I wore my best wool skirt, rolled it up just a little. If my grandfather had seen me that way, he'd have whipped me into next Sunday. I thought I might look like Rita Hayworth, auburn hair to my waist, loose and undone, and maybe I did. Maybe that's what Mason saw. "Virginia!" He cupped his hands like a megaphone. "Ginny Mae Mitchell!" I was struck dumb, as though he were the first ever to call my name.
Here's the truth of it: watching him smile and wave from that car, I made the decision right then. When he asked me out for a Coke, I thought, This is it, my one chance with a man like Mason McPhee. I waited until my grandfather was asleep and slid open my window, not a creak or scratch to betray me.
That Coke was the sweetest thing. I couldn't believe I was there at the soda fountain with Mason, the other boys slapping his shoulder. The girls looked at me like they'd never seen me before. Maybe because I didn't know what to say, Mason talked and talked. About basketball, all the hours he had practiced in back of his house, a bicycle rim bolted to a pine. How his sharecropper father would come in off the tractor, challenge him to a game of Horse, and they would play past dark, nine games, ten, until Mason's mother called that she was feeding their dinner to the hogs. Mason always knew he would go to college and was studying prelaw, meant to be the finest public defender to come out of Pottawatomie County, maybe even a judge. He was sure that he could make a difference. He railed against the war in Vietnam and segregation, told me about the marches and protests he attended. "This world right here isn't real," he said, and tapped the cafe? table. "You," he said, resting his hand over mine, "you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. We've got to think bigger, do bigger things, like the Reverend King says."
Excerpted from In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes. Copyright © 2012 by Kim Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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