Summary: How to make it look like you're moving on in twelve easy steps. (Or: Rayna Jaymes in the aftermath 1x14.)
Author's Notes: 3,943 words. Spoilers for everything up to and including 1x14 Dear Brother, with speculation for future episodes. This is me trying to write my way out of a corner. All mistakes are mine. These characters, however, aren't. Con-crit is both welcome and appreciated.
Rayna married Teddy on a Wednesday, in a quiet ceremony with just their closest friends and family there to serve as witness. Her father walked her down the aisle, his jaw square, and his demeanor silent. He did not say, are you sure, but instead, you’re doing the right thing as he kissed her cheek and presented her to the world as belonging to somebody else, no longer his little girl. Rayna pretended not hear him.
Her dress was off the rack, not designer, and her cowboy boots peaked out from underneath the trim, scuffed and worn and so perfectly in tune to who she was then. They wrote their own vows, made their own promises of forever. Rayna wore her hair down, the edges curling, and the sun set it on fire, made her look alive, and in the early years, when things were good and the future bright, Teddy would often tell her that was his favorite memory of her – the vision she made as she walked towards him, to their life together.
Later, when they made love and he whispered a different sort of promise to the baby already growing inside her belly, a child he knew wasn’t his but he would raise as such, she cried, and he kissed every single tear away.
Teddy had such grace in that moment and all those that came before it that she couldn’t help but fall. She couldn’t help but feel grateful. She couldn’t help but try with everything in her to make it work.
Never let it be said that Rayna Jaymes didn’t love Teddy Conrad.
She did. She loved him with everything she had. She loved him for the man that he was and the man that he would never be. She loved him for family he gave her, for the home and life they built together.
Never let it be said that Rayna James did anything without giving it her all – she simply doesn’t know any other way.
But when she is in the mood to reconcile certain truths with herself, certain truths that she buried deep in the very beginning of things, Rayna knows she and Teddy were just biding their time, waiting for the inevitable.
After all, none of those love songs were ever about him, were they?
The first few weeks are the hardest. Cameras follow her everywhere, the sounds of clicks and shutters singing her very own lament everywhere she goes. Reporters clamor for her attention, searching for the perfect comment, something worthwhile to put their name in print with hers. Rayna gives them nothing. The years and the mileage this town, this industry has put on her has taught her better than that.
Teddy moves into a hotel for the interim and the girls do their best not to cry when they help him carry his bags to the car, when they say goodbye at the edge of the driveway. It’s beginning to spit rain, the coldness in the air bitter, and Rayna hugs her arms around her chest for warmth as she watches the seen unfold. Her eyes burn when Daphne breaks first, her babygirl’s small heels digging into the wet earth as she folds herself around Teddy’s legs and begs him not to go.
Her small wail cuts through the air, rocks Rayna to her core and she makes a move to intervene, but Maddie is there first, her hand on her younger sister’s shoulder to edge her back. She mumbles something, it’s okay, Rayna thinks, but she can’t make out the words. Maddie flinches when Teddy presses a kiss to her temple, steps away too quickly.
It’s what hurts the most, really – watching her and Teddy’s mistakes, their shortcomings irrevocably alter their children. Because Maddie was always her mother’s daughter first, she blames Teddy for the divorce. She blames Teddy for everything and it’s not fair, it’s not right, but Rayna doesn’t exactly know how to make her daughter understand that the blame is equal. She doesn’t know how to find the words to explain that the burden of guilt is shared equally among them both. So she allows Maddie to lead Daphne to the side, out of reach from Teddy, and hates herself for the burst of pride that soars through her at the look of absolute rejection that overcomes Teddy’s face as a result.
Stepping forward, Rayna crosses the distance, reaches for him. His hand is waiting for her, still, even after everything. Something overcomes her at that, at the way he smiles softly at her, and she presses her mouth to his cheek and lingers for a moment. Closes her eyes and breathes in his warmth, his smell, the sheer security in his presence.
I’ll miss you, she wants to say, but the words never find her.
Instead, she pulls away. Behind them, Daphne sniffles quietly as the rain starts to fall without remorse. Rayna’s fingers tighten around his as she murmurs, “Call me when you get settled?”
Teddy merely nods, his mouth pressed into a thin line. He’s the first to let go.
Deacon calls the same time everyday while they are on break from the tour, but he never leaves a message.
Finally, a few days in, he settles on a text.
I’m worried, it reads. Then: I’m here if you need me.
Rayna never responds.
I want to do right by you, she had told him that night in the Bluebird, the smell of booze and memories and years worth of distance and self-preservation separating them.
It wasn’t a lie, but maybe it wasn’t the whole truth, either.
Rayna’s always been very good at blurring lines.
They remain as amicable as possible, she and Teddy.
He moves on with Peggy and she moves on with her album, the tour. There is solace found in the one part of their lives from before that remains steadfast – the girls still serve as their common ground, neutral territory, the one place where they always agree on what is best.
Rayna appreciates the familiarity and holds on to it the best she can. She throws herself into her work, into being a mother. She calls Liam and asks him to sign back on as a producer, but only under one, simple condition: they both remain strictly professional.
There are some lines, she explains, that she needs to remain uncrossed, bold, and definable. She needs her career to remain as a completely separate entity from the rest of her life.
For as long as she can remember, Rayna has used her music to serve as a constant, an unyielding force.
She can’t risk muddying it up with the unknown. Not when the rest of her life is in complete disarray, not when so many things read as uncertain.
It’s cold – the way she shuts Deacon out of her life. She knows it. He knows it. Everyone who matters knows it.
What’s worse is that he lets her. He gives her the space she didn’t use words to ask for, respects the barrier she’s built between them.
Until he doesn’t, of course.
They’re in Georgia, and the higher ups at the label have added two more shows to the schedule in as many nights, and she can’t sleep, so instead she slinks down to the empty hotel bar and orders herself a drink. Holes herself up in the corner booth with a stack of napkins and a borrowed pen and tries to make sense of the mess inside her head with words.
Deacon finds her like that, and she notices him before he even slides into the seat across from her – she could feel his presence and hear the heaviness of his footsteps as soon as he entered the bar, the heels of his shoes making that same peculiar sound she memorized years before. It takes her a moment to look up, to be able to look him in the eye, and when she does, when she takes in a sharp inhale and lifts her chin, he’s just watching her. His eyes are as tired as she feels, the creases around them showing his age, constantly reminding her that they aren’t as young as they would like to be. Rayna tries a smile, her mouth turning softly, but he doesn’t respond in kind. The façade falls easily after, and she presses her lips into a straight line, her teeth worrying her bottom lip as she recaps her pen and places it to the side.
For a long moment that stretches on too long, the silence between them pops in her ears, mingles with the awful radio station that bartender has set to low. It’s a game between them, has been for years. They constantly try to see who would break first, and this moment is no different. Deacon continues to watch her and Rayna sits up straighter, the bones of her back cracking a little as she adjusts her spine. It’s something like preparing for battle, she thinks, every time he’s near. She’s too tried to do this with him tonight.
When he speaks, his voice is low, gravelly from lack of sleep. “I went to your room and you weren’t there. I thought I’d find you here.”
“You do know me best,” she says on reflex, the words carrying an edge she doesn’t want to use with him. She regrets it immediately, watching as his eyes narrow and when he laughs, the sound is cold and short.
“I did, yeah. Hasn’t been that way for a while, though.”
Rayna takes a deep breath, reaches up to rub at her temple. “I don’t want to do this right now, Deacon. I’m too tired to do this right now”
He laughs again. She doesn’t need to look at him to know he isn’t smiling. “I don’t really care.”
Their history is long and expansive and it has taught her that Deacon doesn’t do anything until he is good and ready, so she waits, her fingers reaching out to curl around her lukewarm beer out of nothing but the need to have something to do with her hands.
Deacon watches her, and she watches him, and she can’t help but think about how most people think their history is something to be revered, but in reality, it is just something working against them at every turn.
Most people think they knew the story – the intricate details of the romance and tragedy, and she supposes maybe they do. She has, after all, made a living off of immortalizing it with lyrics and perfectly placed chords, singing their story to thousands in sold out arenas. What people don’t know, what people don’t realize, is that once you strip the romance away, once you cut out the tragedy, all you have left are two people, faults and all, who know all of the other’s secrets, all of the other’s mistakes.
When you strip everything else away, all that is left, really, are two people who know exactly how to cut the other down in the most visceral way.
It scares her how well Deacon knows her, and how much she has come to depend on him having that intimate knowledge of her over the years. How often she’s turned to him during her hours of need.
“I had this idea of how this would go in my head, you know?” He starts quietly, so quietly she doesn’t even realize he’s talking until his lips are moving and she’s trying to make sense of the words. “I’m not ashamed of that. Maybe I should be. Maybe I will be later, but I’m not now.” Deacon pauses, but doesn’t look away. “I had a thousand and one different scenarios, but none of them were this. None of them involved us not facing it together.”
“You’re shutting me out.”
Rayna opens her mouth, but can’t find the right words to explain to him that she can’t do this; she can’t put her life back together with him influencing every decision. She wakes up and thinks of him. She goes to bed and thinks of him. This is no different then all the years before, but this time nothing is holding her back. There are no longer roadblocks proclaiming do not venture here. It would be easy, she knows, to fall back into old patterns, to fall back into him. Rayna has depended on him for so much and for so long that she needs to do this without him. She needs to prove that she can do it without him.
There aren’t words good enough to explain that, so she merely says, “I’m just trying to survive,” and hopes he can understand.
The look on his face says maybe he does.
In Charleston, Rayna sleeps with Liam for no other reason except that she can. She sleeps with him because there are no outstanding promises she has made to others, no ring on her finger tying her to somebody else – even if she still reaches for her wedding band some mornings. Even if the tan line still sticks out like a branding. Even if she knows better.
Rayna kisses Liam first, in the back of a seedy bar, and he tastes like tequila and salt. He doesn’t care about her reasons – this much she knows, the much she counts on – just that she is kissing him and she wants this. It’s what she likes the most about him, that he doesn’t need reasons or explanations. Rayna likes that he is nothing like Teddy and Deacon and everything she needs right now, in this moment. He isn’t earnest and boyishly handsome like Teddy. His edges aren’t as rough as Deacon’s.
Liam kisses her like he doesn’t know her at all, and that, Rayna thinks, is what she likes the most, what she needs the most.
The first time is fast and hungry. The suddenness of it takes her by surprise; the want overwhelms her like a storm. He pushes her against the bathroom sink of her hotel room and she allows him to turn her around until she is facing the mirror, the granite edges of the sink digging into her hipbones. It’s visceral, sex in its purest form, and it has been decades since anyone other than Deacon or Teddy have touched her in this way, this intimately, and the adjustment happens quicker than she ever thought it could.
There is no sweetness, no words spilt between them, and in the morning when she is making her way back to her room before dawn, Rayna will be struck by the curious fact that they barely even kissed.
Instead, Liam merely bites at her shoulder, teeth sinking in deep enough for her to push backwards and against him. She murmurs something about having to wear sleeves for tomorrow night’s show, her voice low, barely her own. He laughs, and so does she, and when he slides into her it starves the breath right from her lungs. She tells him fast, not bothering to wait for the brief period for accommodation to pass, and suddenly they’re moving, moving, moving and all Rayna can do is watch their reflection in the mirror.
She likes that she doesn’t recognize the person staring back at her.
The next day, Juliette gives her a grin that is meant to be anything but friendly during sound check.
“Didn’t think you had it in you,” she says, tone` annoyingly sing-song, and Rayna does not even give her the satisfaction of rolling her eyes.
Behind them, Deacon catches her eye, shakes his head.
Rayna holds his gaze, completely unashamed and later, after a great show to a sold out arena, she allows Liam to slide between both her sheets and legs. She comes harder than she has in years from his hands and mouth alone. Her nails leave deep marks in their wake on his shoulders.
There are no thoughts of Deacon, of Teddy, of the world outside her room.
With Liam, there is nothing but hands and mouths and the swift, solid movement of bodies.
Rayna finds beauty in the simplicity.
The divorce happens quickly. The world expects a fight, public and dirty, and are surprised when it never happens. She and Teddy agree to terms, stick to those terms, and everything is done in the interest of their children.
Rayna makes a show out of going through the motions. If she isn’t performing, she’s preparing to perform. If she isn’t preparing to perform, she’s writing. She is with the girls every chance she gets, and they visit when they can. The arrival of the papers coincides with their visit while the tour stops in New York City for a long weekend. Her hands shakes when she takes the envelope from her lawyer, her heart pounding in her head as he points and explains where she needs to sign and where she needs to initial.
After he leaves she buries the paper deep in her suitcase, tries to forget for just a little while by taking the girls to Broadway and Times Square, constantly staying in motion.
It’s on Sunday, the girls’ final night with her, when she pulls the papers back out. Her chest tightens as she clicks her pen, as she skims the words, but doesn’t seem to make sense of them.
Behind her, the girls are playing dress-up, giggling and spinning around in shoes that are too big and dresses that threaten to swallow them whole. The sound of them, their presence calms her, and the knot in her chest starts to loosen.
Her hand is steady when she signs her name.
“I get it,” Deacon tells her.
They’re in Austin, sharing the same empty elevator. The numbers are clicking higher and higher and they’re not looking at each other, not really, but she watches his reflection in the steel of the doors when he starts to talk.
At first, it’s not his words that strike her as odd. Instead, it’s the fact that this is the first time they’ve been alone together since the bar in Georgia. This is the first time they’ve exchanged words that haven’t been hi, how are you? or Great show.
Somehow, she’s thinks, she’s forgotten how to miss him. It doesn’t leave her as satisfied as she thought it would – the void he was meant to leave in her life, the void she planned to fill with other things.
“That last time, I got sober for you. I wanted you. I wanted a life with you, a family with you, and I knew it would all only be possible if I cleaned myself up,” he pauses, and she swallows, holds her breath. It’s nothing she didn’t already know, nothing nobody who paid close enough attention could have figured out, but hearing it does something to her she wishes it wouldn’t. “I stayed sober for a long time hoping things would change between us, trying to be the man I thought you wanted me to be. Now I’m trying to do it for me, because it’s what I want, what I need.”
When she turns to look at him then, he smiles. The turn of his mouth is soft and insecure. She wants to reach for him, but doesn’t allow herself to.
“I get it,” he tells her again quietly.
Rayna’s fingers curl into fists at her sides. She sighs, “What do you want from me, Deacon?”
“For you to remember we were friends once – long before we were anything else.”
When the door slides open, he’s the first to step out.
Rayna ends it with Liam on the last night of the tour.
He takes it in stride, makes a joke about one more for the road.
Maybe she will take him up on it every now and then, and maybe she won’t.
Rayna thinks she has earned the right to make those sorts of mistakes.
There is a knot in her chest that that tightens and loosens in waves. It’s been there for months – years, really, if she thinks about it. Rayna has tried to ignore it, tried to bury it, and some days are better than others.
The girls are on a long weekend upstate with Teddy when she returns home to Nashville after the tour ends. She and Teddy argue about it the whole month leading up to her homecoming, but it was more about the process of arguing, about going through the motions and having something to talk about then the reason itself. The real fight started and ended the moment the girls told her how excited they were about their trip – Daphne’s voice rapid and booming over the line, Maddie’s smile heard from hundreds of miles away. Rayna wouldn’t take that away from them. No matter how much she wanted to return to a place where they were, to feel their hugs and hear their stories, and be able to hold them close after weeks of not being able to.
There is a cake in the fridge waiting for her – chocolate on chocolate with a crooked Welcome Home.
That knot in her chest feels tight when she sees it, and she starts to miss her family so much she physically aches with it. She reaches for her phone, starts to dial, but thinks better of it at the last minute – she talked to them on the ride in, knows they were going to dinner, that they probably wouldn’t pick up. She settles for a text instead and goes through the motions of unpacking to distract herself. The clothes are first, the toiletries second, and it hits her out of nowhere – the sight of the empty medicine cabinet, her lone toothbrush in the holder.
Without thinking, she heads to his closet, and it shouldn’t be a surprise – it isn’t a surprise because save for a few boxes here and there, it was this way when she left the last time – but the empty space in front of her where Teddy’s things used to be, where they sat for the past thirteen years, makes something catch in her throat. Rayna swallows around it, tries to bury it, but it gets bigger and bigger until she feels like she’s choking on it, and suddenly she’s crying for reasons she can’t control and doesn’t want to understand. She finds herself gasping for breath as the tears slip down her cheeks without remorse.
Rayna isn’t sure when it happens, but eventually she realizes she’s on the floor of what was once Teddy’s closet in what was once her and Teddy’s bedroom, and the sobs come and go, shaking her shoulders as she tries to gain control over herself. She counts her breaths, tries to even them out.
The moment passes, her sobs turning to slight hiccups before disappearing altogether, control once again regained and afterwards, the exhaustion hits her like a wave. Her bones are tired and weary, her reserves depleted, and she scoots back until her back hits the wall, until she can use it for support to hold herself up. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, then two.
It is only then she realizes this is the first time she has allowed herself to cry, to mourn the loss of her family, of her marriage, of the life she had tried so hard to build. Rayna knows it won’t be the last.
The quiet of the empty house rings in her ears.