We venture out into the play yard, which consists of a fenced-in concrete paved square with a single basketball net. I tell the director to contact my personal secretary—because every child deserves to have a swing set.
My father used to say when it came to charities, helping people was the easy part—it was choosing whom to help first, allocating resources, that kept him up at night.
A few youngsters color with chalk on one side, while a group plays basketball on the other—but my eyes are drawn to one small boy in a red T-shirt who looks about seven years old, sitting on the sidelines. It’s a view I’m familiar with. When I was a teen I had more “friends” than I’d ever need—everyone wanted a piece of me. But earlier, I was an oddity.
And children, like Mother Nature, can be breathtakingly cruel.
As I walk toward the boy, Logan reminds the group of staff members behind me, “No pictures today.”
Big brown eyes that say they’ve seen more than they ever should regard me with interest as I sit down beside him.
“Hi.” I hold out my hand. “I’m Nicholas.”
He shakes it. “Freddie.”
“That’s a good name. My middle name is Freddie. It means ‘peaceful ruler.’”
He kicks at the concrete with the tip of his worn sneaker. “Are you really a prince?”
“I really am.”
“You don’t look like a prince.”
I pat the lapels of my gray suit jacket. “Must’ve left my crown in another suit. I’m always losing the darn thing.”
I’m rewarded with a flash of white teeth and a giggle.
“Don’t feel like playing today, Freddie?”
“Do you like living here?”
I’ve seen the reports—mental health stats, graduation rates—but if you want the real story behind what goes on in a place like this, it’s always best to go straight to the source.
“It’s okay.” He bobs his little head. “I used to live with my auntie—she was nice. But she died.”
The sadness in those few words pierces like the prick of a steel nail.
He nods, because he’s heard the condolences before, but they don’t change anything.
“The teachers here are nice; they smile a lot. But my auntie used to bake cookies. They don’t give us cookies here.”
“Smiles are good, but cookies are always better.”
A spark of life flashes across his face. A connection.
“I know, right? Do you know what they make us eat for dessert?”
“What?” I ask, riveted.
I make a disgusted face. “Oh, no—not fruit.”
“Yes!” he insists. “And not even with whipped cream! Fruit’s not dessert.” He wags his finger at me. “You should talk to someone about that. Set ’em straight.”
“It’ll be at the top of my list.”
And then a thought comes to me. An impressive thought.
“Freddie—do you like pie?”
He looks shocked that I even asked.
“Well, yeah—everybody likes pie. There’s fruit in it, but it’s pie.”
The director walks up to us. “How are we doing? Can I get you anything, Prince Nicholas?”
“Yes,” I tell him, scanning the playground—counting. “You can get me a bus.”
An hour later, I walk into Amelia’s like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, trailing fifty children behind me. Behind the counter, Olivia’s eyes flare round—surprised to see me—and to see the gaggle of little ones swarming her coffee shop like adorable locusts.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
I gesture to the young man beside me. “Olivia, this is Freddie—Freddie, meet Olivia.”
She smiles so sweetly. “Good to meet you, Freddie.”
Out of the side of his mouth he says in a hushed tone, “You were right—she’s really pretty.”
“I told you so,” I hush back.
Then I address her directly. “Olivia, we have a problem that needs immediate rectification.”
“Sounds serious,” she teases.
“Oh it is,” Freddie pipes up.
“My friend Freddie here hasn’t had a decent dessert in months.”
“Months!” Freddie stresses.
My eyes meet Olivia’s. “You wouldn’t happen to have thirty extra pies around, would you?”
Warmth spreads across her face. And gratitude.
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
A few hours later, after Olivia’s stock has been completely demolished—and every pie paid for courtesy of the royal charity—Olivia and I stand side-by-side as the delighted, pastry-stuffed children waddle out the door.
Freddie high-fives me as he goes. “Catch ya later, Nick.”
“Not if I catch you first.” I wink.
When the last one is loaded on and the bus pulls away, it’s just Olivia and I, alone.
“Did you do this just to impress me?”
I slide my hands into my pockets, rocking on my heels. “Depends. Are you impressed?”
I can’t hold back my grin.
“Good. But, in all honesty, I didn’t just do it for you. The one perk of this job is getting the chance to make kids like Freddie happy. Even if it’s just for the day.”