After the Storm

Chapter Thirteen

   The telephone was ringing when Diana let herself in the front door of her apartment. She grabbed it on the fourth ring, and Marcie's voice floated over the wire.

   "Diana, where have you been? I've been trying to get you all evening. I've been released from the hospital and I'm home, feeling great!"

   "I'm so happy, Marcie," Diana said, tears welling in her eyes. "I just came from dinner with my parents."

   Again Diana recalled the moment when she and Steven had spotted the Vales in the hospital chapel. Perhaps Gran's God had bent an ear to answer their fervent prayer to heal their daughter, or perhaps it was Steven's direct line to heaven.

   "Steven brought me home and stayed awhile." "He's in love with you, isn't he, Marcie?" She shouldn't have asked, but suddenly Diana had to know.

   "He loves me, but it's not . . . you know. It's a different kind of love."

   "Do professors usually spend so much time with their students?"

   "Well . . ." Marcie giggled, but made no further reply.

   "I've broken the news to my parents, about Kevin I mean."

   "Di, I hope you know what you're doing. I'm sure you don't love him . . ." She paused. "You're marrying him because of the business, aren't you?"

   Diana didn't answer, but walked with the telephone to the balcony window to gaze out at the starless sky. How bleak the night seemed in spite of the twinkling lights of Chicago beneath her. The aching lump in her throat had been lodged there for days.

   "It's settled, Marcie," she sighed. "There's no other way. And Kevin and I do have much in common and can build a life together. Maybe we'll even be happy."

   "How can you say that when you know what real love is?"

   "I have no choice." Diana, anxious to change the subject, shifted to a lighter tone. "Our readers liked Cartright's book."

   "Do you think Sullivan's will publish it?" Marcie asked.

   "It will be O'Neal and Sullivan, you know. And I hardly think there's the remotest possibility that Victor O'Neal will publish a religious book even if the author's name is Steven Cartright."

   "But what did you think of it?"

   "He's certainly made a sharp turn in his life," she admitted. "I could scarcely believe I was reading a Cartright book."

   "I know." Marcie's voice was soft. "Steven's going to make a believer out of me yet."

   "What do you mean? You're already a believer, Marcie. You believe in God."

   "Oh, I've always believed in God with my head, but it's been religion neatly packaged. As Steven says, real Christianity is taking the risk of putting yourself in God's hands. I never thought of myself as important to God. It's been quite a revelation."

   Diana forced a short laugh. "Honestly, Marce, you sound like an evangelist."

   "Promise me you'll hear Steven out. He can explain it so much better than I."

   "Marcie, get serious."

   "I am serious, Di. Never more so. Are you really planning a June wedding?" Marcie took another tack, and Diana relaxed.

   "Kevin wants to wait until June for reasons of his own. And Mother needs all of eight months to accomplish her grandiose plans. Victor's going to advance money to pay our creditors in November. And you'll be my beautiful maid of honor."

   She recalled the dress Marcie had purchased for Diana's marriage to Michael, a mauve floor-length chiffon, hugging Marcie's tiny waist before cascading gracefully to an eyelet hemline. It would be perfect for a June wedding. She closed her eyes against the painful memory. Diana sighed deeply.

   "Marcie, now that you're home, I just know it won't be long before you're completely well. I'll be out to see you very soon. Give my love to your parents."

   Diana replaced the receiver and with trembling fingers dialed the private number Steven had given her, "in case you need me," he had said.

   His low voice brought a surge of pleasure to her and set her heart pounding.

   "Steven, this is Diana Sullivan."

   "I never forget a beautiful voice," he quipped.

   She cleared her throat "I wonder — could we have lunch on Friday? I'd like very much to talk to you about Marcie and . . . your book."

   "I couldn't make lunch on Friday. I have classes until three. How about dinner? May I come for you at seven?"

   Lunch was for business appointments, but dinner? Diana hesitated, but if he had classes, dinner it was.

   "Why not come here? I'll cook, but I'm warning you. Outside of spaghetti, my menu is limited." Diana surprised herself with a shaky laugh.

   "Sounds . . . interesting. I stand warned."

   They said good-bye, and Diana walked to her window to gaze out at the dark October night. Frost was forming on the nearly barren trees. Soon snow would begin to fall in soft, gentle flakes, and by Thanksgiving, she would be wearing Kevin's ring. She pressed her temples against a pounding headache and unconsciously touched her ring finger, her mind spinning with "what ifs" and "if onlys."

   What if they could find the money elsewhere to pay their creditors? Perhaps then she could convince her father to publish Steven's book. It was sure to become a bestseller, astounding the reading public that the caustic Steven Cartright had ended his search. Her tumultuous thoughts caused the already throbbing pain in her head to reach a stabbing intensity.

   What if Marcie didn't experience a remission? What meaning was there to a life that was so tenuous? And if God were loving, why had he allowed her love to die in a senseless accident? If only Michael were here. If only her father had not allowed Ralph Roper to wreak havoc on their company. If only her parents could lower their standard of living and fight through this financial disaster together without aligning with O'Neal Publishing. If only — the tears gathered in her eyes — she hadn't promised to marry Kevin.

   A line from a nursery rhyme came to mind.

All the King's horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

   Her father's company and her family were shattered in a dozen pieces, and she alone could put it all back together again, couldn't she?

   As the city slept, Diana lay wide awake, tossing and turning and finally quietly staring at the ceiling. Through her tears, she vowed to keep her commitment. She would concentrate on saving the family business and being Kevin O'Neal's good and faithful wife.

Chapter Fourteen  ||  Table of Contents