The Rift

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Chapter 3

“I need a pit stop, Liam.” Mac broke the endless silence that settled upon the cabin of the SUV. Bethie was asleep in the back seat with her head against the window of the locked door. Judah was texting.

“Rest stop coming up.” Liam signaled and the vehicle sailed into the parking area, off the thruway.

“Beth,” whispered Judah. “Hey, sleepyhead.”

She groaned and slowly opened her eyes. “What?”

“Rest stop.”

“Already?”

“Yeah, someone has a micro bladder.”

Bethie stretched and gazed up to the front seat. Liam pointed towards Mac, shifting her blaming stare. “Typical,” she said through a wide yawn.

“You all just don’t drink enough water.” Mac defended as he opened the passenger door. “Best way to rid yourself of toxins, people.”

Judah scoffed. “Best way, would be not to put toxins in your body to begin with,” he said under his breath, yet loud enough for them all to hear.

Mac refused to engage.

The group made their way into the rest area building, each splitting off to their respective restrooms and the sundry shops. Liam picked up several packs of beef jerky and a sleeve of toffee chews. He added a six-pack of bottled water at the last moment. The girl behind the counter gave him a winning smile and warm color filled her cheeks while she scanned his purchases and bagged them. Liam returned a polite grin and thanked her, but did not encourage any further conversation, though she had opened her mouth to say something. Mac met him in the crowded lobby and dove into the bag yanking out the toffee chews. Liam’s hand wrapped around his wrist, in a flash, to stop him from tearing open the packaging. “Those are for Jay. For later.” His dark eyes grew hard.

Mac dropped the toffee chews back into the bag without discussion. He combed through his locks with his fingers and went into the shop to grab some food and chat up the counter girl who seemed to flirt with any cute customer, before heading back to the vehicle.

When they were all back at the SUV, Mac shoved marshmallow crème cookies and chocolate-covered raisins into his mouth, Judah reached for the driver’s side door. Liam stepped aside. “You wanna drive?”

“I’ll take over until Vermont, okay?” He looked over at Mac, chewing his junk food. “So much for those lost toxins, huh?”

Mac grimaced and tossed out his middle finger, visible over the vehicle’s hood between them.

“Still an asshole.” Judah said, shaking his head.

“Still a control freak.”

“Hey,” interjected Liam, halting the brewing tension. “Let’s not. I’ll ride in the back with Bethie. Judah, you drive to Vermont. We’ll grab a bite and a drink at the line.”

“I’m not driving with him in front with me.” Judah’s tone was directed, point blank, at Mac.

Liam gave a heavy sigh. “Fine, I’ll ride up front.”

Bethie grabbed her brother’s arm and gave him a stern, knowing look. She changed positions with Mac and climbed in to the front seat beside Judah. Mac sat in the back with Liam, after he adjusted gear in the back around Jay. Judah started the engine and they headed back onto the thruway.

The sound of crinkling foil wrappers, gurgling water bottles and thumping music from Judah’s playlist, which had caused a thirty-minute debate on why the driver picks the music, filled the cabin for the following half an hour, until Judah’s phone rang out. He fumbled with it and struggled to either disconnect it or stop it from coming through the Bluetooth. His timing was off and the line went live over the radio speakers. The music halted and everyone went silent.

“Hello? Judah, are you there?” asked a female voice.

Bethie’s eyes narrowed, and she glared at him.

“Yep, I’m here, Leslie.”

Mac gave a low whistle and Judah shot him a dangerous look.

“Are you driving? Where are you? You didn’t text me back,” her voice was light, but concerned.

“Hold on one second, Leslie.” Judah maneuvered the vehicle to the shoulder of the road and exited the front seat onto the side of the highway, leaving everyone behind inside, waiting. They watched him pace back and forth, his free hand flying about in exaggerated conversation as he chatted to Leslie on the side of the thruway.

“He’s still dating the jail bait, hmm?” Mac’s voice was muffled over his chewing.

“She’s not jail bait, she’s in college, almost a grad student and yes.” Bethie kept her eyes forward, not confident that she could look at either of them at the moment. “Mac, don’t start.”

Mac tossed his hands up in defense. “What’d I do?”

“Just don’t,” she said.

Judah dropped his hand from his ear. His chest heaved a visible, weighted sigh. Bethie watched him smooth back the nonexistent lengths of his hair, an old habit. It frustrated him. He paced the length of the SUV twice and then finally opened the door and climbed back in.

“Problems with the lower class-men?”

“Mac,” voices chastised in stunned octaves all around him. Judah pulled away from the shoulder without a word. Bethie grappled with the need to ask him if things were okay and her anger towards him and his new relationship. The silence droned on until she heard the soft, regular breathing rhythms of people sleeping behind her.

“Five years ago, they’d be wide awake, bouncing about and being annoying. Are we getting too old for this?” she spoke in a hushed tone, not wanting them to wake and steal away the quiet moment.

Judah lifted his eyes to the rear view mirror. “I think I like them better this way. They are so cute when they are asleep,” he teased and grinned at her. “We aren’t old, Beth. We are wiser, for sure, but you, my dear, look as young as the day I met you.”

“Judah,” she sighed and frowned, “I was thirteen.”

“Okay, well you are still young and beautiful.”

Bethie was glad his eyes were on the road. He wasn’t able to see her eyes darken and her face turned red. “Is Leslie okay?” she whispered under her breath, hoping not only that the others might not hear, but maybe Judah hadn’t either. She regretted asking even before the words left her mouth.

His lips pursed and his brows knitted together. He had heard. “She’s not exactly happy about this situation.”

“Why?”

He glanced across the front seat at her. “What do you mean, ‘why’?”

“Well, is it because she didn’t know, or wasn’t invited, or is it because you are with me?” Her tone dropped at the end of the question.

Judah’s cheeks puffed out with a gust of frustrated air from his lungs. “One, she did know about the trip, and two, I invited her a while ago, before I decided not to go-”

“But you never really decided that,” Bethie interrupted.

Liam glanced at her, with a serious expression and then turned his focus back towards the road. “Yes, Beth, I did.”

“Then why did you have a duffel bag packed? And don’t tell me because you were a Boy Scout.”

His sigh was equally heavy the second time around. “I couldn’t let him down.” He stopped for a brief moment to control the tightening of his vocal chords. “Leslie isn’t happy with me being here with you. That’s the truth of it. I can’t blame her. I’m not exactly thrilled to be here with someone I take issue with either.”

“Mac wanted you here.”

Judah looked at her. “Did you?”

She gave him a soft look, her emotions hurt that he even asked the question. “Of course I did. I mean, do,” she stuttered. “I’m glad you are here, Jude. The Rift wouldn’t be the same without you.”

“It’s not the same Beth. None of us are the same.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this. We aren’t kids anymore. You don’t have to prove who the king of the hill is.”

“Is that what I’m doing, Beth, playing a children’s game?”

“You’re acting like a child,” she snapped.

“Seriously? How am I acting like a child? I moved on.”

“You ran away to the big city. Left your business, your dreams, left your friends.” Bethie’s voice was increasing in volume.

“That’s right, I left all that because of one common factor.”

Bethie’s jaw dropped. She stared at him and a tear slid down her cheek. “Me.”

Judah shook his head. “No, I didn’t say that.”

“Yes you did. I am the common factor.”

“Beth,” Judah paused. “I can’t go around on this ride again. I can’t. I’ll do the Rift and then I’m out.”

Bethie flopped back against her seat with a defeated sigh. She cupped the side of her head in her hand, looking out the window at the passing scenery. “Run away, Judah, run.”

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