A Pearl Too Proud
Toby J. Covington sat staring out the large pain glass window in his corner office at the slow moving town. In-between the sun and clouds trading places he caught glimpses of his reflection and thought of how his face presages his loneliness. He is the Vice President of First Commerce Bank of Waterfall, Kentucky - population 1,597. The bank is owned and operated by his aunt, Pearl Covington, and also the woman who has raised him. At home she preferred for Toby to call her mom, but at work she was Ms. Pearl to him and every employee, which by the way was just five people including himself. At twenty-seven he wishes to be married, but to Pearl there wasn't a girl in town who had ever been good enough for him to marry. Pearl’s main excuse was that they would just want to get in on the family fortune or that after she died his wife would divorce him and take everything she had worked all her life to build. She always found fault in the women he had brought by the house for her to meet and they always sensed her disapproval.
Allison was five years younger than Toby and had a crush on him since she was in junior high and working at the Woolworth five and dime store. She had left town for the past four years while studying at the University of Kentucky three hours from home. Holidays were the only time she would visit with her folks and was seen around the town. All done with college life, she now returned, but as far as she was concern it wasn't going to be for long. She had just started to apply to various agencies nationwide that might be looking for someone with a degree in psychology to employ as a social worker. She enjoyed working with children who needed special attention or who were deemed misfits. While attending college she had volunteered at several nursing homes and facilities for handicap children.
Allison was asked to run a few errands for her father who owns the town's hardware store. After a stop at the local office supply store Allison headed to the bank to exchange dollar bills for coins. She walked in and headed for the open teller line but seeing Toby at his desk behind an open door caught her attention. She decided to first say hello, it had been close to a year since she last saw him. She approached his door and stood there leaning against the door jamb with a smile as big as the Grand Canyon. Toby looked up and did a double take before staring back and saying, “hello Allison it’s been a while”, and then felt stupid for not saying more. “Yes it has, and how is life treating you here in our little town?” she asked. Toby didn’t have time to answer because his aunt did it for him.
“His life is good young lady and right now he is working so if you have other business here at my bank I suggest you get on with it.” Allison turned around to face Pearl who stood there ridged and with her usual stone like features that demanded control of every situation. “I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to take up his time, I was just being polite. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been back in town.” Allison replied in a soft voice as to not attract attention from the other employees. “Well then since you said what you came to say, I suggest you move on then”, Pearl said while staring without blinking her eyes. “How long has my father been a customer here at your bank ma’am?” Allison asked as she raised her voice a little this time. “I don’t see what that has anything to do with the matter at hand young lady”, Pearl replied, clearly getting a little bothered before making her next statement. “And my name is Ms. Covington it is not ma’am.” Allison’s head did a step back with her neck while her body stood still in its place, with her eyes wide open and a look of I don’t believe this woman just went there with me. Allison replied “Well then Ms. Coviiiington” stretching out the vowel for emphases, “The point is Ms. Covington, that my father could just as well go down the street to a more reputable establishment like Bank of America and I’m sure that they would let me speak to any if not all their employees without causing me this type of embarrassment.” With that said she walked past Pearl and headed to the teller line but not before turning around for one last statement. “And by the way my name is Allison and not young lady”, she exchanged her currency and exited the bank.
As was his custom every Sunday Toby sat next to his aunt since he was a child in the fourth pew on the left side of their church. Today he could not keep his focus on the person who directed the service or the pastor who brought the sermon. Allison was sitting on the third pew to the right and he couldn’t help glancing her way every few minutes. More than once his aunt who rarely missed anything going on around her, nudged him to redirect his attention and also gave him a warning look that said, ‘That girl is not welcome in our lives.’
At the end of the service he broke away from Pearl and walked over to speak with Allison who stood next to her mother. “Hello Allison, can I have a word with you outside”, he said after greeting her mother May Beth. “Sure but your mother is looking this way and she doesn’t look too happy after what happen the other day”, she replied with a grin. “First off, she is my aunt and she’ll get over it or be mad at me for the rest of the day, until she needs something from me and then its love all over again”, he said with a grin of his own. The two walked outside and Allison couldn’t help the thumping of her heart and swore that Toby could hear it as loud and hard as it felt in her chest. Once outside he said, “I just wanted to apologize for my aunt’s behavior the other day.” Allison held up both hands to stop him from continuing. “You have no need to do that, you did nothing wrong and she needs to learn how to treat people with a little more dignity. I have heard talk that she thinks that no one is good enough for her and I hope that someday she doesn’t need the help of those she pushes away. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go, my parents and I are going to brunch unless you would like to join us”, she said, hoping he would say yes and looked shocked when he accepted. “What are your parents going to say when I crash their brunch?” he asked with a hint of playful sarcasm. “They’ll just ask if you’re picking up the tab”, she replied, with the same playfulness. Then she walked off to find her parents after asking him to wait right where he stood, with a smile of cause. Standing there he couldn’t help thinking how beautiful Allison looked with her dark brunette hair and chocolate eyes to match her olive skin. She stood five foot seven inches without her heels about five inches shorter than him and he thought to describe her in one word, perfect.
His thoughts were interrupted by his aunt when she said, “So are you ready to head on home?”, while at the same time putting her hand on the inside of his elbow. “No you can go on without me, I’ll be along later. I’ve been invited out to eat with some folks so I’ll be a while.” She released his arm and turn to look at him. “And whom may I asked invited you”, she asked with some suspicion. “Allison Longhorn and her parents if you must know”, he replied as he studied his aunt’s reaction. “You mean the young lady who was rude to me at the bank and the one you couldn’t keep your eyes off of throughout the entire service?” she asked with a bitter tone. “Well mother first of all this is no place for this and second of all she wasn’t rude to you, in fact you were a little harsh on her when all she was doing was saying hello. They’re customers and we should be as polite as possible and a little more appreciative and sensitive. Now you run along and I’ll see you back at the house”, he replied and gently prodded her forward to get her to leave before causing a scene. Pearl was never one to leave on anyone’s terms but her own and always wanted the last word. She looked at him and said with a stern tone, “I don’t approve of that young girl”. Before she could continue Toby cut her off and replied, “I’m not asking for your approval and I would appreciate if from now on you let me make my own choices on this matter. You have stepped in my way every time you think that some young woman wants to get too close and at this rate I’m going to grow old alone. You know that I love you and respect you but it’s time that I’m allowed to do as I choose and not how you would like and with whom you would choose because there would never be any one that you will approve of.” He saw Allison and her parents coming out the doors and he leaned over kissed his aunt and headed in their direction leaving his aunt standing alone.
There were only two places in Waterfall to eat, your own kitchen or Doc’s Diner so they chose the latter. Doc was a real doctor who also owned the only eatery in town and since retiring he could be found in the kitchen cooking up some of his favorite foods. People in town always said that he should have been a chef because he was a better cook then he was a doctor. Toby, Allison and her parents took their seats in one of the booths and looked over the menu. Allison sat next to Toby and when they both open their menus at the same time their hand brushed one another. The two looked at each other and stared, catching her father’s attention. Mike was a kind and gentle man who loved his wife and only daughter. He always kept their best interest at heart. He looked at Toby and asked, “So why is it that as handsome as you are, you’re not married yet?” Allison gasped and held her breath while staring at her father with a questioning look. After releasing the air from her lungs she could only come out with, “Dad! What kind of a question is that?” Toby reached over and touching her hand stopped her from saying another word. “It’s okay Allison” Toby responded before her father could answer. “The truth is, I haven’t found someone that I want to spend the rest of my life with and my aunt has never approved of anyone that I’ve dated, not that there’s been many. The few that I thought could stand the test of aunt Pearl, have hit the door running.” He finished, then laughed and shortly everyone at the table joined in. Allison’s mother May Beth looked across the table and still laughing said, “Well I think you two make a lovely couple if you ask me.” Again Allison gasped and after releasing her lungs and speaking at the same time she only managed to say the word “Mother” before Toby spoke up again. “Well then if you both don’t mind and if it’s okay with Allison, I like to date your daughter. First, because I like her and second, because she’s the first woman I know who dared to stand up to my aunt Pearl.”
Pearl considered herself above most, and seldom greeted anyone she crossed paths with. Every Wednesday at ten in the morning she would enter Waterfall Hair and Nails before any of May’s clients arrived. Pearl chose this time so she wouldn’t have to make even small talk with other clients. May Beth was always polite and the two women would never say much to one another. Pearl would have her usual touch up trim, wash and blow dry and she was good to go. Three weeks after her nephew started dating Allison, Pearl had more than her share of words and by the time she was done, May, had lost her best paying customer. Pearl was one to give of her riches to her church and to a few needy charities but both God and Pearl knew that she didn’t give with a willing heart but for show. At sixty she was for the most part a healthy woman, not heavy but also not very slim. She always dressed elegantly, and just about everyone in town thought she over dressed for a small town like Waterfall. She drove a full size Cadillac that in the winter snow was totally useless and Toby would have to transport her back and forth for months. Her house maid was sure to be at Pearl’s by nine in the morning and out before she got home from the bank. Pearl had never married and the only family she had was Toby. She had raised him since birth after her sister died giving birth. In her own way she loved Toby but having no one else in her life she had always been possessive of him. Her nephew had tried to move out several times but his aunt always made him feel guilty by telling him that he was abandoning her, he always stayed.
Allison wasn't sure if dating Toby was such a great idea knowing that she had cost her mother a good client. She was happy and Toby was a dream come true, but she knew that at his house she was not welcome. She loves all the attention he pays her whenever they are together, her parents seem to be happy for her and she was starting to fall in love with him. But when it came to Pearl, Allison would make sure to know where the woman was at all times, whether at her bank or at church and stayed clear of her. Brunch after Sunday service at Doc's became a routine with Toby and her parents but no matter how many times Toby invited Pearl, she bluntly declined.
Toby was taking a lot of heat for his choice of company and even at his age Pearl let it be known that his late hours were not acceptable. He tried his best to convince his aunt that Allison was kind and polite but after her run in with the younger woman she would not be swayed. Pearl had told him that under no circumstance or condition was Allison allowed in her home and that during working hours, unless it was business, she was not to stop by her bank. Only one other time had Toby been in a serious relationship that ended in a disaster because Pearl would not allow the girl into her life. Pearl had given Toby an ultimatum, your job and home or the girl. Toby had a feeling that Pearl was about to reach her climactic moment where she would say, “Okay Toby you had your little fling now it’s time to drop the bimbo and get back to your life.” Toby had grown up over the past few years and he now realized that when his aunt said that, it was her life that she was concerned with and not his. He was all she had and she was going to do everything in her power to keep him, even if it meant his happiness.
Toby and Allison were starting to get serious enough in their four month relationship that Allison was considering not taking a job that would force her to move far from Waterfall. Knowing she would lose Toby to a long distance relationship she took a lower paying job at the small local hospital fifteen miles outside their town. Seeing as the hospital didn't have enough work for a full time social worker or even a psychologist, she also did the work of an orderly. Between her three duties she kept busy and also was doing what she loved to do, tend to those in need. Her hours were always fluctuating depending on staff shortness or too many patients.
One Tuesday afternoon she was stunned to see Toby in the hall by the emergency room and she quickly rushed over thinking something may have happened to him. Touching his face gently with her finger while holding his hand with her free hand she asked, “Are your okay honey?” He shook his head, “I'm not the reason I'm here, it's my aunt she fainted at the bank”, he replied with much concern on his face. “What have the doctors said caused it?” she asked while holding both his hands. “They’re not sure but she has a very high fever and is also having a bad case of cold sweat”. Allison told him that her shift would be over in a few hours and that she would return as soon as possible.
After completing her shift and punching out Allison returned to the emergency room and not finding Toby in the hall where she had left him she asked for Pearl's bed number. The emergency room was divided solely by curtains so she walked up to the one where Pearl was being tended, drew back the curtain and walked in. Toby was seated to her right looking away from her and staring at the nurse who was applying a damp cloth on Pearl's forehead. He turned and upon seeing her walked over and explained that his aunt was burning with a very high fever. The nurse introduced herself after noticing Allison’s hospital badge and said she would return after looking in on her other patients. Allison asked if there was anything she could do to help, the nursed asked her job description and being short on staff and with a busy ER she gave Allison instructions to simply keep the compress towels cool and then left. For the next four hours Allison did as the nurse advised. Not showing signs of her fever breaking Pearl was admitted and transferred up to a private room. Allison stayed with Toby throughout the entire night and helped the staff keep a close watch on Pearl. The following morning Allison went to the employee lounge, bathed, and changed her clothes. Being that it was her day off she returned to Pearls’ room and sent Toby home to bathe, change and check in on his own employees. The rest of the day went just as the night had trying to keep Pearl comfortable and doing everything to stabilize her temperature.
Pearl’s fever broke on the third day and she woke to find Allison standing over her bed and wiping her forehead. She looked around the room and not seeing her nephew she asked, “Where is Toby?” Allison smiled and replied “He went home to change and then by the bank to look in on things” keeping her tone as gentle and as nonchalant as possible. “And why are you here?” Pearl asked but not in her normal demanding tone that most considered rude. “Because you needed me” Allison replied with a tender smile. “And how long have I needed you?” Pearl asked, still staring Allison straight in her eyes. “Two and half days, you passed out at your bank and you been here ever since.” Pearl eyes were still locked in on Allison and they watered up when she asked, “And why would you take care of an old mean woman like me when I've always been too proud to admit when I'm wrong and too eager to prove when I'm right. I've ignored when it’s my mistake and I have boasted when I'm correct. I have wasted my years walking with the lofty instead of helping pick up those on the ground.” Allison, still with that gentle smile replied, “Because every time I find an oyster, I believe God only sees a Pearl”
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls,