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/redundant 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!
I basically wrote this as a distraction from the stuff I *should* be focusing on this week, plus it's unbetaed. Sorry! It was a good distraction to write again.
"If I said something to Alexis about it, do you think she'd be okay?" Richard asked me. I gulped down the last of my macchiato we had picked up at Starbucks and stuck the cup into the closest garbage can.
"She's an adult. She can handle it," I responded.
"Can you blame a dad for worrying?"
We walked through one of those gross sections of air that smelled like garbage for no apparent reason. We were on our way to Andrew Marlow Day School, which was across the street from Marlow Prep, where Noel was going to go for sixth grade next year. I felt a little nostalgic for my children to be babies again. I loved my kids and I wouldn't give up being a mother for anything, but having a baby in my arms and holding them close to me… it ended too soon. I bawled when Jo-jo took her first steps, mostly because I wasn't ready for her to stop being a baby, yet. It seemed like just yesterday, waiting on that pregnancy test and getting two pink lines. Now, my oldest son was adorably asking if he was growing whiskers, when he could shave, and going to see the Rockettes for obvious reasons. Jace was outgrowing every pair of pants I put him in, and Jo-jo always wanted to wear lipgloss and make all the goals in soccer. I didn't think motherhood would be so all-consuming, but it was. Nothing prepared me.
The teachers had the kids lined up at the bus stops for the MTA, and others were being loaded into cabs. A few parents were coming up to the school to pick their kids up personally. It wasn't hard to spot Jo-jo's red hair, despite her lack of height. Jace spotted us first, and his little face lit up; he had Richard's blue eyes and my mother's dimples, I could see it every time he smiled.
"Momma!" he shouted. "Hi, Dad!"
"Hi," Richard called.
"Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Castle," the teacher said. We both flashed our IDs in his direction as Jo-jo ran up and threw her arms around waist.
"Bye, Mr. Bryant!" my kids chorused.
"Are Lexa and Ben coming over tonight?" Jo-jo asked.
"Yes, they are," I said, taking her hand. Richard took her other and for every two steps we took together, we swung Jo forward. The boys walked ahead with their backpacks on. I couldn't believe it had been ten years this weekend since we had finally gotten married.
"What do you guys want for dinner?" Richard asked.
"A steak!" Noel shouted.
"Pizza!" Jace added.
"Pot stickers!" Jo-jo cried.
"Too bad, we're having stir-fry."
The kids groaned, except Jace. Richard caught my eye and I saw that tell-tale smirk on his face.
"Hey, I like stir-fry!" Jace said.
I loved moments like these. I wondered if Martha had, too.
Our loft had changed considerably since we had been married. Once we got the two-bedroom next door, I decided it would be stupid to try to move anywhere else. The real estate prices were ridiculous, and we loved TriBeCa. Tonight, we didn't have after-school activities like baseball or soccer or ballet. We turned on They Might be Giants' kid's albums and did homework around the kitchen table. Richard was actually a very patient teacher when it came to fractions and decimals. Jace and Jo-jo had only a little homework. Once homework was done, Richard turned on the TV to watch the recorded kid's shows on the DVR, and Jo-jo was excited because a new Jessie had come on the Disney Channel. I heard her, Jace, and Richard singing along with the theme song, adorably.
"It feels like a party everyday, Hey Jessie! Hey Jessie!"
I loved moments like this. I saw Noel stomp past me to play a video game instead of watch Jessie.
My phone rang. It was Alexis.
"Hey, Mom," she said. "We're about to leave our place and come over."
"Alright, I'll get started on dinner."
I surveyed the ingredients in the fridge. "No, honey. I'm good."
"Be there in fifteen with the egg rolls."
She had insisted on no fish, not even shrimp for the last few days. "Okay, babe. See ya then."
We turned the house to a disco while I made the stir-fry chicken and vegetables for dinner. Richard slipped away from Jessie and left the kids to play. He put the rice on to cook. "Alexis and Ben are on their way over."
"Good," he said.
Richard and I had settled into a comfortable life together; we knew each other's moves and actions, we could sense each other. Alexis had once remarked that we seemed psychic at moments, like we were reading each other's minds. I used to joke, back when we were partners in the homicide department, that being able to be in his mind scared me. The physical and emotional closeness of our marriage had taught me that Richard held a deep insecurity that he wasn't good enough; that he was a hack, deep down, faking genius, nowhere as good as his writing cohorts that still came over for poker on Monday nights. Most men, when confronted with their insecurities, referred to being angry. Not Richard. He resorted to womanizing and his sense of humor. For some reason, I settled him down, my faith in him gave him faith in himself. We really had become inseparable, not only emotionally, but there was a part of me that wondered if I could survive if he suddenly wasn't there. He had never told me that, but when we had gotten the news today, we had been reminded of our own mortalities. The thought was inevitable for both of us.
Right as we were setting the table, there was a knock on the door and it opened.
"Alexis!" Jo-jo screamed. I saw Ben enter the room, and Jo-jo ran to him.
"Baby-girl!" Ben cried. I found his Southern charm appealing after all this time. Jo loved him, and I knew she was nursing a little-girl crush on her brother-in-law.
"Where's Grace Kelly?"
"In here, of course," Ben said, opening the carrier.
Alexis walked into the kitchen. She was wearing a dark blue wool poncho over a pair of jeans and knee-high brown high heeled boots, her red hair down, and she was carrying a plastic shopping bag. My oldest daughter was glowing. "Hi, Mom," she said, opening her arms. I embraced her, and kissed my daughter on the cheek. She looked spectacular.
"Oh honey. You look so good."
"I do," she agreed, grinning.
"We're almost ready with dinner," I said.
"Good, we're starving. I wrote four thousand words today, but I'm probably going to cut them all in my next draft. My editor isn't sure about this from the outline."
Writer speak. I had gotten used to this strange language since I met Richard. It had been inevitable that Alexis fell into it, too, and Ben spoke it like a second language.
We called the kids to the table and started on serving the food while Ben told another one of his tall tales, too. In the years since Ben had come into our lives, Richard had gone from hating him, to accepting him, to hating him, to allowing him back into our lives. Now, there was a reluctant father/son relationship between the two of them. He still had to call him Mr. Castle. I gave him a break and allowed him to call me Mom.
It was the family meals that made me feel like giving up my career had been the right choice. It was heaven to hear my kids giggle and tell stories about their day, and to have my two grown children there, too, entertaining them. Grace Kelly hopped onto her cat perch on the silver case, and watched while giving herself a bath. I had never thought there was a maternal instinct in me until Richard and I decided to have children. Speaking of which, I needed to call Dad. I'd put it off until morning.
After dinner, Richard sent the kids upstairs for their baths and to put them to bed. After we let them read for a half hour, I came downstairs to Alexis and Ben doing the dishes together.
I saw the same thing I saw in Richard and me. They never bumped into each other, there were a few coy smiles, but a familiarity between their movements. I could smell the decaff coffee brewing they had put on.
"They're down," I said. "Thank you so much for the egg rolls."
"No problem, we need to learn to cook," Alexis said.
"We've got a mortgage, now," Ben added, drying off the wok with a dish cloth. "Got to be smart with our money."
"Can we just sit down in the living room and talk?" I asked.
"Mom, is something going on?" Alexis asked.
I nodded. "Your father and I wanted to bring this up with you."
We poured ourselves coffees, and I made Richard's the way he liked it; a creamer, no sweetener. Alexis had turned on the fireplace, and we settled around it. Alexis adjusted her poncho around herself and snuggled into Ben, stroking her stomach. A moment later, Richard brought the kids downstairs in their pajamas, hair still damp.
"Everybody's going to read and go to bed," Richard announced. "They came down to say good-night."
"Good night," the three chorused. I hugged each one of them, and Alexis and Ben repeated the process. Noel pulled away, embarrassed. I chalked that up to him getting close to the teenage years. Oh, what fun that would be.
"You put the drops in Jo's ear, right?" I asked, kissing my daughter's wet, but combed out, hair.
"Yes, two drops in each. They're reading until nine, and then I'm turning off the lights," Richard said. "Okay, everybody, upstairs, you can read until I come up to turn off the lights, alright? I don't want to hear a single one of you out of bed, or heads will roll!"
"Yeah, yeah, daddy," Jace sang. They raced upstairs. I handed Richard his cup of coffee and he took a long sip from it.
"What did you want us over for?" Alexis asked.
"Can't a woman's parents ask her over to check in on her and her pregnancy?" Richard asked.
"We have a great reason," I admitted. I had left the manila envelope on the coffee table, it was still sealed. I reached forward and opened it.
"They found your grandmother's fortune," Richard said solemnly. The mood in the room changed suddenly. I could see Alexis's obvious discomfort, and I knew Ben felt it.
"Dad?" Alexis asked. I think she knew what this meant.
"Her will said that if her absconded fortune was ever recovered after her death, it was to be divided evenly between her four grandchildren," Richard said. "This is a matter of about two million dollars to divide four ways. That comes out to about five-hundred thousand for you, before taxes."
I saw Alexis's jaw twitch.
Then, in my mind's eye, I saw Martha doing the same thing. I had never recognized it until the day she asked me to go to the lawyer with her. What was left of her hair was wrapped up in a turban, large sunglasses, and she had on a thick layer of make-up to cover up the rash that was going down her jaw from the chemo. She asked me for some reason, not Richard, not Alexis. We went into the office, and her lawyer explained the terms. The government was not to get anything, she was to be cremated, not buried, and there was a small plot in Queens where she wanted to be buried, something she had purchased years ago. All of her clothings and possessions were to go to Richard, Alexis, and the other three grandchildren. All I could see was the classy, elegant grand dame of the theatre. I didn't see the cancer victim who had been decimated by the indignity of chemotherapy.
I didn't want to tell them that I had been there when she made these plans. Martha and I had gone for tea to settle her stomach, being a this was a day off from the chemo for her. "Don't tell them," Martha had pleaded as we sipped the white teas we had ordered. Her jaw muscle twitched. "I gave up hope for ever finding my wealth. I doubt it will ever be found. All I want is a modest graveplot and a couple of flowers. You'll make sure that happens for me, right, Katherine?"
I had nodded. It didn't seem like enough for her. I was used to dealing with the survivors and the dead bodies, not the ones anticipating death. It didn't really seem real until the morning I called over to her apartment, and she didn't answer. I went over to find her in her recliner, her turban off, the television on. Martha didn't speak much. I called her doctor to double-check that everything was alright, and what I could do. He came over, looked at her, and sighed. He was letting hospice take over. The pain was too intense for her to speak or even think. Alexis came over and would sit with her, so did Richard, so did I. A number of people came over to sit with her. Conversation was a bit light. Food started to come in, we ate like kings.
The end took two weeks.
"Isn't this ironic?" Alexis muttered. "Grams dies and they find her money."
I knew Alexis well enough to know that she was thinking what I thought all those years ago I found out that had a small trust fund after my mother died. Money was a poor substitute for a person you loved. I'd have given back my entire trust fund for my mother. I knew Alexis felt the same way about Martha.
"What does this mean?" Ben asked.
"You and I have got to sign off on some paperwork at the bank," Richard said to Alexis. "I have to get the kid's money put into their trusts. I'd like you to be the witness."
Alexis and Ben exchanged a glance. "Tomorrow, I've got a quick check-in with my OB-GYN at 8, but I'm probably going to be free around nine."
"I made the appointment for around ten."
Alexis nodded. "I feel like this is all that's left of Grams, now."
"No, honey," I said. "This isn't all that's left of her."
Alexis shook her head. "I don't want to talk about anymore. I'll meet you tomorrow, right Dad?"
"I think we need to get going," she said. "It's getting late."
"Alright," Richard said. "Good night, honey."
We did the prerequisite good-bye ritual of kissing our daughter good-bye, I hugged Ben, too, and we walked them out to the elevator.
"Call me when the appointment's over," I told Alexis. "I want to be there for the next ultrasound."
"The next one is going to tell us what sex Lima bean is," Alexis said. "I already texted you the date."
We ignored the door across the hall.
"When?" I asked.
"We want you all there," Ben said, getting his jacket on. "Babe, you want to stop by the bodega before we get home?"
"Yeah, I need some more Tums," she said.
"Yeah, the heartburn gets you during pregnancy," I added.
"I'll text you," she promised as the elevator dinged and she and Ben got into the elevator. "Goodnight! We love you!"
"'Night," Richard and I said in unison.
"Good night, Kate, Mr. Castle," Ben said as the doors shut.
The apartment across the hall still sat empty. I knew Richard would never rent out the little one-bedroom he had bought for Martha in her twilight years, not until we left this building entirely. An apartment in this shape, this beautiful, and in the penthouse of a Manhattan apartment building was coveted. Martha's fortune, her money, it could never surpass our loss of her.
Losing my own mother taught me that I'd always have a hole in my life. Sometimes, my focus was pulled away, but it was always in my peripheral. And it would always hurt, just a little bit, but you learned to live with it.