"I love no one but you, I have discovered, but you are far away and I am here alone. Then this is my life and maybe, however unlikely, I'll find my way back there. Or maybe, one day, I'll settle for second best. And on that same day, hell will freeze over, the sun will burn out and the stars will fall from the sky." - The Grim Alternatives from I Wrote This For You (poetry collection)
Deacon Claybourne sighed, staring at the calendar tacked on his wall. Today's date was circled. Today's date made 6 months he'd been seeing Alison Monroe, and today's the day he would end it. He'd been looking at the red circle around the date for weeks now, he kept waiting to dread it, kept waiting for the knot to form in his stomach about it, but the dread never came, and neither did the knot.
With a heart heavy—but not for the conversation he was about to have—he drove to Alison's house where he politely extricated himself from the relationship they'd been having for the last 6 months. She cried, he almost did, and then he got in his truck and drove home.
He was halfway up the walk when he saw Coleman sitting on the steps leading up to his house.
Coleman's voice was deep and incredulous when he spoke, "You did it, didn't you?"
Deacon averted his gaze, twirled his keys, and shoved them in his pocket. He shrugged.
"Jesus, Deacon, you are a special kind of stupid, aren't you?" Coleman shook his head. "Alison was a nice girl, man."
Deacon sat down on the steps next to him. "She was." He nodded. "She is."
Coleman glanced at him, and then stared at the street again, shaking his head. Coleman Carlisle was forever shaking his head at Deacon Claybourne. "How long are you going to keep doing this?" He asked finally.
"Long as it takes, I s'pose."
"She's married to another man." Coleman said, as though this wasn't the thousandth time he'd said it. As though this was the time it would actually make its way through the thick skull of the stubborn man sitting next to him.
As though the pain of that hadn't been swirling in Deacon's head for years. "I know." Deacon's tone was matter-of-fact. He'd spent every day of the last decade, give or take, thinking about that one finite detail.
"So, what?" Coleman turned to face him, "This is your life now? Dating random women, slapping some arbitrary timeline on it, and then breaking up with them not a day past that timeline?"
Deacon shrugged again—he knew he couldn't give Coleman the answer he was looking for. Coleman wanted to know when this would all be done and over with, when Deacon would be able to make it past six months with a woman. Truthfully, Deacon wanted to know the answer to that, too. That's why he waited; that's why he dated at all. He kept waiting for the moment his heart would fall in love, for the moment he would stop staring at the calendar—at this point, he'd even settle for just his head being in love, he'd trust that his heart would follow. But the moment never came.
So, Deacon said the only thing he could say to his friend, "Yep." That was just the thing—that was his life now.
Coleman scoffed, "Hell, at least you're honest." He stood, and clapped Deacon on the shoulder. "One day, you're going to have to settle, Claybourne."
Deacon chuckled, "I don't even know what that would look like, Cole. And for all your talk, tell me, do you really think that's fair to do to some woman? To settle with her, when you and I both know good and well that I can only love one woman at a time, and that woman is going to be the same woman it has been for the last 20 years?"
It was Coleman's turn to sigh, "No." His voice was grim, and yet somehow still filled with humor. Deacon always marveled at how he was able to accomplish that, "No, I guess it's not." Coleman made his way down the walkway—halfway to his car, he turned around. "But, the world wouldn't end, you know."
Deacon smiled then, because for all the things Coleman knew, there were so many that he didn't. Yes, he thought, it would. But he nodded his head, anyway, "Yeah." He lifted his hand from his knee and gave a small wave as Coleman got in his car, shaking his head as he drove away.
He checked his watch, noted the time, and hopped in his car. He arrived at rehearsal ten minutes early, he unloaded his guitar and went inside, anyway. He heard her voice before he saw her, carrying through the empty space—it found his ears and he smiled.
"Hey, Ray." He said, stepping into the open. He put his guitar case down, "Have a nice weekend?" He asked.
She smiled when she saw him, her legs clad in dark wash denim propped up on the table in front of him. "Hey," She said, but her eyes were looking behind him. "Weekend was okay. How was yours?"
Deacon knew what she was looking for—at four months, his girlfriends insisted on coming to final rehearsals before leaving Nashville with him. If Rayna had noticed a pattern—how they'd come for two months and then suddenly stop exactly two months later, she never said anything.
He opened his guitar case and removed his guitar. "Yeah, it was alright."
Rayna nodded, standing up. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "Did you and Alison do anything fun?"
Deacon turned his head to the side and looked at her. She always said his girlfriends' names like they were too light in her mouth, like she couldn't really wrap her lips around them properly.
He chuckled, "No. She and I won't be doing anything fun together again, I'm afraid." He was staring at her now, watching her reaction the way he always did.
Her mouth opened and formed a little 'o.' "Oh," she said, averting her gaze. "I'm sorry." Deacon watched as she played with a loose thread on her jacket, he could see her mind working, "She seemed nice."
"She is." He agreed, closing his guitar case and throwing the strap over his shoulder, still watching her.
Rayna nodded, and Deacon watched her make the decision— "So… what happened?" She was staring at him now, searching for clues on his face, clues he'd long since stopped even trying to hide.
He steadied the guitar in his hand, ran his pick over the strings, and then adjusted a string, tightening it.
"I decided I didn't want to settle." His voice was light, not betraying the gravity of this confession.
Rayna's brow furrowed when she spoke, "Settle?"
The sound of the other band members filtering in echoed through the space. Deacon stepped toward her then, and stopped when he was next to her. His face remained open, allowing her to see the emotion there. His eyes searched hers for a moment, and he knew—as he had always known—that she could see. His voice was quiet when he spoke, and as the words left he began to walk away from her, "For second best." He didn't need to look behind him to know the look that was on her face, it was the one she'd tried to hide for years. The one she could hide from everyone except him.
Deacon ascended the steps of the stage, ready to take his place where he'd stood for the past 20 years—where he'd continue to stand for the next 20—behind her, waiting.