The Rift

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Chapter 9

“Beth?” hollered Judah through the sheets of rain. “Are you okay?”

“I’m here,” she called back, hoping he’d see her across the expanse of the river, waving her bucket hat in the air. The storm rushed in too fast. They’d just put in, at the top of the river, when the first blast of cold air and rain hit. The rapids separated them and then the rain came down in blinding sheets. Everyone, but Bethie, made it to the far banks, while the rapids caught her opposite them. Taking in copious amounts of rainwater and waves. It was times like these she wished she’d brought her spray skirt.

She tried to see across the water and gauge her efforts to make it there and meet them, but a crack of thunder and lightning kept her planted against and outcropping of rocks. The sponge she housed beneath her seat would not do the job of emptying the cockpit. Her hat literally turned into a bucket as she bailed water back into the flowing river. She was thankful they couldn’t see her, or she’d never hear the end of it.

When the rain let up enough for her to see, and her boat wasn’t three quarters full of water, she paddled the width of the river and situated herself under the awning of tree branches the men were at. Everyone was soaked and dumping water from their boats. “Did we lose anything?” she asked, taking in the visible gear. “Jay?”

Liam smiled and gave her a nod of his head. “All good, sis.”

“You all right, Beth?” inquired Judah.

“Wet, but otherwise all good.” She touched the top of her head with an upturned fist. Mac followed suit, indicating he was good. The others joined in the nonverbal sign for “all good”.

“Not the best way to start out. Man, the waters high this year.” Mac unzipped his cooler bag and tossed each person a squished salami and mustard sandwich. “Better eat these now, before they’re water logged.”

“Got a beer to go with?” asked Liam. Mac tossed out a few cans, tucked the cooler back under the deck ties on the new boat and they raised their drinks in a toast. “The Rift, always a challenge, never a man left behind. Boo-yah”

No one joined the toast. Mac scowled. “Yeah, well...” He downed half the can and pushed off from the shore. “Let’s make a mile.”

“Asshole,” murmured Judah and followed behind him.

The second set of rapids roared up ahead of the party. Judah set his line and Liam followed. Bethie took a smoother path closer to shore and turned to see Mac barreling towards the center. “What the hell is he doing?” She shook her head and watched the carelessness unfold. “For God’s sake he hasn’t even got a helmet on.”

The new kayak dipped and lifted, it pitched and swayed through the swale. Mac didn’t look like he was even trying to control the direction of the nose. Bethie gasped when his boat rolled to one side. He shifted his weight to adjust, but went too far. The kayak rolled to the opposite side and Mac reached to grab a rock, his paddle freed from his grasp and drifting on the white water to the base of the rapids. A wave washed over the deck and freed the soft cooler bag with the beer in it. Beth watched it bob up and down over the rocks and head downriver at a quick speed. Liam was circling to catch Mac’s paddle. He missed the handle of the bag and it sailed by him down river. Judah was paddling like a madman back up the river along the shoreline. They could hear his cursing echoing off the slopes of the banks and the trunks of trees.

Mac’s bow submerged. His boat was going under, fast. Why wasn’t he getting out? If he got his weight out, the boat may float down and Liam could grab it. Mac sat stone still. A wave hit again, and the kayak turned, and rolled, lifting up and spewing Mac out of the cockpit. “Mac!” Bethie screamed.

Judah was out of his boat in a flash, shoving it up on shore and fighting the raging water to get close enough to toss Mac his PFD, a single line rope tied to the strap. Mac didn’t attempt to grab it. “Goddammit, Mac, grab the line,” he yelled, tossing the life jacket again.

Mac rode the swell to a set of rocks and flung his body up on the protruding surface. He huffed air and coughed river water, rolling over to his back on top of the rock. They all watched him place his upturned fist to his head. Judah swore and got back into his boat. Liam tied Mac’s boat to his own and waited at the bottom of the rapids. Bethie knew he wouldn’t risk losing Jay to go back upriver in the speed and force of the rolling waters. Mac half scrambled, half swam to the shore and walked down to meet them. He shook his wet head and wrung his T-shirt out, leaving it a crumpled, wrinkled, wet mess on his body. He took his paddle from Lima and climbed back into his boat.

“What the hell was that all about?” seethed Judah, once everyone was down the river, drying out and safe. “If you want to do crazy stunts like that, Mac, do it on your own time. I’m not going to have your broken bones, or worse, noted on my resume.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize kayaking adventures went on your suit job portfolio. You get a lot of clients up there in that high rise inquiring on your adventure skills, do ya?”

“Mac, that’s enough,” admonished Liam.

“No, Liam, it’s not. I think we all need to understand what happened to our illustrious leader. You hang that diploma behind your desk, let everyone know you graduated with honors and now you’re playing in the market, no skills at all?”

“Mac,” whispered Bethie.

“Really Beth, you’re going to stand by him?” Judah shook his head. “I should have guessed.
“Judah, I’m not standing by anyone. I just don’t think this is the time or place.”

Judah scoffed. “And you’d know all about proper timing, right?”

“Judah,” chastised Liam.

“You know what, screw it.” Judah took off ahead of them, sinking his paddle and pressing on hard and with speed to distance himself. Liam followed at a safe distance.

“Mac, why do you have to be like that?” asked Bethie, gliding up beside a sulking Mac. “Why can’t you let it go?”

“Because it’s not right. I want it resolved before...” Mac trailed off and started to paddle.

“Before what?” She kept pace with him. “Before what, Mac?”

“Before it’s too late. He’s the one that needs to come to terms. He walked away from us all, not just me and the business, He walked away from Liam, from Jay and from you.”

Bethie shook her head. “Judah did what he thought he needed to do, at the time.”

“Why are you defending him?”

Bethie’s mouth dropped open to protest and then she snapped her mouth shut. “I’ve defended you too, Mac.”

“You won’t have to do that anymore,” whispered Mac before he pushed on ahead, leaving Bethie alone with her remorse and thoughts.

An hour passed with no sound, but the water, the wind, and the call of birds around them. You could hear the crack of a beer top opening, or the rustle of a body shifting positions in their seat and then there came the hoots and catcalls off in the distance. People were up ahead, just around the bend in the river. Bethie sighed and paddled. Up ahead was the rope swing.

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