Music City Madness: Chapter 58

Leland knocked gently on Abby’s bedroom door. He’d given her space and let her blow off school for the day. Against his better judgment, he’d called in sick for work and spent the morning on the phone with Sid, venting over Paula’s unannounced visit and her preposterous assertion of custody rights. No matter how many ways he sliced it, he kept coming back to Paula’s state of mental health and the chance she still posed a danger to Abby.

He tried the doorknob and found it locked. “We should talk about this.”

I hate you!” came the stern reply from inside the room.

“No you don’t.”

Yes, I do.

“Then can you hate me out here so we can talk face to face?” He put his ear to the door and listened for signs of life—or at least demonic voices he could reason with. He empathized with her frustration, but a bad reply was better than no reply at all. “I was trying to protect you.”

I don’t need you to protect me.

Leland put his hand against the wall. He touched his gold cross necklace with the other. Abby would have to leave her room eventually, he reasoned. “I thought we had a deal. No more shut-ins when things got tough.”

The deal is void.

“Since when?”

Since you lied to me.

“This isn’t how adults communicate.”

I know. They keep secrets instead.

Leland went back to his room for his guitar. He knew better than to try and sing his way out of the dog house, but he needed something to focus on. “You’re right. No more secrets. I promise.” He strummed the guitar with a lazy hand and asked, “Can you please open the door?”

Did my mom try to kill me because I was bad?

“Absolutely not. Don’t ever think that. You had nothing to do with what happened.”

Then why did she come here?

Leland rested the guitar against the wall. He wanted to play something, anything, but the mood didn’t feel right. “She believes she’s better now and wants to be part of your life.”

Then why did she try to hurt me?

“I don’t know.”

Do you trust her?

“No.”

Am I safe here?

“Absolutely.”

How do you know for sure?

“Because I know your mother doesn’t want to hurt you.”

You just said you don’t trust her. You said she tried to kill me.

“It’s hard to explain through the door.”

Nice try, Dad, but I’m not coming out.

“You have to eat eventually. And you will be going to school tomorrow.” Leland let his words sink in before he retreated to the other room with his guitar. He understood Abby’s point of view, but he couldn’t fathom her stubborn nature, the root of which had kept her alive in the storm. He thought about calling Melissa but hesitated to involve her in his family affairs. His issues were his alone to deal with. Abby would come out eventually. Life would continue. Default reset to normal, whatever normal had become anymore.

He set the guitar in its case when he heard the doorbell ring. He counted twelve dollars and loose change from his pocket for a pizza he’d ordered an hour ago. But instead of a delivery driver, he found Nicole on his welcome mat. “What are you doing here?”

Nicole waved at Leland. Her clothes were frumpled. Her hair and makeup were a mess. “Can I come in?”

“Now’s not a good time.”

“I wanted to grab a few things. I would have called, but I wasn’t sure you would answer.”

Leland stepped back to let her in. “Real quick…”

“Is Abby home?”

“She’s in her room.”

“How is she?”

“Her ankle’s still sore, but it’s manageable.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“She’s gone through a lot. We take it day by day.”

“I miss you,” Nicole said in passing, almost as if she were talking to herself.

Leland walked back toward the living room, where he kept a box with Nicole’s name on it.

Nicole followed closely. “A social worker came to my apartment the other night, asking about Abby.”

“A social worker? What did she want?”

“She wanted to know where Abby went to school. She asked me how long we lived together.”

“Why?”

Nicole shrugged. “She said something about a complaint being filed. It was weird. I felt like she knew me. She kept asking questions about us.”

“What did she look like?”

“I don’t remember exactly. White. She had a buzz hair cut.”

“What was her name?”

“Rhonda something…”

Leland knew better than to trust Nicole, but he believed her. He also imagined Paula pretending to be someone she’s not; a woman who would sell her soul for a chance to reinsert herself in Abby’s life. He showed Nicole the box with her name on it. “What else did she say?”

“Nothing. She kept asking questions.” Nicole pushed the box aside. “Is this everything?”

“I think so.”

“I miss being here, with you.”

Leland backed away. “I think you might have stuff in the garage, but a lot of boxes on the floor got wet.”

“I remember the song you wrote for me.”

“The one I sang before you dumped me?”

“I didn’t dump you, Leland. I was scared. I told you what happened.”

Leland shoved his hands in his pockets and straightened his arms. “I know.”

“I miss waking up with you. I miss seeing you with Abby. I miss everything about us.”

“Don’t go there…”

“I need you in my life, Leland. I want us to be a couple again.”

“If you want, I can mail the rest of your stuff to you.”

Nicole blocked Leland’s path when he tried to step around her. “I don’t care about my useless junk. I came here to see you. I’m not the same person without you.”

Leland took his hands out and pushed her gently, but firmly, away. “I can’t do this.”

“Are you seeing someone else?”

“I don’t love you anymore.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I care about you. So does Abby. But you and I are in different places, and I’ve got a huge gig coming up with this benefit concert.”

“When did this happen?”

Leland looked away from Nicole when his phone vibrated in his pocket. He dug it out and heard, “Where are you?” from Sid’s voice on the other end.

“At home. Now’s not a good—”

Melissa collapsed an hour ago. She’s at Vanderbilt hospital right now.

Leland gaped in stunned silence. “What happened?”

I think she had a heart attack.

“Oh my God…”

I’ll meet you there.

“I’m on my way!”

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