In an effort to recruit a guest speaker for Rinoa's upcoming event at her bookstore, she and Selphie visit the Dollet Police Department's community outreach event, where they get far more entertainment than they bargained for.
"Dunk" takes place between Chapters 6 and 7 of "Special Order."
Rinoa sat at a table inside Qake, tapping a pen against her thumb and looking down at her notebook filled with scribbled-out ideas. She wanted to continue hosting events at her bookshop, but last month's sugar-fueled disaster left her wary of young children and at a loss for themes befitting older ones.
"How about a crafting workshop?" Selphie offered, tucking into her third cupcake of the morning. "'Make your own books,' or something. Kids love getting messy with paints and glue!"
"I don't love the idea of cleanup," Rinoa replied. "Besides, I was thinking of something for older kids. Preteens through teenagers. There's not a lot of stuff for them to do besides going to the beach and shopping."
"Why not have a camping theme for them, too? Then maybe you'll let me tell my story about the blood-filled moon."
"You're still really fixated on that, aren't you?"
"Hey, I know where my creative strengths lie! But seriously, Rinnie, teens like spooky stuff, or at least mildly creepy. Oh, how about a murder mystery?"
"You don't intend on playing the victim, do you?"
"No, but I know where you can get some really convincing fakes!"
"Hmm." Rinoa turned to a fresh page in her notebook and began jotting down notes for creating a good mysterious atmosphere: appropriate décor, music and sound effects, potential tie-ins with the books in her shop. "I think you might be onto something, Selphie. I've noticed that the latest Glass Gazebo book has been selling really well this summer. A lot of the kids are talking about it."
Selphie licked her fingers. "Is that the book about the girl that grew up in some fancy park and solved a bunch of robberies there?"
"That was just the first book. The author is up to number five, and her character, Catriona, has been recruited by an international crimefighting agency now."
"Yeah? What's the case, this time?"
Rinoa leaned forward, ideas for a themed event beginning to trickle in. "A murder at a diplomatic gala."
"Ooh, hoity-toity dinner party shenanigans! Count me in, Rinnie! I'll help in whatever way you need!"
"Yes! We could decorate the workshop to look like an embassy's ballroom, maybe serve a mini-dinner or some appetizers before the 'body' is discovered…then the kids could solve the crime..." Her pen raced across the page, her hand unable to keep up with the pace at which her brain was generating ideas. She was so absorbed in her work, that when Quistis reached in front of her to clear her and Selphie's plates, she jumped and gave a startled cry.
"I'm cutting off your coffee supply," Quistis said dryly as Selphie giggled behind her.
"Oh no, you just surprised me. I was really into my planning."
"Yeah," Selphie answered, her eyes gleaming, "a murder mystery!"
Quistis raised her eyebrows. "Dare I ask how you plan to incorporate that in a—hopefully—minimally offensive manner?"
"I haven't worked out the details, just yet," Rinoa said, looking over her notes, "but I was thinking of presenting clues to the kids and letting them solve the mystery themselves. You know, whodunit, and where and how? The idea's based on a popular book. It's not going to be graphic."
"Aww." Selphie pouted. Rinoa and Quistis ignored her.
"That sounds like fun," Quistis said. "I assume you're skewing it toward a slightly older audience than last time?"
Rinoa laughed. "Absolutely. Those little ones are way too hard to keep a handle on!"
"The older ones might not be much different. Good luck!"
"Oh, no, you're not getting off the hook that easily! I'll be putting in an order for this, so just you wait!"
"I'm looking forward to it."
Rinoa gave Quistis her most saccharine grin, then resumed her notes. "Do you think the mystery will be enough? What if they solve it too quickly? Should I schedule other activities?"
"An autopsy," Selphie muttered, her head on the table, evidently still deflated from learning that realistic corpses and fake blood would not be necessary.
"Gross. I was thinking more along the lines of educational content. A guest speaker, maybe, someone who fights crime day to day?"
"Someone like Squall, you mean? You're so transparent."
Rinoa's cheeks grew warm. "I wasn't even thinking about him!"
"Seriously, if I put in a request for a guest speaker, the police department will probably send me Xu, instead."
Selphie perked up, looking over Rinoa's shoulder and out the window. "Speaking of…" She pointed.
Rinoa turned around to see Xu walk into the bakery with a stack of papers under one arm, all business, as usual. Xu spoke to Quistis quietly, handed her several papers, then turned around and left, without a glance at anyone else in the room. Selphie, unable to contain her curiosity, jogged to the counter to investigate the papers, and Rinoa followed.
"The Dollet Police Department's Community Outreach Day," Selphie read. "'Food! Games! Fun for everyone! Proceeds go to local charities.' This Saturday, huh? I might have to swing by."
Rinoa took the flyer and looked it over. "Me, too. It might be a good chance to network, and see if I can get someone to agree to being a guest speaker at my event."
"Ah, so that's your angle now?" Quistis glanced up from organizing the flyers in a stand next to the cash register.
"For getting close to Squall."
"Why does everyone keep assuming I'm doing this with Squall in mind?"
"You have been pretty focused on him, of late."
"Maybe, but that doesn't apply here. This is simply an opportunity to provide some educational context to my next in-store event."
"It is!" Rinoa willed the flush in her face to go away. It was bad enough that her attraction to Squall had become something of a joke for Selphie and Quistis, but what really stung was their assumption that she thought of nothing else. The guest speaker from the police department was for the benefit of her event, and her store. If the department just happened to send Squall…well, who was she to complain?
"I don't care who they send," she went on, "as long as they're knowledgeable. They could send Xu, or Nida, or even someone we don't know."
"I'm glad you're being professional about it."
Something about Quistis' nonchalance flustered her even more. That woman was unflappable; Rinoa wished she could be the same. She turned back to Selphie with a sigh. "So, what do you say we go together? Meet here around ten?"
Selphie, who'd been watching the exchange with an impish grin, nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! Let's make a day of it, Rinnie! We'll snag Squall for your speaking gig if it's the last thing we do!"
Rinoa groaned and buried her face in her hands and tried to ignore Quistis' laughter.
That Saturday was hot and muggy, and the moisture rising from the grass only made it feel worse. The Dollet Police Department's outreach team had transformed one corner of the park into a small carnival, with booths for food and drinks, information about local businesses and services, and games with colorful prizes. A miniature train made the rounds along the park's walking paths, filled with bouncing, sugar-addled children, and a local radio station was broadcasting live from a booth at the far end.
"I get the feeling we won't find much to do here," Rinoa said.
"What? You've gotta be kidding, Rinnie. There's tons to do!" Selphie grabbed her by the wrist and jogged over to the stand selling cold drinks. "Look, there's games and vendors, and ooh, is that face painting? I'm gonna get my face painted! Maybe butterfly wings, or a cat face. What do you want, Rinnie?"
"A lemonade, please," Rinoa said, handing money to the vendor in exchange for a cup that almost immediately began to sweat with condensation.
"No, no! I mean, what design do you want on your face?"
"I think I'll pass on that."
"Tch, you're no fun today. Cheer up; I'm sure we'll find someone to talk to about your event before the day is up." Selphie bought her own lemonade, then skipped over to the face-painting booth. She eventually decided on a Torama design, and when she turned around to show off the painter's finished work, she looked so ridiculous, Rinoa couldn't help but laugh.
"What's so funny?" Selphie asked. "I look fierce. Fierce, right?" She looked to the painter, who pursed her lips against her own smile, nodded and gave her a thumbs-up, then back to Rinoa and roared.
"Yeah, scary fun! Come on, Rinnie, get yourself a design!"
"Does it have to be the whole face?"
"Not at all," the painter said, and motioned to the chair. "We have a catalog of designs to choose from, if you're not sure what you'd like."
"Oh, okay, why not?" As Selphie cheered, Rinoa took a seat. She flipped through the catalog of designs and settled on a delicate angel's wing around her left eye. The painter accented the design with some stick-on jewels, then handed her a mirror. "It is lovely. Thank you!" She paid for the design and stuffed a few more bills into the artist's tip jar.
"All right, Rinnie! Finally getting into the spirit of things!" Selphie applauded, then turned to scan the rest of the event. "Let's see, what should we do now? Oh, let's get some cotton candy!"
As the day wore on, it grew hotter, and even Selphie's enthusiasm began to wane. Sweat streaked through her face paint, ruining the design, and she stopped more frequently to rest in the shade of booths or nearby trees. They'd covered most of the booths by that point, but wandering past the radio station's broadcast booth, they discovered a large inflatable slide, teeming with children, and a dunking booth right beside it, with a short line of people waiting their turn, and a familiar face awaiting his fate.
"Whoa," Rinoa said, "is that Nida in there?"
Selphie squinted at the booth, and a wide smile spread across her face. "It is! Hah, even he's having a bit of fun today. All right, let's get dunkin'!"
She and Rinoa paid for a set of three balls each and took their place in line. While they waited, they saw Nida get dunked by adults and children alike, and even by someone's grandfather. Each time, he surfaced with a smile and congratulations, and his colleague beside the tank passed out cheap plastic trinkets in reward. However, when the child in front of Selphie managed to dunk him with his final ball, Nida did not get back up on the seat. Instead, he climbed out of the tank and began to dry off.
"Hey," Selphie cried, "no fair! It can't be over yet!"
"It isn't," Nida's colleague assured her.
"Maybe not, but I wanna dunk Nida!"
"Oh, I'm not that important," Nida said. "Besides, there's someone else far more dunkable coming up."
"Who's more dunkable than you?"
As if on cue, Squall emerged from behind the slide, frowning and grumbling. Selphie shrieked and laughed, and Rinoa joined her.
"Why do I have to do this?" Squall asked. "This isn't part of my job description."
"Yes, it is," Nida said. "'Must be a team player.' This is being a team player, Leonhart."
"No, this is stupid."
"Oh, come on, lighten up! The department's counting on you. The kids are counting on you! You don't want to disappoint the kids, do you?"
"I don't see any kids. Just that heiress lady."
"Name's Selphie!" Selphie called back, tossing and catching a ball in her hand. "And don't you dare pretend you don't recognize Rinoa!"
"Why are they even here?"
"To have fun! Now, get in that booth!"
Rinoa watched the exchange with a mixture of giddiness and secondhand embarrassment. She felt bad for Squall, being pushed so far out of his comfort zone, but she hoped that something like this could help him to open up, and not take life, or himself, so seriously. With a look that could have fried both her and Selphie on the spot, he climbed into the tank and sat down.
"Whatever," he muttered. "Do your worst."
"You asked for it!" Selphie's worst, it turned out, was unbelievably bad. She might've been an expert shot with a gun, but she was horrible at throwing. Her first ball didn't even reach the target, landing hard on the grass halfway between her and the booth. The second ball sailed wide, and she overcompensated with the third, hitting the front of the booth, instead.
Squall smirked. "I guess I was worried for nothing," he said.
"What?" Selphie gasped. "Did you just taunt me? Rinnie, he's taunting me!"
"I know." Rinoa smiled, her heartbeat quickening. To see Squall react with something other than stoicism or outright dismissal was thrilling, and a veritable pack of butterflies began fluttering around in her stomach. This was progress, and if she could find a way to continue it, she might even get him to talk to her like a normal guy would.
"Yeah, well knock it out of him for me, will you?"
"But…it's kind of endearing."
"Endearing? Rinnie, my honor is on the line. Defend it, please!"
"All right, I'll try. But I can't make any promises." She stepped up to the line and took the first ball into her right hand. Squall was still smirking, somehow even more attractive now than when he was all business, and she turned her focus to the target to avoid distraction. She'd played a game of softball here and there, largely exiled to left field, but still knew how to throw. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves, wound up, and threw.
It was dead on.
The target clanked, the seat's hinges squeaked, and Squall plunged into the water. Behind her, Selphie bounced and squealed and slapped her back, but Rinoa waited, breath held, to see Squall surface. She was not disappointed.
He came up, shaking his head and spitting out water, his hair plastered to his face. He pushed his hair back, then pulled himself out, and the thin white T-shirt he wore clung to his body, revealing the muscles underneath. Rinoa bit her lip and gripped the remaining balls tighter, nearly bursting out in giddy laughter when his scowl turned into another smirk.
"Lucky throw," he called out.
"Again," cried Selphie. "Dunk him again!"
Rinoa nodded and readied the next ball, aware of several women slowing down to appraise the newest dunkee. She closed her eyes, drew a breath, then opened them and focused on the target. Wound up, then threw.
Clank. Squeak. Splash.
Rinoa glanced over her shoulder to see a small crowd, mostly female, gathered around the booth. Some gave her thumbs-up, others handed over money for their own chance to dunk Squall.
"Like I said, beginner's luck," Squall said, drawing Rinoa's attention back to him.
"I don't know," Nida said. "That's two in a row. Come on, Ms. Heartilly, go for three-for-three!"
"Whose side are you on?"
"Charity's. The money we make here goes to several good causes."
Without waiting for more encouragement from Selphie or Nida, Rinoa lined up her third throw and solidly connected with the target.
"Whoo-hoo, Rinnie! Three for three!" Selphie gave her a high-five, then dragged her back to the end of the line. "You've got to do it again."
"I don't know," Rinoa said, a giggle bubbling up into her throat, "it seems like they've got plenty of takers now."
"Oh, don't pretend you didn't enjoy that."
"And the view?"
Rinoa felt her face grow warm even in the afternoon heat. "Quite."
"See? So, come on, another round. Another round of Dunk the Hunk!" Selphie paid for another set of balls and placed them in Rinoa's hand, chanting "Dunk the hunk," and encouraging others nearby to take it up.
"Yeah, that's it," Nida shouted. "Everybody, come dunk the hunk! All proceeds go to charity!"
Squall's hour in the tank must have seemed interminable to him, but it flew past all too quickly for Rinoa. She hit the target with most of her throws, but with each turn, the line grew longer. By the time Squall climbed out of the booth, he'd become a minor celebrity, and his departure was met with a collective whine.
"It's all right, he'll be back," Nida assured the crowd. "Just let him dry off a bit. The poor guy'll grow gills at the rate you've all been throwing!"
Polite laughter rippled through the crowd as they dispersed. They converged again during Squall's next turn near the end of the event, and Rinoa continued her impressive performance. She might never have been good at softball, but softball didn't offer the kind of motivation she found here. By the time Squall climbed out of the booth again, the event was drawing to a close, and Rinoa realized that she'd gotten so caught up in dunking him that she'd forgotten to network for her own event. She approached Nida as he finished counting out the cash box.
He looked up at her and smiled. "Congratulations, Ms. Heartilly. You were the star of the afternoon! And with the loot to prove it."
Rinoa glanced down at her fingers adorned with plastic rings, some stacked two or three on a finger, then hid her hands behind her back. "Well, knowing my money was going to a good cause was the real reward." Behind her, Selphie cackled.
"Either way, you and Squall were a hit combo!"
"I guess it really was luck, like he said. By the way, Nida, I was wondering if I could ask you something."
"I'm planning an event for my bookstore, an interactive murder mystery, and I'd like to know if it's possible for the department to send a guest speaker to the event, to talk about how crimes are really solved."
"Oh, interesting idea! I can't give you an answer, outright, though; that request would have to go through our community liaison." He grabbed a scrap of paper and a pen. "Tell you what, just write down your contact info, and I'll be sure to put you in touch."
"Thanks!" Rinoa scribbled down her information, then handed it back to Nida with a smile that dimmed slightly when she saw Squall walk up behind him. His clothes and hair were still damp, and he had a towel draped around his neck. "Hi, Squall. Um…thanks for being such a sport today. I might've gotten a bit carried away."
Squall shrugged. "It's all right. You've got a good arm."
"I don't suppose your store does anything like this."
One corner of Squall's mouth turned up. "Something like that."
"Aww, the little lion's pride is hurt." Seeing the blush spread on Squall's face emboldened Rinoa, and she leaned forward with a grin.
"Stop that. I'm not a lion."
"Your name says you are."
"And I'm not hurt."
"She's got you there, Squall," Nida said. "You even told me—"
"No," Squall interrupted, "just interested in fairness, that's all."
"An eye for an eye, a dunk for a dunk, right?" Rinoa said, placing her hands on her hips and shaking her head. "Why doesn't that attitude surprise me?"
"I don't think we have time for Squall to avenge every dunk," Nida mumbled, pretending to be very interested in locking the cash box.
"But there's time for one, right?" Selphie clapped her hands on Rinoa's shoulders. "Come on, Rinnie, be a sport! Also, think of how nice and cool that water is. Refreshing."
Rinoa glanced at the expectant faces around her, then drew up her shoulders and jutted out her chin. "If that's what you all want, then fine. Nida, open up the cash box; Squall's not gonna get his chance for free!" She walked to the tank, stepped out of her sandals, and climbed in. The seat felt rickety even as she sat down, and she wondered just how light a touch it took to trigger it. Adjusting her weight and trying to relax, she watched Squall step up to the line, ball in hand, and roll his shoulders. She held her breath.
His first throw went wide. She couldn't help but laugh. He glared at her and tried again. The ball flew over the target. Selphie ran to collect it, flinging jeers and insults over her shoulder.
"Really?" Rinoa said. "Is this the revenge you wanted? Because it feels more like idle entertainment, to me. A comedy, a farce, an unintended trage—aah!" His third throw connected, the seat fell away beneath her, and Rinoa plunged into the water. Selphie was right; it was refreshing after a day spent walking in the sun, and she surfaced sputtering and laughing, pushing her hair out of her face and giving Squall a thumbs-up. He smiled and nodded, evidently satisfied that he had avenged the indignities foisted upon him that day.
Rinoa was just exiting the booth when she heard shouting. Xu ran up to Squall, finger wagging, and demanded to know what was going on.
"I did not authorize civilians to be targets in the dunk tank," she said.
"It's all right," Nida said, "she offered to."
"I don't care if she begged to! We just don't do it! It's an insurance issue. If she'd gotten hurt—or if she fakes an injury later—"
"I'm fine," Rinoa insisted. "I just wanted to let Squall even the score from earlier."
"Even the score? Leonhart, vengeance is not a tenet of the Dollet Police Department. In fact, it is the antithesis of our code. You and Nida, both, come see me at the station when you're through here. We need to have a talk." She stalked off.
"Oof, what's herproblem?" Selphie said, pouting.
"She does have a point," Squall admitted. "I guess I got carried away, myself."
"I know, but you were having fun," Rinoa said, wringing out her hair. "And it's just as much my fault as yours, maybe even more. I shouldn't have done it. Sorry I got you in trouble."
"Eh, it's okay. Everybody keeps telling me I gotta live a little, break the rules now and then." He smiled at her, then remembered the towel around his neck, and handed it to her.
"Oh. Thank you. What a gentleman."
The flush returned to his cheeks. "No. You just look a little pathetic right now." That almost-smile again. "Like an alley cat caught in the rain."
"Hey, that's not a very nice thing to say!" Rinoa whipped off the towel and flung it back at him. "You meanie!"
"Yeah," Selphie added, flinging an arm around Rinoa's shoulders. "Meanie!"
Squall only chuckled and picked the piece of paper with Rinoa's information off the table. "Whatever. I'll make it up to you. You'll get your guest speaker." He walked away, leaving Nida gushing with apologies.
Rinoa tried to twist her damp hair up off her neck as she and Selphie walked back into town. "Well, it's progress, isn't it?" she asked. "At least he talked to me."
"He didn't have to be insulting, though." Selphie muttered, her face paint now deteriorated into an abstract mess.
"I don't know. As far as insults go, that was more of a light jab. Almost playful. I think…I think, maybe, that's what he was going for?"
"If that's the case, he's still got oodles to learn."
"He'll get there. And he did say he'd get me that speaker."
"Yeah, that was pretty nice of him."
"Do you think it'll be him?"
"I really can't say." Selphie squinted into the setting sun, and Rinoa looked down at her shoes. "All I know is, Rinnie, you sure have got some interesting taste in men."
Xu wrapped up her presentation, then helped herself to a cupcake as the participants in Rinoa's murder mystery event broke into groups to solve their own fictional mystery. After passing out supplies and providing instructions, Rinoa joined her.
"Thank you very much for coming," she said. "That was a very informative talk. And you managed to keep the kids' attention the whole time."
"It's an acquired skill," Xu admitted. "And thank you for having me. This is a very interesting concept, especially during the summer break. Will you be having more?"
"I'd like to, but I don't think they'll all be procedural-themed."
"Regardless of theme, this is a good way to reach out and interact with the city's youth. Good job, Ms. Heartilly." Xu smiled. "I'll admit, I didn't really give you enough credit for planning something like this, and wasn't sure I could spare the time for it, but Officer Leonhart was quite insistent that the department consider it."
"Yes. I haven't seen him so passionate about something that doesn't involve his job since he joined the force. In fact, it seems that he's become a bit more open to change and conversation in the past few weeks. I have to suspect some of that is due to your influence, so thank you, again, for your help." She finished off her cupcake and tossed the wrapper in the trash. "And send my regards to Quistis; these cupcakes are delicious. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to the station."
"Oh, sure. Thanks again for coming!" Rinoa accompanied her to the doorway of the workshop and watched her walk out of the bookstore. Officer Leonhart was quite insistent…passionate about something that does not involve his job…open to change…That afternoon at the dunk tank really had been progress for him. Rinoa smiled, giddiness welling up inside her. If he was opening up to his colleagues, then maybe, just maybe, someday he'd open up with her.
There was a chance, and she'd be ready when it came.
A question from one of the kids pulled her out of her thoughts and back into her own event, but the giddiness remained, transforming into a renewed energy for her to devote to her event and to her bookstore, to the friends she had now, and to those who were yet to become friends.