Word Count: 2,107
"Rick Castle," he said, answering the phone almost immediately when he saw whom it was calling.
"Hey, Rick, it's Nathan Petrelli. How are you?"
"Doing well, Nathan. You?" Of course, they both knew how one another were doing. Their lives were splashed on the pages of the Times and other, less savory, papers for the world to see. For very different reasons, of course. Rick wouldn't want Nathan's job or his ambition and he thought Nathan Petrelli probably thought the same about Rick's chosen life.
"Good, keeping busy."
"Yeah, I've kept up with the news a bit, seems like you've had your hands full."
"I have, but hopefully things will settle down. Listen, I'm sorry to call out of the blue and do this, but I have a favor to ask."
"Okay," Rick said cautiously.
He'd known the Petrelli brothers for years. While Nathan was a couple years older and Peter younger, his mother and the Petrelli's had traveled in many of the same circles. So, their paths had crossed more than once from childhood on into adulthood.
As boys, they'd gotten into a good bit of mischief together. Usually it was Nathan and Rick getting into the mischief with a younger Peter tagging along because their mothers had insisted he come along.
As teens, they'd snuck drinks when they could, stole cigarettes from purses, and spent their summers cruising the country club's pool and tennis courts for dates. They usually didn't have to search for long.
As young men, they'd chased a skirt or two and had a few drinks too many when they probably should have been doing other, more productive things. Certainly, their parents thought so. Eventually, they'd settled into stable lives. He and Nathan had married, had children. Nathan was still married, Rick was not, and as far as Rick knew Peter had never been. It seemed to him the last time he'd seen either brother had been after his first marriage. Being a single father took up a lot of his time.
He recalled that their father had died and while Rick was sure his mother had contacted Mrs. Petrelli, he had not had occasion to see any of the Petrelli's to offer his condolences. For that, he'd probably grant whatever favor it was Nathan needed, however, Nathan was a politician first and foremost these days, so Rick knew to be wary.
"You're going to the gala to raise funds for the new pediatrics wing tonight?"
"I think I have an invite here somewhere."
"I have a friend who needs an escort. Heidi's going to stay home with the boys, Monty's running a fever."
"Nothing serious, I hope?"
"I don't think so, but she wants to be sure and doesn't trust a sitter to know when a run of the mill fever turns more serious."
"Understandable," Rick said. He'd fretted over that himself on more than one occasion. There was a breaking point when being ill no longer meant Tylenol and a comforting kiss was the solution.
"Anyway, if Heidi was attending I'd bring her myself, but it wouldn't look right…"
"Oh, right," Rick said, understanding now. He was, as Rick had just thought moments ago, a politician with loftier goals than his present position. And pictures of him showing up at a fundraising gala for a new pediatrics wing with someone other than his wife on his arm would not be received well. They might not end his career, but they'd certainly be scrutinized when his endeavors later took him to offices with more national attention.
That was an understatement. They'd eat him alive, even if their relationship was innocent and easily explained. No one would listen and if they did, his career would still be ruined.
"I promise she won't be any trouble or anything."
"She know you're setting her up?"
"It's not a setup," Nathan said harshly. "That's why I chose you. I know I can trust you."
"You can," Rick said, now more confused than ever. He wanted the woman to have a date but it wasn't a setup.
"Anyway, she wants to go so I told her I'd see what I could come up with."
"Can't she go alone?"
"Out of the question."
"All right. I admit, I'd RSVP'd and really hadn't made up my mind one hundred percent on going, but why not?"
Nathan had made him curious if nothing else, and the writer in him wanted to solve the mystery of who the woman was and why Nathan was worrying about whether she'd attend a gala.
"I'll send a car to pick you up."
"Not necessary, I can arrange it on my own. Just tell me where to pick her up."
Nathan gave him an address. It wasn't a shabby neighborhood in the least. Nothing extravagant, but decent enough.
"All right. I'll pick her up about eight o'clock then. Unless you're expecting me to take her to dinner first?"
"No, she'll have eaten. She just needs to get there and home."
"I can handle that."
"I think I can handle that, too, Nathan. You did call me, remember?"
"Yes, I remember. And thank you, I owe you one."
"That's what friends are for, but perhaps one day you can enlighten me as to what the situation is."
"Maybe one day," he said, sounding almost as if he wished he could right here and now. Whatever it was on Nathan's mind, it seemed to be weighing rather heavily. Rick wondered if it was the pressures of his job, ambitions of wanting to do more than he was, or what.
"Will you be there?"
"Yes, I will be. Peter will be, too."
"Great, we'll see you later then. Oh, hey, just one thing you do need to tell me in advance."
"Her name might be nice, so I know who I'm picking up."
Nathan gave a light laugh. "I guess that would be helpful. Her name is Claire, Claire Bennet."
"All right," Rick said, writing the name on the pad of paper by his desk just above the address. "She have a phone number in case I run into problems finding her place?"
He jotted the number Nathan gave him down with the rest of the information.
"I think that's everything I need then," he said, wondering exactly what he was getting himself into. And just what it would mean to have Nathan Petrelli indebted to him.
"Greet your mother and daughter for me," he said in closing.
"Likewise," Rick said, hanging up.
"What's wrong?" Alexis asked from the doorway. She had an uncanny way of appearing when he needed her most. The need varied. Sometimes it was just the desire to see her, to know she was okay. And sometimes it was conversation. That he could converse with his sixteen-year-old daughter baffled him at times, but he wasn't looking that gift horse in the mouth. He knew other people with children the same age as Alexis and they wanted nothing to do with their parents. He imagined his day would come eventually.
"An old friend just called and asked me to do him a favor."
"Did he make you an offer you couldn't refuse?"
Rick smiled a little. She was his daughter all right.
"No, nothing like that. There's a fundraiser tonight, he has someone he asked me to take."
"You have old friends randomly setting you up on blind dates now?"
"No, pumpkin, it's just a favor. Sounds like she was maybe supposed to go with him and his wife but the wife is staying home with a sick kid and it wouldn't look right for them to go alone."
"So, enter Rick Castle."
"Who's the friend?"
"I don't think you've ever met him, or if you did you were very young. Nathan Petrelli."
"The one and only."
"I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean you're friends with the mayor and all kinds of people, but a senator."
"I've known him since we were kids, Alexis, it's no big deal."
"This is so cool."
"No gossiping to your friends about how hard-up your dad must be for affection that his politically tied friends are setting him up on blind dates."
She laughed as he stood, realizing if he was going to make it to pick Ms. Claire Bennet up by eight o'clock he needed to get a move on it.
"You'll never know."
"I always know," he said, tapping her nose with his fingertip. "And don't you ever forget that."
"It's mom's that always know."
"Seems to me it's the one most connected to the child that would do the knowing. That would be me in this situation."
"Yeah, yeah. Do you want help with your tie?"
"Always," he said.
"'kay, I'll be up in a minute."
"I'll be waiting."
He knew how to adjust his own bowtie, but it was one of those father-daughter things they'd been doing for years. Initially, she simply wanted to know how he tied it. Eventually, it led to her doing it for him. He liked that she wanted to do that for him.
Dressed and ready with the exception of his tie, which was draped around his neck in preparation for Alexis' able hands to do their magic, he pondered how his plans for the evening had taken fruit. He really had no desire to go to the fundraiser. He'd RSVPd with a generous check, because it was for a good cause. He wasn't one of those people that lived on the circuit as he called it. Going from gala to gala, fundraiser to fundraiser. He wasn’t sure what the point was, other than to flaunt your success and while he lived comfortably with many creature comforts others couldn’t afford he really wasn't one to flaunt his success for the world to see.
He was a writer and he'd gotten lucky in a pool full of circling sharks that his writing not only sold but made his publisher money. There were certainly writers out there who could probably pen better novels than Rick did, but that wasn't his concern. He wasn't afraid of a little competition.
"So, what do you know about this woman?" Alexis asked as she started on the tie.
"Nothing besides her name and address, but it seemed pretty important to Nathan."
"Do you think she's his…"
"Mistress?" he asked, knowing it was on the verge of being wildly inappropriate to talk about such things with his daughter.
"I don't know. I can't imagine she would be, because he said if Heidi was going she would have gone with them. I don't think he'd be stupid enough to do that, but men do stupid things when thinking with things other than their brains."
"I'd ask what things, but that would just make you stammer and blush."
"I do not!"
"Yes, you do. It's cute."
"The last thing I need is for my daughter to tell me I'm cute."
"Well, you are. I mean it's not like I haven't had sex education and health class."
Her agile fingers put the finishing touches on his bowtie, making it look perfect. He expected no less from her. One day she'd be tying someone else's bowtie. A husband or lover, he preferred to think of it as her husband. Then again, he preferred not to think of her with a man in any fashion.
He stood then, turning slowly in a circle so she could examine him.
"Do I pass the Alexis Castle test?"
"Good to know. I wouldn't want to shock anyone by looking as good as I actually can."
She scrunched her nose, eyes twinkling with amusement. "Go knock 'em dead, Dad."
"Why, thank you, honey. Finish your homework," he said, kissing the top of her head as they left his room together. "And try not to get in Grandma's way."
"Me in her way? Ugh, Dad…"
He winked, stopping her tirade before she ever got going. He knew how things really were. He lived with his mother after all.
"Night then. Don't stay up too late."
"Don't wait for you in other words? Are you planning on not coming home alone?"
"What?" he asked surprised. He never brought women home when Alexis was in the house. It was just one of those things he didn't do. "No, no plans to be accompanied by anyone."
"Well, have fun."
"I'll try," he said, not sure what the chances of him enjoying himself were. Curiosity is what was driving him, hopefully by the end of the night that would be satisfied and he could go on his merry way.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com