Skyheart Ranch

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Peaceful Wintery Days


Two days before Christmas, all of the contents of Katie’s storage locker in Chicago arrived at Skyheart. Katie and Ruby carried most of the boxes to the second floor, then enlisted Cash and the rest of the hands to carry the really heavy boxes upstairs. Katie didn’t have much in the storage unit, but it was enough that the boxes took up a corner of the family room. She found the two boxes labeled decorations and left them by the Christmas tree.

“See, it was a good thing we left space on the tree,” Ruby remarked. “Now you can add your family ornaments too.”

Everyone at Skyheart had ended up helping decorate. Two days after they brought the tree back from Billings, a huge snowstorm covered the ranch and the hands stayed at the big house for the three day long blizzard. Everyone ended up decorating the tree and the house while Ruby made Christmas treats like a madman. Those three days were exceptionally meaningful for Katie, as she felt she finally bonded with the ranch hands.

“What do you think? Wait for Cash and Rocky or start decorating ourselves?” Katie asked Ruby, standing in front of their gaily decorated tree.

“Let’s wait,” said Ruby. “I’m sure Cash is gonna want to know the stories behind the special Christmas ornaments. It’ll be a nice look at Katie’s Christmas’ Past!” Ruby threw his arm up in the air, as if motioning to a huge billboard that advertised Katie’s past holidays.

Katie just laughed and settled back down on the couch with Ruby, holding a mug of hot chocolate in her hands. The furniture she and Cash had picked out in Billings wasn’t being delivered until the new year, so the house was still rather bare (except for the excess of Christmas decorations everywhere).

“I haven’t had a happy Christmas in years,” Katie said, taking a sip if her hot chocolate. “I’m really looking forward to this one.”

“Aw, sugar, I know things have been hard but this is your home now,” Ruby said, putting his arm around Katie so she could snuggle into his side. “We haven’t had a real super happy exciting over the top holiday extravaganza since Lilah and Eli died. This year is gonna be special for all of us.”

“What were they like?” Katie asked Ruby. “Cash’s parents? It still hurts him to talk about them, so I haven’t pushed.” Ruby took a deep breath, staring at the tree covered in Skyheart Christmas ornaments. He sighed, then looked at Katie, giving her a sad smile.

“They were wonderful. You know, when Cash first brought me here, after those assholes attacked me, I figured I’d have to leave as soon as possible. That no one on a manly cattle ranch would want someone like me around. But Lilah and Eli... It was like I was already a part of their family. They loved me right away. So did Cash and Rocky. I know some of the hands found me a little strange, but they all warmed up to me too.”

“And would that have anything to do with your glorious cooking skills?” Katie asked teasingly. Ruby chuckled, gently nudging her with his wool sock covered foot.

“I’m sure that helped. You know, there was this one night, a week or so after I got here... I’d been staying in one of the guest rooms, trying not to bother anyone, but I’d started having nightmares about what happened. Well, I mean, you get that.” Katie gave Ruby a sad half smile and nodded.

“Anyway, I woke up with this shout, breathing hard, tears running down my face. All of a sudden, my door opened and these arms just wrapped around me, holding me as I cried. It was Lilah. She had noticed how hard a time I was having and so she started leaving her and Eli’s bedroom door open, so she could hear if I was struggling. We sat there for hours, her just holding me, stroking my back. Even humming little lullabies. I’d never had anyone treat me like that, not even my own mama.” Ruby gave Katie a sweet smile and she grabbed his hand, squeezing it.

“She sounds amazing,” Katie said. “I wish I could have met her.”

“Oh, sugar, she would have loved you, trust me on that. Both she and Eli would have. Plus, they would have been thrilled Cash was settling down. They started grilling him about grandkids the day he turned 18!”

“18? Seriously?” Katie asked, shaking her head and laughing. “That would have been way too much pressure!”

“Well, that, and you only would’ve been 12,” Ruby teased. “Probably not the best age for kids.” They both laughed, then turned as the front door opened. Rocky and Cash came in, bundled up in winter coats and scarves, stomping to get the snow off their boots.

“Uh-oh,” Rocky said with a laugh. “Whenever they start laughing like that, there’s bound to be trouble.” Rocky smiled at Katie and Ruby, who started laughing again. Ruby got up to get two more mugs of hot chocolate and Katie went to take Cash and Rocky’s coats to hang them up near the fireplace to dry.

“We were just plotting,” Katie said with a shrug. “What can I say?” Cash gentled grabbed Katie around the waist and pulled her back to him.

“Plotting, huh?” Cash rubbed his nose against Katie’s before giving her a sweet kiss. She smiled up at him.

“Everyone should plot once in a while. It’s healthy.”

“To plot?” Cash asked her.

“Hey, it’s not like we’re plotting world domination. Well, at least not today.” Katie winked at Cash and Rocky laughed when Cash gave her a gentle swat on her ass.

“Yeah, no world domination until later,” Cash said. “Maybe after Christmas.”

“Yes, sir, Boss,” Ruby said, handing Cash his hot chocolate and saluting. “Katie and I will take over the world after Christmas. Well, I mean, then there’s her birthday, we should probably wait until after that. Oh, and the hands come back in February, it might be difficult to plan with all that craziness. And then there’s Valentine’s Day, no one wants to deal with world domination then. And then March, well...”.

Everyone was laughing by that point and Katie started pelting Ruby with marshmallows.

“Okay, okay, we’ll find an appropriate domination time that doesn’t interfere with out busy schedules!” she said.

“That’s all I ask,” Ruby replied primly, taking a big handful of marshmallows and stuffing them into his face, ruining his elegant gentleman demeanor and making everyone laugh.

They finished decorating the tree, using Katie’s family ornaments. She was surprised how happy seeing the pieces of her childhood made her. She had expected to feel sad, but surrounded by her Skyheart family, she realized the past didn’t have to stay sad. She now had people to share her family with, people who would understand and love them too.

Christmas was a wonderful day at Skyheart. The ten-man ranch hand crew came over to the big house around 10am and brought breakfast, since Ruby was fully focused on Christmas dinner. They all opened presents together, and Katie was surprised, and incredibly moved, that each of the hands had gotten her something: nothing outrageous or expensive, but small and meaningful. Katie loved the hand-carved ornament Rocky gave her, a miniature of the big house and he was utterly tickled with the framed photos of him with their family.

Katie’s gifts to everyone were photographs; pictures of all of them spending time together or just idyllic pictures of the ranch. Cash started immediately hanging up his gifts right away, making everyone laugh. The pictures really were beautiful, though. Katie had an eye for photography and could capture complete candid moments between people and make them look beautiful. Her nature photography seemed to capture the best parts of Skyheart, from green pastures to early morning fog and sunsets over the lake.

Ruby gave Katie a bright pink sparkly scarf and mittens set, with a purple sparkly sweater he made himself. Katie immediately put it on and, although the hands teased her a bit, gave Ruby an enormous hug, knowing the time that would have gone into making something so personal. Ruby was obviously pleased she liked it so much, a blush spreading across his cheeks.

Ruby, for his part, hung up a picture of him and Katie in the kitchen, saying he wanted to be able to look at the most beautiful person at Skyheart while he was cooking. When the hands teased him, asking if he meant himself or Katie, he just tossed his head, saying if he wanted to look at himself, he would have just hung up a mirror.

Cash’s gifts to Katie were both practical and sweet. One of them were sweaters his mother had knit (hoping to not so subtly nudge Cash into bringing a woman home) and Katie just so happened to be the perfect size to fit them. She was thrilled to have something that brought her even closer to Cash, his family, and the ranch.

His second present made her blush, but also brought tears to her eyes. It was a hand-carved cradle, with homemade blankets and baby clothes. Cash told her it had all been his when he was a baby and his parents saved them for his children. His mother had knit over a dozen baby blankets (hoping for brothers and sisters for Cash), and when it became obvious she wouldn’t have anymore kids, she saved them all for Cash’s children. Cash’s father had made the cradle, carving his and Lilah’s initials into the side.

The hands gently teased both Cash and Katie, but it was obvious to all of them how deeply they loved each other and the idea of babies at Skyheart excited everyone. Ruby’s Christmas dinner was amazing and everyone ended up staying late into the night at Skyheart, singing carols and telling stories.

New Year’s Eve and Day were spent in much the same way. They had a little party for the hands that stayed on the ranch instead of traveling to Billings for New Years. Katie and Hank would trade off singing songs, sometimes singing beautiful duets. New Year’s Day was spent mostly eating Ruby’s fantastic ‘Football Watchin’ Food’ and watching the college bowl games.

Katie’s 22nd birthday was equally chill, with everyone coming over for a big, early dinner. Katie was shocked to find out the hands had all chipped in to buy her her own acoustic guitar. She briefly panicked and asked Hank if this meant he was leaving, but he laughed and shook his head, saying he’d become real comfortable at Skyheart and had no plans to move on anytime soon. They all sang, laughed and played games well into the night.

For Katie, the last few months had been perfect. She was in a healthy relationship with a wonderful man she loved with all her heart, she had a best friend she adored, a pseudo-grandfather who loved her as much as she loved him, and close friends. Life was finally starting to feel hopeful again.

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