I don't know what films those critics were watching, but Country Strong made me laugh, made me cry and brought it all home at the end - and with a deeper insight into Chiles and Beau's relationship, I decided to write this.


He hurts her just because he's seen her in her underwear, and they both know it. He shuffles imaginary flashcards and treats her like a fool; it doesn't change what could have happened if she hadn't turned her head and he hadn't walked out the door like she betrayed him by opening it. She felt it, and she's angry with him for making her feel it - that slow glow that warms you up with alcohol and then warms you up in bed as you roll over and over, on top of and underneath each other. She looks into his blue eyes and brands him an asshole (and hears someone behind her agreeing with that unspoken thought), and it's like looking into the sweet baby blues of the real Miss Dallas all over again.

"Virgin," that girl had crooned, just to make it hurt that little bit more as she shook back the long blonde mane now topped with a sparkling tiara. "They don't crown virgins, you know."

Chiles lost her virginity that same day, to a nameless older man in the back of a pickup. It hurt, and she cried, and he laughed and said she was so damn tight.

That made her cry even more.

So she walks away from Beau like she's the one with the crown, with the rights, with the husband and the lover and the tour bus and the awards. She goes to record the song she knows isn't hers, the song she lets herself steal to make her a star. She sees him through the glass partition - pretends she doesn't, but she does - and sings all the louder and all the stronger just to show him. If he thinks she's naive, she'll be naive. If he thinks she's vapid, she'll be vapid. If he thinks she's stupid, she'll be stupid. She's only hurting him secondhand in return, but it's enough. He doesn't get to make judgements on her talent, her body, her mind. He knows nothing.

He knows.

He knows (of course he knows) when it's time for the clothes and the polish and the pretenses to come off, and she flinches away from him like a wounded animal. "Did somebody hurt you?"

"I'm not weak," she tells him. "But still every little thing in this world seems to hurt me."

"What happened?"

"I made a bad choice - because I grew up skinny and flatter than a board, and I wanted someone to think I was beautiful."

He laughs. "Surely that's part of being a 'beauty' queen."

"There is no queen in a line of fourteen other pretty girls."

"Hey." He takes her chin in his hand, between thumb and forefinger, turns her face gently from side to side like a flower nodding on its stem. "Do you see any other pretty girls in here?"


"Good." He smiles, and she feels the beginnings of that slow glow, the creeping warmth of tumbling together just for happiness, and not for cheap. "Because this next part's just for you and me."

She doesn't know this, though, as he watches her through the glass and she sings about coming home, even though the stage is her home and it's still a place she sometimes fears. All she knows is that he's hurt her, that she let him, that she won't ever let him do it again. There is no home for or between the two of them because it's still a place far off where only one can live at a time without the other, where they'd tear the roof off if they tried to live there together.

But when she does come home (of course she does), his jacket is warm around her shoulders, and the arm holding it in place is warmer, and the lights of a smoky bar are still flickering dimly behind them. "What will you do now?" He asks her.

"I don't know." She smiles. "Sing. Go to the beach. Maybe let you see me in a bathing suit for real?"

"I'd like that."

They drink bourbon on the porch, and he kisses her when it rains. She rides a horse and falls off (many, many times) and he laughs at her. He claps his hat on her head when the sun gets too hot, and she grouses at him for acting like her father. They sleep in a bed that is too narrow, too rickety, but somehow just wide enough for dreaming.

It never hurts to think of the life they left behind, because the pain of every day together hurts so good.