Music City Madness: Chapter 25

Melissa tapped her brakes in the stop-and-go traffic crawling south along Antioch Pike off I-24. Runoff water from massive rainfall swelled the normally benign Mill Creek that ran parallel to her location on the jam-packed route outside the rural Nashville suburb. Her navigation display showed less than three miles to the mayor’s residence. “There must be an accident up ahead.”
“Where’s your radio?” Leland asked, pointing at the center console.
Melissa tapped the touchscreen for an AM station and adjusted the volume.
…our weekend forecast calls for heavy rain with two to four inches of accumulation expected by this afternoon over the entire Nashville metropolitan area. The result of unseasonably deep storms originating from the Pacific Northwest and tracking eastward through central portions of Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Cumberland River Valleys. The powerful system brings a low pressure center in the central plains combined with a cold front trailing southward toward the Rio Grande. Expect continued rainfall throughout the day and into tomorrow morning…
Melissa reached for the Percocet prescription in her purse. She opened the lid with the label facing away from Leland and quickly dispensed a pill.
“We’ll get there eventually,” said Leland.
“Sometime today would be nice. We haven’t moved a quarter mile in an hour.”
“No worries.”
Melissa ran her hand through her reddish-brown hair. The pain in her lower back had worsened since she left the house. “For you. I’ve got an album to finish and a tour to plan. This trip is a bust.”
Leland checked his phone for messages and replied to a text from Abby. “I hear teenage boys are easier to raise than girls.”
Melissa cracked a smile. “Did you read that in Men’s Health?”
“Playboy,” Leland confessed with a straight face.
“I’m sure your daughter’s an angel.”
“I love her, but she tries my patience at times.”
“You don’t strike me as an impatient man.”
“You’ve never met Abby.”
Melissa checked her blind spot and signaled to enter the adjacent lane. “My boys fight all the time.”
“How old are they, again?”
“Twelve and eleven. Irish twins born ten months apart. I always dreamed of having girls.”
“Not too late.”
“It is for me. I shut the factory down when my youngest son, Adam, was born.” Melissa tapped the brake to slow with traffic along the road submerged more than three inches deep. “How do you feel about having more children?”
“Is that a question or an offer?”
Melissa blushed.
“One is enough for me,” said Leland.
“What about your ex-wife? Did she ever remarry?”
“Not yet.”
“My ex graduated from the Bill Clinton school of monogamy. Apparently, commitment was a four-letter word in our marriage. Deep down, all men are the same. No offense.”
Leland shifted in his seat. “You just haven’t met the right man.”
Melissa inched forward in traffic. “How long were you married?”
“A few years.”
“A short timer… I guess marriage didn’t agree with you.”
“We weren’t good together,” Leland said with a note of disdain.
Melissa honked her horn in frustration. She steered toward the center line and crept ahead for a better view of the traffic spread in front of her. “This is ridiculous.” She touched the steering wheel controls to surf the stations and stopped on an old Randy Travis hit. “Sorry I dragged you out here on your Saturday.”
Leland liked the way Melissa looked at him when she spoke. The way her eyebrows arched when she emphasized her point of view. The way her lips pursed slightly when she listened. The way her hair caressed her face. “At least we don’t have to worry about a drought.”
“No kidding.”
Leland tuned out the thrum of steady rain and the metronomic rhythm from the windshield wipers. “What inspires you to sing?”
“What do you mean?”
“You never answered my question.”
“What inspires me to sing?” Melissa smiled broadly. “Getting paid.” She gave Leland a sidelong glance. “What? Like you haven’t thought about the money you could make in this business.”
“Money pays the bills,” Leland relented.
“My dad wanted me to go to law school.”
“But you wanted to be a singer?”
“I wanted to be successful at something I was good at. Singing came naturally to me. School, not so much.”
“What did your dad think about you not going to law school?”
“My mom warmed up to it. My dad was always pissed. He thought I was throwing my life away.”
“You would have made a good attorney.”
“Hardly. What about you?”
“Music is all I ever wanted to do. Sounds cliché, I know. But it’s the truth.”
“Nashville can be a lonely place,” Melissa proffered. “It’s all about whom you know and who wants to know you. Speaking of which, how did you hook up with Sid?”
Leland thought to himself. “Long story.”
Melissa motioned at the standstill traffic outside the car. “I’ve got nowhere to be.”
Leland nodded. “He heard me play a small gig in Tulsa a few years back. Thought I could use someone to further my career.”
“Just like that?” Melissa asked incredulously.
“Just like that.”
“Did you grow up in Tulsa?”
“I grew up all over. My parents moved a lot when I was young.”
“What brought you to Nashville? Never mind… I think that’s obvious.” Melissa looked away for a moment, then she cast the gaze from her probing brown eyes on Leland. “I’ve known Sid a long time. I know most of the acts he represents. Funny he never mentioned you before.”
Leland shrugged off the comment. “What was life like on the road? When you were touring with a band.”
“Exciting. Monotonous. Lonely. But I miss it. You know? The energy. The sound of screaming fans who paid to see me. It’s hard to describe. There’s no feeling like it.”
“You must have a lot of stories.”
“A few.”
“Who was the most interesting person you ever met?”
“Tim McGraw. He was the most genuine, down-to-earth person I ever worked with. Not to mention super sexy. He would walk out on stage and draw everyone’s attention to him immediately. One time he told me he never made music for critics. He simply made the record he heard in his head.”
“Did you ever sing with him on stage?”
“No, but I wanted to! I got to meet a lot of incredible people on his team.”
“Maybe I’ll meet some of them today,” Leland said with an optimistic tone, punctuated by a loud thunder clap.
“Maybe…” Melissa stretched in her seat. “If this storm keeps up, we might get there faster by boat.”

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