A few months after Katie’s realization, she was sitting at the kitchen island, watching Ruby put together ingredients for pies and dance to the radio. Ruby loved all things contemporary, but had a serious soft spot for late ‘90s and early ‘00s music. Currently, Katie was watching Ruby dance to Lady Marmalade and trying not to laugh at his exaggerated movements. He was, yet again, singing horribly off-key, but that never bothered Katie. It was just another one of his charming quirks, in her opinion.
“Sugar,” Ruby said a bit breathlessly, “not that I mind you hanging out in my kitchen, I actually enjoy the company, but you’re being extra weird today.”
“As opposed to every other day, where I’m just a normal level of weird?” Katie retorted. Katie and Ruby smirked at each other.
“So why have you brought your beautiful self into my culinary palace?” Ruby asked, placing two pies into one of the ovens. Katie paused, fiddling with the toothpicks Ruby had laid out for the pigs-in-a-blanket he was making later.
“I need some advice.” Ruby stopped dead in his tracks and slowly turned to look at Katie.
“Advice? Like, you have a problem you need my help with? A problem you’re willing to talk to me about?” Katie knew Ruby was mostly teasing, but she had done a rather impressive job of never asking anyone on the ranch for help.
“Don’t be a jerk. You probably know me better than anyone else here,” Katie said.
“Except for Cash,” Ruby said matter-of-factly. He didn’t phrase it as a question and Katie didn’t bother denying it. He was right. Cash knew her better than anyone, but there were still some pretty serious things about her past she hadn’t told anyone at Skyheart.
“Can you take a walk with me while the pies bake?” Katie asked. “I don’t want you to miss making dinner, but-”. Ruby cut her off.
“Yep, let’s go for a walk. I have pulled pork in the freezer, I’ll just get it out to thaw. Won’t take much time to add the ingredients for it in the crockpot, so yeah. Definitely time for a walk.” Katie gave Ruby a slight smile and ran to her room to grab a sweater. When she got back, Ruby already had his neon pink puffer jacket on and was waiting by the door.
“By the lake?” Ruby asked. No one worked around the lake, so they could talk about anything without being overheard.
“That sounds perfect,” Katie replied. She and Ruby walked outside, neither of them saying anything. Ruby knew whatever she had to tell him was important or she would have just told him in the big house. Katie, for her part, was terrified.
‘What if he hates me after he knows? What if he tells everyone?’ Katie could feel herself getting more worked up. ‘I can’t lose Ruby, he’s my best friend. Oh, this was a terrible idea!’ Ruby saw how Katie was struggling, so he put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“You do know no matter what you say, I’ll still be here, right? Nothing could make me turn on my bestie,” Ruby said, squeezing her tight. Katie gave a harsh laugh.
“You promise?” Katie asked pleadingly. Ruby stopped walking and turned Katie to face him.
“You are my best friend and I love you. I already know something happened to you, something that made you afraid of men. Don’t be scared to tell me. I’ll be here no matter what.” Katie’s bottom lip began to tremble, then she threw herself at Ruby, burying her face on his shoulder. Ruby held her tightly, letting her know without words that he was there for her. With a sigh and a weak smile, Katie pulled away and started walking around the lake again.
“I don’t...” Katie trailed off, then cleared her throat. “I don’t really want to get into everything, not right now. I promise, one day, I’ll tell you everything, but right now, I just... God, Ruby, I just need some help.”
“Okay,” Ruby said, nodding slowly. “Well, tell me what you can and I’ll try.” Katie sighed, silently staring out at the surface of the lake. The wind made small ripples float across the water, calming her.
“I was with someone who... Well, it wasn’t just that he would beat the shit out of me for the smallest little things. He was also mentally and emotionally abusive. He would say things just to hurt me, to bring me down. He destroyed my self-esteem and self-worth. I started wanting him to hurt me because I thought it was what I deserved.” Katie stopped, taking in a shaky breath. Ruby rubbed circles on her back, comforting her.
“I believed everything he said about me, until the old me, the Katie who laughed, and had friends, and ran around just being a teenager, was gone. I didn’t recognize who I was anymore, I just knew I wasn’t good enough for anything.” Katie paused, looking at the mountains this time and their beautiful snow caps.
“I finally realized I had to leave when he beat me so bad, I ended up in a coma for three days,” Katie said.
“Jesus,” Ruby whispered, taking Katie’s hand as they continued walking.
“After I woke up, I finally told the police everything. I don’t know why I did it, but every time he hurt me, I took pictures. Cuts, bruises, lash marks from a whip, long lines of blood from knives. I had pictures of it all. It was more than enough to put him away, but...”. Katie’s voice trailed off and she wrapped the sides of her sweater tighter against her, for warmth, comfort, and security.
“His family, well, they’re, they’re powerful. They managed to get most of the charges dropped and all he got was probation and an order to stay 1,000 yards away from me. I started seeing him everywhere. He never got too close, but it was obvious he was following me. I also started getting these threatening postcards, which I immediately turned over to the police, but nothing came of it.” Katie stopped talking again, her eyes filling with tears.
“Finally, I just had enough. I tried to kill myself. For some reason, my building super came into my apartment and saw me on the bed, surrounded by empty pill bottles. When I woke up in the hospital again, I knew I needed to get away, get somewhere safe. When I saw Cash’s ad, I thought it was a sign, even though I don’t really believe in that sort of stuff. I applied right away and got the job. It took me a lot longer to get here than it normally would because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t being followed.” Katie sighed and sat down on one of the benches surrounding the lake. Ruby sat down beside her, silently urging her to continue.
“I wasn’t sure it was going to work, me working around a bunch of men. But, surprisingly, I’ve never felt so safe since my family was alive. I never thought I would think of another place as home, but that’s what Skyheart’s become for me.” Katie threw a rock across the lake, watching it skip three times before sinking. “Now I’m afraid I’ve ruined everything and I’ll have to leave.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up,” Ruby said, confused. “Why on earth would you have to leave here? Everyone loves you!” Katie laughed rather bitterly.
“That’s kind of the problem,” she said. “I, um...oh, fuck it, I’m in love with Cash. And I can’t stay here, knowing he doesn’t feel the same.” There was a long pause, then Ruby burst out laughing. Katie glared at him.
“What the hell is so funny?” Katie demanded. “I’ve got to leave!” Ruby was wiping tears of laughter from his face as he responded.
“God, you’re a dummy. Cash’s been in love with you since your first day on this ranch. He can barely keep his hands to himself when you’re around. Cash loves you, sugar. So what’re you gonna do about it?” Ruby asked. There was a long pause as Katie tried to digest this new information. Suddenly, she smiled, that special smile of hers that would light up the darkest of rooms.
“Well, if that’s the case, I’ve got to show him I’m ready to start something with him. And if it’s not, then at least I tried.” Ruby was almost bouncing up and down in excitement.
“What’re you gonna do, sugar?” Ruby asked. Katie’s smile widened.
“Do you remember those, uh, special purchases you made without my knowledge?” Katie asked as Ruby’s eyes grew big. “Well, I think it’s time I used one.” Ruby started laughing.
“Oh, the boss won’t know what hit him! Go for it, sugar. Show that man you care about him as much as he cares about you.” Katie laughed and stood up, ready to walk back to the big house.
“I think I will show him. I’m tired of being scared, of thinking I’m not good enough. Tonight, I’ll show Cash exactly how I feel about him.” Ruby linked his arm with Katie’s, both of them still laughing as they headed up to the big house.