Never Give Up: When Earl Met Juanita

Never Give Up CoverThe time is fast approaching. Indeed, Never Give Up: A Christopher Family Novel, my historical novel/family saga/whodunit, will be released by August 15. It’s exciting during these final weeks, knowing that soon I will hold the fruit of my labor in my hands.

Those of you out there who are published authors and poets know what it’s like when your book hits the production phase. If you’ve gone the traditional route, you’re reviewing the cover design; if you’re independent, you’ve either designed the cover yourself or had someone design it for you. And then there is the process of reviewing the galleys and the back cover copy, not to mention the details such as the print format and the physical size of the book. It’s painstaking work, but at the end of the day, it’s our novel, and we want it to represent well.

Never Give Up may be a whodunit, but I’m still all about Black Love. Because the novel has romance elements for each of the characters/family members, readers who are familiar with my series may wonder how Judge Earl James Berry met his future wife and soulmate, Juanita Sue Langston. In order to do that, let me take you back to the Minneapolis of 1946 in this excerpt, when Juanita was an 18-year-old woman:

 

I was working late on a Thursday evening in December (December 12, if memory serves), making plans to do a little Christmas shopping before I went home and hoping my parents wouldn’t be there yet. I was dressed more for a brisk fall day, since that December was mild and still “green” at that point. I locked the office door and headed down to the end of the hall. Normally I was out the door at five, but that night I saw a young man leaving an office with a mop, bucket, and cleaning supplies. He didn’t see me at first as I stood there waiting for the elevator, but when he turned around our eyes met.

“Hi,” I heard him say.

“Hi,” I replied just as the elevator door opened and I got on. As the door closed, I saw him look at me again and give me a smile. I don’t even remember if I returned his smile, but on the trip down I found myself hoping that I had.

As I shopped for presents at Dayton’s, then while I waited for the trolley, and during the ride home, he piqued my curiosity. During dinner with my parents, I found myself distracted. While I listened to the Hit Parade on the radio, I couldn’t get his image out of my mind. I wracked my brain in an effort to place him. I wasn’t sure if he was familiar, but his image was a delight to the senses. I had estimated him to be 6’0”, in contrast to my 5’6”. Even in a custodian’s work clothes, he was one well-built man—I had no doubt he must have been an athlete in high school, and probably kept that way in the military. His deep brown complexion was rich, and his raven black hair a curious mixture of curly and wavy. Could he possibly have Native American blood in him somewhere? As for his smoky gold eyes, I saw intelligence and pure animal magnetism in them, a sense of knowing exactly what he wanted.

My dear—if a woman wasn’t careful, she could lose herself in that man, but the trip would be filled with nonstop enjoyment.

As the Ink Spots serenaded me with “To Each His Own,” I got up from my bed and stood in front of the floor-length mirror in my bedroom for an appraisal. From Mama I had inherited a healthy hourglass figure and a thick head of shoulder-length, dark brown hair which was currently hot-pressed into submission. Papa had given me smooth, medium brown skin, his engaging smile, and his passionate but wise eyes. People who see me today would consider me an older and darker-complexioned version of the Fifth Dimension’s Marilyn McCoo. I’ve laughed about that, since she’s young enough to be one of my daughters. When the group hit the charts in the late ‘60s some people would ask me, “Are you sure she’s not your niece?” Nobody I ever dated had given me an argument about my looks, and Papa was always there to guard my virtue—with deadly weapons if necessary. In my self-appraisal, I already visualized my “mystery man” standing next to me in the mirror.

No, there was more to that brief exchange of greetings than met the eye, as far as I was concerned. I was full of questions, questions I hoped to have answers for soon. Of course, at 18 a girl wants those questions answered yesterday. Had I seen him before? Where did he live? What was a man like that doing in a custodian’s job when he was clearly capable of so much more, if his eyes were any indication? And how would I fit into the picture? Better yet, how did I want to fit into the picture, if there was one?

Back in those days a woman who considered herself a lady would never do the unthinkable and throw herself at a man, not like today when so many girls line up to audition for the role of slut. As I thought about him over the next couple of days, the thing to do was find out who he worked for and his hours, unless divine intervention brought him to me. I had so little to go on that I didn’t even consider talking to Mama and Papa. Cassandra, however, was another story.

“He sounds luscious,” Cassandra said as we talked on the phone the next evening. “So, have you done anything to find out more about him?”

“Well, not yet. I thought about staying late today, but that would have been too obvious. Monday might be a better time. How are things going with Vince?”

“Smooth as silk. We’re going to the movies tomorrow night. But back to this dreamboat of yours. How does this affect your plans as a professional secretary?”

“It doesn’t. I want both, at least for a while. What movie are you going to see?”

The Postman Always Rings Twice is playing at the Orpheum. It’s supposed to be good.”

We continued to discuss film noir movies we’d seen in the past. For us, seeing women in power in such movies—down to the knives in their nylons and guns in their minks—was utterly fascinating, not to mention the way they led their male victims down the road to destruction. Not that we would even consider that as a surefire way to get a man, but we loved the sheer entertainment value.

Sunday, of course, had the Langston family in St. Matthew’s African Methodist Episcopal Church for worship. I always made sure I looked good for church. On that day I wore my best grey wool suit with matching pumps, having pressed and curled my hair into a chignon with victory rolls, something similar to Ingrid Bergman’s hairstyle in the cocktail party scene of Notorious. We were always there before services started because Papa was one of the trustees and Mama taught Sunday school. I hadn’t really decided what I wanted to do at church since I graduated, but I knew that at some point I had to do something.

Service attendance had been increasing since Thanksgiving and the start of Advent, so the church was nearly full when it was time for service to start. Because I tried to stay as focused as much as possible on the service itself, I usually didn’t look around at people who came in late. Today was no different. I took out my Bible to follow along with the Scripture lessons and soaked in the sounds of the choir, looking forward to the Christmas program that afternoon.

Rev. Walker gave an inspiring message about the “reason for the season” that day, and after the benediction we stopped for a few minutes to chat with other members. I happened to look over at one of the exits for a moment and caught a glimpse of someone leaving. My mouth dropped slightly. What’s he doing here? Is my mind playing tricks on me? I decided that was it; I’d been thinking about that man for the past few days, and now I was imagining him showing up everywhere. Still, when we returned later on for the program, I found myself wondering if he would show up.

The church was packed for the Christmas program, and it was wonderful. Our choir and a guest choir from St. Andrew’s concluded the program with the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and afterwards we gathered in the dining hall for fellowship. I felt a little disappointed that Mystery Man hadn’t made an appearance, but the time for praise and worship had been well spent.

As I waited in line to get a plate, I saw Lillian and Melvin Edwards holding court with their friends. They were a “power couple” long before the phrase was coined. Mama and Papa exchanged pleasantries with our pastor, while I wished that Cassandra would have been there as she’d promised to be. I was pleasant and polite to the women who were serving, and I talked to the people nearby about the program. I filled my plate and found a seat when I realized I had forgotten to get some punch. When I got up to do so, I stopped in my tracks. My heart fluttered in my chest. When did it suddenly become more difficult to breathe?

“Aren’t you…”

“Yeah,” Mystery Man said, and that brilliant smile of his came out in full wattage. “You’re the woman from the hallway.”

“But…I feel like I know you from somewhere.”

“Well, if it helps, I’m Earl James Berry. I’ve been away at college. And you are…?”

“Juanita Langston.”

“Langston…Langston. You know, I think my father knows your father. Probably from the NAACP and the Urban League. Didn’t you go to Central?”

“No, Vocational. I just graduated this past June.”

“It figures. If you had gone to Central, I would definitely have remembered someone like you.” I must have been smiling, because there was an extra twinkle in his eye. “Would you like some punch?”

Remembering my initial mission, I answered, “Yes, thank you.”

“Coming right up. And if it’s all right with you, I’d like to join you.”

“I’d like that.” I was downplaying my response to his flirting as much as possible, even though I wanted to scream “Yes!!!!!” from the rooftops.

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Mark My Words, You Never Know, Never Give Up

Mark My Words Book I CoverBesides the COVID-19 pandemic (which, paradoxically, has given our planet a chance to breathe), there is another pandemic that is front and center at this time, though it has been around far longer: systemic racism. Indeed, George Floyd’s murder has sparked a revolution around the world. However, it strikes far closer to home for me, because it took place in my hometown, in the neighborhood where I grew up.

Baby Boomer that I am, I can remember my own experiences with racism as a young Black gay man:

I remember riding my bike through certain neighborhoods in town and being called the N-word.

I remember being passed over for certain positions in the workplace because of my Blackness.

I remember the civil unrest on Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis in 1967.

I remember experiencing racism and ignorance at my alma mater in the ’70s.

I remember times, when I used to go to clubs as an adult, being carded and asked for several forms of ID while white gay men just walked on in without being stopped.

I remember what it was like to spend a night in jail for something I never did, because a white woman I’d never met accused me of aggravated robbery. Later, I found out from my father that she had actually given the kiosk money I had allegedly robbed her of to her boyfriend, and chose to lie about it; who knows what would have happened had I not had a lawyer, friends who could vouch for my whereabouts, and a father who wouldn’t take any crap off the police officer who tried to get him to get me to confess.

Today, I know what’s it like to have to tell my son, now a young Black male, to watch his back and stay off the police radar.

When these events unfolded over the past weeks, I found something fascinating. When I wrote the first draft of my Mark My Words trilogy over two decades ago, the very issues included in it–racism, police brutality, sexism, homophobia–are now the current events on people’s minds. My character of Allen Beckley Christopher may have become a multimillionaire, but he and his family weren’t free of the aforementioned issues in our country, internalized or externalized. Yet, when I wrote it, I had hope.

You Never Know Book Cover IIIn You Never Know, I spoke of these issues less. However, the practice of redlining was a part of the history of Minneapolis, and as such it is included in my historical fiction. As an author, I’m inspired by the words of Toni Morrison: “If there is a story you want to read, and it hasn’t been written, then you must be the one to write it.” Yes, the books I want to read include success, making a difference, and hope. I have a voice, and my voice is in the pen. That being said, I want to take a moment to give thanks to the Black press (such as Insight News and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder) for reporting the successes, strengths, and the inspiring people/events in the community as well as the challenges.

Never Give Up, as my upcoming historical novel in my series, takes place in 2012. In light of current events, I see this novel now, with the way I wrote the police investigation of my main character Judge Earl James Berry’s shooting, as something that could have been, or might have been, had things been different. In the midst of the storm of this particular pandemic, I still have hope. There is no quick, easy fix to 401 years of institutionalized racism, but there’s hope for substantive change, and I’ve witnessed it in the young people who are leading this revolution for justice.

Never Give Up CoverMy works-in-progress include two male/male romance novels (yes, romance is my favorite recreational reading). Because it is still underrepresented in the genre, I’ve made it a point to add my voice to Black Love, specifically between two Black men. My brothas and sistahs, if you have a story inside you that’s aching to be written, don’t wait. Allow nothing to stop you. Do it. Publish it yourself. You’d be amazed at the support that is out there waiting for you. And you can pay it forward by your support of other Black authors/authors of color.

This past Saturday, I tuned in to a Virtual Town Hall meeting on Facebook. The topic was, “Race in Minneapolis,” and what we can do to create substantive change in our culture of “business as usual” when it comes to dismantling racism. One of the words of wisdom was for us as African-Americans to tell our stories. If we don’t, who will?

At the end of the day, it’s all about the love. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a “Drum Major for Justice,” and he loved this country too much to let it alone.

 

Believe in dreams and never give up. There is hope.

 

Never Give Up: Chauntice Gets Her Man

Never Give Up CoverShelter-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.”

“I…what?”

“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.”

“W…why?”

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.

 

 

Never Give Up: The Bride of Zilla

Never Give Up CoverDespite the lemons of COVID-19, this has been an exciting time for me as an independent author. As an example of lemonade, last month I had the honor of being a guest on one of our local radio programs, along with our state attorney general. In addition, my body of work is now gracing the shelves of four library systems here in Minnesota.

Yes, an author’s work is never done, but I love it that way. While preparing my upcoming Christopher Family Novel for release, I have three in queue for my series. The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self are my first full-on M/M romance novels. The Rise of Sherry Payson takes us into the creative mind of an author with humor, romance, and mystery.

But back to Never Give Up. It is a whodunit, a historical whodunit which delves into the lives of the intended victim and his family. Still, like Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, there’s a certain sense of humor in it as well. How many of you out there know, have known, or know of, a Bridezilla? The following excerpt takes you on a little flashback into the mind of Judge Berry’s daughter (and family Bridezilla), LaVera Marchelle Berry:

 

Just who said planning a wedding would be fun? Everyone got on my nerves, even Chauntice, who was my maid of honor. Could she not understand the simple concept of total perfection? There were plenty of times I couldn’t stand to be around Derrick or put up with all the rehearsal time he had to put in. I had to change the color schemes six times because they weren’t right. I wanted a perfect wedding, and things and people kept coming up short. Finding the right caterer was a dismal chore. I wasn’t about to use somebody’s cousin I’d never heard of for a photographer, and even the photography studios around town had tired products and layouts. As for wedding gowns, I went through dozens and dozens of them, and I only found a suitable one after I went off to New York. And Daddy…he may have been paying for the wedding, but he needed to come off the money and spend more! I wanted to scream, and I did. I was the bride, and it was my absolute privilege to change my mind as often as I pleased. This was my wedding, and they were all working for me!

April 1, 1978—my wedding day—was fast approaching. Chauntice, as it turned out, had just about had it with me. A week before my big event, she literally sat me down and gave me a mutinous look. “Listen, Bridezilla,” she growled, “this may be your wedding, but you are not—I repeat, not—going to drive everyone around you into the loony bin. It’s a miracle that Derrick is putting up with you at this point. If I were him, I’d be ready to call off the wedding now!”

“Look, Chauntice! You’re my maid of honor. This is my day! I want my wedding to be absolutely perfect! If I say ‘Jump’ you’re here to say, ‘How high?’ If I want you to prance through hoops, you lift up your hooves and prance! That’s what you, the bridesmaids, the caterers, and everyone else are here for!”

Chauntice’s voice got low and deadly. “One more crack, LaVera, and not only will I smack that makeup off your face, but the rest of us will come in here and beat the crap out of you. By the time we’re done with you, no amount of makeup will cover that up.”

Slowly, my sisters filed into the room and gave me the same deadly expression as Chauntice, ready and willing to carry out her threat. I knew at that moment I’d said too much. “By the way, don’t think for a minute that Daddy doesn’t know about the way you’ve treated everyone.” Linda’s voice was frosty. “He’s probably ready to cite you for contempt of court and have you locked up. As for Derrick, if this wedding is any indication of what your marriage is going to be like, I hope he dumps you before it’s too late.”

I was ready to give Linda a quick retort, but it stopped in my throat as I scanned the room, with the murderous looks still cast in my direction. Deshawna took a step towards me. “Now get this straight, LaVera. Either you pull it together and clean up your act, or we are going to walk out on you and leave you hanging. Is that clear?”

I nodded quickly, especially when I noticed that Mama had entered the room and was giving me The Look. My sisters exchanged glances, pondering my acquiescence before Deshawna continued. “Chauntice, since you’re the maid of honor, is there anything you want to add?”

Chauntice stared at me like a hungry hawk ready to swoop down on a rabbit. “As a matter of fact, there is. You’re going to go to Derrick and apologize to him for your behavior and your drama. You’re going to do it today, and it had better be sincere.”

I have never been one to grovel, but after a healthy serving of humble pie, when he came home from rehearsal that evening, I did just that. It was no surprise Derrick didn’t let me off the hook easily. For the next five days, he watched my interactions with everyone involved in the planning to make sure my actions matched my words. That, added with my Berry charm, finally convinced him Bridezilla was dead and the fabulous LaVera Berry was back. Inwardly, I breathed an immense sigh of relief at dodging the firing squad.

I wouldn’t have believed it, but things went smoother after that “intervention.” The rehearsal dinner was lovely, and Derrick’s parents, Wardell and Aiyana St. James, could witness the love between us and the warm hospitality of my parents. On my wedding day, I felt positively beautiful in my strapless, modified A-line wedding gown as Daddy walked me down the aisle, seeing my very handsome husband-to-be standing at the altar and the wedding party at their respective places. My sisters were smiling, but there was no mistaking the cautionary look in their eyes that said, “LaVera, don’t you dare screw this up.”

@2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

Never Give Up: Love & the Boy Next Door

I’ve heard this quote on many occasions as an adult: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”Never Give Up Cover

Indeed, COVID-19 has given us a semi-trailer truckload of lemons. So many news stories are filled with the lemons of uncertainty, fear, panic, hysteria, hopelessness. I’ve been witness to how this pandemic is playing out in our personal lives. In the midst of human selfishness (e.g. the panic buying), I have also been privy to stories of human selflessness as well, such as a restaurant owner who donated food to people in need.

That being said, what are ways I have applied to make lemonade?

Making lemonade doesn’t mean that I am in denial of what’s going on. The difference is how I respond to it. I’ve limited my attention to the news; it’s important to be informed, but not obsessed or inundated. A good dose of common sense makes a world of difference.

Another way is through prayer and meditation. This has kept things in perspective for me, and as time has gone by in this season I have had a good, hard look at the things I’ve taken for granted my day-to-day life. I give thanks for all that I have, and seek the blessing and the lesson in all of this. This time is challenging, yet it can also be transforming.

Yet another facet of making lemonade is in doing that which I enjoy, which includes reading, writing, and watching those classic movies and TV shows. The cats love this time as well; at any given moment, one of them will be beside me if they’re not sleeping.

 

As you know, readers, my next novel in the Christopher Family Novel series, Never Give Up, will be released soon. Yes, it is a whodunit, but one that also has romance in it, as evidenced in this excerpt featuring Judge Berry’s youngest child and only son, Carter Woodson Berry, who falls in love with the Boy Next Door:

 

After five daughters, I can only imagine that Daddy was in nirvana on a snowy January 25, 1959, when Dr. Bradford said, “It’s a boy.” Mama has a strong sense of the value and importance of African American history, which may be the reason she named me after Carter G. Woodson. I’m sure that Daddy agreed with her choice. Now that he had a son, he probably would have agreed to almost any name she came up with.

There is something to be said for having five big sisters. If I wanted to keep something secret, I learned early on not to confide in my sisters much. I love them, but while I was growing up, they considered it their sworn duty to stay in my business. The same went for my cousins, Ellen and Elizabeth, since they spent a lot of time after school at our house until Ellen turned fourteen. Douglass Edwards and Julian Edwards were closer to my age, but we went to different elementary schools, so we’d hang out at the park sometimes or whenever our parents got together.

I was only a toddler when Uncle Eldon was killed, but things changed for our family when that happened. Daddy became an assistant district attorney with a mission of putting the criminals away and getting justice for their victims. When I was older, he told me about how Uncle Eldon’s murderer got off, and part of me hoped the dude would suffer the way my uncle did. “You keep putting the bad guys away, Daddy. For Uncle Eldon,” was my reply. I could imagine him saying that to himself after each conviction that was upheld. Learning that the perp suffered the torture of death by cancer in 1978, a few months after LaVera and Derrick’s wedding, was vindication of a sort and it gave our family closure, even though it didn’t bring Uncle Eldon back.

Daddy’s appointment to the bench in January of 1973 was the culmination of a dream for him, and I was quite proud of him; I told my teachers and classmates all about it. When we moved next door to the Edwardses in July, I thought my own dream would come true when Julian Edwards came over to help out. I was a grade behind him, so I guess I was “under the radar” as far as he was concerned.

He was, without a doubt, one gorgeous man, and he still is. Unlike his older brothers, he looked something like the singer Jackie Wilson in his prime. I couldn’t help but notice him peeking out of his bedroom window as we were moving furniture into our house—Mama wanted everything in its proper place, what with Sylvia’s wedding taking place at the end of the month. Sure, our families know each other, but Julian’s parents had moved when I was in elementary school. Once we were both back at Bryant Jr. High, I was operating under the disadvantage of being a grade behind him and moving in different circles, all because he was seven months older than me. At the age of 14, though, I found myself looking at him in a very different way. I couldn’t help but hear the way my sisters talked about this boy or that boy once they hit their teens. Now I understood what they meant. Mine happened to conveniently live next door.

I was struggling with a heavy mirror, attempting to get it out to the edge of the van so Daddy could help me with it, when I heard someone behind me say, “Need some help with that?”

I looked up from my task and—wow!—there he was. I took a moment to wipe some sweat from my brow; no way was I going to turn down that kind of help. “Sure. Thanks.” He climbed up into the van to grab one end of the mirror, while I checked him out as nonchalantly as I could. “Julian?”

“Yeah. I’m your new neighbor.”

“You went to Bryant.”

“Right again. I start at Central this fall.”

“I wish I was. I have to wait another year,” I said wistfully.

“Trust me, it’ll pass before you know it.” We edged our way down the ramp, managing the mirror as best we could. “You know, my brothers know your sisters.”

“Yeah, come to think of it. I remember Linda talked about your brother Mel a lot. What’s he up to?”

“Just working a summer gig, then it’s back to Northwestern.”

“Linda’s at Marquette. Careful, the steps are coming up.”

“Thanks.” He backed slowly up the steps, and I appreciated the way we fell into sync. “So, what’s it like to have five big sisters these days?”

“OK, I guess—if they weren’t always in my business.”

“Still, Carter, you do have some fine sisters.”

“That’s just it, they know it. But they’re cool. I feel sorry for the dudes who come around to date them. When Sylvia was living at home, Daddy would take her dates into the den and close the door. I don’t know what he said, but they always came out of there looking like he’d held them at gunpoint. And he was the picture of cool and calm. Same with Deshawna and Linda.”

“Dad was pretty strict with my brothers, too. John told me it took an act of Congress to get Dad to let him use the car for the homecoming dance. Of course, that was before John bought his own car.” We chuckled as we reached the next set of steps. “But Ma…if they brought home a girl she didn’t like, she’d give them The Look and it was all over but the shouting. So, which way do I go?”

“Uh….to the left and straight back.”

We set the mirror down in the dining room and went back outside to get more furniture. As we went up the ramp, I heard a familiar voice calling, “Carter! You’d better be careful with my bed!”

“Relax, LaVera. Stop acting like it’s a Brink’s delivery,” I said sarcastically. As we carried out a box spring mattress, my sister came outside. As far as looks go, she could give Beyonce some competition, but her attitude left something to be desired. “LaVera, you remember Julian Edwards? Julian, LaVera.”

She regarded this introduction from her regal pose for a moment and said, “Oh, right, you’re Mel’s little brother. Hi.”

“Hi, LaVera. Where does this go?”

“Upstairs, second door on the right,” was her lofty reply, giving the attitude that only corroborated my character assessment.

As the afternoon wore on, we managed to get everything off the truck while putting up with LaVera’s and Chauntice’s orders. Mama and Daddy gave Julian compliments about his helpfulness, but I saw him as my dreamboat. The way he could be awkward and graceful at the same time, tall and gangly yet built, with buns to die for. The smile, had he known it then, that had me ready to melt while Mama prepared a meal to replenish our strength after our hard work.

After that day, we were nearly inseparable. We were at each other’s houses so much that our parents took it for granted. I watched him grow taller until he hit 6’4” and filled out to desirable proportions. I had stopped at 5’8”, built like a gymnast with a touch of bodybuilder. I hoped and hoped Julian would make a move or something, yet I didn’t want to scare him off. It just seemed like forever; it wasn’t until later that I learned Julian felt the same way as I did. He was just shy about approaching me, like that Pointer Sisters song that came out in the ‘80s. Even with that knowledge, it was still a waiting game. Man, how I wished that the Berry charm Daddy and Grandpa Berry bragged about would work for me when it came to Julian Edwards, preferably sooner than later.

One evening during spring break of my junior year at Central High, Julian invited me over to his house. Ordinarily it would be no big deal, because we spent so much time at each other’s houses. This time, I sensed something different when I followed him up to his room; the house was so quiet. I started to ask him where his parents were, until I remembered that they went to a fundraiser with mine. Still…

“Where’s Mrs. Banks?” I asked.

“Oh, she has the night off,” he said with what looked like a nervous yet secretive smile.
We sat in his room as usual, talking about school or family stuff and listening to Donna Summer albums. I’d been around Julian long enough to tell when he was building up to something, and this had all the earmarks of it. On a hunch, I gave him my most encouraging look. Please, Berry charm, go to work. Please, please, please……

“You know, Carter…I like you. I like it when we spend time together.” He moved closer to me.

“I know.”

“I mean, I really like you. The way our classmates do when they’re going together.”

At last. “I know that, too, since I feel the same way about you.”

“Maybe we’ve been dating and didn’t know it. Well…I want to make it official.” He took my hand. “Will you be my boyfriend?”

My face must have been a combination of megawatt smile, passion, and sheer happiness. I saw a major grin spread across his face in return. “Julian, I’ve been hoping you’d ask me. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to hear that from you, man.”

Julian got up and stood in the middle of the floor when I heard a familiar song play. I knew it was his favorite, and he had a very inviting look in his eye. “Wanna dance?”

“You’ve got it,” was my heartfelt answer as I got up to join him, feeling like I had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right. Strike that—I was the Double Showcase winner.

–Coming Summer 2020

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.