After the Storm

Chapter Nineteen

   Diana awakened from her first uninterrupted night of sleep in months to the sound of a ringing telephone. It was Kevin.

   "I'm in the lobby, darling and I'm coming up." Not "May I come up?" or "Are you busy?" but "Here I am, and I'm on my way," she thought with some irritation.

   Glancing at her white antique wall clock, Diana sighed. The hands pointed to 7:30. What in the world was Kevin doing in her apartment building this early on a weekday morning?

   He answered her unspoken question. "Last night I signed Stacy Conway to a contract for a beauty book. Her book on nutrition was a hit, and this will be, too. I've come to celebrate!" His words slurred as he babbled about his tremendous conquest for O'Neal-Sullivan.

   Diana was only half-listening. She sat on the edge of her bed and ran her fingers through her long hair, knowing without a doubt that she must break her engagement to Kevin, and she must do it this morning. Her preference would have been another time and place, after consulting with Tim, but Kevin was here now. She could wait no longer. The ring on her finger weighed heavily upon her heart.

   "Give me twenty minutes, Kevin. I'm not even out of bed."

   "Twenty, but not a minute more or . . ." His laughter was raucous, and Diana flinched at the crude insinuation.

   After showering quickly, she pulled on a white wool jumpsuit and sat before her vanity, applying make-up with trembling fingers and breathing a silent prayer for courage.

   In precisely twenty minutes, Kevin was rapping loudly at her door, a bouquet of flowers in his hands and a lopsided grin on his face. He had obviously been drinking heavily, and Diana took the flowers from him and arranged them in a crystal vase, grateful to delay the inevitable kiss. His arms went around her as he nuzzled the soft nape of her neck. "Mm, you smell good enough to eat."

   "I called you last night." Diana squirmed gently away and walked to the kitchen to start the coffee.

   "I took Stacy to dinner . . . after which she signed the contract. And I've landed a new diet book written by a prominent Los Angeles doctor. It promises to reach the list before it's even in the stores! It's a crazy offbeat kind of diet, but it'll sell." He turned a chair around, straddled it, and rested his forearms on the back. "How about some of that coffee and some eggs. Di?"

   Taking in his bloodshot eyes, Diana poured him a cup of strong black brew. Then, while Kevin talked nonstop about the upcoming spring convention, she whipped up an omelet and served it at the counter. They ate, accompanied by Kevin's enthusiastic monologue, detailing his publishing triumphs of the past week.

   "You're a good cook, doll, and I do so love the sight of a beautiful woman fussing in the kitchen." He reached for a cigarette, but when Diana frowned, he put it away. "That's something we'll have to compromise on, my dear. You'll have to get used to my smoking. I can't give up all my vices, now can I?" He leaned over and planted a wet kiss on her mouth.

   Turning her head in revulsion, Diana cleared her throat. "Kevin, there's something I have to tell you."

   "Yeah?" He leaned forward, tracing the contours of her delicate features with one finger. "You're a beautiful sight in the morning. Not like most women . . . you should see Stacy." He stopped short and gulped down the last of his coffee.

   "I can't marry you." Diana's hands were clenched tightly in her lap, a habit she had acquired in early childhood when she was overly anxious. Before Kevin could respond, she continued. "I don't love you and you don't love me and—"

   "Who's talking about love?" Kevin was instantly sober, his mouth twitching noticeably at the corners.

   "Last night I spent the entire evening searching my soul." Diana fought to keep her voice steady. "I can no longer deceive myself that anything but unhappiness could result from our marriage. I'm glad you came by, because I wanted you to know before I told my parents."

   Kevin lit a cigarette, deliberately inhaled deeply, then blew smoke rings carefully into the small space between them. "That would be a breach of contract, wouldn't you say?"

   "Better now than later." Diana touched his hand. "Look, Kevin, it's not you. It's me. My life has done a complete turnabout in the last few days." She paused wondering if this were the time to explain but decided it was probably not. "Let's just say I changed my mind."

   "Well, if that isn't typically female!" he snorted. "What's gotten into you, Diana?"

   "It's not what you think, Kev." Groping for a clear statement of her newly found conviction, she told him about her maniac shopping spree, returning to an empty apartment to decorate her tree alone and wishing for someone to share the moment. "Don't you see? I've been trying to fill a huge hole in my heart with things, work, people. Nothing I've tried has succeeded. Last night I knew that our marriage would never work, and that I would always be alone. And then, Kevin . . ." She paused, her green eyes sparkling with a new light. ". . . I knew what was missing from my life. God. A long time ago I turned my back on him, but last night I made a decision to follow Jesus." She took a deep breath. "Wherever he takes me."

   Kevin smoked his cigarette in silence, scrutinizing Diana's face before he crushed the stub in her china saucer. "Is that all? Goodness, doll, I'm a second-generation Catholic, and though I haven't been to confession or mass for years, I wouldn't be averse to going back to the church."

   "It's not the church I'm talking about, Kev." How does one explain faith? Diana wondered, and just as suddenly realized that faith can't be explained. "It's the person, Jesus, I want to follow. If he is who he claims to be — the Savior of the world and the only way to God — that's the way I have to go."

   When Kevin made no reply, Diana went on, "Please promise not to say anything to my parents. I want to talk to them . . . alone."

   Kevin turned in his chair and crossed his legs, his brow furrowed. "You're not thinking straight, luv. What about the money Dad has turned over to Sullivan's? You and your father signed a written contract."

   Diana flushed, realizing that Kevin was gathering ammunition. "I . . . I'm not sure how we'll pay you back," she stammered, "but we will."

   "Oh, come on." Kevin laughed and rose to his feet, the palms of his hands pressing into the breakfast counter. "You have no way out and you know it. You're placing your company in jeopardy. Your father will never forgive you, and for what? Some kind of religious experience?

   "Kevin, I'm trying to tell you that, as of now, our engagement is broken." Diana stood, trying to twist his ring from her finger.

   He leaned forward, bringing his face level with hers. When he spoke his voice was low and deadly. "We'll see about that."

   Icy chills rippled through her body as she watched him move slowly toward the door. With his hand on the knob, he turned to regard her through slitted eyes. "Just don't take that ring off your finger until our money is safely back in the bank."

   After he was gone, Diana sat reviewing his quiet threat. It was true! There seemed no possible way to repay the loan Victor O'Neal had made them. She stared absently out the window and shivered. Breaking the news to her parents would doubtless damage their relationship for good. And then she realized something else: Victor O'Neal would proceed to take over Sullivan's without a moment's hesitation.

   The day passed in contemplation, and Diana was unaware of the chimes announcing the hours. She had not called into the office nor had she answered her ringing telephone; rather she had sat quietly with her Bible open on her lap and had watched the darkening December sky build momentum to a blinding snowstorm. Her life seemed like that storm just now, growing darker by the moment. But the loneliness had vanished, and she felt refreshed and unafraid. Gran's sweet voice whispered in her memory, "Remember, my dear child, Jesus is the Light of the World and those who follow Him shall never walk in darkness."

   She sat motionless, "seeing" herself clearly for the first time. Her facade of sweetness had been only that, a facade. Deep within her heart she had harbored bitterness and rebellion toward God for allowing Michael to die, and a venomous hatred toward Ralph Roper.

   Though she no longer blamed God for taking Michael, could she ever forgive the man who had been the instrument of his death. 

Chapter Twenty  ||  Table of Contents