After the Storm

Chapter Twenty-Five

   "There it is, Di." Dave Morgan unfolded the New York Times and opened it to the second page, placing it on Diana's desk. She stared at the photo release of the man she had grown to hate. Ralph Roper! He stared back, looking more emaciated than she remembered. His eyes were the same, though, steel gray and just as hard.

   She caught her breath and read the caption beneath the photo: "Ralph Roper, Executive Director of Anderson-Grant Publishing Firm, convicted of embezzlement, sentenced to seven years in the state penitentiary."

   Diana felt sick. So he had done it again! She felt no sense of satisfaction as she stared at his picture. Seven years was not punishment enough for the man who had created such havoc in so many lives. The embezzled funds from Sullivan's would be awaiting him in Geneva when he was released.

   "Doubtless he'll be out before the year is over," she said bitterly, "and then we should go after him."

   Dave caught her eye. "I may not know much about the Bible, Diana, and I certainly don't understand God's ways. But I do remember he said something like 'Vengeance is mine.' "

   Diana shook her head, tears forming in her eyes, and pushed the paper aside. "And whether or not Roper tampered with Michael's plane changes nothing, does it? Michael's dead."

   "As they say . . ." Dave paused, leaning back in his chair. "You reap what you sow. Think about it."

   And think she did. All through the day, as she dictated letters, conducted a staff meeting for Tim in the religious division, explaining their goals and aims, she thought of the events of the past year. Roper had left the company in near ruin, she had committed herself to a loveless marriage, Marcie had been close to death, but God had rescued them from all their troubles.

   And Steven? Was he lost to her forever? She returned to her desk and buried herself in her work for the rest of the afternoon.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   Marcie and Tim returned from their honeymoon and moved into their new home in Lake Forest, a home that Louis had purchased as their wedding gift. Marcie, tan from hours under the sun, was radiant and Tim, exhilarated with his new challenge as Director of Religious Books, worked with a vigor and enthusiasm that permeated the company.

   Diana would always remember that summer as a time of renewed hope for the publishing house. The new division flourished, and as Tim assumed more authority, Joe visibly mellowed. Though he refused to attribute his son's transformation to his conversion to Christ, he could not think what else could have brought about such a remarkable change in his formerly rebellious son.

   Louis Vale wanted the board of directors to be men who shared his Christian beliefs. As it turned out, he didn't need to ask for resignations. One by one, they left of their own accord, wondering what Sullivan's was coming to. Louis hired professionals in the business world who lived a life that showed their faith in Christ.

   Diana, deeply admired by the new board of directors, gained confidence in her role as president, and with her father no longer in complete control, presided without interference under the leadership of the progressive members.

   On weekends Diana lay by her enclosed pool, allowing the blazing sun to reflect its rays through the windows and into her very soul. In the  evenings, sitting on her patio, she read her Bible. Her thoughts often strayed to Steven, and she wondered if he had really meant it when he had whispered, "It's you I love, Diana. Only you."

   Many of her loved ones were gone — Gran, Gramps, and Michael — and perhaps Steven was out of her life forever. But a sweet refrain played in her mind. "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Jesus Christ was the one constant in her life.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   The sultry summer was its hottest in August. Then rain fell, slow and ceaseless, throughout the week but Diana scarcely noticed. Had Steven returned to the area? Was he resuming his position at the university? She could not bring herself to dial his number. How humiliating would it be to hear him say that it was too late for them, that he had found someone else, a girl from California.

   But she could make a friendly call, couldn't she? Questions persisted and answers eluded her. It was Tim who cast the decisive vote.

   "The semester at the university should be starting soon," he said over lunch one day. "Shouldn't Steven be in his office by now, preparing for the fall semester?"

   "I'm not sure, Tim, but I'm so anxious to find out, yet terribly apprehensive. What if . . .?"

   "Nonsense!" Tim reached for a roll, buttered it, and smiled at his sister. "Of course you must call him. As far as he knows, you're married to O'Neal, so he wouldn't intrude. Go ahead, call him . . . now."

   Diana's smile lit up her face as she reached for her purse, kissed her brother good-bye, and headed for the telephone booth. To her dismay the two phones were in use, and the occupants showed no signs of leaving anytime soon. She waited impatiently for a few minutes, then turned in frustration, stepping out of the restaurant and into a slanting rain.

   Ignoring the downpour that was turning her hair into a mass of chestnut curls, she hurried on, spotting a boulevard restaurant ahead. She entered the lobby, found an empty telephone booth and dialed Steven's home number with trembling fingers.

   He answered on the second ring, his deep voice resonant and dearly familiar.

   "Steven." She could barely speak. "You're home." She paused, not knowing where to carry the conversation. "I'm so glad."

   Recognizing the tension in her voice, he responded quickly. "Diana, what is it? What's wrong?"

   "I know it's storming." She was crying now. "And I know the traffic is horrendous, but—"

   "Yes." Steven didn't wait for her to finish. "Where are you?"

   She gave him the name of the restaurant, promising to wait in the lobby.

   "I'll be there."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   The next half hour seemed like an eternity until she saw Steven's tall figure striding toward her.

   Their eyes met and held for a long moment before he lifted her left hand and touched her fourth finger. Finding no ring, he pulled her into his arms. And words of explanation were not necessary, after all.

   "Darling," she whispered, "You're home at last."

   "Let's get out of here." Steven steered her to the door and hailed a cab, giving Diana's address.

   They settled back, not noticing the storm that raged outside or Diana's disheveled state.

   "It's you I love, Diana. Only you." And he pressed his lips to hers in a tender kiss.

   Diana touched his face, running her hand along his strong jawline as she had done in her fantasies so many times. She tried to speak, but felt his mouth on hers once more.

   "When I learned you had left for parts unknown, I felt I couldn't bear it," she said at last. "I have so much to tell you."

   "I only want to hear one thing from you," Steven said, holding her close. "Nothing else matters."

   And driving alongside the great blue-green lake, the summer storm stirring its depths into angry waves, Diana whispered the words she had longed to say, "I love you, Steven. With all my heart, I love you."

   "I never would have left at all had I known there was the slightest chance you would break your engagement." Steven ran a hand through his rain-dampened hair, a wet lock curling on his forehead. "I had a pretty rough time imagining you married to O'Neal."

   "And I had a rough time," Diana whispered tentatively, "when I saw you in California with a beautiful girl on your arm."

   Steven frowned, a look of puzzlement on his face. "You were in California?"

   "Yes, with Tim. And I saw your photo in the Times at the charity ball. The accompanying article stated that you were taking part in the author seminar so I rushed to UCLA, but —"

   Steven laughed. "Oh my dearest. That was an actress I met briefly at the ball. When the photographer asked to take my picture, she edged in close to me. Then there she was at the seminar, hanging onto my arm. I ditched her right outside the door. But why didn't you let me know you were there? Why didn't you speak?"

   "I . . . I thought you might have found someone else."

   "Never, my love." Steven bent his dark head to hers again. "You were in my thoughts and prayers constantly."

   "There's so much I have to tell you," Diana repeated as they entered her penthouse lobby. "So much."

   She had waited throughout the long summer and, soon now, she would be alone with her love.

   Diana could recall many unforgettable moments in her life — sweet moments as a child with Gran and Gramps, moments before Tim's rebellion had banished all happiness from their household. She could remember days of childhood excitement with her friends on a nearby skating pond, memories of Christmas when her family had gathered before a tall, exquisitely decorated tree. Those remembrances, though faded, lived still.

   Nothing in her past, however pleasant to recall, would ever replace the incomparable joy she found in Steven's arms, telling him of her love for him and of all that had transpired since she had seen him last — Marcie's full recovery, Tim's reconciliation with his parents and his return to Chicago to head the religious books division, her broken engagement . . . .

   "And now for the good news," Diana said, smiling secretively.

   "How could the news get any better?"

   "As C. S. Lewis so beautifully put it, 'I have joined God's side.' "

   Steven tilted her face toward his, but she placed a fingertip over his lips. "No, don't say anything yet. I want to tell you how it happened."

   And for the next hour Diana shared her pilgrimage of faith with all its twists and turns.

   "Don't ask me how," she concluded, "I only know that all my resentment and bitterness toward God for taking Michael was laid at his feet and that he took it from me. In Christ, I found strength and hope for the future, even before I knew you were coming back into my life!" Her eyes shone with the dawn of this new revelation.

   "Darling." Steven kissed away the tears gathering on her lids. "Now all my prayers have been answered." They clung together in the unspeakable joy of lovers united in a spiritual bond that transcends all others.

   "And how do your parents feel about your new faith?" Steven asked at last.

   "I'm afraid all Mother and Dad care about now is that the business has been salvaged. My 'religion,' as they call it, is a phase and they don't much care what I believe as long as Sullivan Publishing House is flourishing. I'm not worried though. Louis Vale will keep a watchful eye on the company philosophy and is eager to publish your book.

   Steven brushed feathery kisses on Diana's forehead. His eyes caressed her face, then he pulled her to him in a close embrace. "How long, darling, before we can be married?"

   Diana's thoughts raced ahead, thinking how lovely a Christmas wedding would be. "Is December too soon?"

   "Not soon enough, but if that's what you want, it would be perfect. I'll be on my semester break, and we'll honeymoon in Hawaii if you like."

   "Of course Mother will insist on an enormous wedding, with her charity friends and half of Chicago present, I'm afraid."

   "Is that what you want?" Steven asked softly.

   "No, not really. I've always dreamed of walking down the staircase in my parents' home and having a small reception afterward."

   "Then that's what you should have, Diana."

   Diana frowned. "Mother will be so upset."

   "Remember, sweetheart," Steven said, "you're a grown woman capable of making your own decisions." He stared into the fire. "I've traveled this road before, and have seen too many adults still behaving like children, frozen in time by domineering parents, each unable to let go of the other, adults who live with guilt. I don't want that to happen to you, Diana. You mustn't allow anyone to control you but God. And I give you my word that you and I, as husband and wife, will live free under his leadership. I want you to be the unique woman God created you to be."

   Steven held her while healing tears flowed, and when no more tears came, he gently dried her eyes.

   Diana drew back, wiped her eyes, and gazed thoughtfully into the distance. "There's something else. Ralph Roper has just been convicted of embezzlement and fraud and has been given a seven-year sentence."

   "Yes?" Steven placed his hand under Diana's chin and turned her face toward him, peering into her deep green eyes until she turned away. "You haven't forgiven him, have you, Diana?"

   Diana felt a cold stirring in her soul. It came from the one cloud in her life that she couldn't seem to obliterate.

   "Have you, Diana?"

   She shook her head. "You don't understand all he did." She wanted to tell him her suspicions about Michael's death but sensed that it wouldn't matter. "How do you truly forgive when you've been dreadfully wronged?"

   "Just as God, for Christ's sake, forgave you, sweetheart."

   "But how can I forget?" Her eyes clouded.

   "It's not easy, but every single time the memory of Roper comes to your mind, remind yourself that you have forgiven him. Soon your subconscious will get the message. You know if you don't release your hatred for Roper, he will control you for the rest of your life."

   Diana shuddered and leaned into Steven's arms. "Then, with God's help, I forgive him," she whispered.

   Kneeling, they prayed together for the first time, committing themselves into God's keeping, asking that he show them the way, and when they lifted their heads, they felt the joy of the Lord, the presence of Christ, like they had never sensed before.

   "You've taught me so much, Professor Cartright."

   "Isn't that what professors are for?"

   It was daylight when Diana walked Steven to the door, their arms locked.

   "Now get your beauty sleep — not that you need it," he said, dropping a kiss on her nose. "And dream about our wedding."

   But before she fell into bed, there was one last thing to do. Some unfinished business.

   Diana walked to her marble-topped credenza and reached into a side drawer for her journal. She reread some of the letters she had written to Michael during the long months of grief and loneliness since his death.

   With tear-filled eyes, she picked up her pen and began to write one last time:

Dear Michael,

   I never dreamed I'd find love again, but since you left I've been so terribly lonely. Now that lonely place has been filled, not only by this kind and caring man I so adore, but by the Creator of the Universe, my God, whose love would not let me go, from the days when Gran taught me about Jesus until the day I whispered, "Yes, Lord, I believe." This will be my last letter, Michael. My memories of you will fade as they must. Be happy for me.

   She signed the journal, closed it, and after hugging it for a long moment, threw it into the fire. 

Chapter Twenty-six  ||  Table of Contents