Home Sweet Home
Cash Buchanan wiped his face and the back of his neck with the red neckerchief his momma had given him when he was eight years old. It was threadbare in most places, but Cash couldn’t bear to part with it. That neckerchief and his daddy’s ten gallon hat meant more to him than almost anything. It was a way to keep his parents close all the time.
‘Wonder if Rocky’s back with the new hire,’ Cash thought. ‘Gonna be strange, having a lady back on the ranch.’
No woman had lived on the ranch since Cash’s momma and he had a strict rule about the hands bringing women to the ranch.
‘Can’t just have random women running around all over the place. They could get hurt. The cattle could trample ‘em, they could get lost on the ranch, it’s definitely big enough,’ Cash thought, glancing around at the ranch from atop his horse, Stella (named for the star on her head). Skyheart Ranch stretched on for miles in every direction. It was one of the biggest ranches in Montana, something Cash took quite a bit of pride in. He smiled, thinking about how he had grown the ranch since his daddy’s death and how proud his parents would be to see it flourishing.
‘Yeah, they’d be proud. Right up until they realized I still haven’t settled. No wife, no babies.’ Cash sighed. He knew eventually he’d have to find a wife, but he just couldn’t imagine loving anyone the way he loved the ranch.
‘It’s not just land, it’s my home. My family’s blood, sweat, tears make up Skyheart. It’s as much a part of me as Momma and Pops were.’ Cash glanced towards the west, where the big house and the barns were located. He noticed how low the sun was getting and gave Stella a nudge to start heading home.
‘Home. What a joke. That huge house hasn’t been a home in four years. Not since-’. Cash abruptly cut off that train of thought. Thinking about his parents, about how things used to be, hurt too much.
‘Better go and help the boys lay down hay for the horses. Rocky must be back by now and I wanna try and meet the girl before all the dinner craziness. Girl...hmm...said she was 24 on the phone, but she didn’t sound any older than fifteen. Hope she wasn’t lying about her age. I don’t have time for runaways.’
Cash rode Stella home, thinking about how things were going to change with a lady back on the ranch. He hoped he hadn’t made a mistake hiring her, but she had sounded so desperate for the job.
Katie got out of the truck, in awe of the beautiful house in front of her.
‘This house was made with love,’ she thought. ‘Made for a family. Made to be a home.’ There was a wraparound porch with benches and porch swings every few feet. The house was all wood and instead of being painted, it looked as if a protective seal was used to protect the wood and let its natural beauty shine through. It was three stories tall, which might have looked ridiculous on any other farm house, but instead it made the building look even more homey. The windows were open on the first floor, with curtains blowing in the light breeze.
As Katie stepped closer to the house, she could hear music playing and someone singing horribly off-key. She looked around her, letting the tranquility of the ranch seep into her bones and for the first time in what felt like forever, Katie felt a genuine smile cover her face.
“Well, now, you look happy!” Rocky exclaimed. “Take it that means you approve?” Katie gave a small laugh and looked back at the house.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I definitely approve. It’s beautiful.” Rocky grinned and motioned for her to follow him up the stairs of the porch to the wide front door.
“Well, c’mon in, hon, and see your new home,” Rocky said. Katie followed Rocky inside, gripping her backpack and trying not to get too excited about the house and, perhaps, a new future here.
‘Don’t get your hopes up, things fall apart, they always fall apart,’ Katie repeated to herself. ‘Just keep your head down, do your work, and maybe you’ll be able to stay here for awhile.’
As Katie stepped into the house behind Rocky, she heard the familiar strains of Bad Romance, accompanied by some of the most awful singing she had ever heard.
“That’ll be Ruby,” Rocky said, shaking his head and laughing. “C’mon, I’ll introduce you before I go.”
“Wait, go?” Katie asked, slightly panicked at the idea of losing the one familiar face she knew here. “Go where?”
Rocky chuckled. “Gotta help the boys bed down the horses. Got back in time to get a little work done.”
Katie felt horribly guilty when he said that. “Rocky, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize you were missing work to come get me. Oh, I’m just so-”
Rocky abruptly cut her off. “Katie, hon, there’s always work to be done. Don’t you worry a bit about me missing some, spending the afternoon with you was much better than the work I missed out on.”
Katie blushed and looked down on the hardwood floors. ‘I’m not used to people saying nice things to me. I wonder if everyone here is as nice as Rocky.’
Rocky gave her a gentle smile and gestured with his hand. “C’mon, hon, the kitchen’s this way.” He led her through a huge living room that was minimally decorated and into the kitchen. The whole house seemed to have been built as an open floor plan, so a person could see into all the rooms.
“Ruby, would you turn that awful noise off?” Rocky lightheartedly grumbled. “Got someone here I want you to meet.”
Katie stood at the edge of the kitchen, right by a counter, and watched as the most beautiful Black man she had ever seen turned around and glared at Rocky.
“Rocky, just because you can’t appreciate beautiful art doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t.” Ruby was dressed in tight, black jeans, an oversized, purple sweater that hung off one shoulder, and wearing an overly-bedazzled apron that threw off sparkling lights whenever he moved. “Besides, why on Earth are you in my kitchen at-” Ruby abruptly stopped, his eyes zeroing in on Katie. His jaw dropped and then he squealed, running towards her with wide open arms. He pulled her into such a tight hug, Katie felt the breath leave her body.
“This goddess can’t possibly be our new computer whiz?” Ruby asked, pulling back to examine Katie’s face. “This darling belongs on billboards and in magazines, gazing scornfully out at her adoring public!”
Rocky rolled his eyes, but he had an amused smile on his face and genuine affection in his eyes as he looked at Ruby. “Ruby, this is Katie Jones, our new hire. Katie, Ruby Robicheaux, our cook.”
Ruby put a hand on his hip and glared at Rocky. “Um, excuse you. I am a chef! I create art and I deserve respect for the masterful dishes I serve you cretins everyday.” Ruby turned back to Kate, seemingly scrutinizing everything from her hair to her clothes to her shoes. Katie felt slightly uncomfortable with Ruby’s very thorough examination, but she also didn’t feel any fear around Ruby.
“Oh, sugar, when was the last time someone fed you? Come, come, come, let me get you some food!” Ruby practically dragged Katie into the kitchen, then pointed to one of the barstools surrounding the enormous kitchen island. “Sit, sugar. Dinner will be ready soon, but I know I have some cookies, maybe a cake, ooh, or maybe a sandwich wrap...” Ruby trailed off, muttering to himself as he went in search of food.
Rocky grinned and turned to Katie. “You all right here, hon?”
Katie nodded and smiled. “Yes, thank you. And thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come and pick me up. I really appreciate it.”
Rocky waved a hand in the air, brushing away her thanks. He grinned when Ruby set a plate overflowing with food in front of Katie, then turned back around to poke through more cabinets.
“Trust me, you’re in good hands here. I’ll see you again real soon at dinner.” Rocky grinned at Katie as he walked out, leaving her alone with Ruby and more food than she had eaten in probably a month.