What's The Story, Morning Glory?
Deacon grinned at Gunnar and slapped him congenially on the back as they gathered up their equipment after a successful session in the recording studio. “Damn buddy, that was really some great playing in there. When’d you change that chord at the end of Foolish Trickery?”
“Yeah, you like that?” Gunnar asked the older man who in the short time that he’d known had become someone he really looked up to and respected—idolized even—returning the grin with a satisfied one of his own, and then shrugged. “Just something I was messing around with last night...”
“Yeah, well it’s good. Really good. Avery Barkley’s seems to really be rubbing off on you on you, I see,” Deacon commented with an intentionally razzing tone and smirk, then chuckling when he saw the spark in Gunnar’s eyes—just as he’d expected.
“You know, he’s not so bad actually,” came Gunnar’s unexpected response a moment later. “I mean—obviously we don’t discuss the whole Scarlett thing—for obvious reasons and—well—yeah—but you know, you’re right, the guy’s a great guitar player. I’ve heard him play at the Blue Bird. Great vocals, even tempo. Real smooth. Sweet rhythm. And you know, he helped me out with that whole Jeff Fordham and Will Lexington—he’s the artist that was supposed to sign with Rayna—that whole deal with my first solo song, if you remember, right?”
At the mention of Edge Hill’s executive douche bag, Deacon’s hair rose on end. “Don’t remind me. Hell, I swear if I see that Fordham bastard I’ll—“he cut off deliberately as thoughts of what he’d do swam silently through his mind.
Gunnar nodded, knowing from the look on Deacon’s face not to push the subject. He had a feeling that whatever it was, it had to do with what he’d interrupted that night between Ms. Jaymes and that creep Luke Wheeler…and if so, he really didn’t want to know. He knew too much as it was. Was caught up in it more than he ever intended or wanted to be, for that matter. Not that he blamed anyone but that jerk-hole Wheeler for that. He could see the pure fear and tear on poor Ms. Jaymes’ face as he and Deacon ran over and pulled the creep off of her that night. And just as he’d told the DA and that grand jury, it hadn’t been a pretty sight. And the look in Deacon’s eyes that night—he’d kept that part to himself on good advice from the DA of course—but he knew that if he hadn’t pulled Deacon off of Wheeler when he had, he’d have killed the guy that night. For sure. Not that he probably wouldn’t have been justified, from what Gunnar had seen and stumbled upon that night. He was just about to ask Deacon if he’d heard anything from the DA or Ms. Jaymes in regards to the grand jury when Deacon’s phone started to ring.
Deacon looked down at the screen of his phone and back at Gunnar. “I gotta take this. I’ll uh, see you tomorrow. Nice session,” he said, saying goodbye to Gunnar as he pushed through the doors leading out to the parking lot. Swiping the screen with the pad of his thumb he brought it to his ear as he headed for his truck.
“…Claybourne here,” Deacon answered the call as he tossed his guitar case into the back of his truck and slid behind the wheel into the driver’s seat.
“Mr. Claybourne, hello, it’s DA Jensen, I’m glad I’m caught you. I tried contacting you earlier this afternoon. I know you had asked to be kept in the loop in regards to the case, so I just wanted to keep you apprised on how things were progressing with the case,” the man informed him.
“Oh yes, Mr. Jenson, thank you for calling. I apologize for not answering. I was in a recording session most of the day and my phone was off,” he apologized. “I was actually with Rayna yesterday when you called to inform her of the grand jury’s decision to go ahead and charge Wheeler, if that’s what you called to tell me,” he said.
“Well no, actually, quite the opposite in fact. I called to tell you that there’s the possibility that the case may not go to trial. There’s a chance of a plea agreement being considered between the parties involved. I wanted you to be apprised of the information should the situation arise and you’re curious as to why you aren’t being called to testify, that’s all,” the DA told him.
Deacon sat there a moment, shaking his head; sure he’d heard the man incorrectly. “Wait a minute. I’m sorry; did I just hear you right? Did you just say that there’s a ‘plea agreement’ being considered?” he repeated what he heard.
There was a pause and what sounded like Jensen clearing his throat before he spoke. “Yes, yes I did,” he answered.
Deacon muttered an oath under his breath at that and pulled shut the door of his truck so the rest of the people in the parking lot wouldn’t hear him. “Okay, no. Hold it right there. No,” he said, shaking his head emphatically, seething with the anger that was building inside him. “What the hell is going on here, Jensen? Did you not stand in front of me just two weeks ago and give me your word--as a man--that you’d do everything in your power to go after that piece of scum Wheeler and get him for what he did to Rayna? Now you’re telling me you’re making a deal with that sonofabitch—one day after you made us all—namely Rayna—relive every fucking hellish detail of that god damn night in front of a group of complete fucking strangers—and for what—for nothing? Are you fucking kidding me, Jensen?!” he demanded, beyond furious.
Jensen coughed uncomfortably and cleared his throat again before speaking. “Mr. Claybourne—please let me explain—“
“You damn well better explain, Jensen,” Deacon interjected.
Jensen sighed. “Mr. Claybourne—Deacon—I realize you’re upset. And your dismay is heavily warranted, I’ll give you that. But I’ll have you know that I don’t like this any more than you do. In fact, if you were to know to know the real truth of the matter, I despise tactics such as these far more than you realize, I assure you. Unfortunately, my hands are tied. I believe in the law, in what it what it stands for--most of the time—and I sincerely want justice for Ms. Jaymes just as greatly as you do, Mr. Claybourne. Mr. Wheeler’s legal team approached me with a plea offer and by law, I’m obligated to present that offer to Ms. Jaymes, which is what I did. I had a meeting with her in my office this morning. I’ve advised her to take the weekend to consider the matter carefully,” he explained.
Deacon forced himself to calm somewhat and listen to what the man was saying. Logically, he knew enough of the law to know that what the man was saying was true and that legally, he would have to tell Rayna if Wheeler’s lawyers started talking plea bargains. Logic be damned though, it pissed him off to high heaven. “I don’t see what there is to consider. You said yourself that you think there’s more than enough evidence to convict the bastard. Clearly the grand jury yesterday thought the same. This whole “plea arrangement” bullshit is just that. It’s Wheeler trying to save his sorry ass. He knows he’s screwed. As if he didn’t already put Rayna through the wringer enough, not he wants the outcome of this case to be on his terms? That’s not going to happen. No way in hell is Rayna dumb enough to fall for this. She’s going to see right through this little ploy of his. Mark my words,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Besides, what leg could he possibly have to stand on? What would the terms of this little plea bargain be?” he asked.
Jensen hesitated. “Unfortunately by law, I’m not at liberty to say. Between the two of us, I’ve shared more than I probably should…more than Ms. Jaymes would have preferred I have shared, I’m certain. As for the details of the plea agreement, I’m afraid you’ll have to ask Ms. Jaymes directly for those. Until Ms. Jaymes notifies me of her decision on Monday, I’m as in the dark as to the progress of the case as you are. So if you don’t have any other questions for me Mr. Claybourne, I think I’ll bid you a goodnight…”
Deacon thanked the man for the information, told him goodnight, and hung up the phone, tossing it on the passenger seat beside him. Staring ahead at the dark, now near empty parking lot, he swore and slammed his good fist against his steering wheel. “Wheeler you sonofabitch!” he swore, resuming his earlier thoughts from his previous conversation in the recording studio hallway with Gunnar Scott on the way out of the building. Swearing again, he switched the ignition and turned on his truck. When the dashboard lights lit up, he checked out the time…8:43. He glanced down at his phone and considered sending a text or calling, then decided that if he wanted answers…real answers…rather than beating around the bush for them for another few weeks as was—apparently—her newly adopted tendency to do so…then he might as well go right to the source—to Rayna herself…and just ask her what he wanted to know. So he put the truck into reverse and backed out of his space, then drove out of the parking lot, heading in the direction of the highway…and to Rayna’s…
Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock!
Rayna sighed tiredly from where she sat at her kitchen counter—her head already in her hands—at the sound of the insistent knocking at her back kitchen door. She seriously contemplated not answering it, figuring it was her sister, Tandy, who’d probably returned to coddle—and let’s not forget, argue with—her some more after Rayna had almost literally pushed her out the door hours earlier. They’d had a little disagreement—so to speak—after Rayna had returned from her appointment in town with District Attorney Jensen and filled Tandy in on what Rayna had learned. At first, Tandy had been just as appalled and as angry as she had been at hell the nerve of Luke to even try and blackmail her after everything that he had done to her and put her throat. It was preposterous, after all. But when Rayna had been honest and confessed to Tandy that she was considering taking the offer, Tandy had gone from supportive and sympathetic to acting as if she’d grown three heads and gone certifiably crazy. She’d pretty much told her—not in so many words, of course—to grow up and move on and to start thinking of herself for once. She’d somehow made her feel like a horrible person for not being selfish, which made absolutely no sense. In any way, they’d argued and things had been said and after the day that Rayna had had, she’d asked Tandy to leave. It wasn’t so much that she was angry at her. She knew that Tandy was just trying to look out for her well-being and only wanted what was best and that everything she said and did was out of love, but Rayna had reached her “love” threshold for the day/moment and just wanted to be left alone with her thoughts, so she’d shown Tandy the door. She’d even held it open for her as she walked out it—after she’d demanded Tandy hand over her spare—just in case she had ideas about returning and letting herself in later on to resume their discussion, of course. Which is why she assumed the continued knocking was Tandy and chose to ignore it. Or her rather.
“Damn it, just go away!” she yelled, half-pleading half- groaning as she covered her eyes and put her head down on the table, covering it with her arms, hoping that if she ignoring the sound—person—long enough, then it would go away.
Several minutes of intermittent knocking later, it did. For a few blissful moments, she was thought she was in the clear. Until she heard the sound of a key turning in the lock and the door opening. Pure exhaustion and frustration had her on her feet and on the attack. “Seriously? I took your key. How in the hell did you--?!” she cut off when instead of her sister standing there, hand still on the door handle and key in the opposite hand—she saw Deacon.
He raised his brow, a mixture of both amusement and confusion flickering in his eyes as he closed the door and held up his key. “Um, no. You didn’t.” His look hardened as something crossed his features. “Though I would like to know why someone as vigilant as you are hasn’t had the locks changed yet. It’s been two weeks, Ray!” he said with disbelief and a hint of a rebuke in his tone.
She stiffened as if struck. “E-Excuse me?” she asked, her voice catching—in part from hurt and emotion and in part due to the anger—both from his unexpected words.
“The locks, Rayna. To the house. The security code to access the grounds. Hell, it might not be a bad idea to change the access codes at the main gate. I figured you would have taken care of that already, Ray,” he elaborated as if that’s what she’d meant.
Outside, she was seething. Inside, she was breaking apart. Piece by brittle fucking piece. God, she thought to herself, she was so damn tired of keeping it all together. So tired. She narrowed her eyes at him, and then smiled sweetly. “Why Deacon, hello. How nice to see you,” she said, doing her best to keep it together as she walked across the room. She stopped directly in front of him, leaned in as if to hug him, and instead plucked the key out of his hand that he still held in mid-air, easily slipping it in her back pocket of her faded cut offs. She then turned and took the remaining steps to the door he’d just entered, turned the handle, and pulled it open wide. “Your advice is duly noted. Not get out,” she said, her lips in a thin, straight line as she did her best to hold her fury in check when what she really wanted to do was to tell him he could take his pompous, self-righteous ass right out the way he’d come along with his “advice” and shove it where the sun didn’t shine. How dare he walk into her home and have the nerve to remind her of how long it’d been since she’d been attacked by that bastard—as if she’d forgotten or something. Like she could. Like she ever would. If she were a physical person, she’d have slapped him right across his smug, albeit perfectly crafted face. Since she wasn’t, she had to settle for the satisfaction of the look of pure shock on his face. It was enough she decided as she stood there, one hand on her hip, the one on the door, waiting. When he didn’t move, she raised a brow and gestured with her hand out the door. “Well…”
He scoffed, stumbling over his surprise when he spoke next. “You’re kidding, right?” he asked.
She turned to face him. “Do I look like I’m kidding, Deacon?” she asked, giving him a look of pure ice.
Deacon knew that look and all he could think was Uh-oh. He’d screwed up and put his big damn foot in his mouth. He hadn’t meant to, but when he’d put his key in the lock and found that it still worked, he hadn’t been happy. His displeasure had waned a bit when he’d seen her sitting like he had at the table, like she’d been in the process of shutting out the world. And then the small amusement he’d felt when she’ll flown up all fierce and accusing, in a case of obvious mistaken identity. It hadn’t lasted long though when suddenly an image of Luke Wheeler using an access code and spare key of his own to come and go in and out of Rayna’s bed materialized in his mind, infuriating him and causing the dry remarks that had clearly put Rayna off. And rightly so, he concluded as he replayed his words back to himself in his head once and then a second time. Once he did, he felt instantly remorseful.
“Ray—crap—that came out wrong. I didn’t meant it the way it sounded, ok? I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he repeated, so she’d believe him. “Look, I-I can tell you haven’t have the easiest day and I honestly don’t want to make that worse, I just came here to talk for a bit. That’s all, okay? Can we talk?” we asked her softly, pleadingly.
She glared at him momentarily before her features softened and she relented, mainly because she knew that if she didn’t give him what he wanted, he’d just stick around until she did. And she didn’t have the patience or piece of mind to deal with it right then. He was right. She’d had a hard, long day and all she wanted was to fall into bed and sleep it all away. Or try to, she should say. She hadn’t been sleeping well. Not since that night with Deacon, that is. Refocusing, she shut the door and slowly turned around, crossing her arms as she faced him.
“Fine. Apology accepted. I’m keeping the key though,” she said with an unapologetic shrug.
He figured it was best not to question her motives, so he just nodded and went with the “lighten the situation” route instead. “I take it from your earlier reaction that mine’s not the first you’ve collected today.” He gave her one of his classic Deacon smiles. “Should I be worried about the future of Highway 65, Ray? You planning on switching careers—maybe becoming a locksmith or key guru—or do you have some weird key-collecting hobby I don’t know about? Is that it Ray? Do you have a secret stash hidden somewhere? Do you have like those old canning jars filled with them? Should I bring one of those metal detector thingies in here?” he continued, grinning when a smile finally broke out on her lovely, beautiful face.
“Ha Ha very funny Deac,” she smiled, in spite of herself, knowing he was only trying to cheer her up, as he was always so inclined to do whenever she was feeling even the least bit down. It was one of the qualities she could count most on him from him. Even when they were at their worst or in a fight or not speaking for whatever reason or another, if he even so much as suspected or sensed—as was generally the case—she was in a bad mood or was feeling low, he’d materialize from some hotel room or tour bus or side area of a stage with some funny story or sweet, uplifting words and as if by magic, her mood was brightened. Usually. Truth be told, it was probably one of the main reasons they’d maintained the close relationship they had over the years. Hell, even with everything they’d been through, all the fights, her being married to someone else and raising his child with that someone else—with everything piled up between them—they’d never not not been on speaking terms. He could never stand to see her hurting—in any form, and she knew that. She smiled to herself as she thought about some of his silly antics over the years and his lack of absolute willpower. She’d always been amused by the fact that on the outside he was this rugged, flannel-toting, tough guy, but deep-down—especially when it came to matters of the heart—he was a total softie. She’d tease him for it—were it not for the fact that she’d be the kettle and he the pot, such as it were…and always had been between them. And would be, she suspected, with a hopeful smile.
“If you must know,” she started as she forward, brushing her palm against his chest as she passed him in a familiar, unspoken gesture—almost as if to thank him for bringing her out of her dreary mood, if even for just the moment that it was. “I thought you were Tandy. We kind of had a little disagreement earlier—I know, I know what else is new, right—“ she said when he rolled his eyes and smiled “—anyhow I made her leave and took her key so she couldn’t come sneaking back in and resume “making her point” with me later on. That’s why I didn’t answer the door when you knocked,” she explained. “Iced tea?” she asked as she rounded the counter and reached the fridge.
He nodded, and then shrugged with indifference. “No need to explain, Ray. Hell, if I were you, I’d have taken away that woman’s key years ago,” he said with a huge grin.
She stopped with her hand and drink pitcher in mid-air as she was about to pour herself and Deacon two tall glasses of iced tea. Her jaw had dropped open at the remark. “Ooh, I cannot believe you just said that,” she said, her eyes twinkling with laughter. “That is so wrong.”
“This coming from the woman who booted her sister out and took the key in the first place,” he said with a disapproving smirk. “Uh huh...”
She laughed then, nodding. “Yeah….you’re right. Well…she’s…she’s Tandy. You gotta love her, right. Or something,” she added to herself as she put the pitcher back in the fridge and turned back to the counter. Lifting the glasses, she walked around and handed Deacon his. “You know,” she started as she took a sip of her tea. “You have the wrong idea about the locks, Deac,” she told him. When he raised his brow and gave her a questioning look over the rim of his glass, she elaborated. “I never gave him—Luke, I mean—the gate code or a key to anything. I-I know what you think but it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t that serious. And I wouldn’t do that with the girls. I wouldn’t—“
He sighed and set down his glass on the counter, walking over to her. He put his hands on her upper arms, nodding…steading her. “I know, Ray. I know that. I just—I reacted wrong and I’m sorry. Truly, I am. I know you wouldn’t do anything like that, Ray. I’m sorry.”
Uncomfortable and feeling the prick of tears behind her eyes, she shrugged it off. “It’s okay. I um, it’s nothing. So uh, what’d you come by for?” she asked.
His expression went from contrite to instantly conflicted. “Well, it’s um…you’re probably not going to want to talk about it, but I need to know if it’s true,” he began.
She put her glass to her suddenly-dry lips, nervous and somehow knowing what was coming before the words even came out of his mouth. She feigned indifference. “What’s that?” she asked.
“That you’re considering agreeing to a plea deal with Wheeler. Is it true, Ray?” he asked.
She took a sip, letting the ice cold liquid slide slowly down her throat and give her a moment to prepare herself as she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat the moment she’d seen the change in his expression. She nodded, her gaze dropping. “Oh…” was all she said, nodding as she turned away.
Deacon tried to keep his bubbling anger in check as Rayna turned away, making her answer clearly obvious without her having to even speak a word. When she placed her glass on the marble countertop, then placed both her hand palms-down beside it, her back turned to him, refusing to face him…saying nothing. She didn’t need to.
Unable to stop himself, he cursed. “Christ! So it’s true then? God damn it, Rayna! You can’t be serious about this. You—why? Just tell me why you’d even consider something so fucking ridiculous?!” he demanded.
She shook her head, her back still turned to him. “I-I can’t,” he heard her say as she shook her head repeatedly, all the while still refusing to turn and actually face him. That act alone spoke volumes more than her not saying anything even did.
“Don’t give me that Ray, just don’t. We’ve come too far and we both I’m too far into this for you to start shutting me out now,” he said as he walked over to her and stood behind her. “Rayna…damn it Ray, turn around and look at me will you please,” he pleaded, his tone gritty. “Ray…” he reached out, putting his hands on her arms to slowly turn her around.
When she finally lifted her head and met his gaze, he saw the tears just streaming down her pale face and the completely wrecked look in her eyes. “Deacon, I can’t…” she cried.
“Ray—what is it…what is this really about? I know you—I know you wouldn’t let this go without a fight after what he did to you—after—unless it was something else, something more. So what is it? What does he have over you? What’s he using to get you to agree to this, Ray? Has he threatened you? The girls? Because I swear to God if he—“ he raised his hands to her face, brushing away the tears and pulling her in to his chest, holding her close, already promising retribution.
“No Deacon, stop it! J-Just stop—“ She said firmly as she pushed away from him. She was shaking her head and wiping furiously at her tears, frustrated that she couldn’t stop them. Frustrated that she couldn’t do a damn thing about anything. She hated not being in control of her own life. But what she hated more—no despised—more than anything was being manipulated. And she detested that it Luke being the one doing it. He’d already done and taken so much from her. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. But then she knew, life wasn’t fair. Sometimes you had to do things you didn’t necessarily want to do. Then was one of those times. She didn’t like it. And Deacon wasn’t going to like it. But in the end, it wasn’t up to him. This one…was on her. Just her. She took a breath, readying herself, and then lifted her gaze. “Deacon, it’s you…”