Music City Madness: Chapters 40-41

Leland awoke in his bed to find Abby’s cat vigorously licking his forehead. He threw the blanket off and rolled over to check the time on his alarm clock while the orange tabby remained strategically perched on a queen-size pillow. Dressed in the same clothes from the night before, he dragged himself to the kitchen and fed his furry companion a can of leftover Fancy Feast. Then he powered on the TV to catch the morning news.

In the wake of record-breaking flood conditions, muddy waters continue to spill over the rising Cumberland River, flooding Lower Broadway along First and Second Avenue, engulfing warehouse spaces and destroying millions of dollars in music equipment, including a sixty-foot-wide video screen assembled for Brad Paisley’s upcoming tour. In other areas, floodwater inside the Gaylord Opryland Resort caused substantial damage with more than two thousand rooms decommissioned indefinitely. This comes at the height of tourist season as local businesses continue reeling from the lingering effects of this unprecedented storm. The downtown Nashville Hilton accumulated ten feet of water inside its underground garage, but no rooms were impacted, and hotel management has made rooms available for guests evacuated from the Opryland Hotel. The Hard Rock on Second Avenue will be closed for several days due to basement flooding that destroyed most of their produce and dry goods. And in some residential communities, hundreds of families are finding water, food, and gas in scarce supply due in part to weekend power outages. So far, nine people have perished with at least two thousand homes destroyed or damaged by the flood. City officials peg damage estimates above the one billion dollar mark. Meanwhile, President Obama has declared the four-county region a natural disaster area and has unlocked federal money through FEMA. While county officials stress the fresh water supply is safe, they are urging people to limit unnecessary water usage and avoid traveling, if possible. With flood waters now receding, recovery and clean up efforts have begun as county officials and municipal workers focus on high priority tasks like power restoration and sanitation issues. Nashville Mayor, Karl Dean, announced that much of city government would reopen by Thursday and that every effort was being made to restore city bus services. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more…

Leland rinsed a coffee cup in the sink and poured a shot of Jim Beam. He ran his hand through his matted hair and went outside to find his newspaper floating in a plastic bag at the edge of the driveway. He carried the soggy edition to the house, pausing to inspect several saturated cardboard boxes on the wet garage floor. The Tuesday paper’s front page headline read: SWAMPED.

A quick shower and shave restored his energy before he left the house with his keys and guitar.

The drive to the hospital seemed like an eternity, fraught with winding detours punctuated by standing water, broken roads, downed power lines, and fallen trees. Police managed roadblocks city-wide while the persistent buzz of chainsaws filled the airwaves. On some streets, kayaks, canoes, and inflatable boats outnumbered cars. In other neighborhoods, displaced homeowners used shovels and rakes to clear rubbish left behind in the wake of the devastating flood.

Leland found an open space in the hospital parking lot and carried his guitar inside. He took the elevator to Abby’s room and found her sleeping on her back while a ventilator pumped oxygen through her endotracheal tube. Flower bouquets scented the room with the blinds closed to block the morning sun.

“How is she?” he asked the first nurse who entered the room.

“She’s stable.”

“Is she getting better?”

“We’d like to get her off the ventilator.”

“Where’s her doctor?”

“He’s on rounds, but I’ll let him know you’re here.”

Leland touched Abby’s hair. He kissed her cheek and parked a chair beside her. He missed the sound of her voice and her guarded smile.

He took his guitar from the case and softly strummed a few chords. He tightened the D and G strings to sharpen the notes, vaguely aware of the empty bed behind the curtain bisecting the room.

He’d played the same song over and over in his mind the night before; every word and every note, painting his emotions on a lyrical canvas. Now, his callused fingertips caressed the strings along the guitar neck while his right hand slowly danced above the rosewood sound hole until he found the strength to sing…

I’ve been trying to find

A way to convey, I love you

But the higher I climb, the further I fall away

Now every note I send you, comes out wrong…

You are my song!

My soph-is-ti-cated, four part har-mony…

A twelve-note composition

A Beethoven symphony…

A soothing voice, to carry me along

You are my song…

I’ve been try’n to ignore

What my life would become, without you

But the harder I try, the greater the weight of it all

Now every word I write you, comes out wrong…

You are my song!

A sentimental five chord melody…

A twelve-note composition

A Schubert symphony…

A soothing voice, to carry me along

You are my song…

Remember this My Love, before you’re gone…

The notes I tried to find for you

Were right here all along…

You are my song…

My soph-is-ti-cated, four part har-mony…

A soothing voice, to carry me along

You are my song

You are my… song

Leland kept strumming the acoustic Gibson until he heard someone enter the room. The doctor, he presumed, but when he looked up, the person he found in front of him was the last one he expected to see.

* * *

Nicole stepped around Abby’s bed to touch her hand. “I heard about what happened. I got here as soon as I could. After you called me, I started thinking…”

“I thought you were on tour.”

“Me too,” Nicole professed. “He dumped me for some skank he met at the bar.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. He was a loser. I’m the one who should be sorry.” She watched Leland gently rest his guitar in the case. “Don’t stop on my account.”

“Abby’s probably too old for my singing, anyhow.”

Nicole moved around Abby’s bed to get closer to Leland. “A girl’s never too old to hear her father sing to her.” She put her arm around him and kissed his face.

“Good to know.”

“I just wanted to stop by and check on Abby. I’m staying with my sister until I get a few things squared away.”

“How’s she doing?”

“Better, now that the rain finally stopped. Her yard got flooded, but her house was spared.”

“She’s lucky.”

“Not as lucky as Abby is to have a father like you.”

“That means a lot.”

Nicole squeezed Leland’s arm. “She’ll pull through.”

“She doesn’t give up easy.”

Nicole gave Leland a gentle hug. “Neither do I.”

Chapter 41

Adam rolled over in bed wide awake, his heart pounding in anticipation. The alarm clock on his dresser showed 4:30 a.m. He got dressed in the pale glow from a night light beside his bureau and packed a duffle bag with a map, a flashlight, and his Swiss Army knife. He added three bottles of water and an assortment of snacks he’d squirreled away.

He’d gone days without sleep, and yet sleep was the last thing he needed. No one listened. No one cared. If anyone was going to find Tomás, it would be him. Tomás needed more than phone calls and prayers. He needed someone to help him. If the police cared about Tomás, they would have found him already.

He made his bed with the pillows shoved under his comforter and stuffed several twenty dollar bills in his pocket—the last of his birthday cash he’d saved for a pellet rifle his mom refused to buy him.

The house was quiet when he crept down the sweeping staircase. He knew the code to deactivate the alarm and how to open the gated entrance. He’d left his bike outside behind the bushes the night before.

At the bottom of the stairs, he moved quietly toward the alarm panel on the wall in the foyer. He paused when he heard a noise in the kitchen and saw his brother staring back at him from across the house like a soldier on the opposite side of a demilitarized zone. “What are you doing down here?” he whispered to Jonathan, hoping his brother was merely an illusion.

The kitchen lights came on.

“Turn ’em off,” Adam whispered tersely.

Jonathan lifted a milk jug from the fridge and unscrewed the cap. “I can’t see.”

“You’ll wake Mom up.”

“Where are you going?”

Adam backtracked to kill the lights. “Don’t worry about it.”

Jonathan drank from the milk jug and wiped his mouth with his hand. “You picked a bad time to run away.”

“I’m not running away.”

“Then go back upstairs before I tell Mom.”

Adam set his duffle bag down to rest his arm. “Why are you up?”

“I was thirsty.”

“Don’t tell Mom you saw me.”

“Not unless you tell me where you’re going.”

“I have to find Tomás.”

“By yourself? Half the world’s looking for him.”

“They’re not doing a very good job.”

Jonathan put the milk back and rubbed his eyes. “You have no idea where he is.”

“I know where he was. I remember the road from the mall. The car fell in a giant hole.”

“The police will find him.”

Adam lowered his head. “Maybe.” He picked up his duffel bag and headed toward the foyer.

“How are you going to get there?” Jonathan pried. “The roads are still flooded.”

“I’ll ride my bike.”

“That’s dumb. You can’t ride a bike through a storm.”

“The storm is over.”

“What if you get stuck somewhere?”

“I’ll call the police for help.”

Jonathan looked upstairs when he heard his mom’s cell phone ring. “Mom will be mad.”

“I don’t care. Someone has to find Tomás.”

“They will.” Jonathan followed Adam to the other room. “You’ll get in trouble.”

“I don’t care.”

“What am I supposed to tell Mom when she finds out you’re gone?”

“Tell her I went to clean the stables.”

“We don’t have horses anymore. It might sound more believable if I told her you went to Paris.”

Adam touched the control panel on the wall to deactivate the house alarm. “Tell her whatever you want. I’m leaving.”

“Maybe Mom fired Tomás like everyone else. She just hasn’t told us.”

“She didn’t fire Tomás. She wouldn’t do that.”

“How do you know?” Jonathan posed.

“Because I know.”

“Think about it. Mom made us change schools. She canceled vacation. She fired Yolanda and the pool guy. She sold the Bentley. She sold the horses. Now she’s trying to sell the house.”

Adam thought about his brother’s logic. “Tell her—” he started before the upstairs lights came on.

* * *

Melissa held the guardrail with a firm grip. The weight of the phone conversation with police made her queasy from the news she’d prayed would never come. “Why are you boys up?” she asked at the bottom of the stairs. Tears slid down her face like rain drops on a window pane. “You two should be in bed.”

“I’m leaving to find Tomás,” Adam stated decisively.

Melissa wiped the corner of one eye with her hand. “No, Honey…”

“We have to find him!” Adam pleaded. He looked at his brother for support, sensing Mom had news no one wanted to hear.

Melissa held her arms out. “Come here.”

“I’m leaving.”

“Where is he?” asked Jonathan.

Melissa hugged her oldest son. “I love you.” She held her other arm out for Adam. “Come here…”

“I have to find Tomás!” Adam resisted.

“The police already found him.”

“Where?” Adam dropped his duffle bag and approached his mom. “When is he coming home?”

Melissa reached out for Adam. “Tomás loved you both very much.”

“But when—”

“Honey… I’m so sorry. The police said Tomás died in the flood.”

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