When Cash walked into the big house, it seemed almost unnaturally quiet. There was no horrible pop music playing, no Ruby singing, no sounds of Katie working. It was just still.
‘She must be in her room,’ Cash thought. ‘Ruby said I made her cry. Jesus, I never meant to make my angel cry. I just couldn’t, no, I just wouldn’t deal with everything. I made my issues her fault. Now I’ve gotta make it right.’ Cash walked slowly down the hallway, his boots echoing off the hardwood floors. When he reached Katie’s bedroom door, it was wide open and there was no sign of her.
‘That’s strange. Maybe she’s in the office.’ Cash walked back towards the office and looked in. Everything was neat and tidy, Katie’s efficient organizational skills shining through. However, there was no sign of her.
‘Where is she?’ Cash was starting to worry. ‘Outside, on the porch?’ He walked quickly over to the front door, opening it and glancing around. He frowned and started circling the house, nearly running when he realized Katie wasn’t on the wraparound porch either. ‘Where the hell is she? She couldn’t...she wouldn’t leave, would she?’ Cash felt panic overwhelming him and raced inside, grabbing one of the ranch radios and calling Ruby.
“Ruby, are you on your way into town?” Ruby didn’t answer right away and when he did, he still sounded pissed.
“Yes, Mr. Buchanan, I’m on my way to town,” Ruby answered snarkily. “Did you need something or were you just calling to bother me?” Cash refused to rise to Ruby’s baiting, instead focused on Katie.
“Did you pass Katie on your way off the ranch? Or on the way into town?” Cash asked, strain in his voice.
“Pass Katie... What’re you talking about? She’s not in the house?” The panicked note in Ruby’s voice answered Cash’s question. He hadn’t seen her.
“No, I can’t find her.” Cash pressed his hand down over his racing heart, trying to calm down. “I thought maybe she... I thought she might have left. But you would have passed her on your way into town.”
“I’m turning around now,” Ruby said, voice clipped, but the strain was apparent.
“No, no, don’t, just...”. Cash cleared his throat. “Give me a little more time, okay? She’s gotta be around here somewhere. I’ll find her, Ruby, I promise.” There was a long pause, then Cash heard Ruby sigh.
“Fine. But you don’t find her in the next half hour, I’m coming back,” Ruby said forcefully.
“That’s fine. Listen, do you know anywhere she might be? If she was feeling upset, is there somewhere on the ranch she might go?” Cash asked.
“She likes the lake. But I don’t think she’d go there.” There was a long pause, then Ruby exclaimed, “Oh, I know! Try Lilah’s old sewing room. I’ve found her up there a couple of times. She told me it reminded her of her own mama.”
“Thanks, Ruby,” Cash said, heading for the stairs. “I’ll let you know when I find her.”
“Okay, good. Oh, and Cash...”. Ruby paused and cleared his throat. “Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have yelled-”
“It’s fine, Ruby,” Cash said, cutting him off. “I get why you were mad. I was an idiot. You love her and I hurt her. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t slug me.” Ruby let out a bark of laughter, clearly surprised.
“C’mon, Boss, you know I’d never hit you. Even if you were behaving like an idiot.” Cash smiled as he finally reached the third floor. He never went up to these rooms anymore. Being around all his parents’ belongings, all the memories of them as a family, hurt, and he didn’t see any reason to purposefully hurt himself.
Cash didn’t even know Katie had been coming up here. It was yet another thing she didn’t feel comfortable telling him. As he approached the door to his momma’s sewing room, he noticed it was slightly ajar and he could hear muffled noises coming from inside. He pushed the door open and his eyes landed on Katie. She was curled up on one of the window seats, hugging an old teddy bear to her chest, while tears flowed down her face.
‘Jesus,’ Cash thought, his heart hurting, ‘Ruby’s right, I’m an asshole.’ Cash stepped into the room, causing Katie to jump and a flash of fear to cross her face. The fear, even more than the tears, broke Cash’s heart.
‘She’s afraid of me. I never wanted to hurt her and now she thinks I’m just like her ex. Here to slap her around.’ Cash’s chest ached as he slowly raised the radio to his mouth.
“I found her, Ruby, you don’t have to worry about coming back.” Cash noticed Katie’s eyes darting between his face and the open door behind him. It was obvious she was trying to figure out if she could get past him before he stopped her.
“Is she all right?” Ruby’s voice crackled through the radio. Katie glanced at the radio for the first time, seemingly surprised to hear Ruby’s voice.
“Not really, if I’m being honest. But I’ll do whatever I have to to fix this.” Cash said the last bit directly at Katie, meeting her eyes. She seemed to relax just a little after hearing that.
“Well, you better make this right, or I’m purposely burning all your food for the rest of your life,” Ruby said without a hint of humor. “Or I’ll serve you only green beans.” Cash couldn’t help but chuckle. It was a well-known fact that Cash hated green beans and if Ruby ever made them, he refused to touch them.
“Don’t worry,” Cash said, still looking at Katie. “I’ll do whatever it takes, and not even to just avoid a green bean filled future.”
“Okay.” Ruby still sounded hesitant. “You call me if you need me. Or if Katie does. I should be back in a few hours.”
“Got it. See you soon.” Cash lowered the volume on the radio and set it down on one of the tables. He stared at Katie, unsure if he should approach her or keep his distance. Finally, he just looked at her, not even trying to hide the devastation on his face.
“I’m so sorry, angel,” Cash said, his voice hoarse with unshed tears. “I was an idiot. I broke your trust and refused to listen to you. But I’m ready now. Anything you wanna say, I’m here. I’m listening. And I believe you.” Katie’s face crumbled and she hid it in the old teddy bear, silent sobs racking her body. Cash was too overcome with guilt to stay away, so he sat on the window seat and gathered her into his arms.
“Hush, angel,” Cash crooned softly, rocking her back and forth. “I’m so, so sorry. I behaved like an ass. It didn’t even occur to me your husband could have been the one that hurt you. I was stupid and foolish and wrong. I’m sorry.” Katie lifted her tear stained face, frowning at Cash.
“You thought I just had some random husband I never told you about?” Katie asked incredulously.
“Basically. Let me reiterate the stupid idiot part. I guess...” Cash sighed deeply, gently brushing the tears off Katie’s cheeks. “I know people end up in abusive marriages, but my first instinct is to assume a marriage is happy. I thought...oh, god, I don’t know what I thought. That you lied to me about some guy you love. I guess I just never thought your husband would hurt you.” Katie pulled back a little, staring at Cash in bewilderment.
“You thought I was happily married but ran away for no reason?” Katie felt so confused.
“Again, stupid idiot,” Cash said with a small smile. “I’m so sorry, angel. I didn’t listen before when you tried to tell me, but I’ll listen now. I know you don’t have to forgive me, but I hope to God you do, ‘cause I can’t imagine losing the woman I love.” Katie jerked back even further, trying to understand Cash’s game. A few hours ago, she would have believed him but now; she was so hurt and confused.
“You still love me?” Katie asked tentatively. Cash didn’t think it was possible for his heart to break anymore, but the sound of disbelieving hope in Katie’s voice managed to shatter him again.
“Yes, I still love you.” He leaned forward, gently kissing her on the forehead. “Of course I still love you.” This time, Cash leaned in and kissed her lips, softly and sweetly. When he pulled back, Katie’s eyes had filled with tears again.
“I thought...” Katie sniffed. “I thought you hated me. I thought this, whatever this is between us, was over.” The tears spilled over her cheeks, causing Cash to pull her onto his lap, hugging her fiercely.
“I will always love you, angel. You might have to be patient with me. I’ve never been in love before, so I’m bound to mess things up. But I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. And whenever you’re ready to talk, I’m ready to listen.” Cash held Katie as she calmed down. “Better?” Katie nodded her head from where she had buried it in the crook of Cash’s neck.
“I think...” Katie took in a shuddering breath. “I think I’m ready to talk. About everything. If that’s okay.” Cash kissed the top of her head, holding her close to him.
“Of course,” Cash said. “If you’re ready, I’m ready.” Katie pulled back, wiping the tears off her cheeks.
“I might need you to sit a little further away,” Katie said. “Some of the stuff I have to tell you, I’m not really comfortable having someone close when I talk about it.”
“Of course.” Cash set her back down on the window seat and turned to get a chair. Before he could, Katie reached out and grabbed his hand.
“I’m sorry too.”
“No, angel, don’t-” Cash was cut off by Katie.
“Just, just listen, okay? I know I should have told you, but I’ve tried really hard to bury my past. I wasn’t ready to open that door and let all the ugliness from before ruin what I was building here. But you deserve the whole story. And I’m sorry I was too afraid to tell it to you until now.” Cash leaned down and rested his forehead against hers, both of them closing their eyes and just enjoying the intimacy of being close to the person you love.
Cash eventually stepped back, gently stroking her cheek with his thumb. He grabbed a rocking chair and brought it close to the window to sit in, patiently waiting for Katie to start.