Unfortunately for Alice, however, Henry Cooper wasn’t leaving her mind anytime soon. She thought so much about his admission that she found herself bursting into his classroom early Monday morning.
Sitting at his desk, Henry looked up at her in surprise, his reading glasses nearly falling off in the process. He stood up. “Alice—”
“Did you actually believe that you’d tell me that you’re in love with me and I would choose not to talk about it?” Alice asked.
Henry nodded and smiled slightly. “I noticed.”
“Is this some kind of strange fascination? Is that what this is?” she questioned.
The smile disappeared from his face. “You think my feelings are part of a strange fascination?”
“It’s a valid question, Henry. History validates that question. Thousands of black babies born in fields and barns with white fathers who would never acknowledge them validate that question. I want to know where all of this is coming from.”
Henry shook his head. “Forgive me, but that might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Open your eyes, Alice. Stop looking behind you and look right in front of you.” He walked around the desk and approached her. “You’re Black. So what? I’m White. So what?”
“You can’t ‘so what?’ race. We don’t live in that kind of world,” she replied. “And to be frank, I have to ask these questions. I don’t really know you. Yes, we grew up together and we’re colleagues, and yes, we’ve spent some time outside of school, but bowling and game nights don’t mean anything. I don’t know you, Henry.”
“Then get to know me, Alice,” he said softly, his brown eyes fixed on hers. “Get to know me.”
Startled by the earnestness of his appeal, Alice nonetheless stepped back. “I need to go,” she said before marching out of the room.
She turned from the chalkboard later that and regarded McKinley Battle, one of the tenth graders in her fourth-period class. “Yes, Mr. Battle?”
“My mom told me that if you take us to the tree, she’s going to make sure that you lose your job.”
Alice nodded. “I know, Mr. Battle. She informed me of that, as well.”
“But…you’re still taking us, right?”
An hour later, #takeustothetree began trending on various forms of social media. By mid-afternoon, local civil rights chapters urged the school board to approve the visit to the Hanging Tree.
Finally, at the end of the day, Alice Harper received a call from the superintendent’s office. She was to meet with Franklin Walsh, the superintendent, first thing the following morning.