Best friends since birth. That's Hunter Hayes and Ryleigh Edwards. When his family moves to Nashville, she moves with him. Now that he's famous, she's the backstage manager on his tour. Major drama causes her to leave mid-tour and go back home to Louisiana. Will they ever realize that they're in love?
Misc. Fan Fiction, Original Fiction, Original Fiction > Friendship, Original Fiction > Family, Original Fiction > Romance, Original Fiction > Drama Characters:
I had started to post this on the original JBFA, as my first non-Jonas, Hunter Hayes fanfic. Hopefully I can get some reads/reviews on it this time too!
1. Chapter 1 by csinyfan
2. Chapter 2 by csinyfan
3. Chapter 3 by csinyfan
4. Chapter 4 by csinyfan
5. Chapter 5 by csinyfan
6. Chapter 6 by csinyfan
7. Chapter 7 by csinyfan
8. Chapter 8 by csinyfan
9. Chapter 9 by csinyfan
10. Chapter 10 by csinyfan
11. Chapter 11 by csinyfan
12. Chapter 12 by csinyfan
13. Chapter 13 by csinyfan
14. Chapter 14 by csinyfan
15. Chapter 15 by csinyfan
16. Chapter 16 by csinyfan
17. Chapter 17 by csinyfan
18. Chapter 18 by csinyfan
19. Chapter 19 by csinyfan
20. Chapter 20 by csinyfan
21. Chapter 21 by csinyfan
22. Chapter 22 by csinyfan
23. Chapter 23 by csinyfan
24. Chapter 24 by csinyfan
25. Chapter 25 by csinyfan
26. Chapter 26 by csinyfan
27. Chapter 27 by csinyfan
28. Chapter 28 by csinyfan
29. Chapter 29 by csinyfan
30. Chapter 30 by csinyfan
31. Chapter 31 by csinyfan
32. Chapter 32 by csinyfan
Best friends. That's what Hunter and I are. Who am I, you ask? I'm Ryleigh Avery Edwards. And of course, if you haven't already guessed, he happens to be Hunter Hayes. He's famous now, but as much as the fans thought they knew about him, I've known him my whole life. We were born and raised in small-town Louisiana.
Our mothers grew up together from the time they were 8. They were both married and living next door to each other by the time they were 21. Soon my mother got pregnant with my older sister, Layla Summer. A year later, they both got pregnant, my mother with her 2nd child and Mrs. Hayes with her first and only. Hunter, of course, was born on September 9,1991. And I was born a week later, on the 14th. There's no time in my life when I don't remember growing up with him. I've even seen pictures of our mothers bathing us together as babies. We were inseparable from the time we were 5.
Looking back now, I realize that there weren't many moments in my life that he was involved in, and vice versa.
Where am I now, you ask? You'll find out soon.
I hate high school. Course I guess most teenagers do at some point. The only reason I've made it this far is because of my best friend, Hunter. I'm just getting out of my last period class of that Friday, algebra. I hate it. I'd much rather be writing songs and playing music with my friend. I slid my very heavy backpack on my shoulders and exited the classroom. As I left school, my sister caught up with me. Being a year older than me, 16 to my 15, it was her job to walk me over the Hayes household everyday after school before continuing down the street to our house.
Once she saw that I was at their front walk, she headed home while I walked up to the front door and knocked. I heard footsteps moving toward me inside the house just before the door opened and I saw Mrs. Hayes.
"Hi, Ryleigh! Come in. Hunter's upstairs already as always." She told me as she hugged me. After she finally let me go, I slid off my backpack and plopped it down in the living room as I grabbed the guitar that I had been playing yesterday and ran up the steps till I could hear my best friend playing the song he'd been working on for the last couple weeks. I opened the door to see him perched on the floor, a guitar in his hands and papers scattered around him.
"Hey, are you doing another show tomorrow?" I asked as I walked in.
"Ryles, you're here!" He said, without looking up.
"Oh, come on, are you performing at the fair?" I sat down next to him, tugged his notebook toward me and began to play it. When I'd finished and looked up, he was staring right at me.
"Ryles, that was great. That sounded even better than I did singing it."
"Stop, you're a great singer."
"I'm serious. And yes, there's a show at the fair tomorrow. Are you gonna come?"
"I don't know, we'll see, Chase asked me to prom. And it's tomorrow. Layla's trying to convince me to go, even told me I can wear her dress. But I don't know, I haven't decided yet."
"But you haven't missed one of my shows yet."
"I know. If I decide to, it'll be last minute and a surprise."
"You know I don't like surprises."
"I know. Would you rather I tell you now that I'm going to prom?"
"No, unless you want to, that is. Do you, Ryleigh?"
"I don't know. I wish I could do both but I know I can't."
We stayed there all night just goofing off until we finally fell asleep on the floor together.
The next day, as soon as I woke up, I decided that as much as I wanted to go to prom, it meant more to me to watch my best friend do what he loves on stage. But I also wanted to surprise him, so I headed home to get ready.
I was about to walk out of the front door when I heard Hunter calling from his room,
"Ryles? Where are you?" Sounded like he had just woken up. I stared at the door, deciding whether I should leave and get ready for the concert or go back upstairs, until Mrs. Hayes walked over to me and said,
"Aren't you going to find out why he's calling you?"
"I know why he's calling. He wants to know if I'm coming to his show this afternoon or if I'm going to prom tonight."
"Oh, you were asked to prom? That's exciting, Ryleigh. Are you going?"
"No, I'm going to Hunter's show instead. But I want to surprise him."
"You know you don't have to do that, right? Hunter will be ecstatic that you're there though."
"Yeah, I know. I want to be there. That means you can't tell him. He has to be completely surprised when he sees me in the audience."
"I won't, don't worry. But you should still see him before you go home since he woke up before you got to the door."
I decided she was right, so with my heavy backpack still on my shoulders, I walked back up the stairs. As I got to the top I called out,
"Hunter? Can I come in?"
"Yeah, come in." And with that I opened his door to see him sitting up in bed.
"Where'd you go, Ryles?
"I have to go home. Some homework to do while I decide what I'm doing later today." I was standing right beside the bed and Hunter sat up and slid over towards me to wrap his arms around me in a tight hug. As I let him hold me, I whispered in his ear, "I'm not leaving forever, you know. You're my best friend. I don't plan for that to ever stop."
He let go and moved backwards to say, "I know, Ry, I know."
And with that, he finally let me leave the house and go back to my own.
I did end up going to Hunter's concert later that afternoon. I can still remember the way his bright blue eyes lit up when he saw me standing amongst the crowd watching him on stage. I remember it like it happened yesterday.
3 years later:
I rolled over in bed just in time to hear my Iphone ringing on the nightstand next to me. Rolling back over, I grabbed it. Seeing Hunter's face on the screen, I quickly pushed 'answer' and said,
"Hunt? What is it? Couldn't it have waited another 30 minutes?"
"Oh, did I wake you up again? Sorry. But no, it couldn't wait. Ryles, mom and I are moving to Nashville!"
At that, I shot up in bed, "What? You are?"
"But, the reason I called is because I want you to come with us."
"Really? You do?"
"Yes, of course I want my best friend with me."
"Well, I want to. But I'll have to talk to my mom about it."
Thinking back, I realized this was inevitable. I knew how much he has always loved music and how much he has dreamed of performing for a huge crowd. After talking it over with my parents, they too realized that being there with my best friend while his dreams came true was a dream of mine. So, they agreed that since I was about to turn 18 in 2 days and as long as at least one of Hunter's parents was going with us, it would be fine for me to go along.
As soon as I had gotten my parents' permission to go, I skipped back up the stairs to my bedroom where I packed up my things. As I was packing my clothes into my largest suitcase, I grabbed my phone, picked Hunter out of my contacts and hit 'call'. I held the phone to my ear with my shoulder as I continued to go through my closet while I waited for him to answer.
"Hey, Ry! So? What did your parents say?"
I paused, just to make him wonder before finally saying, "I'm packing now. They said yes, Hunt!"
"That's great! So, we're driving out first. My parents will join us in a couple of days."
"Great! I'll be ready in about an hour. I'll meet you at your car."
2 years later:
We've now been in Nashville for 2 years. Hunter has been getting into the studio for the past month starting the recording process for his debut release from his new label, 'Atlantic Records'.
I've been living in Nashville with my sister for the past year. We've been friends with Hunter since we were babies, but Ryleigh even more so than me. The two of them were basically inseparable growing up.
"But, Sam, you know they're close."
"Yeah, I know. Layla, you know Hunter has a girlfriend now."
"Yes, but there's something between them that he doesn't have with Libby. I've seen it for years now. Just the way they both look at each other when they think the other isn't watching."
"I don't know, maybe you're right. But we don't know that for sure. And Hunter seems happy enough, so we shouldn't say anything."
"Yeah, you're right. I just can't help thinking how much happier they both might be if they knew."
Right then my phone rang. As soon as I pushed 'answer', I said,
"Layla? It's Libby. Can we talk?"
"Oh, yeah, sure. Where do you want to meet?"
"Umm... Does your sister have her own tour bus?"
"Is she there now or can we meet there?"
"No, I think she's going over touring details with Hunter on his bus now. So, yeah, we can meet on her bus."
I was already in Ryleigh's bus so I waited for her best friend's girlfriend to show up. 20 minutes after we'd talked, I heard a knock on the bus' door. I walked over and opened it to see Libby standing outside. She looked like she'd been crying just before she came over.
"Libby? What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
"I don't know, Layla." I stepped back to let her walk in and sit down on the couch as I shut the door. I sat down beside her and continued,
"So, what's going on? Why are you upset?"
"I'm not upset, just sad."
"It's just... I don't know why, just... It's Hunter."
"What about him? Did something happen between the two of you?"
"No, it's what we don't have. It's your sister. I know she's been best friends with him since they were babies. They've never dated, have they?"
"No, they haven't, why do you ask?"
"I've seen the way he looks at her. I think he's in love with her."
"You do? Has he ever said anything?"
"No, nothing. But she's his tour manager, so, she's always around. I've just seen the two of them together. They have something that Hunter and I don't have."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I really don't know," Libby sighed, "Layla, would you look into it for me?"
"I'll see what I can find out, but I'm not going to tell my sister not to be in love with him if she is. I mean, she's my sister. And she and I have known Hunter a lot longer than you."
"I know. I'm not asking to break her heart, I just want to know for sure if she likes him."
"So, all the venues have called to confirm, right, Ryles?"
"Almost all of them. Still waiting on a couple fairs and festivals to confirm."
"Cool. So, how many are now scheduled and how many are we waiting on?"
"First one this summer is June 6th. 18 confirmed, still waiting for..." Ryleigh counted and finally finished, "Still waiting on 12 more."
"Wow. So, that'll go into September, right?"
"Yeah, that goes into the first week of September."
"And that leads into the announcement of the fall arena tour."
"Yes, we'll announce the 'Wanted' tour at the end of August. It starts on October 8th."
"That's great, Ryles. You are coming again, right?" I stared at her.
"Yeah, of course I am. Did you think I was going to tell you I wasn't coming?"
"No, it's just you haven't missed a show yet. I just wanted to make sure that streak stays intact. I love seeing you backstage every night, Ry."
"I know," She chuckled before continuing, "It's funny."
"Nothing really. Just, you're the only one who calls me that. Ryles or Ry, I mean."
"Yeah, I guess I am. It's cause you're my best friend, Ryleigh." I gave her our traditional bear hug. Until finally she said she had to go continue to get ready for the tour.
I walked towards where the lights were being perfected for tour to go over some things with the lighting director. We were talking things over when Layla walked up to me.
"Hey, Ryleigh. Can we talk over coffee?"
"Yeah, sure. Just give me a couple minutes and I'll meet you by the bus."
She agreed and went out to wait for me. 15 minutes later, I met her and we headed over to the local coffee shop where we ordered our favorite drinks and sat down in a booth by the window.
"Leigh, I have to ask you something."
"Yeah, Layla? What is it?"
"You and Hunter."
"What about us?"
"Has there ever been anything else between you? I mean, besides friendship."
"You mean, have I ever thought I was in love with him? I don't know. Never really thought about it."
"Well? Are you?"
"I just said, I don't know."
"Ryleigh Avery! I've seen the way you look at him. Only when he's not looking at you, I might add. You like him, as more than just a best friend. Admit it."
"Alright, maybe I do, a little. But Layla, he has a girlfriend. And besides, we are best friends. If a relationship didn't work, it would make the friendship weird. And I don't want that to ever happen."
"But, does that mean you'll never tell him how you really feel?"
"Yes, it probably does."
"I'm pretty sure he likes you too." Layla blurted out, I assume before she could change her mind about telling me.
"What? What did you say?" I had heard her, but almost didn't believe her.
"I said," she sounded calmer this time, "That I think he likes you too."
"But how can you be sure?"
"Ryleigh, I've been on tour with you too. I've watched the two of you together. Not only that, Libby came to me wanting to talk. She said that you and Hunter have something that they don't. She also thinks that he likes you."
"Really? She thinks so too? But she is in love with him?" I felt tears start to form in my eyes, but did my best to hide that.
"Yeah, she does think he likes you. I don't know though, I think she does like him but I don't think she's in love with him."
"But I can't let her heart get broken. He can't break up with her because of me. I won't let that happen."
"You know, you and Hunter really are perfect together. You're both equally stubborn."
I just sighed, this wasn't the first time we'd both been called stubborn. At that point I was determined that I wouldn't tell him anything. As I walked back to my bus later that summer, the day of the first summer show to be exact, I realized Layla had been right. I was in love with my best friend.
As soon as I got on the bus and shut the door, I turned around to see Hunter sitting on my couch just as he said,
"Ryles, we need to talk."
"What is it? You're scaring me now, Hunter." I sat down next to him until finally he said,
"Sam and I were talking. He, umm, tried to convince me of something that I didn't want to believe a couple months ago. But now I'd like to think it's possible."
"Oh, now I think I know what you're talking about. But go on."
"Well, apparently he and your sister were talking and they think there's something more between us than friends. I know you think I'm in love with Libby, don't you, Ryles?"
"Yeah, I guess," I managed to answer.
"I don't love her, Ry. I didn't want to say anything right away, but there is someone I'm in love with."
He paused before I finally stammered out,
"Well, who is it?"
It seemed like he was trying to decide whether to tell me or not until finally he was the one able to stammer out,
"You. You, Ryles, it's always been you."
My jaw dropped in shock until I finally managed to say,
"Wow, you never let on. I had no idea till earlier today. I always hoped though."
"Are you saying....?" Hunter looked at me, hope filling his bright blue eyes.
"Yes, I like you. As more than a best friend." A smile slowly spread across his face.
"There's only one problem."
"What, Hunter? Now, you really are scaring me," I slid closer to him as he put his arm around me and continued,
"The label. It was their decision to start the rumor that I have a girlfriend. And of course that led to finding someone to make appearances as my "girlfriend". I actually hired Libby myself but only as my hair and makeup artist. She was fresh out of school and looking for a job."
"So, she was chosen to pose as the fake girlfriend for the press and at award shows?"
"Yes, but that's not the problem."
"Then what is it? Can't you stop this? It's your life, Hunter. Why can't you decide whether to continue 'dating' her?"
"According to the president of Atlantic, yes, I could stop if I found someone else. But Libby has, well, she's not who everyone thinks she is. She comes off as this perfect, down to earth, sweet, loving, southern girl. But that's not the truth. I don't know what she has planned, but she's threatened me if I even try to break up with her."
"What?! But she can't do that, can she?"
"I don't know, legally, probably not. But, she could do serious damage to the fanbase and my career. Ryles, music is what I live for. You know that better than anyone, but I also now know I've been in love with you for quite a while. I don't know what to do."
We went on to spend the evening locked away on my bus, not letting anyone else on board. Even my sister couldn't come in. We spent the night writing a new song and just goofing off with our guitars. Until at about 12:30am I decided it was time to get some sleep so I went into the bathroom to change into my favorite pair of black rollover waist lounge pants. I walked back out in them paired with a pale green racerback tank where I moved over toward the tiny closet. I pulled one of my best friend's hoodies off the hanger and slid it over my head. I moved back over to the couch and curled up next to my best friend where we finally fell asleep together.
After waking up the next morning, Hunter and I decided not to say anything until we'd figured a way out of Libby's threats. Even down to hiding our feelings. Though we did start dating in secret for the next 3 months. I started to notice during the middle of that 3rd month that Libby was being even colder toward me and really turning on the charm around Hunter. I mean, I knew she was faking that she loved him but why would she need to antagonize me? Well, I was about to find out.
While I'm still Hunter's tour manager, my job has been getting significantly harder since Libby has been thwarting me at every possible move. I didn't have any reason to suspect that she had any idea what he and I had talked about 3 months ago. Until, I had just gotten up one morning when my Iphone rang from my bunk on the bus. I walked out of the bathroom and grabbed it, answering,
"Yes, I'm Ryleigh Edwards, is there a problem with tonight's venue?"
"Not with the venue. With you and the headliner."
"What? What problem with me and Mr. Hayes?"
"I can't give you details, but accusations have been made by Miss Barnes."
"Libby Barnes? What did she say?"
"I told you, she didn't tell me any details. But she has threatened that either you no longer continue as tour manager for Mr. Hayes, or he will no longer be performing at this venue this evening."
"Ok, I will consider what you've said and make my decision by 1pm. That will be long before I would ever show up tonight. In case you're wondering, I usually remain on the bus until 4:30pm." With that I hung up. As I went to leave the bus, I found a piece of paper on the floor like it had been slid under the door. I picked it up, sat down on the couch and began to read.
The front of the envelope read, "Miss Ryleigh Edwards, Private"
I know all about you and Hunter. I know the two of you talked about and agreed to find a way to get out of the threats I've made against him. As you will have already found out, the venue has set a condition in front of you. Either Hunter doesn't do the show tonight or you quit your job as his tour manager. I know you'd never want him to have to give up his dream, after all, you are his best friend.
Give up, Ryleigh. You'll never win. I'm not done with him. And I never give up.
I couldn't believe what I was reading. So, I picked up my phone and right away dialed Hunter's number. As soon as he answered, I said,
"You have to get over to my bus now. Something's come up, but I have to tell you in person." I hung up before he could say anything.
10 minutes later I heard a knock on the bus door. I opened it, Hunter came in and burst out with,
"What's going on, Ryles? What happened that you couldn't tell me on the phone? What if Libby saw me coming to your bus?"
"It doesn't matter anymore what she saw." And I handed him the letter.
As soon as he finished and set it down, he said,
"I can't believe it. How could she do that? Why would she? What does she want from me?"
"Hunter, it's obvious. She's not in it cause she loves you. We already knew that. It's a game to her. She's in it for the riches and fame. And however she found out about us, she sees me as a threat to her game. I'm the best friend who's known you for years and is in love with you. If you were to choose me over her, she would lose her link to the celebrity world."
"So, if she knows, Ry, what are we going to do?"
"I don't know. I don't know what we can do. She's basically said that if I don't leave, she'll threaten the venues into dropping your concerts."
"You can't leave, Ryles. I won't let you. I love you, I'll break up with her and take the consequences before I'll let you leave."
"I can't let you do that. She's right in the letter. I'm your best friend, I won't let you give up your dream for me."
"Are you breaking up with me?"
"No, I'm not. I love you too, but I do have to leave. At least long enough for the ice queen to think she's won. I'll go back home to Louisiana for now. And I'll figure out what to do."
"But we can still keep in touch, right?"
"Absolutely, Libby's not the only one who doesn't give up."
"I'll call as often as I can. And I'll come home, of course, telling her that I'm visiting my parents."
Right away I began packing my things up to head home. As soon as I had everything packed up, I loaded it all into my silver Mustang. By the time Hunter was getting set to go on stage, I was ready to leave. But before I started my drive home, I slid into the back of the venue. Just to watch part of the show I'd spent so much time helping to create for so long. I could see Libby sitting just backstage making sure I didn't appear. Of course, she wouldn't be expecting to see me at the back of a crowd of screaming girls. At about the halfway point of the show, I slid out as quietly as I'd slid in.
20 minutes later, I was on the road out of Nashville headed home to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Over all it would take me about 10 hours to get home. About 2 hours into my drive, after I'd gotten back on the road after a quick bathroom and snack break, my phone rang. I answered with my bluetooth, saying,
"Hello, sweetie, Hunter called and told us everything. He said you were coming home. Are you on the road now?"
"Yeah, I'm about 2 hours into the 10 hour drive. I'll probably stop halfway in to take a quick nap before continuing."
"Ok, Ryleigh. When you get here, come straight to our house."
"Oh, I couldn't do that."
"Yes, you can. And in case you're wondering, Hunter insisted."
"Alright, I'll argue that later with him then."
Finally, by 7:30 the next morning, I crossed the outskirts of my own tiny hometown.
2 years later:
"Ryleigh! I thought I'd find you here!" I looked up to see Lynette walking toward me.
"Mrs. Hayes, I didn't expect to see you today."
"We need to talk."
"Ok, give me 10 minutes, I'll lock up the store and we can go talk."
I've been back in Louisiana for 2 years now. Hunter and I have been dating in secret ever since I left. A year and a half ago, I got so bored that I bought a cheap, old abandoned store in New Orleans and began to fix it up. It has now transformed into my own little nail salon and spa. When I bought the building, it came with the downstairs store space as well as the upstairs apartment. It was in terrible shape when I bought it, paint was peeling, floors looked awful. Everything looked like it was falling apart. So, I spent the first 6 months repairing, repainting, pretty much everything needed to be replaced or fixed. I finished painting, replacing the flooring and everything that needed to be done in the apartment, while I was staying in the Hayes family's guest room. As soon as that apartment was updated, everyone in town who already knew I was back in town, was helping to furnish my apartment. I ended up only having to purchase my own bed. Soon I was moving into my new place where I continued to update the store.
My new salon and spa has a fresh lavender paint color on the walls as well as laminate flooring that looks like dark hardwood. There's also a brand-new front counter that's dark wood as well, so it looks like an extension of the floor. I've installed 4 foot bath stations and 4 hand stations.
Now, I have 5 young ladies working for me, so now I usually run the register unless it's really busy. Finally, I let the 3 that were working that day go home, latched the door behind them and turned around saying,
"So, what did you want to talk about?"
"Hunter called last night. He's coming back home in a couple days and I thought maybe you'd want to surprise him and show up," Lynette told me.
"I'd love to! He doesn't know I'm in New Orleans now, does he?"
"You didn't tell him?"
"It just never came up. We've talked on the phone, but not as often as I'd have liked. I don't know, it just never crossed my mind to mention. I mean, it's not like I lied to him, I told him I was going home to Louisiana. And I did. Anyway, I'd love to surprise him. When is he getting here?"
"He's coming in at the end of the week. Saturday, to be exact. He said he should be getting here at around 1 in the afternoon."
"I'll be there," I promised her.
Before I knew it, it was Saturday. My Iphone alarm rang at exactly 8am. I sat up and stretched just before I stood up and walked over to my closet. I browsed through until I picked out my favorite dark wash jeans and hot pink flowing tunic top. From there I went into the bathroom where I proceeded to get into the shower.
20 minutes later, I was dressed and stepping out of the bathroom. I walked into the kitchen, grabbed a quick bite to eat and went out the door, locked it and moved downstairs to open the salon for the day. I went over to the front counter where I browsed the appointment book to see how many were scheduled for today. At 9:30am I unlocked the front door and went back to the counter to wait for someone to come in.
Finally, just before 10, one of my regulars walked in.
"Ryleigh, do you have time to fit me in today?"
"Absolutely, Rebekah, you want the usual today?"
While I was helping her, Kate and Sarah, two of the girls who work for me, came in for their shifts. And I left at 11:30, knowing I could make it to Breaux Bridge by 1:30.
My drive back to my hometown was uneventful. I spent it listening to my favorite country radio station. As I pulled into the outskirts of the town, I cranked up the volume on my current new favorite song, 'Girl in a Country Song'. I turned the volume down again as I turned onto my old street. I pulled into my parents' driveway first. I had called them on my drive and they insisted that I should stop in before surprising Hunter.
The door opened and my mom said, "Ryleigh! You're here!" She threw the door open wide and grabbed me into a hug.
Once she let go, we were inside the house and my dad and sister were joining in on the group hug. Finally, we all sat down in the living room and started talking. Towards the end of the conversation, my mom said,
"What ever happened to you and Hunter? The two of you used to spend every possible minute together."
I couldn't get any words out, so, Layla cut in,
"Mom, that's... There is a reason for that, but it's complicated. And the two of them are really the only people who know the whole story. I really don't think we need to push Ryleigh for an explanation."
She finally agreed and I pulled my sister out onto the front porch swing where I told her,
"Thank you for piping in back there. I didn't really think they'd ask about him."
"You're welcome. What is going on with you and Hunter, by the way? You haven't talked to me about him recently. And he hasn't come home in quite a while, has he?"
"No, he hasn't been here for a while. We talk on the phone occasionally, but not as often as I'd have liked."
"But, do you still love him?"
"Yeah, I do. But with Libby still in the picture, there's nothing I can do about it. Layla, I've known him since we were babies. That kind of connection doesn't just go away."
"I know. We've both known him for a long time." Before she could say anymore, her phone rang. She looked at the screen to see who was calling and said,
"Ryleigh, it's him."
"But why would he call you? Wait, cause I left my phone in my car." She pushed 'answer' and said,
"Hey, Hunter, what's up?"
"Hey, is Ryleigh there? I need to talk to her. I tried calling her but she didn't answer."
"Yeah, she's sitting right next to me on our parents' porch." She passed me the phone and went back inside.
"Ryles? Mom told me you were coming over to surprise me. But when she saw who came too, she knew she had to say something. I would have loved you to come even if it meant a surprise, you know that. But, Ryles, she insisted on coming with me. Libby's inside this house trying to convince my parents that she loves me."
"Ok, I won't come over then. I was looking forward to seeing you, though."
"I didn't say you wouldn't. Do your parents still have the swing in their backyard?"
"Yes, they do. Why?"
"I'll get out of here. Libby doesn't know where you live, so she should believe it when I tell her I'm going out for a walk."
"Alright, I'll be waiting."
Mrs. Hayes's POV:
My husband and I were busy distracting Libby while Hunter went upstairs to call his best friend. He and Ryleigh had, of course, told both of us what had happened and what Libby appeared to be attempting. As I heard him come back down the stairs, I asked,
"Libby, can I get you another glass of iced tea?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Hayes, I would love another one."
I grabbed her glass and walked out to the kitchen where I saw my son leaning against the fridge. He looked like he wasn't sure he wanted to go back out to the living room.
"Really glad you don't like her, you know."
"I know, Mom."
"You are still in love with Ryleigh, right?"
"Yeah. But you already know that. Why are you asking?"
"Haven't you been faking this 'relationship' with Libby long enough? Hunter, you've been fake dating her for 2 and a half years."
"I know, I just don't know how to break up with her without her threatening everything."
"Maybe you should talk to Ryleigh about it. The two of you have always confided everything in each other."
He didn't seem to have an answer to that, just continued resting both hands on the island counter before finally moving back into the living room and slumped down next to the ice queen herself. Until Libby finally asked him,
"Are you alright, Hunter?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking about a lot right now. In fact, I'm gonna go outside for a walk to clear my head."
"Oh, let me come with you. We can walk together and you can show me around your hometown."
"I'd love to, but I need to be alone with my thoughts right now. You understand that, right?"
"Oh, ok. I'll stay here." And with that, she whipped out her phone and promptly ignored everyone else in the room while Hunter got up and slid out of the house.
I've been waiting for my best friend since birth to meet me in my parents' backyard for the past 30 minutes. I'd about given up hope of him coming and was headed back towards the house, when I heard a voice behind me say,
"Don't go. Sorry I took so long."
I turned around to see Hunter standing by the faded red hammock style swing filled with soft comfy pillows and a couple blankets. My face instantly lit up and I ran into his outstretched arms, burying my face into his neck, finally allowing myself to relax. When the hug ended, I looked up at him and said,
"So, what's going on?"
"We need to talk about this whole 'Libby' situation. I'm tired of fake 'dating' her."
"Actually, I'm glad you brought that up." We sat down on the swing as I pulled out my phone to show him something I'd seen online. "I was browsing some of the tweets sent to RoadGuy and answering a few of them when I also found a discussion on the official website that, well, I think might help our 'situation' with the ice queen herself." I handed him the phone to read it himself.
'Hello, fellow Hayniacs,
I think many of you would agree with me when I say that we don't like that Hunter is dating and it's not us. But of course, if he's happy and we're true fans, we should try to be happy for him. I don't know about you, but I don't think he is happy. We don't know what the situation is. Remember his best friend and tour manager, Ryleigh? She left so suddenly after he started 'dating' Libby. Why would she have done that if she's really his best friend? As true Hayniacs we need to stand up and show our support for Hunter no matter what he chooses. I just hope he makes the right choice.
That was the initial discussion topic and below were a couple comments that Hunter continued to read on my phone.
'I agree! Ryleigh was always with him. She could always be seen behind him in the FTLOM episodes. I even saw her at two of his live shows. She's so close with him, she must know so many more secrets that we can only pretend we know. How could that close of a friendship end just before the 'Wanted' tour? And she hasn't been seen in his public life since? That's a weird coincidence that she left right after Libby appeared.'
'Absolutely! They'd be perfect together! So cute! Hope they reunite! Love them! I personally wouldn't mind Hunter dating if he was dating Ryleigh. As long as it's not HER!
As soon as he set my phone down, a new look of shock on his face, I said,
"See? The fans sound like they're on your side. I think even if you break up with Libby. In fact, I logged in anonymously and started a poll to see how many would support you and still be a fan of you and your music and how many wouldn't. Hunter, 85% of the people who answered said that they'll support you no matter what Libby does."
Before we could finish our conversation, his phone rang. I could tell it was Libby calling even though I couldn't hear her voice at all. As soon as he hung up, he said,
"She's going back to Nashville. Some kind of family emergency. Ryles, I'm not traveling back with her. I'm here for the whole week."
He ended up staying for 2 weeks after that, but of course, too soon he had to go back to Nashville again. But he promised we'd stay in touch even better this time.
1 month later:
"Layla? Where are you?" I called as I ran into my apartment. My sister had moved to New Orleans with me to help me run the salon. I flew into my bedroom, buried my face into my pillow and began sobbing into it. Layla poked her head in and said,
"Ryleigh? What's wrong?" I sat up and wiped the tears off my face as she sat down on the side of the bed.
"Layla, I don't know what to do. I'm so scared."
"What is it? Tell me. I can't help if I don't know what's wrong."
I couldn't get the words out of my mouth, so I pointed her to the dresser. She walked over, saw what I was pointing to and said,
"Oh, my. Ryleigh, is this...? Are you...?"
"Yeah..." I whispered, "I'm pregnant."
"Who's the father?" Layla sounded almost afraid to ask.
All I could say was, "Who do you think?"
"You should call and tell him. He needs to know. You know him, he'd support you through anything, you know that, Ryleigh."
"I can't, Layla, it'll only make the whole situation with Libby even more awkward. And it'll give her more ammunition against him."
The next 2 weeks my sister tried to convince me constantly to call Hunter and tell him what had happened. Until he called me, telling me he was coming back home for a couple days, surrounding the concert he was holding in Lafayette. After that show, he drove up to New Orleans, calling on his way over.
An hour after that phone call, I heard a knock on the apartment door. I walked over and opened it.
"Ryles, we need to talk."
"What is it?"
"Umm... well, it's something Libby told me about a week ago. Ry, she told me she's pregnant."
"What...? Are you...?" Knowing what else I knew, I couldn't bring myself to finish that question.
"You mean, am I the father? She says yes, but I'm not sure. Ryles, I told her I want a paternity test to prove one way or the other."
"But what do you believe?"
"I don't know what to think. I mean, I don't think I am. It's not possible, but on the other hand, Libby will definitely use it against me."
Before I knew it, Hunter was headed back to the hotel where he was staying till he traveled back to Nashville. Once he left, I realized that I was even more unsure I could ever tell him about me. Until I looked down from where I was lying on my side on the couch and saw the corner of a piece of paper. I sat up, picked it up and instantly recognized what it was.
As soon as I had it in my hand, I realized it was a sonogram. Once I'd seen the name at the top, I knew it wasn't mine. It said, 'L.Barnes'. Hunter must have dropped it on his way out the door. As I stared at it, suddenly I realized something about it looked weird and on a hunch I walked into my bedroom to grab my own.
Armed with new information, I got into my car and drove to that hotel that Hunter had gone to. Once I got there and parked, I rode the elevator up to the 4th floor where I walked down the hall to room 412 and knocked on the door. I heard shuffling inside the room before the door finally opened.
"Ryles?! What are you doing here?"
"Can I come in? I need to tell you something."
"Sure, come on in."
I walked over to his couch and sat down while he shut and locked the door and came over to sit down next to me.
"Ok, I should have told you this before, but you caught me off guard with your news. And I admit I was a little sad and upset. But Libby's not the only one with big news. Hunter, I'm pregnant too."
His jaw dropped as I said it, so I continued,
"I think I have proof though that you're not the father of Libby's baby."
"Cause I found this that I assume you dropped as you left my apartment."
"Oh, yeah, her sonogram. But how does that prove anything?"
"By itself, it doesn't. But compared to mine, yeah, it does." I handed both sonograms to him. He stared at them for a while but didn't seem to follow my line of thought.
"You don't get it, do you?"
"No, Ry, I don't."
"Alright, well, first, remember when you were here a month and a half ago?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Well, I went to the doctor about 2 weeks ago. And she told me at the time I was 5 weeks pregnant, which now makes me 7 weeks. Which means my baby was conceived at the same time that you were home in Louisiana. And I'll remind you that I haven't so much as even dated anyone else, well, probably ever."
"So, that means I'm the father of your baby, right? But what about Libby?"
"I noticed on her sonogram that she went to the doctor about 3 weeks ago. Does that sound about right?"
"I don't know for sure, but it sounds possible."
"Ok, so, when she was at the doctor's, she was told that she was 4 weeks along. Hunter, that only means one thing. Now, she's also 7 weeks along. Same as me. You were here with me, those whole 2 weeks. You can't possibly be the father of her baby. Unless somehow you were in two places at once."
"So, she made it up?"
"I doubt it. Based on the sonogram, she probably really is pregnant. Just not with your baby."
"That's a relief. Wait, that means, I can break up with Libby without her being able to blackmail me."
Both of us now understanding what that meant for the whole 'Libby' situation, we relaxed and I soon curled up in the hotel bed. Hunter soon joined me and curled up behind me in the bed. He wrapped his arm around me and I reached for and placed his hand on my as yet, non-existent baby bump.
Hunter stayed in Louisiana and moved into my apartment in New Orleans for the next 3 weeks until I was 10 weeks along and then we planned to go to my doctor to get a paternity test done.
I was nestled under the blankets when I finally rolled over expecting to see Hunter next to me. Yet, the bed beside me was empty. I shifted onto my back so I could look around the room, but there was no one else in the room. Just then his head poked through the door and said,
"You still in bed, Ry?" He walked over to sit on the bed.
"You're up early today."
"Yeah, isn't this the day we're going to your doctor?"
"Oh, it is," I sat up as soon as I remembered. I sat up so quickly that I regretted it as soon as I had. So far, I haven't had a lot of morning sickness. But occasionally I would feel a little nauseous. I rested my head on Hunter's shoulder, closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to try to calm my stomach down.
"You okay?" He sounded worried as he wrapped an arm around to hold me.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Let's go to the doctor's office."
Hunter insisted on helping me to the car once I'd gotten dressed. And we were soon on our way to the doctor.
We'd only been in the waiting room for 15 minutes when a nurse called,
"Miss Quinn? You can come right this way." I stood up to follow her and insisted that Hunter come with me.
"So, Ryleigh, is it?" The doctor finally came in, "I'm Dr. Olivia Johnson. I believe I was the one you saw 5 weeks ago when you first found out."
"Yeah, that's right."
"And this is?" She looked in Hunter's direction.
"Remember, I said I wanted a paternity test for DNA proof. Well, he's the one I'm convinced is the father."
15 minutes later, she had all the swabs and samples she needed and soon went into another room to run them. While she was gone, I got changed out of the hospital style gown back into my jeans and t-shirt. Dr. Olivia was out of the room for the next 20 minutes until she finally came back, papers in hand, saying,
"Ok, I have your results. First, your baby is perfectly healthy and is continuing to grow the way it should. And what you wanted to know, Ryleigh, your suspicions are correct. Hunter, you are definitely the father of her baby."
I breathed a sigh of relief as I asked Hunter if he would go out so I could ask the doctor a question in private. He agreed and walked out. After, I asked,
"My question is, how accurate are sonograms?" I pulled mine and Libby's out of my pocket, "I mean, if we have proof that my baby is Hunter's, and someone claims hers is his too, what is the likelihood that he could have fathered both?"
Olivia stared at both for a few minutes before answering,
"Just looking at these, without knowing who the other young woman is, seeing the dates and everything on here, I would say not likely at all. You now know that Hunter is the father of your baby. And you said he was with you in Louisiana the 2 weeks around when both sonograms say those babies were conceived."
"So, you're saying, of course without DNA proof that the other woman could easily be lying about the father of her baby?"
"Yes, she could quite easily be lying."
Feeling much happier now, I left the office and walked out to the Range Rover. I climbed in the passenger seat and Hunter began driving us back to my apartment. As soon we got there and climbed the steps to the door, I heard a phone ring, and said,
"Is that yours?"
"Yeah, sorry, I'll be right in after I answer." I continued in, kept the door unlocked and shut it behind me. I walked over to the kitchen, opened the fridge door trying to decide if I wanted something to eat. A couple minutes later, I closed it again, leaning one hand against the counter and holding one against my tiny bump. I just stood imagining the little person growing inside my belly until I felt arms wrap around me. I was startled and jumped slightly.
"Didn't mean to scare you." I heard Hunter say quietly in my ear.
"I know, I was just thinking," I relaxed back into him once I realized who it was.
"Oh, I don't know, just a little bit of everything that's happening. It's not what I planned at all."
"I know. It's not how I thought things would happen either."
"What are we going to do, though?"
"I don't know, do you want me to hold off on touring and everything publically music related for a while?"
"You know I could never ask you to do that. I've still got 6 and a half months till this baby is due. I assume you'll be going back to Nashville again soon."
"Yeah, I am, why?"
"I want to go with you. I can travel on tour with you as your tour manager again."
"I'd love that, but what about Libby? Won't she have something to say about that?"
"She might, but as soon as we get that paternity test to prove that some other guy is the father of her baby, she won't be able to blackmail you anymore."
The next day, I began packing up a messenger bag with anything I might need in Nashville and on tour. I was in my closet picking out what clothes I'd be taking when Layla walked in the bedroom and poked her head into the closet.
"So, I guess the awkward situation with Libby is done, right?"
"Not quite, but getting there. Oh, do you want to come out with me? I gotta get a couple pairs of maternity jeans for tour. I can barely button my loosest normal ones now. No way are they going to last through the whole tour."
"Sure, when do you want to go?"
"Soon, just let me finish packing the rest of the clothes I'm taking."
I pulled several pairs of stretchy yoga pants, long and short maxi skirts and some of my looser fitting t-shirts. As soon as I'd folded everything into my bag, I walked back into my closet and pulled one of my best friend's sweatshirts that I'd had since I moved back home, off its hanger and slid it over my head. For the time being, I had decided to hide my pregnancy as long as I could.
"Ok, Layla, I'm all set. Let's go grab those jeans."
I slid into my favorite knee high boots and grabbed my wallet as we walked out the door and climbed into my Mustang. Once we were at the local mall, we strolled into Old Navy where I picked out 3 pairs of jeans that would fit me until the end of the pregnancy. I also picked up several plain colored tanks and tees to better fit my expanding belly and a couple different colors of belted, open front sweaters.
Once we got back, I cut off the tags, folded them into my bag, moved it into the entryway and sat down on the couch while I waited for Hunter to get back from an interview he was doing in downtown New Orleans. I must have drifted off to sleep curled up on the couch, cause the next thing I remember was opening my eyes to see him, perched in front of me on the couch, smiling down at me holding my hand.
I pulled myself into a sitting position against the side of the couch so I was facing him, rubbed my eyes awake and said,
"Hey. You ready to go?" He just stared at me until finally,
"Oh, yeah. Are you?"
"Yes, didn't mean to fall asleep. I hope you weren't waiting too long."
"Don't worry about it. I didn't want to wake you, being so cute when you're sleeping."
"Oh, really? Anyway, let's go."
I slid my shoes on, grabbed my purse and stood up while Hunter reached for my bag. We locked up the apartment and climbed into his Rover. And with that we were on our way back to Nashville.
By the next morning, we were driving through the streets of downtown Nashville. As we drove past my favorite music store hotspot, I saw the perfect guitar in the window.
"Wait, Hunter! We have to stop here."
"What? What for, Ry?"
"Cause I want the guitar in that window."
He pulled over in the first parking spot, I got out and strolled down the music store. As I walked in the door, the little bell rang to announce a new customer was entering.
"Ryleigh Edwards? Is that you?"
"Alex Johnson? You're still working here?"
"Yeah, but I haven't seen you in town in quite a while."
"I know, I didn't want to leave but circumstances required it. And I got to see my family back home in Louisiana, so, everything worked out."
"Did it have something to do with that best friend of yours?"
"You mean Hunter? It might have but nothing that was his fault. Anyway, the reason I came in here, can I see that guitar you have hanging in the window?"
"Absolutely," He pulled it down and handed it to me, "so, when did you get back in town?"
"Just getting back now. Hunter and I were driving through downtown when I saw this beautiful instrument." I began strumming, "How much?"
"It's only $50. Its' previous owner wanted me to pawn it for him. He said he didn't want much for it, just to make sure it went to someone who would truly appreciate it. And I'm sure that you're that person."
I paid and thanked him and walked out with the guitar in its' case. I carried it back over to the car, set it in the back seat and climbed into the front next to Hunter. We continued to ride out to his apartment in the outskirts of the city in silence.
Hope everyone has a safe and healthy Christmas season! And stay home if you can, we can beat this virus, but only if we work together by staying apart!!
A week later, everything seemed to be going really well. Almost a little too well. I sat cross legged in the office chair in front of the desk in Hunter's apartment. I have my Ipad with its bluetooth keyboard set up to start making plans for the fall tour. I'm also in the middle of putting video clips together to prepare the next 'For the Love of Music' episode on my computer. Layla had just come back to Nashville to visit and she walked into the room and I immediately got up and hugged her. As soon as I let go, I said,
"I didn't know you were coming. Why didn't you call?"
"Cause I wanted to surprise my baby sister. That's why."
"Yeah, your baby sister who's going to have a baby of her own before you."
"Ok, so maybe Mom and Dad wish you'd gotten married before getting pregnant, but you're still their daughter. And they still love you, Ryleigh. And they'll absolutely love their first little grandbaby."
"I know. Wait, I just got to thinking. Layla, I don't normally drink at all. You'd agree with that, right?"
"Yeah, I can't even remember the last time you did."
"So, if I don't, and we both know that Hunter only drinks coffee or water, what made both of us get so drunk that night that, well, this happened." I patted my belly at this.
"What are getting at, Ryleigh?"
I didn't answer right away, instead picked up my Iphone off my desk and browsed the videos. The only thing I now remember from that infamous night back in my hometown, was that Hunter and his band had been videoing. I started watching it, but without the sound until I got to the part where Sam was holding the camera.
"See, Layla," I held the phone up so we could both see it, "You can see both my glass and Hunter's. We were both drinking water that night. So, how did we both get so drunk?"
"It certainly does look like water. But how can you be sure?"
"I can't. But you said it yourself, how often do I actually drink? That I can remember, once in my lifetime. Point is, if neither Hunter or I drank that night, how did we both end up so drunk?"
"Good point, I can't answer that." My Ipod had been playing all my music on shuffle this whole time, and just as she said that, Hunter's version of 'Run, Run, Rudolph' came on.
"Didn't he perform that in Washington?"
"Yeah, he did it on TNT's Christmas in Washington."
"I think I might have watched it, I'm not sure now though. But of course, Libby attended that with him."
"Yeah, the ice queen herself."
We kept talking for the next few minutes until we heard a voice coming in from the hallway, saying,
"Hunter? You in there?" Libby walked in and just stared at me for what seemed like forever, "Ryleigh? What are you doing here? I thought we had an agreement?"
"No, you had an agreement. I only left because I didn't want Hunter to get hurt. But now, I have a reason to come back. And you can't stop it."
"And why do you think that?"
"Because I can prove that if you really are pregnant, it's not his baby."
"What? But how?"
"First, let's start with how far along are you?"
"About 11 weeks, why?"
"Cause I'm also about 11 weeks pregnant. Difference is, I didn't try to convince Hunter that he's the father until I had a paternity test to prove that he is."
"So, you have proof that he fathered your baby?"
"Yes, absolute DNA proof that if we're both 11 weeks, Hunter can't be the father of your baby. Now, you don't have a way to blackmail him into dating you anymore."
She stormed off and before too long I heard the front door slam. Not 5 minutes later, I heard that same door open and close again. He walked in and immediately said,
"Libby ran past me, yelling 'She'll never win'. What was that about?"
I walked over to him and said, "Well, I may have confronted her and said that I knew her baby isn't yours." I wrapped my arms around his waist, rested my head on his chest and sighed. He wrapped his arms around me and just held me there until finally I lifted my head, looked up and said,
"What did I do? She's going to ruin your life now."
"No, she's not. I won't let her. I'm done being afraid of what she could do. Yes, I love music, but I love you too, Ryles. I won't let her tear us apart again. And now we have someone else to take care of too." He moved a hand down to press it against my belly, "Ry, I don't care what she thinks she still has over me. I'm gonna be here to support you and the baby."
"I know, I really do. I'm just scared. No, check that, I'm terrified."
2 months later, I'm now 7 months pregnant and no longer on tour with Hunter. I'll be staying in Nashville with his parents until the baby is born. Right now Lynette insisted on driving me to my doctors appointment.
"You know you don't have to come with me, right?"
"I know, Ryleigh. But I wanted to, and Hunter called. He may have insisted that since he couldn't go with you, you still shouldn't go alone."
"It figures. He would say that."
"He really did want to come with you, but he also knew he couldn't leave the tour yet. He told me he does plan to be here to welcome this little baby into the world."
"I know. I do wish he was here. I miss him a lot more than I even thought I would."
"And I know he misses you too. So, are you going to find out if it's a girl or boy today?"
"I am, but I'm not going to tell Hunter right away."
15 minutes later, we pulled up to the hospital where I walked into my doctor's office. She immediately stood up, shook my hand and said,
"Ryleigh, we're finding out if you're having a boy or girl today, right?"
"Yes, we are."
"And is the father here today?"
"Unfortunately not. He's on tour at the moment in California."
"Well, I'm sure he wishes he was here."
"Yeah, he does. But can we just do this, so I can go call him?"
"Sure." And I sat down on the bed in her office and rolled my shirt up just past my belly so she could perform the ultrasound to see my baby. 20 minutes later, I was staring at the baby on her monitor as she said,
"Congrats, you are going to be the proud momma of a beautiful baby...."
2 weeks later, I woke up one morning to a sharp pain in my belly. When I felt beside me I realized the bed was wet. As soon as I realized what was happening, I called,
"Lynette! Where are you?"
She came running up, opened my door and said,
"What's wrong, Ryleigh?"
"Apparently," I groaned at another contraction and held my belly, "this baby doesn't want to wait till the due date. It's time. I need to go to the hospital now."
She helped me downstairs where she and her husband hustled me into the car and we were soon on our way to the hospital. As soon as we got there, I was rushed into a room where my doctor began to monitor the baby's progress. She left to go check on another patient and I said,
"Lynette, where is Hunter right now? I mean, what state and what show is he doing tonight?"
"Umm, let me look at the schedule he sent me," She browsed at it on her phone for a couple minutes, then continued, "Ok, so, he's in Illinois now. And he's got a show tonight in Rosemont Theatre at 7pm." I groaned again as the contractions were becoming more frequent now, before saying,
"Rats, if this baby had waited till it was actually due, he'd be doing a show in Lafayette. And he could actually be here," I held a hand to my belly and continued, "Lynette, I don't know if I can do this without him."
"Of course you can, Ryleigh. You are more than strong enough to do this. And you know he'd be here if he weren't halfway across the country. And you're not alone, Leo and I are here and I called your parents and sister on our way here. I told them I would call them as soon as they can see the baby too."
"Will you call him? I at least want him to know, even if he can't be here."
"Of course I will." She found his contact in her phone and dialed him, but it rang straight to voicemail. So, I asked her to hand me the Ipad that was in my purse. When she did I opened my facetime app and selected Sam's name from my list. He answered within a couple minutes and said,
"Ryleigh, what's going on? Wait, are you in a hospital?"
"Yes, I don't have time to talk. Where's Hunter? Lynette tried to call him but it went straight to voicemail."
"Oh.. Umm, yeah, let me go find him. I think he's still on the bus. I was at the venue helping set up the equipment," He continued to talk until he got to the bus, walked in the door and called,
"Hunter, you in here?" To me, he added, "Oh, wait, he won't hear me from his workspace in the back, as you well know."
"Just find him, Sam," I was in no mood for small talk right now.
He muted the sound and I could see him open the door to the back room of the bus and talk to someone, I assumed Hunter. Soon I saw him hand over the tablet and the next thing I heard was,
"Ryles, what's wrong? Why are you at the hospital?"
"Nothing's wrong. Just that the baby decided to come early."
"But it's almost 2 months early. I'm supposed to be in Lafayette when you're due."
"Well, doesn't matter since your parents were the ones to bring me to the hospital instead of you," I laid my head back against the pillow as the pain of the worst contraction yet ripped through my body.
"Ok, Ryleigh," the doctor came back and said, "it's time. Let's do this. Lynette, will you take the tablet from her?"
"No, if Hunter can't be here, I will be able to at least see him through this screen."
30 minutes later, 3 hours after we’d arrived at the hospital, the video connection with him went out just before he would have heard whether it was a boy or girl. The nurse on duty soon laid the little bundle wrapped in a pink blanket in my arms.
That's right, a perfect, adorable little baby girl. And more proof that Hunter is the father, she has blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. Lynette was standing right next to my bed as I gazed lovingly at my newborn daughter. And finally she said,
"It's a shame we lost the video with Hunter just before he got to see her. Do you want me to call him?"
"Normally I would say yes, but I was just thinking, this would be the perfect way to surprise him on stage. Actually, I have a plan for that, say during an upcoming show. But I need to call Sam again. Do you want to hold your little granddaughter?"
As I handed her to her grandma, Lynette asked,
"Do you know what you're going to name her?"
I answered as I was looking through my phone,
"Yeah, Hunter and I talked about names. We never could agree on a boy's name, but we did agree if it was a girl to name her Emmy. So, she's Emmy Isabella Hayes."
"I like it and I know he will too."
I dialed Sam's number and waited for him to answer as Lynette handed Emmy back to me while she and her husband went down to the cafeteria to get some lunch. I smiled down at my now sleeping daughter as I listened to Sam's phone ring again and again. Finally it went to voicemail and I said,
"Hey, Sam, we need to talk. I have a surprise I'd like to pull off for Hunter, but I need your help. So, call me as soon as you get a chance." I hung up and being careful not to disturb Emmy, picked up the TV remote and began to quietly flip channels. After watching half a rerun of Law and Order SVU, my phone rang. I muted the sound of the tv, picked up the phone and said,
"Sam! Hey, glad you called back so quickly."
"Yeah, what's up, Ryleigh? How are you doing?"
"I'm better now."
"You mean, the baby?"
"Yeah, it's a girl, Emmy. And that's why I called. I want to surprise Hunter with her picture on stage. That video feed cut off right before he would have seen her."
"So, that's why he's being weird right now. He's been trying to call you constantly, but obviously you haven't picked up."
"Well, you can tell him that's because I left my phone back at his parents' house before we came to the hospital. But, don't tell him it's a girl yet."
"Ok, Ryleigh, what's your plan?"
"So, I saw you're doing a show in Kentucky in 2 days right?"
"Yeah, and what do you need my help with?"
"I'm planning to be there for that show, but I want to stay on the bus without him knowing until the end of the show. And this is how the fans are going to find out, by having a picture of his daughter come up on that screen at the back of the stage."
"That should be easy enough."
"I was also thinking about maybe doing a video to play first. But I'll take care of that. I just need you to help with making sure Hunter doesn't suspect anything and to keep him away from the bus just before the show. And I'll send the video to you to put on the screen, say, after 'Love Makes Me'."
He agreed, and after we hung up, I began to get dressed to go home. 20 minutes later, I was being wheeled out of the hospital. The next day, I was with Emmy on a helicopter courtesy of Dann Huff, headed to Kentucky. That first night Dann paid for us to stay in a hotel room. By 5 pm the day of the show, I was on the bus, recording the video which I had planned out the day before. I got it off to Sam and then it was time to just sit back and wait.
Once I got the video from Ryleigh and had given it to our tech guy, it was already 6 pm. The band was on stage by exactly 7, building up anticipation for Hunter who ran on a couple minutes later. Finally, midway through the show, as 'Love Makes Me' was ending, I caught myself holding my breath for a couple seconds until I heard Ryleigh's voice coming from the sound system.
Ryleigh had paused for a minute when she videoed herself, knowing that the fans would no doubt start screaming when they saw her. But soon she began,
'Hello, everyone! I know you weren't expecting to see me at all. Least of all you, Hunter.' At this Hunter spun around on stage, staring up at her face on the screen, speechless. 'I thought this was the best way to announce this happy news. Since you fans are a big part of our lives, and I don't want the paparazzi fighting to see who can snap the first photo, I figure you should be the first to find out. Let me introduce my newborn daughter, Emmy Isabella Hayes.'
At that, the video was replaced with Emmy's picture. Sam had a live streaming video camera with him so I could see the reaction to the picture. I heard a loud 'Aww' from the crowd and saw Hunter start to get a little teary eyed. And that wasn't even the best part of the surprise. Sam didn't even know what I was planning next. Finally, Hunter was able to continue with the next song on the setlist, which happened to be 'I Want Crazy'. Somehow he managed to sing the first verse, but before he could start the second, I began to sing it only a couple seconds before walking onto the stage holding a microphone. We finished singing the song together, I gave him a quick hug, waved to the crowd and ran offstage to the bus. As soon as I was in the door, I could hear Emmy crying and Lynette said,
"Good, you're back. She won't stop crying and I've tried everything I could think of. Now, that you're here though, Leo and I are going back to our hotel."
I picked Emmy up and rocked her until she finally fell asleep on my shoulder. Then I laid her back down in her portable crib. As I stood there staring at my infant daughter, I heard a knock on the bus door. I walked over to it realizing that it couldn't be either Hunter or anyone else in his band since any of them would have just walked in. As soon as I opened it I saw a young man dressed up in a nice suit.
"Yes, and you are?"
"Sorry. Anthony Marcus. I'm a lawyer at the local Nashville law firm. I was sent by my firm on behalf of a ‘Miss Barnes’."
"Libby? But why?"
"I should really be telling this to a ‘Mr. Hayes’. I was told he'd be here."
"Yeah, he's on stage right now. He should be back here soon, but anything you're supposed to tell him you can tell me. I'm his best friend and he trusts me."
"Ok, well, Miss Barnes has filed for child support from Mr. Hayes claiming that her baby is his."
"What? But does she have any actual proof?"
"She did give us a paternity test that she claims proves that he is the father of her baby. We at the firm, and by we I mean me, are trying to figure out if it's legitimate."
"Oh, so, she's still trying to prove it? Well, I've got some proof of my own."
"And what is that proof?"
"The fact that he is the father of my baby who is in the back of this bus right now."
"That doesn't prove she's wrong. Your baby is already born, she's still 7 months along."
"Actually, Emmy, that's my daughter, was born 2 months early only 4 days ago. And I have a sonogram of mine when I was 5 weeks along and one that Libby gave Hunter when she was 4 weeks along." As I was saying this, I walked over to the kitchen counter where I picked up the folder that had all the paperwork that helped prove Emmy was the only baby that Hunter had fathered. "Here are the sonograms and the paternity test that gives DNA proof of Emmy's parentage."
As he took the paperwork from me and continued to look it over, I heard a voice coming from just outside the front door of the bus.
"Ryles, you in there?"
"Hunter! You're here," I ran to the door, running straight into the best hug I've had in about a month. After finally pulling out of the hug, I grabbed his hand and pulled him over toward the couch where the young lawyer was sitting.
"Hunter, this is Anthony Marcus. He's a lawyer from Nashville. He says Libby hired his law firm to prove her baby is yours. Hunt, she's filed for child support."
"Wow, ok. So... Anthony, what can we do for you?"
"Well, she claims that she has a paternity test that proves you are the father of her baby. We need a DNA sample from you to check it against that test. Ryleigh also gave me the paperwork that proves her daughter's parentage and gave me a sample to run. For now that's all I need, but I'll definitely keep you updated every step of the way."
He then left the bus with all the necessary evidence and I turned around to face Hunter and he stepped closer to me and said,
"Ryles, can I meet her? Where's Emmy?"
"Absolutely, I'll bring her out." I walked into the back room, lifted her out of her makeshift crib and carried her back out to the main living space. I laid her into his arms, then sat back and watched Hunter watch his tiny daughter.
2 months later, I've been waiting anxiously to hear news from the lawyer about the 'Libby' situation. I knew she would be getting closer to her due date, which of course would have been very close to mine had Emmy not been born early. I woke up thinking about it one morning. Then as I was just coming out of the bathroom, I heard my phone ringing from my bunk in the bus. I walked over, picked it up and answered,
"Hello? Who is this?"
"Ryleigh Edwards? This is Anthony Marcus. Do you remember the lawyer that met with you and Mr. Hayes?"
"Oh, yeah, I remember. You have any new news?"
"Actually yes, I had our on call doctor confirm your doctor's results. Hunter is definitely Emmy's father. And at first glance, the paternity test that Libby 'provided' appears to be legitimate. But we haven't been successful at obtaining a sample of her baby's DNA to run ourselves yet."
"So, the only thing you know for sure right now, is that Emmy IS his daughter? In your own opinion, do you think it's true? Do you think her child is his?"
"Officially AND legally, I can't tell you my opinion. But, unofficially, I think there was something weird about the way Libby acted when she came to us. I can't say I believe her. At this point I'd be more willing to believe you, that is if I didn't already know the truth. And obviously there's a much closer relationship between you and Hunter than between him and Libby."
"Yeah, well, I've known him all my life. Our mothers grew up together, so they obviously raised their own kids together."
"Wow, you really have known him for a long time. So, it's fair to say that you know him a lot better than Miss Barnes."
"Don't call her 'Miss'. It makes her sound nice. But yeah, he's been my best friend for a long time. In fact the first memory I have of him is back when we were only 5."
"I gotta go, but I'll keep you updated with any news."
2 weeks later, the tour had just finished as I got a phone call from the lawyer telling me that Hunter and I needed to be back in Nashville for a court appearance where Libby would try once and for all to prove that what she said was true, that Hunter was her baby's father. The law firm that Tony Marcus worked for had after all decided against representing her, and had chosen to prove what he believed, that Libby was lying. 2 days later, we were finally pulling into downtown Nashville.
A week after that, we were finally arriving at the courthouse. I stepped out of the car, holding 2 and a half months old Emmy. The three of us walked in and sat down in the front row behind where Mr. Marcus would be trying to disprove Libby’s claims. Finally, I saw HER walk in too and sit down opposite us. For the first time I saw that she actually had been telling the truth about being pregnant. She’s holding her own little baby boy. But just looking at him, I could tell having him here, would help our cause more than hers. That little black haired, green eyed baby boy looks nothing like Hunter. As I sat there, staring at her and the baby, she piped in,
“Hello, Ryleigh. Are you ready to admit you don’t know Hunter as well as you think you do? See, I really was pregnant. This is my son, Alex.”
“I never doubted you were pregnant. Even you can't fake that. And his black hair could have come from you, but whose eyes did he get? Yours are brown and Hunter’s are blue. So, why does he have green eyes?”
She just stared at me in disbelief that I would ask that. She didn’t get a chance to say anything more because the court case was now beginning. It took about a week of going back and forth, but finally Tony was stating his closing argument.
“So, you see, based on DNA evidence, Miss Edwards has been telling the truth about who fathered her daughter, little 3 month old Emmy Hayes. And while the initial test on Miss Barnes’ baby seemed to prove that Mr. Hayes was the father of hers too, we have since proven that that test was faked. We know this because 3 week old Alex Barnes’ DNA does not match Emmy’s. Of course, if Mr. Hayes had fathered both, they would share half the same DNA. Then there’s the fact that Emmy looks exactly like her father while Alex couldn’t look more different."
The judge went back into her chambers to look and think over all the evidence before giving her final judgement. It only took her an hour to come back out and say,
"Well, I have very carefully gone over everything in this case. And, my official verdict is that because Emmy Hayes is the biological daughter of Mr. Hayes, he has a legal right to be involved in his daughter’s life. As for you, Miss Barnes, it has been proven that your son is not his. He is not responsible at all. In fact, I would recommend putting as much effort into finding your son's real father as you did trying to prove that Mr. Hayes was. I will also be agreeing with and signing the restraining order that Mr. Hayes and Miss Edwards requested."
As soon as she finished we all walked out into the lobby of the courthouse, where I saw Libby standing by herself holding her baby boy. Until she walked over to me saying,
"Why a restraining order, Ryleigh?"
"Why, Libby? Because you wormed your way into Hunter's life, first as his makeup artist and hairstylist. Then when his record label insisted that he needed a 'girlfriend', you subtly put yourself in that role. You soon realized that he didn't love you at all. But instead he loved me and you threatened to get him kicked out of concert venues if I didn't leave. For 2 and a half years, Hunter felt stuck in a relationship that meant nothing to him. And when you thought you were losing him for good, you told him that you were pregnant with his baby. You already knew you'd get the publicity of a courthouse because you set us up too. That night in the bar, you weren't in Nashville like we thought. You were in Louisiana, in that bar. You slipped something in both our drinks, knowing that we were in love anyway. And the fact that I got pregnant as a result only added to the drama you were causing.”
“Alright, you’re right. But give a minute to explain.” She paused and I said,
“Well? Go ahead.”
“Ok, yes, it was in my original plan to be in his inner circle. And at first I was satisfied being in charge of makeup and hair on his tour. But, Ryleigh, you don’t understand, everything that happened after that was because of my boyfriend. I shudder to even call him that. He doesn’t love me, oh, he pretends to, but I know now he doesn’t."
"My advice to you, then, get out of his life. Find someone else who you love and who loves you and your son. But Hunter and I will never be on that list."
Still holding my now squirming 3 month old baby girl, I shifted her to my other hip and stormed away from Libby. As I got to the car, I settled Emmy into her car seat and as I shut her back door and moved to the passenger door, I half turned and saw Hunter walk past her, around the car and climb into the driver's door as I climbed into the front seat beside him.
I sat there, staring at my baby girl in the side mirror as Hunter started driving back home. Finally, I turned my head from the little one in the backseat whose eyes were drifting shut, to the driver's seat and the father of my sweet girl.
"What's going to happen now? Now that all the drama with Libby is over."
"Well," he glanced over at me, then looked back to the road and continued, "To start, we are going to go on a proper date. Now that all that drama is over, we can focus on us and raise that adorable little baby in the backseat."
"About that. Raising that little baby, I mean, we can't keep Emmy on the road constantly. She needs some form of stability in her life. And, no offense to your touring schedule, but it's no place for an infant to be all the time."
"I agree with you. As much as I want you and Emmy with me on tour all the time, I know that's not realistic. But I will cut back on how much I'm touring. Ryles, if you're worried that I'm not going to be there to watch our daughter grow up, don't. I wouldn't miss those moments for anything."
He reached over with one hand while keeping the other on the steering wheel and held my hand as I answered,
"I was a little worried. But not that you wouldn't do everything possible to give Emmy the world."
"She's not the only one I'd do anything for, you know." I was about to say something else when we pulled up to Hunter's apartment in Nashville. He parked in the garage under the building and we both got out of his car. I went to the back seat and lifted our sleeping daughter out of her car seat before walking behind him in the front door to his home. I settled Emmy into her makeshift crib and curled up on the bed in the spare bedroom with my Ipad. I began searching for the perfect house for my daughter and I while Hunter's on tour. I finally found a cute little cottage in the woods in Knoxville, Tennessee. It's about a 3 hour drive to the heart of Nashville, that way Hunter would be close to the studio when he's back home with us. And I made sure there was an extra room in the cottage that could be turned into a small studio. I showed Hunter the listing, we talked it over for a few days and finally agreed on purchasing it. I traveled with the tour for the next 3 weeks until it came to a show at the Ryman. Layla came to spend the show on the bus with me and Emmy. My sister and I were sitting on the couch on the bus watching the filming of Hunter's concert on the tv and my little 3 month old playing contentedly on the floor with, you guessed it, a little toy guitar. She is definitely a little daddy's girl.
A year later, Emmy and I are still living in that little cottage in Knoxville. She just celebrated her first birthday 3 months ago. And just like he promised, while he continued touring and being very involved in music, he still came back home every 2 weeks. No matter where he was in the country, it didn't stop him from coming back to see her.
One morning, one of those days that Hunter was staying with us, I rolled over in bed. Seeing him beside me, I laid there just watching him sleep for what felt like hours. Until I heard my daughter crying from her nursery. I rolled out of bed and padded out of the bedroom to comfort her. I lifted her out of her crib to cradle her in my arms. As I rocked her back and forth around the room, I began singing to her the one song that could always calm her, 'Wanted'. She stared up at me as I sang, and finally said,
"Dada?" I froze, looking down at her as she also mimed a guitar before I said,
"Yeah, sweetie, that's Dada's song."
I continued to cradle and hug her until her eyes drooped shut again and I laid her back down in the crib. I padded back into the bedroom and curled up again as close to Hunter as I could. It's a chilly early morning in mid October, at least for Tennessee. I woke up again a half hour later, feeling his fingers curling through mine. I rolled over so that I was facing him without letting go of his hand.
"Hey, you're awake."
"Yeah, have been for a while. Just enjoying lying here, relaxing and watching you sleep."
"Emmy woke up crying a little while ago. When I went in to calm her, I started to sing 'Wanted' to her. You know how it's the only song that will relax her."
"Yeah, I know she loves it when I sing it to her too. What happened?"
"She said her first word."
"Really? What did she say?"
"Dada. She said Dada. And as she did, she mimed playing a guitar."
"She did? She knows that it's my song?" As I watched him, I saw a tear start to form in his eye until he quickly reached up to wipe it away with the back of his hand.
"She does. And she loves that song as much as I do."
"I will marry you someday."
"I know. But remember what I said the last time we talked about that? I don't want us to get married just because of Emmy. I will agree to marry you one day, when it feels right. There's no one else I'd rather see at the other end of the church as I walk down the aisle."
6 months later:
My almost 2 year old daughter and I are driving home to Louisiana to visit family. Hunter's parents had moved back home a few months ago to be with his grandparents. Mostly his dad's mom who hasn't been well recently. And Emmy and I are planning to surprise Hunter at his last stop on his latest tour, in our hometown of Lafayette. That's right, he's playing the Cajundome in 4 days and we're coming in early to spend time with Emmy's grandparents and great-grandparents.
"Yes, Emmy?" I glanced back at her in the rearview mirror.
"When are we gonna see Dada again?"
"Well, we're going to see him singing on stage in 4 days. But first we get to see your Grammy and Grampa."
"Really? We do?" Her eyes lit up. Those big, bright blue eyes that she got from her daddy. I pulled out my Iphone, put on a playlist of Hunter's songs and kept glancing back at her in between steering down the lonely highway through the outskirts of Lafayette, watching her sing the songs quietly to herself.
3 hours and 2 bathroom breaks later, we were pulling onto a very familiar street in Breaux Bridge. As soon as we pulled into the Hayes' family's driveway, I got down out of the Range Rover and opened the back door, lifting Emmy out of the backseat. I set her on her feet and handed her her backpack, grabbing mine as well before taking her hand and walking for the front door. Only a couple minutes after Emmy knocked on the door, Lynette opened it, saying,
"Ryleigh! Emmy! You're here!" While saying this, she scooped the almost 2 year old up and stepped back to let me walk in the house, "Why don't I watch Emmy while you take your luggage and settle into Hunter's redesigned room?"
I agreed and walked up the stairs that I'd walked up so many times as a young girl coming down the street to visit my best friend. I began hanging my clothes in the closet and placing Emmy's in the dresser. After I finished unpacking, I curled up on the bed to take a quick nap. I relaxed quickly since the pillow I rested my head on still smelled like Hunter.
40 minutes later, I woke up to find Emmy standing beside the bed. I rolled onto my side to look straight at her and said,
"What is it, sweetie?"
"Grammy wanted me to tell you that dinner's ready."
I stood up, lifted my daughter onto my hip, and said,
"Alrighty, let's go eat then."
I carried her down to the dining room where I set Emmy down in her booster seat and called into the kitchen,
"Lynette, do you need any help out there?"
"No, Ryleigh, I'm almost done anymore. Go right ahead and sit down."
2 days later, 3 hours before that concert in Lafayette, I showered, wrapped my towel around me and walked into the closet. I pulled on a red and black plaid short sleeved shirt dress. Sliding on athletic black leggings underneath, I buttoned up the dress and walked over to Emmy's room just down the hall. I helped her get dressed in nice jeans paired with her pale pink 'Daddy's Little Princess' t-shirt. We both pulled on our cowgirl boots, walked out to the car and climbed into my Mustang on our way to Lafayette. It was only a 20 minute drive to the Cajundome, so I knew we'd get there about 30 minutes before the concert started at 7.
When we finally arrived, we immediately walked over and entered Hunter's bus, knowing that he wouldn't be on it. But instead he was backstage hanging out with and getting ready with his band. Emmy, right away ran back to the back lounge and climbed up on the couch next to Cole, the greyhound that Hunter had just adopted. Lynette has insisted that she'll watch her granddaughter while I watch the concert from backstage. I have this suspicion that she knows more than she's telling me. Almost like there's a secret about to be revealed at the concert, but I'm the only one who doesn't know. But I'm probably just imagining things.
As soon as I was far enough backstage that the band could see me, Devin saw me and immediately said,
"Ryleigh, you're here!" His reaction though, made me suspicious, so, I answered,
"Ok, what's going on? First Lynette, and now you. This isn't as much of a surprise visit as I thought it was, is it? He knows I'm here, doesn't he?"
"Alright, yes, he does know. But he made me and the rest of the band promise we wouldn't tell you what he has planned. You'll find out soon though. Just make sure you're standing to the right of the stage back here where Hunter can see you right after you hear 'Crazy'."
That song fell at about the halfway point in the show and I was standing just offstage when it ended. I watched as Hunter set down his guitar and stood, silent, just staring out at the crowd. Until finally he said,
"Before I can continue this show, I have to do something. Ryleigh, I know you're right back there. Would you come out here?"
I walked out toward him, a confused look on my face.
"I'm not exactly sure where to start, but, Ryles, you've been my best friend as long as I can remember. We've been through everything together, and now I know this is the right moment. I know it's perfect, it's the last day of this tour and our hometown. Ryleigh Avery Edwards, will you marry me?"
I had known he would ask me eventually, but it didn't make it any less of a surprise now. That explains why my jaw dropped as he asked. Until finally I was able to speak,
"You already know my answer." I paused before continuing, "Of course, I'll marry you, Hunter." As I took everything in, my memory flashed back to the day we'd met at the age of 5.
"What's that music coming from outside?"
"Oh, that music. That's coming from the neighbor's house. I think their son plays a few instruments and writes songs. At least that's what his mother told me."
My mother decided then that it would be a good time to introduce me to that family. So, we walked next door and she knocked on the door.
"Hi, Lynette. I thought it was time we introduced our kids. And besides, Ryleigh spends all her time inside anyway. Maybe if she has a friend she'll venture outside of our house."
Mrs. Hayes led us upstairs to the bedroom that I could now tell was where the music I heard was coming from. She opened the door and said,
"Hunter, there's someone to meet you." He stood up, holding his little guitar and walked over to his mom.
"Ryleigh, this is my son, Hunter."
I walked over to him, staring at the guitar and said, "You play guitar?"
"Yeah, a little," he said shyly, staring down at his shoes.
"So do I. Can I see yours?" He handed it to me without saying anything and I began to strum the first tune that popped into my head. It’s funny, looking back now, my mom thought introducing us would get me to not spend so much time in my room by myself. But after meeting Hunter, we became best friends and were constantly playing and writing music together in one of our rooms.
The next thing I remember after coming back from my flashback is Hunter leading me offstage and saying,
"You alright there, Ryles? You seemed out of it for a few minutes. Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. I was just remembering back to the day we met. The day my mom brought me over to your house and your mom introduced us."
"Oh, yeah, I remember that. I was so shy and nervous meeting you."
"So was I. But music helped us both get over that."
"Yeah, and we've been best friends ever since."
He then slipped the ring he had bought for me on my left hand, as I said,
"Yes, now, go back out on that stage and finish the show. Give the fans the best night of their lives and then come back to the bus. I'll be waiting for you."
He rested one hand on the back of my neck and the other around my waist as he kissed me before walking back out onto the stage while I headed back to the bus.
The moment I got on the bus, I called Layla to tell her the news. I swear I thought we were both going to go deaf in one ear from all the squealing we both did. After we finished screaming, I collapsed down on the bed and said,
"I still can't believe it. I think Emmy is the only other person who has no idea of what just happened. And the only other one who was as clueless about the true meaning of our trip here."
Once my momma came back onto the bus and immediately went into the back bedroom, I could hear her squealing on the phone with Auntie Layla. Grammy took me backstage then. As we walked there, she told me that while my Dada knew that Momma was here, he didn't know that I had come to the venue too. So I was going to surprise him. Since I started talking I've always called his bandmates, my 'uncles'. And since we always see them, they're just like family. Once we got to where I could see Dada on stage, I toddled over to Uncle Steve's drum set until the song ended.
I handed my guitar to a crew member, who got ready to hand me my next one, until I saw my daughter standing by Steve's drums. I bounced over and scooped up the now beaming toddler. I walked over to center stage and the microphone and said,
"You all remember my daughter Emmy, right?"
The fans all at once said, "Hello, Emmy!"
She shyly waved to the crowd and buried her face into my neck.
"Emmy, do you want to help me with the next song?" Hesitantly, she looked up at me, until I continued, "I know you know my song, 'Wanted', right?"
That got a big smile out of her as I set her down on the piano bench. Her tiny fingers found the keys and began to play what Ryleigh and I had been teaching her. I knew she wouldn't want to sing anything, so, as she continued playing, I began to sing.
As soon as the song was over, I picked her up and carried her back over to where my mom was standing offstage. Her head was resting on my shoulder. Squealing when Mom started to take her from me, I whispered in her ear, "I'll come see you when I'm finished with this show. Only 5 more songs." That seemed to calm her, and she let her Grammy hold her while I walked back onstage.
Within the next week, Layla came up to our cottage in Knoxville to help me plan the wedding. We are planning an August 14th date, and it's March now. That leaves us 5 1/2 months to finish the planning. Hunter will be finishing out the last of his planned concerts and then will be returning back home to Louisiana with us in mid June. Layla and I have already picked out my dress, a tight fitting lace dress. It has a skin colored sleeveless top that makes it look strapless.
One morning, 2 and a half months later, I woke up in the upstairs loft bed. The last couple mornings I've been waking up with a headache and my stomach feeling queasy. Both Hunter and my sister have been trying to convince me to go get checked out by my doctor before the wedding. I've been putting it off, but now as I realize how bad I feel, I reached for my phone while still laying on my back. I called and scheduled an appointment for later that morning. I dragged myself out of bed, showered, got dressed and drove myself to the doctor's office while Hunter was in the studio.
I slouched in a waiting room chair, my eyes closed, trying to relax my quivering stomach until finally the nurse called my name and led me back to another room where I waited another 10 minutes for the doctor to come in.
"Ryleigh. It's good to see you. But I didn't expect you would have time to come with everything you've got going on. You are still headed home to Louisiana, right?"
"Yeah, Hunter and I are headed back with my sister for the wedding."
"So, what's going on? Why did you come in?"
"I don't know exactly. I just haven't been feeling well. And I want to make sure everything's alright before my wedding."
She did a quick preliminary check before saying,
"Well, you seem perfectly healthy. There's only one thing left that I think it could possibly be. How likely is it, do you think that you could be pregnant?"
"Pregnant? You think so? I mean, it's possible I suppose, though it's not like we planned it."
She ran a couple more tests including an ultrasound before continuing,
"Well, I'm not sure if you'll think this is good news, or at least if it's good timing. But you are pregnant. About 3 weeks. There's only one potential problem. You have a very hectic and sometimes stressful life, right?"
"Yeah, I mean, I'm getting married to someone who travels coast to coast weekly, raising a young toddler girl, tour manager and planning said wedding. Is that bad?"
"From what I can tell, this pregnancy is a high risk one. Which means, unless you significantly reduce your workload, there is a chance you could lose this baby."
"Really? How much of a chance?"
"Well, you have at least a 50% chance that your baby will survive. But that's all I can tell you."
I drove home in a daze, still taking in everything the doctor had told me. By the time I made it back, I parked in the driveway and walked in the front door. I shut it and stood there like a statue until Hunter came out of his home studio. He walked over to me, wrapped his arms around my waist and asked,
"Ryles, what's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing really." I still hadn't snapped out of my daze.
"Ry, I know you. Something's wrong. What is it? You can tell me anything."
"I know," I blinked, looked up at him and let out a weak smile, "I really do, it's just something the doctor told me."
"What? It can't be that bad," He pulled me closer to stop me from trembling, "tell me what she said."
"Umm, well, she actually told me, I almost can't believe it's true, but she said I'm pregnant," I stared up at him, waiting for it to sink in.
"Yeah, but that's not all. She said there are more risks this time than normal. There's a much greater chance that I'll lose this baby."
"We, not just you. Ry, we're in this together. If the baby survives, we'll love her as much as Emmy. But if she doesn't, we'll try again, when you're ready. And in the meantime, we'll get through it together."
Everything has changed now, though we're still getting married in the middle of August. Layla and I went out shopping again, this time for a maternity wedding dress for me, since I'll be 3 months along on the big day.
3 months later, it's a week before my wedding. Layla set up a fitting for me to adjust my dress to my growing belly.
Finally, the big day is here. As per the usual superstition that the groom can't see the bride before she walks down the aisle, I haven't seen Hunter since last night. Right now, I'm waiting just outside the church doors waiting for the moment when I walk in with my dad. I was about to say something to my dad, when I felt movement in my belly. I placed my hand supportively and protectively on it as Dad said,
"Ryleigh, you ok?"
"Yeah, I just felt your second grandbaby move."
"That's exciting. Are you ready to get married?"
I didn't answer right away, I was too intent on watching through the window into where the ceremony would take place. Finally, I walked over and took my dad's arm with my left arm while my right hand held my flower bouquet while holding under my belly.
20 minutes later, it's almost official. We were facing each other holding hands as the pastor had us turn facing our family and friends as he said,
"I give you Mr. and Mrs. Hunter Hayes!"
We walked back down the aisle, this time together, closely followed by Layla and Sam. My sister was my only bridesmaid and Sam was Hunter's best man. Devon, as the only groomsman, carried Emmy, the flower girl, back down the aisle. We drove back home after the reception. Since I'm pregnant, we're putting off a traditional honeymoon. Hunter promises though that we'll go on a vacation soon, just the two of us after our second baby is born. A few weeks later, he got an offer for another tour. He tried to convince me that he'd give up that tour to stay home with me, but I've been his best friend for years, I know how much he loves playing on stage for his fans every night. So, instead of him convincing me, I talked him into going. I told him that Emmy and I would be just fine here without him for a little while and he said he'd come back as often as he could in between shows.
3 weeks after the wedding, I rolled over in bed one morning. As soon as I shifted onto my growing belly, I felt a sharp pain. I sat up quickly, grabbing my belly. Suddenly, I was worried. I knew it was too early for me to be feeling real sharp kicks, and way too early for me to be going into labor. I called my mother-in-law and asked her if she could watch her granddaughter. I dropped Emmy off with her, and drove myself to the hospital. As I walked up to the emergency room front desk, I felt another even sharper pain in my belly. I let a shriek that got the attention of a nurse behind the desk. I glanced at her name tag as she rushed over to me. Sarah asked me,
"I don't know. But I need someone to check on my baby. I don't know if something's wrong or not, but I was told that this was a high risk pregnancy."
"Ok, just give me a couple minutes and I'll bring you back to run some tests."
10 minutes later, Ryleigh collapsed and drew the attention of everyone in the emergency room. 5 nurses immediately came running with a mobile bed. And she was lifted up and rolled into the closest available emergency room suite. Several doctors came in to figure out what was wrong. Since she had been the first to notice her, Sarah was the nurse in charge of Ryleigh. One of the assistant nurses, Kaitlyn, had picked up her phone to find out who to call when she said to Sarah,
"Do you recognize this young lady?"
Sarah was still bustling about, but stopped long enough to look at her and respond,
"No, why? Should I?"
"You're a fan of country music, right?"
"Yeah, but what does that have to do with her?"
"Because she's married to a country musician. Haven't I caught you humming 'Wanted'? The most romantic song out there. I'm a fan of his too, and from what I've heard, she's the inspiration for it."
"Really? She's married to THE Hunter Hayes? Well, someone needs to call him. If he really wrote that song for her, I'm sure he'd want to be here."
Kaitlyn looked through the contacts on the phone until she came to the one that said, 'Hunter'. She clicked on it and heard 4 rings until it went to voicemail. She left a short voicemail, saying her name, where she worked and that he should call back to this number and she would explain everything. Between her and Sarah, one of them was always on duty. And whoever was, carried Ryleigh's phone around with them until 5 hours after her message. Sarah pulled the phone out of her pocket and pushed 'answer'.
"Hello? This is Sarah. And this is...?"
"I'm Hunter. But then you knew that, since you called me. Now it's my turn to ask you a question, why do you have my wife's phone?"
"She drove herself to the hospital, but she collapsed just before we were able to take her back into a private room to check on her."
"Collapsed!? Is she alright? What happened?"
Sarah could hear the panic creeping into his voice, so, she kept her voice calm and said,
"First, take a deep breath. We don't know exactly what happened to her yet, but as her head nurse, I suspect it has something to do with her pregnancy. Especially after she told me that it's a high risk one. Lastly, I think you should come down here as soon as possible."
"Absolutely, I'm headed there as soon as I pack up my things. I'll be there as fast as I can drive."
As I hung up the phone, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I made myself take a few deep breaths and began talking to myself, "It's going to be alright. She's strong. Whatever's wrong, she'll pull through." I flew around the bus, grabbing up a couple shirts and an extra pair of jeans and shoved them into a backpack. I grabbed my car keys, and as I was walking past Matt, he grabbed my arm, stopping me in mid stride and asking,
"Hunter, what's wrong? What's the rush?"
"I don't know exactly. Something about Ryleigh. A nurse from the Nashville hospital called from Ry's phone to tell me I should go back. That's where I'm going now."
Sarah was in Ryleigh's hospital room checking on her, reading her chart on the hospital's Ipad, when she heard shoes running toward her direction. She looked up at the door as she saw Hunter appear. He looked like he'd been running from the parking lot all the way up to the room. Finally, she snapped out of her trance, to hear,
"Is she ok? What happened?"
"For the moment she's fine. She's comfortable and sleeping right now, but I'm afraid she's losing the baby. I assume it's yours?"
"Yeah, it is, but she's losing it?"
"Her, she's losing her. It was a baby girl."
"You mean we were going to have another daughter?"
"Yes, you were. Even if both of you lose the baby, Ryleigh should be just fine."
Hunter moved a chair over to the bed and sat down right next to where his wife appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
My eyes fluttered open. I blinked a few times until I could see clearly. Once I recognized who was sitting beside my bed, I stammered out,
"Hunter? Where am I?"
"Ryles? You're awake! You're in the hospital. Apparently you came in yourself, and a nurse called me to come."
"We lost the baby, didn't we?"
"Not officially yet, but the nurse told me that she likely won't survive."
"Wait, 'she'? Emmy would have had a baby sister?"
"Yeah, she would have."
Just then, the nurse with a name tag that said 'Sarah' came in to talk to us. She started by saying,
"Let me start by telling you that you are healthy, Ryleigh. We are going to schedule a surgery. Unfortunately, while you are healthy, your baby is not. It's only a matter of time before you lose her."
"Will this change anything?"
"Not really. As soon as you've recovered, you'll be able to go back to everything you were doing before."
"Everything? I know the obvious, like raising my daughter and being with my family. What about music and touring?"
"You should be fine to continue with your life the way it was before you were pregnant. There's only one possible problem that I saw on the ultrasound."
"What? Sarah, what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong yet. And I won't know for sure until the surgery, but there is a small chance that you won't be able to get pregnant again."
"How much of a chance?" I stammered out as I fought back tears.
"Like I said, I won't know for sure until that surgery. I've seen an equal number of women who've lost babies and had more children after. And those who haven't. But then there are those who were predicted to be unable to conceive again, and yet they were pregnant again within the next few years and even months. No matter what happens for you both, there's always a chance of a miracle as long as you believe that it can happen."
3 hours later, my eyes fluttered open again. This time, again I saw Hunter sitting beside my bed holding my hand.
"Is it done? We've lost her?"
He lifted his head. I could tell he was trying to hide the tears that had been running down his cheeks. He didn't look like he would be able to say anything, so, I continued,
"Hunter, it's going to be ok. I think. I don't know, I'm just grasping at straws. But I have to believe it will be fine."
"Yeah, I know. We will be fine. Together, just us and Emmy."
"Together, I like the sound of that. It just scares me that they said we might not be able to have another baby now."
"At least we have Emmy. And like the nurse said, it's not impossible that we could have more kids."
6 months later, Emmy is now 3 years old. I knew she would grow up fast, but I didn't know it would feel this fast. Anyway, she and I are back home in Louisiana again. Physically, I'm doing much better. My doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Mentally, I still haven't recovered from being told that I may not be able to conceive ever again. I'm pretty sure I'm doing a pretty good job at hiding it. For now. I know though, that as soon as I see Hunter again, he'll see right through me. Little did I know, my own little 3 year old, who I left playing with my phone in her room, is worried about me and about to make a phone call.
I'm worried about her. My momma that is. I don't know what's wrong, she says I'm too little to understand. But she's not the same. I'm not sure what to do, so, I found the contacts on momma's phone. I know the only person who can help her is my dada. So, I pushed 'call' on his contact page on the phone and waited,
"Hey, Ry, what's up?"
"I'm worried about momma."
"Emmy? I didn't realize it was you. Is something wrong?"
"I don't know, but I think she needs you to come home. Will you?"
"Of course, I will. Sweetie, I'm singing tonight, but I'll leave as soon as I'm done."
Hunter and his band bounced onto the stage with their usual enthusiasm. 2 hours and one show later, everyone was back on the bus and Hunter was packing up a bag of things to take home. He jumped in his car, headed for Louisiana and home. Not knowing that everything was about to change.
I lay awake in bed, wishing Hunter was here with me. Layla and my mom convinced me to go see my doctor last night. I started to think about what she'd told me, when I turned my head to see Emmy standing beside the bed. She looked scared, so I asked her,
"Em, sweetie, what's wrong?"
"Momma, I called Daddy last night while you were out. I told him I was worried about you. And asked him to come home. He promised he would. Has he called you, Momma?"
"No, he hasn't. I'm sure he'll be here soon. He probably left right after his show and has been driving through the night."
"I thought so, but I tried calling him a few minutes ago. He didn't answer, Momma."
"I'll try calling him too. You go crawl back in bed and let me do the worrying. That's my job, not yours." She left the room and turned down the hall towards her bedroom while I sat up and reached for my phone, knowing I wasn't going to fall back asleep until I satisfied my daughter that her dad is just fine and on his way back home. I chose Hunter's name on my phone, and pushed 'call'. His phone rang 5 times before I heard, "Hello, it's Hunter. I can't come to the phone right now, but leave me a message and I'll call you back as soon as I can."
As soon as I heard the beep, I said, "Hey, Hunt, I hope you're just driving and can't pick up the phone. But Emmy seems to think that something has to be wrong. So... just call me back as soon as possible. We both miss you. Oh, and there's something I need to tell you, but not over the phone. Love you." With that, I hung up, set the phone down on the nightstand and walked downstairs. I headed into the kitchen where I could hear Emmy.
"Em, what are you doing?"
"Grammy came up to my room and said she would make me breakfast."
I started to sit down on the kitchen stool next to her, when I heard Leo call to me,
"Ryleigh, would you come here for a minute?"
Lynette looked at me and told me she'd continue to watch her granddaughter while I went to go find out what her husband wanted. As soon as I walked into the entryway, I saw a police officer standing in the doorway.
I stood there and stared at the officer until he began,
"Yes, I'm Ryleigh Hayes. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I believe this is your husband," He handed me a photo. I took it and choked out,
"Hunter?! Yes, he is, what happened?"
"There's been a car accident. He's at the hospital now. I don't know exactly what happened but I was sent to bring you and the rest of his family to the hospital."
I stood in shock until finally my father-in-law nudged me, saying,
"Ryleigh? Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I just... I can't believe it, Emmy was right. Something was wrong. That has to be why he didn't answer when she and I called."
The officer waited while I gathered up my daughter and a few things to keep her entertained and then he escorted us and Hunter's parents in the Land Rover to the hospital.
I thanked him as we headed inside. Once we were at the nurses' station, I saw Sarah who was my nurse when I was here.
"Sarah, what happened?"
"What I know for now, is that he was on his way back to Lafayette, when he was hit on the driver's side of his car."
"Oh, my, is he all right? Still alive? Awake?"
"He's alive, yes, but still unconscious right now. Right now we're trying to reduce some swelling on his brain. Aside from that, he's got a broken leg."
"Can I see him?"
"Absolutely. I can't guarantee he'll know you're there. He may or may not be able to hear you." As soon as we walked into the emergency room suite, Emmy ran right over to his bed. She reached to slide her small hand into his, while her head turned to look at me and said,
"Is Daddy going to be ok, Momma?"
"I hope so, sweetie, I really hope so." I stepped behind her to hold her against me, so she couldn't see the tears forming in my eyes. Lynette must have seen them though, cause she said,
"Emmy? Why don't you come with your Grampa and I down to the cafeteria. We'll get something to eat. Maybe even some dessert?"
She ran to her Grammy as I looked at her and mouthed, "Thank you." As the three of them walked out of the room, I pulled a chair over to Hunter's bedside. I sat for a while just holding his hand until tears started running down my cheeks. Finally, I couldn't keep anything in anymore.
"I don't even know if you can hear me or not. I can't lose you, Hunter, I just can't. I don't know what Emmy or I would do without you. You've been my best friend for as long as I can remember." I could barely talk now. I was crying too hard. I wiped the tears out of my eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm down. As soon as I had calmed down, Lynette walked back into the room saying,
"Are you doing ok?"
"As well as can be expected, but yeah. I'm fine."
"Oh, wait, wasn't Hunter supposed to have a show in 3 days in Lafayette?"
"Ooh, you're right, it was at the Cajundome again. I wonder if the label has any idea what happened." I pulled out my phone to call his manager. I talked to her for about 20 minutes before we finally hung up.
"What did she say, Ryleigh?"
"She said she would contact this venue and any others that we need her to, to let them know that he wouldn't be able to do the show. I told her that we should cancel all upcoming shows for the foreseeable future, since we don't know when he'll be recovered. But that I should be the one to let the fans know what happened. So, yeah, I'm going to make a video to post online."
I pulled out my phone, got it ready to video myself and tried to decide how to start telling the fans that the current tour was on hold.
'Hello, everyone! You're probably wondering why I'm making this video and not Hunter, and why it looks like I'm in a hospital. Well, that's because Hunter was in a car accident on his way back home to Louisiana. He is currently stable and resting here in the hospital.'
Right here I turned the phone to show him resting in the hospital bed before continuing,
'Unfortunately for all of you, we are going to have to cancel all upcoming concerts that are planned now and there won't be any plans for new shows anytime soon. If you have already bought tickets, you will be able to get a refund. Just give us about a week to get in touch with all the venues and then get in touch with your local venue and they will be able to get you a full refund. If you purchased a meet and greet 'Coffeehouse' package, please keep any merchandise that has already been sent to you as our gift to you from the whole Hunter Hayes team. If you haven't received your merch yet, please let us know by sending a private message to either the official Facebook or Twitter pages and I will personally make sure you receive a personalized gift. Thank you for all of your continued support for Hunter. We hope to see you on stage again soon.'
Once I was finished recording, I watched the video back to make sure I had said everything I needed to and soon posted it to Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. In order to keep myself busy and to keep myself from staying too sad, I pulled out my Ipad to start a list of the different venues that needed to be called. As I was doing that, I found out information from them on who had purchased the meet and greet passes. Soon I was starting to plan out what would get sent out as the gift. Finally I settled on an autographed photo (which I knew we had a stash of that Hunter had signed earlier) and a promo code for one free item from the official website. The code, once I set all that up, would of course exclude most of the most expensive items.
As I continued sitting faithfully at Hunter's bedside, I kept reading all the posts that his fans were writing on every social media outlet. One of the first ones I read on the Facebook page was from a young girl, Kaitlyn. I recognized her photo from one of Hunter's last concerts.
'I've been watching lots of people comment on here, on twitter and on Instagram. Some of them have been positive, wishing him well and offering condolences to Hunter and his entire family. But others, I can't even repeat, because they were just, well, outright rude.
The sad thing is, even the people leaving negative comments still claim to be his fans. After reading those, I just had to post something myself. I don't know if he, his family or friends read any of these posts, but I want them to know anyone who posts anything negative, isn't a true fan. I call myself lucky enough to have gotten to see one of his last shows before this accident.
It was my 6th show, and at the last 4, I was also lucky enough to get to go to his meet and greets. He is an incredible person, musician and songwriter, and if he cares about his family even half as much as he cares about his fans, then for their sake I sincerely hope he pulls through.
To conclude my thoughts, I just want the whole family to know that Hunter will always have true fans. Fans that want him to be healthy and happy, no matter what. I'd like to think of myself as one of those true fans. All your true fans wish you a speedy recovery.
"Ryleigh, did he know?" I suddenly heard behind me. I spun around saying,
"What? Did he know what?"
"You know what I mean. Did Hunter know before the crash that you're pregnant?" Lynette asked again.
My eyes started to water as I answered,
"No, I hadn't gotten a chance to tell him. When I called him, after Emmy told me she was worried, I told him in the voicemail that I had something I needed to tell him. That was it. That's why he has to wake up."
For the next 3 weeks while Hunter was in a medically induced coma, Emmy and I were constantly in his private hospital room. We would go home every couple days to freshen up, sleep in our own beds. But the morning after, we'd always be back to see if there was any change to his condition. I'm only a little over a month pregnant so far. So, that hasn't stopped me from doing anything yet. And I've been able to conceal it to this point, not sure how much longer that will last.
This morning has been much like every other that Emmy and I have spent at home. I woke up an hour ago and just finished taking a shower and everything else I needed to do in the bathroom. I walked out and over to my daughter's room. As soon as I got in, I sat down on her bed. She sat up and immediately asked,
"Momma, are we going back to the hospital today?"
"I am, at least. You don't have to, if you don't want to. I'm sure Grammy would love to watch you for the day."
"No, I want to be there when Daddy wakes up. Will he wake up soon, Momma?"
"I don't know, sweetie, I hope so, but I don't know."
She picked out her own outfit while I started to pack up some things to entertain her in her favorite 'Frozen' backpack. Her kid's tablet, coloring books and crayons, a few books to read, and a few of her dolls and toys. She came over to me dressed in her favorite comfy pair of yoga pants and a dark gray cable knit sweater tunic. She pulled the backpack onto her shoulders, grabbed her 'Elsa' doll off her bed, hugged it tightly to her chest and stood ready to leave.
We climbed into our car, Emmy buckled herself into her booster seat and we were headed to the hospital. As I was about to back out of the driveway, she asked,
"Can you play some of Daddy's songs from your phone? I feel like it's been forever since I've heard his voice."
"Sure, we can do that," I pulled out my phone and connected my bluetooth to the radio, "It does feel like forever since we talked to him."
The doctor pulled me aside and suggested that I get someone to watch Emmy for me so he could talk to me. I called my sister, who came down to take my daughter to the cafeteria.
"So, what did you want to tell me?"
"Well, first, as you know, we've been monitoring your husband's condition since he was brought here. And as you also know, we have also been keeping him in a medical coma so that we can control his vitals. Especially the swelling he had on his brain when brought in. I feel, and the other doctors and nurses agree with me, that now we should be able to bring him out of that coma."
"You mean, wake him up?!"
"Yes, we will be. But I would recommend that you don't bring your daughter back in until we know more."
I stepped to the back of the room while the nurses began to prep Hunter to come out of the coma and texted my sister asking her to take Emmy back to her grandparents' house for me. She agreed and I walked back over to the bed. 3 hours later, I had pulled up a chair and was sitting by the bed waiting for my husband to wake up. I held his hand and held my book with my other hand. 5 chapters in, I heard stirring. I set my book down and looked up. His eyes were still closed, but his head had shifted.
15 minutes later, I was still reading my book when I heard,
"Ryles? What's going on?"
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.