The Rift

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Chapter 15

“Judah,” yelled Bethie, waving her arms to gain his attention. She stood on the point of the tiny river island, signaling him in. “We’re here. We’re all here,” she called across the water. The relief that washed over Judah, caught in his throat and wrapped around his chest like a vise. He didn’t realize it was Bethie he was most concerned with. Yes, Liam too and to hell with Mac, but his heart had been holding its breath this entire time. All that arguing with Leslie that he was over her, that Beth was not his interest anymore, was a lie. He knew it every time he said it, but it wasn’t until he saw Bethie standing there waving her arms, that his heart woke up from the coma he had put it in.

“He’s okay,” she said, grabbing the bow carry-handle of Judah’s boat and dragging it up on shore.

“Where is he?”

“Mac’s with him.” That’s all she said.

Judah wondered if he should go find out what happened? Instead, his feet stayed rooted, and he wrapped Beth in his arms. “Are you okay?”

She nodded against his chest. It felt like an eternity had passed since the last time she was in this position. “I’m fine. You followed us. What about Leslie? I thought you were leaving.”

Judah rubbed his hand over his eyes, and down over the tight line of his lips. He released a heavy breath. “Do you have water, and some aspirin?”

The minute she stepped away from his embrace, her muscles, her skin, every nerve in her being, wept. There were too many years between them to forever be cut off. He was here. He didn’t abandon them. It meant he couldn’t leave. Bethie knew he didn’t stay for her, but for Liam and Jay. She handed him a cold bottle of water and tapped three pills from a small bottle into his open palm. “We haven’t eaten yet. Are you hungry?”

The growl in Judah’s stomach answered for him. Bethie laughed. She pulled supplies out from her kayak, and then searched through Mac’s, too. Within a few minutes she handed him, granola, dried fruit, a stick of jerky and another water bottle. He gave her a weak smile.

Bethie shrugged her apology for the Hodge-Podge of food choices. “I didn’t do the supply run. There’s probably hash and coffee in one of these boats.”

“This will do, Beth. Thank you.” Judah sat down on the shore and ate. The others joined, each taking a ration of breakfast. Judah cleared his throat. His internal monologue was warring with his emotions and he debated on speaking about or ignoring the entire past twenty-four hours. If that were the case, why couldn’t he ignore the last seven months? Maybe that was part of his problem, maybe he was ignoring everything, maybe he needed to open his eyes and ears and listen to the people who mattered in his life before it was too late for all of them?

“You okay, Judah?”

He looked up at Liam. His face seemed apologetic, but Judah was Judah and he would not let Liam off the hook. Liam wasn’t thinking clearly and that was a danger to himself and his team. “I’m fine, Liam and thankfully everyone else is too. What were you thinking? You know this trip as well as any of us. Help me understand.”

“Let him be,” snapped Mac.

Judah bit down hard on his inner cheek to keep his knee jerk response in check.

“No, Mac, it’s okay. Judah’s right. I jeopardized all of us. It was dumb of me. You know, I woke up early this morning, and I remembered the trip we took here after graduation. It was the last time I could recall us all being... alive. It thrilled us to be out of college and living on our own. Working towards our adult goals.”

Bethie turned away from the boys and looked out over the river.

“I mean, we were vibrant and ready to take on the entire world, the freaking universe. You and Mac were motivated partners, with each other’s backs. Bethie was head over heels in love with you, Judah. There was no way she was leaving you.”

Judah stopped and gave him a quizzical look and then looked at Beth. “You were leaving?”

“No.” She shook her head. “I got offered an internship in California. It never would have worked. I knew that. I wasn’t going to leave any of you.”

Judah scowled.

“And Jay... that summer. Jay was Jay.” Liam stopped and smiled. “Like when we met him years before. His curiosity about the world, all the adventures he wanted to take together. Did you know he planned a trip for all of us to go to Peru? Mapped it all out. He wanted us all to climb Machu Picchu. We could still do that with him.” Liam’s eyes looked hopeful as he glanced at each one of them.

“That was a good trip, but you know we can’t do that now,” Judah offered in a subdued tone.

“I’m sorry. I just needed that moment with him again, just me and Jay. I needed us to feel good like we did before all the bad.”

Bethie got down on her knees and hugged her brother. Mac scuffed his barefoot through the sand and pebbles. Judah got up from the ground. “Well, come on then. Let’s finish this trip up like we did back then. Screw ‘adulting’. Let’s hit those twisted rapids like the fools we are. Mac you take lead.”

Mac opened his mouth to spit out some sarcasm. His lips snapped shut without a word. A noticeable moment of internal thought flickered over his face. “Okay.”

Judah narrowed his eyes and cocked his head, his brain twisting like the flow of the river. “Why don’t you take Liam’s boat with Jay. Liam can take mine and I’ll give the new kayak a test run? I have to admit; I’ve had my eye on it since yesterday morning.”

What was happening? Bethie looked from one face to the next, perplexed. Judah was on to something, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Like a math equation with a new formula, it was just on the outskirts of her brain. She knew Judah well enough that if he wanted to test out the new kayak, he would have done it already. He was wary about something. He must think Liam needed a break, a separation, and if Mac had Jay with him, he wouldn’t be a daredevil again. She looked at Judah and caught him staring back at her. “What?”

He shook his head. “I forgot something.”

Bethie’s forehead furrowed. “We have all the supplies.”

Judah smiled. “It’s okay.” He watched the other’s getting situated. “You, ready?”

Bethie climbed into her boat. Judah assisted her into the water with minimal effort and then followed behind her. “See you at the bottom,” she called back and paddled hard into the white water stretched out before them.

Judah finished his water, tossed the empty into his cockpit, and shoved the edge of his paddle into the soft earth, pushing himself backward into the river. He strained to see the other boats bouncing and tossing on the rough waters up ahead. Throwing away his caution and the restraints he placed on himself over the last several months, Judah barreled towards the rapids. The water tossed him like a piece of driftwood on the ocean. He threw his weight to correct his angles. The new kayak handled like a dream. Mac made the right decision to go with the new company. By the time he hit the bottom, his blood was pumping with more energy and adrenaline than he felt in quite some time. He felt alive again.

The group gathered in the calmer running water down river. Judah, by force of habit, took a head count. “Where’s Jay? Is he okay?”

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