Different Paths, Same Destination
Katie and Ruby sat on the porch, staring at the sunset. It was quiet and peaceful outside, everything Katie needed.
“It’s really beautiful here,” Katie almost whispered, not wanting to break the tranquility.
“I know,” Ruby said, sighing. “When I first saw this place, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to leave. So I just haven’t!” He chuckled softly, making Katie smile.
“Rocky said you’ve been here seven years?” she asked.
“That’s right, sugar,” Ruby replied. “I had some...well, some problems in a town a few counties over. Cash found me and brought me back here. Wasn’t supposed to be forever, but, well...”. Ruby trailed off, a slight frown on his face. He stared blankly ahead, lost in a memory.
“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, Ruby,” Katie said. “We all have our secrets.” Ruby looked over at her when she said that, but Katie was already staring at the plate in her lap.
“I’m not sure anything I tell you is a secret, sugar,” Ruby said, stretching out his legs in front of him. “Everyone around here knows how I ended up at Skyheart.” Katie glanced at him, silently urging him to continue. “I’m originally from Louisiana, small town, even smaller minds. Never really fit in, so when I was 16, I took off. Figured I’d find someplace I actually fit. Problem was, no matter where I went, it never felt right.”
“You’re always on the outside looking in,” Katie said quietly. She didn’t seem to even realize she said it, but Ruby nodded slowly, giving her a smile.
“Exactly,” he said. “So I just kept moving on. Picked up a bunch of random skills.”
“Wait,” Katie said, holding up her hand, a teasing note in her voice. “You’re more than just the best chef this side of the Mississippi? I don’t believe it!” Ruby laughed, setting his empty plate by his feet.
“It is hard to believe, since my culinary skills are oh so legendary, but I actually know quite a lot about construction. They’re always looking for cheap labor on construction sites, so I’d work until people became too uncomfortable around me, then I’d move on. Worked a lot of truck stop diners, too, which led to even more work in restaurants.”
“Why were people uncomfortable around you?” Katie asked. “You’re amazing.” She immediately blushed and looked down, obviously embarrassed by her compliment. Ruby grinned.
“Well, thank you, sugar. I think you’re pretty amazing yourself.” Katie’s blush got even darker and she refused to meet Ruby’s eyes. He knew he shouldn’t push her on this, not yet. “Anyway, found my way to Montana seven years ago. I was working on some oil pipeline and a few of the guys I worked with invited me out for some drinks. I jumped at the chance. Finally thought I was making some friends.”
Ruby shook his head, staring down at the porch. Katie tentatively reached over and laid her hand on his arm. Ruby looked at her, surprised, but then covered her hand with his own and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Katie gave him a small smile and withdrew her hand.
“Turns out they only wanted to take me out so they could beat on the faggot.” Ruby shook his head. “Biggest irony of it all is I’m not even gay.”
“You’re not?” Katie asked, then clapped her hand over her mouth. “I am so sorry, I shouldn’t have asked that.” Ruby just laughed.
“It’s all right, sugar. I know almost everyone around here assumes I am and I’m not bothered by that one bit. But, no, I’m asexual. Men, women, nobody does it for me. Sex is just not something I’m interested in. Now, other people’s sex lives, I love interfering in.” Katie laughed, shaking her head. Ruby smiled, then sighed. “Anyway, I was pretty drunk by the time they suggested we all go outside, so I didn’t think anything of it ‘til I was nailed in the stomach with a pipe.”
“Jesus Christ,” Katie said, her hand covering her mouth in shock.
“Yeah,” Ruby continued, “they were beating my ass pretty good and I was certain I was gonna die in that dirty alley. Then, out of nowhere, Cash showed up.”
“What?” Katie yelped in shock. “Cash saved you? Cash, our boss? That big, growly, scary cowboy? That Cash?” Ruby laughed, seemingly delighted by her description.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ruby said, “that Cash. It was five against one and Cash whooped ‘em all. He picked me up, carried me out of that alley, and drove me straight to a hospital. I never expected him to stick around, but when I opened my eyes again, he was sitting by my bedside. He introduced himself, told me about Skyheart, and asked if I wanted to come recuperate there. I said yes and I just haven’t left.”
“Wow,” Katie said, seeing Cash in a new light. “I don’t think anybody would do something like that for me. Not anymore.” Katie frowned suddenly, realizing she had said too much. Ruby scrutinized her for a few moments, then decided to just go for it.
“You don’t have any family, sugar?” he asked gently. There was a long pause as Katie stared up at the stars just beginning to form in the sky. Then she sighed and shook her head, looking directly at Ruby.
“My parents and my brother were killed in a drive-by when I was 15. We were all walking out of some cheap convenience store, and then... All these loud bangs started going off. My brother, he...”. Katie paused, her voice choking up with tears.
She continued, no longer looking at Ruby. “My brother jumped on top of me, shielding me. My mom and dad just, just fell. Right next to us on the pavement. I don’t really remember much after that. I woke up in the hospital and some cop told me there was a turf war going on between two gangs. The person they were trying to kill walked out of the store right before we did. My parents died almost instantly. My brother...”. Katie paused again, one tear sliding down her cheek that she hurriedly wiped away. “My brother died in the OR. A bullet had torn through his liver and they didn’t get to him fast enough. I was shot three times, but nothing critical. Once I was released from the hospital, I went into the system.”
“Oh, sugar,” Ruby said, the sympathy evident in his voice. “No grandparents, aunts, uncles?”
“No,” Katie said, the emotion leaving her voice. “There was no one.” There was a long silence, then Katie suddenly stood, grabbing her and Ruby’s plates. “You know, I’m, uh, I’m a little tired. I think I’ll wash these, then get some sleep.” Ruby stood too and carefully took the plates from her hands.
“One of the hands will do it,” Ruby said, giving Katie a smile. “We have a rotating kitchen schedule, so I never have to do the dishes. Just create fantabulous meals!” Ruby laughed, making Katie smile and breaking the uncomfortable tension. “Besides, I’m sure Cash is still up to show you your room and everything we set up.”
“Set up?” Katie asked.
“Oh, sugar, once I heard we were finally gonna have a girl on the ranch, I went out right away and got everything you could possibly need,” Ruby said, beaming at Katie. “Soaps, shampoos, lotions, tampons and pads. I also replaced the towels and all the bedding so it’s nice and homey. Not scary and utilitarian.” Katie stared at Ruby, her mouth hanging open in shock.
“But-but you didn’t even know me!” Katie exclaimed. “Why would you go to so much trouble?”
“Ah, hell, sugar, it wasn’t any trouble at all,” Ruby answered with a shrug. “Cash packed away all the nice, comfy touches Lilah had put on this house, so I needed to make sure you felt comfortable.”
“Why would he put away all the stuff his mom put around the house?” Katie asked, puzzled. Ruby sighed, his eyes sad.
“I think it hurt too much, having all these reminders of his mama and daddy. He’s changed a lot since they died, not all of it good.” Before Katie could ask about Cash and how he’d changed, Ruby started dragging her to the door. “C’mon, sugar, days start real early around here. Best get you settled.”
Katie followed Ruby quietly into the house, her mind whirling with all this new information about Cash.