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-three)

“I’m fine,” Lily whispered to Nathanael. Tim’s ways of letting Scripture explain itself captivated Lily. Tim asked questions of his Sunday school class and listened to the class’s responses but he invariably returned to the storyline of Scripture itself. Lily understood herself to teach literature the same way–read the play, novel, or poem; then ask questions about what was read; then return to the texts themselves as their own interpreters.

Lily knew Ruth’s story in Scripture well but Tim’s teaching drew her in once again to the plot. “Okay then,” Nathanael said. Nathanael sensed Lily’s focus.

“Does anyone think we might learn from Naomi’s questioning God like she did?” Tim asked.

“Tim, I think Naomi was wrong to do that. We should just trust that the Lord won’t put more on us than we can bear,” Beth interjected.

Lily pressed her own fingernails into the fleshy parts of her palms. She grimaced at the bromides that passed for biblical theology. She longed for Tim to rebuke Beth. She sat back in her chair again to keep from speaking and to release tension in her hip and lower back. She sensed Nathanael watching her.

“So Naomi was self-pitying, Beth?” Tim asked. “Is that what we should understand the story to be teaching at this point?”

“Well, I just know that God has put me in some really tough situations, Tim. And rather than giving in, I fought back. And I—well, I overcame. Now I try to impart that wisdom to the students I’ve led and counseled over the years at Covenant. I see it as my mission field,” Beth returned. Lily felt some acid rise in the back of her throat. She felt forming vomit.

Movement in the classroom. Suddenly Aaron, Sarah and Ruth rose from their chairs and walked out. Looking up from his Bible, Tim said, “Aaron, is something the matter?”

“Excuse us please, Tim. It is not you,” Aaron said. The class alternatively stared at Aaron and Tim, grasping for explanations. Lily looked straight at Nathanael, who had not moved.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty-six)

Lily glimpsed her reflection in the glass of the wrestling trophy cabinets in the hallway as she walked the tile hallway towards the counselors’ offices after class. As she entered the offices, Nathanael was straight in front of her. Beth stood to the left within the office; Sarah and Ruth stood to the right side.

“As the counselor of many years, and one who knows Covenant best, she must go. She does not fit here,” Beth said. “Dad brought her here, yes, but now he is gone. As a counselor of many years, the one who has Covenant’s students’ best interests at heart, I know that Ms. Rood is not a good fit for Covenant. She’s not from here, and she seems too friendly with her students, at any rate.”

Stepping forward in the office, Lily spoke. “Is that so, Beth? I don’t fit, you say? What do you mean by that exactly? According to whom? Have I done something unethical or underhanded? If so, I would love to hear about it.”

“You’ve done nothing underhanded, Ms. Rood,” Sarah said. “Once again, our baby sister implies malfeasance by others, never herself.”

The office air erupted with clanging from Beth’s bracelets. “How dare you speak that way of me?” Beth growled. “I will have you know that Donald has talked to Ms. Rood already; I am sure she may know all about your taking leave of this town as soon as you could after graduating. Now you return, Sarah, as if nothing has happened, as if you can legislate us to do your bidding.”

“Ms. Rood, I have no idea whether Donald has spoken to you of our growing up here, or of why I left after graduating high school. Yes, this town witnessed our growing up, our development, and our lives since. Covenant is an outgrowth of Dad’s life after we had been raised,” Sarah said. “Dad was changed after we were gone. Ruth and I left, yes, and we were changed, too.”

“But I remained,” Beth shouted. “I, the youngest of the sisters, remained. I stayed with Mom and Dad through Dad’s struggles. It was not easy being the ba … the youngest. I know you think you both bore the brunt of Dad’s anger, but you have no idea what I went through as the youngest!”

“This is not about you, Beth. Don’t you ever see that?” Ruth spoke for the first time.

“Oh, you! Always Miss Quiet, but I see you!” Beth shouted at Ruth. “I know what you’re up to.”

“She’s up to nothing, Beth. Nor am I,” Sarah said. “We are assembled here for Covenant, and to honor our father’s wishes in bringing in, among others, Ms. Rood, from Rook, and Nathanael, to lead Covenant in keeping with the design.”

 
“Well, I’ll have you know that Covenant’s design is sullied with the likes of Lily Rood here,” Beth shouted. “I made a few calls to her former employer in Rook. Did you all know that she was accused of having students in her classroom after school hours? Is that the kind of teacher Covenant wants?”

Lily’s pride burned. She had tutored struggling students in writing after school for free. She had kept her room open for students to drop by on their own.

“Ms. Rood,” Nathanael said, “please do not respond now. Nothing good will likely come of indulging her.”

“Please excuse me, I’m returning to class,” Lily said, turning quickly.

“Ms. Rood, please let us talk more later, okay?” Nathanael said. But Lily was gone.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty-one)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whose class,” Sarah asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” Sarah said.

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

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued)

 

 

Lily (Part twenty-five)

As soon as Lily passed over the threshold of the library’s metal door, she heard Beth’s voice. And there were other women’s voices, too. Composed voices, dissimilar, measured. The voices came from the counselors’ offices on the right side of the corridor leading to Lily’s classroom. Lily walked slowly and lighter than normal, alone towards her classroom. She hoped to evade negative fallout from Donald’s announcement about Nathanael assuming the role of Covenant’s headmaster.

When Lily passed the counselors’ offices, she turned her head and eyes to the right and looked in without slowing her pace. A wash of red blouse, the tinny clinking of Beth’s bracelets sliding back and forth on her forearms. Sarah and Ruth stood around Beth, listening.

“What do you mean I didn’t receive the unanimous votes required? I have been at Covenant for several years now. Where have you two been?” Beth implored.

Neither Sarah nor Ruth spoke now, convinced Beth was not ready for the answer.

“Sarah, you left town nearly before your diploma was even in your hand. Off to college you went, then law school, with almost no communication between you, Mom, and Daddy” Beth said.

Sarah gazed into her baby sister’s eyes with pity and in silence for the moment.

“Sure, you were smarter than the rest of us. But you graduated college, went to law school and married, and years went by before you, Mom, and Daddy ever addressed the past,” Beth continued. “And I remained here to pick up the pieces that you left through your silent ways. And here you are again, back with your same means. And once again, things have blown up. Why do you think that just because you’re book-smart, you can reappear into our lives and legislate things?

I am the daughter that remained in town. I am the daughter that works at Covenant. I am the daughter who has counseled these kids that come through these halls. And I am the one who should lead this school.”

Sarah stood speechless but unintimidated. Beth turned her burning eyes towards Ruth.

“And you! You think you can reenter our town just because Daddy died. And then you vote against my taking over here? I am the one who stayed on the farm after you and Sarah left. Like Sarah, you think you can return, and act as if nothing happened. But things have happened. Daddy left farming, and we began Covenant,” Beth shouted.

“Are you through?” Ruth asked.

“Here you go again, Ruth. You think you’re so clever, just like Sarah. But I’m the daughter who has stayed with our parents. I’m the one who will take care of our mother now,” Beth continued. “And you two will just go about your lives away from here after we get this all straightened out.

“I know Daddy would want me to run this school, not his grandson, who is not old or tough enough to handle it,” Beth said.

Sarah and Ruth stood looking at Beth and then at each other in silence, waiting for the proper time.

When Lily touched the silver knob of her classroom door, she opened it slowly, not wanting the Aims daughters to know she had heard anything.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part 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)