Forty-Seven: Chapter 27

DISCLAIMER: None of these characters are mine, but they are memorable. Thank you, Mr. Marlowe.

Thursday, March 29, 2012 – 12:01 p.m. – At Richard Castle's Loft

The friends sit around the large, twelve person table in Richard Castle's dining room. Kate Beckett is struck that – in the limited times she has been here – she has never sat at the massive piece of furniture. The exquisite red oak stands in stark contrast with the rest of the place, further impressing her to the writer's eclectic tastes.

Captain Victoria Gates has graciously given the team the day off, and part of that is in gratitude for the last couple of day's work, and partly because of lack of workload today. She sits in one of the chairs next to Jenny Ryan, just immensely touched that she would be invited to this event at Castle's home. It's no secret that she has been hard on the novelist, never comfortable with him in her precinct. After the last two days – well, she's still uncomfortable but has to admit – begrudgingly – that even she is becoming a fan of the man, if not his writings.

At the large table sit Richard Castle at the head, with Martha Rodgers to his left. Next to her is Alexis, then Javier, who sits quietly next to Lanie. At the end on the opposite side sits Captain Gates who is next to Jenny Ryan, who leans into her husband. The last two spots belong to Jim Beckett and Kate Beckett, who sits next to Castle.

Castle has not told anyone why they are here – which even under the most normal of situations would cause a bit of uneasiness. However, given the past two days, any announcement their friend may make is disconcerting, as everyone is tending to lean toward the negative.

The lunch spread in front of them is heavenly. Castle has catered in – something he normally doesn't do – but the aroma of authentic Italian assaulting everyone's nostrils is overwhelming. There are no complaints from anyone.

"Dig in everyone," he tells them, as he takes his time going from person to person, leaning over and serving wine to each person – even allowing his daughter some this afternoon. It's not the first time he has offered his daughter wine, and most times she politely refuses. But there is something about today that tells her that partaking with everyone is important.

As the group begins to eat, Kate notices that everyone has a plate of food in front of them except Castle, who continues to stand at the head of the table. Finally, he sits, and takes a sip of afternoon wine. He glances at her quickly, giving her a radiant smile before turning his attentions to his guests. The conversations grow loud with laughter as good food, good drink and good friends allow the stress of the past days to drip away.

Twenty minutes later, the conversation begins to fall off, and an almost quiet settles on the room, as conversations are no longer noisy and across the table, but are not more personal, intimate. Castle nods to himself, and stands.

"I'm glad we all were able to move our schedules around to be here this morn – this afternoon, excuse me," he begins, tapping his knife on a wine glass. Kate has to stifle a snicker, wondering who gets the embarrassing toast this afternoon. Her money is on Javier.

"You will recall," Castle continues, "that I asked everyone to clear their calendars earlier this week, right after the bombing in the plaza."

Heads nod and the mood turns somewhat solemn. It was a hard case for everyone, including Alexis who spent time working in the morgue. Castle continues speaking to the group.

"Right away, all of us were struck by this case – possibly for different reasons. For me, it was just the suddenness of it all. Watching the parade of families and friends grieving in the morgue, realizing that each and every single one of them had plans for that evening, for the next day. A date with a boyfriend or girlfriend, dinner with a wife or husband, a game to watch their kids play, a school course to take. And those plans were abruptly ended, a lunch gathering of friends," he concludes, circling his hands at the table in front of him.

"Those plans ended without warning or prejudice," he goes on somberly. "That's what struck me the most about it. We've had many cases together, but the finality of this one, watching loved ones and their reactions . . . well, it got me thinking – which we all know is a dangerous thing."

Thank God for the Castle humor, as a rich and vibrant meal is getting ready to settle poorly in stomachs at the current rate.

"Tomorrow isn't promised to us," Castle finally says after a brief pause, which includes another sip of wine. "Every one of us knows this, we know it intuitively, we say it so often that it is nothing more than a cliché . . . but for those families we watched, for those victims we saw . . . it is so much more than a cliché. It is now their reality."

Heads continue to nod as most of the people at the table realize that Castle has easily articulated exactly what each of them have felt about the bombing case.

"That's when it hit me, when I remembered something I had learned – reminded actually – during one of my book discovery sessions," he tells them, a small smile forming on his face.

"In ancient times, there was an event – the Greek term of this event is eulogia. It means praise. In modern times, we call it a eulogy. We reserve the praise from this event for people who have died. The sad thing is that . . . I don't know about you, but I watched and listened to some of the things families were telling their dead loved ones in the morgue as they identified the bodies. And a single theme rang true for many of them. They wished they had said nicer things, better things, truer things while they were alive to hear them. The Greeks – they didn't wait for people to die. They had living eulogies, praising someone while they could still hear the praise."

Kate Beckett wipes a single tear that falls down her cheek, grasping the hand of Jim Beckett roughly. For the second time in the past couple of days – for different reasons – she has been reminded of the lyrics from a song from another generation that somehow found their home in her heart.

In this world today while we're living, some folks say the worst of us they can

But when we are dead and in our caskets, they always slip some lilies in your hand

Won't you give me flowers while I'm living and let me enjoy them while I can

Please don't wait till I'm ready to be buried and then slip some lilies in my hand

The words are pounding in her head now, with far more meaning than ever before. She squeezes Jim's hand hard, wondering if he knows how much she loves him, how much she respects him, how proud she is that he has overcome his demons, how sorry she is that – for years – she hardened her heart to him. Does he know how much he means to her? Does he know how much she wants him to hold grandchildren in his hands?

At the table, emotions are bubbling over, as Castle sees the unintended result of his initial words. He watches Alexis lean into Martha, unable to hear what she is saying. He watches Kevin Ryan, his head atop Jenny's while his mouth moves – words not heard by anyone but Jenny. Captain Victoria Gates has a faraway look in her eyes. Lanie Parish holds the hand of Javier Esposito, whose fierce gaze is fixated on Richard Castle, who now continues, undeterred.

"I've heard it said like this," he continues, almost mimicking the words of the song Kate recalls. "Send me flowers while I can smell them. Say good things about me while I can hear them. And so that is the point of this afternoon, mother," he says, glancing now over at Martha Rodgers, his gaze staying on her. Her eyes brim with tears upon realization that this meal, this get-together, this entire small intimate event – it is for her. It was planned quickly by her son days ago – but it is for her.

She hears the sniffles in the room, knowing they are for her. And her gaze returns to her son – thankfully – whose eyes are clear and sparkling with mirth, whose smile is genuine and caring, and whose words begin to melt her heart.

"I'm sure at some point in our unique relationship, mother, you have wondered what I might say at your funeral. Do I think you used your gifts for others? What would my consistent theme be? Would I tell jokes? Did I get your sense of humor? Did I know how much you loved me? Let me answer all of those questions for you now, mother. Because you are so loved. A single mother, before valuing single moms was popular. A single mother when people looked at you and figured – 'well, she's a woman, she knows how to raise a kid, she doesn't need any help' – a single woman who went from job to job to job, making a career, and making a young boy feel special, feel empowered . . .

Ten minutes later, Alexis Castle stands, unprompted, and begins speaking great memories of her grandmother. Meals shared, laughs shared, tears shared. She speaks of times when her dad was plaing things footloose and fancy with a model or an actress or an attorney – and she and Grams would be together. She speaks of walks in the park with Dad, riding on his shoulders, and getting home to the apartment where he would hand her off to Grams, and they would run around playing games while Dad was writing.

There are smiles and tears around the room, listening to the stories, but also recalling their own memories. Memories of a father. Memories of a mother. A grandmother. And new memories of a spouse, a girlfriend, a boyfriend.

For Javier Esposito, the memories are hard. Memories of a father he barely knew who left him. And memories of another man, and baseball fields from the past, memories which push him from the table. He walks around the table to Kate Beckett, bending and placing a kiss on her cheek, drawing more tears from the woman. He continues toward Castle, who instinctively understands and begins walking toward the front door. Esposito gives him a quick hug, which Castle extends. A couple of pats of the back, and the door opens, and he is gone.

Castle returns to the table, and squats next to Kate Beckett, who is by now, an emotional mess, along with others at the table. He gazes softly into her eyes, forcing her to stay with his.

"Forty-seven hours, Kate," he says softly with a sad smile. "Forty-seven hours ago, not even two days, I stood in the viewing room, watching my heart get crushed, watching my world implode. Forty-seven hours later, we sit here with the chance for a new beginning. The man who shot you is dead. The man who . . . the woman who ordered your mother's murder is no longer a faceless, nameless figure in the background. And you love me. And I love you. I chased you, wooed you, I frustrated you. I embarrassed you. I joined your quest – for four years. And now in just forty-seven hours . . ."

She leans in, giving him a long hug as he listens to her breaths break with small sobs, and finally the tears begin to well in his own eyes as she places a soft, breathy kiss on his lips and their foreheads touch. They stay this way for a few more seconds before he backs off, a smile on his lips, glancing at Jim Beckett. She turns to face her father sheepishly, while Castle rises and returns to his chair and slides it around the top of the table next to Martha.

"I love you, Mother," he tells her. Their other words spoken to each other are not audible to anyone at the table.

Thursday, March 29, 2012 – 2:07 p.m. – In Queens, New York

Detective Javier Esposito walks up the sidewalk to the doorway of the small modest home. It has been more than three years since he has been here. His heart skips as he places his knuckles on the door, delaying just for a few seconds as he closes his eyes and takes a breath. Finally, opening his eyes, he knocks hard on the door.

A few seconds pass and the door opens, and he comes face to face with an older gentleman, probably Jim Beckett's age. His silver hair is fading, but his body looks to be in good shape, regardless of the man's age.

Their eyes meet, and mist at the same time, as Javier hands Christian Marks a crisply folded American flag.

"Hello Pops," Javier greets, as Marks tucks the flag under his arm and pulls a sobbing Javier into a bear hug, and into the home, shutting the door behind them.

A/N: This ends this story, which I will probably pick up in a couple of months again with a follow-up tale picking up with the Brackens. I'll be posting the next story in the Different Road Taken in the next few days.

For those who don't know, a living eulogy is actually a wonderful way to praise the life and accomplishments of someone dear in your life. And as I sit here in ICU with my dad, going on two weeks now, one consolation I do have is that – a couple of years ago at Thanksgiving – we did a living eulogy for my mom and dad. He knows, and she knows, how special they are to all of us – their kids and grandkids, how impactful their lives have been. I cannot more strongly urge each of you to find the time to do something like that for you parents, your wives, your husbands, your children. Tomorrow is not promised, and each of us would love to smell the flowers and hear the kind words.

Thank you to all of you for your prayers and well wishes. You are faceless, but you strengthen me. Many of you are nameless, but your thoughts matter. Thank you.