Rayna was sitting on the bench in front of the old baby grand piano that Deacon had had for years, tracing the keys with the tip of one finger when Deacon returned from upstairs, a first-aid kit in his hands. Situated by the fireplace, the flames cast a light over the beautiful mahogany wood finish, along with several pages of sheet music, some blank and some with unfinished notes and lyrics scrawled across the pages. She glanced up as Deacon neared, smiling.
“Hey. How’d Maddie like the tour?” she asked.
He laughed. “She loved it. However, I was informed that this place is too big to be called a cabin,” he said. “I think she was expecting some one room log cabin with an outhouse out back,” he said. “She’s something.”
Rayna nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, she is. She’s amazing,” she agreed, her heart full of love for her daughter. Correction. Their daughter.
“Did she need help with anything?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, she’s fine. She already claimed the bedroom down the hall from the master. She’s taking a quick shower, then she’ll be down, she said.”
Rayna laughed. “Quick shower? Are we talking about the same Maddie here?” she teased. “I don’t think that girl has ever taken a shower that lasted less than a half-hour since she hit age 12,” she said.
Deacon returned the smile. “That’s teenagers for ya,” he said. “It’s okay. She can take as long as she wants. There’s plenty of hot water,” he told her.
“Teenagers,” Rayna repeated quietly, awe in her voice. “Can you believe she’s 14 already? Our little girl’s growing up, Deacon,” Rayna said, realizing her choice of words after the fact. Our little girl.
Deacon didn’t seem to mind the slip-up, if the smile on his face was any indication. He nodded.. “Yeah she is. It went by fast. It feels like yesterday when she climbing onto my lap and begging me to give her chord lessons. It almost doesn’t seem real,” he said.
Rayna nodded in agreement. “I’m with ya there,” she said.
“Hey…I can’t believe you still have this,” she said, bringing her focus back to the piano. “When’d you have it restored?” she asked, running her uninjured hand across the smooth top.
He paused to think a moment. “Um, about 3 or 4 years ago,” he answered. “She’s old, but she’s beautiful and has a lot of character. I thought about getting a newer replacement, but I just couldn’t part with her,” he said.
“It’d be a shame if you did,” she agreed, then gestured towards the pages of sheet music. “Working on some new material, I take it?” she asked.
He nodded. “Something like that,” he said. “I’m a little rusty, but it’s getting there,” he said.
She smiled, nodding. “Good. Good, I’m glad. You’ve got an amazing talent, Deacon, you really do,” she said with genuine approval. “That song you played at the Bluebird for Maddie and me that night was incredible.”
He just shrugged, never one to be comfortable with compliments and praise. “Speaking of that night, I never did thank you for coming. For bringing Maddie. It meant everything, Ray, it really did,” he said. “So thank you.”
She nodded. “You’re welcome.”
They both stood there for a long moment just looking at each other, neither moving an inch nor saying a word. Until Deacon broke the silence a few moments later—effectively ending that little moment they were having. He cleared his throat loudly, then held up the first aid kit. “Alright, let’s take a look at that hand, shall we?”
She nodded. “I guess. Where do you want me?” she asked, looking around for a spot.
He nodded his head, indicating the fire. “I’d say right on the rug here in front of the fire. It’ll be easier for me to see what I’m doing. That okay?” he asked.
She nodded and sat down on the floor, and he followed suit a moment later, sitting a foot or so away, across from her. Rummaging through the first aid kit, he grabbed what he needed….some gauze, some butterfly closures, a bottle of Betadine, and some bandages. He set the items aside momentarily and reached for her hand. “Okay let’s see…” he said as he ever so carefully untied the cloth he’d wrapped around it before showing Maddie upstairs. With the cloth gone and nothing to sustain the pressure, she then was able to feel the throbbing, burning pain. Once exposed to the air, it started throbbing even more. She closed her eyes tightly to block out the pain until she heard Deacon curse sharply. “Christ Ray!” he exclaimed seconds later, prompting her to open her eyes and see what he was seeing.
Looking down at her hand, she too was grossed out. It wasn’t a simple little cut, but rather a long slash across her palm. It wasn’t extremely deep, but it was just deep enough that it was still bleeding. “Um, okay…I guess it was worse than I thought,” she said, apologetic.
He nodded. “Apparently. Jeez. What did you say you cut it on?” he asked her as he grabbed the gauze and bottle of Betadine solution.
“A rock, I think. I-I really don’t know. It was too dark for me to see anything,” she replied. “I slipped coming up the side of the ditch.
“Just try to be a little more careful next time, okay?” he said. “You know I hate it when you’re hurt,” he told her, anguished. Their eyes met and held until she nervously looked away. He opened the betadine. “Okay, I’m going pour this on it. It’s Betadine, which will disinfect the area, flush out any infections. I’m not going to lie…it’s going to sting like a bitch.znd hurt like hell at first, so be prepared,” he told her as he slowly began to pour the solution. She hissed in pain, biting her lip and squeezing her eyes shut hard. She literally felt as though her hand were on fire. “Sorry babe. Just relax, it’ll go away in a minute,” he promised her.
Which it did. Luckily, the solution had stopped the bleeding, but he still applied the butterfly closures, just in case. Lastly, he grabbed the roll of gauze and began wrapping her palm “And…we’re done,” he announced as he finished taping the gauze. “Now, that wasn’t too bad was it?” he asked lightly, smiling.
She frowned at him. “It’s not funny. That--that fucking hurt,” she said.
His expression turned solemn and he nodded. “I know, Ray, I’m sorry,” he apologized. Then teasing again, he gave her a mischievous grin. “Want me to kiss it and make it feel better?” he asked.
Rayna smiled then and shook her head. “Real funny, Deacon…real funny,” she replied, her mouth going dry at the lust she saw in his eyes…
“What’s funny?” Maddie asked as she walked into the room, having only caught the tail end of their conversation. They both turned around at her voice, neither having heard her come down the stairs or come into the room, for that matter, It was Rayna who spoke first, smiling.
“Oh hey, sweet girl,” she acknowledged. “You find everything okay?” she asked.
Maddie nodded. “Yeah, I’m good,” she said as she went over to sit by Rayna. “So…what’s so funny?” she asked again, looking expectantly from Deacon to Rayna. Rayna gave a nervous laugh, catching the grin on Deacon’s face and returning it with a glare.
“It’s nothing, kiddo,” Deacon answered for the save. “I was teasing your Mama about her hand. It was mean, sorry Ray,” he said, catching her eye over Maddie’s shoulder.
She swallowed the lump in her throat, forcing herself to look away from Deacon and to focus on Maddie.
“So your hand’s okay then?” Maddie asked.
Rayna smiled and nodded. “Yep, just a little cut. Nothing major,” she said, downplaying the injury a bit for Maddie’s sake, as she’d inherited Rayna’s tendency to over-worry about everything and everyone. “What about you, sweetie? It’s been a long day. I’m sure you’re ready to crash just about now,” she said.
Maddie shook her head. “Actually, I’m not really tired,” she said. “I was thinking maybe of asking Deacon to play a few songs with me,” she said, glancing over at Deacon. “I saw you had another guitar upstairs…would it be okay if we played for a bit? I know it’s late and if you’re tired it’s okay, we don’t--” she asked, her voice trailing off shyly.
Deacon smiled. “And pass up the chance to play with the great Maddie Conrad?” he teased. “Are you kidding? Girl, get your butt up there and grab that guitar,” he said, grinning.
Maddie didn’t have to be told twice. Grinning from ear to ear, she jumped up and was running out of the room in a flash. Deacon laughed as he watched her go, then turned to Rayna. The laughter died when he saw the unreadable expression on her unsmiling face. She looked like she was a million miles away as he reached out and put his hand on her knee. “Ray—hey, you okay?” he asked.
She lifted her head, startled…then nodded. “Um yeah, sorry. I’m fine. It’s just been a really, really long day,” she said.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Are you sure that’s it?” he asked, trying to read her eyes but she dropped her gaze to her lap so that he couldn’t.
“Yeah, yes…that’s it. I’m…” she started, her reply cut off by Maddie’s quite exuberant entrance as she came back, guitar in hand. She grabbed Deacon’s guitar that was in its stand near the hearth, handing it to him before taking a seat herself.
“What should we play first?” she asked Deacon.
He shrugged. “Anything you want, sweetie. Your pick,” he told her.
She grinned wide and nodded. “Awesome. Let’s do “A Life That’s Good” first, okay? I love that song,” she said as she adjusted the capo clamp on the correct fret before turning towards Rayna. “Mom, you remember the words, right?” she asked.
Rayna smiled slightly, but shook her head. “Oh…I’m going to sit this one out and just watch you guys, I think,” she said.
Maddie nodded. “Okay.” She looked at Deacon. “Ready? I’ll start and you can jump in, okay?”
He nodded. “Sounds good.”
Maddie grinned and starting strumming the first chord, Deacon chiming in moments later with his own harmony…
Sitting here tonight by the firelight.
It reminds me I already have more than I should.
I don’t need fame. No one to know my name.
At the end of the day, Lord I pray.
I have a life that’s good.
Two arms around me.
Heaven to ground me.
And a family that always calls me home.
Four wheels to get there.
Enough love to share.
And a sweet, sweet, sweet song.
At the end of the day, Lord I pray.
I have a life that’s good.
Sometimes I’m hard on me.
When dreams don’t come easy.
I wanna look back and say I did all that I could.
At the end of the day, Lord I pray.
I have a life that’s good…
Maddie was smiling by the time the song came to an end and Deacon beamed with pride. “That was perfect, Darlin’,” he praised her. “You’ve really picked up on those chords I showed you last week.”
Maddie shrugged, a little uncomfortable with the compliments. “I’ve been practicing,” she said. “You really think I’m getting good?” she asked.
He grinned. “Hell yeah, I do. Your Mama, too. Isn’t that right, Ray?” he asked, turning in Rayna’s direction. He stopped smiling when he saw the tear tracks on her pale face. “Ray?” he repeated again, concerned. When she lifted her eyes and finally met his gaze, he could see the welled-up tears in her eyes. He’d never seen her look so broken or that lost as she did right then. Just the sight of her tears alone had him coming undone. It broke his heart seeing her like that. He’d never handled her tears well, neither then or even now, apparently. “Ray?” he said again, questioningly.
“Mom?” Maddie asked from where she sat. She had the same worried look on her face that Deacon did. It was the uncertainty she heard in Maddie’s voice that broke through her thoughts, and had her breaking the connection between Deacon and herself. She tore her gaze from his and turned to Maddie. “Yeah, sweetie?” she asked.
Maddie gave her a strange look before answering. “Mom, you’re crying. What’s wrong?” she asked.
Rayna held back her emotions as she forced a reassuring smile onto her face…a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “N-Nothing, baby. Nothing’s wrong. I got a little too caught up in the song, that’s all,” she said. “You did a great job, honey,” she said.
Before neither Deacon nor Maddie could say anything, she stood up. “I need—I think—you know, I’m just gonna go get some air. You two go ahead, though. Don’t stop on my account,” she said as she brushed against Deacon as she went to leave the room. He knew Rayna better than most and as such, he knew when something was wrong. And something was definitely wrong, though he still couldn’t quite pin-point what that was. Determined to find out though, he grabbed her uninjured hand as she brushed past him, stopping her from leaving. “Ray, wait…” he said, searching her features. He watched as she looked about to say something, glanced at Maddie, and thought better of it. Then instead, she gave him a look that pretty much screamed “back off”, pulled her hand free from his, and quickly made her way to and then out the front door of the cabin, into the storm.
Both Deacon and Maddie stood, looking at each other. “Maybe I should—“ Maddie started, but Deacon cut her off, shaking his head.
“No, you know what, sweetie, it’s okay. I think your Mama’s just had a real crazy night with the whole storm and her truck…how about you head on up to bed? You’ve had a crazy night, too,” he said with a half-smile. “We’ll work on some new chords in the morning, alright?”
She lit up at that, nodding and starting towards the stairs with the guitar, then stopped on the second step and glanced again at the cabin door. “Are you sure Mom’s okay? I feel bad. I mean, I made her drive us in the storm and I—“
Deacon walked over to her and put his hands on her shoulders, smiling. “She’s fine, Darlin’. Besides, no one makes your Mama do anything she doesn’t want to do. Trust me on that,” he said. “Now get,” he said with a teasing grin.
Maddie laughed. “Yeah, yeah. ‘Night Deacon. I’m glad you’re okay, by the way,” she said shyly, ducking her head.
He smiled at her, his heart nearly bursting with the love he felt for the girl that he now knew was his. “Thank you,” he said, nodding. “Good night, Maddie,” he said, watching her turn and run up the stairs. Moments later, he heard the sound of the bedroom door close, and seconds later, the sound of faint guitar strumming that brought a knowing smile to his face. Oh yes, she was definitely his daughter, he thought to himself happily. The happiness fell to the back burner as he heard the howl of the wind outside and recalled the trace of tears on Rayna’s face. Bracing himself for what lay on the other side of that door—and he wasn’t referring to the weather—he grabbed a throw from the arm of the sofa that Rayna had discarded as she’d gotten up, pulled open the door, and went out…