Prodigal

Nora stood over the grave of her father, Kevin Rivers. The tombstone read: "Beloved husband, friend, and father." A she stared at the "father" part and her brow furrowed. She never, in a million years, thought he'd have had that part etched in stone.

She bent down and, with a heavy sigh, tossed a single rose onto the grave. "I'm sorry, Dad." She was about to turn to leave when she saw a middle-aged woman standing behind her who smiled at her meekly.

"Nora," her cousin, Jane Coolidge, said. "How have you been?"

"As good I can be," Nora said. She wanted to hug her, but decided that wouldn't be a good idea. "You?"

"Same. It's good to see you." Jane opened her arms and went over to embrace her cousin.

Nora smiled. "It's good to see you too. When did you find out I was in town?"

Jane smiled back. "A hunch. How long are you planning on staying?"

"A while, why?"

"I was wondering if you wanted to grab lunch sometime?"

Nora looked surprised. "Sorry, I just..."

"Didn't expect anyone would be happy to see you? I know, you're not popular around here but I don't care. We're family, and that's all I care about. Where are you going to be staying?"

"Well..."
---

Four hours later.

Nora stood in the doorway of her father's house, her childhood home. Immediately, she felt like she didn't deserve to be here.

"His will stated that you be given the house," The lawyer told her. "As well as a large portion of his estate."

The words echoed in her mind still. And still she couldn't understand why, after all these years, her father had left her anything. Even now the events that transpired almost twenty-seven years ago in that very doorway felt like they happened yesterday. The fight, her storming out into the night and on a journey that went in a bitter circle. Back to this spot.

She wandered into the living room, things had changed a lot. The television was a sleek, slim high definition plasma screen, a far cry from the old boxy monstrosity she had spent Thanksgivings watching football games with her father. The furniture was new also. A large brown sofa and some matching chairs. The only exception was the same old, ratty recliner in the middle of the room, the best spot in the house. Just the way her father liked it. She couldn't help but smile at it.

Nora soon found herself making her way up the stairs and to her old bedroom. Much to her utter shock, it was as she had left it all those years ago. The bed had been made, and things tidied up, but it was all there. As if her father had expected her to come back.

It was then she couldn't hold back the tears anymore. She wished she could turn back the clock to that moment and just throw her arms around her father and tell her how sorry she really was and undo the last twenty-seven years.

---

Brady Ranch, later that day.

Nick sat atop his horse, Lightning, and gazed at the mountains. It was another crisp, cool day in Silver Spur. He enjoyed days like this. Lived for them. Nothing compared to the beauty of this place.

The only eyesore was the Winstead Ski Resort that, even from here on the Brady poperty, could be seen clearly with the naked eye. Personally, Nick held no ill will towards the Winsteads or the resort. It brought in tourists, and tourism was crucial to keeping a place like Silver Spur alive. However, Nick's boss, James Brady, wasn't as live-and-let-live as Nick when it came to the Winsteads.

But, again, Nick didn't really bother to think about such drama, he was happy just doing his job. Still, there was a sense of unease in the air that left a bad taste in his mouth. He couldn't quite place it, as it was more of a gut feeling more than anything, but it was there gnawing at him.

"Nick, I did a headcount." Nick's friend and fellow rancher, Aldo, came riding up. Aldo as and older man who had worked the Brady ranch for decades. He was close friends with the family as well, and served as a mentor to many of the young ranchers, including Nick. He was shaped like a pear. A wide waist and gut but narrow shoulders tapering up to a bald head with a crown of faint gold hair usually covered by a large Stetson. Despite his portly appearance, Aldo was an incredibly strong fellow, not the kind to mess with if you were looking to pick a fight. Still, Aldo was more of a teddy bear than anything else. "We're missing five."

"Dammit," Nick sighed, "Alright, I'll go with you. See if we can't find them." Missing cattle was a more-or-less normal occurrence, Nick figured they had wandered off to the small watering hole on the far end of the property, unused since they put in a larger one closer to the farmhouse, but apparently a favorite hideout for mischievous cows. Nick nudged Lighting and he and Aldo made their way to the last spot the cattle had been seen.

Two hours later, Nick and Aldo had begun a search of the perimeter of the ranch, following the fence, and had come across something disconcerting. It was a large hole in the fence.

"Yep, looks like someone cut the barbed wire with cutters," Aldo said as he inspected it.

"Who do you think it is?" Nick asked.

"If James were here he'd be saying it was the Winsteads." Aldo said, "But it's more likely some bored kids lookin' to busy themselves with a little beer and some cow tippin'."

"Tracks say our missing milkers decided to go walkabout," Nick pointed out.

"Yep," Aldo sighed and climbed back onto his horse. "Come on, let's get them back before it gets dark." Aldo started through the gap in the fence before stopping and looking to Nick. "Oh, and let's keep this little kerfuffle between us, ya hear? James don't need to know. We'll get the cows back, patch up the fence. Easy peasy."

"Aldo, there's clear signs someone cut this hole in the fence, we have to tell him." Nick argued.

"Like I said, we don't need to be stirrin' up trouble. I've seen this kind of stuff all the time, kids come looking to ease their boredom. They cut the fence and try to mess with the cattle but no one really gets hurt. James may get the idea in his head that the Winsteads are trying to sabotage the place. Next thing we've got some gung-ho types with Winchesters riding up and down the fence looking for an excuse to shoot somethin' or someone.

"I just don't want anyone jumping to conclusions. M'kay?"

Nick shrugged, "Alright, Aldo. You've made your point. Lead the way..."

---

(OOC: Okay, I don't really know what's going on with the fence, but I figured it'd be a decent enough spot to get some kind of a plot moving. If anyone wants to join up with Nick and Aldo feel free to have them ride up behind them before they head on through the gap.

Also, Pyra I hope I didn't take too many liberties with how I had Aldo portray James. Your character profile for James says he's got a temper when it comes to the Winsteads but here I know it kinda reads like paranoia. But what little info it had about him suggested a sort of feud between the Bradys and Winsteads. So I figured signs of tampering with the fence could be construed by James as Winstead sabotage. If it's not entirely in character just ignore it and play it up as Aldo being a bit of a fuddy duddy.

Hope you all are having a good Holiday weekend!)

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