At 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, November 1, 2012, when she's about five minutes into a blissful sleep, she feels Castle shaking her shoulder.
"Beckett! Kate!" He sounds so cheery, like a kid. "You know what this is?" When she doesn't answer, he shakes her shoulder again. "Know what this is?"
"Yes. It's annoying."
"How can it be annoying?"
He's squeezing her shoulder now, and dammit, she's fully awake. She rolls over and looks blearily at him. He's beaming. "Castle, we just had unbelievable post-Halloween-party sex. You wore me out and I thought that I did the same thing to you. I need to sleep." She kisses him on the nose and closes her eyes.
"No, no, no, I have to tell you what this is! It's the beginning of Christmas. I'm so excited."
"You were very excited half an hour ago, too, as I happily remember, but that had absolutely nothing to do with Christmas." She opens her eyes again. "What are you talking about, anyway? It's not even Thanksgiving yet. That's three weeks away. Christmas isn't for ages. Go to sleep."
"I can't go to sleep when I have to start mentally preparing for Christmas. I'm like this every November first."
She yawns noisily and pushes herself up on her elbows. "Are you telling me that I'll be going through this again next year? And the next?"
"And in two thousand fifty-two," he says patiently, as if he were explaining arithmetic to a first-grader. "And beyond. It's Christmas."
"No, it's November first, which is All Saints' Day. So be a saint and let me go back to sleep."
"Well, speaking of half an hour ago," he chuckles. "You were behaving in a decidedly unsaintly way then. And that's a compliment, not a complaint."
Beckett collapses onto her back again. "Oh, God, I guess I'll have to hear your explanation. And then please, please, may I go to sleep?"
He bounces, actually bounces, onto his knees. "On November first I start planning all the greens we'll need," he says, waving his arms. "Wreaths for the front door and the windows, a garland for the staircase, the trees."
"The trees? Plural?"
"Of course plural," he says, barely masking his horror. "We can't have just one tree. I mean, there's the ten-foot one we have in the living room, but all the bedrooms get a little one. And then I have to start thinking about the themes for the little ones."
She briefly wonders if she's imagining all this, or dreaming it. "You have themes for the trees?"
"Oh, you have so much to learn, Beckett. I really envy you. Naturally the main tree has no theme because it holds all the ornaments from my childhood and Alexis's. Even a few from my mother's."
"Naturally," she mumbles.
"But I get new things every year for the little trees. You know, a dog theme, an angel theme, elves, fairies, snowflakes, cars, birds, shoes, heavenly bodies—stars, planets, asteroids, moons, although now I'd have to include you in that grouping—cookies, mittens. One year I did my mother's tree in characters from Shakespeare. It was amazing."
"Right. Got it."
"Seriously, I don't know why you're surprised. I mean, Macy's starts planning for the next Thanksgiving Day parade the day after the last one happened. No rest for the weary."
"I'm very weary."
"I spend less than two months getting ready for Christmas. You should be glad that you're living with me and not the head of the Macy's parade."
"Delirious. You can tell me more in the morning. Night."
"Okay. You won't be sorry." He kisses her lightly. "Ho, ho, ho!"
Not enough hours later, when she's getting dressed and he's wearing nothing but a bath towel, he goes into their vast walk-in closet and gets a large box from the top shelf. "Here we go," he says, setting it on a chair.
"What's that?" she says from the end of the bed, where she's pulling on her boots.
"My Christmas underwear."
"You have Christmas underwear? Sorry, stupid question."
"Of course I do! Wait 'til you see. I have about sixty different pairs of holiday boxers." He lifts off the lid, begins looking through a neat stack, and stops. "Yeah. These are good for today. What do you think?" He shakes out a pair and holds them up to his chest. They're green and ask the red-lettered question, "IS IT CHRISTMAS YET?"
She laughs and topples dramatically sideways onto the bed. "Well, according to you, it is. Christmas begins November first."
"Now you're getting the spirit," he says, stepping into the shorts.
"Do you have a pair that says 'Jingle Balls'?"
"Why Beckett! Shameless." He looks primly at her. "No, I do not have a pair that says 'Jingle Balls'."
"I gotta go to work. You coming in later?"
"Yup, couple of hours. Unless you call with details of a disgusting homicide, in which case I'll be there instantly."
"Maybe there will be an impaled Saint somewhere, Castle."
"That'd be great!" He grabs her for a searing kiss before she can get out of the bedroom. "See ya."
After she's left, he sits at his laptop and creates a new spreadsheet for this year's Christmas projects. As he drinks his second mug of coffee, he stops to think about the conversation they'd had, first shortly after midnight, and then this morning. He knows that her association with Christmas is painful, because her mother was murdered early in January and the Becketts' house was still decorated for the holiday. By the next Christmas, her father had been all but dead to her, drowning in bottles of increasingly cheap booze. She and her father haven't celebrated it since.
So now he's on a one-man mission to give her back some of the joy of the holiday that he loves above all.
He allows himself a little fantasy—he allows himself a lot of fantasies when it comes to her. Some of them have been realized and in every case reality exceeded the fantasy. The one he's having at the moment is G-rated. Walt Disney himself would approve. Santa would approve. He's imagining Christmas cards in the future with a family photo of her and him and their baby. And a few years later them with a couple more kids. And a dog. Two dogs. A big one and a little one. Maybe they could all be in a snow fort they made. Or playing paintball.
If she could read his mind right now she'd run screaming into the street. At this point she'd probably be a lot more comfortable with his X-rated, decidedly unDisney-like fantasies than with this wonderful domestic one. But he has hopes. He has faith in the transformative power of Christmas. Yuletide. Noel. The greatest mood elevator he knows. He'll try to tamp down his enthusiasm a little so as not to overwhelm her.
On the 21st, the evening before Thanksgiving, they're in the kitchen making pies. "What are you putting on top of your pumpkin one?" he asks as he arranges slices of apples in a pastry-lined pan.
"On top? What do you mean, on top?"
"On top of the pumpkin, you know." It's a simple question, isn't it? Why does she look so confused?
"You mean a crust? Hell, no. Pumpkin pie is open-faced."
"No, no. You have to put some decorations on it."
"Decorations? I understand your Christmas obsession, Castle, but this is Thanksgiving. No decorations."
"Look, there's all this dough here." He jabs an elbow in the direction of a large ball of pastry dough that's sitting on a marble slab on top of the counter. "You can make little cut-outs of maple leaves and oak leaves or Pilgrim hats and arrange them on top of the pumpkin. They make a bland-looking surface of the pie very festive."
She dusts off her floury hands on a dish towel. "Are you kidding? Pilgrim hats?"
"It's not hard, Beckett. There's a cookie cutter right over there in the shape of a Pilgrim hat. Just roll out some dough and press the cutter on it several times. Bingo, Pilgrim hats."
"I do know how to wield a cookie cutter," she says, glaring. "I'm not completely incompetent in the kitchen."
He leans over and kisses her. "Of course you're not."
"So where's the Mayflower?"
"You mean to tell me you that you, a self-described gourmet cook, don't have a cookie cutter of the Mayflower? It brought the freaking Pilgrims here. Wouldn't have Pilgrim hats without the ship."
She'd thought that would shut him up. Quite the opposite.
"I know a metalworker! A metalworker in Queens!"His cheeks are already getting pink. "If I email him an image of the Mayflower right this minute maybe he could make a cookie cutter of it tonight? How hard could it be, right? The guy's an artisan. An artisan. And I'll pay whatever he wants."
Before she can recover sufficiently to discuss this lunatic idea with him, he has run to his office to set the plan in motion. By the time she joins him in there he's already sent an email and is waiting for a reply.
"Look!" he shouts, pointing at the screen. "He's answering me." He clicks on the message and fist pumps. "Yes! He can! He can do it. You're a genius, Kate. Want to come with me? He says I can pick it up in four hours. You'll love him. I call him the Tinsmith of Tudor Village. That's his neighborhood in Queens. See, it's even like there's a connection! Tudor Village. The British monarchy. The Tudors were on the throne not long before the Mayflower sailed."
"I thought Tudor Village was an Italian-American neighborhood, Castle."
"Well, yeah, Frankie is, but still."
He calms down enough to finish the apple pie, which they bake. They refrigerate the pumpkin one, waiting to sail a pastry Mayflower on it first thing tomorrow morning.
She declines his invitation to drive to Queens, and is reading in bed at midnight when Castle gets home, clutching his Pilgrim ship.
"How cool is this?" he asks, handing it to her with a flourish.
She has to admit it's good. "Very cute."
"Not just cute, Beckett. It's historic. It brings a whole new dimension to pumpkin pie. I'm going to have to rethink our Christmas cookies now. Get Frankie to make some new cutters for me, things no one has seen." He places his new prize tenderly on his night table.
She watches him get undressed. While he's in the bathroom brushing his teeth she thinks about Christmas for at least the fiftieth time in three weeks. She knows how hard he's trying not to swamp her with the holiday, and she knows how much it means to him. She's trying, too, trying to throw herself into things with enthusiasm, but it's not always easy. Infectious as his joy is, this is still hard for her. One thing in particular has been bothering her, and she needs to say something before Thanksgiving is over and he goes full-tilt into Christmas. But when he turns off the bathroom light and walks towards the bed, she decides the conversation can wait. He looks way too adorable right now, in a plain white tee shirt and today's special boxers, which feature ribboned packages and the instruction "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS."
"I dunno about those shorts," she says, and crawls on top of him. "Does that mean no sex for the next five weeks? I don't think I could stand it."
"Noooo. No, that is not what they mean."
"Thank goodness," she says, slipping her hand through the opening and winding her fingers around him. "So it's all right if I do this?"