Lily (Part thirty-three)

“We do not have enough time this morning for me to explain the whole of the family’s history, Ms. Rood, but I will try to set forth some stepping stones to help you understand how the path led you, led us both really, here. Okay?” Nathanael said.

“I understand. Go on. I’m listening,” Lily said.

Lily looked through the diner window to her left. The gray color and morning mist were dissipating. She saw her reflection in the Cup-n-Saucer’s window, as Nathanael continued.

“Mom did leave her home as soon as she graduated from high school. She met my father soon thereafter. He and Mom were both intellectuals, and tended to see to the underlying causes of things,” Nathanael said.

“I could tell early on that your sister and your father were bright. But that does not explain the division within your family,” Lily responded.

“Correct. Mom and Dad met, studied law, and went on to make good lives for themselves, and, yes, for me,” Nathanael said, “and my Aunt Ruth was a quiet one. She was like Mom, very smart, but she was not confrontational by nature. She reserved her views on the family’s ways until Aunt Beth’s ways became clear,” Nathanael said.

“Beth’s ways?” Lily asked.

“Beth is the baby, in lots of ways,” Nathanael said. “My grandfather was quite strict as a dad, especially when the three girls were young. My mom and Aunt Ruth left as soon as they could, as eighteen-year-olds, fresh from high school graduation. Admittedly, they may have viewed it as an escape from an overbearing father,” Nathanael said.

“I never knew your grandfather like that,” Lily said. “Plus, this community seemed to adore him.”

“He was changed by, I can say this to you and I think you’ll understand . . . he was changed by God. But that was done by God over time. My grandfather grew humble. But as he did, my Aunt Beth, even as a girl, was hardened. She carved a different path from her sisters. She was prettier than her sisters, at least as a girl. And she used her looks, her quick smile, to advance herself in my grandparents’ evaluations of her, and Aunt Beth grew up as a deceiver and manipulator,” Nathanael said.

“But your mother and your Aunt Ruth are beautiful women,” Lily said.

“They are now,” Nathanael said, “but as girls, I could show you pictures of them during their girlhoods, they were bookish and homely looking. They would admit that to you, even today. And Aunt Beth was beautiful as a girl. Blonde, a beautiful smile, et cetera. She seemed to know she would make her way in the world very differently than her sisters did,” Nathanael said.

Lily looked out through the diner window again to see sun piercing the vanquishing gray. Nathanael watched Lily as she thought.

“Is this too much, Ms. Rood?” he asked.

“No, I was just thinking about it all,” Lily said.

“Perhaps this is enough for this morning. We still have a day of school,” Nathanael said. “Will it be alright if we talk again soon, Ms. Rood? Not as Covenant’s headmaster to a teacher, but just as adults?”

“I would like that,” Lily said.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty-two)

Lily pulled into the Cup-n-Saucer parking lot at six o’clock under gray misty sky. Questions hung like damp wreaths in her mind. Why would Nathanael ask to meet with me alone? What will people think when they see us here so early on a weekday? He’s younger than I and . . .

Lily parked, opened her car door, and stepped onto the old blacktop of the Cup-n-Saucer parking lot. A pothole, shaped like a bowl with loose gravel inside the color of the gray sky, seemed to mock her as she walked towards the door. She glimpsed Nathanael darkly through the glass windows—composed.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood. Coffee?” Nathanael asked, standing and pulling out a lime-green formica upholstered chair.

“Yes, thank you,” Lily said. “Am I late?”

“No. I did not sleep much last night,” Nathanael said, “so I am here even before Donald and Thomas,” Nathanael said, laughing.

A waitress appeared. “What’ll you have, hon?”

“Just coffee for her, please,” Nathanael said, looking at Lily. “Right?” he asked. Lily nodded.

“Thank you for coming in this early to meet with me. I thought you were owed some explanations. Perhaps background is the better term,” Nathanael said.

“I’m glad to. I’m a morning person, I suppose. Coffee drinker, too. One of the characteristics I seem to share with Thomas McDavid and Donald, too,” Lily said, trying to ease, but Nathanael was not to be distracted.

“Ms. Rood. Have you wondered why I asked you here?”

“I’d be dishonest if I said I hadn’t,” Lily said.

“Have you thought about what people here might think and say if they saw us together at a diner before school?” Nathanael continued.

“I have. But when you asked me to meet you, I didn’t know what good choice I had. You are the headmaster at Covenant now, right? What was I supposed to do—decline?”

Nathanael conceded her point. “I knew you would have thought of all that. The people that come here, Ms. Rood, have known me, my parents, my whole life, if you will. Even though my mother moved away after high school, this town has a way of sticking to you. Mom left it when still just a kid, but it never left her,” Nathanael said.

“Many books are about that very thing,” Lily said. “I suppose Thomas Wolfe, Philip Roth, and Carson McCullers . . . um, sorry, literary passions don’t fade either, at least for some of us.”

“It’s okay. I told you earlier, English was my favorite subject, too,” Nathanael said. “Anyway, I don’t know if saying my mother was ever a kid is exactly the right term either.”

“How do you mean?” Lily asked.

“Ms. Rood, how much do you know of my family’s history?” Nathanael asked.

“Little, I suppose. Donald—from Beulah—told me a bit about how he and your grandfather, Mr. Aims, used to farm near each other. And he mentioned how your mother, Sarah, was the oldest Aims daughter. She and Ruth, the middle daughter, apparently left here soon after completing high school. They went “to the city”–is the way Donald portrayed it. Is that correct?” Lily asked.

“That’s accurate in what it denotes,” Nathanael said. “But did Donald tell you why Mom and Aunt Ruth left?” Nathanael asked.

“No. He just mentioned that your mom was very bright, and that your grandparents were strict on the girls as they were growing up,” Lily said. “Am I missing something?”

“That, too, is accurate,” Nathanael said, “but my grandparents’ strictness—especially my grandfather’s—was not the only part of our family history that led to why two of them left, with what has happened with Covenant, and with my Beth.”

“Why do I think this is going to take more time than our cup of coffee?” Lily asked.

“Hence my wanting to at least begin to provide you some background, so that you see the whole picture. Beth can be, well, conveniently selective in how she deals with truth and details she may not want revealed,” Nathanael said.

“I’m listening. But is this appropriate—I mean, for me to hear this? Is it, after all, my business?” Lily asked.

“You’re in it now, Ms. Rood. My grandfather brought you here, but Beth has her own web, and not for your good,” Nathanael said.

“Go on,” Lily said.

(To be continued)

 

 

Lily (Part twenty-eight)

Michael’s questions spurred Lily. Why? Always the question. Lily remembered stepping from her car onto Beulah’s blacktop parking lot for the first time. Weeks ago now when she met Donald, Fred Aims, Tim the Sunday school teacher, and Beth. Even with Beth, Beulah called to her. Tim taught Scripture the way she taught literature: read the text, explain the context out of which it was created, and then probe the situations and characters based upon the type of literature it is. Only by doing at least these things could one rightly interpret literature. Tim asked thoughtful questions, too, a hallmark of powerful teaching. Donald was there. And Mrs. Ellen Aims. And the pastor seemed humble and wise. Yes, she thought, she appreciated Beulah and her people.

And at Covenant, she believed she had a friend in Thomas McDavid. He encouraged her delicate disposition each time they were together. He was too old to view her sexually, so she felt safe with him. Moreover, he appeared to have read everything. He feigned not knowing which characters did what in Shakespeare’s plays or in the great novels, but Lily knew that he knew them all.

But what about Covenant’s leadership? What would happen to Beth, or between her, Sarah, and Ruth? And there was Nathanael.

“Miss Rood, did you hear me?” Michael asked.

“I’m sorry, but what did you say?” Lily said.

“I asked you whether you think Shakespeare expected us as readers of Hamlet to believe in the reality of ghosts. After all, King Hamlet appears as a motivating force for many, if not all, of Prince Hamlet’s actions,” Michael said.

“Excellent, Michael. What do you all think about the question Michael has raised, class?” Lily asked.

As hands went up to respond, Nathanael knocked upon Lily’s classroom door.

“I’m sorry, class. Give me just a minute, okay?” she said, and walked from the front of her classroom to the door. Heads swiveled in unison following Lily to her door.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood. I’m sorry to interrupt your class,” Nathanael said.

“It’s okay, but is everything alright?” Lily asked.

“Actually, I came to ask you a few things,” Nathanael said.

“Really?” The question hovered in the hallway air between them.

“Perhaps I should say that I feel like you are owed some explanation of what has occurred at Covenant, and a bit of background on my mother, her sisters, especially Beth, and how I came to be here,” Nathanael said.

“I would welcome all of that,” Lily said.

“Do you know where the Cup-n-Saucer is?” Nathanael asked.

“I do.”

“How about there about 6:45 tomorrow morning?”

“Sure,” Lily said. “I’ll be there.”

“Very well, then,” Nathanael said.

“Sorry again about interrupting class. Literature was my favorite subject in high school, and I’ve taken you away from your class for too long,” Nathanael said.

“Well, you’re the headmaster, right? I suppose they may excuse my brief absence from discussing Hamlet,” Lily said.

“Oh, do we not teach Dickens’ Great Expectations to seniors nowadays?”

“We do, for sure. But we are discussing drama this morning, especially how our past… you remember King Hamlet, right? Anyway, his ghost, or Hamlet’s mind, or whatever…well, the past played a crucial role in his future,” Lily said.

“As it did for Pip in Great Expectations, if I recall correctly,” Nathanael said. “Funny,” Nathanael continued. “The past is really what I wanted to discuss with you tomorrow morning.”

“I will see you at 6:45, then,” Lily said, and returned to her class.

(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)

Tim turned and walked towards his chair and addressed the class.

“It is difficult to put a happy face on the events of the last week. But we rejoice in the arrival of the eldest Aims daughter Sarah, and of course, Aaron, and Nathanael,” Tim said.

Tim looked at Sarah and her family as he spoke. “You know we loved your father, just as we love you all, and we are here with you as you grieve your father’s death. But we celebrate your father’s life, too, his legacy he left through you, through his ministries at Beulah, and especially through Covenant.”

Sarah, Aaron, and Nathan nodded in appreciation, and remained quiet.

“Thank you so much for that, Tim,” Beth said. “Dad would not want us all to grieve his loss but to get back to the business at hand. But thank you all so much for your support. It is truly felt.”

Lily raised her eyes from looking at and listening to Tim, and glanced at Sarah to see what her face registered. Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael sat in equipoise, listening. Tim nodded in Beth’s direction but did not speak to her comment.

“With that said, let’s turn our attention to the Scriptures again. Last week, we explored the passage from Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God. I asked you to think about what God revealed about himself, what God taught Jacob about Jacob’s own nature, and what lessons we are to draw from that historical account,” Tim said.

“As I said last week, Tim, Jacob was blessed by God to do great things. The angel of the Lord was there as confirmation of God’s being with Jacob,” Beth said.

Lily did not look at Beth, but could still hear Beth’s bracelets slide up and down her forearms while she spoke.

“Does anyone else have other thoughts on Genesis 32, perhaps about God’s nature, or about what Jacob should have been learning?” Tim asked.

Lily did not say anything but felt her pulse increase as Beth sat satisfied in her metal folding chair. Lily glanced again towards Sarah and family, as they sat politely, seemingly untouched by Beth, and listened thoughtfully to Tim as he continued.

“Normally I would not do this but I want us to leave Genesis 32 without finishing the whole story, and turn to a New Covenant passage: Acts 1,” Tim said.

“As always with Scripture, context is key. When the passage under consideration opens, Luke recounts how Jesus was with his apostles—bodily–post-resurrection. And Jesus is promising them that the Father will send the Holy Spirit. Follow me in the text:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

“Just like last week, ask yourself what Jesus is teaching his people about himself, about themselves, and how this applies to our lives.

“Let’s be specific. How did the apostles feel in this passage as Jesus was speaking with them?” Tim asked.

“They were looking to him as their leader to restore order to Israel,” Nathanael said. “But they still did not understand God’s plans were not yet their plans. They felt nervous or anxious, we might say.”

“That’s right, Nathan. Excellent. What makes you say that?” Tim asked.

“Tim, I think the focus was on how God would entrust them to lead,” Beth interjected.

“That’s interesting,” Tim said. “And was the Lord teaching them about who their leader was to be?”

“They were looking for earthly power, still,” said Sarah. “They did not understand the New Covenant yet. They were looking to bolster political might, to capture the culture with godly talk but without God’s means.”

“I think you’re on to something, Sarah,” said Tim. “They called Jesus ‘Lord’, so it sounded good, if you will. But in verse seven, Jesus rebukes them: ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority’.

“Might humility be called for?” Tim asked.

“I think that God was simply telling them that they were going to be used mightily to change their culture. They were going to have God’s blessing and power,” Beth said.

Tim did not say anything. He surveyed the expressions of the class. Lily felt her right foot tapping up and down on the blue carpet. Sarah and Aaron sat like jurors, calm and smiling. When Lily looked at Nathanael, she was pleased to see him looking back at her, smiling.

(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)