Love and Loss

“Alexis! Mother! Dinner!” Castle calls. Martha bounces down the staircase and washes her hands at the sink. She gets three plates and doles out generous servings of spaghetti on each, placing them on the table. Castle pours the drinks and then looks around. Maybe Alexis has her music going and can’t hear him. “Alexis?” Castle knocks on her door. “Are you okay?” There’s no answer. Castle places his hand on the doorknob slowly, trying to decide if barging in is an intrusion. Before he can do anything, however, it swings open and Alexis appears.

“I heard,” she says shortly. Castle follows her down the stairs and back to the dining table. He can tell she’s mad at him by the way she places the silverware in the wrong order at just his place setting. But why?

“So, how was your day, Mother?” he breaks the formidable silence.

“Oh, lovely darling. My acting studio has started doing a little improv before we start our next production, and my students are just magnificent! Such talent, energy, so much potential.”

“That’s great!” Castle says. “Alexis?”

“It was fine,” Alexis says, stabbing at her spaghetti.

“Nothing from Ashley?” Castle asks sympathetically.

“He said he’d call me tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s good,” Castle says carefully. Is it good?

“That was the day before yesterday.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

“Darling,” Martha says, taking Alexis’s hand.

She pulls hers away and into her lap. “He texted me an hour ago. He wants to meet at the park tomorrow at noon.” Castle exchanges a perplexed glance with Martha. Is letting Alexis go alone smart? Can he even stop her, if she is determined to go? Does she even want to? Alexis is hard to read right now, possibly even harder than Kate—and that’s saying something.

“Do you…are you going to?” Castle asks. He’s not sure what he wants her to say, although his gut is wrenching him into hoping she’ll say no and close this chapter of her life with Ashley for good. And maybe not date at all for a while.

“I don’t know.” Alexis’s voice is flat, betraying the depth of her pain. “I want to see him. I want an explanation. But I don’t want to just forgive him and have this happen all over again. I don’t know if I want to put myself in that situation.”

“Well, you’ll never know what could be until you try,” Martha exclaims. “You should go.”

Castle gives his mother a what-are-you-doing look and then says to Alexis, “If you don’t think anything he can say will mend your relationship, then don’t go. Break it off with him. Ashley’s in the wrong here, not you. You don’t owe him anything.”

“We were in love, Dad,” Alexis says. “That goes two ways. I at least owe him the chance to give an explanation.”

He sighs inwardly. “Then go,” Castle advises his daughter. It’s against his better judgment, but her happiness means more to him. It’s not like he doesn’t know Ashley, he thinks. He’s met the guy before, and suitably freaked him out by waving around a gun. Ashley definitely has the proper respect for Alexis, and for him. Even though it feels like it’s been forever, in reality they’ve only been apart for less than a week.

“Then it’s settled,” Martha says with all too much enthusiasm. “As I always say, Alexis, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. If it’s not, then there’s nothing you can do to save it. Love is tricky like that—especially young love.”

Alexis nods uncertainly. “Thanks, Gram.”

Wind rustles through the courtyard, playing with her hair for a fleeting moment before whisking away. Her eyes trail after it, watching its effects on the treetops before it disappears from view completely. Castle touches her shoulder. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just thinking.”

He waits a second for her to elaborate, and when she doesn’t, asks, “About?”

“Getting back to the precinct. I keep imagining the day in my mind, but Montgomery is always there to greet me, not this…Captain Gates. It’s hard to accept that everything won’t be the same when I get back.”

Castle’s silent for the moment. “It’s odd, not having Montgomery around and seeing someone else in his office, sitting at his desk.”

“The awful part is that you never lose that feeling,” Kate says softly. She doesn’t feel like crying; she’s too numb for tears. “Even twelve years later, I still sometimes expect my mother to walk through the door. When I first woke up in the hospital, I thought I’d...I thought I’d see her. I thought she’d come sit at my bedside, and we could talk and laugh like we used to. She would make me feel better, forget where I am and why. It was nice…for a few seconds. And then she was gone again.”

He looks at her sympathetically. “I didn’t know. I’ve never lost anyone before.”

“What about your dad?” She’s genuinely curious.

“Well, I never knew him,” Castle answers readily. “You can’t expect or miss something you’ve never experienced.”

“I understand,” Kate says, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t understand why Castle doesn’t feel like there’s a gaping hole in his life where all his father-son memories should be. She can’t imagine her childhood without her dad. Doesn’t Castle see what he’s missing? That special relationship is ever-present in books, movies, and TV shows. Has he never longed to see what that’s like? Or maybe he does, but the pain has been a part of him so long that he’s managed to all but bury it in other things. After all, he’s lived with it all his life.

Kate shakes her head to clear it. “We should be getting back. They don’t want me out here too long.” Castle stands and obeys immediately, wrapping his hands around the wheelchair handles and pushing forward. Her seat bounces over a crack in the concrete and jars her, causing a surge of pain in her chest. She winces and places a hand to it, but touching will only increase her discomfort. “A bit slower, please,” she requests, and Castle slows down apologetically.

“Sorry, did I hurt you?” he asks.

“Not much,” she replies. “The bumps are painful, that’s all.”

Within a few minutes, she is situated in the hospital bed again. She’s already wishing she were back outside with the sunshine, wind, and plants. Castle checks his phone. “Waiting to hear from someone?” Kate asks.

He sighs. “Just my mother. Alexis is meeting Ashley at the park today and Mother went along to keep an eye on them.”

“A bit intrusive of her, but I can see why.”

He frowns. “What would you have done in Alexis’s situation, when you were her age?”

Kate pauses, thinking about her wild child days, when romance had been fun and fleeting. But Alexis is not a very aloof teenager, so she goes back a little further, to her younger teen days. When it had been new and every moment magical. “I would have met him.”

“Would you have forgiven him?”

“If I thought he was the one…I would have forgiven just about anything.” She’s slightly embarrassed of this truthfulness. She has mixed feelings about the whole premise. She thinks it’s naïve of her younger self to be so lenient, but at the same time she regrets that loss of innocence. As an adult with all the difficult events in her life under her belt, nothing is that simple anymore. She’s forced to second-guess everything, and little nagging doubts give her no peace of mind. Part of her believes fate—or the universe, as Castle would say—is out to get her. Part of her is waiting for the next horrific event to sweep everything she has away again. What she would give to be that carefree again.

Castle looks uncomfortable with that statement. Obviously he was hoping Alexis would move on from Ashley. “Well,” I should probably go,” he says. “See you tomorrow.”

She smiles, still amazed he comes so often. She wants to hear about the outside world, even if she’s not allowed in it. “See you.”

“Mother, how was it?” Castle asks in lieu of a greeting. Martha is seated on the couch thoroughly engrossed in a fashion magazine.

“Oh, it was lovely!” Martha exclaims, looking up and setting it down. “I believe the boy even cried.”

“Cried? After she broke up with him?” He’s wondering if he’ll have to deal with a heartbroken Alexis when he goes up to her room.

“Oh no, about something else. An apology, perhaps.”

Martha looks thoroughly happy with this outcome, while Castle’s feelings go both ways. He knows he’ll have to speak with Alexis for the full story. “Where is she?”

“Up in her room, on the phone with him,” Martha says. “They were talking the whole way home and since.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Oh, two hours.” Things must really be repaired between them then. Alexis’s fears about going to Stanford alone are unfounded. He won’t disturb her until she disconnects from her phone and comes downstairs herself. He’ll let the two chat, reconnect.

And he’s happy for her. He’s happy that she’s happy. But he can’t shake the terrible feeling of apprehension about this relationship.

Maybe he’s being silly and overprotective. He knows he can be that way sometimes. Maybe he just doesn’t like that this is a part of her life he can’t protect her from. That must be it.

The feeling lingers long after thoughts of Alexis and Ashley have left his mind.

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