Sundai, grieving the loss of her mother, returns home to plan a funeral and finds solace in the unlikeliest of places—Bryce, her mother’s neighbor. As they navigate the delicate dance of grief and unexpected connection, Sundai grapples with guilt for falling for Bryce during such a somber time. To complicate matters, Bryce’s Brother, Lucas, fueled by jealousy starts spreading vicious rumors about Sundai. His motives are confirmed to be the product of his desire for her. Faced with the turmoil of emotions and the hurtful rumors, Sundai decides to distance herself and returns home.
Bryce can’t shake the profound impact Sundai has had on him. Unable to get her off his mind, he’s driven to take a leap of faith and flies halfway across the country to find her. I Can Make You Love Me weaves a tale of love emerging from the depths of grief, exploring the complexities of guilt, jealousy, and the resilience of the human heart. Will Sundai and Bryce overcome the obstacles and find a way to heal together, or will the challenges they face prove insurmountable in the pursuit of love and happiness?
Chapter 1: Sundai
The phone rang with news that caused my knees to buckle under me. My already swollen and inflamed knee came crashing into the hardwood floor of my apartment. Pain radiated its way from my heart, disguising the pain that I should’ve felt in my knee.
“Hello?” the voice called over the phone.
I couldn’t respond. Tears choked any sound that I could’ve produced. I felt like I was drowning in my own tears, and there was no one there to save me. I instantly regretted every decision I had made over the past nine months. I hated the fact that I chose to move halfway across the country to chase my dream as a broadcast journalist. I should’ve stayed in Alabama with my mother. I should have chosen family over everything, and I definitely should have returned home when her home health nurse called and said that her health was failing. My mother rebuked the idea with everything in her, and she insisted that I stay put.
I had just started my internship and missing any days would have hindered me tremendously. She understood that and insisted that I didn’t come home. I heeded her advice and stayed in New York City.
“Sundai, are you there,” Constance called over the phone.
Constance had been my mother’s nurse for months, and I anticipated her daily phone call with updates on my mother’s condition. I never expected that this phone call would come early, and it would be the phone call that changed my life forever.
“I’m here,” I finally managed to speak despite the snot that was running down my nose.
I was sitting in the middle of the floor struggling to hold the phone up to my ear, but I wanted to hear what Constance was saying. A part of me wanted her to tell me that it was an April Fool’s joke. We were a little way past April—four months to be exact. So, I knew the punchline wasn’t coming.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I got here this morning, and she was unconscious on the living room floor.”
“But, how? I thought she was progressing.”
My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but she was doing chemo regularly. She had her good days and her bad ones. I just didn’t understand how things could go south so quickly.
“I have no answer for that, but she’s not suffering anymore,” She spoke the last line as if it were supposed to bring some sort of comfort. It did not.
She may not have been suffering anymore, but I knew that it was only the beginning of my suffering. I wrestled with the thought of living the rest of my life without my mother. It wasn’t something I wanted to think about at that moment.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I told her before disconnecting the call.
I sat in the middle of the floor and let the grief overcome me. I wept out loud for hours. I cried until I didn’t have another tear to cry. No one could understand the pain that I felt. Death is one thing, but losing your mother was indescribable. I was an only child, and my father wasn’t around so naturally, I clung to Opal. She was my lifeline, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do without her. The first thing I had to do was make arrangements to go back to Alabama.
I hadn’t been back since I left, and now I had to plan a funeral. I wasn’t feeling it at all, but I went to my laptop and sent my boss an e-mail to let her know that I was leaving town, and I didn’t know for how long. I checked on and purchased a plan ticket for the next day before I packed a bag. I sucked up my feelings and climbed into bed. The next day was going to be the start of several long days, and I needed as much rest as I could get.
Chapter 2: Bryce
The day was long, and I was glad to hear the final bell ringing. Working with kids was not for the faint of heart especially disorderly high school children who landed their way in summer school. I took the job as physical education teacher and head football coach of the Cooperville Mavericks in hopes of changing somebody’s child’s life. Today though, they had me bent out of shape and I was ready to kick off my shoes and relax. I couldn’t wait to get to my quiet three-bedroom stucco and prop my feet up. Anyone who said aging was a graceful process lied. My knees popped all day, and I only found relief when I was off my feet.
I turned into the neighborhood, and all happiness was absorbed from my body when I saw the plethora of cars that were gathered at Mrs. Opal’s house. She was elderly, and I knew that she was sickly. However, she hadn’t lost an ounce of spunk. Seeing her was the highlight of my day. She reminded me of my grandmother, Geraldine, who died when I was younger. I didn’t have many memories with Geraldine, but in the short time that I moved to Cooperville I had created plenty of memories with Opal. I sat in my driveway and recalled the moment I first met her.
I had only been in Cooperville for a week. I didn’t know anyone, but I hadn’t really made it my business to reach out and be neighborly either. I was a creature of habit, and I preferred to stay to myself. It was early one Saturday morning, and I sat on my patio sipping Folgers with French vanilla creamer. It was my morning routine. I would enjoy the fresh air, birds chirping, and my daily dose of caffeine. There was nothing like fresh air in the morning time before the obligations of the day took over. I sipped from my coffee mug as I watched a fawn emerge from the wood line. We were in rural Alabama, so seeing a deer here and there wasn’t a surprise. I sat motionless as I observed the baby that wobbled from the woods and directly into my neighbor’s garden. It snatched a tomato from its vine before I felt compelled to shoo it away. I thought momentarily about my next move. The neighbor had several ripe tomatoes that needed to be plucked. I knew that she was elderly, and I had never seen anyone else living there with her. The thought came instantaneously as I rose from my chair and grabbed a plastic bowl from my kitchen. I waltzed right down the stairs of my patio and into her small garden. I moved with skilled precision so as to not disturb the cabbage or other vegetables that she had planted. I plucked a couple of tomatoes before I heard her screen door squeak open.
“Son, I know you aren’t over here stealing,” a little brown skinned woman with curly silvering hair said to me as soon as her feet hit the ground, “a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into those maters.”
“No ma’am,” I replied, “You had a deer in your garden, and I saw that these were ripe, so I plucked them for you.”
I handed her the plastic bowl as a smile spread across her face. The previous hostility melted away. She took the bowl but eyed me up and down before she spoke again.
“What do you know about gardening?” she asked, “I see you out here every morning sipping coffee like the city folks.”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I imagined her little nosey self peeking out her window every morning watching me. She reminded me of my grandmother so much that it wasn’t funny. Geraldine didn’t care what came out of her mouth.
“I was raised by my grandmother, Geraldine, and she had a garden too, I informed her.
“Well, I was wondering when you were going to come over and introduce yourself,” she said, “I’m Opal.”
“Bryce,” I said as I extended my hand to shake hers.
“Bryce, honey, grab one of those green maters off the vine, and come inside,” She instructed, “I’ll fry it for us.”
I wasn’t prepared to turn down a fried green tomato, nor was I prepared to tussle with the little old lady that was eyeing me down from her backdoor. She seemed like she was a force to be reckoned with, and I had better sense than to get on her bad side. I grabbed the green tomato like she told me and proceeded inside of her home. A bull mastiff puppy greeted me. Even though his face was young, his body was huge, and he was baring his teeth. It was clear that he was protective of Ms. Opal, and I was the stranger in his home. I froze in my tracks and could literally hear my heart thumping in my ear.
“Don’t mind him,” Opal spoke, “Kane’s just a big baby.”
“Come on here and leave our neighbor alone,” she said, directing that statement at the dog, “he didn’t steal my maters.”
Almost as if she spoke a language that he understood, he turned and followed her into the kitchen. I chuckled slightly at the “mater” comment. I felt like I wasn’t going to live that down as long as I lived next to Opal and Kane. She went about her business slicing and frying tomatoes from her garden. I sat at the kitchen table and watched her intently as made small talk. That was my first of many encounters when it came to Opal Johnson.
I sat in the driveway as I reminisced about the times I had with Mrs. Opal. I was always there to do odd and end jobs for her when needed, and she would cook Sunday dinner and invite me over. She would always tell me about her daughter that moved to New York to pursue her dreams, and I would see pictures of her hanging around the house. She was breathtaking to say the least, and I would always tell Opal that I would watch whatever new station she ended up on.
I composed my thoughts and climbed out of my Jeep Compass. I placed my briefcase on the hood of the car and walked towards Mrs. Opal’s front door. Kane came barreling from down the street towards me as I approached his house. He was frantic and disoriented. Mrs. Opal didn’t let him outside alone, so I knew that something was awry. I grabbed him by the collar and drug him towards the front door. I was met at the door by Mrs. Opal’s nurse.
“There you are!” She exclaimed as she saw me with the dog, “He bolted out of the door when the ambulance came. I think the siren startled him.
“Ambulance?” The pit in my stomach grew. I felt like something was wrong, and the more she spoke the more she solidified my hunch.
“Yes. Opal went on to glory sometime during the night. It’s protocol for me to call the ambulance, but she was gone.”
Her eyes glossed with tears, and I could tell that she had grown somewhat attached to Opal—as had I. It was hard not to. She had an infectious personality that reminded me of the corner piece of a brownie. It was a tad bit crunchy around the edges, but it was soft and gooey once you got to know her. Silence interrupted the space between us as we searched for words to say. Kane started barking at something in the distance. He jumped up and attempted to take off, but I yanked him back by his collar. He jerked back to his original position and sat looking at me as if he wanted to speak words but couldn’t. I felt bad for choking him out, but the last thing we needed was a hundred-pound mastiff terrorizing the neighborhood.
“That dog is terrible,” she said to me, “Opal had him spoiled rotten. I don’t what he’s going to do tonight.”
“Yes. Sundai will be here sometimes tomorrow,” she explained, “Have you met her yet?”
I shook my head. Opal and I had only spoken about the elusive Sundai. I never had the privilege of meeting her face to face. Even though her mother just passed, a part of me was excited to have the opportunity.
“I’ll keep the dog tonight and return him when Sundai arrives tomorrow,” I suggested.
Constance nodded her head, expression full of relief. I could tell that her and Kane weren’t the best of friends, and it tickled me. She disappeared into the house and returned with a bag of pedigree dry dog food.
“Have fun,” she said sarcastically.
I drug Kane across Opal’s lawn and mine and into my house. I was hesitant to take the leash off him, but I knew that he couldn’t stay attached to it all night. He sniffed around my house until he found a cozy spot in the living room to lie down. I felt like he had an eventful afternoon, so I let him be.
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds for both of us,” I thought to myself.