Katie’s heart was pounding as she sat, staring at Cash, wrapping herself up in a blanket that had been on the window seat.
‘I thought we were over. I thought he hated me. But we fixed it. We talked it out and we fixed it. This must be how healthy relationships work. Huh. This is going to be a steep learning curve for both of us. But no matter what, I’ve been keeping too many secrets, secrets that could hurt everyone here.’ Katie bit her lower lip, feeling more nervous than she had in months.
“I don’t really know where to start,” Katie admitted.
“Just start at the beginning,” Cash said. “Tell me whatever you think I need to know.”
“Beginning, like, of my life or beginning of my marriage?” Cash gave Katie a sweet smile and settled back in the rocking chair.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind knowing a little bit more about you. For instance, I have no idea where you’re actually from. The first email you sent inquiring about the job said you were living in Nashville. But when we spoke on the phone, you said Tallahassee. I figured you were from one of those places and moved to the other but I’ve never been entirely sure.” Katie gave Cash a wry smile, shaking her head.
“Wow,” she said. “I really suck at this under the radar, no one knows who I really am thing. I’d make a terrible spy.” Cash laughed at this unexpected declaration.
“Did you wanna be a spy, angel?”
“Oh, god, no. I think we’ve just established I suck at secret identities. Hell, I’ve spent my entire time here worried I would forget the name I’m supposed to be using.”
“‘Katie’?” Cash asked.
“No, dummy, Jones. I’ve always gone by Katie.”
“Right,” Cash said, nodding. “You said last night your last name’s Beauchamp.”
“Maiden name. I never legally changed my last name after I got married, but I went by my husband’s name. He insisted on it.” Katie blinked a few times, as if trying to forget the ways her husband had “insisted”.
“Okay, then. From the top. I’m originally from Indiana. Small factory town. My dad worked in the steel mill and my mom was a preschool teacher.” Katie glanced around the sewing room, a sad smile on her lips. “We had a room exactly like this in our house in Indiana. My mom loved sewing toys, costumes, hell, she would use her framed needlepoint to help teach kids letters and numbers. It’s how she taught my brother and me. We would always laugh, seeing her lugging these needlepoints under her arm so she could take them to class, leaving the empty spots on the wall until she’d bring them back.” Katie looked around.
“I’m sorry I didn’t ask if I could come up here. Awhile ago, I needed some old loan forms and Ruby said they were probably in some of the boxes on the third floor. When I found this place, I... It reminded me so much of my mom. Sitting in here, I felt closer to her than I had in years.”
“I don’t mind that you’re up here, angel,” Cash said, smiling and slipping a piece of hair behind her ear. “In fact, I really like it that you feel so at home here. I hid my momma and Pops away after they died, but maybe it’s time to start bringing them back out. A little bit at a time.” Katie smiled at that, happy she might be helping Cash heal from the loss of his family as he was helping her heal.
“Uh, just curious before you go any further: how old are you? You told me 24 but neither Rocky or me believed that,” Cash said.
“21,” Katie said, laughing. “I’ll actually be 22 in January.”
“We’ll have to celebrate,” Cash said.
“Or we could not,” Katie replied.
“C’mon, when’s the last time you celebrated a birthday?” Cash teased, smiling. Katie cleared her throat, looking uncomfortable.
“Um...when I turned 15,” Katie said, looking anywhere except at Cash. “My family was still alive then.” There was a long pause, then Cash sighed. He leaned forward and kissed Katie on the forehead.
“I’m sorry, angel,” Cash said quietly. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Cash, it’s not your fault,” Katie said, frowning at how upset Cash sounded. “It might be...well, it might be kind of nice to celebrate a birthday again. Plus, almost everyone will be gone, so we could do something small. You, me, Ruby, Rocky, and the hands that are staying.” Katie gave Cash a reassuring smile. “Can’t really do anything too crazy with only fourteen people.”
“Um,” Cash laughed, “You have met Ruby, right? When he finds out you’re celebrating a birthday for the first time in years, he will go nuts. He might even lay off the insane Christmas decorating for insane birthday decorating.”
“Yeah...” Katie said apprehensively, then shrugged. “Oh well. It’ll make him happy and an overly happy Ruby is honestly worth it.” Both Cash and Katie laughed. She leaned back in the window seat and continued.
“The recession hit my hometown hard. The steel mill closed and my dad started taking on as many jobs as he could. He finally found a permanent job with one of those cable companies, repairing broken sets. He was offered a promotion after only four months, so we moved to Chicago.” Katie paused, staring out the window.
“We were all really supportive. He’d taken the mill closing hard and we were relieved he found work again. But none of us really liked Chicago. Too many people, too many cars and buildings. We missed living in a small town, but we all knew Chicago was where a steady job for Dad was. I started taking some college classes after the move-”.
“College?” Cash cut in, looking confused. “You had to have been only 11 or 12 when the recession hit.”
“I was ten. We moved to Chicago when I was 12. I, um...”. Katie blushed suddenly, looking down at her hands in embarrassment. “School was never really hard for me. I started high school when we moved, but I was also taking a few classes at Northwestern. It only took me two years to finish high school and by then I had enough college credits to enroll full time as a junior. Ended up getting my bachelor’s degree when I was 15.”
“So when you said you had an associate’s degree, that wasn’t true?” Cash asked. Katie shook her head no, still staring at her hands.
“I figured it’d be easier to get hired if I had a degree in business administration than a four year degree,” Katie replied.
“What was your major?” asked Cash.
“I double majored in psychology and English literature with a minor in computer science.” Cash let out an impressed whistle.
“So basically you’re a super genius?” Cash said with a grin, causing Katie to laugh.
“Hardly,” she said. “I was just good in school, that’s all. No big deal.”
“I think you’re selling yourself short, angel,” Cash said gently. Katie just shook her head, the blush still staining her cheeks. “All right, so by 15, you have two degrees. What was the plan?”
“Originally, I was going to grad school to become a certified psychologist,” Katie said. “But when my family... Well, plans changed.” Cash sat forward, grabbing Katie’s hand.
“You don’t need to tell me what happened to them,” he said. “I might have accidentally overheard you talking about it with Ruby your first night here.”
“‘Accidentally overheard’?” Katie asked in a teasing voice. This time it was Cash who started blushing.
“Hey, I just happened to be standing in the kitchen. By the open door. In the shadows. Where you couldn’t see me. Accidentally,” he said. Katie laughed, leaning forward to give Cash a brief kiss.
“If that’s the story you’re going with, cowboy, I’m more than happy to believe it.” They both smiled, then Katie sighed. “Well, if you know about my family, you know I went into the system after they died. I bounced around a few foster homes for a year before I petitioned to be legally emancipated. The court granted it pretty quickly, since I had degrees that proved I could support myself. I left Chicago as soon as possible. I just had horrible memories there and I desperately wanted to get away.”
Katie paused, tracing patterns on the window for a few seconds. “I moved to Nashville basically on a whim. I didn’t have any plans, but I wanted to go somewhere I didn’t see echoes of my parents and my brother everywhere. My first few months there were actually really nice. I got a job at this kind of kitschy store that sold all kinds of homemade stuff: jewelry, scarves and hats, knickknacks that tourists might buy. It was peaceful. But then, well...then I met him.”
Katie stopped talking, pulling the blanket closer around herself and squeezing her eyes shut for a few seconds. Then she sighed, opened her eyes, and prepared herself to tell Cash about her husband.