Music City Madness: Chapter 65

Leland drove to Sid’s office with Abby and found his daughter’s usual strong-willed banter replaced by a more subdued teenage girl—one who obviously had something on her mind but wasn’t prepared to talk about it. In contrast, Sid’s request for a face-to-face meeting in his office implied one of two things: Sid had bad news to share, or Sid had very bad news to share.

Leland knew the record deal was short term. He also knew Brad Siegel didn’t take kindly to casting unsigned musicians for his boy band experiment, no matter how much clout he leveraged to ensure the band’s successful debut at the benefit concert.

He kept his focus on the road without acknowledging the random sighs from Abby texting with her phone in her lap. “This shouldn’t take long,” he said, hoping to infiltrate Abby’s invisible cone of silence. “Sid probably needs me to sign some papers.”

Abby looked up from her phone. “I hope you’re not getting fired.”

Leland hung a left on a green arrow. “Why would you think that?”

“If Sid called with good news, you’d be in a better mood.”

“I’m in a great mood. I’m just thinking about the concert.”

Abby read an incoming text from Jonathan. “You haven’t said two words since you dragged me out of the house.”

Leland squeezed the wheel. “I didn’t drag you anywhere.”

“Then why couldn’t I stay home?”

“Because there’s no one to watch you.”

“You could take me to Jonathan’s house.”

“His mom just left the hospital. She doesn’t need another body to manage.”

“You think I’m hard to manage?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you were thinking it.”

“Abby…”

“You told me we were going fishing today.”

“I know, but it’s been a crazy day. I wasn’t planning to meet with Sid.”

Abby replied to Jonathan’s text with a sad emoji at the end of her message. “What am I going to do all summer?”

“Let’s focus on today.”

“Nicole still loves you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She told me. I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“You let me worry about my personal life.”

“Why can’t we buy a new truck?”

“Because there’s nothing wrong with the one we have.”

“Everything’s wrong with the one we have.”

“It has character.”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Not for me.”

“Because you’re old.”

Leland laughed. “I’ll tell you what,” he said with an upbeat tone, “I’ll buy a new truck when you graduate from college.”

“I can’t go to college.”

“Sure you can.”

“Not with only one hand to type.”

“You don’t have to type at all to go to college.”

“You do if you want to graduate and get a job.”

“Says who?”

“Everybody at school.”

Leland parked in front of Sid’s office building. “Define everybody.”

“Whatever…”

Leland cupped Abby’s chin in his hand and squared her face with his. “Look at me. You have two eyes, two ears, a tremendous brain, and a big heart. You have everything to succeed in this life and more. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different.”

Abby blinked, somewhat startled by her dad’s evangelistic tone. “What happens if you lose this gig?”

“I’ll work construction until the next one comes along.”

“Will we have to move again?”

“I don’t know.”

“I hate moving.”

Leland climbed out of the truck and walked around to open Abby’s door. “Me too.”

* * *

Sid admired the autographed head shot of George Straight on the wall in his office. He had Brad Siegel on speakerphone, contemplating a risky proposition to a problem neither party expected to address.

You still there?” Brad Siegel’s voice boomed from the phone on Sid’s desk.

Sid poured himself a double bourbon. “I’m here.”

Alone?

“Do we have a deal or not?”

I don’t like it.

“It’s not our first rodeo.”

My ass is on the line, Sid. This band goes live in three days. I need assurances. If this goes south—

“I’ll save you a spot in the unemployment line.”

The contract stands as is. I’m not budging on the fee.

“Sure you are,” Sid countered assertively. “We’re the only play you’ve got.”

I can have a second option in my office in an hour.

“If that were true, you wouldn’t still be on the phone with me.” Sid swirled the bourbon in his tumbler. “Do we have a deal or not?”

Fine,” Brad continued after a long silence. “Does your boy even know what’s happening?

Sid peered out his office window to see Leland’s truck out front. “I’ll explain the situation.”

Don’t make me regret this.

“You won’t,” Sid declared. He ended the call and finished his drink, quietly contemplating the new deal with Brad. When he heard the elevator, he greeted Leland and Abby outside his office. “Perfect timing,” he told Leland. Then he shifted his attention to Abby and said, “I’m going to let you wait in the other room while your dad and I talk in here.”

“I go where he goes,” Abby declared.

Sid took out his wallet and gave Abby twenty dollars. “This won’t take long.”

“Deal.”

* * *

Leland followed Sid inside his office. “Sorry about that. Abby can be a little headstrong at times.”

Sid shut the door and settled behind his desk. “She’s going to put me out of a job.”

“Say what you need to say,” Leland blurted in a slightly defeated tone.

“There’s been a change in plans.”

“Then I want severance pay. Brad Siegel can’t replace me last second without—”

“No one’s replacing you,” Sid interjected. “Jimmie Lockhorn came down with laryngitis.”

“Since when?”

“This morning. He’s been fighting it for a couple days, but his voice can’t take the strain anymore. That’s why your last rehearsal was canceled.”

“Where does this leave me?”

“Center stage.”

“What do you mean?”

“Brad’s got a guitarist lined up to replace you. You’re going to replace Jimmie on lead vocals.”

“Me?”

“You know the music and the lyrics. Brad’s heard you sing before.”

“I’ve rehearsed on rhythm guitar. I never memorized the lyrics.”

“Then I suggest you start.”

“Now?”

“It’s one song.”

“It’s not about regurgitating words. There has to be emotion. A personal connection to the song. I didn’t write this music. If I can’t get people to believe in me, I might as well lip sync the show.”

“I’m not asking you to win a Grammy.”

“But you’re asking me to lead someone else’s band on the biggest stage I’ve ever played.”

“The same band you’ve been rehearsing with for days.”

“On rhythm guitar.”

“You could do this in your sleep.”

“If I had a week to practice.”

“You trying to talk yourself out of this gig?”

“I’m trying to be realistic.”

Sid slammed his empty glass on the desk. “You don’t get to pick and choose opportunities like this. I sold Brad Siegel on you, a musician of relative obscurity, not a seasoned artist I could have plucked from my A-list catalogue and negotiated twice the fee. This is your opportunity, Leland. I suggest you think long and hard about the direction you want your career to go. Stop trying to bend the bow backwards. You’ve been fighting for your shot. You better step up and take it.”

Chapter 66

Melissa grabbed a bottle of maple syrup from the pantry and gave it to her boys at the dining table. She poured herself a cup of coffee and skimmed the front page of the morning paper to read about the city’s recovery effort. “I’m leaving in ten minutes!”

Jonathan poked his fork at the waffle on his plate. “This syrup tastes funny.”

“It’s the same one I always buy.”

“I like the other brand better.”

“They didn’t have the other brand. They all taste the same.”

“The other one tastes sweeter.”

“You’ll survive.”

“My waffle’s cold in the middle,” Adam whined.

Melissa skimmed the front page. “Then put it in the microwave.”

“The microwave makes it soggy.”

Melissa put down the paper, exasperated, and snatched Adam’s waffle from his plate. She dropped it in the toaster for another cycle and said, “You boys have eight minutes.”

Jonathan cut his waffle with his fork and mopped the bite size portion through the puddle of maple syrup on his plate. He read a text message on his phone and sent a short reply. “Can I stay at Abby’s house tonight?”

“No,” Melissa answered. “Now finish up and brush your teeth.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s a school night. And you’re not spending the night at a girl’s house.”

“We’re just friends. And today’s the last day of school.”

“I don’t care.”

“Her dad said it’s okay.”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “Her dad’s delusional. Now finish your breakfast.” She slipped her fingers through her coffee mug handle and carried her drink with her phone to the other room. She craved a conversation with Leland as soon as she had five minutes to spare.

Mom!” she heard Jonathan groan from the kitchen. “The dishwasher’s still full of clean dishes.”

“Then empty it!”

“Where do the clean dishes go?”

Melissa stuffed her phone in her purse and grabbed her car keys from the glass bowl in the foyer. She felt alone in the house with her boys, who had good intentions, but no direction. With Tomás gone, they were lost. They needed a solid role model as much as she needed someone kind and thoughtful. Loyal. Honest. Caring. A man with strong morals and a positive attitude toward life. These things she needed to feel whole again; to know her future held more than a series of risqué encounters with a handsome man who stole her heart and played with her emotions like a concert pianist. Music had always been at the center of her life. Now a stronger need emerged. The need to love and be loved. To give freely and unconditionally of herself, and in return, to feel cherished as an equal partner in an honest relationship rooted by friendship and trust. Lofty expectations, perhaps, but she deserved at least as much. Her boys deserved it too.

* * *

Leland dropped Abby at school and followed the Audi A6 in front of him. He drove to an upscale café where eggs and toast would set him back twenty bucks without a drink or tip. Melissa always offered to pay. He always firmly declined. This morning, he left his appetite at home, more consumed by the pressure of his upcoming performance than his need for sustenance.

He arrived at the swanky bistro a few minutes early and claimed a table in the art-lined setting with real linens and high-back chairs. He’d trade the food and drink for Waffle House any day, but the place made Melissa happy.

He ordered water for himself and checked his phone. And then, almost as if on cue, Melissa appeared and promptly made her way toward him. He greeted her with open arms. “I got here early.”

Melissa kissed him. She rubbed her hands on his forearms. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

“Did you order yet?”

“I wanted to wait for you.”

Melissa took her seat across from Leland and helped herself to his ice water. “Today’s my treat.”

“Not this time,” Leland vetoed.

“I have good news!”

Leland’s eyes lit up with excitement and curiosity. “Tell me.”

“My label dropped the lawsuit.”

“That’s fantastic! What happened?”

Melissa laid her arms on the table and reached out to hold Leland’s hands. “Sid worked it out with Wharton Brothers. Don’t ask me how. One minute they’re threatening to sue me, and the next thing I know, they drop the case and make an offer to promote my music.”

Leland kissed her hand and let go. “I told you everything would work out.”

“Now I can move forward with the festival tour. A lot of big names are headlining this year. It’s an ensemble group and a chance to reestablish my career.”

“When does the tour kick off?”

“Not for a few weeks, but they want me involved sooner. I want you to come with me.”

Leland twisted the spinner ring on his finger. “How would that work?”

“I’m not sure exactly. We can figure it out as we go.”

“What about Abby?”

“What about her? She would come with you, of course.”

“What about your new album?”

“I’ll finish it on the road.”

Leland acknowledged the waitress who approached the table in a short skirt and bobbed hairstyle. “We’re good,” he said, not wanting to disrupt his conversation for the sake of ordering food. “What about your boys?”

“They would love it.” Melissa smiled. “Think about it.”

“I will.”

“What about your big news? I’ve been running my mouth non-stop since I got here.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“What’s so important you couldn’t tell me on the phone?”

“Jimmie Lockhorn came down with laryngitis. Brad Siegel wants me to take his place and lead the band.”

Melissa cupped a hand over her mouth. “Wow! That’s great! When did this happen?”

“Last night.”

“You must be thrilled.”

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

“Brad Siegel’s a jerk, but he’s smart. Capital Country Records would eat their young before they’d take a chance on someone they don’t believe in. You’re an asset to their label, and they know it. Don’t underestimate yourself.”

“You’re starting to sound like Sid.”

“Maybe he knows what he’s doing after all?” Melissa let a short laugh escape. “What does Abby think?”

“I haven’t told her yet.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to disappoint her.”

Melissa leaned over the table and kissed him. “You’re a sweet man, Leland Presley. You could never disappoint your daughter.”

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