Skyheart Ranch

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Cash stood in the horse barn, staring out into space as he brushed his horse, Stella. There were a number of other hands still in the barn, but Cash was blind and deaf to all of them.

‘Married,’ Cash thought angrily. ‘She’s fucking married! I tell her I love her, I wanna marry her, I wanna have kids with her, and this whole time, she’s been married. I can’t believe this!’ Cash dropped the brush and just stood in the stall with his horse. ‘Why the hell was she so upset? She’s the one that lied, that kept this huge fucking secret! Was I just some joke to her? She’d have an affair, then run back to her husband? Married...’ Cash sighed, leaning his forehead on Stella’s back. ‘Shit, I know I should talk to her, but I’m so fucking mad! How could she do this to me? How could she not tell me?’

Suddenly, a loud, angry shout echoed throughout the barn.

“Cassius Elijah Buchanan!” Ruby yelled, standing in the doorway. “You get your ass over here right the fuck now!” Everyone in the barn turned toward Ruby in shock. None of them had ever heard him yell before. In fact, no one could recall ever seeing him angry. Yet he stood there with a look of pure rage on his face. “Cash! Now!” Ruby stomped out of the barn, not even looking back to see if Cash was following him. Everyone in the barn turned to look at Cash, but he was as confused as they were.

‘Why is Ruby so mad?’ Cash wondered as he stepped out of the stall. ‘What the hell’s going on?’ He walked out of the barn and over towards Ruby, who was standing a couple hundred feet from the door. Ruby had his arms crossed, was tapping his foot on the ground in irritation, and looked like he wanted to kill Cash.

“Ruby, what’s wrong?” Cash asked. “Is this about the truck? I know it needs an oil change, but with getting all the animals ready for the winter season, I haven’t had time yet. I’ll get to it this weekend...”. Cash trailed off as Ruby’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Cash in disbelief.

“Are you fucking serious?” Ruby practically screeched. “What’s wrong? You’re what’s wrong, you fucking asshole!” Cash just stared at Ruby, looking as if he couldn’t comprehend what Ruby was saying.

“Me?” Cash asked. “What the hell did I do?” This time, Ruby’s disbelief morphed quickly into pure rage.

“You-you-you are just the biggest idiot I’ve ever met!” Ruby started pacing back and forth in front of Cash, waving his hands in irritation. “What the hell is wrong with you, Cash? Were you trying to break her heart? Hell, were you just trying to break her? Katie came here all broken apart and it’s taken her months to try and put herself back together! And you fucking ruined it! God, you should have seen her. She’s absolutely broken, Cash, and it’s not because of her abusive, asshole husband, it’s because of you!” Ruby jabbed his finger into Cash’s chest for emphasis.

“She’s been utterly terrified that asshat is gonna find her and kill her, of course she didn’t mention him! Hell, I’m surprised she ever wanted to go near a man again, but she opened herself up to you, she let you in, and what do you do? You go and fucking break her all over again!” Ruby continued pacing, muttering under his breath. Cash occasionally caught “idiot”, “asshole”, and “jerk face”, but he was too busy trying to understand what Ruby said to interrupt his muttered rantings.

“Wait, so...” Cash paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “You’re saying Katie’s husband is the one that hurt her?” Ruby threw his arms up in the air in utter exasperation.

“Yes, you moron!” Ruby shouted. “He’s the one she ran from, the one she’s hiding from. He’s the one that hurt her so bad she has nightmares every night!”

“Wait, what?” Cash was completely confused. “She never told me she was having nightmares.” Ruby just looked at Cash with disdain.

“Of course she didn’t. Jesus, she’s been so scared that you’re gonna fire her and she’ll have to find somewhere else to hide. And she loves it here, Cash. She loves Skyheart. Only reason I know about the nightmares is because she took a nap one afternoon and woke up screaming. You live in the same goddamn house, how haven’t you noticed?” Ruby resumed his pacing and muttering as Cash began to feel sick to his stomach.

‘She’s having nightmares and I never noticed? How is that possible?’ Cash thought, a cold sweat breaking out on his body. ‘And I yelled at her. I yelled at her for being married. It didn’t even cross my mind that her husband could be her abuser. Husbands protect their wives, they don’t hurt them. Husbands are supposed to be that one person a wife can always rely on. Why the hell didn’t I think her husband could be the man that hurt her? Shit, what have I done?’ Cash started toward the house, ready to fix things, but Ruby put his hand on Cash’s chest to stop him from leaving.

“Oh, hell no,” Ruby said fiercely. “You are not going back there until I know you’re not gonna hurt her again.” Cash growled and angrily removed Ruby’s hand.

“I’m gonna go apologize, Ruby. I’m not gonna hurt her.” Ruby rolled his eyes and stood resolutely in front of Cash, refusing to budge.

“Even your apology could hurt her, asshole. What were you planning on saying, anyway? ‘Well, gosh, Katie, sorry I yelled at you and made you cry, I just couldn’t believe your husband was the one that hurt you. My bad.’” Ruby said sarcastically. He narrowed his eyes as Cash flushed, confirming his suspicions. “You are a fucking idiot, Cash Buchanan. Do you really think that’s gonna fly? You just walked away. You refused to even listen to her. She ran after you, begging you to let her explain, and you just pushed her aside like she meant nothing!”

“Then what the hell am I supposed to say, Ruby?” Cash shouted, losing his patience. “How the fuck do I fix this? You’re right, I didn’t think her husband could have been the one that hurt her. Yes, it was stupid and naïve. But why the fuck would she marry someone that hurt her? She hasn’t told me a goddamn thing about her past! How the hell was I supposed to know?” Just then, Rocky came riding up on his horse, frowning at Cash and Ruby.

“What’s going on here, boys?” Rocky asked. “I’ve got half a dozen hands telling me Ruby’s yelling at the boss and another few telling me the boss is yelling at Ruby.” Rocky swung his leg over, dismounting his horse as he stared at the two of them. Neither one seemed particularly inclined to enlighten Rocky as to the nature of their fight. He sighed, taking his ten gallon hat off to run his hand through his hair.

“Lemme guess? Cash did something stupid that hurt Katie and Ruby’s pissed?” Both younger men stared at Rocky, shocked. He just shook his head. “Only thing that could piss Ruby off is someone hurting Katie and only thing that would piss Cash off is hurting Katie himself. Even if you didn’t know that’s what you were doing.”

Cash rubbed the back off his neck sheepishly. “I might have...overreacted to some news about Katie’s past.” Ruby scoffed, rolling his eyes and turning away.

“Sure,” Ruby said. “If ‘overreacted’ means being a complete asshole and breaking Katie’s heart.” Rocky’s eyes widened and he stared at Cash.

“Broke her heart? What the hell did you do, Cash?”

“How is this my fault?” Cash asked, frustrated. “Katie’s married, Rocky. She’s married and she didn’t bother to tell me! Of course I was pissed! Yeah, okay, I should have let her explain, but I was so mad! I just needed to get away and think a little.” Rocky shook his head, looking uncharacteristically tired.

“And lemme guess,” Rocky said again. “It didn’t even occur to you that her husband could be the man that hurt her.” As Cash stared open mouthed at Rocky, Ruby threw his arms up in the air.

“Thank you!” Ruby said. “Any normal person would know that and know not to make her cry!” Rocky just shook his head again.

“Cash, the only marriage you’ve ever seen up close was your parents and they had as near a perfect marriage as anyone could ask for. So, for you, marriage means love, happiness, safety, and security. Unfortunately, not all people have marriages like that, especially kids as young as Katie. She probably had no idea this asshole was abusive until after got married and then she was stuck.”

“Then why not leave him?” Cash asked. “Why not get a divorce?”

“Are you really that clueless?” Ruby asked. “Abusers make sure their victims are isolated, and Katie had already lost her family. The emotional support system she normally would have leaned on was gone, and she was stuck with a man who hurt her and knew he could get away with it. And she did leave, Cash! She came here!”

“That still doesn’t explain why she didn’t get a divorce,” Cash said stubbornly. Rocky clucked his tongue, calling his horse back over, and remounted.

“You want that answer, Cash, I suggest you go ask Katie,” Rocky said. “And this time, actually listen. This isn’t about Katie lying to you, this is about Katie protecting herself. So admit you were wrong, you screwed up, and just listen. That’s what she needs right now. To know you’re gonna stand by her no matter what she tells you. Show her you’re willing to do that.” Rocky looked over at Ruby. “You wanna ride back to the big house, Ruby? I know you gotta get to town.” Ruby nodded and grabbed onto Rocky’s outstretched hand, mounting the horse behind him.

“Rocky’s right, Cash,” Ruby said. “Katie wasn’t keeping secrets to hurt you, she was keeping secrets to make sure you didn’t leave. So go show her you have no intention of abandoning her.” Rocky and Ruby rode off, leaving Cash standing in front of the barn with a million questions and a horribly guilty feeling.

‘I’ve gotta fix this. I’ve gotta show her I’m not like her...” Cash swallowed hard. “Her husband. That she’s my first priority, no matter what.’ Cash started to walk back to the big house, hanging his head in shame and praying he wasn’t too late to fix things with his angel.

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