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)

 

 

Lily (Part eighteen)

Lily planted her left foot on the blacktop of Beulah’s parking lot Sunday morning at 8:35 a.m. Sunday school classes began at 9:00. Vehicles peppered the parking lot, vehicles of the church’s staff and other members who volunteered to serve as teachers, musicians, and nursery workers. Lily liked being early because it fostered time to reflect upon what might unfold.

Her drive to Rook Friday night confirmed that she belonged here now, at Covenant to teach and find her place, and perhaps even at Beulah. She believed God would establish her with friends, like she was discovering in Mr. McDavid at Covenant and Donald here at Beulah.

She anticipated seeing Donald and shaking his Jergen-scented farmer hands in a few minutes. And she took comfort in the wisdom Fred Aims exercised in planning Covenant, the school’s board, and men and women of character with whom Fred surrounded himself. Moreover, Mr. McDavid and Donald promised the other Aims daughters would be at the upcoming board meeting. Yes, I belong here, Lily said to herself.

Walking towards the front door, she looked up to see Donald smiling. “Good morning, Ms. Lily. I’m glad to see you found us again.”

“Good morning, Mr. Donald. It’s good to be back. I even think I know my way to Sunday school. Forgive me if I’m too early.”

“I’m glad you’re early,” said Donald. “I have a few things I’d like to speak with you about, things Covenant related.”

“Yes, of course,” Lily said. “Has something else happened?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s more background information that might help you to navigate, as you say,” said Donald.

“I appreciate that–truly,” said Lily.

“You see, Ms. Lily. Beth is Fred’s baby daughter. The two older sisters moved off in large measure due to the way Fred and Ellen raised their girls.”

“Differently, is that what you’re driving at?” asked Lily.

“You see, Fred and Ellen would both admit today, after all the fallout, that they were very strict with the first two girls,” Donald said.

“But not with Beth?” Lily asked.

“Right,” Donald said. “You see, Sarah was the oldest. She was very bright, even as a young girl, but she moved off as soon as graduating high school. She moved to the city, went to college and law school, and now is married with her own career. Her husband Aaron is a lawyer in the city, with a career as successful as Sarah’s. They have one son named Nathanael, who’s as bright as they are, but whose heart is education.”

“I see,” said Lily. “So there were problems that led to Sarah moving off after high school?”

“Fred was very strict with Sarah when she was young. He drove her hard in her studies and at home on the farm. Fred was still farming during those years. Farming tends to bring some families together. But it also tends to break some families up, you see. Sarah was one more cut out for life in the city and one where she could stretch herself. And her dad and mom resented that, at least when Sarah was young,” Donald said.

“But did they mend the hurt feelings?” Lily asked.

“Oh yes, Ms. Lily, they did,” Donald said. “In fact, Sarah and Aaron are here today, along with Nathanael. You’ll meet them.”

“And they’ll all be at the board meeting tomorrow at Covenant, too,” Donald said. “Sarah and Aaron are on the board.”

“On Covenant’s board?” Lily asked.

“Yes. Very much so,” said Donald.

“And what about the other sister, the middle one?” Lily asked. “She moved off, too? And will she be here today, as well?”

“Yes, she’s here, too, Ms. Lily. She, too, had issues early on with Fred and Ellen. But like Sarah, she has blossomed over the years. Fred, though not with us, and Ellen would both tell you how proud they are of their older two daughters. And yes, you’ll meet her at tomorrow’s board meeting.”

“What’s her name, the middle one?” Lily asked.

“Ruth,” Donald said.

“And how are relationships with the three sisters,” Lily asked.

“Well, you’ll get a glimpse of that at the board meeting, Ms. Lily. You should be able to make up your own mind,” said Donald.

(To be continued)

 

 

Lily (Part fifteen)

Silence hung in the library air like humidity after Beth’s announcement. The library quickly emptied of a faculty cloaked with furtive conversations.

“This is not what I anticipated when I came from Rook to teach at Covenant, Mr. McDavid,” Lily said, as they walked out through the library doors.

“Well, Ms. Rood, it was a pleasure meeting you and chatting with you this afternoon. Perhaps you’d like to get that cup of coffee tomorrow morning before school?” Mr. McDavid said. “You know where our Cup-n-Saucer is?”

“Yes. I’d like that,” said Lily. Lily wondered why Mr. McDavid had not responded to her statement, but deflected it to coffee Friday morning.

Later that night Lily wrestled in her bed. Her hip and lower back hurt, long before she rose to dress before dawn. She knew she would resemble old Miss Havisham at work Friday.

When Lily entered the Cup-n-Saucer Friday morning, she saw Mr. McDavid already seated, and he was drinking from the same coffee cup he carried at school, embossed with the Latin scroll. But he was not alone. Donald, the greeter from Beulah, sat beside Mr. McDavid. Donald rose, along with Mr. McDavid, when they saw Lily enter.

“Hello, Miss Lily. Nice to see you again,” said Donald.

As he extended his hand, Lily smiled broadly and took his hand in hers.

“Nice to see you, too, sir. I did not know you’d be here for coffee, but I’m very glad to see you again,” Lily said to Donald.

The Cup-n-Saucer had a dozen square lime-green formica tables with mostly matching chairs. As they sat, Lily looked down at her chair. She saw a tear in the vinyl, just between her legs. The chairs had silver legs that screeched on the tile. They slid their chairs under the table as the waitress approached.

“What’ll you have, hon?”

“Just coffee, please,” said Lily.

“That all? Well, okay. Just know you’re with two of the finest men in our town, so you just listen to them and they’ll take care of you, okay? I’ll be right back with your coffee, miss” the waitress said.

“Okay, yes ma’am. Thank you,” Lily said.

“Miss Lily, Thomas didn’t tell you that I’d be here this morning because we wanted it to be a surprise. But I guess you’ve had a lot of surprises since coming to town,” Donald said.

“Um, yessir, you could say that. First time at Beulah. Then Mr. Aims’ passing. Then changes at Covenant. It’s a lot to take in. I’m grateful to you both, however, for watching over me and trying to help me navigate some,” Lily said.

“Speaking of navigation, Ms. Rood, that’s one of the reasons I asked you to coffee at our interesting faculty meeting yesterday,” said Mr. McDavid. “There are some things that Fred’s daughter is not privy to, things which Donald and I will be addressing.”

“I’m not sure I understand, Mr. McDavid,” said Lily.

“You see, Ms. Rood, Fred Aims did not answer the call to begin Covenant, bring in the faculty that he did, and forget to plan for contingencies,” Mr. McDavid said. “Covenant has a board comprised of people whose ambitions are somewhat less consumed with certain people’s reputations, and instead with excellence for our students.”

“I see,” said Lily. “But what does this have to do with what our new headmistress doesn’t know, or with, I’m ashamed to ask, with me?”

“Let me see if I can help her, Thomas,” said Donald.
“You see, Miss Lily,” said Donald, “Fred Aims had three daughters. Two of them moved off, and Beth is the baby.”

“Yes,” said Lily, “I can see that.”

“But Beth is not as privy, as Thomas said, to how thoroughly her father planned his Covenant,” Donald said. “The other girls moved off for a reason, but they still are their father’s children, and are part of Fred’s vision,” said Donald.

“I know that Beth said that she’s the new headmistress at Covenant now, but Covenant has a board that Fred set up to address many contingencies, including Fred’s departure,” said Thomas McDavid.

“What that means for Covenant, Ms. Rood, and for Beth Aims, and for you and me is that leadership is not settled so quickly as Beth wants,” Mr. McDavid said.

“Oh, I think I understand somewhat now,” Lily said.

“There will be another faculty meeting soon, Ms. Rood,” said Mr. McDavid, “but the next one will be one called by the board. The other Aims daughters will be in attendance.”

(To be continued)

“Lily” (Part eleven)

The pastor disappeared behind the chancel area. The congregation looked wide-eyed and nervimgresously at each other. Some sprinted towards the woman’s scream. Other people knelt behind their pews.

Finally the pastor appeared at the lectern. “Beulah, I don’t know exactly how to say this, but our beloved Fred Aims has apparently had a heart attack and died. Our elders have called for an ambulance. Two of our members are EMTs  and they are with Mrs. Ellen and Beth now. I know this is awkward, but please try to remain calm. As soon as we know something definitive, we will put that information out. For now, however, let us join in prayer for the Aims family.”

Lily tried to focus on the pastor’s public prayer but she could not silence her own thoughts.

“In Jesus’s name, Amen,” the pastor concluded, but Lily had lost sense of time and place. How could she go to Mrs. Ellen? They’d never even met. How could she express her condolences to her, or especially to Beth?

Lily admitted to herself that her sadness had an element of selfishness. She felt Fred was her only friend in church, and Beth was his daughter. Beth! Who would replace Fred in leadership at Covenant? Beth is so unlike her father.

“Miss Lily, are you okay?” It was Donald. His soft white hand touched Lily’s left elbow, and his voice coated her nervous mind.

“Oh, Mr. Donald! Yes, I suppose I am,” Lily said, “but I cannot really believe what has happened.”

“But how are you? Are you friends with Mr. Fred Aims?” Lily asked, gathering herself.

“Yes. Fred and I farmed together out off Highway 91 for years. Our farms almost joined property lines except for some pines managed by the power company,” Donald said. “Fred is one of the finest men I know, Miss Lily.”

Confirmation gripped Lily’s soul. She and Donald understood something about Fred, about character, about friendship.

“Fred grew soybeans and peanuts. But I grew cotton and corn most years,” Donald continued.

Lily thought Donald’s fingers were too soft to be a farmer’s hands. She caught the scent of Jergens.

“I have grown sons who now farm it for me,” Donald continued. “But Fred had daughters. I think you know Beth, who went into education. Anyway, the other girls moved off and Fred left off farming when God called him to begin Covenant. I don’t even know what to think about what will happen at the school, Miss Lily.”

Donald at her elbow. That’s almost all Lily could remember of Sunday, after Beth’s scream. Donald at her elbow. His solicitousness. A new friend? Why am I drawn to older people and they to me? I have an old soul, she thought, a middle-aged Holden Caulfield with Beth phonies running the school. And dear Lord, she purports to counsel, with a soul hard as a pine knot?

February’s days lumbered. It was Monday, and Lily peppered herself by way of staccato interrogation: When will you cease pouting? Why repeat ‘Fred is gone’? So what if Beth becomes headmistress? Does God revoke his promises? Did God call you to Covenant?

FACULTY MEETING @ 3:30 P.M. THURSDAY. MAKE-UP FRI @ 7:00 A.M. MANDATORY.

 When Lily entered the teachers’ lounge to make copies Monday at 6:45 A.M. that was the day’s first greeting.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Lily” (Part ten)

After Beth slid past Lily and walked away with Donald, Lily’s thoughts raced. I’ve never seen aimgres pastor interrupt a sermon like this.

 When Beth exited with Donald, her bracelets jangled together like gaudy cymbals on her wrists. Lily could not wash the picture of Beth’s unseemly hands and black nails from her mind. Lily looked up at the pastor.

“We are departing from our normal order of worship this morning, but just to reward a person whose reputation is truly one of selfless service, one who has for years poured into other people, especially the young,” the pastor said.

Nothing on Lily moved. Except her eyes. She scanned the sanctuary for any appearance of Beth, but did not see her.

The pastor continued. “Beulah,” he said, “please join me in congratulating a man with a servant’s heart, a man who had the vision to plant a school centered on Christ, a man who has sought to inculcate a faculty that manifest the gospel to our community. Fred Aims, please come forward.”

The congregation stood without hesitation and applauded. Lily stood, too, thrilled for her one friend in church. Lily looked over to where Fred and Ellen had been sitting a few rows in front of her, but they were both gone. Lily assumed she had just missed their exit when Beth had come to sit beside her earlier.

The applause continued for a few seconds, but Fred did not appear near the chancel area. Congregants glanced over to where Fred and Ellen usually sat during services. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Aims was there.

“I’m sorry,” the pastor said, “something must’ve happened. Do we have someone checking on Fred?”

Suddenly, the sound of a frantic woman could be heard from behind the raised platform made for the chancel and choir. It was Beth. “Daddy!” she screamed.

Fred Aims lay dead on the hall floor. While walking with his wife to be recognized, he had collapsed. Beth’s frame overshadowed her father. Her rust-colored hair lay upon her father’s neck and upon his plaid shirt; her gold cross earrings lay flat on the breathless chest. Mrs. Aims knelt on the other side of her husband, holding his still warm left hand, weeping in silence.

(To be continued)