DEAR PRUDENCE

A/N: I've toyed with the idea of writing this for awhile, but it's taken me so long that it's a little outdated now. And surprisingly things on the show have actually started happening recently. But since I've already jumped the first hurdle and created the Word file, I might as well continue. :-)
- This story starts before the "December weddings" and before any of the pregnancies are discovered. The only difference is that the Fox is already back in town (I saw no reason to delay or rewrite his arrival). Further chapters (if any) may jump ahead to more current story lines. Hopefully it will be clear when it happens without the use of further author's notes.
- I have a few ideas for future chapters, but suggestions are welcome for things you'd like to see addressed or for character pairings. I have no preferences myself, but for this story, the less conventional is better.
- I'm not sure how long this story will be, it may be a few chapters or it may go on indefinitely, depending on when I lose interest, which could be at any time. But then again, I guess that's true of just about everything I attempt to write.
- Needless to say I own no one, except for maybe the title character. Even the title was borrowed from Lennon and McCartney.

CHAPTER 1 - A STRANGER'S VIEW OF HARMONY

"Invitation, please," the butler at the door requested.

"Invitation," I repeated slowly as if the word were foreign. Even though the butler showed no change in expression I could somehow detect his annoyance. "Right," I repeated in the same drawn out speech. I reached for my small handbag and opened it. The stoic butler nearly, but not quite, sighed as I fished through its contents.

The search was quite pointless, of course. I knew perfectly well that there was no invitation tucked away in the purse. There never had been.

I had just arrived in this small New England town earlier that day, a stranger to all. While wandering the streets of the quaint little village I picked up the local buzz about the big party at the Crane Mansion. It was too tempting to resist, so I decided to invite myself. The place hadn't been hard to find, it was practically a landmark in the little town. The hard part seemed to be actually getting in, but it wouldn't be a problem.

"Invitation," I muttered to myself as I continued to put on the act of sifting through the contents of my purse.

"Yes ma'am," the butler sighed.

"Oh, here it is," I said. With a wiggle of my finger a card magically appeared between a compact and a tube of mascara. Gingerly I lifted it out and handed it to the butler. I offered him a smile, but the effort was lost.

He inspected it thoroughly for authenticity before allowing me to enter. "Shall I announce you, Ms.-"

I cut him off, with a wave of my hand. "That won't be necessary. I'd rather mingle."

"I'm sure he's heartbroken about that one," I muttered to myself as I walked through the entranceway into the main room and surveyed the surroundings. I smiled approvingly. This would do nicely.

I grabbed a glass of champagne and an hors d'oeuvre from a passing waiter as I sauntered around the room, taking stock of my fellow guests. The men were all handsome and well built, dressed in tailored tuxedoes. The women were equally attractive with freshly styled hairdos and wearing elegant formal dresses. They made me, in a simple, yet stylish, black dress and dull brown hair pulled back in a loose bun, look positively plain.

The guests were scattered around the room, talking informally in groups. No doubt, in a small town like Harmony, the majority of the residents were well acquainted with one another. To me, they were all strangers. I'd never set foot in the town before, but I'd heard many interesting things about it, namely from my sister Constance*, who had passed through once on a trip.

"The place looked like your typical, run-of-the-mill, little New England town," Constance had related. "But it's a actually hot bed of magical powers. You can feel the evil down to your bones. Some sort of natural or unnatural disaster happens there nearly every other day, but the bizarre thing is that nothing ever changes much. The people are stuck in their own little ruts."

After hearing those comments from my sister, I knew I had to see this place first hand. I found the last remarks the most interesting. It sounded like there would be plenty for me to do in this town and I couldn't wait to get to work. But for now, I decided it would be best to wait a little bit. Since no one had really taken notice of me, I decided it would be the perfect time to wander around a bit and see what was going on. If I picked up on snippets of conversation, maybe I'd stumble upon something juicy.

.

"Evil! You're an evil, evil girl!"

I jumped at the sound of those words and glanced around defensively trying to find out who had spoken them. Could someone be on to me already?

I relaxed when I heard the second voice reply, "Shut up, mother!"

A petite woman with short dark hair styled with jagged bangs plastered to her forehead and strands poking out haphazardly around her neck, framing her face impishly, leaned threateningly across the walker of an elderly woman who looked very out of place in the elegant setting. The older woman's strands of long gray hair were pulled back carelessly in a loose ponytail. Her dress was a plain, almost shabby, cotton housedress under a drab beige sweater.

"I wonder how she got past the butler guarding the door," I wondered to myself, as I turned from the pair. I pretended to be busy watching the group of dancers who twirled across the dance floor, while keeping both ears on the conversation between mother and daughter.

"What did I do to deserve a horrible, selfish, evil daughter like you, Beth?"

"Oh give it a rest," the daughter replied. "If you try anything to come between me and Luis tonight, you're dead, you hear me?"

"Beth!" a voice called out. I gave a half turn and noticed one of the handsome young men from the party walking towards them.

At the sound of his voice, Beth released her grip on the walker and casually backed away from the elderly woman. Her vindictive expression was quickly covered up by an innocent looking grin. Strategically, she stepped between her mother and the man.

"Luis," she replied with an air of pleasant surprise.

I stole another glance at the man. So this was the aforementioned Luis. "Not bad," I thought as I sized him up. He seemed to be your typical, gorgeous Latin lover type. His dark hair with carefully trimmed sideburns offset his deeply tanned skin, and soft brown eyes. He was muscular, but he had a look of intense gentleness about him, especially in the eyes.

"So have you and Sheridan made a decision about whether to tell Antonio about your relationship or not?" Beth asked tentatively.

"We're not going to tell him," Luis replied sadly. "Sheridan chose to stay with Antonio."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Luis," Beth said, laying a supportive hand on his shoulder.

"I bet you are, missy," her mother muttered.

"What was that Mrs. Wallace?" Luis asked.

"Nothing," Beth hissed with a venomous look at her mother. Then sweetly to Luis she added, "I really should see that mother gets home. It's awfully late for her to be out. If you'll excuse me," she said, and quickly ushered her mother out.

Luis wandered a few steps away and stared dreamily out onto the dance floor. His gaze was fixed on a particularly fetching, curvaceous blonde who was dancing in the arms of a brunet man. The man seemed less refined than the elegant blonde, but was dashing nonetheless with a soft face and hard unseeing eyes. The woman's eyes met Luis's and she sent him a weak smile, though sadness shone through her expression.

The couple steered their way over to Luis as the song ended.

"Where did Beth go?" the woman asked as she led her partner off the dance floor.

"She had to take her mother home. She's always been so good about taking care of her like that."

"Yeah," the other man agreed. "Beth is a great girl. You know, we must be the luckiest guys in the world to be engaged to the two most beautiful and caring women in Harmony. Me with Sheridan," he said with giving the blonde next to him a romantic squeeze. "You with Beth."

"Yeah," Luis replied half-heartedly, but the blind man didn't seem to notice his disparaging tone. Sheridan looked just as doubtful.

"Could you guys guide me to a chair? I think I need to sit down."

"Are you alright?" Sheridan asked, her voice filled with genuine concern.

"Never better. You just danced me off my feet. But there's no need for you to sit this one out too. Why don't you dance this one with Luis, Sheridan?"

"I don't know, Antonio," she replied warily.

"Why not? There's no one I'd trust more with my bride-to-be than my own brother."

Reluctantly, Luis and Sheridan agreed and proceeded to the dance floor, looking as guilty as sin.

A moment later a dark woman with a round face, and a mass of tiny dark curls piled on the top of her head, took a seat next to Antonio. When she took his hand in hers and spoke to him her expression was loving and gentle.

After a moment of everyday small talk, Antonio asked the woman, who he called Liz, to describe Sheridan to him on the dance floor.

Liz's expression tightened and look of bitterness came over her face. She struggled in her speech for only a moment, before she continued, "Well, she's dancing with Luis . . ." She hesitated a moment as her gaze seemed to wander to someone else on the dance floor, who I couldn't quite see from where I stood. She smiled shrewdly with the expression of a mischievous child.

"Yeah, I know that, Liz. And?" Antonio prompted.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Antonio," she said turning back to her companion and patting his hand lightly. "I was distracted a moment."

As Liz continued speaking, I turned my attention to the couple in question. Sheridan and Luis looked very uncomfortable on the dance floor at first, but after a few moments their bodies fell into perfect rhythm with each other. They had struggled to avoid eye contact, but couldn't seem to avoid gazing lovingly, lustfully, into each other's eyes. They seemed oblivious to the other people of the room and they swept past other couples without noticing them.

I, however, was taking careful notice of the other people on the dance floor. My attention paused for a moment on a young man who looked very much like Luis, but younger and with sharper features, as he danced past with a blonde girl. Her long straight hair and pale complexion added to her appearance of frailty. She clung to her dance partner as if he gave her strength. She lovingly turned her large eyes, rimmed in dark eyeliner to the young man and smiled at him with adoration. And he returned the expression.

"I love you so much, Miguel," she cooed.

"I love you too, Charity," he replied tenderly.

"I can't wait until we can finally get married and be together forever."

"Me neither," he agreed with a silly, affectionate grin.

Charity buried her head in Miguel's shoulder. He looked up and glanced around as if he felt that someone was staring at him. I quickly turned away and casually wandered a few steps, hoping he wouldn't notice me.

When I dared to look at him again his eyes were turned to girl standing at the edge of the dance floor with her arms crossed over her chest. Under her defiant stare, his expression took on a worried look, and he quickly turned away. The girl was about to step forward, but an older red-haired woman caught her arm. The girl recoiled at her touch and quickly pulled away.

The pair looked like mother and daughter. They had similar shades of hair, although the mother's was shorter, had a stronger reddish color, and was gelled back in a most unbecoming style. The daughter's was more of a light brown and hung down loosely above her shoulders, brushing along her chin. They both looked like they could be quite pretty if they bothered to smile. Instead their expressions were fixed in defiant scowls.

I wandered closer, trying to catch what they were saying.

"What are you doing, Kay?"

"Nothing! God, can't you leave me alone for a second?"

"I saw the way that you were looking at Miguel just now. And I want you to leave Miguel and Charity alone."

"Sorry, but I can't do that," she replied in a snotty tone that said she was anything but sorry.

"You don't have any choice, Kay."

"Oh, don't I?"

"No. Miguel is in love with your cousin, Charity, and she's in love with him. They're going to be married in a few days and you are not going to come between them," she said authoritatively.

Kay smirked. "You're one to talk, Mother. Why don't you worry about your own problems, like keeping David from coming between you and Dad? Oh, wait, I guess technically Dad's coming between you and David, since you were married to David first."

"I've had just about enough of your attitude . . ." she continued, but was interrupted by a tall dark-haired man with a square chiseled jaw and striking blue eyes.

"Grace, Kay," he began looking from the older woman to the younger. The two women glared at each other tauntingly. "What's going on here?"

Before either could answer, a second younger man, approached the group. He was a fairly average looking guy. His dark hair was combed back neatly back from a firm forehead which stood above an expressionless and essentially indistinct face. "Dad, could I talk to you for a minute? I could use some advice."

"Sure Ethan. I'll be right back," he said as he patted Grace on the shoulder.

"But Sam, I think we need to have a talk with our daughter," she protested.

"Is everything alright, Kay?" he asked moving to the younger woman.

She nodded quickly and replied, "Fine."

"Ok," he smiled at her. "I'm going to see what Ethan needs and then I'll be right back to talk with you and your mother."

As Sam turned away and followed Ethan into the next room, his wife and daughter stared at each other with defiant antagonism, before stubbornly turning away from each other.

I waited a few moments before following the two men. I stood casually next to the doorway within hearing distance of Sam and Ethan, keeping my back to the room they were in as I eavesdropped.

"So what's up?" Sam asked.

"I'm thinking about proposing tonight."

"That's great. Congratulations." He paused. "So who are you going to propose to?"

"That's just it," Ethan replied. "I've been going back and forth all night. At first I was sure I was going to ask Gwen. But before I had the chance, I ran into Theresa. We talked and I started to think that maybe I should give Theresa another chance. But now, I'm starting to have second thoughts. Maybe I would be better off with Gwen. I want to follow my heart, but it's complicated."

"I understand," Sam said thoughtfully.

The two men continued talking in the next room, but my attention turned elsewhere when I realized I wasn't the only one listening in. On the opposite end of the open doorway two young women were pushing each other trying to get a better view into the other room. Behind them stood a handsome young man with tousled blond hair who watched them with an amused smirk.

"Did you hear that, Theresa?" the fair skinned blonde asked. Her pretty bird-like features were pointed sharply at the woman next to her. "It's all over for you. Ethan's going to marry me, like he should have a long time ago."

"Give it up, Gwen," the brunette replied sharply. Her large brown eyes stared into the next room dreamily. "Ethan will never marry you. He and I belong together. It's fate."

Gwen laughed derisively, but before she could offer a retort, the young man standing behind them leaned towards them. "Look out," he said with a nod to his right.

Casually I turned my head in the direction of his glance and saw Grace approaching. Gwen and Theresa stepped away from the doorway.

Grace stopped briefly where they stood and asked if they had seen her husband. Gwen nodded and Theresa pointed into the next room. Grace thanked them before moving on.

As she entered, Sam was saying, "I would have married your mother if I knew she was pregnant when we broke up."

"Sam!" Grace gasped.

"Grace!" Sam called out in surprise as he turned and saw his wife standing behind him. "Grace," he started again, but she had already turned and stormed out of the room again. He hurried after her and caught her arm, just as she made it into the main room.

"Grace, wait. You don't understand."

"Don't I? Didn't I just hear you say you would have traded your life with me and our family for one with Ivy and Ethan?"

"That's not what I meant," Sam objected, but his wife didn't seem to be listening. She was more concerned with sending venomous looks to a bleach blonde woman who sat perched in a wheelchair on the other side of the room.

When the blonde sent a devious smile in Grace's direction, the red-head fumed. She turned away and Sam followed.

My interest had turned, however, to the woman across the room and the two people she was talking to. I made my way over to their side of the room.

"You see, they're fighting already," the blonde woman smiled gleefully.

"It won't last," the woman standing in front of her said. Her face was marked by high proud cheekbones and an even complexion. She stood tall, looking like someone who carried herself dignity and grace. "Sam and Grace have a strong marriage. They won't let anyone come between them."

"Oh but I think they will, Eve. And you and David are going to help me split them up."

"Leave us out of this, Ivy," the man standing next to them spoke up. He was slightly scruffy looking with messy brown hair and a generally sad expression, but his velvety accented voice more than made up for his appearance. "Grace is a good person and I don't want to do anything to cause her pain."

"Me neither," Eve agreed firmly. "Grace and Sam are my best friends and they don't deserve this. I want nothing to do with your twisted plans."

"I think it's too late for that," Ivy said smugly. "You're both in this already and if you back out now, I'm going to tell your families exactly what I know about your seedy little pasts. They would never forgive you for lying to them all these years. So I think you both should do as I say."

As Ivy leaned back in her chair with a self satisfied grin, Eve's face furrowed into an angry frown. She was about to lean forward and give a scalding reply, but a man interrupted.

"Eve, there you are. I've been looking all over."

Ivy glanced over Eve's shoulder, her blue eyes sparkling as Eve quickly composed herself. When she turned around to face the man, with a dark complexion and bearded smile, she forced a smile.

"T.C." she replied. "I've been right here."

"Oh. I wondered if you've seen Whitney."

"I saw her just a minute ago," Eve said slowly as she scanned the room. She took T.C.'s arm in her own and carefully maneuvered him away from Ivy and David.

"You know she has that big match tomorrow and I want to make sure that she gets home early and gets a good night's sleep . . .Oh there she is."

He pointed to a young woman who had a complexion that matched Eve's, her dark curly hair was pulled back at the base of her neck. She seemed to be involved in a private conversation with a tall young man with dark skin and sparkling eyes. Curious, I hurried over to their side of the room, hoping to catch a bit of their conversation.

"I'll just tell my parents that I'm going home early to rest up for my tennis match in the morning. After I've left you can make some excuse to leave the party and then we'll meet up at your place," she said.

"Sounds good to me," he agreed. "But it would be so much easier if we could just leave together." He leaned forward, sending her a lust-filled look and she turned her face away, nervously fiddling with her hands.

"I wish we could too, Chad, but we can't let my dad or Simone know about us yet. They would be crushed."

"You've got to tell them sometime, Whit."

"Tell us what?" T.C. asked as he approached the couple.

"That I," Whitney hesitated. "Was thinking about going home early."

"That's my girl," T.C. said proudly.

Just then, a teenaged girl with a wide smiling face dark hair pulled back in a ribbon, came up to the group and grabbed Chad's arm. She hugged it tightly, like a child squeezing a favorite stuffed animal, and gazed up at Chad adoringly.

Chad tensed up, looking very uncomfortable, but didn't attempt to move away. He looked from the girl to a sad looking Whitney and shrugged apologetically. If the girl on his arm noticed his reaction, she didn't show it. She smiled happily and leaned her head against his arm.

Chad and Whitney exchanged helpless glances as the bubbly girl dragged Chad in one direction and T.C. led Whitney in another as he talked about the upcoming tennis match.

.

I made my way around the party a few more times, observing the goings-on, and making mental notes to go over later. I managed to keep a low profile and avoid contact with the locals, except for one small slip up, when I bumped into a blondish young man in glasses. I stared at him for a moment, sizing him up, and decided that there was probably a better looking guy behind those glasses than most people realized. He was just the kind of person I was thinking of. If the women around here were smart they would go after a guy like him, one that two or three women weren't already fighting over. But my theory was shot down when a pretty and petite girl with long dark hair, linked her arm around his possessively.

I took the hint and backed off, but I added this into my notes. Maybe there was some common sense hiding somewhere in this town. Maybe there was hope.

I found an empty table in the corner of the room and sat down. I looked around the room watching the human drama unfold before me. I'd spent the last few hours watching it in action. Secrets threatened to come out, but somehow never managed to surface. Couples shifted back and forth in love triangles that proved indestructible. The threat of change and disaster loomed in the air, but never made good on its promises. Everything was the same and the people involved seemed oblivious to the situation.

I set my purse on the table and fished out a pocket sized notebook. As I mentally scanned over the facts that I had collected, the words were magically transcribed on the blank sheets of paper. I was so preoccupied with recording the information and forming conclusions that I didn't notice that someone had come up beside me.

"Aha!" a voice said as a wrinkled hand grabbed me by the wrist and its metal bangles slid forward connecting coolly with my bare arm.

I turned quickly to see an older woman dressed in loose orange and yellow garments. Her heavy blonde curls were tied back with a matching ribbon.

"I thought I sensed magic present," she said slyly, but with a pleasant chuckle to her voice.

"What are you talking about?" I denied the accusation.

"There's no need to play dumb with me," she said as she pulled up a chair. "You're just as much a witch as I am." I looked at her curiously. "Oh it's true, dear. I may not have my full powers at the moment, but I can still cause plenty of trouble around Harmony."

"Oh? Like what?" I asked with interest.

"Like, breaking up some of Harmony's happiest couples."

"Why would you want to do that?"

"Why?" she repeated incredulously. "Why not? I'm a witch. It's what I do."

I just shrugged, thinking her claim wasn't much of an excuse.

"Well," she said, leaning back in her chair. "I can see that you aren't the helper that the Dark Side promised to send me." She pondered that thought for a moment. "Then what are you doing in Harmony?" She leaned forward and eyed me suspiciously. "You aren't here for the side of Good are you?"

"No, I try not to take sides. I'm just passing through town," I replied casually.

"Uh huh," she said doubtfully. "Tourists don't usually spend so much time writing notes on the people here and what they're doing." She wagged a finger at me, sending the bracelets on her arms bouncing. "Now listen here, if you think you can come into my town where I have been causing pain and suffering for generations and take over, you have another thing coming."

"I had no such plans," I assured her. "If you really caused all of the disharmony I've seen tonight, I was just observing your work."

"There's no if about it," she stated firmly.

"Since you've been here for so long, you would know, does anything ever really change around here?" I asked.

"Of course it does," she laughed. "You can't expect to see it happen in one hour. It takes years, generations, for things to happen. Young witches are so impatient."

"But why does it take these people so long to catch on to what's happening right in front of them? If they had even a little common sense wouldn't they notice how things really were and make an effort to avoid the pain and suffering."

"But that's precisely the point. If they caught on then there wouldn't be any chaos. Everyone would settle down and live happily ever and we wouldn't want that."

"There are other things to keep it interesting," I mumbled.

"Keeping it interesting isn't the point," she replied. "The point is to cause as much pain as possible."

Realizing that there was no arguing with the old witch I shifted the conversation. "Maybe you can help me understand the deal with these love triangles. At first I thought there was a shortage of men in town, by the way the women seem to fight over them. If that was the case that would explain why the men around here never seem to be to blamed for anything. But then I noticed there are plenty good-looking guys that are just being overlooked."

"Oh?" she remarked.

"I mean, is there a reason why no one's picking up on these guys?" I asked as I scanned the room for an example. I nodded at a slightly gawky young man on the far side of the room. "What about him?" I asked as I studied his appearance. Even despite his slightly too wide features and his Joe Millionaire haircut, he was attractive, in an endearing sort of way.

"John Hastings?" she asked with a laugh. "He's not exactly Harmony's sexiest bachelor . . .Well, John's new in town and no one's quite sure about his identity, except for his father, David Hastings. Most of the town is wrongly convinced he's Grace Bennett's son. But those of us in the know, know that he's not. It might be safer for him if he didn't date anyone yet," she paused a moment thoughtfully, but I had already moved on to my next example.

"What about him, the tall guy with the spiky blond highlights?" I asked, pointing to the thin handsome man, who seemed to be Theresa's shadow. "Don't tell me he's got an ambiguous genealogy."

"No. That's Fox Crane, son of Ivy and Julian Crane. He hasn't been in Harmony since he was a child. He has a reputation as somewhat of a playboy. He hasn't made any plays since he's come back to town, but he does seem to have his sights on his stepmother, Theresa."

"Sounds like a Greek tragedy," I remarked. "Ok then, what about the blond Adonis, standing over there," I pointed to a tall, well built man who was currently involved in a conversation with Luis. "If you have a reason why the women aren't flocking to him, I'd like to hear it."

"That is Hank Bennett, Chief Sam Bennett's younger brother. And I really don't know why he's unattached."

I lowered my voice and spoke in a confidential tone, "He isn't . . ." I trailed off, letting a slight flutter of my hand complete the thought.

"No," she answered with a laugh, but paused. "At least not as far as I know."

I shrugged, "I guess I just don't get it."

"Well you know how these mortals are. They get an idea about loving one person and get set in their ways."

"I can see that," I muttered as I stared across the dance floor, watching the dancing couples twirl past.

Slowly a pattern started to take shape in my mind. I began to picture the people of Harmony standing in a wide circle in the center of the room with a large May pole in the center. The players held their multi-colored banners and ran in groups, around and around in circles, until the ground beneath them wore down in deep ruts.

As they made their way around the circle, Ethan bounced back and forth from Gwen to Theresa and back again. Sheridan reached for Luis' waiting arms, but was knocked away by Beth into the stumbling sightless Antonio. Ivy barreled between Sam and Grace, dragging the reluctant David along with her. Miguel and Charity skipped along happily hand in hand until Kay would trip her cousin up and unsuccessfully try to take her place. Chad and Whitney stayed side by side, linking arms when no one was looking, until Simone rushed between them from behind, pushing her sister aside and pulling Chad away. Eve walked along with T.C., always looking back over her shoulder at Liz who followed close behind, carrying the dark Secret in her arms and grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

As they made their way around the circle, others stood on the sidelines watching, but not participating. John Hastings, Fox Crane, the handsome Hank Bennett, the elderly Mrs. Wallace, the boy in glasses, and his raven haired girlfriend, among others. Their only purpose seemed to be to boo or cheer on the others. The old witch fell somewhere in between, standing in the middle of it all, jumping up and tugging at the strings.

On and on it would go, the days would pass, seasons would come and go, but the cycle would always continue on and on. The people always stayed the same, running around in circles, never getting anywhere.

Every so often it would seem like something was about to change. Kay or Theresa would slow their pace and fall back a few steps, muttering, "I lost him forever." But before they had a chance to act on the revelation, a jerk of the strings or a glance back from their beloved would send them running forward again. Then Antonio or T.C. would slow their steps and seem to open their eyes, exclaiming, "I know exactly what's going on!" The other players held their breaths, waiting for the revelation, but it never came. One wonders if they too were just waiting to see how wrong they got it this time.

Working this situation out in my mind I began to wonder what would happen if one of these people really did stray from their singular purpose for being. Would they veer off into a new and exciting, uncharted path? Or, ripped from their life lines, would they simply fade away and cease to be? I began to imagine the people as two dimensional cardboard cutouts. When they turned sideways, they almost disappeared.

I was pulled out of my daydream by the voice of the old witch. "Since you say you aren't working for either the Dark Side or the side of Good, then what do you do?"

"I work freelance," I said brightly. "I'm an advice columnist."

She laughed. "Advice columnist? Who heard of such a ridiculous thing? A witch using her powers to give people advice. Why bother?"

"People can always use a good dose of common sense."

"I doubt anyone would be willing to buy it though."

"We'll see," I said rising from my chair. My recent conclusion about the situation in Harmony gave me a renewed purpose. "It's been enlightening speaking with you, uh . . ."

"Tabitha," she replied. "And you are?"

"Prudence. I'm sure we'll be running into each other again soon."

I grabbed my purse from the table and walked away, ready to make a final trip around the room. I produced a stack of business cards from my handbag and began handing them out to the people in the room as I introduced myself. Most people took them just to be polite, but frowned or stared after me curiously. Some of them tried to ignore me altogether. One red-haired woman dressed in a tight leopard print outfit, that was cut low to exaggerate her buxom figure remarked, "How tacky." The dignified gray-haired man, standing next to her, twirling a martini glass, nodded his agreement.

"Looks like you aren't doing so well," Tabitha remarked as she came up behind me. "Nobody's paying any attention to your silly cards."

She was right of course, the cards were being stuffed away in purses and pockets, dropped carelessly on tables or wadded up and tossed in the trash, but still I wasn't worried. I magically conjured a card between my fingers and handed it to Tabitha.

"No problem. They always have a way of turning up when they're needed," I smiled, before turning and leaving the mansion.

.

[A/N: This chapter turned out much longer than I intended. The next will be shorter, I promise, and very different than the first. Stay tuned for Chapter 2 . . . Two beautiful women, one hunky bachelor, and one diamond engagement ring. Who will he choose??? Join us next time for The Passions' Bachelor.]

* Constance is a character from my story "One Way or Another." Hey, if Passions can blatantly advertise their book in the middle of a show, I too can join in on the shameless promotions. "One Way or Another" is available only at fanfiction.net. :-)