by the edge of the river
 

Epilogue: He Finally Wins the Fight

November 9, 1957

Brian parked his car in front of the row of apartments. A glance at his watch told him he was far too early, but he'd been too anxious to wait at home any longer.

November was turning out to be a very good month, and he hoped his luck held tonight. All week, he and Loyola had been together at school. Jesse Sherman still wasn't too happy about it, but Jesse's concern was for Loyola's safety and at least he wasn't being obnoxious or insulting.

As for the boys that had been giving them a hard time, Jerry Vanderhoef still spouted off the occasional slurs and Bill Wright kept making lewd, inappropriate comments. Mike Larson had been oddly quiet. His older brother, Matthew, had been arrested for the assault, and Brian could only guess that it had been a wake-up call for the Larsons.

But he did not want to think about Mike or Matt Larson or any of the other boys at school. He had a much bigger concern. He still had to win over Loyola's grandfather. He went to the door and rang the bell, almost scared of how the night would go.

Mr. Kevins answered the door wearing a rather nice suit, making Brian feel underdressed even though he was wearing his good sports coat. But when Loyola came to the door, Brian's breath caught. The turquoise blue dress she was wearing complemented her skin tone. It was a simple design with long sleeves, a scoop-necked collar, and an a-line skirt—something she'd probably gotten at Crimpers or possibly made herself—and it fit her perfectly. He smiled nervously as he led the two back to his car.

"And where are you taking us, young man?" Mr. Kevins asked, settling back on the passenger side of the front seat.

"It's kind of a surprise," Brian answered as he pulled out of their driveway. "It's someplace in the city and I hope you'll like it."

"I see. And did you check with them that they allow colored people first?" Mr. Kevins' voice held a disapproving tone.

"Papa!" Loyola scolded from the back seat.

Brian held back the laugh that nearly came out. "It's in Harlem, sir, and I'm sure they will."

"Harlem?" Mr. Kevins did laugh, and not kindly. "What do you know about Harlem? It better be someplace nice or we'll be turning around and heading home before we get mugged."

"Yes, sir, it's someplace nice." Brian maneuvered the car onto the freeway. "I've never been there before, but two of my friends recommended it."

"I see. Have you ever even been to Harlem before?"

He had to think about it before he answered. There was the time he'd gone to Dan's old apartment and two visits to Teddy Hill's house. "A few times."

Mr. Kevins' voice registered surprise. "What was a white boy like you doing in Harlem?"

"Papa!"

Brian glanced in the rearview mirror at Loyola, wishing she were in the front seat next to him instead of her grandfather. She gave him a reassuring smile before he turned his eyes back to the road. "I know a couple of people in the area; one who lives there and one who used to. He lives in Brooklyn now."

Mr. Kevins cracked a smile. "You have friends in Harlem? The white area I'm guessing."

Brian tried not to let the older man's attitude get to him. "Actually, I don't know if it's a white or colored area. I don't know much about Harlem at all." Is there even a white area? I guess there must be. "Anyway, this guy—his name is Teddy Hill—he used to be the manager at Minton's Playhouse for a while." He thought it would be best to leave out any info about Teddy's previous career. "He's retired now."

Mr. Kevins studied him curiously. "You know Theodore Hill? Have you ever even been to Minton's Playhouse?"

"No, but my brother has."

Loyola let out a small laugh, but at least her laugh was jovial, full of warmth. "Bobby? The one with the superman pencil box?"

"Uh, no, Mart, the older one. I mean, he's not older than me, but he's older than Bobby. You've met him. He's a Sophomore at the high school." Brian hoped that didn't come out too garbled. He'd been getting better about being able to keep his calm in Loyola's presence, but with her grandfather next to him, he'd completely forgotten that, of course, she'd met his whole family, and she would definitely know who Mart was from school even if she hadn't.

Loyola giggled. "I know, Brian. Don't be so nervous."

"Let me get this straight, son. You know Mr. Hill. Personally? Or just in passing?"

Brian could tell Mr. Kevins didn't believe him. "Do you know Teddy?"

"Teddy? You actually call him Teddy? That's disrespectful, son." Mr. Kevins scowled.

"Well, yeah, he asked me to call him Teddy." Brian sighed. "And I know him personally, I guess. I've been to his house before."

Mr. Kevins turned in his seat to face Loyola briefly, presumably to give her some sort of 'what kind of idiot is he?' look. "Brian Belden, if you're lying to us—well, you should be able to prove it. Before we go to wherever it is you're taking us—"

"Tommy's Back Room," Brian interrupted. No sense in making it a surprise. Mr. Kevins was going to have a bad attitude about the whole night anyway, it seemed.

Mr. Kevins glowered. "I suppose you know Tommy, too?"

"Well, no. Only Teddy Hill." It hadn't even occurred to him that there must be a Tommy for the place to be called Tommy's Back Room.

The old man coughed, almost as if trying not to laugh. "What about your other friend from Harlem?"

Brian was happy to switch topics. "Dan? You met him at the bazaar a couple of weeks ago."

"He was white," Mr. Kevins remarked curtly.

Maybe Dan wasn't the best topic of conversation, either. Brian sighed. "Yes. He's white."

"So, your friend, Dan, does he know Mr. Hill, too?" Mr. Kevins was trying to joke.

He should have never dropped Mr. Hill's name. He didn't think Mr. Kevins would have even known who that was, but apparently the former FBI agent and jazz club manager was more well-known than Brian had realized. "Yes."

Mr. Kevins let out a hearty laugh. "Really? I can't imagine Mr. Hill hanging out with all these teenaged kids."

"I suppose not," Brian conceded. "But Dan's the one that introduced me to him."

Of course that didn't satisfy the older gentleman. "And how does Dan know Mr. Hill?"

"His dad was a musician. A jazz guitarist. I suppose they met through that connection." He knew very well that was not how Dan's father had met Teddy, but he didn't want to have to answer any questions about how the two had actually known each other.

Loyola's grandfather's voiced perked up in interest. "Really? Who's his father?"

"Um," Brian started, trying to remember Dan's father's name. "Tim. Tim Mangan."

"Never heard of him." Apparently Mr. Kevin's wasn't impressed.

Brian glanced in the rear-view mirror again. Loyola's eyes were full of mirth; he could tell she was staying so quiet to keep from laughing. At least her grandfather had stopped grilling him.

 

He followed the directions to Tommy's Back Room carefully, feeling admittedly nervous about the neighborhood he was driving through after he exited the freeway. He was sure there were worse neighborhoods; neither Dan nor Teddy would steer him into a bad part of town. Unfortunately, their notions on what constituted a bad neighborhood and what didn't were slightly different than what his limited knowledge of the city allowed for.

The teenagers and young men on the street—all of them colored—stared at him as he drove by. He saw expressions of disbelief and confusion, as well as outright hatred, and it made him decidedly uncomfortable. He tried not to let it bother him, and he was relieved as he got closer to their destination to see an occasional other white person around.

He noticed the neon sign for Tommy's on the right and started to look for parking, hoping he'd find some fairly close by. Luck was with him and he found a spot only a couple of blocks away. He glanced around, hoping his car would still be there when they returned, but he had to just hope for the best.

Inside Tommy's, the crowd was a little bit more mixed than those that had been outside. Seeing a few other white couples out on dates helped him relax. The hostess at the door did a double-take though, apparently still surprised to see a mixed group of patrons. She quickly recovered and gave him an approving nod as she led the three of them to a quiet table in the dining area. The music from the lounge was easily heard but not overbearing.

The dinner was nice, the music was nice, the company was—well, half of the company was very nice. He'd even managed to sneak in a couple of dances out on the floor with Loyola after dinner. No one at the club made any snide remarks like he'd heard at school. He also hadn't noticed any hushed whispers or anyone staring. He supposed the residents of Manhattan were more open to a mixed couple than those in the small suburb of Sleepyside. Plus, it wasn't like they knew the two of them personally.

As they were leaving, he glanced at his watch. Even though Mr. Kevins seemed suitably impressed by the venue and the two of them had formed a tentative truce of sorts, he still remembered Mr. Kevins' disbelief about Teddy and his comment about "proving" that he knew him. As he was collecting their coats, he asked the cloak room attendant for directions to Minton's.

It was a very short drive from one place to the other, so even with the city traffic it was less than fifteen minutes later that he was pulling into another parking spot. "Is it all right with you both if we stop in at Minton's for a little bit?"

Mr. Kevins nodded, but his tone was sarcastic when he spoke. "I suppose you want to stop in and see your old pal?"

"Yes, actually." Brian really hoped he was there.

They walked up to the door and the bouncer looked them over. "ID?"

Brian was a few days—okay, more like 347 days—shy of his 18th birthday and he wasn't even sure if the age limit was 18 or 21. "Actually, I was wondering if Teddy Hill was here tonight?"

"You know Teddy?" The guy gave him an amused smile. "Describe him for me."

"Older man, I'd say mid-sixties, graying hair, thin mustache, five-foot sixish, likes to wear pin-striped suits—"

"Okay, already. Lots of people know that much about him." The good-looking, muscular bouncer winked at Loyola and then turned back to Brian.

"He calls himself a fool a lot," Brian supplied, hoping that wasn't too insulting a thing to say. Anything else he could drum up was far too personal to mention.

The bouncer grinned. "That he does. What's your name? I'll see if he knows you."

"Brian 'Nicholas' Belden."

"I think you do actually know him, don't you?" Loyola commented.

Brian swallowed nervously. "I wouldn't have said I did if I didn't."

"Is Nicholas your middle name?" Mr. Kevins asked.

"No. Just a nickname." He didn't bother to explain. Maybe if he actually got along with her grandfather, he would've told him the story about how he introduced himself to Mr. Hill as Nicholas that summer, but he didn't think that tale would go over too well with Mr. Kevins.

They didn't have to wait long for the bouncer to return. "Go on in. No charge."

"Thanks." Brian tried not to smirk at Mr. Kevins' surprise.

Inside the club, Brian looked around the crowd, hoping he could spot the older man. As they made their way to the back where booths lined the wall, he finally saw him. "This way."

As they approached, Mr. Hill stood up and beamed at the trio. "Well, Mr. Belden! I thought you were on a special date tonight. Is this the lovely young lady?"

Brian flushed, partly with embarrassment and partly with pride. "Mr. Hill, meet Loyola Kevins and her grandfather."

"Call me Teddy, please. How do you do?" He shook hands with each of them.

"And call me Darrell, please. I'm doing fine, sir. And you?" Mr. Kevins replied.

"Come, sit down for a bit." He stopped a waitress walking by. "A couple of cokes for the kids. What can I get you to drink, Darrell?"

"Gin and tonic, please. Thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you. A real pleasure."

Loyola shifted into the booth seat and Brian squeezed in next to her. The fact that their thighs were touching made him nervous all over again and he really hoped he didn't do anything idiotic because of it.

"You really know this young man?" Mr. Kevins asked.

"Brian? Of course I do. He's a decent guy." Teddy winked at Brian. "Very intelligent, too."

"So is Loyola," Brian piped up. "She's smarter than me. And prettier, too."

Teddy laughed. "Then she's a good match for you."

"I don't know about that." Mr. Kevins scowled slightly.

Teddy tilted his head slightly in Mr. Kevins direction. "Oh, why not?"

The waitress came back with their drinks and Loyola's grandfather waited until she left before replying. "Where I come from, it's not even legal."

"And you agree with that?" Teddy raised an eyebrow. "Seems like we should work on changing those kinds of laws, not support them."

"Maybe so." Mr. Kevins took a sip from his glass. "It just doesn't seem right."

Teddy sat up and straightened his suit jacket. "And why not?"

"White people seem to cause nothing but trouble for us."

The frank admission from the older man made Brian squirm.

Loyola took Brian's hand under the table and held it. "Brian wanted to take me to the Homecoming dance at school, but Papa wouldn't hear of it. Now he wants to take me to the winter formal, but Papa—"

Mr. Kevins put a hand on her arm. "Loyola, sugar, now's not the time and here's not the place."

"You brought it up, Papa." She turned to Teddy. "He's afraid we'll get some kind of trouble for it, if we go out on a school date, but Brian and I have already gone to the local diner together and the other students at school are mostly supportive."

"Mostly?" Teddy peered at Brian knowingly. "What have you encountered so far?"

"Just some name calling, vandalism, the occasional fight ...." Brian stopped, aware that he wasn't helping their cause any. On the other hand, it wasn't like Mr. Kevins didn't know about all that.

Loyola must have noticed her grandfather's growing scowl. "This is New York, Papa, not Tennessee. Even if we do get hassled, people will do something about it, not just ignore it. You know that, now. The police arrested Matthew Larson." She took a sip of her cola. "I wish you'd reconsider."

"We'll talk about it at home, Loyola." Mr. Kevins spoke pointedly.

Loyola crossed her arms, one elbow resting on the table while the other stayed close to her chest. "You brought it up, and I for one would like to get Mr. Hill's opinion on the matter."

"Oh, I don't want to stir up trouble between you and your grandfather," Teddy replied easily. "You two obviously disagree."

"Of course I disagree with him." Loyola shrugged a shoulder. "I want to be free to go where I want, do what I want, and see who I want. As long as it's not hurting anyone else, why shouldn't I?"

"And you, Brian?" Teddy's eyes twinkled mischievously.

"I agree with her." Brian slid his cola glass back and forth between his hands. "I can't see any reason for anyone not to be able to do those things. She should be allowed to do anything a white person does, including dating a white person. Heck, she should be allowed to run for president if she wants."

"Now you're going too far, son." Mr. Kevins' brow furrowed. "A female, Negro president? I think George Washington would roll over in his grave at the notion. Either one alone seems impossible enough, but the combination would be too much for this country to ever handle."

"Well, then, how about we settle for me going to a dance at school with the boy of my choosing?" Loyola winked at Brian. "Seems a little easier to reach for than the presidency."

"Hmmph," was the only response from her grandfather.

Teddy raised an eyebrow and then raised his glass in salute to Brian. "Point for you, I think. So, Brian, any plans for college?"

Brian reached for Loyola's hand again. "I'm hoping to attend Columbia next year."

Teddy nodded. "Pre-med, right?"

"Yes, sir," Brian answered. "And Loyola is likely to go to Barnard."

"I'm going into marine biology," Loyola added.

"See, now that's an interesting subject." Teddy leaned forward in his chair. "Everyone knows what a doctor does, but marine biology, that's something different. So, what does a marine biologist do exactly?"

"There are all kinds of specific areas in the field, but my interest is in the research. There's so much unknown and so much to learn, so much to explore. All kinds of discoveries can be made whether it's about larger marine animals like whales to tiny plankton, or even just the ocean itself—the depth, the trenches, the ocean floor." Loyola's eyes lit up as she elaborated on her chosen field of study.

Brian tightened his clasp on Loyola's hand. He'd had to fight for her, and he'd probably have to keep fighting, but she was the girl he'd fallen in love with. She was intelligent, beautiful, enthusiastic, but it was her passion for life, her confidence, and her ability to fight through her fears and stand up for what she believes in that he admired most about her.

Loyola glanced at him as she continued to answer Teddy's question, her dazzling white smile lighting up the room. "The more we find out about all the different species living in the ocean, the more we can use that knowledge to help mankind. We could find new food sources or create new medicines. Who knows what's out there waiting for us to discover?"


the end