Katie skipped dinner that night, saying she had a bit of a headache. The truth was she just couldn’t deal with everyone talking, all the noise. She needed some peace and quiet, some calm, before trying to seduce the hell out of Cash.
‘I can do this,’ Katie thought. ‘Right? Yes, of course I can. I mean, how hard could it be to seduce a big, muscular, handsome...kind...literal cowboy?’ Katie took in a deep breath.
‘Nope, no, I can’t do this. This is a mistake, I’ve never seduced anyone in my life, shouldn’t I start with someone less...God-like?’ Katie started pacing back and forth in her bedroom, staring down at the two sets of lingerie laying on her bed.
‘I still can’t believe Ruby bought these. And the other six pairs. Where is he expecting me to wear them? Okay, yes, it makes sense for tonight, but otherwise why would he-’. Katie stopped suddenly, staring at the lingerie.
‘Wait, did Ruby know? I wasn’t even in love with Cash when he bought these, so why would he... Ruby said Cash has been in love with me since Day 1. Did he buy them, hoping Cash and I would get together? Jesus. That’s, like, evil genius level planning.’ Katie sat down on the bed, staring at the lingerie sets.
‘I guess the real question now is: am I brave enough?’
Cash was sitting at one of the tables in the dining room, frowning. The conversations taking place around him were a static blur, nothing penetrating his mind. He barely touched his food, just moved it around his plate.
‘Ruby said Katie had a headache,’ Cash thought. ‘People get headaches all the time. So why the hell am I so goddamn worried? Katie’s been getting so much better since she came here. She’s talking, laughing, hell, she doesn’t even flinch when someone reaches out to touch her. Well, most of the time.’
Cash had noticed that Katie still went out of her way to avoid physical contact. She’d deliberately put space between herself and whoever she was with so there would be no reason for anyone to touch each other, even if it was just a friendly hand on the shoulder or a quick hug. The only people Katie seemed comfortable letting into her personal space bubble was Ruby, Rocky, and Cash. She and Ruby would touch all the time, giving each other hugs, wandering around the ranch with their arms slung around each other, even holding hands.
‘I’d be jealous as hell if Ruby wasn’t asexual. Shit, who am I kidding, I am jealous as hell! I want her touches, her caresses. I wanna feel her hand in mine or her head resting on my shoulder. I want-’
Cash abruptly cut off that line of thought. Katie was still healing, so whenever he started thinking about all the things he wanted to do to her, all the things he wanted them to do together, he would start reciting Bible verses.
‘Utterly ridiculous. I’m not even sure I believe in God, but I know all those verses ‘cause Momma insisted. Said, “A man’s soul is just as important as his body. You keep both healthy and strong, you’ll always be happy”. It sure worked for her and Pops, but it certainly hasn’t worked for me.’ Cash glanced down the tables toward Rocky, who was already staring back at Cash. Rocky seemed to take Cash’s silent acknowledgement as permission to come down and start dispensing wisdom.
“Everything all right, Boss?” Rocky asked. “You haven’t eaten anything. You’re gonna hurt Ruby’s feelings.” Rocky chuckled, but underneath, Cash could see genuine concern. Cash sighed, tossing his fork onto the plate, finally admitting dinner was a lost cause.
“How do you think Katie’s doing?” Cash asked, not beating around the bush. “She seems happy, right?” Rocky tried to hide the smile that spread across his face, but Cash saw it anyway.
“Stop with the grinning,” Cash grumbled. “I’m asking a serious question.”
“Ha, I know, Boss, I know,” Rocky said, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands over his slightly round belly. “It’s just, well, watching you two kids dance around each other is mighty entertaining.”
“Yeah, maybe for you,” Cash muttered, glaring at the table. Rocky sighed, then put his calloused hand on Cash’s shoulder.
“Listen to me, Cash Buchanan, ‘cause I don’t go around handing out advice everyday. That sweet girl likes you. You like her. Only problem I see is you getting in your own damn way. Ask her to do something, even if it’s just a walk around the lake. And maybe, oh, I don’t know, tell her how you feel, ‘cause there ain’t no way in hell she’s gonna make the first move.”
“Who’s moving?” Both Cash and Rocky gave a slight jump, neither one noticing Ruby going around and collecting the dirty dishes for the hands to wash.
“Jesus, Ruby, how can you sneak up on people?” Cash asked. “You basically have your own running commentary about what’s happening on the ranch.”
“Honey, that is because I am the only one who sees past the cow shit and recognizes the poetry of ranch life,” Ruby replied, then frowned at Cash’s plate. “And why is there still food on your plate? This meal was amazing. Like all of them.” Rocky chuckled, standing up to head out for the night.
“Told you not eating would hurt his feelings. Oh, and Boss? One last piece of advice: talk to her closest friend. He’ll definitely know things the rest of us don’t. Night, Ruby,” Rocky said, giving them a wave as he walked out the door.
“Night, Rocky,” Ruby yelled after him. Ruby looked back at Cash, then sat down in Rocky’s abandoned chair and smiled at Cash.
“Sooo... What’s the matter, Boss? Girl trouble?” Ruby looked particularly gleeful, which just irritated Cash at the moment.
“Don’t you have work to finish?” Cash snapped, close to losing his patience. Ruby didn’t even move as he called over his shoulder.
“Josiah, honey, can you come grab these plates and take them into the kitchen?” Ruby turned his laser-like focus back on Cash, not even acknowledging the plates being picked up.
“Boss.” Cash sighed, knowing he wasn’t escaping without some kind of explanation.
“How’s, um, how’s Katie? She, uh, she seems to be fitting in real well.” Ruby leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms and sending a glare Cash’s way.
“Seriously? That’s the best you got?” Cash sighed again, nodding to the hands as they left the kitchens to head to the bunkhouses. Now it was just Cash and Ruby and the silence seemed almost deafening.
“I just wanted to make sure she was okay. That she’s got everything she needs. That she’s, uh, not planning on...” Cash trailed off, feeling a fist tighten around his heart at the idea of Skyheart without Katie.
“On leaving?” Ruby asked. Cash shrugged, tracing the gouges in the old tabletop with his index finger. Ruby sighed. “Boss, it takes time to look this fabulous everyday and part of my regiment is my very literal beauty sleep. Now, we can go outside to some bushes and I can give you a stick so you can literally beat around them or you can just ask me what you wanna know.” Cash laughed in spite of himself.
“Okay, okay, point taken. Does Katie ever talk to you about me?” Ruby grinned, seeming to enjoy how uncomfortable Cash was.
“Katie talks to me about all sorts of things. You’re definitely one of them. Care to be more specific?”
“Does she...” Cash let out a breath. “Does she ever talk about me in a way that, um, that would make you think... I don’t know, make you think she likes me? As more than just her friend?” This time, Ruby didn’t even bother hiding the big grin on his face.
“Boss, I’m not not gonna tell you what Katie and I talk about, not specifically, because she’s my best friend and I’m not gonna break her trust like that. However, generally speaking, you might want to check up on her. I have a feeling you won’t regret it.”
Cash let out a surprised laugh as Ruby stood. He paused, looking down at Cash.
“She’s still broken in places, Cash,” Ruby said, uncharacteristically somber. “But she’s mending. She’s stronger now, after just these months at Skyheart, than she has been in years. A lot of that is ‘cause of you. Now, could a special lady like Katie put herself back together without a man? Of course she could. But you mean more to her than anyone else here. Even me. Which I am trying not to take personally, because I am clearly more amazing than you.” Cash laughed. “You’ll never know what might happen unless you’re willing to take a risk. And I think Katie is worth ever risk you could possibly take. Night, Boss.” Ruby stood up and started walking to the kitchen door.
“Night, Ruby. And thank you.” Ruby turned to look back at Cash, giving him a dazzling smile.
“I’m always full of advice, Boss. And if my advice could help my two favorite people become even happier, why wouldn’t I impart my generous wisdom? Have a nice night...” Ruby walked out, closing the door behind him. The only people left in the big house were Cash and Katie.
‘Take a risk, huh?’ Cash thought. ‘I’d risk everything for her.’ Cash went around, locking the doors and whistling, unaware that a huge grin had spread across his face.