After the Storm

Chapter Eighteen

   The Sullivan Publishing House was back in full operation with the infusion of monies from the O'Neal Company, and the entire staff drew a collective sigh of relief.

   "The Courtney Summers book is going to sell extremely well," Dave Morgan told Diana one day over lunch. "I must say Kevin knows how to land the big fish."

   Diana nodded, her thoughts elsewhere. She should have been happy. Marcie was improving, and Kevin was low-key in the romance department. She began to project expectations of their marriage strictly as a business arrangement, and her heart grew cold, thinking of the love she could have shared with Steven.

   But he had left Chicago after the fall term. She wished desperately she knew where he was, but what did it matter now? She had made her commitment to the Sullivan Publishing House and to Kevin and would now have to carry out her obligation, since Victor had satisfied the initial part of the bargain.

   Catherine Sullivan completed her invitation list for the wedding long before Christmas and was now too busy with holiday preparations to discuss wedding plans. Diana breathed easier. Her happiness would have to lie in Marcie's improved health, the restored relationship between Tim and their parents, and the joy of knowing she had saved the company from bankruptcy. For once, she felt assured of her parents' esteem and gratitude. After all, she had earned it. But there was something missing still and an ache deep inside.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

   Marcie was home for Christmas as predicted, her cheeks rosy and her eyes glowing with renewed health. Dr. Roberts had been puzzled over her quick recovery and refused to admit that she might have experienced a spontaneous remission.

   Tim, too, would be home for the holidays and the Sullivans were elated. So was Marcie! He had been calling her almost daily, and over long distance, they had developed a mutually strong affection. But love? Diana wondered if Tim would be willing to marry a girl who might have a relapse at any time. The new Tim probably would, she mused.

   Diana attended a Christmas benefit with Kevin, wearing her new Bob Mackie evening gown, and signed a check for a large donation to the charity. She shopped for gifts for friends, family, and employees, read manuscripts, talked with authors, but somehow it seemed her duties at the office were diminishing. At first she wondered if she might be imagining that fewer manuscripts crossed her desk or that fewer calls came to her attention.

   When she asked Robin, her assistant flushed and looked away. "Mr. O'Neal instructed me to reroute the calls to his company," she said, avoiding Diana's eyes.

   "Victor O'Neal?"

   "No . . . his son."

   Kevin! A knot of anger twisted in Diana's stomach as she turned and walked into her office, closing the door behind her. Kevin had warned that he would take over the presidency of their merged companies, but she hadn't expected the transition so soon. With trembling fingers, she dialed his number.

   "Yes, Di?" he answered, genuine warmth in his voice.

   "Is it true that calls are being transferred from my office to yours?"

   "Well, yes, of course, darling. I told you, remember? I'm just starting the transition a bit early. June is only six months away, and there are so many details to iron out with this kind of thing. The staff there needs to know who will ultimately be in charge."

   "In charge," Diana repeated dully.

   The truth of what she had done struck her forcibly, and she began to tremble. She may have saved the company, but she had lost her own position, and her father's too, was likely at risk.

   She slowly replaced the receiver and dropped her head in her hands. Tears trickled down her cheeks. The diamond on her left hand felt extraordinarily heavy. Suddenly she could envision herself drowning, the stone weighting her body, pulling her downward until there was no hope.

   Robin buzzed to tell her Tim was on the line.

   "I'll be there on the twenty-third, Di. No need to pick me up; I'll rent a car. I'll be staying with the folks. Closer to Marcie." She could picture his grin, and her spirits lifted.

   "Tim, are you holding out on me? What's up with you two?"

   "Well, let's just say she's come to mean a lot to me, Sis."

   "Could it be love . . . as in marriage?"

   "Wouldn't be surprised."

   "Have you asked her yet?"

   "Nope, but I plan to at Christmas."

   "Oh, Tim! How wonderful! Marcie's always been like a sister to me. But, would she move back to California?" Her heart gave a lurch as the truth dawned. How could she bear losing them both?

   Tim began to laugh. "Hold on, Di! Let's take it a step at a time. She may not want an ex-rebel like me. See you on the twenty-third."

   When she hung up, she sat by the phone, thinking of Tim and Marcie's happiness. Steven's last words — It's you I love, Diana — sang through her memory.

   Hastily putting aside further thoughts of Steven, she opened her time-plan book, jotting notes of "things to do" to complete her Christmas shopping. She picked up her purse and notified Robin that she would be out for the afternoon.

   Walking along the Magnificent Mile, her full-length mink shielding her from the icy blast blowing in from the lake, Diana felt exhilarated. Today icicle daggers clung to the few trees along the avenue, snowflakes spiraled downward from a leaden sky.

   Consulting her Christmas list, Diana spent the day completing her shopping. After lunch at Neiman's, she stayed to enjoy the fashion show, admiring the new Anne Klein line. The warmth of the brightly decorated store and the carols celebrating the approaching holiday produced a hypnotic effect, and she began to shop feverishly.

   She purchased a wool broadcloth blazer, a soft pink angora sweater, a drape-front gray wool skirt, and a double-breasted navy wool jacket with pleated skirt. Indiscriminately she selected gold and silver belts, necklaces, and large fashionable earrings. She bought a pair of Calvin Klein jeans and a cotton indigo shirt with big pockets. Laying out her charge card as though it were an extra-strength aspirin that would deaden the pain. She ordered the packages delivered to her home, giving her Michigan Avenue address with a sense of elation. She may not have love, but she had money, and money could buy almost anything she desired. Today it was a new wardrobe.

   Stepping from the warmth of the store, Diana was confronted by a band of Salvation Army volunteers, ringing their bells to remind shoppers of the poor and needy. Instantly she was conscience-stricken and fished for a large bill to assuage her guilt in spending so lavishly upon herself.

   "God bless you," whispered a girl in a braid-trimmed uniform.

   Diana's heart plummeted like an elevator out of control. She had just acquired an exquisite wardrobe and accessories she did not need, when more than half the people of the world had little to protect themselves from the cold and nothing to eat. The empty feeling intensified.

   The late afternoon sun vanished behind a tall building, and the rising wind whistled through the concrete canyons of the city. She shivered and hailed a cab.

   On the way home she reflected on the past hours, much like an alcoholic awakening from a stuporous sleep. What was she doing? Trying to buy something to fill that hole in her life? She paid the cabbie and hurried into the lobby.

   An unadorned Christmas tree leaned against a corner of her living room. She donned a pair of jeans and a wool sweater, lit the fireplace, dragged her ornaments from storage, and began placing the decorations on the tree.

   When at last she was done, she plugged the cord into a nearby outlet, and the tree blazed with dozens of twinkling lights. Resplendent in its finery, it stood mocking the emptiness within her.

   Diana hurried into the kitchen to prepare a light supper. She placed her turkey sandwich and glass of milk on a tray, returned to the living room, and sat down on the hearth to eat her solitary meal. But she choked on the first bite.

   From the stereo a carol ended on a sweet sigh, then another began, recalling a long-ago Christmas Eve, silent and holy. She longed for someone with whom to share this moment.

   She dialed Kevin's number, only to hear his familiar voice on the answering machine. She thought of Marcie, but doubted that the "new" Marcie would understand her depression, nor would she risk dampening her friend's joy in being home for the holidays.

   Diana had never felt more alone. All the money in the world could not buy the one thing she needed most: someone to love her, hold her close, ease this aching loneliness.

   I'm living my life in a vacuum. She rose to pour herself another glass of milk. I've lost the only men I could ever love — first Michael; now, Steven. It seems I might as well get used to a life without love, trapped in a mockery of a marriage.

   She remembered Kevin's words, chilly and firm after she had turned away from a passionate embrace: "If you won't accept me on my terms, Diana, I'll find someone who will. We'll be married because you're exactly what I need in a wife. I know you don't love me, and I can accept that. I can live without love because I have my work, my money, my power, but I can't live without sex. Do you understand?" His implication was clear.

   Now Diana placed her glass on the hearth and bent her head. A flash of rare insight sparked her thoughts, and she welcomed it, turning it over and over in her mind. There was something she could do this very night, something she must do if she were to make peace with her future.

   She felt as if she were in deep mourning, and a phrase from a conversation with Steven came to mind: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Comfort! Oh, how she needed a comforting arm around her.

   Diana lifted her head, sharply aware of a small inner voice. I will give you rest. She sat in silence, trying to recall the rest of the phrase, but it eluded her. Intuitively she knew that this was the answer to the deepest needs of her heart. Oh, she had enjoyed luxury vacations, granting temporary reprieve from the workaday world, but this rest promised to satisfy her soul-deep longings.

   Dear God, Diana prayed, show me how to find you. I'm so lost and lonely. I need your comfort, your rest. I've spent my whole life looking for love and I'm tired. Even winning my parents' approval can't take the place of their love. Tim called you his heavenly Father — is it possible you could be mine, too?

   Acting on some inner prompting, she rose and searched the bookcase for a Bible. Finding it, she lifted it tentatively from the shelf. It had been years since she had opened Gran's Bible, and now she carefully turned its worn pages to the first book in the New Testament and began to read with a deep hunger. It was precisely as she was reading the Sermon on the Mount that she discovered Jesus Christ.

   "He who has found his life shall lose it," Jesus was saying, "and he who has lost his life for my sake shall find it." And there, at last, was the treasure she had been seeking: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Come to me, Diana, and I will comfort you, take your heavy burdens of guilt and pain, and give you hope.

   She wept quietly, tears cleansing her spirit like a gentle rain falling on the dry, thirsty ground. She closed her tear-filled eyes, and in that blissful moment, Diana Sullivan passed from spiritual death into life, from a prison of darkness into God's marvelous light.

   As the lights from her Christmas tree blinked softly and hymns of joy celebrating the birth of the infant Jesus swept through the room. Diana slid to her knees. In the moment of her rebirth, she knew the peace that passes human understanding.

   And as surely as she had reached out for God's love and peace, it became clear that she must respond with an obedient heart, knowing that her obedience would certainly change her direction, her ambition, even her concern for her parents' welfare. With unimpaired vision she could see that they were not her responsibility. What Joe Sullivan had wrought had been none of her doing, and she must not reap what he had sown.

   She might never see Steven Cartright again, and the company could be lost to the family, but from this moment on, Diana knew she could no longer live without God in the center of her life. 

Chapter Nineteen  ||  Table of Contents