Page 15 of The Keeper

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“That’s really terrible,” Alicia says. “They don’t eat at homeorat school?”

Tara makes a face. “The home thing is rough for many of them. If Mom is sleeping or not home from work, they might not have the wherewithal to fix themselves something nutritious before school. The kids are waking themselves up, getting themselves dressed, doing their homework with no help or guidance…you get the picture. It’s a miracle some of them actually make it to school each day. Then, if they don’t have the money, or their government paperwork for free-and-reduced-lunches isn’t filed by their parent, then they don’t get lunch at school either, so…” She shrugs and shakes her head. “I mean, there are other factors, too, but suffice it to say we strive to make sure they get nutritious snacks after school and at least one good meal a day. And, most importantly, a safe, supportive place to be.”

We keep walking, Tara showing us a huge basketball court, a game room, and a space that looks like a series of standard classrooms with desks and chalkboards.

“We make them do homework or tutoring before they can go do the fun stuff,” she explains. “Once the tutors sign off, they can go run around the club and do whatever. We have a program director, whom you’ll meet in a minute. She organizes daily programming in addition to the free-play options we have. She runs a gaming club, a theater club, a crafting club…you get the point.”

“And, it seems,” Alicia says, “a new music education program?”

“She has big vision,” Tara says. “Oh, speak of the devil, here she is now.”

I turn and almost swallow my tongue, quickly trying to control the shock I feel when I see the drummer from the other night. It’s definitely her, though today, her long, purple-tipped hair is pulled up in a messy bun on top of her head. She’s in a pair of skinny jeans, a T-shirt, and a blue blazer. I’d know the face anywhere, though, after thinking of almost nothing else for the past day or so.

Her eyes go wide at the sight of me too, a light pink blush coloring her high cheekbones.

“Billie Hirsch,” Tara says, “Meet Alicia Borden and Cal Lefleur from the Crush.”

Billie reaches out to shake both of our hands. She meets my gaze, but only briefly, before turning to Alicia. “Nice to meet you both. Thanks for coming over to talk about my big idea.”

“We like big ideas,” Alicia says. “Especially ones that have real impact. The Crush, as you know, have had record-breaking success the past few seasons and it’s our goal to really use that to help local organizations.”

We all walk into a smallish, empty room. I look around and then back at Billie. “This is where I’d like to run an after-school music education program,” she explains. “I know it looks like nothing right now. I mean, it was actually a storage room, which I cleaned out over the past few days, but it’s big enough to house a drum kit, a couple of guitar stands, and a keyboard setup. My idea is that we’d do different instrument lessons on different days, and then maybe let the kids come together on Fridays to try to make their own music? ThinkSchool of Rockif you remember that movie.”

“Do other clubs offer programs like this?” Alicia asks. “I mean, is that concept a real thing, or just a movie thing?”

“Actually, there are rock camps all around the country,” Billie says with a nod. “Many are just for girls, and they also teach self-defense and empowerment and such. But yes, many communities have programs like this.”

“And Billie is uniquely qualified to run a program exactly like this,” Tara says. “She’s the drummer in a pretty well-known local band.”

“Oh?” Alicia raises an eyebrow and grins approvingly.

Billie blushes and scratches the bridge of her nose. “I do play in a band.”

And then she looks right at me.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to admit I’ve met her and heard her play or keep my mouth shut. I’m not any good at reading these kinds of situations.

“My plan is to teach drumming myself, but I’ll be enlisting volunteer help for the other instruments. I’ve got a pianist from one of the big hotels coming in to do the keyboarding, and the bass player from my band will teach bass.”

“Which leaves a spot open for a guitarist,” Tara says, smiling in my direction.

All three women stare at me.

“That’s me, I suppose. I’m the guitarist.”

“Don’t sound so excited,” Billie mutters under her breath.

“Cal’s a shy guy,” Alicia says. “I’ve been assured by our public relations team that this is something he’s willing to do. And the Crush Foundation is willing to make a sizable contribution to Children’s Services Las Vegas. We’re thinking we can provide the funds you need to outfit the space here, and then we can have the kids come and play a bit at the Crush Foundation gala in the spring, where we’ll deliver a larger check to support your general operations. The key is to allow us in to do some video of Cal working with the kids that we can use in our promotional materials and at games. We want this to be a win-win.”

“I’ll have to get media releases signed by parents before we can put them on video,” Billie says. “It could take a few weeks.”

“That’s fine,” Alicia says. “We have some time to work with.”

Tara and Billie look at each other before Billie turns back to us and says, “Sounds like this could work, then.”

Alicia claps her hands together. “Great! We’re doing a couple of other fun projects with other players. Cal, here, is new to the team so this will be a super fun way to introduce him to the community. I’ll go back and iron out a grant agreement and memorandum of agreement so we can make sure everyone’s on the same page, does that sound okay?”

“It sounds great, we really appreciate the support from the Crush Foundation on this,” Tara says.