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Cheers to the Fall

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“Mac, slow down!” Phryne picked her paddle up and out of the water to aimlessly whack it behind her.

“And why exactly are you hitting me?” Mac demanded, but with no malice in her tone.

Phyrne looked behind her and whisper-yelled her reply. “If you pass him I won’t be able to see his arms anymore!”

“Oh my God, woman. You’re impossible!”

She entirely ignored her friend’s reply and continued, “I mean look at them, Mac!”

“I’m not the right audience for this.”

“He keeps flexing them just to get to me, I swear!

“Phryne, he’s just rowing his kayak, not trying to seduce you.”

As she turned back around, Phryne huffed, “Well tell that to his triceps, then.”

“I will not be speaking to a man’s arms, Phryne. At least not before lunch.”

“She makes a good point,” said Alice in the kayak beside theirs. She turned to speak to Cec behind her. “Come on, let’s gather the others and take a break at the next bend.”

Hugh struggled to get his lure on the line. How could he get anything done in these conditions? Dottie was just sitting there, looking beautiful. Right in front of him. It was so distracting he kept jabbing his finger into the hook. And try though he might to hide it, eventually an “ouch” slipped from his mouth.

“Are you alright?” Dot asked, turning to him.

Always the kindest, this girl , thought Hugh. “Yes, I’m fine Dottie, just trying to thread the line through the hole here, is all.”

“Oh, I can do that!” Dot reached towards him and plucked the lure from his hands without asking. She handed it back to him before he could finish blinking away his dumbfoundedness. 

“Dottie, this knot is amazing!” he said as he inspected how she had attached the lure to the line. He pulled on it just to be sure.

“I know,” she replied with a smile as she turned back to her work. 

Once again, Hugh stared after her for longer than was probably necessary. He shook his head to shake this lovely distraction from his mind, and cast the line into the river.

After a few minutes of waiting, he reeled the lure back in and cast the line out again. And again, and again. He was glad Dot had brought along a small piece of embroidery to work on. He didn’t understand why she would want to sit alone in the quiet with him when she could have been picnicking near the shore with her friends, but he was grateful for the company, nonetheless. He felt overwhelmingly grateful that such a confident woman had chosen to be by his side. He slowly came to realize that he was worried, afraid to do or say the wrong thing in front of her, lest she change her mind. The need to impress her kept him quiet more so than the desire to catch a fish.

She’s already said yes, Hugh, why are you still so nervous? he thought to himself. And then he felt a tug. 

“Oh, oh!” he said a bit too loudly.

Dottie turned, “You got one?”

“I got one!”

Hugh pulled back and reeled quickly, but not too quickly. He had to keep things balanced.

But the fish fought harder than he thought it would. The line wouldn’t budge. 

Dot put her work away in her bag while Hugh struggled.

“Come on, Hugh, you can do it!” She leaned to the side, trying to see the fish on the end of the line.

Hugh leaned back, struggling to get his catch to cooperate. In an effort to change tactics and win the battle, he leaned forward and just a bit to the side.

The kayak leaned with him.

“I’m not getting back into the water,” Bert pouted to no one in particular.

“Come on, Bert, it’ll be good for you.” Cec replied, somehow already at Bert’s side.

Bert glared at him. “I don’t very much care. My arms hurt and I’m tired.”

“If your arms hurt, Mr. Johnson, you’re doing it all wrong. Here-” Mr. Butler had appeared suddenly and silently beside them with a paddle in hand. “Use your abdominals, Albert. Like this.” 

He demonstrated rowing through the air. “You can sit back and relax, but still flow through the water seamlessly. No biceps required”

Bert raised his arms in the air and copied his would-be teacher for a single row. He immediately dropped them again. “No. That’s impossible. I need my arms.”

Before Mr. Butler could throw Bert a side eye, there was a brief scream and a splash on the far bank. Bert found Cec’s cap thrust into his hands as his friend dove into the water. 

The water was shallow enough that both Hugh and Dot were able to stand. They embraced  each other as if treading a deep pool anyway. 

“Are you alright, Dottie? I’m so, so sorry!” Hugh brushed the water from her arms, looking for cuts.

“I’m fine, Hugh. I saved my bag and everything.” Sure enough, Dot had managed to hold onto her embroidery, and had even managed to keep most of the bag dry. “You dropped your pole, though.” Hugh dropped his gaze to the water to find his fishing pole floating nearby.

He snatched it up, expecting that his fish had gotten away, but the line pulled again. 

Jack and Cec arrived, one by boat and the other by water, to see if they could help.

“You made good time, Yates. I was just around the bend when I heard Dot. I’m surprised you swam here so quickly.”

“Thank you, Inspector. Once a sailor, always a sailor. I jump for a man overboard on instinct.” Cec looked to Dot, “or a lady.” He made to tip his hat to her, but found it wasn’t there.

“Gentlemen, I thank you both.” Dot said, with a tiny cursy in the water to prove her point. Next to her, Hugh continued to struggle with his fishing pole.

Jack brought his kayak beside Hugh and took the pole from his hands. With just a few strategic tugs, he pulled a dripping green mass from the water.

“Collins.” said Jack, “Your big catch-” he paused as he held up the fishing lure, “is a weed.” 

“I’ll take it.”

Hugh couldn’t handle any more complaining. He jumped out of his own kayak, now safely pulled onto the shoreline with the others, and into the empty single-rider that had been Bert’s for the first leg of the journey. The entire group looked to him. Bert seemed annoyed, Cec looked confused, and Dot was expectant. She gestured to him to continue the rest of his thought. Oh, right.

“I’ll take the solo kayak that was Bert’s. Alice can take my place in the double with Dottie-” the girls beamed at each other over this, “and then Bert can ride with Cec.” There, that was all of it.

“Well. You heard the man. Let’s go, then” Bert stamped with triumph toward Cec’s kayak.

Hugh rolled his eyes with a gentle shake of his head, wondering how that man always seemed to get his way, while Alice skipped towards Dot to take his place in the kayak. 

“Is he seriously doing this right now?”

“I think he is, yes.”

“Isn’t this the same man that complained about rowing?”

“And I also recall him laughing at me being drenched in ‘bloody river water.’”

Mac, Alice, Phryne, and Dot watched Bert climb up the side of the falls.

“If he survives, I’m jumping too,” said Jane.

“If he survives, I’ll join you, Miss.” All the women turned to Mr. Butler. “-to ensure that you stay safe,” he recovered. After a moment he added, “but also because it looks like fun.”

Jack didn’t care much to jump off cliffs into the swimming hole, but he also didn’t want to leave this place before standing at the base of the waterfall. With a bit of reluctance, he tested the water with his foot before tentatively submerging the rest of him. He swam across the open water, avoiding the area he believed would be Cec’s landing spot, to join the others on the rocks. Climbing out of the water proved to be far more difficult, and slippery, than it looked. Algae covered the rocks under the waterline. How does Mr. Butler make this seem so effortless? Jack wondered. That man’s upper body must be made of steel.  

“Need a hand there, Inspector?” Mac asked over the roar of the falls.

“No, I’m alright,” he called back.

She shrugged and turned back to Phryne, who didn’t look at her friend again, but instead smiled over Mac’s shoulder at Jack.

Oh, that’s what I need right now. An audience.

Jack did his best to ignore the fact that he was being watched while he struggled, and decided to put his cycling legs to good use. If Mr. Butler could easily pull himself up the rocks with his core strength, surely Jack could hoist himself up with the raw power of his thighs. And he was right. He could. But he didn’t account for the rocks being slippery outside of the water as well. With too much forward momentum and no grip, Jack fell head first into the rock wall in front of him. 

Mac pounced before he had time to register he was hurt, with Phryne right on her tail. He wanted to tell her it was fine and it was just a bump, but he knew he couldn’t hit his head in front of a doctor and expect her to turn away without an examination, so he stayed quiet. Mac titled his chin back and brushed the wet hair from his forehead.

“Hm,” she said.

“Oh, Jack,” whispered Phryne as she knelt beside him.

Now was the time to say it, he decided. “It’s just a bump.”

Phryne frowned at him as Mac shook her head.

“Why is it always the careful ones and never the risk takers?” she said as another jumper’s splash hit her back. “Dot! Do you still have your bag on you?”

Dot and Alice had opted to avoid the jumpers by swimming near the waterfall’s rocks, and so were nearby. 

“Yes, Miss. It’s in the boat” 

“Could you bring it here, please?”

A moment later, Mac handed the bag to Phryne. “I presume you’d like the honors?”

“Without a doubt,” said Phryne with a wink.

As soon as Phryne took the bag from her, Mac walked to the edge of the falls. It seemed the doctor wanted to have a go at climbing and cliff jumping as well. 

“It really is just a bump, Phryne. It doesn’t even hurt.” said Jack.

Phryne pursed her lips at him. “Just bumps don’t bleed, Inspector.”

“Oh.”

She opened Dot’s bag and removed the needle from the embroidery work, reaching for a new thread as she did. Jack widened his eyes.

“...oh.”

Phryne’s look back at him was one of both teasing and sympathy, and he didn’t understand how she could communicate so much with just a glance. 

“Now stay still,” she instructed. “I was a nurse a very long time ago.”

Mr. Butler was kicking everyone’s ass.

No one actually said that they were racing back to their origin point to go back home, but… they were racing back to their origin point to go back home. And Mr. Butler, laid back and exuding seemingly no effort, was ahead of everyone by leagues.

-

“Collins. If you pass an injured man, you’re fired.”

Hugh gaped at the inspector. “But Sir, I-” he stopped when he saw the smile on Jack's face.

“I’m only joking, Hugh. Go on,” Jack laughed. “Go catch that old man for us.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Hugh paddled his kayak ahead in a valiant attempt to reach Mr. Butler, but in his momentary hesitation, Jane pulled around him. She would be the second one to make it back to the bank.

-

“Mac, speed up!” Phryne picked her paddle up and out of the water to aimlessly whack it behind her.

“Put that thing down and help me, then!” Mac demanded.

The only thing better than admiring a man’s arms, thought Phryne , was beating him in sport.

So she did.