"A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS"
Act III - Part 2
The Charmed Ones, along with Leo, Jason and Paul, finally arrived at the McNeill house, around twelve-thirty in the afternoon. Piper, Leo and Paul held wrapped trays of food and Davies led them to the kitchen. Paige knew she should go upstairs and check with Barbara and the other bridesmaids, but she wanted to join Phoebe (holding young Wyatt) and Jason in the garden and circulate with the other guests first.
"Hmmmmm . . . nice," the youngest Charmed One commented. "I love the way the trees are decorated with . . ." She stopped herself from mentioning the word, "Wiccan" in front of Jason.
The newspaper publisher glanced at the younger woman. "Decorated with what? Those odd symbols hanging from the tree branches? Do you know what they are?"
"Who me?" Paige quickly shrugged. "Haven't the foggiest."
Phoebe patted her boyfriend's arm with a free hand. "Probably some new design for Japanese lanterns or something. I like it."
"Yeah, I guess it's not bad." Jason glanced around, looking uneasy. "God, I never thought I would set foot in this place, again."
A fourth voice added, "That's exactly what I was thinking. Hello Jason." Jack McNeill appeared before the trio.
Jason immediately stiffened. "Jack, it's good to see you, again."
"I'm surprised that you're here. Who invited you?"
After a brief pause, Jason replied, "Uh, the groom. Bruce invited me."
Blue-gray eyes scrutinized the younger man. "Now I remember. Bruce told me that you had changed your mind about your paper doing an article on the Golden Horn. Pretty decent of you." Mr. McNeill's eyes fell upon Wyatt, wriggling in Phoebe's arms. "And who is this young fellow?"
"Wyatt," Phoebe replied breathlessly. "This is Piper and Leo's son."
Mr. McNeill bent down to tickle the baby's chin. Wyatt broke into a wide grin. "He's a charmer," the McNeill patriarch added. "How old is he now? About two months?"
Phoebe said, "That's right. His Wi . . . uh, christening will be held during the first week of May. Next week."
"Yeah, we got our invitations." Mr. McNeill continued to tickle Wyatt's chin.
Jason added, "I hope I'll make it back in time. I'm supposed to be leaving for Hong Kong, tonight. Just for a few days."
"Yeah, I heard about your purchase of Imaton Communications," Mr. McNeill said. "Congratulations."
A pleased smile appeared on Jason's face. "Yeah, I've been negotiating for the company for nearly a . . ."
Mr. McNeill directed his gaze behind Jason's shoulder. "Well, look who's here! Cole! Andre! Over here!" Jason looked embarrassed by the older man's interruption. Phoebe looked as if she wanted to hide.
Paige greeted the half-daemon and the Vodoun priest, as they approached the other four. She also noticed how Phoebe's eyes widened at the sight of Cole's handsome companion. For once, the middle Halliwell seemed unaware of her ex-husband's presence.
Cole became the first to greet the others. "Hey Jack! I see that the wedding is almost in motion. Everything looks lovely."
"Congratulate Gwen and my mother," Mr. McNeill said, shaking Cole's hand. "They had literally taken over the house, this past week." He faced Andre Morrell. "Andre, I see that you made it here, okay. Were you able to pick up Eric?"
Andre nodded. "He was ready and waiting for me, when I arrived."
Mr. McNeill added, "Eric Grant is the . . ." He glanced at Jason. "He's the one who'll be conducting the wedding ceremony. Oh, and I guess that you ladies haven't met Andre, yet."
"I have," Paige said. "Yesterday. He and Cecile helped Piper and me prepare P3 for the bridal shower."
Andre smiled at the youngest Halliwell. "Nice to see you, again." He turned to Phoebe. "And you are . . .?"
"Phoebe Halliwell," Paige's sister replied.
Dark brown eyes widened in surprise. "Oh, so you're Cole's ex." Phoebe's cheeks turned red. Jason's mouth tightened. "It's nice to finally me you. Cole has told me all about you."
"He did?" Phoebe shot uneasy glances at Cole.
The half-daemon spoke up. "Andre and I are old friends. Hell, we've known each other for over ten years."
It finally dawned upon Paige. "That means you two have known each other since you both . . ." Aware of Jason's presence, she finished lamely, ". . . since both of you were in college, huh?"
Jason frowned. "Just over ten years ago? I thought . . ." Both Cole and Andre stared at him. He shook his head. "Nothing."
Andre said to Jason, "I believe we met, last night. Jason, right?"
"Yeah," Jason said with a nod.
Phoebe added, "Jason owns the newspaper that I work for. The SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR."
Mr. McNeill took control of the conversation. "By the way, Jason, do you mind if we have a private talk? Business." He placed a hand on the young publisher's shoulder and led the latter away from the others.
Once the two men disappeared, Paige turned to Andre. "You're the Vodoun priest who used to be a bokor, right? So that means you and Cole . . ."
"First met when we both walked the path of darkness and evil," Andre finished with a grin. "We met at a party in New Orleans.
Paige continued, "Do you have any powers? Like the rest of us?"
"You mean psi powers?" Andre asked.
Phoebe frowned. "Psi powers? I thought only normal people . . ."
"A lot of people have them," Andre said, interrupting Phoebe. "Whether we practice magic, or not. You know, stuff like telekinesis, premonitions, telepathy. They're all psychic abilities."
Paige added, "That's right. Olivia's grandmother once told me that our real talent for practicing magic lies within using spells, potions and stuff like that."
"Wait a minute!" Phoebe protested. "Are you serious?"
Cole said, "Paige is right. Although a lot of daemons in the Underworld possess psi powers, there are a lot of them who aren't really versed in the practice of magic."
Andre continued, "You see, real magic is centered around potions, spells, and incantations. We use nature, or call upon spirits or gods to tap into magic. Now, as for my psi powers - well, I'm a tetrakinetic. And I also have atmoskinesis."
"Huh?" A confused Paige frowned at the former bokor.
Cole replied, "That means, Andre has the ability to control earth. Tetrakinetic. He's also an atmoskinetic, which means he has control over different elements like fire, ice, water, the air, electricity . . . well, you know what I mean."
"Gee!" Paige declared. "That's a hell of a lot!" From the corner of her eye, she spotted a brunette woman waving at the group. "Does anyone know that woman?"
Cole sighed. "Uh, that's Veronica," he said. "My date." He coughed slightly. "Excuse me." Then he walked away and toward the other woman.
Paige and Phoebe continued to stare at Cole's date. The former commented, "Hmmm, not bad. I wonder if Olivia has seen her."
"So what if she has?" Phoebe protested. Irritation gleamed in her eyes. "Besides, I thought that Olivia was interested in Paul."
Paige shrugged. "Maybe. But after she finds out about Cecile's vision, I don't know if that still might be true."
A deep silence followed. Phoebe gave the younger woman a confused stare. Andre seemed to be holding his breath. And Paige realized that she had just committed a faux pas. "What vision?" Phoebe asked.
Andre said at the same time, "Cecile told you about her vision?"
"You know?" Paige shot back. Of course he did. She should have realized from the expression on Andre's face.
The houngan replied, "Yeah. She told me the morning after she met this Paul character."
"Okay . . . everyone!" Phoebe's voice drew stares from nearby bystanders. She blushed and continued in a softer tone, "When did Cecile have a premonition? And what does it have to do with Paul?"
Paige glanced uneasily at Andre, who shrugged. Then she answered Phoebe's question. "Cecile had her premonition when she first met Paul, on Wednesday night."
"She had a vision of Olivia killing Cole," Andre finished.
Shock reflected in Phoebe's eyes. "Olivia will kill Cole? How . . . how is that possible? No one can kill Cole. He's too strong. We couldn't kill Barbas with the Power of Three, when he had . . ."
"Yeah Pheebs, I know," Paige said, interrupting. "But Olivia did managed to kill Cole in Cecile's vision. I saw it, myself."
Shaking her head, Phoebe demanded, "But how? Why?" Realization lit up her eyes. "Ohmigod! Cole is gonna become evil, again! Isn't he?"
Andre stared at the middle Halliwell with something akin to contempt. "Now what makes you think this means Cole will 'turn evil'? What if this has something to do with Margolin? Or whatever his name?"
"Paul is a witch," Phoebe declared emphatically. "And a good one, I might add."
Andre's lips formed a sneer. "Really? Where I come from - that doesn't mean shit. We don't know why Cecile got the vision, while shaking the hands of Glinda the Good Witch's son. But something tells me that might not prove to be the innocent in all this."
Phoebe opened her mouth to protest, but Paige spoke first. "He might have a point, Phoebe. I mean, don't you find it strange that Cecile would have a premonition of Cole's death by shaking Paul's hand?"
An exasperated gasp left Phoebe's mouth. "I can't believe this! I can't . . . never mind! You know what, Paige? If you want to believe that Cole will turn out to be an innocent in this . . . go ahead. But if I were you, I'd tell Olivia. Unless Cecile already has. However, I plan to tell Leo and Piper." She glared at the other two and walked away.
Silence fell between the witch and the houngan. Paige glanced at Andre, who regarded her with reproach. An uneasy smile touched her lips, as she asked, "Did I just fuck up?" Andre's continuing silence answered her question.
The gray van marked MORGAN'S, turned left into the McNeill driveway and stopped in front of a high, black iron gate. The driver leaned out of the window and punched the gate's intercom box.
"Yes?" a voice from the intercom demanded.
The driver replied, "I am from Morgan's." He spoke with a slight foreign accent. "I am here to deliver a wedding cake."
"One moment." The iron gate swung open. "You may enter," the other voice continued. "The servant's entrance is on the east side."
"Thank you." Giancarlo sat back into the driver's seat, wearing a smug smile. He drove the van past the gate and followed the driveway toward the large, three-story Spanish-Colonial house. The van finally reached the servant's entrance and stopped.
The van's back doors swung open. Two people - a man and a woman dressed in waiter uniforms, jumped out. They walked over to the driver's side. "Alessandro, Talia," Giancarlo said to the pair, "the greenhouse should not be far from here. According to the Streghone, there you will find the Soma plant."
"Anything else?" Alessandro asked.
Giancarlo answered, "Yes. Try not to use any magic. The Padronessa has no idea how effective is the protection spell around the house. She is trying to counter the spell."
The two daemons nodded and headed toward the house. The service entrance door opened and a tall, thin man wearing a butler's uniform, appeared in the doorway. "Are you the driver from Morgan's?" He spoke with a British accent.
"Yes," Giancarlo politely replied. "The wedding cake is in the back. Shall I help you?" He smiled at the manservant and climbed out of the van.
Inside one of the bedrooms, Claudia was occupied in creating a spell to counter the protection spell around the McNeills' house. Dressed only in white lingerie and stockings, she stood in the middle of the room with her eyes closed and began to chant in Latin:
"The god, Faunus, hear my plea,
I summon thee to this plane to help me.
Erase the strength of the mallow that surrounds this house,
And allow the magic of Della Scalla to flourish within."
A heavy breeze swirled around Claudia, scattering loose objects around the room. She opened her eyes, walked over to the windowsill and smiled. The sprig of mallow on the windowsill had dried up. Which could signify that the protection spell had disappeared. To test her theory, she teleported out of the bedroom in a cloud of smoke. Seconds later, she reappeared. The spell worked!
"Leonardo!" she hissed. "Leonar. . ."
Claudia broke off, as the door swung open. In walked the young Vodoun priestess and an older version of the red-haired witch. Claudia concluded that the latter must be Gweneth McNeill. "Good heavens!" the older woman declared. "Barbara, you're not dressed! And the ceremony starts in less than forty minutes."
"Sorry," Claudia murmured. "I'm a little nervous right now, and I've been trying to calm myself. But I still managed to do my hair."
Cecile added, "I'll help you get dressed, cherie."
"Oh, that's . . ."
The McNeill witch spoke up. "That sounds like a marvelous idea. Meanwhile, I will check on the food for the reception. The wedding cake has just arrived." She disappeared, leaving Claudia alone with the priestess.
"By the way," Cecile commented, as she walked over to the bed, "I want to thank you for showing good fashion sense in your selection of the bridesmaids' gowns. We all thought we would end up in some hideous outfit."
Claudia noticed the bridesmaid gown that Cecile wore - a light, peach-colored long dress with a square bodice and spaghetti straps. Very simple and tasteful. She smiled wanly. "You're welcome."
"Say honey, why don't you let me help you get into this dress. Here." Cecile held up a cream-colored dress with a halter top. "Step into this." While holding on to Cecile's shoulder, Claudia stepped into the long gown. She stood still, while the other woman slid it upward until Claudia was able to slip her arms through the straps. "There!" Cecile commented with an air of satisfaction. "Turn around and let me zip it up." Once they finished, the Vodoun priestess examined Claudia with admiring eyes. "Now, don't you look lovely! All you need to do is put on your shoes and get your corsage."
Claudia glanced around the room, searching for the latter. "The corsage is somewhere around . . ."
"It's in the greenhouse," Cecile said. "Olivia's mother thought it would be best to keep it fresh there, instead of the fridge. I'll get it."
"No!" Claudia cried out, remembering that two of her minions should be there, searching for the Soma plant. "I mean . . ."
Cecile frowned. "What's wrong?"
"I . . . why don't you get one of the servants . . . what's his name?"
"Davies," Cecile replied quietly. "You really must be nervous, if you can't remember his name."
A heavy sigh left Claudia's mouth. "I must be. Anyway, why don't you let him get the corsage?"
"He's probably busy in the kitchen. I'll get it." Cecile started toward the door.
Claudia's first instinct was to stop the Vodoun priestess with an energy ball. Until she remembered that she could not afford to have a senior bridesmaid disappear before the wedding. That would upset her plan. So would Cecile snooping around the greenhouse. Of course, she could get one of her minions to impersonate the Vodoun priestess. Unfortunately, by the time Claudia had made up her mind to kill Cecile, the latter had left the bedroom.
Cursing out loud, Claudia summoned one of her henchmen. "Leonardo! Come here! Now!"
The younger daemon materialized in the middle of the bedroom. He gazed upon his mistress with open admiration. "La signorina es bellisima!"
"Never mind that!" Claudia growled. "We have a problem! That Vodoun bitch is headed for the greenhouse. Send Giancarlo to warn Talia and Alessandro. Or do it yourself. Tell them to hurry up and find that plant!"
Nodding, Leonardo replied, "Si, Padronessa!" and disappeared. Claudia heaved another sigh, as she fought down a surge of anxiety. Then she leaned down, picked up her shoes and proceeded to don them.
END OF ACT III - Part 2