A New Beginning
Katie stepped off the Greyhound bus, her backpack clutched tightly in her right hand and a rumpled newspaper clipping clutched in her left. As the bus pulled away, kicking up a trail of dust behind it, she shielded her eyes from the bright Montana sun, glancing down at the clipping she’d memorized.
“Help Wanted: Ranch Accountant. Must have knowledge of Quickbooks software. No previous experience required. Room & board included.”
Katie glanced around at the empty bus stop. A man named Rocky was supposed to pick her up and take her to Skyheart Ranch, but there was no one in sight. A prickle of fear ran up her back before she shook her head. She sat down on the bench next to the bus stop, the awning overhead protecting her from the fierce afternoon sun.
‘Stop freaking out, he’s just late. No one knows I’m here. I took every precaution,’ Katie thought. She nervously started tapping her foot on the ground, glancing around every few seconds. ‘He’s coming. I spoke to Mr. Buchanan just two days ago. The job’s mine. Rocky will be here.’
More thoughts started to crowd Katie’s mind, however; dark thoughts, terrifying thoughts. She started breathing harder and a cold sweat broke out on her forehead and back. Just as she was on the verge of a complete panic attack, a rusty pickup came into view, driving toward the bus stop. Katie couldn’t see the driver through the glare of the sun on the windshield, but just the sight of the truck comforted her.
‘This must be Rocky. Damien wouldn’t be caught dead driving something like that.’
The pickup parked in one of the three parking spaces next to the bus stop, the brakes squealing loudly. The driver’s side door opened and a pair of dirty cowboy boots hit the ground. The owner of the boots was a man in his late fifties, which surprised Katie.
‘When Mr. Buchanan said his foreman was coming to pick me up, I expected someone much younger. This guy’s old enough to be my dad. Hell, maybe even my grandfather!’ Katie thought.
The older man looked over at her from beneath the brim of his ten gallon hat and grinned, his brown eyes crinkling and deep laugh lines forming around his mouth. Katie immediately felt more at ease and hesitantly returned his smile with a small one of her own.
“You must be Miss Jones! I’m Rocky, foreman at Skyheart,” he said, still grinning at her. He stuck his hand out and Katie slowly took it. His grasp was surprisingly gentle, and he gave her hand a reassuring squeeze as if to say there was nothing to worry about.
“Um, yes, sir, I’m Katie Jones. It’s nice to meet you.” Katie’s voice was quiet and she could barely maintain eye contact with Rocky.
‘Thank god I didn’t stumble over my name. Jones might be a common choice, but the less conspicuous my name is, the less chance Damien will find me,’ Katie thought.
“This all you got?” Rocky gestured to the backpack still clutched tightly in Katie’s hand.
“Yes, sir. I don’t really need much.”
“Haha! Well, you’re the lowest maintenance lady I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting! And call me Rocky, hon, no need for any ‘sir’.”
“Yes, sir,” Katie replied without thinking. “Oh, no, I mean, yes, Mr. Rocky, no, I, I mean, just, just Rocky!”
Katie felt her face turning red, and she stared down at her old tennis shoes, unable to meet Rocky’s eye. He just laughed again, a full-bellied sound that made Katie smile on the inside.
‘No one who laughs like that would hurt me. Right?’
“No need to be so nervous, hon! I’m not gonna bite you,” Rocky said.
Rocky laughed again and this time a small smile formed on Katie’s lips, even though she still couldn’t look at him.
“Well, c’mon, hon, get on in and I’ll take you home to Skyheart,” Rocky said, gesturing to the pickup.
‘Home. When’s the last time any place has felt like home?’ Katie ruthlessly pushed down memories of her parents and older brother and followed Rocky over to the pickup.
“Most ladies need a boost to get in, but you’re as tall as the corn on the 4th of July! And much prettier,” Rocky said, winking at Katie. This time, Katie was able to meet his eyes when she smiled.
Katie had always been considered beautiful, with her sky-blue eyes and black hair that fell down to her waist when she didn’t pull it up in a messy bun. She was 5’ 10” and much too thin for her height, although that was a more recent development. She still had lovely curves, but even they were smaller than they had been just a few years ago.
‘Hard to keep on any weight when I spent my days and nights terrified. Who could possibly eat in a situation like that?’ Katie shook her head, trying to banish the ever-present dark thoughts from intruding on this day. ‘This is a new start for me, a new beginning. Damien won’t ruin this. I won’t let him.’
Katie turned in her seat and gave Rocky a small smile.
“Home to Skyheart Ranch, Mr. Rocky.”
Rocky laughed again and pulled out of the parking lot, the brakes squealing and a dust trail following in their wake.
‘A new beginning. I can do this,’ Katie thought, staring out of the windshield, ready for her new life to start.