SUMMARY: A special punch cause havoc at a witch’s party.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind.DISCLAIMER: Cole Turner, Leo Wyatt and the Charmed Ones and other characters are related to Charmed to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. The McNeills, Nathalie Gleason and a few other characters are my own creation.
“The human psyche is a fascinating subject,” Ostera’s latest customer declared to her audience. “Or maybe I should say the psyches of all sentient beings.”
Paige noticed that she was not the only one who seemed fascinated by the tall woman who spoke. The moment Nathalie Gleason had entered the herbal shop, all eyes seemed drawn to her. She looked like a character from a Charles Addams cartoon, with her 5’11” inch frame, short black hair, alabaster skin and large brown eyes. Eyes that seemed to mesmerize others.
“Uh, when you mean all sentient beings,” Piper said, “do you mean non-humans, as well?”
Nathalie responded with a nod. “Yeah. That’s right. All beings. Humans, other animals, plants, and even other magical beings.”
“Including demons?” Paige asked.
The tall woman glanced at Barbara Bowen, owner of Ostera’s. The latter shrugged. “When you say daemon, are you referring to those with whom you’ve had experience with? Or are you referring to true daemons that happened to be outer planers?”
Confusion marked Piper’s expression. “What’s the difference?” she demanded. “A demon is a demon. And they all reside in the Underworld.”
A slight laugh escaped Nathalie’s mouth. “Oh! I see what you mean! The so-called ‘demons’ you’re referring to are actually low-level daemons or . . . angels. Like the Source. A good number of them reside in different demonic worlds, but not all of them. As you know, their life span is longer than the typical mortal. And they sometimes serve as in-betweens mortals and deities. Like the whitelighters. Now, the true daemons are those who are outer planners. They have no interest in the human world, whatsoever. Unless some idiot decides to bother them, first.”
Both Paige and Piper first stared at each other, and then at the dark-haired customer. “But,” the latter began uneasily, “how can that be? Everyone knows that demons . . .”
“What about them?” Dark eyes gazed directly at Piper. “Oh, I see. You’re not Wiccan, but a Christian. You believe in what you call“demons” . . . and that they’re all inherently evil. But we Wiccans believe otherwise. Well, there are some whom we believe are beyond help . . .”
Piper stated firmly, “I’m a Wiccan.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Nathalie shrugged. “Oh. Okay. Whatever. Now as I was saying, the psyche of a sentient being is very fascinating. It’s like a complex mixture of darkness and light. Like the Egyptian myth of ‘the Secret of Two Partners’. In that myth, the god Horus is ‘good’, and Set is ‘evil’. Now society tends to polarize the two as opposites. But actually, good and evil is a solitary nature that each individual possesses to a degree. Unfortunately, society – especially here in the West – do not view good and evil as two sides of one.”
“Wait a minute,” Piper protested, “are you saying that I have evil within me, as well as good? I mean, I know I have a little dark side in me . . .”
Nathalie nodded. “Chances are that you have a lot more than that. All of us, as a matter of fact. Look, I realize that Western society teaches its young to suppress one half of our nature, and acknowledge the other half.” She glanced at Piper. “Like your ‘demons’. They also have dual natures, only their societies – at least the ones in the Source’s Realm – teach them to suppress their lighter nature and indulge in their darker sides.”
“Are you saying that demons have a good side to their nature?” an incredulous Paige asked.
Replying with great enthusiasm, Nathalie said, “That’s right! Have you ever read Robert Bly? He’s a poet who wrote something called, “The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us”. Bly contends that we are taught that certain kinds of behavior are unacceptable in certain societies. For example, we are taught to suppress our darker desires and nature. Our Shadow sides. For those who are raised to practice magic for darker reasons – like ‘demons’ and certain mortals – they are taught to suppress any goodness within them in order to be considered acceptable within their societies. However, if all of us continue to suppress our Shadow feelings, they will probably re-emerge in the most shocking way possible.”
“Uh huh.” Judging form Piper’s reaction, Paige suspected that her older sister found Nathalie’s words hard to believe. “That’s a nice theory,” Piper continued, “but whatever ‘dark nature’ I may have suppressed, had disappeared a long time ago. Especially since I happen to be a witch who fights for the side of good. I protect innocents, not kill them.”
Nathalie seared the oldest Halliwell with an intense stare. “If you think you no longer have a Shadow self or never had one, you’re only fooling yourself. From the day we are born, until we die, we all possess good and evil within ourselves. We all have the potential to give in to either path in life. But we can overcome this by not suppressing one side of our natures or the other. What we can do is learn how to attain control of both sides, and choose which path we want to take.”
“Yeah. Right.” Piper turned her attention to Barbara. “About that Balm of Gillead, do you have any?”
Barbara signaled Ostera’s other shop assistant. “Maddy, why don’t you help Ms. Halliwell find that Gillead balm?” Madeline nodded and led Piper to the other side of the shop.
Nathalie heaved a sigh at Piper’s retreating back. “What an interesting woman. She seems very . . . sure of herself.” Her dark eyes focused on Paige. “What about you? Do you feel the same? That you don’t have a Shadow self?”
Aware of those penetrating eyes upon her, Paige could not help but stammer. “Uh, I don’t . . . well, I do. I mean . . . I did. Once.” One of Nathalie’s brows formed an arch. “Actually, I don’t know. Ever since I met Olivia and Barbara . . .”
“Oh! Of course! I should have known! Olivia McNeill. How is the Queen of Moral Ambiguity?” Nathalie asked with a smile.
Barbara responded with a shrug. “Being her usual ambiguous self. You know Livy.”
“Hmmm. Is she still friends with that tall, dark and handsome neighbor of hers? You know, Cole?”
Paige gawked at the dark-haired woman. “You’ve met Cole?”
“Of course. Livy had introduced us, last November. Just before I had left for Europe,” Nathalie replied. A dreamy expression appeared on her face. “Goddess, what a delicious looking man!”
Paige added, “You do know that he’s also a half-demon, right?”
Nodding, Nathalie answered, “Of course I know. Olivia made that perfectly clear when she introduced us. Besides, Cole wasn’t the first daemon I have met. I learned a lot about various demonic dimensions from him and others. I’m thinking of writing a book on the subject, but at the moment I have another book in planning.”
“Which is?” Barbara asked.
Nathalie continued, “It’s about the conflict between mythology and the modern-day Western psyche. Should be very interesting. However,” she heaved a sigh, “that’s not why I’m here. I’m giving a party on Friday night. In celebration of my return to San Francisco. You’re all invited.” She added to Paige, “Including your family.”
Paige glanced at her older sister, who was examining one of the shelves on the other side of the store. “Oh. Well . . . that’s great. Uh, but I’m not sure if Piper will show up. She’s . . .”
“. . . not particular enamored of my views, is she?” Nathalie’s gaze followed Paige’s. “I guess I must have shaken her up a bit.”
Paige shook her head. “No, no! That’s not it. It’s just . . . well, Piper has a baby. And she might have trouble finding a babysitter on Friday night. But I’m sure that Phoebe and I can make it.”
“Phoebe?” Nathalie frowned. “Who’s that?”
Barbara answered, “Paige’s other sister. The middle one. She’s a columnist for the BAY-MIRROR. You know, ‘Ask Phoebe’. She used to be married to Cole.”
“Really?” The dark-haired witch’s eyes gleamed with interest. “And now, he’s with Olivia. How interesting.”
Both Paige and Barbara exchanged uneasy glances. “Well, not quite,” the former said. “Olivia . . . she’s seeing someone else. Another witch.”
The disappointment reflected in Nathalie’s dark eyes, reflected Paige’s own feelings. “Oh. Too bad,” the former said. “I thought they made a nice . . . Do you think it would okay if I invite Cole, anyway?”
“Go ahead,” Barbara declared. “It’s your party, not Livy’s. Besides, Cole is still close with Bruce and Harry.” And neither could stand Paul Margolin. But Paige decided not to expose that little tidbit.
Nathalie clapped her hands with delight. “Perfect! Anyway, I need to get home. Make a few calls, and then do some shopping.” She gathered her purse and other bags. “I’ll see you two, Friday night.” On way toward the shop’s door, Nathalie waved at the oldest Halliwell. “Nice meeting you Piper! See you on Friday!” And out the door, she went.
Piper stared at the departing woman’s back, wearing a stunned expression. “Huh?”
* * * *
Five hours later, Piper shook her head, while Paige informed the family about the party invitation. “No! No way in hell am I going to subject myself to that woman’s company! I’ve already had a bad experience with someone else named Natalie. So, there’s nothing you can say to convince me otherwise, Paige.”
The youngest Charmed One rolled her eyes and heaved a frustrated sigh. “Her name is Nathalie,” she retorted. “With an ‘H’. But if you don’t wanna go – fine!” She turned to the middle Halliwell. “How about you, Phoebe? Wanna go with me? You’re invited.”
Phoebe shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know, Paige. Jason and I were thinking of dinner and a movie, this Friday night.”
“Well, you’ll get to go to a party, instead.”
A sigh left Phoebe’s mouth. “Paige, you know I can’t . . . can’t take Jason to this party. There’s bound to be plenty of witches there and a lot of loose talk about magic. I can’t take the chance.”
Disappointment filled Paige. “Great! That means I’ll have to go alone.”
“I’m sorry, honey,” a sympathetic Phoebe cooed. “Maybe I’ll get to meet this Natalie . . .”
Phoebe nodded. “Whatever. Maybe I’ll get to meet her at the wedding, next week.”
Piper added snidely, “When you do, you’ll end up wishing you were somewhere else.”
Before Paige could defend her new acquaintance, the telephone rang. A few minutes later, Leo entered the Solarium, holding a cordless phone. “Phoebe, it’s for you. Jason.”
Phoebe took the phone from Leo. “Hello? Jason?” The expression on her face told Paige that she had just received bad news. “Oh. Okay, baby. I’ll see you on Sunday. Bye.” Phoebe disconnected the phone.
“Bad news?” Piper asked.
Looking woebegone, Phoebe nodded. “Yeah. Jason will be out of town, this weekend. He has a business conference in San Diego and he’s leaving tonight. He won’t be back, until Sunday.”
Brightened by the news, Paige said, “Well, at least you’ll be available for Miss Gleason’s party, Friday night.” The two older women stared at her. “What? Is there a problem?”
Again, Phoebe sighed. “No, there isn’t. And I’ll go with you,” she said in a weary voice. “I guess I have nothing else better to do.”
* * * *
“Homicide. Inspector McNeill speaking. How may I help you?”
The voice on the other end of the telephone line cried cheerfully, “Olivia? Is that you? It’s me! Nathalie!” A joyful surprise surged within Olivia.
“How long have you been back?” Olivia demanded.
Surprise tinged Nathalie’s voice. “How did you know I was back in San Francisco?”
“Honey, this is me . . . Livy.” Olivia continued, “Besides, my telphone has Caller ID. Now, how long have you been back?”
A small chuckle filled Olivia’s ear. “You haven’t changed,” Nathalie commented with amusement. “Not even after five months. Anyway, I just got back from London, yesterday evening. I already saw Barbara, this morning. And met her new shop assistants.”
“Yeah, she had hired them, last January. They’re doing great.” Olivia paused. “Is there another reason why you called?”
Nathalie hesitated. “As a matter of fact, there is. I’m giving a ‘Welcome Home’ party for myself. It’s tomorrow night. And you’re invited. You and your family.”
“Great! We’ll be there. At least I will.” Olivia paused, as a certain person popped into her thoughts. “Um, do you mind if bring someone with me?”
Nathalie expressed surprise. “Like who? I heard that you and that delicious Cole were no longer a twosome.”
“The ‘delicious’ Cole and I were never a twosome,” Olivia corrected with a touch of asperity. “Just friends. And besides, I plan to bring someone else. Another witch. Trust me, he’s just as delicious.”
“Hmmm,” Nathalie commented. “Sounds interesting. Can’t wait to meet this new friend of yours.”
Olivia allowed herself a small smile. “And I can’t wait to introduce him to you. See you tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night,” Nathalie repeated. And she hung up.
* * * *
“Hello? Is this Cole Turner?” a female’s voice asked.
Cole sighed. “Yes, this is he. How may I help you?”
The voice cheerfully continued, “This is Nathalie Gleason. Remember me? I’m a friend of the McNeill family. We met last fall, at one of their Sunday brunches.”
Memories of a tall, angular woman with pale skin, intense brown eyes and short black hair captured Cole’s thoughts. He recalled that she had reminded him of Morticia Addams. And he also remembered her garish outfits – including the peasant blouses and skirts she usually favored. Nathalie Gleason was the author of several books on mysticism, magic and mythology. The three ‘M’s. “Oh yeah,” he said. “You had a book tour in England or something. And Ireland.”
“Also Wales, Scotland, Italy and Rumania,” Nathalie added. “Well, I’m back in town and I’ll be holding a party at my house, tomorrow night. You’re more than welcome to come.”
Cole hesitated. “Uh, will Olivia be there?”
A pause followed before the witch answered, “Maybe.”
In other words . . . yes. The last thing Cole wanted to deal with was an encounter with Olivia. Especially since she had begun dating Leo’s pet witch, Paul Margolin. Cole felt willing to face Olivia at Bruce and Barbara’s upcoming wedding . . . and only the wedding. So, he rejected Nathalie Gleason’s offer. “Thanks, but no thanks. I might be busy that night.”
“Doing what? Watching TV and eating cold pizza? Or hitting the bars for a little nocturnal activity??
Nathalie’s words and sarcastic tone took Cole by surprise. “What the he . . .? How did you . . . ? I mean . . . never mind.”
The witch continued, “I heard about Olivia’s new boyfriend. From Barbara and one her new assistants. Someone named Paige. Is Olivia’s new friend the reason why you’re turning down my invitation?”
“No!” Cole immediately regretted the desperate tone of his answer. Nathalie Gleason seemed to have a knack of detecting the anxieties of others. Including his. “No, I mean . . .” He sighed. “I’ll be there. Same address?”
Nathalie cheerfully replied, “Same address. 1372 McAllister. Semi-casual. The party will start around seven-thirty.”
“Seven-thirty. Right. I’ll be there.”
“And I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again,” Nathalie added. “Bye.” The telephone went dead.
* * * *
Early Friday evening saw Nathalie inside her kitchen, preparing one final touch for the party. With the food and servers delivered by a catering firm she had hired, she only had to prepare a drink for the guests. A special punch called Raspberry Sunset.
The Raspberry Sunset recipe had been created by her maternal grandmother, nearly fifty years ago. It consisted of orange juice, pineapple juice, ginger ale, sugar and the piece de resistance – a cordial made from crushed raspberries. Nathalie had just poured one quarter of a carton of orange juice into a large crystal bowl, when the telephone rang. She placed the carton on the kitchen counter and answered. “Hello?”
“Nathalie? It’s me, Rosario! I’m calling from Sausalito. I’m stuck in traffic! How in the hell do I get to your place from here?” One half of her mind on the punch and the other half on the telephone conversation, Nathalie gave her friend directions to her house. At the same time, she reached for what looked like a bottle of raspberry cordial and began to pour some of the contents into the punch.
A sigh left Nathalie’s mouth. “No, no Rosario, you make a left on McAllister.” The odor from the bottle hit Nathalie’s nostrils, causing her to frown. She sniffed the bottle’s contents and realized that she smelled boysenberries, not raspberries. Nathalie returned the bottle to one of the cabinets’ shelves and snatched another. “Wait a minute,” she said to her friend. She opened the second bottle and sniffed. Yes. Raspberry cordial. And she poured the contents into the punch.
“Yeah, that’s right. My house is the third one on the left. Yes.” Nathalie stirred the contents of the punch bowl. “Okay Rosie. I’ll see you in about an hour. Bye.” She disconnected the phone and placed it on the counter. “Hmm,” she murmured, glancing at the punch, “all I need now are the raspberries and the ice. Then everything should be finished.” Nathalie heaved a satisfied sigh and added the finishing touches to her Raspberry Sunset Punch.
END OF PART 1