Music City Madness: Chapter 69

Melissa settled into a booth by herself in the downstairs bar at Robert’s Western World, a place she wouldn’t typically frequent, if not for Leland and the lasting impression he’d made on her.
Live music filled the air from young musicians on upright bass and steel guitar in the self-proclaimed home of traditional country music. The tang of cheap beer, fried bologna, and sweet potato fries barely moved the needle on her appetite, but she wasn’t there for midnight snacks or live music. She wanted the one person she could open up to about anything, without remorse or second-guessing her intentions; a man she experienced an almost soul-mate connection with. Leland Presley brought her joy, and for the first time in many years, she found herself falling in love again.
She flagged a waiter and ordered a drink. When she saw Leland enter the bar, she stood up and received him with an assertive kiss. “What took you so long?”
Leland dragged a chair beside her and settled in. He held Melissa’s hand on the table, ignoring the drunk patron playing grab-ass with the waitress at the booth beside him. “Since when do you hang out at hillbilly diners?”
“Best cheeseburger on Broadway.”
“And the prettiest woman in Nashville.”
Melissa grinned. Her brown eyes danced in the warmth of Leland’s affection. “You mean, Tennessee.”
Leland kissed her. “Yes ma’am.”
“Thank you for meeting me so late. I didn’t think you’d be able to get away. Where’s Abby?”
“At home with a sitter.”
“How’d you manage that at this hour?”
“I tip well.”
“I bet you do,” Melissa baited him. “Sid came to my house to check on me, so I left the boys with him.” She laughed quietly. “Does that make me a bad person? I needed a break, and I wanted time alone with you.” She nestled against Leland’s arm. “Sometimes I wish Martin was the one who drowned in the flood. I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but he can be such a bastard at times.”
“What happened?”
“Nothing. It’s not worth your time.”
“I’m here with you. My time is yours.”
Melissa rubbed his arm. “He bought the boys’ horse, Sabrina, from the man I sold her to and towed her back to my house.”
“When?”
“Today.”
“Did your boys know?”
“They were with him. He picked them up from school without my permission. I made him take the horse back. The boys are devastated. Now they hate me, which is exactly what he wanted all along.”
“They don’t hate you.”
Melissa accepted her bourbon from the waiter. “I know, but now I look like the bad guy. Again. I sold Sabrina and the other horses because I can’t afford to keep them anymore. Now I’ve let my boys down twice.”
“They’re strong boys. They’ll understand.”
“And to think I married Martin in the first place.”
“How long did you know him before you were married?”
“We met in college. I know it sounds cliché. He was a music major. You believe that? We both dropped out to chase the same dream. I wanted to be a singer. He wanted to start a band.”
“What happened?”
“My career took off. His didn’t. He was never cut out for the life. He went back to school when Jonathan was born and changed majors to study history. He started law school a year after Adam was born. He wanted one of us to have a stable career, which was ironic because I was the one supporting our family while he was neck deep in school work. Eventually, I discovered I wasn’t the only woman in his life. I divorced him when he chased his paralegal to California.”
Leland rubbed her hand. “You’ve been through a lot.”
“Nothing I can’t handle. I know this sounds crazy, but I’m thinking I should sell the house to Martin after all. School is over. I can take the boys on the road with me for the summer.”
“You’ll still need a place to come home to.”
Melissa kissed him tenderly. “As long as I have you to come home to…”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“You have a big concert coming up. I shouldn’t be distracting you like this.”
“Sid thinks the concert will open doors.”
“He believes in you. And so do I.”
“I’m worried about Abby. She keeps pressing me to spend time with her mother.”
“What did you tell her?”
Leland looked up at the ceiling and across the room before he refocused his attention on Melissa. “I told her the truth.”
“Then you did the right thing.”
“Abby doesn’t understand.”
“She was too young to know what happened. She sees her mom in a different light. Give her space. You can still protect her, but she’s not a baby anymore. At some point, she’s going to know her mom whether you want her to or not.”
“What if I don’t want her to?”
“It’s not about you, Babe.”
“But I’m all she has right now.”
“My boys still wake up from nightmares about the flood. I think they’re terrified of water. They keep asking about their dad. How long is he staying? Is he going to live with us again? I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I can’t stomach three minutes alone with their father.”
Leland gave a sympathetic nod. “How do you feel, physically?”
“I’m good. Some days have been better than others. Sometimes I can’t sleep, but I blame my insomnia on you.” She smiled warmly. “I love you Leland Presley. I think I have from the first time I met you. I was just afraid to admit it.”
“I have this affect on women.”
Melissa gently bit her lip. “Do I scare you?”
Leland kissed her softly on the lips and wrapped his arm around her. “I love you too. I can’t imagine my life without you.”
“Come home with me.”
“I can’t stay long.”
“I want you to stay the night.” Melissa kissed him again. “I want to wake up and feel you beside me. Can you do this for me?”
“You make a convincing argument.”
“Have you thought about traveling on tour with me?”
Leland gently pulled his hand away and sat upright in his seat to acknowledge Martin suddenly standing at the table. “I think we have company.”
Melissa moved her chair. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She could tell by Martin’s appearance, he’d been drinking. “What are you doing here?”
“I was in the neighborhood.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“If you’re still mad about the horse—”
“I’m not having this conversation with you.”
Martin gestured toward Leland. “I can see you’re with company.” He mimed the action of tipping an imaginary hat. “I bid you, good evening Mrs. Hamilton and Mr. Presley. Or should I say Mr. Blankenbaum? Mr. Peter Blankenbaum.”
Leland kept his arm around Melissa.
“Well…” Martin continued. “Which is it? Presley or Blankenbaum.”
“The name is Presley,” Leland emphasized. He caught Melissa’s head nod in his peripheral vision.
Melissa laid her head on Leland’s shoulder. “Go home, Martin. I’m too tired for your bullshit.”
Martin stepped back and threw his arms up. “Why don’t you ask him yourself? His birth certificate says Peter Blankenbaum. If it were me, I’d have to wonder why someone with a birth name would go around pretending to be someone else?”
“You’re drunk, Martin. And you’re embarrassing me. Leave us alone, or I’ll have you thrown out.”
“You’re not the one who should be embarrassed. Peter Ryan Blankenbaum. Born December twelfth, nineteen seventy-five. Parents, Lucinda and Ryan Blankenbaum. Both currently residents of Illinois’ Menard Correctional Center. Both convicted for the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine. Should I go on?”
Melissa lifted her head from Leland’s shoulder. “I thought you said your mom died?”
Leland looked at Melissa. “My foster mom died from breast cancer. I never knew my biological parents.”
“So are you Leland Presley or not?”
“I took Leland Presley for my stage name. I legally changed it ten years ago. Always thought it sounded better than the one on my birth certificate. My father was never around. I had no reason to carry his family name.”
Melissa put her hands on the table and drew a deep breath. “So you lied to me?”
“I never use my former name. It has no meaning to me. No connection to who I really am.”
“And who are you? Really?”
“The man you know. The same man I’ve always been.”
“You said your mother encouraged you to follow your heart and pursue your dream.”
“My foster mother. She was all I knew growing up.”
“In Nashville?”
“I grew up in Oklahoma City.”
“You told me you grew up outside Nashville.”
“I did, at one time. After I left foster care. I got married and had Abby. When she was born, we moved back to Tulsa to be closer to her mother’s family.”
“He never went to Vanderbilt,” Martin added. “I checked. There’s no record he was ever enrolled.”
Melissa leaned away from Leland. “Did you ever study there?”
“No. But I know more about music than any worthless degree could grant me. No one learns to sing from a book.”
“Then why lie about it?”
“I wanted to impress you. To find some common ground. A connection. My feelings for you are genuine.”
Melissa glared at Martin in disgust. He’d done a bad thing in a bad way, but he spoke the truth; a truth she wanted to believe was a lie. For the man she’d fallen in love with would have never invented himself and carried such a ruse for so long.
“Ask him about his wife,” Martin gloated. “Go on…”
Melissa touched Leland’s arm. “You mean, ex-wife?” she asked rhetorically.
“Technically, I’m still legally married,” Leland confessed. “But I can explain—”
“Save it,” Melissa cut him off. She stood up from the table and pushed Martin aside. “I knew it when I saw that woman with you and Abby at the hospital. I should have trusted my instincts.”
“That was Nicole.”
“So you’ve been two-timing me with your girlfriend and your wife?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Melissa bristled. “You’re quite the gigolo.”
“Wait,” Leland pleaded.
“You’ve been lying to me all along.”
“I was going to tell you. When the time was right.”
“That time has come and gone. I trusted you. I shared things with you.”
Leland fought the urge to throw a fist Martin’s way, but refrained from a course of violence. “I know… And you have every right to be mad at me. I never meant to hurt you. I’ve been chasing the same dream for so long, I failed to realize what I wanted most in life was staring right back at me.”
“Really?” Melissa stammered. “Then maybe you should stop staring in the mirror.”

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