After the Storm

Chapter Eleven

   Diana parked her car in the Northwestern Memorial Hospital visitors' lot and walked briskly to the entrance and straight to Marcie's room. She found her friend sitting up in bed, her short blond hair curling softly about her pretty face. Only the faintest shadows circled her dark eyes.

   Beverly and Louis Vale smiled broadly at Diana. "Just look at her!" Beverly beamed. "Isn't she a sight?"

   Marcie looked as fresh as a cheerleader on the football field. Diana longed to speak privately with the Vales, to hear the doctor's latest report.

   Diana bent and kissed her friend, then drew a chair close to her bed. "I don't have to ask how you are. You look wonderful."

   "I'm okay, Diana, but you look like you should be lying here instead of me. You're exhausted, aren't you?" Marcie reached out her hand, and Diana held it tightly.

   She shrugged. "It's been one of those weeks. And worrying about you hasn't helped, you know," she scolded playfully. "And here you are, looking great." Could last night have been a dream? What had caused this small miracle?

   Her face flushed, Marcie bubbled on, her bright chatter centering on Steven Cartright. Wasn't he wonderful? Did they all love him as she did?

   "His book was incredible, wasn't it, Di? But isn't it unusual for a man of his intelligence to actually believe in a personal God?"

   "I should think a man with any sense at all would believe in a personal God," Louis Vale interrupted.

   Bewildered, Marcie and Diana turned to stare at him, and the picture of the Vales kneeling at the chapel altar flashed through Diana's mind. She had heard of such experiences, a crisis precipitating a cry for help. Still, the Vales, like her parents, had always been silent on the subject of faith. Their lifestyle, their place in society seemed to preclude the need for God, although they did believe in a vague Someone residing Somewhere.

   "Hey, cut it out! You needn't look at me as if I'd just landed from Mars," Louis Vale laughed. "I had quite a conversation with your young man, Marcie, and what he had to say seemed quite reasonable and believable."

   Marcie's eyes sparkled.

   "I have something to tell you," Diana began on a serious note. Why she chose that moment to announce her impending engagement, she would never know, but suddenly she found herself saying words she had never expected to utter. "I'm going to marry Kevin O'Neal."

   "Diana, no!" Marcie straightened, and her eyes widened in horror.

   "Do you love him, child?" Beverly gasped.

   Diana chose to ignore that question. "Don't look so shocked. I've just announced my wedding, not my funeral."

   Marcie leaned back on her pillow, her face solemn. "It's because of the business, isn't it, Di?"

   "Not exactly," Diana lied, rising to walk to the window, gazing out at the overcast sky.

   September had faded into October, but the foliage was at its most spectacular, a palette of blazing color, from palest yellow to brilliant cerise and scarlet. Fall, usually a favorite season for Diana, had lost its charm this year. She stood there, motionless, unwilling to meet their questioning gazes.

   "It's just that Kevin and I have the business in common, and well, I'm lonely. I'm thirty, you know, and I can't wait much longer to start a family."

   Diana realized she was babbling, but once she started she couldn't stop the flow of words. She spoke of how happy her parents would be, and how wonderful it would be to buy a home in the country, to raise a family at last. When she could think of nothing further to say, she turned. Like one of the brave leaves trembling at the end of a barren limb in winter, a shiver coursed through her entire body.

   There, standing beside Marcie's bed, was Steven. How long had he been standing there? Long enough to hear her incoherent chatter about Kevin O'Neal, she felt sure.

   His eyes met hers, and she forced a frozen smile to her lips. She glanced at his hands, remembering their strength, their capacity to soothe. She hadn't expected her announcement to fall quite so suddenly on his ears. She had wanted to explain privately to him how she had reached this decision. Now Steven kept his gaze riveted on Diana, the unspoken question waiting in his eyes.

   In that instant Diana's heart knew what her mind had not been willing to admit. She was in love with Steven Cartright! Had, in fact, loved him ever since she had been moved by a sheaf of papers containing his deepest thoughts and fears and desires. Had been briefly warmed by his arms around her, something from the faraway past telling her that her heart had found a home. An indescribable ache had accompanied each moment she set eyes on this man. She would gladly have given up her wealth and position for his strong arms about her at this moment, but there were others to consider. Above all, Marcie.

   And he must love her, too. Look how much time he had lavished upon his student in the midst of his demanding schedule — dismissing class to rush her to the hospital personally, staying by her side into the night, hurrying back at the end of his work day. His voice interrupted Diana's thoughts.

   "And when is the wedding to take place?"

   "Oh," she answered lightly, "I'm not sure. We . . . Kevin and I haven't decided."

   Beverly walked over to Diana and kissed her cheek. "Darling, I hope you'll be very happy. though we don't know Kevin well, we wish you the very best. You're like a daughter to us, you know."

   Louis was silent, staring thoughtfully at the now darkened window. He knew of the plight of the publishing house, and Diana could almost read his thoughts. Would Joe Sullivan really sacrifice his daughter on the altar of success?

   Diana broke the silence with a calculated gaiety. "You had us all worried last night, but you look glorious, Marce. Now, just get better quickly. We want you home."

   "I'll be fine." She looked adoringly at Steven, and he returned her smile with obvious affection.

   Diana hoped Marcie would not be told she had leukemia. She remembered how her friend had nearly suffered a nervous breakdown after her divorce. How could she handle the news of an illness that might well be terminal?

   When Dr. Roberts strode into the room, they looked to him expectantly, but his expression was guarded. He read the nurse's chart, promised to visit marcie the following day, and left the room without another word.

   Diana, anxious to talk to him, turned to leave. "I must go. Please promise to keep my secret until I tell my parents."

   In the hall, she called after Dr. Roberts, who reluctantly turned without breaking his stride. She caught up to him.

   "How is Marcie really, and when will she know the truth?"

   Instinctively Diana knew that Dr. Roberts disliked such confrontations. Even laypersons like herself knew that doctors sought to distance themselves from their patients so as not to lose objectivity.

   To Diana's surprise, however, he stopped and looked her squarely in the eye. "She already knows. I told her she had leukemia, that she may experience a remission, and she may not. I must say she has taken it rather well."

   "She knows?" Diana frowned, remembering Marcie's cheerful smile. "Are you sure she understands?"

  "My dear, I do not play games with my patients. We're going to use rest therapy along with transfusions, if needed, and wait and see." He paused. "This Steven Cartright? He seems to be a comfort to her. I gather he's a religious person. Though I'm a man of medicine, I've learned to place a great deal of stock in the faith of the patient. Are they in love?" he asked brusquely.

   "Yes, I think so," Diana mumbled, her mouth so dry she could scarcely speak.

   "Good. That will make a difference, too."

   The doctor turned to leave, and as Diana watched him push open the exit door and stride out to the parking lot, she murmured, "That's precisely what I thought."

   Pain accompanied her all the way home. She had finally made what seemed the "right" decision — to marry Kevin and rescue her father's company from bankruptcy. She should be elated because Sullivan's financial worries would be behind them. But nothing could soothe the ache in her heart over Marcie's illness and the pain of the sudden discovery that love had found and left her once again.

   Diana tightened her grip on the steering wheel and hummed along with a show tune on the car stereo. She knew the song. It was "Midnight." She understood that place — the midnight of the soul, where emptiness and despair walk hand in hand.

   In consenting to the business-marriage merger, she had slipped comfortably into her role as an obedient daughter trying to please her parents. Now she must forget Steven Cartright and concentrate on her future as Mrs. Kevin O'Neal.

Chapter Twelve  ||  Table of Contents