How Quaint the Ways of Paradox
Part 1: Time and Time Again
"How quaint the ways of paradox; At common sense she gaily mocks"
(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)
Cole returned to the Manor, Paige’s car was in the drive with Phoebe’s behind it. He went in, yelled out to Paige he was back and she called from the kitchen she was making lunch, did he want some. They shared some so so sandwiches, and coffee and muffins, and Cole laughed when Paige said that Piper’s muffin’s made the rest of Piper worth it. Almost. She then said she was going to meet a friend and removed Cole’s car keys from the hook and left. He went upstairs changed and then settled into a corner of the conservatory to work alone for the afternoon.
That he was actually settled into any place at the Manor was quite a change even he conceded from when he first moved back to the Prescott Street. That first morning, that first day, that first week had not been good. Cole had not been inside Phoebe’s bedroom in the Manor since they moved to the apartment and it had suddenly seemed small and they tripped and fell over each other trying to unpack his things, and while he did not seem to have many belongings when they packed, fitting them into Phoebe’s closets was a feat of magic on its own, and the new ensuite of which Phoebe was so proud was really not much more than a converted closet and Cole realised he was going to have to learn to shave staring over the top of Phoebe’s head.
After unpacking they had gone downstairs for a coffee and that was worse for Cole, Piper tried to be polite and Piper trying to be polite was far worse than Piper letting fly with bitchery. Leo tried to be normal and failed miserably and was quite obviously glad to be called by the Elders, Paige slammed her mug down and ran up to the attic, leaving Phoebe getting angry and Cole smiling on the outside and on the inside wondering this was going to be the hardest test of how much he loved Phoebe.
Phoebe perhaps catching his hurt, suggested they go down to the harbour for lunch. Piper reminded her about Sunday night family dinner, and Cole winced to himself but Piper saw it. She glared at him silently daring him to pull her sister away from her family. “See you at dinner “ he said brightly.
Phoebe and Cole wandered around the harbour and she shopped at the markets. They spent too much time at the market and were nearly late for dinner. Cole shimmered them back to the bedroom and they came downstairs and Piper unsuccessfully tried to hide how annoyed she was at the prospect of him being in and out like that.
That Sunday night dinner was the first one in the Manor for Cole in a very long while. It was an awkward meal, interrupted by Melinda crying and with Paige acting like Cole wasn’t there. As far as Cole was concerned the meal rated with Piper’s rehearsal dinner as an occasion to remember never to repeat. He excused himself as soon as soon as he could, saying he was tired, which he realised Phoebe immediately knew was a lie. And went upstairs and lay on Phoebe’s .. their bed, watching television. She came up about an hour later, and lay on the bed beside him and watched a movie.
They made love after and Phoebe grizzled about Cole not shaving first, and argued a little, and Phoebe went to sleep. Cole lay awake beside her all night, enjoying the feel of her and the smell of her, and listening to street sounds and harbour sounds, that had strong associations with very happy memories. There was quite a lot of noise from the room next door. Leo and Piper actually making out and then during the night, Piper with the baby. Which was when it finally dawned on Cole that from now on he was going to be living with a baby. And knowing when Piper and Leo made out.
Cole left early next morning. He had to be at work for an early conference and for once was glad about it. Phoebe woke at the noise of the shower and watched as he finished dressing. They talked about not much, just talked and for a few minutes, Cole felt at ease, normal. He kissed her goodbye and said he would meet her after work, when she finished around 8.00.
He went downstairs and into the kitchen. Piper was there breast feeding. He managed to act like he did not notice and she managed to wish Cole good morning in a tight voice. He went to the refrigerator, took out the orange juice, and catching Piper’s eye, decided against swigging it and took a glass from the cupboard, and caught an angry flame in Piper’s eye. Cole sighed “I’ll have to talk to you, to all of you later about paying my way “
Piper replied that would be good, and Cole washed the glass and could feel Piper’s glare burning his back. He was very glad to get to work. That day set the pattern for the rest of the week. Cole left early, and usually had a polite but very tense good morning with Piper, who surprised him by actually making coffee before he came down the second day. Although his thank you was all but ignored. He worked until Phoebe finished work at 8, then they met for dinner, went to see a movie one night, and did not get back to the Manor until 11 or later. Cole only saw Leo once in the week and Paige when she came home after a date, while he and Phoebe were having a drink.
Phoebe asked her how the date went and if the guy was coming to P3 on Saturday. Paige said no, he was seeing his wife and kids and Cole blurted out “You are going out with a married man “ as Phoebe hit him.
Paige snarled “Separated."
And Cole said “That’s what they all say” before Phoebe hit him again and he took the hint that she wanted to be alone with Paige. When Phoebe came up to bed, she was quite annoyed with him questioning Paige. He was unrepentant and said some one should watch her. They went to bed and Phoebe snuggled into Cole but no sex because she was having a period. He had sighed when she told him the morning before. “You’ve forgotten what it’s like to live with a woman “ Phoebe said. Cole denied it and she had hit him for lying.
Cole had lain awake and slowly remembered what it was like living with a woman, barely any bathroom space, with her cycles dictating his life, being banned from the bedroom while she waxed and shaved, and banned from sharing the bathroom with her at certain times of the month because she said that she needed privacy.
Even looking back on those few weeks when he and Phoebe first moved back together Cole could smile to himself, because it was the little things that he wanted, just being with Phoebe, living a life with her, even if he became annoyed and exasperated in the process.
In between trying to write a closing argument for client he was defending next week that avoided the words frigging moron, Cole mused it was as much a surprise to him as anyone else that he settled enough in the last six months to feel living with Phoebe’s family was almost normal. Which he mused as usual made Francesca right. He had no idea what normal meant.
Piper came into the house from the front door around 5 00pm. As her car was the last one in, she had to park out the front because Paige and Phoebe’s cars were in the drive still. She remembered Phoebe had taken a taxi to work because she was going to a function with a work colleague who would drop her off. She could hear a CD in the conservatory. It was one of old 40’s music. She yelled out “Cole.“
“What?” he called out and she came into the conservatory. He was sitting on his usual chair near the door with a pile of papers over the floor, the glass table and 3 law books on top of it all. His feet were on the table.
He was dressed in casual trousers and a sweater which meant he must have been home all afternoon.
“Hiding from work?” Piper asked.
“To many interruptions “ he said.
“Can you keep an eye on Melinda for a couple of minute while I get shopping out the car?” she asked.
“I’ll get it “ he said.
“Didn’t want to interrupt “ she said.
“Not a problem “ he replied “I need a break .”
He went out and came back with the shopping which he put on the kitchen bench.
“Want me to put it away?” he asked for the sheer pleasure of watching Piper’s horrified expression.
Piper had put Melinda in the play pen but she made a racket until Cole picked her up. Melinda’s fascination for Cole annoyed Piper intensely. Almost as much as Phoebe’s did. She put the groceries away and Cole finally distracted Melinda with her favourite toy rabbit, he poured a cup of coffee and pulled out Piper’s favourite mug.
“I have it half cream “ she interrupted as he went to fill up the mug.
“I know “ he lied.
“Better get back to work “ he said.
“Where’s Paige?” Piper asked.
“How the hell would I know? “he said leaving the kitchen.
Piper laughed interpreting the snappy answer as a complaint about his missing car. Cole was more or less resigned to the fact that all of the family appropriated his car. He usually parked it in the street which meant it was the easiest car to get at because there was no shuffling of cars in the driveway. So it was always the one they all took. The only time he came near losing it was when he was forced into using Paige's car because his was missing, Paige bitched at him for pushing the seat back to accommodate his long legs and leaving it there.
Piper and Paige had found some time to discuss Cole’s return to the Manor and they both agreed that his habit of acting as a visitor and not a person living there had made it all that much harder to realise something had been very wrong when the Source took him over. This time they were determined he was going to understand he was living in the Manor and not visiting.
Phoebe had fairly well appropriated all his belongings as her own even though she still said they lived in her room and he accepted it with narrowed eyes and a smile playing on his lips, but when he started using the chair and table by the door in the conservatory to work, the furthest he could get away from the family, Paige noted, Piper and Paige exchanged glances and started to refer to it as Cole’s corner. It took him a little while to realise the significance of Phoebe’s sisters granting him ownership of one small corner of the Manor.
Piper checked Melinda was okay in the playpen and went upstairs to change. Cole was totally lost in what he was doing to notice her. She shook her head because mostly she just accepted that Cole was there these days, in fact she was used to the fact of him in the house, she would have been quite conscious of his absence.
Piper strongly suspected that he was not as unhappy at being forced to live with Phoebe’s family, as he liked to say just to prove a point. Settling in the Manor had been both difficult and easy for him. In some ways it was as if nothing had changed, it was after all Cole who had shared Phoebe’s room and lived with them on and off for nine months before the disaster of the Source. They were used to his habits and his attitudes and he was used to theirs. He was untidy and he could never quite grasp the principal that you could wash up glasses and crockery as you used them, on the other hand he always made coffee for everyone else when he wanted one, and remembered to keep the pot going to make more.
And when she watched her sister, happy, happier than she had ever been, Piper was happy for her even if the two of them annoyed the hell out of her. Their total obsession was something that left her irritated beyond belief. It was not that they ignored the world around them, the just viewed it from the safety of their absorption with each. Sometimes just to amuse herself Piper ran through a list of things about them that annoyed her most.
Maybe the most annoying thing was they never seemed to understand that it was possible to say Good morning, good night or what’s the weather like without having sex. One would arrive home say hi baby and go upstairs to change, drop a brief case off and the other would shoot up the stairs and it always took sometime before they reappeared, hair untidy or wet from a quick showe, clothes mussed trying to pretend they had just been talking. Or early in the morning if Cole had an early meeting which he often did, Piper would hear muffled giggles and creaking bed springs and shhh noises, and in the middle of the night, or when Phoebe who sometimes used Saturday and Sunday afternoons to catch up on the sleep she missed out on because of magic and work, insisted Cole accompanied her upstairs. He swore she just hated being in bed alone. He just lay beside her working, reading or watching TV but Piper never believed him.
Or the most annoying was Cole’s habit of never asking Phoebe what she wanted but ordering coffee and desert for her, and then eating half the muffin, or cake he ordered. Or saying he did not want any dessert at dinner, then eating most of Phoebe’s. One Sunday night Piper totally lost it when Cole refused dessert, ate most of Phoebe’s then suggested she wanted seconds and ate that. She yelled at him to learn some manners and appreciation of other people’s work. She would have thought he had no idea of what she was annoyed about if she had not caught the smile playing around his lips and the slightly narrowed eyes as he asked Leo what was wrong with her.
Piper stood up and boxed his ears. When she challenged Phoebe to say anything while they were washing up. Phoebe giggled and said she was surprised It had taken Piper so long to hit Cole. “You and Cole work it out" she said to Piper "Nothing to do with me. “
Or Piper decided she was more annoyed with Phoebe. The way she claimed total ownership of Cole and his possessions. The way she put her hand in his pockets and to remove his car keys if she needed them, or take his cell phone and use it, instead of her own. Or in a restaurant when they brought flowers around, she would reach into his pocket and remove his wallet, buy herself a flower, put the wallet back and say thanks baby and he would just say you’re welcome. Or she would go through his brief case or wear his shirts as night dresses. It really irritated Piper. But it made her smile.
To everyone’s surprise Cole had settled in more or less.
And he had come to some tolerance of the sister’s habits of leaving bedroom doors open to talk late at night. They often did if Leo was not there or Paige had a date and wanted to talk. As Cole slept nearest the door Phoebe’s usual way of talking to her sisters was to lean across him resting her chin on his chest while he was totally ignored. He was not sure which irritated him most. Phoebe leaving the door open to talk to her sisters and ignore him or shutting the door and having Paige yell out to ask what they were doing in there.
Cole and Leo had come to some sort of unspoken agreement to get on at some level, partly because it was Leo’s calling to help and it was obvious to any one that Cole whilst doing okay and what he termed all right still had along way to go before he was free and clear of his heritage partly because Leo’s was downright horrified at Piper and her sisters deliberately going out of their way to ensure that Cole knew how stuck he was with the family and partly because as males in the household it was sheer self defence.
And Cole dealt with it because he had no choice if he wanted Phoebe and because he had Phoebe. As for Phoebe she was wise about him being there as she was capable, she pushed him hard, refused to side with her family or him if they fought, told them to deal with it, gave him as much of herself as she could possibly give without giving away her role as sister. She bickered with him, ordered him around, complained loud and long about him messing her room and bathroom up, fussed him about what he ate and the hours he worked. She put a firm end to him sitting up all night working ,because he had nothing else to do.
She did accept he would not sleep for long hours all night, and learnt to sleep herself curled up against him while watched late night TV or read. He had never been that interested in either activity when she first knew him and it took her a while to realise he was using them as a means of trying to understand the human community in which he was forced to live. She found it endearing when she realised he was no where near as confident about living with humans as he pretended.
He tried with her family within the limits of his nature but he still managed to be as annoying as he possibly could. Piper was renewing the loans for P3 and was somewhat concerned about the contracts. Piper worried and awkwardly waited for Cole to offer to look at them, and Cole smirking sat back and waited for Piper to ask. Phoebe got angry enough at both of them to rip the papers out of Piper’s hands and throw them at Cole and order him to look at them. He smiled but did as he was told and thoroughly enjoyed telling Piper that he had seen Faustian deals with easier repayment terms and then enjoyed himself screwing the hell out of the bank to change the terms.
Piper and Cole then had a huge row about her paying him for services and he said he worked for a firm and the payment meant nothing to him and then they rowed about whether she would be a client of the firm. Phoebe walked out on them rowing dragging Paige off shopping and Leo a third wheel in the argument orbed out.
Alone the row went another three rounds before Cole explained very carefully that he did not want that firm to have any connection with his personal life; that he did not trust them with anything he cared about.
Piper eyed him up and down and said “You really enjoy being an arsehole don’t you Cole?”
And he grinned and said “Nearly as much as you enjoy being a bitch Piper.”
“Then we understand each other don’t we buster “ Piper smiled “Pax for once brudder “ she said extending her hand.
“Pax..Pip “ Cole said taking it.
But later that night after they did another three rounds over demon sects and Piper’s belief she knew how to fight them, Leo despairing told Phoebe he doubted Cole and Piper would ever come to understanding or acceptance of the others virtues.