Lily (Part thirty-one)

Lily watched. Beth’s tears appeared as if on cue. She waved her arms in figure eights as she raised her voice towards Sarah and Ruth. Beth glared at Sarah.

“I won’t even respond to you, not after what you have orchestrated here. I should have known!”

“Beth, did you ask Ms. Rood to come here for this?” Sarah asked. “I’m sure she would like to know why she has been summoned.”

Lily feared perspiration was showing through her blouse. She stood silent.

“Well, Beth, what do you have to say to her?” Sarah continued.

“This must’ve been why you left home after high school, because you’re so hateful to people who are just trying to help!” Beth retorted.

“Beth, why will you not answer Sarah’s questions?” It was Ruth. Lily turned her eyes to read Ruth’s but Ruth was fixed on Beth.

“I’ll not stand for this. I’m supposed to be headmistress of Covenant. How can you two be so cruel? You come back to town just when I–…” Beth said.

“Yes?” Sarah said. “Just when you what?”

“O, forget it!” Beth shouted, and turned away. A storm of red blouse and the crash of tiny cymbals clanged against one another as she flung her arms above her head.

“Ms. Rood,” Sarah said, “I am sorry for what you have witnessed here. I hope this does not sully your image of our father. This is not his fault.”

“I am just confused,” Lily said. “I would not think this is the way your father would have wanted the school to handle things.”

“Exactly,” Sarah said. “The school has procedures in place for replacing leadership and faculty. This is partly why Ruth and I are here. Beth did not follow the procedures. Instead, she wanted to remake Covenant in a different image.”

“Different image? Aren’t we just talking about selecting a new headmaster? Image carries different meanings, does it not?” Lily asked.

“Again, you are right,” Sarah said. “But remaking the image is exactly what our little sister is about, Ms. Rood.”

“How much time have you spent with Beth?” Sarah asked.

“Minimal, really,” Lily said. “I see her here at work, of course. But I’ve been attending Beulah since moving here, and I have been in her Sunday school class.”

“Whose class,” Sarah asked.

“Tim is the teacher,” Lily said. “I was just saying Beth’s because…”

Lily looked at Sarah and saw her smiling kindly at her, almost pitying.

“It’s okay, Ms. Rood,” Sarah said. “That is what I mean. Beth’s a master manipulator. She presents everything—Covenant, Beulah, every story—with herself as the center. She is, as you probably teach your literature students, the protagonist.”

“I see,” Lily said. “But where do things stand with Nathanael…with Covenant, I mean?”

“I think he will discuss that with you soon,” Sarah said. “For now, I just hope we have not bruised our father’s legacy, or Covenant’s, by what you have witnessed.”

The image of the Cup-n-Saucer burst upon Lily’s imagination. She was still slated to meet Nathanael there in the morning.

“Okay then,” Lily said. “I guess we are through here for now.”

Suddenly Ruth spoke again. “This is not the first time we have come back due to our sister, Ms. Rood.”

“I see. Well, I should get back to my classroom. I have a bit left before my planning is over,” Lily said.

“Of course,” Sarah said.

Lily turned to go. She seemed to feel the tile floor tilt. Haze filled her mind as she walked away from the counselors’ offices and towards her classroom.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty)

Planning period, Lily derided herself. The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps, she told herself. I am supposed to be able to use this time for my students, to grade papers, to call parents, to refine lessons on Great Expectations, to explore Shakespeare’s intimations of Hamlet’s mind, etc. Yet I am walking this hall at Beth’s behest. Mockery.

Lily heard Beth’s bracelets clink against one another before she entered the counselors’ offices. Beth turned at Lily’s entrance.

“Ms. Rood. Come in. I think you know my sisters,” Beth said.

“Somewhat, yes. Good morning. But may I ask what this is about?”

“Good morning, Lily. This is Ruth, our middle sister,” Sarah said.

“Lily Rood. I’m new to Covenant. Your father hired me. And . . . I am sorry for your loss . . . I teach English . . . but I am sorry, I forget myself. I am not sure exactly what to say here,” Lily said.

“It is alright, Ms. Rood,” Ruth said. “Nathanael and my sisters have told me about you. We are thankful you are at Covenant.”

“Thank you,” Lily said. Unsure whether to speak more, she waited.

“Ms. Rood,” Beth interjected, “after the disrespect you and others witnessed in my library this morning, I’m sure you, like many others, desire some explanations. I, too, would like one. This is why I asked you to come to my offices during your planning period.”

“Does that tell you anything, Ms. Rood?” asked Sarah.

“I’m sorry, but what are you asking?” Lily returned.

“Our baby sister here. Her tone. Her bringing you into her web. In short, it’s Beth’s method of operation, as always. Take charge, and when things don’t work out, play the victim,” Sarah said.

“How dare you speak of me that way? I cannot believe you’d libel me like that in front of someone,” Beth said.

“You do not even know Lily Rood. Dad hired her, and she has come to my Sunday school class at Beulah, and I’ve showed her around this community!” Beth continued.

“Exactly,” Sarah said. “Do you even listen to yourself, Beth? Your library. Your Sunday school class. You showed her around this community. Your counselors’ offices. Beth, have you ever considered that perhaps other people don’t find you as fascinating as you find yourself?”

“How dare you speak to me like that, Sarah? I remained here when you went off to school, met Aaron, law school, marriage, the whole thing. I remained as caretaker. When Dad launched Covenant, you were not here to help. Ruth was not here to help. She left as soon as she graduated, too, just as you had done. And it was me!” Beth continued. “I was the one who kept it all together.”

“Do you think perhaps you are leaving some things out?” Sarah asked sarcastically. “Or are you done playing the victim?”

“You think you’re so smart, Sarah. Lawyer lady come back to legislate her way at Covenant!” Beth continued. “You are so cruel.”

Turning to Lily, Beth said, “I am sorry you had to see this, Ms. Rood. Perhaps you can see now some of what I have suffered growing up with these two.” Beth’s mascara smeared at the corners of her brown eyes, where she’d begun to cry.

“Still at it, are you? Just like old times. When you are done playing the victim, perhaps you could familiarize yourself—and Lily here—with the truth,” Sarah said. “But probably not. Because the truth would not have you as the heroine, and that is what chafes you.”

“Is this the way you practice law?” Beth screamed. “So cold, distant, as if you are unaffected! No one here knows what I’ve done, how I’ve worked—slaved—, with Mom and Dad . . . and now he’s gone, and I have to . . .”

Lily watched the thickening of the mascara stream at the corners of Beth’s eyes. Lily began to sweat.

(To be continued)

 

 

Lily (Part twenty-nine)

“Miss Rood, someone else is at your door,” Michael said.

“I’m very sorry, guys,” Lily said. “This is keeping you from our examination of Hamlet’s methods and/or madness, isn’t it?”

Through the rectangle of glass of her classroom door, Lily glimpsed Beth’s frame and red blouse.

“Ms. Rood. Would you do me the favor of coming to the counselors’ offices during your planning period today, please?” Beth asked.

“Today? I’m trying to get through Hamlet and Great Expectations with my seniors. Does it have to be today?” Lily asked.

“Thanks so much, Ms. Rood. I will see you then,” Beth said, turning her back. And she was gone. Beth personified dismissiveness towards those by whom she felt threatened.

Lily heard the clinking of Beth’s bracelets as she faded down the hall towards the counselors’ offices.

Reentering her class, Lily labored to refocus her mind upon Michael’s earlier question about ghosts. But her thoughts were of meeting with Nathanael early tomorrow at the Cup-n-Saucer, his cryptic intimations of what happened in his mother’s past with Beth and Ruth, and now being called to the counselors’ offices… de trop.

“’When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.’ Who said that?” Lily asked her class.

“Jesus,” the class said.

“No, not Jesus,” Lily said.

“Shakespeare?” the class said.

“Yes. In this very play you’re to have read and understood,” Lily said.

“You always tell us the Bible and Shakespeare supply most of the world’s wisdom,” Michael said.

“I stand by that, Michael. And I’m sure Lily Rood figures in a close third.”

“You’re too much, Miss Rood,” Michael said amidst laughter.

As Lily had their attention again, she tried to reenter Elsinore and the question of Hamlet seeing his father’s ghost.

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief, she heard in her mind.

It was only first period and her planning period was hours away, when she would walk to the counselors’ office; the irony was too much. Beth, a counselor, then headmistress for a blink, and now—what? To counsel Lily? To bring her into whatever past the Aims daughters apparently had never outgrown?

(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)