Cocktail Hour

by Christi Smith Hayden


       "SWINGGGG! BattaBattaBattaBattaBatta!!!"
       "Yeah, keep it up, motahmouth," Natty muttered as
  she blew the droplet of sweat off the end of her nose,
  never taking her eyes from the pitcher's throwing arm.
  "Ah'm gonna ram this here ball right down yo' teeth."
       The pitcher of the Diablos let loose with a fast,
  underhand pitch. The sweet spot of Natty's bat slammed
  into the softball, driving it low and hard along the
  third base line. She dropped the aluminum bat and ran for
  first, her cleats digging into the hard red clay surface
  of the playing field.
       Her teammate on second wasted no time rounding the
  bases, long-legged Natty hot on his heels. The Diablo
  left fielder finally reached the ball and hurled it
  towards third just as Natty was passing by on her way to
  home plate. She dove in head first as the catcher
  stretched for the ball.
       "Safe!" yelled the blue-shirted umpire.
       Natty looked up and grinned at the Diablos catcher
  through a gritty covering of red dust. "Good try, amigo."
       He shook his head as he offered her a hand up. "You
  one loco gringa, mujere."
       The man she had batted in met her halfway to the
  dugout. "Way to go, Natty girl!" He looked back the
  opposing team and called, "Who's got the hot bats now,
       Natty walked into the dugout, stripping off her
  batting gloves and brushing dust from her bright yellow
  jersey. Her teammates on the coed softball team had
  various congratulations for her. Mindy, the coach's wife
  and scorekeeper, pointed at the pager clipped to the
  strap of Natty's duffel bag.
       "Yoah beeper's been goin' off," she commented
  absently, eyes on the game. "Weirdest noise Ah evah
       Natty frowned, wrinkling her forehead. "Huh. I could
  have sworn I'd set it to vibrate. I haven't had the
  beeper on in weeks." She unclipped the pager and checked
  it. The number of her bartending agency alternated with
  that of the Rockaway.
       The softball game was finished after another inning
  and it was Hornets over the Diablos, fourteen to nine.
  Natty plugged in her car phone as soon she settled into
  the white Cadillac convertible and called up the
  placement service she bartended for, Mixology Masters.
       "This is Natty Jones," she said as she started
  driving out of the athletic complex. "What's up, Morty?"
       "Natty! Sweetheart!" the man on the phone wheezed.
  "You got requested to do a private party!"
       "Uh, oh. What kind of party?"
       "Some kind of family reunion, I think. This guy,
  O'Brien -- I asked especially for you , babe -- he said
  it was in honor of his children coming home."
       "When is this gig?"
       "Tonight, I think. He said that you were to bring
  fine spirits and libations and that he would summon you
       "Sounds like some kind of nut."
       "Well, he's a rich nut. He paid twice the usual
  rate, plus a big bonus for you besides."
       "Yow!" Natty came to a stop at a traffic light.
  "Anything particular I need to know?"
       "He sounds like a snob, might be a hoity-toity
  affair. Wear something upscale."
       "Beats the time I had to tend bar in that belly
  dancer costume," Natty said with a laugh. "Thanks, Morty.
  I'll call you back tomorrow with all the dirty details."
  She hung up and dialed a second number.
       "This is the Rockaway, where you can rock your blues
       Natty grinned. "Hey, Frank! What can I do ya for?"
       The bartender from the Rockaway answered back.
  "Well, you can drop by and pick up the drink order this
  guy O'Brien called in. He said you could bring it since
  you were working his shindig."
       "Cocky li'l S.O.B, ain't he?" Natty commented. "I
  only just got the call from Morty." A handy overpass was
  coming up. She checked for traffic even as her eyes began
  to glow emerald green. "I'll be there in a couple of
  minutes. Bye."
       Natty focused her energies on opening a portal
  between Abilene and Manhattan. She had become
  surprisingly good at it after months of discreet tutelage
  under Owen. He might not be able to practice magic as a
  human but he was well-versed in all its various forms.
       One minute the white Cadillac was cruising along the
  Texas highway and in the blink of an eye, the car was
  coming out of a New York City parking garage. Natty waved
  at the attendants as she drove past.
       "Who is that woman?" the tall, thin attendant asked.
  "I see her and that white Caddy leaving all the time but
  I never see that car parked in here."
       "Maybe it's a ghost car!" his shorter associate
  suggested. "Ooo-oo-oo!"
       Natty parked in the alley by the Rockaway. Frank
  Ester popped out of the back door wearing his nylon
  biker's cap and one of his trademark tacky shirts.
  Today's selection was a bowling shirt with a rather
  phallic pin positioned between two flaming bowling balls
  with the team name, 'Great Balls O' Fire' emblazoned
  across his shoulders. He eyed her car and clucked.
       "You've been tending bar in New York for how long
  and you still have Texas plates on this car?"
       "What can I say, Frank?" Natty shrugged. "A girl's
  gotta have her wheels."
       "It's wonder it hasn't been stolen by now." The
  bartender looked around, put index finger and thumb into
  his mouth, and gave a piercing whistle. Two heads popped
  up behind a dumpster. Frank waved them over.
       Natty looked at the two approaching teenagers. Their
  ragged clothes had seen better days. One kid had an
  earring through his left nostril and the other had shaved
  his head except for the very top and that was left long
  and hanging to one side. "Friends of yours?" she asked.
       Frank rolled his eyes. "Our valet service. Don't
  judge them by their appearance, Oz and Jimmie are good
  kids, just down on their luck."
       "Another of Theo's projects?"
       "Yeah, well, you know how he is about street
  people." Frank pulled a five out of his pocket and handed
  it to Pierced Nose. "Watch the lady's car for me, okay? I
  got to load some stuff for her."
       "Need a hand?" the other kid asked hopefully.
       Frank looked him over. "Yeah, you'd better come with
  me, Jimmie." He glanced at Natty. "Wanna come on back?"
       The tall brunette followed Frank and the scruffy kid
  down into the bowels of the Rockaway. The basement was
  home to Frank Ester's microbrewery where he practiced the
  brewmeister's art with a skilled hand. Natty thought it
  looked a great deal like a mad scientist's lab in an old
  black and white movie, only without all the cobwebs. Huge
  copper vats vented yeasty gas and oak barrels were
  stacked along the wall. Off in one corner was the shining
  steel and glass contraption that Frank triple-distilled
  the secret ingredient of the notorious Wednesday night
  special at the Rockaway, the Pugsley.
       Several crates of bottles were waiting on a dolly.
  Frank pointed to some gallon jugs on a nearby table.
  "There's the Pugsleys, all mixed and ready. Make sure you
  stand well back when you light them."
       Natty laughed. "Yeah, I know that's how you lost
  your hair in front."
       Frank rolled his eyes. "Well, my ex-wife helped with
  that." He loaded Jimmie up with a case of dark brown
  bottles. "There you go. Be careful."
       "So how's the current Mrs. Ester?" Natty asked as
  she took a jug of Pugsleys in each arm.
       "Paulie's just fine." Frank beamed. "Baby's due in
  another six weeks." He started the dolly rolling and
  Natty followed him out. "We're thinking Sherry if it's a
  girl or Johnny if it's a boy."
       "Good, old-fashioned bartender names, hmmm?" Natty
  joked. "Tom Collins, Johnny Walker, Harvey Wallbanger,
  Margarita, Daiquiri?"
       Frank laughed. "Yeah, but Paulina put her foot down
  at the weirder ones."
       Oz was juggling softballs when they came out with
  the party supplies. He looked over his shoulder. "Sorry,
  ma'am, couldn't resist." He waited until Jimmie had set
  his load down  before tossing balls at him. Soon they had
  every ball in Natty's equipment bag in the air while
  Frank and Natty finished packing the trunk of the Caddy.
       Natty clapped her hands enthusiastically. "That's
  terrific, guys!"
       "Yeah," Frank said, slamming the trunk lid shut.
  "Gomez lets them juggle in front of the club on the
  weekends. Gives it that festival atmosphere."
       "I still say I'm ready to do fire," Oz said, not
  taking his eyes off the balls.
       "And we're still fixing stuff from the last time the
  Rockaway got torched," Frank said. "No fire, Gomez and
  Tish wouldn't like it." He grabbed the equipment bag and
  held it open. "Playtime's over, guys. Lady's got to be on
  her way."
       The boys pitched the balls into the bag and soon
  Natty was driving away. She was well down the block when
  it hit her. "Doh! Darn you, Morty!" she muttered as she
  reached for the phone. "You never told me where this gig
  is!" She had only punched the first three numbers when
  the world vanished in a flash of light.

       "Miss?" an aristocratic voice asked. "Are you all
       Natty blinked and looked around. The Caddy was
  parked in the brick-laid courtyard of a palatial mansion.
  An elegantly clad man with chiseled features and piercing
  ice-blue eyes stood by the car with a look of concern on
  his face while three servants in matching black-and-white
  maid uniforms stood by attentively. "Um, I'm fine,
  thanks," Natty mumbled. "Where am I and if y'all don't
  mind me askin', who are you?"
       The aristocrat bowed regally. "I am your host,
  Jonathan O'Brien. Your employer, Mixology Masters,
  recommended you as one of their best bartenders."
       "That would be me then," Natty said, opening the car
  door and stepping out. A brief moment of vertigo made her
  sway but the tall brunette shook it off. "Natalie Jones,
  call me Natty. I can make every drink in the free world
  and a few that aren't."
       "We'll be looking forward to that," O'Brien said
  graciously. He snapped his fingers and two men appeared.
  "I'll have your beverages moved to the party area while
  you freshen up."
       Natty stared down at herself aghast. She was still
  wearing her softball get-up: yellow Hornets jersey, black
  athletic shorts, baseball cap and cleats. Red dirt was
  smeared on her from head to toe. She didn't even want to
  think about what she must smell like. "Oh, dear," Natty
  said, chewing on a fingernail. "I am so sorry--"
       "No, you mustn't worry, my dear," O'Brien waved
  aside her protests. "My servants will have something
  suitable for you." The three maids stepped forward, their
  faces pleasantly neutral but something in their eyes made
  Natty uneasy.
       "If you'll come this way, miss?" the dark-haired
  maid said, gestured towards the mansion. Natty let her
  lead the way into the mansion, the other two maids
  following behind. They led her to a spacious dressing
  room with a freshly-drawn bath in a tub the size of a
  small swimming pool. The blonde maid began showing her
  elegant gowns in classical designs while the one with
  silver-white hair tried to remove Natty's clothes.
       "Now, none of that, girl," Natty admonished good-
  naturedly. "I kin take care of my own bizness from here
  on out so y'all kin jest git. G'wan now, shoo!" She
  locked the door behind them.
       The tall Texan had a brief snoop around the room. It
  was quite lavish, real marble for the floor and tub,
  fancy silks for the draperies and the dresses....Natty
  hadn't seen such finery, at least in her price range. She
  dabbled her hand in the lukewarm, rose-scented water. A
  bath was definitely in order. Natty shucked her clothes
  and lifting the top of a cedar-lined chest, opened a
  small portal to the clothes hamper in her bathroom back
  home. While she was at it, she retrieved one of her nicer
  bartending outfits. These fancy dresses were all very
  well and fine, but it wasn't like she could work in them.
       Natty had another brief twinge of vertigo as she
  stepped into the tub. She couldn't put her finger on it
  but something about this whole gig was not all beer and
  pretzels. She sank into the soap suds with a sigh.

       Odin and Raven stood with Oberon watching as the
  Wyrd Sisters took the mortal away. Their faerie glamour
  shimmered away and they were left in their normal forms.
       "Very well," Lord Oberon said briskly, "See that her
  supplies are taken to the place I have prepared for her.
  No one is to reveal themselves to her until I command
       Odin looked towards the castle curiously as Raven
  popped the trunk on the late-model Cadillac. "May I ask
  who this mortal is, milord? There is an unusual presence
  about her."
       Oberon allowed himself a small, cold smile. "That,
  too, shall be revealed in good time. Patience, my son,
  and you will be both informed and entertained." The ruler
  of Avalon swirled his cape around himself and disappeared
  from view.
       "What do you make of that?" Odin asked with a small
       Raven shrugged. "It's his business, not ours." He
  started to open the truck and pulled his hands back
  quickly. His fingers had turned an angry pink as if they
  were scalded. "I just wish he'd left the car back in the
  realm of mortals. These late model cars are almost
  completely metal. Just look at the ground!"
       Odin peered under the chassis of the Caddy. Under
  each wheel and wherever the shadow of the car touched,
  the grass was dying. Odin's eye glowed as he examined the
  damage on a mystic level. "It's killing the magic," he
  murmured. "It doesn't seem to be spreading though."
       "Like I said, there's a lot of iron in these old
  cars. Always gave me a rash to ride in them." Raven held
  up his hands and heavy leather gloves appeared over them.
  "That's better." He began  to unload the trunk, the brown
  bottles of lager, bock and stout clinking together.
       Odin eyed the beer bottles thoughtfully and blew a
  blustery, snow-flecked breath at them. Raven finished
  unloading and slammed the trunk lid shut. Odin grinned
  and handed the dark-haired fay a frosty bottle.
       "Here's to the Party," the pseudo-Nordic deity said
  grandly. "A merry Midsummer's Night to you, brother!"
       "And to you, brother!" Raven clinked bottles with
  Odin and took a long sip. He smacked his lips in
  satisfaction. "The mortal that made this was touched by
  the gods!"
       The rolling thunder of Odin's laughter echoed in the
  courtyard. "The question is which of us were responsible?
  Come," he gestured at the waiting booze and levitated it
  in mid-air, "Let us sample these fine spirits before the
  others come and take them from us!"
       Laughing, the two fay walked away, bottles and jugs
  trailing in their wake.

       Natty combed her long dark hair into a high
  ponytail, hanging past her shoulders. She looked herself
  over in the full-length mirror standing in the corner of
  the room. Her bartending outfit tonight was a starched
  shirt-collared white halter with wide lapels, above-the-
  knee black skirt and sensible but stylish black flat
  shoes. She turned around to get the full view.
       "Well, girl, it ain't fancy but at least, the dogs
  don't howl when you walk past," Natty told herself.
       The reflection shimmered and as Natty watched, her
  image changed. The dark hair and gray-green eyes stayed
  the same but the clothes became a medieval gown, the hair
  style, an elaborate braided crown. The older woman in the
  mirror smiled.
       "Hello, my child."
       "Rhiannon?" Natty eyed her suspiciously. "Wha'chu
  doin' outside mah haid?"
       "Anything is possible here," Rhiannon said. "Know
  this, nothing is as it seems. Be wary and don't let him
  push you around."
       "What? Who?" Natty asked but as she stepped
  forward, the mirror shimmered and the only image visible
  was her own.
       There was a brief knock on the door and before Natty
  could respond, the three identical maids came in. They
  all gave a small displeased frown in eerie
  synchronization. The dark-haired one in the center spoke
       "Miss, our employer would prefer you wore one of the
  garments provided." She gestured to gowns hanging in the
       "Well, I'm afraid not. They're way too fancy to
  sling booze in and I have to keep a professional image."
  She elbowed the maid gently on her way to the door.
  "Keeps the fellas in check, y'know." She walked into the
  hallway. "Now where is this here shindig?"
       The blonde went out into the hall with Natty. The
  one with the silver-white hair put a restraining hand on
  her dark-haired sister's arm, whose lip was curled back
  in a snarl.
       "Easy, Selene. Oberon has promised we shall have our
  revenge after she has served his purpose. Patience,
       Selene ground her teeth. "It is very difficult not
  to blast her where she stands," she said grimly. "But I
  will bide by the will of Lord Oberon."

       Natty was led out to a dome-topped stone gazebo
  overlooking a swimming pool some distance from the house.
  A top-of-the-line travel bar had been set up, the icebox
  humming away, and a fine selection of liquors waiting
  ready in a chilled rack. The two men she'd saw earlier, a
  huge broad-chested Viking type and his companion, a
  shorter Native American were lounging around, having
  already helped themselves to a few beers.
       "Hey, fellas," Natty said cheerfully. "You gonna
  save some for the rest of the guests?"
       "Sisters!" the dark-haired man crowed. "Have a drink
  with us!"
       "Yeah," his companion agreed. "Let your hair down,
  girls!" He leered and patted his knee. "Got your seat
  right here, Phoebe!"
       The maids all sniffed haughtily and started walking
  away but the blonde gave the big man an over-the-shoulder
  look that sizzled and popped.
       As she took her place behind the bar, Natty
  commented, "Well, well! Who'd a-thunk it? Guess that one
  don't have as much starch in her knickers."
       Both men snorted beer out their noses and began
  chortling with huge belly laughs. The big guy wiped his
  eyes and said weakly, "Oh, she'll go far here, eh,
       Raven merely raised his bottle in salute and kept
       As the afternoon wore on into evening, Natty learned
  from her bar buddies, Raven and 'Odie', there were a
  number of party sites on O'Brien's estate and the
  partygoers wandered in and out as they liked. A lot of
  singles were gathered in the pool area, among them a tall
  willowy girl with a shrill voice that Odie traded insults
  with, a handsome dark-haired couple sipping margaritas,
  the girl looking for the world like a short-haired Elisa
  Maza, and an odd African gentleman with an endless
  appetite and an amazing  tolerance for Pugsleys.
       "Hon," Natty said as she lit his ninth drink, "I
  really hope you're not planning to drive home after
       Brilliant white teeth glowed in his polished
  mahogany face. "Ho-ho-ho! My dear girl! Anaszi IS home!"
  He blew out the high blue flame and tossed back the
  drink. "Magnificent! Such flavors! Such colors!"
       Hoo boy, she thought to herself, Frank said when
  they start seeing colors, it's time to call the ER and
  tell 'em to prep the stomach pump. Natty eyed him
  skeptically. "You drink 'em like that, it's a wonder your
  taste buds get a whiff of 'em."
       She made a quick sweep of the pool area, picking up
  empty bottles and glasses. As she passed Anaszi, she
  yelped as someone pinched her. Glaring and rubbing her
  backside, Natty looked around for the perpetrator but the
  guys in the immediate vicinity all had their hands in
  plain view. She sighed and bent to snatch a wayward
  cocktail napkin from a chair.
       This time a bristly, furry SOMETHING goosed her in a
  very personal way. Natty gasped and was tossed face down
  on a chaise lounge. She felt several limbs or tentacles
  caressing her legs and inching her skirt up. Natty raised
  up on one arm and twisted around, madder than a nest of
  fire ants and as luck would have it, had one eye squinted
  in the way she normally did when she read auras.
       Only this time she saw something else.
       And it REALLY pissed her off.

       "Enjoying the party, my dear?" Oberon asked his wife
  felicitously as they waltzed around the main banquet
       Titania regarded her husband in thoughtful
  amusement. "It's been a delightful evening, my Lord
  Oberon. Everyone is having a splendid time."
       As the song came to an end, a number of the guests
  began to look out the windows curiously. An eerie
  caterwauling kept growing louder. The doors slammed open
  and Anaszi came scuttling into the Great Hall on three
  legs, the remaining five bent and twisted into a
  convoluted knot over his back. He looked at the rulers of
  Avalon with fear in his many eyes. "She's gonna eat
  me!!!" he screamed.
       Oberon raised an eyebrow. "Pray, who would do such a
       "Git yer big fat hairy butt back here!" Natty
  bellowed at she stalked through the door, green fire
  blazing from her eyes. "As soon as I git me a REALLY big
  bug zapper, you're gonna be crispy-fried!"
       With a wave of his hand, Oberon removed the giant
  spider from the banquet hall. At the same time, a faerie
  glamour changed the medieval castle to a more
  contemporary setting. Mr. O'Brien smiled graciously at
  his irritated bartender. "My dear Miss Jones, can I help
       Natty raised an eyebrow and shifted her weight to
  her other hip. "Look here, Blue Boy. Why don't you stop
  blowing sunshine up my skirt and tell me what's REALLY
  going on here?"
       "I beg your pardon?" Oberon asked, clearly
       Behind her husband's back, Titania pressed her lips
  together and her shoulders shook as she laughed silently.
       "You heard me," Natty said, giving the room a
  squinting one-eyed stare. "Drop the illusions right now.
  It's giving me a headache."
       The three Wyrd Sisters filed in, looking menacing in
  their maid uniforms. "Such impudence! My lord, let us
  teach this rude upstart some manners!"
       Natty scowled. "Oh, hush up!" She made a sweeping
  gesture as her eyes glowed emerald green and a crackling
  portal of pure energy opened beneath the three fay
  sorceresses. They gave a horrified screech and
  disappeared from sight.

       Back at the pool, Odin and Raven were looking idly
  at the castle. "It's awfully quiet," Raven observed. "Do
  you think she's pulled his legs off yet?"
       "Don't know," Odin answered. "I think there'd be
  more screaming then."
       They were suddenly bathed in an eerie green glow as
  a large disk opened above them. Phoebe landed in Odin's
  lap, Luna on a chaise lounge and Selene belly-flopped
  right into the pool.
       Raven winced. "That's gotta hurt."
       Odin snapped his fingers and a tray of flaming
  Pugsleys floated over from the bar. "Ladies," he said
  grandly, "I think you could use a drink." He locked eyes
  with Phoebe as he blew hers out and handed it to her. The
  blonde sister returned his look coyly and sipped the
  drink, a rosy blush rising in her cheeks.
       Selene pulled herself from the pool, looking like a
  drowned cat. She glared at Phoebe and Luna, who had
  accepted a drink from Raven. "Sisters! What do you think
  you're doing?" She summoned a convenient zephyr to dry
  herself off. "That-that accidental enchantress has done
  it to us again!"
       "Oh, lighten up, Selene!" Phoebe said, leaning up
  against the bearded Norse god. She toyed with his beard.
  "Be a doll, Odin, and get me another one of those flaming
       "I think she's right, Selene." Luna leaned back on
  the chaise lounge. "Let's enjoy the party. Oberon can do
  his own dirty work for one night."
       The dark-haired sister's mouth hung open. "I don't
  believe this! My own sisters!" She glared at the castle.
  "That mongrel has poisoned all of Avalon!" With a
  guttural scream, Selene disappeared.
       "Uh...huh," Raven commented and turned back to Luna.
  He gave her a big smile. "So, have you ever seen my totem

       With a disdainful wave of his hand, Oberon whisked
  away all semblance of the mundane human world, revealing
  the Children of Oberon in all their various forms and
  sizes along with assorted human guests. They gave the
  little tableau at the head of the room a curious glance
  and went on with their merrymaking.
       "Now my dear," Oberon purred. "Let us garb you in
  something more befitting a daughter of Oberon." A
  sparkling cloud descended on the tall Texan and as it
  lifted, Natty found herself in a diaphanous gown of rich
  emerald green, criss-crossed across her ample bosom,
  leaving her shoulders bare, covered in the dark brown
  cape of her hair.
       She stuck out her jaw belligerently. "Now, hold on
  here! What the--" Natty froze for a few seconds, staring
  as her eyes turned a brighter green. She blinked, smiled
  and spreading her skirts, dropped into a graceful
  curtsey. "My Lord Oberon," she said in a very proper
  fashion, "I am blessed once again to walk on the shores
  of Avalon."
       Oberon stepped down from the dais and took her hand,
  raising her up. "Dearest Rhiannon, my fosterling. How
  good it is to see you again."
       Natty's ultimate ancestor looked through her eyes.
  "May I inquire as to why my granddaughter has been deemed
  worthy of this visit?"
       "It is Midsummer's Night," Oberon said. "The first
  of the Gathering. According to my own decree everyone is
  allowed to bring one mortal from the human world to
  frolic with us." He smiled and cupped her chin. "When
  Titania told me of your existence, daughter of my heart,
  I knew I must find a way to bring you back home to us."
       "I am delighted to visit," Rhiannon replied, "but
  Natty is human. She would be greatly missed."
       Oberon laughed. "And who would miss her? Her
  drunkard of a half-brother living in a run-down trailer
  park? The inconsiderate employers that underestimate her
  potential? Oh, no, my dear, it would be a simple matter
  to wipe the slate clean and then you would have full use
  of this very attractive body."
       "My lord!" Rhiannon wrinkled her brow. "I have taken
  care of this avatar as if she were a child of my mortal
  body. She means more to me than just my descendant. I
  could never treat her so shabbily."
       "And besides, my husband," Titania said, stepping
  forward, composure once again serene, "there is one
  another to consider."
       "Him?" Oberon snorted. "He would have to travel here
  and proclaim his love. By my own decree, none born of
  Avalon may help him, not even yourself, my wife."
       The tall brunette raised her chin. "Glad to hear
  that don't apply to me!" A shimmering, swirling oval of
  energy appeared next to her and Natty stuck her head and
  arms into it.
       "Stop this at once!" Oberon commanded.
       "Too late," Natty said, reemerging holding on to a
  navy-suited arm. "Sorry to take you out of the stock
  holders meeting," she said apologetically, "but I'm in a
  bit of a jam here."
       Owen Burnett adjusted his glasses as he focused on
  the face of the woman before him. "Where have you been,
  Natalie? You've been missing for over three days!" He put
  his hands on her shoulders. "I've been ... concerned."
       "I had a bartending job."
       "But for three days?" Owen took notice of what she
  was wearing and gave her a long look, a small smile
  tugging at his lips. "This new look of yours is certainly
  ... interesting. Who hired you?"
       "I did," Oberon said coldly. "And you were exiled
  from here."
       "Technically, my lord husband," Titania interjected,
  "You exiled Puck. Owen, on the other hand, is another
       "Avalon." The word slipped from the pale man in a
  reverent hush. "I thought I'd never see it again." His
  fingers threaded through Natty's as he took her hand.
       "By rights, you shouldn't even be here." Oberon
  stared at Natty. "How can you defy me like this?"
       Her eye glowed emerald. "Foster-Father, you'll find
  that you can take the girl out of the trailer park but
  you can't take the trailer park out of the girl. Natty
  has a strong will of her own. You cannot force her to
  stay here."
       "Stay here?" A quick glance at Natty's face
  confirmed it. Owen's own face colored. "Absolutely not."
       "You know our rules," Titania said mildly. "She is a
  mortal who will not be missed."
       "I would miss her," Owen said firmly. "And so would
       "The Puck?" Oberon laughed. "Puck never loved a day
  in his life."
       The blond man pulled Natty into his arms. "That
  shows how little you really know, my Lord Oberon. You'd
  be surprised at how quickly a human can change you." He
  smiled at her. "And I love her for it." The kiss that
  followed seemed to last for centuries.
       Titania drew Oberon aside. "Be of good cheer, my
  husband," she said with a smile. "You have done a
  marvelous thing this night. Puck's crafting of Owen was
  such that I doubt he would have ever expressed his love."
       Oberon shared a sly smile with his wife. "How do you
  know that was not my intention all along, my lady?"
       Titania returned his smile. "You are indeed wise, my

       Natty and Owen left the party in progress and went
  for a long walk, Owen pointing out places from Puck's
  past. Natty leaned against his arm and smiled. "So," she
  asked casually, "You sounded kinda worried about me
  earlier. Were you?"
       The pale man raised his eyebrows. "No one knew where
  you were. It was like you'd dropped off the face of the
  world." He stopped in his tracks and pulled her into his
  arms, holding her tight. "My darling, I was out of my
       "Mmmmm, I jest love it when you're pushin' sugar,
  Pooh." They exchanged kisses, each growing more
  passionate than the one before, so neither one of them
  noticed the intruder creeping closer.
       Selene smiled coldly. The human and the Puck, she
  thought to herself, two petty annoyances gone in one fell
  swoop. She began to draw in her power.
       Natty broke the embrace breathlessly. "Y'know what
  I'd like to do?" she said in a sultry whisper.
       "Not a clue, my dear," Owen replied. "Surprise me."
       With a off-handed gesture, the late-model Cadillac
  appeared, bouncing lightly on its shock absorbers and
  with a faint "oomph" as it touched down. Natty slid into
  the back seat, silks scattering in all directions to
  reveal long, tanned legs. She  crooked her finger.
  "C'mere, Mistah Burnett."
       Owen had no response for that, merely smiled and
  vaulted in after her.

       Under the iron-laden chassis of the vintage
  Cadillac, Selene cursed as she lay face-down in the dirt,
  listening to the creaking of the suspension as the car
  rocked in response to the activity taking place above.
  She was effectively trapped until the human witch
  finished her pleasures with the Puck's mortal form and
  moved the cursed vehicle. From the sounds of it, she
  groaned to herself, they'd be at it for hours.
       Selene needed a good, stiff drink. What she wouldn't
  give for Cocktail Hour!

  The End.