She was unlike any girl he had ever seen. Flying so high on that swing, her long hair whipping around her face in the wind. And she had the best laugh as her friends tried to warn her that she was going too high and that she should stop.
Richard Rogers had been at this new school for over a week and still hadn't met her. If she was his age, she must be in the other 5th grade class. Or maybe she was older or younger. Either way he had to meet her. Had to at least know her name.
His mother had warned him that this would happen. That one day he would meet a girl and he wouldn't see her as gross as he so often did at his age. It was true. He had his first crush. And all he knew about her is what he saw in front of him.
She'd gathered a crowd by now. Other boys around him whispering that she was going to flip right over the bar if she went any higher. Some younger kid, a kindergartner probably, was asking if he should go get a teacher. But she paid them no mind, continuing to swing like it was the most freeing thing in the world.
A collective sigh was released from the crowd as the bell rang signaling the end of recess and the girl was forced to drift back down to the earth. When she judged her swing to be at a low enough height, she jumped off, landing as gracefully as one possibly can on her feet.
He had to stop her before he lost her inside the building. Had to get her to notice him the way he had noticed her.
"Heights must not scare you the way they scare me."
Oh now that was smooth. Not.
She stopped to look at him on her way back into the building. Her confused gaze softened at the sight of him, a small smile even gracing her lips. "Closest thing I can get to flying."
"Uh, I'm new here. In Mrs. Frost's class. I'm Rick."
She smiled at him again before brushing past him into the building. "I'm Katie."
"Why'd they let me come with you?" Rick asked, his feet dangling off the edge of the dock as they looked out at the water.
Katie shrugged beside him. "My parents always let me bring a friend up for a week at the cabin every summer. Only child perks, I guess. You know how it goes."
"Yeah, but I'm a boy. Shouldn't they be suspicious of my intentions?"
She laughed at that, that same laugh that had drawn him to her four years ago. "I don't know, should they?"
"We're teenagers now, Katie. I'm just waiting for the day your dad doesn't trust me anymore."
More laughter. "You're my best friend, Rick. I don't think he has to worry about you."
He sighed, having more to say but not wanting to push her away. "What if I wanted us to be more than friends?"
She turned to look at him, her hazel eyes wide in the moonlight. "You want to date me?"
"Remember what I told you after your failed date with Danny? All the great romances start out as friends first. I gave you the rest of the school year to think about it, but it's summer now. We start high school in the fall and -"
"You want to claim me before someone else does?" she asked with a smirk.
"You didn't let Danny kiss you when he tried," Rick reminded her, avoiding her question. "Did you ever figure out why?"
She looked down at her lap, her shoulder length hair framing her face.
She looked back up at him, chewing on her lower lip.
"I have thought about it," she confessed. "And the only explanation that makes sense to me is that I wanted you to be the first."
He smiled at that, reaching out to brush a thumb over her cheekbone. He leaned in and pressed his lips against hers, soft and gentle. When he pulled away, they were both smiling, her hand reaching for his on the dock. She laced their fingers together, tentatively resting her head on his shoulder as her feet kicked at the water below.
"Fall in love with your best friend, huh?" she asked. "Guess this is only the beginning for us."
Katie burst through the door to his bedroom and collapsed down onto his bed with a huff.
"You seem upset," Rick mused from his spot at his desk.
"I am upset," she mumbled into his pillow.
He moved from his desk to sit by her on his bed, brushing her loose curls out of her face. "Do you want to talk about it or did you just come here to pout?"
She turned her face to the side of his pillow to look at him, tears shimmering in her eyes. "Maddie is being a colossal bitch right now."
"What'd she do?"
She shook her head, turning her face back into the pillow. Rick stroked his hand down her back, knowing the action typically calmed her down when she was upset.
"She's not trying to steal your boyfriend is she?" he joked, earning himself a smack on the thigh.
After a few more moments of silence, she pushed herself up, and opted for curling into his side instead of the pillow. He adjusted his arms around her, still stroking her back with his fingertips.
"She said the only reason you're in love with me is because I'll have sex with you," she muttered against his shoulder.
Rick's hand fisted into her shirt. "You know that's not true, right?"
He felt her nod weakly against him, but she didn't say anything.
"I love you because you're my best friend and I can tell you anything. It has nothing to do with the sex."
"I tried to tell her that. She wouldn't believe me."
"She's jealous." Rick released her shirt from his grip and started rubbing at her back again. "She just got dumped and she's taking it out on you."
"Just because her ex is an asshole doesn't give her the right to be a bitch."
"She'll get over it. Come crawling back for your forgiveness in no time."
"I hope so. You're a great best friend and all, but I have to have someone to talk about you with."
"Excuse me?" he asked, looking down at her.
She smiled back up at him, wiping at her eyes. "All good things, Rick. I rarely have to bitch about you."
She could have sworn she saw him walking down the opposite side of the street. But she'd also thought she'd seen him at her favorite restaurant last week and at her coffee shop yesterday morning. New York was a big city. There was no way she'd seen him in all three places. This was just her recent breakup playing tricks on her.
She was hurting and trying to find comfort in the familiar, in her past. Trying to find comfort with him.
Kate wondered what he was up to these days. She knew he was still writing, that much was evident by his name slowly filling her bookshelves at home. She knew he'd changed his last name, was only able to recognize his books from the jacket photo. Well that and the fact that Hail of Bullets had been his labor of love for years now. Figured no other Richard would be publishing a book with that title. And she knew that he was still in the city, that one of these days she may actually run into him on the street.
But New York was still a big city, and she didn't even know which part of it he was residing in now. She'd thought about hunting him down a couple of times since she's been back. But she'd always stopped herself, the voice in the back of her head telling her that if he still cared, he would have been at Johanna's funeral.
He's probably moved on from her by now. Like she thought she had from him until she started seeing his face everywhere. No one stays with their childhood sweetheart forever. No one finds their one and done on the playground at the age of ten. But when she's lonely like this, her thoughts always travel back to him.
He was her safety net. The bright spot on her all of her dark days. But on her darkest day, he hadn't bothered to show up, and that's when she really knew their fight, their breakup, and been final.
She hopes that he's happy. That he's found someone else that makes him feel the way she used to. A new muse to inspire all of those love stories laced amongst mysteries. She hopes that she'll get there someday too. Find someone who understands her need to stay in New York and investigate her mother's death.
Kate thinks that he would understand. But at the end of the day, he's not there. They're different people now. They'll never get back what they once had.
He hadn't thought about her in years. Hadn't let his mind drift back to that place where the sound of her laughter still filled his senses. But he swore as he was standing at the crosswalk today, he'd seen her on her Harley, zipping through traffic.
He couldn't stop the laughter that had bubbled out of him at the sight, even if it wasn't her, earning himself a curious look from his daughter at his side. He remembered the day she had bought that thing, driving it up to his apartment and tossing him a helmet with the instructions to get on. He almost felt emasculated by it. His girlfriend, the one with the motorcycle.
She went on and on about how mad her parents were, especially Jim. She kept saying that they wanted her to take it back and get her money back. That there was no way that thing would be practical in the winter. But Rebel Bex had stood her ground and he wouldn't doubt that she still drove it when the weather permitted.
Rick wondered now if she'd made it through law school. Wondered what type of lawyer she had become. He couldn't shake the picture of her being a judge someday, shrugging out of that black robe and straddling her Harley as she left the courthouse. She'd always been a hell of a woman.
He missed her and her spitfire attitude. He even missed the lingering cherry scent she used to leave on his clothes. Now he was wondering if she still used the same shampoo.
"Daddy, what are you thinking about?"
"Just an old friend, Pumpkin. Just wondering what she's up to these days."
"Why good morning, Mrs. Castle. Sleep okay?"
She groans, slipping into one of the stools at the counter. Rick slides a cup of coffee her way and she graciously wraps her hands around it.
"How are you not as hungover as I am, right now?" Kate grumbles.
"I didn't drink as much as you did. Lanie talked you into tequila shots, remember?"
She groans again, bringing the coffee cup away from her lips. "Did we get this drunk at our wedding?"
He laughs at that, trying to offer her some toast which she turns her nose up to. "I remember being too drunk on each other to need much alcohol."
She smiles at that, smiling even more when he hands her some Advil. "Jenny wasn't doing the shots with us, was she? Ryan will kill me if Lanie and I got her trashed on their wedding night."
"No, no, it was mostly you and Lanie doing the drinking. She was upset about her most recent break up with Esposito and you let her drag you down with her."
"Oh god," she mutters, burying her head in her arms.
Rick moves around to the other side of the counter, rubbing a hand up and down her back. "Don't worry, I'll nurse you back to health. Just like the night of junior prom. You think you would have learned you didn't agree with tequila after that night."
"I told Maddie to sneak vodka into the flask, but she apparently didn't know how to read."
"Your friends are a bad influence."
She lifts her head up to look at him. "Are you including yourself in that?"
"I'm not your friend, I'm your husband."
"Oh I'm sorry, I didn't realize we had an arranged marriage."
He laughs again, the volume of it causing her to wince as he leans in to place a kiss at her temple.
"You've loved me since day one, Katie Beckett. Don't deny it."
"God, you haven't called me Katie in years."
"I can start again if you like."
"Please don't," say says, sipping at her coffee again. "It's bad enough that my dad still does it. Speaking of, we still have to pick up Elliot from his place. I'm sure Grandpa is ready for some quiet time away from our rambunctious two-year-old."
"Let's wait until your headache goes away, shall we?" Rick suggests. "Because you know El is just going to want to play after being away from us all weekend."
"Smart Daddy," she says, patting his arm as he moves back into the kitchen.
"It's that second kid experience coming in again," he says with a wink, which earns him an eye roll. "Did you ever think the two of us would end up here? Married with a kid?"
"I used to," she starts, lifting her coffee cup back up. "When we were younger I was adamant that I was going to marry you. I could never tell if my mother actually believed me or if she was just humoring me."
"Johanna was a wise woman. I'm sure she knew."
Kate shrugs, setting her cup back down. "But after 15 years apart? No, I never saw this coming."
"But you're glad it did, right?"
She reaches for his hand across the counter, runs her index finger over his wedding band. "You've always been it for me, Richard Rodgers. I wouldn't have wanted my life to end up any other way."
AN: Nadia (alwayswiththecoffee) and I have worked together to create an 8Tracks playlist for this story. She'll be posting it later tonight so keep an eye out for it. :) Thank you all so much for coming along on this AU journey with me. It's been a pleasure to write and your thoughtful reviews have made my week after week since I started this back in November. I hope you've enjoyed this story as much as I have.