After the Storm

Chapter Twenty-Six

   "But Diana, it's out of the question!"

   Catherine Sullivan stood in her kitchen, holding freshly cut flowers, a frown creasing her brow. "You know how I had always counted on a large wedding for you."

   "Yes, Mother, I know." Diana took the flowers from her mother's hand and arranged them in a cut-glass vase.

   "You're denying me something I've always wanted." The truth emerged through tightened lips. "I always hoped you'd have the wedding I couldn't have because of that dreadful war." Diana recognized her tone — the one she used to fire her arsenal of parental guilt.

   For the first time in her life, Diana was blissfully aware that her mother's approval was no longer needed. "Mother, Steven and I have talked it over and want a small ceremony with family and a few close friends. I'd love to have it here, if that's all right with you."

   "But we have so many friends." Catherine's face was flushed. "You're our daughter. We have a place in society."

   Diana placed a cool hand on her mother's arm. "I'm your daughter, true, and Steven and I would love to include you in every detail, but this is our wedding. Shall we go ahead and plan it here, or shall we rent a chapel?"

   Catherine sat erect, her hands tightly clenched, ignoring her daughter's touch.

   "Mother . . ." Diana hesitated, searching for the words. "We've been so blessed. As for me, I'm terribly in love and happier than I've ever been in my life. Please be happy for me."

   Catherine didn't answer, but Diana could sense reluctant acquiescence.

   "Then it's settled." She smiled gently at her mother. "A Christmas Eve wedding? May we plan on the ceremony and reception here?"

   Catherine turned away. She had noticed the new confidence, the shine in Diana's eyes, and had attributed it to being in love. Now she wasn't so sure that was the only reason Diana had become so independent.

   "Yes." Catherine met her daughter's steady gaze with a smile. "Of course, you're right. We do have much to be thankful for. Having Tim home . . ." Her voice broke and wiped her eyes, careful not to smear her mascara. "A Christmas Eve wedding then. May I manage the details?"

   "If you like." Diana smiled and leaned over to kiss her mother's cheek.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   Diana drove straight to Steven's home for the candlelight dinner he had promised to cook for her. He answered the door in his "I'd rather be golfing" apron and swept her into his arms.

   "Mm," she said, kissing him. "You smell like roast beef and carrots."

   "Right," he grinned. "My specialty."

   They dined by flickering candlelight, Diana teasing that he should have been a chef rather than an author-professor.

   "And now I have something for you," Diana said, reaching into her briefcase.

   She handed him the galleys for his book.

   "Please, sir, make the necessary corrections. We've been working around the clock to get this book into the stores as soon after the first of the year as possible."

   Steven gave her a fierce hug and scanned the first page of the galleys before laying it aside. "I hope you don't mean I must start tonight, at least not before dessert." He led her to the sofa before the fire, drawing her into his arms for a tender kiss. "Let's pray that millions of others will find the joy we've found, darling, and seek Christ as the answer. It's only then that their search will be over."

   "Tell me, Steven," Diana began, curling up close to him, reveling in their intimacy. "You know every single one of my well-kept secrets. I was just thinking that I don't know nearly enough about you. Are you sure there isn't some skeleton in your closet?" She arched a brow playfully.

   "Well, now, let me see. You know I prefer Vermont winters to Illinois winters, that I prefer chestnut hair to blond" — he cast her a meaningful look.

   "Oh, you!" Diana scolded. "Tell me more about your family. I've never met your parents, you know. What are they like?"

   For the first time Steven's countenance grew grim. "I'm afraid I can't tell you more than you already know. After a glorious childhood, I went off to college and then to Nam." He frowned, remembering. "When I came home, my parents were divorced, and my foundation crumbled, I guess. That's when I met Julie, and, well, you know that story."

   Diana waited while Steven gathered his thoughts. "After Julie died, I left the East Coast and took a teaching position here in Chicago. I estranged my parents but knew I must make my peace with them, something I found very difficult to do. The bitterness and anger I felt over their 'desertion' consumed me.

   "But by that time I knew Jesus expected me to forgive from the heart. I struggled with that for the longest time." He glanced at Diana who was looking at him with great empathy. "Finally, I made a trip back East to see Mom and Dad. God took away my bitterness and helped me see them as people with problems of their own. Only then could I truly forgive."

   His jaw tensed. "I'm hoping they'll come to our wedding. I want them to meet you, of course. Then, too, I think they need to know I'm not the angry young man they remember after Julie's death, but a new person in Christ."

   "They must be very proud of you," Diana ventured, "and of your success as a writer."

   "I really don't know." Steven shook his head. "They've never said whether they've ever read any of my books."

   She held his hand tightly, knowing now that the wisdom he had gained to help others had come at a fearsome price.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   On Christmas Eve, Diana circled before her mother's full-length mirror while Catherine fussed with her bridal gown.

   Marcie, lovely in sapphire-blue velvet, held a small bouquet of flowers.

   "You're a gorgeous bride, Di." Marcie smiled softly at her friend.

   "It's happiness, Marce. The best beauty secret in the world."

   The mirror reflected a radiant young woman, chestnut hair brushed back from classic features, her white lace gown falling in graceful folds from her slim waist to the floor. And in the tranquil turquoise eyes, a serene peace.

   Catherine adjusted her daughter's bridal veil and stood back for one last look. "You look lovely, dear." Was that a trace of moisture in her mother's eyes? "Now, I hear the organ playing. I'd better go down. Coming, Marcie?"

   Diana caught Catherine's hands in hers. "Thanks, Mother, thanks for giving me this day, this moment." She leaned over and kissed her mother gently on the cheek. "Could I have just a minute alone?"

   After the two women left, Diana took a deep breath, remembering the evening before when Steven's parents had arrived, obviously uncomfortable in each other's presence. Steven's mother, a tall, dark-haired beauty, greeted Diana with a small smile; David Cartright, an older version of his son, took Diana's hand and pulled her toward him for a kiss. She liked them both, but there seemed so little between them. Too many years had passed. Too much hurt had accumulated.

   "I understand their discomfort," Steven told Diana when she mentioned it at the rehearsal dinner. "They, like so many, don't realize that they're searching for what we've already found. We must love them and your parents into the kingdom of God, sweetheart."

   Now Diana held to her lips the single red rose Steven had sent that morning, inhaling its fragrance. And she prayed for him, for his parents and hers, and for their future together.

   Hurrying into the hall, she took the bouquet Marcie held out to her and turned to move down the spiral staircase on her father's arm. At the bottom of the stairs she looked into Steven's eyes, watching him as she moved slowly to his side.

   The ceremony proceeded as planned, with Diana responding as called upon until the moment of their private vows.

   "In the presence of God, our Creator and Father, I, Steven Cartright, take you, Diana Sullivan, with love and joy. I pray that my love, though seemingly full and complete, will grow into maturity, that I will honor you as my cherished one and be willing, if need be, to lay down my life for you, as Christ did for his beloved church. I vow to preserve the sanctity of our home through faithfulness to God and to you, my wife. I lay my dreams, my earthly possessions, my name, and my love in your hands without reservation. I promise to hold my position as husband as sacrosanct before God. With all I have and am, I take you, Diana, as my lawful, wedded wife."

   Diana responded clearly. "I, Diana, offer you, Steven, my unconditional love. Before our heavenly Father I vow to be a faithful and loving wife, standing by your side in support of our mutual desires and dreams. I vow to pray for your well-being and peace and to often be the answer to my own prayer. I promise to honor your position as husband as you honor my position as wife. I take you, Steven, as my lawful, loving, and beloved husband."

   After their pastor pronounced Steven and Diana husband and wife, Steven lifted Diana's veil and tenderly kissed her, holding her closely for a long moment.

   The storm that had raged in their lives was over! Doubtless, other storms would blow, but they would face them together for as long as God permitted, their feet firmly planted on Christ the solid Rock.

   Hand in hand, they walked down the aisle and into their future.  

Table of Contents for After the Storm by Margaret Johnson

Would you like to check out another online book?