UGH! Thank you for the love. So many alerts/faves/reviews. You're all too nice. I don't have a good reason for being so late with an update. I've been working on an original story, so my mind has been elsewhere. I hope you enjoy this chapter, but let me tell you it was hell to write. Sorry about any historical inaccuracies. I know my basic history, and I've researched a bit but I'm certain Americans are more aware of their history than I am. Hopefully, I did okay.


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CHAPTER 3

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She told herself she wasn't avoiding him - and she wasn't. At least, not exactly. Between her studies and work, Mercedes barely had time to sleep, let alone deal with a big-lipped admirer. But now the university was out for the summer, and she could no longer blame a heavy schedule for their lack of conversations. Though the worst part was that she found herself missing him. Sam had been funny, kind and easy-going; the perfect qualities for a good friend. And boyfriend, she mused, but that was out of the question. Not only was he sure to be on his way after a few months, but he was a white man. No amount of sex or fun was worth the pain of society's rejection. She should have never slept with him in the first place, but that was in the past. The only thing she could do know was avoid him.

Her friends never missed an opportunity to comment on that fact, much to Mercedes' annoyance. Even now, as she anxiously waited for her grandmother to pick her up for their supper date, the girls took the time to comment on her relationship status.

"Remember, sweets, don't be too flirty. You're taken." said Tina, from the kitchen. Mercedes shook her head, exasperated. Her grandmother was dead-set on making her meet her best-friend Jackie's great-nephew. Something about keeping the family friendship alive. It didn't bother her, but she doubted she'd find this man to her taste.

"By a trout, but no matter."

"'Tana," Mercedes rolled her eyes and sat next to Santana on the couch. "I'm not taken. I haven't spoken to Sam since we..." she trailed off and her friends chuckled knowingly.

"He likes you, Mercy. Why, I'll never know. You've been awful to him. But he seems genuine enough and you seemed satisfied with his skills. No harm in seeing where that goes for a while." said Santana as she lit herself a cigarette. Sensing she was needed, Tina joined her friends on the couch, wearing an apron and holding a wooden spoon.

"Out of the question." Mercedes shook her head. "My heart can't take any more-"

"No one's saying you need to fall in love with him." interrupted Tina, earning an agreeing grunt from Santana. "Though you're going to have to let yourself love and be loved at some point."

"With my track record, that won't be happening any time soon." She'd come to accept it. Her friends would find lovely people, marry and have children, while she stayed in the little house attempting to win the auntie of the year award.

"Oh, shut up, Mercy. Give us a kiss." said Santana, and she leaned over to give Mercedes a chaste kiss on the lips. "Anyone with half a brain would want to be with you, if not for your sparkling personality, for those luscious lips."

"You're insane." mumbled Mercedes.

"And you love me. Now listen, the art of being a woman," said Santana, as she took drag from the slime white stick and crossed her legs over Mercedes' knees. "Isn't in being picture perfect for a man, is it Tina?"

"No sir'ee." came Tina's reply.

"It's in knowing when and how much of yourself you can give to enjoy life's sinful pleasures, without hurting yourself. A wise girl knows how many kisses she can spare and leaves before her heart even threatens to crack." said Santana. "I think you should go for it. But if you know it won't last, don't even dare him your heart in the first place. If you sense your time together is ending, then end it before he does. It's a man's world, Sweets, and her heart is just about the only thing a woman has control over. They can tell us what to wear, how to speak, but they can't tell us who and how to love. You let men take control of your heart, Mercy, and you may as well become their slave."

"Aren't I being wise by staying away from him then?" asked Mercedes.

"Are you hurting?" countered Tina. "If you are then no. Women have to prove themselves in every aspect of their lives, especially women like us. On top of everything else, we need to prove that we, as colored women, deserve respect. Let them prove they deserve our love."

"By completely ignoring Sam, you're letting the men of your past win. If you really don't to date Sam, then that's fine. But don't run away. That's not you. The Mercy I love fights her problems head on. I know you like him at least a little bit."

"This is all very confusing." admitted Mercedes.

"Long story short, Sweets, a wise woman never gives her heart to a man who hasn't proven himself worthy of it. She has sex, but she never makes love. And she leaves before she is left. When the right man comes, he'll do everything he needs to do to get her love without even trying and the thought of leaving will never cross her mind. Only then does she give him her heart."

"But what you're doing; shutting out guys who think they can be that man? That's just making sure He will never come 'round knocking." added Tina. "Be a wise woman, Mercy. We are."

"What about the old saying 'it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all'?"

"Ask again when one of us have loved and lost someone that was worth loving." said Santana, and moved her legs so that Mercedes could stand. "Now go, your grandmother's waiting. Remember what we said, Mercy. That's the only way you won't be hurt again."

"Flirt a little for us, too. There's no shame in needing to feel wanted."

"And, Mercy?"

Mercedes turned just as she reached the front door "What?"

Her friends glanced at each other and smiled sheepishly. "We're sorry."

"For?"

"You'll see."

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The ride to Jackie's house was a quiet one. Opal, Mercedes' grandmother, had not expected anything more. After all, she knew all about the Sam situation, thanks to Santana, and all about the fears that plagued her grand-daughter's mind. She wanted to slap that Shane boy for ever having hurt her baby, but Opal knew better. Everything happened for a reason. The Lord worked in mysterious ways. Though, she was hopeful that Tina and 'Tana's plan would work. If everything went according to plan, they would have Mercedes and Sam on speaking terms by tomorrow morning.

Opal had always been proud of her grand-daughter, but was especially proud tonight. She was exquisite. Her chocolate complexion was flawless and her dark brown hair hung in loose curls that reached below her breasts. No fuss had been made where make up was concerned, but she had not neglected it. Opal knew that any time spent in the bathroom was not for the young man Mercedes was about to meet, but for Jackie. Mercedes was determined not to show anyone how broken she really was, though those closest to her had noticed a change in her demeanor since the Shane situation. There was a haunting sadness in Mercedes' eyes that worried Opal.

They turned into Valley Rd where a few children played in the street. Opal, being the owner of the local toyshop, knew them all by name and earned a few whistles and cheers as she honked her horn and waved at them. It was a scene that both shocked and pleased Mercedes; an old black woman being cheered on by white children. The car pulled up in front of a small bright blue house. In the driveway was an oddly familiar red corvette behind a rusty old pick up truck. The rusty truck, Mercedes knew, belonged to Jackie. It was her prized possession, though she could never understand why. She supposed the red car belonged to Jackie's mysterious grand-nephew. If it was, it looked horribly out of place in the scene.

They parked behind the red car and Opal turned to Mercedes. '"Prudence keeps life safe, but does not often make it happy"', she said, quoting Samuel Johnson, and lay a hand on Mercedes'. "I dare you to forget everything bad for one night and let go."

Mercedes looked down at their clasped hands and shut her eyes. "What if I can't?"

"You can. That's the thing about you, Mercy. You never give up. You were always so determined. Be determined for this. I need you back, M, the happy you. More importantly, you need yourself back."

With that Opal squeezed her hand and opened her car door. "Ready? Jackie's staring through the curtains."

With a slight nod, Mercedes opened her door and both women came out. Opal knocked once, but did not wait for an answer. She never had. After sixty-five years of friendship, the two women's homes were each other's second homes and they considered themselves family. Jackie stood in the entrance her arms folded. She was a short, hourglass shaped woman. She was beautiful, at seventy, with barely any wrinkles. Her hair was dyed blond and was tied up in an elegant French bun. Though she stood sternly, her green eyes were laughing.

"You're late." She said.

"No we were on time, but we had a little talk in the car. Of course, you'd know that since you had your nose pressed against the window the whole time." said Opal , hanging her coat on the coat holder.

"I sure I don't know what you're talking about" sniffed Jackie. Turning her attention to Mercedes, she beamed. "Well isn't it my little Mercy! You haven't been around in a while." She wrapped her arms around Mercedes, who found herself surprised at the easiness of it all. She had forgotten how much she loved Jackie's company and would have kept on hugging her longer if she had not been scared of worrying her.

"Nice car you have there, Jackie." Said Opal, peering out the window.

"That's not mine," she said, shaking her head in exasperation. "It's Samuel's. Speaking of which… Sam!" she called out, surprising both Mercedes and Opal. There was a grunt and a tall handsome young man appeared in the doorway. He was fairly tall with a broad shoulders and a lean frame. He had blond hair, which was sexily tussled, and piercing green eyes like his great-aunt's. He was handsome. No… not handsome. He was arresting. He was in need of a shave, but there was no mistaking that face.

Sam Evans.

Jackie put her arm through his and grinned in pride. "This is my grandson Sam Evans." He smiled and held out a hand.

"You must be Mercedes," His voice was strong and deep. She could have slapped him. Of course this was why the girls had apologized. They had known. After all that talk, they had sent her out to meet him, knowing they would be forced to speak. But if he wanted to play the I-don't-know-who-you-are game, she was more than willing. Mercedes nodded and shook his hand firmly. He turned to Opal and shook her hand as well. "And you are Opal."

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Jackie had outdone herself again. Her chicken Parmesan was legend but somehow, tonight it was better. Conversation was kept pleasant during the main course. They had made small talk, Mercedes and Sam barely glancing at each-other. It made Opal want to scream in exasperation. Jackie, who knew everything her friend knew, was growing more impatient by the second.

"So, Aunt Jackie never told me how you met." said Sam, as he finished off his chicken.

The old friends glanced at each other before Opal smiled. "My mother was a maid for your grand-parents. She brought me along when she could."

"We grew up together." said Jackie, nodding. "I can't remember a day I didn't know her."

"Isn't that strange?" asked Sam. "No offense intended, Miss Opal, but I thought you'd be weary of our family. I know y'alls had a hard time-"

"Not every white person treated us bad, child. Now, I'll be the first to say that white folk can be mighty ignorant, cruel when it suits them, but there are good people out there. Your great-grandparents? They were kind." said Opal sternly. "I remember this one time, Miss Vivian - that would be your great-grandmother – brought us all to the lake. We spent the evening swimming and laughing,"

"Had a campfire too." added Jackie. "That was a nice night."

Mercedes listened to them attentively. She knew all this already, but still, one question begged itself to be asked. "I never understood why they were nice in the first place. You'd think they'd be content in watching a colored woman clean, not befriending her."

Once again, the old friends glanced at each-other.

"My grand-father had a temper. A fine one." started Jackie, carefully. "He ran a plantation back then, in Tennessee. Had lots of slaves, and didn't treat them well. But then, he never treated anyone well. Especially his wife, Rosemary. He came home angry one day, and when he saw that supper wasn't quite done he wasn't afraid to hit her as he often did. My father, who was fifteen at the time, tried to defend his mother, and took the rest of the beating for her. From the stories, there was lots of screaming and crying, lots of blood. That's when one of the maids and one of the slaves came to break up the fight. The maid took the kids and Rosemary out of the house, and brought them somewhere safe, while the slave tried to calm the man down."

"What happened to him?" asked Mercedes. "The slave."

"My grand-father shot him a few days later. The maid as well." Jackie lowered her gaze, ashamed. "I'm not certain my father ever accepted that. We don't know the slave's name, but the maid was called Agnes. He gave them a proper burial. He owed them his life after all. It's unfair, isn't it? I can't understand what that injustice must be like, and I won't disrespect you by pretending I do."

Opal reached over the table to pat her friend's hand. "There, there, Jackie. This was supposed to be a pleasant supper."

"Yes, well," Jackie smiled. "I believe that incident showed my father that evil men come in all shapes, sizes and colors. So do good men. He visited their grave site every year on the anniversary of their death and lay flowers on their graves. Even long after he'd moved and settled here in Lima. He did until his death."

Sam, who had paled and hadn't uttered a word during his Aunt's story, finally spoke. "You never mentioned your great-grandfather's name, Aunt Jackie."

She turned to him. "He has no name, Sam. He's nothing to us." she said sharply. Satisfied when he nodded, she smiled. "On to less horrible tales,"

"Yes, Samuel, I hear you have your eye on a lady."

Mercedes nearly choked on her water.

"Yes, ma'am. She's wonderful." nodded Sam. "I'm not sure she realizes just how wonderful she really is. It's a shame."

"Mhm, but you're a handsome boy and from what Jackie told me, a kind one." said Opal. "You seem like the type of boy that would treat her like a queen."

"I'd try my hardest." his smiled was genuine.

"Well, then any girl would be lucky to have you. Don't you agree, Mercedes?"

A hundred ways to murder her best-friends were currently occupying her mind, but she nodded, smiling sweetly. "Very lucky." She tuned out after that. Sam was making a good impression. She could tell because her grandmother never bothered with people she didn't like. Had Sam been a disappointment, she would have been polite, keeping the conversation impersonal. But this, wasn't impersonal. Not at all. It annoyed Mercedes that he seemed to be getting the approval from her entire entourage. As though she had no say in the situation at all.

"Mercedes?" Mercedes looked up at Jackie, who was looking at her curiously. "Are you okay?" Mercedes nodded but Jackie did not seem satisfied. Still, she smiled and lay a hand on her grandnephew's arm. "I was just saying, before you went off daydreaming, that Sam should show you the gardens."

"But I've already seen the-"

"Well then see them again. Opal and I'll do the dishes." Jackie smiled sweetly, but Mercedes could see that behind the smile was a will of iron. And when Jackie wanted something done, she made it happen. Sighing Mercedes nodded and stood.

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The gardens were a splash of colors. Jackie tended to them well. She'd always had a green thumb, it showed especially in her backyard. But Mercedes had seen it all before, and though she would have loved to sit on the stone bench that overlooked the red rose bush and stare up at the stars that twinkled in the night sky, she had more pressing matters to attend to. Once she was certain they were out of earshot, Mercedes turned to him, hands on her hips.

"Pretending you don't know me, how interesting." she said.

" What? I assumed that's what you wanted since you have been avoiding me." he countered.

"I wasn't avoiding you." lied Mercedes. "I was busy with Finals, and then band practice with the girls and work-"

"So, if you had some free time, you would have actively sought me out or at least responded to my messages and calls because you know I'm interested?" he asked skeptically. Sam nodded when she didn't answer. "That's what I thought. I want to court you."

"I... I'm not sure that's quite a good idea." said Mercedes quietly. "We aren't the same type of people, you and I." She didn't need to specify what she meant. Sam understood.

Sam laughed and shook his head. "Well now, I'm not too sure about that. I think we both dream of a nice country, where a man is judged by his soul before anything else." There was no answer. "You're making a big deal out of being a colored woman when there's no need to."

"When there's no need to? Didn't you listen to your aunt's story?" Mercedes stopped dead in her tracks, shaking with fury. "Your people are the ones that stopped us from getting a proper education, going in the same restaurant as you, torchin' our homes when you feel like it. The world's been making a big deal about me being colored my whole goddamned life. It's about all that matters right now."

"It doesn't matter between us, I like you. We can be friends without thinking of color. Why do you think I slept with you? And watch you all the time?"

"You're suicidal, that's why." She said. "And I'll tell you what, I am not going to be some woman you're going to sweet-talk into becoming your whore. I'll graduate and become a singer. Ain't got no time for you."

"No one said anything about being my whore, 'Cedes. You're killing me." Sam was torn between exasperation and amusement as he often was with her. He passed a hand through his thick blond hair and sighed. "How about supper? I'm a nice guy, you know me."

"Supper?" Mercedes rolled her eyes. "And where do you suppose they'll let us eat together in peace, as a couple? I'm not meant to be with men like you. Why can't you understand? I only slept with you so you could have your fun and move on. I thought if you slept with a black woman once, you'd be pleased and have a story to tell your friends. I never signed up for this."

"Why are you saying that?" Sam stepped in front of her. "I like you and I want to be-"

"Sam,"Mercedes smiled sadly and touched his cheek. "You're a good man, your heart is in the right place. But the world doesn't want us together. Not yet. They still need to get used to the way things are now. Laws have been passed and repealed, but the mentality is still there. What we have... It's not worth it. All it does is agitate them, make them angrier than they already are. They'll want to take more of my rights away, and I ain't got any left to give, Sam. I have nothing else."

"They'll get to know you and love you. They'll see what I see." Sam lifted a hand to reach Mercedes' which was still caressing his cheek. She thought she saw, in that moment, why her friends insisted he could be the man to sweep her off her feet. His eyes were expressive, and so very sincere. And in them, she saw hope and kindness.

"They'll see what they want to see," she whispered and stepped back uncomfortably.

"And if that problem didn't exist?" asked Sam. "What if we lived in a world where we were all accepted, no matter what?"

"We don't-"

"But what if?" asked Sam furiously. "Would you court me then?"

"No. I told you, Sam, the first day we met. You don't want me. I'm damaged. I can offer you friendship, but what you think you want... you won't get that from me."

Sam sighed, and shook him head, as though not believing her words. "What if I fall in love with you?" he asked.

"I advise you not to."

"What if you fall in love with me?" he asked quietly.

"Then I'd be a damned fool." said Mercedes. She didn't add that she knew she eventually would, should he choose to accept her friendship. But when he smiled suddenly and straightened, she saw something flash in his eyes; determination. Mercedes realized in that moment, she'd underestimated her opponent and in no way was she in control of the situation.

"Well then darlin', you'd best come to terms with the inevitable because friendship is the foundation for any good ole relationship." He smirked, and started walking back to the house, but not before saying: "Just you wait, Miss Jones. I reckon I can make you Mrs. Evans in no time."


Until next time! xxx

Please review!

Side note: Can I just give a shout-out to Sue Sylvester for being perfect? Calling out Samcedes' sexual tension like that? The woman deserves an award. Also, "Kentucky Fried Stripper" may just be the best nickname ever.