A ray of sunshine, that was what the others liked to think of Tabitha “Bee” Sandler. The girl always had a smile to brighten their days, kind words to comfort those who had lost sight of hope, and in times of great tension, the girl even did her best to crack a joke or two, never mind if she was woefully bad at it. Indeed, that flaw of hers was what usually succeeded in cooling everyone’s tempers down. How could one stay mad, after all, when someone managed to hilariously mess up something as simple as a knock-knock joke?
A ray of sunshine, that she was, but some also thought of her as their town’s little Job, the Old Testament prophet whom Satan cursed and plagued in his quest to prove that Man could and would always turn away from God in the face of adversity.
But Job did not. He had stayed faithful, and so had their own little Job.
Once the carefree and lovingly pampered daughter of a young, hardworking couple, the first of many tragedies had befallen Bee when she was eleven, and an unsolved hit-and-run claimed the lives of her parents. And although Bee’s beloved Great Aunt Lily readily took her in, misfortune made the girl’s second chance at happiness rather short-lived. What was supposed to be a routine checkup at the office revealed the very worst: Lily had cancer, and whatever savings the older woman had were instantly wiped away by costly medications and treatments.
At sixteen, Bee – in spite of her bedridden aunt’s pleas to the contrary – had quit high school and started working at the largest factory in town. But three years had only passed when her great aunt passed away, and Bee was all alone.
But still she remained a ray of sunshine, doing what she could to care and help, and treating the folks at the factory as her extended family. She insisted on babysitting for free, saying that having fun with kids was enough compensation, and when Old George fell and broke his ankle, Bee had cheerfully cooked meals and kept house for him until he was back on his feet.
Their beloved ray of sunshine, that what what she was to all of them, and it was also why everyone at the factory were struggling with tears and impotent rage as they watched her run out of the manager’s office, clutching her torn blouse to her chest.
For their little ray of sunshine, they would’ve fought and to hell with the consequences. To hell with losing their jobs. To hell with everything. But because their little Bee was what she was, she had shaken her head, her eyes pleading with them in tearful silence.
I wouldn’t be able to bear it if anyone of you lost your jobs because of me.
And so they let her go, their little ray of sunshine fading before their eyes, and their hearts breaking piece by piece as she disappeared from view.
Wake up at six, shower, and breakfast. Be at work by seven and clock out at six. Work on a variety of errands until seven or eight, and then it was home until it was time to leave again and start another cycle of her daily routine.
With the exception of attending mass every Sunday, that had been Bee’s life for over seven years now, and not once had it occurred to her to complain to God. Having inherited her parents’ good-natured disposition and cheerful tolerance, Bee didn’t find it hard at all to shrug off every problem that came her way. She cried over some of it, of course, but after that, she simply took it day by day, believing that moving on was both a choice and an inevitable outcome.
The only guilty pleasure she allowed herself all these years were her mail-order bride romances, used paperbacks that a co-worker at the factory bought for her every time she went to visit her daughter in the city.
There was just something wildly inspiring and romantic about a woman gambling everything for love, and every time life started getting to her, Bee would simply close her eyes and deliberately lose herself in a fantasy based on her favorite books.
It worked every time, or at least it did…until now.
Bee was a trembling, weeping mess as she sat on her bed, skin still crawling at the memory of Horace Garris’ large, sweaty hands pawing at her and his slobbering mouth leaving a disgustingly wet trail on the side of her neck. She had only managed to tear herself out of his arms by kneeing him but not before he had ripped her blouse open and leave her exposed.
He had screamed invectives in between his groans of pain, threatening to have her fired and arrested if she didn’t show him respect.
A choked sob escaped Bee as she remembered this. Self-respect was all she had, and she just couldn’t let someone like Horace take that away from her.