know Phoebe is to...
Part 1:Better to have loved and lost
Francesca was not a young or particularly attractive woman. She was into her late fifties and was always beautifully dressed but if you missed the humour in her eyes, you saw a plain woman of average height and slightly overweight who had a determined mouth and a pushy manner. She had become Cole’s assistant because the partners hoped she could manage Cole and limit his erratic behaviour. The partners, Jackman and Kline who mostly felt Turner’s erratic behaviour over the first 9 months of his employment was not an asset to the firm, could never quite bring themselves to fire him . Cole who had decided to stay to give himself a reason to get up in the morning and have somewhere to go, could have told them the reason they did not fire him but thought demon magic was probably not an explanation they would welcome.
Francesca, a paralegal who had worked as an assistant on some very tough cases, had been assigned to him when he had returned to work after his last “illness” 6 months ago. She had been recommended to the partners from a long career as an assistant to a recently retired lawyer in another firm. They were told she was a very tough and determined lady. Cole did not have a good record with assistants. The one called Julie had disappeared and the one called Angela had accused Mr Turner of trying to strangle her and refused to work with him.
A few other girls who had taken one look at Mr Turner’s blue eyes and tall good looks and decided it would be worth the risk if he tried to strangle them, had been discouraged by the partners from working with him, for fear of sexual harassment case. Harold Carter, one of the senior partners noticing 2 female lawyers, a receptionist and a paralegal staring at Cole as he walked down the corridor had commented dryly at the meeting to discussed Cole’s employment “ Who will sue for harassment, him or the girl?”
Cole, if pressed said he respected Mrs Rinaldi. He was never brave enough to call her Francesca although she called him Cole, in the tone of voice school principals reserved for very naughty little boys. In fact what he was, was terrified of her. She ruled his life. She never let him miss an appointment or fail to return a call. She made him keep records, go to meetings and read all the right papers before he went. If he was not at work by 9, she was on the phone calling him at 9 and 45 seconds. If he said he was working at home, she was checking on him every hour on the hour. He had tried to complain about her to the senior partners and was greeted by such an expression of irritation he gave it up. Somewhere in the discipline she imposed on him, Cole found a reason to keep going.
Francesca for her part was fonder of him than she cared to admit. For reasons she was not going to tell him, she admired his courage for working when he was fighting not to fall apart, for taking the shit cases, the pro bono ones and the unwinnable ones. She admired him because he did everything he could to protect the client and seemed totally unconcerned with promotion himself, because he avoided the press and seeking fame in the spectacular cases, because he offered sensible advice and she had never known him to even remotely promote his own interest over the client’s
Francesca had found out what she could about him. Office gossip said he had started at the firm with big expectations, having been a top class ADA although he seemed to have left that job under some undisclosed shadow. He had been spectacularly successful in his first three months in the job and then the erratic behaviour had started.
The gossip said the erratic behaviours had all happened when his marriage that had seemed very happy, suddenly fell apart. He had disappeared, come back to work, started acting violently, suddenly stopped working, was suspected of drinking and then disappeared again, supposedly off sick. Six months ago he had returned to work, looking terrible, again unhappy, and the humour, which had always been a part of him, was missing for months. He was tense, always polite and distant with colleagues which was when Francesca had come to work for him.
Francesca of course asked about THE ex wife. Feeling about her was divided. It did not take long for Francesca top be told that the ex wife was the famous Ask Phoebe from the Bay Mirror. Some people who remembered her when Cole first came to work at to Jackman, Kline and Carter, described her a rather sweet but young girl, who was head over heels in love with him, a couple of others described her as a manipulative bitch who was always at him to do things for her and they never heard her say thank you. Almost everybody agreed that Cole’s most erratic behaviour seemed to happen in the six months after his separation when she had appeared in the office. They would be heard shouting at each other and then Cole would do something very ..erratic,
Francesca had never seen the ex. Until she called Cole that day Francesca had been certain he never contacted her. He certainly never mentioned her. In fact all had ever said to Francesca was that if anyone called Halliwell called, they were to be put through to him immediately as they were his ex in-laws. Francesca had asked him about his own family. Cole said he did not have a family. He added that his father was dead, and he was an only child. He told her the only family he ever really had were his ex in-laws and he was not very popular with them these days. He did not explain why.
Francesca disapprovingly had a said “ Your mother is alive “
Cole and sighed and nodded
“Don’t you contact her” Francesca stated disapprovingly
“No” Cole had answered equivocally.
“No one should ignore their mother.” Francesca said primly but for once she could not bully Cole into her point if view.
“That depends on the mother” he said gently.
Cole after seeing Reynolds out returned to his own office. He tried sneaking past Francesca but she gave him the evil eye as she reminded him brusquely to phone his wife. She caught his face and said ex wife. He visibly winced and Francesca wondered how bad the ex was.
Phoebe had by this time decided to temporarily vanquish the demon of hormones by working and had become engrossed in responding to a really difficult problem of a teenage boy asking for advice on meeting girls, but reading between the lines she suspected was a boy with huge emotional problem. So she was carefully trying to find words that would not alarm the boy and would encourage him to seek help when the phone rang and she picked it up and murmured her name distractedly.
Cole had rehearsed six different ways to greet Phoebe but forgot all of them and asked “You called” and in the effort he was making not to let his voice shake must have sounded curt because Phoebe immediately took the defensive and replied sharply, “What do you want Cole?”
His audible sigh expressed his irritation “You called me” he said. “At the office about half an hour ago” Cole had to clutch his chair arm to keep hold of his emotions as he spoke “What do you want Phoebe?“ he said dispassionately. He was very proud of himself for being so cool.
Phoebe when she heard his voice so calm and in control, was caught by a burst of intense annoyance that he could be so off hand and she could feel a rush of warmth in her loins that reminded her of why she called him. To hide both she replied in a voice as cool as his that she called to see if he was all right.
“Didn’t Paige pass messages onto you” Cole asked assuming the request was evidence that she was into not trusting him again.
“I haven’t heard from you for .. some time and I thought I would just check with you” she replied in a tight school marmish voice to cover her embarrassment and her fear that he might some how pick up that she had called in a very weak and horny moment.
The school marm voice was one Cole had never responded to very well when they had been happily living together. With his nerves on edge and his emotions raw at speaking to Phoebe he reacted very badly “Yes Miss Halliwell M’am I’m all right. I’m even being really good. I’ll let you know when I’m not Miss Halliwell ma’m” he snapped out before he could stop himself slammed the phone down.
Cole dragged several deep breaths out just getting hold of his temper. The hurt inside was as raw as it had been the first time Phoebe had turned her back on him a year ago. Just for a second the fear of eternity alone welled in him and he was almost overwhelmed by the sense of isolation.
Francesca appeared at his open door, She did not even pretend she had not heard. “That was very rude” she said. “You should ring your wife, ex wife back and apologise”
Without thinking Cole snapped “It will be a cold day in hell before I ever say I am sorry to Phoebe again”
Francesca’s cold disapproving expression was so pointed that it all but reduced Cole back to little boy state ”I’m sorry” he said to Francesca and then as he realised what he said, he had difficult holding back his laughter. Francesca returned to her desk and shut the door very loudly, leaving the laughter dying on Cole’s lips and him reflecting with a rueful smile that only person who could have shared that joke was Phoebe. He picked up the file on Rodriguez and tried to lose himself in work.
When Cole slammed the phone down on her Phoebe was left staring at the handpiece with her temper doing a slow boil. That Cole had been so disinterested in her was hurtful, that he was so rude was unforgivable, that he had slammed the phone down on her was …it was humiliating.
She was furious. It was not as if she had got around to asking him to have sex, all she had said was hello, not even that and he got snippy.
“Well if he fells like that about speaking to me he’s going learn to keep it nice.” She promised her computer.
Phoebe had not calmed down by the time she got home that night. Phoebe always worked until about 8.00pm. It was not only a reason to get up in the morning. It was a reason to fill the day, even though her column was written about 2 weeks in advance She burst into the parlour where Piper was folding baby clothes as she watched television withy Leo and Paige was sitting curled on a chair reading a book on herbal magic.
Phoebe stormed in and threw herself down in the spare chair. She slammed her bag on the floor and only just remembered to not throw her notebook.
“I just can’t believe he could do it “ she fumed. “Sometimes I think the only reason he exists is to upset me”
Piper and Paige met each others eyes, and Leo asked gently “Who?”
“Cole, Cole, Cole, stormed Phoebe as Piper and Paige sat upright ” you won’t believed what he did today””
“What did he do today” Paige asked nervously and then as Phoebe kept muttering Piper asked very pointedly “What did Cole do?”
“He hung up on me, he slammed the phone down on me’” she raged. Leo and Piper glanced at each other. Paige stood up and knelt by Phoebe and asked in an overly calm voice “Honey why did he hang up on you.”
Phoebe shook her head ”I don’t know” she said. “I asked him how he was and he hung up on me. Actually he was filthy rude and then he hung up on me”
Paige looked helplessly at Piper who said in a very sharp” Why did you call him Phoebe?”
Phoebe finally shrugged a little defensively “ I just haven’t heard from him for a while” she looked at Piper “I was concerned. I called him asked him how he was and he got nasty and he hung up.”
Phoebe stood up ‘He can’t treat me like me that he at least owes me that” She went into the kitchen and started to make herself a sandwich. And somewhere in the midst of her annoyance she did find it in herself to laugh that she was so annoyed with Cole for hanging up on her, when she had so many other things she could be annoyed about.
When she left, Piper turned to Leo “You don’t think she called him for anything else other than to check up on him do you?” She asked.
Leo just said “I hope not” and returned to watching television. There were only so many Cole and Phoebe dramas he could deal with.
Paige glared at him for his lack of concern but she said to Piper “Cole probably just got a bit pissed at Phoebe pushing at him. Probably just annoyed she thinks she has the right. You know Phoebe still thinks she owns him”
“She would ell us if she had some concerns about him” Piper said but she was worried. She got up and went into the kitchen where Phoebe was making a meal of a large sandwich “I can cook meals for you” Piper said.
“You have a daughter “ Phoebe said “ I’m a big girl I can look after myself. And no don’t ask. As far as I know Cole is not evil or even being naughty. I just called him and he was rude and it just pisses me off””
Phoebe marched off to her room to think about Cole mostly and her family. Piper watched her go. Phoebe back to even thinking about Cole was not good news. Piper had been far more worried about her sister lately than she would say openly. Ever since the terrible confrontation with Cole six months ago Phoebe had been living in some sort of half life. Working, being a Charmed One, looking after Melinda, filling her time and focus, almost trying to lose herself.
Piper knew very well that as Phoebe worked her way through all those terrible anniversaries, she was bound to suffer, but her silence and determination to do it alone was what made Piper wary. She knew Phoebe and suffering in silence was not something Phoebe did unless she had a huge secret to hide. And that the secret was something to do with Cole was confirmed as far as Piper was concerned when Phoebe admitted to calling him on this day, the anniversary of their parting in the wasteland.
Cole, Cole, Cole. When she thought of the problems he had caused Phoebe and her family, Piper sometimes thought she would have given a great deal to never have heard his name. But then she remembered the Phoebe who was existed before Cole came into their lives, the difficult, difficult girl who ran away to New York, the lost soul sleeping around looking for love in all the wrong places. “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” Piper thought then she pursed her lips; either way was to doom her sister to a life of regret.
Cole, Cole, Cole. He ruined her sister’s life but the problem for Piper was that he had made hers. There would have been no marriage to Leo, and consequently no Melinda, in fact he had saved her so many times there would be no Piper Halliwell without him and Piper nursed a deep guilt that her happiness was a consequence of the relationship that had torn Phoebe apart.
Cole, Cole, Cole. Perhaps that was why Piper wanted him to just move himself out of their existence, to ease her own guilt. Perhaps that was why she was so angry with him, because if he had been able to make it work with Phoebe, fight off the Source, done something, anything she Piper would no have to feel this gnawing guilt at her sister’s unhappiness. Perhaps that was why she had not told Phoebe she had seen Cole fairly recently. Six weeks ago.
It was nothing very big, quite accidental but it had worried Piper. She had gone to a city hall meeting about zoning changes that had affected P3. She had bumped into Cole, literally in the foyer, cannoned into him in fact as she pushed her way through the crowd. She did not know it was him, until she found her self eyeballing a familiar blue tie. He had put a hand out to steady her and as she looked up into surprisingly angry and pained blue eyes, she had brushed his hand away.
“Hello Cole” Piper had said sweetly” How are you?”
“Pretty good” he answered just as sweetly ” and you?”
“Much the same “ Piper replied
“Pity” Cole answered with a nasty note in his voice.
“Been involved in any takeovers lately” Piper had asked just as nastily
“No . How about you” Cole had snarked
“Yes” she answered happily. “One that will last me the rest of my life.”
Cole had suddenly softened “Congratulations on you daughter. Melinda isn’t it”
“Thanks” Piper had muttered suddenly very uncomfortable.
As she moved away she heard Cole turn to some one beside him and say almost apologetically “My ex in law.”
At the hearing, Piper had noticed Cole, sitting on the edge of the second row and at one point he got up to represent the man with him, a client who owned one of San Francisco’s most exclusive restaurants that was also being effected by the zoning.
From where she was sitting, if she half turned she would have met his eyes so she carefully avoided sitting that way, except once when an alderman made a particularly stupid statement, and time and space disappeared and she met Cole’s expression of disgust by raising her eyebrows and sticking her tongue out .He smiled in reply. When he had stood up to speak, his argument was good, clever and damning of the zoning. Many of the thousand of people present clapped him and as he returned to his seat, Cole had looked across to Piper and she had nodded.
It had bothered her, did bother her that after all that had happened, Cole still had a connection with her, that because of all the things the Halliwell family had shared with him, he could seek her approval, Piper of course, knew that Cole was hurting over losing Phoebe. It came as a shock to her to know he was hurting over losing her family. So she did not tell Phoebe because she could no way found the words to explain why she had responded to that connection.