Lily (Part fifty)

As Thomas McDavid disappeared from Lily’s door, Beth appeared, orange and ruined hair the color of brass, and tight white slacks, better suited for a young woman.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood.”

“Hello. May I help you?” Lily asked.

“Did I interrupt anything? I thought I saw a man leaving your room.”

“Did you not say that you saw him?” Lily asked.

“I thought maybe it was Mr. McDavid, but I was not sure. I try not to be alone with a man in my classroom—I mean, my office. It does not paint a professional image.”

“I see,” Lily said. “I suppose having another professional teacher, a peer, a man twenty years my elder, a friend—yes, I suppose you’re right. It could paint the image of two teachers greeting one another early in the morning as they work on their lessons.”

“Ms. Rood, we try to set an example at Covenant.”

“By not collaborating with fellow teachers, I take it?”

“I like to think our students are a reflection of the best of us here at Covenant. For us to ever present ourselves as less than Christian—well, it undermines my father’s vision and what we have built here in our town.”

“My speaking of Shakespeare and Dickens with a respected teacher could be interpreted as moral turpitude, perhaps? Might that phrase be in your mind, Beth?”

“I see no reason to make this personal, Ms. Rood.”

“If you prefer surnames, Ms. Aims, we can keep it on that level.”

“That would be welcomed by me and, I’m sure, by my other colleagues here,” Beth said.

“Understood, Ms. Aims. Let me see if I can clarify for you. You are somewhat different from Mr. Aims. He recruited me from Rook where I taught for many years. He interviewed me over weeks. He spent time—brace yourself—in my classroom. He spoke with me face to face,” Lily said.

“What’s more,” Lily continued, “he got to know me and understood the concept of vocation—calling.”

“Am I being professional enough for you, Ms. Aims?” Lily continued.

“How dare you speak to me like this!” Beth exclaimed.

“Wait, there’s more, Ms. Aims. This vocation—this calling—into teaching, into trying to continue the study of, and appreciation for, literature’s greatest achievements—well, your father, Mr. Aims, he seemed to grasp all of that. He understood what it meant to learn, to teach, to inspire others in appreciation of the true, good, and beautiful.”

“I’ll have you know that my father was a brilliant man, Ms. Rood. He was very strict as a father, especially when we were young girls, but you do not have to tell me how brilliant a man my father was. I should know; I remained at home with him while my other sisters left us. If anyone knew Daddy’s heart, I did,” Beth said.

Lily continued, “Your father got to know me by spending time with me. He did not gossip or spread innuendo. And I came to Covenant because I thought this is where God called me. I believe that he used your father to bring me here.”

“Hmmf! I have never had such a conversation with a faculty member in all my years at Covenant, Ms. Rood. I don’t understand why you must make this personal.”

Looking over Beth, Lily saw a group of people at her classroom door. Sara and Ruth were standing with arms akimbo in the threshold. To their left stood Donald and Nathanael. Thomas McDavid had stepped out of his classroom door.

“Go on, Beth. Let us hear how we left and you are the family heroine,” Sarah said. “Somehow I think Ruth and I can already tell you how your story will end.”

“How dare you! I simply came down here this morning to see Ms. Rood. But when I did, I saw a man leaving her room, and—well, I mean, I have heard things about Ms. Rood,” Beth said.

Suddenly Ruth spoke up. “Thomas, would you come up this way, please?”

Mr. McDavid smiled and walked back towards Lily’s classroom intrepidly. “Good morning, all. How may I be of assistance to the Aims family?” Thomas looked at Lily and winked. Ruth started to speak but Sarah interrupted her. “Thomas, I am sorry to involve you in this, but may I ask how you would characterize your relationship with Ms. Rood? Is it professional only?”

“No.”

Beth raised her head and eyes in triumph. “See!” she said.

“It is more than that. Since Ms. Rood came, I have rediscovered my calling.”

“Can you elaborate, Thomas, please? Is it a more-than-professional relationship?” Sarah asked.

“Certainly. Since Ms. Rood came to Covenant, I have seen a woman who loves her field and the passing on of its wisdom. And as to our relationship, yes—it’s more than professional. She is my friend,” Mr. McDavid said.

“I will not stand for this!” Beth shouted. “She does not belong here.”

“Nathan, I think I’ll let you handle the administration stuff. I’m off to look into the likes of those with the lean hungry looks from Caesar’s circle.”

He turned to go, but then looked at Lily. “Isn’t that right, Ms. Rood?”

Nathanael turned to Donald.

“Donald, would you help me walk my Aunt Beth back to the counselors’ offices, please? She will need to be getting her items removed.”

Sarah and Ruth nodded their heads toward Lily and turned to go. Mr. McDavid had already returned to his classroom.

Suddenly Mrs. Wilkins’ voice came over the intercom:

“Good morning, faculty. Students will be arriving soon, but the headmaster wanted me to remind everyone of the faculty meeting tomorrow morning in the library. We will all get to meet Covenant’s newest employee. She will be working as our new lead counselor. See you tomorrow at 7 a.m. Have a great day, everyone!”

Lily looked up from her chair. Thomas McDavid suddenly reappeared in the hallway. Nathanael and Donald turned around to look back towards Sarah, Ruth, and Beth. Speechlessness filled Lily’s class. The only sound was the clang of bracelets and the crash of Beth’s fleeing heels like fading cymbals.

(The end)

 

Lily (Part forty-one)

“Good morning, Ellen,” Donald said. Turning his right shoulder and hip to Ellen Aims, he hugged her as two friends of many years.

“Good morning, Donald,” Mrs. Aims said.

“And welcome again, Ms. Rood. Nice to see you again,” extending his Jergens-scented right hand.

“Thank you, Donald. Good morning.”

“Will you be returning to Tim’s class? Would you like me to escort you?”

“I’m fine, Donald. I’ll go alone,” Lily said. “But thank you.”

Ellen Aims met some friends in Beulah’s foyer and Donald returned to the front doors to greet other worshipers. Lily turned down the hall towards Tim’s class. Nearing the door, she heard the sounds of coffee cups and small plates–not Styrofoam, but ceramic cups and plates. Lily swallowed, gathered herself, and entered through the door.

“Hello, Lily. Welcome,” Tim said.

“Thank you. Am I late?”

“Not at all. Beth brought some goodies for the class today. Please, come enjoy some.”

Lily suddenly tasted bile on the back of her tongue. Lily pictured Beth’s ravenous fake nails with black polish and her scorched hair, even before she heard the voice.

“Oh hi, Ms. Rood. You came back. Well, I brought treats for our class but you are welcome to some, if you like,” Beth said.

No word of Beth’s cabal at Covenant had penetrated the Sunday school class. Lily feigned a smile towards Beth’s overture but said nothing for now. Lily scanned the room. Where was Nathanael? Or his parents? Or Ruth?

“Everyone, may I have your attention, please?” Beth announced. Again the bile on Lily’s tongue.

“You guys know how much I value our wonderful Sunday school class. My bringing some dishes of breakfast goodies is just to show how much you guys mean to me.”

The clink of Beth’s bracelets, her ruined orange hair. Lily looked for a chair in which to sit.

‘Thank you, Beth, for the breakfast,” Tim said. “I’ve no doubt we appreciated your thoughtfulness.”

Lily felt herself collapse onto a chair. “If we could all wrap up breakfast, we will get started in just a moment,” Tim said.

Members of the class made towards the trash can to throw away their napkins.

“Tim, may I say one more thing?”

“Of course, Beth. Go ahead.”

“If you guys will just clean the outside of the cups and plates, I’ll take care of the rest when I get home after church,” Beth said. “I hope you all enjoyed it.”

Lily tried to swallow but her tongue felt fat in her mouth and tasted of alkaline.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty-nine)

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)

Lily (Part thirty-eight)

Lily bore the mockery as well as she was able. But she knew Michael and other perceptive students would detect the bloodless Beth wounds. Lily’s mind divided: should she forsake Covenant and return to Rook, or continue at Covenant, Beth notwithstanding? Her body mocked her, too. Her hip ached, and her reflection in the trophy case confirmed her skin’s pallor, thinking My frame and face betray me. She wrestled with the desire to be alone and the desire to be encouraged by Thomas McDavid, Donald, or Nathanael. Today, Lily felt an alien at Covenant.

As her teaching day ended, she stared at the top of her desk and at her lectern—notes she had made on Great Expectations and Hamlet written on Post-its. Lily stretched her right hand towards her copy of Hamlet when she heard Donald call her name.

“How about a coffee from the Cup-n-Saucer—my treat?” Donald asked.

“I’m in,” Lily said. Donald vanquished her longing for solitude.

“Is it okay if I stay in your room after school? After all, I’m old enough to be your father?”

“Oh, Donald,” Lily laughed, “thank you for that. I needed to smile.”

“I remember days farming, when Fred Aims and I used to swap stories of demonic angels that ate our corn, peanuts, and soybeans. Our wives would look at us like we were as dumb as fence posts, but Fred and I had to get a laugh amidst the trials of farming. I am not a book person, Ms. Rood, but I’d assume teaching is like that some days…” Donald said.

“I think there’s a special fence post with gray streaks and a bad hip out there with my name on it,” Lily said.

“Come on, Ms. Rood, I think you’ll need to drink your coffee black for what I’m going to share with you today.”

(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-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)

Lily (Part nineteen)

Lily anticipated Monday’s board meeting, as Donald looked at her and said, “Well, here’s Tim’s class, Ms. Lily. This is where you were last week, right?”

“Yessir. Thank you,” Lily said.

How will this end? Lily wondered. Does Beth know her sisters are in town? Mrs. Wilkins announced Friday that there was a peremptory faculty meeting at seven Monday morning. But what about between now and then? What happens when I enter Tim’s class?

Lily found herself looking down at her brown boots as she stepped forward on blue carpet and entered Tim’s class.

Tim sat on a silver swivel chair sipping coffee from a white Styrofoam cup, talking to class members.

“Hi Lily. Welcome back,” Tim said, rising from the chair, as Lily entered. “Some of us were just talking about the week we have had.”

“Hi, everyone,” Lily said. “Yes, it’s been rough, to be sure. How are you bearing up?”

“I have known the Aims family for years,” Tim said. “Though I grieve Fred’s death, I don’t grieve as one without hope. To the contrary.”

“I understand,” said Lily. “He was, I have learned, a wise and loved man.”

“Lily,” Tim said, “I would like to introduce you to one of the other Aims daughters, and Aaron, Fred and Ellen’s son-in-law. I think you already know Beth.”

Questions sounded in Lily’s skull about what her eyes would see when she looked up at Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael. Will Sarah clang with gold bracelets and have fake fingernails? Will she talk endlessly about herself, Lily wondered.

“Ms. Rood. It is very nice to meet you. I’m Sarah and this is my husband Aaron. My father spoke very highly of you and your coming to Covenant.”

“It is nice to meet you, too,” said Lily. “I’m thankful to be at Covenant. But may I ask how you and your family are doing?”

Lily struggled with how to honor Mr. Aims without letting the questions degenerate into sentimentality.

“It’s been only a week, and you and your family have come in from out of town, and must have your sorrow to deal with, and…” Lily said.

“That’s true,” said Sarah, “but my family is with me. Speaking of whom, this is my husband Aaron, and our son Nathanael.”

Lily looked up at two of the handsomest men she’d ever seen. Aaron had on khaki slacks, a black blazer with a blue Oxford shirt underneath. He extended his right hand to Lily.

“As Sarah said, Ms. Rood, it is very nice to meet you. Welcome to Covenant, and we hope, to Beulah, too,” Aaron said.

As she shook his hand, Lily looked at his other hand. He wore only his wedding band. Lily noticed Sarah wore only her wedding ring, too, unlike Beth, who Lily heard approaching.

“Oh Lily, I see you’ve met some more of my family, Sarah and Aaron,” Beth interjected.

“Um yes, I’ve just met Sarah and Aaron. But I’ve not officially met their son yet,” Lily said, looking over at Nathanael where he stood next to Tim, who’d returned to his swivel chair.

“Hello, Ms. Rood. Pleasure,” said Nathanael, walking over. He is more handsome than his father Aaron, Lily thought. How can these people be related to Beth?

Nathanael shook Lily’s hand with the same gentlemanly demeanor as his father had. He smiled at Lily and welcomed her to Covenant, too, as if he knew Lily’s story. Lily liked him and his parents immediately.

“Well,” Beth interrupted, “it looks like we are ready to get started. Right, Tim?” Beth’s voice jangled across the blue carpeted floor and between the sheetrock walls of the classroom like a cymbal.

(To be continued)