Everything about him is out of place the first time she sees him; out of place enough she pauses, doesn't immediately get someone to throw his ass out before he can cause trouble. He doesn't walk in like he owns the place, or like there's something to be scared of, just finds a quiet spot against the wall and watches.
The next time Maybelle sees him, he's dancing. The time after that, he's dancing on tv, in the middle of a gang of fresh-faced American-Dream-looking white kids. It's not long after that the show is his.
Maybelle doesn't really expect anyone to impress her with how quick they can talk, not since she was knee-high and earned the Motormouth name. Corny Collins seems dead-set on proving every little truth she has false, though.
He charms her into stories - her childhood, her dreams, every fear she has about the day Seaweed starts going to an integrated school, about Seaweed's father (and no one gets to hear those stories, not a soul. Or, well, almost not a soul, now). She should hate him for it, be offended, back off and put up every defense she has against well-meaning white people and leave well enough alone.
Instead, she keeps meeting him, keeps inviting him back to the record store, keeps letting him charm her into talking, and singing, and maybe once or twice right into bed.
It's a rough day at the end of a rough year when Maybelle realizes two things - one, Corny can't talk anyone into anything, not any more, and two, the one thing he can't talk anyone into is telling him what he's not going to ask about Little Inez.
Corny shows up at the record store on a weekday afternoon, when school's still in so there won't be any nosy kids hanging around. He brings a book for Seaweed, bows for Inez's hair, a necklace for Maybelle. He never shows up empty-handed, not these days, not when every lucky sunbeam on Earth is shining on his pasty face.
His show starts up next week, she knows, an hour of singing and dancing and fresh-faced white kids charming the city. She's been waiting for this, expecting it, the day an honest-to-God Television Personality won't be able to inspire the sort of rumors hanging out all day in the negro part of town tends to inspire. No hard feelings.
"I have a proposition for you," he says, instead, and maybe the offer would be insulting coming from anyone else - no maybe about it, really, one hour a month compared to five a week is absolutely an insult.
But Corny Collins can talk his way into anything, and three days later Maybelle's signed her name so many times she could do it in her sleep. Three weeks after that is the first Negro Day.
People talk, because that's what people do. Maybelle assumes most of the rumors, certainly most of the nasty ones, start with Velma, but she only has so much room to rock the boat. Corny could, because however much power Velma thinks she holds over him, it's his name on the show and it's there for a reason.
It's surprisingly easy to pretend his total lack of outrage over rumors that could well get him spit on in the street at best (if they moved outside the little circle of the studio heads and employees, who never seem to notice their gossip spreads and intensifies within the circle without ever leaving) doesn't mean anything to her.
"She can really move," Corny says, too close to Maybelle's ear. Little Inez is lost in her own litle world somewhere, reduced to nothing but music and movement. Maybelle must have been lost, a little, too, because no way on Earth is Corny quiet enough to have snuck up on her any other way. "I'd better see her on the show someday soon."
Maybelle just nods, because the real answer - she doubts it, doesn't think there will be a show this time next year for Inez to dance on - is just gonna rile Corny up, get him charging into the studio guns blazing ready to get it back for her.
And this time she wants it to be hers, her accomplishment, not the result of a well-meaning white boy charming folks on her behalf.
"You sure will," is all she says.
Negro Day gets cancelled. Maybelle didn't fight hard enough, really, but there's only so much she can do, only so much she's willing to give over to Velma Von Tussle to be stomped all over.
Tracy fights, because she can, because no matter how deeply she feels, no matter how closely she aligns herself, fighting for this isn't ever going to take as much out of her as it takes out of Maybelle, out of Seaweed, out of any one of those kids who lost their dreams in an instant.
And Maybelle lets her, invites her in, because maybe it's not fair to let that happen just because pushing asks more than she herself has left to give.
Corny wants to march, asks, all but demands; it starts the first fight they've ever had when Maybelle tells him absolutely not. It's the closest she comes to revealing her trump card, to cutting him where she knows it'll hurt him deeply enough he'll have to either understand or run away, to explain why he's heard less about Little Inez's daddy than he has Seaweed's, why she's such a natural on the dance floor.
He avoids the record store for a while afterwards, but just when Maybelle's thinking the tie's been cut for good, everything turns on its head. Somewhere in the chaos, in a tv show turned activist rally turned promise of integration, Corny finds time to apologize.
Maybelle should apologize for things too, maybe, but she doesn't, just finds him later and says four words she doesn't think either of them has ever really heard before.
"We need to talk."