Read the River

By Pete Tucker

Part One – Back Seat

Leah and Josh were the consummate high school sweethearts. What couple ever garnered both crowns at the Junior Prom? King and Queen. Leah and Josh did. Surely it was a measure of how popular they were as a couple. Both personalities were very likable.

Josh was a halfback on the Sweetwater High  School football team. As a Junior, he had just recently set a new school record for “yardage run from scrimmage”. Leah, also a Junior, was setting the girls basketball court on fire. The two chided each other about who would set more school athletic records before graduation.

At the tender age of 16, both had concluded that they were steadfastly in love. They joked about what life would be like after college when they’d be able to tie the knot. All of this before they even knew where they would go to college or what they wished to study. For that matter, what would they each do for a living? They had their whole lives ahead of them. It wasn’t as though these decisions had to be made tomorrow.

That wasn’t altogether the way they saw it. Though both level-headed, a certain teenage impetuousness was theirs to contend with. Things couldn’t happen soon enough.

The Sweetwater area was rural. There was a lot of farming going on, mostly crop farming. Did anyone plant anything other than wheat, corn and soybeans? It didn’t seem so. The surrounding land was mostly flat with only occasional patches of woods and a stream here and there. Then wheat ,corn, beans, and more wheat, corn, beans. Then wheat .

Sundays were the only day that Josh and Leah had a little time for “down time”.  School and sports were demanding. They loved to take walks… long walks. These walks would be to a spot where they might possibly engage in what teenage lovers love to do. And talk, they found a thousand things to talk about.

Today, however, Leah was upset. She was crying, in fact, as she spilled details to Josh about her parent’s impending separation. It seemed to have come on suddenly. Leah felt a sense of desperation in the household. Why this, so abruptly?

“I can’t stand it”, she sobbed. “They’re fighting all the time. It never used to be this way. I try to talk to Mom about what’s going on, but she just seems to bury her head and cry. She doesn’t seem able to tell me what’s happening.”

She says that some day I’ll understand. Now what am I supposed to do with that ? It’s so frustrating !

“I’m afraid for her,” Leah continued. “I’m not real sure what a nervous breakdown is,  but I’ll bet she’s close to one. I’ve never seen her like this . She’s in a really bad way, Josh. I wish I knew what to do.”

The tears streamed down Leah’s cheeks. She’d never felt so helpless.

Josh tried to console her, but it seemed a daunting task. What else could he do but hold her hand just a little tighter and touch on subjects that might be a relief for her to talk about. In fact, spending time with Josh helped Leah through this conflict more than he knew.  She loved him for that.

Surely this was a crisis in young Leah’s life, hers and her Mom’s. Leah hated living in despair. She couldn’t imagine what Mom was feeling. This had to stop, whatever it was. She wished she knew.

Leah wondered. What could she possibly do for her suffering Mom ? There were no obvious answers but to be with her and talk with her.

The two ambled onto a farm that neither one knew anything about. They were five miles from Leah’s home, at their best guess . This farm appeared to have some mild hills. Still engaged in the discussion about the woes of Leah’s folks, the young couple made their way up one hill and back down to yet the next farm.

“Geez! Where the hell are we?”, Josh wondered aloud.

“I’m not sure”, Leah answered. “I left you in charge of navigation”.

“I’ll tell ya this much. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Josh had to really think about what would be the way home. He suggested to Leah that they both sit on a nearby stray bale of hay and take a breather. Leah acquiesced.

The two gladly sat and rested, giving Leah a chance to dry her tears.

Down here at the bottom of the hill it was, well, junky. From where they were sitting, they could see three abandoned cars in various stages of rust. Old roof tar buckets punctuated the surrounds. Such accumulations of junk were not unusual on farms.

“Wow! This guy’s got a little cleaning up to….

As he was speaking, Josh felt Leah’s hand on his thigh… forcefully.

“Shhhh.” She sounded very lowly. “Shhh.”

Josh fell silent.

Leah nudged her nose in the direction of the abandoned cars. In the less decrepit one, there appeared to be some motion. Suddenly, the two teenagers were spellbound. They sat stock-still, starring.

A back door opened! A man was slowly writhing his way out of the back seat. This was bizarre. It was broad daylight.

With any luck, Josh and Leah were far enough away that they wouldn’t be noticed. Josh mentally prepared himself to stay loose for whatever might happen here. Slice it however one wished, this was odd. Even scary. What was this guy doing here?

The man stood up, barely, it seemed. The car helped him balance himself. He was scruffy-looking, at least from this distance. He seemed not a young man, maybe 50 or 60, but  teenagers are not usually the best judge. He was of medium build and height.

With his elbows, he braced himself at the top elevation of the car and could be heard clearing his throat and yawning. Thus far, he hadn’t noticed the two kids whose attention he had just impelled. Leah and Josh were thankful for that. The fellow just stood there for some moments, as though trying to wake up.

He then flipped around while standing and leaned his back to the car, thus nearly facing Josh and Leah. Ut oh, the kids thought in silent unison. Our goose is cooked! They continued to sit perfectly still. What was the distance, maybe 200 feet? The man still did not notice them. He stood for a while, looking mostly at the clear, blue sky.

He then moved to the opposite side of the car. Though a bit obscured, it seemed from the pose   he struck that he was relieving his bladder. A tad embarrassed, this was no time for Leah to verbalize anything and she did not.

One might have guessed that the man was hung over, but the kids were not yet worldly enough to have ventured such a guess. That didn’t matter, anyway. In the next second he found his way back to a prostrate position on the back seat of the car. He even closed the door, in awful need of WD 40.

Just like that, the show was over. The man, who ever he was, presumably sought further sleep.

Josh and Leah sat motionless and yes, unscathed.

They quietly began their walk back home. Once out of earshot of the “abandoned” car, their immediate conversation obviated that they weren’t going to let this one go.

How so? They weren’t certain, but surely here in Sweetwater they weren’t used to homeless folks. This was an anomaly.

Part Two – A Plan Unfold

Leah’s Dad packed his bags and moved out. Before he left he was decent enough to sit privately with his daughter and have what proved to be a heart-wrenching discussion. Leah knew that their  talk was going to be a bumpy road when he began speaking:

“Leah, honey, I need to tell you something that I am terribly ashamed of…”

He went on to describe a recent infidelity that no young girl wishes to hear about from her Father. Leah listened to the litany. Her world, she sensed, was crumbling. She was numbed by all of this, her face wrought with emotion.

She cut his diatribe short when she held up her hand, as if a command to stop:

“Dad”, she said “l’m so tired of crying that I can’t take it any more. I’ve been trying to pry from Mom what’s going on, but now that I know, I think I’ll just save the rest of my crying to do with her.”

Shortly  Dad hugged her and said, “I can only hope that some day I can repair all of this.”

Leah looked at him with nary a tear in her eye and only replied, “ Good Bye, Dad.” It was an abrupt and painful end to a chapter in Leah’s young life.

Maybe on some other occasion she would discuss this with Dad, but not now. Leah was emotionally drained.

The reply to her Dad seemed stoic, but oddly ,Leah was more intrigued by her most immediate thoughts. She was thinking about another man who she had seen a few days before. Had he ruined his life with wayward antics such as her Father’s, or did a more dignified story dwell in that back seat?  Was there tragedy there? She wished she knew.

Why was she even thinking about him right now ?

The days that followed Leah spent with her Mom as much as possible. The spot was awkward for Josh when he came over,  but he did his best to help Leah assuage the situation when possible. Leah’s Mom was a strong lady. She would get through this. Whatever she was experiencing she didn’t deserve.  That was for sure.

It took a while for the subject to work its way back into their conversations, but Josh and Leah had to wonder about the disposition of the man in the back seat. Why was he there or is he still? If so, what was his circumstance? Would it be too nosey, or dangerous, to reach out to him? Does he need help? Does he pack a pistol in that back seat? Indeed, there were plenty of questions.

Leah wondered about leaving him a note.

“And who would deliver it”, Josh questioned. “You’re bound to run into him when you do. That kinda defeats the purpose of leaving a note.”

“Well, how about this”, Leah proposed,  “Let’s say that you and I are just walking along, taking a leisurely stroll along the edge of that farm. That would bring us about the same distance as when we saw him the other day. Let’s try to do it at about the same time of day, too. Maybe he’ll be outside. What’s the worst that could happen?

If we can perceive that he has seen us, we’re  then very subtle about giving him a quick wave. We’re just acknowledging him as we’re walking by. That’s all, but we try to read his body language. If he seems to want to visit with us, then BINGO. We have his attention and he has our’s. If he seems aloof, we just keep moving.

“Hey, Leah”, Josh said. “That was brilliant! Why didn’t I think about that?”

“That’s easy”, Leah teased. “I’m the brains in this outfit”.

They enjoyed their jocular moment with a passionate kiss.

Tomorrow was Friday. They resolved to take another walk on Sunday.

Part Three – Morning Visit

Sunday was there before they knew it. The late May morning was perfect for another long walk. Josh and Leah planned an 8AM departure from her Mom’s house.

“You two are sure getting an early start”, Leah’s Mom commented. “Where ya going?”

“ Well past the high school and then some. We just wanted to get moving before half the day was gone”, Leah replied. “We’ll take you next time, I promise.”

Yes, she felt a twinge of guilt that their plans didn’t include her Mom, but Leah wasn’t about to tell Mom of their plan to cross paths with a perfect stranger who sleeps in a car.

So, off they went, timed so they’d be on the “subject farm” at about the same time as on the prior episode.

Finally they reached their destination. They walked the entire edge of the farm that they knew would take them past the old cars. Indeed, they saw the relics, paying particular attention to any sign of movement in the “subject” back seat. This, while keeping their conversation low-pitched. They saw no commotion of any sort in the car.

Josh mentioned to Leah, after concentrating on that particular vehicle, something that he hadn’t picked up on before. It was a vintage Oldsmobile 98, a very luxurious vehicle in its day, he noted to Leah.

“It sure was. It was mine”

A man’s voice came from the edge of the woods, as though part of the conversation all along.

“ WHOA!,” Leah yelled, obviously startled. The man stepped out into the field.

He immediately apologized to Leah for having scarred her. That was not his intent, he assured her. The fellow then held out his hand to Josh as if to introduce himself.

“Hi, I’m Rick Slater. I’m pleased to meet you.” The two shook hands.

He then introduced himself to Leah, who was quite taken with the fellow from the standpoint of disposition and manners. She couldn’t help but observe his favorable looks, as well.

Leah and Slater shook hands, too. Slater spoke with a little bit of a lisp, almost rendering him difficult to understand.

“I hope you’ll pardon my speech. I know it’s a little off.”

Josh and Leah both noticed that the gentleman’s jaw was a little awry.

“That’s OK”, Leah replied. “I can understand you fine.”

Now that Leah and Josh had had a good view of Slater, it dawned on them both

that they had their man! There he was. This was the guy who had been sleeping in the Oldsmobile the other day.

Fully expecting a “No”, Josh asked Mr. Slater if this was his farm.

“If so, we apologize for trespassing”, Josh said sheepishly.

“No problem”, Mr. Slater said. “In fact, I don’t get many visitors. And trespassing is a strong word. Hell, you were just out for a walk! Do you know how to run a Gleaner? I could put you to work the next time you come by. I have two more farms, ya know.”

Josh and Leah were incredulous. Here was the guy who owned the farm, and two others . Here was the guy who slept in the back seat of the Oldsmobile. There were questions here !Something didn’t seem to add up.

Josh smiled. “You’d have to teach me to run the Gleaner. How much ground is there to pick?”

Mr. Slater smiled back. “Seven hundred on this farm,  but, Hell, Little Leah here could do that!”

Josh noted to Mr. Slater that this conversation was moving too fast. In a hurry, he had Leah and him gleaning Lord knows how many hundreds of acres of wheat.

“ I mean, you just walked out of the woods”, Josh joked.

Slater thought that that was pretty funny. In fact, he broke into a robust laugh. Josh and Leah joined him. The couple couldn’t believe the direction that this visit was taking.

“Do you have a house here?”, Josh asked Mr. Slater. “ Yeah, but it’s a long walk from here, over   at one of the other farms”, he said. “In fact, the other night I didn’t feel like making the hike. I got caught over here without a car, so I bunked in the back seat of that 98 yonder. Talk about deluxe accommodations!”

All three laughed again.

Both Josh and Leah mused to themselves. If only Mr. Slater knew how much they had misjudged his situation. They felt kinda foolish.

“Well you have a lot of work to do here, Mr. Slater”, Leah said.

“Oh, no. I don’t do any farm work, but I’m blessed with a good crew. I just watch over things.”

There, again, Josh and Leah had misjudged.

Well, Mr. Slater was surely a gregarious fellow. He seemed to be willing to talk about anything and he was very interesting.

Josh asked how long he’d been farming. One would have thought that he was a lifer, but it was becoming clear that Mr. Slater shouldn’t be pre-judged. He began his story.

Part Four – The Heat Was On In Saigon

“I was wounded in Vietnam”, Slater said, pointing to his off-kilter jaw. That prompted me to come home and stay home. Had that not happened, I might still be on a boat somewhere.”

“How long were you in the military?”, Josh asked.

“I never was,” Slater said.

“I don’t get it”, Josh volleyed.

This was getting to be guy talk, but Leah was right there with the entire conversation. She was fascinated. What would the next sentence be?

“Well it’s a long story. Do you have all day?”, Slater kidded Josh. He continued: “Back about eight or so years ago, I sailed as a merchant seaman with a company that ships containerized cargo all over the world. They weren’t a branch of the military, rather a private commercial enterprise. But back during that war, they helped the Army ship troops.

We were docked in Saigon when some men came aboard ship. I think they were CIA or something . At any rate, they asked to speak with me. Who knew? I was a Second Mate.

They needed a guy who could read a river. They knew of my maritime training. They needed somebody who could study a river’s flow and tell exactly how to navigate it without running the boat aground.  They had small boats, maybe forty feet long, used to shuttle troops up the Mekong River into North Vietnam.

Did I have a choice as to whether I wanted to do this? NO! These were the feds, you know. I was , sorta, conscripted.

Problem was, these VietCong snipers would station along the banks of the river and take potshots at our boats. One of their rifle slugs just grazed me. Let’s put it this way: Good thing it didn’t do any more than that.

So, I got my jaw patched back up and learned how to talk again. I packed in the maritime business and was glad to be coming home. Bye, bye DaNang, bye bye Mekong Delta.  I hate jungle rats, anyway !

I was coming home and thought it would be great fun to surprise my wife. Turns out, she surprised me, but I won’t get into that.

With that, Leah winced a wry smile. She thought to question, but let it go. Slater didn’t make it sound like things went well, anyway, and Leah didn’t need further reminders of things on the home front.

“Whew, you could write a book”, Josh exclaimed.

“Maybe about reading a river”, Slater chuckled. He prefaced his next comment with a soft pat on Leah’s shoulder. “It’s not as complex a science as reading women.”

“A ha”, Leah recoiled. “Or men.”

They all shared a laugh. This was a pivotal moment in their nascent acquaintance. They all realized that conversation flowed with ease, even if it bordered on the sensitive.

“I have to apologize”, Slater said.

“Why”, Leah asked.

“Well, I’ve done a lot of talking here, all about me. That’s not right. Tell me about you guys. You’re married, right?”

That rendered one animated smile from them both. They wrapped their arms around each other’s waistline.

“No, but we’re fixin’ to”, Josh grinned. “ I’m afraid we have a lot of booking to do between then and now.”

“Really, Where’s college?”, Slater asked.

“We’re not sure”, Leah replied. “We’re juniors at Sweetwater High.”

Slater was flabbergasted.

“Are you kidding me? You guys get the biggest prize in Oklahoma! I never would have guessed. I’m amazed”.

The visit had already taken a while. “Well, hey. You amaze us, too. But we gotta move,” Leah said.

“Damn! That’s no fair”, Slater countered. “We just got started. You’ll come back, won’t you?”

“Can we bring my Mom?”, Leah asked.

Slater gave Leah a very deliberate stare into her rather pretty face. He plucked a card out of his shirt pocket and handed it to her.

“I sure hope you do”, he smiled. “What’s her name?”

“Emily Kline. I think she’ll like you.”

“Great,” Slater enthused. “Call me before you come so I can make sure I’m not in the woods somewhere.”

Their visit had taken far longer than anticipated. Their good byes with Slater were heartfelt.

Josh and Leah disappeared toward home. As usual on their walks, they had so much to talk about. There were lessons here today, not the least of which had to do with telling a book by its cover!

Part Five – Meeting Mom

Emily Kline, Leah’s Mom, had become a little worried. Certainly Josh and Leah had been gone longer than usual. So when the couple walked through the door, Emily was relieved. Her apprehension, however, was shortly allayed by the kid’s enthusiasm regarding a fellow who they’d “ bumped into” on their walk. It sounded as though the kids had had a pretty grown up chat with Mr. Slater.

Emily listened with interest to the kid’s description of a fellow who sounded like he had things pretty glued together. She regretted that she was now looking at all men through the lens of circumstances that had recently befallen her. Was it any wonder that she had her guard up?

She had to admit to herself that she was a little intrigued when Leah let it be known that arrangement had already been made for Mom’s accompaniment on the next visit. Wasn’t that a little aggressive, she questioned her daughter.

“Mom, you’ll remember that we were going to bring you on our next walk, anyway”, Leah reminded her.

Emily had further questions regarding Mr. Slater. With all these thousands of acres, he must be quite wealthy.

“That can be a slippery slope”, Emily noted to her daughter .

“What do you mean?”, Leah replied.

Emily explained to Leah that there’s something out there in the adult world known as gold-digging, the phenomenon of aggressive women marrying for the money only.

“Mom, that sounds like it would be the furthest thing from Mr. Slater’s mind.”

“It’s not a matter of what’s on his mind. The question is, what’s on her’s.”

“I would think that he’s wise enough to see that coming, anyway. Besides, who’s talking about marriage here?”, Leah angled.

“Nobody”, Emily answered. “ It’s just a matter of how someone might perceive. You want to be careful not to even suggest that notion to a man of means. Understandably, he might be on the lookout for that.”

“Huh”, Leah pondered. “You sound like you’ve been there.”

“No, but I’ve seen it happen”, Mom said to daughter. “ and it’s ugly stuff.”

Leah accepted her Mom’s little tutorial for what it was, a perspective to bear in mind.

A few weeks later, the day came when Leah had arranged to re-visit Mr. Slater. Was it possible, Leah thought to herself, that she was playing Matchmaker here for her Mom. Leah amused herself with the thought .

Slater was so happy when Leah had called .

He quite remembered that Leah would be accompanied this time by her Mom. Leah thought that she might be playing out of her league when Mr. Slater inquired, “Shall we have tea?”

“Ah, yeah”, Leah nearly blushed. “That would be fine.”

Who ever has tea, she thought to herself?

“OK, let me tell you how to get to my place. Incidentally, it isn’t that old Oldsmobile”, he jested Leah.

“The house faces the Beckham River due South of Sweetwater. Look for # 37” .

Slater’s directions were clear to Leah. If this was the place that she thought it was, then Mom, Josh and her were in for a treat. It was a gorgeous place! They’d find out.

Mom’s vehicle, a many-years-used Ford Explorer, pulled into Slater’s driveway at Sweetwater.

Suffice it to say that three jaws dropped. Talk about curb appeal! Lined with Magnolia trees, the place was practically an invitation to Come Hither.

Slater greeted them all gracefully, consciously attempting to conceal any double take when first viewing Leah’s Mom. Whoa! She was a looker !

Upon shaking hands with Emily, he observed, “I’m afraid to have never been schooled. Is it Miss or Mrs.?”

“Well, that’s presently in a state of flux. Can we just go with Emily for now, Mr. Slater?”

“I can certainly do that, Emily, on one condition”, Slater replied.

“Oh, pray tell”, Emily said.

“Call me Rick.”

“I can do that, Rick”

“Very well then, would the lady have tea with me? And Josh , of course, and Miss Leah.

With protocol expended, they all made their way to a nearly palatial back porch.

At once, Emily was quite taken with the presence and manner of Rick Slater. He busied himself in the kitchen fixing tea water and scones while at the same time marshaling conversation with them all.

Emily said, “ I must tell you Rick, your home here is magnificent. You’re to be commended on your upkeep of it.”

“Well, thank you, Emily. Truth be told, though, I have help. I have lots of help.”

“I have something to tell you, though, Miss Emily. A few weeks ago, I had the unfettered pleasure of meeting the lovely couple here with you this morning.” (Josh and Leah beamed.)

“Perhaps they haven’t told you, but they threw me a wicked curve ball not long ago. Without asking, I come to find out that they’re high school Juniors. I had them pegged comfortably past that. They both carry themselves exceptionally well. Very poised. I’m guessing that you have a great deal to do with that.”

“Hey, They’re just plain good kids”, Emily conceded.

A thoroughly pleasant visit ensued.  The conversation was lively and disparate. A curve ball of another sort was part of it.  The back porch was open to untold acres of golden-ripe wheat. Coincidentally, one of Slater’s hires was harvesting that section of the farm today. As they were sitting there sipping, along crawled a Gleaner. Slater saw it as an opportunity to have some fun.

It was obvious that the back porch was soon to have a close brush with the Behemoth machine. Slater stood up and made his way into the field, into what would soon be the Gleaner’s next swath.

As he came close to Slater, Barley, as he was nick-named, stopped the machine, hopped out of the cab and descended down the ladder. Slater climbed up, motioned to Josh and yelled, “C’mon up here! Leah, you come too”.

Could this little encounter have been choreographed more perfectly?

Make no mistake. This was a seminal moment in the budding relationship between the kids and Mr. Slater. Josh and Leah both sort of gulped. This was a huge machine. And loud. Did Mr. Slater really want them up there!?! Yes, come to think of it, he had already talked about this.

“C’mon,” he yelled. “The wheats a-waiting!”

Tentatively, Josh and Leah stood and started their amble toward the Gleaner. Barley stood at the base of the ladder to coach them from ground zero. At length, Josh and Leah stood atop this roaring machine, chaff a-flutter in the wind. They both waved to Mom, 14 feet below!

The trio sequestered in the cab.  Emily could hardly believe it, but she felt comfortable with the kids being up there, with Rick at the helm. She watched as Rick sat with them. Some brief instruction was in process. The machine roared away, crawling toward the distance.

Barley sat with Emily. He estimated that they’d return in twenty minutes. Emily was floored. What a story this would be to tell grandkids!

Barley was right. The Gleaner re-appeared in about twenty minutes. He had filled Emily in on numerous details about the farms. This was one huge operation. She couldn’t believe that Leah had put her on to this whole thing.

The machine pulled up to the porch. Being high school juniors, the kids were too cool to display a lot of excitement,  but they’d obviously had a thrill. They had never done anything even close to this.

Leah said to her Mom, “Mr. Slater wants you up there!

Emily looked up at Rick, pointed toward her chest as if to verify that he really wanted her up there. Still in the cab, Rick was shaking his head with a big smile. “I’ll give you a hand”, Barley assured her.

Unashamedly intimidated by the Gleaner, Emily reasoned that if Leah did it, then she better, too. Emily swallowed hard , joined Barley at the ladder base and performed a rather athletic climb to the cab.

Rick had the door open for her.

“Welcome, my dear lady. A more deft ascent by a fairer form ne’r hath it been my lot to witness.”

“Whoa” , Emily said. “Did that just spill out of you?”

“Nah”, Rick replied. “I paraphrased a bit.”

“Paraphrased who?”, Emily pursued.

“John Greenleaf Whittier.”

Emily noted, “And this in the cab a roaring combine! You are one worldly man, Rick Slater. Could you remember that line for me?”

Rick placed his index finger at his temple. “It shall forever be here when you need to hear it.”

The way that Rick phrased his answer wasn’t lost on Emily. At that point, her mind was racing a  thousand  thoughts. Slow down here, girl. This guy is beyond sweet, but just slow down.

Besides, there was harvesting to do.

Emily assumed her position at the steering wheel. This was no simple machine. It seemed more like the cockpit of a jet-liner. She assured Rick that she was at his mercy.

“Perfect”, Rick smiled. “I’ll be nice.”

They shared a comforting chuckle. In moments the machine moved. Easy as pie!

Rick was standing behind Emily, to his advantage he shortly realized. Beads of sweat were ready to descend down her cleavage. Lord have mercy, he mused. This field work is toilsome. What further acreage could they harvest today, he metaphorically wondered to himself.

The visit drew nigh, apparently to the dismay of all. Politely, Emily suggested that they didn’t want to wear out their welcome. Unbeknownst to Josh and Leah, that was easy for Mom to say.  While operating the combine, she and Rick had already arranged a date for two weeks from now.

Before their departure, they all shared some graceful moments on the bank of the Beckham. Josh was inspired  by the friendship that he felt unfolding here.

“Bet you’ve read this river”, he jested Mr. Slater.

At that moment Slater’s eyes peered down into the river water. He saw a perfect reflection of Emily standing by his side.  Emily didn’t yet know anything about the “read the river” reference, but she was soon to learn.

To her surprise, Slater reached over and clasped her hand.  His eyes captured her’s as he replied, “I surely have, Josh. I just did.