The Life and Times

Part 5: Of a good beginning cometh a good end.

Chapter 56

"To expostulate why day is day, night night, and time is time, 
were nothing but to waste night, day, and time"
Hamlet, Act ii, Sc.2

Cole and Phoebe stayed in the yard for a long time, so long in fact that Leo came out and ordered them in because guests would be arriving soon. They barely had time to shower and change and dress Patsy in a red pants and blue sweater with 'MY Best Boy' on it when Francesca orbed quietly into the hall, carrying two beautifully wrapped parcels, one large and interesting and the other looking decidedly sensible.

There had been some discussion in the family about presents. Paige had wondered if they ought to say no presents for the party.

"That always embarrasses people," said Phoebe firmly "they never know whether you mean it."

Presents were supposed to be put on the table and opened later but the sight was too much for Melinda after a polite greeting to Mrs 'Winaldi' in which she explained she was a very good girl insisted that Patsy couldn't wait until later. She, with a little assistance from Patsy, ripped the paper off and was disappointed to find a little boy summer outfit calculated to fit an 18 month old.

"I haven't even thought about summer clothes for him" Phoebe holding beautifully made outfit up, "Haven't got much left from Melinda, unisex ones didn't survive."

"I know dear," said Francesca.

The second parcel interested Pasty and Melinda far more. It was a clear ball, with a curious turning light inside that seemed to sparkle no matter which way you looked.

"They can hit anything in the house and each other with that and not do any damage " Francesca explained.

"I've never seen one like that in a shop " Phoebe commented inspecting it.

"You wouldn't " Francesca answered smiling.

"Very nice," said Cole very polite," thank you"

"Stop being a brat Cole" Francesca told him.

Cole raised his eyebrows and picked up the clothes to put them on the gift table, moving past Marly who was laying out children's treats in the living room. She flushed crimson and then positively glowed. Cole swallowed hard.

The door bell rang and Phoebe ordered Cole to get it. "Got the answer to the movie star puzzle from the gossip columnist at work" she told Francesca. "You were right."

"I knew it" said Francesca brightening up "How?"

Phoebe leant over and whispered in her ear and Francesca laughed as Cole showed Victor and his not so new wife in. The expression on Victor's wife Margaret's face when she saw Francesca already ensconced caused both Cole and Phoebe to nearly choke. Victor was carrying an enormous parcel, that turned out to be the largest toy train he could find, to Melinda's disgust. Victor a doting grandfather also bought a stuffed toy horse for Melinda so she would not feel left out.

"They promised that train was pretty well indestructible," Victor explained to Cole as Melinda with two aunts to teach her how to keep a male interested bestowed 'Pop' with lots of kisses. Patsy said wah and concentrated on trying to pull the wheel of the train off.

It seemed most of the guests really did know the Halliwell family because nearly every present was either indestructible or sensible clothing for Patsy, that they were sure Phoebe would not have the time (they mean inclination whispered Paige to Piper) to buy.

Patsy seemed to take the fuss in his stride as his parents at first held him to greet all guests. Finally he screamed to be put down, so he toddled to where with Melinda was opened parcels. She let him rip some paper off, so in a very short time the whole house seemed a satisfactory mess of paper, people and noise.

Despite concerns about Melinda, she was being very good. She appointed herself to look after Patsy and direct present opening, and running around telling all the guests how pretty she was. Melinda looked after by Jade's daughters found herself the centre of attention of three 'big' girls. They had painted Melinda's finger and toe nails 4 different colours and decided she could wear her frilliest little girl dress and even for fun let her wear lipstick. Piper winced but did not want to hurt their feelings.

Piper running in and out from the kitchen, ordering Phoebe and Cole to look after guests, ordering Paige to make sure they did as they were told and ordering Leo to help her was enjoying herself.

Looking after some guests was easy. Darryl and Sheila Morris made themselves comfortably at home. They saw their boys settle into a noisy group with Clarissa's boys and Aunt Eleanor's two eldest grandsons, which drove every-one else from the conservatory. Then they settled down to enjoy the food and look forward to whatever unplanned entertainment the Halliwell family would offer. Sheila lived in hope that just one day she would see something really magical at the manor. Darryl who had seen succubus and grimlochs and ghosts told her she really didn't want to do that.

Paige was a little concerned that Eduardo Vegas, Cole's office assistant and his wife who barely knew any-one would be left out but fortunately Eduardo's wife who was the grandmotherly type fussed the P3 manager, Reggie's very pregnant wife and when her brother Danny came over they found a common topic about the absurdities of working for the Halliwell family and they were soon joined by two family cousin's who were delighted to have an audience to tell all the old stories about both of Phoebe and Cole's weddings. So it became clear they were all thoroughly enjoying themselves, and Paige could move on.

Leo between keeping bar and doing what Piper told him got caught up in along conversation with Clarissa and her husband Mike about the cost of magic. Darryl and his wife Sheila joined in and after a few awkward moments before Clarissa and Mike realised the Morris's knew about magic, they all seemed to have a lot to talk about, topping each other on the list of damaged houses, cars and clothes, frightening moments and disbelief in what they had seen.

Francesca was being a good guest and chatting to Victor and his two sisters whom she had met at Cole and Phoebe's wedding and winning their hearts by defeating every effort Victor's wife Margaret made to make the conversation about her. After several quite decisive victories, Francesca had to reluctantly remember she was good and remove herself from the battle ground before it became an unnecessary rout.

Piper knowing from experience that sit down parties with children and adults rarely worked she just kept the food coming and hoped Musha and the brownies, Cole, some-one could fix any damage. Marly who was to shy to talk to strangers was handing around plates and Francesca used the excuse of another savoury from the tray and some-how managed to make the shy little witch start talking by commenting on the two ginger kittens curled sound asleep on the sofa.

Margaret had told Piper the kittens should be moved so some-one could sit on the sofa."

"The kittens live here," said Piper firmly so the end of the sofa remained off limits.

Clarissa for whom Marly also worked must have wondered if Marly needed rescuing because she came over and somehow found herself being caught up in along conversation with Marly and Francesca about magic without even realising how this prim school marm lady who clearly knew about the magic in the Halliwell family, encouraged her to reveal so much.

Clarissa finally had to go when the loudest screaming coming from the conservatory turned out to be her boys. Paige seeing Marly alone with Francesca came over and Marly suddenly hugely embarrassed at how much she had revealed, mumbled she had to hand plates around. Paige sat down beside Francesca "Thanks for looking after Marly" she said.

"I enjoyed it dear" Francesca told her. "It's a very good thing for some-one like me to talk, to listen to those who stand in the front line. It protects us ….me from making rash and ill considered judgements based on inflexible rules that have a very real purpose but were never meant to be used as a rigid guide."

Paige swallowed nervously.

"Don't get your knickers in knot dear," Francesca told Paige "I wasn't asking dear," she said "And there is no reason to explain."

Paige looked at her uncomfortable.

"Where am I?" said Francesca "USA. Sorry dear. Panties in a bunch."

They were both distracted by Patsy despite all the toys he had received for his birthday finding the Disney Donald duck that he had liked telekineticing around the room and pulling it onto the floor in front of them.

Leo saw it out and decided that could be dangerous. He rushed to get it but Victor picked up his grandson first and the Donald Duck.

 "That thing looks exactly like Wyatt " Victor whispered to Leo.

"Don't say that In front of Piper" said Leoquickly.

Victor shrugged.

His wife Margaret seeing holding him Patsy who was the focus of attention joined them " How's the birthday boy?" she cooed loudly chucking Patsy's chin.

Patsy said WAHHHHHH.

Margaret snorted a little and eyed the Donald Duck "OMG" she announced loudly "That doll looks exactly like the baby."

The room suddenly went silent.

A furious Piper who was arranging another plate of hand made party quiches on the small table started to say "Don't you dare." before Leo caught her arm and hastily dragged her way.

"Well it does," Margaret stage whispered to her husband.

"Shh dear" said Victor.

The conversation pointedly started again.

"You wear panties" said Paige cheekily to Francesca.

"I was led to understand you know perfectly well what whitelighter wear under their robes," Francesca answered severely, schoolmarm in place. "But it isn't really my business how you know is it " she added.

"Thank you" said Paige,

Francesca half raised her glass "To happiness" she said. She finished the wine "I could do with another." she said.

Francesca amused her self watching Jade's daughter and playing 'pass the parcel' with Wyatt, each one taking the time to cuddle him, while Melinda explained how to hold him. Wyatt made soft hissing sounds and happily blew bubbles.

Francesca half jumped as she felt Cole loom over her holding two wine glasses. "I suppose you would think it too friendly if I told you this was the good stuff " he said.

"No" she answered. "I would think it was about time you got it for me." She reached up and took the glass. "Sit down " she ordered Cole," I don't like being loomed over."

Cole hesitated and then sat beside her, carefully avoiding upsetting the kittens.

"I heard about your visit with Therold." Francesca told him amused, nodding at the kittens.

"Seems Phoebe made quite an impression" said Cole.

"So did you" Francesca said very school marm "Just not a very good one."

"I guess Therold and I aren't going to be best buddies for eternity" he said shaking his head.

"Therold thinks Phoebe's a heroine" said Francesca. "Fairytale and mythical heroines are always beautiful.

"He wouldn't think she was so damned beautiful, if he lived with her and her family blaming him for everything that goes wrong" Cole commented a little to dryly.

"As you and I both know you play that game because its your safety net against letting the power tempt you…don't even try and play on my sympathy" said Francesca severely. "I haven't got any."

"Okay," he agreed grinnning because she was right "When they're bitching at me, its me, not…. what I can do."

They were silent a little awkward.

Margaret after being ignored by her sisters-in-law went over to where Jade's daughters were playing with Wyatt and all but wrested Wyatt from the eldest who pouted mutinously. Wyatt as soon as Margaret picked him up opened his mouth and let out one huge angry WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH at the top of his lungs and then another so that everyone in the room just stared at him and Margaret.

Jade's second daughter hastily took him back and he immediately reverted to a soft sing song wah.

"Your children have excellent taste," Francesca told Cole.

They sat silently.

Cole glanced over at Phoebe where she was doing her best to show her son off to the family. She was on her hands and knees on the floor, hair falling forward, bum in the air, tight white pants stretched to their limit as she tried to encourage Pasty to show how clever he was dancing for the family. She was hitting the floor with her hands and singing along to encourage him.

"If she makes him decide to levitate Piper will kill her," Cole said. He watched Phoebe silently and Francesca , head on side watched him, easily understanding what he was thinking.

Cole was thinking he loved Phoebe. It was enough and yet it seemed such a small word to describe what she meant to him, capricious, contrary ,passionate and difficult, determined to have her own way. Generous and brave willing to give anything for any one as long I as it did not mean she broke a nail. Phoebe thank god would always be Phoebe.

"She's happy" he said softly

"Seems even Elders and bosses under demonic influence can't turn her world upside down and make her unhappy" Francesca murmured.

"No" agreed Cole.

"You're the only one who has the power to do that by leaving her" said Francesca.

"Yes," Cole agreed.

"But its not a power you're going to use is it?" Francesca asked softly.

"What do you know? " he asked suspiciously but Francesca half turned away shaking her head.

Cole watched Phoebe holding Patsy's hands as she encouraging him to dance while the family clapped him.

A smile crossed his face, a special one , one that he saved only for her.

"No Mrs Rinaldi " he agreed "That is not a power I could ever be tempted to use."

"Its no small thing to be the beloved of demon guardian" Francesca said.

"I'm glad you know that " Cole replied before he could stop himself.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Francesca asked school marm and he raised his eyes but did not answer.

He was silent. "So it okay to be friends with Phoebe but not me " he said.

"It’s a different friendship " Francesca told him in her best don't mess with me voice.

"We have a long path to walk together," Cole said softly turning so he could see her.

"You really are learning some wisdom" Francesca told him with slight patronising tone.

"And." he persisted then stood up looking down at her. "I care," then he waited.

She did not answer.

"Nothing to say " he said.

Francesca put her glass down and folded her hands primly "You know perfectly well I hold you in great affection" she answered looking up and refusing to be intimidated. "Why do you need me to say it?"

"Justice," he said grinning.

"We understand each other" said Francesca quietly.

"More than any-one would have ever thought " Cole answered cryptically as she frowned.

Cole stood up and with a slight incline of his head smiled then wandered away to be a good host.

A few minutes later Piper saw him deep in conversation with Darryl, Leo and Clarissa's husband Mike.

"What's that about?" Piper suspiciously asked Paige interrupting a chat she was having with Clarissa.

Paige carefully focused her whitelighter hearing, "How difficult it is to be married to a witch " she said "Darryl is assuring them its hard with any woman but the others are convinced it takes a special calibre of man to live with a witch.They said it not me " she added.

"I can almost guarantee Mike will find he was right when we get home," said Clarissa. "The part about it being difficult being married to a witch."

Piper and Paige laughed.

Darryl's boys and Clarissa's along with cousins became bored with electronic games and dares and started throwing a balls round the conservatory.

"That goes outside," roared Piper as the ball hit magic reinforced glass. "Leo if they want to pay football organise it outside." she ordered.

Mike and Darryl immediately ushered the boys out , big boys as pleased as little boys to have an excuse to let off energy. Victor determined to prove he was still with it despite being grandfather joined them,.

Cole watched them go.

"We need you for even numbers," Leo told Cole catching his arm pulling him along.

"I don't know how to play football" muttered Cole " it wasn't on the curriculum at demons college.

"What,"? said Mike,".

Leo hauled Cole after him " I thought you were a quick learner when it came ti human games " he smirked dragging him out the door.

"You want me to tell Victor about the Vladivostok brothel madam" Cole muttered but let himself be dragged out.

Only a few people decided not to watch or play football, even Marly who could sit with Clarissa and not talk to strangers.  Darryl's wife Sheila and Eduardo's wife and two of the aunts, as well as the three sisters and Francesca and one of Jade's daughters who was at the self conscious age. Sheila said she did not need to watch her boys get grazed knees and bloody noses.

"I have to deal with the consequences " she told them " rather not see it.

Francesca simply said she was Italian and knew nothing about football, muttering under her breath "Thank god."

"I better clean up in her before birthday cake," said Piper looking at the remains of plates, food and glasses.

"Sit down?" one of the aunts told her," sit down all of you. You put it out we'll clean up."

The three Charmed sisters glanced at each other and did as they were told as Sheila, the aunts and Eduardo's wife took over.

Phoebe plonked herself down on the arm of the sofa beside Francesca "Nice chat with Cole?" she asked cheekily.

"very" said Francesca.

"Nice party" said Paige. She had a glass of water. Piper came over and without a word filled up Phoebe's and Francesca's glasses from a half bottle of wine she carried and then her own.

Patsy was sitting on the floor a small distance from his mother, playing with his big train, very close to removing a wheel from the indestructible toy. The big rubber ball with the sparkly lights in it was beside him. Jade's youngest daughter and Melinda were not far from him.

As Margaret was being ignored by her sisters-in-law for not offering to help clean up she bent to hug the birthday boy. Patsy trying to free himself decided his best option was the ball. He flicked his finger and to both his mother and Paige and Piper horror, the ball started to rise at Margaret. All three witches tried to move as did Jade's daughter but they were all to far away. Melinda was closest. She leapt to he feet and somehow or other caught the ball before Margaret noticed. Unfortunately the force Patsy was using was so great she could not hold onto it and the projection of the ball leaving her hands sent it straight past Margaret ear with considerable force.

"Did you see what that child did Piper," snorted Margaret. "She threw the ball at me. She's an evil little b…. witch."

"My daughter is not evil" said Piper firmly. " My daughter never could be. You're a very good girl Melinda" Melinda's mother told her as a her daughter ran up for a hug.

Margaret turned on her heel and headed for the front door and then turned back to walk out to watch the football game in the yard with immense dignity. Patsy watched her go then with studied intensity returned to trying to pull the wheel off the train.

"Chalk up another vanquish to the Halliwell family" said Phoebe giggling.

"Why don't you go out and tell the guys,  fifteen more minutes before they have to stop for cake?" Paige told Jade's daughter who looked a little apprehensive and then hearing the shrieks and yells coming from the backyard decided she might want to join in.

"We sure have done our fair share of vanquishing during the eclipse" Piper said. "Its really amped the magic intensity over this place." She cuddled Melinda who ha planted her self on mommy's knee.

"Mommy's best" said Francesca.

"I know" said Piper happily. "Its been an interesting 3 weeks " she said. "I feel like in the time I've lived several life times and yet its still me, just me. Nothing's changed." She nodded self consciously.

"Hasn't it" said Francesca.

Piper considered it " I feel more magic now. I know magic isn't a separate part of life. I know magic exists everywhere and around. It was always there. Always has been. I just didn't know it." She looked at her sister. "I know that no matter what happens, the magic will always exist."

"You really do wonder what's changed." said Phoebe "Before the eclipse I was feeling I was in control of magic and my life and now maybe I'm not as much in control but what I have is well…. more mine. Can't be taken away from me. " she sipped on her glass and lowered her eyes a little awkwardly.

"I just feel more magical" said Paige." I feel like I understand how beautiful it is now. I think I found me" she said. "Who I really am, what I am. " her sisters watched. "I'm a creature of magic," she said. "not just a half whitelighter. And she added "The greater picture may be what magic is all about, but it isn't going to happen unless you take care of the people ….the creatures around.….take care of the small lives around you."

"What did you find out?" Phoebe asked Francesca.

Francesca thought about " I learned there are many things I don't know, there are many things I have yet to learn,." She answered seriously. She shrugged , a little vulnerable before the school marm took over.

"Its been a very long few weeks" said Paige "between eclipse and retrievers and other assorted issues."

"Nothing unusual" sighed Piper "If you think about it just another chapter in the life and times of the family Halliwell."

Phoebe raised her glass." A toast then" she said "To the next chapter of the life and times of the family Halliwell"."

Page lifted her glass of water and Piper and Francesca raised their glasses.

"To the many chapters of the life and times of the family Halliwell" said Francesca smiling. "As yet unwritten and unplanned."

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

(William Shakespeare
Sonnet 18)