Storm Warning

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Talk To Me-Part One

Rayna sighed as she pulled up to the curb in front of Deacon’s house to drop Maddie off for her weekly guitar lesson with him. Putting her newly fixed Cadillac Escalade into park, she turned around to say goodbye to Maddie. “Here we are. You got everything, sweetie?” she asked.

Maddie nodded as she went to unbuckle. “Yep,” she answered in typical teenage fashion. “Isn’t it great that I don’t have to lug MeeMaw’s guitar you gave me back and forth between home and here every week, Mom? How awesome is Deacon for buying me a brand new guitar? I’m so excited to see it and to play it today. I mean, he sent me pictures and it looks like it cost a fortune! And it’s not even my birthday or Christmas or anything. That is so cool! Isn’t it, Mom?” Maddie asked, her face all lit up with joy.

Rayna smiled back at her, nodding. “It sure is sweetheart. And yes, it was very nice of Deacon to buy it for you so make sure you remember to tell him thank you,” she reminded her, even as Maddie was grabbing her bag and reaching for the door handle.

Still half-way in the car, Maddie turned back. “Already did, Mom,” she said, rolling her eyes. She smiled again, her eyes filling with anticipation. “Hey, why don’t you come in and see it?” Maddie suggested. “You can even stay and listen to me and Deacon play for a bit, too. I’m so glad he’s giving me lessons. He’s a great teacher and such a great guitar player,” she said, praising her newly-discovered Dad.

While it warmed Rayna’s heart to hear Maddie speak so affectionately of Deacon—it saddened her as well. It was a bittersweet, painful reminder of the time she’d stolen from them in choosing to keep the identity of Maddie’s biological father a secret from both Maddie and Deacon. While she knew that her reasons for doing so were well-intended at the time—and reminded herself of that fact whenever the topic arose—it was still a decision she’d never quite forgiven herself for…and doubted she ever fully would. She smiled at the true praise Maddie had made of Deacon’s talent and nodded in agreement. “He’s one of the best guitar players you’ll ever meet, that’s for sure, sweetie,” she assented. “You’re a lucky girl.”

Maddie’s grin was wide. “Yeah…still can’t believe I’m actually his real daughter sometimes,” she said dreamily. “The way Bucky and everyone at Sound Check talk about him, it’s like he’s a legend already. It’s so cool,” she said, still grinning like a fool. “So, are you coming inside Mom?” Maddie asked again, shaking away the look of wistful adoration.

Rayna inhaled sharply at the suggestion, glancing at Deacon’s house from behind the shade of her sun glasses, hesitating. It’d been nearly 3 weeks since the storm and the cabin—and almost that long since she’d last spoken to Deacon. After the incident on the couch—and more specifically the fact that had it not been for Maddie’s quite abrupt and untimely interruption they very likely would have had hot, glorious sex on that couch that morning—the entire situation was, to be perfectly honest—awkward. At least for Rayna it was.

Amazingly, once the storm let up and the rain stopped—and the sun came out and started shining again—things cleared up pretty quickly. Though the water level of the lake remained pretty high, the rest of the property and land dried up swiftly. While Deacon taught Maddie the new chords he’d promised to show her, Rayna had fixed a simple breakfast for the three of them and coffee using the hot plate…impressing both Deacon and Maddie with her improvised-cooking skills. Dragging Maddie away from the guitar long enough to eat had been a challenge—one that had been accomplished with the help of Deacon’s incredible soft-spoken skills of persuasion of course. Though the greater challenge had been in trying to avoid Deacon’s glances over the rim of coffee mugs ever so often throughout the meal. Finally, after a good fifteen minutes or so of sliding her food around the plate with her fork and avoiding Deacon’s sultry gaze of deep, dark amber by staring longingly into her cup of coffee, Rayna pushed away from the table and announced that she was going to run upstairs and take a shower. Run being the operative word in that she practically bolted from the room as she took her dish of mostly untouched food and utensils to the kitchen, scraped her plate and placed the dishes in the sink, then hurriedly went up the stairs—making it a point to NOT look at Deacon as she did so.

Though she was generally not a fan of long, water-wasting showers, she deliberately took her time taking one that day in the upstairs bathroom of the cabin that unfortunately was located only one door down from the Deacon’s master bedroom. It also might have had something to do with the bathroom and shower as well, considering memories she had from that room were also similar to all the memories she’d had from the downstairs rooms as well. She tried to push the images from her mind the best she could and focus instead on her label—a feat that was an ultimate challenge in and of itself, if there ever were one. But Rayna James was nothing if not a determined woman, and so for the most part—the memories of days and showers long-ago were kept in their place. By the time she finished her shower, dressed, tidied up the room where she and Maddie had slept, and gone downstairs—Deacon had gone out to shed and gotten the generator fixed somehow. The power and lights were back on, as she found Maddie curled up on the couch watching “Pretty Little Liars” on the flat-screen TV that hung over the pictures on the mantle above the fireplace while simultaneously charging, texting, and checking her social media profiles on her iPhone. She found out from Maddie that Deacon had gone out to clear the mud from his truck tires and to see if the alternate road to/from the cabin was accessible.

Though it had dug Rayna a little to hear how raring to go and ready to leave Deacon seemed to be now that the storm had passed through—she tried not to let it bother her too much. Instead, she focused on her own responsibilities and the fact that she too had plenty of reasons for getting back to Nashville in a timely manner. It was best, she decided, to leave the cabin as soon as possible. The inappropriate, heavily-sexual undertones of the situation aside, she had a douche-bag CEO that was Jeff Fordham to deal with and a startup record label to run. No, she definitely…desperately had needed to get back to Nashville. For the sake of her career, her personal life…and her sanity. She’d just been getting off the phone with Bucky when Deacon came back in from outside—having explained the entire situation about car and whatnot. Bucky, after inquiring as to her and Maddie’s well-being first and foremost, had assured her he’d get a tow service out there to take care of her vehicle and that he’d hold down the fort with the label until she got back to town. When she hung up the phone, Deacon had informed both her and Maddie of the good news, which was that the other route out of the property was perfectly passable now that the storm was over and they could leave just as soon as everyone was packed and ready, if that was to their liking. While Maddie probably would have preferred to stay at the cabin and play chords with Deacon for an undetermined amount of time, Rayna quickly and gratefully accepted Deacon’s suggested offer to drive them back. They were literally on the road within that hour.

The ride back hadn’t been too bad. There was a period of awkward silence between her and Deacon while Maddie listened to her music library on her phone with her earphones with some mundane snippets of conversation slipped in here and there about the weather and road areas/towns they drove through that appeared to have suffered slight damage due to the storm, but that was about it. Fortunately for Rayna, her exhaustion finally crept up and got the best of her about an hour into the drive and she slept soundly the rest of the way back, waking just as they reached the outer limits of Belle Meade. After pulling up in front of Rayna’s, she’d gotten out and grabbed their things before mumbling a hasty “thank you for the ride” and “glad you were okay” to Deacon. Just as she was about to shut the passenger side door, he’d suddenly offered to take them to a nearby upscale pizza parlor and grab some lunch. Clearly having NOT been in the mood to endure another awkward meal, she’d politely declined. Maddie however had been more than happy to take him up on the offer, quickly asking Rayna for permission to go even as she was jumping out of the backseat and running around the car to slide into the passenger seat that Rayna had vacated. Naturally, Rayna hadn’t objected. And so, after a brief meeting of sizzled, unspoken gazes between Deacon and herself, Rayna had told them to have fun, closed the door and walked into the house. They’d driven away. Deacon had dropped Maddie off about an hour later.

Other than that, Rayna hadn’t seen or spoken to him since that day—save for the brief wave from his porch the week before when she dropped off and picked up Maddie from her lesson and the texts they’d exchanged regarding those lessons and his daily text asking about Maddie’s well-being.

Looking at Deacon’s house, she inwardly cringed. She knew she was going to have to face him eventually…and that she was being childish avoiding him the way that she was…but she just wasn’t ready. It was that simple. Looking back at Maddie, she shook her head and gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry sweetie, maybe another time. I’m supposed to meet your Aunt Tandy for lunch. You have a good lesson, though. Enjoy your new guitar. And I’ll be back to pick you up in an hour, alright?”

Maddie shrugged. “Alright, guess so. Tell Aunt Tandy I said hi and I love her. I’ll tell Deacon you said hi. See you later. Bye Mom,” she said in goodbye as she shut the door and headed up walkway towards Deacon’s.

Rayna watched from the road as Maddie knocked on the door and waited until the door opened a few moments later, Deacon filling the doorway with his flannel-wearing, rugged self. He smiled and said something to Maddie, stepping aside for her to enter. When she passed by him and went inside, she saw Deacon look up and around for her. When their eyes met, she was again grateful for her sunglasses in that he couldn’t see the surprised reaction in hers when she saw the way his eyes narrowed and his brow lifted then furrowed. She shivered under the questioning perusal she saw in his gaze…and then cursed herself for her ridiculousness. Gathering her composure, she righted herself in her seat, shifted her truck into drive, plastered on a smile, and wove politely as she pulled away from the curb and drove away.

She was still berating herself over her foolish antics in avoiding Deacon when she pulled into the parking lot of the 360 Bistro and went inside, spotting her sister sitting in one of their usual spots towards the back of the trendy, upscale Belle Meade restaurant. She hadn’t been lying to Maddie when she’d said she was meeting Tandy for lunch…although she could have spared 5 minutes to go inside and check out Maddie’s new guitar, had she wanted to and NOT been intent on avoiding Deacon if at all possible. Her sister certainly wouldn’t have minded. As it was, Tandy was probably on her third glass of wine already, so Rayna doubted she’d have noticed if she’d been a few minutes later.

Spotting her, Tandy raised her arm and waved her over, though Rayna was already weaving her way through the tables, smiling and saying hello now in response to several greetings by dining fans. She loved the little bistro, not only for its impeccable service, staff, and menu, but for the clientele as well. It had a real Belle Meade connoisseur-ish type feel to it, so people were a bit more laid back and respective of others’ dining privacy. She and Tandy had lunch there nearly once a week when they could, so they were known and treated with the utmost kindness and respect by both the staff and the other patrons. As such, it was no surprise when within a minute of greeting Tandy and taking her seat, a waiter was at their table with a chilled bottle of San Pellegrino water and pouring her a glass of her favorite rose Champagne. She thanked the young man as he slipped away and took a long sip of the Billecart-Salmon, savoring the taste a moment before setting the glass down and looking across the table at Tandy, who was watching her with knowing eyes. After giving their order to the waitress that came over, Rayna waited with bated breath for the question she knew was coming.

“So how’s Deacon?” Tandy wasted no time in asking, a full smile on her face that hinted at a smirk.

Rayna gave her a nasty look. “He’s fine, thank you for asking,” she said, acting indifferent as she lifted the menu she practically knew by heart.

Tandy lifted a brow. “Oh, so you talked to him then?” she asked. “How’d that go?” When Rayna refused to answer and gave her another look of annoyance, Tandy resumed smiling and chuckled a little to herself. “Exactly what I thought. You know, he IS the father of your child. How long exactly do you plan on avoiding him?” Tandy asked her.

Rayna flipped her hair over her shoulder and shook her head. “I’m not avoiding him,” she denied.

Tandy gave her a look over the rim of her own wine glass. “Really? Sweetie, I know you and you’re definitely avoiding him. I was there the other day when you practically ducked and hid behind the door when he came by to drop those music sheets off to Maddie, remember? So when are you going to tell me what really happened between you two at his cabin during that storm?” she asked, leaning forward…waiting.

Rayna glared at her, hating how well Tandy could read her. Although she was prepared to deflect, as she’d been doing in the weeks since the cabin whenever Tandy asked her about the events that had occurred there, she decided to just give in instead. It was Tandy, after all, and if there was one thing her sister was good at, it was wearing a person down until they finally caved and spilled all. Aside from being her sister and best friend, Tandy had always been her greatest confidante, so Rayna knew it was only a matter of time before she told her about what had transpired between her and Deacon. Having had enough of avoiding reality, she conceded.

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” she gave in, almost hating the way Tandy’s lips curved up into a satisfied smile. “But no lecture, got it?”

“Scout’s Honor,” Tandy replied, holding up the wrong hand gesture.

“You’d have been a horrible Girl Scout and you know it, Tand,” Rayna said smiling, but continued. “Okay, so um I kind of got a little worked up when Deacon and Maddie played “A Life Is Good” together the night of the storm,” she began. “I don’t know what it was really, just…seeing them together, playing like they do…it just kills me that they lost so much time together, you know? I mean, I know, I know—it’s water under the bridge at this point, but still. Anyhow, I went out for some air and of course, Deacon followed me out,” she explained. She looked down at her napkin, toying with the hem of one of the corners—avoiding Tandy’s gaze as she continued. “He was just being so nice and so-so Deacon and it made me so mad…so damn mad that he felt bad for me after everything I’d done to him what with Maddie and the accident and his hand. I don’t know what happened. I just—one minute I’m bawling my eyes out and the next we’re kissing and nearly going at it against the wall.”

She paused mid-conversation as their salads, soup bowls, and bread arrived. After their drink glasses were refreshed and the waitress had gone, Tandy stared her down, her fingers tapping impatiently on the table as she waited for Rayna to continue her story.

“You’re killing me here, Rayna…” she said.

Rayna took a deliberate bite of her salad before continuing. “Okay, It was—god, it was crazy,” she admitted, her cheeks blushing.

Tandy just smiled, not even blinking an eye in surprise at the admission. “I figured something happened. You, Deacon, that cabin, the rain…if you ask me, it was bound to happen. But you said nearly…so I take it, nothing DID happen?” she asked.

Rayna ducked her head, blushing even more. “Well…not exactly…”

Tandy laughed then, tapping the table with her palm. “I knew it. You did. You hooked up with Deacon, didn’t you?” she asked.

Rayna laughed at her reaction before shaking her head. “No, you tawdry story-lover, I did not. Well…not exactly.”

“How do you “not exactly” not hook up with Deacon Claybourne?” Tandy asked then.

“We didn’t do anything. He stopped it before things got out of hand and we said our goodnights and went to bed…separately,” she made sure to add.

“So then why all the awkwardness and Deacon-avoiding?” Tandy asked. “I mean, you aren’t honestly telling me it’s all because of some little PDA moment on his porch, are you? Because I think we all can agree that that’s nothing compared to some of the close encounters you and Deacon had over the years when you were actually married.”

“It wasn’t just that,” Rayna admitted. “Nothing did happen that night. It was the next morning. I woke up early and couldn’t sleep and I heard him banging around downstairs and swearing up a storm—he’d been out trying to fix the generator—and so naturally, I went down to see what the ruckus was about. He sat down and ended up talking about well…everything really. He admitted how guilty he felt about the accident and how he blames himself for my almost dying and he just—he broke down, Tandy. I mean, I’ve seen Deacon lose it before…but never like that. It was like he was breaking inside and I wanted so badly just to take away the hurt I saw in his eyes, you know? It was…god it was heartbreaking,” she said, tears in her eyes just remembering the emptiness she’d seen in his eyes. She smiled as she recalled the rest and related it to Tandy. “Then for some reason he brought up the whole Belle Meade Polo Match you and I went to after Daddy got arrested and we started arguing…as usual. He brought up Luke and how he’s apparently heard rumors now that we’re seeing each other and wanted to know how serious it was. So of course, I got defensive and brought up the whole Megan thing and we went at it.” She paused to give Tandy a scrunched look. “Did you know that they’re like “together” together? Because I didn’t. Apparently it’s “serious” and he’s really “happy” and “content” with her. I mean, God, she’s not even his type,” she commented with a tone of distaste.

Tandy raised her brows in surprise. “Wow…that does sound serious. One thing though. Since when does Deacon have a type? As long as I’ve known him, his type has only ever been type “Rayna”,” she said. “It’s different and a change, I agree...Deacon being serious with someone. But I have to be honest with you here, Hon. Maybe it’s a good thing that he’s moving on. That’s what you wanted right? For him to move on with his life and you to move on with yours? I mean, you are seeingLuke and from what you’ve told me that’s getting pretty hot and heavy, so why shouldn’t Deacon have someone, too?” she asked, pointing out the hard truth that Rayna hadn’t to hear.

She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose to stem the tears that sprang to her eyes at Tandy’s tough-love point. “Oh Tandy, I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t want him to be happy. God knows I want that so much for him. I do,” she insisted.

Tandy nodded and reached across the table, placing her hand atop Rayna’s in a gesture of comfort. “I know you do, Babe. But maybe it’s time to start thinking about what that actually entails. Maybe you need to think about letting him go. Once and for all. I’m not saying cut off all contact with him because let’s face it—it’s Deacon. Even if you didn’t have Maddie together, you two have way too much history to just cut ties altogether. But I think what the real question is here is what you want. So tell me, sweetie, what do you want? Do you want Deacon? Are you still in love with him?” she asked.

“D-Do I want—what?” Rayna sputtered with incredulity in her voice. “What kind of question is that?” she asked.

Tandy shrugged as she took another sip of her wine. “A simple one. Do you want Deacon, Rayna? Do you want to be with him—have a life together? It’s not a complicated question,” she said.

“You don’t understand,” Rayna said, refusing to answer the question.

“Don’t understand? You realize who you’re talking to, right? I’m your sister. I’ve watched you and Deacon go back and forth for over 20 years now. The two of you are nothing if not predictable. And no matter what happens between the two of you—there’s like this force that just keeps pulling you two back together. That—that I’ll never understand…but I do recognize it. It’s your guys’ “thing”. But at some point, Rayna, you have to decide whether it’s going to be your saving grace or your ultimate downfall. Because with you two—there’s no half-way. It’s all or nothing. You know that,” Tandy said, pointing out the obvious. “So, the question remains…do you want Deacon?” Tandy asked, her voice soft and sympathetic.

Rayna set down her fork, no longer hungry. “You know what—I-um—I should probably go get Maddie. I told her I’d be back in an hour and—“she raised her hand, signaling to the waitress.

“Sweetie,” Tandy started. “You’re not even finished with your lunch. Please, just stay. I’ll shut up, alright?” she said, trying to mend the rift she’d just made.

Rayna shook her head. “I’m really not hungry, but it’s okay. It’s not you, Babe—I just—you’re right. I have some things I really need to sort out. I um,” she went into her purse and grabbed a few bills, laying them on the table when the waitress didn’t come over fast enough and stood, pushing in her chair.

Tandy stood as well, grabbing Rayna’s hand. Rayna forced a smile on her face and leaned over, giving her sister a quick hug. “It’s fine, I promise. I’ll um—talk to you later,” Rayna told her before turning and walking away, saying a hasty goodbye to the hostess and nearly rushing out the door. Once in her car, she left the parking lot and drove to a nearby park. Once she was assured that there was no one around to see her sitting behind the wheel in her vehicle, she broke down sobbing into her hands…

Pulling up to the curb in front of Deacon’s about 20 minutes, Rayna again put the car in park. She contemplated killing the engine and going up to the door to get Maddie…to face her fears, so to speak. But after her little crying-it-out session she’d shortly before—she just didn’t think she had it in her for a confrontation—of any kind—with Deacon right then. So instead, she let the engine idle as she pushed on the horn several times and waited for Maddie to come out.

She was still waiting a few minutes later when she heard the chime on her phone, indicating she’d received a new text message. Sighing, she grabbed the phone from off the passenger seat and swiped the screen to the read the message she already knew was from her sister, who’d been texting her non-stop since Rayna had rushed out of their lunch. She’d called twice, though Rayna hadn’t bothered to respond to either. Realizing Tandy would just show up at her place if she didn’t give her some kind of response, she went to write a text message back. Thumbs at the ready, she was focused and contemplating on what to say when a knocking at her window jolted her, startling her so that she gasped and literally dropped the phone to her lap. Heart in her throat, she turned to see Deacon standing at her window. Her pulse racing—from alarm as well as the actual sight of him--she pressed a finger to the window control, letting it slowly slide down…

“Oh, Deacon…Hey,” she said, her voice shaky.

“Oh, Rayna…hey…”

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