The thing about books tours, Alexis had realised when she was really quite young, was that they mainly consisted of long periods of travelling through places that wouldn't even show up on the most generous map, interspersed with listening to her father charm the masses at whichever was the signing or reading du jour.
Spending part of her summer vacation on the promotional tour for Heat Wave had seemed like fun—Dad had an ability to find interesting things to do in the most random of places—and had only partly been influenced by Whirlwind Mom blasting back into the city, declaring her intention to 'make it big' on Broadway by auditioning for a part in the same play that Grandma was currently starring in.
That had been an interestingly gatecrashed family meal.
“Select your steed!”
“C'mon, Dad,” Alexis said, fighting against a grin. “We came here for snack food.” That was one of the problems with spending every other night in a random motel halfway to nowhere: the mini bars were rarely well stocked.
“You insult me by preferring the company of marshmallows, I demand satisfaction!” A rattling squeak.
Alexis glanced sideways. Her father had armed himself with a roll of gift wrap, had a colander perched on his head, and was dancing around as if his shopping cart was a restive horse.
My Life Is Average had a lot to answer for.
“But why are we here?” Alexis squinted up at the black and white sign on the side of the warehouse. The snake looked disturbingly cheerful.
“Research.” Cheerful. “Nikki Heat has a serial poisoner to catch.”
“No, I get that.” Alexis stepped close and leaned into a one-armed hug with her father while they waited for the door to be opened. “What I meant was, why am I here?”
“Because otherwise you'd be helping Grandma with a feng shui inspired life management seminar.” A pause. “In my office.”
Alexis just caught the tail end of her father's expression and giggled. “I thought she just wanted to play Jenga with your books.”
“Now that would actually be kind of cool.”
“After the snakes.” Alexis nodded as the latched door swung open and they were greeted by the owner of the snake ranch.
“Hi. I'm Doctor Parish, owner of the ranch. You must be Richard Castle, and...?”
“I'm Alexis.” Alexis smiled up at Doctor Parish. He made Dad look short. She gave it a count of three before—
“My daughter, seeking refuge from the insanity of feng shui and where did you get that hat?”
Bingo. Dad was ridiculously predictable at times. She could see Nikki Heat's venom specialist sporting something that would make Indiana Jones jealous.
Alexis was on the phone to Taylor as she opened the front door to her home, deep in the middle of a dissection of Trent and why he was totally and simultaneously both the lamest and the skankiest boy in the entire history of everything.
The white haze that drifted out from the apartment was unexpected.
“I have to go. I think Dad's attempting science again.”
“See you tomorrow,” Taylor said. “And, like, don't get blown up. We have that chemistry quiz tomorrow.”
“I know. See you then.”
Alexis rang off and stuck her cell in her jacket pocket as she ventured into the apartment. Quite apart from the haze—too powdery to be dry ice, especially given the fact that her father had broken the dry ice machine last month while trying to re-enact a crime scene for Detective Beckett—the air was filled with music.
In the kitchen, her father was dancing and singing along to M. C. Hammer. He was also wearing a chef's hat and a flour-smeared apron.
“The whole of your next advance is going to be spent on my therapy.”
“Hi, sweetie!” Her father paused in his gyrations long enough to wave as Alexis shrugged off her jacket and dumped it and her bag on the couch.
“What did we agree about science in the home?”
“This is the yummy kind of science, not the kind with shrapnel. Well, not unless I used TNT instead of yeast.”
Alexis stared at the counter top which was currently being obscured by something vaguely pillow shaped and sticky looking. “Bread?” she ventured.
“I'm just at the fun part: kneading. Get your apron and give me a hand.” He gestured enthusiastically, noticeably adding to the airborne flour.
“I have a chem test tomorrow,” Alexis said, even as she edged closer to where her apron was hanging. “I should study.”
“My daughter is smart enough to know when to have fun.” A sucking sound as her father attempted to break off a more manageable piece of dough. “Also, we're both smart enough to multi-task. I could help you.”
“You remember the periodic table?”
“Much like Chuck Norris, I only recognise the element of surprise. Um, a little help?”
Alexis tied off her apron and moved to stand next to her father, reaching out to try and break off the impossibly long strong of dough he'd managed to create. “Did you spend the entire day on the internet again?”
“Not the whole day.”
“I've been trying to make bread.” Alexis kept her eyes on her father as she extracted her own piece of dough. After an attempt at wide-eyed innocence, he sighed. “From a recipe that I found online.”
Alexis passed her dough from hand to hand. “On a website for those wishing to cater the feeding of the five thousand?”
“There were no fish recipes. And I may have disagreed slightly with the measurements and improvised.”
“Well.” Alexis began kneading. “I guess I can take some to school, and you could take some to the precinct—“
“And be mocked horribly.”
“You bought them an espresso machine, I think you're good.”
“My daughter, the wise woman.”
“Dad!” Alexis yelped as she was suddenly enveloped in a hug. “You'll get dough in my hair!”
“Too late.” Unrepentant. “Hey. Race you to see who can make the most bread rolls in ten minutes.”
Alexis mock scowled up at her father. “You're on!”
“So, have you got me anything good?”
Alexis ignored her father as he came up beside her, then managed a slightly wobbly turn so that he was skating backwards, expression hopeful.
“I'm not telling you. You're going to fall over.”
“You're no fun.”
“You're a huge child.”
Alexis skated around her father with a little wave and continued across the rink. The afternoon sun glittered off the ice and the outdoor rink in Central Park had been getting progressively busier during the last half hour. Although not even the little kids were acting as daft as Alexis' father.
“You're going to be wounded when you fall over.”
“So you should tell me what you got me for Christmas, and then I wouldn't have to skate backwards.”
“Faultless logic there, Dad.”
“I try my hardest.”
Alexis dug the toe pick of one of her skates in and came to a halt as a trio of preschoolers shot across her path. Her father continued a short distance before halting himself.
“I'm still not telling you,” Alexis said. “Anyway, Christmas is the day after tomorrow, so it's not as if you've got years to go and are going to die of waiting.”
“Alexis.” An overly dramatic zombie stumble.
“You look constipated.”
“You got me ExLax? Oh, wait. The overly dramatic eye roll is teenager for sarcasm, my bad.”
Alexis couldn't stop the snort. Or the second eye roll.
“Wait, is that some kind of evil teen code? Are you secretly signalling for ninjas to go and destroy my presents?”
“Dad,” Alexis protested as he caught her with a hug that was half play fight. “Maybe I got you nothing.”
“Not even a teenaged girl could be that cruel.”
“You're pretty hard to buy for,” Alexis felt the need to point out as they both skated to the edge of the rink. “I mean, your idea of a great time involves finding dead bodies in giant jars of formaldehyde.”
“I swear to God, Alexis, that if you've got me one of those then I will be your alibi for life.”
Alexis managed to keep a straight face for all of three seconds before cracking up.
It took three tries to find a shopping cart that didn't have wheels that randomly sent it veering off into the shelving and by that stage, of course, her father had vanished into the depths of the store. Alexis knew where he'd end up though, so she didn't need to run around looking for him. Instead, she could do her own shopping first.
Thanks to the generic layout of all Walmarts, Alexis found the kitchenware and gift sections in short order.
From there she quickly crossed over to the snack aisle. As she expected, her father was there. He appeared to be contemplating the eternal question of Oreos versus any other cookie brand.
There was no one else in the aisle. Excellent.
Carefully and quietly, Alexis pulled the metal colander out of her cart and put it on her head. Grasping a plastic wrapped roll of gift wrap in one hand, Alexis gripped the handle of the shopping cart in the other, making sure it was lined up with the centre of the aisle.
“You, sir! Stand and deliver!” Alexis shouted in her deepest voice. She grinned widely as her father first started violently, then broke into laughter as she spurred her squeaky-wheeled mount forwards.