Chapter 5: Just the Way You Look Tonight
There are millions of people here.
Okay, maybe not millions, but at least thousands. Crowded into corners, drinking whiskey and champagne and the finest wine flown in from Napa and Argentina. It's a party and a memorial and it's everything her Gram would have loved. There are pictures of Martha throughout the stages of her life: childhood in Florida, a whirlwind of a time in Chicago when Playboy Bunnies were brand new and she was one of them – posed with Hugh Hefner, young and beautiful and full of so much life. Manhattan skylines and a newborn in her arms; on stage at the Tony's and years of cast photos. Weddings, births, graduations and repeat.
Ava stands against the wall, staring at the photos of her grandmother's world, taking in all the people whose lives Martha had touched. The champagne she drinks is bitter and a little gross because when she drinks it's vodka and cranberry or vodka and orange juice or sometimes just vodka, but that's not classy enough today. She had wanted to drink red wine in some sort of honor but the moment it touched her tongue – robust and so incredibly disgusting – she had spit it back into the glass. Her mother had turned from the conversation she was having with someone and raised an eyebrow (she always did that, like with just one look she could somehow make even the toughest of people back down) and Ava had shrugged an apology, grabbing a flute off the waiter's tray.
She should mingle, but she likes watching, loves taking it all in with a writer's mind. Okay, so she's not exactly a writer, at least not like her father, but she spends hours jotting down ideas, taking in conversations of others and maybe she will be one in three years when she makes it to college or seven years when she graduates or maybe she'll beat Richard Castle's record and become published at seventeen instead of nineteen.
The champagne is starting to taste better. She'll have to borrow a bottle from her dad's bar the next time they're there for dinner or from the liquor cabinet at home and share it with her best friends and pray to God or whoever that her mom doesn't arrest them for underage partying like she almost did that one time last month when they accidentally threw a party because Addison's parents were out of town. Her mom had mumbled something about her being her father's daughter and it had made Ava smile because yeah, she looks exactly like Kate Beckett with her dark, wavy long hair and tall, thin frame, but she embodies everything her father is, everything he stands for and it makes her proud.
She finds him across the room now, engaged in a conversation, and he's laughing but she knows how sad he is, that throwing a party days after his mother died isn't what he wants to be doing. His hand is in her mother's and it's them she likes to watch the most. Not in a gross way, because sometimes they are, but because she's fascinated by the novels her father has written, the love story that seems fictionalized and so hard to measure up to. She read the first Nikki Heat book a year ago, devoured it word for word almost like this wasn't her mother's story, her father's words, the start of a life and a family and really if she thinks about it, her. They're her parents and they're awesome and annoying and sometimes she wants to kill them and sometimes she's so so grateful for both of them but she's not sure she'll ever know them. She learned from those books things about her mom that she never understood; she realized her dad would have sacrificed his life to save his partner's, that if words had the power to change an outcome he would have without second thought.
"Your grandmother would have loved this."
Ava startles at the deep voice beside her. There's a man next to her now, tall and he's gotta be at least in his eighties but there's something strong about him, like age hasn't yet touched him. It reminds her of her grandmother and she can't help the smile that crosses her lips. There's something familiar about him, about the lines around his mouth and the way he carries himself – strong and with a lifetime of secrets in the depths of his eyes.
She feels that clench in her heart, the one that's been there since the moment she found out Gram had died. There's happiness here and she's trying to be happy because she can hear that voice in her head, the one that used to read her bedtime stories and acted out scenes from Hamlet and A Long Day's Journey into Night. The one that says, Buck up, kiddo. Life is something we celebrate, not mourn.
"I think she would have preferred some sort of catfight or someone being pushed into the pool outside. Something dramatic, you know?"
The man laughs and it sounds like –
Ava lifts her head to look at him. Her hair falls into her eyes and she pushes it aside, watching him for a moment. "Does Dad know you're here?"
He seems startled and then not at all surprised. His smile is warm and she suddenly wishes she knew him like she does Grandpa Jim or Gram, wishes she had fifteen years worth of memories. "You know who I am?"
"It took me a minute, but you laugh like him." She scrunches her nose, the glass spinning around her hand because she fusses with things when she's nervous, needs to feel like she's in control of something. "Or I guess he laughs like you. Plus, I knew you looked familiar. You came to the Hamptons one summer when I was like five. You helped me make the best sandcastle, even better than Dad's." The wall is cold against her back and she can feel the alcohol start to settle, the slight tilt in her stance. "We make up stories about you sometimes. Dad and me. Where you are, what you're doing, what bad guys you're fighting. Kinda sucks that we never know."
"I'm sorry about that," and the way he says it, he does sound regretful, like he too wishes he had always been there. He leans next to her and she should probably offer him a chair or something but he seems comfortable like this, as if he's lived his whole life standing in the thick of things: watching and waiting and pouncing when the moment is right. "What's your favorite story about me?"
"There are a few good ones. The best one we have right now is that you somehow found a time machine and you went back to stop Lincoln's assassination. You stake out Ford's Theatre and just as Booth lifts the gun, you knock it out of his hand. The whole world changes after that. It's pretty cool."
"Why Lincoln and not Kennedy?"
"Stephen King wrote a book about Kennedy's assassination. Dad doesn't mess with The King. Plus, Gram really liked the idea of you saving the world in a theatre." It's really not her place, but she can feel the words on the tip of her tongue, the courage from the alcohol, the loss of one of her favorite people reminding her that everyone leaves eventually. "You were the love of her life, you know. I mean, she never said that directly, but you could tell whenever we talked about you. Alexis says she changed a little after that summer when you came to see us. Like she was still her, but there was something more settled within her. She just – she would have been really happy that you came here."
He's quiet for a moment, but then she hears it, soft and lonesome. "Martha was the love of mine, too."
Ava bites down on her lip, because it's suddenly too much. She scans the room for her parents but they're not where they were before and in the sea of people she can't find Alexis and she wishes Gram were here and she really, really, really did not want to cry here today. He puts his arm around her shoulders, a little awkward, a little unsure, but she rests her head against him. Years down the line, she'll remember how he had smelled in that moment; not a specific scent, but something classic and comforting. The smell of the grandfather she hadn't known her entire life except for those forty-eight hours on a beach in the Hamptons.
"Do you still – is that still your job? Because you seem a little-"
It makes her laugh. She swipes the tears from her eyes and nods, feels the way his pressed shirt wrinkles underneath her. "Yeah."
"It's not missions anymore, but I am still active."
He presses a kiss onto the top of her head and she barely knows him except she does; because he's a piece of her dad and owned so much of her grandmother's heart and because he taught Ava the intricacies of sandcastles which she's passed onto her niece and stupid spy stuff is the worst because she has one grandparent left and she wants, needs two.
Ava backs out of his embrace and she doesn't understand how no one is watching this, asking who this mysterious stranger is. He's smiling down at her and she sees so much of her father, the warm compassion that has gotten her through so much. Her first breakup, all the times she had missed her sister when she was overseas and living a life of her own, the loss of her grandmother.
"I should go." He runs his hand over her hair and she should tell him no, that he can't leave, not yet. She's persuasive and it's not often anyone denies her and she can convince him to stay. Except there are spies and missions and a story that seemed to be for books and not life so she nods because it's easier; it's not like she really knows him anyway. "You grew into a gorgeous young woman, Ava."
"Thank you." He gives her one last smile and starts to walk away when it hits her and she needs to know because it had been bothering her for weeks after it happened. "Hey." When he turns, she takes a step closer. "My dad's Ferrari. Um, I know this is weird, but did you; I mean you probably didn't-"
"Looks as good as new, doesn't it?" he says, with a wink. "You'd never know someone took it out for a joy ride."
And then he's gone and okay, the spy stuff is a little cool because she had wondered how that had gotten fixed, agonized over it just waiting for the other shoe to drop. But he did it and maybe she still did have two grandparents, two people to always have her back. She collapses onto one of the empty chairs, toeing off her heels and watches again. The music is loud but she can still hear snippets of stories about Martha, antidotes of an incredible life. She closes her eyes and leans her head back, takes in the room with sound and the smell of rich Italian dishes that Gram had always tried to cook but eventually ordered in.
"Hey, sweetheart. You okay?"
The warmth of her father's voice washes over her and she opens her eyes, pushes out the empty chair beside her so he can sit. He looks exhausted, but he's smiling and it's genuine and she's grateful for that. Her chair tilts as she leans into him, his arms coming around her as she nods her answer. She wants to ask him if he saw his dad, but if Secret Agent Grandpa snuck out of there without a word, it'll cause more pain and he's had enough of that this week and -
"Lincoln, huh? That's your favorite story? I always thought it was the one where he went back to fight the dinosaurs."
"The dinosaurs aren't realistic."
"But going back to save Lincoln is?"
Ava laughs. "No, but at least it's not a trillion years ago." She rights her chair, leaning her elbows onto the table. "You saw him?"
He nods, and he's smiling, relieved almost. "He said we need new stories for the next time."
"We can do that. We can always make his next mission a trip to the moon."
"I'm sure he'd like that."
He grabs two flutes from a passing waiter and hands one to her. This could be a trick but then again it is Richard Castle and she has heard stories from Alexis, but if it is a test, she needs to be prepared. Always be prepared.
"You know I already had one, right? Mom's gonna kill you for liquoring me up."
He lifts an eyebrow and why does he look exactly like her mother when he does that? Of course she taught that to him and it's really annoying because it just seems so – well, like she's in trouble. "No, Mom's gonna kill you if the vodka in the freezer keeps disappearing. AJ-"
"Only in the house and never excessive," she cuts in. "I promise. And as Gram always said, anything I've done, you've done a million times worse. Then again, so has Mom." He opens his mouth but there is no rebuttal. She's heard some stories. Both her parents were terrors in their teens. She's golden by comparison. Sometimes.
The song changes; Sinatra's The Way You Look Tonight starts to play over the speakers and her father rests his hand on hers. "Dance with me."
She rolls her eyes; despite the lessons she had taken as a kid, he's the one who taught her ballroom dancing on a weekend when her mother was at work and she was grounded. Nothing but her, her dad and her grandmother with this song playing on a constant loop. "Mom turn you down?"
He gasps in mock indignation. "Can't I just ask my beautiful daughter to dance?" She lifts an eyebrow (so maybe it's a family trait) and he laughs. "Yeah, she turned me down."
"I guess I can do that for you. But first- " She raises her glass. "To Gram. Wherever she is, let's hope there's a whole lot of wine."
The lines around his eyes strengthen: laughter and happiness and growing up with a woman who was dramatic and incredible and a best friend. The flutes clink.
I had never planned on writing Ava as anything past ten or eleven, but then this came to me as I was walking and I couldn't resist. The ages in the chapters always vary, but I do realize this jump was rather big. However, I do think I need a little Beckett and a 15 year old daughter down the line. I know it's a little different, but I hope you enjoyed it regardless. Also, as for Castle's Ferrari, in my head it was a newer one, not a twenty year old car.
Thoughts and comments – as always – are appreciated. Thanks!