A/N: It must be said that every single story I write (and indeed every story I've written previously) from here on out will lead to/take place in an AU where what happened last week did not happen. I'm not about that life.
"All I know is my name could rust entirely away in your perfect mouth."
You don't fall in love at sixteen. You fall in like, maybe. You fall in lust, definitely. But not love.
Those words were from Tandy, infinite in her wisdom at twenty, as though in four years she'd learned so much more than her little sister about the heart. And maybe she had. Maybe she'd learned so much about life and love while she'd been away at Northwestern that she could write a rule-book about life and love in your teen years that would become required reading for every angsty teen. Rayna didn't know. But Rayna did know that somehow the rules that governed everyone else's thoughts and feelings had never seemed to apply to her, so she didn't think they should altogether start now.
She knew her father had been in Tandy's ear, knew he thought if anyone could get through to Rayna, it was Tandy. Her father had already tried every trick in the book—he'd tried appealing to her reason, he'd tried forbidding her from seeing the slightly older boy, he'd tried scaring her about the realities of love, but none of it worked. So, he'd decided to call in reinforcements by way of her big sister.
Rayna smiled at Tandy, "You didn't fall in love at sixteen. Maybe I did." She had a faraway look in her eyes as she spoke that tied a knot in Tandy's stomach.
So, Tandy called Watty, who invited Rayna for coffee the next day.
Rayna sat in the coffee shop, her slender hands wrapped around a mug filled with hot chocolate. She sipped at it, and stared out the window, looking at the beautiful colors fall was hurling around the city she grew up in.
"It's beautiful outside," She said, her voice floating above the steady hum of the coffee shop.
"Mmm." Watty agreed, taking a swallow of his coffee. "It's not hard to fall in love with the city this time of year."
Rayna narrowed her eyes, "Tandy called you." It wasn't a question.
Watty shrugged, "She's worried."
Rayna rolled her eyes, pressing her fingers into the mug, letting it warm her fingertips. "She doesn't need to be worried about me."
Watty smiled, "I'm worried about you." He'd been watching her these past few months as she fell deeper into whatever this thing was with Deacon. Watty knew about young, impetuous love in ways he wished he didn't.
Rayna could never be annoyed with Watty. He'd stepped up to help her navigate these tough waters on the other side of her dream; a month away from seventeen, she'd come to think of Watty as the father she never had. She knew that sentiment was usually reserved for people without fathers, but the gap in her father's love and support is the exact spot Watty filled.
"You know, my little songbird," Watty stared at her, "The first time you tell someone you love them, it'll be a lie. You won't mean it to be, of course, but it will be."
Rayna laughed, and shook her head. It was such a songwriter thing to say—such a unique perspective on looking at the world. She understood what he meant, what he was trying to say—it was a more poetic version of what Tandy had told her yesterday: You don't fall in love at sixteen.
"Watty, I appreciate you. I do." Rayna tapped her fingers on the side of the mug, "But hasn't your heart ever just told you what you wanted, everything else be damned?"
A strange look passed over Watty's face, his eyes grew dark, cloudy, and a little glassy. Rayna couldn't place it—and then, just as quickly as it had come, it was gone. Rayna would decide later that it looked like a memory—a joyful one, a painful one.
Watty sighed, the answer evident.
"Then you should know…there's not much of a choice."
Watty looked in his cup, "No." He shook his head, a light smile playing on his face, "I suppose there isn't."
. . .
That night, Rayna was huddled under a pile of blankets, the cold air whipping around her. Her nose was cold, and she could see her breath as it pushed out of her body. The skin on her face was flush, the cold turning her skin pink.
But in the back of that truck bed, staring at the stars, Deacon's fully-clothed body pressed against hers, she'd never felt warmer in her life.
His laughter floated over her, and she thought it was weird that she could feel it in every cell of her body. She couldn't remember anyone ever laughing at her stories quite like this, wanting to hear about the first time she held a microphone, how her tiny hand could barely hold it, how she slobbered into it, making ridiculous sounds but how her mother applauded for her anyway.
"Oh, Rayna," He said, turning to face her, his eyes sparkling, "I bet you were so cute."
She stared at him, knowing she should find words, but she couldn't. Instead, her stomach turned in on itself, turning over and over, the nerves settling in her body, making their way to her face.
When he saw her gaze shift, he tilted his head, "What? What's wrong?"
She was staring at him as she took a steadying breath, the exhale visible in the air between them. Her voice was quiet, and when she spoke, she swore she could see the words floating out in between them.
"Deacon…" Her stomach dropped, "I love you." She said, simply.
They hadn't said that before. They hadn't really said anything before; they'd just kissed and touched and bared their hearts to one another. They talked about their parents, about their childhoods, about their dreams. They didn't really talk about the us of the situation.
After her confession, she couldn't take her eyes off him. She watched as her words settled into his ears, and she watched his face change—his eyes widened a little, his mouth slid open. She saw fear flash in his eyes, and then she saw something else—his gaze darkened, and he leaned his head into her.
His lips were soft against hers; he kissed her tenderly, gently, angling his head so he could run his tongue over her lips before he pushed it gently inside. She brought her hand up to his temple and ran her fingernails through the hair there.
He pulled away, his body half on top of hers, his hand cupped the side of her face. She watched him still, nerves dancing in her belly—when he didn't say anything, she wondered if maybe she shouldn't have said it. Panic started to rise. Maybe she'd misread this entire situation, maybe she'd been thinking there was this thing blossoming between them when really, there wasn't.
Then, he smiled. And every doubt she had fell away. "I love you too, Rayna," he pressed a kiss to her forehead, and then he whispered against it, "So much."
Her heart swelled, and she felt like she finally understood that this was the organ that supplied blood to her body, and why.
She smiled, and pressed a kiss to his chin, "I love you," She wanted to hear how it sounded again, her voice wrapping around the words, marveling at them. She'd never before said that to anyone she wasn't related to, and it felt like something she should fear, but she didn't. At sixteen, she'd never said something so true.
Deacon leaned in to kiss her, and her arms circled around his neck; he kissed her passionately, his lips moving against hers, his heart beating against hers.
This is what it feels like, she thought, love.
. . . . . .
12 years later, as she's walking down the aisle towards Teddy Conrad, Watty's words will unexpectedly come back to her. The first time you tell someone you love them, it'll be a lie.
As she stops at the end of the aisle, her smile will falter a little as she reaches for Teddy's hands, No, she'll think, it's the second that's a lie.
. . . . . .
She'll spend years, years, years trying to make 'I love you' sound like it did the first time she ever said it, trying to make it sound like the truth instead of a lie.
Until finally, at 40, underneath the glow of a dim porch-light, to the first and only man she's ever loved, she finally tells the truth, again.
A/N: Thank you for the reviews for my last story. It's admittedly much harder to write in the wake of last week, but knowing that people are reading really makes a difference. At least, for me. So, thanks again.