Music City Madness: Chapter 63-64

Leland softly strummed his acoustic Gibson to produce the melody he’d written the day before. He closed his eyes and imagined Melissa’s image, her very essence captured in the lyrics he’d penned before he set the words to music and brought a new song to life while Abby’s cat howled outside his door. Unfazed by the feline accompaniment, he stopped playing when he heard Abby scream, “DAD!

“It’s late,” he called out from the makeshift studio he’d assembled in his room.

Come here…

Leland rested his guitar in its stand. “Hold on.”

* * *

Abby stood in the hall and pointed at her room. “I heard a noise.”

“What kind of noise?”

“I think there’s a bug in my room. A cricket or one of those flying cicada bugs.”

“Abby…”

“I’m serious. You know I hate those.”

Leland scooped the orange tabby and rubbed his fur. “I’ll throw Tiger in there and let him find it.”

“I don’t want him to eat it.”

“Then you won’t have the bug anymore.”

“What if Tiger gets sick?”

“What if you let this go and try to get some sleep?”

“Nicole let me stay up until eleven.”

“Nicole’s not here anymore.” Leland felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He set the cat down and read a text message from Melissa.

“Who’s that from?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Jonathan said his mom came home from the hospital.”

“Good to know.”

Leland’s phone buzzed again. “You need to get back in bed.”

“I’m not tired.”

“You will be when you close your eyes.”

“What about the bug?”

Leland gave her room a cursory inspection. “Do you want me to sing tonight?”

“Dad…”

“I’ll break out the ukulele.”

“To scare the bug away?”

Leland tugged the lamp chain on Abby’s nightstand. “You want your door open or closed?”

“Leave it open so Tiger can get in.”

“I think the bug’s outside your window.”

“It sounded louder a minute ago.”

Leland stayed by the door. “Good night, Abby.”

Abby called the orange tabby, who purred loudly with his tail in the air. “Dad,” she said in a quiet voice. “I liked the song you were playing.”

“I didn’t know you were listening.”

“I’m always listening.”

Leland closed the door gently and flipped open his phone to re-read Melissa’s invitation for an impromptu rendezvous. The timing was bad, but he wanted to see her again.

He scrolled through the names in his contact list until he came across Nicole’s. He hesitated before he made the call, contemplating his half-baked plan before he made his decision and pressed the phone to his ear. When he heard Nicole reply, he asked, “Could you watch Abby for me tonight?”

* * *

Melissa kicked at a clump of hay inside her empty barn, contemplating Martin’s offer on the house. She missed Tomás, and she missed her horses. So much had changed in recent weeks with her life turned inside out. But she had her boys, and she had an amazing man in her life who made her feel like anything was possible. Dream big or go home, she told herself, staring through the open barn door at the star-filled sky. She slid her hand in the back pocket of her favorite skinny jeans—the ones she wore without underwear—and a form-fitting blouse unbuttoned lower than she’d dare to wear in public.

Headlights approached from the access road adjacent to the edge of her property. Desire swelled within her when she recognized Leland’s ride. “Sanford and Son called,” she said when Leland jumped out to greet her. “They want their truck back.”

Leland bent down to kiss her. “I got here as soon as I could.”

“I missed you. I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to come at all.”

“I found someone to stay with Abby.”

“I assume this someone knows you’re taken.” Melissa brought him toward the barn with a blanket spread over fresh hay. “I hope you don’t mind the accommodations. My boys are in the house with Sid.”

Leland scanned the empty barn with clean floors and new lumber to replace the rotten wood. “I like what you did with the place.”

Melissa kissed him on the mouth more vigorously this time. Then she removed her top to reveal her naked breasts. “Did you miss me?”

“More than you know.”

Melissa felt Leland’s hands on her hips, sliding south in a hurry to help unveil her from her jeans. She unbuckled his belt and unzipped his pants.

Leland kissed her passionately, cupping his hands along the side of her face. He sank with her to the padded blanket and caressed her body.

Melissa felt his arm beneath her and leaned in for another kiss, trembling with every uneven breath as Leland’s warmth pressed against her, then within her. She looked up at his soothing green eyes with her hands on his shoulders, pulling him closer until everything about her life made sense again.

* * *

Leland pondered the stars through an opening in the rafters above while Melissa rested hear head on his chest, her naked body nestled against him. “What are you thinking?”

“I want you to spend the night with me.”

“In the barn?”

Melissa rubbed her hand on his chest. “I didn’t hear you complaining.”

“What about your boys?”

“They’re fine,” she said, enjoying the afterglow. “I love my boys, but I need a break from it all.”

“I missed you.”

Melissa raised her head. “I missed us.”

“No more hospital adventures.”

“No more pills,” Melissa added.

“Are you in pain?”

“Not with you here.”

“Any offers on your house?”

“My ex-husband still wants to buy it. He couldn’t leave fast enough five years ago. Now he pops up like nothing happened. Thinks he can turn his life around and make up for lost time. He doesn’t deserve me or our boys.”

“How do your boys feel about him?”

“Jonathan’s indifferent. Adam craves the attention. Ever since Tomás died, Adam hasn’t been himself.”

Leland caressed her backside with his fingertips. “Do you think we’ll recover from the flood?”

“Nashville is a strong city. Things will get better. What about your concert? Are you ready to command the stage?”

Leland lowered his hand to the small of her back. “I’m good.”

“What does Sid think about it?”

“He thinks I should join The Wiggles.”

Melissa tapped his chest. “He does not!”

“What about your album?”

“I’m still trying to line up the right connections. I’m not exactly Carrie Underwood.”

“She’s not exactly Melissa Hamilton.”

Melissa rolled on top of him with her hips firmly planted on his pelvis. Beads of perspiration damped her forehead. “Good answer.”

Chapter 64

Martin followed his GPS directions on I-40 heading east toward a Cracker Barrel exit. He drove through heavy traffic, glancing at the notes in his Steno Book as he made his way toward a low-rent apartment complex nestled behind a Food Lion. He followed the road beyond the leasing office to a shaded, brick-front building with faded white balconies overlooking a picnic area with graffiti-carved tables and a public grill.

He parked in a handicap zone and climbed to the second floor with his black attaché case. He knocked on Paula Presley’s apartment and introduced himself as Martin Hamilton, attorney at law.

“Do I know you?” Paula asked through the gap in the partially open door, where she eyed the lawyer in a double-breasted jacket with wavy blond hair and glasses.

“Is your husband Leland Presley?”

“Yes. What do you want?”

“I’d like to talk with you about him if you don’t mind.”

“What for?”

“May I come in?”

Paula clutched the aluminum baseball bat hidden from Martin’s view behind the door. “How did you find me?”

“My associate contacted someone at your former residence at the hospital.”

“You mean the psyche ward.” Paula opened the door as far as the chain lock allowed. She kept the bat at her side, just in case. “Who sent you?”

Martin pointed inside the apartment. “If I may?”

Paula gripped the bat tighter. She sized up Martin’s stature with his fancy clothes and polite demeanor. Then she slid the chain lock free and opened her apartment. “Just for a second. I have errands to run.”

Martin noticed the bat and moved slowly. He rested his attaché case on a pine coffee table centered with faux flowers in a glass bead vase. “This won’t take long.” He popped the latches and retrieved a folder with copies of legal documents inside. “I’m aware you’ve filed for joint custody of your daughter, Abigail Presley.”

Paula leaned the bat against the wall. “Why do you care?”

“Because I think we can help each other.”

“How?”

“I’ve reached out to your attorney, and he’s verbally agreed to enlist my help as co-counsel in your custody case. I need your signature to formally authorize my participation.”

“My lawyer never mentioned you.”

“He’s been tied up in court.” Martin handed her the co-counsel agreement. “I understand you had some issues in your past.” He glanced about the sparsely furnished room and noticed the lack of any family photos.

“I tried to kill myself when my daughter was eighteen months old. I never meant to hurt her. I had some problems, but they’re behind me now.” She reviewed the pages of legal jargon while she paced inside the small apartment. “I can’t afford to pay another lawyer.”

“My time would be gratis.”

“Gratis?”

“Without charge. Free.”

“Nothing in life comes free, Mr. Hamilton.” She scrutinized the legal paperwork, oblivious to the carefully embedded language acknowledging her consent to release Abby’s medical records. “I can read, but I can’t make heads or tails of what this paper says. I’m not about to sign—”

“It’s a standard co-counsel agreement. Basically, it states you would now have two attorneys working together on your behalf instead of one. I can email the signed copy to your attorney this afternoon.” He analyzed Paula’s body language and the strange way she counted on her fingers while she reviewed the legal documents. “Do you have regular contact with your husband?”

“Only when I have to.”

“I would keep it that way. The less Leland knows about our conversation, the better.”

“And you’re certain you can help me with my daughter?”

“There are no certainties with the law, Mrs. Presley, but the odds are in your favor.”

Paula discretely slid a forged ID badge off the counter and secured it in a drawer. “And what about my past?”

“We can’t ignore it, but I don’t believe it will be the deciding factor.”

“How do you know?”

Martin ignored the smart phone vibrating in his pocket. “I’ve practiced law for a long time now. Your case is not unique. People are human. They make mistakes.”

Paula settled on the fabric loveseat across from Martin. An argument erupted in the apartment upstairs, followed by loud stomping on the ceiling. “When the accident happened, I told myself it was God’s will.”

“Maybe. But I suspect the devil had a hand in it.”

“I had no intention of drowning my daughter. Munchausen by Proxy, the doctors called it.”

“I believe you.”

Paula shifted her position on the loveseat with the legal paperwork on her lap. “Do you have children, Mr. Hamilton?”

“Two boys.”

“You seem like a decent man.”

“I try to do what’s right.”

“Amen to that.” Paula reached for a pen to sign the papers and gave them back. “What’s in this for you?”

“A chance to help someone who deserves a fresh start.”

“But why me? How did you even know about my case?”

“Serendipity, Mrs. Presley. Sometimes people cross paths for a reason.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Martin closed his attaché case and stood up. “Thank you for your time,” he said as he let himself out. He descended the stairs to the parking lot and found a blob of white bird shit on the roof of his gleaming BMW. He cursed out loud and tried to clean it with a tissue from his pocket, but the effort only made it worse.

He dropped the tissue on the ground and opened the car to settle in the driver’s seat. He checked his voice mail. Then he left the apartment complex and headed for Music Row to meet the infamous Brad Siegel in person.

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