He waited twenty years to return it.
As Tom stood in front of the house, he felt himself tremble. He waited for the ground to open up below him and swallow him whole. But it wasn’t the earth that was shaking, it was only him.
Clutching the worn book in his hands, Tom tried to take a deep breath. It had taken him a lot of courage to make it to where he currently was, and he wasn’t ready to back down. But if a lightning bolt strikes me right now, Tom thought, I would be okay with that too.
The worn book in his hands was a copy of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The book was good, Tom thought to himself. Something that he wouldn’t have said twenty years ago.
The problem was that the book wasn’t his. This copy of The Catcher and the Rye, in all of its worn glory with scrawling notes crowding the margins, belonged to his ex-girlfriend Jenna. He hadn’t seen Jenna for twenty years either, and this was made it all the more terrifying.
It all started when he was cleaning out his apartment that he had lived in for the past 10 years. He had just broken up with his girlfriend Liz after 3 years of being together. Tired and heartbroken, he decided to take life into his own hands and move to a place where he could start over and try again at life. Tom began by putting his things into clearly marked boxes, and this was when the worn copy of The Catcher in the Rye fell out from his bookshelf, landing conveniently into the box.
As he picked up the book from the box, memories of a life before Liz flooded over him. He opened its cover and flipped to the first page, which had an all too familiar name in handwriting that transported him back to the tenth grade. “Jenna Smith,” the flowing script said. “If found, please call this number.” The number had faded, but he remembered the number off by heart.
Jenna was the one that convinced him to read The Catcher in the Rye. “It goes nicely with your angsty exterior,” she said to him once. In order to make sure that he read it, she would always quote it and ask him who said it. But Tom wasn’t the reader in their relationship; Jenna was. Tom would have rather worked on his motorcycle or play loud rock and roll with his buddies. The last thing he wanted was another book to read. But to appease her, he begrudgingly took the book and read it. Surprisingly, he fell in love with it. It was everything that she described it to be.
Surprisingly also, Jenna was the one that broke it off between the two of them at the end of high school. We want different things, she said to him. And without looking back, she went off to college to pursue a degree in English Literature. Shocked and confused, Tom moved across the country to try to make it as a solo artist.
Over the span of twenty years, Tom had been in and out of relationships, almost getting married twice. He also had some success with his music, but not enough for him to feel good about it. His parents always asked when he was coming home, but they stopped asking after 10 years of not returning home for Christmas or Easter dinner.
Tom’s breakup with Liz was last straw for him. As he sealed everything up, he left the book on his dresser. From the time that it fell out of his bookshelf, he read a bit of it every day until he finished it. Then he figured out where he was going to move to start his life over: back home.
So there he was, standing in front of an aging house with a sagging porch. Prior to flying home, he had called the number that he remembered so well. He knew for a fact through friends that he kept in touch with that Jenna hadn’t left their town at all. After she got her English Literature degree, her father passed away and her mother was homebound after a debilitating accident. It was because of this that she stepped in and stayed with her mom, since her sisters were all out-of-state. Jenna was still at the same house, and her phone number was still the same.
He was shaking, just like the first time he went to go pick her up for their first date.
As he walked up the steps and reached to ring the doorbell, the door swung open, as if anticipating his arrival. Jenna stood before him, still with her youthful beauty, but age had caught up with her. She looked tired and frustrated. But her face changed when she recognized him. Tom knew that he had aged also, and he also had facial hair and fine lines on his face that mirrored hers.
“Tom?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
Tom held out The Catcher in the Rye . The book had as many lines as they both did. But suddenly the book didn’t feel so heavy against him; it felt light, airy almost, as if someone was lifting a burden off his shoulders.
“My book,” Jenna whispered. She reached out to take the book from Tom’s hands. “I had been wondering for years and years where it went.” She flipped it open to the cover where her contact information was written. She looked back at him with grateful eyes. “Thank you for bringing it back.”
Tom nodded and the two of them stood silently for a moment. He was just about to say something when Jenna beat him to it: “‘Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad.'”
Tom made eye contact with her, looking into her dark brown eyes. She had quoted Holden, the main character in the book. And he knew that, because even after they had broken up, he had read and reread it. It helped her to stay connected with her, even though they were broken up.
He spoke for the first time since he made it to the door. “Don’t be sad, Holden.”
He wrapped Jenna in his arms, and they stood there, the closest they been to each other in twenty years. “Welcome home,” she whispered into his ear.
Tom pulled back to look at her. “I’m sorry it took me twenty years to get this back to you.”
Jenna shook her head. “I’m sorry that I hurt you. If anything, I deserved not having this back.”
They looked at each other again. Despite all the trouble that Tom had been through, he suddenly felt like he was home. This was where he belonged, he thought to himself. Twenty years later, Tom was finally home.