You have to understand:
When it hurt to love her,
It hurt the way the light hurts your eyes in the middle of the night.
But I had to see, even through the ruin, if what we were burying were seeds.
-Prism, Andrea Gibson
Deacon can't look at water the same way, not since he saw it rushing over her naked body in a shower for the first time. Not since the first time she brought him a still glass of it, placing it next to their bed. Not since she wet a washcloth and placed it on his forehead the first time she'd crawled into bed next to him after he'd yelled at her in a drunken stupor. She'd smoothed the cloth over his face while he whispered variations of apologies, put her finger to his lips and told him to hush. Then, she'd held him, despite the anger, despite the way he'd screamed at her, despite the way everything was crumbling around them into ruin. Deacon can't look at water the same way, not since he saw her tears the first night he was ever the cause of them, not since he saw them on her face the last time he held her like a lover.
So, perhaps it's fitting that water is pouring from the sky when Teddy shows up at Deacon's door one night, nine years after Teddy married the love of Deacon's life. Teddy's suit is soaked through, his blue tie sticking to his starch white dress shirt. He stands on Deacon's porch not expecting an invitation inside—that expectation went out the window the last time they'd ended up in a wrestling match outside of some event, unsure who threw the first punch that time, but each of them equally determined not to tell Rayna about it. So, Deacon doesn't offer, just pulls the door closed a little and raises his eyebrows in a silent question. What the hell are you doing here?
Teddy looks at Deacon, his eyes blazing with a pain that Deacon recognizes all too well, but still can't quite place; it's the first time he's seen it outside of a mirror. Teddy asks him a question he doesn't understand in the moment, that he won't understand until he goes back into his house and ruminates on the look in Teddy's eyes: "How do you do it?" Teddy asks, his voice a near-yell over the downpour of rain hitting the roof, splattering loudly on the concrete around him. He looks at Deacon for a long moment, then he shrugs and turns, walking away. He slides into the driver's side of his fancy car; Deacon vaguely hopes the suit ruins the leather, that the rain ruins the suit.
Deacon closes the door and slides on to his couch, thankful he is alone—it's hard enough to explain Rayna to the woman he's currently seeing, to any woman he ever sees, without having to also try to explain why Rayna's husband was on his doorstep in the near middle of the night. It's not the first time it's happened, and Deacon doesn't think it'll be the last; but at a certain point, explanations fail and all he's left with is a woman he could have cared about in a life before Rayna sadly smiling at him and saying you're still in love with her, and it's never a question.
Deacon is idly plucking his guitar when realization finally washes over him and he understands the look he saw in Teddy's eyes. Rayna is hard on the men in her life—she doesn't mean to be, of course, she just is. Loving her is hard, because loving her is so easy—it feels like the thing you were born to do. It feels like you didn't exist until the moment she looked at you, like you'd only been playing at existence, at life, until she wrapped her arms around you. And when someone's love is the beginning and end of your existence, it is very hard to stop imagining your own end; how your life will end with this love, how you will only ever hope to be a hollow version of your own self after it's gone. And when it happens, it's a hard thing to survive. Deacon doesn't think he could do it twice.
The truth, though, is that Deacon will never understand Teddy's question; Deacon will never understand Teddy. For a long moment, Deacon had Rayna's love—the truth, if anyone were to tell it, is that Deacon still does. Teddy, he never has, not the way he's always wanted to.
Deacon can't know that sometimes Rayna still cries in her sleep for a man that isn't the one she's married to. Deacon can't know that Rayna still sometimes moans a name that isn't her husband's.
. . .
Three years after Teddy's late-night visit to Deacon's doorstep, Juliette asks Deacon her version of the same question. They're in bed together, which Deacon can't attribute to anything other than spending the last decade with a smashed heart; he can't attribute it to anything more than how the broken shards always reach out and try to grasp for anything to hold on to. Juliette's running her small fingers over his stubble; he finds the sensation grating because it's not her fingers on him he has ever wanted, but still he doesn't pull away.
"I don't know how you do it." She whispers, her eyes searching his face. "Doesn't it hurt?" She asks, her fingers stilling and falling on the bed between them.
He doesn't need to ask what she means, he already knows: loving her when she's not yours.
Deacon lets out a laugh, self-deprecating at best, "Like you wouldn't believe."
Juliette rolls on to her back, she's long since given up chasing him—he can't give what he doesn't own, anyway. "Then, why?" She breathes it out, her brow furrowed in confusion.
Deacon rolls on to his back, slides out of her bed, and throws his jeans on. He's buckling his belt when he turns to look at her.
Deacon sighs, "She's in my blood." He says it simply, reaching for his shirt. He pulls it over his head and he doesn't see Juliette wince, doesn't see the look of pain on her face.
After his shirt is on, what he sees on her face is the look ushered in right after the pain: envy.
She wants Deacon, but that envy is not what's settled on her face now.
Juliette wants to know what it is to be loved like that, wants to know what it is to change someone's very definition of something, anything. She wants to know what it is to crawl into someone's veins, to become the very thing that flows through them, their lifeblood. She wants to know what it is like to situate yourself so deeply into the life and heart of another person that he is ruined for everything that comes after you, that there cannot be anything that comes after you.
He's halfway through the door of her bedroom when her voice calls out to him.
"She ruined you, you know." Her raspy voice carries, echoes in the large master bedroom.
Deacon stops, his hand on the door, and turns to look at her. He offers a small smile, "Maybe that's true," He nods, "But long before that, she saved me." He closes the door softly behind him.
When the door closes and his footsteps tread softly down the hall, Juliette thinks back to her trailer park days, the rickety single-wide she called a very painful home. She thinks back to the filth that coated every inch of the place; sometimes things were so dusty she could hardly catch her breath.
She'd lay on the floor while her Mama was out and slap her hand against the carpet, watching the dust rise up and settle down into the carpet again, trying to quiet the rumbling in her stomach. She'd stand up, her dirty feet carrying her to an old record player, one she hid outside buried in a tin box so her Mama wouldn't sell it. She'd dust it off, bring it back inside, and sit on the floor, her too-thin frame providing little cushion from the thread-bare carpet. She'd pull out the album and smile, running her fingers over the cover, tracing the red hair, the smooth freckled skin. When she finally put the record on, she'd settle on her back and listen to Rayna Jaymes sing, and Juliette knew Rayna was singing just to her. As the music washed over Juliette, she'd close her eyes and for a moment she'd stop feeling the hunger pangs, her stomach rumbling becoming a distant memory pushed to the back of her tired mind. And suddenly, she wasn't in a trailer park at all.
When Juliette hears Deacon's truck start up, she cries. She saved me, too.
. . .
When Rayna comes to see him instead of leaving with Liam, Deacon finally answers the question he'd been asking himself for years: why do you keep holding on? He'd long known he couldn't let go, but he didn't understand why—didn't realize what he'd been waiting to see.
They're sitting at his kitchen table, she's wearing panties and his shirt, he's wearing plaid boxers and a smile.
They're talking about the years that have passed between them, "How did you do it, all those years?" She asks, "I know how I did it, but… how did you?"
Deacon smiles, and he feels like it's the first time in years that he's smiled and actually meant it, "Baby, you were the brightest thing I ever saw, from the day I met you." He sips coffee despite the late hour of the evening, they want to stay up late, they want a second round, maybe a third; they've spent too many damn days apart asleep while awake, "And yeah, sometimes, especially after it was over… it hurt just to look at you."
Rayna smiles, she knows exactly what he means. She'd spent years conditioning her heart to get used to the pain of looking at him without him being hers. Years conditioning her heart to ignore the fact that, actually, he was always hers—he'd never stopped being hers.
Deacon sighs, his fingers working their way through his hair, "But, I couldn't look away from you, Ray, I could never move on and I could never look away, no matter the hell we put each other through." His voice is serious, like it's a grave realization he's just now coming to.
"Why?" She asks, tears in her eyes. She asks, even though she knows. He's been hoping for the same thing she has all these years.
Deacon reaches across the coffee table and picks her hand up. He slides his fingers through hers. He holds their interlacing fingers up, "This," He leans forward and kisses their hands where they're joined, "This moment, right here."
He had to see, the same way she did, if they would rise from the rubble. Sitting here tonight, he knows that they have. He knows now, the same way she does, that they always will.