“Out of the way! Out of the way!” Jack called out through cupped hands around his lips, his voice echoing through the trees and across the light ripples of the lake. It was a balmy Sunday afternoon, the sun high in the sky, and it felt as though every person in the city had gathered in the park and decided to stand in their path. Jack, a towering string bean of a person, was leading the way, followed closely by his considerably shorter girlfriend Sarah, who was clutching a well-loved copy of Gone with the Wind to her chest. They were hurrying as fast as they could across the cobblestone pathways that wound through the park, inciting curious looks and several glares from the many faces they passed. The hemline of Sarah’s floral sundress flew out behind her with the breeze, and her crossbody bag bumped rhythmically against her hip. There were beads of sweat dripping down Jack’s forehead and into his eyes, clouding his vision. He quickly swiped the back of his hand across his face, clearing it away.
Sarah suddenly reached out and grabbed Jack’s elbow, effectively stopping him in his tracks. She bent forward with her hands on her knees, panting, and tried to regain her breath. She glanced down at her woven wristwatch.
“We’re never gonna make it,” she managed to sputter out, after a moment. “It’s…it’s a lost cause.” She took one long, deep breath and looked Jack squarely in the face. “We only have fifteen minutes, and we’re like…what, almost two miles away?” She put a hand on her lower back and pushed, wheezing slightly. She had never been much of an athlete, choosing instead to spend most of her time curled up with books.
A shadow of determination crossed Jack’s expression. Sarah had seen this look before and sighed, knowing what the next words out of Jack’s mouth were going to be before he said them.
“Oh, we’re going to make it. Let’s go!” he grabbed her hand, and they began to run again, dashing through the heat and murmurs of the crowd. After fifteen seconds, they reached the end of the path they were on and cleared the trees, Sarah narrowly avoiding tripping over a stray branch. Another twenty seconds later and they were running down the sidewalk by the outer edge of the park, the honking of car horns replacing the drone of conversations. A fully decked-out bicyclist rounded the corner at a breakneck speed, swerving at the last second and nearly colliding with Jack. The man turned his head and shouted obscenities back at the pair, shaking his fist in frustration.
“The sidewalk is for walking, maniac!” Jack called back over his shoulder as Sarah lightly pushed him.
“Technically…technically we’re running, not walking.” She huffed. She slowed down and paused to tie the laces of her white Vans, which were now caked with dirt and scuff marks. She stood and looked up at her boyfriend, who had his arms crossed and was tapping his foot impatiently. Jack put his hands on Sarah’s shoulders and lightly gripped them as he looked into her eyes. He leaned in close enough to her face where she could feel his breath on her skin.
“Sarah. Look at me.” She did, her hazel eyes meeting his gaze from underneath her thick eyelashes. He stared at her intensely. “In all the years I’ve known you, you have never returned a library book late. Not even once. Your record is important to you, which means it’s important to me. So, let’s keep moving, okay?” He reached up to stroke his thumb down the side of her cheek and smiled crookedly at her, one corner of his mouth tilting up higher than the other. She loved that smile. For a moment, she felt like she could swoon, and not just from heat exhaustion. She turned to face north once again, their path clear. Her eyebrows furrowed, and the same look of determination that had passed over Jack’s face earlier crossed hers as well. It did not go unnoticed by Jack, whose heart beat a little faster upon seeing it. Their fingers intertwined as they began to run again.
A dense, gray cloud covering had begun to roll over the edge of the city, seemingly out of nowhere. Sarah squinted at the sky, trying to remember if the forecast had called for rain, and feeling rather certain that it hadn’t. However, within mere moments, large rotund drops of water began to plop down on her forehead at an astonishing pace. Sarah silently cursed her luck while Jack burst into laughter next to her. A loud clap of thunder boomed from far off, vibrating the concrete all around their feet. Sarah clutched the book as close to her chest as possible, wrapping her arms around it, trying to shield it from the now steadying downpour.
As they crossed the street to the next block, Sarah peered at her watch again. 2:53. They had seven minutes left before the book was overdue, and they were only a little under a mile away by this point. She had only taken her eyes off the path in front of her for a moment, but she tripped again, causing Gone with the Wind to slip from her grasp and fly out in front of her. The thick tome skidded across the sidewalk, narrowly missing a deep puddle by just a few inches. She felt her breath halt in her throat. A pack of seven dogs, all different breeds and sizes, turned the corner, led by an array of colorful leashes that were being grasped by a young man. A curious black Labrador sniffed at the book and tried to grab it in its jaws before Sarah could scramble to pick it up, panicked. The man smiled at them apologetically before leading the dogs away.
Jack and Sarah picked up the pace, the gray buildings becoming a blur as they raced to their destination, the sprawling brick library at the very end of the street. By the time they reached the wide double doors of the building, they were both soaked and completely out of breath. As they approached the counter, Sarah glanced at the large clock that hung on the wall behind it. 3:03. Her book was three minutes overdue, and she felt sick. Jack looked down and smiled at Sarah reassuringly as they were called forward by the kindly old woman at the counter.
“Hello, you two,” she said sweetly, pretending not to notice how disheveled the couple looked. Droplets of water had fallen off their clothes and were wetting the carpet beneath their feet. “What can I do for you?”
“Hi,” Sarah breathed. “I need to return this book. It’s a few minutes overdue, and I’m so sorry, but we ran all the way here, and I almost dropped it in a puddle, and then a dog almost ate it, and…sorry, we really tried to get here on time.” She handed the slightly damp copy of Gone with the Wind to the librarian.
“We really, really tried.” Jack emphasized, smiling a show-stopping grin at the woman. She took the book from Sarah’s outstretched arms, carefully examining it. She adjusted her glasses and peered at the interior of the cover. After a moment, she looked back up at Sarah curiously.
“You said you ran all the way here?”
“Yes. I’m so sorry. I’ve never brought a library book back late before.” She looked down at her ruined shoes, embarrassed.
The librarian looked down at Sarah with sympathy. “Honey, this book isn’t overdue. The due date is tomorrow. Whoever wrote the date on this card has bad handwriting, but…you’re on time. You can relax.”
Sarah was stunned. Jack burst into laughter, the peals echoing throughout the wide room. The librarian shushed him, with one finger to her lips, but Jack kept giggling. After a few moments, Sarah began to laugh too, and the sounds of their laughter became uncontrollable. Their hands found each other’s again and their fingers intertwined. They turned back towards the front doors of the library and headed outside as rays of sunshine began to peek through the clouds and light up the soaked ground.