A MOTHER'S GIFT
by Cherie Reich
WORK, WORK, WORK
The minute hand ticked, pointing straight down at the six. A half hour left of today's first job, Julie thought while the phone rang. She picked up the cool black receiver. "Thank you for calling Main Library. This is Julie. How may I help you?" Her voice sounded chipper despite the dark splotches under her eyes.
"Just give me a moment, and I'll renew your books." Her fingers flew over the keyboard, tap, tap, tapping away as she typed in the patron's name. "They're due in four weeks on June 2nd. Is there anything else I can do for you?" "No? Thank you. Goodbye."
She had just set the phone down when it rang again. A sigh left her lips, but Mary grabbed the phone this time, repeating the familiar lines that Julie had spoken before.
Julie tucked a light brown wisp behind her ear and glanced down at the computer's clock. Just three minutes had ticked by while she spoke to the patron on the phone.
An older couple in their seventies walked up to the circulation desk. Each one carried four DVDs and four VHSs. "Good afternoon," Julie spoke with a smile. "How may I help you?"
"We'd like to check these out," the man grumbled, setting down the movies. The tower tilted, and they scattered upon the tan counter. He didn't bother to right them while he fished into his wallet and pulled out the dark blue library card. "Here." He thrust the card at her.
The woman placed her movies on the counter as well, but they fared better. She put her library card, an older brown one, on top of the movies. "We'd like to check out all of these."
"Sure thing. Just give me a moment." Julie scanned the man's card first in the library system. "Sir, are you aware that you have an $8 fine?"
"What? That can't be!" He pointed a thick, wrinkled finger at her. "Check again."
Julie moved the mouse over, clicking on the details of the fine. "You had some movies that were renewed a day late. They were due on Friday, and you didn't renew them until Saturday morning, Mr. Johnson."
Mrs. Johnson's lips frowned, producing deep wrinkles like valleys in her flesh. "We renewed them on Friday morning. Check my account."
"Okay, I will." Julie picked up the woman's card and scanned it into a new screen. The same message of fines popped up. "You have $8 in fines as well, Mrs. Johnson. Would you like to pay the fine now or later?"
Mrs. Johnson huffed and blew air from her nose. "We called and renewed our movies before they were due. You've made a mistake."
Julie held in the sigh, threatening to escape her lips. After a few more movements on the computer screen, she pulled up the patron's bill records. Forgiven, forgiven, waived, forgiven, waived, forgiven. The list went on and on several more lines. Every fine they had ever accrued was forgiven or waived. "Ma'am, we've forgiven many of your fines. The computer says we renewed your movies on Saturday at 11:39 AM. They were due on Friday. It's a dollar per day for movies."
"We called on Friday. Someone must have forgotten and renewed our movies on Saturday," the man spat out, causing spittle to fly and strike the glossy plastic on the DVD case.
"I'm sorry, Sir, but it is highly unlikely that happened. We are a busy library. When a patron calls, we handle their questions and renewals right away." At that moment, the phone rang again, but thankfully their page Alice answered it this time. "If you would like to speak to the manager, I can call her in."
"We'd like to do that," both said at the same time.
"Very well. Just one moment." Julie turned but paused when Alice hung up the phone. "Alice, can you go ahead and pull the Johnsons' DVDs."
"Sure thing, Julie." The sixteen-year-old girl snatched up the eight DVDs and began finding the discs for them.
"Thanks." Julie left the circulation desk and went into the back room. She edged around carts filled with books and desks where they catalogued and processed the various books, movies, audio books, etc. that came through the library. "Heather, I need some help. A couple out there has some overdue fines, and they wish to speak to you about them. According to the computer, someone renewed the movies on Saturday morning, even though they were due on Friday. Someone also forgave or waived their previous fines."
"I'll go out there, Julie." Heather stood up, smoothing down her purple blouse. Her heels clicked upon the tiles as she walked over to where the older couple stood. "Hello, I'm Heather Smith, the branch manager. How may I help you?"
"That girl there told us that we had $8 in fines a piece. I know we renewed our movies on Friday when they were due." Mrs. Johnson's red manicured finger pointed directly at Julie, who stood behind of Heather.
"Well, let me see here." Heather's own manicured nails flew along the keyboard. "Yes, I see the fines here. Unfortunately, our computer does say the movies were renewed late. Is it possible that you could have renewed them on Saturday morning instead of Friday?" Her pretty blue eyes stared down at Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.
Under the penetrating gaze, Mrs. Johnson grew flustered. "Well, I suppose it is possible. We just don't have that type of money to be paying. Can't you forgive the fine?"
Heather searched just as Julie has for the patron's bill record. "Mrs. Johnson, this library has forgiven every fine you've had. I'm sorry, but you'll have to pay your fines. It'll be $16 total, if you wish to pay today."
The couple looked at each other, conferring without words. The woman finally opened her purse and pulled out a leather wallet. "Fine. We'll pay." She pulled out a crisp $100 bill. "Do you have enough change?" She slammed the Ben Franklin upon the counter.
"I'm sure we do." Heather picked it up and handed it to Julie to change. "Let me get your receipts and check out your movies for you."
Julie stared at the hundred dollar bill for a moment before heading around a desk and keying in her number to unlock the cash register. She rang up the $16 fine and set the bill in a lone spot. The library rarely saw cash over $20. The assistant librarian pulled out four one dollar bills, two twenties, three tens, and two fives, basically clearing out the cash register.
Clutching the bills in her hands, she went over to where Heather finished checking them out. "Here is your change. Would you like some bags to carry those movies?"
"Yes," Mr. Johnson answered.
Julie bent over and reached into the plastic bin contained an assortment of grocery and Walmart bags. She awkwardly stuffed the movies into the bags and offered them to the two patrons. "Have a nice day," she said in a pleasant, chipper tone.
The man mumbled something, and the woman didn't even acknowledge her as they left.
By the time Julie finished helping a few more patrons, it was after five o'clock. She tied her sneaker lace, pulled her hair back in a clip, and shrugged into her bookstore polo shirt. Snatching her scuffed up black leather purse from the file cabinet, she rummaged around until she found her cell phone. After she pressed two on the speed dial, the assistant librarian stepped out of the back door and darted to her ten-year-old blue Saab.
"Hello, sweetie! It's mom. I'm running a little late. Is Aunt Sara there?" Julie's keys clattered to the pavement, and she reached down to pick them up. After a moment of searching, she found her car key and opened the door.
"Yes, mom. Aunt Sara's here. She's getting ready to take us to McDonalds for dinner before she drops me off at soccer practice and Izzy at piano." The fourteen-year-old answered.
"That's great, Cat. Don't forget to do your homework when you get home. I want you both in bed by ten." After a couple tries, the old Saab's engine turned over. "I'll be home after 11. Don't wait up for me."
"Okay, mom. We got to go, if we're going to make it to our practices."
"I know. I love you two. Tell Aunt Sara I said thanks."
"We will, mom. Bye!"
"Bye, honey!" Cat had already hung up, though, before her mother's goodbye. Julie sighed and put the car into reverse, pulling out of the library's parking lot. Now, she had to race over to her shift at Bookends, a small bookstore/coffee shop, where she worked from 5:30-11:00.
Julie munched on a scone and sipped some cooling coffee while she took her quick break. Her feet were killing her from standing since eight this morning, and she popped two Ibuprofen into her mouth and washed them down with the bitter brew.
She stretched back in the chair, feeling slight pops race down her arched back. The phone rang at the front desk, and she watched in dismay as Mark wasn't there to answer it. She plopped her feet down and managed to pick the phone up before the person hung up. "Thank you for calling Bookends. This is Julie. How may I help you?"
"I'm looking for a book for my wife."
"Oh, what kind of book?" Julie answered.
"Well, it's a book about horses. She's always loved horses, and she mentioned this book the other day. It's her birthday on Saturday, and I'd love to be able to find it for her." The man spoke with a smile in his voice.
"That's wonderful. Do you know the title?"
"No. I know the book is blue, though."
"The cover is blue?"
"And, it's about horses? Is it nonfiction?"
Julie somehow refrained from smacking herself in the forehead. How in the world was she supposed to find a blue covered book about horses without knowing the title and/or author? "If you'll hold on a minute, I'll search our nonfiction section for a blue book about horses."
She put the caller on hold and left from behind the desk. Glancing over to where she had taken her break, she noticed her half-eaten scone and coffee were gone. Sue must have taken them and tossed them. Great, just great, Julie thought.
She checked the animal section. There were a few horse books, and two had blue covers. She picked them up and carried them back to the front desk. "Hello? I have a couple books here. One is A Horse's Life and the other is Taking Care of Your New Horse."
"Those don't sound like the right book. Thanks anyway." A click and a dial-tone answered Julie.
"Great," Julie muttered under her breath and reshelved the two books.
Julie tossed her purse onto the faded tan recliner and plopped down into the matching tan couch. She sank against the plushy cushions. One shoe came off, and then the other sneaker fell to the wooden floor. "Oh," she groaned as she wiggled her toes.
"Hi, mom!" Her older daughter's voice permeated the air, causing her to jump.
"I thought you were in bed." Julie glanced over to the clock that displayed 11:27 in bright red numbers. "You should be in bed."
"We made you dinner!" Eleven-year-old Izzy bounded out from the kitchen. A streak of tomato sauce clung to her cheek. Her golden curls swung like pendulums around her head.
Julie sniffed, detecting the savory scents of tomato sauce and baked garlic bread. Her empty stomach rumbled. It had been a long time since the half-scone. "What possessed you to make me dinner?"
"They wanted to do something special for you," Aunt Sara's voice chimed. "Come and get it while it's hot."
Izzy grabbed her hand and yanked her up to her feet. Cat followed right behind her as she entered the kitchen. The small table held a small salad, a heaping plate of spaghetti, two slices of garlic bread, and a bottle of water. Tears filled Julie's eyes. "Thank you so much." She wrapped an arm around both of her daughters. Julie sank into the chair, uncertain where to start.
"There are some cookies from McDonalds for dessert, too." Cat placed the paper McDonalds' wrapper upon the table.
"Thank you so much," Julie restated. Her daughters were the best. "Now, off to bed, you two. You'll never want to get up."
"Good night, mommy." Izzy kissed her on the cheek.
"Night, mom." Cat gave her a half-grin before ushering her younger sister out of the room.
Sara sat down across from her older sister. "They wanted to do it. I told them that they had to go right to bed afterward."
"Thank you, sis. I'm starving. I was just going to try to find some leftovers to eat." Julie spread Ranch dressing upon the salad and dug her fork into the leafy greens. "Did everything go alright?"
"Yes, they were perfect. Cat helped Izzy with her homework." Sara smiled, although her forehead creased in concern. "You need to stop working so much, Jules. It's killing you."
Julie paused mid-bite. "I have to work, Sara. The girls will be heading to college soon. I want them to be able to go without having to rely on scholarships." She shrugged, chewing the salad carefully. "I have some vacation time coming up. I'll get more rest then. It'll be fine. You'll see."
"Yeah." From Sara's tone, she wasn't convinced. "It's been ten years since Richard died. Have you considered about dating?"
Julie's entire body tensed. "I don't have time to date, Sara." She gave her sister a withering look. "Let's just drop it, okay? I'm too tired to deal with this. I have to be back at Bookends by noon." She dipped the garlic bread into the spaghetti sauce and took a bite. "You'll be able to pick up the girls after dance in the morning, right?"
"I'll be there." Sara stood and kissed her sister on the top of her hair. "Get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Bye," Julie said, watching Sara leave. She focused on her late night dinner, but Sara's words rolled around her head like a pinball machine and kept her up long into the night.