Black Historical Romance 1940s Ch. 01bymich80©
She took the spotlight, in her silver and white resplendent dress. It was a nice contrast to her mocha complexion. Her short, boy length hair was adorned in elegant finger waves, and she wore a small white flower in her hair.
Grant Wellington, sitting at one of the tables near the lip of the stage was so close, he could see the outline of her face. She looked frightened, and green, and he half wondered if she'd make it through her set. How his life had changed since he'd moved from his elite Philadelphia neighborhood where he was reared around a cloistered little circle of upper crust black families, and enrolled in Howard University for law-school. Though he was summering with his parents in New York, he couldn't stand the cloistered environment any longer, and so he snuck away from everyone for this weekend, carrying only a few of his suits in a hang-up bag, and his trumpet in a black leather case. It was silly that he bought the trumpet, it was back in a hotel room in one of the few hotels that would allow blacks to spend the night; but somewhere in his mind he held the fantasy that he would stumble upon a band who needed a trumpet player, and he could show off the Charlie Parker inspired licks he'd labored on in secret.
The chocolate girl at the microphone stand really wasn't half bad looking, in fact her shy demeanor and the way she stood askance from the Microphone rendered her cute and charming. He took a cigarette from behind one of his ears, lighting it up. He could be so free here, back at home, his parents would have scolded him for looking like a goon, with a cigarette behind his ear. A cigarette behind the ear was not a badge of honor for an upper-crust black boy, according to his mother. Grant was waiting for the little chirp to start singing, holding his breath, when he did something out of character, beginning to heckle
"Don't choke little Mama,"
She glanced side long at him, and as though she'd hired him as a stage prop to utter the previous expression, she brought her hand down a signal to her band to begin playing; simultaneously opening her mouth to sing.
He was wholly unprepared for the sound that came forth. Grant thought she would sound like a nervous little ingénue, but he should have known better, after all the patrons paid big money to sit in the club, and be entertained. He was blown around by the richness of her tone, the ease with which she was able to float her voice around the structure and melody of a song. She used a fluid and full bodied contralto to push and pull the band. Tiny as she was, she led and commanded them, not the reverse. That was a rare quality indeed for a female singer. Even in the first song, she demonstrated the ability to make her voice reach the heights of the heavens, or simulate the depth of plunging into a well.
All this big voice pouring out of a cute, charming little slip of a woman astonished him. He wasn't sure when he decided that he wanted her, if it was at the start of the number, when she stood awkwardly behind the microphone, or when she controlled the tempos of the band with her spastic little arm movements, or if it was when he heard her open her mouth and rock the very heavens with her throaty contralto. But he knew that he wanted her, and thought he should at least take the opportunity to get her autograph, if only as a ruse to get to talk to her.
He brought extra liquor during her set. He'd heard about the way these things worked, and he hoped she had negotiated with the club owner to get a percentage of the liquor tab during her set. She was painfully shy. This was becoming apparent. Rather than talk between sets, she went off to the wings and smoked a cigarette, her cheeks puffing away like an adorable little chipmunk.
But when she stood before that band, she lit up, and came alive. When they played something she found particularly inspiring, he would see her whole face light up. She would break into a wide grin, and that was when he noticed that she had very prominent dimples, and he was thoroughly smitten.
It wasn't as easy to get backstage as he thought it would be. They positioned a big bouncer back behind the stage, and in addition to that, the area was crowded with members of the band. Also, they were boisterous.
"What chu' doing back here pretty boy," said her pianist.
"Yeah, can we help you boy?" said the trumpet player, and he stood toe to toe with Grant, actually touching his wing tip with one of his own.
Grant, who was normally confident, articulate, and used to getting his way in most situations became flustered. His complexion, was very pale, so pale that in certain lighting he could be mistaken for white, he always hated it, and especially now when he blushed.
"I um...the girl singer...I came here to err...get her autograph," he said wringing his hands.
"Autograph, you jive fool...Thelma, there is some hustler out here who says he wants your autograph," he said banging on her door while opening it at the same time not necessarily offering her any courtesy.
Clearly he startled her by announcing Grant's presence.
She was in the process of removing her makeup and playing solitaire on the dressing room counter.
"An autograph?" she said incredulously.
"Are you okay Thelma. Because if you don't want this boy back here...if your parents owe him some money or something, we can get him out of here, and he will never come back," added the Piano player glancing meaningfully at the bouncer, who nodded with righteous indignation.
Grant Wellington knew that his fate rested in the petite little woman's hands, they would truly love to rough him up.
"Let him alone," she said softly waving Grant into the dressing room.
The piano player started to pull the door shut to give them some privacy, but Thelma nodded no vigorously.
"No, leave it open,"
She took a long drag of her cigarette and glanced at him long and sideways.
"Autograph? You gotta be joking. I've only been playing here for a month, nobody knows me yet. I'm hoping they can extend the engagement for at least another month" she said glancing at her feet shyly.
He could see she'd already removed another vestige of the onstage glamour, her high heels.
Now, seeing her face up close, he became acutely aware that she must not have been much older than nineteen. Quite a bit younger than him, seven years at least. She was too young to be singing in a night club like this smoking and drinking. She was just a baby. It made him think about the cloistered existence that the other women in his life led, how they were pampered and coddled from the cradle to the grave.
"I'm not joking. I really would like to have your autograph. This way when you hit the big leagues like Bessie Smith, and Ella Fitzgerald, I can say, hey I know her. Maybe I can sell it, it'll be worth a lot after you have your first hit record," he added with a smile.
"You definitely don't look like you need the money," she said in a manner that was both curt and shy.
"I don't have nothing to write it on but a napkin Mr.," she said softly.
That was the first time he noticed her adorable thick and heady Brooklyn accent. He'd been too nervous to notice it with the first few sentences that she spoke. She was so different than anything he'd ever known, and he wanted to possess her madly.
He could see that he made her nervous and somehow this made him feel a little aroused, even though her dressing room was wide open, and her band members stared menacingly at their shadows in the dressing room.
"A napkin is fine little lady, very fine" he said grabbing her hand after she'd finished writing the autograph.
She quickly shook her hand free of his and began puffing like mad on her cigarette, another adorable nervous habit to him.
"I don't bite. I can see that your band protects you. They really ought to protect someone as precious as you. Listen, I'm not that kind of guy, but there are lots of men who are."
He turned the cocktail napkin over on the other side.
On that napkin, he wrote the telephone number to his parent's summer home in the Hamptons.
"You can call this number collect and reach me anytime," he added.
"Why would I want to call you Mr.," said Thelma eyeing him suspiciously.
She was aloof, and a tough little nut to crack. Normally when he turned up his charm a few watts, women were flattered. Not so with this little Thelma. He was thoroughly intrigued now.
"You don't have to call me Mr. I'm not that much older than you. My name is Grant. Grant Wellington," he added.
"Wow. Grant Wellington. Your name sounds like money. Like a bank or something. That explains the GW cufflinks," she said.
"You're quite the observant one, about the cufflinks..." he said .
She pulled out another cigarette, and before she could light her own match he was lighting it with his lighter.
"You get to be observant if you grow up in the big apple. Look Mr., I gotta split and catch the train in about an hour. It's the last train going back to Brooklyn. Appreciate your time. That was the first autograph I've ever signed, I won't soon forget it. Thank you. Come back and see us again. Come back here to see me back stage too, but next time, bring me some cognac as well," she said beginning to massage her own feet with her hands.
If they hadn't just met...he would have been glad to massage her feet for her.
"You look too young for me to be bringing you cognac, I should be bringing you a milkshake or a malt," he teased.
She said, with her tounge still in her cheek literally...
"If I'm too young to be bringing a cognac, I should also be too young for you to give me your number telling me to call you collect,"
For the first time, he burst into laughter.
"You know what, you are a feisty person. I like that. You'll go far in your chosen business if you keep that razor sharp little wit you have. Never let them take that from you, no matter where your travels take you. Don't lose my number. Fold it up and put it someplace safe. You ever need something, you, or your band, give me a call. I can help make things happen for you. I promise. Grant Wellington," he added.
He wanted her to remember his name.
Actually it wouldn't be him to make the things happen, but his father, Grant Wellington the second. But it was no matter to him. He was definitely used to using his connections to attract gorgeous women. But she was much, much, more feisty than the women he was used to. She was also the first woman outside of his social circle that he had ever tried to court outside of his boudoir. It was an interesting experience indeed.
As soon as Grant left, Marlinda burst into Thelma's dressing room. Marlinda was Thelma's best friend.
"Who was that white man that was in your dressing room Thelma," said Marlinda.
"He wasn't white. But he sure did almost look it. He was...I dunno, he came back here for my autograph," added Thelma.
"Little old ordinary me. Still sleeping on my parents couch. This stuff is happening too fast. I've been making twenty dollars a week for the past month. Daddy makes ten dollars a month. And
I've gone from looking in the flaps of my pockets to try to get together some change to go to a lindy hop to this. It's happening way, way too fast. He was just a slickster, but still," added Thelma.
"He didn't look like a slickster to me. He looked rich," said Marlinda.
"Oh, I didn't mean that kind of slickster. He sounded like money. Like he was from Hah-Vard, or something," said Thelma putting on a hilarious Boston Accent.
"But I can tell he's used to women falling over him. That autograph business. That was an act so that he could give me his number. Pretty slick. He's smooth, but also slick as that pomade he is using to slick down that pretty soft looking hair of his," said Thelma distastefully.
"He came all the way back here to see you. He must like you, even if he's slick. You're a smart girl. You know how to keep your wits about you," added Marlinda.
"I do. By staying away from him. He's dangerous. Starting with how white he looks. I thought he was white when he first appeared in the doorway too. Italian, or Jewish or something, that kind of white. It was only really after he sat down, and I started to listen to him talk and stare at his coloring that I was sure he was black. Walk around at night with him in the wrong side of town and it could be trouble for a woman as dark as me. Those wingtips he had on, and those cufflinks he was wearing. Sheesh, probably more than we pay per month in rent on the south side," said Thelma.
"Come on. Live a little. You're so shy. Scared and mousey to try anything. That's all it is for you. Music, music, music and nothing else. Live a little. Call him," said Marlinda.
"And you are fresh and fast. I don't wanna be no rich man's bedroom experiment," said Thelma.
"Suit yourself. Let me tell you something, if that fine looking man was interested in me, I would experiment away. We already had the talk about what you can do...so that you...stay out of trouble," added Marlinda.
"Yeah. Yeah, I know," said Thelma.
She poured herself and Marlinda some Gin out of a decanter. She then folded up Grant's telephone number and placed it in the bosom of her evening gown for safe keeping.
Grant Wellington was fine, but Thelma had no plans to call him anytime soon. Still she kept his number just in case, like a lucky charm, nestled safely in her bra. Not only was she extremely shy, but the nightclub engagement kept her busy. After her sets, she would hide in the dressing room and play solitaire. Sometimes she would take a table in the corner with her girlfriends, drink smoke, cut up and watch the other bands. Sometimes they stayed late after they were sweeping up the club and played cards.
Grant was not one to be deterred. Sure his social card was filled with the elite, young fair-skinned black girls who were the daughters of his parent's friends, members of their exclusive country club. And being quite the rouge, he slept with a few of these women discretely. Still none of them made fire course through his veins like that brown skinned chain smoking Thelma, with her soft, wavy boyish hair cut, and chain smoking ways.
When an entire week went by and she didn't call, he decided to pay an appearance at the club. He definitely wasn't used to women ignoring his overtures, and he found this intriguing. He also bought a bouquet of white roses to give to her, he knew the power of flowers in softening a woman's resolve.
He was surprised to find that she was wearing the exact same evening gown that she'd worn the previous week. This time, he had far too much respect for that gorgeous voice that he knew she possessed than to dare heckle her during her breaking the ice period, while she stood nervously askance the microphone before she started to sing. It seemed like thirty seconds, though he knew it was probably only around ten seconds.
She sang with all her heart, her contralto so moving and thrilling, that the crowd came to a relative hush, amazing for the noisy Jazz club. He actually felt butterflies when she made eye contact with him from the stage, and that made him blush.
"I see there are some lover men in the audience tonight. So we're going to do Lover Man, a tune made famous by Billie Holiday, for the gentleman in the beige suit, and tan fedora," said Thelma.
Her putting him on the spot like that both embarrassed and delighted him, and he was truly thrilled to be getting her attention, though he did not want the attention of the audience. He already knew that he stood out from them drastically, and they could tell that he didn't ordinarily frequent jazz clubs.
After her set was over, the audience applauded. She went back to the wings of the stage, and he loosened his tie, took a long swig of gin, and prepared to steel his nerves to face that big burly bouncer who was posted backstage at her dressing room.
Then he saw Thelma again, she'd changed into a cute little gray suit with a peplum, and an elegant gray pillbox hat. Clearly she was ready to paint the town red. She'd flagged down a table in the back, and her girlfriends began their rowdy smoking, drinking, and joking in the corner.
He didn't care if she was with her friends, he made a quick beeline over to her table with his flowers. He would only be in New York for the summer, he was going back to his Washington D.C law school in the fall.
"Thelma, you were really swell up there. And...you never called," he said brazenly sticking the flowers under one arm. He interrupted the people at the table next to the girls, politely asked to borrow their chair and wedged it between Thelma and Marlinda sitting down.
Thelma exhaled smoke right under his nose and said, quite curtly-
"Well you could have asked for my number. And then you could have done the calling. Who knows, I might have answered," she said with a wry grin.
The women sitting at the table with her burst out laughing.
"Nice Thelma. Nice. I can't figure out what to make of you. It's cute that you pretend to be mean and all that, but I think you do it to keep people from getting close to you. I actually came to bring you some flowers. That's what fans do to show their appreciation to women singers after a great set like that, you know that right," he added handing her the flowers.
She blushed. Sure her skin didn't flush like his, but he saw the clear delight in her expression when she took the flowers, and the adorable dimples made their inroads on her mocha cheeks. He wanted to stick one of his fingers into her dimples, but he knew that would not be appropriate.
"Thanks very much GW. Really. This is swell. No one has given me flowers. So you are the first to ask for my autograph, and also the first one to give me flowers. You are becoming my number one fan," she said.
Everyone at the table again giggled in unison.
"I think I am your number one fan. I am your number one fan little Mama. Okay. Okay, I'm going to try it again little lady. This time I want to get your number. If you would be so gracious so as to give it to me. I should have asked for your number in the first place. That's how you treat a lady. I'm sorry," added Grant.
"Really that's OK. I'll give you my number," said Thelma writing it on a cocktail napkin.
He was surprised at how neat her handwriting was.
"What time is your set over? I'll call you then," he asked.
"Really late. I don't make it back till midnight. Please don't call that late. I don't want to awaken my parents from their sleep. My father works very hard at the factory," added Thelma.
"Okay, Okay, what if I call you at 3:00 PM," said Grant.
"That's fine. Let's talk tomorrow. I really want to hear some more music before I catch the train," added Thelma.
Grant did call as promised. And they had quite an intriguing conversation. She learned much about his background, his law school ambitions. From the start, she wanted to be honest with Grant. Only because he was so different than her, and if he wanted to court her, she didn't want him to have any illusions about her own social status. So she let him know that her mother was a day housekeeper, and her father worked in a scrap iron factory. She also told him about the music lessons she'd been taking since she was five, along with piano and flute lessons. And she did have a dream of becoming a recording star.
Then the subject of hobbies came up, and she confessed that she loved to play golf. He seemed to be both surprised and intrigued by her playing golf. He even quipped that he knew no women who played golf besides her, while confessing to being an avid golfer himself. Thelma, always rising to a challenge, then arranged their first date. They would meet at a golf course of her choosing. She would bring a picnic lunch. He would bring himself.