A thunderous crash could be heard in the distance as a home collapsed and crumbled into the rushing waters below. Several people were standing at the edge of a hilltop in Santa Clara, Utah, watching their valley being destroyed before their very eyes.
When Julia Roberts Evans saw the home fall into the depths of the water, she gasped. She put her hand lightly against her mouth with sorrow. John instantly wrapped his arm around his wife's waist and pulled her close.
Standing on the hill and watching the destruction below was an emotional experience for Julia as she nestled into her husband's arm. She was a reporter and was supposed to write about the tragedy, but this was personal. Her valley and her friends' homes were being ripped apart. The destruction below wrenched at Julia's heart. Her home was safe and she had lost nothing, but her heart went out to the family who had just lost their home and property.
The torrent had eaten away the dirt of the riverbank and the foundation of the house. With no support, the home fell into the rapidly flowing river and was swept away downstream. The trees and shrubs that once lined the small five-foot-wide river were now gone, uprooted and swept away by the violent and turbulent flow of water. What took years for nature to create, nature was able to destroy within seconds. Who would ever have guessed that the creek would swell to such width, viciously cutting away at the landscape?
Julia and her husband had moved here twenty-one years ago. Her children were born and raised here. She had taken them to the small river below and had floated little wooden boats downstream. They had gone wading; even her husband had slipped off his shoes and joined them. After a few days of 110-degree temperatures, they had driven to this spot and splashed one another with cool water.
Now this once tranquil stream, which could easily be crossed on foot or in a car, was now as wide as the length of a football field, and it was taking everything within its path. The speed of the river had once been five cubic feet per second, and now it was more than 6,500 cubic feet per second. In three days time, it had dug into the earth's surface, carving away at the banks and creating ridges as high as thirty to forty feet. The torrent was digging at the earth at ten feet per hour like a plow and sweeping the red dirt down the river into Arizona and Nevada.
John shook his head in dismay as he combed his fingers through his wavy, dark brown hair. "I just helped someone move their stuff into a neighbor's garage yesterday."
"Oh?" said Julia. "That's good."
"No," he said with regret. "This morning, we had to hurry and take the stuff out. The river had eaten away so much during the night that the neighbor's home was in danger. We just barely made it, Julia."
John was one of the volunteers who had worked feverishly to help the residents remove what they could from the homes that were threatened by the river, but there were those who escaped with only the clothes on their backs. About two hundred homes were damaged and twenty-five were completely destroyed. With the help of the community and religious leaders, homes were found for the homeless.
Julia turned to her husband and said with concern, "Why is the flooding so bad this year?"
"Six weeks of rain following a seven-year drought is the main reason," said John as he motioned toward the river. "Built-up debris blocked the river channel and the only direction to go was outward, toward farmland and homes. Not only that, the heavy snow in the mountains seemed to be a blessing to our desert land, but the unusually warm January has melted the snow too fast."
Julia shook her head. "Way too fast!"
"Yup! Add that with the constant rain, and the saturated ground couldn't hold any more. So far, the estimated damage is nearly two hundred million dollars. Anyway, that's what the fire department figured."
He looked down at Julia with his rich chocolate-brown eyes and a grim look on his face. His eyes and countenance had softened through the years, along with having three daughters to raise. If daughters couldn't soften a man, then nothing would.
John's square jaw was set as he pushed his fingers through his hair once again. "Well, all the sandbags we put out along the river didn't help much. They were washed down the river as well."
"I noticed." Julia turned to her husband and said, "Personally, I think this assignment is a little too close for comfort. It's been an emotional roller coaster for me, and I'm supposed to be a professional. I should report without emotions."
She shook her head in discouragement.
John stared at her with arched brows, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm, a non-emotional reporter - so reporters aren't supposed to have feelings when they report about their neighbor's home crushing into the depths below? Reporters aren't supposed to be full of empathy when a person ends up homeless?" He shook his head and narrowed his eyes, "Julia, I believe you're in the wrong profession."
She gave a hint of smile as she said, "Yeah, you've got a point there. Just tell that to Ted, my coworker. He says that professional reporters aren't supposed to get emotionally involved. Our duty is to report and nothing else."
"He's a lying sack of. . ."
John quickly stopped his thoughts when Julia gave him a stern look, and he instantly changed his mind. She was always getting after him for saying a few choice words when he would hit his finger with a hammer or when the computer would not obey his command. He needed to work on that.
John grinned guiltily and said, "What I meant to say is that he's a lying sack of manure, Julia."
She smiled knowingly and nodded her head. As she began taking a few pictures of the disaster below, she had an uneasy feeling as if she was being watched. She lowered her camera and looked around. Then their eyes met.
A tall man dressed in a white jacket and white baggy pants was standing a short distance away, watching her intently. She wondered if her imagination was getting away with her because he looked at least six-feet-five inches tall. He had broad shoulders and shoulder-length hair that was pulled into a ponytail. A chill went down her spine and a sense of foreboding spread over her.
The stranger grinned and commented nonchalantly, "Aren't you that reporter, Julia Evans? I've seen your byline and photo in the paper and read a few of your articles. They're good."
Feeling awkward, Julia gave a nod. "Thank you."
"I'm new in town and haven't read a small town newspaper like this before. It's very interesting, indeed, with a homey touch."
The stranger dropped a cigarette to the ground and smashed it with the toe of his shoe. He grinned, as his piercing blue eyes swept over her with great interest.
Feeling uncomfortable, she turned toward her husband and slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. Why was he staring at her like that? It was disconcerting, but deep inside she seemed to know that their paths would cross once again. The thought of it sent a shiver up her spine.
"You okay, Sweetheart? Are you cold?" asked John with concern.
"No." Julia shook her head and tugged at her husband's arm nervously. "Let's drive to Green Valley and see the damage over there. I heard it was hit the hardest."
Julia needed more pictures, but the main reason for leaving was the discomfort she felt in the presence of the man in white. She needed to leave. There was something about him that was disturbing but she did not understand why.
As Julia walked toward the car, she still felt his eyes upon her. Without hesitation, she quickly opened the door and slid in. As they pulled away from the curb, she turned and saw the man in white watching them drive away.
As he drove, John looked over at Julia and saw the soberness on her face. He knew this was a tough assignment, simply because it hit home. And to not be emotionally involved would be impossible. Ted was a complete jerk, not to mention insensitive, proud, and overbearing.
"Are you still having those dreams?" asked John.
Julia nodded. "It's so strange. I can't figure it out. I find myself admiring this beautiful pendant. I can tell it's from another time - an ancient artifact." She hesitated for a moment, biting her lip nervously as she looked at John. "But there's more I haven't told you."
John could see that she was uneasy about the dream, so he encouraged her to continue. "Hmmm, you've got my attention, M'darlin'. Tell me about it."
"Well, after admiring it, I snatch it up, stuff it in my pocket, and then take off running."
"You're a thief?" John said teasingly. "Why didn't you tell me that part of your dream?"
"Well, I was embarrassed. Why would I steal something of great value when it's completely against my nature?"
"If I didn't know you so well, I would laugh and tell you to go out and buy one. Then all your dreams would go away."
Julia stared out the window, wondering why she had been dreaming of stealing a valuable artifact.
When John saw the concerned look on her face, he added softly, "You know I believe in your dreams, Julia. I wouldn't ignore it. Your dreams are always significant. It'll come to you eventually." He raised his brow. "So what does this coveted pendant look like, anyway?'
"Coveted?" Julia punched his arm. "That's not funny!"
"Hey! Maybe it's your secret desire, to have something from the ancient past," John said with a chuckle.
"Sorry," he said, trying to suppress a smile and not succeeding very well.
"And wipe that silly grin off your face, too!"
John hastily clapped his hand over his mouth.
Noticing his playfulness, she said, "Take your hand away. I know you're still smiling."
He removed his hand and sure enough, his grin was wider than ever. "But I can't help it, Julia. The thought of you becoming a thief is so outrageous. You're a person who loves to visit museums and admire the past. You wouldn't steal."
"That's the part that bothers me, Honey," she said mournfully.
Knowing she was feeling distraught over the dream, he stopped playing around and softly asked, "Can you remember what it looks like?"
Julia nodded. "The only thing I remember is that it's a red triangle pendant. I have a feeling that it's very special for some reason, and I'm not sure why."
Seeing her somber look, he said softly, "Don't worry. It'll come to you, Sweetheart."
As they rode to Green Valley, they saw the remains of eighteen homes that were destroyed, which had been at the mercy of the raging river.
"John! Pull over here!" Julia said with urgency. "I need to get out."
He immediately pulled the car over, and Julia hopped out with her camera in hand. What she saw was a threshold standing alone. The door was wide open and swinging on its hinges. The home was gone. It had sunk into the depths of the river and left behind its threshold. What a sight! Part of a fence was hanging over the edge of the thirty-foot-high bank, and a few shrubs were dangling by their roots.
Lost homes could be replaced, but the sad thing about this flood was the loss of irreplaceable and precious treasures that had no value to anyone but the owner, such as pictures and memories of the past.
John slowly walked toward Julia, amazed at the sight before him.
After snapping a few photos, Julia looked up at him and said, "Now let's go to the north end of Gunlock."
"Aren't the bridges washed out?"
"That's right, so we'll have to go around it."
"I understand that a helicopter is taking food to the residents until the bridges are repaired."
She nodded. This flood had affected the whole community.
It was a thirty-minute drive to the nonexistent bridge. John pulled over to the side, and they hopped out. As his wife snapped a few pictures, John investigated the remains of the destroyed bridge.
Seeing an extra lush area in the distance, Julia became curious. The desert seemed to be greener than usual from all the rain. She walked toward it and found a small pond surrounded by shrubs and bushes. What a pleasant sight! Apparently, this remote and secluded area wasn't flooded for some reason, probably because it was away from the main river and protected by the hills surrounding it. It looked untouched and serene, being fed by streams from the mountains above. As she inspected it, she found about three-dozen fish in the pond, floating lifelessly.
Feeling a little puzzled, she yelled, "John! Come here."
He saw her in the distance and sauntered towards her. "What's up?"
She pointed to the pond.
John knelt down on the grassy bank and inspected the fish closely. "Now what do you suppose happened here?"
"That's why I called you over. There's so many. If there were just one or two, then I wouldn't question it, but three dozen? It couldn't be a coincidence. What do you think?"
"I wouldn't think so, either."
"Where did they come from?"
John shook his head with a puzzled look. "I'd figure these fish must have come from streams above us or below us."
"Below us?' Julia questioned.
"Yup. Either they swam upstream from Gunlock reservoir or they came downstream from Baker's Dam."
Julia immediately turned on her heels and headed for the car.
"Where are you going?"
She turned around and looked over her shoulder. "I'm going to get a gunnysack and take the fish to Matthew at Dixie State College. He's a good chemist and will be able to tell us what happened to them."
John nodded his approval. "Not a bad idea. Why are you so curious?"
Julia grinned from ear to ear. "Now, my darling husband, have you ever run into a reporter who wasn't curious?"
"Hmmm, I don't believe I have, Julia."
John chuckled as he watched her walk towards the car. Julia was a determined woman with rich auburn hair that barely touched the tops of her shoulders. She had expressive hazel eyes with gold and green flecks and long dark eyelashes. She had a genuine smile and a deep belief and faith in God.
As John watched her walk gracefully away, he could not help but think how stunningly beautiful she was. She had such grace and poise, even in her Levis and red cotton ribbed tee shirt. He loved everything about her, even her stubborn ways. She was so daring that it scared the bee-gee-bees out of him. She was completely opposite from him, which made his life with Julia even more interesting. He could never figure out what made her so strong willed.
John was a gentle man with a great sense of humor and teasing ways. He was more cautious and guarded, not one to take chances. At the same time, he was more subdued and quiet. He was laid back and took life as it came. He also tried to make sure there was a certain spark in his relationship with Julia by spending time with her and paying attention to her needs. Sometimes he would forget those needs, simply because of the stress at work. He tried not to neglect his wife. He knew it was not right to allow a marriage to deteriorate simply because of neglect such as working late on a project or taking off with his archaeologist friend. He had to remember that she was a very important part of his life and could not take her for granted. They did have a few things in common, though, and that was their love for music. They both loved jazz and the blues.
Julia was a newspaper reporter for the Dixie Chronicle. She wrote editorial columns on newsworthy subjects such as the famous St. George Rodeo or the grand outdoor Arts Festival during Easter time. Now she was assigned to cover the flood caused from the Santa Clara/Virgin Rivers.
Just before her birthday last year, her friends told her that women tended to get depressed when turning forty. But it wasn't so with Julia. She felt it was a new beginning. All her children were now independent. Since she had more time on her hands, she decided it was about time to work a little harder so she could get a promotion. Her goal was to get the "assignment of a lifetime" before she turned forty-one.
Julia returned in no time with a gunnysack dangling from her hand. She stooped down next to the bank and began scooping up a few fish with her hands, placing them in the gunnysack while John watched contentedly.
At the age of forty-two, John was a master knife and sword maker. Tempering steel into creative shapes and styles brought him great joy. He was unusually tall with broad shoulders and a strong jaw. His bulging biceps came from lifting and working with large pieces of steel. His mother often told him that he had inherited his dark brown eyes, olive complexion, and rugged build from her side of the family. She had named him after his grandfather, John Roberts. That knowledge made him feel proud, knowing he had come from a great heritage.
John sat down on a boulder and watched intently as Julia gracefully bent over the bank and scooped a fish into the sack. This woman before him was determined to find out why these fish were dead and no one could sway her decision. How he admired her tenacity!
After years of marriage, she still intrigued him. He had read that once a man stopped watching his wife as she moved about and stopped noticing her shapely curves, then something was definitely wrong with their relationship. Soon Julia would be forty-one, and she looked more appealing to him than the first day of their marriage.
As Julia worked, a water snake slithered near the bank and startled her. She gasped and jumped aside, but after realizing what it was, she sighed with relief and just gave it a little push with her fingertips so it would head in the opposite direction.
"Go away! I don't need your help," she said patiently.
The snake slithered toward the nearby rocks and disappeared out of sight. John chuckled. She wasn't afraid of anything.
He leaned his forearms against his knees and said, "You know what, Julia?"
She turned and saw him grinning from ear to ear. "What?"
"I'm sure glad you're not like the typical woman, afraid of creeping things."
Julia narrowed her eyes. "Is that a compliment or what?"
He chuckled. "A compliment, of course! You're not one of those squeamish women who squeal with a high-pitched voice at the sight of a snake, and you don't mind touching slimy fish."
Julia laughed. "And why do you think that's so great?"
He thought for a moment and then smiled. "'Cause you'd make me do it, I guess. I'd rather not."
Julia shook her head with amusement. "On the farm, we had plenty of these garden snakes. Once my brother found a nest of them near the house, and I remember how he would pick one up and try to scare me with it, but I wasn't afraid. He wasn't going to get the best of me. Besides, it's no big deal. They aren't venomous."
John grinned. "That's a tongue twister. Do you think you can say it three times?"
She stared at him, seeing the challenge in his eyes, but shook her head. "No, thanks. You try it."
John concentrated for a few moments and repeated, "Venomous, venomous, venomous."
"Wow!" Julia laughed. "I'm impressed."
He grinned mischievously. "It's all in the tongue and lips."
Julia smiled with a teasing glint in her eyes and said, "So, you accuse women of being afraid of reptiles. How about you? Are you squeamish when it comes to snakes?"
John looked offended. "Are you kidding? Of course not!" Then he smiled. "I can't stand the slimy creatures personally, and I wouldn't have pushed it away with my hand as you did, but I wouldn't jump around frantically screaming."
Julia laughed. "What would you have done?"
"Now that's easy to answer. I would have gotten a stick and slid it under him and dropped him in the water. That's the safe way to do it."
Julia smiled at his answer. "How about dead fish?"
"If you wanted me to put them in the sack for you, I'd do it, all right. Personally, though, I prefer watching you do it."
"Watching? Now that's the lazy man in you, I do say."
"No, I'm smart. You see, I get to sit here and watch an attractive woman. And you look pretty darn good from this angle."
Julia suppressed a smile. "Pshaw! You're just flirting with your wife and trying to hide the fact that you're squeamish. I bet you anything that you would squirm if you had to pick up a water snake with your hand and not a stick."
John lifted his brow at her challenge. He immediately hopped up and walked toward her. He stooped down beside her and looked into her large hazel eyes. He saw the challenge in them, and she was grinning from ear to ear.
With mischief lacing his eyes, he said, "Squirm, you say?"
Julia nodded curtly. "I dare you to look for that water snake and pick it up." With more emphasis, she repeated, "I dare you."
He chuckled at her playfulness. "I'll show you squirm!"
John took her by the shoulders, pulled her close to him, and kissed her soundly on the lips. Then he spread gentle whispering kisses down her neck, nibbling as he went. It did not take long for her to giggle and begin to squirm. The goose bumps that he was causing spread down her arms and up her spine.
Julia gave one powerful shove and said, "Stop it! You're distracting me."
"More like squirm, if you ask me."
Suppressing a smile, she got to her feet and said, "You're just trying to change the subject so you don't have to take my challenge."
"Your challenge?" he said as he stood.
She pointed toward the rocky area. "The water snake went that-a-way, Mister."
"Hey! I'm not interested in any dad-blame snake. I'm having too much fun."
Julia rolled her eyes. "Sorry, but I've got to get these fish to Matthew before he leaves the lab."
John couldn't help but grin as he asked lightheartedly, "Hey, Julia, are you sure you want to leave now? I was just getting started."
She gazed at the unusually lush green area. "You always choose the most romantic places, don't you?"
"Of course. Look around us," he said with a wave of his hand. "We have slithering snakes for an audience and dead slimy fish to scent up the atmosphere." He took a deep exaggerated breath and let it out. "Ah! What an aroma!"
Julia giggled at his sense of humor, giving him a coy smile.
And with that, he grabbed her into his arms and began spreading a whisper of warm kisses down her cheek and across her jaw line. Then lifting her chin with his finger, he pressed his lips to hers, giving her the message of undying love. As he enfolded her in his arms and gently caressed her back, he gave her a kiss that turned her mind to mush, made her melt into his arms, and sent a tingle of warmth from her lips right down to her toes.
John adored his wife and companion. This woman gave meaning to his life, made him want to strive to be better. Not only that, she made him feel like a man, and the effect she had on him was indescribable!
When John heard her sigh, he released Julia's lips and asked, "Do you still want to get these fish to Matthew?"
Julia smiled as her eyes flickered open. "What fish?"