(Well, this is it! The last chapter of this 'book'. I hope you have enjoyed it. I will warn everyone now that the second 'part' of this may not happen till the fall due to the fact that my muse usually 'sleeps' during the summer with all the things going on and having a busy life.
But I also have a few other stories I need to clean up/go back and edit/finish and another HMR story I've had people asking me to write the second 'book' to - Out of the Darkness. I've got that one started but stalled out due to my muse going 'flop' in the middle and loosing interest. So it's back to the drawing board, so to speak, in hopes of being able to revive that second 'book' and get it back off the ground and maybe reworked/finished.
So...thank you to EVERYONE who has put this story on their favorite/watch list and who has reviewed. It has meant a lot to me and kept me pushing myself to keep going and to do better. Thank you so much to my Beta - Charli911 - couldn't have done it without you!)
By the time Jesse and Cody came to collect Matt for his much needed R&R, the Rangers were out on calls, leaving Izzy to man the radios. Matt could tell that it was all Izzy could do to keep himself from blurting out that Clara was back in town. Thankfully Matt didn't have to pack much and with Cody's help, he had his horse saddled within a few minutes and then they were on their way up to the cabin.
Matt felt every ache and bruise of his body as they rode the uphill terrain and when Cody suggested stopping by Clara's to check it out on their way through, Matt had to do his best to keep from reacting in knee-jerk panic. Clara had asked him to not tell Cody that she was back in the mountains since she'd like to get settled before she sprung the surprise on the new high school graduate.
"Coder, normally I'd say yes but I just want to get to some place warm and flat," Matt groaned. "We can go in a few days to check it out. I'm sure it'll still be there just like it's been the other twenty times you've checked on it this winter and spring." Matt could see the disappointment in Cody's face but felt a touch of relief when his brother's features turned more towards concern for Matt and his injuries.
The sun had begun to set by the time they arrived at his dad's and it was all Matt could do to swing his aching body down out of the saddle. That slide down the shale cliff had really banged him up and the cold had made his muscles tighten even though he'd been riding for several hours. Jesse took the reins from his son and nodded towards the cabin, giving him silent permission this once to go inside without having to unsaddle his own horse. Matt made to protest but a stern look from Jesse told him not to argue.
Matt drug himself through the door and upon entering went to the fireplace and exposed the coals from the morning fire before placing several small pieces of wood on them to get a small flame going. He straightened slowly and went around the room lighting the lamps then went back to add several larger logs to the growing fire as Cody and Jesse came in, bringing their packs with them.
"Go clean up Matt. I'll reheat some of the stew Cody and I had last night. Then you need to get to bed and sleep for a few days. We'll go fishing when you feel a bit more alive," his dad joked softly. Matt could see the tinge of worry in his father's face as he felt the older man's faded green eyes assess him carefully.
Nodding, Matt took his saddle bags from Cody. Before he moved off towards the shower, he opened one of the flaps and pulled out a padded envelope with an address written on it. "Here, this came to the station by courier today," he said as he held it out to Cody.
Cody blinked as he took the padded envelope and looked at Matt, "What's in it?"
Matt shrugged, "I don't know. Open it and find out." Matt watched out of the corner of his eye as Jesse came to the kitchen door to see what was going on.
Looking over the package, Cody carefully opened it up and pulled out a white square wrapped bundle with a rubber band around it. Putting the envelope to the side, he pulled off the rubber band and unfolded the paper around what appeared to be a cassette tape.
There was a momentary look of shock on Cody's face as he stared at the piece of paper and then at the cassette tape. "It's from Clara!" he exclaimed as he looked up at Matt. "She sent me one of the first cuts of her new album," he said in a bit of awe.
Matt raised an eyebrow while desperately trying to hide his smile. "Must be nice having friends in high places," he teased lightly. "And she sent it to you by courier. She must have thought you were someone important or something."
"Really? I mean, someone actually brought it to the station…it wasn't delivered by mail?" he asked as he looked over the note again.
Matt shrugged, "Yeah. A lady showed up at the station with it late this morning and said to deliver it to you." Matt didn't want to give any more away so he quickly changed the subject, "What's the note say?"
Cody blinked and looked back at the paper and read it aloud, "It says, 'Dear Cody – You should have taken your senior finals by now and if so, congratulations on finishing high school! I know you aced them all, 'Ace'. So here's a little early graduation present. It's one of the first cuts of our new album. They don't even have a name picked out or even cover art finished for it yet. Enjoy! - Love Clara'
Matt smirked at Cody and reached out to ruffle up his kid brother's hair. "I'm going to get that shower, eat some of dad's food then I'm going to bed. Don't stay up all night listening to that or dad will have your hide." With that, Matt moved towards the bathroom but not before catching a look from Jesse that left him wondering at the expression of guarded worry he'd seen cross his father's face. Maybe Jesse was worried about how he would react to Cody receiving something from Clara and not him.
As Matt closed the bathroom door, he let loose the a huge, sly smile he'd been holding in as he wondered what his dad would say if he only knew that 'courier' had been Clara herself and Matt had gotten something better than Cody ever could.
Clara couldn't have been happier if she'd been a pig in shit, as the saying went. Well, it was a disgusting saying but hey, she was thrilled to be 'home' and that's all that mattered. She'd been back at the cabin for two days when the delivery truck had arrived with a few choice pieces of new furniture, a piano, books and an assortment of other things that she'd wanted to keep with her from her travels and time acting and singing. It really wasn't much but they were hers and these things meant something to her.
It didn't take long to get the new things arranged into the grand scheme of things so that everything looked again like it 'belonged'. The next morning saw her making a trip into Tahoe to get supplies. Wearing her 'grungy' clothes and old worn boots along with an old cowboy hat she'd glommed onto somewhere in her travels a couple of years ago, she went unnoticed amongst the others in the grocery store. It was exhilarating to be able to take her time shopping for supplies and to not be stared or gawked at by anyone.
She made a final stop by the feed store to pick up hay and grain for the two horses she'd purchased and brought with her. She knew she'd have to reclaim the two old nags that resided at Jesse's that she'd originally purchased when she'd first come escaped to these mountains, but not right now. With a pleased little thrill, she headed back to the cabin, knowing that within a few days, Matt would be helping her with something she had been planning for months. She just hoped she could pull it off.
Jesse watched as Matt and Cody made a mad dash across the sand of the beach next to a mountain lake and plunge into the cold water. Both surfaced with a gasp and then began swimming for all they were worth towards the opposite shore. Jesse simply shook his head and grinned. They'd tried to talk him into joining the 'festivities' but he'd declined saying the only way he'd get into that lake was if he was on fire or someone needed rescuing.
Matt's bruises were turning a nice ugly shade of yellow and green with a few of the deeper ones still centered with purple along the left side of his body. His cuts and abrasions had all healed over and were more angry red marks than anything else. That was one of the many things he was thankful for that he'd passed onto his sons. They healed fast like he did. Most of it was due to good food, fresh air and being healthy but some of it Jesse liked to think was due to the tenacity their old man had passed on.
As he watched the two swim farther out into the lake in the warm late May sun, he heard horses hooves coming up the path near where they had set up camp to go fishing for a the day. Turning to look into the line of trees, he saw a beautiful chestnut mare weaving its way through the tall pines, keeping somewhat out of sight of the lake. As the rider came closer, he saw that it was a woman and it wasn't until she was within twenty feet of him that he realized he recognized her.
"Clara?" he said surprised voice, though keeping it low enough so that it only carried to her. He slowly stood up and moved towards her as if not believing what he was seeing.
"Hello Jesse," she said in a warm voice, full of enjoyment at his surprise. She leaned down in the saddle as she brought the mare to a stop to keep herself somewhat out of view of the brothers in case they looked up from their invigorating swim.
"Does Matt know you're back home?" he asked, wondering if his oldest knew and if not, he'd want to know why she hadn't told him yet.
"Of course he does Jesse. Who do you think brought Cody his graduation present? I've asked Matt to keep it quiet that I'm here since I want to surprise Cody…," she said with a warm smile to her lips.
"Oh? Care to join me by the fire? I'm sure seeing you as he gets out of the cold water of that lake will be one hell of a surprise…," he offered with a chuckle.
She shook her head, "No. Actually I had something else in mind." With that, she let him in on the plan as the sound of laughter could be heard coming from across the lake while two brothers rough-housed in the water.
Cody couldn't have had more fun in the last four days if he'd tried. After Matt had spent three days sleeping and recovering at home, they'd made plans to try out a few different fishing holes and camp in nearby caves if possible each night. Each day saw perfect weather, cool nights, warm days and plenty of photo opportunities between the wildlife, scenery, his brother and his dad. The days found the brothers goofing off on horseback, swimming or just exploring the area they were in. Jesse seemed content to hang back and do nothing more than to read or fish.
Cody wasn't fooled since he caught his dad watching them more times than not, perhaps remembering days gone by or maybe trying to store away the memories for the days he found himself alone while Cody was gone away to college. It was thoughts like that that made Cody almost want to call the whole thing off but he knew he couldn't get the education he needed on the mountain and he knew he'd be back as soon as he could. Nothing could keep him away from his home and a place he loved with all his being.
Nights found them sitting around the campfire reminiscing about the years that had gone by, things they'd seen and done, people they'd met and generally being a family. They avoided talking about the future and Cody avoided talking about Clara. He was still worried about his brother and how her absence and lack of communication with Matt was affecting him. He'd spent the night he'd gotten the tape listening to her new album and knew the first song was one she had written and somehow knew instinctively that it was about Matt. There was something about the song that called to him, told him that there was a longing, a need that came through in those words and he could only hope that it was true and not his imagination.
On the final night that they were planning on camping out, Matt pulled out Cody's travel chess board and challenged his little brother to multiple games of chess. Matt wasn't a bad hand at the game and won about half of the time. Jesse finally gave up and went to bed, shaking his head and grumbling something about the two of them being determined to see the sun rise the next morning.
When Matt finally looked up to see his brother sound asleep, his head propped up on his hand and elbow as he waited for Matt to make a move, he knew he had finally won the game of patience. Nudging Cody, he got his little brother awake enough to crawl the rest of the way into his bed roll and Matt spent a moment packing up the chess board. Banking the fire, he sat and watched his brother sleep for awhile as he quietly marveled at the innocence his brother still held to. He silently hoped that when Cody returned from the big city and college, he'd still retain some measure of it. It's what made Cody…Cody.
Matt was lost in thought when the sound of a footstep outside the cave drew his attention and he tensed….
Jesse was the first person awake the next morning, up before dawn was more than a hint on the horizon. Stepping outside of the cave, he reveled in the crisp morning air and stretched a little. As he prepared to take care of his morning business, he looked towards the horses that were picketed near the mouth of the cave. It took him a moment to realize that he wasn't seeing double of Cody's horse but in fact, there were two chestnut colored horses tied next to each other, drowsing in the cool morning air…one mare, one gelding.
With a slight smile, he made his way back into the cave and through the darkness of the interior he caught a vague outline of there being something more to Matt's bedroll than just his long frame. Looking over to Cody's bedroll, he saw that his youngest was still out like a light. Matt had worked hard to keep him awake longer last night in hopes of making him sleep late this morning.
Going over to the ring of stone, he stoked the coals in the middle of them and placed a few small logs on them to start a fire to fix breakfast. He worked quietly to keep from waking Cody who usually was a light sleeper. Once the fire was going, giving light to the immediate area, he looked over towards Matt's bedroll to see a pair of blue eyes peeking out from under the covers. There were a few fingers curled around the edge of the blankets and they wiggled in a slight wave of acknowledgement.
Jesse grinned and nodded then went about getting things set out for breakfast. Clara had been nice enough to bring the supplies for a hearty breakfast with her the night before though he'd like to know how she got here in the dark or even knew where to find them. He was sure Matt or the other Rangers had something to do with it but he'd have to wait until later to find out just how.
Clara shifted and slipped from the bedroll, looking rumpled in her jeans and sweatshirt. Taking a moment to pull on her boots, she went outside for a few moments and when she came back, she looked a little more awake as carried an armload of wood with her from the pile the brothers had cut the day before. No words had to be spoken between the two who were upright and mobile as they watched the two brothers sleep for a bit longer. The sun slowly began to rise in the east, casting long shadows over the mountains and into the valley below.
When it was obvious that Cody was most definitely going to sleep late, Clara went over to Matt knelt next to him, kissing his lips tenderly then touched his face to wake him up slowly. He responded by rolling onto his back and squinting upward then rubbed his eyes and turned his head to look up at her with that slow, charming smile of his though it was a bit lopsided with the edges of sleepiness. Smiling down at him she put a finger to her lips to indicate that Cody was still sound asleep.
Nodding in understanding, Matt got up and took care of folding up his bedroll before taking it outside. Clara picked up a pot with a handle from next to the supplies she'd brought in the night before and headed outside, a grin plastered to her face. Today was going to be a great day.
By the time she returned, Matt was sitting next to his dad with a camera in his lap. Jesse simply sighed and rolled his eyes. Walking carefully over to where Cody lay sound asleep she squatted down near his head and shook his shoulder with one hand while holding onto the pot with the other. "Cooooody," she called out in a soft singsong voice. "Time to wake uuuup."
With a groan, Cody shifted, yawned and let out a soft sigh. No one said anything and remained still, making no noise so not to alert Cody to their presence. Within moments, Cody had drifted back to sleep. Reaching out again, Clara gently touched Cody's shoulder. "Cody…wake up," she whispered in a ghostly sounding voice this time.
Cody's eyes began to flutter open and his head turned to look at where the voice was coming from. Before his brain could fathom what he was seeing, Clara upended the pot of glacial stream water over his head.
The shriek that sounded almost too high to have come from a man's throat was followed by "What the…!" as Cody came up off the floor of the cave sputtering, trying to get away from the freezing cold water. The sound and flash of the camera taking pictures was repeated frequently for a few moments and then all was silent as Cody stood there in his jeans and soaked flannel shirt, shivering as he tried to take in what he was seeing.
"Gotcha…," said Clara as she brandished the pot from where she ended up sitting back on her butt to avoid the thrashing, spluttering young man as he shot upward.
"You…that…," he tried to articulate. "Clara! What are you doing here? That's…that's not funny!" he stammered through chattering teeth.
"Oooooooh, I think that's hilarious and I've got pictures to remember this moment by for the rest of my life." Clara stood up and walked over towards Cody, "I warned you I'd get even," she said then quickly wrapped her arms around him, giving him a hug as she kissed his cheek, oblivious to him being wet above the waist. The camera clicked and flashed again.
Cody stood there looking a bit dumbstruck as she moved away to go sit next to Matt who decided to take one more picture of the sodden, bewildered Cody for posterity sake.
Lunch was spread out on the table in Clara's kitchen as she stirred the soup on the stove. While she'd been laid up in LA with her injuries, she spent part of her day getting cooking lessons from a friend of Lisa's. She had a better handle on how to do more than just the basic things now. The three Hawkes men had each taken a turn in filling her in on the news of the mountains, things that had happened while she'd been gone and brought her up to date on the local 'gossip', if you wanted to call it that.
She paused for a moment as the three discussed something amongst themselves at the table. She suddenly knew that all of this felt 'right'. The sense of the cabin filled with good friends, with life and the feeling of freedom…the freedom to breath, to freedom to be oneself, to live, to love and to enjoy life, all rolled into one, no one could ask for anything more perfect. She smiled to herself as she began to ladle up the bowls of soup to go along with the salad greens she'd picked up at the store. Her garden had only been planted the day before and it would be a few weeks before she had anything worth harvesting for salads of her own.
"So Clara, I never heard what the court decided on about the case against Randall and your parents," said Jesse as she brought over two of the bowls and set them down on the table.
She raised an eyebrow, "By the time the decision was made, the news agencies had lost interest. It wasn't heavily publicized. It was rather 'complicated' and so the news summarized it more than anything." She brought the other two bowls over and then sat down at the table with the three men. "Basically Randall lost just about everything except a small percentage for his position as my manager but it was based off the industry standard for his line of work. They went back and figured out through his financials what he owed me and what he would have gotten from the time the first contract had been signed and I got a good chunk of what he had left in his accounts." She smiled at the thought of how his lawyers were pretty much getting the rest of what was left. "He won't need it in prison anyway."
"As for my parents, they are a different story. I negotiated with that a little differently. They are my parents and I'm not going to toss them to the street just because they are assholes. Their finances were consolidated, their goods sold and they were allowed to keep enough furniture to furnish a nice two bedroom apartment and several sets of clothes and some jewelry, that sort of thing…basically what a normal person should have. The rest was sold and the funds put into the general account. After that they are allowed a stipend every month to pay for their rent and utilities, groceries and general expenses but they have an accountant overseeing their money. They aren't allowed to handle it themselves anymore."
Cody blinked in surprise at her, "But…why?"
Clara tasted the soup and then took a spoonful, swallowed then answered. "Because my parents are both substance abusers of alcohol and drugs, they can't be trusted not to take that money, go out and buy their next binge or hit. Of course all of this is contingent that when they come out of rehab, they stay clean and sober. They can live very comfortably off of what I've set up for them and will never have to work a day in their life. But if they want something, they'll have to get it approved through the accountant for the funds first so they can't squander their money. My parents were reasonable people before my 'fame and fortune' but they've now been living for too long getting whatever they wanted and not using their brains to think about the consequences of their actions. What I've done forces them to make careful decisions in regards to their finances and lifestyle. If they start using drugs or drinking heavily again, they chance to lose their 'free ride'. I can only do so much to save them from themselves before I'll have to cut the cord."
Jesse nodded as he ate quietly, listening. He was proud to hear that she hadn't just cut her parents off and left them to dangle. Granted, from the sounds of it, they probably deserved it but who was he to judge. It was a different culture, a different world out in LA. But from what Clara had said, it showed what kind of person she was in that she was willing to try and help her parents get their lives straight, even if it was through tough love.
Matt ate for awhile and then smiled over at her, "So you've got one more concert tour to do, then you're here to stay for good?" he asked, sounding a little hopeful.
She chuckled softly and nodded, "That's the plan. My tour starts about the time Cody heads off to college. So I'll get to hang out for the summer at least," she said with a wink at Cody and grinned at his expression of anticipation. "After that, I'm a free woman unless I want to sign a new contract or go to a new record company…which before you ask, the answer is 'no'. I'm quite sure I can find something around here to occupy my time with after I get back." Her eyes drifted over towards Matt as her cheeks colored a nice shade of pink.
Matt's cheeks flushed with a touch of red and he looked down at the bowl of soup in front of him. "Oh, I'm sure you could," he said as he looked up with that charming smile of his, his green eyes flashing with a hint of mirth. His hand reached across the table and took a hold of hers, giving it a gentle squeeze.
Jesse raised an eyebrow at this, though he smiled in quiet relief as things seemed to finally be settling down and working out for his oldest son and Clara. Cody, however, grinned like a fiend who'd just gotten away with all the gold in Fort Knox.