Emma had been the valedictorian.
I think I had been a little famous for the puppy-dog way I followed Emma around, in the last spring of high school. I had no idea where she was this summer, I was happy to tell Edith probably some internship.
Now I stood managing to look a little bored, with one foot kicked behind me, pretending to balance like a ballerina in front of Edith and her friend.
" Sorry this is my friend Cam." Edith began to explain who I was. "So Jim was a mystery in high school. Emma started dating him and that was the last we ever saw of her. Nobody knew who Jim was. He refused to hang out with other people."
I was going to turn and goI was not going to be patronizedwhile Edith carried on and this girl Cam just sat there patting her bangs. I would leave them alone. I could say that I said hello.
But Edith asked to see my sketchpad. "You should get us some shots," she suggested.
"Read the poems," I called back from the bar, "the drawings are just like, you know, realism! I could take lessons or something!"
When I ordered not simply another vodka, but three "shots," the bartender smiled. He had seen me making friends. Back at the table, Edith was taking my poems seriously: "These are actually good," she said.
Awkwardly, we didn't do the shots right away. We started talking poetsuntil, I think, I got too sweeping about whom I did and didn't like, and it was suggested we all take a walk.
"The BOK Tower is so beautiful" is the first thing I said outside. It had gotten dark, and the skyscrapers floated on the other side of the tracks like magnificent holograms.
Cam, I now learned, was not from Tulsa. She had come home with Edith from college. "Isn't Tulsa weird?" I asked her. "On that side of the tracks, we build up all the skyscrapers, but immediately on this side of the tracks it's nothing but a warehouse district."
"Cam's from Hartford."
"Hartford must be awesome," I said.
Cam pointed across the tracks. "So is that where the cool kids hang out?" Under the shadows, opening out between the skyscrapers, lay a half- dim square, dominated by a huge, clanking flagpole. Moths were visible in the security lights, and we could hear what sounded like skateboards, rolling in the dark. The Center of the Universe, I believed it was called. For its Guinness Records powers of echo. But I had never felt I had permission to show up there.
"Do you guys want to go across?" I asked.
"We were actually thinking we should go dancing."
So we were too old for the Center of the Universe I assimilated this information painlessly.
Edith who was trying to entice Cam as much as me explained that it was Retro Night at the Cain's Ballroom. "It's from Prohibition," she told Cam. "Like the oldest club in Tulsa."
I lifted up one finger. "Can we make a pit stop at the Blumont first?"
"Well, we can get drinks at the Cain's," Edith said. I saw her smile to herself.
Excerpted from A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal. Copyright © 2013 by Benjamin Lytal. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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