Disclaimer- I don't own Castle, Andrew Marlowe does. Please don't sue me for writing this story! Just having fun playing in the Castle Sandbox! Errors corrected, but I do not have a beta reader, so there's probably typos and dropped words (my apologies). I am not getting into the fandom and making friends for a reason; all my experiences with fandom in the past have brought me friends and some great charity work, but at the same time, incredibly gross and unappealing drama (like having my account hacked. Nice job, right?). I actually had my life threatened by someone once (are you kidding me? It's only fanfiction!). I am never going to fall into that trap again. It's not worth it at all. But the nice people who've reviewed the prequel to this story, I do appreciate you! Thank you!
On the morning of Ben's Birthday, I called him.
"Hey!" I cried, slipping into the laundry room for some privacy. None of my siblings had figured out how to pick the lock to the laundryroom without a screwdriver set. "Happy Birthday."
"Aww, thanks!" he cried. "You're the first person to wish me a happy birthday."
"I am?" I asked, surprised. "But your family-"
"They're more worried about the wedding. It's like Sixteen Candles. The photo album was really cute," he said. "Really thoughtful."
"But cheap?" I asked. "I didn't realize how cheap I was being until I sent you off with it."
"No, it's great. I hope we can take more pictures of our nasty feet." He laughed. "It was cute. I love it. I promise. I haven't shown it to my family, yet."
Tell him you love him, a voice screamed in my head. Before it's too late.
"Well, family's important," I said.
You're chickening out, what if he falls in love with an old girlfriend while he's down there and you never had a chance to tell him how you felt? "Ben, I need to tell you something."
If he loved you, he'd have come out of his room to get into your bed by now, a new voice said in my head. "The kitchen sink backed up, but I got it unclogged," I said. It was true, but it wasn't quite newsworthy.
"You're hired," he joked.
"Yeah, good thing if my writing career doesn't work out."
We talked a few more minutes and I told him that Jo-jo kept on asking about him. When we finally hung up, I felt defeated. I felt the tears accumulating in my eyes. Why couldn't I just tell him that I loved him? He was my whole world. I'd be broken if he left my life.
"Alexis?" Jace said carefully, trying to turn the doorknob to the laundry room. "Do you want to play Mario Kart with us on Wii?"
"I'd love to, baby," I said, wiping my eyes. I unlocked the laundry room and came out.
"I'm Princess Peach!" he cried, calling dibs.
"No, I am!" Jo-jo screamed in the living room. "I'm Princess Peach!"
I headed into the living room to clear up the fight before it exploded.
Two days before my premiere, I got a call from Ben. Jana had gotten cold feet and had run away from her wedding and couldn't be found.
"Don't worry about my premiere," I said. "Just find your sister, okay?"
"You're the best, Allie."
I hung up the phone and cried, shutting myself in the laundry room again. He wasn't going to be at a big moment in my life. He needs to be there for his sister, I told myself. He needed to put Jana and his family in general, before me. She was having a baby and it would be a giant shame to them if she had a bastard child- the same thing that had happened when his mother had gotten pregnant with him and got married. I wondered briefly if Jana really loved the man whose child she was carrying. Would his family feel different if she didn't? Would they just let her have the baby? For the first time, I considered what having a baby would do to my life. I missed having baby siblings. Holding little Julian Esposito had been so amazing.
I thought for a moment, wouldn't it be nice if it were Ben and my baby? No, that was insanity. Desperate measures. I was not anywhere close to being ready for a baby in my life. But I was now twenty-nine, not far from thirty. I suddenly realized why Jana and Jennifer had thought I was so weird for not wanting to get pregnant and have a baby in my twenties. My twenties were almost over. How long before I was in the 'geriatric' range of pregnancies, like Mom had been through? I realized my biological clock was ticking. Ugh. Just a moment ago, I thought I had all the time in the world to have kids. I wasn't sure I could ever get myself used to having kids with somebody other than Ben, now. I couldn't see it. When did this happen to me? I remembered freaking out because I didn't want my vagina ruined with a thirteen pound baby. Now, I didn't mind the thought of that. Not with Ben... But Ben didn't see me at all. I was certain of it. He was regarding me like he did his sister; a lot of concern, no attempts at getting physically close to me. "Don't freak out," I reminded myself as I felt some tears gather in my eyes.
The laundry room burst open and Dad backed in with a basket of dirty clothes. I had forgotten to lock it.
"Hey!" he cried, turning around, seeing me. He looked in my eyes. "Oh... what's going on?"
"Ben's not going to be there for the book premiere," I said.
"Not everybody's going to be there, honey," he said, setting down the laundry basket. "It's not a reason to freak out."
I nodded. "I know but... I wanted him there."
"I know you did," Dad said. He slipped his arms around me and I bawled into his chest. "I see how you look at him," he said. "You really do love Ben, don't you?"
"I do, but if Jana's missing and he needs to find her... he's gotta be there for her, right?"
"Yeah, he does. But honey, you'll have lots of book premieres and book signings... it'll all work out."
"Dad, it's okay if he misses the premiere," I admitted. "I can't... I can't tell him I love him. I want to, but..."
"Oh..." Dad sighed. He squeezed me again. "You've got to do it. If you don't at least tell him how you feel, how can you ever expect him to act on those emotions?"
"Because it would absolutely kill me if he only wanted me as a friend," I admitted.
"I don't think what's going on in your heart is any easier when you keep it inside," he said. Mom and Dad had avoided telling each other that they loved each other for four years. "It tore me up inside when I realized that I was in love with Kate. I said it to her, but she pretended not to hear it for almost a year. My heart... I backed away. It's easier to let somebody know the way you feel and be rejected than to watch them be completely oblivious to your feelings."
"It wasn't this hard with Ashley. Or Max or Marshall... Dad, I'm ready to get married and have a baby, now. I'm twenty-nine and-"
"You've got all the time in the world to have kids," Dad said. "What's the rush?"
"I've had a lot of stress on my body. I don't know if I'm really up to it," I said, rubbing my stomach. "I lost my period going on five years, my reproductive system is probably still having problems. The longer I wait, the harder it's going to get and I don't want to miss my opportunity to have a baby!"
"So what if you do? You can always adopt. And you can have a kid with anybody."
"No, I can't," I said, crumpling down to the floor. "I want my kids to be with somebody I love. I want them to know that they're special. Not like..."
Dad sighed. I had gotten another email from Meredith this morning, which I had deleted before reading. Ugh. I didn't need her in my life. "I didn't mean to say something like that," I admitted. "I'm sorry. But I feel that way about Ben-"
"You've got all the time in the world to have kids, honey," Dad repeated. "You're still so young. Don't just assume things. You didn't become a doctor, and it's going to take a doctor to tell if that's over for you. I promise, it's not as bad as you think. Your mother had Johanna at thirty-six, it didn't kill her."
"But she's been healthy her whole life."
"Do you even remember her getting shot by a sniper in the heart?" Dad asked.
"Oh," I muttered. I was there at the captain's funeral, I knew that.
"I don't regret having you, but I was only twenty-three, but I wish I had waited a few more years to have my first kid. There's so much to learn in your twenties and thirties about other people and how kids grow up and the effect things have on them."
"So I was like your gineau pig kid?"
"I keep feeling like I'm going to say something that's going to stir up your eating disorder again."
"Dad, that was five years ago," I said. "I'm fine without my eating problems, now. I just don't feel like I'd be okay without Ben."
"Sweetheart, he's no good for you."
"He wasn't any good for me when he was having PTSD flashbacks. And drinking to control them. He doesn't drink now, and he's going to a psychiatrist. He's the most gentle, loving person and..."
"I'll always see him as the man who took you away from me," Dad grumbled.
"He still tries to make sure I'm taken care of," I said. "He cares so much about me. I come home, and he's cleaned out the litter box and made sure there's food left for me and Grace Kelly. He tries his hardest to solve my problems before they even become problems and... I don't know. Mom warned me about this when we moved back in together. Dad, I miss him. I miss him so much." I dissolved into tears.
"I think he's just be kind because... I hate saying anything nice about him, but it's because he's a nice person deep down. I think you're reading too much into it."
I didn't want that to be true. At all.
I tried to spend the next day writing a letter between the Twitter hashtag I created and the giveaway contest I was running to drum up interest in my book. Ben and I talked on the phone a few times. Jana had called him and said that she was okay, but wasn't ready to get married. She wanted to have the baby on her own. He wanted to stay until he found her physically. She was too afraid.
The day before the premiere, the professional reviews came out.
"You've got to read these," Dad said, queuing them up on my iPad. "Here."
I felt nauseated and didn't want to see it.
"You've got to do it," he said.
I moaned slightly. This would be easier with Ben.
"Here, I'll read the first one to you," he said. "'We all know that Alexis Castle is the daughter of Best-Selling Mystery Author Richard Castle. Some might assume that her Young Adult Dystopian, The Foxes' Den, would reek of her father's hand, and be a messed up jumble of style and formulaic plot.' Hey, what the hell, right? 'The younger Castle proves that while writing runs in the family, she can hold her own. With her distinct writing style, characterizations, and unique plot, it seems unfair to compare her to any patriarchal influences.'" Dad lowered the iPad. "That's actually pretty good!"
"Did they compare me to you for the rest of the review?" I asked.
He scanned it. "No, actually. You want to read them, now?"
Hesitantly, I nodded.
It turned out I had glowing reviews. They all compared me to my father, but pointed out that my style and concepts were my own and the relationship between Riley and Anna was strained at first, but it should be. They almost unanimously agreed that I was to be regarded as my own person and not to be compared much longer to my father.
"I'm going to go write a blog about it," Dad said. "I think we're going to have a lot of crossover readers from my books to yours." He kissed me on the cheek and went into his office.
The knots in my stomach dissipated. I was a critical success, but was I a commercial success, too? What if, despite my reviews, nobody read me? The knots reformed in my stomach.
The next day, my book premiered, I freaked out that nobody was going to be there except my friends and family. As we got into the taxi to go to Barnes and Nobles, I got a call from Grams. "The place is packed!" she said. "I'm so proud of you! People are already reading the book as we wait!"
"I'm so glad!" I sighed in relief.
When I arrived, Casey was waiting with the bookstore manager. I got to meet a few book bloggers and shake their hands. I knew to be kind to the book bloggers and never to incite their rage. I made sure I posed for some pictures with them and learned their names.
An announcement was made over the intercom that I was here for book signing and I was escorted to the event section. When I got to the children's department (where they did all the booksignings) I saw that the chairs were completely filled and a few people were standing just to see me. A lot of people were dressed like zombies.
Gina was there to congratulate me. She hugged me. "I can't believe you were just a kid when Richard and I got married, now you're a young woman with a best-selling novel," she said.
"I'm not on the best-seller's list, yet," I said.
"I bet you will be next week. Alright, it's almost time."
There was a display of my novel where the bookstore manager announced me, telling the audience all about my accomplishments and education. "...And now, with no further adieu, I present Alexis Castle."
The audience applauded. I saw my family standing to the side, and my younger siblings were whooping and jumping up and down. Mom and Dad were grinning, Dad looked so proud, he was almost in tears. I saw Uncle Javi standing with Lainey and their new baby Julian, and Uncle Kevin sitting with Jenny and their kids not far away. My friends were sitting in a cluster, taking pictures. Their boyfriends had arrived. The only person missing was Ben.
"Hi, everyone," I said into the microphone, feeling my confidence coming back. "I'm Alexis Castle. I'm so excited you're all here! As you all know, this is my debut novel, the Foxes' Den, it's a novel about a girl who is orphaned under mysterious circumstances when she's sent to live with her father's mistress, who just happens to be a bounty hunter and also happens to be a Zombie Hunter in a secret, underground society.
"I decided to write about zombies partially because I feel that American society wants its people to all think the same way, especially when it comes beauty, success, friendship, and love. What we've come to believe is real is really something somebody in Hollywood wrote, not the way things happen in real life. I started writing this book when I started to be challenged in my thought process about what's really important in life. I grew up with this idea that I had to eclipse my father's and grandmother's talent and be something really, really special in order to be loved and worthy. It was so ingrained in me, that I majored in Biology over at Columbia University with a pre-med intention. It wasn't easy. I had this dream that I was going to be this amazing Medical Examiner that helped solve crimes and mysteries, but one day, about five months after I graduated, I was writing my Medical School Application Essay, and I realized, I really love to write. I ran all the way from Columbia to my parent's house to tell them."
There was a giggle in the crowd.
"I never allowed myself to think that I could be a writer, because I was afraid of being forever compared to my father. Obviously. And then I realized I absolutely hated science and math."
There was another laugh in the group.
"And it suddenly became okay to not be this thing that I had built up in my mind as being the end-all-be-all of life goals because, I realized that wasn't something I wanted at all. I had just been putting pressure on myself to be as great as my father and grandmother. But my stepmother helped me to realize that I could be my own person. So, when I was writing Riley Fox, I realized I was thinking about how my grand plans that had been so meticulously laid out in my own head and that they meant nothing but unhappiness for me. Riley is a teenage girl who's been groomed to be a New York Socialite, but when her father disappears, she's suddenly alone in the world. Her foster parents don't want to do much parenting, so she discovers that her father had a mistress, Anna, and she's nothing like what she's been pushed into being. She goes to live with Anna and discovers that Anna is a bounty hunter of zombies, and that there's an underground, hidden and dangerous side of New York City filled with zombies of varying mental abilities, and that Anna is part of a group that controls the zombie population. Okay, no more spoilers, I'm going to read a passage for you all, and then, we can take questions."
I read a passage where Anna shows Riley where the zombies are rising, and kills one.
"Alright, any questions?" Nobody raised their hands for a second. I felt the familiar knot of nausea in my stomach, but then one woman did. "Yes?" I asked.
"I know that your father draws a lot of inspiration from real life people, did you have any muses like your father did for Nikki Heat?"
I grinned. I had been expecting it. "Well, obviously, having red hair, Riley's based a little bit on me. But she's a little more rebellious and ass-kicking than I am. The most athletic thing I do is I run marathons, but Riley's is a little more competitive than me. She learns to fight. Her father was sort of based on my dad, but not a lot. It wasn't until I was in college that I realized how much fathers affect the woman you grow up to be. So, her dad wasn't as involved as mine was, Riley didn't really know her father. He kept a lot of secrets from her. My dad raised me by himself. I never had a nanny, it was always my dad taking me to school, to ballet class, to soccer matches, all that. Anna is not quite my mother- stepmother, pardon, but my stepmother is very, very kick-ass, but she's got a gentle and motherly side to her, unlike Anna. Anna doesn't quite understand how to emotionally connect to Riley, this strange, entitled kid that showed up on her doorstep. I'm close enough to my stepmother that I call her 'mom,' now, which should tell you how I feel about her. And Andrew is sort of based on several of my ex-boyfriends, too, but not exactly one particular boy."
More people raised their hands. I picked one, another zombie girl. "Do you write to music?"
"I do, actually. A lot."
"Who do you listen to?"
"Oh, that's a tough question!" I cried. "Actually, I listen to so many artists, I can't name them all in one sitting! I really prefer orchestra soundtracks, depending on what I'm writing. I like the soundtrack to Dr. Who especially. You?" I asked, referring to the teenage girl wearing a polka dotted dress.
"How did you come up with your fight scenes?" she asked.
"After I broke up with my last boyfriend, a friend of mine asked me to try freerunning. It didn't work out well."
There was a round of giggles from the audience.
"Actually, I watched several action movies and took a few Aikido classes. Knowing how to handle a weapon helps a lot. I also admit that I've googled 'how to punch somebody in the face,' too." We all laughed. "My mom me how to punch someone in the face after I was mugged a few years ago. That helped a lot. And I grew up watching zombie movies, it's a running joke in our family that my dad let me watch George Romero movies when I was eight. I used to get so scared at night, I'd jump out of bed and run down the hall in our apartment to Dad's room and literally jump into his bed because I was afraid zombies were under his bed, too, and would get me if I wasn't fast enough! But watching how the actors in those movies handled their weapons gave me some ideas that I tested out with some of my friends who are weapons experts. That gave me ideas."
The questions went on for a long time, and finally, we had to put a stop on the questions and start the book signing. I had created a few phrases for my signature to divvy it up. People were purchasing several copies for different people. I made sure to include "swag" of bookmarks and buttons with "Certified Bounty-Hunting Zombie Slayer" and a few other phrases printed on them. I tried to talk to each person who came up to me and take pictures and hug them all, but after an hour and a half, my hands were getting too tired. I signed three whole stacks of my book for people that came by the store later and came across it.
When it was all said and done, we packed up my multi-colored Sharpies and I thanked the store manager, who thanked me in return. They had sold over two-hundred copies of my book tonight alone, not counting the ones that had been brought in and pre-ordered online.
Mom and Dad had sent my siblings home with their usual second baby-sitter, and they were throwing a party at that bistro for our friends.
"So, was your first booksigning enough to give you carpal tunnel?" Dad asked.
"Yeah, I think so," I said, rubbing my wrist. "But I feel like... I feel like I'm completely on top of the world!"
"Hey, carina," Uncle Javi said, coming over to hug me. "Got one more signature left?"
"For you, anytime," I said, signing the book. He kissed me on the cheek.
"You were fantastic up there. Completely charming and cute and entertaining. Did I tell you I already read the whole book?"
"Did you like it?"
"For a girl book, Lainey and I have, yeah."
"Hey!" I cried, shoving him playfully.
"Learn to love it, you will be reading more, trust me," Mom said. "Okay, honey, we've got a surprise waiting outside for you."
"Thank you!" I cried. When we got out of the store, there was a limo waiting with my friends in it and snow was falling.
"Have fun!" Dad called. "We'll meet you there!"
Tara, Jules, Sadie and Nina were waiting outside the limo. Gilbert and Tara's boyfriend Ned were standing in the sunroofs. "Thank you, Mr. Castle!" my girlfriends chorused as I walked over.
"Thank you, Daddy!" I shouted as I ducked into the limo. My friends had already opened the champagne, and a stem was waiting for me.
"Ben didn't make it?" Gilbert asked.
"No," I admitted, getting my cell phone out of my purse. I had a text message from him that Jenna was found and was safe, and that he was on a flight back to New York. There were a few more that his flight was delayed because of the tropical storm that was ravaging the southeast coast. "His flight was delayed."
I'm sorry I'm missing it. I really thought I'd get to be there. I hope you knock 'em dead. Pun intended.
"Aww, honey," Sadie sighed. She hugged me.
"I'll have others," I said. "He can be there for those."
"Come on, let's stand up in the sunroof!" Tara cried. "We can't miss Times Square!"
Hamich helped me up and Tara and I screamed as we went through the square. After we were done acting like tourists, I got a very satisfying text message from Gina; Diana from Marlow Prep had been arrested again in the Hamptons for drunk driving and she was facing up to a year in prison. Her bad karma made us all laugh. With that news, I went on to try to be happy at the premier party.
I got home to Mom and Dad's loft late that night. I crept into bed as quietly as possible and turned out the lights when Grace Kelly jumped up on my bed. I had to let go of Ben and stop pining my life away for him. My biggest accomplishment felt so empty without someone to come home to, though. I had to remind myself that I had done a lot in my life; this was purely one-hundred per cent what I wanted, a goal I had set, and I had done it. But was I actually happy?