It is 1964 and the NAACP has helped to place four Negro students in the small Louisiana town of Carlton High School their senior year to begin the process of integration. Fourteen year old Lizzie Rowan's mother Louise Rowan is the senior English teacher who recognizes that one of these students, Reginald Washington, is exceptionally bright. Lizzie becomes friends with Reginald—Reggie, when she works under him on props for the school play. Graduation night he is taken behind the school where Randy Bertrand, Lizzie's neighbor, beats him and leaves him for dead. Three months later Louise finds him working as a stock boy in a grocery store, recovering from a seizure in the midst of a mound of broken pickle jars. When he is fired, she hires him as a gardener, and for the next three years he transforms the Rowan back yard into a garden showplace.
Over the course of the next three years when Lizzie is about to graduate, tragedy strikes. Randy Bertrand's wife is bludgeoned to death and Reggie is framed for the murder. Because Lizzie is his only alibi, a cross is burned in her front yard and she is ostracized by the community, forcing her to leave Carlton. More sorrow fills her life and she flees to Galveston where she lives and learns to forgive and be forgiven in hopes that one day her path will cross Reggie's once again.