Leland met up with Sid in the emergency room at Vanderbilt Hospital. Slightly winded from his jaunt through the parking garage, Leland caught his breath and asked, “How is she?”
Sid motioned for Leland to follow him. “This way.”
“The doctor said Melissa suffered a small myocardial infarction.”
Sid moved aside for a team of paramedics to wheel a gurney past him. “They’re running tests.”
“What about her boys?”
“They’re with her now. She’s been asking for you.”
“Is she okay?”
“Thank Adam. He found her on the floor at home and called for help.”
Leland rubbed a knot in his shoulder. He could only imagine what Melissa’s boys were going through. “This is crazy.”
“She’s behind the last curtain on the left. Go see her. I have another call to make.”
Leland stood alone for a moment to compose himself before he ventured through the ER and opened the privacy curtain to find Melissa’s boys half asleep standing up. He gave a curious nod to the tall, slender man with sandy blond hair and glasses who stood between them. He approached Melissa slowly. “Sid told me you were here.”
Melissa touched her face. “I look like crap.”
“I got here as soon as I could.”
“No worries,” Melissa assured him. She laid on her back with her head propped up on pillows. A bevy of medical equipment monitored her heart rate and pulse oximetry. “Where’s Abby?”
“At home with a friend.”
Melissa pointed to the man with her boys. “This is Martin. The boys’ father.”
Leland extended a handshake and received a vice grip from Martin’s bear paw in return. “Leland Presley.”
“Martin Hamilton, the Third.” He gripped Leland’s hand for several seconds before he finally let go.
“Good to meet you,” Leland offered.
“Likewise. What brings you here?”
“Why don’t you take the boys for a soda,” Melissa intervened.
“You sure?” asked Martin.
Martin looked at Leland through pinched eyes. “I appreciate what you did for my boy. Mel told me what happened in the storm.”
“It was nothing.”
“I’m glad my boat was there to help.”
“I heard you went to Vanderbilt?”
“Long time ago.”
“So did I,” Martin added. “What year did you graduate?”
“What was your major?”
“Same here. You ever have Doctor Blackman?”
“I don’t recall.”
“You don’t remember your professors?”
“It was a long time ago.”
Martin nudged his glasses on his nose. “So you said.”
“Give us a minute,” Melissa prompted.
Martin diverted his attention from Leland in the three-way conversation. “I’ll take the boys to the cafeteria.”
Leland waited for the room to clear before he leaned over to kiss Melissa’s head. “I was worried about you.”
“Don’t be. I’m fine.”
“You had a heart attack.”
“More like bad indigestion.”
“Sid told me you passed out.”
“For a couple seconds. No big deal. Sid exaggerates.”
“Nothing.” Melissa swallowed. “My prescription ran out for my pain meds. My doctor wouldn’t sign another refill, so I had Sid explore alternative options.”
“You could have died.”
“But I didn’t.” Melissa reached for the pink water pitcher by her bed. “I’m out of here tomorrow morning.”
“Let’s see what your doctor says.”
“I have a hair appointment.”
“Your hair can wait.”
“You’re sweet. No guitar?”
“Not this time.”
“I was hoping you might play for me,” Melissa quipped, her sense of humor tapered by the buprenorphine in her system. She held Leland’s hand for comfort. “Thank you for coming. It means a lot to me. You mean a lot to me.”
“Wait ’till the drugs wear off.”
“I’m not delusional, Leland Presley. I know exactly how I feel.” She kissed his hand. “Do I scare you?”
“I see I’ve got some competition.”
“Martin is an ass. I’m sorry you had to meet him like this.”
“Don’t be. He’s part of your life.”
“Was part of my life. He wants to buy my house.”
“Martin doesn’t know how to live alone. His girlfriend left him, so he’s decided he misses his boys.” Melissa let go of Leland’s hand and brushed her hair back with her fingers. “My boys barely know him anymore. He was a very different man before I married him. Before he went to law school and decided music wasn’t his thing anymore.”
“Does he play?”
“He used to play guitar. At least he thought he did. He was never much of a singer. Tried to start his own band.”
“He bombed.” Melissa sipped water from her plastic cup. “I don’t regret my boys for one second, but if I could do it over again, I would.” She touched her hair again. “I didn’t want you to see me like this, but I’m glad you’re here.”
Leland helped her adjust a pillow. “I think you’re an amazing woman.”
“Your concert’s coming up.”
“Are you ready?”
“What about the band?”
“Brad Siegel has a lot of faith in them.”
“Well I have a lot of faith in you! This is a great opportunity.”
“What does Abby think about you singing live in front of millions?”
“She doesn’t know yet.”
“She never asked.”
“She’s your daughter.”
“She’s driving me nuts.”
“She’s a teenager girl. That’s part of her job description.”
Leland refilled her water cup. “Does your back hurt?”
“I’ll deal. I’m not spending the night in here. This place is a germ factory.”
Leland studied her expression. He could tell something bothered her, a deeper pain, more emotional than physical. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Melissa glanced at Martin when he entered the room. “I’m tired.”
Leland acknowledged the boys’ father again. “It was nice to meet you.”
Martin typed a message on his phone. “Likewise,” he said without looking up.
“Take good care of her.”
Martin smoked a menthol-flavored Kool outside the hospital, where he contemplated his options with Melissa and the house. He needed time to reconnect with the life he’d left behind; a life with a thriving practice and a family he sorely missed.
He blew smoke when an ambulance approached in the distance, lights flashing, siren wailing. He could feel the sense of urgency as the ride drew closer, an almost mild euphoria he attributed to the blended tobacco and his instincts as a highly successful personal injury attorney. The same instincts that told him when something, or someone, didn’t feel right.
He flicked his ash at the sidewalk and checked his messages. His last settlement from a wrongful death suit would keep him flush long enough to rebuild his Nashville practice. With the right contacts in a city nearly crippled by historic flooding, new clients would present themselves in short order.
He dropped his cigarette butt inside the smokers’ receptacle and went back inside to catch Sid and the boys. “You headed home?” he asked Sid who shuffled through the waiting area with Jonathan and Adam by his side.
“We’ll be back in the morning.”
“I can take the boys with me.”
Sid looked at Jonathan and Adam. “Melissa asked me to take the boys tonight.”
“You’re her agent, not her babysitter. The boys should crash with me and spend some time with their old man.”
Sid ushered the boys toward the parking garage. He had no one to blame but himself. He should have forced Melissa into rehab, or at the very least, stopped supporting her addiction. He’d given her what she wanted instead of what she needed. Now her boys needed a father, not their dad.
Martin followed them. “My car’s not far.”
“Unless Melissa says otherwise, her sons are staying with me.”
“I’m not the bad guy here.”
“We’ll be back tomorrow morning. You can see the boys then.”
“What about school?”
“I’ll drop them off late.” Sid clenched the car keys in his pocket while Martin lingered like a bad cough. “What exactly is your end game?”
Sid brought the boys to his black Escalade. “Good night, Martin.” He unlocked the doors to let the boys climb inside and put their headphones on.
“Mel needs me.”
“That’s for her to decide.”
Martin waved at his boys through the tinted windows. “Is she still using? I can have the hospital send me her lab results. I’d be willing to bet you supply her with more than career advice.”
Sid moved away from his SUV and stood toe-to-toe with Martin. “She’s still in pain.”
“She seemed cozy with Mr. Presley.”
“He’s a friend.”
“He’s been tapping her, hasn’t he.”
“Melissa’s personal life is none of my concern—or yours.”
“And yet my sons are going home with you.”
Sid looked back at the boys through the Escalade windows. “I think we’re done here.”
Martin stood his ground. “No, we’re just getting started. My sons nearly died in the flood. Mel’s broke. Her career is over. I know about her label’s lawsuit and the IRS vultures circling over her waning assets. What I don’t know is why she’s with that cowboy circus act.”
“Lelandsaved Jonathan’s life.”
“Jonathan should have never been put in that situation to begin with. Tomás was irresponsible.”
“Tomás is dead.”
Martin reached for his cigarettes. “Despite what you think of me, I’m still the boys’ father.”
Sid opened the driver’s door. “Only on paper,” he said before he climbed inside his luxury SUV and drove off.
* * *
Martin lit up and blew smoke. He wanted his old life back. A fresh start. A clean slate. An opportunity to undo the mess he’d made with his family. He couldn’t change the past, but he could bury it and build a future. His boys would come around eventually. He could see it in their eyes. Melissa would prove the greater challenge.
He inhaled a long drag and shuffled toward his black BMW 850i parked near the back of the garage. He’d ordered flowers for Melissa’s room with a box of her favorite chocolates. He had time on his side, and he had the law.
He drove from the hospital to his hotel, pursuing the same detour he’d traveled the night before. A hot shower and a meal at the onsite restaurant revived him before he caught the local news coverage of the ongoing flood relief efforts. “One second,” he said inside his top floor suite when he heard the expected knock from his associate.
He powered off the flat screen and opened his room to a man in jeans and a brown leather jacket. “You dyed your hair.”
The man entered the room. When the door closed behind him, he handed Martin a cash-filled envelop. “I need to stay under the radar.”
“Anyone see you come up?”
“I waited in the car for awhile and came through the side entrance. No one saw me.”
Martin counted the money. “I trust everything’s in order?”
“The cops think I split town. How’s the Mrs.?”
“You tell me.”
“I did some digging like you asked. She’s got money troubles for sure. The bank wants the house. Her record label has a law suit pending for breach of contract. She’s sold a lot of property recently and several horses. The IRS is pressing her for back taxes.”
Martin continued counting the large denomination bills. “What else?”
“The Mercedes was totaled in the flood. The house suffered some minor roof damage but nothing serious.”
“What do you know about Leland Presley?”
“Some musician she’s been seeing. I don’t like the guy getting close to my boys.”
“I can dig into him.”
Martin peeled off several hundred dollars from the crumpled envelop and extended the cash. “For your time… Pull everything you can on Leland Presley. I want to know his life inside and out.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Anything I can use.”