August sends another notice to firstname.lastname@example.org about an overdue book. This was the third time this month she had to send one to this person about an unreturned copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. Most people feel guilty and return the books right away after her gentle, yet firm request, but not email@example.com. She sighs and walks away to go shelve some books when the phone rings. She internally groans and picks up the phone, “Hello, Swallow Creek Public Library, this is August speaking. How may I help you?”.
After a small pause, the person on the other line replies, “Your name is August?”. “Yes… Now is there anything I can help you with?” August resists the urge to roll her eyes and taps her finger on the desk. “Um, yes actually. I keep getting sent emails about an overdue book, but I can’t return it. So if that could stop that would be greatly appreciated,” says the gruff low voice. August has no words. He can’t return it? What is that supposed to mean? She sits in silence until she hears the man clearing his throat through the phone. She stutters out, “You can’t return it?”
“Yes, I can’t.”
“I apologize for asking but why?”
“Um I just… it’s very hard to explain. I’m sorry and thanks for all your help,” and the phone line goes dead. She holds the phone in her hand, eyebrows scrunched in confusion. Finally setting it down, she decides that it’s time for her break. August heads to the break room where her sister, Amelia, sits chewing on an apple and scrolling through her phone. She plops down in the seat next to her. “Whoa, what’s up with you,” Amelia comments.
Eyes closed and head leaned back against the chair, August replies, “Sometimes I am completely baffled by the human race.”
“So am I, but what did they do to you today?” Amelia takes another bite of her apple and turns to August.
August sighs, “I’ll explain later, right now I need some coffee.” She reaches over and steals a sip out of Amelia’s cup.
“Hey! That’s mine! … Ugh, my break’s over. There’s your own coffee over on the counter so you can stop stealing mine.” Amelia says, taking her coffee back and heading out the break room door.
“Love you!” August yells to her sister and goes to grab her cup. Beginning to unpack her lunch, she thinks to herself, “This is going to be a long day.”
The door to the small diner swings open and in rushes August, frantically tying up her hair. Out of breath, she pants, “I’m sorry I’m late!”. Her boss and owner of Mel’s Place, Mel herself, shouts “It’s okay hon. Just clock in and take table 4.” August rushes around the counter and picks up an order pad. Taking a deep breath to recenter herself after the rush to get to her second job, she briskly walks over to table 4 and begins to recite her spiel, “Hi! Welcome to Mel’s Place! I’m August. What can I get started for you today?”. She glances up from her order pad and locks eyes with the very handsome man sitting at the table before her.
“Did you say your name is August?” a slightly familiar low voice asks her.
That snapped her out of her trance. What is it with people and her name? Annoyed, she responds, “Yes, I said August. And yes, I know it’s a month, but it happens to also be my name. Now can I get you something?”
“I’ll just have a black coffee and a piece of the peach pie, both to go please,” the handsome, yet irksome stranger, who also happens to like the same pie she does, answers her.
“Coming right up!” August replies in the cheeriest voice she can muster. Walking back and placing the order in the order window, she thinks deeply. What was giving her serious deja vu vibes about this guy?
Leaning her back up against the counter, August asks Mel if she knows the guy at table 4. “Oh Jude? Of course I know him! He’s not here at his usual time though, must be running late today. He used to come in every Sunday since he was little with his grandmother until she started having memory problems last year and moved into Swallow Creek Ridge. Now he stops by at lunch to get her a piece of her favorite peach pie,” Mel finishes with a sad smile. “He’s grown into quite the peach himself!” Mel cheekily comments and goes back to serving customers.
Eyes filled with curiosity, August delivers the pie and coffee and is about to ask if she can get him anything else when she notices a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird sticking out of the top of his open messenger back on the booth next to him. The realization hits her hard, “It’s you, isn’t it? Mister ‘I can’t return the book’,” August prompts.
“I assumed there wasn’t more than one August living in Swallow Creek. Aren’t you supposed to be sending obnoxious emails at the library?” Jude challenges.
August narrows her eyes at the man and crosses her arms, “some of us have to work two jobs instead of sitting around eating peach pie and purposely breaking common decency rules like refusing to return library books, if you must know.”
A small smile plays at Jude’s lips as he stands, gathers his things and tosses cash onto the table. “There’s a little extra in there, consider it a donation to the library. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go break some more common decency rules before the day is over.”
Watching him exit the diner, August is torn between appreciation for his nice blue eyes and anger at his arrogant treatment of her and the library. “August honey, can you grab Table 7?” Mel bellows from the bar, leaving August to push aside thoughts of this second odd encounter of the day until later.
That night when she finally returns home to the tiny apartment she shares with Amelia, August plugs the name ‘Jude Foxx’ into the Google search bar. She finds an article from almost twenty years ago in the Swallow Creek Gazette about a terrible car accident off Highway 49 just outside of Swallow Creek claiming the life of Mary and Graham Foxx and leaving their 6 year old son Jude the sole survivor of the crash. The article mentions how devastated his maternal grandmother, Cora Winters, is over losing her daughter and son-in-law. Bells ring in August’s head. Where does she know that name from? Google doesn’t give her much information that helps. Just basic information about Cora Winters, apparently a long time resident of Swallow Creek. However, she does learn that after the accident, Jude went on to become a star baseball player in high school, went to Stanford on a scholarship, earned his PhD, and now owns a psychology practice dedicated to helping children cope with trauma. Heart melting a little at his story, August decides to attempt to reconcile with the gruff, selfish guy who refuses to return a library book.
The following day during the slow mid-morning hours at the library, August asks Amelia if she knows the name “Cora Winters”. Popping her head up from the stacks of books she is organizing, the elderly library manager, Martha, says, “Oh that’s a name I haven’t heard in a very long time. You should know Cora Winters, dear. She used to volunteer here when you girls were little. She ran storytime every week and very kindly donated a large collection of books to us when she moved into Swallow Creek Ridge last year. Poor thing…dementia is such a sad thing to have to live with. Why are you asking about Cora?”
“Oh, well I was doing a little research and her name came up. I think her annoying grandson has one of our books and he refuses to return it,” August replies.
“Oh Jude was always such a sweet boy. He’s had a hard time of it. Cora raised him all by herself. Seeing her go through this must be eating him up inside. What book is it?” Martha asks.
“To Kill a Mockingbird.” August replies.
“Well, that was Cora’s favorite book. She said it taught you a lot about character. Let me see the record,” Martha requests.
Pulling it up on the computer, August shows it to her. “Well, that’s his grandmother’s copy of the book. No wonder he doesn’t want to return it. Just don’t worry about it dear. Let him know he can keep that book,” Martha finishes.
Feeling a little sheepish after learning more about the story, August agrees to drop the overdue book chase and get back to work on other tasks that need to be done. After several hours of organizing, shelving, and preschool program planning, August decides to take a walk during her lunch break to get some fresh air. She must subconsciously be thinking about the story Martha told her earlier because she finds herself strolling by Swallow Creek Ridge. Sitting on a bench under a tree off to the side of the large wrap-around porch, she spies Jude sitting with a tiny gray-haired lady who must be his grandmother, Cora. He is reading from To Kill a Mockingbird to her and she listens intently. Slowly, he closes the book and stands, beginning to help her to her feet. Not wanting to be seen, August glances around to find something to duck behind, but in her rush trips over her own two feet and drops her phone, making enough noise for Jude to look up and spot her. Face flushing, August quickly grabs her phone and hurries back toward the library.
Strolling toward the diner later that afternoon, August is startled to see Jude standing outside the door. She fights the tiny butterflies beating their wings in her stomach. She isn’t sure what it is about his presence that makes her feel all jittery and tongue tied, but she is determined to not let him see that, so she holds her head up and starts walking past him when he calls, “Hey August, the girl, not the month, do you have a second?”
“Um, sure,” she says, anything but sure about why he’d be talking to her.
“So since now you’re apparently stalking me to get back the library book, I thought I’d make it clear in person that I’m not returning it. It was my grandmother’s and she kindly donated it along with a bunch of other books to the library when she had to move into Swallow Creek Ridge, but I really wish she hadn’t done that,” Jude glances down at his feet, shuffling them around, and continues, “She always loved books so much and now when I read to her, it’s one of the few times she remembers things…remembers me. So I’m not going to stop reading her favorite book to her,” he finishes firmly.
Speechless at first, August sighs, “Listen, I understand. You should keep the book. I didn’t know. I was just trying to do my job. And for the record, I’m not stalking you. I just happened to be out on a walk at lunch today and passed by Swallow Creek Ridge,” August states, trying to convince both herself and Jude. “Now if that’s all, I need to get to work before Mel fires me.”
Jude nods and steps aside. August heads inside, but can’t seem to focus on her customers that night. Her thoughts are all too consumed by her surprise interaction with Jude. When she gets home that night, she’s formulates an idea.
August arrives early to the library the next morning. She’s knee deep in research when Amelia shows up. “Hey early bird! I didn’t even hear you leave this morning. What’s with the employee of the month act?” Amelia teases.
“Oh I’m just trying to find some old books that were donated. Remember that guy I was telling you about that wouldn’t return his book? Turns out there is more to the story than him just being a jerk,” August explains.
“Interesting! Tell me more!” Amelia exclaims with a clap.
“I will, just let me finish what I’m working on and talk to Martha first. Catch up to you later?” she asks.
“Of course. I’ve got to get ready for story time anyway,” says Amelia.
August works at the computer for another hour then hits the bookshelves, pulling book after book and putting them in a box. Determined she walks into Martha’s office and says, “Got a second?”.
After explaining her idea to Martha, who hugs her and tells her to take the rest of the afternoon off to carry out her plan, August leaves the library with her box in tow. She heads straight to Swallow Creek Ridge and asks at the information desk if she can leave something for Cora Winters. “We usually only allow family members to see patients in our memory care ward,” explains the lady working the information desk. Hurriedly, August explains the purpose of her visit and shows her what’s inside her box. Smiling broadly the lady says, “Well in that case, let me show you to her room.”
The attendant tells August the room number and she makes her way up the stairs to the room. Once reaching the door, she sets the box down on the welcome mat and places a little note on the top. She lifts her hand to knock on the door when a deep voice from behind her interrupts, “What are you doing here?”
Startled August turns around to see Jude’s deep blue eyes gazing at her intently. She stares back at him, trying to figure out what to say when he interjects again, “What’s in the box?”
“Just some books from the library that your grandmother donated all those years ago.” August says, eyes glued to her feet. Jude is silent in response. After another pause, August finds her voice again, “Well, I should be going. I hope she enjoys the books.” She hurries down the hallway and makes her way to the front walkway when she hears Jude calling her name. She pauses and turns around to wait for him.
“Why?” he asks.
“Well, I lost my grandfather a few years ago. He had Alzheimer’s. It was so hard watching him struggle to remember us. We would do anything to help bring his memories back. So I just thought if the books help your grandmother remember you, then she should have them,” August finishes with a small tear in her eye.
The pain and kindness behind his deep blue eyes is so evident to August in that moment that she knows she did the right thing.
“Thank you August. Would you like to meet me at the diner later for a slice of peach pie?” Jude tentatively asks.
August has never been more sure of an answer before. “Yes!”