Kate smiles, mind racing. “I accuse Miss Scarlet, with the candlestick, in the dining room,” she says.
Castle stares shrewdly at her. “You sure?”
“Of course.” Kate deftly lifts the packet of cards from the “cellar” in the center of the board. She flips it upside down, dropping the contents into her hand. Dining room, Scarlet, candlestick, just like she predicted. Or deduced, depending how you look at it. She lays the cards out for all to see.
“Wow,” Alexis says, impressed. “That’s our third game of Clue, and you won all three. So that brings the total scores up to…” she consults her piece of scratch paper. “Dad, 183, Kate, 171, and my lowly 140. Just speed-round Monopoly left, Kate, for you to get the points to beat him in.”
“Speed round Monopoly?”
“We developed it when Alexis was little,” Castle explains as he scoops up all the Clue cards to put back in the box. “She got bored after more than an hour of the same game, so we made up a few rules.”
“Every round there’s a stock market rise or crash,” Castle says. “Roll the dice; if the number’s seven or above you get twenty percent of your cash on hand, if it’s below two of your properties are foreclosed on or you pay $350 to keep them open. The other one is that whoever owns Water Works or the Electric Company collects fees each round based on the number of properties, houses, and hotels you have. You know, to make it more realistic. You pay $100 per hotel, $30 per house, and $20 per property cumulatively.”
“And my friends in elementary school wondered why my times tables were so fast,” Alexis rolls her eyes.
Kate laughs. “Okay, I think I got it. You guys play to bankruptcy, right?”
“Of course!” Castle exclaims. “So at the end, we’ll count up the money we have left—well, one of us will have none, but everyone else—and translate that into points for our overall scores. One point per $50.”
Kate nods. “Let’s do this.”
“Last game in our ten-game tournament,” Alexis agrees. “Your first SkipBo, Go Fish, Rummikub, Sorry, Risk, Life, Jenga, Careers, Clue, and Monopoly tournament.”
“Do all of the games played in the Castle household last this long?” Kate asks incredulously.
“Yeah,” Alexis smiles. “It’s a family thing. We play laser tag to a thousand points—not in one go, obviously—and Mario Kart is five sets of five races each.”
Castle nods. “For that one it ends up being a contest of whose thumb holds out the longest pressing that gas button.”
Kate and Alexis get off to rocky starts, but by the end Castle’s the one nervous every turn, fingering his two remaining bills as he stares at the daunting line of houses in the next stretch. Kate’s really liking the stock market idea, mostly because it’s cost Castle more than $2000 over the course of the game.
“Your turn,” she nudges him. He picks up the dice shakily, sending them skittering across the board. He moves his piece three and Alexis holds out her hand.
“Rent, $42.” Castle reluctantly places his $50 bill in her palm and receives eight ones in return, leaving him a grand total of two unrelated properties, a railroad, and $28. Kate goes, and then Alexis does. The stock market crashes, but Kate doesn’t mind. Castle’s turn again.
He rolls a two, lands on Chance, and nearly turns pale when she reads him the card. Advance to Boardwalk. Her red plastic hotel glares sinisterly at him. “Bankrupt,” he says, handing her his remaining money and properties.
“We win!” Alexis says joyfully. When they tally up their points, Castle’s teenage daughter ends up with the highest score.
“I should’ve warned you she was a Monopoly mastermind,” Castle says ruefully. He doesn’t seem to mind being beaten, although perhaps that’s because he expected it. “I keep telling her she should major in business at Stanford, but she says economics are Ashley’s thing, not hers.”
Once they’re done cleaning up, Castle and Kate decide it’s time to leave. “Give our best to Gram when she gets back,” Castle tells his daughter. She nods. “And no boys over when no one’s home.”
“Dad, for one it wouldn’t be ‘boys’. Just Ashley. And two, if you wanted to implement that rule, you should’ve done it a long time ago,” she smiles.
“I did, you just didn’t listen,” he argues.
“Yes, well…fine. If you’re saying you don’t trust me enough to have a boy over when you aren’t in the near vicinity, then okay: I won’t. But your mistrust wounds me.”
Castle rolls his eyes. “What are your plans with Ashley?”
She shrugs. “We were going to hit the pool, I think. It’s really warm today.”
He gives her a hug. “Sounds fine. Talk to you later, pumpkin.”
“Bye, Dad,” she returns the gesture. “Bye, Kate!”
“Bye!” After one last look behind her, Kate steps out into the hallway outside the loft. Castle joins her and Alexis closes and locks the door behind him. “That was fun,” Kate smiles. “It was like being a kid again.”
“That’s what’s great about having kids,” Castle agrees, “They make you feel like one again.”
“Someday,” Kate says, leaning her head against his shoulder.
He looks down at her curiously. “You want kids?”
“Well, yeah, I guess.”
“What about your job and everything?”
She shakes her head. “Castle, this is a discussion for another time.” She doesn’t have to say anything more before he falls silent. Having kids, to her, at least, is something she’s always wanted to do but never found the right guy, or the right time. Maybe Castle will be that right guy, but right now thinking about it just stresses her out. Taking it slow, remember?
“I want to stop by my apartment, please. Some stuff I want to drop off and pick up.”
When they arrive, everything’s dark, but Castle starts opening blinds and soon there’s daylight everywhere. Trusting the man-child in him to find something to occupy himself with—knowing Castle, probably something she’d never want him looking at in a million years—she goes into her room and takes a box down from the closet. She takes a deep breath before lifting the lid and removing the folded letter from her coat pocket. It’s much too hot to wear the coat, but she’d insisted on bringing it in with her for this reason. She’s not comfortable sharing these letters with Castle yet, and perhaps she never will be. It’s a part of her that’s always been…hers alone.
She lifts the stack of previously written letters out of the box to put the newest one on the bottom and finds herself reading her handwriting from ten years ago, no matter how much she doesn’t want to. They stir memories she doesn’t want to dive into right now, but she can’t tear her eyes away.
January 9, 1999
They say you're gone, but I keep expecting you to walk through that door. I think Dad does too, because he keeps turning at every noise and looking at it.
I'm sitting on your bed writing this letter to you because Dad and Detective Raglan are still talking in the living room. I had to leave; I couldn't stay in their company while the police explained the details of your death. Someday I'll want them, need them, but not right now. I keep thinking they've made a mistake, that it's not really you they've found. I keep thinking I'll see you tonight, and if not tonight, tomorrow. This feels like one of your business trips when your flight home has been delayed. If I just fall asleep, no more than a second will pass before you touch my cheek, waking me so I can welcome you home.
But if it is real, if you really are gone, then I don't know what I will do. You were always there for me, Mom, whenever I needed you. Now I need you more than ever and you're gone. You and Dad are all I know. I thought you would always be here to come back to, forever. I guess I was wrong.
I can't believe that just two weeks ago we were all staying in the cabin in the woods together, eating ham and cookies and other Christmas foods. The decorations are still up, but no one seems to care. They look lonely to me. Abandoned.
Mom, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry we didn't have more time together. I'm sorry I spent that semester in Kiev and missed your birthday and Easter and planting season last year. I'm sorry I chose a school so far away. I'm sorry I didn't make time to talk with you on the phone last weekend. I would give anything for us to have a conversation now. I'm so sorry, Mom.
Please come back. I know it's impossible, but please try. I'm not ready for you to leave me. I'm not ready to say goodbye.
Her hand is pressed to her mouth, and tears threaten to emerge. The raw emotion contained in the rough letter is almost overpowering, especially because she remembers writing it so vividly. It takes her back to that day. That awful, awful day.
“I guess we should start without her,” her father said, closing his menu. The restaurant was swamped, and, knowing that, they had picked up their menus on the way to their seats. The pair didn’t even have water yet. “You know what you want, Katie?”
“Yeah, Dad,” she replied.
“Okay, I’ll order for your mom. She probably just got caught up at work. She’s been really into that case she’s been working on for weeks now.”
Kate nodded her agreement. “Hi, welcome to Angie’s. I’m Penny, and I’ll be your waitress today. Any drinks to start?” the cheery blonde asked.
“Just waters, thanks,” Jim replied. “We’re ready to order, actually.”
“Perfect!” Penny held out her notepad, pen at the ready. “What can I get you?”
“I’ll have the eight ounce ribeye with garlic mashed potatoes and home-style green beans,” he requested. “We’re still waiting on my wife, but she should be here soon. She’ll have the small chicken pot pie.”
“And I’ll have the steak as well,” Kate smiled.
“Okay! I’ll get that to you as soon as possible,” the waitress said, collecting their menus.
Two hours later, both their plates were scraped clean and Johanna still hadn’t arrived. Jim checked his watch nervously. “I guess we should just take this to go,” he said, indicating the untouched pot pie. He informed the waitress and she returned with a large Styrofoam container and a paper bag. Kate and Jim exited the restaurant together, and goosebumps appeared on Kate’s arms as a chill wind swept through the street.
There was just a bit of snow on the ground, just enough to create sludge and make the roads dangerous without the pretty white crystalline look. In the car, Kate tried her mom’s cell for the fifth time that night, but there was no answer.
“She’s just working,” Jim repeated, as much to himself as his daughter. They arrived home a few minutes later.
“That’s odd,” Kate commented, pointing to the police car out front. “Usually don’t see those much around here.”
“Katie,” Jim said as a warning. She looked up to see a man standing at their door. “Can I help you?” Jim asked.
“Are you Jim Beckett?” the man asked, holding up his badge. “Detective Raglan, NYPD.”
“Yes, I am. What’s this regarding?”
“Perhaps this would be a conversation better suited for inside,” the detective suggested.
“What’s going on?” her father demanded. Kate’s heart pounded in her chest.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but they found your wife’s body earlier this afternoon in Washington Heights.”
“Her…her body?” Kate’s voice cracked. Her mind whirled.
Jim just stared at the detective for a moment and then unlocked the door. “You’d better come in.”
The memory fades much like a flashback—that is, kicking and screaming, leaving her panting and in tears. It’s hard to decide which hurts more—the day they found Detective Raglan on their doorstep or the day she was forced to say her final goodbyes. The day they laid her in the ground.
She remembers vividly that it rained hard that morning, but only for a few minutes. She remembers the iciness on her skin when she stepped outside the door before she was pulled back inside by her father’s gentle hand with an admonishment not to get her black dress wet. That was the first time he’d said anything of consequence besides making funeral arrangements in days.
She remembers the car ride to the church and the Mass celebrating her mother’s life. How she and Jim were the first ones to arrive and just sat in the front pew staring blankly at the altar. The quiet brushes and pats of hands as people trickled in meant to be comforting but really weren’t. The rrrr-rrrr sound the wheels of the casket carriage made on the tile floor of the central aisle. The white cloth embroidered with red that the two men in suits laid over the lacquered wooden casket during the service.
She remembers Father Vince presiding in a somber voice, Aunt Theresa and Uncle Roscoe doing the readings, and Aunt Lucy, her mother’s younger sister, extolling her mother’s virtues at the pulpit between gulps. She remembers almost choking on the Communion host, only making it back to her seat because of her father’s guiding hand placed gently on her back. She remembers the familiar songs that she found her throat too thick to sing with everyone else.
Her recollection the ride to the cemetery is fuzzy, but everything after that is crystal clear as well. She remembers exiting the car and nearly tripping into a patch of mud because her eyes were too glazed over with tears. Being transfixed by the hole in the ground that she stared into as the two pallbearers placed the casket on the surface next to it. “I’ll be right back, Katie,” she dimly recalls Jim saying before he left to check on the status of the missing white flowers that were supposed to adorn the area. She remembers the silky feel of the casket lid as she touched it, and then was possessed with the need to open it. Maybe her mother wasn’t really in there, wasn’t really dead. Jim had refused to let her accompany him to the morgue to ID the body, and Kate had always been one to find her own answers. The men in suits were attending to the hearse. Nobody was watching.
Kate remembers flipping the flimsy gold latch on the side of the casket and quickly lifting the lid a few inches upward. She remembers first seeing the miniature Bible clasped in lifeless hands over her mother’s stomach, along with her favorite fountain pen she reserved for signing important documents. Her eyes had moved forward of their own accord to come to Johanna’s pale face. And in that moment, realizing the eternal truth of it and dropping the casket lid hard. Her father coming up to her and asking, “Are they arriving early? I thought I heard a car door slam,” and Kate shaking her head mutely, flipping the latch back into position behind her back. Jim nodded and left her there to talk to the men in suits. She remembers as soon as he turned away falling to her knees and kneeling on the wet ground in front of her mother’s body with her dress hiked up around her thighs. Staying like that until her father came back and put a hand on her shoulder, startling her so much she fell backwards into the mud and soiled the back of her dress. Going home to change while there was still time before people arrived. Watching the procession of black cars and then those of friends and family arrive and receiving countless condolences but not even a mention of the fact that she changed clothes.
She’d attended funerals before, but none of them were like this. None of them so sudden. And none of them had been for her mother. She remembers standing in an awkward, silent circle with her cousins, knowing that while she’s a mess, none of them have shed more than a couple tears and are probably more uncomfortable with the situation than she was.
And finally, everyone gathering for Father Vince’s final blessing. The casket being lowered into the grave. Whispering, “Goodbye, Mom,” tossing her white rose on top of the casket, and stepping stiffly aside for her father to say his farewell. She remembers the pallbearers placing the tombstone for all to see in the pile of dirt still to be shoveled back into the grave.
B E C K E T T
FEBRUARY 4TH 1951
JANUARY 9TH 1999
She remembers crashing into her father’s chest, sobbing. And finally, his “Let’s get out of here, Katie.”
Kate returns to the real world like waking from a long sleep. Her face is streaked with tears, and her chest aches with a pain that for once has nothing to do with her bullet wound. She wipes her eyes with the back of her hands and closes the box of letters never to be sent. Then she goes into the bathroom and splashes some water on her face. When she exits, it’s like she was never crying at all. She walks back out into the living room. “Let’s go, Castle.”