She was constantly taking care of others, and she loved it, truly – but now it was time to take care of herself…
“Oh, Beatrice will do it.”
Looking up from the pile of books she was sorting through, Bea saw Alice Knowles, the new head librarian, waving the elderly Colin Ransom in her direction.
“Beatrice, see to this gentleman’s request,” Alice called out before simply walking off.
Bea stifled a groan. Mr Ransom turned up from time to time and was always demanding when he did. Bea looked at her watch; it was almost her lunchtime.
“Now, young lady!” Colin Ransom said briskly as he marched up to the desk. “I want to find this thingummy – what do they call it, a website? – on the computer.”
Bea laid aside her pile of books and plastered a pleasant smile on her face.
By the time Mr Ransom had finished everything he needed to do and was shuffling out of the library door, Bea had missed her forty-five-minute lunch slot.
“You can take ten minutes to eat your sandwich,” Alice said, looking at her watch. “That’s all I can spare.”
Alice Knowles seemed to delight in making things difficult for her.
Bea missed Alan, the former head librarian who’d been the kindest, most easy-going person. She was happy for him that he’d retired, but not for everyone else who was left.
She wolfed down her sandwich and was back on the floor before her ten-minute slot was up – it was no good antagonising Alice, who seemed to dislike her intensely for no apparent reason.
Although that afternoon, when the knitting group arrived for their weekly session and Bea was serving them coffee, Mrs Lacy, their leader, gave her an indication why.
“That new head librarian is a bit of a snob,” she whispered as Bea set down the tray of mugs on the table in the meeting room. “She seems to resent us being here. I can’t see her serving us coffee like you do, dear. You’re a star.”
“You’re such a humble lady,” Miss Caversham piped up. “We all think you’re so lovely.”
“I don’t know why they didn’t make you head librarian,” Mrs Lacy continued. “You know this place inside out and you’ve always given everyone such a lovely welcome.”
“I try my best,” Bea said.
At least that cheered her up. She didn’t tell them that she hadn’t even applied for the head librarian’s job, even though Alan had encouraged her to; she wasn’t sure that she wanted that much responsibility.
“I’m not sure we should be dishing out free coffee and biscuits to the knitters,” Alice said as Bea returned to the desk. “Who introduced that idea?”
“I did. It’s a goodwill gesture.”
“It costs money.”
“I pay for it myself.”
Alice raised an eyebrow. “I don’t like that,” she said, then turned away with a sour look on her face.
Bea was beginning to wonder whether Neil was the right person for her. Maybe she stayed with him because she loved Milly, his elderly mother, so much.
Milly was mostly housebound and needed a lot of help.
“You should be out living your own life,” Milly said one Saturday morning as Bea was making her a cup of tea. “Not spending your weekends with me. I’ve got carers, you know.”
“I like your company,” Bea said.
“Oh Bea, I worry about you.”
Bea raised an eyebrow as she sat down in the armchair across from Milly.
“Even Neil doesn’t bother with me as much as you do, and he’s my son. Where is he this morning, playing golf?”
“He works hard all week.”
“So do you. I know he’s my son, but I think he takes you for granted and you shouldn’t let him do that. I’m his mother, not yours.”
Bea didn’t know what to say.
“You’re such a lovely, humble person, Bea. I’m not even sure Neil deserves you.”
“Come now, Milly, you make me sound like a saint and no one’s a saint,” Bea joked.
As she was cooking that evening, Bea asked Neil, “Have you ever thought of working abroad?”
“Like the USA, or Dubai?” Neil looked up from his phone.
“Or maybe in a poor country, doing something worthwhile.”
“Not my bag.” He shook his head. “It wouldn’t be a lifestyle I’d choose. Why? Are you serious?”
“I just saw a flyer today in a magazine, it made me think. It would be good to do something to help someone else.”
“Bea, you’re always helping someone,” he said. “Anyway, we can’t go abroad – what would we do about Mum? You know how much she relies on you.”
“You could do more for her.”
“So am I.”
“She loves you.”
He went back to his phone and that seemed to be the end of the discussion.
She watched him as he slept that night. How had she drifted into this relationship?
He was an old school friend whom she’d met up with again at a reunion evening. They seemed to fit together and after a while he’d moved in with her.
Life pootled along, but there was no commitment from him and no sign that he was going to make one any time soon. This suited him, particularly as she was so helpful with his mother.
Neil wasn’t a bad person, she could just see that he took advantage of her kind nature from time to time.
Bea lay awake for a long time, pondering what her life had become. She’d never had great ambitions, content to be of service to others and live within her means. She loved the library, but things were changing.
For the third time that week Alice Knowles had passed on to her the difficult Mr Ransom. This time he started complaining about how the council were overcharging him and how people in the library were their spies and they didn’t want him around.
Eventually he lost his temper and stormed out.
“That is unacceptable behaviour. We’ll have to ban him from the library if he’s not careful,” Alice glowered.
“He’s lonely and he’s frustrated because he’s beginning to lose his mental faculties,” Bea said.
“Nevertheless, we can’t have him disrupting the peace of this place.”
“We’ve always been a safe haven for lonely people,” Bea said, gently.
“We’re not social services. One more outburst like that and I’ll ban him.”
“Maybe you could consider helping him on the computer next time,” Bea suggested. “He’ll be impressed that the head librarian is spending some time with him.”
“You’re the helper in this place,” Alice sneered at Bea.
“You know I’ve missed my lunch break twice this week.”
“I think that’s your fault, not mine.” Alice Knowles walked away.
Mrs Long, one of the regulars, looked up from the bookshelves.
“I’m sorry she’s so nasty to you, love,” she said. “You’re such a lovely person, you don’t deserve it.
“I think she’s scared because she can’t be like you. Everyone loves you.”
Maybe she was too lovely and humble, Bea thought, but she genuinely wasn’t trying to undermine Alice.
She was shocked when Alice casually said one day as they were recording new stock together, “I think it might be better if you had a transfer to another library.”
“People can get stuck in a rut.”
Bea felt upset at the thought of having to move. How could she leave all her lovely people behind?
Something came for you this morning,” Neil said when she walked in the door after work.
Bea picked the envelope up off the table where he’d left it.
“Anything you were expecting?”
“Oh, just something I sent away for,” she said vaguely.
“By the way,” he said, pouring out a mug of tea. “You know Harry and Liam are coming to stay overnight on Friday because we’re playing the tournament on Saturday?”
“Another weekend of golf? What about your Mum? I’m sure she’d love to see you.”
“I can see her on Sunday. Can you make your famous corned beef pie for the boys?”
Bea sat down with a sigh.
“Neil, where are we going?” she said. “Is this the way it’s always going to be – you out enjoying yourself every weekend and me sitting with your mother?”
He stopped with the mug of steaming tea halfway to his lips.
“You love being with her,” he said. “And I swear she loves you more than she loves me, her only child. Doesn’t that make you feel good?”
“She’s your mother. I have a life too.”
He looked shocked, as if a sweet kitten had suddenly turned and revealed a set of sharp, adult teeth.
“Neil, are you ever going to make a real commitment to me?”
“I thought we were happy the way things are.” He blinked. “You’re always so quiet and easy going, and humble.”
“Well, I’m not really.”
She turned her attention to her letter, tearing open the envelope. As she read it, she felt a flicker of excitement, yet fear too. What had she done?
“What is it?” Neil said. “What’s your letter about?”
When she looked at him, he had a quizzical, yet utterly confident look on his face. He knew, or he thought he knew, that she was his and that the status quo would always continue.
It was that look that made up her mind, despite the trepidation.
“I think you’ll be spending a lot more time with your mother from now on,” Bea said. “Because you’ll be moving out.”
The first thing Alice informed Bea of on Monday morning, with great relish, was that she could expect a transfer to another branch in the next few weeks.
“Oh, there’s no need to worry about that,” Bea said.
Alice did look worried.
“I’ve posted my notice this morning. I’ve just been accepted to do a twelve-month volunteering stint for a children’s home in South America.
“I’ll be leaving at the end of the month. I guess Mr Ransom will be your problem then.”
She smiled sweetly.
Alice Knowles looked deflated as she was deprived of her triumph.
Bea would miss looking after her elderly ladies and gentlemen, and she’d miss Milly, but it was time to leave.
This humble Bea was done with being taken for granted. It was time to spread her wings and fly.
Our My Weekly Favourites series of lovely short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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