It’s been a long and storied career, and Juliette’s never been one for looking in the rear view mirror, but somehow she finds herself writing her memoir at the age of thirty.
She’d just come off tour and decided she was going to give music a break for the time being when a publisher offered her a deal. Cadence is starting the first grade, and for the first time Juliette wants to be the stay at home mom who can drive her daughter to and from school every day.
She wondered about getting a ghost writer, because she was barely a high school graduate and school was never her strong suit. But Emily had covered her hand with hers and told her she believed Juliette was the only person who could tell her story, and Emily is very rarely wrong. So Juliette made a routine of waking up before Avery and Cadence and writing for an hour and starting breakfast so that it was on the table when they came to the kitchen. Then she’d pack a lunch for her daughter, kiss her husband goodbye before he left for the studio, and drop Cadence off at her elementary school. For the remainder of the day she’d do mundane things like run errands, laundry, and drink tea from an ugly mug she and Avery made at one of those pottery places on date night.
The things she wrote about at first were messy and painful, fragments of stories she tried to forget, bits about her childhood that were the bitterest sweet, but important to lay the foundation for the story she wanted to tell. By Christmas she was only up to her junior high school era, and some days she felt so melancholy she wanted to quit altogether. But then she’d drive to pick up Cadence from school and she’d forget about all the tears she cried and the wad of tissues piled high on her desk.
“You ever going to let me read it?” Avery asks over dinner one night.
“Absolutely not. At least not right now.” Juliette raises an eyebrow at him, because he really should know her better by now.
“Did you decide if you want to go to Rayna’s Christmas party?”
“Called to RSVP yesterday,” Juliette says between bites.
“Do we need to get a sitter?”
“She said to bring Cadence.”
She takes a drink of her mineral water. “How’s Will’s album coming along?”
“Good. I think we’ll be done before the New Year.”
“I was thinking,” Juliette begins after a while, “wondering, actually, if you think it’s too late to ask my publisher for a ghost writer?”
Avery fixes her with a reassuring smile. “I’m sure what you’ve got is good. You’re a natural storyteller.”
“I’m just not used to things taking so damn long,” Juliette grumbles.
“Songwriting does have a quicker payoff.” Avery sits back in his chair and looks thoughtful. “You know, Scarlett majored in English and Creative Writing. Maybe you could bounce ideas off of her if you’re feeling stuck.”
Juliette makes a face. Scarlett was always going on about how she used to write poems and just fell into music.
Avery purses his lips. “Or you could show me.”
“I’ll think about it,” is all Juliette says.
Rayna and Deacon host a Christmas party for their closest friends and family every year, and somehow Juliette and Avery keep getting invited back even though Cadence lit Rayna’s curtains on fire when she was two. The memory makes Juliette feel funny inside, a combination of embarrassed and grateful. She remembers locking herself in Rayna’s master bathroom and crying on the floor, convinced that all the progress she’d made with her sobriety and her role as a wife and mother meant nothing because she couldn’t even keep her kid from torching their host’s house. In true Rayna fashion, she’d sat outside the bathroom door until Juliette would let her inside. She wiped up Juliette’s tears and told her it was fine.
“I never liked those curtains anyway.” Rayna put Juliette’s head on her shoulder and pulled her close. “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, girl. Besides, what’s a little housefire between family?”
Juliette laughed and then cried a little more.
Juliette looks up at Rayna’s imposing house, never mind that her and Avery’s house is nothing to slouch at, but Juliette will always think of herself as trailer trash no matter her zip code.
“What are the rules?” Avery says as he approaches an empty spot in the driveway.
“No touching! No yelling! And stay dry!” she lists off enthusiastically.
“Good job, honey,” Juliette praises her.
Cadence giggles. “What do I get if I’m good?”
Avery and Juliette exchange a look and try not to laugh.
“She’s definitely your daughter,” Avery mutters under his breath.
“What do you mean, if?” Juliete asks Cadence.
Cadence smiles mischievously. “Mrs. Jones says that kids sometimes need to be in-insensitized.”
Avery snorts. “I think she means incentivized.”
Juliette shakes her head. “Tell you what, you follow all the rules, and then we’ll talk about a reward.”
Cadence groans. “Fine.”
The party is in full swing by the time they walk inside and place a gift for charity under the massive tree in the formal living room. Juliette stops Cadence from tripping no less than three cater waters, and she’s pretty sure only two out of the three were on accident. Avery takes her to hang out with Will since he’s basically her favorite person in the entire world. Juliette does a circuit around the party and greets old friends and acquaintances.
Maddie’s home from college and they talk for a good twenty minutes. She’s still got music on the brain, but she’s enjoying her hiatus to be a regular college student. Juliette can still see the little girl with the funny glasses when she looks at her, and it makes her feel warm inside. She’s lucky she had Rayna to shield her from the worst of the business before it ruined her. Juliette spots Scarlett getting a drink at the bar and tells Maddie to give her a call during her break so they can have lunch.
Juliette sidles up to Scarlett, admittedly never her favorite person considering she was Avery’s first love, and says hello.
“Hey there, Juliette. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” Juliette’s never been good at small talk, so she tries a compliment. “Nice sweater,” she says. She doesn’t particularly mean it, Juliette’s never liked Scarlett’s fashion sense, but her skirt is plain and her shoes are even worse.
Scarlett looks at her with big eyes and says thanks. “So, was there a particular reason you made a beeline to come talk to me or were you really just interested in talking about my cardigan?”
Juliette gives her an impressed look. She likes this assertive woman much better than the doe-eyed waif she once let open for her. “Well, actually, I was wondering…” Juliette trails off. “Avery mentioned that you majored in English in college, and thought maybe you could help me.” Juliette looks away and lowers her voice. She still feels ridiculous saying it out loud. “I’m writing a book.”
Scarlett bats her eyelashes twice. “A book.”
“My memoir, to be more exact.” Juliette feels like she’s eating lemons. “I’m not retiring or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just--”
“--Got something to say. I get it.”
“Sure. I’d be happy to.”
“Great. Do you want to come to the house next week?”
“How does Monday sound? Say ten o’clock?”
“I’ll see you then.” Juliette grins and tries her very best to look sincere. She is actually grateful, but very few things in life make Juliette free with her happiness.
Juliette paces her dining room as Scarlett perches on a chair reading from the half-finished manuscript. Juliette knows her grammar is God awful, and the spelling is only decent due to the spell checker. She worries her bottom lip and nearly jumps when she hears Scarlett make a little noise.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” Juliette asks.
“No, I was just nodding along and thinking how familiar it all seemed.” Scarlett returns to the pages. “Why don’t you make some tea or coffee. I’m gonna be a while.”
“Good idea,” Juliette says as she retreats to the kitchen.
When Juliette returns there are notes in the margins and sticky notes poking out of the stack of pages.
“That’s a lot of notes.” Juliette sets the mug in front of Scarlett.
Scarlett gives her an irritated sigh. “Would you like me to finish giving my constructive feedback or would you like me to just nod and tell you it’s perfect as is and to send it to some stranger in a big New York City publishing house who will have a field day with your creative punctuation?”
Juliette scowls. “I’m going to fix lunch. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready to talk.”
About an hour later, Scarlett comes walking into the kitchen and her cheeks look blotchy and her eyes are puffy. Juliette pulls a pasta bake out of the oven and finishes setting the table.
“I wasn’t sure if you’re a vegetarian or anything, so I hope this is something you can eat.”
“It sure smells good.” Scarlett washes up at the kitchen sink.
Juliette quirks her mouth and debates telling Scarlett the origins of this dish. She feels embarrassed, despite the fact that Scarlett has just read some very private stuff. Juliette supposes that she needs to get over her fear of judgment if she’s going to publish intimate details for the world to see. “My mama used to make me something like this when I was a kid. She called it pink pasta. It was elbow macaroni, a block of cream cheese, and a whole mess of ketchup.”
Scarlette grins. “Sounds perfect for a kid.”
“It’s disgusting. I made it once a few years ago.”
“I’m sure it was real special when your mama made if for you.”
Juliette shrugs. “Well, you know from the book that we didn’t have a whole lot growing up. Anytime we had food at home was a good time.” Juliette scoops heaping spoonfuls onto two plates. “This is little shell pasta with ricotta, tomato sauce, a little basil, and parmesan. Cadence insists on little shells. Last year it was alphabet pasta, but she knows her ABCs now and declared alphabet pasta to be for babies.”
“Your little one is real precocious. I wish I had her spirit when I was her age.”
Juliette thinks it over and realizes how odd it is that Scarlett knows her daughter and yet Juliette and Scarlett rarely cross paths. She’s well aware that Avery lived with Gunnar while they were divorced, so naturally Scarlett would have been around. Even after Avery and Juliette remarried, and Avery and Cadence moved back in with Juliette, Avery kept close connections with his former roommates. Scarlett, now that she’s thinking about it, has been fairly inconspicuous these last few years.
“How come you never come ‘round with Gunnar and Will?” Juliette takes a big bite of her food and waits for an answer.
“I suppose because I wasn’t entirely sure if I was welcome.” Scarlett looks at her dish. “It’s real good, by the way. I didn’t know you could cook.”
Juliette snorts. “I can’t.”
“This dish says otherwise.”
“I get by, I suppose.” Juliette sips her water. “You are welcome. I never told Avery not to invite you, if that’s what you’ve been thinking.”
“I wasn’t thinking that. Avery always said it would be fine. I just wanted to respect the boundary, is all.” Scarlett scrapes at her plate. “I know how awkward having your ex around can be.”
“You’ve kind of made a career of it,” Juliette quips.
“I guess I have.”
“Give it to me straight then, how bad is the manuscript?” Juliette gets down to business.
Scarlett sets her fork down and looks at Juliette earnestly. “It’s nothing short of remarkable. Even in the darkest parts, there’s a sense of hope that I think will resonate with a lot of people. Anyone who has ever been disappointed by a loved one, which is pretty universal, is gonna know exactly that place of pain you write about. But the best part is,” Scarlett flips through the pages and reads word for word, “‘is the act of courage it takes to get up every day and face my demons, to clean up the messes I’ve made, to take responsibility for my mistakes and learn how not to repeat them, and grow up and live.’”
Tears stream down Juliette’s face, but she doesn’t wipe them away. She doesn’t care who sees her cry anymore. “Thank you,” she says with a lump in her throat.
“You’re very welcome.”
When Juliette’s memoir release date is announced, there’s widespread speculation in Nashville that she’s hanging up her boots for good. Her label fuels the rumors when they drop her even though she has two records left on her contract. Her last album was a sleeper hit and she only did a short tour over the summer while Cadence was on break from school. Luke says Wheelin’ and Dealin’ Records needs a Juliette Barnes who wants to and can sell out arenas, and anything less is a strain on their resources. But Juliette has no interest in peddling bubble gum country, and touring extensively is a burden on her marriage and relationship with her child.
She tells Glenn to get her a meeting with only one label--she’s not interested in any other offers. Juliette knows she can thrive at Highway 65 if Rayna will agree to take her back.
“I have no plans to become irrelevant at thirty,” Juliette begins.
“I never thought that for a second.” Rayna leans forward.
“My heart is in country music. I know I made a mess of things before, but do you think there’s a place for me here now?”
Rayna smiles. “Of course. You know I think you’re perfect for Highway 65.”
Juliette sighs in relief. “Thank God. I really didn’t want to have to start my own vanity label,” she jokes.
“Obviously we’ll have to talk terms, but is there anything the label can do for you now that you’re going to be a published author?” Rayna emphasizes those words like she’s impressed with Juliette. “I know you have your publisher in New York, but if there’s anything Bucky or I can do, just let us know. In the past you’ve had concerns that you weren’t our priority, and I just don’t want to go down that road again.”
“I never would have come here if I felt that way. And for the record, I was a different person back then. I wasn’t thinking clearly.” It’s easy for Juliette to admit that now. She’s almost five years sober and has sound mental health.
Rayna smiles. “Well, good. I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
“My publisher wants to do a book launch party in New York, but I don’t want to be away from home. Do you think we could have something local?”
“I think that can be arranged.”
“Maybe something small? At the Bluebird?” Juliette is reticent about a big party, she’s well aware that she’s not everyone’s cup of sweet tea in the country music world.
“Girl, we’re doing this up right at the Grand Ole Opry,” Rayna insists. “I know how you like to see your name in lights.”
Juliette smiles and feels giddy. She’s having a pinch me moment.
Avery drives them toward the Opry and Juliette tries not to let nerves get to her. Cadence is a ball of energy, and Avery looks twitchy too. It’s been awhile since he’s performed to a live audience. Cadence babbles on about wanting a sibling, enumerating how she’d set an excellent example for a little brother or sister. Her best friend had a little brother born over the summer and it created a yearning in their daughter.
“Imagine if we had two of them,” Avery teases, “how loud the backseat would be.”
Juliette always felt lonely as an only child, and she knows Avery felt the same way growing up. They’ve never seriously discussed having more kids together. They have a tenuous balance in their house, and they’re both too afraid to upset it.
“But at least she’d have someone else to talk to and play with,” Juliette counters.
Avery looks at her over the console. Juliette shrugs.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says. Her postpartum depression and subsequent drug and alcohol problem always loom heavily when they talk about their family. “But there are other ways. We could foster-adopt. No one should ever feel unwanted.”
Avery nods and reaches for her hand. “We can look into it, if you want.”
Juliette nods and smiles. “I do.” It’s a vow, and she knows how to keep them now.