It had been the tenth time this week that Velma had said something flirty to Corny, and the millionth time that she had winked at him, and it was really getting on Corny’s nerves. He had tried every method possible to get the message across that he was not interested, and short of flat out telling her no, Corny had run out of options.
How did one tell a girl that he was not interested in dating, at all, without her saying that there was something wrong with him?
“Hey, Corny.” The irritating voice was back, this time sounding even more flirty than usual- if that was even possible. He clenched his jaw, and tried to force a smile as Corny turned around to face Velma. “You were doing just a fine job with the kids. Say, do you wanna tell me some tips on how you handle them? Tomorrow lunch, perhaps? Money’s on me.”
Corny just glared at her. “Velma, you’ve offered me lunch like a million times and my answer is still ‘no’. I’m busy.”
“Well, what about a drink? That’ll loosen you up.” She placed a gentle hand on his arm, and Corny flinched at her touch. “Oh my, you definitely need a drink. Wow, so tense…”
She reached out to Corny again, and he stepped back.
“I’ve said this so many times, Velma, but I am not interested in a drink, or lunch, or dinner, or brunch or whatever.”
Velma crossed her arms, and Corny noted the small throbbing vein that appeared in her neck. “I don’t know how you can be so obtuse but I am asking to date you.”
“And I know that you want to date me, but I am not interested in dating you,” Corny spat back.
“What!?” It was the sound of those girls that always got everything that they wanted. Corny hated these girls the most, because they never realised that by wanting everything, they were neglecting the needs of the other person and ignoring the boundaries of said person: in other words, him.
Velma threw her hands down.
“What is there not to love of me?!” she exclaimed. “So many men turn my way because I am so irresistible. Why aren’t you one of them?!”
“Because I am not interested in dating. Period.” Those words left Corny’s mouth before he realised it and the look of Velma’s face caused deep fear to swell up in the pit of his stomach.
“WHAT!? That’s impossible! Everyone’s interested in dating,” she cried. A moment passed, and Velma’s eyes shifted from boiling rage to lighting up with a new idea, and Corny dreaded her next few words.
“You will be interested in dating when you go on a date with me.” Velma said. Corny shook his head.
Velma’s hand shot out and latched onto Corny’s wrist before he had time to process it. Corny tried to yank his hand out, but her grip was like iron.
“I will make you be interested in dating me.”
“And I can make you fired on the premise of harassment.”
At that threat, Velma wrenched her grip off of Corny and started storming away.
“There’s something wrong with you, Corny!” she cried. “You’re a family disappointment, you know! You’re worthless!”
Even though Corny was prepared for words like that, it still stung, and he was surprised when tears started welling up in his eyes.
Corny sunk to the floor. Even though he knew that there was probably nothing wrong with him, that not being interested in dating and not finding anyone attractive in that way was okay, and that medically he was fine, it still made him feel… worthless.
Velma’s words repeated in the back of his mind, and Corny felt tears slide down his face at the harsh words that stabbed at him.
He was worthless.
He had disappointed his family.
He had something wrong with him.
Corny checked the clock, and realising that it was time to head home, dragged himself off the floor and lumbered out of the room.
His alarm rung, but as he opened his eyes, the memories of the previous day rushed back to Corny, and he knew that he was not strong enough to face another day.
Corny crawled out of bed and picked up the phone, taking a deep breath, and heard the familiar voice from the studio.
“Hello, this is WYZT station.”
“Hey, it’s Corny Collins. I just wanted to tell you that I can’t come into work today because I am sick.” Corny faked a cough, and even he knew the person on the other side knew it was fake. “Please pass that onto Velma von Tussle. Thank you.”
Corny hung up the phone and wandered out of his bedroom before collapsing onto the couch. The phone rang, but Corny ignored it, knowing that Velma would be yelling in his ear if he picked it up. He should also be making breakfast, but Corny did not have the energy to get off the couch.
The only thing that Corny was capable of doing was staring out of the window and letting tears run down his face.
The phone rang three more times before Corny lost track. He was instead focused on the way that his stomach twisted into tight knots, and the invasive thoughts clouding his mind.
Corny didn’t know how much time had passed when someone knocked on his door, but the sun was higher in the sky and his house was much brighter than earlier. He realised that it was probably Velma at his door, whose stubbornness Corny was really starting to hate.
He ignored the knocking, and kept his attention to the window.
The door opened, and Corny’s eyes shifted to see Maybelle sticking a bobby pin back in her hair.
“Hey Corny, you there- Oh my God.”
Maybelle rushed towards Corny, and he was suddenly aware of messy hair, wrinkled pyjamas and still glistening tears.
Corny flinched, reality rushing back, and tried wiping away his tears and neatening up his pyjamas.
“I’m so sorry, I look like such a mess and I should’ve had this place cleaned up- And the door! Oh my God, I should’ve let you in, I’m so sorry-”
“Jesus, Corny, calm down,” Maybelle said, and for some reason her voice actually did make him calm down. “You don’t have to apologies. I know you’re not okay. That’s why I’m checking up on you.”
Maybelle looked around the room, and Corny felt shame well up in his stomach, which slowly eased the knots.
“Have you had breakfast yet?”
Corny looked up. “What?”
“Have you had breakfast yet?” Maybelle repeated. Corny shook his head.
“Then you must be starving. Stay here while I cook you something quick.”
Corny sat back down on the couch and stared out the window again, pleased that no tears were falling down his face. The sudden smell of fried eggs floating through the living room caused the knots in his stomach to untie and rumble at the presence of food.
It was agonising to wait for breakfast to be ready, but then again it was infinitely better than letting his hunger get the best of him.
Somehow, Maybelle appeared in his living room before Corny died of starvation, and the minute that she placed down the fried eggs, Corny started scoffing them down his throat.
“You should probably slow down, Corny,” Maybelle said.
Corny shook his head. “But they’re really good and I’m starving.”
Maybelle laughed, which brought a small smile to his face. When he finished the eggs, Corny pushed them to the side and looked up at Maybelle.
“Why did you check up on me?” He asked.
“Well, I noticed that Velma had been bothering you all this week and I could tell that you were losing it, so imagine my concern when you disappear one day,” Maybelle explained. “Would you mind telling me what exactly happened between the two of you?”
Corny wasn’t sure how much he should tell Maybelle, and he wasn’t how she would react, but then he remembered that Maybelle was a victim of Velma’s… antics. Corny took a deep breath.
“So, Velma’s been very… flirty with me lately and has been trying to ask me on a date, which I’ve turned down because reasons. But she’s been doing this for like the whole week and yesterday I couldn’t take it anymore and snapped. Or rather… I told her how I felt about dating in general… which is that I don’t like dating… at all.” Corny was too afraid to look at Maybelle’s expression, but was compelled to keep talking. “She didn’t take that well, and long story short she, uh, told me that I was worthless and a family disappointment and that something was wrong with me-”
“Corny, don’t listen to her,” Maybelle interrupted. If Corny had looked up, he would have seen the rage and protectiveness in Maybelle’s eyes. “I’m just going to tell you straight, she’s horrible. I’ve had enough… situations with Velma to know that some people are just horrible by nature and you can’t change that. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel horrible because of them, because that means they’ve won. Corny, you are a beautiful human being, who cares if you’re not interested in dating-”
“…Or sex,” he added, keeping his eyes glued to the floor.
“Or sex,” she repeated. “Some people don’t like peanut butter. Other people don’t like being in a boat. You just happen to not like sex or dating. And that’s perfectly fine. Do you wanna know something that I’ve come to realise?”
Corny looked up at Maybelle, and the expression that she held in her eyes was enough to send a warm feeling through his chest. He almost started crying again, but because of a different, much happier reason.
“On that TV screen, that world is yours. You don’t have to conform to anyone but yourself. All the worries and pressures that you feel can’t touch you there if you don’t want them too. As long as you make it so.”
Her words caused a smile to grow on his face, and Corny reached out to hug her. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Maybelle replied, also smiling. “Are you okay to come back to the station?”
He thought about it. “I don’t think I’m ready to face Velma again, or at least today I’m not. But you know what that means?”
Maybelle shook her head.
“Surprise Negro Day.”
She scoffed. “Are you sure about that?”
Corny shrugged. “As long as you tell the station that I told you to do it then it should be okay.”
“What if it’s not?” Maybelle asked. When Corny stared at her, she backed up. “I’m just making sure.”
“Then call me and I’ll beat them up.”
Maybelle smiled. “Make sure to watch me then, Corny.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said, matching her smile.
And when four o’clock came rocking by, Corny made sure that his TV was on, showcasing that Maybelle was indeed on TV, and that he had kept his promise.