Today this just came into my head so I had to go with it. I'm still working on To Have and To Hold but I wanted to start this before it left my head. It's about the years leading up to Jess and Cody being grown ups. Those informative college years that molded them to the adults they are today. As always none of these characters other then Jess belong to me.


Chapter One

August 18 ,1993

Jess Hawkes sat on her pinto mare her father had given her for her thirteenth birthday. The sun was setting over the mountain and she knew it was almost dinner time. If she was late again her parents would probably disown her. She just couldn't bring herself to leave the spot where for so many years she came for comfort. In three weeks her and her brother were going to leave for college. Jess crammed two years of school in over the last two summers so she could go to Sacramento State with Cody. She couldn't stand the thought of him leaving her here. Even though she knew her parents and older brother loved her she felt the closest to Cody. He had been her savior all those years ago when she had come for visits. Then again when at twelve her birth parents died and Jesse and Jackie Hawkes took her in to their family. A few days ago she found out Cody had saved her life. That was something she would keep to herself for now.

"Mom's going to kill you if your late again Jess." Jess wiped the tears before Cody could see them. He never suck up on her before. She must be loosing it.

"Yeah, I'm coming." She turned her horse around and he was in front of her on his brown stallion.

"I'm going to miss the sunsets."

"Sacramento has sunsets Cody." He looked at her. His blue eyes so intense she knew he was itching for a fight.

"Not like these." He turned Cooper quickly and quietly and started down the steep incline. Jess kneed her horse and followed.

"You haven't changed your mind about me going with you, have you? Because I would understand if you did." Cody stopped his horse and was turned back toward her before Jess could take a breath.

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Pick a frigging fight every chance you get lately. Jess if I had a problem with you coming with me I would of said something a year and a half ago when asked me. Or six months ago when you wanted to know if I was sure. Or three months ago when you told me that you applied at UCLA and got in. Your a big girl Jess and you have to make your own choices and this was the choice you made and I'm fine with it." He turned back around and took the last three feet of the incline slowly and when he hit level ground he took off. Jess wasn't sure what was going on with him but whatever it was she was to blame. She could feel it.


Dinner was more quiet then it had been in years. Jess and Cody sat silently across from each other. Sundays were always time for family and friends. Today Matt had to take the team on a training run to the north face to get some service hours in. It had been a long time since it was just the four of them at the large dinner table. Jesse looked at his son and daughter. Something was going on between them but he knew better then to get in between the two of them. It only made it worse.

"The new breading on the fish is really good honey." Jesse looked at his wife. She smiled. Jackie felt the tension too.

"Thanks. I got a sample for the restaurant and thought I'd try it on the trout you and the kids caught last week end up at Aaron's.

"I think you should order it." Jesse looked at his wife. She shrugged his shoulders. "What do you two think?" Jesse asked looking first at Jess then at Cody. Neither spoke. "Jess?" She looked up from her plate.

"What did you say dad, I wasn't listening."

"I know. How's the fish?"

"Good." He looked at Cody who was trying hard to finish the last of his green beans.

"Son?" Cody looked up.

"Real good." Cody looked at Jess. Her jaw was clenched and he thought for a minute she was going to cry.

"Can I be excused?" She looked at her mother.

"Sure." Jess stood went into the kitchen and rinsed her plate and put it in the dishwasher. Taking the covered plate off the counter she grabbed her sweater she went out the back door slamming it behind her. Jesse looked at Cody.

"You going to tell me what that's all about?" Cody shrugged.

"She's been weird all week." He took the last bite of his beans. "Who knows with her. Can I be excused?" Jesse wanted to say no. Make Cody explain what the heck was going on with them.

"Yeah. Go." Cody got up and went to clean his plate. Jesse looked at his wife. "Any suggestions?"

"They fight Jesse. They fight a lot. They get over it." Jesse knew she was right but with them leaving in a few weeks he wondered if they'd work it out before it was time to go.


Jess walked into the Ranger office's back door. She grabbed a soda from the fridge and headed to the front office. Jim Cutler sat behind the desk. Jess slid the plate she had taken form the house and the soda on the desk in front of him. He looked up.

"You need to stop sneaking up on me like that woman." Jess smiled. She liked when Cutler called her a woman.

"You need to stop burying your head in those romance novels and I wouldn't sneak up on you." He looked at the plate in front of him.


"Yeah, mom tried a new breading. It's really good." Jess sat on the chair across from Cutler. "Whens Matt and the others getting back?"

"Soon I would think. Frank went to go pick them up."

"How come you got left behind?"

"Already had the training. Thanks again for dislocating your shoulder." Jess smiled.

"Any time." She watched him eat. "I'm glad I could further your career."

"Next time not so much scaring the crap out of me okay?"

"I'll try." He stopped eating and looked at her.

"You okay Jess?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Your kind of quiet." He smiled.

"I'm fine. My shoulder hurts now and then but I rode up to the ridge today."

"Stella's going to miss you." He sat back. "Are you all packed?"

"Pretty much. Just the stuff I'm still using is out."

"Big plans for tomorrow?"

"It's Monday."


"I'm hoping everyone forgets." Cutler shook his head.

"I hope that's not your birthday wish Jess because you know no one is going to forget your sixteenth birthday." Smiling Jess stood up.

"A girl can only hope. I'll see you later. Tell everyone I said hi." Jess went out the front door and started walking down the road toward town. It was getting close to eight and she knew everything would be closed but she just didn't want to go home yet. Hearing the Ranger helicopter she changed directions and headed to the path to the meadow behind the station. She couldn't deal with Matt. Not today. Today she was going to make a decision that could change her life and she didn't need her older brother looking into her eyes like he did and figuring her out. She hated that about him. That's why she kept her distance. Knowing the way with her eyes closed she headed to the meadow.


Matt saw Jess heading into the meadow. It would be dark soon but he wasn't worried about her not finding her way home. Jess could find her way home blindfolded. Frank landed the helicopter and started shutting it down. The team filed out of the back and headed into the station. Matt watched Jess's shadow go deeper into the grassy foliage.

"You just going to sit there or are you going to go after her?" Frank looked at his boss.

"She's a big girl Frank. She's been finding her way home for a long time."

"She's sixteen. Believe it or not she still needs her big brother." Matt shook his head.

"Then Cody can go after her." Matt got out of the chopper and headed into the station without another glance toward the meadow.


Cody sat by the river with Kerry Wilson. They had been dating for a few weeks but Cody knew that it would be over when he left for college. They had spent four years of high school flirting and playing games but last month at a motor cross race he finally made the first move. It was late but it didn't matter. Her mom never set a curfew and his parents knew he was old enough to take care of himself.

"Something bothering you?" Kerry was laying in the grass with her head on his leg.

"No. Just taking in the night. It's not going to be the same in the city." She smiled.

"I've never been. My mom thinks the big city will corrupt me." Cody laughed.

"You're already corrupt Kerry." Cody squinted and looked up river. Jess was about a hundred yards up stream walking away from them. Every once in a while she threw a pebble into the stream. He heard the helicopter land an hour ago. She was always hanging out at the station lately so he figured she had gone there. Jess hated being alone.

"I'm going to miss you." Kerry sat up and kissed him. He shook the thoughts of Jess out of his head and returned Kerry's kiss. Jess was a big girl. She knew the way home. Taking the girl next to him in his arms he laid her down on the grass and thoroughly kissed her in the moon light.


It was after midnight when Cody quietly tip toed up to his room. He took off his boots and his watch and laid on his bed. It was really quiet tonight. He was going to miss the quiet. Getting up he went to the door and went across the hall he knocked quietly on Jess's door. He needed to talk to her. Find out what was going on in her head lately. Normally he didn't have to ask. She told him everything. She didn't answer his knock so he opened the door. Her bed was made and the room was dark. Closing the door he went back to his room and grabbed his boots and headed back down stairs. Seeing Matt sitting at the front desk at the Ranger station Cody stopped there.

"You seen Jess?"

"Around nine. We landed and she was headed toward the meadow. She's not home?"

"No. I saw her about ten at the creek but I was a little busy so I didn't say anything."

"Busy Toad? Is that what your calling it?"

"Bite me." Cutler came downstairs. "Jim have you seen Jess?"

"Not since she brought me dinner. Something wrong?" Cody looked at Matt.

"No. I'll check in with you guys later." Matt stood up.

"Cody you can't go wondering out there alone."

"Matt I've been doing that since I was old enough to walk."

"Not in the dark." Matt got a radio and a couple of flash lights. "Cutler you hold down the fort." Putting on his jacket Matt handed Cody a flashlight. "Does mom and dad know she's gone?"

"Matt, she's not gone. She went for a walk and didn't come back yet. I'm sure she's fine. I just..." He looked down at his boots. "We haven't been taking much lately. I think she...she doesn't like Kerry very much."

"Kerry's horse kicked her in the ribs at the fair last year. I don't blame her for not liking her." They headed outside.

"Jess is been acting weird lately. She ask me today if I changed my mind about her coming to school with me."

"Have you?" Cody looked at his brother.

"Hell no. I want her there so I can keep an eye on her. After the crap with Terry last year I don't dare leave her to fend for herself. She worked her ass off to graduate with me." Heading toward the meadow Matt wondered what could of set Jess off. If it wasn't Cody, then what would make her head away from home a half hour before dark and not come back yet.

"We'll find her Cody." The lights from the flashlight shown to creek bed. "Maybe she's in the barn or the equipment shed."

"I got the barn, you check the shed, we'll meet back here." Matt headed up the hill to the shed that housed the dirt bikes and other outdoor equipment. There was a light on in the back of the shed. Matt walked slowly and shined the flashlight into the corner. Jess wasn't there now but she had been sometime that night. The four wheeler that had been in pieces because Frank couldn't find what was wrong with it was back together and the tools put back into place. Matt went to the bike and pressed the starter button. It started and purred like a kitten.

"It was the carburetor." Matt jumped. Jess slid off the bike hidden in the shadows.

"You scared the hell out of me Jess."

"Sorry." She took her sweater and headed out the door. Matt grabbed her arm.

"Hey...Cody's worried sick about you." Jess turned and smiled.

"Yeah, I'm sure he is." She shrugged out of his grip and opened the door. "Tell Hart not to run that full throttle so much." Matt watched as she left but thought better of going after her. Cody was better at dealing with the little snot. He'd leave it up to him. Shutting off the over head light he headed to find Cody.


Cody found Jess on their parents front porch ten minutes later. Her legs curled up under her and her arms wrapped around her. He wanted to throttle her. He wanted to be mad at her but he couldn't. He just didn't have it in him tonight.

"Go to bed." He said as he passed her and headed inside. Jess watched him go. He was pissed at her and she knew it. She couldn't tell him why she was feeling like she didn't belong here anymore. She had made a promise to herself that she would immerse herself into college so she would never have to look back at this place. Cody would give up on her and then she could leave without anyone getting hurt. Getting up she went inside and went up to her room. Cody was sitting on the chair in the corner. "You need to tell me what the hell is going on with you Jess. I can't read you mind."

"I just want to be alone. That's all."

"You hate being alone. You're with people constantly Jess. If not me and Benji then with your friends or the Rangers. Somethings wrong. Why won't you tell me?" Jess sat on her bed.

"I guess it's not of your business."

"Oh, were going to play it this way." Standing up he went to the door. "Well when you decide you need to talk you know where I am." Walking to the door he turned back. "You better decide to talk to me because if dad gets involved it won't be pretty." Cody went out and shut the door behind him. Jess went to her closet and slipped out of her boots and jeans. Finding her pajamas she put them on and laid down in her bed. Cody was right. If Jesse decided to talk to her about her antisocial behavior she wouldn't be able to hold back. It would all come out and the Hawkes would be hurt more then she could bare. Getting up she slid on her robe and went across the hall to confess something to the one person who would forgive her.


The soft knock was barley audible but Cody knew it was coming. The door opened and Jess came in. Quietly she shut the door and sat on the end of his bed.

"I feel like I should just let you have a life. I've been a pain in your ass since I was five and I know you must be wanting to get away from me by now. I know I would."

"Where is this coming from Jess?" He sat up and leaned against his head board. "Yes your a pain in the ass but your my pain in the ass. Your my sister."

"Not really."

"Really. You are. I have the scars to prove it." Jess shook her head.

"I'm just the kid your parents had to take in because they signed a paper fifteen years ago." Jess looked down at her feet. Cody stood up and came and stood in front of her.

"Look at me." Jess shook her head. "Jesse Lynne Hawkes,!" She looked up. His eyes were full of fire and his fist balled up. "You have been part of this family since the day you were born. Sure you might of lived someplace else half the time but you've always been part of this family." He bent down and looked her in the eye. "Why are you feeling like this Jess. Did something happen?" Jess shook her head.

"I guess I thought you'd rather go to school without me tagging along like I have been for most your life." Cody smiled.

"I wouldn't know how to live if you weren't three steps behind me." Jess looked at him. His eyes had cooled. "We've always been friends Jess. Long before you were my sister. We don't have to spend all our time together but I can't go on with you looking at me like you hate me." Jess shook her head.

"I don't hate you Cody. I just thought you...would rather go off to college with your friends."

"Jess you are my friend. My best friend. You, me and Benji are going to rock that school the minute we step foot on campus. Someone's got to scare all the boys away." Cody raised his eye brows. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her. "Don't ever be afraid to tell me anything Jess. I'll always listen and you know I never judge." She looked at him.

"I know. Go to sleep. I'm sure Kerry gave you a work out." Jess stood up.

"Just because her horse is a bastard doesn't me she isn't a nice girl." Jess smiled.

"If you say so. Night Cody." She walked to the door.

"Night Jess...and Happy Birthday." Jess turned.

"They didn't forget did they?" Cody shook his head.

"Not on your life." Jess left and shut the door behind her. Cody got back into bed. She was still hiding something from him and sooner or later he would figure it out. Till then he was going to keep an eye on his little sister.


August 19, 1993

Jim Cutler took the box out of his locker and put it in his pocket. He should of given it to Jess yesterday when no one else would of seen. Matt's little sister had been hanging out at the Ranger station since he started working there. She had been the sunshine in some of his darkest times. He sat on the bench and took the box out again and looked at it. Last year his father had died. Jim couldn't of cared less. The man was the worst kind of father. A pentecostal preacher with a belt and a drinking problem. Jess saw his mood change the day he got the phone call. She had followed him and Matt around almost the whole day that day which was strange because she and Matt never really got along. Somehow she pulled them into a cut throat game of crazy eights that turned into a even more hardy game of poker. Jess walked out of the station with half their paychecks and Cutler feeling less depressed then he had in a long time. The next day he told her about his father and she told him about the journal she had found in her parents things. Since that day they had a connection. No one else would understand and the Hawkes would kick his ass if they ever knew how their precious Jess felt about him. He saw it in her eyes every time he caught her looking at him. They were friends and that's how it would always stay. He vowed he would never hurt her. Ever. Putting the box back in his locker he grabbed his jacket and headed back to work.


Jess knew it was coming. Jackie Hawkes never let a milestone go uncelebrated. The cake and her friends were enough to make her feel better then she had in a long time. Things were going to be okay. Cody sat next to her at the long picnic table behind the Ranger station. The whole team was there along with their friends from school. Jesse was flipping burgers on the grill and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

"Just keep smiling little sister and mom will stay off your back." Jess took a sip of her soda.

"I know." She smiled. "Where's Kerry. I though you'd invite her."

"She's working till three. I'll pick her up and bring her back here."

"Goody." Jess kept smiling.

"I get you don't like her Jess but don't make her feel like she isn't welcome." Cutler sat next to Jess on the other side.

"Jess not make anyone feel welcome. Come on Cody, you know better then that." Jess laughed.

"On that note, I'll see you later. Benji looks lonely." Cody got up and headed to where his friend was standing with four girls.

"If that's lonely, I'm doing it wrong." Cutler said and laughed.

"Benji is going to be a bit of a hindrance , I can see it already. Cody might pass freshman year if I carry him." Jess looked down at her soda. "Hows your day going?" She looked up at Cutler.

"It's Monday. Happy Birthday Jess."

"Thanks." He started eating.

"You want something?"

"No. I'm fine." Matt was coming toward them. "I'll see you later." Jess got up and headed toward her father to see if she could help with anything. Matt sat across from Cutler and put his plate on the table.

"Some days I swear the girl is terrified of me."

"You are kinda of scary in a blond Adonis kinda way." Matt threw a chip at Cutler.

"You talk to her. What did I ever do to make her run the opposite direction every time she sees me?"

"We don't talk about you, ever."

"I don't want to know what you talk about. Just remember she's my sister. My sixteen year old sister." Cutler looked at his friend.

"I like them young Hawkes...not that young." They both laughed. Matt looked up to find Jess watching him. Some days he wondered about what went on in that girls head.


Jess was sitting on the grass with her friends. They were chatting about something that Jess wasn't really paying attention to. Her friend Jenny poked her.

"Earth to Jess." She turned.

"Sorry did you say something?"

"Who's the hunk sitting across from your brother?" Jess turned and looked. Cutler was telling something to Matt and he was talking with his hands. He did that a lot. Robin said it was because he had some Italian in him.

"Jim Cutler."

"He is hot with a capital H." Jess smiled.

"I never noticed."

"Are you ill? Did Terry like mess you up for life?" Jess looked at her friend. There were days when all she thought about is what Terry White had done to her. Then there were those days when she thought of nothing then what she would like Jim Cutler to do to her. Shaking her head she looked back at the two men sitting at the table. If Jim had known what Terry had done he would of killed him. Cody nearly had. Cody didn't know the half of it. He didn't know she knew but since the school wasn't very big it didn't take long for the word that Cody got into it with Terry to get around.

"He's as old as Matt." She said turning back to her friends.

"Who cares." They all laughed. Benji came up to them and offered her his hand.

"Present time." Jess grabbed his hand and he pulled her up. "Happy Birthday Jess." Benji pulled her into a bear hug. Jess hugged him back and smiled. She looked up. Cutler had a strange look on his face. Pushing Benji away she grabbed his hand and they headed to the present table and proceeded to unwrap her gifts.


Jess was in the equipment shed a few hours later tuning up her dirt bike. Just like her horse she knew it would be neglected while she was gone so she best winterize it before she left. The back door opened and Cutler came in.


"Hey, you off?"

"In about an hour."

"You want to take the bikes up to the summit. I need to run the fuel dry so I can store it."

"Not planing on coming home for the week ends?"

"I'm sure Cody does but I have a big class load." Jess stood up. "I wouldn't come home for Christmas either but Matt has me and Cody scheduled to work the cross country trails for most of the break."

"Nobody knows those trails like you and your brother."

"I guess." She wiped her hands on the rag draped over the bikes handle bars. "So you up for a ride?"

Cutler looked at her and thought no should be the right answer. But he never did the right thing so why start now.

"Sure. Meet you at the creek in an hour." She smiled the smile that always brightened his day.

"Sounds good. I'll go home and change." Jess walked past him and out the door. Cutler closed his eyes and called himself every kind of fool.


An hour later Jess sat beneath the old willow next to the creek. She was going to miss the peace and quiet of the mountains. She hadn't told anyone that she wasn't going to come back. If she did they would for sure tell Cody and then the drama would start. Jess didn't get up when she heard Cutler's bike approaching. She closed her eyes and sat against the tree listening to him move off his bike, then putting the kick stand down and walking toward her. She opened them when she felt something land on her lap.

Picking the box up she looked at him.

"What's this?" He sat next to her and leaned back against the tree.

"Your birthday present." She studied the box.

"I opened all my presents two hours ago."

"I forgot it in my locker. I found it when I got changed." Jess smiled. "Are you just going to play with it or are you going to open it?"

"Open it." She set it on her lap and slid off the ribbon. Turning it over she slid her finger under the tape.

"Now I know why Matt's always late on Christmas, you take forever." Jess laughed. Cutler was going to miss that laugh. Opening the lid she removed the cotton. There was a gold chain on the end was a beautiful gold sun.

"It's beautiful."

"Matt always tells me that you are the sunshine in the family. The last couple of years I realized that you've been my sunshine when things got dark." He looked down at his hands in his lap.

"Thank you." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. It took all he had in him not to turn and let his lips meet hers. He reminded himself she was sixteen and his best friends sister. "Help me put it on." Jess put the chain around her neck and Cutler took the clasp and closed it. She turned to him.

"Happy birthday Jess." Smiling Jess grabbed her helmet off the grass.

"Last one to the ridge buys dinner." She was on her bike and kick starting it before Cutler could catch his breath. Jess would win. She always did. The girl had no fear. It got her in a lot of trouble over the years and it would get her into trouble in the years to come. But she was young and she would learn from her mistakes. At least Cutler hopped she would.