"He gave me that night back and this time, I told you the truth. We talked and held each other till the sun came up. And as I went to hell, the devil asked me if it was worth it. I said yes. Yes it was." – The Bargain from I Wrote This for You (poetry collection)
She couldn't think about that now. She wouldn't think about that now, about the way his eyes had looked, about the way they'd started to fill with tears. The way she'd kept hers icy and devoid, and how it had taken every ounce of willpower she had to not break down and tell him the truth.
Truth. What a foreign concept that seemed to her now, in this moment. She'd always considered herself a truth teller—it's hard not to when everyone on the circuit repeats the line three chords and the truth. But Rayna Jaymes was a liar, and that truth had been in the pit of her stomach for 13 years, taunting her mercilessly every time she looked in her rearview mirror.
So, now here she stood, Deacon Claybourne in front of her, hands out in front of him, palms up, his plaid button down shirt making her think she can see exactly where his heart beats, though she hasn't heard it up close in over a decade.
And he's asking her the question, one he's asked before, his voice simple and filled with the gravel she'd been hearing every day since she'd been 16, "What would you change?"
They've been fighting for hours now, she can't even remember about what, and she thinks it feels like they've been fighting for years, maybe even decades. And she's suddenly so tired, her eyes are so heavy, and her brain is so exhausted, she just can't do this anymore.
"I'd tell you the truth," the words fall from her lips, and she knows she can't get them back, she knows she wouldn't even if she could. He's staring at her now, his eyes narrow, and her voice floats to her own ears before she even knows she's speaking again. "That night. I'd tell you the truth."
He doesn't have to ask what night she's talking about, but he does anyway. "What night, Ray?" His voice is a whisper, or maybe she just can't hear right, what with the blood rushing in her head. She can hear it in her ears, and she thinks for a moment she might fall.
"That night you came to my house 13 years ago."
Their eyes meet, and she swears he's 13 years younger, and he swears she is, and suddenly they're both back there, that April night all those miles ago.
Rayna was on the couch, reading—Teddy was at work, working on some merger that was keeping him away late into the nights these days. She could hear the rain coming down outside, battering the outside of this strange house she now called her home. Cats and dogs her mom would have said of the storm outside, but she'd always thought it sounded more like bullets. She and Teddy had moved in together when she had started to show, and they'd gotten married shortly after that.
When she heard a knock at the door, she closed her book, and padded to the door. She wrapped her robe tightly around her, before she pressed her face up to the peephole, her eye trying to focus on the figure shrouded in her dim porchlight. When her vision adjusted, she let out a little gasp. She hadn't been expecting anyone, but the last person she'd been expecting to arrive on her porch tonight was Deacon Claybourne.
She tried to still the quivering of her voice when she spoke through the door. "What do you want, Deacon?" She asked, still watching him through the glass.
His voice was gruff when he spoke, like it always was, "Open the door, Rayna." He stood motionless, "I need to talk to you."
She pulled herself away from the door, and shook her head, even though she knew he couldn't see her. "No." She said, but it wasn't very firm, and they both knew it.
"Open the damn door." He said again, but his voice was plaintive, not mean.
Sighing, she opened the door. She felt the cool air hit her, and she pulled her robe around her tighter, subconsciously trying to hide her belly from him. She expected him to stare at it, since most people did, but he didn't take his eyes off her face. She wasn't prepared for the sight of him, and it hit her right in her lungs, knocking the air out of her. She felt like she couldn't breathe. He was soaking wet, his eyes were red, like he hadn't slept in days.
"You didn't return my calls. You didn't answer my letters." He stated. It should have felt like an accusation, but it didn't.
Her arms were crossed over her chest now, "I know."
"Don't do this, Rayna." He ran his hand through his hair, and Rayna watched as droplets flung off, she followed them to the tile of the porch with her eyes. "I'm sober now."
Rayna immediately felt the tears burn behind her eyes, and she chanced a look at him. "It's too late," She tried to keep her voice steady. "It's too late, it's already done." She ran her thumb over her wedding ring, still foreign on her left hand.
"It's not too late, Rayna. It's not," He didn't even try to keep the desperation out of his voice.
Her voice was tight, emotion finding its way in, "It is, Deacon."
He stepped toward her then, his boots pressing into the welcome mat, thick beneath his feet. He reached for her face with his right hand, his hand was cold and wet, but Rayna could only feel the heat when she leaned her face into his palm.
"Rayna…" his voice was barely a whisper, his face only inches from hers.
She closed her eyes, and she felt his voice in every part of her body. She felt the way he said her name in every part of her heart she thought she'd closed off. Startled by the rush of emotions invading her body, she steeled herself. When she opened her eyes, she'd managed to drive the emotion out, her blue eyes giving nothing away.
"Tell me you don't want me anymore." His voice was soft, "Tell me you don't want us to be a family. Tell me you don't love me anymore, baby, and I swear I'll go. I'll leave you alone."
And what could she say? She had another man's wedding ring on her finger, she was living in another man's house, and here was this man, on her porch. She'd never lied to him before, always told him the truth even when it hurt—especially when it hurt.
But standing here tonight, the rain falling heavily behind him, she swore she could still feel where he had bruised her heart, that night he stood in her apartment throwing furniture all over. She'd just stood there crying in the middle of the room, her heart so much in her throat she could scarcely breathe around it, until he'd walked out of her apartment leaving her surrounded by broken things. Leaving broken things inside her.
She took a deep breath, preparing herself for the first time she would ever lie to Deacon Claybourne. She knew it wouldn't be the last.
To this day, she doesn't know how she got the words out, how she made her lips form them, how her tongue pressed against the roof of her mouth: "No." Her voice was louder than she thought it should be, probably because she was using every ounce of strength she had in her body to push the words out, "I don't."
So, there it was. She watched his face change, she watched it screw up in pain, and she waited for a rage that never came. Instead, he let out a breath, and stepped away from her like she'd pushed him. She might have if there was any part of her that thought she could touch him and still tell the lie.
Then, he'd walked away. She'd stared at his back until she couldn't see him anymore, until he was far enough down the long driveway, and then she'd stared a little longer.
Finally, she'd closed the door, turned the lock, and pressed her back up against it. She didn't know how long she stood like that before the sobs came and wracked her body. She ended up on the floor in front of the door, crying so hard her throat locked out the sound. Teddy came home to find her two hours later, her legs bare on the cold tile, her tears still coming in waves she thought might never end. He hadn't asked any questions, just helped her up the stairs to their bed, where he pulled the covers under her chin and smoothed her hair. He'd slept downstairs that night, and when she woke in the morning her pillow still felt wet, and her jaw ached from crying.
Some days she felt like she'd never stopped crying.
They're back in the present, the lines around their eyes proof of the years they've spent apart since that night. Rayna knew now that 13 years ago she was watching Deacon's back head down her driveway straight to a bar, and whatever path he'd taken after that had led him here, now, to this very moment.
There are moments you can't get back, her mother had told her once, and she'd had a faraway look in her eyes when she'd said it. Rayna was young then, ten maybe, and she hadn't understood what her mother meant. She thinks, now, that she never really understood it until this moment, here, looking back on that moment some 13 years ago.
"I'm sorry," She hears the words, and she's not sure who spoke them, because it doesn't matter, and anyway, they both are.
"You can tell the truth now." He offers, his words measured.
She laughs, because what good will the truth do either of them now, this far down the road? But she doesn't say that. "I could." It's a whisper, a prayer.
He closes the gap between them, and speaks the words he branded on his heart that night, "Tell me you don't want me anymore." His voice was softer now than it was even then, which she hadn't thought possible, "Tell me you don't love me anymore, baby."
She doesn't answer, she doesn't stop to feel Teddy's ring on her finger, she doesn't stop to listen to the voice whispering in her head; instead, she leans forward and presses her lips to his. It's gentle, and soft, and she whimpers in the back of her throat because the truth is it's just like she remembered. They separate, but can't stop looking at one another. He brings his hand to her jaw, then they lean in again, and the kiss is even softer this time. She feels her heart in her chest; she thinks it's strange that she can't tell whether it's breaking or healing, and she's so busy trying to figure it out that she doesn't even notice that she's crying until she tastes her tears. Deacon inhales against her lips, and she knows that he tastes them too.