This Modern Family fan fiction was written for the Yuletide Treasure fanfic exchange 2010.

What's in a Name?

Cousin Shelley


Phil, on the couch, looking at the camera

"I am the master." He laughed and pumped his fists in the air. "Claire has no idea—no idea. Do you know how cool that is? It's very cool. She'll be beyond surprised this year, because I'll be buying her something that right now, at this very minute, I don't even know she wants. And she'll know I don't know. Right up until she unwraps it and then she'll be all how did you know? I rule!"

***

Phil had been doing his best not to seem antsy. When he started anticipated something, he could even irritate himself with the childlike way he had a hard time thinking of anything else, which made it almost impossible not to give away surprises too soon. Of course, Claire wouldn't know or think of this as a surprise. He still had to be careful not to give it away, because it was all part of his clever scheme to get her a great anniversary present.

Gloria would be calling soon to ask Claire for some advice about some dress or earrings or something--she hadn't given Phil the exact details--and then ask if she would just come shopping with her so she could get Claire's opinion on this or that. And then Gloria would end up making it a whole afternoon of shopping, eating and having fun while playing on Claire's love of the idea that Gloria wants her advice. While really, Gloria would be taking note of the dresses, jewelry and other items that Claire particularly liked.

Because, for the first time, Phil had no idea what to get her for their anniversary. He'd thought about a bracelet or necklace, and knew she'd love whatever he picked, but he felt like he was starting to lose his gift-giving edge. He wanted it to be something she really, really wanted that she knew he'd have no idea of knowing about. That's where Gloria came in. It was going to be great.

"Got anything going on today?" he asked, putting his arms around Claire's waist from behind as she stood at the counter making a shopping list.

"Nope," she said, turning to kiss his cheek. "Just making this list for tomorrow and enjoying the peace and quiet. Haley's out with Dylan for the day, and probably well past her curfew into the night, Alex is spending the night with a friend so they can study for a science test on Monday, and Luke's at Joel's. Joel's been reading about psychic power, so they're going to camp in his backyard and try to make a star blink out with their minds."

"Sounds . . . interesting." He kissed Claire's neck. "So kids are gone all day, and you've got nothing to do. Sounds like a great day for, oh, I don't know, shopping with a friend." He inwardly cringed, because he knew he was skirting the edge of giving away too much. He also knew that subtlety wasn't his strong suit.

Claire leaned to the side and smiled at him. "It is a good day for that. Beautiful weather, weekend sales." She nodded. "Maybe I should call Kate, and--"

"No!"

She leaned to the side again with a little smile."I shouldn’t shop with Kate?"

"Well, that sounds fun, but maybe a friend  . . . and a family member. A family-friend thing. Kind of." Damn it, Phil!

Claire smiled. "I see. What do you have planned today? Showing any houses? Putting your iPad computer through its paces?"

"Just iPad, honey, and no, actually I don't have anything going on either. Just hanging around the house, I guess . . . doin' nothin', nothin' at all."

"You want to go shopping with me!" she said, clearly thrilled. "I know you've never been a fan of leisurely shopping trips, Phil."

"No, no, I never have," he said through a tight smile.

"You're so sweet to want to go--it's because our anniversary's coming up, isn't it? Oh, honey," she said, turning in his arms and embracing him. "You didn't have to hint, though, you could have just asked. I know I once said I'd never go clothes shopping with you again, but I was just angry and a little embarrassed. Maybe we can even go back into Fashion Wear? I'm sure they have a different salesgirl by now. Or maybe she won't recognize you after all this time. You don't plan on trying anything on, do you?"

Phil managed to laugh even as he remembered the horror that had been that particular shopping trip a couple of years ago. Claire had insisted that he try on some trousers in her favorite store, and he'd gotten his underwear zipped up in the fly of a very expensive pair. Claire had come in to help, and to his dismay told the salesgirl what the problem was. In trying to getting them undone, Phil had knocked the mirror off the wall then fallen backwards out the dressing room door, still hanging onto Claire's arm. The pants were dragged down a bit as he tried to balance himself, taking his underwear with them so that he ended up bent over and mooning the salesgirl who'd been coming to his rescue after hurrying next door to the Bath and Body Works for a little soap to give him to loosen the zipper. She'd screamed and squeezed the bottle, sending watermelon-kiwi scented soap flying through the air and onto several patrons. In casual conversation around the house, it had become known as the "Bath and Booty Works Incident."

"No, I won't be trying anything on. I have enough pants, and soap. And anyway Claire, I didn't mean . . . ." Phil trailed off because Claire was kissing his neck the way he liked best. "Claire . . . ."

"It's so sweet of you to volunteer to do something I know you don't really care for. So thoughtful, and kinda sexy. I think there'll be time to shop later, don't you? How often are we alone in the house, with all the kids gone, with nothing to do . . . ?"

"Oh my god, not often enough," Phil said. He kissed Claire and grabbed her hand, pulling her behind him through the house and up the steps. He smiled and raised his eyebrows knowingly as he stopped partway up, lifted Claire by the waist and put her down a step above where he stood, helping her bypass that damn broken stair.

"Oh, you're on a roll today, aren't you?" Claire said in a teasing voice.

He stepped over it, too. "See, huh?" he said, jerking his thumbs at himself and nodding as Claire laughed and pulled him behind her now. Phil giggled when Claire caught him in the hall and nibbled his neck, which made her actually attempt to tickle him with fingers in his side.

"Jesus!" As he jerked away, he bumped his head on the wall and knocked a picture down.

"Oh Phil, oh honey, I'm sorry." Claire put her hand on the side of his head. "You okay?"

He slid his arms around her waist. "Of course I'm okay, it was just a little bump. Finish your dinner and let's get out of here so we can spend all night cruising the mall and talking about guys!"

"Phil?"

"Kidding, I'm kidding. You could run me over with the car and it wouldn't matter. A little knock on the noggin's not gonna stop me, please." He snorted as he laughed, and then continued making the sound as he nuzzled Claire's neck. She giggled at first, which made him keep snorting as he laughed until it sounded a bit like someone with a serious sinus condition.

"Phil."

Laughing at the sound, he snorted louder.

"Okay, that's just gross. Come on." She pulled him by the hand into the bedroom where they collapsed together on the bed, Phil feeling the most like a teenager he'd felt for at least a few days. The phone rang and they stopped for just a moment, then shook their heads, laughed and ignored it.

***

Phil followed Claire around the kitchen where she carefully opened cabinets and added to her list. He'd been trying to explain himself since yesterday, but Claire simply looked at him and said nothing.

"I'm sorry, honey, if you'll just let me explain. Oww." Phil put his hand on his arm.

"Oww, what? I didn't touch you."

"I was anticipating it. Why do you sound so calm?"

"Because I am calm. I'm absolutely blind with fury, and that makes me calm. Let's all of us hope I stay calm for quite some time. "

"I've told you what happened. I knew Gloria was going to invite you shopping and was so distracted I didn't remember for a while and when I did, well that's the only reason I said her name!"

"While I was nibbling your ear, you only shouted Gloria because you'd missed her phone call?"

"Yes, that's it exactly."

"Oh, that makes perfect sense. I don't need any more of this enlightening explanation. Thank you," she said, in the same way she might have thanked Phil for reminding her to put milk on the shopping list.

"But honey, I can explain it in great detail and you'll see, once you're really able to hear me. But you're too calm and it's like everything I say is being burned up in your angry brain fires the minute it goes in your ear. Come on, Claire, yell at me, please? Slam down some Tupperware or something. Give me that look that makes me flinch because it reminds me of your mother. Oh, oh, I'm sorry, not that look, another look, the I-just-stepped-in-something-squishy look, or the I-forgot-to-check-Luke's-pants-pockets-before-I-washed-them look, anything but this one that's on your face now. I mean, I love your face, you know I do, even those little wrinkles you get between your eyes when you frown at me, I--I love all the parts of your face, just not the particular . . . configuration all the parts are in now. Okay, I recognize this look, I can work with this. This is the shut-up-now-Phil look. Okay, see, that's better."

Claire just shook her head and walked away, then Luke, Alex and Haley all converged on her from different directions.

"Mom, I need to go—"

"Mom, I need you to—"

"Mom, my hand's stuck in—"

Claire held her hands up as if in surrender, and silently pushed her way through the kids without saying anything.

Alex looked at Haley. "Oh my god, what did you do? She looked like you've done something that makes it clear to the whole world you'll be the one asking them if they want fries for the rest of their lives."

"Really?" Haley said, towering over Alex. "I thought she'd just realized that eventually she'd have to pretend that your 40 cats are her grandchildren when she goes to visit you in the old maid's retirement village."

As they started to sling insults back and forth, Phil came in from the kitchen and wedged his hands between them. "That's enough, girls. Alex, you won't have 40 cats, and Haley, you'll get a better job than French fry pusher. Just stop. Let's see a hug, hug your sister. Yes? No. Okay, maybe next time," he said as the girls headed in opposite directions. "Hey buddy," he said to Luke. "Whatcha got on your hand there?"

"Mom didn't get that mad last time." He held up his hand, encased in a glass vase.

"Hey, she's not mad at you, bro, Mom's mad at me. But it's no big deal. It'll pass! Let's go get the oil."

"Why is she mad at you? Did you get something stuck, too?"

Phil laughed a little. "Yeah, got my foot stuck in my mouth."

Luke looked down at his foot.

Phil put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't ever try that, buddy."

***


Phil and Claire, sitting on the couch with several inches between them

Phil looked between Claire and the camera, then cocked his head to better hear the question.

"Why are we . . . .? We had a disagreement about how to punish Haley, isn't that right, honey?" Phil smiled and put a hand on Claire's shoulder, but she shrugged it off.  "She snuck out, again, and we couldn't decide whether to ground her or take her cell—Claire?"

Claire was up and moving, already a few feet from the couch.

Phil sighed and looked at the camera. "Okay, that's not what happened." He flinched at the crash from the other room. "It's been an ugly morning. At least she's expressing herself now." He looked toward the kitchen and flinched at another sound. "Uh oh, dropped something. And something else."

***

Claire was running about three times Mitchell's speed, grunting every several steps, pounding her feet on the treadmill as if the object were to make noise instead of get a workout.

"Are you pretending an axe murderer's behind you?" Mitchell asked. "You're going to hurt yourself."

"Nah, feels fantastic, just great."

"And it will feel fantastic right up until you snap a hamstring. Stop it!" He slowed to a walk and stared at Claire.

She frowned at him for a moment, then slowed down to a jog.

"Claire, you know Phil loves you."

"I know he does."

"So you know there's nothing . . . you know he doesn't . . . I mean, I'm sure it's innocent."

"I know, I know." She hooked a towel over the back of her neck and pulled hard enough to make Mitchell frown.

"So then why are you letting it get to you this way?"

Claire slowed the treadmill down to a walk and shook her head. "Look, I know that nothing's going on between Phil and Gloria. And though he ogles her sometimes, well, she's hard not to ogle. I know he wouldn't  . . . you know . . . not even if Gloria would, and I'm sure she wouldn't. It's just humiliating. Imagine if Cam hollered out Bill or Esteban when you were kissing his neck."

"Esteban?"

"It's the point."

"I know."

"You know what Gloria looks like, Mitchell. She's all unngghhh and oooooh," Claire said as she made a hand gesture in front of her chest and then around her hips, then she fluttered her hand between her hips and her face. "She's all this. Gorgeous and sexy and exotic in a way I'm not."

"No, Claire, that's not true. She seems exotic, but once you get to know Gloria and can understand everything she's saying, it's clear she's very down to earth and . . . less-exotic. Okay, she is gorgeous and incredibly sexy—"

"Then how is what I said not true?"

"Because you said 'in a way I'm not.' You're a beautiful, sexy woman, Claire. You're absolutely gorgeous." Mitchell laughed and gestured toward her. "I mean, come on. You've got it going on, girlfriend. And I'm just a little skeeved out that I'm saying these things to my sister."

"Thank you, Mitchell. So if you weren't my brother . . . ?"

"And I weren't gay . . . yes, I'd, you know, I'd have been all . . . up in that . . . hitting . . . I'd have definitely asked you out on a date by now."

She smiled at him with a sympathetic expression and cocked her head.

"Hey sis, I can call Cam. He'd be better in this situation. He'd probably slap you on the behind and tell you how he'd definitely hit that, and it would be much less creepy than if I do it."

Claire laughed. "That's okay. You did fine."

"But I can call him if you really need to hear it. Alternately, I can have him dress up as Fizbo and terrorize Phil, depending on which would make you feel better."    

She snapped Mitchell with her towel. "I'll keep that one in the back of my mind."

"His scheme with Gloria was sweet, you have to admit." Mitchell used his own towel to wipe the spot on his arm where Claire's towel hit him.

"It was sweet, I guess. But I can't help thinking it's as much about him as his desire to get me something nice. Phil turns gift-giving into a competitive sport. And I think he secretly loves the fact that he gets everyone something better than they get him." Claire walked quietly for a few moments. "You know, he also thinks he can do almost everything better than anybody else, and granted, there are some things he can do better. A few things. And some he can't. He has a handyman complex. You know that wobbly stair--he can't seem to fix it right but refuses to hire someone else to do it! It's not even the money, it's his manly pride or something."

"Some of us have the handyman gene—others don't," Mitchell said with a nod and started jogging again. "But I think you're dealing with suppressed aggravations now, Claire. All this about the gift-giving and the stair didn't spring from his slip-up with Gloria's name. So you're overreacting about that because you're aggravated about other things."

"You're probably right."

"And if he asked you to have someone to come in and cook a dinner that maybe you're not so great at cooking, wouldn't you feel the same as he does about the stair?"

"I'm a good cook. It's not the same at all!"

"Isn't it?"

"Mmmno," she mumbled. "And stop being a lawyer, Mitchell. Just be my brother and be completely on my side."

"So . . . Fizbo?"

"Can I take a raincheck on that?"

***


Phil, alone on the couch

"You know, there may be more to this whole situation than meets the eye. Claire's jealousy of Gloria could spring from some kind of insecurity about a certain family member who might or might not, but might, have a bit of an attraction for old Phil." He nodded. "So this could very well be more about Claire and her insecurities than me saying Gloria's name while she was nibbling my ear. Yep. Someone else in the family has a thing for me, and I think that makes her feel a little bit threatened." He bobbed his head. "Oh, how the tides do turn."

***

Claire was mixing up a batch of cupcakes for the math club bake sale when her cell phone rang. She'd only just finished her workout with Mitchell, showered and come home to find a note from Haley about the cupcakes. At first she'd thought it was a joke because Haley and the math club should never be used in the same sentence, but then Haley called to explain that she could get some desperately needed extra credit in math if she helped out with the bake sale. She'd volunteered her mom to bake cupcakes.

Needing the distraction anyway and hoping to do her part to save Haley's GPA, she set about baking. Her cell rang just as she'd started, so she hit the speakerphone button and kept stirring.

"Claire, Mitchell told me what you said to him today."

"Oooh," Claire said in a high-pitched voice, "I should have known he would."

"And yes, Claire, I have to admit that . . . honey, I'd hit that. Under the right circumstances, I'd hit that in a heartbeat."

Claire laughed. "Yeah, Mitchell suspected you'd probably say that, and he felt a little awkward telling me . . . you know."

"Oh, he's right. If we weren't all but related, sweetie, I'd have no qualms. Super sexy!"

"Thanks, Cam . . . it means a lot that you'd say that. I think."

***


Phil, on the couch

"I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but I was about to go in and beg a little more when I overheard Cam say he'd hit this," he pointed at himself, "and was man enough to admit his attraction to me to Claire, I guess after some prompting from Mitchell. This may have been going on under the radar for a long time. I hope that doesn't cause problems between the two of them. I mean, it's perfectly natural for brothers-in law and sisters-in-law . . . and brothers-in-law . . . to find each other attractive, isn't it? They're just infatuations that spring from close proximity and shared interests, right? But that could certainly color Claire's perception of what I did." He shook his head, smiling. "I don't think this is about me at all."

***


Phil and Claire, sitting with a few inches between them

"Claire, I swear to you I didn't think of Gloria and say her name because I was thinking of her in that way." He tried to put his hand on Claire's but she sat on her hands and shook her head.

"Oh really, Phil? I know you find her attractive—everything with testosterone does—so then explain to me exactly why you would suddenly say her name while I'm kissing you for a reason that doesn't involve some kind of hormone. I'd dying to hear this explanation, because there are still a couple of old, ugly plates that your aunt with the mole and the bad attitude gave us for Christmas one year, and I feel like my pitching arm needs a warm up." She raised her eyebrow and wrenched up one side of her mouth.

"The plates with the cornucopias in the middle and little baby New Year sitting on a Jack-O-Lantern while petting a reindeer? I love those plates, Claire. They perfectly encompass the entire extended holiday season."

The corner of her mouth went up a little bit higher.

"Okay, okay. You nibbling on my ear is what did it. You nibbled and so my attention was focused on my earlobe. And I realized I'd forgotten about Gloria. And you know sometimes there's no filter between here," he slapped his forehead, "and here." He put his hand up to his mouth and wiggled his fingers. "No filter!"

"Phil, that's exactly it! Why would me nibbling on your earlobe make you think of Gloria? Because you were thinking of her while you were getting romantic with me."

"No, honey, no. When my attention was brought to my ear, that made me think of those dangly earrings I gave you, the sparkly ones with layers that look like upside-down pyramids."

Claire leaned forward a little and put her hands in her lap. "You gave me those for our anniversary a few years ago. That's what reminded you of our anniversary and your scheme with Gloria?" She stuck out her bottom lip a little and patted his leg.   

"No," Phil said, "that made me think of how the hooks turned out not to be real silver, and infected your piercings. Which reminded me of the time Luke stapled one of Haley's bracelets to his earlobe, and we had to take him to the ER to have it removed, and they gave him a tetanus shot. Which made me think of the night I had to go to the ER."

He took a deep breath in through his nose and looked at the camera for a moment, head held high. "And you got dressed up. For the firemen. Who came when I was in agony. With kidney stones. When I needed surgery."

He turned back to Claire, who was rubbing the bridge of her nose. 

"And that made me think of you dressing up for special occasions."

"Which reminded you of our anniversaries and your scheme with Gloria?"

"No. That reminded me of the anniversary you wore that push-up bra and the knotted strand of pearls that draped down right between . . . here." He put his fingers on his breastbone. "God, you looked great like that."

"Oh, sure, and that made you think of Gloria—my pushed-up boobs?"

"No! That made me think of that sexy, lacy underwire bra you had for years until Luke cut the metal pieces out to use as antenna for his toilet-paper-tube robot. Which made me think of the time the toilet clogged when Luke unrolled all the toilet paper so he could make a toilet-paper-tube robot. "

"Oh, I know! And that reminded you of the anniversary when we . . . ." Claire grinned and blushed a little as she looked at the camera. "We decided to get a little wild and we stayed at this really cheap motel. After we checked in, we realized that only a trickle came out of the shower and the toilet wouldn't flush. Turned out, we didn't care," she said with a little giggle.

"No, that's not it either. But that was a great anniversary," he said with a smile. "Thinking of the toilet not flushing because of the toilet-paper-tube robot reminded me of when Luke tried to see if he could pull some of his insides out of his navel with the toilet plunger, and got it stuck to his belly. He kept galloping through the house saying he looked like a unicorn." Phil looked at the camera.  "He didn't look like a unicorn. But it was easier to let him believe it than to try to explain why."

He cleared his throat. "That made me think of a few years ago when he kicked me so hard in the groin that I thought I might literally die, and I sat around with a bag of frozen peas on my crotch. I kept making jokes about the Green Giant." Phil laughed and shook his head. Then he looked at Claire and his smile disappeared. "You didn't laugh then either."

"Phil! For the love---I mean—are you insane? How--would you just please . . . ." She dropped her forehead into her hand.

He widened his eyes and tilted his head a little. "Thinking of the Green Giant made me think of Jack and the Beanstalk, one of Luke's favorite stories when he was little, which reminded me of the kids as babies, which reminded me of things like their first steps and their first words, and remember how Alex' first word, which was mommy, came out sounding like "macabre" for a while? Then at the same time I thought about what a wonderful mother you are to all of our kids and I thought about how "macabre" is probably a word that Manny has already used more times in his short life than I ever will, and both those things reminded me of Gloria, because she's a good mom, like you, to Manny. And that made me realize she was waiting and I'd totally forgotten. And then no filter," he said, gesturing at his forehead and his mouth again. "It just popped out."

Claire shook her head and blinked her eyes.

"Now," Phil said, grinning, his hand on Claire's knee, "see how innocent it really was?"

***

Claire sipped her coffee, trying to figure out how Phil's mind worked. He'd just had a phone call about a house and she'd been alone with her thoughts for about fifteen minutes. She only spent about two of those on Phil's mental processes before a headache threatened, and now she was thinking about anniversary presents and rickety stairs.

Phil came into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat next to her, looking at her in that way that he did when he was trying to figure out if she was in a good mood, or if he should get back up and go away.

"Phil, how did you and Gloria manage to make these shopping plans for me, exactly?"

"When we had dinner at their house a few weeks ago our anniversary came up in conversation. I was asking her for advice, and we decided she'd buddy up with you and be my spy for a day. It was really her idea, but I thought it was great," he said.

"Really?"

"She said she doesn't get to spend enough time with you anyway, and it would be fun."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"That's sweet." She ran her fingertip over the handle on her cup. "So you have no idea what to get me?"

He sighed. "Nope. You know I kind of pride myself on being a good gift-giver. I feel at a loss this time and I didn't want to blow it. I thought this would be a good way to find out what you really wanted and get you something special."

Claire rubbed his shoulder. "You're a great gift giver, Phil. Almost too good."

"I know." He laughed.  "I mean, thanks. What?"

"Every time a gift-giving holiday rolls around, you go all out and I end up feeling inadequate."

Phil shook his head. "But I don't want you to feel that way, Claire."

"It's so sweet, Phil, that you give such nice gifts and you put so much into it, but I always feel like a little failure because it's as if there's nothing I can give you that matches what you give me. So if it won't completely ruin the day for you, can we not get each other gifts? No pressure this time. That would mean a lot to me."

Phil nodded his head. "Okay, no gifts, no pressure. But why don't you have a shopping day with Gloria anyway and buy yourself an anniversary gift? You'll have fun."

"Yeah, yeah I will. Okay. So you're sure you're okay with it? I'll buy myself something I want. You can head to the computer store with one of your friends and buy yourself something you want, some sort of iPad attachments or something."

"Accessories."

"And we'll have a romantic dinner out then spend the evening at home and forget all the gift-giving pressure. That will be gift enough this year, right?"

He put his hand on her head and stroked her hair. "That would make you happy?"

"It would."

***

"You and Gloria have fun?" Phil asked when Claire came in the door, a couple of bags in her hand.

"We did. We had lunch, saw a movie, and she helped me pick out a couple of dresses and a bracelet. They're fantastic!" She kissed him and groaned playfully as she hugged him. "And your anniversary present will be me modeling them for you. I need a zipper-boy," she said, then nibbled his ear. "If you think you can handle it."

Phil giggled and said, "Sounds perfect."

"You're . . . smiley," she said.

"You just explained I'll be your zipper-boy, of course I'm smiling."

"Oh no," she said, her shoulders slumping. "You've got that look you get when you're hiding something. Phil? You didn't run out and buy me some extravagant present just to get an advantage, did you?"

"No, I didn't even leave the house, sweetheart." He kept smiling.

"You always . . . Phil . . . ."

"I swear, Claire, I haven't gone anywhere and bought you a gift. I followed your rules to a tee."

She frowned and him and puffed her bottom lip out in a little pout. "Okay, because I was serious. Dinner and a relaxing evening with the kids gone, and that'll be perfect, right?"

"Right."

"You don't feel . . . deprived?"

"No, honey, not at all. I got to buy iPad computer attachments, and now I get to be zipper-boy, remember?" He wiggled his eyebrows. "Come on, zippa-dee-doo-dah, Missy."

As they hurried up the stairs, Claire stopped and turned to look at Phil, wide-eyed. She took a step back and a step up, then did it once more. "You fixed the stair!"

"Told you I didn't go anywhere."

The step didn't shift at all like it had when Phil tried to fix it before. No wobbling, no feeling like she was about to be thrown back down the steps. When he'd tried before it had been a weekend project. "I can't believe you fixed it today—that fast?"

"Well, I . . . didn't fix it, not exactly. I'd love to take credit, but I couldn't fix that stair if my life depended on it, and we both know it. I asked your dad to do it. You'd have been proud, Claire."

She stared at him for a moment and put her hand on her chest. "You asked my dad. Oh, I am proud, Phil. Proud, and so many other things." She started backing up, motioning for him to follow with her finger.

"Yay," he said, smiling, and headed up the stairs in pursuit, only to trip on the step and go down on one knee.

Claire stepped forward, but Phil waved his hand as he got back up. "That was just my enthusiasm and worn soles, stair's fine, go, go, go!"

***


Cam and Mitchell, sitting in front of the camera

"So Phil called and explained that he'd overheard me talking to Claire on the phone. And he thought I was talking about him. It was very sweet, really. He wanted me to know that he thought it was very flattering and that I was awesome for being honest with her."

Mitchell gasped. "When you said you'd--"

"--hit that, yes. So he thinks I have this attraction to him and have admitted that to Claire, ostensibly to make sure there are no hard feelings between us because of my  . . . ." Cam started laughing and had a hard time getting the rest out. "My . . . lust for . . . her husband . . . ."

Mitchell threw his head back and laughed. Wiping his eyes, he asked, "How did he react when you explained what you really meant?"

"Oh, I didn't."

"You just let him think you meant him?"

"Sure, it'll make family get-togethers even more of a hoot."

They both laughed, and kept laughing.


Gloria and Jay

"Ohhhhh, mi mi!" Gloria said, slapping her leg, barely able to speak for laughing. "When Claire told me about Phil's misunderstanding in thinking that Cam—" She laughed, cutting off the rest of her sentence. "Oh mi, it hurts."

Jay shook his head. "I really don't know whether to laugh or cry." He looked down at his lap and chuckled, then flinched as Gloria let loose again.


Claire, alone on the couch

She laughed, stopped, shook her head, wrapped her arms around her midsection and kept laughing, rolling onto her side.

***

They'd been relaxing on the couch for a while when Claire asked, "So honey, did dad give you a hard time?" She rubbed his thigh. "I know there's this thing between the two of you . . . ."

"What thing? There's nothing . . . Jay and me, we're . . .  buds. Okay, I expected to have to eat a bunch of crow and deal with some less-than-flattering remarks about my manhood, but he quietly agreed to do it, came over and did it. He was wonderful about the whole thing. He didn't even get mad when I was leaning over his shoulder making suggestions."

"He didn't get mad? That's . . . remarkable."

"In fact, the only time he really said anything was to tell me to be careful. He didn't even yell.  Just said, 'You should step back, Phil. You wouldn't want me to accidentally hit that,'" Phil said, frowning and shaking his head. "Then he laughed for a really long time. I think maybe he was tired."

Claire snorted and covered her mouth with her hand. "Well that's . . . that's great, honey. I appreciate this. It's a wonderful present. Especially since you had someone else do it."

Phil's eyebrows went up. "Ouch."

"I mean . . . you know what I mean." She put a hand on his cheek.

"I do. I know exactly what you mean. It's still just a tiny bit hurtful," he said quickly, "but I completely understand."

Claire pulled him forward by his collar and kissed him. "Happy Anniversary, honey. Now come on, you've got some more work to do. Lots of unzipping . . . ."

"None of the dresses are button-ups?"

***


Claire and Phil, sitting close together on the couch

"So without buying each other anything," Phil admitted, "we had a great anniversary, great presents—presents of love and thoughtfulness, no price tag, no return, no one feeling superior or inadequate. Except for the few minutes when I unzipped one of Claire's new dresses and got it snagged on my shirt. But aside from that, perfection. Perfectamundo. Per—"

"Great time," Claire said, hooking her arm around Phil's and smiling.

Phil's cell rang. "Excu--just a minute, uno minuto," he said, putting a finger up. "Hey, Cam. Yeah, wow, that sounds great. How sweet of you guys. Would you like us to bring something?"

Phil's smile froze on his face and he looked at Claire and the camera. "Great. Okay. Thanks. Yeah, see you then."

He hung up and tucked the phone back into his pocket. "Cam and Mitchell have invited us over for dinner tomorrow night as an anniversary present."

"Oh, how nice. We're bringing wine, or just our appetites?" Claire smiled at the camera.

Phil shook his head, then shrugged. "Well, I asked that, and . . . Cam laughed and said I should just bring my delicious hot cross buns, the ones he likes so very, very much." He looked at Claire and then the camera. "I--I'm not sure how to feel about that."

Claire barked out a laugh and buried her face in Phil's shoulder. "Oh honey, we need to talk."