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-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 sixteen)

The halls of Covenant changed on Fridays into conduits of adolescent energy. Teenagers’ weekend plans scintillated as if their legacies hung in the balance of Friday’s and Saturday’s feats.

Lily stood in front and to the side of her classroom threshold with a beige mug of coffee in her right hand, embossed with a painting of Pip and Joe from Great Expectations on its face. Lily greeted students as they entered the English/History hallway. Some students entered her classroom; others passed her on their way to other classes. Lily imagined roles these students would later perform after their Covenant years. I farm, Lily thought. I farm for young minds. They now see so little.

Still new to Covenant, February found Lily with the respect of her students and most administration. Seen as proud by some administrators due to her reticence, Lily managed her professional loneliness by way of her relationships she had always discovered through church, hours bathed in Scripture, and in treasured friends. Her years at Rook birthed a few more friends; she trusted her calling to Covenant would beget more.

She heard Mr. McDavid before she saw him. “Careful, my young Cato!” Mr. McDavid said to a towheaded boy in the hall. “You’ll be able to conquer these halls better if you’ll stay on the right side of the corridor.”

“Yessir, Mr. McDavid,” came a squeaky reply from the lanky blond boy. Mr. McDavid carried his mug with the Latin scroll and smiled as he greeted Lily.

“Good Friday morning to you, Ms. Rood! All well?”

Lily smiled, as she always did when she heard Mr. McDavid’s voice at Covenant.

“Good morning, Mr. McDavid. Nice to see you again,” Lily said.

Though Lily had met with Donald and Mr. McDavid at the Cup-n-Saucer earlier that morning, the atmosphere among some at Covenant Friday portended more than Miss Havisham, Pip, Joe, or Mr. McDavid’s Latin aphorisms.

“Faculty, may I have your attention, please?” blared the school’s PA system. “This is Mrs. Wilkins in the front office. Our board has called a peremptory faculty meeting Monday morning at 7 a.m. Please, be on time. The meeting will be short, but it is mandatory. Have a great day at Covenant!”

“Well, Ms. Rood, great expectations all ‘round. Dickens was on to something, eh?” said McDavid, smiling at Lily.

“Hope your classes go well today,” he said. Then the bell sounded, and Mr. McDavid disappeared into his classroom, as did Lily into hers.

(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 fourteen)

Mr. McDavid blessed Lily when he spoke. Though she was unsure whether Mr. McDavid knew how deeply she needed such a voice, Lily’s scruples told her Mr. McDavid was of the same caliber as Mr. Fred Aims. The fact that Mr. McDavid sized up Beth as he did revealed to Lily Mr. McDavid’s discernment.

“Everybody, we’ll get started now,” Beth said. “First, I just want to say ‘thank you’ for your prayers, your phone calls, and your friendship. As you might imagine, these have been tough days on Mom, my sisters, and of course me. As an administrator and counselor at Covenant, I have large roles to play.”

Mr. McDavid sipped from his coffee cup and turned his head and winked at Lily. “Her grief is palpable, isn’t it?” he whispered.

Lily smiled at Mr. McDavid, acknowledging their mutual understanding.

“I’m sure,” Beth continued, “that you’re all wondering who will now lead Covenant. I know that Dad would want someone who has a commitment to directing students in the ways of the Lord. And I know that Dad would want someone with experience in advising, counseling, and administration.

“What’s more, we have such a talented pool of people to choose from at Covenant, it was with much prayer that the powers that be have chosen me to replace Dad.”

The only sound in the library was the clinking of Beth’s bracelets as they slid up and down her long arms like hideous cymbals.

Lily and Mr. McDavid both looked at one another. “Welcome to the new Covenant, Ms. Rood. We need to plan to get that coffee real soon.”

(To be continued)