Here is the conclusion to “Neighbors”:
“That was a delicious meal, Mrs. McNeill,” Cole commented to Olivia’s mother. “Especially the London Broil. I haven’t had a meal like that since . . . well, in a long time.” Over eight months ago, Cole privately calculated. Since the night before he and Phoebe had first moved into the penthouse.
The half-demon and the McNeills had gathered inside the large, well-furnished drawing of the McNeill manor. They just completed one of Gweneth McNeill’s succulent meals.
The red-haired and still beautiful middle-aged woman flashed a bright smile at Cole. “I’m glad that you enjoyed it. And you might as well call me Gweneth. It’s a shame that you didn’t try a slice of my six-layer Eggnog cake.”
“Yeah,” Harry added, “it’s one of her specialties. And it’s a big seller at Morgan’s bakery.”
Cole promised to sample a slice of the cake before he left. “I noticed that Olivia didn’t eat a slice, either.” He gave his neighbor a sly smile. “On a diet?”
Olivia wrinkled her pert nose in protest. “You’re a real sweetheart, aren’t you, Turner? If you must know, I barely had any room in my stomach to finish dinner. It’s what I get for not eating, today.”
“Busy day?” her father asked.
A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Are you kidding? Captain McPherson has started this major investigation on the Tower Bay Company. It seems no one can explain the sudden disappearance of the company’s employees. Or the disturbance reported by some patrolman.”
Jack McNeill’s eyebrows quirked upward. “Really? Is it a bit premature to say that the Crozat Coven is gone for good?”
“I don’t know,” Olivia said with a shrug. “My friend in Seattle told me that the Malehex Corporation was in the process of moving its operation to San Francisco. And there is still that warlock whom Cole had turned into a pebble. I haven’t been able to find him, today.”
Cole spoke up. “The pebble . . . I mean, he’s probably still there. I’ll help you try to find him, tomorrow. However, I wouldn’t dismiss the Crozats so easily, if I were you. Although much of the Source’s old council had been destroyed during the last coronation . . . ” Cole paused, as he realized that he had just referred to his unborn son. Then again . . . maybe not. He continued, “I suspect that several members might still be at large. And I’ve been keeping an eye out for any of them. And members of my old order, the Brotherhood of the Thorn.”
Elise McNeill eyed the half-daemon with interest. “Now, I know that not all upper-level daemons were part of the Brotherhood.” Cole stared at her, impressed that she knew that much about his former organization. “I’m simply curious as to how YOU became a member. How old are you, by the way?”
A hesitant Cole answered, “Uh, 117 years old.”
The McNeill men whistled in appreciation. Olivia and Gweneth’s eyes grew round. But the old lady did not seem that impressed. Interesting. “Really?” she said. “Not exactly old for a daemon. Most daemons join the Brotherhood at an older age. How did someone of your age managed to join?”
Again, Cole hesitated.
“You might as well tell her,” Olivia told him. “You’ve told me.”
Gweneth perked up. “Really? When did that happen?”
“Last Sunday,” Olivia replied.
Cole added, “I suppose you want to hear the whole story.”
In her blunt manner, Mrs. McNeill replied, “Dear boy, we’ve been dying to hear about your life story. Ever since Olivia first met you.”
“Well, it’s the truth!” the elderly woman protested.
Cole could not help but smile at Elise McNeill’s bluntness. She reminded him of Olivia. “That’s okay. I don’t mind,” he said. “But it’s a long story.”
“Don’t worry about that. Telepathy has a way of making a long story, short,” Mrs. McNeill said with a smile.
His eyes widened immediately. “Telepathy?”
“Of course.” Realization lit up the elderly woman’s gray eyes. “Unless you have a problem with me reading your mind.”
Cole’s first instinct was to reject her offer. He valued his privacy too much, to expose his thoughts to a telepath. But he had been a lonely man for the past several months. Meeting Olivia and her family made him realize that his two years with the Halliwells have made him long for company. And the opportunity to tell someone about his problems. His revelations to Olivia had seemed like a relief. Maybe he would feel an even greater relief once the McNeills learned what led him to becoming the Source. And to his break-up with Phoebe. If there was anything Cole now longed for was the load off his shoulders.
“Okay,” he finally relented. “I guess I wouldn’t mind.”
Mrs. McNeill nodded her head. “Good. Bruce honey, bring that chair over here so that Cole can sit in front of me.” Olivia’s older brother did as he was told. Once the chair was in place, Cole sat in it. “Now, just relax and allow your memories to be released,” she added. “As they come to me, I’ll project them to the others. If you don’t mind.”
“Good.” Mrs. McNeill’s hands hovered over Cole’s temples. He took a deep breath and relaxed. The next thing Cole knew, his memories of the past two years rushed back to him. Everything. Well, except for those more intimate moments with Phoebe, thank goodness.
When it ended, Cole took another deep breath. The McNeills did the same. “Well, that was certainly interesting,” Mrs. McNeill said in a breathless tone. “As Harry would say – wow!”
Jack McNeill added, “It would make quite an interesting story. A bestseller on the Wiccan literary underground.”
His wife added, “Including what happened to Ed Miller.” She gave Cole a pointed stare. “So you were the one responsible for his disappearance. I guess you paid for it.”
A hot flush washed over Cole’s face. Memories of Phoebe’s reaction to that little incident returned to him in full force. “Not exactly one of my finest moments, I admit.”
“Well, vanquishing him did seem a bit . . . drastic.” Gweneth McNeill continued, “What you should have done is ask Leo to give him memory dust. Or turn him into a dog. And drop him in the middle of on-going traffic.”
Olivia cried out in protest, “Mom!” Even Cole felt shocked by the older woman’s remark.
Gweneth shrugged. “You all know how I felt about Mister Edward Miller. The man was a bloody rotten berk. Did you know that a young boy had died in one of his buildings, after being bitten by a rat? And that bloody . . . that bastard managed to avoid prosecution by blackmailing several city officials. Everyone knows it’s true, even though no one would prosecute him.”
“She has a point,” Elise McNeill added. “What you did was wrong, Cole. And you paid for it in true Wiccan style, I gather. Considering what you endured afterward. But I must admit . . . what happened to Ed Miller was poetic justice. He avoided responsibility of a death through blackmail. And because of blackmail, he was killed.” She shook her head. “Poetic justice.” When Cole saw that the other McNeills nodded in agreement, he realized that they possessed a moral code that would appall the Halliwells. Although it did suit him.
Bruce turned to Cole. “Uh, there is one other matter that I’m curious about.”
Feeling somewhat uneasy, Cole asked, “Like what?”
“What in the hell made you think you could trust the Seer?” Bruce demanded in astonished tones. “Don’t take this personal, but were you that stupid?”
Once again, Olivia defended her friend. “Okay, Bruce. That’s enough!”
“What? Don’t tell me that you didn’t find what he did, stupid? I certainly did.”
Jack McNeill piped up. “I have to admit, so did I.”
An outraged Oliva continued, “Okay, so did I.” Cole shot her an astonished look. “But he was in a desperate situation. Couldn’t you see that?”
Sighing heavily, both Jack and Bruce admitted that they understood. The older man continued, “I probably would have done the same, to save all of you.”
“Thanks,” Cole murmured sarcastically. He turned to Olivia. “So, you believe I’m stupid?”
Green eyes radiated innocence. “Not really. Just . . . short-sighted. Rash. Besides, can you blame any of us for thinking that?”
Before Cole could answer, the McNeills’ manservant entered the room and announced the arrival of new visitors. A minute later, Cole was surprised to find himself greeting the Charmed Ones and Leo. Who also seemed surprised by Cole’s presence. It seemed like a miracle to Cole that he managed to remain calm. Especially with Phoebe only standing a few feet away.
“Well, look who’s here,” Elise McNeill greeted politely. Cole detected a touch of frost in her voice. Both Piper and Leo flinched. Much to his amusement.
Clearing her throat nervously, Piper stepped forward. “Sorry to interrupt. We, uh . . . well, my sisters and I wanted to say thanks to Olivia and Harry for saving our lives, yesterday.” She shot a quick glance at the half-demon. “And Cole.”
Mrs. McNeill’s smile grew even more arch. “Well, that’s nice of you, honey.”
“And we also want to apologize,” Phoebe added. “For lying to you, on Sunday. Piper, uh . . . made a cake for you.”
Piper thrust the cake forward. “It’s Coconut. From Grams’ recipe.”
Both Mrs. McNeills gasped with delight. “What do you know? Penny’s famous Coconut cake!” the older one declared in breathless tones. “One of my favorites.” Elise McNeill gave Piper a pointed stare. “May I assume that you followed your grandmother’s recipe to the letter?” She took the cake and handed it to Davies.
“To the letter,” Piper said with a smile. “I hope you like it.”
“Oh, I’m sure I will. Gwen, is it okay if they each receive a piece of your cake?” The elderly woman turned to the Halliwells. “It’s her six-layer Eggnog cake. One of Gwen’s best.”
Now, it was Paige’s turn to squeal with delight. “Ooo! I used to buy a slice or a whole cake every time I went to Morgan’s. Is it the same kind?”
“Of course, Paige,” Gweneth replied, looking pleased. Then she ordered Davies to wrap four slices of the Eggnog cake. “Oh, I mean five. Wrap an extra slice for Mr. Turner as well, Davies.”
At the mention of Cole’s name, the Halliwells stared at him. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence. Then Olivia made an announcement. “Oh, I forgot to tell you all. Guess what happened this morning? Darryl and I became partners.” She chuckled softly. “Poor Darryl. Can you imagine his expression when Captain Thompson told us the news? He always thought I was crazy. But now that he knows I’m a witch . . .” She broke off, chuckling again. Cole laughed softly to himself. He wished had been there to witness Darryl Morris’ reaction.
Leo brought up the subject of the Crozat Coven. “The Elders heard what happened. You can’t imagine how relieved they are. The Crozats were in a good position to take over the Underworld. Fortunately, it’s still in chaos.”
Elise McNeill grunted. “Hmmm! If I were the Elders, I’d be worried, instead of relieved.”
The Halliwells and Leo frowned at the elderly woman’s statement. “What are you saying?” Leo demanded. “With the Underworld in chaos, we don’t have to worry about a new Source.”
The old woman sighed. “Oh Leo! And I thought you would understand. Don’t you get it? With the Unde. . . I mean, the Source’s Realm in chaos, the balance between good and evil has been altered. It’s out of whack. Surely you realize what that means?”
Paige replied with a frown, “I certainly don’t.”
“It means that sooner or later, the chaos in the Source’s Realm will spread to other daemonic realms and dimensions . . . including the Whitelighters’ Realm,” Jack McNeill added. “And that can spell trouble for all of us. Unless the balance is restored.”
Now the Halliwells stared at Olivia’s father, as if he had lost his mind. “Wait a minute!” a shocked Phoebe declared. “Are you saying that it would be a good idea if a new Source emerged?”
“It’s not something any of us relish,” Gweneth McNeill calmly explained. “But with the daemonic world in chaos, all of us might find ourselves in serious trouble in the near future. Witches and whitelighters. It’s important to maintain a positive and negative balance in everything. Why do you think the Hollow is traditionally guarded by two – one who chooses good and one who chooses evil?”
It seemed obvious to Cole that the McNeills’ words had seriously disturbed the Charmed Ones and Leo. Cole, on the other hand, understood perfectly. He still recalled Phoebe telling him about a warlock’s attempt to destroy the Elders. Such an act would have not only spelled disaster for witches and whitelighters, but trouble within the demonic world, as well. Demons, warlocks and many others would have surely fallen upon each other for control of the Whitelighters’ Realm and other dimensions. And on a scale that would have meant trouble for the Source.
A troubled Leo quickly nay-sayed the idea of a new Source. “There won’t be a new leader of the Underworld. Well, we almost had one,” he shot a dark glance at Cole, who merely stared back, “but it didn’t last. Besides, without the Grimoire, I doubt there will be a new Source. I destroyed the book, last spring.”
“Are you sure that you destroyed it?” Mrs. McNeill asked in an ominous tone.
Leo firmly added, “Trust me, it’s destroyed. And it’s a good thing. With the Underworld in chaos, maybe evil will finally destroy itself.”
Bruce frowned. “You don’t really believe that, do you? C’mon Leo! You know that one cannot destroy evil. Maybe reject it or rise above it, but destroy it?”
Once again, the drawing room fell silent. The Halliwells remained rooted to floor, looking as if someone had kicked them in the teeth. And the McNeills seemed to regard them as specimen underneath a microscope.
Davies reappeared in the room and broke the uncomfortable silence. He held a cardboard box in his hands. Olivia let out a gust of breath. “Well, here’s Davies with your cake. And just in time. It was about to get heavy in here with all that philosophical talk.”
Piper took the box, with a polite smile on her lips. “Well, thanks for the cake. And I hope you enjoy our present.”
Mrs. McNeill returned the smile. “I’m sure we will, honey. Thank you. By the way, will you be available for our next Sunday brunch?
The three sisters hesitated. Exchanged brief glances. Cole already knew their answers. No. And sure enough, Piper answered, “Uh, we’re not sure. We’ve already made plans for Sunday. But if they fall through . . . we might be available.”
“That’s a no if I ever heard one,” Olivia grumbled. Fortunately, only Cole overheard.
But judging from Mrs. McNeill’s expression, she did not have to hear her granddaughter. The hesitation in Piper’s voice and the Halliwells’ expressions seemed to have made their feelings about another Sunday brunch quite clear. “Well, if you ever find the time,” the elderly woman continued with a cool smile, “let us know.”
The Halliwells said good-bye and immediately retreated to the door. Phoebe shot Cole a quick glance, before she followed the others out of the room. Once the door shut behind them, a sarcastic Bruce asked, “Any bets on whether or not we’ll see them, next Sunday?”
Harry piped up, “I’ll place twenty bucks on NOT.”
Cole wondered if he should defend the Halliwells. He thought about it for a few seconds and realized it would be a waste of time. Especially since he doubted they would do the same for him.
“I think all this talk about a new Source may have scared them, Elise,” Gweneth commented. “Leo too, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Elise McNeill snorted. “Well, they’re not Jack and Penny Halliwell’s granddaughters for nothing. I loved Penny like a sister, but she always did have this rigid sense of morality. Of course, in her case, she always had trouble practicing what she preached.”
Cole struggled to suppress a smile. And failed.
* * * *
The black Porsche slowly eased into its familiar spot inside the underground parking lot. Cole leaned forward and switched off the engine.
“You know, you could have save some gas money by using your powers,” Olivia commented laconically. “Instead of driving your car.”
Cole turned to her and smiled. “You ever heard of the term – ‘boys with toys’? I was in the mood to drive, tonight. Helps me relax.” He opened the car door on his side and climbed out. Then he walked over to the passenger side and helped Olivia out of the car. He noticed an aluminum-wrapped container in her hands. “Is that a piece of your mother’s cake?”
“Yep,” Olivia replied. “Her six-layer Eggnog cake is my favorite. Although I wouldn’t have minded a slice of Piper’s cake.” She stared at Cole’s empty hands. “No cake for yourself?”
Cole coughed slightly. “I had a piece of Eggnog cake before we left. And to be honest, I never was crazy about Coconut cake. You don’t know how many times I’ve had to keep from spitting it up whenever Piper made one.”
The pair made their way across the parking lot and toward the elevator. “Then why didn’t you just tell her?” Olivia asked.
“Are you kidding? The last time I criticized Piper’s cooking, she gave me a look that told me I should be grateful that the family tolerated me. After that, no more complaints.”
A knowing smile creased Olivia’s lips. “In other words, you wimped out.”
“Hey! I didn’t wimp out!” Cole growled. His growl merely hinted annoyance, not menace. And it only widened Olivia’s smile even further.
“Oh c’mon Cole! It’s not like I don’t know what I’m talking about. When Richard and I were dating, he used to tiptoe around the family, all the time. He was afraid they would reject him, because of his past.” Olivia paused, shaking her head. “Poor Richard. He really had a fear of rejection. And he eventually got on Dad’s nerves. I told him to stop trying to prove himself, but he wouldn’t listen. At first.”
A curious Cole asked, “Did he eventually stop?”
“Yeah, but only after I had another talk with him.” The elevator doors slid open. Both Cole and Olivia entered. The doors closed. “When I first told Richard,” Olivia continued, “I don’t think he was really listening. In fact, it got so bad, Dad and Bruce started calling him Dudley Do Right, behind his back.”
The nickname drew laughter from Cole.
Olivia joined in his laughter. “Yeah, I know. Can you imagine a warlock with a nickname like that?”
“No, I can’t,” Cole replied between guffaws.
After their laughter subsided, Olivia immediately sobered. “But after one of Richard’s urges to play hero nearly ended in disaster for Bruce and Harry, I had enough.”
Memories of his own decision to use the Hollow rushed back to Cole. He asked, “Did you break up with him? With Richard?”
“No,” Olivia said, shaking her head. “But I told him that I wasn’t interested in him playing Sir Galahad. That I only wanted him. I also told him that if he wanted to help other people, fine. But he should do it because he wanted to and not to please me.”
The elevator reached Olivia’s floor. Cole found himself brooding over her last words. Hell, he had been just as guilty of the same thing, as Richard Bannen. Fighting evil in order to save Phoebe and her sisters. And prove to them that he was no longer evil. He never realized how much he had grown weary of trying to be someone he was not.
“Cole?” Olivia’s voice snapped him out of his reverie. “Is something wrong?”
He shook his head. “No, I was just thinking. Richard and I had a lot in common.”
“Oh. You tried to pull the Dudley Do Right routine also, huh? To impress Phoebe?”
Cole sighed. “Yeah. And it worked for a while. Until I lost my powers. And the Source possessed me. It got even worse after I returned from the Wasteland. I guess the problem is being myself didn’t seem to help. Phoebe and her sisters . . . well, they’re a little uncomfortable with my dark side.”
A frown creased Olivia’s face, as she unlocked her apartment door. “They’ve got a lot more to worry about than your dark side. Like their own.” The pair entered the apartment. Olivia placed her piece of cake on the kitchen table. Then she faced her neighbor. “Cole, may I ask you something?”
Olivia took a deep breath. “You’re still in love with Phoebe, aren’t you?”
Cole felt his face grow warm. “Well . . . yeah. Yeah, I’m still in love with her.” He eyed Olivia warily. “Why?”
“Because I think she’s still in love with you,” Olivia continued. “I saw the way she kept looking at you.”
Hope fluttered within Cole’s heart. But only for a moment. For reasons he could not fathom, the love he felt toward Phoebe no longer burned brightly as it once did. He still loved her – somewhat – but his desperation for her love had dimmed. “I guess she does,” he quietly replied.
“But you don’t seem very . . . I don’t know, hopeful.”
Cole let out a gust of breath. “Look, don’t get me wrong. I love Phoebe. I always will. But I can’t be the man she wants. Not anymore. I guess after all that has happened, I’m tired of trying to live up to her ideals.”
Olivia’s face almost matched her hair coloring. “Oh. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought up the sub . . .”
“No. I don’t mind. I guess it was time I told someone how I felt.” Cole gave Olivia a warm smile.
A red brow cocked upward, as Olivia returned Cole’s smile. “Glad to be of service.” Then she glanced at the clock on the mantle. “Oh Lord! Look at the time! It’s almost eleven-thirty.”
“I better get home. I have an early appointment, tomorrow morning.”
“Before you leave, I have something for you.” Olivia raced back toward the kitchen. Seconds later, she returned to the living room, carrying a deep dish pan, covered by a sheet of foil.
Cole glanced at the pan. “What is it?”
“Floating Island.” Olivia lifted the foil to reveal the dessert. “After what happened last Friday, I thought we should start all over again. So here, this is my ‘thank you for saving my life’ gift.” She held out the pan.
Unlike the first time, Cole took the dessert without hesitation. “Thank you, Miss McNeill,” he said with playful formality. “And I hope it will taste a lot better, eating it from a plate or bowl than it did from my face.”
Hands on hips, Olivia shook her head as she smiled. “You know, you really are evil. Maybe that’s why I like you so much.”
Cole gave his neighbor a winning smile, before he disappeared from her sight.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I realized that some of you wanted Cole to end up with Olivia McNeill or Phoebe. Since he and Phoebe became divorced in this story, I thought it was a bit too soon for him to end up in another romance. So I ended the story on a vague note. But don’t worry. This is just the first of at least three stories featuring him, Olivia, the McNeills, Darryl Morris, Leo and the Halliwells. If you have any questions, please send me a message via firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
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