Disclaimer: I don't own anything lalalala.
Life at the ranch is busier than either of them anticipated. They're up at dawn working until midday, and then Chiles takes classes at the local community college while Beau saddles up and starts songs in his head that Chiles inevitably will finish for him.
But no matter how busy the day is, no matter how rushed or chaotic or exhausting, they follow the same routine every night. Beau watches her remove the delicate stars from her earlobes with the same reverence as the day she first received them and then stash them in the nightstand by her bed. Then she leans over and smiles as if only just noticing him there, burrows her head into her chest and says, "I love you, Beau Hutton."
He could hear the words in a thousand songs, but none of them compare to the sound of her small, angelic voice in the dark.
Sometimes Beau wakes up early in the morning and pulls out his guitar to play.
Chiles doesn't mind. She's never needed much sleep and she likes to hear him fiddle, scribbling lyrics and making funny smacking noises with his lips when he gets stuck on a rhyme. As the sun starts peeking through the window one particular morning she props her head on the pillow to watch him.
His back is turned to her so it surprises her when he turns his head to the side and says, "Come on, it's high time you learned a few chords yourself."
"Mmm, I'm no good at guitar," she says, stretching contentedly in the warm sheets. "I just like to hear you play."
"Well I'd like to hear you play, too. Come on, princess, give it a shot."
Groaning, she takes her sweet time getting out of bed, sauntering over to him with heavy feet. He shakes his head at her and thrusts the guitar in her direction.
She laughs. "I'm not even sure how to hold this thing."
He hands it to her and settles it in her lap, wordlessly putting her arms into place and setting her fingers on the different strings. "Strum it," he says.
It's an unexpectedly nice feeling, feeling the vibrations of the guitar hum under her fingers. She strums it again, softer this time, and it almost sounds like music. After a minute or so she looks up at Beau, who's sitting there staring at her.
"What?" she asks, her cheeks reddening.
"Nothing," he says, smiling. "It's just that you look awfully pretty with that guitar in your hands."
She wrinkles her nose at him playfully. "Aren't you supposed to think I'm pretty all the time?" she teases.
"I do," he says sincerely. He leans down to kiss her forehead. "All the time."
Now she really blushes. He pretends not to notice, taking her small hand in his and repositioning it on the guitar again. "Now try that one," he says.
And so began the unspoken determination between the two of them that Chiles Stanton would learn to play her own guitar.
"So," he says one night, as she's straining the pasta and he's pulling the bread out of the oven. "Tell me about the boy you wrote that song for."
Chiles smirks at him. "Which boy?" she says innocently.
Beau rolls his eyes at her. "That song you wrote. 'Little Bit Stronger'?" he recalls as he shoves the oven mitt back in the drawer and starts arranging the bread on a plate.
"Oh," she says in a tone he isn't expecting. He turns over at her and her lips are pursed in the way they when she's flustered. "I suppose that wasn't for a boy at all."
He raises his eyebrows.
"Beau Hutton!" she scolds him playfully, whipping a dishtowel at him.
He grins at her, letting her catch him as he makes a show of looking at her butt when she turns away from him. The grin fades just as quickly, though, when he realizes she doesn't intend to answer him. She busies herself with the pasta and he walks over to her, stands behind her and wraps his arms around her shoulders.
She leans back and eases herself into his body.
"What was it for, then?" he asks.
A small, wistful smile plays on her lips. "I wrote it right after I moved out. For good." She won't quite look at him and she says, sort of hesitantly, "My mother had just gotten out of prison and . . . I didn't want to deal with her anymore, so I left."
Beau feels her settle her weight on him, slumping as if there's a great burden off her chest. She looks up at him, apprehensive, her eyes watery and embarrassed.
"I know it's what everyone thinks, but it wasn't meant for a boy. It was for my mom."
Only now, sitting on the beach with her head resting on Beau's shoulder, can Chiles understand why Kelly deserved to sing the song about coming home.
Kelly had a home, once. She had a mother and a father and a husband the moment she moved out. You could say what you wanted about Kelly's plight, her miscarriage, her career, or her suicide, but one thing was certain—she had always had a family, somewhere to call home.
Chiles never had. When she was little and her father was arrested the third time and her mother the second, she was put into foster care, and shuffled from house to house until she was sixteen and her mother was deemed "fit" again. Chiles left as soon as she could and knew she would never come back.
So when she sang that song, sang the words, "I'm finally coming home," she never understood the depth, the longing, the nostalgia that Kelly must have felt.
She knows it now—what coming home means.
Home is where Beau is.
Before one of their Saturday shows Beau starts acting squirrely. He can't for the life of him stop tuning and retuning his guitar, twisting the knobs and plucking the strings, when he usually doesn't even bother with until he's halfway on stage.
"What's the matter with you?" Chiles asks a few minutes before they go on.
He doesn't seem to hear her. "Beau," she says, waving a hand in front of his face.
"What?" he says, his head snapping toward her like she pulled him out of a trance.
She frowns and shakes her head. "You're not acting very much like yourself, is all," she says, looking him up and down. She's right. His foot's tapping incessantly, the buttons on his shirt are done up wrong, and for the first time she can remember there's a bead of sweat about to fall on his forehead. "What are you, nervous?"
He laughs, but it sounds strained. "Course not. That's your job."
She nudges him defensively. "I will have you know I have never been nervous a day in my life."
He shoots her a knowing smirk, throwing his hands up in mock defeat, and for a second everything seems normal again. "Oh yeah, Chiles. Not once, not ever, right?"
They make it onstage and while she's performing she watches him out of the corner of her eyes, catching almost imperceptible differences in his expressions—his lips are tight and his nostrils are flaring every-so-slightly—but other than that he seems every bit as comfortable performing as he has since she joined him a little over a year and a half ago.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you've been a great audience," Beau says into the microphone, ever the charmer. "We've got one more song for you all tonight, if my duet partner would be so obliged."
She would recognize the opening chords to "Give in to Me" anywhere. She looks at him, puzzled, but he just smiles at her and cocks his head toward the band, looking as relaxed as he has all night.
It's been a long time since they sang this song together, but it's as natural as hopping back on a bike. She finds herself as lovestruck as she was the first time they sang this together, looking into his eyes and swaying in her seat, forgetting her nerves and the audience staring at her. By the end of the song they're both smiling like idiots and the drunken crowd is roaring and hooting and clapping their appreciation.
"And if you all don't mind, I have just one more bit tonight," Beau says, his eyes flitting nervously to Chiles. He sets his guitar down gently and shuffles to his feet, reaching into his pocket.
He clears his throat, looking suddenly petrified. The entire bar seems to hold its breath in anticipation, nobody more so than Chiles, who can't imagine what he's possibly going to say. There's a long, heightened length of a silence before Beau speaks again.
"When I first met you, Chiles, I could never have imagined we'd be where we are right now. That somehow I would fall in love with little miss prom queen Country Barbie."
She puts a hand to her mouth, because suddenly she knows.
"When I first met you …" he says again, "I couldn't stand you." They grin at each other, and there are tears in both of their eyes when he says, "But now I can't imagine a life without you."
Then he gets down on one knee and everyone starts screaming and hollering in delight but neither of them seem to notice. "Chiles Stanton," Beau says softly, and by some miracle she can hear him over the chaos—"would you do me the great honor of marrying me?"
"Yes," she says, and she's crying so hard she can't even see the ring, but it's on her finger and Beau is hers forever, and that's all that matters. "Yes, Beau, I will marry you."
Now when Chiles wakes up to Beau singing in the middle of the night there isn't a guitar in his arms anymore.
"Darlin' don't you cry tonight, the moon is full and the world is right," he sings softly, and the little baby girl pressed against his chest whimpers in response. He rocks her back and forth, almost mindlessly singing, his full attention devoted to her. "I've loved more than my share, took the pain and called it fair."
Chiles watches the pair of them, father and daughter, her baby girl nestled in Beau's arms. She thinks back to the night everything changed—the night when, after months of touring with country stars, living out of cars and hotels, and trying to make it big, she woke up and thought, This isn't my life. It was the next day that she boarded the plane to California, the next night that she was back in Beau's arms.
And now this. This miracle, this life she never knew she wanted until it was hers, and now she can't imagine any place in the world she'd rather be.
Just as their little girl is drifting off to sleep, Chiles steps over to him and joins in softly, "To rest my heart and ease my past, I'm gonna leave my blues behind."
They finish the song together, rocking back and forth until the baby is asleep. Beau wraps his other arm around her just as the sun begins to peek through the window, rising on the happy family. Chiles looks up and sees where the light catches Beau's jaw, his warm smile, and when he leans in for a kiss her heart flutters the same way it did the very first time.
Then they crawl back into bed together just as dawn is creeping up over the horizon. She turns to him and smiles, then burrows her head into his chest and says the same thing she says every night, the same thing she'll say every night for the rest of their lives:
"I love you, Beau Hutton."