The Rift

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Chapter 17

“Hey look at that sugar sandbar,” yelled Mac, beaching his boat on the sand island. It sat off from the shore of the bigger island, blocking the shoreline from the wide expanse of the river. It created the perfect barrier from where they would camp to the far side of the river which was mainland. The bottom of the river was all sand between the shore and sugar sand island. The water that flowed between the two was shallow enough for the kayaks, but no other boats to reach the camping spot from this angle.

After a stint on the sand, swimming and laying in the late afternoon sun, the group began to set up camp for the night. Mac pitched tents, Bethie laid out damp gear to dry, and Judah and Liam collected wood for their fire pit. When Bethie and Judah were alone together, he took a minute to talk to her, in a tone low enough that she knew it was only meant for her ears. “Earlier, when I said I forgot something...”

Beth stopped stacking wood and looked at him with confusion. Her head tipped to the side, and she wavered between anxious tension and the old feeling of ease in their communication.

“It wasn’t about supplies. I forgot what it was like for us all to be together, taking care of one another.”

Bethie gave him a tight smile, her words caught in her chest.

“I was wrong. I should have stayed for you and Liam and for Jay. I’m sorry.”

“Not for Mac, too?”

Judah fingers curled into fists. “He betrayed me, Beth,” he breathed out. Why couldn’t she understand the tear in their friendship his action had caused?

“No, Jude. He didn’t betray anyone. He stayed,” she whispered. She jumped back when Judah chucked a large stick across the camp and back into the trees. He stormed off, splashing through the shallow water, onto the sugar sand island and she heard the water when he dove into the river, off the opposite side.

“What’s his problem this time?” asked Mac, observing from the array of tents.

“The truth.”

Liam emerged from the woods of the island, his eyes red and puffy. He ignored his sister and Mac. His feet took him in the same direction as Judah. Liam’s bare feet sank in Judah’s prints left behind in the sand. His swift stride matching in distance and speed. Minutes later, the sound of another body diving into the open water was heard. Bethie stood still, astonished, bewildered, and wondered if Mac would follow suit, but he turned his back and started to rummage around the supplies to start on their dinner plans. She expected this trip to be difficult, but not in the way these boys were behaving.

Judah floated on his back in the middle of the river, allowing the water to fill his ears and cut off any sounds of the camp and the memories it brought. He stared up into the early evening sky, letting the current take him where it wanted. He knew it was over with Leslie. He’d known it for a while. Their relationship was a band aide to hide wounds that need exposure to heal properly. None of it was Leslie’s’ fault, and he owed her the respect to tell her the truth and let her move on with her life. He moved that conversation to the top of his mental to do list for after they finished the trip.

The water moved in ripples around his face and over his chest. He lifted his head to see Liam swimming beside him. “Hey.”

“Hey,” said Liam, “you gonna float all the way to the falls?”

Judah flipped over and looked to see the river widening and a set of rapids approaching. He turned and began to swim back up river. “I guess I was lost there for a minute.”

“I think we all are a little lost. It hasn’t been easy for any of us.” His face contorted, not from the excretion of swimming, but from the words he was feeling in his throat. “I wanted to say thank you... to you.”

Judah slowed his stroke and turned to his back, fanning his arms and flutter kicking beneath the water, so he could look at Liam. “You don’t need to thank me for anything. I wanted to be here.”

Liam stopped and began to tread water. “I don’t mean thank you for coming along.” Liam was thankful because they both needed to concentrate on their pace and direction. It made it easier for him to say what he felt. “Thank you for being a good friend to Jay, as much as you ever were to me and even Mac, before...” He trailed off. “If you hadn’t got him the help-”

“Liam, stop. We all did our part.”

“No. That’s not true. You saw through all the clouds, all the crap. I was too close. Mac was too hotheaded and Bethie, well she always has good intentions, but she’s soft hearted.”

Judah smiled, loving the fact that Bethie could never say no to anyone without feeling guilt. It was a fault, but it was also one of her strengths, her kindness and willingness to help. “So, you’re thanking me for being a hard ass with him?”

Liam laughed. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Great. Did you ever think our lives would be different, if I wasn’t so stubborn?”

The two men reached the shore of the sandbar. Liam grabbed Judah’s bicep, helping him up on shore, but also making a much-needed connection with his best friend. “If you hadn’t been the way you are, it would have been different, we would have lost so many things we were fortunate enough to have, because of you. So yeah, thank you, Judah.” Liam wrapped his arms around his oldest and dearest friend.

Judah held him. His hand made a wet slapping noise as he patted Liam on the shoulder. “We can do this, buddy. As difficult as it’s gonna be, we will get through it together.”

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