The New Girl
Cash was in Barn 3 when Rocky walked in.
“Oh, good, you’re back. Pick up the new hire okay?” Cash asked. Rocky joined Cash, turning the hay in the stalls and adding new hay where the rest had been spoiled.
“Yeah, yeah,” Rocky said, looking uncomfortable. “She’s...well, she’s definitely a sweet, blittle thing.” Cash frowned, worried about the tone in Rocky’s voice.
“Something wrong with her?” Cash asked. “You don’t think she’s cut out for this life?”
Most people weren’t. Living and working on the ranch could be lonely, with only the other workers to socialize with. It was hard, back-breaking work to run a ranch, and even if the new hire was there just to do the books and inventory, she’d still have quite a lot to do. Ranches were full of different paperwork: permits, grants, loans, receipts, order forms. Cash had been dealing with all of that since his parents died and he knew he wasn’t doing the greatest job.
“No, no, I think she’ll fit in real well here,” Rocky said, taking off his ten gallon hat to brush back his thinning white hair. “Think she could be real happy.” Cash had known Rocky his entire life, so he knew when his foreman wasn’t telling him everything.
“What’s wrong with her, Rock?” Cash bluntly asked.
“Nothing, boss, nothing at all. It’s just...” Rocky sighed, leaning against the pitchfork he was using. “How much did she tell you? About her background?”
“Not much,” Cash replied. “From Tallahassee. Has an associate’s degree in business management, never worked on a ranch before. Said she was 24, but I’m not sure that’s true.” Rocky chuckled.
“Nah, boss, she’s definitely not 24. I’d 20, maybe 21. Well, that’s just how she looked to me. Her eyes, though...” Rocky trailed off, shaking his head sadly. “Well, they looked like she was nearing her 80s, all the pain in them.” That stopped Cash dead in his tracks.
“What do you mean?” Cash asked sharply. “What pain?” Cash was a pretty tolerant guy; very few things made him angry. But a defenseless person getting hurt was something he wouldn’t tolerate. That’s how he’d met Ruby. A few guys had jumped him outside of a bar, beating the shit out of him and calling him every derogatory name in the book. Cash immediately ran into the fray. He didn’t even think about it. He sent two of those guys to the hospital and brought Ruby back to Skyheart to heal. It was supposed to be temporary, but Ruby fell in love with Skyheart and they fell in love with him. He was a part of their family now. Cash considered Ruby to be his brother.
Rocky cleared his throat, looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable. “Look, I’m not sure what happened to her, but someone definitely hurt that girl, boss. She’s a skittish as a new colt. Can barely look you in the eye and always seems to be waiting for someone to hit her.” Cash’s hands tightened on his pitchfork, his knuckles turning white from his death grip.
“Jesus,” Cash mumbled. “If she’s uncomfortable around you, what’s gonna happen when she’s in a house full of rowdy hands? I gotta go talk to her.” Rocky grabbed Cash’s arm before he could walk past him to the big house.
“She might be afraid of you, boss,” Rocky said gently. “You’re all big and growly, which is the last thing she needs right now.”
“Growly?” Cash raised an eyebrow at Rocky, not even trying to hide the smirk on his face.
“Oh, shut up,” Rocky said, turning red. “It was something Ruby said.”
“Of course it was.” Cash grinned, but then he thought about the girl in his house and his smile faded. “I gotta talk to her sometime, Rock. Better it’s before dinner.” Rocky released Cash, but got closer so no one could overhear their conversation.
“Just be careful with her,” Rocky said quietly. “Gentle. She’s a real sweet thing, pretty as a picture, and obviously smart since she knows all this computer nonsense. But she’s definitely hurting and it could take her a long time to actually feel safe here.”
Cash nodded, then started walking towards the big house, a frown marring his handsome face.