“Never Give Up!”
Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham
Summer will be here before I know it, and with it the release of Never Give Up: A Christopher Family Novel. True, it is a historical fiction/whodunit, as I have mentioned in my previous columns. However, the story does have elements of romance, which include the LGBT members of the Berry family.
Like Allan Beckley Christopher and Elijah Edwards, Judge Earl James Berry’s life is seen through the lenses of his family. The following excerpt features his youngest child and only son, Carter Woodson Berry. As you know, I embrace Black love, and the romantic in me brings together Carter and 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 a 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 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 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?”
Believe in dreams and never give up.
© 2020 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.
W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness. He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.”
His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood. He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.
Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self.