Lily (Part twenty-seven)

“Miss Rood, why did you leave Rook and come here to Covenant?” Reserved by temperament, when Michael asked a question, the class (and Lily) knew to listen.

“Am I not the one to ask questions here, Michael? It’s my classroom,” Lily said.

“I know, Miss Rood. And I’ll answer your questions about Pip and Joe, and about whether Hamlet was mad or not, and whether I think Hamlet actually loved Ophelia. I was just wondering, that’s all. You ask us all the time how these characters we study—Hamlet and Ophelia, Romeo and Juliet, Pip, Joe, and Miss Havisham—how they all show us truths about ourselves, about our human position, as you say… so I thought I would just ask you to apply those questions to yourself. Does that make sense, Miss Rood?”

“It does, Michael,” Lily said, pausing. “I suppose I came because I felt called, in the sense of vocation. What I mean is that moving here from Rook, coming to Covenant, finding my way here is the way of faith.”

Lily could see her entire first period class listening. Michael led this tiny army of questioning teenagers in discovering their teacher’s motives.

“Do you mean faith in a religious sense, Miss Rood?” Michael continued.

“Michael, you are asking important questions. And I’m not sure that I can answer them sufficiently in this setting. Do you remember how Hamlet’s family, and even his friends, thought he was sometimes mad, or that he was doing things that upset the world’s expectations of a prince?”

“Yes ma’am, I do,” Michael said.

“I suppose my response is somewhat analogous to that. Moving here, leaving my comfort, walking by faith, et cetera, is my duty in faith. A deeper question, Michael, might be in whom or in what is my faith? Put another way, in whom or in what is your faith? That question could be addressed by each of us as thoughtful people, couldn’t it?” Lily said.

Michael paused and looked away for a moment, then looked back at Lily.

“I’m glad you came, Miss Rood.”

“I am, too, Michael,” Lily said. “Now may we reenter Elsinore to see how the play is going to turn out for Claudius and Gertrude?”

Lily’s students opened their paperbacks of Hamlet. As they turned the play’s pages to find the right location for today’s study, Lily looked out through the rectangle  of glass in her classroom door. Thomas McDavid was holding a crimson-colored sweatshirt in both hands above his head and mouthing, “I have you a sweatshirt!” In bold letters across the front and back was written: COVENANT.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-six)

“Ms. Rood, are you alone?” Thomas McDavid stood in the threshold of Lily’s classroom door, coffee mug in his right hand. Lily glimpsed a coffee stain on his long-sleeve tan shirt. It was shaped like a teardrop where it hung on his potbelly.

“Yes, I am. Come in,” Lily said.

“We’ve a few minutes before our young minds arrive. What course are you teaching first?”

“Senior English,” Lily said. “Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens, among others. What every teenager longs for, right?”

“I remember that stuff, Ms. Rood. Chaucer went down the Mississippi with Pip, right? And Romeo dropped his handkerchief on the way to fight with Hamlet,” Mr. McDavid said. “It’s all crystal clear.”

“Ha! I see it really stuck, Thomas,” Lily said.

“Try to farm, Ms. Rood. Sow seeds now; the harvest comes much later,” Mr. McDavid said, and smiled.

“You’re right, of course. But I don’t know how I’m doing sometimes. In Rook, I felt like I’d done enough in the community that my students and families believed in me in the classroom, too,” Lily said. “I try to show connections to students…between their lives and what they see in Romeo and Juliet, or in Pip and David Copperfield.”

“Remember to farm, Ms. Rood. Patience is a crop we teachers need, too,” Mr. McDavid said. He smiled and winked at Lily in his avuncular manner, and left for his classroom.

Just when Lily thought he was gone, he turned and said, “I almost forgot to ask, but what did you think of our news in the library a few moments ago?”

“I think the Aims family may be like the Montagues and Capulets—lots of issues,” Lily said smiling.

“Families tend to be complicated. Maybe that’s why I am single and play a lot of golf,” Mr. McDavid said. “Keeps it simple for me.”

“Indeed. Have a good day, Thomas,” Lily said, as Mr. McDavid turned to go. Lily looked at her notes for class. Pip was off to search for a file and “wittles,” in Great Expectations, and Hamlet was about to spring a mousetrap on Claudius and Gertrude. Lily strained to focus but the Aims sisters weighed upon her—and Nathanael.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-five)

As soon as Lily passed over the threshold of the library’s metal door, she heard Beth’s voice. And there were other women’s voices, too. Composed voices, dissimilar, measured. The voices came from the counselors’ offices on the right side of the corridor leading to Lily’s classroom. Lily walked slowly and lighter than normal, alone towards her classroom. She hoped to evade negative fallout from Donald’s announcement about Nathanael assuming the role of Covenant’s headmaster.

When Lily passed the counselors’ offices, she turned her head and eyes to the right and looked in without slowing her pace. A wash of red blouse, the tinny clinking of Beth’s bracelets sliding back and forth on her forearms. Sarah and Ruth stood around Beth, listening.

“What do you mean I didn’t receive the unanimous votes required? I have been at Covenant for several years now. Where have you two been?” Beth implored.

Neither Sarah nor Ruth spoke now, convinced Beth was not ready for the answer.

“Sarah, you left town nearly before your diploma was even in your hand. Off to college you went, then law school, with almost no communication between you, Mom, and Daddy” Beth said.

Sarah gazed into her baby sister’s eyes with pity and in silence for the moment.

“Sure, you were smarter than the rest of us. But you graduated college, went to law school and married, and years went by before you, Mom, and Daddy ever addressed the past,” Beth continued. “And I remained here to pick up the pieces that you left through your silent ways. And here you are again, back with your same means. And once again, things have blown up. Why do you think that just because you’re book-smart, you can reappear into our lives and legislate things?

I am the daughter that remained in town. I am the daughter that works at Covenant. I am the daughter who has counseled these kids that come through these halls. And I am the one who should lead this school.”

Sarah stood speechless but unintimidated. Beth turned her burning eyes towards Ruth.

“And you! You think you can reenter our town just because Daddy died. And then you vote against my taking over here? I am the one who stayed on the farm after you and Sarah left. Like Sarah, you think you can return, and act as if nothing happened. But things have happened. Daddy left farming, and we began Covenant,” Beth shouted.

“Are you through?” Ruth asked.

“Here you go again, Ruth. You think you’re so clever, just like Sarah. But I’m the daughter who has stayed with our parents. I’m the one who will take care of our mother now,” Beth continued. “And you two will just go about your lives away from here after we get this all straightened out.

“I know Daddy would want me to run this school, not his grandson, who is not old or tough enough to handle it,” Beth said.

Sarah and Ruth stood looking at Beth and then at each other in silence, waiting for the proper time.

When Lily touched the silver knob of her classroom door, she opened it slowly, not wanting the Aims daughters to know she had heard anything.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-four)

Nathanael walked to the rolling lectern and Lily searched for Beth, but she had disappeared. Vanquished by Donald’s announcement? Lily mused. This is not the way a board should work. This is unlike Donald, a gentleman.

As Lily labored to gather her thoughts, Ruth Aims slid her chair back from the table where she and several others were seated, and followed the path by which Beth departed, followed by Sarah. Nathanael, standing as the applause faded, gripped the sides of the lectern, and smiled at his  mother’s back as she and Ruth left to search for Beth.

“Well, Nathan, the faculty are here for you. Are there things you would like to address this morning before Covenant’s students arrive?” Donald asked.

“I will only say that when we lost the man you all knew as headmaster and friend, a man I loved as Papa, Fred Aims, we lost a man with few equals. But I don’t believe that you or I abdicated the ministry he built. After all, look around. You are here. Students are on their way. And Covenant will continue,” Nathanael said.

“Nathan, you are your papa remade, son,” said Thomas McDavid.

“Thank you, Thomas,” Nathanael said. “But I cannot lead the way Papa did, but I do aim to love Covenant’s faculty and students in a manner that honors his vision.

“My thanks to each of you for what you have done thus far, and what I pray you will continue to do,” Nathanael said. “Some explanation of what has happened here this morning, and before, is forthcoming. For now, however, unless you have questions or comments, we will conclude this and get to work.”

No one spoke or moved for a moment. Then Thomas McDavid said in his classroom voice, “Alea iacta est. This is Covenant’s Rubicon.”

The faculty exhaled, as if given permission through Mr. McDavid’s voice, and began to chat and exit the library. Lily stood up from the settee where she sat near the shelves of Dickens. She looked for Beth, Ruth, and Sarah, but saw only their absence. Nathanael spoke with faculty as they left through the library doors en route to their classes.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-three)

After Mr. McDavid opened the metal library door, Lily stepped through and fixed her eyes upon the settee near Dickens’ works where she and Thomas McDavid sat before. But the seat was not empty. Nathanael Aims, Sarah and Aaron’s son, sat on one side. Lily swallowed, uncertain what to do.

Nathanael wore cream-colored slacks, a blue Oxford shirt, and handsome brown blazer. His face was unshaven since church yesterday, casting him with a seriousness Lily and others sensed. For a moment, Lily forgot Mr. McDavid was with her. She tried to appear composed as she walked towards Nathanael. As she approached the settee, Nathanael stood, smiled, and spoke first.

“Good morning, Lily. Nice seeing you again, even if it’s seven o’clock in the morning,” Nathanael said.

“Good morning, Nathan, I mean Nathanael. It is nice to see you, too,” Lily said. “You know Mr. McDavid, I think?”

“Hello, Nathan. Great to see you again, my young friend, even under such circumstances,” Mr. McDavid said, and hugged Nathanael as if he were a nephew.

“Great to see you again, too, Thomas,” Nathanael said. “I wish we came back more often, but Mom and Dad have their own careers, and schedules fill up. But perhaps that will change now.”

Mr. McDavid winked at Nathan and said, “Why don’t you two sit here, and I’ll go see if your parents and your mom’s sisters are here yet?”

Lily stifled a smile and looked at Nathanael. They sat down together on the settee.

“Everyone! Everyone!” rang Beth’s voice from the other end of the library. “We will get started momentarily.”

Lily scanned the library for faces. She saw Donald and Mr. McDavid talking over by a copier, drinking coffee and laughing. Sarah and Aaron Aims were seated a couple of tables over from where Beth stood behind a rolling lectern. Three men Lily didn’t know, about Fred Aims’ age, sat beside a quiet woman close to Sarah’s age. Lily thought the woman had to be Ruth Aims.

“Covenant, good morning,” Beth resumed. “Thank you all for coming in early this morning. I’d like to start off by saying ‘Welcome!’ to my sisters, brother-in-law and nephew, as well as to all of Covenant’s board members. I didn’t know until quite recently that my family members were even coming into town.”

Lily looked at each member of the family, and even glanced at Nathanael to her right on the settee. None of the Aims family spoke except Beth. They only smiled kindly, nodding their heads towards Covenant’s faculty.

“I wanted to ask if we could all get started. As headmistress, there’s much responsibility. It takes a lot of leadership to continue steering Covenant’s faculty and students in the way the Lord would have them go. But we all feel that we are heading the right direction, even after Dad’s passing. Mom says to tell you all ‘Thank you’ for your acts of kindness over these recent days,” Beth continued.

As Beth drew in a breath to continue speaking, Donald approached the lectern from where he and Thomas McDavid had been standing by the copier.

“Beth,” said Donald, “Excuse me. Everyone, you know Fred Aims was a unique man, a gifted man. His love for Covenant, its faculty and students, and for its witness, was known to almost all of us. And Fred was one of my closest friends since we both farmed decades ago.”

Lily’s eyes were fixed on Thomas McDavid, who stood smiling by the copier, his coffee-stained cup in his right hand.

Beth stood awkwardly to Donald’s left, uncertain whether she should stand at all. None of the Aims daughters said anything. They, along with Aaron and Nathanael, sat listening for Donald to continue.

“Like Fred’s initial calling to establish Covenant, he was likewise thorough in how it was to be led,” Donald said.

Suddenly Beth appeared encouraged. She straightened her red blouse, as if buoyed by praise.

“And the board has called this meeting today to do three things,” Donald said.

Lily thought she heard Beth’s bracelets shaking. Beth took a step farther away from Donald and began twisting the rings on her fingers, as if they were going to slip off. She appeared excited.

“First,” Donald said, “the board, we gathered here in front of you, want to apologize for what has happened. Beth did not receive the unanimous votes required to be Covenant’s next headmistress. She may be able to remain in her former role here, but that, too, is being evaluated by the board.

“Second, the board has now had the required time to meet and follow the procedure that Fred Aims and others inaugurated.

“And third,” Donald concluded, “the board has voted on the new leader for Covenant. And he’s sitting over by our English teacher, Miss Rood. Nathanael Aims, would you please come forward?”

Except for Beth, the library erupted in applause. Nathanael looked over at Lily and smiled innocently. He rose and walked towards the lectern.

Lily sat frozen to the settee, looking back and forth at Nathanael, Donald, and Mr. McDavid. She felt sweat form under her right armpit and her forehead burned.

When she finally thought to look for Beth, she could not find her. Beth had fled the library.

(To be continued)







Lily (Part twenty-two)

Predawn. Lily’s brown hair lay upon her white pillowcase as if she had slept well. But she had hardly slept at all. The sheets appeared as if they had been assaulted rather than slept upon, twisted like rope. Her hip and lower back attested to her restless hours through the night. She lay upon her back, staring upward when a first ray of dawn entered a bedroom window. She glimpsed dust particles float above her cream-colored sheets in a tiny galaxy of planets, atmospheres, and mystery.

Mrs. Wilkins’ voice echoed in her mind: 7 a.m. Please be on time. At Covenant last week, Mrs. Wilkins had said the board had called the faculty meeting. It was, Lily thought, significant that Covenant’s board had called the meeting. Mr. McDavid and Donald assured her that the other Aims daughter would be in attendance.

She thought of Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael. They seemed impervious to the trivial, as if they had long distinguished the significant from the banal. She felt drawn to them but was unsure what their roles would be in today’s meeting. And what of Ruth, the middle Aims daughter? She had not met her yet, and she wondered if she would be mannered like Sarah, or more like Beth, or perhaps neither. And what would Ruth’s role be with Covenant’s board, or with her sisters Beth and Sarah?

Lily thought these questions mocked her sleeplessness. But when she entered the school corridor, Thomas McDavid stood smiling at her, his coffee-stained mug in his right hand.

“Mane bonum, Ms. Rood.”

“Good morning to you, too, Mr. McDavid,” Lily said.

“Would you like to walk together to the meeting in a few minutes? I could introduce you to the other Aims daughters who are in town, and Nathan, too,” Mr. McDavid said.

“Actually, I met the eldest, Sarah, and her husband Aaron yesterday at church. I met their son Nathanael, too, but we were unable to talk very much. We were in a Sunday school class together,” Lily said.

“Wonderful,” Mr. McDavid said. “Sarah was a gifted girl.  And she has grown to be just as precocious of a woman. Aaron is a fine man, too, and their son Nathan got the best qualities of his parents.”

Lily found herself smiling at the prospect of seeing them all again, and perhaps speaking more with Nathanael.

“Nathan’s heart is education, too, Ms. Rood, so you will enjoy getting to know him,” Mr. McDavid said.

“I would like that,” Lily said.

“Well, shall we go in?” Mr. McDavid asked, approaching the library.

“’Once more unto the breach’ then?” Lily asked, and Thomas McDavid pulled open the door.

(To be continued)







Lily (Part twenty-one)

When class ended, Donald was standing in the corridor, near where Fred had been the week before. “How was Tim’s class this week, Ms. Lily?”

“Good once again. I appreciate Tim’s method. He reads the text but then he asks questions about what God teaches about himself, about us, and about how he shapes our ends,” Lily said.

“Tim’s like that. He is a student of the Word. He is slow, not slow the way I am as an old man, but careful. Methodical, you might say,” Donald said. When Donald said the word methodical he gesticulated, and Lily inhaled the Jergen scented air.

Walking the corridor with Donald, Lily heard the congregation already singing a song she remembered from last week:

So, remember your people

Remember your children

Remember your promise, oh God

 Tim’s class had gone long by a couple of minutes, and the majority of Beulah’s body had gathered in the sanctuary. As she walked with Donald and neared the sanctuary doors, a stab of pain shot through Lily’s hip and lower back, causing her to pause momentarily. She smiled to herself, thinking, I limp like Miss Havisham.

“Are you okay, Miss Lily?” Donald asked.

“Yessir. I’m fine, thank you. At times, I get these pains,” Lily said.

“Just wait, dear,” Donald said. “God has his ways, doesn’t he?”

“Yessir. He does.”

Donald looked up when he saw his wife sitting in their usual spot, and said goodbye to Lily.

Lily looked across the congregation, and spotted Mrs. Ellen Aims where she and Fred normally sat together. A crowd was gathered around her. Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael were there, too. Beth was there, leaning over her mother, and talking to the group about how strong her mother was, and how grateful she was for everyone’s sympathy.

Lily looked for the young married couple who’d been on a pew a few rows behind Fred and Ellen last week, but they were not there, so she looked to the other side of the congregation, and found a pew a few rows behind Mr. Donald and his wife. She softly joined in the words of the chorus. But the specter of a restless night haunted her mind, and the board meeting was early tomorrow morning.

(To be continued)