Home - First Chapter
By Catherine MacDonald M. ED
Melinda slammed the receiver down. It had been one of
those days. Her secretary called in sick again, the
sixth time in two months. The copier jammed, spewing
paper everywhere. The fax machine refused to relinquish
its documents—the ones she needed. She spent the hot
humid afternoon in court, arguing a case she felt she
was destined to lose despite her client’s professions
of innocence, and she finally managed to drag her body
out of the office at nine.
She stepped inside her favorite take-out restaurant.
Shouts emanated from the kitchen, the air smelling of
hot oil and freshly cut chicken. An elderly woman, dressed
in black pantaloons, walked out.
“Miss Melinda, your food ready.” The old woman gave
Melinda a critical look before putting the white cartons
in a brown sack. “Just look at you, Missee, lean as
a willow. You working too hard. Need spend more time
with your family.”
Melinda laid some money on the counter. “Thanks for
the advice, Mrs. Chan.” She grabbed the warm bag. “I’ll
let Samantha know you’re looking out for her.”
Samantha rubbed against Melinda’s leg
when she walked in.
“Hungry, Sam?” She stroked the cat, set her take-out
and leather briefcase on the butcher block counters,
and opened a can of cat food. She scanned the mail—bills,
several credit card applications and circulars advertising
Labor Day sales. Her stomach growled. She picked up
the chow mein, nibbling while she scrutinized the new
fall fashions. The phone broke her contemplation of
Her friends in Boston knew her only as Melinda. Only
her family called her Mindy. “Aunt Dawn?”
She heard her aunt sniffle. “I’m afraid I have some
Melinda’s knees buckled, her stomach lurched. “Is it
Maggie?” Her grandmother was in her eighties and still
“Maggie’s fine. I don’t know how to tell you this. It’s
your father.” The line went silent. Melinda could hear
her aunt’s labored breathing.
“What’s wrong with Dad?” She had just talked to him
“Your father has suffered a heart attack.” Dawn cleared
her throat. “He’s dead, Mindy.”
Melinda dropped the circular. “What do you mean, he’s
dead?” Her father’s serene face flashed in her mind—long
and thin, leathery skin, once reddish-brown hair and
whiskers that had grayed.
“I’m so sorry. He was out feeding the horses after supper
and collapsed. Ben was with him and he yelled for your
mother to call 911, then he tried CPR, but by the time
the paramedics arrived he was gone. I’m so sorry. I
tried earlier, but you weren’t home and your answering
machine wasn’t on.”
Melinda glanced at her unplugged answering machine.
She had stopped using it because of solicitations. The
kitchen clock read ten—seven on the ranch. She felt
numb as she tried to wrap her mind around the news.
“Mindy, are you still there? We need you at home. Get
yourself to that airport and catch the first plane.
There are decisions to be made.”
“Is Maggie there?” she asked, longing to hear her voice.
She heard her aunt set the phone down. Melinda expected
her father to pick up the phone, tell her the latest
joke he had heard about the legal profession, tease
her about the traffic and humidity of Boston, and ask
her why she had paid such a ridiculous price for her
brownstone, reminding her that she could have purchased
acreage in Nevada—real land she could do something with.
She heard her grandmother pick up the phone and breathe
heavily. “Mindy, when are you coming home?”
“Oh, Gran. I can’t believe it.”
She heard her grandmother sniffle. “I can’t believe
he’s gone. He was supposed to bury me. I’ve lost my
Melinda broke into sobs. “I’ll get the first plane out
of here. How’s Mom?”
“Your mother’s almost catatonic. They just took your
“I’ll be there tomorrow, I promise. I’ll call with my
flight schedule. Tell Mom I’m on my way.”
Several telephone calls later, she wasn’t any closer
to going home. The only flight going west that night
was booked. The airline agent said she could go standby,
but if she could wait until morning, she could leave
on American’s nine-twenty to Dallas, where she could
have a two-hour layover. She would arrive in Reno at
seven thirty-two p.m. Melinda recited her MasterCard
number, scribbled the flights and gate numbers, and
glanced around her home. If she was traveling tomorrow,
she had things to do. She rushed around her home, picking
up dirty laundry, stacking dishes she had left scattered
throughout the rooms over the last few days into the
dishwasher, then called her boss and explained the situation.
“Take two weeks, Melinda,” Steve said. “You’re due a
vacation and we’ll figure it out around the office.
I remember how stressful the situation can be. I’ll
arrange for your cases to be put with associates until
your return. If you can return sooner, I’d appreciate
Melinda sighed. This was better than anticipated. Steve
was known for his callousness when it came to personal
problems. “My secretary, if she shows up, knows where
everything is. I’ll take my laptop so I can keep in
touch.” She gave Steve the ranch’s phone number and
hung up. Two weeks, she mused as she petted Samantha,
who was following her from room to room. That should
be enough time to help Mom and Maggie.
* * *
The three women in her father’s life were opposites.
Crystal, his wife, was an earthy, deeply religious woman
who grew her own vegetables, constructed crafts in the
evenings, and belonged to a quilting circle.
Maggie, his mother, was a maverick spirit, who first
came to Nevada from Boston in 1941, when he was just
a baby, to obtain a divorce from her first husband.
She had supported herself and her son by working for
a woman— another divorcee—raising and training horses,
performing at rodeos and other events around the West.
She met Chuck Maguire, fell in love, and they moved
to his sprawling cattle ranch in the Carson Valley.
While Chuck raised cattle, Maggie showed quarter horses,
competing in events around the state, taking home her
share of ribbons.
And then there was Melinda. She was an over-educated
lawyer, who loved shopping, antiques, tennis, opera,
and hated country life.
The phone rang as she was lugging her suitcases out
of the closet.
She recognized Ben’s voice, her father’s ranch hand
and confidant. “Oh, Ben. I can’t believe it.”
“I’m so sorry, Sugar. There was no warning, nothing.”
Ben’s deep voice broke. Melinda knew he was struggling.
He had worked for her father since she was a young girl.
“I’m going to pick you up at the airport. What time
is your flight arriving?”
“Oh, shoot. I forgot to call back. Tell them I’m sorry.”
She recited her flight schedule as the hot tears flooded
“It’ll be good to see you, Sugar,” Ben said, choking
with emotion. “It’s been way too long. Have a good flight.
I’ll tell the women for you. Don’t worry about a thing
* * *
She collapsed in bed hours later. She had managed
to contact a friend, a woman she worked out with, who
lived several doors down and owed her several favors.
Julie was a designer and always jetting off to exotic
places, leaving Melinda her plants, an aged cat who
didn’t get along with Samantha, and the job of picking
up her mail and paper. Julie agreed to return the favor
in Melinda’s absence.
Melinda stared at the ceiling, sleep eluding her. She
was concerned about what to do with her mother and the
ranch. She thought of bringing her back for a visit
after everything was finalized, but she didn’t think
her mother would come. Crystal detested Boston; the
traffic scared her, she didn’t like the pollution, the
crowds, the noises. And she made every excuse she could
not to get onto a plane. Her mother had only been to
Boston once, and that had been when Melinda graduated
from college. Melinda remembered trying to make the
trip memorable. She had planned day trips, taking her
mother and father to see many of the historical sites
around the city. They rode the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard
and even spent a night in a quaint bed and breakfast
on the Cape. But Crystal had been edgy and nervous,
desperately missing her animals and garden. After that
visit, Melinda had decided it was easier to go home.
Once a year she took a week and spent it on the ranch
with her parents. She spent the evenings with her grandmother.
Maggie would complain about how the city folks were
ruining the valley by building their designer homes
around golf courses. She often reminded Melinda that
she would rather die on horseback than succumb to the
horrors of golf and its silly rules and preppy clothes.
She tossed and turned, struggling with the news, the
freshly laundered sheets becoming tangled around her
long legs. She couldn’t grasp the fact that she’d never
see her father again, hear his soothing voice, or smell
the faint wisp of tobacco on his worn flannel shirts.
Finally, she decided it was no use and threw off the
bed covers, dragging her body out of bed. She glanced
at the photo she kept on her dresser of her father.
He was leaning against the weathered barn, a sly smile
on his face, the familiar tilt to his cowboy hat. She
picked up the picture and clutched it to her heart.
John Powell had been a well-loved veterinarian in the
Carson Valley, south of Carson City, the capital of
Nevada. He’d run a small practice out of his barn and
boarded horses. He was a quiet man who often felt more
at ease in the company of the animals he so lovingly
tended than in the presence of people. His reserved
and soft-spoken manner was comforting to be around,
and he had been the buffer between all the women in
his life when Melinda stormed through her teenage years.
She stood in the shower, letting the hot water pummel
her body. What would happen to her mother? Crystal had
spent her entire life devoted to her husband and the
ranch. Once Melinda had thought that she might go back
to work after she left for Harvard, but Crystal tackled
more projects on the sprawling ranch, added more animals
to her menagerie, and volunteered at her church.
Crystal had many friends, but her closest friend was
Dawn, Crystal’s older sister by eleven months, lived
in Carson City. She worked as a hairdresser—she called
herself a stylist now—and had three grown children.
Dawn seemed larger than life, from her infectious laugh
and snapping wad of gum to her frosted bouffant hairstyle,
her costume jewelry and flashy clothes. The last time
Melinda had been home, her aunt had confided that she
was giving up men. “I’m no good with them,” she said.
Dawn had been married and divorced three times.
Melinda toweled off, opened her closet and began stuffing
clothes into suitcases. She pulled out a black sheath,
several pairs of designer jeans, long-sleeved shirts,
her faded gray Harvard sweatshirt that she had worn
since her undergraduate days, a few sweaters, shorts,
and tee shirts. After she was packed and Julie had picked
up Samantha and the houseplants, she walked around her
recently furnished home, paused, and ran her hand along
the smooth leather of the couch that had just arrived
last week, and sighed. She dragged her suitcases out
to the front step and waited.
* * *
The flight to Dallas was jammed, with babies crying,
the flight attendants looking harried. She found her
row, squeezed into the center seat, then shoved her
computer and briefcase under the seat in front of her,
avoiding eye contact with her seatmates. The elderly
gentleman next to her fumbled with his seat belt and
asked her where she was headed. She replied, then closed
her eyes and folded her hands. She heard the flight
attendant recite the safety procedures and felt the
jet move away from the terminal and take its place in
the long line.
“We’re clear for take-off,” the pilot announced. “Flight
attendants, take your seats.”
The jet raced down the runway and lifted off. Melinda
opened her eyes and watched her adopted hometown disappear
into the distance.
The jet hit a pocket of turbulence. Melinda closed her
eyes and tried to sleep. The child behind her kicked
her seat, the two women in front talked loudly, but
Melinda still managed to drift off.
The pilot announced their descent into the Dallas airport.
Melinda tightened her seat belt and glanced at her watch.
She had several hours before she would board the plane
bound for Reno.