It was autumn. The leaves fell softly from the sleeping trees: orange leaves, brown leaves, red leaves, and gold leaves. The wind whispered softly through the trees causing the air to be cold and dry. Stephen wrapped his scarf tighter around his face as he passed by the lake near his house. The sun’s rays settled on its translucent surface as it set into the horizon. Small white ducks floated on its surface, fluffing their feathers. He kicked the rust-red dirt under his Chuck Taylor’s as he went. The wind picked up a little, and he shoved his hands into the pockets of his school uniform jacket.
He was born in the fall, October 12th, 1946. His seventeenth birthday would be coming up in a few months.
It was such a long way home from the bus stop. He looked to his side at his friend Mark. His jet black locks blowing in the wind. He had the darkest hair Stephen had ever seen on someone. He removed his lollipop from his mouth with taped fingers and turned to face Stephen.
“What are you gonna do if your parents decide to, you know?” he asked.
Stephen looked back at the dirt road and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he responded. “I don’t think I’ll have a choice if it gets to that point.”
“Do you really think they’d do it?”
He shrugged again.
“Do you really hate her that much?” Mark pressed.
“No, I don’t hate her,” Stephen said, “but I don’t like her either.”
“Well, maybe it won’t be all that bad,” Mark said trying to cheer him up. “Maybe she’s actually a nice person after marriage or whatever.”
Stephen groaned loudly.
Mark looked back down at the road. He was lucky his parents weren’t making him marry some girl just because her family was rich. “At least you guys will be well off, you know. You won’t have money problems.”
Stephen looked at him blankly.
“I don’t think I would care as much if she weren’t so...boring,” Stephen stated. “She might go to a good school, but she’s not all that smart.”
“At least she’s pretty.”
“Meh,” Stephen stated tiredly. “We’re having dinner with her family tonight.”
“Can I come over?” Mark asked looking at him.
“Sure,” Stephen said without asking why.
Stephen glanced at Beverly as she took the seat across from him. Her platinum blonde hair was pulled back into a bun and her white-collared, blue dress was buttoned all the way to the top. She only really liked to talk about the weather. She looked a bit mature in the face for her age also. Her pale blue eyes glanced up at him, and a thin smile spread across her lips. He smiled back politely, and then looked away.
“So, Beverly how’s your new school?” Stephen’s mother asked, initiating conversation at the table.
“Oh, its mighty fine, Mrs. Harper, especially since it’s a private school,” Beverly said. Her voice was rather high, a little shrill as a matter-of-fact. Her parents had moved her to a private school since she started high school. It was something about them wanting her to go to an all-white school.
His parents had talked about it with him. He said he was fine with whatever they decided. He wasn’t really sure if he wanted to go to school with colored people or not. He wasn’t sure what they were like. He had never really met one before. They lived close to the capital of Mississippi, but not in it. They saw blacks frequently in the city, but they lived in a white only neighborhood.
“That’s how it should be,” Mrs. Harper said, “No Negroes allowed. You know, we were thinking about sending Stephen to one of those private schools. They’ll integrate his school soon too, I suppose.”
“Oh my, you should get him out of there before it’s too late,” Beverly’s mom proclaimed. “You know, they’ll ruin these good schools we have around here.”
“Won’t they?” Mrs. Harper said.
Stephen noticed his mother glance over at him. He quickly averted his eyes.
“What do you think, Stephen?”
He looked at her, her piercing steel grey eyes stared right through him. “I-um...I don’t know.”
“Oh come on, hun. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Mr. Harper said in response. His father was from the city Chicago. He had colored friends before in school, but he would get beat up constantly by the other white kids for talking to the colored students at the school. He had grown up fairly well in the face of such trauma. “He doesn’t have to talk to any of them,” he assured her.
“He shouldn’t have to look at them in a classroom with him,” Mrs. Harper hissed bitterly. Silence surrounded the table.
“...Well, you aren’t wrong,” Beverly’s mom agreed.
Mrs. Harper cleared her throat, “No,” she started, “but this isn’t a proper conversation for the dinner table.” She focused her attention toward Mark. “Where’s your father gone to, Mark?”
“He’s out of town with my mother for a few days,” Mark answered passively.
“They leave you at home by yourself too often for my liking,” Mrs. Harper observed.
Mark was silent.
“Well, a new dress shop just opened up downtown,” Mr. Harper spoke, changing the topic.
Mrs. Harper made a face, “I’m not too fond of the dresses they make now. They’re too short for my taste.”
“I agree,” Beverly’s mother chimed in, “That’s why I hand make all of Beverly’s dresses.”
“You don’t like dresses like that do you, Beverly?” Mrs. Harper asked.
Beverly shook her head, “No, ma’am.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less from such a sophisticated young girl,” Mrs. Harper said.
Stephen rolled his eyes discreetly.
“So, Stephen do you know what you wanna do when you get a little older?” Beverly’s mom asked. She was clearly just testing to see if he would respond with something she approved of.
“Lawyer, maybe,” Stephen answered blankly.
“Hmm,” she hummed.
“You’d be a great lawyer,” Beverly uttered softly. He glanced up at her. Her cheeks flushed a bright red.
“Do your parents intend on making you go to a private school, Mark?” Mr. Harper asked, looping the conversation back around to the integration topic.
“I assume that they might, sir. I’m not positive, but pretty certain,” Mark answered.
“Well, how about this Stephen,” Mr. Harper began, “if Mark plans on going to a private school, do you think you might want to go too?” Mr. Harper asked.
Stephen looked around the table. Everyone was waiting for his answer. The only one who wouldn’t care what he chose to do was Mark. “...I suppose I would probably go,” Stephen responded finally.
“Well, then we’ll settle on that! If Mark attends, we’ll sign Stephen up to go to the same school.”
“I suppose that’s okay,” Mrs. Harper resigned.
Stephen looked back down at his plate. He almost wished he didn’t have to go to a private school. He wondered what they were like. What did they talk about? How did they act? Could they be friends?