"Hey - home's the other way."

"But the market is THIS way."

"Oh."

"Have you ever even been to a market?"

"Ha ha."

"A supermarket, with fresh vegetables and a butcher. Not a mini-mart with soda machines and microwave popcorn."

"Oh."

Johnny suddenly envisioned Alexis trying to pick out a decent tomato. He smiled. Even Harvard lawyers had new things to learn. He smiled wider. This was going to be fun!

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"You've GOT to be kidding me."

"Nope."

"With my hands?"

"Yep"

"Isn't there some kind of proper utensil for this?"

"What do you know about utensils?"

"I get catalogues. I may not know what most utensils DO, like that Emeril person, but I know they exist."

"It's good to be informed."

"There's got to be a utensil for this." She mumbled.

"Hands!"

"Why?"

"It just works better. Trust me."

She sighed, peering down into the red abyss before her.

"It's also more authentic." Johnny added casually. "Sonny appreciates authentic. Like with the popcorn he made for you."

"Talk about playing dirty, pulling out the 'authentic' card."

"I'm just sayin'."

Alexis gave her rolled sleeves one last upward push for good measure, too focused on the task at hand to think about the exposure of her healing arms to Johnny's eyes.

"Okay. I'm going in." She announced dramatically.

Johnny watched her brow furrow as her right hand took hold of the edge of the large bowl and her left hand hovered above it.

"Really…I am."

"Oh, for Pete's sake." Johnny took careful hold of her left wrist and plunged her hand into the wet, sticky depths of three pounds worth of peeled, fat, ripe tomatoes.

"Ewwww!" Her nose wrinkled. "That's disgusting!"

Johnny laughed. Alexis gave him a pained expression in response. He pointed at the bowl.

"Squish." He commanded.

Alexis obeyed, moving her hand within the cold, slimy red mess. The feel of the wet tomato pulp slipping between her fingers sent a shiver through her body.

"Really disgusting."

"But authentic."

"Yeah, yeah." She mumbled. "Sonny had BETTER appreciate it."

Johnny gave her a soft smile as he dried his freshly washed mushrooms with a paper towel. "He will. Just keep squishing."

"I'm squishing! Blech."

"Hey - did you see that episode of "I Love Lucy" where she was stomping the grapes?"

Alexis grinned. "Yeah, I saw it."

"She thought it was pretty disgusting at first too, but then she really got into it."

"If I recall…" Alexis lifted up a handful of pulverized tomatoes and gave Johnny a sideways glance. "What she got into was a grape throwing fight with her stomping partner."

He gave her a look. "This is a new shirt."

"I'm just sayin'."

Johnny reached past her to pick up a knife from the counter, returning her glance with a crooked smile.

"I'll cut them." She offered.

"You're busy."

"I meant AFTER I squish. I appreciate you washing them for me - and drying them, although I didn't even know mushrooms needed, but I can do the cutting."

"They have a lot of water already inside of them, and since cooking releases the moisture it's a good idea to dry them before cooking."

Alexis squinted into the bowl as her fingers made themselves at home within the wet, cold pulp. "Did Sonny teach you that?"

"Uh…no." He sliced at a mushroom. "I saw it on a cooking show on public television. That's who Emeril is."

Alexis grinned. "You are quite the renaissance man. And very complex."

"Nah." Johnny blushed.

"I respectfully disagree."

Johnny quietly sliced another mushroom and dropped it into a small bowl.

"And I really appreciate you doing this for me." Alexis added. "Thank you."

Johnny turned his head toward her smiling face. "You're welcome."

"I just hope I don't make a mess out of it."

Johnny chuckled. "You won't. I won't let you. And you know that you could serve Sonny that burnt toast you're so famous for and he'd love it - because you made it for him."

Alexis rubbed at her nose with her forearm, trying to hide a smile. Johnny dropped another handful of mushroom slices into the bowl.

"But he's going to love this lasagna because it will be great AND because you made it for him."

"Burnt toast would have been easier. But I want this to be perfect, even if it takes me ten tries and I'm still standing here squishing tomatoes at 2 o'clock in the morning to GET it perfect."

"One try - ready at seven o'clock tonight."

Alexis nudged him with her elbow. "You're a peach."

Johnny felt his cheeks tingle. "Okay, I think you've squished enough."

"Aww. I was really on a roll here."

"I noticed."

He turned on the faucet and Alexis ran her red hands under the cool water to clean them.

"Now what?"

"This goes into that." Johnny pointed from the bowl of tomatoes on the counter to the pot on the stove, where diced onions and minced garlic were caramelizing in some sugar and olive oil.

"'kay."

Alexis wiped her wet hands on her jeans. Johnny handed her a towel, but she held up her dry hands.

"I'm good."

She grabbed the bowl of tomatoes and dumped it into the large pot. Johnny handed her an open bottle of Cabernet, with instructions to pour half a glass full. She did as she was told, and traded Johnny the Cabernet for a large wooden spoon.

"Stir it up for a few minutes, and then we'll lower the heat, put on a lid, and let it simmer."

"I can do that."

Alexis stirred carefully, under Johnny's watchful eye. "You know, this isn't as complicated as I thought it would be."

"You're doing good. You might actually have a knack for this, only you've never had the opportunity to find out."

"I've had the opportunity. I just found the whole prospect of cooking to be a little intimidating."

Johnny shrugged. "I'd have found the prospect of Harvard to be intimidating."

"Yeah, well, so did I."

His wide eyes questioned.

"Don't tell, okay?"

"Really?"

"In my family, failure was not an option. You aimed right for the top, and you hit your mark. And being the orphaned Cassadine charity case - or rather, growing up as such, I had it in my head that I needed to not only hit the mark, but do so without any noticeable falters. I needed to prove to them and myself that I was worthy."

Johnny stared at her face, filled with total concentration as she stirred the contents of the pot with the same rapt attention he'd seen her pay to a legal document. And he was overwhelmed with compassion for her. He'd known very little about her before Sorel. All he'd known was what she let the world see - her unshakable confidence, her sharp wit, her extraordinary intelligence cultivated by an extraordinary education. Johnny had known the picture of perfection. And despite the fact that she'd never treated Johnny with anything but respect, he'd always felt inferior to this well-dressed, well-spoken, sophisticated attorney who came from a family of power and wealth. He'd never considered the possibility that Alexis had ever felt more insecure, suffered more pain, or felt less loved than most people he'd known growing up in a poor, working class section of Brooklyn. He himself had had it so much better than her growing up, and he never would have known it.

"You're the most worthy Cassadine I've met."

The words left his mouth without the awareness of his brain. Alexis looked at him with a vague expression of surprise.

"I meant no offense to your family."

She smiled gently. "I know what you meant."

He hesitated, and then smiled back as he took the spoon from her hand. "I think it's time to simmer."

"Okey dokey." Alexis turned down the heat, placed the lid on the pot, and sighed with satisfaction. "Oh - shouldn't the mushrooms go in first?"

"It's a matter of personal preference. They can get a bit rubbery if they cook too long. Plus, they absorb the flavor of whatever they're cooked in, so the flavor of the mushroom is truer when they're cooked less. I prefer to layer them in the lasagna instead of putting them into the sauce."

"Huh." Alexis nodded with interest as she watched Johnny check the flame. "Now what do I do?"

"You chop the spinach, and then we mix it with the ricotta. Look, I know you're not used to handling kitchen utensils and such, but if I let you handle the chopping knife, you won't hurt yourself with it will you?"

She sighed heavily, one eyebrow arching.

"I just had to ask." Johnny defended.

"Oh ye of little faith. Gimme that knife."

He handed it to her and went to fetch a tub of ricotta from the fridge. Alexis watched him as he moved across the room and back again, casually and confidently as if it was his own kitchen. It was the same way with Sonny, when he was there. And Alexis was suddenly struck with the desire to tell Johnny the truth about something he'd surely wondered, but had been too respectful of her privacy to question. She didn't know why she hadn't told him already. Johnny would understand, perhaps more than anyone.

Johnny halted halfway back to the counter. Alexis was looking at him expectantly, the knife held loosely in her hand. His eyes darted to her other hand, unconsciously looking for blood. She hadn't hurt herself. But something was definitely on her mind.

"What's wrong?"

"You know that I didn't go to the hospital just to see my brother."

"Yeah, I know that. You're okay, right?"

"Yeah, I'm okay."

He gave a short nod, lips curving into a small smile. "Good."

Johnny continued on his path and set the plastic tub down on the counter next to her pile of deep green spinach. And Alexis watched as his fingers fidget with the lid, working to pry it off. She bit her lip and lifted her eyes to his face - his sweet, kind face. His concentrated calm was a fascinating thing to Alexis. He was still the same quiet man she'd always known him to be, but now she could see the depth of thought stirring behind his eyes. And the thoughts that Johnny chose to share were wise, witty and sometimes profound. Alexis truly enjoyed both his company and his conversation. And she was glad that it was reciprocated. Johnny finished spooning the ricotta into the bowl and glanced over at the untouched mound of spinach leaves. Alexis didn't wait to be told. She picked up a handful of leaves, set it on the cutting board, picked up her knife, and got to work.

"I went to see Charlie." She blurted out between chops. "He's the doctor who did the detox."

Johnny's spoon froze mid-stir. At the sound of the word 'detox', Jessie's face had flashed in his head from out of nowhere. It made his stomach ball up.

"Why?" He finally managed to croak. "Are you feeling the craving for heroin again?"

"No!" She stopped chopping and turned to him. "No, Johnny. That's not why I went to see him."

Johnny's big, blue-gray eyes stared at her from within a paling face. Alexis set the knife down.

"I never asked him any questions about the heroin because at the time, I was too unnerved by the whole subject. I also didn't know what TO ask. And after the detox was over, I didn't even think it would be an issue anymore."

"It shouldn't be. The detox was supposed to be the end of it."

"It was. Don't worry. I just didn't know if…" She hesitated a moment. "Did Sonny tell you about the stupid thing I did last night?"

Johnny nodded. "He needed me to bring him a dry shirt."

Alexis cleared her throat, embarrassed by the reminder that she'd been fished naked and dripping wet out the bathtub by Sonny. And that Johnny knew about it.

"Did he tell you anything more this morning? About why it happened?"

"He barely spoke to me this morning. Just said that I should watch over you, as usual."

Johnny pointed at the neglected spinach. Alexis picked up her knife and resumed her slow chopping.

"He was pretty angry with me. I'm sorry if you got the fallout."

"He didn't seem angry. He seemed…lost."

The knife stilled as Alexis closed her eyes with a quiet sigh. "God, I was such a jerk."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

She nodded. "We kind of had a fight. He was saying things I didn't want to hear and I kicked him out. I was a jerk."

"After what you've been through, you're allowed your moments of jerkiness. Sonny understands that. He understands you."

"I know. But he's been through a lot WITH me, and he doesn't deserve to be…"

"You really should be kinder to yourself, Alexis. And cut yourself some slack."

"I…" His simple statement stunned her. "That's not really in my frame of reference."

Johnny reached for a pile of chopped spinach and dropped it into his bowl of ricotta. "Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot." She gave him a crooked smile. "I mean, sure."

Johnny shook his head, smiling back. "Why DID last night happen? Why did you take that sleeping pill?"

"I've been having these strange, disturbing images coming at me from out of nowhere, both during the day and while I'm sleeping."

"Images? Of Sorel?"

"No. Of my brother Stavros, who's been dead since I was in college. I haven't understood what it meant, and I didn't know why it was happening. It's been a little disconcerting. And I'd had such a long, difficult day yesterday that I just wanted to sleep through the night in peace. I hadn't wanted to worry Sonny by telling him what was going on, but this morning I had to tell him. He thought I should see a shrink. I disagreed. You know the rest."

"You scared him, Alexis."

"I know. And I know he had a valid argument. So I went to see Charlie to find out if the heroin or the detox could have anything to do with what I've been experiencing."

Johnny shook his head. "I don't know about the drugs they use for the detox, but heroin wouldn't do that."

"Charlie told me. He explained all about what it does and doesn't do. It was…good to talk to someone who knows firsthand what the heroin was like. Did you hear him say that he was a recovering addict himself?"

"Yeah." He nodded numbly.

"If I'd known how much better I'd feel to talk to someone who really understands, I'd have done it long before now."

Johnny closed his eyes and shook his head. "God…I'm so sorry, Alexis."

"For what?"

"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable by presuming…I mean, it was about you, not me. I didn't feel it was my place at the time to offer, but now I wish I'd just come out and told you that if you needed to talk about the heroin I'd have told you anything you wanted to know. I may not know what it's like firsthand, but I know as much as any non-addict possibly could."

Alexis smiled softly. "I never would have asked you to talk about it, even if you'd offered. I could see how much it hurt you to even tell me that someone close to you had been where I'd been."

"Jessie."

"Jessie." She repeated.

"My brother."

"Oh…Johnny."

"It does hurt to think about what he went through, but he's clean now and I'm grateful for that." He ran his tongue across his lower lip and looked at Alexis with shy eye. "And you know something? The only person I ever told about Jessie is you. Like you said, nobody else could really understand, so I kept it to myself."

"You can talk to me - if you want to. I won't repeat anything you tell me in private."

Johnny smiled and nodded toward the remaining spinach leaved. "You're slacking on the chopping."

Alexis picked up a new handful of leaves as Johnny resumed stirring the wooden spoon in the bowl of ricotta to soften it.

"Jessie started messing around with drugs in his last year of high school. He's smart, but you'd never know it from his grades. He couldn't lock down anything better than a 'C' no matter how hard he tried - and he did try."

"It sounds as if he has a learning disability. Many truly bright people do."

"Dyslexia. Only he didn't find out until a couple of years ago, so as a kid he just felt stupid while the teachers and our folks thought he was lazy. But he always just rolled with it and joked about it, until his girlfriend got accepted into college and decided she wanted a guy who had a better future ahead of him. Jessie planned to be an auto mechanic after high school. He was good at it. And it made him feel good about himself to BE good at something, you know?"

"Yeah, I do."

Johnny inhaled deeply and sighed quietly before continuing. "He really loved Beth. Even talked about marrying her after he saved up enough money. Getting dumped, especially for a reason like hers, took pretty much all his self-esteem away. He stopped caring, started hanging out with these real losers - the ones who never tried and never cared. I got in his face about it, yelled at him that he was throwing his life away for nothing. Jessie just yelled back, saying I didn't understand and that things were different for him than they were for me. He said I had to stop…"

"What?"

"Looking up to him." Johnny looked Alexis in the eye and gave her a sad smile. "He said he wasn't any kind of example for a kid brother, and I should go out and make something of myself so I could be HIS hero. I finally realized that the more I fought with him about it, the more he pulled away from. So I backed off. Bottom line was, it was his life and I had no control over how he lived it. All I could do was be there for him. And he knew that I was."

He gathered the small, deep green mound of leaves that Alexis had just finished chopping and dropped it into the bowl of white ricotta. Alexis watched him as he carefully stirred.

"Where is Jessie now?" She asked softly.

"Prison. That's where I watched him detox - the hard way. In the prison infirmary."

"Oh God." Alexis winced. "Well…it's good that he let you be there for him."

"The prison doctor let me be there. Jessie didn't want it. His pride didn't want his little brother seeing him like that. And I knew he didn't want me to have to watch him suffer like that."

"I understand that."

"I know you do. But no way was I going to let him go through that kind of hell all alone. Every time he kicked me out, I gave him a little time and then I went back. But after about twelve hours of withdrawal, he was too weak and in too much pain to really fight me."

Alexis continued to slowly slice at the pile of spinach, keeping her gaze fixed on the cutting board as she worked. She didn't want Johnny to see the remembrance of her own withdrawal in her eyes.

"How…" Her voice cracked. She cleared her throat. "How long did the withdrawal last for him?"

Johnny studied her profile, knowing from the crease in her brow where her mind had gone.

"Two days of really, really bad, and a couple more of really bad. And then there were a few weeks of just plain bad when his head and his body tried to adjust to being clean."

"He is okay now though, isn't he? I know you told me before that he was, but you weren't just saying that to keep from scaring me?"

"No, he really is okay. Not much chance of getting hooked on smack again when you're doing three to five in Pentonville."

"When will he be released?"

"About a year and a half."

"I'd like to meet him."

Johnny fought a smile, though he didn't quite know why. "I'd like him to meet you."

"Then it's a date, in about a year and a half. We'll do lunch." She winked, and Johnny's smile broke out. "You know, Jessie's withdrawal was about the ugliest thing I ever experienced. But I'd do it for him all over again if I had to. And I'd have done it for you too…if I'd had to."

Alexis set her knife down on the counter. Johnny's spoon halted its stirring as she silently picked up the last of her spinach and released it into his bowl. The spoon resumed its stirring, and Alexis slowly lifted her eyes up to Johnny's face. He was gazing back, and it made her smile shyly.

"I'm so sorry that I made you relive any of what you through with your brother, even for that one day. I'm sorry that I was so stubborn."

"You know, it stuck me as kind of funny that my own brother was kicking me out and you, who barely knew me, was letting me stay with you while Sonny was gone."

"I think barely knowing you made it easier for me. But mostly, I think it was easy because of how kind and gentle you were. And you had a surety about you, and a sense of calm. Now I know why. You knew how to behave with me because you learned how with Jessie."

"When you have that kind of turmoil going on inside of you, the last thing you need is turmoil going on around you."

He moved to the stove, bowl in hand, and set it down to lift the lid from the simmering pot of tomato sauce.

"When I was with Jessie, I spent a lot of time just sitting quietly, keeping him company while he groaned, or screamed, or cried…or got sick. Sometimes I'd give him my hand to squeeze when the pain hit hard and I'd squeeze back and tell him that together, we were stronger than the withdrawal. And sometimes, when it wasn't so bad, I'd cool him down with cold cloths on his face."

"You did that for me too." She murmured, moving up beside him. "You were a very comforting presence."

"You were a LOT more pleasant to be with than Jessie was." Johnny smiled. "But I did half expect you to start swearing like a sailor at any moment."

"Another few hours of withdrawal and I just might have."

He gave her a crooked grin as he picked up the wooden spoon that rested in a holder and began to stir the sauce.

"I'll do that."

Alexis nudged him and took the spoon from his hand. He moved over and let her take his place.

"I can only imagine what it meant to Jessie to have you with him, in spite of anything he may have done or said to the contrary. Including swearing like a sailor."

"All I really wanted was for him to know that nothing he could do would ever make me stop loving him."

"I think that's all anyone really needs, when you get right down to it. It's important to let people know how you feel about them while you still can, because you never know when your chance could be taken away from you. I think not having let someone know they're loved would be the most horrible kind of regret."

Johnny watched Alexis's face closely as she spoke. There was a far away look in her eye and a soft smile on her face, and he was sure she was thinking of Sonny. And he couldn't help hoping that what she'd just said meant she was planning to tell Sonny how she felt about him. Maybe she planned to tell him that night, over the dinner she'd made just for him - the dinner she'd asked Johnny to teach her how to make. A goofy grin crept upon him without his knowledge.

"What?"

Her voice registered a moment late. His eyes turned to her face.

"What?"

"What's wrong? You have a look on your face like I just said something either really amusing or really stupid."

He shook his head. "Neither. It was dead on right. People SHOULD know how you feel about them. Even if they already know in their hearts, there's nothing that can take the place of being told outright."

Alexis's dimples began to fight their way into view against the struggle of her face not to smile. Within moments, the dimples won out and made themselves deeply known as her cheeks lightly flushed. She scrunched her shoulder and cast her gaze down into the bubbling pot of authentically squished tomatoes.

"So, this looks like it's ready to rock and roll. Now what do we do?"

"We layer."

"Oh - you mean the mushrooms?"

"Everything." Johnny turned off the flame. "You want to bring them over?"

Alexis fetched the small bowl of sliced mushrooms from the other side of the kitchen and handed it to Johnny. She nodded at the box of lasagna noodles by his left elbow.

"When do we cook those?"

"We don't."

"Okay, I may not know anything about cooking but I at least know that you have to cook noodles before you can eat them."

"Not these noodles. They're specially made and cook themselves in the moisture of the other ingredients while the lasagna is in the oven."

"Get out."

"No joke. Read for yourself." He handed her the box.

"Huh."

As Alexis read the instructions, her forehead creased in appreciation of the wonders of modern cooking technology. Johnny fetched a ball of fresh mozzarella from the refrigerator and began searching through the kitchen drawers for a grater.

"You can go ahead and open that." He instructed over his shoulder. "And then you can lay the noodles out side by side in the pan until the bottom is covered."

"'kay."

Alexis did as she was told, and Johnny brought his unearthed grater and the mozzarella to the counter.

"It's covered. Now what do I do?"

"Cover the noodles with tomato sauce."

"And then cover the tomato sauce with the mushrooms?"

"By George, I think she's got it."

Alexis chuckled. "The rain in Spain, etc."

"And then you layer some ricotta over the mushrooms, layer a little more sauce, and then you grate some mozzarella. And then you start all over again until you reach the top."

"That's it?"

"That's it. Put it in the oven at 450 degrees for a half hour, take it out, and then let it stand at room temperature for another half hour to let it set so when you cut into it, it won't all fall apart."

"That's very logical. Cooking is very logical." Alexis observed with a look of wondrous discovery on face. "Oh my God - I might actually end up being good at this!"

Johnny laughed as he pre-heated the oven. "If you set your mind to it, I'm sure you will be."

"I now know how to make lasagna." Her eyes widened. "Could unburned toast and drinkable coffee be far behind?"

"Let's not set the bar TOO high." Johnny winked.

A sudden ringing came from beyond the kitchen door. Alexis frowned.

"That doesn't sound like my phone."

"Oh - it's my cell. I left it in my jacket in the living room. Be right back." He turned toward the doorway, then turned back and pointed at the pan on the counter. "Layer!"

Alexis saluted. "Aye-aye, Emeril."

She turned her attentions to spooning the sauce out of the pan and evenly covering the noodles in the pan. A few minutes later, she heard Johnny's voice approaching from behind her back as he returned to the kitchen.

"No, I'm just across the hall helping Alexis with something."

Alexis turned her head and whispered. "Is that Sonny?"

He nodded. "Did you need me to come over there? Okay. Well I'll be over here for a bit if you do."

"Is he home?"

Johnny nodded again. "Okay boss. I'll see you later."

He clicked off the phone and set it onto the counter.

"Is he home for the night, or is he going out again?"

"He didn't say, but if he WAS going out I'm sure he'd have mentioned it."

Alexis looked from the lasagna pan to the doorway, and back again. "Um…I'm going to go over there for a minute, to ask him over for dinner. I mean, in case he already has plans I don't want to waste any more of your time in here, slaving over a hot stove."

"Beats being out in the hall, staring at the elevator."

"Good point. In any case, I think it's only appropriate to issue a formal invitation…and make sure he's still speaking to me, of course."

"Yeah, right. The burning question." Johnny shook his head. "Go - issue your invitation. You can finish layering when you get back."

Alexis smiled, nodded, and pushed her bangs from her eyes. And as she made her way across the hall, she remembered to pull her sleeves back down. She was oddly nervous to see Sonny again, after their last words had been exchanged in such angry frustration. And Johnny's observation that Sonny seemed lost in the aftermath was clinging to her heart. She'd felt lost too. But now, she felt poised at the edge of a place where she belonged. Alexis knocked upon the door.

"Johnny?"

"No. It's Alexis."

The door quickly opened. Sonny stared at her, eyes large with surprise as if she was the last person on earth he expected to see on his doorstep. Alexis stared back, waiting to see a hint of his dimples appear within his cheeks. They would assure her that everything was really okay between them. And as if Sonny could read her mind, the corners of his mouth turned up just so, and the dimples she so adored greeted her eyes. She bit the inside of her cheek, fighting the overwhelming desire to throw her arms around him and declare herself right then and there.

"Hi." Sonny finally murmured.

"Hi back." Alexis smiled shyly. "I owe you an apology. A couple of apologies. A couple of BIG apologies."

"Alexis…"

"No, I do. For last night and this morning, and I'm sure many other times in the last few weeks that I've been thoroughly impossible and you were just too nice and too patient to tell me to shut up, buzz off, or get over myself."

Sonny laughed softly. "You haven't been that impossible."

Her left brow arched. "Careful - your nose is going to grow."

"I'm sorry for pushing you so hard this morning."

Sonny reached for her cheek and brushed his fingers down the softness of her skin. God, he'd missed touching her throughout the day.

"I knew how you'd react, but I did it anyway because I was scared and I didn't know what else to do. It was a knee jerk."

Alexis's heart skipped a beat at the feel of his touch. "I…I know. I'm sorry I gave you a reason to be scared. And I'm sorry that I reacted so badly to your good intentions. It was knee-jerk."

"Copy cat." He teased.

She felt her face flush. "Imitation is supposed to be flattering."

"It is flattering."

"Um…do you have plans for tonight?"

"No. No plans."

"Good. Then you're hereby invited over to my place for dinner."

"I'd love to. What would you like me cook?"

"Nothing. I'm taking care of the meal, you don't need to do anything but show up hungry."

Sonny cocked his head. "Yeah?"

Alexis smiled with proud anticipation of serving him her first culinary effort. "Yeah."

"Okay then." Sonny wondered which take-out restaurant she'd be calling. He's had an odd craving for Italian food all day. "What time?"

"Seven."

"Seven it is."

"I'll see you later then, okay?"

Alexis smiled and bit her lip. Sonny ached. He leaned his head against the edge of the door and sighed lightly.

"Okay."

Sonny and Alexis continued to stand in the doorway of PH4, deep brown eyes melting into each other in silence, hearts calling out to each other in furious thunder. The words they both wanted to speak were right on the tip of their tongues...but neither spoke. Seven o'clock would come soon enough - and not soon enough. And when seven o'clock did come, their lives would never be the same again.