Again, I would like to thank my very prompt and helpful beta, KarenES. And everybody who has taken the time to read and favorite and, especially, comment. Your reviews give me wings :)
The dog was usually pretty hyperactive in the evenings, running around the house for no reason he could see and bringing him stuff that it must have known it shouldn't have, for the express purpose of getting a rise out of him, to coax him into playing with it. He kept stumbling over kitchen towels and socks and sports shoes and old magazines all over the house and it would have been extremely annoying if the wretched thing hadn't looked so damn cute, coming around the corner with another offending item between its teeth, looking gleeful and expectant.
Right now, though, Sue lay curled up next to him on the porch stairs, having just polished off half a bowl of kibble that he had brought out for it along with his own cup of coffee. He reached out his hand to scratch it behind its ear and the dog let out a satisfied groan in its sleep, adjusting its head to give him better access. Deacon chuckled to himself and took a sip from his steaming mug. He tapped the back of his head lightly against the railing post behind his back and then leaned in, letting his eyes take in the quiet dusk rolling out in front of him.
It was a rare evening by himself at home. There hadn't been much excuse for those lately and he hadn't really had the time to wonder whether he missed them. The tour was on a break and Stacey had gone to visit family for the long weekend.
She had asked him to go with her, to meet her folks for the first time, but something in him had fought against the idea. Had fought so violently that he'd refused. He hadn't even managed to think up a proper excuse, something that would have had an aftertaste somewhat less bitter than the truth. I'm not ready, he had said, but what he hadn't said was that, at that moment, it didn't quite feel like he'd ever be ready. And that feeling startled him into this reverie on the porch.
Stacey had clearly been perplexed and she wasn't the only one who was confused about how all this had played out. She'd looked about as expectant as Sue with one of its forbidden toys when she presented the idea to him. She'd talked, fast and excited, about how this was the perfect opportunity and how she wanted to show him where she came from and how he'd get along great with her family. All he could do was look at her with a rigid frozen smile on his lips, trying desperately to swallow the uncomfortable lump of panic that was rising to his throat. She hadn't understood his reticence or his excuse and, quite frankly, neither had he.
It had, after all, been him who, completely unprompted, had given Stacey the key to his house. As clear a sign as any that he was willing to let her in. They had spent as much time together as their jobs would allow and he had really enjoyed it, basked in the ease and normalcy of all of it, in the tender care of a beautiful woman. No one could have been more surprised than he himself when he then suddenly hit the wall of a garden variety commitment phobic. And he really hadn't thought he was one. He'd thought that his commitment to Stacey had been conscious and deliberate and full.
Deliberate and full, he now realized, and completely on his terms. Even giving her the key had been on his terms, his unilateral choice that had clearly taken her aback a bit. And it hadn't, maybe, been like that from the very beginning, because those things, in his experience, tended to be mutual decisions. But from the moment he made up his mind to give it a go, to call her back, it had been his tempo and his choices; even, mostly, his house.
He'd thought that he liked the fact that Stacey was so far removed from music and music business, that she'd take him away from it and give him some much needed distance. But now he started to think that maybe that was just all about him and his well-constructed walls too. Because it clearly meant that Stacey would only have as much access to his life as he himself specifically allowed. He did want to share his life with her: He'd asked her to come to New York with him after all, had taken her to the arena, had introduced her to people, only slightly hitching when he confirmed to Rayna that Stacey was his girlfriend. He'd been glad that she was there, that he finally had something of his own to hold close in a life that was generally pretty isolating, shallow and lonely. Something to ground him between the high of the screaming, cheering crowds and the low of the impersonal hotel rooms. But had he just used her as insulation against all the sadly reoccurring themes of his life?
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
To him the Serenity Prayer, the Alcoholics Anonymous motto that he had kept chanting at meetings in church basements and community centers and designated dressing rooms in the back stages of arenas for almost half his life now, had always been about control. About figuring out what he could control in life and letting go of the things that he couldn't. The distinction had not been that easy to make at first; time and again he had overestimated his own strength of mind and underestimated the things that influenced him.
Until finally, at some point during that last stint in rehab, some excruciating clarity arrived about everything that he had completely lost control over and his own utter weakness. He realized that if he was to come out of all this alive and with something to show for it, he sorely needed to begin to err on the side of caution.
And so, one by one, he'd started to let go – of alcohol and pills, of late nights and bar stools, of jam sessions and long tours, of bad friends and third dates. Until all that was left was Rayna, and he had to somehow try to reconcile his new life philosophy with the fact that he would probably never be able to let go of her.
So he came to see his staying around her as a sort of a penance for all the shit he had pulled before. For having been a selfish asshole in general, but especially with her.
There was a certain dynamic to their relationship, a rhythm that had achieved a painful predictability over the years. They'd inch closer to each other, slowly but surely, focus getting tighter, regard for their circumstances thinning, until one or the other pushed it to the limit, stretched the cord as far as it would go and, like a yoyo, they'd snap away again, usually with enough of a jolt to give both of them whiplash. It would be him, with words that for some reason he could not keep back anymore, even if he knew perfectly well that no good could ever come of saying them. Or her, looking up at him with big blue eyes like pools, full of unshed tears, not even having to say anything for him to know that she was being torn to pieces by her life.
And they'd retreat once more, knowing that all this would start all over again sooner or later. He'd be here on his porch again, clutching a cup of coffee, trying desperately to remind himself why it wasn't a tumbler of something else instead; bleeding all over the stage every third Thursday at the Bluebird with nobody being the wiser. She'd be at home, in that sprawling hulk of a house in Belle Meade, probably hugging her kids good night and reminding herself all the reasons why she loved her husband. And, after they'd caught a breath, they'd both know that, again, there never really was a choice, never any chance that this time it would end in something different.
And the only thing that even slightly resembled control in this whole dance was that, at the end of the day, Deacon knew his place in his life because he knew his place in hers – he couldn't go any further, he couldn't come any closer either.
What he had never really dwelled too deeply on was why she stuck around for all these years, why she had imposed this sentence on herself.
Things were different now - her divorce and whatever she had going on with Liam and his relationship with Stacey gave their rhythm a good old scramble. But the last time they went through their cycle he couldn't, for some reason, bring himself to pull back from that imaginary brink they had set for themselves during all these years. He had dug in his heels and kept stretching that cord, kept pushing it. Saying out loud that it had always been her, that she would be the only thing to make him happy – and even if she knew it already, giving voice to that truth definitely went against their tacit agreement. Making her sing a song with him that was designed to get them in trouble. Picking fights and forcing her to admit that she had this torturous tendency to pretend like all her choices weren't already made. Forcing her to either break, or push him away for good.
Thinking back, he couldn't even remember having any specific goal in mind, a specific reason for doing this. But in the end, the cord of his yoyo was all stretched out and frazzled and he himself bruised and bloody from keeping it taut for so long.
And in addition to that, when Rayna had come to see him after things had ended with the Revel Kings, after that stupid article, worried that he might have fallen off the wagon again - after almost thirteen years, for God's sake - he also realized that his penance was far from done. His sentence for screwing it all up with her wasn't served, and quite possibly never would be. 'Cause she said that she trusted him to keep it together, she might have even thought that she did, but in the end, if all it took was one magazine article… Well, who the hell knew?
The reason Juliette had found him in a miserable heap on his couch later that evening, surrounded by the remains of his guitar and upended furniture, was that this time the end had really started to feel chillingly final and he was still unable to let go.
He had later wanted to explain to Juliette that what he had said had not been strictly true. That while he certainly had kept the hope alive, somewhere in the back of his mind, most of the time he was aware that life was a lot better if you didn't try to kill yourself all the time. And most of the time, that was the reason he was staying sober. It was just that some of the time, that lingering hopeless hope had brought him palpably closer to not staying sober. Some of the time, when he couldn't find the strength to not wallow, he would just curl up and lament all the time he had lost and all the chances. And at times like that it really, truly, seemed to him that he had gotten sober for her and had stayed sober for her and it had all come to nothing.
He had really started to think that maybe, if he couldn't let her go, he would finally manage to at least get some control over his relationship with Rayna. That if he'd managed to somehow break the pattern of their relationship, he'd maybe also find a way to not be so damned emotional about every aspect of his contact with her. That maybe he'd finally be able to at least keep her at arm's length. Stacey coming along seemed to reinforce this notion. It appeared like he was finally getting his heart under control.
It had seemed like such a victory, such a relief. It's just… it didn't really take a songwriter to know that this was not really what love was supposed to feel like – it wasn't supposed to be under control.
But maybe control and stability was better than the turmoil that came with the knowledge that, for better or worse, your fate is inescapably tied to one person; the crazy highs and lows that came with The One?
He had certainly been feeling a whole lot better lately than he had in a long, long time, happier and more relaxed.
Except for that one moment after his birthday party when Rayna had taken his hand, looked him in the eye and told him that she wanted to do right by him. When for a fleeting moment it had really seemed that she would give them another chance. It had only lasted a heartbeat and in the end left him more confused than ever, but while it did last… oh, boy, it felt like this was what he had been living for for the past decade. And how the hell do you give something like that up?
Here, on the porch, with the sunlight fading all around him and his dog snoring lightly by his side, he tried to remind himself that he was balancing something that was real and tangible up against something that decidedly wasn't , something that was maybe only a notch above being a figment of his own imagination. It was just hard, almost impossible to see it that way, 'cause that would have meant that he'd only been dreaming for half his life.
He tried to remind himself that it was about time he chose reality and that he owed it to himself and to Stacey to try to stick to it.