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In Blurry Pieces

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I know how important family is because I never had one.

Juliette remembers her childhood in fits and snatches, nothing firm she can grasp and hold in her hand, just the haze of drugs or cigarettes or shaking her drugged out, unconscious mother through the blur of tears. Always something fogs up the memories. She likes it that way. She likes it that only the cool, clean sharpness of song can cut through that fog.

She's a teenager really when she leaves that childhood behind and walks away onto an Alabama bus toward the city of her dreams. She tries to drown out the memories then before they even have a chance to fully form. Mostly, she succeeds.

Glenn can't get the kid with the big voice out of his head. It wasn't just her voice. Her voice was great, but it wasn't that great and what voice won its way in Nashville? It was what she did with her voice, what she did with her eyes that was half vulnerable straight through to her soul and half no one's ever going to touch this. It wasn't just performance, but it was performance. She sold that song and he knew with his best managerial instinct that she could sell a show.

She's just a lost kid, but he could give her a map, give her direction, and if there's a part of him that also bought into the hunger and need waiting just beyond the barriers of her voice, well, it's just part of the package that made her a better artist.

In the end, he doesn't let her get out of his head. He calls her and makes an offer.

Juliette latches onto Glenn with all the need of a child who never had anyone. She's brash, she's harsh, and she has hunger like nothing he's ever seen, but she needs people around her that see something in her, and he has no problem recommending the ones who fill various roles in her new professional life.

She can sell a show. She can land a record deal. She can capture the fascination with one look of her eyes. He doesn't mind her hunger, even when it gets in the way, because it's that single-minded pursuit of what she wants that's launching them both to the top.

She's just a lost kid, and he can't help the protective feeling that grows inside him when she lets him hand her a map.

It's good to be home, back in Nashville. Emily cleans up the detritus Juliette's flung over various parts of the house. For someone at the top of the musical heap, she's still just a teenager in so many ways.

Emily sees Juliette sprawled across the couch, facedown, seemingly asleep. It's been a long leg of tour, and Juliette's been listening to demo tapes in between shows, picking songs for her next album. Emily knows what many of Juliette's detractors don't realize, that Juliette puts in all the hard work that goes into making a career like hers. She's earned her popularity.

Emily lays the blanket gently over Juliette and tugs it up to her shoulders. She starts to pull away, other tasks on her mind, when Juliette's hand suddenly shoots out from under the covers and her hand for Emily's.

"Don't go," Juliette slurs out sleepily, lifting her face from the pillow. Her hair's askew and she's clearly not entirely awake, but she's alert enough to know what she's saying.

Emily recalculates her tasks to determine which she can move into the living room. "I won't. I'm here. As long as you want me."

"You can't promise me that." Juliette's eyes went dark and unpleasantly certain.

Emily hesitated, realizing the request was for longer than a night and meant more, then she smiled soft and reassuring. "You do write the paychecks."

Juliette looked taken aback at that, eyes blinking open as she realized. "Yeah, I guess I do."

It wasn't until Emily gestured toward the other couch, "I'll just be over here," that Juliette finally let go of her hand.

They become fixtures in her life. Glenn, Emily, and Juliette. She fires Glenn once, when Deacon thinks she's being an idiot and probably isn't wrong, but Emily, she keeps because Emily has always been there for her, will always be there for her, and has a knack for not telling Juliette the things she can't quite handle hearing.

It's not quite family, Juliette realizes as she looks into the mirror, studying her own face too much like her mother's, but it's closer to it than anything she's had before.

Juliette remembers Alabama, the trailer park, but it's a blur of glimpses and snatches fading into a dream she can shake herself awake from and pretend has gone away. She likes to forget it, so mostly, she does.

Juliette has family now, and it takes her breath away. There's an innocent life tucked within her arms, tiny and squalling, half hers and half Avery's.

Memory comes back to her in blurry pieces. I know how important family is because I've never had one. She told Deacon that. She has no idea what she's doing, and there is this tiny, fragile life depending on her.

"It's okay, Cadence," she hushes her crying daughter, bouncing her gently against her body. Juliette can feel the worried frown on her own face. "Mommy's here."

Avery wraps his arms around her from behind and tucks his chin in against her shoulder. "She's going to be a great Mommy," he says softly, and she can hear the smile in his voice.

She wants to believe him, but she can't, she just can't. But she forces her own answering smile, lets his gentle, confident embrace envelop her because she couldn’t stand it if he didn't believe that.

She runs away into music, the one thing she's good at, dragging Glenn as far after her as he'll go and remembering those long ago words, "As long as you want me," keeps writing the paychecks.

She runs away from the family so precious that she's always wanted before she can burn it to the ground, before she can destroy it from the inside out, and then Avery tells her the truth she could never bear to hear, that he doesn't believe it anymore either. She's not a good mother, and they can't let Cadence think she will be.

Avery, please don't leave me.

There aren't any words. There isn't breath. She doesn't want to be able to breathe. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no...

She gets so wasted. It's a blur of a night she can't remember but in fits and snatches, when an image of her own face comes rearing out of the dark to tell her it's her fault Jeff's dead, and Avery was right. She's a monster. She can't be trusted. She needs someone to save her because in the cold light of day, she isn't ready yet to die.

She wants to sing a song to herself, but she can't because Avery helped her write the words.

Emily, she types. Can we talk?

It takes a long time for an answer to come, too many painful hours to test that promise so long ago. I want you, Emily. Don't leave me. Please.

The phone finally rings.