After the Storm

Chapter Sixteen

   A tempest brewed in the offices of the Sullivan Publishing House when the news broke that Diana was engaged to Kevin O'Neal and that the two houses planned to merge after their marriage.

   Robin smiled engagingly at Diana on Monday morning, taking note of the wan smile she received in return. Aware of incoming and outgoing telephone calls, Robin realized that her boss was not entirely joyous over the "arrangement," as she had come to think of it. She herself was delighted that her own job would remain intact.

   "Your father left a message for you to call when you came in." Robin handed her the telephone message, and Diana nodded, walking into her office to dial his number.

   Joe Sullivan's exuberant voice boomed over the wire. "Honey, you've done the company one great favor. I'm meeting with O'Neal's attorneys this afternoon. We'll draw up the papers and once, you know, when your engagement is officially announced, Victor's accountants will transfer the funds. This is the dawn of a new era, thanks to you."

  Diana had spent her entire life longing to hear a few words of praise from her father. Now that they had come, her heart sank. He was thanking her for saving his lifestyle, his business. There was not the slightest consideration of her feelings, not the smallest ray of hope that some eleventh-hour miracle would make her marriage to Kevin O'Neal unnecessary.

   After they hung up, Robin buzzed to announce a call from Beverly Vale.

   "It's Marcie, Diana. She's back in the hospital."

   "What happened? She seemed so well."

   "Leukemia is like that, I'm afraid. I'm leaving in a minute to see her. Please do come if you can, dear."

   "I'm on my way." Diana swallowed over the ache in her throat, picked up her purse, and ran for the elevator.

   "I'm not sure when I'll be back," she called over her shoulder to Robin.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   At the hospital she stood by the Vales beside Marcie's bed, grimly aware of the conspicuous bottles of glucose and plasma dripping their life-giving liquids into her veins.

   When the nurse signaled for them to leave, they huddled together in a corner of the waiting room. Diana sat immobile, her senses numbed with fear.

   Louis brought an end to the chilling silence. "When she was home this past week, Marcie opened up for the first time . . . told us how it was before the divorce. We should have seen it coming. That man was a brute . . . maybe even caused the baby to be stillborn."

   He reached into his back pocket, extracted a handkerchief and mopped his eyes. "But, doggone, if she hasn't forgiven him . . . and me ready to knock him into kingdom come if I ever laid eyes on him again! Well, I can tell you Bev and I have done some serious thinking this weekend. Guess we hadn't been on our knees since we were kids. It's just too bad it took something like this to show us how much we need God." His voice broke.

   By the time Dr. Roberts arrived, darkness veiled the windows.

   In his usual brusque manner, he informed them that radiation therapy would begin soon. "Your daughter is a spunky girl. We're hoping for the best." He left as abruptly as he had appeared.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   The following weeks took on the quality of a nightmare for Diana. During the day she kept a demanding schedule at the publishing house — signing contracts, attending board meetings, seeing authors. Pretending to be the happy prospective bride, she dined often with Kevin, snatching moments to race to Northwestern Memorial for a quick visit with Marcie, never knowing what to expect. At times she found her friend lively and talkative; at other times she found a pitifully pale caricature of the vibrant young woman she knew, weak from the effects of the radiation therapy.

   More often than not, Steven was at Marcie's bedside. Though busy lecturing at the university, he found time to drop in frequently. Diana was always keenly aware of his presence, but could not bring herself to speak to him of anything but Marcie's condition.

   She was bone weary, as much from the charade she was playing as from the grueling pace of her life. For with every hour that marched relentlessly by, she faced the impending announcement of her engagement to Kevin, now only three weeks away.

   She longed to postpone the announcement, but it was the very thing that would bring money into the company, money that was already promised to their creditors.

   Often, as she lay sleepless, the image of Ralph Roper rose to haunt her. The financial crisis had begun with his fraudulent dealings. Now, Diana was sure he had embezzled money from the Sullivan bank account, striking the final blow. Night after night in her dreams, she replayed a scenario of a Roper hit man tampering with Michael's plane. Then she envisioned Michael taxiing down the runway, giving the plane full throttle, attempting to lift-off, and when airborne, falling to the ground.

   Rising each morning in a state of exhaustion, Diana needed the counsel of a trusted friend. But Dave was preoccupied with a publicity campaign to launch a book slated for spring release. And, while she was currently in favor with her parents, it was a superficial standing at best, and Diana had never felt more estranged from them.

   One week before Thanksgiving, Diana called her brother Tim and hesitantly told him of her engagement.

   "You're kidding!" he ranted, incredulous. "Kevin O'Neal? Why? Di, you can't be serious." And the minutes ticked away into an hour before she was able to convince her brother that the only solution to their problems was the marriage-merger.

   "Tim, can you possibly be here for Thanksgiving?"

   "You bet. And I'll stay with the folks if Dad will have me. I want to see Marcie, too. How is she, Sis?"

   "We're hopeful, Tim. The treatments seem to have been successful, and if all goes well, she'll be home for Christmas."

   "Great. You tell her that her 'big brother' is on his way home, and she'd better get ready for a bear hug." His voice was suspiciously husky. "Guess I haven't seen Marcie since, well, since she divorced that no-good bum."

   "Tim, there's something else you should know . . ." How could she tell him what she herself didn't understand. "Marcie's, uh, she's religious now."

   "Religious? You mean she's a Christian?"

   "Well, yes, I guess so." She felt so ignorant. Weren't they all "Christians"? At least her family had always gone to church at Christmas and Easter.

   "Wow!" Tim was strangely enthusiastic. "Listen, Di, don't meet me at the airport. I'll rent a car for the weekend. And I'll call Dad myself and get his permission." Tim laughed. "It'll be great to be home for Emily's Thanksgiving feast. Can't wait for a piece of her mincemeat pie!"

   "The O'Neals will be with us, Tim. We're announcing our engagement, remember?"

   "Yeah," he growled, "I remember. You say Kevin has changed. How?"

   "Well, he's stopped drinking, for one thing, and he's very considerate. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."

   Diana replaced the receiver, smiling for the first time in weeks. She dialed the hospital to tell Marcie the good news and received even more cause for rejoicing. The nausea and headaches had subsided, and her friend had enjoyed four pain-free days. Maybe there would be reason to give thanks, after all.

   Now, if I can just face next week, Diana thought as she straightened her kitchen. Kevin's ring on her finger, happy smiles and toasts from family and friends. The bright spot in her day would be Tim's presence and the growing belief that her decision had been the right one. Her spirits lifted and she fell into bed, asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   "So, the Prodigal Son plans to return." Marcie was sitting up in bed, looking fresh as that little girl who had tagged along behind Tim, hanging on his every word. Now her eyes brightened as she glanced over Diana's shoulder. "Steven, you've come!" She held out her hands. "Our prayers are being answered. I'm feeling wonderful! But I wish I could go home for Thanksgiving," she added wistfully.

   "Better to be completely well for Christmas."

   Diana avoided Steven's gaze after a quick hello. His very presence was a rebuke to her promise to marry Kevin. She remained silent as Steven and Marcie talked. Better keep your distance, she warned herself.

   To her chagrin, a nurse entered and shooed her and Steven out of the room. She purposely ignored Steven as they walked together down the long green-tiled hospital corridor. He seemed to sense her coldness, for his voice was hesitant when he asked, "Do you have time for coffee?"

   Diana shook her head. "Kevin is returning from the West Coast, and I promised to meet his plane."

   Steven walked her to her car, but Diana slid under the wheel and drove away before he could continue the conversation.

   A soft rain was falling, and Diana switched on the windshield wipers. Autumn's riotous colors had faded into the bleak monotony of November. With a rising sense of dread, she projected her thoughts to Thanksgiving.

   The jet airliner was on time, and Kevin signaled a skycap to carry his bags to Diana's car, took her keys, and swung in behind the steering wheel.

   "It's beginning to storm," he grinned, "and we've a long way to go."

   "I'd say that's a slight put-down, Kev." Diana tried to laugh. "You don't trust a woman driver in a storm?"

   "Well . . ." He grinned, reaching for her hand. "You're looking beautiful, my love, and I'm in high spirits. Let's not spoil it with silly squabble. I signed the actress, Courtney Summers, to a contract for her autobiography and, though I had to pay a hefty advance, sales on her book should net us a tidy profit. She's currently starring in one of the top-rated soaps, so her fans will be clamoring for her story." He looked over at Diana. "How's Marcie?"

   "Much better. Radiation treatments are over for good, I hope, but they're keeping her in the hospital until Christmas."

   But Kevin's thoughts had turned elsewhere. "Listen, Di, I'm starved. I couldn't touch the stuff they feed you on the plane. Can we stop and eat, or shall we go right to your place?"

   "Let's stop," Diana said, thankful for the delay. She couldn't bear the thought of his feverish kisses. Of course, she would have to get used to them, but not tonight.

   "Darling," Kevin said over dinner, "it won't be long now. Thanksgiving will be here before we know it, and our engagement will be official." He smiled mysteriously. "I think you're going to like my little surprise."

   Perhaps, Diana thought as they drove home, they would be happy, after all. She had heard of arranged marriages in which the couple fell head over heels in love. She glanced at Kevin's profile and hoped with all her heart that she could learn to love the man she was going to marry.

Chapter Seventeen  ||  Table of Contents