Music City Madness: Chapter 88

Melissa glanced out her tinted bus window at the early morning traffic moving south along I-95 toward Melbourne, Florida. Alone with her boys and a driver who took kindly to kids, she noticed the familiar landmarks from the zoo to the Suntree Country Club along the Wickham Road exit heading east from the interstate, past the Maxwell King Center, toward Wickham Park. Years ago, she’d played the same location as a warm-up act for Vince Gill. She’d learned how to pace herself on stage, absorbing pearls of wisdom from accomplished singers and musicians willing to impart their knowledge for the sake of improving their craft. Eventually, her own musicians disbanded as competition escalated among major record labels vying for the strongest talent. Now, thanks to Sid, she found herself attached to an A-list team of professional musicians and seasoned crew members willing to endure the daily grind of back-to-back shows under less than ideal conditions.
She checked on her boys to find them snoozing in their racks when the bus entered the sprawling outdoor venue across from the community college.
“Where is everyone?” Melissa asked her driver.
“Don’t know,” the driver answered while several crew members offloaded equipment from a cargo van. “They must have got a late start.”
Melissa felt the bus shimmy and jerk during slow speed maneuvers within the reserved parking area until it settled in its designated space. She stepped out to find Sid near a black limousine, in a pair of light blue golf shorts and a red Arnold Palmer shirt. “What are you doing here?” she asked, surprised by the unexpected visitor.
“I heard there’s going to be a great show tonight.”
“We deliver a great show every night. Why are you really here?”
“I wanted to tell you in person. Wharton Brothers decided to exercise an early termination clause. Translation…”
“I know what it means,” Melissa acknowledged. “My tour ends here. And so does my career. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Good news travels fast. Bad news travels faster. What about my band?”
“They’ll find work. Brad Siegel has other gigs lined up for them.”
“I should have known he was involved in this.”
“I tried to renegotiate,” Sid explained.
“I get it. What about my new album?”
“You’ll finish it. Just not with Wharton Brothers.”
“What about my duet?”
“I’m still working on it.”
Melissa followed Sid toward the main stage area, where crew members assembled racks of lighting gear. “How long have you known?”
“I got the call the other night. I booked a plane to Melbourne so I could tell you in person. Where are your boys?”
“Still snoozing on the bus.” Melissa strolled toward a patch of shade. “This life’s not for me anymore. The boys took to it at first. Then the novelty wore off. They miss their home and their friends and Tomás.”
“Tomás misses you.”
“Brad Siegel’s a prick,” Melissa vented. “And useless as a screen door on a submarine. I want a label who believes in me. A lot of women succeeded way beyond their prime. Bette Midler. Barbara Streisand. Cher. Celine Dion.”
“Technically, Celine is younger than you.”
Melissa gave Sid a heated glance. “Not funny.” She followed him to a row of folding chairs near the stage. “Where’s my band? I haven’t seen them since we left Atlanta yesterday.”
“They’re around.”
“Their bus wasn’t in the parking lot. They better not be camped out in Cocoa Beach. We have a lot of work to do.”
“Relax. Let life come to you for a change.”
“This from the man who traveled eight hundred miles to tell me I’m fired.”
Sid grinned. “If you could have one wish, what would it be?”
Melissa contemplated the question. “A better agent.” She touched Sid’s arm and chuckled. “I’m kidding.” She looked at the stage prepped with drums, guitars, and a microphone stand. “What would you wish for?”
“A new client,” Sid pushed back.
“Then I guess we’ll both be disappointed.” Melissa followed him to a pair of folding chairs near center stage with RESERVED signs hanging off the back. “What are you doing?” she asked when Sid claimed a seat.
“I’m tired of walking.”
“You just got out of your limo.”
Sid tapped the chair beside him. “Flatter me.”
“What is this?”
“A surprise.”
Melissa remained standing with her hands on her hips. “You know I hate surprises.”
“Everyone always says they hate surprises, but people love them.”
“I’m not most people,” Melissa professed as she noticed her band members appear one-by-one on stage with Leland. She looked at Sid, then back at Leland. A moment later, she heard the bass drum pounding in rhythm with her elevated pulse. Her lead guitarist played edgy, up-tempo power chords while the bass guitar added a vibrant, southern-rock melody. The music pumped through her like the blood in her veins as Leland approached the microphone stand.

Leland admired the gathering crowd and signaled the band to take the volume down a notch. He slipped his arm through the strap on a white Stratocaster and spoke in a confident voice projected through a stack of Marshall amplifiers. “I have so much in my life. More than any man could ask for. More than I deserve. But I can’t stand the thought of living one more day without you, Melissa Hamilton. You mean the world to me. I wrote this one for you. I hope you like it.” He signaled the band to bring the music full force. Then he started to sing…

I believe in heav-en
And a life up above
I believe in des-tiny (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
And the value of love

I believe in freedom
And the power to choose
I believe in emp-athy (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
And a life without rules

(guitar transition; new chord progression; uptick in tempo)

We all go astray, but that doesn’t change who we are (drum crescendo)
You are a-m-a-zing!
Like the sun that warms the earth, you warm my heart
You are everything a man could want and more…

(Slow tempo, edgy southern-rock power chords on guitar)

I believe in karma
And the lessons I’ve learned
I believe in hon-esty (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
When the tables are turned

I believe in valor
And help from above
I believe in des-tiny (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
And the strength of our love

(guitar transition; new chord progression; uptick in tempo)

We all go astray, but that doesn’t keep us apart (drum crescendo)
You are a-m-a-zing!
In everything you do
Like the faithful who believe in mir-a-cles…

(pause music, vocals only for next line)

I believe in you…

(Continue with slow tempo, edgy southern-rock power chords on guitar)

I believe in you…
I believe…in you…

(music fades)
Melissa ran to the stage amid a cacophony of cheers. Her eyes teared as Leland helped her up. She wrapped her arms around him and whispered in his ear, “I believe in you too.”
Leland lifted her feet off the ground. He pointed at Abby in the flash mob audience and gave her a big thumbs up. “What do you think?” he asked Melissa.
Melissa raised a fist at her band. Then she relaxed her arm and waved at her boys in the crowd. “My boys are fakers!”
“They were all for it.”
“What kind of name is Peter Blankenbaum, anyhow?” she razzed him.
Melissa laughed, her spirits high on love. “I had a dream about Elvis the other day. He was in his seventies, and I swear he sat right next to me on the plane. It all seemed so real.”
Leland marveled at her candid jubilation. “Stranger things have happened…”


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