"Prue's going to kill me," Piper Halliwell muttered to herself. Her arms loaded with groceries, she rushed up the rain-slicked steps of the red-and-cream-colored Victorian house she shared with her older sister. She didn't know what time it was, but she knew she was late -- really late.
Piper and Prue had been living in the old San Francisco house for about six months -- ever since their grandmother died. Grams had willed the house to them and their younger sister, Phoebe, who was living in New York City. The three sisters loved the house and knew it well -- they'd grown up in it, raised by Grams after their mother died when they were little. Their father hadn't been around to take care of them. He'd never really kept in touch with them after the divorce.
Prue and Piper usually got along well, but Piper knew that one of her older sister's pet peeves -- and she had many -- was lateness. Piper tried her best to be punctual, but something always seemed to come up. She didn't know how Prue managed to keep her life so well under control.
Soaking wet, Piper burst through the front door. "Prue?" she called out.
"In here," Prue replied, "working on the chandelier."
Piper set the groceries on the foyer floor. She squeezed some water from her long, dark hair as she followed Prue's voice into the middle parlor.
Twenty-seven-year-old Prue was balanced on top of a ladder, fiddling with an ornate crystal chandelier. She smoothed the dark bangs of her shoulder-length bob with her fingers and sighed. Then she scowled at Piper, narrowing her ice blue eyes.
Piper leaned on the round wooden table underneath the chandelier. Prue was only two years older than Piper, but sometimes she treated Piper more like a child than a sister. Yup, Piper thought. Prue's pissed. "Sorry I'm late," she told her sister. "Really."
"What else is new?" Prue asked without even looking at her. "You were supposed to be here when the electrician came, Piper. I would have been here myself, but you know I can't leave the museum until six o'clock." She grimaced, trying to push a hanging wire out of sight.
"I know, I know," Piper replied. "But I was shopping in Chinatown, and then it started raining....I guess I didn't realize how long I was gone." She moved from the table and peeled off her wet raincoat. "Did you fix the chandelier?"
"Not so far," Prue complained. "Hey, how did your interview go? Are you a real chef now?"
"Not yet," Piper replied. "The fabulous Chef Moore demands an audition. So I have to go back to the restaurant tomorrow and cook for him. Something unusual. 'Something worthy of me,'" Piper said, mimicking the chef's voice. " 'Something worthy of Quake.'"
"Quake?" Prue wrinkled her long, fine nose as if something smelled bad. "Is that what the restaurant is called?"
"Yeah. It's in North Beach. Very chic." Piper stepped into the hallway to hang up her raincoat on a coatrack.
"Oh, no!" Prue cried. Piper heard a small, tinkling crash. She hurried back into the middle parlor. A small crystal chandelier ornament lay smashed on the floor.
Prue glared at the tiny pile of glass, cursing. Piper held back a smile. Something always seemed to be breaking in the old house, but she couldn't help but love the place.
Grams' antiques and oriental rugs still filled the spacious home. Old family photos lined the stairwell. The front door and the stair windows were made of green and yellow stained-glass squares. On sunny days, the light filtered softly through them, giving the house a warm glow.
Piper kicked at a shard of glass on the burnished-wood floor. "Don't worry, Prue," she said. "I'll get the dustpan and clean it up."
"Thanks," Prue said curtly. Piper could hear the exasperation in her voice. Prue hated it when things didn't run smoothly.
Piper started toward the kitchen to get the dustpan when the doorbell rang. She crossed the parlor and opened the door. Standing on the front porch was her boyfriend, Jeremy Burns. He carried a dozen red roses in one arm and a long, rectangular package, prettily wrapped and topped with a purple bow, in the other.
Well, Piper thought, eyeing Jeremy's rain-flattened hair and goofy grin. He certainly does look cute all wet from the rain -- especially when he's carrying roses.
She wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and kissed him, pulling him into the house. "What are you doing here? I thought you were investigating a story."
Jeremy flashed his boyish smile. He towered over Piper, handsome and tall, with wavy dark brown hair and warm hazel eyes. He waved to Prue, who was still working on the chandelier.
"Hi, Jeremy," Prue called from atop the ladder.
Jeremy offered the roses to Piper. "These are for you."
"What for?" she asked. She cradled the roses in her arms, trying not to show how pleased she was. Jeremy was spoiling her. Throughout the eight months they'd been seeing each other, he was always doing something sweet, and she never got tired of it.
"Do I need a reason?" he replied. "I just saw them and I thought you should have them." He kissed her softly on the cheek.
"You're so sweet, Jeremy. Thank you!" Piper self-consciously touched her cheek. She could practically feel it glowing.
"Well, I have to get back to work," Jeremy said, "but I want to give you one more thing first." He tapped a finger on the package. "I think this will help you out with your audition tomorrow."
Piper shook the package. "What is it?"
"You'll find out," Jeremy said with a grin. He glanced at his watch. "Got to run. I'm interviewing someone in ten minutes." He kissed her again. "Hope you like it," he called as he ran through the rain to his car.
Piper closed the front door and joined Prue back in the middle parlor.
"What's in the package?" Prue asked, climbing down from the ladder.
Piper placed the roses on the table. She tugged at the purple ribbon on the package and tore open the paper to reveal a wooden box. She slid open the top and pulled out a dark bottle with a white label. "This is great!" she cried, showing it to Prue.
Prue grabbed the bottle. "Jeremy gave you a bottle of port wine?" she asked.
"It's very special port," Piper explained. "The ultimate ingredient for my audition recipe." She pointed to the white label on the bottle. "This wine may just get me the job at Quake."
"Nice boyfriend," Prue admitted, handing the bottle back to Piper.
"Yeah, I know." Piper glanced at the label once more, then rested the bottle on the table. "I guess I should put my groceries in the fridge." Then she remembered the broken glass on the floor. Prue followed her eyes and guessed what she was thinking.
"That's okay," Prue said. "I'll clean up the glass."
Piper felt a little guilty as she walked into the foyer, grabbed the groceries and started toward the kitchen. Passing through the dining room, she noticed a shiny wooden board game on the table.
"I don't believe it," she said, setting everything down again. "Tell me that's not our old spirit board. I used to love that thing!"
"I found it in the basement while I was looking for the circuit box," Prue said, walking into the dining room.
Piper touched the antique spirit board gently. Mom gave this to us, she thought. Piper couldn't even remember the last time she and Prue and their younger sister, Phoebe, had played with it -- it was so long ago.
The board was covered with letters, numbers, and symbols, and came with a pointer to spell out words. She and her sisters would lightly place their fingers on the pointer. The pointer was supposed to move by itself, guided by spirits, to spell out messages and answer their questions.
Prue always used to ask the board what she was going to be when she grew up, Piper remembered. Phoebe used to ask silly questions like, "What are we having for lunch today?"
And I would always ask when Prue and Phoebe would stop fighting, Piper thought. I never did get a straight answer, she remembered.
Piper picked up the board and flipped it over. She smiled as she read aloud the writing on the back, "'To my three beautiful girls. May this give you the light to find the Shadows. The power of three will set you free. Love, Mom.'" She turned to Prue. "We never figured out what this inscription meant."
"Well, I think we should send the board to Phoebe," Prue said with a laugh. "That girl is so in the dark, a little light might help. Maybe she can use it to figure out where Dad is. You never know...."
Piper frowned. She couldn't believe that Prue was still ragging on their younger sister after all this time. "You're always so hard on Phoebe," she said.
"Piper, she has no vision," Prue complained. "No sense of the future."
"I really think she's coming around," Piper told her.
Prue threw up her hands. "Yeah, right. And that's why she went to New York to look for Dad. I mean, what's the point? The guy has been out of our life since forever. Who says he's even in New York?"
"You know that's not the real reason she left," Piper insisted. She eyed Prue carefully. Should I go any further? she wondered. Should I bring up Roger? That's why Phoebe really left San Francisco.
Prue had been engaged to Roger -- until Phoebe announced that Roger had tried to seduce her. When Prue confronted Roger, he told her that it was Phoebe who had made a pass at him. Prue didn't know what to think. She broke up with Roger, but she blamed Phoebe for the whole mess and never forgave her.
Piper believed Phoebe. She knew that her little sister would never try to steal Prue's fiancé. Phoebe was only trying to help Prue when she told her what a jerk Roger had been.
But Prue and Phoebe had never gotten along, and Prue refused to give Phoebe the benefit of the doubt.
"I don't care why she left," Prue said. "As long as she doesn't come back." She spun around and stomped through the foyer.
Piper chased after her. She had hoped that with a little time apart her two sisters would patch up their disagreements -- at least enough so that Phoebe could move back home. Piper had been talking to Phoebe for months, and Phoebe was ready to make peace with Prue, especially since things hadn't worked out for her in New York. But Piper could see now that Prue was still angry, and had no intention of forgiving Phoebe.
"Prue!" Piper called. "Wait!"
Prue stopped in the middle parlor and whirled around. "What?" she demanded.
Piper bit her lip nervously. "Um, I have to tell you something, and, well...I don't think..."
Piper stopped and stared at her sister. How could she tell Prue that Phoebe was returning to San Francisco? Prue had made it clear that she didn't want Phoebe back in the house.
"What is it, Piper?" Prue asked again.
"You know how we've been talking about what to do with that spare room?" Piper asked.
"Well, I think you're right," Piper said. "Maybe we do need a roommate."
Prue glanced at the chandelier. "Maybe we can rent the room at a reduced rate in exchange for some help around the house. I'll put an ad in the Chronicle," she said, then headed into the living room.
"Phoebe's good with a wrench," Piper quickly replied, following her.
"Phoebe lives in New York," Prue said, glancing back at Piper.
"Uh..." Piper took a deep breath. "Not anymore," she blurted out.
Prue stopped and turned. "What?"
"I've wanted the three of us back together for a long time," Piper said. "And...well...Phoebe's left New York. She's moving back in with us."
Prue groaned. "You've got to be kidding."
"Well, I could hardly say no," Piper said. "It's her house, too. Grams left it to all three of us."
"Months ago," Prue added. "And we haven't seen or spoken to her since!"
Piper folded her arms across her chest. "Well, you haven't spoken to her," she told Prue.
"No, I haven't," Prue replied. "Look, maybe you've forgotten why I'm still mad at her?"
"No, of course not," Piper said, trying to calm Prue down. "But Phoebe has nowhere else to go. She lost her job. She's in debt...."
"And this is news? How long have you known about this, anyway?" Prue demanded.
"A-a couple of days," Piper stammered. "Maybe a week -- or two."
"Thanks for sharing, Piper." Prue glared at her. "When does she arrive?"
Why does Prue have to be so difficult? Piper thought as the front door burst open, and Phoebe entered the foyer.
Piper smiled at Phoebe, then glanced back at Prue. "Um, she arrives now, okay?"
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