Katie ran into the pantry at the back of the kitchen just as the front door was thrown open. All she could hear were loud, male voices and what sounded like hundreds of stomping feet. She pushed herself as far back into the pantry as possible, which, unfortunately, wasn’t very far, as the pantry was wide but not deep.
‘Oh god, oh god, oh god,’ Katie kept thinking. Her hands were visibly shaking and a cold sweat was forming on her forehead. She felt herself starting to pant for air, recognizing the beginning symptoms of a panic attack.
‘No, no, no, not now, please not now, Mr. Buchanan will fire me for sure if I have a panic attack my first day here. What am I supposed to do again? Breathe? Breathe deeply? How the fuck am I supposed to do that when I can’t catch my breath to begin with?!’ As Katie cursed her former therapist and tried to breathe, she listened to Ruby jokingly chastise the hands.
“I said a line, boys, not some mosh pit. Line! If you spill anything, I refuse to make more!” There seemed to be equal parts laughter and groans at this pronouncement.
“C’mon, Ruby, you wouldn’t let us starve, would ya?” a voice called out. “Yeah, Ruby, we’re so hungry!” another voice said.
“Y’all are lucky Ruby’s even feeding you at all when you can’t even make a proper chow line!” Rocky said loudly, his voice cutting over all the chatter.
“Yes, thank you, Rocky!” Ruby cried. “At least one of you gluttonous heathens respects order and discipline.”
“Can’t help it,” another voice chimed in. “Your food’s just too good.” There were pleased murmurs of agreement, as it became less noisy, with the sounds of chairs being pulled out all around the tables in the dining room. The loud, raucous conversations had basically stopped and the only sounds were silverware moving across plates and quiet requests for salt, pepper, or anything else already set out on the tables for dinner.
“Hey, Ruby?” Rocky called. “You make anymore lemonade?”
“Yes, sir,” Ruby responded. “I’ll grab it out of the fridge.” Footsteps sounded, getting closer to the pantry. Katie pushed herself into a corner, hoping that, for once, her prayers to be invisible were actually answered.
“Katie?” Ruby was staring at her with a bemused expression on his face.
‘Well, yet again, my invisibility powers have failed me,’ Katie thought morosely. ‘Fan-fucking-tastic.’
“Sugar, what’re you doing?” Ruby asked. “Aren’t you hungry?” Katie just stared at him, still unable to catch her breath. Ruby’s frown deepened and he took a step closer to her. Katie jumped and pushed herself even further into the corner, the pantry’s shelves digging into her back. A look of understanding crossed Ruby’s face and he gave her a sad smile.
“Sugar, I’m gonna grab that lemonade, then how about you and I go out and eat on the porch?” Ruby nodded his head toward the kitchen door that led out to the wraparound porch. “Plenty of comfy places to sit and we’ve got our choice of spectacular views. What do you say?” Katie gave a stiff nod and started to slowly untangle herself from the shelves.
“Hey, Ruby?” Cash called out. “Is Katie back there?” Cash’s voice caused Katie to swing herself back into the pantry, her back giving a rather painful sounding thud against the shelves. Katie, however, didn’t even seem to notice hitting her back. She kept her eyes trained on the kitchen, waiting for Cash to find her, then promptly fire her.
“Just, uh, just wait right here, sugar,” Ruby said gently. “I’ll go talk to him.” Katie found herself sliding down to the floor. She wrapped her arms around her knees and buried her face in them, not wanting to see Mr. Buchanan. Ruby walked back into the kitchen, shaking his head at Cash and gesturing for Cash to follow him into the hall.
“Boss, Katie and I are gonna go eat out on the porch, if that’s all right,” Ruby said quietly. Cash sighed, running his hands through his shaggy hair, causing some of it to stick up at weird angles.
“Shit. She’s freaking out, isn’t she?” Cash murmured. Ruby grimaced and nodded. “Yeah, yeah, of course you can eat on the porch, but do you think you could get her to just pop her head into the dining room? I want the hands to know what she looks like so they’re not surprised when they see her around the house.” Ruby glanced back towards the kitchen.
“I can ask, Boss, but, well...” Ruby trailed off. “It might be better coming from you. She’s knows I can’t fire her.” Cash reared back in surprise.
“Fire her?” Cash asked, sounding point blank offended. “Ruby, what the hell are you talking about? I’m not gonna fire her!”
“Boss,” Ruby sighed, “I know that and you know that, but that scared girl in there doesn’t. It might be nice if you put her mind at ease right away.” Cash nodded slowly.
“All right. I’ll go talk to her. But, uh, can you just make sure you’re close by? So she doesn’t feel threatened?”
“You’ve noticed it too, then,” Ruby said.
“Actually, no, but Rocky mentioned how...”. Cash trailed off, trying to figure out how to phrase what he wanted to say. “Rocky mentioned how nervous she seemed and I want her to feel safe here.”
“She’s in the pantry,” Ruby told Cash. “I’m gonna grab the lemonade, then I’ll be right back. Just, uh, just don’t get too close. And it might be a good idea to get down on her level.” Cash frowned.
“I don’t understand.”
“If you’re towering over her, she’s not gonna hear a word you say,” Ruby explained. “She’s just gonna be scared.”
“Right,” Cash said, frowning. “Okay, I’ll be in the back.” Ruby nodded and turned to the fridge, grabbing two big pitchers of lemonade and headed toward the dining room. Cash slowly walked to the back of the kitchen, his heart breaking when he saw Katie huddled in the corner, hiding her face from the rest of the room. Cash knelt down, keeping a good four feet between himself and Katie.
“Angel?” Cash said softly. Katie lifted her head and stared at Cash, her eyes wide.
“M-m-mister Buchanan...I, um, I-” Cash gently cut her off.
“Ruby let me know you’re going on the porch for dinner. I was hoping I could introduce you to the hands real quick so they’ll recognize you when they see you working around the house.” Katie stared at Cash, confused.
‘Why isn’t he firing me?’ Katie thought. ‘Wait, no, I don’t want him to, just, just go with him! Pull yourself together and go with him.’ Katie slowly nodded and picked herself up off the pantry floor. Cash gave her a sweet, encouraging smile and led her to the entrance of the dining room.
“Boys,” Cash said, getting everyone’s attention. “This is Katie Jones. She’s our new bookkeeper...accountant...person. Ugh, whatever, she’s here to do the numbers so I don’t have to anymore.” The men laughed and greeted Katie, who smiled back shyly. Ruby walked over to the entrance and gently took Katie’s hand.
“Y’all are gonna be seeing Miss Katie around, so be nice!” Ruby said sternly. More grumbling could be heard from the men, but it was apparently too much work to form full sentences when there was still food to be eaten.
“C’mon, sugar, I’ll grab you a plate and we’ll go sit outside.” Katie and Ruby walked into the dining room, with Cash staring after them. Rocky walked over to Cash, quickly noting the look of admiration on his face.
“She’s a real sweet girl, ain’t she, Boss?” Rocky asked, grinning inside. Cash just nodded, still watching as Katie and Ruby headed outside. “Hope you’ll give her time to get settled, Boss. She needs friends now, and a safe place to call home, before anything else.”
“Don’t worry, Rock,” Cash said rather absentmindedly. “She’s safe here. I’ll make sure of it.” Cash wandered off down the hall toward the bedrooms, forgetting to grab dinner. Rocky just chuckled, shaking his head. As he left the big house to walk back to his cabin, he couldn’t help the grin spreading over his face. All he could think was that Katie was going to bring some much needed changes to the ranch.