I've done so many things wrong, I don't know if I can do right.
-At This Point in my Life, Tracy Chapman
The evening sky is heavy, gray clouds marring its usually serene surface—a storm is moving in. There will be thunder rumbling, lightning cracking through the sky, and rain coming fast and heavy. A true Nashville storm, the kind that used to scare her when she was a little girl, but which now make her smile at the memory of crawling into bed with her mother as they listened to the impossible rain battering the roof.
'They took great care building this house,' her Momma would say, smoothing the hair away from Rayna's small face, 'Nothing can get inside,' she'd whisper into Rayna's ear as the child buried her head as deep into the crook of her mother's neck as it would go, 'The only thing in here,' Virginia would say, her voice soft and sweet, 'is my love for you… you hear?' Rayna would nod against her mother's skin and smile, knowing what was coming next, 'and that's bigger than anything in the whole wide world, including that voice of yours.' She'd say, then reach over and tickle Rayna until she was laughing so hard she couldn't breathe—until the sound of her giggles drowned out the rumbling thunder that always sounded closer than it ever was.
It feels like a lifetime later, and her mother has been gone for too long – but when Rayna Jaymes is alone in her house, sitting on her couch in black sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and that first crack of thunder rattles the house as darkness descends, it's like her momma never left at all. The lightning flashes through the window and Rayna mutes the TV, leaning her head back against the couch listening to the spattering of rain begin. She can hear it hitting the rain gutter outside—the sound is tinny and bright, melancholy and hopeful—and she smiles, the sound lulling her half to sleep. She's halfway to a dream she'll never remember when she hears a knock at the door, the sound jolting her eyes open.
She knows that knock. She would know it anywhere, the same way she would know the knuckles that made it – she could pick them out of a lineup, right down to the little white scar on the middle one of the left hand. Made from broken glass and memories, a frame shattered against a wall and the desperate urgent need to take it back.
The tile is cold on her feet as she moves across the foyer. She opens the door without looking, turns around, and walks back in the direction of the couch. She hears heavy footsteps behind her as the door slams shut right as lightning splits the sky.
Rayna turns around and to see him; he's dressed in black, his jeans hugging his body, his shirt clinging to him, slightly damp from the walk from his truck to her front door in what has suddenly become a torrential downpour. It won't last long, she knows, the storm; like everything never said between she and this man standing in front of her.
In his left hand, he grips a tabloid, one of the sensationalist ones, so tightly that his knuckles are white and his scar disappears completely in his rage. If only all scars worked like that, she thinks, her eyes focusing on his hands, so she won't have to see the fire in his eyes.
"Hi, Deacon," Rayna says, leaning her back against the couch. It digs into her back uncomfortably, and she welcomes it.
Deacon's eyebrows shoot up, "Hi?" His tone is harsh, like he can't believe that those are the words that have fallen from her lips; his voice is filled with the rage she'd become so familiar with all those years ago. He tosses the tabloid, slightly soggy, on the ground. It lands next to her feet, the pictures gracing the front page staring back up at her. A knot twists in her stomach and she tries to tamp it down. "Liam?" Deacon's voice booms, incredulity dripping from every letter of the word in a way she didn't think was possible. "Really, Rayna?" Deacon asks, shaking his head as he clenches and unclenches his fist.
"Deacon…" Rayna sighs, knowing that pleading with him when he's like this is futile, always has been, drunk or sober; she glances at his eyes in a sudden panic, and relief washes over her as she sees his eyes are clear. She does it anyway, "Can we just let this go?" She can't hide the sarcasm in her voice so she doesn't even try, "You knew there was… something."
"Liam?"Deacon brings his hand up to the back of his neck as he lets out a huff of air, "You should've told me, Rayna," He says, the anger in his voice bubbling to the surface again, "You should have damn told me you slept with him."
The tone in his voice sparks the rage in Rayna, and she lets it out in a quietly controlled, clipped tone, "It was none of your fucking business."
Deacon scoffs, "Oh, is that right?"
Rayna sighs, a strand of hair hanging slightly in her face moving with her breath, "That's right, Deacon. We haven't belonged to each other in a very long time." Even as she says the words, she knows they're not true. She knows Deacon's always been hers, and she spent twelve years secretly knowing she's always been Deacon's. There was a special kind of shame in that, considering the family and life she'd built with another man. She thought if she told herself it wasn't true hard enough for long enough, it would become untrue. But it didn't work like that – it had never worked like that, this thing between the two of them.
Deacon takes a step closer to her, his body leaning into her personal space, "Is that right?" His voice holds a challenge, one she hadn't heard in a very long time.
Suddenly, her body feels electric, like everything she's ever felt for him—anger, love, shame, rage, reverence—is flooding her body all at once, fighting through her bloodstream, slamming through her veins. "Yeah," She meets his gaze and holds it steadily for the first time since he walked in the door, "That's right, Deacon." She says the same words that fell from her lips just a moment ago, but they're different this time—they have a cool edge to them, jagged and hollow, like she practiced saying them for years in the precise way she knew would cut him to the quick. And maybe she did. Maybe after she stopped crying for the life they'd lost all those nights ago, she thought about hurting him instead. Maybe it's how she survived.
He tilts his head to the side, considering her, standing stock still as his eyes skitter down her face, trying to read her, trying to find something that isn't there—she'd learned to bury it, to hide it deep down so it never saw the light of day, and it certainly never saw her face. Not when she didn't want it to.
Deacon's eyes widen slightly, the movement almost imperceptible; anger flashes in them followed by a quick look of shame, and she understands. He's never seen her like this—he's never seen what he made her become all those years ago. He scrubs his hand down his face, his rough finger pads against his stubble making a quiet hiss even over the low rumble of thunder in the distance. He looks down at the carpet, his eyes fixing on a point.
And it's there, everything between them spilled out in the open—things they spent years trying to hide, trying to protect their hearts and each other from: the damage; there is a chasm between them, one gaping and wide that formed long before Liam, long before Stacey, long before secrets. A bridge spans it, but it is old and rickety, liable to break at any moment taking anything that's on it down into the deep canyon. Only a fool would cross it, would take that chance, because there would be no clawing back out of the chasm, bloodied and bruised but still alive—not this time.
"Well, damn." He breathes it out, and it's the quietest she's heard his voice in years; there is something in his eyes she's never seen, and she feels a sharp stab in her belly: resignation. It's not clouded by a distant hope, by a steady longing. It is a knife, and it twists again low in her belly.
He glances at her one more time, a sad smile playing on his lips as he shakes his head once, twice, and then turns on his heel, his boots squeaking as he crosses the tile heading straight for the door.
As she stares at his back, his t-shirt stretched tautly across his broad shoulders as he crosses the foyer, a blind panic rips through her, and she recognizes it instantly; a ghost from her past long dormant—the moment before she loses him.
"Goddamnit, Deacon," She hears the desperation in her own voice as it reverberates around the room, and she hates herself for it for a moment; she sounds like every night after Vince died that she begged him not to stumble away from her and into the nearest bar. She pleaded with him back then, her voice high and pitchy, tears streaming down her face as he just stood there staring at her, halfway out the door—the seconds stretching between them like years before she looked in his eyes and finally snapped, told him fine, told him to get the fuck out. Because she wasn't begging him to stay, not any more.
He stops now, his hand on the door, and turns to look at her. She doesn't move, she can't step foot on that rickety bridge—she can't, but her voice ignores the warning, ignores the danger; damn it all to hell, it always had.
The words flow from her before she has the chance to stop them, before she can pull them back in across the divide, pull them to a safety she's never really even felt standing on the other side: "I never stopped loving you, Deacon. Not for a day, not for a minute, not for a damn second."
She stares at him, and he stands silent, his hand falling from the doorknob. His breaths come in short, small gasps—she knows because she can see the rise and fall of his chest as lightning cracks through the sky, the window from her door lighting a shadow on his chest, and she thinks for a moment she can see his heart. Battered and bruised, the scars the same shapes as the ones he'd carelessly etched into her own with a whisky glass.
Oh, the things they'd done to one another. He watches her carefully from the other side; his voice is tired and soft and sad like every moment she'd spent without him: "I'm sorry, Rayna, I need more than that." He doesn't move to open the door, he just stands there, staring at her, the weight of history holding him in place; his eyes are clouded with it, the history.
Her legs move without her permission and carry her to a desk at the center of the foyer. Slipping a tiny key out of a well-worn book of poetry, she clicks it into a small drawer. She stands with her back to him as she slips something out of the drawer; with a sigh, she turns around, clutching it to her abdomen. She'd never intended to show him this—she'd never intended to show anyone this, not since she locked it away.
She can't look at it—if she does, she will run from this moment, she knows. She crosses to him in three swift steps, then reaches her hand out to him, holding out a photograph. His eyes drop down to her hand and she closes her eyes, bracing herself for this moment, then she opens them again, watching him carefully.
Deacon looks at the picture as he takes it from her hand—the edges are starting to yellow, even though it hasn't been that long since it was taken. He looks at her face in the picture, takes in the large pouf on her shoulder, her hair swept high on her head. His eyes snap to hers, "Rayna," His voice is wrought with pain, "Why would you show me this?" It's a photograph taken on the day he lost her, the day she walked down an aisle and met a man who wasn't him at the end of it.
She looks at him, her blue eyes boring into his, "Look."
Deacon wrenches his gaze from her and studies the picture—he takes in the sweeping planes of her face, the freckles dotting across her nose, never quite stifled by makeup. He looks at the curve of her smile, her perfect white teeth. He feels his heart snap in his chest—this is when you lost her. His mind taunts him, his eyes sweeping back and forth over the picture for some sign, some clue, and he is just about to shove the picture back at her and run, sure that he can't take any more of this, not a single second more of this. And then he looks at her eyes.
His heart twists, "Oh," he breathes out gently.
The blue of her eyes was the same clear color he'd fallen so deeply into when he first met her, but even in a photograph—especially in a photograph—it was unmistakable, the sadness; it looked deep, all-consuming, staring back at him like every accusation he'd ever hurled at himself in the mirror. On the happiest day of her life, she was staring just past the camera with such a sense of melancholy that he could feel it in his bones, and it made him ache.
He imagined finding a picture like this of someone he didn't know, years after age had battered its color, its texture, and he knows he would still see it then—the deep wound of the woman in the photograph.
Rayna wonders if Deacon will leave her standing on this bridge alone, but she has to find out. Tenatively, she reaches her hand out to touch his forearm, her fingertips ghosting over the skin there. The lightning flashes again through the sky, and the thunder claps right behind it.
"The photographer gave that to me a week after the wedding." Rayna's voice is gentle, brittle, "She kept it back from the other ones—left it out of the album." Rayna shakes her head, "I'll never forget the look in her eyes as she handed this to me." She nods at the picture still clutched between Deacon's thumb and forefinger, "She knew."
"Rayna," The word trips out of Deacon's mouth into the air between them, "Rayna," He says again, and it's swallowed by another loud clap of thunder.
The sound startles her; Rayna's eyes are wet as she looks at him, "The only thing in here was my love for you." He understands. She has told him that story more times than he can count, her head resting on his bare shoulder, her hair tickling his neck as the thunder rumbled overhead. He'd take her into his arms and make her quake a different way.
The photograph falls from his fingertips and it flutters to the floor, silently landing on the tile at their feet. Everything laid down between them, finally, the vestiges of the past slipping away as his boot presses the paper and ink—that's all it was, after all—down into the white, white tile.
"…And that's bigger than anything in the whole wide world," He whispers.
Deacon steps towards her, the only way he'd ever wanted to go, and snakes his hand through her hair. He tugs her mouth to his, melding their lips together. It is soft, sweet, reverent—it's an apology, a whisper, a recitation of every promise he ever made and then broke: the beating of their hearts finally, finally louder than the deafening thunder.
Sometimes the impossible things are all that's left between them; sometimes, she thinks, chasms close.