Disclaimer- I still don't own Castle, Andrew Marlowe does, and I don't want him to sue me for playing in his sandbox. I'm just having fun, I make no moneys.

The spring semester started mid-January, and I put in my intention to graduate at Columbia. Ben was spending the night so often in my apartment, we joked we wouldn't have to move anything if he moved in. But, he didn't move, at least not yet.

I watched as Ellington's newest erotica novel came out and watched the New York Times Bestseller list. She wasn't getting that far that fast. She got even more mean comparisons to her first series, again, and it seemed her career was in a decline. And Broken was rising up the pre-order charts as if it had a fire lit underneath it.

I talked to Karé once she got back from her three week vacation where she was cut off from communication on a Pacific Island, and was catching up on NaNoWriMo idiot unedited queries. I managed to avoid Sept Lindo since that night he tried to accost me. I knew that if I ever ran into him again, I'd knock the shit out of him if he tried to come onto me.

The day before my book premiere came, and I had the evening off from classes to get ready for the midnight releases.

There were book release parties for Broken in bookstores all over the country; one of the biggest ones was in the Upper West Side's Barnes & Nobles, and it was going to start selling at midnight. Ben and I walked in that night together, and the Barnes and Nobles was filled. Dad and Kate said they were going to come by and support me in case Ellington showed up and made a scene. I saw Ellington and she was doing a bad job of hiding. She was standing there with her big sunglasses on in the middle of the night and her giant black trench coat, a frown on her face. I swore I saw a fever blister on her lip, though. She saw me and glared, but darted off. Ben held my hand and we got some coffee at the Starbucks counter. We both needed a pick-me-up.

Karé texted me about a half hour before the book release.

Are you actually going out yourself or are you going to wait for Ellington to do it?

I thought about what to say as I sat beside Ben. He looked at my phone in my lap.

"Are we sure what we're going to do?" he asked.

"I'm sure," I replied. I sent my answer to Karé.

The excited readers were lining up at the check-out, and Ben and I watched the store manager get on the intercom. I readied my Tweet to send.

"Attention Barnes and Nobles guests! We'll be ringing up all the reserve purchases at the first three registers for Broken by Candace Witherspoon, and if you don't have a copy reserved, you can line up at the fourth register as long as we have copies."

I saw Ellington stride straight towards the manager and snatched the microphone out of her hands.

"I think you all need to know who's the real author behind the Benefits series before you buy your copies. I've known for a while, and she's just too scared to admit who she really is. The author is sitting at the Barnes and Nobles cafe," Ellington said. All eyes gravitated towards the cafe. "The author's real name is..."

"It's me," Ben said, standing up.

"Ben, what are you doing?" I hissed. This was not the plan.

"I wrote the Benefits series. Third one's on it's way! Thanks, err'body!"

"Ben!" I shouted, irritated. This was not our plan. Ellington stared at us in shock. "No, he's not the author. I am. Hi, my name is Alexis Castle, yes, that Castle," everyone in line was staring at me, and there were a few dropped jaws, "and I wanted into the literary world on my own merit. Without my father's help. So, I wrote Benefits, and before I knew it, I was writing a three-book deal and couldn't tell anybody. Now, I'm going to come out and admit it. I'm a Columbia student by day, and Candace Witherspoon by night. I hope you'll still read my books. The third one's in edits as we speak, and it's due out next August. I hope you'll read it. Thanks."

I sent the Tweet from Candace's account confessing that I actually was Alexis Castle, and took Ben's hand to leave. The manager stole back the microphone from a stunned-looking Ellington, and ran up to me as Ben and I went to walk out amidst the chattering.

"Can you take a few questions?" she asked. "I think the readers have a few."

I glanced at Ben and he nodded. "Go for it," he said as the manager took my arm and lead me back into the store.

As I walked back in, the readers were standing around me, holding up their dog-earred copies of Benefits, begging for me to sign.

"I've never done a booksigning before," I admitted. I hadn't anticipated doing one, either. I saw Dad and Kate standing towards the back of the store, watching. Kate was holding a sleeping Jo-jo in her arms. I couldn't read their expressions, but Dad flashed me a thumbs-up and I knew it was all going to be okay, now.

"We can find some Sharpies," the manager said. She got the mic out. "Does anybody have any questions for Miss Castle?"

The crowd started chattering at once, I couldn't hardly hear anybody until the manager chose a woman who was in her thirties, at least, and handed her the microphone.

"Hi, I've read Benefits three times already, and I've bought copies for my friends to read, it's so good. I wanted to ask who inspired you to write Colton?"

"Oh," I blushed and got the mic back. "Well, Colton is a mix-up of a few of my ex-boyfriends and Jensen Ackles from Supernatural. I love that show."

"So do I!" said one of the other ladies.

"Me too, he's so hot!"

I answered a few questions and they were actually really good ones. I was surprised at the depth of what was being asked about my characters- and excited that I had readers as excited about my story as I had been. They were so nice and polite, I was really pleased I had attracted readers like this!

"... Didn't you use your father's pull in the industry to get published?"

I realized it was Ellington, glowering at me and glaring, speaking into the mic with her fever-blistered lips.

"That's a funny question," I said seriously. "My father did help me get into the industry and I'll tell you how. He paid for me to go to one of the best prep schools in the country, here in New York. He let me edit his manuscripts, minus the sex and violence, to teach me the proper use of English grammar. He kept our home stocked with more books than I could ever read, but still took me to the New York Public Library weekly and would read to me at night to put me to bed. I knew about the publishing industry because it was just part of my life. His second wife was an executive for Hyperion, and even though they're divorced now, we still talk. I knew all about getting an agent and how hard it was long before I queried... because of him. So, yeah, I used what my father unintentionally taught me about publishing to get into writing, even though I did most of it in secret. But he never helped me with editing or querying or getting an agent or selling my manuscript to Harper-Collins, because he didn't know about it. He just found out a few weeks before Christmas that I wrote Benefits, and I had been hiding it so much, it was making me paranoid. I'm ready to speak out, now."

Ellington's face turn bright red and she turned and stormed out.

I was honest with the world and it felt good.

"I wanted to know," another lady said, blushing, but there was seriousness behind her voice. "Is your love life as hot as what you write?"

I laughed, so did the others. "If you're asking if I've done every single sexual position I wrote about in the book, I'm going to be honest; no. I haven't, nor do I want to." There were some nervous giggles at that. "Most of that was research and fantasizing. Maybe about fifty per cent, and all the tamer stuff, that's all I'm going to tell you. But yes, my love life's on fire right now. I'm seeing somebody and we really… he's very important to me. And we're very happy together. Very, very happy together."

After the manager stopped me from taking anymore questions, a Barnes and Nobles employee came over with a handful of Sharpies and they pushed over boxes of Broken, I started signing the copies of the books for the readers. When I finally got out at three in the morning, Ben helped me into the apartment and we opened Candace's Twitter account on my laptop; Karé had confirmed my tweet that exposed who I really was, as did Dad. My follower count was rising and there were stories on CNN and Huffington Post already in the entertainment section about me coming out as Candace Witherspoon. Both were titled, The Castle Gene: It Runs in the Family.

The pressure I had been crumbling under had been lifted from my shoulder. I felt incredibly light, now. It was relief. I was so relieved.

"I'm so proud of you," Ben said. "I really am. Let's go to bed."

My phone dinged; I had gotten a text from Kathy.

I opened it.

Hey girl. I've known for a while that you're really Alexis Castle. And I'm really proud of you for coming out about being Candace. Talk to you tomorrow? Love you.

I was touched. I'd find out tomorrow how she knew it.

We went to bed and in the morning, I checked my inbox. I had gotten a ton of new followers on both of my Twitters and emails from Karé.

I called Kathy on my way to school.

"Hi, Alexis," she said softly.

"How did you know I was Candace Witherspoon?'

"The Meta Data on the chapters you sent me," she said softly. "You told me that Candace wasn't your real name, it was penname. I knew you'd come out in time. And, I found a few other things about Ellington you might want to know."

"Oh really?"

"I used to be a paralegal before I published, remember? I can do my research."

That afternoon, the manager that Karé hired called me to let me know there were a lot of new medias that wanted to interview me, now that my identity was confirmed. I had no idea my life would change so dramatically. As for Columbia, if they wanted to fail me out in my last semester because I wrote porn… Oh well. Dad dropped out of Columbia his senior year, too. It wasn't the end of the world if I didn't complete my degree, now. I had wanted to get a degree just to go down a certain career path, but I wasn't sure how much I wanted that anymore. I had accomplished something already, and this goal left me feeling really satisfied. There was nothing out there that said I couldn't go back to school later in life. Besides, I had submitted a writing sample to Alloy for a write-for-hire job, and they chose me! I was going to be writing a historical fiction novel for Young Adult readers about a German girl who helped the "ghosts", or American operatives that helped prisoners of war escape the POW camps and stood in their places while they got away to escape home. It was exciting, and it would be under a pen name that Alloy could use in the future. I didn't keep that a secret, I announced it on my Twitter page. I chose the pen name of Marta Sanders, in honor of my grandmother.

Ellington was tweeting vitrolically towards me, claiming I had confessed that I only got published because of my father, now that I had confessed to being Candace. Ellington was being anything but professional. Most of the publishing industry thought she had gone psycho and the gossip blogs came down on her: really hard.

Kathy posted a link to jezebel dot com; a scandalous claim with evidence about E.K. Taylor; she was a high-school drop out from a trailer park in the mountains of Ellington, North Carolina, who was named Millicent Klompett. No seriously. Even pictures were included of her. She dropped out of high school because she got pregnant at age fifteen and then had her second child when she was seventeen. She had gotten involved in Derrick Storm fanfiction when it wasn't that big of a thing. The reason why was she had been arrested for child neglect and the North Carolina foster system took her children away was she was more involved in the internet than taking care of her babies. She wrote fanfiction with her critique partner, a girl named Destiny Maher, who had Cystic Fibrosis, and had died. Destiny had written a long Derrick Storm/Clara Force BDSM fanfiction, that was over 450,000 words and had taken it down before she died from CF (Benefits tipped the scales at 110,000 words, which was near the limits of what editors accepted at the publishing houses for a first novel).

Destiny's brother didn't even know she had written it until he resurrected her old laptop and found the fanfic, and did some research; it had been published for a short while on a now-defunct fanfiction website. Destiny had even credited Millicent for her help in "betaing" her work when she published it to the web, initially. She had even done a poor man's copyright on her fanfiction when she and Millicent got into a violent argument before she died. When Destiny died, Millicent (or Ellington) did a control + R and replaced the characters names of Derrick Storm and Clara Force, and descriptions, and divided the manuscript up into three separate books for a trilogy. Destiny's fanfic was 90 per cent the same at Ellington's books, according to the plagiarism website TurnItIn. That's where her first three books came from; they weren't hers, they weren't even Destiny's because they were fanfiction of my father's characters and settings. It all made sense why Ellington had thrown herself repeatedly at my father; she had idolized him and read his books, and she hated me and Kate for standing in her way and being a 'competitor' in her sick mind. There was definitely some unhealthy psychological behaviors going on here; narcissism and paranoia at the most. She had been hospitalized a few times by the state for these behaviors a few years ago. No wonder she had called me and Kate name and put down my baby sister, too; she was mentally unstable and needed help. The Old Money ladies ran in terror from her, and claimed they didn't know her from a hole in the ground once Kathy's claims were finished.

This was also why Ellington's last two books didn't sound at all like her first series. And Destiny's brother was fighting mad and ready to sue Ellington for all she was worth for stealing the story.

Ellington was done. Not just James-Frey-A-Million-Little-Pieces done, but the publishing industry would never, ever, ever touch her again or give her another chance. I sent the story to Dad, and he took a long time to respond to it.

By the time Dad responded, Publishers Weekly announced that Ellington's next book was cancelled and she was facing legal repercussions from her publishing house. Dad wrote a blog to his fans regarding Kathy's research and article. He didn't blame his fans, but said that he didn't mind his fans having fun by using his book's characters, settings, and themes and reinterpreting the storylines, as long nobody made a personal profit. He wanted his fans to enjoy creating with his characters and he felt that it was a good opportunity to start writing, if his fans wanted to be creative; he was 100 per cent behind that. But then, he then told them that if he ever found an original book that was first published to the internet as fanfiction that showed more than 50 per cent similarity or more to any fanfics that used his characters, he was banning all Derrick Storm and Nikki Heat fanfiction, like JD Robb and Anne Rice did. He just wasn't having it if people were lacking ethics like this and taking advantage of his hard work as a writer. He hadn't spent more than five years researching and solving murders with the NYPD and risking his life, and to have someone steal from him and his wife and family? That was a no-go for him.

I said basically the same thing on my website, as did Kathy and many other authors. We wanted to make it certain that we were fine with other people using our characters for fun, but trying to publish it without completely reworking the manuscript, and only using the control + R function, that was stealing from us. It was not acceptable. We only had copyrights to our work for about a hundred years, and then it went into public domain for public use. All I could think of was Jo-jo and the new baby when it came to the copyright laws and how hard Dad had worked to create these two smash hit series. Derrick Storm had only come out about fifteen years ago, Dad was supposed to make money off this creation for the rest of his natural life. What happened when Jo-jo, the baby, and I inherited the rights to his estate to finish out that 100 year copyright? Maybe that was greedy, but Dad wanted us to have the rights, not let somebody else take advantage of his work and make money off it. Ellington had no right or permission to steal from him, or from Destiny, who had never considered publishing her fanfiction for profit.

After the hoopla of what Ellington did died down in March, Karé called me with good news: she had a few new adult editors at Penguin and Harper-Collins asking about Love's Triangle, the book I had tried to get someone to take a look at a year and a half ago. She was negotiating a deal for it, and the advance would be in the hundreds of thousands for three books at least. I thought about Karé telling me it was not sellable without my father's name. That felt like it had happened longer ago than a year and a half ago. It was before Dad and Kate got married, before Jo-jo, and before I had met Ben. He was my life, now. I had gone so far to tell him my number about a year ago. We had said, 'I love you' but not really meant it. Right?

I wasn't sure, now.

As my semester wound down and I prepared to graduate, I was surprised that nobody seemed to really hold it against me that I had written one of the fastest-selling erotica series in the last two years. I got a few pervy emails from random people, but never my fellow students. I guess that said a lot about the class and intellect of students at Columbia, and I was proud to count myself as a student.

Occasionally, in my classes, a fellow student, usually female, would timidly approach me after class and ask me if I really was Alexis Castle, and then shyly ask me if I'd sign their copy of Benefits and Broken. I happily obliged and started a conversation with them. It was a quick way to start a friendship, too.

It was during my last final, I turned in my last History essay exam to my professor.

"Miss Castle," she said. "If you'd stay for just a moment while I grade your essay?"

"Oh, sure," I said. I went back to my seat and waited.

Then, the paranoia came back. She knew about my writing. She knew my alter-ego and wasn't going to let me pass so I couldn't graduate and-

"Miss Castle?"

"Yes?" I asked, approaching her desk.

She handed back my test. There was a bright and shiny A written at the top in red and I felt my blood pressure drop. "Oh," I whispered. "Thank you."

"One more thing," she said, opening her briefcase.

She pulled out a copy of my books.

"I heard a best-selling writer was attending Columbia. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was an erotica novel," she said primly. Oh shit. She was going to give me crap about it.

I shrugged. "I apologize if I disappointed you." I couldn't do anything now.

"That's just the thing; I thought these books would be pulp trash, not worth the cost, like most current erotica. And then I gave your book a try. Yes, there's room to grow. I think in the future, if you don't start writing for the paycheck and focus on the art, you'll grow into your abilities and become one of the great writers of our time. In the mean time," she said, her glasses on the tip of her nose, "I'm proud you got your start here at Columbia and that I had the pleasure of teaching you, Miss Castle. Could you sign my copies, please?"

"Oh!" I cried, surprised. "Sure."

"Alexis, I don't know if I can live in Williamsburg much longer," Ben admitted as we were getting our graduation gowns on for the ceremony. Dad's graduation present to Ben was the general light blue robe and cap that were regulation at Columbia. He had military cords in red and blue, and the Master's hood that would be flipped during the ceremony. "I might end up moving really far out to Oakland Gardens. Merrit's moving to California and I can't afford that apartment in Williamsburg on my own."

"That's pretty far," I admitted.

"We'll see each other. We'll just have to make plans for the weekends and stick to them," he said. "It has to be priority."

"Oh," I muttered. I knew I couldn't always get what I wanted. "You'll be so far away."

"It's about as far out as Williamsburg to here. I might be able to get job in Connecticut at one of the country prep schools out there, teaching English. I don't know."

"You don't sound enthused," I pointed out. "You want to stay in Brooklyn and Manhattan?"

"I do," he said. "I've gotten job offers out here, but I don't think I can afford to stay here-

"Well… Dad's not subsidizing my apartment by the end of the summer. If you wanted to move in together, the apartment's rent-controlled, as long as a legal relative of Kate's stays in it, she can sub-let it to us," I offered. "It's pretty reasonable."

"Like how reasonable?"

"I'm paying like two-thousand a month right now," I said. "So if we paid half of that…"

"That's about what I'd have paid for the studio apartment in Oakland Gardens," he said, catching on to what I was suggesting. "That's do-able. You want to move in together?"

"Yeah, I do," I admitted. "I can live with that. We can start moving your things over after the graduation ceremony!" I was excited at the idea of us moving in together.

"Um, Allie?" he asked. He went over to my closet and opened it- I realized so many of his things were already moved in here, what was the point?

I laughed.

Graduation was sunny and light, but as we took the subway, the news ticker in the subway station said that the suspect in the Sept Lindo case had been arrested and taken into custody. Ben and I just shrugged it off. We went to the graduation ceremony, and while my name was called, I felt proud: I wasn't hiding who I was any more. It was freeing. And my career as an erotica writer wasn't destruction of my life to get my foot in the door. It had felt like I had sold my soul to the devil. It hadn't been that bad after all.

Ben was honored with the other eleven MFA students and his hood was flipped to designate he had graduated. I was so proud of him.

After the ceremony, we met my family by the lions, and Grams had flown in to see me get my diploma. She was a busy lady, lately, and I missed her. She had won a Tony Award for Hocus Pocus, and we were so proud of her, but her career had a second wind. Which meant she was riding it for all it was worth to take care of herself towards the end of her life. "You did something your father could never do," Grams teased, hugging me.

"You'll never let that go, will you, Mother?" Dad asked.

"We're going to head to the Hamptons," Kate said. "Martha, are you sure you can't go with us?"

Grams sighed. "I could only come to Alexis's graduation. I have to head out to London." The British premiere of Hocus Pocus was opening, and she needed to be there on the red carpet, and then she was going to appear on East Enders in a cameo role. "I'll miss it, and I'll wish I was there."

"I love you, Grams," I said, hugging her again. "Travel safely."

"I will, kiddo. I love you and I'm proud of you, too." She kissed me on the cheek loudly and probably left a lipstick mark. I grinned- I wasn't wiping it off anytime soon. "Bye."

"Gams!" Jo-jo shrieked from Dad's arms, wiggling. She wanted a hug of her own before Grams caught her flight.

"A picture! I need to get a picture!" Dad cried, getting out his camera.

"I'll take it for you," Ben volunteered, reaching out to take the camera.

"Wait," Kate said. "Ben, you've paid your dues, you get in on the picture."

"Who's going to take it?" Ben asked.

"Hey!" Kate called after someone who was standing nearby. I heard Dad's phone ring, but he ignored it. "Can you take our family's picture?"

We posed around the lions, showing our diplomas. Afterwards, we were debating with Kate about where to have dinner, but Dad interjected after checking his phone.

"We need to get to the precinct," he said. "Ryan and Espo want us there for something. They just called me."

"I heard they were handling the Lindo attempted murder case and they just broke a lead," Kate said. She had been at a desk job for the last month and wasn't quite in on all these things as much as Dad was.

"They want us all there," Dad said.

We took the cab to the precinct and met my parents there, only to be greeted with the bullpen applauding Ben and me as we walked in wearing our graduation robes and greeted by Captain Gates, who hugged me. Laney was there, too.

"We've known you for almost ten years now, and we've watched you grow up," Gates said. "You've written a scandalous book and gotten your degree. Alexis Castle, we are proud to call you one of our own family. And we pitched in and got you a present now that you've graduated from one of the most respected Universities in the country. Congratulations young lady, you are on your way." She presented me with a briefcase with my initials in the leather.

"Aww, thank you!" I cried, flattered. "I love it! It's beautiful! Thank you! Thank you so much!"

I hugged a few of Kate and Dad's good friends and thanked them, but we were missing Espo and Ryan. "I think we need to see this," Dad said, taking my arm. He had handed Jo-jo over to her godmother, Laney, who was happily watching her for the next few minutes. He and Kate escorted me to the interrogation watching room, so we could watch from the other side of the two-way mirror. A pretty girl with blonde waves was sitting at the desk, turning bright red sitting beside her lawyer, and Espo and Ryan were grilling her. Espo was being the bad cop, Ryan the good cop. She was pissed, and it showed on her face and crossed arms.

"... You know, Heather, if you just confess, we can get you a plea deal to the attempted murder of Septimus Lindo. You might even be able to stay out of prison. All you have to do is confess," Ryan said.

I glanced at Dad. "They've got enough evidence," Kate pointed out, rubbing her 7-month pregnant belly. "They can hang her on that alone."

"It took them long enough," I noted.

"Well, the case went cold because the Lindos wouldn't work with us, but some of their help finally did," Kate admitted.

"I doubt a pretty girl like you will fare well in prison," Esposito said. "They will crucify you, Heather. Just take the damn plea deal."

Her face was turning purple, practically.

"We're not pleading to anything," the lawyer said.

"We've got evidence," Esposito barked. "We'll hang her in the courtroom! No amount of money is going to keep you out of jail unless you make a deal. Time is running o-"

"That bastard gave me herpes!" the woman shouted, interrupting Esposito. I clapped a hand over my mouth. Everybody else watching Heather's investigation had a similar reaction of shock. I found myself laughing in shock. Sept Lindo had herpes? I had proof I had never slept with him, now. "He gave me genital fucking herpes! I'm not suitable to have sex with anybody anymore! I'm not going on fucking H-date to find men! He's a walking STD factory and he gave me one! And you think I'm going to confess to trying to kill him? No way! I'm not taking the heat for it with jail time, I'm doing time right fucking now when I can't have sex! You'll just have to take me to trial!" she screamed.

Ryan and Esposito were dead silent.

"We'll give you and your lawyer a few minutes to think about it," Ryan finally said, standing up. "Just consider it."

They pretty much sped out of the interrogation room, and once the door was shut, they collapsed on the floor, laughing so hard they couldn't move. Ryan even stopped making sound, it was like a silent scream for a moment. Kate ran to the women's room, she was laughing so hard, I'm sure she was wetting her pants.

"We're terrible people," Dad choked out between peals of laughter. "We're laughing a woman's grave misfortune."

"I could never find her guilty of attempted murder one. That was a crime of passion, and no woman could ever, ever…" Esposito had to giggle again, "find her guilty!"

"I can't imagine a worse fate," Ben said. "He shoulda let go of the rail! I bet he's wishing he had, now! What an asshole, infecting women with the herp!"

"Well, I can now officially put that rumor to rest that I ever had sex with him, because I'm STD free, always have been!" I cried. We all laughed even harder. "You know what else this means?" I asked as we were wiping our tears, realizing something. "Ellington probably has it!"

The bathroom door opened, and Kate heard me say that about Ellington and she turned around and went right back in. I almost fell over laughing at that. Ellington did have a cold sore on her upper lip at my book premier in February that she was trying to cover up.

"I'm going to hell," Ryan muttered.

"Meetcha there," Ben replied. They did an exploding fist-bump.

Everything was funnier now that I knew that Sept Lindo's chances of ever having consentual sex again with a willing partner (that he didn't pay) were now dead and buried. No woman would ever want to be seen on his arm ever again. It wouldn't be long before that interrogation video was released to the public, and Sept's disgusting ways were going to work against him now and forever.

One rich, herpes-infected douchebag was off the market, now. At least until they found the cure for genital herpes.

Kate almost went into premature labor she was laughing so hard. She almost lost control of her pregnant bladder, that's why she had to duck into the women's room.

After we laughed for a good half hour and Laney went to console Heather and tell her it wasn't the end of the world to have herpes as long as she was careful and took anti-virals whenever she had an outbreak. Apparently, herpes-free people could engage in a sexual relationship with someone with herpes if they were careful about the outbreaks.

We went to dinner after this giant mess. I talked Ben into coming to the Hamptons with us for a celebration weekend and to go to the beach. Well, if this wasn't up his alley, I'd ask Jim Beckett if we could have a weekend alone at his cabin in Vermont to go fishing.

"I hate to break up the fantastic day we've had so far," I began as we rode along on the LIE. I patted Jo-jo's chubby toddler leg in the far back of the SUV. She was snoozing on the way. "But, Ben and I have an announcement."

"We've decided to move in together," he said.

"You are?" Dad asked, a little horrified, turning around in the driver's seat.

"Yes," I said. "You're going to stop paying my rent for me, I'm going to write full-time, and Ben's going to take teaching jobs here in Manhattan. We're going to split the cost of our apartment. We want to stay in your place, and sublet as long as we can."

"I guess… if you two are ready for it," Kate said, uncertainty in her voice.

"It's do-able," I admitted. "I just want him to be here in Manhattan with me, not so far away, like in Jersey or Queens."

"I understand that," Kate admitted. "Long-distance relationships are difficult."

"We don't want it turning into that," Ben said.

"Are you really ready for this?" Dad asked. I knew he was thinking about how I moved in with Pi after only knowing him a few months. This was different. Ben and I had known each other for a long, long time. We knew each other's quirks and habits and annoyances. I hadn't known those things about Pi when we moved in together and it just showed me how much I needed to know these things before cohabitating again. I personally felt like I was ready, though.

"We're positive," Ben said. "I want to be here to take care of your daughter. I want to live in Manhattan, too. And we've known each other for a long time. This is just the next step in our relationship. I'm serious about Allie. I really am."

"It's a big step," Dad noted. "If you're sure."

"I am," Ben said, squeezing my leg.

"So am I."

The next few days in the Hamptons were like magic. Ben and I didn't bother with the society parties; I didn't want to run into Sept, now that his case of the herp had gone public. I had had enough of them, although suddenly the same people who had cheered Ellington on for tossing Chardonnay on me were trying to be my friend ('fair-weather' friends I didn't want or need). I did have the medical printout that I was STD free, which I took a picture of and posted to my personal Twitter account to put the Sept Lindo affair rumors to rest, even though I didn't care if those people liked me or not. All I needed was my best friends, Ben, my family, and writing, and I was happy.

My parents and Jo-jo were a ways down the beach to get a closer look at the fireworks, leaving us behind. Jo-jo was transfixed, and I could hear her tiny voice going, "Wooooow!" at the fireworks.

"I've got another surprise for you," Ben said. He sat down in the sand behind me, his legs wrapped around my hips. He held me comfortably, like we were old lovers. We were old lovers, what was I talking about?

"What is it?"

"I got a publisher for my MFA project."

"You're kidding!" I cried. "Ben that's great news!"

He grinned at me. "Ain't it, though?"

"It is," I agreed. "Which publisher?"

He pinched my butt. "St. Martin's Press. I sold it for a nice little advance. Almost eighty thousand. That's pretty good for a non-commercial work, isn't it?"

"Is it," I said. "It really is."

"I can't tell anybody just yet," he admitted. "It's not enough to live off of alone, but it'll subsidize my teaching jobs so I don't have to work like a dog. It'll go in to Publisher's Weekly by August."

"I'm so proud of you!" I cried, twisting around to kiss him.

"We're gonna make it, baby, I know it. And one more thing."


"My number's twelve."

I didn't know what he was talking about. "What?"

"My number. You're number eleven for me, Ashlyn was number twelve. And I don't want anybody else, now."

"Ben, I… I had no idea," I admitted quietly. "And you're being honest about it?"

"I swear on a stack of bibles, it's true."

I pressed my lips to his. "I love you, Benjamin Haversham."

"And I love you, Alexis Castle."