After the Storm

Chapter Twelve

   The Sullivan estate skirted the edge of Lake Forest, and the house, one of the many palatial-style homes occupied by Chicago's wealthy elite, was nestled between tall elms and oaks.

   Diana drove slowly along the winding road, temporarily distracted from rehearsing her speech to her parents by the serene beauty of her surroundings. She never failed to glory in this drive and once more relished the splendor of the countryside and the magnificence of the surrounding forest. Changing foliage on the leafy maples and towering oaks offered a profusion of color. Here and there the Edenic setting gave way to wide expanses of manicured lawns from which the estates rose, breathtaking in their architecture.

   Diana's childhood had been spent here in fairy-tale perfection, flowing in a stream of good fortune. What a strange turn of events their lives had taken, beginning when Tim had left for Canada, breaking his parents' hearts. And with the financial upheaval wrought by the cunning Roper, the Sullivan estate had been remortgaged to the limit of the bank's appraisal.

   Thinking of the young Catherine and Joe Sullivan, she knew their well-laid plans included building a business, rearing their children to live gracefully and to function well in society, and one day turning the company over to their eldest son. What they had not counted on was Tim's rebellion against the family that had nurtured him. Nor had they anticipated a Ralph Roper who would upset their financial base. Their fortune, made and spent for an expensive way of life, had dissipated. Now even the mortgage money was very nearly gone.

   Diana loved to recall her parents' love story, born of World War II. Joe, stationed in Georgia, had sauntered into the local USO with three of his buddies, and was immediately enchanted by a tall, slender redhead, who was smiling and chatting with the servicemen.

   "She was a knockout!" Joe often reminisced. "The other guys took out odds on who would dance with her first. And guess who won! I knew immediately that Catherine Callahan was the girl I would marry."

   "Wartime was different," her mother always interrupted, as if to excuse her hasty decision. "Everyone was meeting and marrying in a hurry. Poor Gran couldn't believe it when I brought Joe home! She was so accustomed to Southern gentlemen and expected a 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, ma'am.' Not Joe. He was the typical Yankee and never did anything to ingratiate himself to my parents. Gran tried to dissuade me from marrying him, but oh . . ." Catherine's eyes would become misty. "Your father in those days — what a man! He could charm the birds right off the trees, and he sweet-talked me into marriage before he went overseas.

   "Then there was the matter of the wedding. Joe was shipped to Texas, and I didn't want to wait for a big society wedding, though Gran insisted we marry in the church. I nearly died of embarrassment when she asked Joe if he were a Christian. A kind of puzzled look crossed his face. 'Well, yes, of course,' he said. 'I'm Irish, aren't I?' Gran knew he had no idea what she meant by Christian, and she never got over her disappointment that I didn't marry a Southern boy from the church.

   Joe had sworn he would lay the world at Catherine's feet; she would never want for anything. She was born to wealth, and he would continue to provide luxuriously for her.

   "It was a declaration to my parents that he could do it," her mother had told Diana when she was old enough to understand. "They were skeptical of this brash young man, and he set out to prove them wrong."

   Joe had served a stint of duty in France, then was stationed for a longer period in South Africa. Sitting on their attic floor, reverently fingering the red-edged air-mail stationary, Diana had read and read again the letters Joe had sent his young bride from overseas. It was difficult to imagine then that the heavyset man dozing in his reclining chair downstairs was once a handsome young soldier who wrote sweeping declarations of everlasting love.

   Black and white photos of the young couple always startled Diana. Catherine wore her luxuriant chestnut hair styled in the Ginger Roger's pageboy of that era, and Joe, sporting a crew cut, stood gazing at his beautiful bride with adoration. Time had thinned Joe's hair and turned it iron gray, and his love of food and dislike of exercise had expanded the slim waistline. Now, dark circles of fatigue and worry shadowed his deep-set eyes. But it was those eyes that remained the same, filled with determination and steel will.

   The South had never appealed to the young man from the Midwest, who felt subtle discrimination simmering from home-grown Georgians. Just months after D-Day, even though his own parents were dead, he moved his bride to his hometown of Chicago.

   With money from his GI savings and a loan from Catherine's parents, Joe began a partnership with an army buddy, forming the Sullivan and Kramer Printing Shop. The two ex-GI's worked long and hard to establish a reputable business. When, after five years, Alan Kramer offered to sell his share, Joe became the sole owner, changing the name to the Sullivan Publishing House. The timing was perfect! With the end of World War II, young writers were penning their war stories, and Joe seized the opportunity to expand the business.

   With Sullivan Publishing House flourishing and the birth of their two children, Joe purchased a lot in Lake Forest and hired a southern architect to build his wife a replica of the home she had left in Georgia. Catherine had presided over the drawings, changing the plans as quickly as they came from the drawing board. No, there must be a bay window the full length of the wall overlooking the forest in the back of the house, and the breakfast nook must face the east so she could have her coffee with the morning sun warming the earth colors of the kitchen. Joe loved it when her parents came north to visit and proudly gave them a tour of their beautifully decorated rooms and the landscaped grounds.

   "I want a place to entertain properly," Catherine had insisted, and entertain they did. As small children, Diana and Tim had listened from their own rooms to the music and laughter that floated up to them.

   Diana worshiped her mother, thinking her the most beautiful woman in the world. She loved her mother's ritual of preparing for a gala party. First, a long and leisurely bath. Then hours at the beauty salon, the stylist piling her mother's chestnut hair high, thus revealing a long slender neck. Her tapered nails always shone with a color complementing her evening gown.

   She would arrive home at noon, stop briefly in the kitchen for a glass of tomato juice, announce to Emily that she was off limits, and lie down to rest in her darkened bedroom, her newly coiffed hair wrapped loosely in net. Late in the afternoon, Catherine would bathe quickly in the tub and begin dressing for the evening. Diana was allowed to sit cross-legged on the floor ("Not on the bed, dear") while her mother prepared for the evening. Selecting cosmetics from her elaborate vanity table, Catherine applied make-up with the finesse of an artist.

   Then she would walk to her well-organized closet to select her gown. Her wardrobe was arranged in categories and hung in plastic bags: casual suits for shopping or ladies' luncheons; sequined suits for intimate dinners with friends; tailored suits for meetings of the various boards on which she served as a consultant. In another closet hung luxurious silk blouses. And in yet another, her long gowns, splendid and billowy. Diana was allowed to gaze upon the magnificent wardrobe but never, ever, to touch it. Another closet held custom-made shoes. Drawing her jewelry box from the wall safe, Catherine would select an appropriate piece for the evening. The finale was the glorious scent of Shalimar perfume filling the air as Catherine lavishly sprayed her hair, her neck, her bare arms.

   "I'll send Emily to tuck you in, darling," she would say. "See you in the morning."

   But Diana would not see her mother in the morning. It was Emily who helped her get dressed and then drove her and Timmy to a nearby private school. Her mother needed her beauty sleep.

   "It's necessary, you know," she would say at dinner. "Beauty rest is important, Diana. Never forget it."

   Diana imagined a kind of magical wand touching her mother while she slept. That was why, she often thought, she was so pretty and Daddy wasn't. He didn't sleep enough. Still, she adored her father.

   She loved the glow in her father's eyes when he spoke of bestsellers and what they would mean for the business. Diana would turn to look at her mother, expecting to find that same rapturous glow, but she was never listening. She was always preoccupied with Timmy.

   Diana lived with a constant ache, an unexplainable feeling which one day she recognized as slivers of envy toward her older brother. It was her secret. She knew and couldn't express what she knew at the time — that her mother loved Timmy more than anything in the world. Catherine Sullivan expected wealth as her sovereign right, but her son, Timothy Joseph, was a treasure she cherished and held tucked away from his sister and father. How Diana tried to please her mother, how she had longed for her mother's touch, her attention, but it was always Timmy who received the affectionate hugs.

   Gran and Gramps often drove up from Georgia to the Lake Forest estate. Their beautiful grandchildren (Callahans as anyone could see, with that dark chestnut hair) broke down any barriers. Gran, determined that Tim and Diana should follow her faith, taught them Scripture verses and prayed nightly with them. It was at these times that Diana felt most loved, most protected. God was watching over her all through the night, never sleeping. Diana had put God and Gran in one place in her heart. When Gran died, she could no longer find God.

   Diana had grieved alone and inwardly for her grandmother, standing close beside her mother at the graveside, longing for a touch of her hand. But it was Tim who Catherine reached for, walking beside him to the waiting limousine.

   It was only after Tim rebelled that Catherine changed, becoming a neurotic woman, a shadow of herself, downing Valium to sleep, and filling empty days and evenings with volunteer work for her charity. Joe, guilt-ridden that he had driven his son from home, would have brought Catherine the moon and starts, but they were too high even for Joe Sullivan, so he bought her magnificent diamond bracelets and full-length mink coats instead, desperately trying to bring the light back into her eyes. She remained distant, a haunted look on her lovely face. It was then, Diana realized, that her parents had drifted apart.

   She pleaded with her father to renounce his animosity toward his son, but Joe's stubborn pride refused to bend. His son had defected during an important war, he retorted. Tim had refused to stay in college, had rejected the family business. No! He refused to discuss it further.

   Diana often wondered if Joe unconsciously sought distance between Catherine and their son because he knew Tim held first place in her affections.

   Tonight after dinner Diana would announce her acceptance of Kevin's proposal. How pleased her parents would be. She longed to see their happy smiles, envisioning them hugging each other with relief and joy. After this evening, they would be a family again.

   Around the last bend in the road she saw the Sullivan estate. Diana had traveled extensively throughout the states and overseas, but had never found a place quite so enchanting. She couldn't understand Tim's love for California; the four seasons seemed an essential part of life.

   "Summer and winter and springtime and harvest." The haunting melody of a familiar hymn came to mind. She could almost hear Gran singing "Great is thy faithfulness, O God, our Father."

   Thinking of Gran and Tim, both so distant, Diana let the tears flow. Still, she must call soon to tell Tim of her impending engagement. She already knew what he would say. "Cop-out!" but Tim had never understood economics.

   In his latest letter he had informed his mother that he was attending UCLA and would soon complete the work required for his business degree. "Well, at last he's using some sense," Joe had mumbled, but Diana could see the flicker of happiness that Tim had abandoned hopes for a movie career. He was working nights as a waiter at The Charthouse, a classy restaurant right on the beach. He wrote of a place called The Vineyard Fellowship and spoke of doing a lot of thinking about spiritual matters.

   "Oh, dear God," Catherine had moaned. "A California cult." She spent several days in bed, pleading a headache, swallowing tranquilizers, and sleeping fitfully.

   Now Diana turned her BMW into the long drive, walked slowly to the beautiful double oaken doors, and listened to the chimes after she pressed the doorbell. Her mother answered the door, and Diana brushed her mother's cheek with hers.

   She sat with her parents around their ornate dining table, conversation centering around Marcie's illness and her chance for a complete cure.

   "So sorry to hear she's ill." Joe served himself a hefty portion of chicken breasts over rice. "It's a shame, a nice girl like her. How are Beverly and Louis taking it? Right after dinner, Diana, get Louis on the telephone for me, will you?"

   "They're at the hospital, I'm sure, Dad."

   A surge of resentment surfaced at her father's brusque command. It was a habit with him! Holding out his coffee cup in board meetings for a refill, tapping his water glass, he expected Diana to serve him. When she had spoken to him about the embarrassment of his arbitrary orders, he had apologized, admitting he didn't intend to demean her. Now, however, he expected her to act as his secretary, and without so much as a "please."

   "I think Marcie's in love." Diana changed the subject.

   "Really?" Catherine was interested. "Do we know him?"

   "Believe it or not, it's Steven Cartright."

   "Steven Cartright? The writer?" Joe stopped short, his fork poised in midair. "I thought he was married."

   "He was, but his wife died. Actually, Dad, he wrote a book which is quite marvelous. I've just finished reading it." Diana began to expound on the beauty and power of Steven's story. "It would represent a coup if we published it," she added, darting a glance at his face.

   Joe reached for another roll. "What makes it unique? Sounds like another Love Story to me."

   Diana coughed delicately and placed her lace napkin to her mouth. "Well, Dad, in this book he quite openly writes about faith in God, which refutes some of his earlier work."

   "Steven Cartright religious?" Joe laughed, shaking his broad head. "The agnostic, the modern Sartre? And anyway, we don't publish religious books."

   "Really, Diana, you should know better." Catherine sniffed in disdain. "Everybody's getting religion these days." She was thinking of Tim's letters and his earnest search for spirituality.

   Catherine signaled to Emily to clear the table and to serve their dessert and coffee in the family room. Diana's heart began to pound. The time had come! She refused the chocolate torte but accepted a cup of peppermint tea.

   "Dad, Mother, I have something to say . . ." Diana paused and lifted the delicate china cup to her lips. Once she declared herself, there would be no turning back. She drew a deep breath and plunged in.

   "I'm going to marry Kevin O'Neal."

   She didn't look at her parents but turned to stare into the glowing embers in the fireplace. When at last she lifted her head, she knew she had done the right thing. The lines of tension in her father's face seemed to relax immediately, and his eyes ignited with excitement. He leaned his heavy bulk forward. "Since when?"

   "I told him last night at dinner."

   Catherine did not speak but held her teacup gently in her lap, staring into its depths, her lovely face expressionless. "Then things are much worse than I anticipated," she said almost to herself.

   She knows, of course she knows, Diana thought. I've become a business transaction.

   She had vowed not to cry, but the unwelcome tears flowed. Her mother watched her, not moving from her chair to offer a comforting shoulder. And her father slid back in his rocker, unable to speak.

   The truth was he felt terribly bad about the whole thing, but Diana was a reasonable girl. The storm would soon be over, and she'd accept this marriage as she's accepted all of his orders through the years, with some sadness and even minor defiance, but with grace.

   "I'm sorry." Diana reached for a Kleenex and dabbed at her eyes, carefully wiping away the residue of mascara. "I was thinking of Michael, I suppose, but it's time to get on with my life."

   Joe Sullivan rose to his feet and strode to the liquor cabinet to pour himself a drink.

   "Joseph," Catherine remonstrated, "you know you're not allowed alcohol. What are you doing?"

   "Celebrating!" Joe grinned and handed Diana a wine glass. "A toast," he said, "a toast to my beautiful daughter and her future happiness. We're very pleased, aren't we, Catherine? The O'Neals are a fine family, good Irish stock."

   As her father drank to her happiness, Diana's despair deepened to an ineffable sadness. She must learn to make peace with this pain, for it would be a part of her every waking moment for the rest of her life.

Chapter Thirteen  ||  Table of Contents