December arrived at Skyheart, bringing with it almost constant snow and taking away almost all the hands. It was weirdly quiet on the ranch now. Even though Katie usually only saw the hands at breakfast and dinner during the week, plus the nightly singalongs, it somehow seemed strange almost no one was around. Cash, Rocky, and the remaining hands would go out to feed the animals, muck out the stalls, and let the animals out to get a little exercise before putting them back in the barns where it was warm.
When they weren’t tending to the animals, the remaining hands spent most of their time in the bunkhouses (with frequent trips to the big house for Ruby’s cooking). Cash and Rocky spent almost all their time in the big house, keeping Katie and Ruby company and helping Ruby decorate for Christmas.
Katie learned right away that Ruby loved Christmas with an almost obsessive passion. On the first of December, he was already playing nonstop Christmas songs and baking tons of sugary holiday treats. Ruby also started decorating right away, enlisting Katie, Cash, and Rocky. Cash allowed Ruby to finally bring down all of his parents Christmas decorations, causing Ruby to squeal with joy and give Cash an enormous hug, then immediately order Cash and Rocky to start bringing the boxes down.
Ruby’s enthusiasm was infectious. For the first time in years, Katie was actually looking forward to Christmas. Even Cash and Rocky seemed to catch Ruby’s Christmas fever, enthusiastically decorating the outside of the big house even through the snow. Two weeks before Christmas, when they were all inside, Cash and Rocky warming themselves with mugs of hot cocoa, Ruby brought up something Katie had been wondering about, but was too shy to say.
“So Boss...” Ruby said, letting the unspoken question hang in the air.
“Oh no,” said Cash. “Whatever you’re about to ask can’t be good if you’re using that tone.” Katie grinned, sitting cross legged on the floor between Cash’s feet as she strung popcorn to make a popcorn garland for the bannister.
“C’mon, cowboy, play nice,” she chided gently. Cash smiled and leaned down, kissing the top of her head.
“What’s up, Ruby?” Cash asked resignedly.
“Well, I was just wondering... Since we’re having a proper, full on, family Christmas... Well, I was wondering if we could...”
“Spit it out, Ruby,” Rocky chuckled, “before Cash automatically says no.” Cash rolled his eyes at Rocky.
“I wanna get a real tree this year!” Ruby blurted out.
“We have a tree,” Cash said patiently.
“No, we have a horrible, fake, plastic tree imitator. I want a real tree. With the smell and needles and messy sap. All of it!”
“Oh god, I haven’t had a real Christmas tree in forever,” Katie said. “Decorating the tree with my family is one of my favorite memories of growing up. We’d sing Christmas songs and Mom would tell us the stories behind the special family heirloom ornaments...”. Katie trailed off, a sad look crossing her face. Cash stroked her hair.
“Where are your family Christmas ornaments now, angel?” he asked.
“A storage locker in Chicago. I got the unit after the shooting to keep my parents’ and my brother’s special mementos I couldn’t bear to part with. You know, I don’t think Damien even knows about the storage unit. When we moved to Chicago, I didn’t want him tainting any of my memories with my family.”
“Could we have the stuff brought here?” Ruby asked. “I mean, if we hired movers to empty the storage unit and bring it here?”
“I don’t know,” answered Katie. “I don’t know how that sort of thing works.”
“We could always look into it, hon,” Rocky said. “Might be nice, having all of your folks’ stuff here.” Katie was chewing on her bottom lip, thinking.
“Yeah, I mean...” she trailed off. “I know I’d like to have all of that stuff back, but I don’t want to add to the clutter around here.”
“Angel, if you want your family’s belongings, then we’ll hire someone to bring them here,” Cash said firmly. “Like I told you, I want this house to start looking like ours. Having both of our families’ important heirlooms around here would make this place even more ‘Cash and Katie’s’.”
“You really mean that?” Katie said, laughing, twisting at the waist to look at Cash.
“I’ll look today about moving everything here,” Cash said, smiling, as he gently cupped Katie’s cheek. “Hopefully, we can find a company that can get your family’s stuff here before Christmas so you can have your family’s ornaments.”
“You’re too good to me, you know that?” Katie leaned against Cash’s hand, smiling.
“Impossible.” Cash leaned down, giving Katie a soft, lingering kiss. After awhile, Ruby loudly cleared his throat.
“So... Does this mean a real tree?” Everyone laughed.
“Always focused on the truly important things, ain’t ya, Ruby?” Rocky said, still chuckling.
“Rocky, honey, at Christmas, a real tree is one of the truly important things.”
“Yes, Ruby,” Cash sighed. “This means a real tree.”
“Yes!” Ruby exclaimed. He and Katie gave each other high fives, both grinning. Cash looked suspiciously between the two of them.
“Please don’t tell me this was some elaborate ruse just so I’d cave on the tree thing?” Cash asked.
“Of course not,” Katie replied primly. “I actually planned on seducing you until you agreed to a real tree, but that’s not necessary now.”
“Nope, definitely is,” Cash said quickly. “In fact, Ruby, Rocky, you better go while Katie thoroughly convinces me we need a real tree.” They all laughed at Cash’s almost desperate voice, no one bothering to move.
“Sorry, Boss, but you already agreed to a real tree,” Ruby said. “Now we just need to decide if we’re going to some tree lot or cut down our own.”
“Tree lot?” Rocky asked, sounding horrified. “If you’re gonna have a real Christmas tree, you cut it down yourself. That’s the rule.”
“Since when?” asked Katie.
“Since always, hon. Actually, there’s a Christmas tree farm right outside Billings. We could make a weekend of it.”
“Oh, yeah, let’s!” Ruby exclaimed. “We could go shopping for gifts and I know Cash wanted Katie to look at some home decor. We could stay the night and go to the farm to get our tree the next day. Oh, this’ll be so much fun!”
“What’d you think, angel?” Cash asked. “Wanna go on a quick trip to Billings?”
“Honestly,” Katie said, “it sounds perfect.” Ruby squealed, clapping his hands.
“Oh, this is gonna be so much fun! When do you wanna go?” Ruby asked. “ I can make hotel reservations.”
“Why don’t we just go tomorrow?” Cash said. “I’ll do the reservations while I’m finding a company to move Katie’s belongings here.”
“Tomorrow?” Ruby cried, jumping to his feet. “ I gotta go pack.” Ruby rushed out of the door, Rocky calling after him-
“We’re staying for one night, Ruby! One! Don’t bring everything!” Rocky got up and grabbed his coat. “Oh, I better go check on him. Boss, I’ll let the hands know we’ll be gone the next two days and that dinner tonight will just be sandwiches in the bunkhouses and Ruby’s Christmas cookies. That way, you can close up the house early and we can get an early start tomorrow.”
“Sounds perfect,” said Cash. “Thanks, Rocky.”
“Have a good night, Rocky,” Katie called.
“You too, hon. I’ll see you both bright and early tomorrow.” Rocky walked out, leaving Cash and Katie alone.
“I’m gonna go ahead and lock up, angel,” Cash said. Katie stood up from the floor, stretching.
“I’ll grab the laptop from the office and start look for hotels.” Cash smiled at her and snagged Katie around the waist before she could leave.
“Think we’ll be able to behave ourselves in a hotel?” Cash asked teasingly.
“Cowboy, we don’t behave ourselves here! I feel like a hotel is just giving us permission to misbehave.”
“Good. Behaving’s overrated.” Cash gave Katie a lingering kiss, then pulled just a hair’s breadth away.
“Totally overrated,” Katie whispered, then captured his lips with her own, deepening the kiss. Before things got too out of control, Katie forced herself back, breathing hard. “Laptop, reservations, lock the doors. We should-”.
Cash broke her off with another kiss, his hands sliding under her sweater to feel her bare skin. Katie pulled away again, laughing.
“Just-just go lock up, okay? I’ll be in the office.” Katie turned to leave, then looked back. “And no, nothing is happening on the desk.” Cash actually pouted, making Katie laugh some more. “Go!”
Katie pushed Cash towards the front door before turning and walking toward the office. She smiled, her hand drifting up to touch her kiss-swollen lips.