Today's Reading

"I don't understand." Charlotte lowered the folding table onto its side, needing something to do other than pound the tile floor in a tantrum. She kicked one of the metal legs. "How did we lose the grant? I thought everything had been approved."

"So did I, and I suppose there's a tiny chance it might turn out okay, but I got an email a few days ago warning me the foundation who offered the grant money is under investigation." He took over with the table legs when it became clear Charlotte cared more about kicking than folding. "And unfortunately, the head of the school board has already been in contact, saying if the grant isn't coming through, they don't see the point in pouring money into a full-time music program when we have so many other pressing needs."

"Like what?"

Ty propped the folded table against the wall with a pained smile. "Where do I even begin? A better library for starters."

"Phhht. As if students need books to learn."

Ty's lips tugged in a grin. But Charlotte wasn't trying to be funny. "Our town already has a library. What our town doesn't have is a band. Studies show that children who—"

Ty lifted his palms. "I know what the studies show, Professor Harold Hill, and I'm on your side. I want a thriving music program as much as you. But our town doesn't have the funds to support one right now. Especially at the grade school level."

"Which is why I applied for the grant."

"Which is why I'm talking to you now, so we can develop a backup plan."

Charlotte tossed the battered music theory textbook she'd been using the past couple of years into a cardboard box along with a ukulele, two drumsticks, a brown plastic recorder, and the toy harmonica she'd confiscated from Nash the first day of school. She swung her guitar case over her shoulder, picked up the box, and forced herself to take a deep breath. This wasn't Ty's fault. The least she could do was hear him out. "What sort of backup plan?"

He stood in the doorway. "Did you happen to read the front-page article in the newspaper yesterday?"

"Our town still has a newspaper?"

"I'll take that as a no." Gripping the doorframe, he leaned forward and lowered his voice as if the walls had ears. "A. P. Hopkins is dying."

"Uh-huh." Hardly a shocking revelation. Seemed about every seven years, the recluse millionaire claimed to be dying.

"No, I think he's for real this time," Ty said, obviously sensing her skepticism. "If you'd read the article, you'd understand. There was a whole different feel to it. Like he was truly saying goodbye and wanting to go out with a final hurrah. And you'll never guess what his final hurrah is."

"A town music program?" Hope fluttered in her chest.

"A new twenty-mile bike path."

Hope splattered at her feet. "How's that supposed to help anything?" Charlotte didn't mean to sound insensitive. Certainly, she would miss A. P. Hopkins. Not that she'd ever met him. Not that anyone had ever really met him. But how could she not miss the crazy philanthropist who offered sporadic donations and kept life interesting in her otherwise ho-hum, small Illinois town?

Just once though, she wished he'd invest his money in something that wasn't geared toward athletics. Something the town actually needed.

Something like a stinking music program.

"Listen." Ty grabbed the box from her arms and set it on the ground as if he were afraid whatever he said next might tempt her to throw the box at him. "The bike path isn't the exciting part."

And now he was using the same tone parents used when telling their kids about an "exciting" trip to the dentist's office.

"The exciting part is..." He nudged the box further away with his foot. "Well, you know how every time he offers a big donation, he includes some sort of challenge to go with it just for fun? Like the treasure hunt he sponsored when he paid to remodel the high school football stadium years ago? Remember? The winner got ten grand."

"Of course I remember. Sophia nearly dug up our parents' entire backyard, convinced the funny shaped tree in his clue was our tree because of the giant knot that always reminded her of our great-uncle Benny's nose."

"Exactly. Well, the treasure part. I'm not familiar with your great-uncle Benny's nose."

"Let's just say she wasn't wrong. So what's the special challenge this time?" Wait. She clasped her hands together as if in prayer. "Oh, please tell me it's another pie-eating contest, like when he put in the sand volleyball courts. I came so close to winning that one, and I was only eight at the time. You know how much pie I could put down now that my job's on the line?"

Ty pointed his finger at her. "Yes. See? That's what I'm talking about. That's the fire we need. The eye of the tiger."

"Before you go into one of your Sylvester Stallone impressions, would you please just tell me what the challenge is? Is it pie?"

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