“Dammit, Jay why? Why didn’t you tell me?” Liam asked as the five of them sat on the rocky shore of a tiny river island. It jutted up from the center of the water. Its shores covered in smooth pebbles and its center tall grasses and saplings. The river split around it and joined again several feet away. Their boats were all lined up and being used to hold their mash up of food choices from the sandy, damp ground. They’d stopped just before the twisted rapids to have lunch.
“My dad asked me to give it a go. Just for the summer. I didn’t want to spoil the trip by saying anything, but he’d appreciate me back home this week.”
Bethie held her granola bar, unwrapped, but untouched, in her fingers. “You’re coming back for Junior year, right?” Her tanned face held an expression of concern.
“Yes, of course. If I give his advice a try, he has promised me I will be able to return next term. So, I won’t be joining you on the Adirondack hike. I needed to let you know that before we arranged it.”
Liam set down his toffee chew. “And if you don’t go to this... this thing? What if you decide to stay with me all summer? It won’t be an issue; my parents love you.”
“Yeah dude, you’re freaking almost twenty. You should be able to decide for yourself.” Mac chimed in around a bite of beef jerky.
“I have.” Jay took Liam’s hand in his. He gave it a tight squeeze. “I’m going to do this for us. I’ll be back at school before you move back into the dorms, you’ll see. I only need to pacify him for a few weeks.”
“Well, what is this place? Can I come visit?” Bethie could see the anxiety in her brother’s posture as he spoke.
“Hey yeah, that would be awesome. Road trip,” cheered Mac. “We’ll hike in Virginia, no problem.”
Jay worried his bottom lip with his teeth until Liam brushed his hand over his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Judah cleared his throat, a knowing expression in his eyes. “I’m thinking only Beth will be allowed to visit. Am I right?”
“What, that’s discrimination,” protested Mac.
Judah scowled. “Your dad thinks you’re confused.” Judah knelt down in front of Jay and looked straight at him. “Are you, Jay?”
Jay dropped his head and fiddled with the pebbles on the ground beneath him. He shook his head. “Not in the slightest.”
Bethie was piecing it all together, seconds before Mac arrived at the same understanding. Mac took up a stone and flung it with rage into the river. “That’s bullshit! He thinks sending you away is going to change you?”
Liam looked up at him, his dark eyes moist with a mixture of emotions. “Mac, it’s okay.”
“Like hell it is. I thought your dad was this amazing God loving man. Doesn’t God love everyone, black, white, yellow, girl, boy? Isn’t he all about love and acceptance? Do people think he really cares who the hell someone falls in love with, as long as they are happy? You’re not hurting anyone. He’s hurting you, your dad is judging. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged,’ well I am judging your dad and I think he’s an-”
“Mac,” interrupted Liam. “It’s not right, we all know this, but not everyone in the world thinks the same.”
“Again, I call major bullshit.” Mac threw another rock and stormed away around to the other side of the island grumbling the entire distance. Liam sat silent, his arm draped around Jay’s shoulder, holding him close. Bethie picked at the oats and dried cranberries in her bar. Judah moved over and sat beside her.
“Maybe Bethie dropping by once or twice over the stay will help,” Liam suggested.
Jay gave him a quizzical look.
“I mean; she could make it seem like... well... she... you could pretend. Appease your dad. You know, fake it.” He shrugged. “Everyone thought you two might be in item freshman year, you could try to fool them again.” Liam suggested.
Jay smiled and shook his head. “So very sweet of you, but Bethie won’t be able to visit either.”
“Wait, what, why not?” squeaked out Bethie. “I’m one hundred percent girl.”
Judah laughed and hugged her. “Yes, you are.”
She slapped at his shoulder. “Why am I restricted?”
“Your Liam’s sister, and my dad is quite aware of it. He’ll assume you are there on Liam’s behalf, which will be true.”
All their faces fell and Mac’s curses echoed back to them. He was still listening.
“Can you call, write?” she asked.
Jay shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that my father, and I agreed that if I took part for the summer, he’d keep my tuition in place for the upcoming year.”
Liam sat up straight, slapped his thigh with finality, and smiled. “All right then, it’s settled. We finish this trip up strong, enjoy every freaking moment together while we have it. We all know we will be back together come the end of August. It’s not that far off.” Liam was trying to be positive for everyone’s sake. He wanted Jay to be happy and not to worry that his decision upset his friends. That they would not abandon him. They all understood it was not in their control, whether or not they agreed with it. The goal was to get Jay back to where he was happiest.
“We’ll play the game, jump through the hoops. And know, the end results will be what we want.” He kissed Jay’s cheek and got up, brushing the sand and dirt from his shorts. “Let’s twist, baby.”
Jay reached for his hand and allowed him to assist him up from the ground. The food was packed up and stowed away. Everyone climbed into their kayaks and the pack floated off to conquer the twister rapids for the second year, on their way to the Rift.
Hoots and triumphant hollers drifted in the air, mingling with the sounds of the rushing water. The kayaks bobbed and heaved in the turbulent swells. Mac’s yellow, swirled boat corkscrewed through the undulations of the rapids, like a giant, vibrant banana. Judah dashed his boat with such force against the waves it bounded off the surface to land with a mighty splash that had him laughing with the thrill. Liam latched to one side of Jay’s kayak and Bethie to the opposite side, widening their surface area to the size of a raft. They rode the flourishing flow of water, with minimal effort before it deposited them out the end into a calmer stretch. All their worry and bitter emotions stolen by the titillating ride.
Bethie caught up to Mac and Judah, while Liam and Jay trailed behind them, taking the quiet stretch to talk privately. “Jay, I want you to know something,” started Liam. “There isn’t anything you can’t talk to me about. I care about you and I never want you to feel like you need to keep something for me, to protect me or whatever it may be. Okay?”
“You don’t have to go. We could figure something out.”
Jay reached over across the water and took Liam’s hand. “It will be all right.”
Liam smirked, his dark eyes were shadowed. “Jay, I’m worried. I’ve read about these types of camps and therapy. There’s nothing wrong with us,” he whispered.
“It won’t be, but the summer, Liam. I’m coming back to you, and the others. I promise. We’ll all be together forever.” Jay paddled a bit, and they moved through a section of curves until they emerged facing a scene of tall green hills, with pines growing tall. In the distance, you could make out the pointed steeple of a church, standing alone on the highest hill. “Someday, when we are older and the world is wiser. I’d like to marry you in that church.”
Liam watched Jay’s expression become soft and dreamy. He gazed over the distance as their boats sailed closer to the hills. “Yeah, I’d like that too.”