Gotta Keep on Tryin': A Novel

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9781416531685: Gotta Keep on Tryin': A Novel
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From the bestselling authors of Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made comes a heartwarming tale of how true friendship can overcome life's obstacles.

Gayle Saunders and Patricia Reid have been lifelong friends, as close as sisters. When they were teens their dreams led them down separate paths and away from each other. But they reunited as adults, drawn back together by a bond of friendship that stood the test of time.

Now Pat and Gayle co-own the Ell & Me Company, a business they founded based on a character Gayle created years ago for her daughter. Things are going well, but real-life dramas ensue as each must face issues from the past in order to protect the future.

Pat and Marcus look like the perfect twenty-first-century couple -- smart, talented, each at the helm of a high-profile enterprise and at the top of their game. But behind closed doors their marriage is challenged by the stresses of a two-entrepreneur household. Will their professional pursuits leave them time for each other and a family, or carry them into the arms of others? Will a paternity claim prove to be too much of an obstacle to overcome?

Gayle faces her own family drama and struggles to maintain control of her life. Despite dating other men, has she ever really gotten over her ex-husband, Ramsey, the gambler who left her and their daughter, Vanessa, in financial ruin? Gayle bends over backward to provide a stable, comfortable home for Vanessa, and support her dream of becoming a dancer. And Vanessa, a rebellious and hurtful teen, seems just as devoted to making Gayle pay for every mistake she has ever made. And what ever happened to Ramsey?

In Gotta Keep on Tryin', Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant bring us heroines who remind you, for better and worse, of women everywhere -- women who know that true friendship keeps us grounded. And when things get rough the bond between women can be stronger than any trials we face.

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About the Author:

Virginia DeBerry was a successful plus-size model, former Vice President of BB/LW modeling agency and served as editor-in-chief of Maxima magazine before becoming a novelist. DeBerry is a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo. She currently resides in central New Jersey.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PROLOGUE

...Crossed hearts and promises...

Present Day, New York, New York

Maybe we are through. It droned in Pat's head like a chant, propelled her blindly along Broadway in the April twilight. She didn't smell the bus exhaust, the dirty dogs languishing in their daylong steam bath, the greening scent of new spring that hung tentatively in the evening air. Indifferent to the chill, Pat's trench coat flapped open like sails in the breeze. Maybe it's time. It was her occasional refrain, but how could that be the answer?

Oblivious to blinking crosswalk signs, Patricia Reid followed the crowd -- stopping or going with the packs of pedestrians who challenged cars for the right of way. At the corner of Fortieth Street she pounded the hood of a Jeep that came too close when the light turned green. "What the hell's wrong with you!" Pat glared at the driver, but she never really saw him or heard what he yelled as he sped off. There was too much wrong and it whirled in her head. Truth was, she'd felt it coming, tried to blow past the rough spots, sure they'd take care of themselves. And they had, more or less -- until now.

A lawyer -- first thing in the morning I'll call -- who? Pat knew their lawyer wouldn't touch it -- too much invested in them -- too personal. But hadn't they been together too long to be talking about separate attorneys, who was entitled to what? When did the "stuff " outweigh decades of trust?

For several strides Pat walked next to a slim matron, wielding a cane in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and for the first time in years Pat wanted one -- smoke sticks Marcus used to call them when he would bug her to quit. She wanted to suck the heat and the burn into her lungs, blow out the smoke like a dragon. She settled for a deep drag of second-hand smoke, remembered when crossed hearts and promises used to be enough, and kept walking.

As kids all any of them had was scraped knees, and dreams that took them on separate journeys for a while. But ten years ago Gayle and Marcus had come back into her life. It was as if Pat got back her right hand and her left, the two halves of her heart, the friend who was her sister and her partner in a business they had grown from nothing, together. And the husband who was her friend, her lover, her safe place. How could she be on the verge of losing one of them again?

Pat felt the phone vibrate in her pocket and kept walking. She'd had enough talk for one day. And she hadn't changed her mind. This wasn't their first fight. Since they were kids, they had disagreed too many times, about too many things to count. It certainly didn't stop because they loved each other. But there was no yelling this time, just mean, hateful words. This may not have been their nastiest quarrel, but was it really their last?

Less than a block later the phone quivered again, and again before she walked another two. There was so much going on now, so much at stake she couldn't afford to brush off.

She yanked the phone out -- saw the number and almost hit "ignore," but something -- the need to go another round? the need to have the last word, again? the hope for an apology? -- she didn't know what it was, but she answered.

"Yes." Pat's tone was flat, challenging, cold. And she had no warning the temperature would drop so suddenly, flash-freeze her anger. "Where?...I'm on my way."

Pat waved frantically for a taxi, wanted to stand in front of one, make it stop. Finally a cab pulled over. "Madison and One Hundred and First." She willed the lights to stay green, the traffic to clear, but it seemed to be taking forever, like they were driving over shifting sand. Perched on the edge of the seat, she prayed for this to be alright and tried to remember that even a bad day has good parts.

Copyright © 2008 by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant

Chapter 1

...from what-ifs to reality.

Five years ago, New York, New York

"I can't? look." Elbows planted on her drawing board, Gayle clamped both hands over her eyes. Ever since she'd sent the final sketches, specs, and fabric samples, she had worried she'd left out something important, or that it wouldn't look the way she imagined. Or that it was a great big mistake.

"What are you worried about?" Pat dug through the squeaky mass of packing peanuts as if she were searching for buried treasure. Yesterday the doll maker they had contracted said the original doll was on the way, and all morning Pat had worn a rut between her desk and the big windows at the front of the third-floor walk-up office, scanning the horizons of West Twenty-third Street and Eighth Avenue, willing the FedEx truck to round the corner before its usual mid-morning run. Pat grabbed hold of an arm and pulled. "She's beautiful!"

Gayle peeked through her fingers, then she was out of her seat. "Oooh. Let me hold her." Gayle had started drawing Ell Crawford, with her two fat braids crisscrossing the top of her head, blue jeans, a pink velour shirt, and big brogans like the clunky ones her daughter had to wear to support her feet, after four-year-old Vanessa tossed her shoes down the laundry chute, fully expecting they'd be lost forever. Gayle created a s/hero whose formidable footwear fit her as well as Cinderella's slipper and magically transported her to far-?off times and places. Ell helped Vanessa feel better about having to wear "boy shoes," and even after the industrial-strength lace-ups were gone, Vanessa still looked forward to Ell's next adventure. It was hard to believe, but five years had passed since Pat convinced Gayle that other little girls would enjoy Ell's exploits. Twelve books later they still did -- and clamored for more. Now the first Ell doll was cradled in Pat's arms, looking so much like Vanessa it gave Gayle chills.

"Thought you couldn't look." Pat tucked the doll behind her back, enjoying a playful moment now that she could see the two years she'd spent on the project -- the first convincing Gayle it was the right move, then working with a doll artist -- were going to be worth it.

"Changed my mind." Gayle couldn't believe Ell Crawford looked like she had just leapt off the page, from the mischievous gleam in her big brown eyes, to the grosgrain laces in her sturdy oxfords, tied with big bows the color of bubble gum. Gayle had come up with the ploy to make the shoes special. She would change the ribbons to go with Vanessa's outfits. The doll's shoes were patent leather, but Vanessa's father had kept hers polished so they gleamed, a memory Gayle chased out of her head. I will not let Ramsey spoil this.

"OK. I'll share." Like when we were eight. Pat handed over the doll.

Gayle and Pat had gone from sharing a room with twin beds when they were kids, to an office with twin desks, arranged face-?to-?face, today. In the semi-?early days -- after they'd made the leap from dining-?room table to a real office -- they would clear both desks to create mailing central, where they packaged and labeled their orders, excited about each and every one and where it was going. And they celebrated across the desks with champagne and a sausage-?and-?mushroom pie from the greasy pizzeria on the corner when they shut down the assembly line and hired a fulfillment house to handle getting the books from printer to customer -- definitely slumming it after Pat's days of luxe expense-?account dinners and her plush office in a sleek glass tower, but this felt even better. She and Gayle had built it from what-?ifs to reality.

The dueling desks also made it easy to talk. Some days they did a lot of that, about ad buys, color separations, and production schedules. But also about Vanessa's grades, Pat's anniversary surprises, shoes on sale, and where to get the best manicure. Articles written about the slow and steady growth of The Ell & Me Company and its catalog of fanciful picture books always played up the lifelong friendship shared by founders Patricia Reid and Gayle Saunders. It still made them smirk and shake their heads because they remembered how it started -- in kindergarten when Pat was too country, Gayle was too prissy, and nobody else wanted to be their friend. As kids they pretended to be lots of things -- mommies, gypsies, private eyes, and the Vandellas -- but copresidents of their own company had never been on the list.

Pat, the Ivy League ex-advertising exec who regrouped after a musical chairs merger left her with no desk when the music stopped, and Gayle, the former stay-?at-?home mom who turned a reversal in life into a creative springboard, made for a study in opposites, one hard-?driving and business-?savvy, the other whimsical and creative. Like they planned it, or even thought about it that way. Each just did what she did best and somehow it worked out.

"Sure she's not too big?" Gayle placed the doll in the stand that was included and leaned back to examine her.

"Don't start." Pat knew that look and tone. Gayle's exuberance was about to dissolve into a sinkhole of doubt. "We've been over every finger, toe, eyelash..."

"I know. You're right." Gayle lifted Ell's pant leg, smoothed a polka-?dot sock.

"She's perfect." When it came to how Ell looked, Gayle had specific notions, and getting to "just right" had plucked Pat's bottom nerve. They had weighed and debated the possibilities from pocket-?size to life-?size and decided on eighteen inches as a manageable height for all ages. It took months to get the right complexion, a special blend of chocolaty golden hues their artist called sun-?kissed cinnamon. And the hair -- curly, kinky, wavy, and cornrowed -- they had been through it all. Pat was not about to revisit their decisions.

"I just want to be sure." Gayle perched on her stool. Pat had anted up the money to start the business since she said Gayle had created their product. Besides, at the time Gayle only had enough to get back on her feet and buy a little breathing room. But it was Gayle who suffered the sleepless nights while they set the wheels of their fledgling company in motion, terr...

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