Author ~ Nealy Wagner
Published ~ 7th July 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Six years have passed since the awful day when Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at Church camp. They were only teenagers then, but Axel had been devastated when Cax had cut off all contact with him. After that, his best friend seemed to vanish.
So Axel is astonished to find his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a college which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural community. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.
Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again. Because loving Axel will mean losing everything else he holds dear.
Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, It’s Never Over.
It’s Never Over is a stand-alone novel with no cliffhangers. Readers of In Front of God and Everyone will get a chance to check in on Caleb and Josh and their clan.
As far as I can determine, It’s Never Over is only the second book Ms. Wagner has published on Amazon. And if that’s true, we have a lot to look forward to. Her first offering, In Front of God and Everyone, impressed me enormously and moved me deeply. Her assured prose, brilliant life-like characters, men who really love men (and mean it), authentic people, settings and situations plus the pure pleasure of reading such well-written prose and dialogue, is what I would have expected from a much more seasoned author with many more books under her belt.
It’s Never Over is the second in a series called “Pay It forward”. It’s not a sequel, because the main characters are entirely different from those in the first book, although the beloved refugees from a Christian cult whom Ms. Wagner introduced us to in In Front of God… do return for several brief appearances at different point in this book. It doesn’t matter how you define the two books, as a series or a book and sequel, or just two loosely-related books, this is obviously a follow-up to her remarkable first book, and that is a very good thing. Every now and again we’re lucky enough to stumble across a new author, someone we’d never read before, and we are sucked into her characters, stories and memes so deeply, that we can’t put the book down. That happened to me when I read In Front of God and Everyone. The good news is that It’s Never Over grabbed me the exact same way. Her first book was not a fluke; this is one seriously talented and insightful author.
I suspect the reason I loved these books so much is that Ms. Wagner is a gentle writer. I don’t mean that the stories are without violence, pain, suffering and angst (they’re not), but that the characters are so appealing because they are gentle spirits, trying to do what’s right and not always succeeding because it’s just so damned hard, in the real world, to figure out what the right thing is and how to make it happen.
Alex is a recently-graduated marketing whiz looking for employment. His field is sports, and he’s decided to look for a position at the collegiate level. For someone who just got his marketing degree, it’s the perfect situation – on-the-job training with a salary and national exposure. Pretty good.
Alex has already received several offers from small schools in New England. As part of his decision process, he sits glued to his TV, watching the broadcasts of each school’s teams, checking out their stadiums, media presence, and fans, trying to get some insight into which one might provide the best opportunities and the best fit. Keep in mind, it has to be a pretty liberal school, because he’s not going back into the closet, for anyone. That’s never really been a problem for him and he’s not about to let it become one now.
As the camera pans over the fans behind the school’s bench, he thinks he sees… no, it can’t be… oh my God, it is… the only man he ever loved - and they were not even men when they loved each other, they were 16-year-old boys. Cax was his best friend, his camp-buddy, the one he got caught with by a minister (it was a religious camp), fooling around in the woods. His mother, who’s both a single parent and an unreconstructed Hippie, thinks it’s the funniest thing she’s ever heard and tells him it’s fine. But it didn’t turn out to be fine, because he never saw Cax again. He wasn’t back in school in the Fall. In fact, he no longer even lived in the same town. Over the next six-and-half years, Alex had never seen, heard from, or even heard anything about Cax, and here he was, on the sidelines of one of the schools who offered him a job. That’s it. Decision made, he heads up to rural Western Massachusetts and the rest of his life.
Alex attends the very first game of his career as the marketing guy, doing live, online, play-by-play, punctuating it with sarcastic animated .gifs and totally into selling his team to the public, boosters, alumni and the college community – and doing it most effectively. That is, when he’s not sneaking a glance, over his shoulder, at the man with the pretty girl and three younger boys sitting exactly three rows behind him. Cax has filled out well since they were both 16 and, to be honest, so had he. Alex had to dial back his more-and-more obvious staring and stalking because he was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the game.
Cax is having a much more difficult time of it, once he realizes who’s sitting at the table not three rows away. In fact, he’s terrified. The only reason he went to college here and remains here, to this date, is to protect his brothers from their repugnant, violent, hate-filled father. No, he doesn’t beat his younger brothers – not yet, at least. But he didn’t beat Cax, either, until he did, and then he never stopped. Cax is determined that he will never leave them at his father’s mercy without his protection. The old man can’t beat him now, because he’s big enough and strong enough to bring him down, and would be more than willing to do just that. The first time the old bastard touched one of his brothers, Cax would knock him on his ass, without a second thought. The reason Cax is terrified of Alex is that he knows just seeing the other man would make his father go ballistic and he might try to cut off all contact between him and his brothers. And yes, he would do it without a second thought, just to hurt Cax. This guy is definitely not Father of The Year material.
Alex finds out later that Cax is a graduate teaching assistant at the college that also employs his father, and the girl is Amy, not his girlfriend, but his best friend. They were involved, a long time ago, for all of two fumbling nights before they mutually decided they had better prospects as friends than lovers – and Amy is the only one in town who knows why. Cax has built his closet strong to protect his brothers from his vicious, homophobic father.
I won’t belabor the plot. It’s much better watching it unfold, patiently, as the love between the two men reignites despite the desperate obstacles that keep them apart. The biggest one is still Cax’s father. Alex is being sabotaged everywhere he turns, including an “anonymous” accusation of child molesting received by the college Dean. Both boys know exactly who did this, but because Cax’s father is a respected member of the college community, he tends to be believed – at least until he gets more and more out of control. One of his stupider moves was to slip another accusatory letter into Alex’s landlords’ mailbox – which is pretty ineffectual as the two men who own the house are the lifelong lovers from Ms. Wagner’s first book, and they’re not buying one word of the letter.
It all comes to a head when an almost-successful attempt is made on Alex’s life that leaves him badly injured in the hospital – and the perpetrator so obvious that no one can deny it anymore, especially as the cops can’t even find Cax’s father. He’s in the wind. But that’s it, one way or another, Cax’s father is out of their lives, permanently, and going to prison once he’s hunted down and arrested. New obstacles: Cax inherits an intact family of three younger brothers for whom he’s entirely responsible, and a house he cannot afford to maintain.
But what a lovely obstacle to have – a family, a peaceful family coming to grips with the newly-out Cax and his cherished boyfriend, Alex. Those obstacles can and will be overcome with patience and love, which both men share in abundance – after all, it was more than six years without a word between the two, and their love survived even that – so nothing short of the Apocalypse will keep them apart now.
It’s really a pretty simple story, with no dramatic background like Ms. Wagner’s previous book, but similar themes – the hideous, awful combination of homophobia, religion and violence, plus the wondrous process of abused and oppressed gay people forming their own families, created not by blood or birth, but out of love.
As I said, Ms. Wagners’ characters are gentle souls. If they fight, they fight for each other, and they fight against a world determined to oppress them and keep them apart. And the best part is that they succeed, which is a heart-warming object lesson for those of us who read this author’s wonderful books.
The next book from Ms. Wagner? I have no idea what’s in the hopper, but I do know I’ll be first in line to get my hands on a copy. What a wonderful, generous writer she is, sharing with her readers such deeply-felt journeys through the souls of very good people in a sometimes very dark and challenging world.
Read this one. You won’t be disappointed.