Music City Madness: Chapter 74-75

Crammed in the last row of the standing-room-only section reserved for VIP guests, Melissa maneuvered around a pair of taller gentlemen gazing at the Jumbotron and the swooping television cameras above the sold-out space inside the Bridgestone Arena, where thousands of delirious, screaming fans enjoyed another Brooks & Dunn ballad. Caught in the rapture of live music, her life made sense again. She had her boys. She had an agent who supported her decisions, and she had her career on track for the first time in years. Her carte blanche pass to the best show of 2010 notwithstanding, she embraced the action off stage, an anonymous observer lost in the crowd, adrift in her indecision about the man who stole her heart.

* * *

Sid put his hand on Leland’s shoulder. “You’re on in ten minutes,” he shouted backstage above the sound of live music.

Leland picked at the strings on his unplugged guitar while the rest of his band huddled in the staging area amongst the entourage of country acts waiting to grab the spotlight. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“No you’re not. You were born for this.”

“I’ve got a big act to follow.”

“In ten minutes, you won’t remember who played before you.”

Leland shoved his hand in his pocket when his phone vibrated. His heart sank when he read the message from his wireless carrier, prompting him to enroll in paperless billing. “I’m not sure I can do this…”

“Yes you can. Your whole life has brought you to this moment. Right here. Right now. You pull this off, and your career will explode in ways you never dreamed of.”

Leland looked at Sid through sad eyes. “In some ways it already has.”

Sid acknowledged the stage hand who gave the one minute warning. “You’re almost up. Whatever feelings you have for her, you need to put them on hold.”

“What if there’s more to life than music?”

“Music is your life.”

Leland heard the audience erupt when Brooks & Dunn finished their set. “Maybe I’ve been pretending to be someone else for so long I can’t remember who I really am anymore.”

“You need to focus on the here and now. Put your feelings aside. Think about your future. This is your night, Leland.”

“Maybe, but I’d give anything to have Melissa in my life again.”

* * *

Brad Siegel studied Leland from the bank of video monitors inside the master control room. Behind him, a sound technician stepped over coax cables protruding from a wall-mounted patch panel. Production assistants and television executives lined the perimeter segregated by racks of equipment, camera control units, video servers, digital effects computers, and other electronic apparatus for the concert.

“He sounds flat,” Brad announced with his eyes on Leland and his band on stage. He pressed a single headphone speaker to his ear to hear the stage manager barking about bad lighting.

“We’re live,” a production assistant commented from across the room. “No one will hear the difference.”

Brad pointed to one of the video operators. “Switch to camera number five.”

The assistant manned the controls for the pan-tilt-zoom heads mounted along the catwalk near the ceiling. “Switching to number five.”

Brad pointed to the video monitor that showed a woman and a girl with an amputated arm standing in the right wing. “Who are they, and what the hell are they doing back there?”

* * *

Leland played through the song without incident, well aware of the crowd’s tepid response to the music he’d rather forget than have to play again. Undistracted by the glare from infernal sidelights and the high intensity arc lamps above him, he finished the song note for note with the band he’d inherited from Brad Siegel and the major record label vying for their share of future spoils. When the token applause ensued, he looked out at the sea of bodies packed inside the largest venue he’d ever played, perhaps the only major venue he would ever play. For now, the next few minutes were his to own; a decision he’d made the night before; a decision he hoped would change his life forever.

* * *

Brad hovered over a soundboard. He watched Leland slip off his guitar and step toward the piano at the back of the stage while the band made their exit. “What is he doing?”

“Don’t know,” the production assistant replied. “He’s gone off script.”

Brad slid his hand down his face. “Patch me in. I wanna talk to him now!”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“He took his ear bud out.”

“Then kill his microphone.”

“I can’t.”

“Then go to commercial!”

“We’re not scheduled for another—”

“I don’t give a shit! I want him off the air!”

* * *

Leland sat at the grand piano and adjusted the gooseneck microphone in front of him. His heart pounded in his chest. “I wrote this song for someone very special,” his amplified voice boomed through the concert hall. “Someone who means the world to me. If you’re here tonight, you know who you are. I realize I can’t change the past, but I’m hoping this will show you what I’ve been trying to say.”

He played a melodic intro in E flat major, letting his fingers caress the keys before he took a deep breath and started to sing…

I close my eyes and feel your smile

Hoping that you’ll stay awhile, and share your thoughts

In my life I’ve known true love

But still I find I’m thinking of, something more

Something I cannot ignore

I hold your hand and kiss your lips

If only I could make you see…

A man like me

Could fill your heart and soul, with all the love you need

A man like me

Could help you live your life, beyond the walls, of recent memories

A man like me…

I hear your voice inside my mind

And then I find

An empty space has filled this place and left me here without you

I know our time has come to pass

On faded lines of moon-lit paths

That lead us back to what we had

Reflections, of the time we shared, and thoughts of what could be…

A man like me

To help you live your life, beyond the walls, of recent memories

A man like me

To hold you close at night

And never let you go

A man, like, me…

The past is gone, tomorrow’s now

But in my heart I know somehow

I need to set you free

Still, I hope one day, you’ll find a way, to open up and see

A man like me

Would lift you up and fill your heart, with all the love you ever need

A man like me

Would help you rise above this barricade of recent memories

A man like me…

A man like, me!

Chapter 75

Leland rose from the piano to acknowledge the cheering audience in the Bridgestone Arena. Blinded by the stage lights, he stared out at the legion of concert fans, searching for a single face among the thousands caught up in the country music madness.

When the lights dimmed, he left the stage to confront Sid. “Have you seen Melissa?” he shouted above the ringing in his ears.

Sid paced like an animal in a cage. “Brad Siegel is looking for you! He’s hot as a pistol about this little stunt you carried out.”

Leland pushed through the backstage fracas among performers and production crew. “I have to find her.”

“Brad wants you upstairs, pronto. If he doesn’t tan your hide, I will. What in God’s name were you thinking?”

“She said she would be here.”

Sid snapped his fingers in front of Leland’s face. “Are you hearing me? You need to get your ass upstairs.”

Leland focused his attention on the melee backstage. “Have you seen her or not?”

“You just threw away your music career!”

“I never had it to begin with,” Leland countered. He followed Sid toward a troupe of backup singers, convinced he saw Melissa among them, only to be disappointed when the woman he chased down was someone else. “She’s not coming, is she?”

“What did you expect?”

“A second chance.”

Sid rubbed his hands together. “This isn’t Love Connection. This was your moment. Your shot with a major record label. Do you have any idea how much Capital Country invested in you?”

“I love music, but I love her more.”

Sid pawed at the back of his neck, his expression a mixture of grief and anger. He knew when to push and when to fold. “I saw her this morning in one of the VIP dressing rooms.” He pointed in the opposite direction toward the rehearsal staging area and marched off to find Brad Siegel.

“Are you sure?” Leland stopped in his tracks when he felt a tap on his shoulder and spun around to see Nicole and Abby with all-access passes around their necks.

“I was looking for you!” Nicole exclaimed. She wrapped her arms around Leland in a long embrace.

“What are you doing here?” Leland asked, dumfounded.

“We came to see you!” Abby shouted above the noise.

Leland looked at Abby and gently pushed Nicole away. “You’re supposed to be at home.”

“Not on the biggest night of your life,” said Nicole.

Leland touched her backstage pass. “How’d you get this?”

“You know me. I know people who know people.” She kissed his cheek. “That might be the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. I had no idea you felt that way. Don’t be mad at Abby. I couldn’t leave her home alone.”

Abby touched Leland’s arm. “We wanted to see you on stage.”

“I’m not mad,” Leland reassured her. “Did you like the band?”

“I loved your song.”

Leland checked his voice mail but found a dozen incoming texts from Brad Siegel instead.

“What’s wrong?” asked Abby.

“Nothing. I’m just surprised to see you here.”

Nicole put her arm around Leland. “Let’s go somewhere and celebrate!”

Leland ushered Nicole and Abby toward the exit when a man in a tie approached him.

“Leland Presley?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Leland replied. He patted his shirt for an autograph pen. “I don’t have anything to sign with.”

The man handed Leland a sealed envelop. “You’ve been served.”

Leland took the envelop and opened it to read the folded page inside. The contents hit him like a sucker punch.

“What is it?” asked Nicole.

Leland dropped the page and looked up. “Paula’s suing me for full custody. She’s trying to take Abby away.”

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