A Date to Remember (PG)
Being shy, insecure, lonely and socially inept, it was easy for Levi Matthews to feel more comfortable watching Riza Rooney on television than he was hanging around girls in real life.
He remembered the first time he saw Riza playing Kate McGillicuddy in the television series The McGillicuddy's. He was twelve and his sisters were watching the new family drama when he was passing through the family room. Levi usually didn't watch those kinds of shows – he was more into sci-fi and action stuff - but when he saw Riza Rooney's face on the television screen he stopped and stared at her. It was unrealistic love at first sight.
Levi knew that developing a crush on a television actress made him even more pathetic than he already was. What kind of an idiot falls for an unreachable Hollywood actress who lived in a completely different world 3,000 miles away? He knew Riza was playing the character of Kate McGillicuddy and even though he adored Kate he was pretty sure he was infatuated with Riza too.
The McGillicuddy's had a large cast – there were six siblings, two parents, the grandparents, girlfriends, boyfriends, and in-laws and Kate – as the fourth child in the family – didn't get all that much script time but Levi faithfully watched the show every week, waiting to see Kate/Riza on screen and pining whenever she was. He loved it when Kate/Riza was featured in the main storyline – the time Kate ran away from home, the time Kate fell off her bike and suffered a serious concussion, the time Kate had a crush on her brother's best friend, the time Kate went to her first dance – Kate was Levi's favorite character and he adored her.
Levi felt obligated to do a little research on the actress Riza Rooney, especially when The McGillicuddy's became a hit. He learned that she began acting at a young age. She appeared in her first television commercial when she was seven and that led to a few guest appearances in various shows. Kate McGilicuddy was her breakout role and as the series continued and the character matured, Riza Rooney became better known and landed other roles, both in television and feature films.
It wasn't long before Riza was being highlighted in the various teen gossip magazines and Levi wasn't ashamed to be seen reading his sisters' copies so he could keep up with Riza and what she was doing (and who she was dating). He watched whatever film or show she was in, even the duds. She was wasted in a goofy television movie called Pals and she was barely seen in a horrible science fiction feature, killed in the first ten minutes. A teenaged summer camp comedy was pretty stupid and he hated the stuck up creep character she played in a made for television movie about rich girls.
Thankfully, Kate McGillicuddy remained sweet, innocent, and even virginal for the five and half year run of the series and Levi was bummed when the series was unceremoniously cancelled half way through its sixth season, the victim of sagging ratings, several key cast changes, and a tired plot line. There wasn't even a final episode send off due to the early cancellation and the last time Levi saw Kate McGillicuddy, she was sitting at the kitchen table listening to her older sister go on about college. It was hardly a memorable finale.
Meanwhile, Levi's real life hadn't changed all that much since falling in love with Kate McGillicuddy/Riza Rooney. He meandered his way through high school, mostly in the shadows and sidelines. He had a small core of friends with whom he got along with and he was an average student at best. He avoided publicity and the spotlight and his limited dabbles into the social/dating scene ended in awkward embarrassment or abject failure. He failed to win over any of the girl's hearts or fancy and after a while he gave up trying. His older sister even tried fixing him up a few times but not very successfully.
By the time senior year rolled around, Levi was feeling slightly depressed. His high school career was coming to an end and he really hadn't accomplished anything of note. He was just one of the kids who showed up, sat through class, hung around with his friends, and went home after final bell. He wasn't exactly a loser but he hardly stood out either. The cancellation of The McGillicuddy's left him with little to look forward to.
He read that Riza Rooney was guest starring in television shows and he made a point to watch her in them but he missed Kate McGillicuddy. Then everything changed when Levi came across a small piece in the local Greenville News and Dispatch that caught his eye. He hadn't realized that the Rooney family actually had ties to Blue County! It seems that Riza's grandfather was a big cheese in New York City and he sent his two sons (one being Riza's father) to the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys prep school just up the road from Levi's home town of Hillsboro. Additionally, the Rooney family bought a summer house on the lake when the two sons were at the school and the property was still in the family.
In further researching the matter, Levi came across an interview in which Riza actually mentioned Sun Rise Lake, Donovan's Department Store in Greenville, and a "neat little diner" that had to be Hillsboro's Johnny C's!
Levi drove to the lake and actually found the Rooney place – a well kept modern home right on the water's edge, secluded from the main road with a high fence and gated driveway but the name "Rooney" was hard to miss on the mailbox. Levi stood on the side of the road for a long time staring at the house, wondering if Riza had actually been there. Suddenly, the far off actress didn't seem all that far off after all.
Meanwhile, prom was approaching and Levi had no intention of attending. He didn't have the guts to ask any of the girls he was interested in and he knew none of them were about to ask him. He would have let it all go if some of his friends hadn't bragged about their prom dates and razzed him for not being able to find a date. Levi wished he could shut the guys up and be the hit of the prom but how in the hell could he accomplish that?
And that's when the idea hit him.
### ### ###
27 Hillside Avenue
Hillsboro Ma 01399
Ms. Riza Rooney
C/O Star Management
P. O. Box 32343
Los Angeles CA 95311
Dear Ms. Rooney,
I have been following your career since the debut of The McGillicuddy's. I absolutely loved the way you played Kate and she's the kind of girl I would love to take to the prom. I think you're the kind of girl I'd like to take to the prom too.
I read that you regret missing out on the high school experience because of your career so I was wondering if you'd be interested in attending Hillsboro High School's Prom which is being held at the Sun Rise Lake Inn, not far from your family's summer place.
I would be honored and humbled to be your date.
My name is Levi Matthews, the kind of guy Maddy McGillicuddy wouldn't look twice at but that her kid sister Kate would probably feel sorry for and maybe try to help out. I was wondering if Riza would be willing to help me out too.
I'm 5'10 but I'm worthless on the basketball court. I'm not a very good dancer either. I know we don't have much in common other than our family roots in Blue County. But you were onThe McGillicuddy's and I watch(ed) The McGillicuddy's (I was really depressed when it got cancelled).
I don't presently have a girlfriend and I don't have a date for the prom. I was thinking that maybe if your family was planning a trip to Sun Rise Lake on the weekend of May 23rd, you could pencil me in on your calendar for a date at the prom. It would be the highlight of my year…of my life! I think you are a terrific person, a talented actress, and an individual with a kind heart. I've been following your career and reading about the social justice work and community service you do to help others. Believe me, you would
I think you are a terrific person, a talented actress, and an individual with a kind heart. I've been following your career and reading about the social justice work and community service you do to help others. Believe me, you wouldreally be helping me out and I'd be honored to be your prom date.
I realize you get these proposals all the time and that there is nothing in this letter that wows you or makes me standout other than to demonstrate that I am a real hard luck case who has to write to a Hollywood actress and national celebrity to try to get a date. Some would say I'm pretty foolish. I guess I would say that I'm pretty hopeful.
Enclosed, please find a photograph of me so you'll know I'm being sincere. I realize I won't be voted Handsome Prom King but I'm really a nice guy (that's what my sisters say anyway!)
All the best,
He didn't tell anybody that he sent the letter knowing he would be laughed at and ridiculed if word got out and he started feeling angst waiting for a reply to find out if he had landed an unlikely date to the prom. He probably wouldn't have cared so much if it wasn't his last year of high school. He wanted to go out doing something he'd be remembered for.
Several weeks passed and Levi almost forgot about writing the letter and he had given up hope of a response when he came home from school one afternoon and his mother told him there was a fancy looking letter for him. He tried not to fall out of his sneakers when his mother handed him a light pink piece of stationary with a California postmark and a Post Office Box return address.
He ran upstairs and closed the door to his bedroom before slowly, carefully, frightfully and delicately opening the envelope. Across the top of the stationary in blue ink was 'From the Desk of Rebecca Sanderson, Personal Assistant to Ms. Riza Rooney'. Levi felt his throat go dry as he sat on his bed and read the letter.
Dear Mr. Matthews,
Ms. Rooney has asked me on her behalf to contact you regarding your invitation to Hillsboro High School's Prom.
I have made a few inquiries regarding the validness of your request and I have confirmed the specifics of the prom and your enrollment at the school.
It so happens that Ms. Rooney will be in New York City that week as part of a publicity tour for her new movie Searching for Amy. She has decided to adjust her schedule and be at Sun Rise Lake the weekend of your prom. She requests that you arrive at her family home at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday to escort her to the Hillsboro High School Prom at the Sun Rise Lake Inn.
Ms. Rooney's only request is that you keep the identity of your prom date private prior to the prom to avoid undue publicity that may affect your classmates' evening.
I have enclosed my private telephone contact number should you have any further questions or need further details. Ms. Rooney looks forward to meeting you and attending the Hillsboro High School Prom as your date.
Personal Assistant to Ms. Rooney
Levi had to read the letter three times to comprehend its contents. When it finally hit him that Riza Rooney had actually accepted his invitation he didn't know whether to jump for joy or go into the bathroom and throw up. What had he done!?
On the one hand, he knew he would be the luckiest guy ever going to the prom with Riza Rooney on his arm. But this was by far the most surreal moment of his life and he wasn't sure if he had enough courage to go through with it. Riza Rooney!?
What was he thinking? He had taken a random shot in the dark shooting for the stars by writing to a star but now that he actually had a date with her what was he supposed to do? Why didn't he just ask someone at school like any normal person?
Suddenly, Levi was in a panic. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to act? What was he supposed to wear? What was he going to say (to her)? He finally went to his sister and told her he actually got a date for the prom.
"You did?" She asked with surprise before covering her mouth with embarrassment as she sat on her bed reading a book. "I mean, you did! Good for you."
"Look, I'm as surprised as you are, Teri," Levi replied. "But can you help me out here? I have no idea what I'm doing."
"Who's the lucky girl?" Teri wanted to know.
"I can't tell you," he replied with a mysterious tone in his voice.
"What are you talking about?" A frowning Teri asked as she hopped off the bed. "Why the secret?"
"We want to surprise everybody," Levi lamely explained. "Please don't ask any questions."
"Do you really have a date for the prom?" Teri asked suspiciously.
"Yes, I really have a date for the prom," an insulted Levi answered.
"Okay, okay," Teri laughed.
Teri was less than eighteen months older than her brother and they had a close relationship over the years. She was presently taking classes at Blue County Community College and working part time.
"You had a good time at your prom, right?"
"Sure," Teri smiled, remembering. "Jim brought me."
"I remember how beautiful you looked that night," Levi remarked.
"Thanks," she grinned. "I felt beautiful."
"Can you doll me up the way Jim looked?" Levi wondered.
"We can try!" Teri laughed, throwing back her long brown hair with amusement.
Teri helped her brother pick out the right tuxedo to rent. She had him get a styled hair cut a week before the big event. She helped him pick out the perfect corsage. She reviewed slow dance steps and how to properly hold the girl for such numbers. Levi was feeling more confident about the night thanks to Teri's coaching and mentoring.
Levi told his friends that he was going to the prom after all.
"With who, your sister?" Was the first response he heard.
It only got worse when Levi refused to reveal the identity of his prom date. Most of the guys figured he was lying and that he really didn't have a date.
"That's okay, Levi, you can still sit with us," Levi's good friend Jason joked as prom date approached.
Levi was to busy preparing and psyching himself up for the big night to get overly nervous. His new mission was to shut his friends up with humility and envy when they saw him walk through the door with Riza Rooney on his arm. He didn't mind their razzing and humor but it was going to feel good when he stole the night by showing up with the date for the ages.
Levi conversed with Riza's personal assistant a few times on the phone and he was pretty sure this wasn't some sort of cruel prank or joke and that he was actually going to meet the actress when he showed up at the family cottage on Prom Day.
The day of the prom finally mercifully arrived and Levi's family was excited for him. It was his first big social outing of his high school career and they were happy to see him all dolled up for the occasion. They had stopped asking who his mystery date was weeks ago and they now planned to show up at the Inn to see him walk inside with her with all the other arrivals.
After several photographs, hugs, kisses and good lucks from his smiling and pleased family, Levi piled into the back of the rented Limousine and asked the driver to head for the lake. Most of the guys went in on a limo together but Levi didn't want them waiting for him at the Rooney cottage so he got his own ride. He felt pretty lonely and stupid sitting in the back of a limo alone and he started to second guess his entire idea as the lake got closer.
The limo pulled to a stop in front of the Rooney residence and the gate to the driveway slowly opened, allowing the limo in. Levi felt nervous and sweaty as he saw the Rooney summer home appear in front of him. It had obviously been updated and modernized over the years, a large and spacious two floor home with a wrap around porch and second floor balcony overlooking the lake with a three car garage and a boat house. Two photographers were standing on the front lawn and Levi heard the zipping of camera shutters as he climbed out of the limo.
A woman who looked to be about thirty stepped off the front porch.
"Levi Matthews?" She smiled.
"Yes," he answered, his voice horse and scratchy.
"I'm Rebecca Sanderson," she said warmly, extending her hand for a shake. "Thank you so much for doing this for Riza."
Levi was awe struck. Doing this for Riza!? She was doing this for him! Wasn't she?
"I'm just happy to have a prom date," he muttered although he immediately realized it was a stupid thing to say. Riza Rooney wasn't just a prom date!
"So, we wanted to get a few photos of your arrival and that just happened," Rebecca remarked. "Riza is going to come out and we'll get some reaction shots of the two of you meeting for the first time, okay?"
"What for?" Levi frowned.
"Oh, just some publicity for Riza and for you and the school," she said. "We gave your local paper an exclusive."
She pointed to one of the photographers who tipped his hat toward him.
"Chuck McDonald, Dispatch," he said. "Congratulations, kid!"
Levi nodded with uncertainty. He didn't think about the publicity angle and now he realized his picture was going to be all over the front page of the Greenville News and Dispatch on Monday morning. Maybe even picked up nationally.
"Okay, I'm going to ask Riza to come out now," Rebecca announced. "Levi, just act natural and everything will be okay."
The personnel assistant disappeared into the house while Levi tried to comprehend how he was supposed to act natural in a situation like this.
A moment later, the door opened and out stepped Riza Rooney, once known as Katie McGillicuddy! Levi stared at the beautiful young woman who wore her long brown hair pulled up in a bun with a fancy tiara in it. She had a gentle smile on her face which immediately put Levi at ease. He heard the cameras whizzing away as Riza came down the porch stairs wearing a light blue long gown with a strapless back.
Levi stood frozen, gawking at her with both disbelief and a sense of overwhelmed awe. She was an absolute Goddess.
"Greet her, Kid," McDonald the Dispatch Photographer hollered.
Levi almost stumbled to the bottom of the porch steps and waited for her to descend the four steps.
"Do you recognize the dress?" Riza asked with a smile when she reached the sidewalk.
"It's Kate McGillicuddy's," Levi answered.
"I thought you'd like that!" She grinned. "I borrowed it from the studio wardrobe department."
"You look amazing, Miss Rooney," Levi managed to say.
"Please, Levi, call me Riza," she said, taking his arm in hers as the cameras continued to click away.
"I have your corsage in the limo," Levi said, trying not to panic.
"Let's get it," she said. She smelled like honey.
They walked to the opened door of the limo and Levi retrieved the florist box from the back seat. He took out the white flower and pinned it to her dress.
"I have a boutonniere for you too," she said, lifting her eyebrows.
Rebecca appeared from nowhere and handed Riza the flower which she pinned to Levi's lapel.
"Okay, boys, I think you've got enough photos," Rebecca said once Riza and Levi stood in a posed position for some additional shots. "Why don't you head for the Inn and capture their arrival?"
The two photographers agreed and went to cars parked nearby.
"I know this is very awkward," Riza said politely. "Meeting for the first time while getting your photograph taken."
"All I was aware of was you," Levi admitted.
She laughed, flattered by the compliment. "Anyway, it just comes with the territory," Riza shrugged. "But it's really nice to meet you, Levi. Thank you so much for inviting me to your prom."
"Why did you say yes?" He blurted, dying to ask that question from the moment Rebecca's letter arrived.
She laughed, delighted. "Just for that reaction!" She giggled.
"You don't know how great this is for me," Levi gushed.
"Yeah, I do," she said with a sigh. "But I want you to know this is pretty special for me too. I don't get to be a normal high school girl very often. This is going to be fun for both of us."
"You should get going," Rebecca urged.
"Okay," Riza agreed. "Thanks for everything, Rebecca. I'll see you later."
"Isn't anybody else here?" Levi wondered.
"No, the family doesn't use this place that much anymore," Riza explained. "My grandparents are in Palm Beach most of the time and my uncle doesn't get up here from New York as often as he'd like. And of course the rest of us are out on the West Coast. Your letter gave me a reason to stop by. It's been a while and it's nice to be back again."
"I never knew you even came here," Levi said.
"We always kept it on the down-low," she replied.
They climbed into the back of the limo for the short ride to the Inn.
"Are you nervous? About tonight? The Prom?" Riza asked.
"Deathly," Levi admitted.
"It might get weird and some kids might resent me for stealing the spotlight," Riza warned. "Please just treat me like a normal kid on a normal date, okay?"
"I'll try," he answered with determination. "You seem pretty normal to me."
She laughed. "Well, that's a start," she said.
"So, you're Riza Rooney for tonight?" He asked for clarification.
"Don't I look like her?" Riza laughed. "There's no point trying to fool anybody, Levi. Hopefully it won't be too much of a distraction."
The limo pulled into the inn lot along with several other limos dropping prom guests off. Levi stepped out of the limo and helped Riza from the back seat as the two photographers ran up to them and began snapping away.
"Sorry about the pictures," Riza said. "It's all about image, you know."
"I don't know how you deal with this all the time," Levi admitted.
"This is nothing. There's usually fifty Paparazzi following me everywhere."
It was a lovely spring evening with the warm sun setting in the west. They walked the gauntlet of well wishers and observers – mostly family members and friends – who lined both sides of the sidewalk leading to the Inn to see all the pretty gowns, dresses, and tuxedos.
It was the first time in his life that Levi actually felt important and special. He walked along the sidewalk with Riza's arm draped in his. He used his free arm to wave to people, especially his dumbstruck family who stared at the woman on his arms trying to figure out who the girl was. There was plenty of oh and awing along with the clicking of cameras and flashes too. Levi had never so much joy or pride before.
Once they entered the Inn, the posed for a photo in front of the set up display where all the couples had their photographs taken. Riza smiled gaily for Mr. Roberts, the school's media teacher who was moonlighting as the prom's official photographer.
Seeing his classmates in fancy gowns, dresses and tuxedos with their nails done, make up (over) done and hair styled made the evening even more exciting.
The interior of the Inn was impressively decorated for the evening and Levi's friends immediately converged upon him when Levi entered the room trying to figure out who the striking chick was on their friend's arm.
"Everybody, this is my friend Riza," Levi announced, sucking in his breath while waiting for their reaction.
The guys checked her out, said hello, exchanged obligated pleasantries and meaningless small talk with a few barbs thrown Levi's way before moving on to the next couple. The general consensus regarding Riza was 'What's a beautiful broad like you doing with a goof like Matthews?'
Levi was surprised that they didn't immediately realize who she was.
"It'll take a few minutes to sink in and for people to figure it out," Riza said as they walked to the hors d'oeuvre table for some stuffed mushrooms.
Curious onlookers and classmates approached Levi to see who his date was since she was obviously not a Hillsboro High student and it was Suzy Reis from the Theatre Club who finally recognized the actress on Levi's arm and put the name with the face.
"You can't be Riza Rooney can you?" Suzy asked with wide eyes.
"I can't?" Riza replied with a grin.
Suzy looked like she was going to faint and within minutes there was a buzz spreading across the room and soon people were greeting Riza and Levi, making small talk, and mostly ogling the Hollywood actress. Kids who barely looked at Levi in the halls of Hillsboro High were now chatting with him as if he was their long time best friend.
The excitement and drama eventually died down and Levi and Riza were able to mingle and mix with the group without too much distraction. She and Levi sat with Jason and his date Annie, Buck and his date Sally, and Roger and his steady Caroline. Levi told the whole story about Kate McGillicuddy and how he wrote to Riza Rooney and invited her to the prom which impressed the entire table.
After the formal sit down dinner (Riza was only interrupted a few times by well wishers and awestruck fans), it was time to take to the dance floor. Levi felt awkward and out of place but Riza took control and led him onto the floor effortlessly.
"We're just playing the parts, Levi," she said with a smile. "Prom couple at the prom dance is the scene," she said. "The shot calls for a prom dance so let's give them what they want."
The couple took breaks from the dancing to chat and Riza signed some autographs and had her photograph taken with many of Levi's classmates, although she insisted that Levi be in all the shots.
A reporter from the Greenville News and Dispatch stopped by for a quick interview for the story he was writing to augment the photographs and Riza was extremely grateful and humble in her quotes, giving Levi all the credit and thanking him for allowing her to have a normal prom experience. Not surprisingly, Levi was equally as generous in his remarks about Riza, calling her a kind and friendly person and a terrific date.
Most of the evening was superficial, of course. Levi knew it was mostly about the photo ops and the interview and mingling with the fans and that was okay. He wasn't really going to get to know Riza as a person but he enjoyed the special attention he received being her date.
He knew how lucky he was to be dancing and grooving with Riza and the evening was a memorable experience. Riza was energetic, enthusiastic, friendly, sociable, and fun. Levi felt happy and excited just being with her and her tenderness kindness warmed his heart.
"This is what I call making a difference in someone's life," Levi smiled as they danced near the end of the evening. "Before tonight I was nobody around here and you've made me a VIP."
"Just don't let it go to your head," Riza advised with a smile.
"Before you agreed to do this, I was feeling lonely and forgotten but you being here tonight changed everything for me."
"I'm having fun too, Levi," she replied. "This is not something I get to do."
"I used to dream about something like this," Levi told her. "Being on a dance floor with a beautiful girl, eating a dinner at the prom with the perfect date."
"Oh, I'm far from perfect," she told him.
"I've really enjoyed myself so thanks for doing this for me," he said.
"I did it for me too, Levi," she told him again. "It's been great having a guy next to me who is a nice guy with no pretenses or fakeness. I live in a world of fakes so this is a breath of fresh air. Sometimes I wonder if I would have been better off with this kind of life instead of the one I have."
"People enjoy your work," Levi reminded her. "You make a difference for a lot of people."
"Thanks," she said with appreciation.
The night finally came to a reluctant conclusion with everyone on the dance floor jumping around in pure insanity! Levi and Riza kept laughing non-stop until everyone finally calmed down once the lights came up.
Levi felt sad knowing the night was over and his dream date was about to end. The gang said goodnight with many of Levi's classmates interacting with his celebrity date one last time and congratulating him for a terrific prom. He was pleased that so many were pleased by Riza Rooney's presence and that there weren't any scenes or drama.
The rented limo was waiting for them when they left the Inn and Levi helped Riza into the back for the short ride to her family's summer home. He knew he couldn't hope to steal a kiss from a famous celebrity he had just met so he dug out a box of chocolate he had previously stashed in the back and handed it to her.
"Thanks for everything," he said sheepishly. "It was the best night of my life."
She smiled and accepted the gift. "I don't think I'll be back for a while, Levi," she said with resigned sadness.
"I know it was a one shot deal," Levi replied with understanding.
"I can't tell you how much this meant to me," she said. "I never would have had a prom if it wasn't for you."
"I'm glad I could help," he smiled.
The gate to the house opened and the limo pulled into the driveway. Levi sighed and climbed out of the car, walking around to the other side and helping Riza from her side.
"Farewell scenes are always the toughest," he joked.
"Yes, so full of drama," Riza agreed as he walked her to the porch. "Thank you for a lovely evening."
"You too," he said.
There was no way he was going to try to kiss his secret heart throb fantasy Katie McGillicuddy/Risa Rooney so he took her hand and briefly squeezed it.
"Good night," he said.
He started to step back and leave her on the bottom step, but she pulled him back by the arm, leaned in and gave him a gentle and sweet kiss on the lips.
"Goodbye, Levi Matthews," she whispered. "You are a dear sweet boy."
Levi was reminded of one of his favorite The McGillicuddy's episodes, when Kate's crush moves away and she has a tearful farewell at the end of the show. The crush was older and he hurt her feelings by calling her "a kid" and suddenly Levi felt the same way – a dear sweet boy was meant to be a compliment but to him it felt like she was calling him a kid and suddenly Levi felt like Kate saying goodbye forever and this was his dramatic farewell scene before the final fade out.
He smiled sadly before timidly waving goodbye as he turned and walked to the limo. He glanced back to see that Riza was standing on top of the porch steps watching him leave. She smiled and gave him a small wave and he smiled even though he wanted to cry.
He gave her a salute before getting into the limo and sucking in his breath as the car drove away.
"Fade out," he said to himself.