The Rift

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Chapter 23

Liam sat in his tent, with Jay beside him, unwrapping toffee chew after toffee chew. He popped each piece into his mouth until he felt ill. The sun wasn’t up yet. He could hear light snoring in the distance; the likely culprit would be Mac. At least Liam knew he was still breathing. “Jay, you gotta help me out here. If you haven’t noticed, our family isn’t making it. I don’t think we are going to be able to do this, babe. Mac is a mess, worse than usual, believe it or not. Beth and Judah are barely speaking anymore. And I’m barely hanging on myself these days.”

A bird off in the distance began to sing its early morning song. The sun would begin its ascent into the New Hampshire sky any minute now. Liam picked up the wood stained, gold hinged box and cradled it in his lap. “The truth is; I don’t know if I’m ready. Every time I have ever agreed to let you go, something awful happens. I know this is what you asked for, and baby I promised to give you everything you ever wanted in this life, but you promised things too. How am I supposed to keep this promise? Would you hate me forever if I didn’t?”

The sun crept up and painted the morning sky in long, slow, artistic strokes of light. Liam unzipped his tent and slid to the edge of the nylon structure, resting his bare feet in the sand. He watched the sun rise with Jay in his arms. “Am I supposed to let this be our last sunrise together? Look at it, Jay. It’s spectacular. You’d call it a palette of valentines and frozen moon beams, I think. We were supposed to grow old, watching sunrises like this.”

“You have to talk to Mac. Show him somehow. If there’s any power beyond here Jay, use it to save someone else.” Liam set the box beside him and pulled his knees up to his chest, resting his chin on his kneecaps. The pressure in his rib cage was suffocating him with pain and he struggled to breathe. “Up ’til now, I have followed your wishes to the letter, your letter. I’m not ready to finish this. I can’t move on without you.”

Liam placed the box back in his tent. He took a deep breath, got up and ran to the river, diving in as deep as he could. When he emerged, a heart crushing cry broke through the surface with him. Bethie came out of her tent, her eyes wide. She spied her brother in the water and without thought, dressed in her clothing from the previous day, she ran into the water to be with him.

Liam fought against her while she surrounded him with her thin, yet toned arms. She held him fast and buried her face in the crook of his neck and shoulder, his skin wet with river water. Beth didn’t say a word. She held him. Together they stood in a sibling embrace while the sun rose to its early morning height over the Rift. Their hot tears mixed with the flowing cool water.

Judah watched from the shore, his head down, bare feet shuffling in the sand. The sound of a nylon zipper releasing its teeth breached the silence. Mac edged himself out of his tent with some difficulty. He groaned and scrubbed at his face. “Can someone help me?”

“I got you, buddy.” Judah offered his hand.

Mac gave a scoff of doubt. “I gotta still be dreaming.”

Judah stood still, his hand remained extended. Mac gazed at him and his eyes softened. He shook his head and grasped Judah’s hand with renewed strength. Together they walked into the river, enfolding Liam and Bethie into a group hug. “Let’s do this,” someone said.

Together, arm over shoulder, over arm, the foursome walked up the shoreline, linked in body and mind, strength and love. Liam went to his tent. His fingers brushed over the smooth surfaces of the box. He cradled it to his chest and carried it to where the group stood. His fingers danced over the gold latch. No one said a word.

Liam opened the lid and extracted a slip of paper. A gray dust coated the page. Bethie sniffled and Judah put his arm around her. Mac lifted his uninjured hand to do the same and then dropped it to his side, looking at Judah. Judah nodded and Mac took Bethie’s hand in his. Liam cleared his throat.

“To my dearest, closest friends,” he read from the paper. “You have given me so much and I can never express or return the love and acceptance you had for me. I hope you can forgive me.”

Bethie’s breath hitched.

“Mac my daredevil, no holds barred, a fearless friend, never change. You are amazing and will continue to do amazing things with your life. When in doubt, look back on all you’ve accomplished. Thank you for sharing your life and laughter with me and always challenging life to answer you back in your own way. You will kick any moments backside that attempts to drag you down. You’re a survivor.”

Mac visibly dropped his stance, drained and defeated. His tears flowed unhindered.

“Judah, you are a lion of strength, a force to be reckoned with and a man of kindness and compassion. You know your heart inside and out. I regret I let you down. Love our friends like no other, like I know you will. Never waffle between them. Love them equally, regardless of who pisses you off and who holds your hand.”

Judah looked to the skies and mouthed a silent promise to do just that.

“Bethie, my first and my best friend. You may never understand. My vine may have snapped, but like the psychic once told us, ‘now I have freedom’. You never gave up on me; from day one, we were destined to be friends. Thank you for taking me in and loving me, like no one ever deserved.”

Liam paused to smile at his sister, mentally thanking her for bringing Jay into their lives all those years ago. “My forever love, Liam. I’ve written out my love, appreciation and remorse on your heart and in the previous pages. One day... we will get to that little church on the hilltop. I will forever be connected to you, all of you.”

Liam stopped and wiped his face with the flat of his hand. He folded the letter and put it in his pocket. “Jay told me he was never happier than when we were all together, here, at the Rift.”

Bethie stifled a sob with her hand. Judah pulled her in close.

“He wanted us to leave him here, together.”

Mac turned away and kicked at the sand. His shoulder shook with silent remorse. Liam opened the box. Jay’s ashes swirled in the morning breeze, like a bright morning shooting star.

With the morning sun burning off the night dew, four sets of hands held the box that held their friend. They tipped it slow towards the flow of the river.

“You set up your place in our hearts, Jay, and you’ll forever stay there.” Liam tilted the box, and the ashes took flight in a swirling dance on the wind. It may have been the sun, but the group believed it was Jay that made the dust sparkle and shine, like glitter in the air.

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