Music City Madness: Chapter 24

Leland admired his blue western shirt in front of the bathroom mirror. Dressed for success in new Wranglers and a pair of black Python Laredos he’d snagged for cheap money at Ross, he applied enough Chrome cologne to smell nice without overachieving. Outside the house, heavy rain splashed at windows while rushing water gurgled furiously through aluminum downspouts. “I’ll be back this afternoon,” he called out to Abby as he entered the living room to find her snooping behind piles of opened boxes. “There’s fresh bread for sandwiches and a new milk in the fridge. Leave your phone on and keep the doors locked until I get home.”

Abby shoved a box against the wall. “I can’t find Tiger.”

“He’s around here somewhere.”

“I’ve looked everywhere.”

“Did you check all the closets?”

“I already did. And under my bed.”

“He probably found somewhere new to hide.”

“What if he snuck outside in the rain?”

Leland opened the kitchen pantry and checked the bottom shelf. “He’s not in your room?”

“He slept on my bed last night, but when I woke up, he was gone.”

“Open a can of food. He’ll come out when he hears you pop the lid.”

“I tried that already. I think the storm scared him off.”

“The storm will be over soon. He’ll come out when the thunder stops.”

Abby marched through the house, inspecting the same hiding spots she’d checked before. She left her phone on the kitchen counter unplugged from the charging cord. “Why do you have to be at the mayor’s house?”

Leland hunted for his umbrella. “Because I was invited.”

“When are you coming back?”

“This afternoon.”

“You said you’d take me fishing today.”

“It’s supposed to rain all day.”

“It might stop.”

“We’ll go tomorrow if it clears up.”

“Can you drop me off at the mall?”

“I don’t have time.”

“My friends can bring me home.”

“Do I know them?”

“They go to my school.”

Leland fumbled with the broken release mechanism on the golf umbrella he found sandwiched between a stack of moving boxes. “Not today,” he concluded with an apologetic tone.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want you out with people I don’t know.”

“Then take me with you.”

“I can’t. This isn’t a family event.”

“So I’m supposed to sit here all day and do nothing?”

“I’ll be back in a few hours. You can finish your homework while I’m gone.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Then play Xbox.”

“I don’t remember where we packed it.”

“Look in the living room boxes. I thought we put it with the DVD player.”

“I don’t know how to hook it up.”

Leland grabbed his keys from the counter. “I have to go.”

“What if something happens while you’re gone?”

“Nothing’s going to happen.” Leland opened the front door to face the rainstorm in his driveway and saw the cat scamper inside between his legs. “I promise.”

* * *

Melissa touched up her makeup in the mirror and puckered her lips painted with Chanel rouge allure velvet alluminous matte. Dressed to the nines in her strapless Jovani and heels, she hoped to draw attention from the stuffy social circle at Mayor Dean’s charity event.

She stuffed her compact in her purse and made her way toward the front of the house to find Tomás on the living room sofa with her boys engaged in a video game battle depicted on the giant flat screen against the wall. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” she said when she noticed Leland’s pickup truck on the property surveillance monitor. She used her smart phone to open the gate and took a pair of crisp hundred dollar bills from her purse. She folded the money and laid it on the sofa beside Tomás. “For lunch and whatever you all decide to do.”

Tomás stood up to follow her to the door. “Gracias.”

Melissa touched his arm. “Thank you.” She waved at Adam on the sofa, momentarily disrupting his concentration.

“Mom!” both boys yelled at once. “We’re in the middle of a game.”

“You boys listen to Tomás,” Melissa lectured. “He’s in charge while I’m gone.” She checked the front windows and sent Leland a text message when she saw his truck outside the house. We’ll take my car.

* * *

Melissa kept both hands on the wheel of her Mercedes coupe with ample distance between herself and the van in front of her while relentless rain pounded the highway along I-24 near Antioch. “They’re calling for two to three inches today.”

“I believe it,” said Leland. He adjusted the power seat to give his legs more room. “Have you ever been to the mayor’s house before?”

“Once. A few years ago.”

Leland viewed the slower-moving traffic in adjacent lanes. “That’s more than me.”

“Where’s your daughter?”

“With friends.” Leland kept a straight face to conceal the fib. The last thing he needed was another woman judging him without seeing the big picture. Between a construction job with no health care, playing small-time gigs at night, a girlfriend who dumped him without leaving her share of the rent, and a crazy wife suing him for partial custody of a daughter she tried to drown, he needed a win. His audition with Capital Country Records was a step up to bat, but any groundwork he could lay beforehand would only help his chances of securing a record deal. “I like your car,” he said to continue the small talk with a woman he barely knew.

“Thanks.”

“Any offers on your house?”

“Not yet.”

“Are you moving locally or out of town?”

“I haven’t decided.”

Leland noticed the way Melissa’s hair caressed her shoulders; the way her lips went crooked when she smiled; the way she talked with her hands.

“Is there something on my face?” Melissa asked after several seconds of awkward silence.

“Nice earrings.”

Melissa touched one of her diamond studs. “They’re from Tiffany’s. My ex gave them to me the first year we were married. The only jewelry he ever bought me—aside from my engagement ring.”

“They look nice on you.”

Melissa shifted in her seat. She touched her hair and adjusted the air vent. Her thoughts vacillated between her stolen savings and her former accountant. “This isn’t a date or anything.”

“No worries. Just point me in the right direction when we get there, and I’ll stay out of your way.”

“I’ll find you when it’s time to scoot.”

“You don’t sound enthused.”

“I don’t know the mayor’s friends very well.”

“Me neither,” Leland said wryly.

“I’m trying to record a new album, and I need all the buzz I can get to help promote it.”

“Do you write your own music?”

Melissa focused on the road, where significant accumulation pooled along the interstate and gusting winds drove the rain horizontal at times. “On occasion. What about you?”

“I like to play my own material.”

“What inspires you to write music?”

“People.”

“What do you mean?”

Leland thought about the question. “I’m a people watcher. Life is about relationships. With ourselves. With others.”

“How can you have a relationship with yourself?”

“A relationship doesn’t have to involve two people.”

“I think a lot of couples would disagree.”

“Doesn’t change how I see things.”

“So what is it about peoplethat inspires you?”

Leland rubbed his hand on his arm above his treble clef tattoo. “Their emotions, mostly.”

“But what inspires you to write about their emotions?”

“People are afraid to admit what they’re thinking. What they’re feeling. How life affects them day to day. Music has a way of evoking emotions people are afraid to acknowledge.”

Melissa changed lanes. “So… if you believe you can have a relationship with yourself, then you’re saying you write about feelings you’re unwilling or afraid to acknowledge yourself?”

“Sometimes.”

“How can you write about something you can’t acknowledge? That’s contradictory.”

“That’s life. Music is art expressed in song. It doesn’t have to involve a logical sequence of events.” Leland watched the rain fall in sheets. “Music is about escape. When I sing, everything in the world makes sense to me. I find solace when I play guitar.”

“You sound like you know what you’re doing.”

“My daughter would disagree.” Leland laughed to himself. “What inspires you to sing?”

Melissa veered into the far right lane and slowed behind stalled traffic. “Shit…”

“What’s wrong?”

Melissa bit her lip. “I think I drove past our exit.”

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