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Coming Home - First Chapter
    (New Release)
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.”

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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 leather coats.
“Mindy?”
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 bad news.”
Melinda’s knees buckled, her stomach lurched. “Is it Maggie?” Her grandmother was in her eighties and still horseback riding.
“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 last week.
“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.”

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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 only son.”
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 father away.”
“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 it.”
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.
“Mindy?”
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 her eyes.
“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 here.”

* * *

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 her sister.
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.

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