Chapter 2: Getting Older
"No one to talk with.
All by myself.
No one to walk with,
But I'm happy
On the shelf.
I'm savin' my love for you."
Dawn sung the Fats Waller tune to herself as she left the speak easy and headed toward the colored part of Port Charles. The area was affectionately called Maywood since the colored section began at the intersection of May and Wood Avenues and extended four blocks east. Barber shops, ten cent stores and churches provided everything the growing community needed. Almost everything. Dawn needed music and the kind she loved could only be found on the waterfront at the Corinthos club.
As she moved closer to Maywood, she left the luxury of autos behind. The heady scent of horseflesh filled the night air. Only a couple of preachers could afford the comfort Henry Ford's Model-T. Since leaving Chicago, Dawn had ridden in a car only a handful of times. The swish of tires on the road cautioned her to stay clear of the curb. When the auto seemed to slow down, curiosity got the better of her. She glanced over her shoulder to see who was there.
The 1928 jet black Model-A rolled to a stop. The back door creaked open and a white man stepped out. Her breath caught at first sight of him. Every time she saw him, her heart pounded furiously in her chest. Tall, broad shouldered with bright blue eyes and slicked back golden hair. He was most definitely a sheik, strikingly handsome just like Rudolf Valentino. But he was also dangerous. He worked closely with Sonny Corinthos and everyone knew what that meant.
"Where's the fire?" he asked, his voice low and dangerous.
She glanced once over her shoulder. "I have to get home. I'm sorry for disturbing Mr. Corinthos. It won't happen again."
He moved briskly to catch up with her. "No, that's not why I'm here. Stop." He caught her wrist and held it loosely. His finger pressed against her beating pulse. "You're going faster than a race horse. Come, ride with me in the Model-A."
The harsh uneven rhythm of her breathing echoed loudly in her ears. His light caress sent shivers of delight through her. "I'm almost home. Thank you, but I can walk."
He stepped closer. His voice deepened. "Yes, you can. I've seen your walk. I enjoy watching you walk."
She felt the heat of a blush from head to toe. He was flirting with her! The Jason Morgan! "Um, I should go."
He turned her hand over in the palm of his hand. His fingers trailed the lines in her palm. "Do I unnerve you? Relax. Let me take you home. It's late and dark. A beautiful girl like you shouldn't be out alone at night. God knows what's lurking out here."
Danger loomed in that silky voice and magnetic blue eyes. She felt it in her bones, but Dawn decided to take a chance and ride with him.
Steam from the iron blew hotly in Dara's face. Beads of perspiration covered her brow. She wiped the moisture away with the back of her hand. The heat got to her, but with only two more shirts to press she decided she could handle it. Her passion for writing only paid the bills some of the time. Doing ironing on the side took care of the rest. A few of her poems had been published in a New York City magazine. As soon as Dara Jensen became a known name for stories and poetry, she would kiss laundry and ironing goodbye!
Dara glanced at the wall that held pages of inspiration. The works of other Negroes writers covered the faded rose wallpaper. On this dark night, one poem caught her attention. It was Langston Hughes' 'As I Grew Older':
It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun--
And then the wall rose,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky--
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
"I will break the wall," she said, swiping the hot iron along the sleeve of a white dress shirt. "My dream will happen."
Dara finished the shirt and carefully folded it. As she reached for the next, she glanced out the window and down to the street below. A shiny Model-A pulled to the curb right outside the brownstone. No one, not even Pastor Armstrong had a ride as slick as that. Dara parted the curtains to get a closer look.
To her surprise, a white man stepped out. Then her sister followed him. The two chatted on the curb. Dara couldn't believe what she was seeing. Dawn knew better! What was her baby sister thinking?
Dara's fingers gripped the shirt and created more wrinkles. She didn't care. Her mind worked faster than a speeding bullet, trying to figure out who the man was and why Dawn was with him. Several reasons came to mind and none of them set well with her. Dawn was too smart to get involved with a man like that. He'd only use her and throw her away when he was done. It'd happened to other pretty colored girls before and Dawn wasn't so special that it wouldn't happen to her, too!
Minutes passed. Dara lowered the creased shirt onto the iron board. As she finished the shirt's collar, the front door opened. Dawn entered, a beaming smile on her face.
"I should make you wash your mouth out with lye soap!" Dara spat. Her anger and fear heightened her emotions. Tension hung in the air thick like humidity.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Dara, I wasn't gone long and I'm back earlier than I said I would be."
"You have studies to pursue. Messing around with the wrong kind of man can ruin your dreams!" Dara warned. "And don't bother to deny it. I saw you with that man. Who is he? What were you doing riding with him?"
Dawn eased out of her overcoat and hung it on the hook on the back of the door. "His name is Jason Morgan. He offered me a ride home. I told him no but he insisted. What was I supposed to do? I had to ride with him."
"You had to?" Dara questioned. "What else did you have to do with him?"
"Nothing else!" Dawn defended herself. "It was just a ride home!"
Dara shook her head. There was more and she wanted to know all of it. "You stood on the curb too long for it be just a ride."
"Well, there was a little more," Dawn slowly admitted. She grabbed a teacake from the platter on the kitchen table. "He asked me to sing at his friend's club-"
"NO!" Dara's hand balled into a fist and pummeled the ironing board. "You will not do it! His friend's club? It's a speak easy, isn't it? Gambling and bootlegging all under one roof. And girls upstairs flat on their backs. I won't let you do it!"
"You can't stop me!" Dawn shouted. "It's just singing! That's all. I can't believe you don't trust me. It doesn't matter, Dara! You're my sister, not my mother, and you can't tell me what to do!"
Dawn slammed the bedroom door behind her. The windows shook. Dara stared at the closed door, mad enough to spit. Her anger wasn't entirely directed at her younger sibling. Since before she could walk or talk, her sister loved music. Their mother played the piano for the church choir and their grandfather could make a fiddle sing. No, what enraged Dara was the man who promised to fulfill Dawn's dreams without telling the girl what it would cost her. But Dara knew and she would die before she let Jason Morgan follow through with his plans.
"I got lots of good stuff for you tonight, Mr. Sonny."
Sonny nodded. Woody, his best bootlegger, pulled out half a dozen cases from the Model-T. Having direct contact with a runner was beneath a man of Sonny's stature. He could have handed the job off to a number of his men. But Sonny liked Woody. He liked talking to the younger man and the bootlegger always provided him with information that no one else could.
"You had a good run," Sonny commented. He went through his roll of bills and gave Woody his due. "I'll need the next shipment two nights from now."
"I'll have it."
Woody became busy with replacing the floorboards he'd removed from the car. Sonny leaned against the rear bumper. While his men carried the crates inside the speak easy, Sonny engaged Woody in conversation.
"Do you spend time in Maywood?"
Woody's reaction was only a slight pause to Sonny's reference to the colored section of town. "I have some friends there. I know my way around Maywood."
Sonny didn't feel like beating around the bush. He laid it on the line. "Do you know the Jensen sisters?"
"They're not too friendly with my friends," Woody replied with a chuckle, "but I know of them. The older one was married. Her old man got killed down in Harlem. She and her sister moved here."
"What about parents?" Sonny asked, intrigued by their story.
Woody became deadly serious. He pulled the derby from his head and held it tightly in his fist. "You remember what happened in Tulsa in '21?"
Sonny nodded. Tulsa, Oklahoma had a colored section that many whites envied. Sonny heard about Negro lawyers, doctors and businessmen. All were wealthy and their community rivaled any white part of town. From what Sonny understood, the whites became jealous and dropped bombs over the colored area. Newsmen, the few who dared to mention it, called the tragedy the Tulsa Race Riots. Many Negroes were killed. Only a small number survived.
Woody continued to squeeze his hat. "Their father was a lawyer. His office was burned to the ground. He and his wife were inside."
Bile lodged in Sonny's throat. What a horrible way to go. "Where were the girls?"
"They were up in Chicago with their grandfather. As soon as they heard the news, they went back, but it was too late. They lived in Chicago until Dara got married. Then, they came here."
"Dara?" Sonny liked the sound of it. Soft and seductive.
"She's the oldest," Woody replied. "Dawn is the young one. Both of them are as pretty as can be."
"So I've heard." Sonny stood away from the bumper. He learned what he needed to know. As he headed for the back door of the speak easy, Woody called out.
"They're good girls, Mr. Sonny. Real good."
Sonny kept his face expressionless as he nodded. He knew women. In every good woman, there was some bad waiting to be unleashed. All it took was the right man to do it.
(Credits: Ain't Misbehavin' by Fats Waller. As I Grew Older by Langston Hughes.)