She steps out of the cab, shivering slightly as the cold air finds a gap between her scarf and her collar, flakes settling on her hair and shoulders even as she hefts the holdall in her hand and turns towards the doorway. Eduardo is already there, holding the door open for her and she's glad to enter the heated foyer. A gust of wind blows flakes horizontally past the plate glass windows and the door rattles softly on its hinges.
She enters the lift and after pressing the button for the loft, moves to lean against the back as the doors slide closed. She checks her watch, nearly five o'clock, and can't help wondering why he was so insistent on her visiting today specifically, though admittedly they've hardly been apart for any length of time recently. Today should have been a special day, but for years now it has just been one more day in her life. Lanie has made arrangements for a celebratory girls' night out on Saturday and she's had lunch with her Dad after finishing work today; the book he's given her is in the holdall ... the pinging of the lift pulls her out of her musings and she walks down the hallway towards the now familiar door.
She's barely rapped her knuckles on it when the door opens ... only it doesn't swing fully open as usual, rather just enough for Castle's large frame to slip through. A surprised Kate stands in the hallway staring at the author with raised eyebrows. There's a slightly guilty look on his face and she begins to worry that he must have forgotten she was coming today, her mind starts racing, has he got someone else in the loft? Maybe one of those page six ...
He's wrapping her in his arms, dropping a kiss to her forehead and though he's still got that guilty look on his face she begins to relax, suspicion replacing anxiety. "What's up Rick?"
"I ... I hope I haven't screwed up Kate ... I want you to know that I ... I've done this with the best intentions ..."
By now she's really getting worried, is he going to renege on their deal, give up on her? What the hell is he babbling on about? Before she can start panicking again, he's picked up her holdall, taken her by the hand, pushed the door open and is pulling her through after him.
She's only taken a few steps into the loft when she comes to a standstill, the sudden stop pulling her hand free from his. The loss of contact makes him turn, apprehension writ large across his face. He's not the only one looking apprehensive, standing near the kitchen island are the two redheads, Martha's arm around Alexis' shoulder as they watch her with tentative smiles on their faces. But though this in itself would have been enough to surprise her under any other circumstance, it's not what has brought her to a standstill or caused the look of shock on her face.
She stares at the kitchen island, at the bottle of champagne and the four flute glasses next to it, at the cake with the two candles shaped as a three and a one, at the gift-wrapped items next to the cake. She can't believe he knew ...
His moving draws her eyes away from the island, she watches him take her hand, watches as his other hand lifts her chin and then she's raising her eyes to his. They look at each other in silence and then she whispers "How did you know?"
He goes for Goofus, "I'm a great detective ..." eyebrows waggling and patented smile curving his lips. She smacks his chest with her free hand and then brushes her hand across her eyes before moving towards the two redheads.
They're both obviously relieved when she embraces them and offers a smiling thank you. Martha, emitting an audible sigh immediately becomes the performer, hustling all towards the chilled bottle and glasses whilst waving her arms around in dramatic style and ordering 'Richard dear' to 'pop the cork'.
Alexis opens the fridge door and pulls out a carton of apple juice which she pours into one of the flute glasses as her father lets the cork fly across the kitchen, patently aimed in Martha's general direction though making sure it's not too close. There's a general release of tension as the bubbles cascade into the waiting glasses and Martha shakes her head at her son's antics. When all four glasses are full, Rick, obviously relieved that she hasn't freaked out too much, pulls Kate into his side and holds up his glass in a toast, "Happy birthday Kate!"
They clink glasses and each takes a sip, Kate shaking her head slightly as she tries to get her mind round this new angle. She still doesn't know how he's found out, and she's not sure how she feels about this almost public celebration of a date which for years has been no more than one more day in her life. Occasionally it had fallen on a weekend and she and Lanie or her boyfriend at the time had gone out and celebrated, but mostly it had been just a quiet lunch with her Dad if he was sober or another day of sadness and poignancy as thoughts of her missing Mom had bitten into her.
Today she'd had a pleasant lunch with her father and had been looking forward to diving into his gift of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw. Her agreeing to spend the afternoon and evening with Rick had been as much about the feelings he stirred within her as keeping the loneliness at bay. What she hadn't expected or counted on was her seventeenth of November being turned into a party, however small and private it may be. At least she can be thankful that it is just that; small and private. She suddenly colours as she realises that they are all looking at her in concern.
"Are you ok Kate?" he asks.
She nods, gives his hand a squeeze and smiles at them "Yes, thank you, I'm just knocked over is all … I wasn't expecting this!"
"Time for you to blow out the candles then" and he picks up the lighter from the counter top and sets the 31 into flickering life.
"Do make a wish Kate dear" says Martha, clasping her hands as if in prayer.
Kate pauses, closes her eyes, can't help the little smile that turns up the corners of her mouth and then she leans forward to blow out the candles.
"What did you wish for?" asks an obviously excited Castle, and she can't help giving him an eye roll and telling him it's none of his business, though the smile she gives him lets him know he'll probably find out when they're alone. He still goes for the hurt puppy look, but the twinkle in his eyes spoils it somewhat.
"Ok, while I and Alexis cut the cake, Mother, why don't you and Kate take her presents over to the couch and settle down" he suggests and stops Kate's objections to the presents by wiping a chocolate covered finger across her lips.
The chocolate cream smeared across her lips has Kate spluttering an objection but Martha takes her by the arm, hands her two of the packages and grabbing the third one off the counter, leads her over to the couch where they're soon joined by Alexis carrying a couple of plates with slices of chocolate truffle cake.
She does a second trip for their glasses which were left on the island and then Rick's joining them with the bottle of champagne in one hand and an enormous slice of cake in his other. He shrugs as Kate gapes at his plate and then sits down next to her, grinning and adding sotto-voiced "I need my energy".
She can't help colouring as she gets his meaning and grabs her glass in an attempt to distract her thoughts from where they were heading.
Alexis picks up one of the packages from the table and hands it to Kate, a shy "I hope you like it" making Kate want to reach out and hug the girl.
Later that night, as she lies in Rick's bed waiting for him to finish in the bathroom, she's still feeling slightly shell-shocked from the recent events. She lifts her wrist and looks at the simple but elegant charm bracelet Alexis has given her. She's not sure how much influence Rick or Martha have had in the choice of charms and she's feeling slightly spooked by everything she's reading into them, but at the same time she can't help the sense of warmth that invades her heart as she considers them. Centre charm is a motorbike, ok, it's not a Harley but close enough for her to get the idea, next to that hangs an open book, a quill lying across the open pages, a clear reference to the writer presently whistling in the bathroom. To the other side of the bike are a pair of scales, which Rick has informed her is Alexi's zodiac sign and next to that is a beautifully engraved theatre mask which doesn't need any explanation.
She has a feeling that things are getting out of control here, but she's reluctant to think too deeply about it right now. Her eyes stray to the scarf hanging over the back of the chair, Martha's extremely generous present, the beautiful silk a mix of turquoise and blues which she's sure to wear as soon as spring hits Manhattan. She glances at the nightstand next to her and has to smile as her eyes fall on the hoop earrings from the Harley collection, sitting on top of her father's gift. She's glad Castle went for something light, inexpensive ….
Her thoughts are interrupted by him entering the bedroom and sitting down on the edge of the bed next to her. There's something mischievous about him and she looks at him partly in amusement, partly in trepidation. "What?"
"Um, I've got one more present for you Kate" and leaning down he pulls something from under the bed.
She's ready to refuse, already overwhelmed by the day's events but something about his grin stops her. He hands her a carrier bag and sits back expectantly. Carefully, not sure what to expect, she looks inside, puzzled frown turning to quizzical surprise and then to a gurgle of laughter as she lifts out a Cat Woman disguise.