Music City Madness: Chapter 4

Leland stood outside Abby’s room and knocked gently on her door. “Dinner’s getting cold.” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “Abigail…”

He knocked again, more firmly this time. “I’m not mad at you.”

Go away!” came the terse reply from Abby’s room.

“Nicole brought food home.”

Good for her.

Leland touched the gold cross necklace resting on his black T-shirt and heard movement from within his daughter’s room. “I’m sorry I couldn’t take you to school this morning.” He stepped backward, barefoot in his faded jeans, as the door slowly opened wide enough to let Abby’s tiger-striped tabby dart through. “You can’t stay in here forever,” he said before Abby could don her headphones and tune out the world completely. He walked a tightrope between the need to advance and the urge to retreat. “Can I come in?” He poked his head inside to see his daughter telegraph a nearly imperceptible nod.

“I’m tired of eating dinner from a paper bag,” Abby started.

“I’ll cook tomorrow night.”

“That’s what you said last night and the night before that.”

“I had a gig.”

Abby leaned against the bedpost and brought her knees to her chest with her right arm around her legs. An open bottle of orange toenail polish sat on the nightstand beside her. Stacks of moving boxes labeled books and things filled the room. “How did your audition go?”

Leland adjusted the window blinds to block the streetlight at the edge of the driveway. “Win some. Lose some.”

“Where was it?”


“You let me come to your auditions before.”

“Not on school days.” Leland poked through several boxes before he found the one he wanted and retrieved a pineapple ukulele wrapped in newspaper. “This thing was bigger than you when I bought it.” He unwrapped the instrument and plucked the nylon strings to play a Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite from The Sound of Music. “Edelweiss… Edelweiss…”

“I hate that song.”

“You loved it when you were little.”

“I’m not little anymore.”

“We should rent the movie again.”

Abby rolled her eyes. “The movie’s older than you are.”

Leland smiled. He could feel his daughter’s trepidation melt away, despite her overt objection to his singing. “How ’bout this one?” He cleared his throat and channeled his inner Elvis to play Fred Wise and Ben Weisman’s “Pocketful of Rainbows.”

“I… don’t worry….”

“You’re doing it again, Dad.”


“Trying to sing your way out of the dog house.”

Leland rested the ukulele on the dresser. “Old habits.”

Abby reached for the orange toenail polish and secured the lid. She jiggled the tiny bottle and reopened it, careful to wipe the applicator brush on the bottle opening to remove the excess. “Tell me about the audition.”

Leland dipped his head. “Nothing to tell.”

“Did you get the gig or not?”

“Not this time.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’ll get the next one.”

“What song did you sing?”

“‘This Dance’.”

“You should have sung George Strait.”

“I don’t like cover songs. And those are very big shoes to fill.” Leland pointed to Abby’s left shoulder, where her amputated arm formed a stump an inch below her elbow joint. “What happened at school?”


“I heard you had an eventful day.”

Abby applied the polish to her right pinky toe. “What else did Nicole tell you?”

“She said you were upset.”

“Tell her she should mind her own business.”

“Your principal left a message on my phone, but I never got a chance to talk with her.”

“I’m not going back to school.”

Leland let Abby vent. She reminded him of her mother at times. The same stubborn determination to want everything her way or no way at all. “Tomorrow will be better.”

“No it won’t.”


“You’re not the one who has to deal with all the crap I get in school.”

“What happened?”

Abby threw her hand up in frustration. “I got detention.”

“For losing your prosthesis?” Leland asked incredulously.

Abby set aside the nail polish and looked away from her dad. “I slipped and fell. Some girl knocked my arm off by accident.”

“And the school gave you detention?”

“It was humiliating. The whole class started laughing at me like I was some kind of freak.”

Leland kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry.”

“The girl kept gawking at me, so I took the arm and wacked her with it.”

Leland stifled the urge to laugh at the image Abby’s story conveyed.

“It’s not funny!” Abby ranted.

“I’m not laughing.”

“You’re about to. I can tell.”

“What did your teacher do?”

“She sent me to the principal’s office.”

“What about the other girl?”

“I barely hit her.”

Leland scratched his razor stubble. “You could have hurt her.”

“You weren’t there. You don’t know how embarrassing it was.”

“Where’s the arm now?”

“The principal took it.” Abby rested her head on her knees. “You said this arm would be better. No one would know it was fake. I would look normal again.”

“Sweetheart, you are normal. You’re as normal as normal gets. You’re smart and beautiful and funny.”

“I don’t want it back. Tell the principal she can have it for all I care.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I wish mom was alive.”

Leland ignored the comment. “You should eat something.”

“I liked your old girlfriend better. She seemed more sophisticated.”

“She tried to steal my truck.”

Abby smirked. “She was doing you a favor.”

* * *

Leland followed Nicole from the living room to the cluttered bedroom piled with unopened boxes, Marshall amplifiers, electric guitars, and enough speaker cable to lasso Tennessee. Pages of hand-written sheet music covered the top of a knotted pine armoire. Guitar stands faced the corner with the vertical blinds closed to shield the room from the neighbor’s view. A floor lamp with a tilted shade cast a glow on the upright mattress and box springs leaning against the wall.

Leland slipped his hand in his pocket to retrieve the business card from his audition. “I’m beat,” he told Nicole who stood at the bathroom sink, rubbing a wet washcloth on her face.

“Did you call her yet?”

“I need voice lessons like the Pope needs bible study.”

“It couldn’t hurt.”

“You don’t think I can sing?”

“No one’s perfect.” Nicole rinsed the washcloth. “Don’t say it.”

“I didn’t—”

“But you thought about it.”

“She’s my baby.”

“Abby’s a young woman. The sooner you accept it, the better.”

Leland stuffed the card in his pocket. “I don’t like change.”

“Really? How many times have you moved in the last five years?”

“That’s different.”

“Change is change. You either accept it or not.”

“I just want Abby to be happy.”

“Did you talk to her?”

“She told me what happened with her arm.”

“She’ll bounce back.”

“She told me she doesn’t want to go to school anymore.”

“No girl her age wants to be in school, Leland.”

Leland took his shirt off and kissed Nicole’s shoulder. “You smell nice.”

“You need a shower.”

“I should have joined yours.”

Nicole squeezed a dollop of Crest on her toothbrush and backed away from the sink when Leland retreated to the bedroom. “Did you put the mattress frame together?”

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Nicole put the toothbrush in her mouth and scrubbed vigorously.

Leland lifted his guitar from the hard shell case beside the mattress and slipped his arm through the shoulder strap. He played a new chord sequence, rehearsing the lyrics to a song he’d been practicing for days.

Nicole rinsed her teeth and wiped her face on a towel. “Sounds nice.”

“It has potential.”

“When are you going to teach me to play guitar?”

Leland gave a devilish grin. “You can’t afford me.”

Nicole threw her towel at Leland’s face. “You’re cheap.”

Leland waited for her to unpack a box of lingerie. “It goes something like this,” he said, softly strumming the guitar. “I’m too tired to make my bed. It’s been a long, hard, day. So come have sex, with me, instead. And we’ll find our way…”

“Not funny.”

“A little bit?”

“No! I have to open tomorrow morning.” Nicole dug through a moving box for a clean set of sheets. “Why don’t you take a cold shower?”

Leland rested the guitar in its stand and approached Nicole. He touched her face with both hands and kissed her lips. “Why don’t you take a hot one with me instead?” He slid his hands to her hips and brought her toward him. He kissed her gingerly on the neck. “I’ll go slow.”

“What about Abby?”

“She’s out cold.”

“What if she hears us?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I. We could go in my truck.”


“You liked it before.”

“I was drunk. I’m not having sex in your truck again.”

Leland walked away. “Are we okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem like yourself lately.”

Nicole pushed him away with her tone. “I’m sick of working fast food. This house is a mess. The litter box stinks. My check engine light is on again. And your daughter hates me.”

“Abby hates everyone.”

Nicole threw the sheets on the mattress. “I’m serious, Leland. I want more than this. I want a house with a toilet that doesn’t run and a roof that doesn’t leak. I want a car with gears that don’t grind. I’m tired of chasing dreams that don’t come true.”

“Tell me how you really feel.”

“What are we doing here?”

“This house?”

“This house. This city. This life. You keep chasing the same dream while I keep serving burgers and fries.”

“Then quit. Do something different.”

“Someone has to pay the rent.”

“I pay my share.”

“Since when? You spend more time and money chasing gigs…”

“Music is my life, Nicole. This move. This city. It’s part of God’s plan. I want the same things you do. I work when I can, but I need to be close to the action.”

“So did Icarus,” Nicole snapped. “Look how that turned out for him.”

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