Sister Bernadine appeared in the back of my classroom, a minute before the lunch bell rang. As she scanned the room, I was certain that, somehow, she knew everything important about each of my pupils. Her dark face was quiet; her eyes were, as always, intense. The bell rang and the children, remaining at their desks, looked up at me. The Mother Superior of St. Dominique’s parochial school smiled and I felt like I’d just won the Gold Medal in the Teaching Third Graders Finals.
“Children? We have a visitor! It’s Sister Bernadine.”
As nearly one voice, though Timmy Lewis lagged just a bit, creating the slightest of echoes, the class said, “Good Morning Sister Bernadine. Welcome to our classroom.”
A dark-haired boy with the delightfully archaic name of Zacharia, remained silent. His attention was on Sister Bernadine, completely ignoring his classmates. That was an interesting reaction for a third grade boy, since most have the attention span of a year old beagle riding in a car with the window down.
“Good Morning, Sister Ryan’s class!” Sister Bernadine was capable of producing a sound that was loud but not jarring. She had talent for commanding attention. Earlier in the year, I watched her stop a fight between two eighth grade boys, with barely the volume heard in a confessional, on a summer’s Saturday afternoon. “William… Theodore… stop.” More impressive than the immediate cessation of pre-adolescent hostilities, their attention was riveted on her. Her voice commanded and her eyes captured.
Now, in my class, just before lunch period, she employed her joyful voice. It not only caused the children to become quiet, it somehow inspired anticipation of something exciting. They looked at her with smiles that hoped for a surprise, but were satisfied with simply being the object of her attention.
“Eat all of your lunch, leaving nothing to waste. I want you to thank the cafeteria ladies. Then, enjoy your recess. ” She moved her gaze over the class like a spotlight at a Hollywood premiere. “Anthony! Good soccer game last week. Britney, I liked your ‘Show and Tell’ about your grandmother’s knitting needles. Very well done.”
It wasn’t just that Anthony and Britney looked like they’d died and gone to heaven. The proof of her talent for leadership was the expression on the faces of all the other children in the class. Nowhere was the slightest hint of resentment at not being singled out by name. Instead, I saw a kind of faith, usually seen only in young children, dogs and the elderly infirm. My third graders knew that Sister Bernadine was different from most adults. If she had said, “Lets all go jump off the roof’, there would have been a stampede on the stairwell.
She stepped into the room and, without a word, nodded towards the corridor. Twenty-five third graders filed out of the class amid whispered laughter. It wasn’t simply that they were doing as they were told. They exuded a group pride, much as would an elite athletic team, following a strenuous (and successful) performance.
“I need you to cover Sister Catherine’s class this afternoon.” Sister Bernadine walked to the front of the room, as my eight and nine-year-olds headed down the corridor to the cafeteria.
“Certainly, Reverend Mother. Is Sister Catherine not well?” I felt a twinge of shame for deciding to remain seated. ‘A strategic position’, whispered a part of my mind that I thought was gone, driven out by boredom, ‘the better to hold your own with Sister Bernadine’, it insinuated.
“She and Father Morgan went to the home of one of her students, the Avila girl.’ She paused, surely reviewing the files in her head that she maintained on… everyone. “Patrice. Patrice Avila. Quite bright, a bit of a handful. Her mother, Roanne, was a student here. She had, in fact, been one of Sister Catherine’s pupils. Nice girl. Grew up too fast. She received a visit yesterday from the State Police. Her husband Roger was found dead in a motel room in Atlantic City. He worked as a blackjack dealer at one of the casinos. Terrible thing.”
My mind replayed a memory from the previous week. I’d come upon Sister Catherine erasing, over and over, the blackboard in her empty classroom. I quietly sat at one of the student desks and waited until, finally, she stopped. After staring out the window at the schoolyard for what must have been fifteen minutes, she turned and said, “We have these children in our care for the most important years of their lives. We are not their parents but we are, sometimes, their family in every way important, other than being blood relatives. We are with them as they grow into the world. It’s here, in these classrooms, our pupils learn that the world is bigger than they can know. Home and family are not always synonymous.”
I considered telling Sister Bernadine about my afternoon with Sister Catherine. However, as much as the Reverend Mother assumes responsibility for everyone and everything that happens here at the Convent, even she has limits. An old trait, holding on to information for no reason other than it might prove valuable at a later time, asserted itself and I said nothing. I did not feel good about myself.
Looking up, I saw Sister Bernadine staring at me. Her expression made me wonder, for the umpteenth time, if she was at least partially telepathic. I refrained from asking about funeral arrangements, as Sister Bernadine never left the Convent grounds.
“I’ll get her class started on a study project as soon as they return from lunch. Just stick your habit in the door every 20 minutes or so.” She smiled at her joke and left without saying goodbye.
“I understand you’ve some experience with foreclosed properties. You started in the business with Joe Sato, up in Atlantic City?” Drusilla Renaude sat opposite Arlen Mayhew in a window booth, in ‘Nan’s Crabshack’, overlooking Tangier Sound.
“First broker. Where I started, after giving up teaching. Learned more about sales from him in six months than most agents do in two years. The man do know how to sell.” Arlen paused in folding his napkin, a ritual that was present in every meal not taken at home, and thought about how he came to be having lunch with his broker.
He preferred to start his workdays in the very early morning. On this Friday, the end of his first full week with Renaude and Associates, he’d finally gotten his desk the way he liked it. Just after one o’clock, as if on impulse, Dru Renaude stopped on her way out of the office and suggested that they have lunch together. Arlen said yes, being totally certain that Drusilla Renaude did very little on impulse.
“Yeah. Old school, Joe is. Probably the best salesman I’ve ever met. He can close anyone. It didn’t matter whether the client was a millionaire looking for a beach house in Ocean City or a young family looking for their first home, Joe treated them the same. They were his. Too many young agents think selling is about the houses or the financing or, even the qualifications of the buyer. It isn’t. It’s about people. Joe Sato knows people. He sells people, he doesn’t sell houses.
“I’m glad to hear you say that. Joe thinks very highly of you, as well.”
Arlen raised an eyebrow and Dru laughed.
“You thought your resume and your understated charm were sufficient for me to invite you to join us at Renaude and Associates?”
Arlen smiled, “Well, I did make you laugh in the course of the interview.”
“When? I don’t recall laughing. It was a very serious interview!” Drusilla’s eyes gave her away, nevertheless, she managed to keep a straight face.
“I distinctly recall my saying something that had you laughing like a school girl.” Arlen was gratified to see genuine surprise touch the woman’s face, as their conversation veered into un-expected territory.
“No way! I’ll have you know that I haven’t laughed like a school girl since,” her last efforts to remain serious crumbled as, in formulating a response, her memory clearly offered her instances that did not support her position, “well, since forever!”
They both began to laugh. Dru reached across the green Formica table and touched Arlen’s hand briefly, the gesture having its desired effect of throwing Arlen off-balance and his normal, somewhat formal demeanor returned.
“I’ve got a shot at a very large project.” She paused for effect, “Very large. I’m hoping you’re the agent that Joe Sato says you are and you have the kind of instincts for the business that will be of use to me,” Drusilla said, looking over the white curve of her coffee mug.
“You’re referring to the short, dark and impeccably tailored visitor from the day I interviewed?”
Dru laughed, a more adult laugh, one that made Arlen feel like he’d succeeded in whatever he was trying to accomplish. Arlen smiled at the woman and felt like he was in 10th grade and the head cheerleader asked him to help her put up some decorations in the school gym.
“I’m glad I was right about you. I know I want you on my team. The people I’m dealing with have no time for amateurs and part-time real estate agents.”
She abruptly stood up from her chair, drawing Arlen out of his, by force of will.
“Get settled in at the office. Bring your book of business on-line, but leave some room in your schedule. Early next week you and I are taking a ride out to see the target area for this project. I’ll want your take on feasibility, but what I really need are workable plans to leverage the company for the ramp up. This is so ground floor that the principals aren’t even done with the land acquisition. I intend to be ready to do what they need done, before they even know they need it.”