“Okay,” she said on a blush and then cleared her throat. “To tell you about us, we’re a new facility focused on the arts with a heavy emphasis on music. We house a hundred kids here, with plans to develop it further in the future.”
I nodded. I’d read up on the place on the internet after I’d seen the sign going up one day on my way to the music studio. Black and gold, the signage had caught my eye because of the lion on it. He was standing on his hind legs and roaring—just like a family crest. I’d had a thing for lions since my sister-in-law Nora called me one. Long story short, she tended to match people up with animals. A lot. For example, my brother, Leo, was a tiger, Mila was a bunny, and I was the lion of the family because of my great hair and general awesomeness. I was the king of the jungle—or at least the king of Hollywood. Anyway, it was my family nickname. I even had a tribal lion tattooed across my shoulder and down my back.
She continued. “Our students—orphans—are teens. Most are from poverty backgrounds and face underlying emotional issues such as ADHD or Autism. Some even have past drug problems. Some are recently orphaned and others have been in the system since birth. I guess what I’m trying to say is each child is different and hand selected by our board of directors and benefactor, who prefers to remain anonymous.” She sighed and tapped a pen on her desk. “To be honest, I am still trying to figure out what to do with you. Is there a particular reason you chose us?”
I’d gripped the chair while she talked, my past pricking at my heart. Sure the sign had captured my attention, but there was also a piece of me that remembered my own gangster neighborhood and how I’d lost my parents. That was the part of me that wanted to give back and be part of this community. I wanted roots here, and what better way than investing myself.
“Lots of reasons. I’m an LA boy at heart … I grew up here. When I was eight, I lost my parents to a junkie who shot them in a carjacking.” I took in a shaky breath and let it out slowly, remembering the fallout from that day. “I saw it happen. I—I was on the porch waving goodbye just as they pulled out. This guy came running up—got in the car with them … and killed them.” My throat got full, and I lifted my hands and scrubbed my face. “Sorry—for getting emotional. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, her face softening. “I had no idea.”
I nodded. “It was a hard time for my family, and we had some lean years until my brother Leo made money in gym ownership.”
“Your story is similar to some of the kids here, Mr. Tate, except you’re rich and famous now.” She smiled. “Why do you think you’d enjoy helping?”
I cleared my throat, anxious to make a good impression. “People assume I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, but that’s not the case. My brother gave up his own music career to stay with me. I remember hating him sometimes, you know, because he wasn’t my mom or dad—or because all he could cook was popcorn and pizza.” I laughed at those memories. “But I wouldn’t be the person I am if it wasn’t for him.”
She gave me a considering look, mulling me over. “There’s nothing like family. You’re luckier than most.”
She let out a sigh. “The truth is we’re selective about who comes in to work with our kids, but I like your story—and your sincerity. I also think the kids would love to hear you speak to them—maybe play a song. We’ve had a few musicians come in for little concerts, mostly classical, so you’d be quite the treat.”
“I’d be honored.” An idea struck. “Maybe I could teach some classes on how to play the guitar—kinda like my dad taught me. Sorry if I’m being presumptuous, I’m not even a real teacher, but I think I’d be good.” I leaned forward and smiled broadly. “I do have a sparkling personality, Mrs. Smythe.”
She let out a laugh and blushed. Score.
I settled back. “Or, if you just need a volunteer to work the lunch line one day or clean the hallways, I’d be proud to do whatever you need.” Truth.
She tapped her fingers on the desk. “Just so you know, we don’t cater to the media here. No reporters are allowed inside our facility and we don’t link our names with celebrities. Whatever work you do here will be confidential.”
I nodded. I got what she was saying. “I don’t have an ulterior motive for this. I can assure you, this isn’t about me putting on a show or getting attention. This is for me alone. I could have been one of those kids.”
She seemed to come to a decision about me and stood. “Great. I’ll give our calendar a look and see where we can fit you in. No doubt, you’re going to cause quite a stir here. I’ll call you and let you know.”
We shook hands and for the first time in a long time, maybe since I’d left Dallas behind all those years ago, I felt like I was home. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what stirred my heart—maybe it was holding Violin Girl’s hand or maybe it was knowing that I was doing something worthwhile that wasn’t about me.
Whatever it was, it felt damn good.
A FEW DAYS later, I woke up at one in the morning.
Violin Girl was on my mind. Constantly. She hadn’t played for me since the ice cream fiasco, and frustration rode me. I’d spent three wasted nights out on the patio waiting for her to appear. Spider had even tried to get me to go clubbing with him and Mila, but I’d stayed home. Blair had insisted I take her to dinner, but I’d made up an excuse about working on some music. I was obsessed with hearing her play. Seeing her.