Lily gathered her belongings from her desk—books, notebooks, and Post-its she wrote on throughout the day. The air carried the scent of Jergens from Donald standing nearby. The smell reminded Lily of her grandparents—age, wisdom, discernment. “I’m ready, Donald,” she said.
“I hope it is alright that I showed up unannounced, but what I have to tell you cannot wait.”
“Then I am glad you came,” Lily said. “I guess this means all is not well?”
“Perhaps it should wait until we sit down over coffee,” Donald said.
“I’ll meet you there in 15 minutes then, okay?”
“I’ll be there.”
Lily checked her mailbox in the office on her way out–messages to call parents, rosters with students’ names, dates of faculty meetings, and a coffee mug with a Dickens quote: “Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Thomas McDavid had purchased it for her. Lily smiled to herself.
Lily’s mind raced en route to the Cup-n-Saucer. Donald was not nosy, so his coming to Covenant, and to Lily’s classroom, augured serious news. When she pulled into the Cup-n-Saucer’s parking lot, she saw Donald’s profile through the café’s window.
“I already ordered you a coffee,” Donald said upon Lily’s entrance, “is that okay?”
“Of course. But why do I think you didn’t come to Covenant today to ask me to coffee?”
“It’s about Beth,” Donald said. “I’m afraid she has stirred things up for you, and for Covenant.”
“What now?” Lily asked.
“She contacted us on the board to say that her father made a mistake in hiring you.”
“A mistake? Her father made a mistake? What does that even mean?” Lily asked.
“She claims that you had students in your classroom after normal school hours, and that…”
“I was teaching them how to write better. Would she have me teach them on the gym floor in front of the bleachers?”
“I understand, Ms. Rood. But there is more. She is claiming that you left your school in Rook prematurely by breaking your contractual obligations,” Donald said. ‘Moral turpitude’ is the phrase she used.”
“The phrase she used where? To whom?” Lily remonstrated.
“She is going behind the scenes, behind your back, if you will, Ms. Rood. She is talking about you–not just at Covenant, but to the school board, and even about town. Some people, because you are not from here, might believe her. That is the way she works.”
“So I am presumed guilty? Am I hearing this correctly? Her father is the one who hired me, for heaven’s sake!”
Donald fell silent and stared at Lily.
“I don’t understand, Donald. I was recruited by her father…by your friend…Fred Aims. And yet his baby daughter is determined to destroy me. Why?”
“How old are you, Ms. Rood?”
“I’m forty. But what kind of question is that? What does that have to do with what we’re discussing?”
“How old do you think Beth is?” Donald asked.
“A few years younger than I am probably. Why? I don’t understand what you’re driving at, Donald. I came here to teach, to find a few friends, to find a church where I could fit in and serve, and yet…” Lily said.
“Do you think Beth might see your move here differently than you do?”
“What if she does? How is that my concern? I’m no threat to her,” Lily said.
“Do you get along with Sarah and Nathanael?”
“I do. Quite well, actually. Why?”
“How about with Ruth?” Donald continued.
“I do, Donald. Why?”
“And what would you say is your standing with the faculty at Covenant since you came on board?”
“It’s solid, I think, Donald. But why will you not tell me what you’re driving at?” Lily pleaded. “You said she claims her father made a ‘mistake’ and that I’m guilty of ‘moral turpitude.’ I need specifics. What mistake did he make? And will anyone show me my moral turpitude? For heaven’s sake, I drink black coffee and read the classics—how much moral turpitude could I commit?”
“Sarah and Ruth Aims moved off after high school. They eventually returned, but only after a lot of water was under the bridge,” Donald said.
“Yes, so I’ve heard. But what does that have to do with me?”
“Beth has been here her whole life. The people know her. For better or worse, she’s part of the soil here. That carries clout with many folks around here. When people move off, even for education, resentment sets in for many locals,” Donald said.
“Okay. I get that. That’s not unusual for small town life. But again, what does that have to do with me? I did not grow up here,” Lily said.
“Exactly. You are not of this soil, at least in some people’s thinking. Beth fears that.”
“You make it sound like the county limit signs mark off people’s worth instead of the state’s geography,” Lily said.
“That is not far from the way some people may see it, Ms. Rood. I’m a farmer; we deal in acres, in boundaries, in rows and furrows.”
“Yes? Go on,” Lily said.
“Beth is a farmer’s daughter.”
“Yes, but so are Sarah and Ruth. So are countless other daughters across the South. What are you saying?”
“Perhaps Beth does not like her acreage being encroached upon, if you will,” Donald said.
“Acreage? That is the way this is seen now? I came to teach, to farm young minds, if you want to use that language. But that is the extent of the agricultural analogy. I am not confrontational by nature; anyone who knows me would tell you that. But I’m being maligned and defamed here, and I don’t deserve it, Donald.”
“Change, shifting of the rows, if you will, is hard, Ms. Rood—especially for some,” Donald said.
(To be continued)