Author's Note: I got a prompt on tumblr for a drabble and it turned into an oneshot.
"So, what do you think about doing a story with Jimmy Durante's Make Someone Happy as inspiration? Set in the sixties, or even a Sleepless in Seattle feel?"
I get to use the word groovy. And Sam is all kinds of southern. I'm excited! Also, I could not remember if jive was a '60s or '70s word, but I used it anyway. The vernacular is all over the place with this one. Ha ha, jive-turkeys! –DMH
It's so important to
make someone happy,
make just one someone happy;
make just one heart the heart you sing to.
Columbus wasn't bad, but he just couldn't see why his mother was so attached to it. Ohio was… okay. It reminded him of Tennessee in some ways, he supposed, so he could understand some of the reason why she had chosen a place like this to make a new life for herself. The summers were nice and the people were friendly enough.
But he also supposed that he would never know the exact reason his mother had chosen to die here.
So he walked the streets aimlessly, explored the city with absolutely no obligation to do anything or see anyone – he was more relaxed than he had been in a year.
"Excuse me, soldier. Do you have a minute for freedom?"
Her hair was a large dark halo of tiny, tight black curls, slightly tamed by a purple scarf tied around her head. She was short, short enough to still be short even in the tall heels she wore, and certainly woman enough to fill out every inch of her dress in a way designed to make men act indecent. Her skin was a shade somewhere between his favorite kind of chocolate ice cream and the coffee he had sipped that morning – she almost made his stomach growl.
But the sight of her did make him smile. As if she lit a light in his heart. He ignored the fluttering of it and stepped up to the shop front where she stood, proud and pretty, with an easy grin. "I always have time for freedom, ma'am. How may I help you?"
"You're on leave, right?"
He raised his eyebrows and glanced down at his button-down and jeans as if surprised. "I should hope so. Otherwise, it'd be might hard to explain to my captain why I'm not in uniform."
He could see the smile fighting and failing to curve her plump lips and instantly made it his mission to see it fully blossomed. She won her battle and tossed her head and shoulders back to better address him with the grimly determined line of her mouth.
"How old are you, soldier?"
"Twenty-one, ma'am. Since May."
"I just graduated from a University. Can you say the same?"
He shook his head and turned a bit to look down the road. "Ohio State?"
"No. Central State."
"I ain't never heard of that."
"I bet you haven't," she told him matter-of-factly. "If I told you that I am a sexual being and that I have sexual needs, would I still be a good girl?"
He let out a low whistle and tried to shake his head clear. "I'd say that makes you a better girl. You know, I am really enjoying where this questionnaire of yours is going."
She arched a brow and smirked. "Good, let's continue. Have you been near City Hall, soldier? Have you seen the protests to what you're doing?"
He leaned against the brick wall of the shop and tried not to smile as she eyed him warily. Instead, he pursed his lips as if thinking and then nodded. "Yes, I think I have."
"Are you proud of yourself?" She crossed her arms over her chest and looked him dead in the eyes, as if daring him to try and fool his way out of the question.
Sam Evans never liked to disappoint a lady.
"Well… I regret never learning how to play the piano like my momma wanted me to, but yeah. Yes. I suppose I am." Like a cloud shifting to reveal the sun, her laughter came quick and bright. Pride filled his chest and lifted his chin, so he pushed off the wall with a smile. "You have a good day, ma'am."
"Wait!" she called after him, so he stopped and turned back to him. "Are you proud to serve with men who look like me?"
His eyes drank her in from her tiny feet to her amazing mane and his answer was automatic. "I've never seen a man who looked like you."
"You know what I mean, soldier," she pressed on after her blush died down. "A negro. A black man… Are you proud?"
Her eyes told him that his answer was important, so he stood straight and addressed her as he would his captain. "I am proud to serve my country and I am proud of the men who serve it with me."
She smiled at him, prettily of course, and walked into the shop without even a goodbye.
"Mercedes' Odds 'n Ends", the sign over the door said. He smiled and assured himself that, tomorrow, he would get a hello.
One smile that cheers you,
one face that lights when it nears you,
one girl you're ev'rything to.
It took him three of his precious thirty days of leave to convince Mercedes Jones to go out with him.
Even then, she only wanted to hang loose in some beatnik place.
"Beatnik?" She tossed her head back and laughed at the word. "First Lieutenant, you got it all wrong, baby. Beatniks are white folks that thought they were down a decade ago."
He shrugged and stared down into the beer in his hand with an easy grin. "I dunno, I always thought all city folk came to beatnik coffee shops and drank coffee and read poetry."
"You know that's jive!" She slapped his hand playfully. "Does this place look like somewhere people read poetry? And what you're drinking certainly ain't coffee." He hid a smile behind another sip of his drink. She glanced around, her big, doe eyes taking quick inventory of every face in the room. "You've never been to a city bar before?"
"Nope. Never been to a bar before in my life. Not what I expected."
He leaned closer to her across the table they shared and said, "I feel like everyone is staring at me."
"I think it's that soldier haircut."
He was brushing a hand through his short, dirty blond locks before he could stop himself. "I was thinking it was because I'm white."
She shook a shoulder at him. "That too."
"You are one mean girl, Mizz Jones."
She smiled at his words and everything else went dim. She was the brightest thing in the room. Always. It amazed him.
Fame if you win it,
comes and goes in a minute.
Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?
"There're a lot of revolutions going on, you know," she said one day while laid across his mother's bed… Well, his bed now, he supposed. It was in the house his mother left him, after all.
"Hush with all that talk, Mercy. I just wanna kiss you," he replied, lips already brushing a corner of her mouth. For a moment, she allowed him to press his lips to hers, firmly and pleasurably, over and over until he got dizzy, but he should have guessed that she would pull her sweet mouth away to use her tongue before he could.
"I'm serious, Sam." With a sigh, he sat up and watched her do the same. She fiddled with the edge of her miniskirt then said to him, "I'm a black woman, Sam."
"I am very aware of that."
The look she gave him was chiding, so he bit his tongue against anymore sass. "I don't think you are. I'm a black woman. Now is an important time to me. There are revolutions – movements happening. I'm black – I need rights for that. I'm a woman – I need rights for that. I'm at the bottom, Sam. I stopped you on the street that day to see if you could acknowledge it, but you don't. Just like everyone else on the top." She climbed off the bed, leaving him to stare after her shapely behind in confusion.
"It was nice knowing you, Sam." He gaped at her as she tried to stick her little feet into boots it had taken him ten minutes to help her out of.
"Mercedes, what just happened?"
"I just decided that, as a black woman, I can't open white people's eyes by waiting for them to see me. I have to make them see me, you know?"
"Mercedes, I've been doing nothing but seeing you for the last two weeks!" He rolled off the bed and pulled the boots out of her hands. She frowned up at him and, damn it all she was so pretty, prettier than a dollop of butter on a stack of hotcakes, he had to press a kiss to her forehead. The kiss softened her a bit, so he didn't hear a lick of protest when he wrapped his arms around her. "You know I care about you?"
"Do I make you happy?"
He could almost see the gears turning in her head. She wanted to talk about it. She wanted to address their skin, address what people thought of their skin, address what people thought of their skin together, address just what the hell they were doing and where they were going and why, but he didn't want to. And maybe he was selfish, but after a year of fighting, he had thirty days of freedom before he was called back and he was going to use them to love this woman. And she was going to let him love her, damn it.
He prayed for the ability to kiss her thoughts away, but he knew God wasn't paying any attention to such nonsense.
Love is the answer,
someone to love is the answer.
Once you've found her, build your world around her.
"Are you comfortable yet?" she giggled, poking his bare side. He squirmed away from her offending finger and wiggled a bit more on top of his woman.
"I am very comfortable," he told her, finally settling into her warm embrace. Smooth thighs, soft belly, silky skin – he was more than comfortable having Mercedes beneath him, smiling up at him, stroking the side of his face and nuzzling his nose with hers. Staring into her eyes grounded him, steadied his heart like the rock at the end of a balloon's string.
The need to feel her with his hands was a bit distracting, but he still managed an answer without floating away. "Hmm?"
"I've never seen eyes like yours up close like this."
"Green eyes?" She nodded and he licked his lips. "Do you like them?"
"I've never seen anyone more beautiful than you."
He kissed her all over, where he could reach, before settling into the crook of her neck. "I bet you have seen prettier women."
"I'm sure I haven't." He moved to kiss her again, but she turned her head and accepted his gesture on her jaw. Sam was content enough to not complain and just nibble his way to her ear, but he still waited for whatever question he knew was coming.
"How many days left, soldier?" Ah, there it was.
"Enough time to get into some groovy stuff, huh?"
He pressed his nose against his temple and breathed her in; promised himself that he would always remember the scent of baby powder and rose oil as the scent of lazy Saturday mornings. She lay very still, her only movements were the rise and fall of her breaths and the hand she occasionally stroked down his back – she was always worrying over answers. So many questions, never enough answers…
"What would you like to do for these last days?"
"Last days? Sam, don't say it like that…"
Propping himself up to take a proper look at her, the soldier circled around the edges of her mouth, tickled her chin, and traced the planes of her face with a finger in an attempt to commit everything about her to memory. The next six months would be hard without this face. "Do you think that…" He trailed off, fear sticking to his ribs like hot grits. Then he remembered that he needed to be brave to protect her and their country and little… big words were nothing to run from. "Do you think that I could make you fall in love with me in ten days?"
Her answer was immediate and sharp. "I don't think so."
"Especially since you made me fall in love with you twenty days ago."
It's so important to
make someone happy,
make just one someone happy;
make just one heart the heart you sing to.
"My brother's over there now," she called from the bedroom. He peeked from the bathroom to see her sitting up in the middle of his bed, naked, holding his dress uniform in her lap. The sun was streaming through the wooden blinds, kissing her skin in just a way to make it shine as if freshly bronzed. The sight was enough to make him risk a few razor cuts by finishing his shave in the doorway.
"I recall having that folded in a drawer." She didn't even lift her head at his teasing, just smoothed her thumbs across the shiny gold buttons. "What are you doing, woman?"
She shrugged and, try as he might, he couldn't help taking a glance at the breasts she bared so naturally. "You know, when he got drafted he said he was going to make like Cassius Clay… But he's over there now."
For a moment, she looked vulnerable biting her lip and staring at the dark green fabric draped across her legs.
It unsettled him.
So he grabbed a towel to wipe his face before crossing the creaky wood floor and climbing back into bed with her. As quick as it had appeared, the vulnerability was gone and she was looking into his eyes again and stroking a hand down his smooth cheek. "Did you ever think of doing it?"
He turned to catch her palm with his lips before answering. "Doing what?"
"Making like Cassius Clay… Ignoring that you got drafted? Not going back?"
The distressed look on her face made his heart clench. "I have to go back."
"Mercy, I do." She ducked her head and a tiny dot darkened his uniform. She was quick to cover it with her thumb, but he saw it. He didn't want to see it, but he saw it. "Mercy, I love you and I don't want to leave you. I honestly don't, but you need to understand… I'm nothing but a soldier right now. Nothing. Nobody. And I'll only be a criminal if I run away. Less than nothing."
"You're not nothing to me." She cuddled his uniform close to her chest when the tears began to fall in earnest. "You're everything to me – What if you go over there and…"
His woman ran hot and cold on good days, so he had no idea how to fix this. Would she pull away if he tried to wrap himself around her? Would she curse him if he didn't? Before he could move to pull her into his arms, she was already climbing into his lap, wiping her cheeks dry with his bare shoulder.
"Should we just give this up?" she whispered and his blood ran cold. "This entire… Our relationship has mostly been in this room. We haven't been in the real world. We haven't experienced how hard it can be just walking hand-in-hand in the street together. Hell, it's hard to just walk around with this hair every day."
He kissed her curls. "You're beautiful. You know that."
"I believe you when you say it, but I also believe them when they say I'm ugly. I'm truly ugly in their eyes. And sometimes it feels like what they see is the only thing that ever matters. Even when you come back, we'll still have that idiocy to handle. It'll be hard."
"We could do it."
"If you come back…"
Sam tipped her chin up to his and kissed her downturned lips until he could taste her smile – it was sweet, despite how little it was. "I told you I'm nothing and I want you to believe me when I say I was." She shook her head silently, but he continued. "We're in my momma's house. She died several months ago while I was fighting." The sympathy in Mercedes' eyes warmed him and he leaned his cheek into the hand she offered. "My father says she died from some whore's disease and he can say that because he's in Kentucky with a new wife and new kids, but I know better. I've felt love sickness, not as strong as hers because you and me, Mercy, we're never apart for more than a few hours. But I felt it and it makes me want to fight for you because I never want to feel it again." She pressed kisses to his neck and hugged his middle. "I'm nothing. I got no home in Tennessee anymore. Got no family that wants me. Nothing but this house and for awhile, I was fighting to die."
"Sam, no. Don't say things like –"
"It's the truth," he told her. With those doe eyes on him, he almost didn't want to. "I wanted to die. I had nothing to fight for… Ask me again if I was proud of myself and I'll tell you the truth this time: I wasn't." He swallowed heavily then cupped her face in his hands, stroked her tears away with his thumbs. "You make me want to live. You make me want to fight for all the right reasons.
"I'm sorry I kept us closed up in here, but I didn't want to share you with the world. I wanted to be happy for as long as possible. These have been the happiest days of my life, just lying here and doing nothing with you." He wiped the tears from his cheeks as hastily as possible. Quick, hard strokes that she winced at and pulled away to replace with her own gentle touch. "I'm sorry I didn't face the real world with you this past month, but when I get back, I want to. I want to marry you and I'll gladly help you take down anyone that steps in our way. I love you and I'll try my damnedest to come home to you. You make me happy."
"You make me happy, too," she sobbed. He wiped at her cheeks with a chuckle.
"Doesn't look like I'm doing much of a good job at that." The smile he gave her was as wobbly as the one she returned. Their kiss was laced was salt, but it was still the sweetest thing he ever had. "Will you be my someone to come home to?"
Make someone happy,
make just one someone happy,
and you will be happy, too.