Storm Warning

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Give Me All Your Secrets, Tell Me No More Lies

Megan stood there, hands at her hips, wary but listening as Deacon began to tell her about Rayna at sixteen, when they’d first met. “…when I heard her play that first time, hell I was mesmerized,” said, smiling slightly as he recalled the memories. “She was all grit, but with class. She just had this polished air about her, you know…if that’s the right word. She looked so out of place. Like she belonged sitting in some plush chair out at the Belle Meade Country Club and not sitting on some hard wooden stool on a small stage in the Bluebird. She was so young and innocent and inexperienced. When she got up on the stage and sat down, she just smiled. She had this dreamy look in her eyes and you could just tell that she was dazzled by it all. The lights, the smoky barroom atmosphere…the whole thing. When she got the cue to start, I remember looking at her and thinking that she wouldn’t get through it…that she was too wistful. I thought for sure she’d get nervous or overwhelmed and run off the stage. She had the last performing slot of the night, which was the worst…especially if you happened to be female. You know how it is around last call at a bar--all the soused creeps that had imbibed more than their share of beers throughout the night that stuck around…the sneers, the catcalls, the inappropriate sexual innuendos…well, you can imagine,” he said with a shrug, then sighed.

“Sixteen years old. Barely older than Maddie is now. You could tell it bothered her, but she didn’t back down. She had this look in her eyes, this fierceness and strength that completely belied her age and everything about her, you know? But the lights dimmed and the piano started and she opened her mouth and sang her heart out. She never faltered, never missed a beat or fell out of rhythm with the music. And the melody…it was all hers. It was a song she’d written about her mom who died when Ray was twelve and how lost she felt in the world she’d been born into. It was heartfelt and just simply beautiful. She held her own the entire time, like she was made for the stage and it for her. When the music faded, the whole place was silent…like no one could believe what they’d heard. Then the lights went up again and people started clapping, some of the drunks were whistling and calling out crude offers…and she just grinned. It was…she was something else that night,” he admitted softly, more to himself than to Megan.

He took a breath and turned back to her. “From the very start, no one thought she’d make it in the business. No one. Oh, she had the voice and the talent, sure…but no one thought she had what it took—the grit, the determination, hell the attitude—to make it to the top. Lamar Wyatt—the self-righteous bastard, her own father—kicked her out of the house when he found out that she’d been playing at the Bluebird. And that Nashville’s own Watty White had approached her and offered her to record her demo for her. She was still sixteen then, so you can’t imagine what it was like for her. She wanted Lamar’s support and encouragement so badly—you could tell—and he just wouldn’t give it. Instead, he gave her an ultimatum. I was there, Megan. The whole time. Lamar didn’t budge an inch. He just stood there, watching her like a warden while she packed a couple of bags of her things, telling her how she was ruining her life…how she was making a mistake…that “mark his words, she’d come running back in a week or two after she failed to make it in the world”. Not once did she cry or beg him to let her stay in the house she’d grown up in. Or even plead with him to accept her choices or her dream of singing. She packed her things, told him she still loved him, and kissed him on the cheek before leaving. It wasn’t until we had left the estate and were completely out of eyesight of the house that she finally broke down. And when she did stop crying, she looked at me and told me that she couldn’t let him see her cry…that no matter what, she was going to prove him and everyone wrong. And she did, Megan,” he told her. “Hell, she did in spades.”

“Deacon…I know that she…” Megan started, but he cut her off.

“No, you don’t know,” he told her. “She worked her ass off to prove everyone wrong. To get to where she is. She played in dirty, smoke-filled dive bars and seedy venues for years to crowds of mostly drunk men. I can’t tell you how many guys I nearly knocked out for getting grabby with her or for saying some of the things that they did. Godknows she didn’t belong playing in those places…hell, anyone else from that debutante crowd would have balked at even the merest suggestion. But not her. No, not Rayna. She wouldn’t give them---any of them—the satisfaction of even a reaction. Instead, she gritted her teeth and smiled and sang like she didn’t give a damn. When we first started off--we’d play anywhere and everywhere, for little to nothing at all. The money didn’t matter, just the music. Just getting the words and the melodies out there for people to hear. That’s all we cared about. All she cared about,” he emphasized.

“And when she signed with Edge Hill, it wasn’t a coup like you’d think. It was another battle. You have no idea how hard she fought the label to play what she wanted to play. To be the artist that she wanted to be. They wanted her to sing little ditties they’d find her—songs that would fit with the debutante brand and image of her they were going for. And contract be damned, she refused. Every time. They wanted mainstream and she had her own views of the kind of country music she wanted to sing. She wanted “music with substance”, she’d always say. Even all those pretty love songs we wrote together, if you look deep enough—you’ll see the grit beneath the grace. That’s Rayna,” he said.

Megan released the breath she’d been holding slowly, then shook her head and crossed her arms. “Deacon…what are you—why are you telling me all of this?” she finally asked.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair before answering. “Because you think you know, and you don’t, Megan. You don’t know Rayna. You don’t know what she’s been through or what she’s had to do to get to where she is now. What she’s sacrificed. Magazines like to make it all look so glamorous and easy, but mostly, it’s a lie. A glossy, glittery illusion. It’s a hard life, Megan. Being on the road all the time, being away from your family and home so long…it’s rough. Performing 3 or 4 shows a week, usually in a different city every time, for weeks on end…it takes a toll on a person. All the rehearsing, the press conferences, the sound checks, not to mention the shows themselves—it’s exhausting. Most of the time you’re lucky to get a few hours of sleep on the bus or the flight to the next city before you have to get up and do it all over again. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sick or exhausted or even if you want to or not. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you get a few days in between shows…but most of the time even those are filled with interviews and press junkets and appearances and whatever else the label tries to squeeze in.” He sighed. “And through it all—you’d never hear Rayna complain about it. Don’t get me wrong…she loves performing…every minute of it. But being away from her girls…it always tore at her,” he told her softly as he recalled to himself all the countless times he’d walked in on her in her dressing room or in a quiet corner off-stage, only to find her crying because she was missing Maddie and Daphne and feeling guilty for being away from them so much. “More than once she’d ask me if she was a horrible parent or simply just a selfish person for choosing the life she had when it took her away from the girls as much as it did. She felt so guilty, you know--even though she was just doing what she had to do to provide for her family. She’d have given it all up if she had to for her girls. As much as it’s a part of her—the music—she still would. I know she would. Because that’s who she is, Megan. She puts everyone else first…she always has. Her family, the label, even her fans—she hates to disappoint anyone. I mean, she puts on a tough front—but that’s mostly what it is—just a front. Deep down, she’s way more sensitive than she lets on. Granted, in this business—its how it is—how you have to be if you want to make it, but still,” he said.

“Deacon, please…” Megan interjected, a little put off by the way Deacon was going on about Rayna. He talked about the woman with such reverence that in truth, she couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable just standing there and having to listen to it all. “I’m really not trying to presume here to know what Rayna’s been through or diminish the struggles she’s had…and if I gave you that impression, then I’m sorry. Clearly, you’re upset…and you should be. You have every right to be. And I realize you and Rayna have a great deal of history and that you obviously care for her well-being…but right now, you need to shift the focus onto yourself. This is your future and your freedom that we’re discussing here…your life. Whatever feelings of obligation you seem to be carrying towards Rayna in all of this…you can’t let them overshadow the real issue or influence what needs to be done here, Deacon,” she told him, her tone direct and removed.

He whirled around to face her, infuriated. “‘Feelings of obligation’? What, are we in the courtroom now, Counselor?” he asked with obvious condescension.

She sighed, getting the distinct impression that he was itching for a fight. “Deacon, I didn’t mean—“ she started to explain.

He shook his head, cutting her off. “It’s my fault!” he nearly shouted, then went quiet. Hot, furious tears filled his eyes as he turned away and rubbed his palm down his face. “Damn it,” he cursed softly.

“Wh-what?” Megan asked quietly after a long moment. Slowly, she walked over to him and hesitantly reached out, gently placing her hand on his forearm. “Deacon—I don’t know why you think that, but you’re wrong. What happened to Rayna was horrible—but it wasn’t your fault. You have to know that,” she insisted.

“Do I?” he asked, pulling his hand away from his face. His eyes were tortured. “I’m not so sure I do, Megan. See--she wouldn’t have even been there had it not been for my ridiculous need to get back at Teddy Conrad after he cut my slot in the festival with that damn unauthorized show I put on with Gunnar. She and the girls would have gone home already, but they stuck around to watch the show. Then her sister Tandy took the girls home with her…that’s why she was there alone with him,” he told her. “Because of me. Because I’m a selfish bastard who just had to prove a point. Wheeler might have done the deed…but I gave him the opportunity to do it. So don’t tell me it’s not my fault, Megan…because it was. Maybe not directly…but it was,” he said, guiltily.

She shook her head. “No, Deacon…it wasn’t. They were seeing one another, so honestly, it was most likely only a matter of time before something happened. If anything—and please don’t take this the wrong way—but better that it happened when it did and you were there to stop it when you did. If it happened somewhere else and you hadn’t been there--God only knows how much worse it could have been for her. Deacon, you saved her,” she told him, placing her hands on either side of his face as she spoke, willing him to hear her. To believe her.

He closed his eyes a moment as his hands came up to cover Megan’s, then opened them. “Not soon enough,” he answered. “And not like she saved me,” he said, removing Megan’s hands from him and stepping back. “I never told you this, but it was Rayna who got me sober all those years ago, Megan. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today. She went through hell…for me. She stuck by me…for years. She’s seen me at my absolute worst…drunk and hung-over and near-dead in hotel rooms and back alleys. She put me in and paid for all five of my stints in rehab, you know. Not because I asked her to—hell, she practically had to beg and drag me there each time—but because she wanted to help me. Because she cared…even when I didn’t. Even when I yelled and cursed and broke every piece of furniture in her apartment and mine. Even when I gave her every reason to walk away and never look back. She could’ve turned her back on me. She could’ve left me to drink myself to death in one of those hotel rooms. But she didn’t,” he said.

Megan shook her head in confusion. “So what--you think that going to prison for seven years will make you even—is that it? She saved you, so you’ll give up your freedom to return the favor?” she asked, some incredulity in her tone.

He whipped his head around, his eyes wide with disbelief. “What—no. My God, Megan, you still just don’t get it, do you? This isn’t about guilt or returning favors or me feeling obligated to Rayna for getting me sober. This is about what’s right. And what’s fair. Hell…I’d think that you of all people would understand why I don’t want this to happen. You’ve based your whole career defending innocence and seeking justice for those that deserve it. You’ve spent your life doing the right thing and upholding the law…you’ve told me how important that is to you,” he said, reminding her of her own words.

She shook her head in denial. “Deacon, it’s not the same thing,” she started to dispute.

“The hell it’s not,” he argued back. “That sonofabitch attacked her. He would have done worse if he’d gotten the chance. He deserves to pay for what he did to her. And she deserves justice!” he said firmly.

“Even at the expense of your freedom?” she asked. “Do you really think that’s what Rayna wants? Her friend and the father of her child—to be locked up in prison for seven to fifteen years—because he was protecting her? Do you think that’s going to help Rayna heal from this—having to live with the guilt of knowing that—albeit indirectly—she was the one who put you there?!” she countered back, knowing it was harsh—but also knowing that he needed to understand just what he was risking. Because she didn’t think he did understand. She thought he was too blinded by guilt and some unconscious responsibility he still felt towards Rayna to think straight and really comprehend what it was that he was risking.

“Damn it Megan, stop. Just…stop,” he told her, fury in his eyes. “You weren’t there. You didn’t see the look in her eyes when I pulled that bastard off of her. The fear. The distrust. It was there that night. It was even there the next morning. The moment she opened her eyes. Hell…it’s still there. She acts like she’s fine, but she’s not. I know her. I can read her like a book and she’s not okay.” He swore. “Every time I’ve seen her since, she gets that same look in her eyes…it’s just for a moment, but it’s there. And she’s not going to be able to start to put this behind her—to heal as you just put it—until she gets justice by having that bastard locked up for what he did to her. Telling her to give in to what he wants her to do…it’d be like saying that he did nothing wrong…and saying that nothing happened. He’ll get away with it. It’s like you said. He’ll probably get off with probation, if that…then go right back to his life…to the music and touring and making money off of people who don’t have a clue of what kind of a sonofabitch he really is. I don’t care who the hell he is or who he knows in this town—he’s not untouchable. He needs to know that. And Rayna deserves justice. I’ll be damned if I’m the reason she doesn’t get it,” he said. “If you can’t understand that then…” he stopped talking when he realized that she’d turned her back to him. “Megan?”

A long moment passed before she turned around to face him, pale. Her arms were crossed in front of her and her dark eyes were narrowed at him. She said nothing, but he saw her swallow noticeably several times…as if she were preparing to say something. “Megan…what…what is it?” he asked, stepping forward.

She took a step back, effectively shutting off his advance with a curt shake of her head. She held up her hand. “Hold it,” she said, her voice noticeably shaky, unusually so. “You said—“ she shook her head. “You said she had that look the next morning when she woke up…” she continued. “How would you know—“ her eyes closed as the realization slowly came to her. “Deacon…” she whispered, shaking her head as she opened her eyes and met his.

“Ah Christ…” Deacon cursed under his breath as he dropped his gaze to the floor, berating himself for his stupidity. Calling himself all kinds of an idiot, he slowly lifted his head, dreading the conversation that was about to come. “Look, Megan…”


Morning…

Deacon groaned as he turned over to lie on his back in the bed. He glanced at the empty spot to his right, a cold reminder of the events of the night before. He rubbed his palms over his face and sighed, wondering if he’d done the right thing, if he’d made the right choice in telling her. In the bright light of the morning, he couldn’t be so sure. He closed his eyes, willing himself to remember…willing himself to forget…but couldn’t…

“...Look, Megan…I can explain,” he told her, though she was already turning away from him. He expected her to walk out, but she just stood there, her back to him. He could see the slight shaking of her shoulders, and he suspected she was crying. Filled with misery, he took a step forward. He halted when he heard her measured intake of breath, then saw her straighten her shoulders. Slowly, she turned to face him.

“Don’t…” she said when he went to take a step to her. She was pale, but there were no tears. Oddly, He almost would have preferred them over the emotionless expression on her face and the cool demeanor emanating from her. “So you stayed with her that night...” she said…more of a statement than a question. She nodded as she re-crossed her arms and turned to slowly pace the room. “Alright.”

He stared where he stood, unsure of what to say or do. Truth be told, he was shocked she was being so calm. In his experience, she should have been crying and calling him all sorts of a sonofabitch and heartless bastard by that point…or gathering her things and walking out without a word. She was doing none of those things. It was another reminder of just how different she was from all the other women he’d dated in his past. Especially Rayna, whom he recalled had once—when they were still together—flown into a crying fit of jealous rage after a female fan had been overly appreciative after a show one night and thrown herself at him, full on kissing him. He’d removed the woman from his person after a long moment of—naturally—shock, only to find himself face-to-face with a none-too-pleased Rayna. Though he’d been innocent in the whole affair, they’d stupidly fought about it. He’d blamed it on the left over adrenaline from the night’s performance and the pent-up sexual tension that was a constant between them. As with most of such arguments, they had ended up dueling it out against the wall in her dressing room…and then the floor…if memory served him right.

He shook off the memory, shaking the guilt at yet again comparing Megan to Rayna in his mind. He cleared his throat and then spoke. “Megan, I’d like to explain. I know you’re upset and you should be. You have every right to be but…”

“I’m not,” she said calmly, surprising him as she turned back to face him. At the uncertainty on his face, she shrugged. “Deacon…I’m not upset. Not really. I mean, I should have expected that you’d stay with her after what she went through…of course, I should. It’s just…I thought you would have told me, that’s all,” she said. “Naturally, you’d want to be there for her…I get that….”

It was then that it hit him…why she wasn’t name-calling and throwing things in his direction. Why she was so calm and collected. For a moment, relief washed through him as he realized she wasn’t referring to him sleeping with Rayna. As far as he could tell, she was talking about him staying at Rayna’s…and simply just that. Nothing more. The relief was short-lived as the guilt overwhelmed him. Telling himself he’d probably regret what he was about to do, he did it anyway and stepped forward, taking her hands.

“Actually Megan…it’s a little more than that,” he told her softly. “I don’t want to hurt you…please know that. But you deserve the truth.”

“What are you talking about, Deacon?” she asked, finally some worry filling her features.

He sighed, then swallowed hard, gathering his nerve. “I went with Rayna to the police station that night to fill out her statement. Then I brought her home and left… like I told you. What I didn’t tell you…was that I went back to check on her. Honestly, my only intention was to make sure that she was okay. Somehow—something happened. We got caught up in the moment and I—I know there’s really no excuse for it and I’m not trying to make any, I just—“

“Wait,” she said, pulling her hands away from him and stepping back. The tears showed up then, filling her big, brown eyes. She started shaking her head in denial. “Oh God…you slept with her, didn’t you?” she finally asked, her voice breaking.

Utterly miserable with himself, he nodded. “Yes. It was…wrong. I-I know that, I do. And I’m sorry, Megan. Truly sorry. I know it sounds trite and I don’t expect you to believe me, but I honestly didn’t mean for it to happen. And I know Rayna didn’t. It just…it just did. And I wanted you to tell you…I was going to tell you…but then…I don’t know, I got caught up in everything,” he told her sincerely. “But I am sorry.”

She scoffed at him, shaking her head. “I can’t—I don’t even know what to say…I can’t…” She turned away for a moment, wiping a tear that slid down her cheek, then turned back to him. “She’s always going to be here…between us…isn’t she?” she finally asked, her voice tortured. “That’s what you meant when you said that it’s always been her…right?” she asked, the tears flowing freely then.

He swore as he stepped forward, shaking his head. “No…that’s not what I meant at all,” he reached her and placed his hands on her face, wiping the tears with the pads of his thumbs. “I—I’m with you, Megan. I wouldn’t be here if it’s not where I wanted to be,” he told her.

She nodded. “Right. But you’d rather be with her. With Rayna,” she said.

He shook his head. “That’s not true. Look—what Rayna and I have—had—it’s complicated. You know that. I care about her, and I always will. But she and I—“ he shook his head, his words trailing. “It didn’t work. We tried, over and over, we tried. But it’s over and has been, for a long time now. I’m with you, Megan. I’m here,” he said.

She smiled tearfully at him. “But your heart’s not,” she said softly. “Deacon…I’m not going to pretend that I’m not hurting right now…because I am. I-I care about you…so much,” she told him. “What we have is wonderful and as much as I’d hate to give it up…to give you up…right now, I think we both need some time apart…to figure things out,” she said weakly. “I—I’m not a fool. I came into this relationship knowing you still have ties to Rayna…that way…so I can’t fault you for still having feelings for her. I just…I guess I just hoped that the tide of those feelings would shift…eventually. So I think…I think it’s best if I just go right now. I um…yeah…” she said, turning to go.

He caught her arm, stopping her. “Megan…I do care about you,” he told her firmly, his heart splintering at the sight of her tears and knowing that he’d caused them. It destroyed him to know that he’d hurt her…when he hadn’t meant to at all. She was a good woman and she’d been nothing but sweet and loving to him. After the accident, she’d saved him from himself. And now he’d gone and repaid her by breaking her heart. It tore at him.

She placed a hand on his cheek and leaned forward, brushing a kiss across his lips. It was light and brief…more of a caress than a kiss really. When she pulled back, he saw her bite down on her lower lip and close her eyes for a moment to gather herself. When she opened her eyes a moment later, she nodded. “I know…I know you do. But I can’t compete with Rayna Jaymes…I won’t,” she said firmly. “So let’s just…take some time and figure out where—or if—we stand in all of this, okay? I-I’ll call you…” she said, slowly dropping her hand from his face. He caught it and squeezed it in his before letting go. Without another word, she nodded and turned away…


Present…

Megan had walked out of the room and then out the door as he watched, leaving him wondering if he’d just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. He had thought about going after her…but knew that she was right. That he had a decision to make regarding her and Rayna. He loved Rayna…he always would, he knew that. But he also cared deeply for Megan. He just had to decide how much…and if it was enough to let go of something that had carried him and held him together for over 20 years…


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