Music City Madness: Chapter 42

Leland sipped black coffee in the hospital cafeteria with the morning paper open in front of him. Familiar headlines cited widespread devastation across middle and western parts of Tennessee. Photos showed desperate homeowners plucked from their roofs by helicopter and a pregnant woman airlifted from the highway. Another story covered a Belle Meade police officer swept away in his patrol car. More photos showed ravaged neighborhoods lined with mounds of damaged goods piled high along the curb.

Leland flipped the page to see the image of a house torn away from its foundation with the entire basement contents visibly destroyed by the flood. Another home marked with a giant “X” reminded rescue workers to check for bodies. Downtown, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center suffered $40 million in damages to property, concert grand pianos, and numerous orchestral instruments trapped inside their flooded basement. Statewide, various shelters gave storm victims safe haven from thousands of evacuated homes and apartments.

Leland analyzed the news. The catastrophic damage and the city leaders’ pledge to rebuild not withstanding, the impact from the meteorological anomaly seemed almost insignificant from his perspective. The more he fought the urge to compose new music, the faster the words poured forth—as if the greater the tragedy in life, the more focused his creative mind became. So many lyrics came to pass, mostly junk he threw away until he found the right words to continue.

He sipped his coffee and folded the newspaper in half. “You sure you don’t want something to eat?” he asked Nicole when she returned from her car.

Nicole hung her purse on the chair and slid a house key across the table. “I meant to give you this.”

“No worries.”

Nicole rubbed Leland’s forearm. “Abby will wake up when she’s ready.”

“I hope so,” Leland mumbled, his head low with his eyes focused on the silver house key. “When do you need to be at work?”

“No rush. I’m sort of in between jobs at the moment.”

“You should have kept the one you had.”

Nicole slid her hand away. “We were good together.”

“Yes, we were.”

“I liked the song you wrote for me.”

“I write a lot of songs.”

Nicole crossed her arms. “I should have been home with Abby when you were gone. If I hadn’t bailed on you, she wouldn’t be in this hospital.”

“Not your fault.”

“Then why do I feel so bad?”

“Because you care for her.” Leland twirled the key on the table. “I can’t think about us right now.”

Nicole opened the newspaper and scanned the employment section. “Does her mom know about her condition?”

“Abby’s not her concern.”

“You have to tell her. She’s Abby’s mother. She has a right to know.”

“She gave up that right a long time ago.”

“People make mistakes, Leland. You can’t hold it against her forever.” Nicole shied away, debating her willingness to confess a truth she should have expressed weeks ago. “My mother died from breast cancer.”

“I know.”

Nicole let out a deep breath. “What you didn’t know is that I thought I had it too.”

Leland moved closer to his side of the table and leaned forward. “What are you talking about?”

“I should have told you before. When I left. I was in a bad way. I found a lump in my right breast.”

“I didn’t know.”

“My doctor kept running tests. I thought for sure I had cancer.”

“But you don’t?”


“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was scared. Confused. I didn’t want to become another statistic.”

Leland sat back in his seat. “I could have helped you.”

Nicole toyed with a napkin on the table. “There was nothing you could do.”

“I would have listened.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not sure why I’m even telling you this right now. I know you have a lot on your mind.” Nicole skimmed the employment section. “This is all minimum wage crap.”

“Maybe you should look out of state.”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“I want you to have a job.” Leland finished his coffee. His flip phone rang on the table with Sid’s name in the small display. “Hey,” he answered in a scratchy, sleep-deprived voice.

How’s Abby?

“The same.”

How are you holding up?

Leland switched the phone to his other ear. “Like ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack.”

I got a call from Brad Siegel at Capital Country Records. He wants to meet with you tomorrow morning.

“I can’t.”

I know the timing sucks.

“Abby’s still in the hospital.”

Where she’s going to recover. Brad wants you in his studio by ten. Bring your guitar.

“Tell him I need to reschedule.”

There is no reschedule, Leland. You won’t get another chance like this with Brad.

“Then I’ll take a chance with someone else.”

I’m well aware of Abby’s condition. I feel for you and for her. But you have to put things in perspective.

“That’s your job,” Leland mumbled into the phone. He looked at Nicole when he talked. “Mine is taking care of my daughter.”

You’ll be gone a couple hours. Abby would understand.

“Abby needs me. The last time I left her alone—”

But she’s not alone. She’s the reason you’re committed to this.

Leland laid his head in his hand and rubbed his temples. “I’ll think about it,” he said before he ended the call.

“Who was that?” asked Nicole.

“No one.”

“I can stay here with Abby if you need me to.”

“What I need is for my daughter to wake up and start her life again.”

“She will. But you can’t stop living yours.”

“Abby is my life.”

Nicole leaned over to touch Leland’s arm. “You’re not alone in this. I hope you know that.”

Leland forced a smile. Nicole’s hand felt warm. Soothing. He focused on the good memories, and any notion of a meaningful future he might construct with her. But despite her comfort in a time of grief and uncertainty, his attention remained focused elsewhere.

* * *

Leland paced inside the hospital, deep in thought about Abby and oblivious to his surroundings or the entrance to the children’s chapel he’d passed three times already on the second floor. The marvels of modern medicine aside, Abby’s fate came down to waiting and hoping for the best.

He wandered back to her room with his guitar, the same music playing over and over in his head; a sad melody he’d conjured the night after he hauled Abby from the shadows of the briny deep.

He opened his guitar case on the chair beside her hospital bed and whispered, “I’m proud of you.” Then he took the guitar out and slung the strap over his shoulder. He strummed slowly and said, “I know you can’t hear me, but I wanted to play another song for you.”


So many years have come and gone

Harder to tell where I went wrong

Caught in the fear of the great, be-yond


Now I can’t bear, to see, your pain

My life will never be the same

If I could change, one, thing

What I would give for one more day


One more day…

To hold you in my arms

One more day…

To wrap my heart around you

One more day…

To find our way, back, home

One more day…

Please don’t leave me all alone…


All I want… is you, to know, I love you…

And I will always be, at, your side

So close your eyes

While I bow my head and pray

Please, Lord, let me hold her one more day


One more day…

To take away the fear

One more day…

To find our way, back, home

One more day…

To show you what tomorrow, will bring


Please, Lord, let me hold her one more day

Don’t take my girl away

I need her with me… one more day…

One more day…


Leland kissed Abby’s forehead. Then he set his guitar in the case and wiped his eye. He left the room for a drink at the water fountain. Sunlight shined through a bank of windows in the multicolored pediatric critical care ward overlooking the city vista.

He sipped from the stainless steel faucet and thought about his conversation with Nicole. He could have done more for her had he known about her cancer scare. But his life always centered around his music. And his relationship with Nicole—like so many before her—always ended in a state of denial and regret. Disavowing his own shortcomings made it easy to cast blame on his partner. But music wasn’t something he produced out of obligation; it was the center of his life. Only Melissa understood his deep reverence. She, more than anyone he’d ever met, had achieved enormous success in a business where most people fell short. Now he questioned if his connection with Melissa was rooted in something deeper or whether he wanted a future in music at all anymore.

He loped to the end of the hall away from a group of medical students flocking room to room under a doctor’s supervision and dialed Sid’s phone. “It’s Leland,” he said as soon as he heard the connection go through.

Can I count on you tomorrow?

“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but I’m going to pass.”

Did something happen? Is Abby—

“Her condition is the same.”

I know you’re dealing with a lot right now. But you’re making a huge mistake. Brad Siegel’s offering you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You need this Leland. More than you know.

“I need my daughter, Sid. That’s what I know. If she dies, my life dies with her. All the music in the world can’t fix what’s happened.”

Record companies sell the dream. They never talk about the struggle. I know you. And I know you’ve struggled. You need to get right with this and push beyond the pain. If you don’t, you will live to regret your decision.

“I gotta go,” Leland said when he saw Abby’s nurse rushing toward him from down the hall. He stuffed his phone in his pocket. “Sorry if I was playing too loud again.”

“I need you to come with me,” the nurse explained.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your daughter regained consciousness. She’s breathing on her own.”

* * *

Leland entered Abby’s hospital room with mild trepidation. He’d been strong for days, but now his false bravado vanished. “I knew you’d come back to me,” he said, standing over Abby’s bed with his arms at his side.

“How long have I been here?” Abby asked. Her voice cracked when she spoke.

“A couple days.”

“What happened?”

Leland ran his hand through her hair. “You’re safe now.”

“I remember a storm.”

“It’s over.”

Abby coughed. “Where’s Jonathan?” she asked, her voice scratchy and hoarse.

“At home with his mom and brother.”

“What day is it?”


“I have detention…”


“I saw a tornado. So loud. My leg was stuck.” Abby pointed to her dad’s guitar case. “I heard singing.”

“You were dreaming.”

Abby swallowed dryly. “Nice try. At least you didn’t bring the ukulele.”

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