I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
By Gwyneth Bolton
Palmer Woods Historic District, Detroit
“It’s just so archaic—a throwback to the dark ages or at least pre-enlightenment!”
Grimacing as he watched his wife brush her hair, Kyle thought about the best way to respond to her statement and decided humor was the way to go. “Well, I don’t know, Karen. Seems like you could bump it up to at least the Victorian era. I don’t think people were arranging marriages for their children in the dark ages.”
Fixing the bow tie on his tuxedo, he gave her a smile as she stopped brushing her hair and glare at him.
“It’s not funny, Kyle. Really, Black folk just don’t do this kind of thing. We don’t pick spouses for our children.”
Sighing because he thought they were through with this discussion, he tried to think of yet another way to get his wife to understand what she clearly did not wish to understand. Having long since made the deal with Jonathan Whitman that allowed him to regain control of Taylor Publishing; he was too far in to back out. Whitman made him an offer he couldn’t refuse—a chance to save the Taylor legacy, business, and family name.
“You’d be surprised at what Black folk do, especially our kind of people. It’s about control, breeding, and family. I’ve heard stories about mergers in my family that did not start out based on love as we like to think about it.” Untying his failed attempt at a bow, he tried again. “Believe it or not, those mergers were the very mergers that brought the family the most success. Love didn’t get my parents anywhere.”
Were it not for his father’s gambling and bad habits, Kyle wouldn’t have even considered the offer. In many ways, they were lucky the Taylor name still meant something. A scandal like the one his father had left would have annihilated a lesser family.
The overly indulgent lifestyle his own father had led almost ruined the family name and made Taylor Publishing vulnerable to a hostile takeover by Whitman Enterprises. Whitman offered a chance to earn it back, albeit at a high cost.
“Well my father is a Kansas City barbecue king, and although I grew up well-off and attended all the right schools, I was not among that elite group of your kind of people. So, forgive me if I don’t understand this!” Karen put the brush down, crossed her arms over her chest, and narrowed her eyes on him. “Those two kids that you and Whitman hope will one day marry cannot even stand each other. They argue every time they are near one another!”
Kyle sighed. He knew the children didn’t get along and hoped the childhood rivalry between his daughter and Whitman’s son would eventually go away.
“You know.” Karen’s voice calmed to a whisper. “If your family arranged a marriage for you, or if you didn’t have the guts to date and fall in love outside of your tight knit group of black elites, you and I would not be together now.”
“Probably not. If my life had followed the path I started out on, if my father were half the man he should have been…” Stuttering slightly, he closed his eyes in search of the words that would make her understand.
“I have a chance to rebuild my family’s legacy. To do all the things my father wouldn’t or couldn’t do.”
“And it will only cost your daughter’s future. Her right to choose who she wants to fall in love with? Don’t you see it’s crazy? And did I mention, Alicia can’t stand Darren Whitman. The two of them are like oil and water!”
“What I see is that if I don’t try this, my child won’t have the lifestyle she deserves. I can’t abide with that, Karen. I won’t! She will have the world and will grow up in a world where the Taylor name still means something.” Reaching out and touching her shoulder, he continued, “They are kids now. Most boys and girls don’t like each other when they are young. She might grow to like him, even love him one day.”
Karen lowered her gaze. By the way she clenched her teeth he could tell she was simmering. “I don’t like it, Kyle.”
“It will work… It has to work. When you think about it, what more could two parents wish for? Our daughter will marry one of the richest men in the world. Could it be so bad for our little girl to grow up and become Mrs. Darren Whitman?” Hearing his own voice, he realized that in addition to trying to convince his wife, he was trying to convince himself. Things had to work out.
Letting out a ragged breath, he continued, “Jonathan Whitman is letting me run my family’s company. I’m making a lot more now than what I made when I was trying to work my way up the corporate ladder. Taylor Publishing is my legacy. The dinner party that we are hosting this evening is just the start of the big things to come. Think of the important people who will be here. I’ll have a chance to build the company back to its original luster. I know I can do it. It’s my birthright.
“I’ll get to run it for now, and once they are married, part of the company will revert back to the Taylor family. Once there is an heir, another part of the company will revert to the Taylor family. Doing this will give Alicia and her future children the family’s legacy.”
Straightening his slouched shoulders, he shrugged and sighed. Things were truly out of his hands. “If Alicia grows up and decides she just cannot marry the young, rich man her daddy picked out for her, then we’ll lose everything. Don’t you see I had to try? I have to try.”
When his wife finally turned her gaze back to him, he used his own expression to plead with her to understand. He hoped one last time that she did and that they would not have to rehash this discussion.
* * * * *
Alicia giggled as she eavesdropped on her cousin Kendrick and his friends, Darren and Troy. The three boys irritated her to no end, and she awoke each morning thinking of ways to ruin any idea of fun they might think up. The one thing an eight-year-old girl with braces and pigtails hated most was twelve-year-old boys who teased her and pushed her around at whim.
Each of the older boys annoyed her and Alicia could not decide which boy annoyed her most. Her cousin came to visit every summer because her father said Uncle Kelvin was a loser like the grandfather who died before she was born. Darren Whitman and Troy Singleton were just boys who came around whenever Kendrick was in town. Troy lived right across the street in a big red brick house, and Darren lived in a huge mansion in Bloomfield Hills.
The rich boy, Darren, was the one she decided she hated most of all. Not only was he rich and a pain, he was also the meanest. He tugged her pigtails anytime she got within arms reach and called her names like metal-mouth, brat, and antenna head. The nerve of him calling anyone names when he was so bony and his voice went all low and then high, sounding like tires screeching all the time.
The boys were planning to come inside out of the heat and watch a stupid karate movie on the VCR. Racing into the family room of their six-bedroom classic Tudor home in Palmer Woods, Alicia turned on the TV.
“Get out, metal-mouth; we want to watch a movie on the big screen!” Darren barged into the room followed by Kendrick and Troy.
“I’m watching it, so you can’t.” Gripping the remote control in her small hands, she gave the boys her best attempt at a threatening glare.
“Come on, Licia, you have a TV in your room. Let us watch our movie in here.” Kendrick’s request was just a little nicer than Darren’s.
Letting out the kind of exasperated sigh she saw glamorous women give in the movies whenever someone was getting on their nerves, she replied, “What part of no don’t you understand? You have a TV in your room. I was here first. Get lost.”
“I’m tired of this! Give me the remote and get out of here, brat!” Snatching the remote Darren yanked her left pigtail extra hard before walking away.
She let out a loud piercing scream, and her mother, Karen Taylor, came running from upstairs where she was supervising the help and getting ready for a big dinner party.
“What is it now? You children know I am busy getting things ready for Kyle’s dinner party. I really don’t have time for this.” Karen placed her hands on her hips and gave each child a pointed stare.
No visible tears accompanied Alicia’s sobbing. “I was here first watching something, and they came in bothering me. I was here first, and Darren hit me. He’s mean and horrible! Mommy, they know the rules. But they don’t care.” Burying her face in her dainty hands, Alicia dramatically fell unto the sofa.
“Boys, was she here first?” Karen used her no-nonsense tone.
Almost tempted to peek up from her production to watch, Alicia didn’t want to risk having the tone turned on herself.
“Yes,” the boys murmured in unison.
“Well you know the rules. Go and watch TV in Kendrick’s room until Alicia is finished.”
The boys followed her mom out of the family room with Darren bringing up the rear. Lifting her head just in time to stick out her tongue at Darren, she relished the view of his face twisting up in anger.
The show that was playing, like every other show, was a re-run and didn’t interest her. Her best friend Sonya was away at Jack and Jill camp for two weeks, and Alicia had no one to play with or talk to. Although Alicia was also a member of Jack and Jill, her father felt she was too young to go away for two weeks. So she amused herself day after day.
Deciding to go and spy on the boys again, she got there just in time to follow them out to a huge cluster of oak trees that extended just a few yards from the backyard of their home. The backyard was huge, and just behind it was what the kids felt was a mini forest. It didn’t have nearly as many trees as a forest, but for kids living in the city, it was just as good. Forbidden to go back there alone, Alicia reasoned she wouldn’t really be alone. She would be with the boys, only they wouldn’t know it.
* * * * *
Darren kicked the rocks with all the force his twelve-year-old feet could muster. Unaccustomed to not getting his way, he focused his anger on that metal-mouthed brat Alicia. He was almost tempted to call his driver and go home, but there was nothing to do there and no one else to play with.
He really loved spending time with Kendrick and Troy. They were like brothers. In fact, they’d made a blood brothers’ pack in their secret spot earlier that summer. They were now headed to their secret spot to come up with ways to make sure the brat didn’t ruin the rest of the summer. They stopped under the dark shade where oaks met so closely they almost made a circle.
“Well she did it again. She messed up a perfect afternoon.” Vocalizing what they all thought, Troy was the first to speak.
“Well, we could spend the rest of the summer at one of your houses.” Bowing his head, Kendrick kicked a rock.
Irritated, Darren pointed out, “If we do that she wins. No way is that little brat going to win. It’s us against her! We can’t let that metal-mouth win.”
“It’s like she always knows what we’re going to do next, and she beats us to it,” Troy complained.
A slight noise in the bushes drew Darren’s attention. Motioning for the boys to be silent, he caught a glimpse of the yellow ribbon at the end of Alicia’s long-curly pigtail as she darted behind a tree.
“That’s it, brat! When we catch you, you’re toast!” he yelled.
Alicia let out a high-pitched scream and took off running. The boys followed, but she was fast. They each took different directions, hoping to corner her. Gaining ground, Darren had her right in his sight. Glancing back at him, Alicia did not see the big rock in her path.
He watched as her foot hit the rock, and she tumbled to the ground. He stopped in front of her and saw that she was holding her leg and crying. It wasn’t the loud fake sobs that she had let out earlier, just streams of tears down her cheek. He sat down beside her and put his arm around her.
“It’s going to be okay, Licia. Can you move your leg? Can you walk?” He had heard people on TV ask people who were hurt if they could move the injured body part.
Alicia moved her leg and continued to cry. The others came running up from different directions.
Throwing up his hands, Kendrick groaned. “Oh, man, this is guaranteed punishment for at least a week.”
“She’s hurt her leg. You two go get your aunt and uncle, and I’ll stay here with her.” Guilt ridden, Darren wanted to make sure that Alicia was okay.
The other two boys ran back to the house, and he talked to Alicia while waiting. He could have sworn that he even made her smile—either that or she was grimacing from the pain.
Relief washed over him when he saw Mr. and Mrs. Taylor come running through the woods followed by Dr. Samuels. They were all dressed in fancy clothes, and he knew that he and the boys were going to be in big trouble for interrupting the dinner party.
He smiled down at Alicia. “See, I told you everything would be okay. Here’s your mom and dad.” He waited until the adults got there before removing his arm from her shoulder.
While examining her, Dr. Samuels asked if she could move her leg and Darren smiled.
Mr. Taylor picked Alicia up to carry her back to the house. The doctor had said she had a bad sprain, and she wouldn’t be running around for a while. When Darren was on the verge of feeling sorry for her, Alicia lifted her head from Mr. Taylor’s shoulder and stuck her tongue out at Darren. Furious he’d wasted his time being nice to the little metal-mouth brat, he kicked a rock.