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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Overdue Love

by Judy Thomas

Geri froze as she picked up the copy of Catcher in the Rye from the box she was unpacking. Surely this couldn’t be the same copy she vaguely remembered checking out of the library so many years earlier. A quick glance at the due date stamped verified her fears.

Her stomach tightened as she pictured the tall, thin librarian she remembered from her childhood… hair skinned back into a tight bun, glasses perched on the end of her nose, a scowl on her face as she lectured about late books and dog-eared pages. Try as she might, Geri couldn’t replace that with the image of the same woman who had helped her locate Gone with the Wind, years before her school librarian would let her check out “real” books. She was helpful in a lot of cases, but in the case of overdue books Miss Sarah’s bark and bite were one and the same.

I wonder if the library police will come for me. Maybe I could drop the book in the overnight drop and just send the library a check for $100.

She couldn’t remember now why she’d gotten the book from her hometown library instead of the college library. She must have been home for some reason and remembered the paper was due on the date she was to return to college. She did remember getting a A on that paper and the comments by her teacher. It was his comments that led her into changing her major to English and to a writing career. She smiled as she remembered the crush she’d had on him. He was just a graduate student and only four years older, however there were still prohibitions about faculty-student interaction. Ever since then, though, she’d been attracted to men with beards.

But, back to the problem at hand. Her immediate concern was getting the book back to its rightful place. She still couldn’t believe she’d forgotten to return it.

There was nothing to do but do it, as her mentor would say. It had worked while she was slaving away on her rough draft for Only Three Sisters and it was good advice to follow now.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, Geri was ready to face the tongue-lashing she expected from old Miss Sarah. Mentally preparing her excuses, she drove to the small library in the center of town. What a way to come back home.

The library seemed smaller than she remembered as she walked up the worn steps, but the smell of books as she walked through the door transported her back to her childhood. Many hours had been spent curled up on the window seat on the second floor as the words she read transported her to far-away lands. She could still remember the first romance book she’d read and falling in love with heroines who lived all kinds of romantic adventures. Life was different in the small town she grew up in where everyone knew not only what went on in the next door neighbor’s house, but knew family kinships back two and even three generations. No surprises here. It was one reason she had dreaded coming back to live after her mom’s death, but the idea of having a rent-free home to live in as she pursued her dream of supporting herself by her writing was too enticing to pass up. She would just have to find romance vicariously, through her heroines.

She braced herself and looked to the long desk in the center of the room, sure that Miss Sarah would be able to see through the tote bag and know instantly that there was a six- year overdue book inside. To her surprise, however, she found herself gazing into a pair of brown, twinkling eyes.

“Hi and welcome,” he said. “How may I help you?”

“I’ve been away for a while and have just moved back to town. Where’s Miss Sarah? Don’t tell me she’s retired.”

He laughed. “No, I don’t know that she’ll ever retire. She had a fall a few weeks back and broke her hip. Since I had the summer off from my job, my mom volunteered me to help out here… Miss Sarah’s an old friend of the family.” He stuck out his hand. “My name’s Jake.”

“Geri,” she replied, shifting the tote bag to her other arm and shaking his hand. “I’m sorry to hear about Miss Sarah, but to tell the truth her not being here makes this a little easier. I’m afraid I have an overdue book to return.”

Jake pursed his lips in a silent whistle. “I understand why it would be easier. She can really make you feel about ten inches tall if you return a book late or damaged. How late is it?”

Geri could feel her face heat up. “Uh… about six years, give or take a week or two. It somehow got packed up with some books in the attic and I’m just now in the process of going through all that stuff.” She didn’t look at him as she pulled the book out and handed it to him.

“Catcher in the Rye,” he read from the cover. “That’s one of my favorite books. I assign it every year I teach freshman English.”

She looked up to find his gaze on her, a smile playing around his lips. She narrowed her eyes, trying to picture him with a beard. “Mr. Traymont?” There was a tightness around her chest and she stole a glance at his bare ring finger.

“Yes. And you’re Geraldine Hawthorne, aren’t you? I read your book. It was good.”

“Thank you. Now, how much do I owe you for that book?”

“What about I take you out to dinner tonight and we’ll call it even?”

As Geri smiled and nodded her head, she thought that maybe there was romance in the old town after all.

About the Author: Judy Thomas: wife, mom, writer, editor, co-owner of a review site, co-owner of a tree and stump removal company. Member of First Coast Romance Writers. And in her spare time she tries to keep her house clean enough the health department doesn't shut her down. She blogs about this, that and the other here. Feel free to stop by for some southern hospitality.

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