After the Storm

Chapter Five

   Diana awakened early and stretched lazily, loving the luxury of a Sunday morning — the peaceful sounds of a city in slow motion, the chimes of the university church bells ringing a faintly familiar hymn, and the delicious feeling of "nothing to do" except pamper herself with a warm bath, sip hot cinnamon coffee, and read the Chicago Tribune. She usually quelled any guilty feelings of "work that must be done" until late afternoon, at which time she would read through a stack of manuscripts, often late into the night.

   She had no idea what the rest of the world did on Sundays, though she had been chided often enough by Dave Morgan for neglecting church attendance. "It's good for business, Di, and you get to know people in the community. Besides, it's wonderful therapy."

   But Diana had been to church only once since Gran died, and that was for Michael's funeral. For her, church held only sad and bitter memories.

   Sunday was truly a day of rest for Diana. No ringing telephones or demanding decisions to be made. Once a month she drove out to Lake Forest to have dinner with her parents, but by the end of the afternoon, she was always ready to return to the solitude of her apartment and the private world she had created for herself.

   Today was different, however, and she was looking forward to her brunch date with Marcie. For one thing, she wanted to know how Marcie had become so well acquainted with Cartright. But equally important was the urgent news her friend had to tell her. Over brunch, she hoped to learn, too, just why Marcie had seemed less than her usual effervescent self at the party last night.

   Diana switched on the television set to the morning news and grimaced. Trouble sprouted from the Middle East like grass between cracks in the sidewalk. The tiny state of Israel and the surrounding countries had become a simmering cauldron, threatening the peace of the world. She recalled a bestseller relating how civilization would end in the Middle East in a fiery atomiclike war. The book had mystified most readers and had been dismissed as the fanatical beliefs of a man who believed that the Bible held futuristic knowledge. Diana, living in an atmosphere of luxury and ease, could not imagine the sane world she knew capable of such a disaster.

   The newscaster moved from photos of tanks and soldiers to those of a small plane crash that killed a father and two small children. As it so often did, her own loss surfaced, startling her with the enormity of her grief. If only Michael were here, she mourned, she would rest in his arms as he stroked her hair, assuring her that he would help find a way out of their problems.

   Brunching with Marcie was exactly the medicine she needed after the horrendous past months. Like Dave, Marcie could always make her laugh. Her blithe spirit would be a welcome change from the somber mood at the publishing house these days.

   Diana dressed quickly in a Liz Claiborne pants suit and white blouse. She left her car in the underground parking facility and hailed a cab to J.W.'s in the Marriott Hotel.

   Marcie was late. As she waited, Diana wondered again what news her friend had to share. Was she in love with Cartright? He did seem a different man from the one who had been so smug, as if he had cornered the market on all the philosophical uncertainty of the ages.

   At that moment Marcie breezed into the lobby, looking especially pretty in a red suit, her blue eyes sparkling a welcome. Diana smiled broadly at her friend, and they followed the hostess to a corner booth where Marcie laid a large manila envelope on the table in front of her.

   "What's this, Marcie? A manuscript? So that's what you've been up to — hiding out and writing a bestseller. Now you want me to publish it!" Diana laughed.

   "No, Di, nothing like that. But it is a manuscript. It's Steven Cartright's latest book, and it's fascinating. That's what I've been wanting to tell you. Promise me you'll read it. This is the one his publisher turned down."

   "I can't think of a reason in the world they wouldn't grab any book Cartright has written." Diana wore a puzzled expression.

   "You'll find out when you read it. It's very different from his other books."

   "H'm." Diana fingered the thick envelope and pushed it to the side.

   It was nothing new, of course — friends passing on manuscripts written by friends of theirs, each one insisting that this was the next blockbuster. Such tactics went with the territory, and she accepted them with grace. Still, Marcie was different. She would never take advantage of her friendship with Diana, unless — she must really be in love with the guy.

   And a Steven Cartright manuscript — Steven Cartright, who could sell to any publisher in the world. It didn't make sense, and a rising excitement gripped her. She had been strangely attracted to Cartright last night, unlike earlier encounters with him. She glanced at his manuscript. Perhaps the secret lie in those pages.

   "So, Marce," Diana asked, "how did you meet the famous author, the great Dr. Steven Cartright?"

   "He accepted a position as a lecturing professor teaching creative writing, and I signed up for his course," Marcie said, ignoring Diana's sarcasm. "He told the class that he had written an autobiography, so I stayed after class fawning over him like a lovesick fan — you know how much I love his books, so filled with meaningful questions about life, so intensely mystical. I asked if I could read his manuscript. At first he was reluctant but, you know me, I twisted his arm, so to speak, and got it. It's amazing, the change in his direction of thought, the new kind of insight he has into the human personality; it's as though he were looking into my own heart and describing what I myself could never quite define. You see, he was married, but his wife died of a brain tumor after only two years. He had to find answers, and he did. And Di, it's wonderful."

   Marcie paused and smiled brightly at the pretty waitress who stood poised to take their order. They selected eggs Benedict and after the waitress left, Marcie continued. "He was terribly in love with Julie, his wife, and his pain comes through on every page. He has tremendous insight into the emptiness of loss and the grieving process."

   Marcie's comments on the grieving process quickened Diana's desire to read Cartright's manuscript. How apt a description! Emptiness of loss — emptiness created by the need of one special person. For her, Michael. Tears touched her lashes.

   "He doesn't know I'm showing it to you, Di," Marcie said quietly. "I'm doing this on my own because the book is so good, so enriching. It's changed a great deal of my thinking."

   "Really, how?"

   "Read it, and you'll see."

   Their food arrived, and they ate in silence for a while. Diana lifted the coffee cup to her lips and glanced at her friend over the rim. "So how is it between you two?"

   Marcie laughed. "You mean, are we a number or what?"

   "Something like that."

   "I respect him a lot."

   "And?"

   Marcie took a sip of coffee and suddenly began to cough, her face turning pale. Diana reached across the table.

   "Marcie, for goodness sake, are you all right?"

   Marcie reached for her water and drank greedily. "Yes, just choked on the coffee. Will you read the manuscript? Soon?" She seemed anxious to change the subject.

   "Of course I will. Listen, I have an idea. Why don't we drive out to see my parents. Mother and Dad would love to see you, and we could really catch up. It's a gorgeous fall day. We could stay for dinner and —"

   "Can't Di. I have a dinner engagement."

   "Oh." Diana fell silent.

   "It's not what you think. It's at Northwestern Memorial."

   "You mean the hospital?"

   "Uh-huh, just for tests," she added quickly. "I've been terribly fatigued lately, and Dr. Mac wants to do some blood work. I'll just be in overnight. Nothing serious." Marcie coughed again and Diana shivered. "It's all right, Di. I'm just anemic, that's all. Listen, I'll only be in the hospital overnight, but let me know what you think about Steven's manuscript as soon as you've read it. Okay?"

   "Of course." Diana's voice trailed away. "I'm terribly upset, though. I wish you had told me earlier, Marce."

   She shrugged. "You've had so much on your mind with company matters, I didn't want to worry you."

   "It's really Dad and Mom I worry about and —"

   "And?"

   "This consuming hatred I feel for Ralph Roper and the board for allowing him to set us up for bankruptcy."

   "Hatred will destroy you, Di." Marcie laid her small hand over Diana's. "Roper will get what he deserves, but you must forgive and forget."

   "Forgive? Never! Not knowing what I know. And if I could prove my further suspicions — that he was responsible for Michael's accident." Her tone was iced with cold fury.

   Marcie smiled wearily. "You may never know for sure, Di. So why not just put these terrible thoughts out of your mind?"

   Diana sighed. "I shouldn't be troubling you with this when you're not feeling well. I'm sorry, Marce. And, yes, I'll read Steven Cartright's manuscript this evening and call you tomorrow at the hospital. I want to know the results of the tests immediately."

   They walked out of the restaurant into a light rain. Marcie began to cough again and Diana held her arm, hailing a cab for her friend, then watching with a troubled frown as the taxi sped off into the traffic.

   She waited under the shelter of the restaurant awning until a yellow cab stopped at the curb, entered it thankfully, and rested her head against the back of the seat, surprising herself with sudden tears. Marcie had always seemed indestructible — the tiny dynamo that sparked every ball game, every slumber party all through school. Of course, Diana knew she'd had enough in more recent years to level her. It was probably just an accumulation of things — the emotional stress of losing her husband and baby and returning to school to begin a new life for herself. Dr. Mac was right to put her into the hospital for tests. Diana sighed, relieved by the logic of her conclusion.

   The cab stopped in front of her northside apartment, and Diana ran into the lobby and pressed the button to the top floor. She changed from her damp clothes into a white terrycloth robe, fixed a cup of hot tea, curled her long legs about her on her white sofa, and reached for the manila envelope Marcie had given her. On the title page the author had neatly typed "The Search."

   The first paragraph caught her attention.

   "We met on an airplane streaking its narrow way through the skies toward the California coast. Talking easily, we shared our delight in the crisp sparkle of the waters beneath and the incredible beauty of the heavens above, crowned with lily-white clouds.

   "We had been talking for some time when the young woman beside me brought up the subject of faith, faith in a supreme being. I explained to her that I had made a lifelong study of history, philosophy, and cultural religions and had concluded that, of course, there must be someone who had, through superior knowledge so vast that the finite mind could not comprehend it, fixed the planet earth spinning in the universe. I could not place a name on this one because I was on a search and immensely enjoyed the quest. I told her, looking directly into her clear eyes, that this being seemed to hide himself from his creation, almost as though he enjoyed his hiding place.

   "Then the young woman, her face aglow, told me that this being could be found because he had revealed himself, coming to this very planet to show his beloved world what he was really like."

   His story revealed Steven's immediate attraction to the girl, Julie. Everything in the man's background produced questions as to the possibility of faith in a personal God, yet Julie's pure love for God, her sweet tenderness in sharing her witness, testified to something he could not define. "Our souls touched," and within months they were married.

   But within the year, Julie became desperately ill and was rushed to the hospital, where Steven waited to hear the fearsome news. She had a brain tumor requiring immediate surgery. In intensive care, her face pale with pain, Julie murmured words of love and encouragement to her husband, feeling a peace Steven could not comprehend. Hope grew as days passed without pain, but a second tumor developed, this one inoperable. Now partially blind, Julie continued to exhibit quiet faith. "We entered the final waiting room, my wife balancing precariously between this life and the next," he wrote.

   Diana wept through the final chapters of the book as Steven's anguish bled through every page. He had loved the woman. She had loved her God. Like a jealous suitor, God had won and claimed her. "When she touched my face for the last time, her breath coming in quick gasps, I wiped my heart clean of tears."

   "My search began in earnest then," he wrote. "I traveled to the Middle East trying to find Julie's God where he had first revealed himself. My bitter loss heightened the search. Who was this personal God Julie had loved? I had dismissed the Bible as a book of historical events in Jewish history, filled with errors and myths. Often during our quiet evening hours, Julie had read portions of the Psalms aloud to me, along with letters the apostle Paul had written from prison. The literary merit of the book appealed to my sense of excellence, but was it true? For today? I could not come to grips with my deepening feeling that somehow Julie had found truth, the truth I had been searching for throughout my entire conscious life.

   "Was Jesus God? Had he really risen from the dead? Had he performed the miracles that his disciples saw with their own eyes — opening the eyes of the blind, healing the deaf, raising the dead? Who was this man Jesus, who claimed that no one could come to God the Father except through him? These were questions that must be answered, and rising to the challenge of intellectual pursuit, I turned again to the Scriptures. All the evidence pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah.

   "I walked the streets of Jerusalem, 'saw' the disciples on the hillside listening to the teachings of their beloved Master, sat at the foot of the mount and read the classic words of Jesus for myself. Everything he said was in direct opposition to the prevailing world view.

   " 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.' What a paradox: happiness in the midst of mourning?

   "I began an intense study of the Beatitudes. A well-known commentator described the state of blessedness as a serene, untouchable, and self-contained joy, completely independent of all the chances and changes of life. Unlike happiness, which is affected by human circumstances — a financial reverse, a collapse of health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather — the Beatitudes spoke of that joy which comes to us through our pain and which cannot be destroyed even by death itself.

   "I read that the greatness of the Beatitudes is that they are not wistful glimpses of some future beauty; they are not even golden promises of some distant glory; they are triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.

   "But how could this be — an unshakable joy in the face of life's most devastating and cruel blow, the death of a loved one? Julie had discovered that blessedness and had lived and died with serenity. I wept with new understanding. What had seemed incredibly unnatural — that my beautiful young wife could die with such great peace, even joy — was a testament to the truth of the words of Jesus.

   "And yet, there was something missing. How did one attain this state of blessedness? God seemed light years away from the planet. Yet Julie had found him. How? I scanned the Scriptures, looking for some key I might have missed in my previous study. 'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,' I read in the third chapter of Romans, verse 23. Another verse declared, 'The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.' Sin. How I had despised the word, negating it as puritanical, open to each man's cultural definition of right or wrong. Yet it was clearly a reality, common to all. I read on: 'There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.'

   " 'In Christ Jesus?' What could this possibly mean? How did one become 'in Christ Jesus?' Again in Romans I found a key verse: 'If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.'

   "How difficult for an agnostic like me — a searcher, a lover of debate — to take the faith leap. Impossible! And yet the very impossibility of it clearly implied that I must believe by faith, receive by faith and walk by faith.

   "Sitting on the edge of my bed in a hotel in the heart of the Holy City, I prayed aloud, 'God, if you're there, please show me how to believe with my heart — whatever it means, whatever it takes, wherever I have to go. I will not write another line until I know the truth about you.'

   "Faith came slowly. Years of confused thinking and bitter sorrow over the death of my wife had formed scar tissue over my soul. God himself performed surgery and healed me of the wounds of mourning. When I took the step of faith, the terrible grief of losing Julie disappeared and I was filled with expectation and joy. Rivers of peace flooded my soul, that part of me that had longed for tranquility. They came gently, without intrusion, invading every part of me, vanquishing the midnight of my despair. And I was free!"

   On a separate page, like a benediction, were the words: "I'll see you, Julie, tomorrow."

   Diana finished the manuscript, cupped her face in her hands, and wept. She was moved, not only by the love of this man for his wife, but because he had probed deeply into the pain of her own heart. She, too, had loved intensely and lost that love. But Steven had found acceptance, peace, joy. She had not.

   In her hands she held a fascinating love story, but it was more than a love story. It was a quest for the Creator of love. The writer had found happiness, not in circumstances, but in a personal relationship with his Creator.

   Diana closed her eyes, reliving the story. If she, the jaded reader, had been transfixed for six hours, what would this book mean to the average person? Her father and the staff readers would undoubtedly question the advisability of publishing a religious book, but the love story was beautifully told, and death and dying were treated with gentle honesty.

   Diana had not experienced the drawn-out death of a loved one. But, oh, the death, the loss, the grief were the same!

   Diana paced her apartment, tears glistening in her eyes. She must talk to this man. Regardless of the obstacles, somewhere they would find the funds to publish Steven Cartright's book.

   But there was something far more pressing. She must know if it were possible for her to find that same elusive peace that had transformed his life.

Chapter Six  ||  Table of Contents