Shelter-in-place has had its share of challenges. For me, as an independent author, it has had a major perk: I do more reading and writing, plus creative work like designing my book covers.
On the reading side, during this season I’ve had the pleasure of reading series work by several male/male romance authors such as Christa Tomlinson, A.E. Via, Eugene Galt, Lucy Lennox, Stella Starling, Max Walker, Alison Hendricks, Tatum West, Avery Ford, to name a few. Writing a series myself, I appreciate and love the continuity of them, as do these novelists. Yes, I have enjoyed many standalone novels, yet there is something about a series that keeps me coming back to those authors.
On the writing side, the rewrites of my 2 full-on male/male romances, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self, are progressing well during this time, plus the first draft of Book 8 in my Christopher Family Novel series, The Rise of Sherry Payson. Writing these novels simultaneously has been invaluable in preventing that nemesis of writers, writer’s block, from infiltrating my mind. The fact that my characters occupy the same universe strengthens my multitasking ability, for which I am grateful. I am looking forward to bringing some more Black Love to the subgenre!
The creative side of this process resulted in designing the covers for my works-in-progress. Having creative control over my work involves learning new skills, and having cover design under my belt is fun. As an Old School New Kid, I would never have dreamed I’d be doing this years ago; even my 20-year-old son is impressed.
As release time approaches, readers, I bring you another element of Never Give Up: a private investigator. What whodunit would be complete without one, or someone in some form of law enforcement? Chauntice Berry, youngest of the Berry sisters, has followed in her father’s footsteps and become an attorney. The following excerpt takes us back to the time she first meets her P.I.:
The work I put into my pre-law studies paid off with my graduating summa cum laude from Hamline University in 1979, poised for law school at the U of M with an LSAT score in the top five per cent. Ellen had an equally strong suit in economics, with our parents having prime seats for the commencement exercises. At the graduation party I noticed that Ellen had brought her boyfriend of six months, a handsome brotha and promising new hire at Edwards Enterprises named Kenneth Grayson. The look on his face said it all—another man had fallen like a pine tree for our charms and intelligence. Auntie Elaine and Mama were watching them with smiles that said, “He’s going to pop The Question—soon.” Daddy, on the other hand, was filled with fatherly advice for me about law school, lavish in his praise for my grades. Because of the rotation of judges, I would come and sit in the gallery when he was presiding over civil cases, usually when I was ahead on my studies and had time off from classes. I may not have been pursuing criminal law, but his experience with the basics of law school was invaluable.
It was a ladies’ night at Pudge’s in 1980, and I needed a serious break from the books and the law library. With Doris Hendricks, LaVera, Ellen, and Elizabeth, we tipped on in there. The DJ was playing Linda Clifford’s hit “Red Light,” and we teased Ellen about how hard she worked to “get” Kenneth, even though it only took zero effort on her part. Yes, the engagement ring was firmly on her finger and the wedding was less than six months away. Doris’ nuptials were even closer, with four weeks to go. LaVera, the only married woman in the bunch, had left Derrick home with their daughter so she could have some “down time.” Elizabeth needed some “down time” as well, since she was studying to take over Grandpa Berry’s dental practice in the future. Looking out at the dance floor, I realized I wasn’t the only one who needed a study break; Carter and Julian were out there dancing under the disco ball as though they were on Soul Train.
Ellen didn’t drink, which made her a perfect designated driver, but the rest of us had our beverages of choice; mine was a Tom Collins. We laughed, we “let our hair down,” the music was great, and my brother and Julian were obliging as dance partners when they were available. At one point, the DJ played Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies’ Night,” which got everyone up and on the dance floor.
Normally one drink is my limit, after which I switch to club soda, but for some reason I don’t remember I had two—and most of a third. For me, that was enough to feel tipsy. The number of people in there that evening had increased, to the point where I felt sticky sitting at our table. While everyone else was still on the dance floor, partying to Teena Marie’s “Behind the Groove,” I weaved my way outside for air.
I had forgotten my coat, and the fact it was an early spring night in March. All I knew was that my head was woozy. Taking a few breaths of air, I staggered to what I thought was LaVera’s car. I didn’t remember it being parked so far away, and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me; we certainly didn’t bring any men with us to Pudge’s. Once I reached it, my inebriated state took over and I collapsed on the hood. Why, oh why, did I have those drinks on an empty stomach?
I came to at home, on the living room sofa with an aching head and drool running down a corner of my mouth, with Ellen and a strange man hovering over me. “Chauntice, you have no idea how worried we were about you.” Oh, I wished she would speak softer. “We didn’t know where you’d gone. If Jarvis hadn’t brought you home, we were ready to call the police.”
“Jarvis?” I muttered. “Who’s Jarvis?”
In a sober moment, the man’s voice could melt cheese, but my head was unable to fully appreciate that fact at the time. “I’m Jarvis. Jarvis Varnell. You fell out on my car.”
“You’d had a bit to drink. You were talking kind of crazy. I didn’t know if you were with anyone, but I had to get you out of there.”
Still fumbling for words, I managed to utter, “But…how did I…did anything…”
“When you left the club, you left your coat, but you took your purse and your keys,” Ellen said. “Jarvis brought you home, and he was here when I got here. Nothing happened, Chauntice. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up. He told me why he had to get you away from the club.”
Jarvis pulled out his wallet, reached inside, and pulled out what looked like identification. “I’m a private detective, and I was on a stakeout for a client. You were starting to carry on a little too much.”
“Oh, no,” I moaned, mortification compounding my disheveled appearance and the bass drums pounding in my head.
“I think she’ll be all right now,” Ellen got up and walked Jarvis to the door. “Again, I want to thank you for looking out for my cousin.”
“Any time, Ms. Berry,” he said. “And if you two ever need anything, here’s my card.”
When I woke up in a sober state late the next morning, I felt chastened because I had almost blown Jarvis’ stakeout. Wanting to make amends, I called the number on his business card. We sat down and had coffee at a little diner on the St. Anthony side of the river, off East Hennepin Avenue, a few days later. He struck me as a cross between Billy Dee Williams and Richard Roundtree. Standing 6’0” to my 5’8”, he was well put together, able to more than take care of himself, and extremely easy on a woman’s eye.
I had grown up watching private eyes like Paul Drake on Perry Mason. As such, I had to give him respect when he smoothly reminded me, “Private detective work isn’t always what it’s made out to be on TV or the movies. There are many times when it can seem boring and you have to do a lot of legwork, but you still must do your best to satisfy your client.”
“True. The same goes with lawyers, if you’re really worth your salt. Me, I’m a first-year law student.”
Jarvis studied me for a minute. “You know, Chauntice, there’s something familiar about you. Wait…your last name is Berry. Are you…”
“Yes. Judge Berry is my father.”
“Hmmm. I thought so. I’ve done work for some defense attorneys who had him as a trial judge. The man doesn’t play.”
“That is also true. So, Jarvis…can you promise me your discretion about the way we met?”
“You have my word, Chauntice. Now, tell me more about the life of a law student.”
Inwardly, I felt relief and gratitude as I shared my passion for law with Jarvis, along with those getting-to-know-you questions in the hour we spent together. With the promise of a date as soon as his current case was over, we went our separate ways. I thought about him off and on while I pored through books in the law library, making dinner at home, or helping Ellen with some of her wedding plans. Jarvis Varnell came across as a man I wanted to get to know better, possibly introducing him to Mama and Daddy.
Yes, I, Chauntice Berry, the one who was determined to stay single, had found someone with the potential to be more than just a Friday night date. Of course, the last thing I wanted was for Daddy to find out about my drunken performance on the hood of Jarvis’ car. On that note, I had both sworn Ellen to secrecy and sworn off alcohol for good.
(c) 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham
Believe in dreams and never give up.