Memory Lane Serenade
Rayna avoided Deacon’s eyes as she followed Maddie inside the cabin. She’d been so focused on her frustration with the whole Teddy/Deacon/Maddie situation and with the storm on the drive there that she hadn’t even so much as considered the memory lane onslaught she was walking into. She subconsciously and without even realizing it, held her breath as she stepped over the threshold. She stopped a few feet ahead and just stood there. She was pleasantly surprised to see that he hadn’t changed anything about the place. It still looked almost exactly the same as it had since the last time she’d been there, nearly 14 years before. The furniture was a little more modern, save for one piece: the big, brown leather sofa where they’d made love and fell asleep in each other’s arms so many times. The same sofa she’d been sitting on when he’d knelt down on one knee in front of her with a ring and asked her to marry him, then had kissed her back against until they were breathless when she’d said yes.
Vivid images formed in front of her eyes as her gaze traveled slowly from the sofa to the large, plush bear rug in front of the blazing fireplace where they’d eventually ended up after hours of lovemaking that night. She felt the heat rise in her cheeks as she had flash backs from that night. It wasn’t until months later when she’d found out she was pregnant with Maddie that she put it all together and realized that she and Deacon had conceived Maddie there that night. She knew in her heart that it was true.
She hadn’t stepped foot inside the place since the morning after that night when she’d awoken alone in rustic king-sized bed, the place where Deacon had slept already cold to her touch. The hurt came back, some of it as raw as it had been that morning, when she recalled finding him passed out on that sofa, a near-empty bottle of Scotch lying on its’ side on the coffee table, well within his reach. She could still remember the pain and the bile in her throat when she realized he had no memory of proposing to her the night before. She’d thrown the ring to the floor, tears streaming down her face as she turned away, leaving him scrambling to grab for it. He’d gone after her, of course, pleading with and apologizing and begging her to stay--to give him a chance to redeem himself--as she grabbed her things and started to leave. But in that moment she’d felt too defeated and too broken to do anything but shake her head no as she climbed into her car. She could still see the remorse in his teary-eyes and the stricken expression on his unshaved face as she met his eyes and told him with a shaky voice that she couldn’t do it anymore and then said goodbye. He must have realized that she truly meant it because he nodded and stepped back, setting his jaw and swallowing hard as she put the car in drive and drove away, never looking back.
She’d gone back only once after that day, with her sister Tandy. She’d gone to the doctors the week before and her pregnancy had been confirmed. Though scientifically there was technically the chance that the baby could have been Teddy’s, she knew in her heart that it was Deacon’s. She couldn’t explain it. She just knew. There was no doubt in her mind then that she had to tell Deacon, that he had a right to know that it was very likely that she was carrying his baby. It wasn’t until after she’d gone to Coleman—Deacon’s AA sponsor and a long-time friend of the Wyatt family—and talked to him that she even considered the idea of keeping it from and not telling Deacon. She learned from talking to Coleman that afternoon that Deacon had just gotten out of rehab only days earlier—his 4th stay and attempt at sobriety—and she allowed Coleman to convince her that for the sake of Deacon’s health and sobriety and the sake of the child she was carrying, that it was best if Deacon didn’t know. Her complacency with that decision lasted not even a week and she caved in. Though Tandy wasn’t too happy about the change of mind, she insisted that Rayna at least let her drive her to Deacon’s cabin—for Tandy’s own supposed “piece of mind”, she had explained. The nervous wreck that Rayna was at that moment, she agreed to the arrangement and had let Tandy tag along.
When they got to Deacon’s cabin, they saw his old beat-up Chevy parked outside. They’d barely taken 2 steps across the wrap-around porch when they heard the loud cursing, followed by the sound of glass shattering, and more loud cursing. Peering through a window, they saw Deacon pacing around the space, throwing everything and anything breakable that he could find against the walls or to the floor. The place was trashed. He was a mess, his hair unkempt and face unshaven—for several days, it appeared from the looks of him. And in his right hand was the devil behind it all—a bottle of his favorite band of Scotch. Even in all that anger, she could see through to the pain behind it all. If it weren’t for Tandy physically holding her back, she’d have raced inside and would have tried to talk him down and help him—as she’d done countless times in the past. She’d struggled to get free from Tandy, but Tandy was firm and insisted they leave and give him time to cool down before she said anything to him. She hadn’t wanted to leave, but Tandy had pointed out to her in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t about what SHE wanted anymore—therein reminding her that it was about her safety and what was best for the baby she was carrying…and an angry drunk did not fit with that at all. Her heart breaking, she willed herself to accept that Tandy was right and though it nearly killed her to do so, she walked away. They left and for a second time…she didn’t look back.
That day through the window was the last time she saw Deacon until Maddie was about 6 months old. By that point, she and Teddy were already married and had bought a house in Belle Meade. Though most women would have given anything for the seemingly grand fairy-tale lifestyle—staying home with the baby, not having to work…but not Rayna. As dearly as she loved her baby girl and as grateful as she was to be afforded the opportunity to have those luxuries...it just wasn’t enough. Not for her…Miss Rayna Jaymes, Queen of Country of Music. But then, for her, music wasn’t work. It was what she loved to do. It was her passion. It was who and what she was. Without it, there’d always be that emptiness—that void that would always remain unfilled. So after months of discussions between her and Teddy, a hell of a lot hard work on her end and others, care planning and fine-print decision-making, and a giant leap of faith…Rayna James hit the road for the tour beat, and returned to the stage…infant in tow.
Even as she recalled those long-ago memories, she couldn’t help but smile a little. Even at 6 months, Maddie took to life on the road like a baby duckling to water. After the initial first few weeks of adjusting to the hectic environment, Maddie was well-adjusted to the new routine and happy as a clam. Rayna felt like the luckiest woman on the planet…having the ability to perform to sold-out arenas in front of thousands of screaming, dedicated fans—to do what she loved—and still be able to kiss her baby girl goodnight every night. She had the best of both worlds. Not many people could say that. She was lucky. She knew it, and never let herself forget it. Or take it for granted. It was amazing. And every day, she truly felt humbled by it.
Even at just 6 months, Maddie loved it all. She was a great baby, rarely cried, and was always smiling. She was a happy, content baby. She was an angel. Everyone loved her and doted on her…from the crew to the band all the way to the top music execs. She was surrounded by a slew of rough, cowboy-hat-wearing men—all of whom she had wrapped around her little finger from the moment they first laid eyes on her. Most nights on the tour bus, the guys would take turns singing her little bedtime ditties, strumming softly along on their guitars until Maddie fell asleep in the crook of one of their arms or laps. It was sweet and precious and both Rayna and Maddie loved every minute of it.
That’s not to say that weren’t some hiccups along the way, because there were. Naturally. With Teddy’s work at the credit union and the tour, it obviously put a lot of strain on their marriage. It was hard to find a middle ground, but they eventually worked out an arrangement that involved Teddy joining them sometimes when he could get the time off, going home to Nashville on weekends and the lull-time between show-dates, and visits back and forth, here and there. It was the most ideal situation, but they made it work.
That is, until a few months into the tour when Rayna’s lead guitarist and band leader’s wife killed in a tragic accident, leaving him with the responsibility of raising their two young daughters. His abrupt exit from the band—though understandable and unavoidable—was a jolt to the state of the tour. That far into the tour leg, they knew it would be practically impossible to find a replacement on such short notice. One show was cancelled—more out of respect for the grief of their friend and fellow band member—but it had the label scrambling. There was talks of cancelling the tour altogether and Rayna, naturally, feared the worst.
That is, until her manager Bucky and the guys at the label brought up the idea of Deacon filling in, at least long enough for them to find a more permanent replacement. Rayna had balked at first and Teddy—well, Teddy made no attempt whatsoever to hide or hold, for that matter, back his contempt towards both Deacon and what he so maturely termed “the most asinine, ridiculous idea ever.” In the end, it came down to compromise and sacrifice and a lot of good old fashioned “suck it up and grow up” –ing. They were at a crossroads. If Rayna and Teddy wanted to continue living in their fairy-tale Belle Mead mansion with all the luxuries they’d grown accustomed to, they had no choice but to consider the idea. So consider they did and after the label wrangled Deacon into somehow getting on board, the show—as they saw—went on.
It was awkward the first few weeks, more so in the personal aspect than the professional. On the professional side, it went far more smoothly than anyone expected. But then, Deacon and the rest of the band were already familiar with one another and the songs that Rayna sang were ones Deacon had either co-wrote or performed with her in the past when they’d gone on tour together. It was a nice fit. The label was happy, the fans were thrilled, and all was well in the world. At least, while they were on stage. Off the stage, things were a little trickier. As was to be expected, considering the past between Rayna and Deacon…not to mention the fact that while he’d gone off to rehab for the 5th time and had gotten sober, Rayna on the other hand had gone up and married Teddy Conrad and had had a baby with the guy. They hadn’t spoken to or seen one another since that morning in the cabin after the night he’d proposed—and now, after all that time—they were living in close quarters on a tour bus together. Awkward…the word didn’t even cover it. Most of their conversation the first few weeks was clipped and short and strictly professional.
It remained that way until one night in Austin when they found themselves alone together on the tour bus with Maddie. They had a couple days of downtime so the guys had gone off to drink away the tour tension, thus leaving the three of them behind. That night had Maddie had been especially fussy—as she’d been cutting a tooth—and nothing Rayna did could soothe her. Generally, she would have gone out to ask one of the guys to play something for her with the guitar—they were always so accommodating and it worked every time—but they were gone and she was at her wits end.
Frustrated and exhausted—both from the tour and the whole complicated mess with Deacon—and convinced that she was the worst mother because she couldn’t even comfort her child, she’d literally started sobbing alongside Maddie. It definitely had to have been a sight, of that she was certain. She hadn’t even heard him knock on the door to the back bedroom suite on the bus or enter, for that matter. It wasn’t until she felt a light hand on her shoulder and snapped her up head up only to meet the gaze of the last man she’d expected to see. His expression was troubled, but softened when he saw the misery in her expression and the tears. If there was one thing that would never fail to bring Deacon Claybourne, the man, to his knees it was a woman’s tears…and apparently the wailing of a beautiful brown-eyed 8-month-old baby girl…as she learned that night.
“Mind if I give it a go?” he’d asked her, indicating with a nod of head towards his guitar that rested against the open door that she just then had noticed he’d placed there. She hesitated at first, her emotions conflicted as she contemplated Deacon’s intentions. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust him. She knew he’d protect her and Maddie with his life if need be—despite whatever bad blood happened to be between them. It wasn’t that. She hesitated because she didn’t trust herself—her reaction to seeing Deacon playing music for Maddie, the biological baby girl he didn’t even know he’d fathered…the beautiful daughter they’d made out of their love for one another. She was afraid it would tear her to pieces…and she’d run out of band-aids and quick-fix ailment treatments long before that night.
When she saw the flash of hurt in his eyes at her hesitation, she was immediately contrite. Wiping quickly at her wet cheeks with the back of her palm, she nodded. “Yes, please. Th-that—she’d like that,” she said, turning Maddie in her lap so she could watch Deacon play. Moments later, Deacon join them on the bed with his guitar. As he began strumming along to and then singing “A Life That’s Good”, Rayna could sense the change in Maddie almost immediately. The wailing soon subsided into infrequent sobs and she relaxed her small body back against Rayna, her little face watching and listening to Deacon with utter amazement and intent. It was a beautiful thing to witness and a tear or two slid down her face as something flashed in his eyes as he glanced at her for a moment. He half-smiled and continued playing for Maddie. By the end of the song, she had her thumb in her mouth, sucking away contently, her blanky clutched in her other hand, and she’d fallen asleep.
Rayna didn’t move, she just sat there in awe at what had just transpired. After a few minutes, she finally spoke. “I seriously need to learn to play that damn thing,” she said softly, still in disbelief.
He grinned, chuckling softly. “I’ve been telling you that for years, Ray,” he said easily.
“Yeah, I know…” she said in agreement. She sighed as she turned Maddie in her arms and lifted her lay her head against her shoulder. “You’re a lifesaver. I owe you one,” she said as she stood up to lay Maddie down in the crib next to the bed, patting her bottom and humming softly to soothe her while she adjusted in her sleep. Her eyes opened momentarily, then closed again. After leaning down and kissing her goodnight, she motioned Deacon out of the room. After turning off the light, grabbing the baby monitor, she followed him out of the room, closing the door carefully and quietly behind her. She set the monitor on the counter by the sink in the kitchen area so she could hear if Maddie fussed, then started water for some hot tea. “Want some tea?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder to where Deacon was propped against the closet door a few feet away.
He nodded. “Yeah. With honey and no—“
“And no milk,” she finished for him with a nervous smile. “I know.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, you do,” he answered. “Sorry.” He pushed away from the closet and went to sit down on the lounge sofa that converted to another bed if need be and sat down. She fixed their drinks, shut off the stove, then went to join him. She handed him his mug, then went and sat down on the opposite end across from him, sitting Indian-style as she softly blew into the steaming tea that she had gripped in her hands to cool it down.
They sat there in awkward silence for a few minutes, both of them seemingly at a loss as to what to say. Rayna was the first to break the silence and say something. “I really do appreciate you calming her down like that,” she said, gesturing towards the baby monitor.
He nodded and shrugged with indifference. “It was nothing, really. I just remembered that it always worked with Scarlett when she that little. Thought I’d try. And I’ve seen how much she enjoys it when the other guys play for her, so yeah, it was my pleasure,” he said, pausing for a long moment. “She’s beautiful Ray,” he said softly. “She really is.”
Rayna smiled, nodding. “Yeah, she is. Thank you, Deacon.”
He smiled back at her. “Just calling it how I see it,” he said. “Guess she takes after her Mama in that area,” he sweetly said. “I always knew you’d make a great Mama someday, Ray,” he complimented her. “And you did.” Abruptly, the mood shifted and the smile on his face vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. “I just—“ he started, his expression hurt.
Knowing where the conversation was going, she stopped him, telling him no. “Deacon—please don’t.”
But he continued. “I have to Ray. I have to ask. Why Ray? Why’d you do it? Better yet, HOW could you do it?” he asked.
A tear fell down each cheek as she guiltily looked away, avoiding his gaze. “Deacon, please…can we not do this right now? God, you have no idea what you’re asking from and I—it’s all just so complicated,”. she said tearfully.
“Now right now? Then when Rayna? Another year from now? I can’t wait that long. I want to know why you did it. I NEED to know why. God, after everything we’ve been through over the years don’t you think I deserve to know the truth? You owe me that much at least,” he said.
She bit back a sob. “I had to,” she finally answered. “There’s so much that you don’t understand, Deacon that I can’t tell you. I just can’t. God, do you even remember how you were then, Deacon?”
He swore under his breath. “Damn it, Rayna of course I remember. But I got sober Rayna. I’ve been sober for a year now. Because of you. I got sober for you, Rayna.”
She nodded. “I know you did and I’m glad for that, but how was I supposed to know the 5th stint in rehab would be the one that took?” she asked him.
“You could have had a little faith in me. You could have waited. God, how long was it Ray, how long did it take you to just throw away everything and go running off to marry Teddy Conrad? Two, maybe 3 weeks? Nice rebound time, Rayna. Hell, I thought were had something. I thought that we loved each other—that we were IN love with each other. Were those all lies, too Rayna?”
She flinched at the sharp bite in his tone, all the anger. “How can you even ask me that Deacon? You know they weren’t lies. You know damn well that I loved you. Hell, I still love you Deacon. That hasn’t changed. I always will, I think. But there’s only so much a person can take and I—I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t live that way. I refuse to. “
He scoffed at her admission. “What about Teddy Conrad then? You married him. Did you love him too?” he asked.
She sighed. “Yeah, I did…I-I do. I do love him, Deacon. Just…just in a different way. He’s a good man Deacon. He treats me right and he cares about me. And he’s a great father,” she told him.
“He sounds perfect then. Congratulations,” he said with disdain.
“Deacon, don’t do that. Don’t act like I walked out on you. Or act like I didn’t try to make it work. I tried to help you, Deacon. How many times did I beg you to get help, Deacon? How many times did I have to drag you out of dive bars and hotel rooms because you were so damn wasted? I wanted you to get sober and to get healthy. And you did. But I don’t want you to do it for me. I want you to you do it for yourself. You NEED to do it for yourself. I loved you Deacon, I swear to God I did. That always has been and always will be the truth. But I couldn’t wait forever for you Deacon. My life didn’t stop when you went to rehab. I had to move on. I had to do what I felt was right. I’m sorry that I hurt you, but I’m hurting too. This isn’t easy for me either Deacon. None of this is. I still love you, Deacon. I still care. Hell, I miss you so much that it hurts. But I have a family now, Deacon. I have a marriage and a baby and a home. I have responsibilities. We aren’t the love-struck teenagers that we were back then. We grew up , Deacon. And I’m sorry, but whether we like it or not, things have changed. Everything’s different now.”
He nodded in defeat. “Trust me, I’m well aware of that Ray,” he said with a sigh. “So what now, Rayna? Where do we go from here? What do you want” he asked her.
She wiped at another tear, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet. I just….I want you to be happy Deacon. I want to do right by you. As for this tour, I’d like you to stay…if you want to. Music is still the one place that’s always been our safety net. That hasn’t changed. You’re an amazing, talented guitarist Deacon. We perform well together. On the stage we’re completely in sync. It’s when we’re off the stage that worries me. I want us to be happy like we were before. I want things to go back to normal. I want us to be able to talk to each other, to stop tearing each other down. I want us to be friends again. That’s all I want—all that I want YOU to want. Please Deacon, can we just clean the slate on this?” she asked.
He’d hesitated, then agreed to the truce. She’d gone to bed and he’d gone for a walk to clear his head. After that night, the situation between them gradually returned to normal…or as normal as it can get when two former-lovers are working together and living on a tour bus together, that is…
“Mom…Mom!!” Maddie’s voice broke through her thoughts and Rayna snapped out of her little memory lane reverie, turning to Maddie.
“Oh. Sorry, sweetie. What were you saying?” she asked.
“I need your bag so I can take a shower,” she said.
Rayna nodded, slipping the bag off. “Hot water works?” she asked Deacon after she handed Maddie the bag.
He nodded. “Yeah, well water so it’s fine,” he answered. “As far as I can tell, it’s just the power. Generator’s fried though. I was going to see if I could bring it back on line in the morning, but now that you and Maddie are here I should probably get it taken care of tonight,” he said.
She shook her head. “No, its fine, Deacon. Look, it’s practically a deluge out there. Seriously, the fire’s fine and you said the water’s okay, so the power’s the least of my worries. Besides,” she said, looking around, “It looks like you’ve got enough candles going to light up the whole town,” she said smiling, her voice teasing…though in truth he did have a couple dozen lit candles scattered around the place.
He laughed. “Yeah…guess I do. Well, give me a minute to grab the first-aid kit and show Maddie where everything is and I’ll take care of that hand of yours,” he said, grabbing a hand towel from the nearby kitchen and tying it around her bleeding hand. “Keep that on there until I get back,” he told her, waiting until she nodded in understanding. “Good,” he said, then turned to Maddie. “Alright kiddo, let me give you the ten-cent tour alright…” he said, their voices trailing off and fading as they left the room and headed up to the second floor of the cabin-esqe like structure…