Music City Madness: Chapter 21

Leland drove his antique Dodge pickup through the open gate at Melissa’s Belle Meade estate, where a Sotheby’s “For Sale” sign directed buyers to an open house event under overcast skies and the threat of more rain. He followed the long, swooping driveway along the lushly landscaped setting to the front of the majestic property and parked between an Indian red Porsche 911 Turbo and an arctic white Rolls Royce Phantom.
He carried his guitar from his truck and hummed a melody from a song in his head. When he reached the front door, he greeted a tall brunette in beige slacks and a matching blazer with a Sotheby’s stick pin on her lapel. “My name’s Leland Presley. Mrs. Hamilton is expecting me.”
“Were you here for the open house?” the agent inquired.
“No ma’am,” Leland answered. He took off his hat and raised his guitar case. “I’m here for a lesson.”
The realtor blushed at Leland’s handsome features. “Are you the teacher or the student?” she asked before she disappeared inside the residence to find Melissa.
Leland waited in the foyer, enamored by the autographed head shots of famous country singers centered on one wall. He also noticed framed photos of Melissa Hamilton riding horseback in equestrian apparel. He stepped away when he heard the sound of high heels clicking on marble floor and saw Melissa with her hair in a pony bun. Thick eye liner gave her eyes a smoky draw. A pair of white diamond earrings sizzled under halogen lights. “Bad time?”
“What can I do for you, Mr. Presley?”
Leland pointed to the equestrian photos. “Do you compete?”
“Not anymore.”
“You have a beautiful horse.”
Melissa checked the time. “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Presley?”
“I brought my guitar.”
“I see that.”
“I have a voice lesson today.”
“I can’t right now.”
Leland smiled wryly. “I showered this time.”
“Good to know, Mr. Presley. Let’s reschedule for next week.”
Leland tightened his grip on the guitar case handle. Lean muscle flexed inside his tattooed forearm. “I left work early and gave up two hours pay to arrive on time. And gas isn’t getting any cheaper.”
“If you’re asking for recompense—”
“I’m asking for you to honor our appointment. I also brought the part for your toilet.”
Melissa motioned for Leland to follow her. “Can you look at my hot water heater?”
Leland set the guitar case down. “I’ll get my tools.”


Melissa showed her agent to the driveway. Underwhelmed by the names in her visitor’s log, she fought the urge to call her nosey neighbors and patronize them for snooping with no intention to buy. The six hour event sent droves of foot traffic through her spotless home, but yielded zero offers—in spite of listing the property well below market value.
She found Leland in the back of the four-car garage, peeking under a tarp draped over a Ranger bass boat on a single-axle trailer. “You find what you’re looking for?”
Leland let go of the tarp. “I was curious.”
“It was Martin’s toy. My ex… He rarely used it. It’s for sale, if you’re interested.”
“Not right now. Won’t fit in my new place.”
“New house?”
“New adventure. We haven’t finished unpacking yet.” Leland diverted his attention to the hot water heater, where a puddle gathered on the floor beneath the base of the eighty-gallon tank. He cut off the water supply line and inspected the pressure relief valve.
Melissa kept her distance. “Can you fix it?”
“I need to figure out what’s wrong first.”
“It leaks.”
Leland examined the copper plumbing for faulty welds, a bad connection, or a crack in the tubing. “How long has it been leaking?”
“A few days. My agent’s home inspector found the problem.”
“I think you’re going to need a new tank.”
“How long will that take?”
“A couple hours with the right tools. And a new tank.”
“Is this something you can handle?”
Leland washed his hands at the utility sink. “I’m a musician who does carpentry. This type of work is not exactly in my wheelhouse.”
Melissa escorted him to the formal living area. “Explains why my toilet still runs,” she murmured under her breath. She poured herself a whiskey from the crystal decanter behind the wet bar beside the wood-burning fireplace and offered Leland a glass.
“I’m good,” Leland politely declined. He scanned the framed family photos propped on the wood beam mantel centered on the stone chimney.
“How old are you, Mr. Presley?”
“Thirty-eight.”
“You understand the average age of an up-and-coming singer in this town is barely a day over twenty.”
“You’re saying I’m too old?”
“I’m saying your age won’t do you any favors.”
“You seem to be doing fine,” said Leland. “I mean, career wise. Not on account of your age.”
Melissa adjusted a crooked picture frame. “According to the Internet, I’m only thirty-two in biological years. Calendar years don’t tell the whole story. Scientific research supports it.”
“You look great for your age. I mean, not that you’re old.”
Melissa rolled her eyes. “Quit while you’re ahead, Mr. Presley. I lost the baby fat when George W. was in office, but my ass won a second term.” She sipped her single malt scotch. “Why are you here?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not a trick question, Mr. Presley. You clearly know how to sing. I assume you’re no stranger to guitar.”
“One can always improve.”
“True. But if you think vocal lessons will open doors—”
“It can’t hurt.”
“It won’t help, either. This town doesn’t care about your vocal chops or how well you can play guitar. Half the guys pumping gas can sing as well as most male vocalists on the charts.”
“Yes ma’am.”
Melissa sipped her drink. “Where did you go to school?”
“Vanderbilt.”
“You think that makes you a better musician?”
“Not necessarily. A lot of successful artists never studied in college. Clint Black, Chet Atkins, Christina Aguilera, Bryan Adams, Taylor Swift…”
Melissa set her glass down. “Anyone with a mouth and two good ears can learn to sing and play guitar. It’s what you bring to the table. How you stand out from the pack that matters.”
“You sound like someone else I know.” Leland opened his guitar case and lifted his acoustic Gibson. “My mother gave me this when I was young. She saved her pennies waiting tables.”
“Does she play?”
“She used to. Before she died.”
“I’m sorry…”
“She always loved music. Said I should follow my dreams no matter how crazy. The whole life is too short thing.”
“What about your dad?”
Leland adjusted the A string to sharpen the note. He strummed through a simple chord and heard the tone resonate. Then he played scales with a classical arpeggio style, his callused fingertips effortlessly transitioning from string to string and fret to fret. “He encouraged me to do what I love.”
Melissa glanced at his empty wedding finger. “Are you married?”
Leland stopped playing. “Never met the right one.”
“Girlfriend?”
Leland looked up at Melissa. “Not anymore.”
“Sounds like she ripped the Band-Aid off.”
“Something like that.”
“What do you do for fun?”
“I play music.”
“I meant besides music.”
“I write songs.”
“That’s still music.”
“Music is my life. When I sing, everything sort of falls into place.”
Melissa finished her whiskey and opened the double glass doors to her private recording studio. She dimmed the recessed lighting and sat down at the grand piano. “Play something.”
Leland carried his guitar and tapped the microphone. He heard thump, thump from the speakers. “Anything?”
“You didn’t come here to dance.”
Leland thought a moment and cleared his throat. He strummed the guitar with a slow tempo rhythm. “Nothing’s easy anymore,” he whispered into the microphone.

(slowly)

I’ve been up all night alone
Facing troubles on my mind
What I would give to kiss your lips
And feel you close to me, this time…

(more aggressive on guitar)

But nothing’s easy anymore
I got heartache on my mind
I never felt this way before
I guess a part of me resigned
‘Cause nothing’s easy anymore…

(guitar plays on)

There doesn’t have to be a reason
Time will sort the truth from lies
I want to fall in love again
Throw away this damn disguise

But nothing’s easy anymore
I’ll let you see a better man
You’re the one who I adore
Sometimes you have to take a stand
’Cause nothing’s easy anymore…

(guitar plays on)

My father died alone
A good man gone astray
Left my family feeling empty
Before he finally slipped away

’Cause nothing’s easy anymore
You have to fight for what you need
Pick the pieces off the floor
It ain’t easy to succeed

’Cause nothing’s easy anymore!

Melissa clapped. “Breathe from your diaphragm. And don’t put your mouth so close to the microphone. It distorts the sound. And don’t stand like a mannequin. Move around.”
Leland tuned the strings. “How ’bout this one?” He tapped his boot on the floor to keep the beat. “Love is a state of mind.”

It’s about time…
It’s about space…
It’s a memory… I can’t erase

It’s about then…
It’s about now…
It’s a way to win you back, somehow

So don’t leave…(sustain) me now
Some doors are meant to stay open
A heart can’t be loved if it’s broken
Don’t be afraid, to look inside
You might, be, surprised to find

(fast strum)

Love is a state of mind
Love is a state of mind

It’s a new path…
An about face…
Emotions that we can’t replace

It’s about us…
It’s about them…
It’s about how we start this over again

So don’t leave… (sustain) me now
There’s only so far you can see
Trust in your heart to be free
But don’t be afraid to give in sometimes
You might be, surprised, to find…

(fast strum)

Love is a state of mind
Love is a state of mind

You should try it from time to time…

Love is a state of mind… (slow tempo)
Love is a state of mind… (slow tempo)
Love is a state of mind… (slow tempo)

Melissa rested her hands on the piano bench. “You hold a lot of resentment. She must have been someone special.”
“I play how I feel it.”
“Work on something more upbeat. Something with a positive vibe. A song to show off your range.”
“I have one in mind.”
“Do you dance?”
Leland grinned. “Are you asking me to prom?”
Melissa avoided eye contact with the handsome stranger who reminded her of a boyfriend she had in college. “Mayor Dean is hosting a charity event.” She read Leland’s curious expression. “Our Nashville mayor.”
“I knew that,” Leland said sheepishly.
“I hate going to these things alone. I’m not asking for a date. Just thought you might want to tag along. Big names will be there.”
“I appreciate the invite, but I told my daughter I’d take her fishing.”
“The forecast is calling for rain again.”
Leland reached in his pocket when his cell phone rang. He cringed when he heard Abby’s principal on the other end. “I’m sorry,” he told Melissa. “I need to get my daughter from school before she earns another merit badge for detention.”

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