At first, it was Cassidy who brought Cindy MacKenzie into the Casablancas house on a weekly basis. They spent hours working on their science project. The two were a lot alike and shared many interests. Mac enjoyed spending time with him and they became great friends. Now it was the older Casablancas boy that drew her here. Dick was nothing like his little brother. He would rather play video games than design them. He avoided working hard for anything. If it didn't come naturally to him, he never bothered trying. Dick had been home occasionally when Mac came to work with Cassidy and her first impression was that he was a fun-loving, goofy idiot. However, the more time she spent at the Casablancas house, the more she realized that this was an image he created for the outside world.
The first time she saw a glimpse of the real Dick Casablancas was the day Cassidy was called away to help his step-mom with a computer problem. As she sat in their living room on the floor, papers spread across the coffee table, she was sure Dick didn't see her as he came into the room. He had earbuds in and he sat at the island window with his laptop. At first Mac thought he was just listening to music and surfing online, then he started talking and she realized he was on the phone.
"Dude, we need the sound system facing the hillside so the sound amplifies off the rocks. It can be heard for miles up the beach."
As she sat there listening to him plan 'the party of the century', she realized he had some hidden talents. Her thoughts were interrupted when Cassidy returned.
"Sorry that took so long, Mac. Oh, hey, Dick."
When Cassidy addressed his brother, Mac turned in his direction. They made eye contact and she could see the recognition on his face. She smiled in embarrassment. After that day, she found herself looking for more signs of the real Dick Casablancas. With each encounter, she found herself more drawn to him.
It had been two months since she'd accidentally witnessed Dick's party planning skills. When her mom took over the duties of chairing a fundraising event for the local children's shelter and then proceeded to worry constantly about what she had gotten herself into, Mac was confident that Dick could be an asset and that she could convince him to help. Her mom was willing to take any help she could get so Mac found herself at the Casablancas house, ready to ask Dick for his expertise in planning what needed to be the most successful fundraiser in Neptune. As she nervously made her way to the door, she was no longer as confident in her ability to convince him.. Before she gained the courage to ring the doorbell, Mrs. Casablancas emerged in the doorway.
"Oh, hi dear. Cassidy isn't here. Were you supposed to meet today?" she asked.
"Oh..um, no, Mrs. Casablancas. I'm here to see Dick. Is he home?"
Mrs. Casablancas smiled at her as she answered. "Of course, dear. He's out by the pool."
Leaving the door open for Mac, Mrs. Casablancas continued on her way out, getting into her BMW. Mac turned to watch her go, reading the license plate, 'Sadie', as the car pulled out of the driveway. Mac couldn't help but be in awe of the newest Mrs. Casablancas. She exuded confidence in everything she did. Mac wished she had that skill and could follow through with her own task looking as cool and put together. Deciding it was now or never, Mac went into the house, practicing how she would ask the older Casablancas for his help as she made her way through to the patio door. She and Dick had become pretty friendly over the last couple months and, on occasion, she thought he might be flirting with her. She couldn't be sure though; he was flirtatious and playful by nature, but when it was directed at her, she couldn't help but wonder if there was some truth behind it. Exiting the house onto the pool patio, she scanned the yard for any signs of him. She was starting to wonder if Mrs. Casablancas had been mistaken when Dick's head broke the surface of the water and he climbed out of the side of the pool.
"Mackie!" he hollered. It was funny that she usually disliked that nickname but she couldn't help but smile when he called her that.
"Hey Dick." She reached down and grabbed the towel off the lounge chair beside her and handed it to him. Unfortunately he only used it to rub the excess water from his hair before tossing it back on the lounge. The drops of water on his chest were a little too distracting when she was there on serious business.
"Thanks." He smiled, seemingly oblivious to the trouble he was causing her. "Wanna join me?" he asked, motioning to the pool. She actually considered it for a moment before realizing that she didn't come here to swim.
"I can't. I don't have a suit." He just grinned at her and she wondered if he'd figured out what she was thinking about after all. She gave her head a little shake, trying to remember that there was another reason she was here. "Actually, I came by to ask for a favor."
He looked at her with a puzzled expression on his face. "You need my help with something?" Dick sat down on the lounge chair and picked the towel up again to finish drying himself, then laid the towel across his lap and gestured to the lounge behind her. "Have a seat and tell me what's going on."
She sat down and began to explain. "Yeah, my mom's putting together a fundraising party, but it can't be just any party. It has to be the party." Mac looked up at Dick as she emphasized the last two words of her statement. Dick seemed to be intently listening. His attention gave her the courage to go on. "The group doesn't have the money to spend on a professional since the point is raising money and it's really important that this be a success. Do you think you can help her?"
Dick looked away, gazing out over the ocean that stretched out beyond his backyard. When he turned his attention back to her, she couldn't decipher the look he was giving her. She was nervous, wondering if she'd just made a fool of herself.
"You want me to help plan a fundraiser." She couldn't tell if it was a statement or if he was asking a question. She did know that the tone in his voice worried her. He almost sounded disappointed. She opened her mouth, ready to speak even though she had no idea what to say but before she could get a word out, he continued.
"You willing to help me?" His question caught her off guard. When she looked at him, he was smiling.
She couldn't help but return the smile. "Sure, I can do that."
"Then tell your mom I'll do it."
Mac left the Casablancas house excited to tell her mom that her fundraiser was going to be a success. She'd invited Dick to come over for dinner that night so they could start talking about plans and how to set them in motion. The original plan was a gala with an auction, but Mac thought that was stuffy and boring. She knew that with Dick's help, they would come up with a much better idea that would be geared more to the kids they were trying to help and would still raise the money they needed.
"How many volunteers are you able to get?" Dick continued. He'd been asking questions all throughout the evening. Mac didn't think there was anything else to ask but he continued to come up with issues that needed to be addressed. He wanted to know the venue, when the event would take place, how long it would last, what their target goal was, even the ages of the target audience. As she sat and listened to the conversation between Dick and her mom, she couldn't help but think about how this was another glimpse into the real Dick.
"With that many volunteers, I would do an upscale carnival party. You can keep the same venue and the food can be geared to popular carnival foods. You can create party packages for advance sales and also have a ticket booth on hand for those that misjudged their kiddos' spending habits."
"Oh Richard, that is a marvelous idea! The kids would love it. And you're willing to set this all up for me?" Mrs. MacKenzie asked.
"Sure Mrs. M. With Mac's help, we can definitely pull this off."
"Thank you, dear. I'll go get the two of you dessert and we can get started." Mrs. MacKenzie got up from the table grabbing the empty dinner plates and heading towards the kitchen.
Mac looked over at Dick, watching him as he played with the pattern on the table cloth. "Really Dick, thank you. I knew I could count on you to do this. I'm glad I had the courage to ask for your help."
Dick looked up from the table cloth with a warm smile upon his face. "Me too."
Mac got up from the table and walked over to the desk in the corner of the dining room. She opened the drawer and pulled out legal size tablets and a couple of pencils. Joining Dick again at the table, she handed him a tablet and pencil.
"Okay, where do we start?" she asked.
Mac found that spending time with Dick planning the fundraiser was very rewarding. They planned the menu around carnival foods like corn dogs, nachos, sno-cones, and chose activities like a dunk tank, duck pond, darts, photo booth, and a ring toss. The committee volunteers collected donations and built booths and other things they needed for the event. Mac was amazed at Dick's negotiating and organizational skills throughout the process. He designed the event floor plan to accomplish what he called 'optimizing maximum game play'. Her dad created donation packages so that there was something available for everyone no matter how small their donation. The pre-sale tickets were off to a great start and they hoped the addition of an onsite ticket booth would increase donations. Mac knew her mom was impressed. She could see it in her eyes as she watched everything coming together. On the day before the event, they were all in the grand ballroom working on the decorations when Mac walked over to her mom.
"Oh honey, you were so right about Richard. He certainly has a knack for planning a great party. Thank you for this."
Her mom's gratitude made Mac happy. "Thanks for hearing me out and giving him a chance. I wasn't sure you would be open to letting him do this. He puts off this stupid goofball persona but I see more and more of this side of him everyday. I wish he would see how people would like this Dick as much as they like the other Dick."
Mac sat down to work on pleating the red and white striped canvas around the ring toss booth. Her mom pulled up a chair beside her and began to help.
"Cindy, honey. Are you okay?" Mac could tell her mom was worried but she had no reason to be. This wasn't about her. She was fine. She just didn't understand why Richard Casablancas, Jr. refused to acknowledge his potential?
"I'm okay, Momma. It's just that…" Mac didn't think she could explain it but her mom made it simple.
"It's just that you have grown to care about Richard and you're disappointed that he can't see all the good things he has to offer."
"How did you…" Mac sighed and her mom gave her a warm smile.
"It's rather obvious, Cindy. Have you tried telling him as much?"
"Not even. Mom, I can't talk to him about this. We're friends, yeah, but..." Mac was trying hard to control her emotions before they got the better of her and she was sure her mother could see right through her.
"Cindy, I can express my gratitude to Richard publically and privately, and I will, but it isn't going to mean as much to him as it will coming from you." Her mother handed her the rest of the canvas and walked over to Dick, who Mac now saw was watching her. He smiled at her mom as she walked over to him, nodding his head at whatever she said to him. Mac wasn't sure if her mom was right about her opinion meaning anything to Dick, nor was she sure she was willing to find out. She watched as Dick gave her mom a hug and walked over to her.
"Hey Mac, your mom said you need some help putting the canvas up."
Mac felt the warmth rise in her cheeks as she blushed. "That would be great. Thanks." She handed Dick the staple gun and climbed the ladder. Once she was up high enough to reach the top of the booth, he handed her the staple gun and began feeding her the end of the canvas. They were enjoying each other's company and before long the work was finished. Mac stood, looking around the ballroom and admiring the results of all their hard work. They couldn't have been more ready for the fundraiser. She and Dick loaded the last of the leftover materials into a crate that Dick stored in the utility closet.
"So Mackie, shall we test these games out? We can't have them flop on the day of the event, can we?"
Mac laughed. "Aren't they fool proof? I mean really, what could go wrong with a dart game or the ring toss?"
Dick answered in a teasing tone. "What if the darts aren't sharp enough to pop the balloons or maybe the rings won't fit on the bottles? What if the dunk tank lever doesn't work?"
Mac smiled at his playfulness. When he reached for her hand, she let him take it as he pleaded with her. "Come on, Mac, let's have a little fun. We did the work, now we play."
She let him drag her to the duck pond. Dick flipped the switch and the water began to churn in the pond. As she watched him play with the ducks, she couldn't help but laugh.
When she arrived at the carnival, Mac was nervous about the evening's possibilities. She and Dick had made sure all the games were in working order the night before and when his driver dropped her off, he said he looked forward to spending time with her when he could actually win her a stuffed animal. His enthusiasm had been contagious. As she looked around the ballroom, he was nowhere in sight. Maybe he decided he would rather hang out with Madison or Shelley. Remembering his philosophy on the best route to conquer the carnival, she made her way to the duck pond.
"Ready to pick a duck, Mackie?" She smiled as she felt the warmth of his breath on her neck. He was standing right behind her; she could feel him leaning just over her shoulder but not touching. She took a step forward and he followed as she reached down and started chanting, "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo." She picked up the duck and turned it over. Dick reached around her, holding her hand with the duck in his, bouncing up and down on his toes.
"You won! You won!" he hollered. Mac couldn't help but join his excitement.
Mac handed the duck to Mrs. Enbom and she gave Mac a duck made of chocolate. She turned to face Dick and handed him her prize.
"Help me eat a half pound of chocolate?" she asked him. Dick laughed as he nodded.
"Come on, let's pop some balloons." He kept the chocolate duck and took her hand in his as they moved to the next booth.
The fundraiser was a huge success, bringing in far more than the goal amount. Her mom kept her promise and, both publicly and privately, gave most of the credit to Dick. Mac watched for awhile as people came up to congratulate him on such an amazing job. She finally left, knowing that she wasn't going to get a chance to talk to him herself anytime soon. She wanted to tell him she knew he could do it and that she had faith in him all along, but it seemed moot to do so now.
Mac had been confused about her feelings throughout the whole project and it seemed like it was getting even more complicated. As she sat on a bench in the Neptune Grand garden, she reflected on all the time she had gotten to spend with him. They wouldn't have a reason to hang out so much anymore and she was already beginning to miss it...miss him. She took a deep breath, starting to feel sad, when she felt him sit down beside her.
She couldn't even look at him when she spoke. "It looks like congratulations are in order. Good job on the event, Dick."
"Yeah, thanks, I guess." He bent down, leaning his elbows on his knees, hands clenched as he looked to the ground. "I mean, yeah, thanks, you too. You did a ton of work on this too," he said with a sigh.
She'd expected him to be excited about receiving all the praises from the partygoers. He sounded disappointed instead. She put her hand over his and he looked up at her. "Dick, you should be proud of yourself. You far exceeded my mom's, even my, expectations. You've got mad skills when it comes to understanding what people want and how to get it for them. Your desire to always throw the greatest party has made you a master at it. You deserved all the praise and gratitude that you get."
Dick smiled at her before turning away to watch some passersby. When he turned back, he looked to their hands and turned his left hand up to hold hers. "Thank you for that. It means a lot coming from you, but that wasn't what I was thinking about." Dick rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand and she watched the motion, unable to look at him. "I was thinking that I needed to find another reason to keep hanging out with you now that this party is over."
Mac tried to pull away but couldn't from his grip on her hand. "What?" He was grounding her to her spot. Dick turned his body sideways on the bench, resting his right arm across the back of it, still holding onto to her with the other.
"I...I've had a great time planning and organizing this thing with you. Now that it's over, I didn't want to not see you everyday." He continued to rub his thumb over the back of her hand, concentrating on it before he looked up at her and smiled. "So, Mackie, do you think maybe you'd wanna hang out tomorrow? Maybe hang on the beach or play some Final Fantasy...or something... anything?"
Mac placed her other hand over their joined hands between them.
"I'd like that."