In A Most Unusual Way

Chapter Twenty: Witchery Delayed

"All right," Piper said, striding into the Carlson's dining room with her hands clasped behind her back tightly. "Let's get this love spell thingy going."

"I've got ours," Pipita said. She held up the half sheet of notebook paper covered in four lines of script and twenty lines of mindless doodles. "I figured mine would work for both of us."

"Good." Piper nodded. "Uh, just as a question. Did you happen to, ah, do anything…unusual…this morning?"

"Unusual like…" Pipita raised her eyebrows.

"Oh, something with molecules--freezing, exploding, something like that?"

Pipita nodded and jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen. "Ask her."

Phoebe looked at the bustling, flour-covered Marilyn. "Well, since she's still in one piece…"

"Wait a minute." Pipita looked at her older self and sister suspiciously. "What are you talking about? I don't blow things up."

"Yet," muttered Cole.

"What?"

"What if the world ends in 2012?" a tortured voice wailed. The owner of the voice, obviously Johanna, plodded into the dining room defeatedly and dropped her bag on the floor. "What if that seriously happens? Then I won't get to graduate from college or get married or move to Boston! That is gonna suck."

"People have been predicting the end of the world since it started," Cole said. He set his glass of iced tea down on the strategically placed coaster.

"I thought Lutherans didn't believe in that crap," added Paige.

"Well, that doesn't mean I can't be paranoid." Johanna crossed her arms. "So what's up with you guys?"

"And with that the paranoia ends?" Piper muttered to her younger self.

"Apparently," she responded.

"Done!" Paige said triumphantly, waving her piece of paper in the air. "My spell is done."

"Mine is too. Almost." Prue furrowed her dark eyebrows. "Phoebs, can you read this over?"

"Sure," both of them said, then exchanged grins. Phoebe took the piece of paper, then passed it to Toby. Then in unison, they said, "Looks good."

"Can you picture all of us in the same time for the rest of our lives?" Pipita asked.

"Prue and Paige together forever?" Cole suppressed a shudder. "The universe would implode."

Paige cast a worried glance at her older sister. "Won't we be?"

"Time will tell," Piper said.

"Okay," the voice of John shouted from the kitchen. "Family meeting time."

"What's he doing home?" asked Toby.

"It's his day off," Johanna answered.

"It's his and Marilyn's?" Belthazor's face registered slight fear. "How often does that happen?"

"Once a month," said Johanna. "Thankfully. If it was more than that, I'd get a job."

"God forbid," Piper commented with a slight smile.

"Meeting!" John hollered.

"He's gotten testy every since you people showed up," Johanna muttered as she led the way into the kitchen.

"What are we meeting about?" Pipita asked.

"Is everyone here?" John looked at his daughter and the creations of Constance M. Burge. "Marilyn?"

"I'm coming," she said, bustling into the dining room. "What are you hollering about?"

"As….well, my family knows…" (John shot a glare at the fictional characters) "…every year, my company holds a conference in the Twin Cities. We're leaving tomorrow. So pack."

"Everyone?" Cole asked.

"I'm not leaving you people alone here," said John. "Remember the little stove incident?"

Toby widened her eyes in exasperation. "You attempt to make soup once without supervision--"

"Three rooms are reserved," John went on. "Two beds in each. There's a swimming pool too. Sleep in that if you want to. Just don't talk to anyone wearing a bright green shirt."

Paige curled her lip. "Huh?"

"Everyone that drives milk truck gets a free T-shirt," said John.

"They're terrible." Johanna rolled her eyes. "They've got a cow on the back, drinking out of a milk bottle. Which is sick. What kind of creature drinks its own bodily fluids?"

Marilyn twisted around to flip the calendar from November to December with a slight smirk on her face.

"How many cars are we taking?" Prue asked.

John looked at her as if he'd never considered that question. (Which, in all actuality, he probably hadn't.) "Well, there are eight of you. And three of us. So that's eleven. So…"

"Or, uh, Cole and I could stay here," said Phoebe. "Hold down the fort and whatnot."

"Emphasis on the 'whatnot.' " Toby shot a sly glance at her older self.

Marilyn and John shot their own glances at each other. For one fearful moment Johanna thought that her parents were considering their own type of "whatnot," but then realized that they were mentally debating the pros and cons of leaving the two in their home unsupervised.

"If there are any holes in my roof when we get back, I'll nail your hands to the countertops," Marilyn said.

"That still has us at nine," Pipita said.

"I can drive." Johanna volunteered. "The Jeep will fit five."

"You're driving in the Cities?" Belthazor cocked an eyebrow. "Watch out, Minneapolis."

"Yeah, I think I'll be riding with you," Prue hissed to Marilyn.

"Fine." John nodded. "We'll be there for three days. Johanna, it's your responsibility to keep these people away from my people. Clear?"

"Like crystal," his daughter replied.

"Good. Now, tomorrow we're leaving at eight A.M. sharp. Everything needs to be packed and loaded in two hours."

The Halliwells looked at each other in horror. The spells that littered the dining room table still had polishing that needed to be done, and they actually had to clear a time in which to perform them. Plus, everything that they'd accumulated while there was strewn about the house.

"But we have stuff to do," said Piper. "Like…um…."

"Cleaning," Prue put in. "Lots and lots of cleaning."

"You can't expect us to pack in two hours," said Toby.

"Be fast," John said. He turned to Marilyn. "Can you help me pick a tie to wear tomorrow?"

As they left (underscored by Cole's muttering of "He knows what a tie is?" and Johanna sighing "He really needs to go on a cruise or something"), Piper groaned. "This isn't gonna work. We don't have enough time."

"Maybe if we push it." Phoebe scanned the spells. "Ouch. Cole, your rhyming's a little….wrong." She glanced at Belthazor's. "And you have one line done? One?"

"I'm a little better with Latin, thank you." He pulled his paper away from her.

"So obviously this isn't gonna get done until after our vacation," Prue said.

They all nodded with various degrees of annoyance, then decided to go on to something a bit more challenging---packing.

XXX

"Do you suppose I'll need a cocktail dress?" Toby asked.

Prue rolled her eyes. "I highly doubt it. It's still Minnesota."

"St. Paul isn't that bad," Pipita said. "We went there once with Grams to visit Aunt Dorothy, remember?"

"Yeah," Piper replied. "We drove in the dead of summer and Phoebe puked in my lap. Fond memories there."

"But it was nice downtown," said Pipita. "And we saw South Pacific…"

Johanna poked her head into the orange room. "Don't get your hopes up. I've already exhausted all possibilities of a musical theatre excursion. According to the infinite wisdom of John, I'd have better luck transferring to London for my junior year."

"So we're gonna be stuck in a hotel room for two days?" Paige asked, curling her upper lip.

Johanna grinned. "I can always drive us somewhere."

"Buses." Piper looked at her sternly. "Cities have buses."

"Does no one trust me?" she demanded.

"About as far as I can throw you."

"Okay." Johanna put her hands on her hips. "Part one, I am free transportation. Part two, city driving is much easier than country driving, because they tell you exactly where to go. Wanna find the Hollisten farm? Good luck. But wanna find the Mall of America? Signs and exits. Gotcha."

Cole snorted. "Part three, you're not even out of the state and you're arguing about this."

"No, seriously," Toby said. "Should I bring this dress?"

"Yeah," answered Johanna. "We might go eat. And by 'we' I mean 'us.' Dad's not gonna dare taking us to the dinner."

John's voice drifted through the floor vent ("You have half an hour or you go naked") and Piper grimaced at her empty suitcase. "I'd better get cracking."

"Okay, I have a question," Phoebe said. "Does it seem weird to no one else that we've been here for a month and a half and we haven't changed? Like, at all. I mean, Prue and you guys, you wouldn't have realized it yet, but look at Piper. She doesn't look any more pregnant than she did when we got here. We haven't had to get haircuts or re-color our hair and, well, I haven't shaved since November."

Prue rolled up her left sleeve and examined her arm, the pale skin marred by a purple splotch. "I got this bruise three days before we ended up here."

"Okay, this is gross." Toby shuddered. "New subject."

Johanna pushed up the sleeves of her purple sweatshirt (on it was written "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Triviality"--it had been a Christmas gift from Milton, meaning it would be her most-donned wardrobe item for the next three months) and let out a sudden screech. "Oh my goodness! The touring company of West Side Story is gonna be there when we're there! Dad!" she shouted, barreling out of the room.

Cole and Phoebe shot each other identical gazes. Staying out of the upcoming family trip had been the best idea either one of them had had in months.

A/N: And now, school is over! Yay! Meaning that this might actually have a chance at getting finished.