"Caught in the riptide,
I was searching for the truth,
There was a reason I collided into you"
-Here With Me, Susie Suh & Robot Koch
The monotony of waking up each morning (sometimes afternoon), staring helplessly at a blank word document, and receiving a handful of angry calls from Gina each evening had been killing him. Slowly, spreading like a toxin through his system, simultaneously sucking the life from him and driving him insane.
Alexis had understood, arriving home from school each day with a sympathetic smile on her lips as she shrugged off her backpack to embrace him in a hug and words of comfort.
"You need a break, Dad," his daughter had sighed one afternoon, her arms around his shoulders as she leaned past him to shut his laptop. "Forcing yourself to come up with a new character isn't going to help things. It isn't going to fix…"
Her sentence had trailed that day, but he knew what she meant. Ever since he had killed off Derrick Storm, he had been acting like a man at a funeral, constantly in mourning. Not of his character, but of his career, his passion.
He missed the thrill of writing, the excitement of having the words crowding in his head, pouring from his fingertips to the keys.
"Not that I need one, but Gram already lives here, she would make a fine babysitter for a week or two," Alexis had mused, tugging him up from his desk chair, out of the gloomy lair his office had become, through the living room, and into the kitchen.
Castle had huffed. "Yeah, because you'd likely be the one babysitting her."
"Well, I have enough experience looking after you for all of these years, so I'm sure she'd be a piece of cake," Alexis had informed him with a playfully narrowed look before rummaging through the freezer and meeting him at the countertop with a tub of ice cream and two spoons.
"Alexis, I'm not going to pick up and abandon you for any reason, but definitely not so I can take a break from doing nothing all day."
"Dad, you'd never abandon me," Alexis had informed him, serious as she held his gaze, the underlying not like mom hiding in the ice blue flare of her eyes. "But the summer program I've been attending is coming to an end at the end of the month," she had reminded him, because of course as soon as the regular school year had ended, Alexis had shown up in his office doorway with news of a pre-college academics program at NYU starting in the middle of the summer. "So I have exams for the next week and a half, I'll be studying nonstop, and no offense, but I can't stand the moping anymore. So pick a place, take your favorite pen and notebook, your laptop, and go write for a week."
His daughter had made it sound so enticing, so easy, that he wanted to believe her. Any other kid and he would have thought she was just trying to get rid of him for a week so she could have the house to herself for parties or other activities he didn't even want to fathom his baby bird participating in, but Alexis wasn't like other teenagers. She cared about her schoolwork, about her family, and about his happiness. She just wants him to be happy and he was tired of disappointing her.
"You would still have to call me at least twice a day, of course," Alexis had added, twirling the gleaming silver spoon in her fingers. "But otherwise, no more Gina, no Paula, none of the people stressing you out, got it?"
"Alexis," he had laughed. "I haven't agreed to anything."
His daughter had scooped a spoonful of rocky road from the tub of ice cream, grinned smugly around her mouthful. "You will."
He had. And now he was across the country, in the magnificent forest of the infamous Big Sur, hoping to take a page from Kerouac's book and maybe find some inspiration amongst the calm of the woods. Then again, judging by the former author's novel based on his time in the area, maybe he didn't want to follow too closely in the unsettled man's footsteps, down the descent into madness.
He had rented a modernized cabin though - couldn't go too far out of his element - in a secluded part of the woods, where the chances of being recognized were slim to none. He had no neighbors, only one other home in the distance that he could see through the mass of brush and trees in the night, when the place's lights were on and spilling golden through the maze of trees.
Big Sur is so different from home, the wilderness foreign, the silence unnerving, but roaming the woods, the beach, upon his arrival offers a peace he hasn't felt in years, a balm to the unbearable tension of the last few months. And maybe Alexis was right, maybe this is exactly what he needs to emerge from his endless writing slump.
Awakening that first morning to the chirp of birds compared to the cacophony of city life he's used to is both pleasant and strange. He calls and leaves Alexis a voice message after he dresses, knowing she's still in class and that his cell signal outside of the cabin is limited, and heads out of his temporary home into the sunlight that breaches the ceiling of the forest, the beach his destination. He brings along his notebook and a pen just in case, but doesn't expect to use them, spending the majority of his morning taking pictures on his brief hike through the woods for Alexis, capturing the beauty of the rustic scenery as he promised he would.
But once he reaches the nearest beach through a short drive in his rental car, treks through the trail that leads to the ocean, Castle catches sight of a woman near the waves, not walking the oceanside, but simply standing sentinel in the sand - the sun caressing her golden skin, the water licking at her ankles, her hair long and loose, flowing in the breeze with the sheer fabric of the oversized cardigan clinging to her arms.
He almost extracts his pen and his moleskin at the sight.
It's hardly been 24 hours, but Rick is a people person, constantly surrounded by a hum of activity, and the lack of human contact has him starved already. So he approaches the lone figure on the empty beach, the sand silencing his footsteps, but her shoulders tense once he's only a few steps away, her head jerking over the curve of bone to find him there, watching her and - and wow, she's breathtaking.
With the bone structure of a model, her features sharp and striking, and eyes that swirl fierce and feral with colors he's never seen, his mind immediately dubs her a goddess of the sea, a siren who calls to him without saying a word, but this woman doesn't seem to take well to his awestruck inspection of her.
The liquid hazel of her eyes scrutinize him as she takes a step back, her hands in fists as if ready to defend herself, so Castle raises his in supplication.
"Sorry to startle you," he apologizes before she can hit him, or run away, or both. "I just saw you standing here on the beach and I thought I'd introduce myself. Are you staying in any of the cabins nearby?"
The woman stares at him as if he's spoken another language, and… oh, he hadn't even considered that. What if she doesn't speak English? Judging solely by her outer appearance, she could definitely be European, carries that enticing exotic look, and how terribly uncomfortable he probably just made this. Not to mention awkward.
"I'm sorry," he says again, slower, enunciating his words as if speaking to a child, and her brow furrows deeper. "Can you even understand me?"
Her lips purse with indignation and her arms cross over her chest. "I'm not stupid," she snaps, venom lacing through the statement, and she may be pissed at him upon only just meeting him, but at least the threat of a language barrier has been eliminated.
Castle grins and extends his hand, but she doesn't take it, merely flicks her gaze down to the proffered palm with an arched eyebrow and a look of distaste.
"I'm Rick," he adds, still keeping his hand up and between them and finally, after another bout of awkward silence, she sighs, accepts the handshake with tentative fingers that send sparks up his arm, electricity through his veins.
The nameless woman must feel it too, she has to, because she pulls away, jerks her hand back as if he's seared her sun kissed skin.
"I'm here to write," he explains, but his mind is still on the lingering static sizzling beneath the palm of his hand, the whorls of his fingertips. "Books. I write - books."
She nods, but her eyes are dark, spooked.
"I - I have to go," she murmurs, turning on her bare heel and trudging up the beach, towards a path that will lead back into the nearby parking lot, snagging her shoes before she disappears.
Castle stares after her for a few moments but plops down to the sand once she's gone, opens his notebook on his bent knees and uncaps his pen. He came here for inspiration, and he may have just found it.
Hours later, during that second sleepless night in the quiet of the woods with the sounds of insects and animals outside his window, he's able to write again. No pressure, no demands, only a smooth flow of words he hasn't been able to produce since his last book was published. His passion resurrected and the mystery woman from the beach on his mind.