After the Storm

Chapter Seven

   "What about Marcie?" Diana leaned forward in her chair, a feeling of dread overtaking her.

   Steven couched his answer carefully. "She had a slight nosebleed during class this morning, but when we couldn't stop the bleeding, I took her to Emergency." His tone was extremely gentle. "She's quite ill, I think, though she's trying to deny it."

   Diana's thoughts were mutinous. She could not, would not believe Marcie was seriously ill, not her dearest and best friend, yet she could not deny the ominous signs — the persistent cough, the bleeding, the fatigue. How insignificant Sullivan's crisis seemed, and even Victor O'Neal's proposed merger, compared to the illness of her dearest friend.

   She stood abruptly, avoiding Steven's unsmiling eyes. She could sense his deep concern for Marcie and was drawn to him for caring.

   "Why didn't Marcie tell me? I should have known." She reached for her jacket and handbag. "I must go to her."

   "I'll drive you, Diana."

   Walking toward the elevator, Diana was conscious of his masculine strength, of his tall commanding presence and remembered Michael.

   She took no notice of the glistening lake as they passed, nor of the turning leaves on the trees along the avenue. Instead, she kept her eyes straight ahead, feeling no sensation but the movement of the car purring beneath them, carrying them inexorably to that moment of truth.

   Once she turned to glance covertly at Steven's strong profile. He had said no more since his last words in the office, and his sympathetic silence endeared him to her. No doubt Marcie had told him of Michael's death, and their common sorrow bound them in a special way.

   Steven parked his blue Mercedes in the hospital parking lot, opened the door for Diana, and guided her gently into the lobby.

   Familiar hospital smells assailed her nostrils, bringing to mind her father's heart attack and the night they had almost lost him. While he was in surgery, Diana and her mother had waited throughout the long night, sometimes dozing in chairs, sometimes walking the corridors, each lost in her own private thoughts of Joe Sullivan. In the days that followed, while he hovered between life and death, they were at his bedside whenever ICU rules allowed. Though still grieving over Tim's disappearance, her mother never mentioned his name, but Diana knew they shared a common conviction that Joe Sullivan's heart was broken, as surely as if his only son had taken it into his bare hands and crushed the life from it.

   Now walking beside Steven, fresh tears sprang to her eyes. How weary she felt, like a marathon runner close to the finish line, stretching to reach the tape. She forced her legs to move, grateful for her height so she could match his stride. She couldn't help wondering if Steven had fallen in love with Marcie. Why else would a man of his importance take a personal interest in a student?

   At Marcie's door they paused before Steven pushed it open, smiling encouragement at Diana.

   "You go in. I'll wait here."

   Diana entered cautiously, alarmed by the intravenous bottles that stood like sentinels beside Marcie's bed, dripping life-giving liquids into her veins.

   Approaching the bed, Diana touched her friend's feverish hand, then drew back sharply.

   "Marcie, honey, it's Di. Can you hear me?"

   The tiny figure did not stir. Diana turned to walk unsteadily to the door, grateful for Steven's presence outside the room.

   She looked at him, her face carefully set, solemn. "I must call Marcie's parents, and I want to talk to Dr. Mac." Their eyes held for a moment, and Diana gathered strength from his steady gaze. Then, glancing about the hospital corridor, she hailed a nurse and asked her to page Dr. Mac.

   In a haze, Diana somehow found a telephone, picked up the receiver, and slowly dialed the number. What do I say? What do I say? she panicked. When Beverly Vale answered, Diana steadied her voice.

   "Mrs. Vale . . . " Diana paused, searching for the right words. "I'm at Northwestern Memorial. I think you and Mr. Vale should come. Marcie's ill."

   Louis and Beverly Vale, longtime friends of the Sullivans, had been like a second family to Diana, lavishing upon her during her adolescent years the same affection they gave their daughter.

   Beverly Vale, always calm and composed, didn't fail her now. "We'll be there, dear, as soon as possible."

   Perhaps the Vales had been aware of Marcie's symptoms and, like Diana, had dismissed them, but denial was no longer possible. Marcie looked ghastly, her complexion the color of the pale yellow leaves outside.

   Joining Steven in the coffee shop, Diana ordered coffee. While she cradled her cup, she gazed into its black depths, unable to hold back tears. "Marcie was terribly feverish; she looked so ill."

   Steven caught her hand and held it tightly. "Don't let your imagination run away with you before you've spoken with her doctor."

   Diana wondered if he were reliving his wife's illness, remembering from the manuscript that he had denied the symptoms in the beginning but had slowly accepted her condition.

   "Marcie can't be ill," she repeated. "Not Marcie. Why didn't I notice? I should have realized."

   "It's only natural to feel guilt when one you love becomes ill, Diana." Steven was obviously speaking from his own experience. "But there's nothing you did or didn't do that would have made any difference."

   "It isn't fair."

   Steven kept her hand locked in his. "No, it isn't. It certainly isn't."

   "And you believe in a loving God. Well, I'm sorry." Diana's voice rose. "I just can't!" And her anger flared as she thought of a God who could have cradled Michael's little plane in his hand, who could even now reach down and heal her friend. He had failed Michael. Would he also fail Marcie? Her eyes blazed emerald, and tears clung to her thick lashes.

   She expected Steven to defend his faith but he remained silent, tightening his grip on her hand.

   When Dr. Mac arrived, Diana stood quickly and went to his side. He had delivered Diana and Marcie, had doctored them through many a childhood disease, and had broken the devastating news of Marcie's stillborn baby.

   "What is it, Dr. Mac, what's wrong with Marcie?"

   "Have you notified her parents?" he asked. "I tried calling them when she checked in, but got no answer."

   "They're on the way." Diana replied hastily. "Please tell me, what's wrong with Marcie?"

   "We want to do some more tests before making a final diagnosis."

   He's stalling, she thought. Diana, who had read thousands of scripts, remembered the cliche about the heart skipping a beat and realized it was true.

   "But you must have some idea," she persisted, feeling Steven's comforting hand on her shoulder.

   "I'd rather not say just yet, Diana. I've called in a blood specialist, a Dr. Roberts." Dr. Mac eyed Steven quizzically, and Diana introduced him as Marcie's English professor.

   "And where is this Dr. Roberts? I want to see him," she demanded.

   "Diana, he isn't at the hospital right now. It would be best if you waited until—"

   "Dr. Mac, you must tell me . . . tell me before the Vales arrive."

   "Yes, well." Dr. Mac took a handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose loudly. Diana recognized it as another ploy to delay his answer but she remained firm, her face taut with anxiety.

   "I suppose you're right . . . you're almost one of the family. I'm afraid the findings have not been good. We suspect a form of leukemia." He waited for the first shock to subside before continuing. "Right now we're treating some internal bleeding." He patted her arm awkwardly. "We're doing the best we can. She's one of my girls, too, you know." And he padded off, his eyes suddenly moist.

   "Oh, Steven," she cried, "leukemia!" She buried her head against the solid expanse of his chest.

   A new thought flashed through Diana's mind, clarifying Marcie's mystifying conversations. Marcie has known all along, and Cartright's book has given her hope. That's why she wanted me to read it.

   Certainly, there had been little mention of God in the Vale household, Diana thought. Beverly and Louis Vale had left the church many years before, substituting charitable deeds for faith. They were kind and caring people and had acknowledged that others less fortunate might need such a crutch. But for themselves, blessed with health, wealth, success, and a beautiful daughter, they felt no need for God in their lives.

   How ironic, Diana mused, sitting beside Steven in the waiting room. How differently things had turned out. She had envisioned a quiet business dinner with Steven and Marcie. Diana, in her role as publisher, would suggest necessary changes in his book, being careful not to promise a contract. She would explain that their market might not understand his philosophy of faith, but would be happy to refer him to a religious publisher. Now her imaginary scenario seemed inane.

   When the Vales arrived, Diana hurried to hug Beverly, having found in her the warmth her own mother withheld from her. Hand in hand, the Vales walked into their daughter's room.

   As the evening grew late, Diana turned to Steven. "You don't need to stay, you know. I'll wait with them. You've been so kind, Steven. I'll never forget how concerned you've been for Marcie. Thank you."

   "Marcie's my friend, too," he reminded her with a smile. "Are you dismissing me?"

   "Oh, of course not!" How obtuse of her, Diana reprimanded herself. Steven had every right to be there. "I . . . I just thought . . . with classes tomorrow—"

   "At a time like this, my classes are the least of my worries. I'd like to stay until the doctors have had an opportunity to consult. Perhaps we'll know something tonight."

   "Dr. Mac seemed so sure." Diana's brow creased into a frown.

   When the Vales returned from Marcie's bedside, their faces were drawn, their eyes wet. The life-sustaining apparatus had convinced them that their daughter was gravely ill.

   The specialist appeared at last. "I'm afraid the results confirm our preliminary diagnosis," said Dr. Roberts. "Marcie has a blood disorder. We suspect leukemia not acute, mind you but more tests are indicated. Until all the results are in, my advice to you is to think positively."

   A sudden pain lodged in Diana's throat, and Beverly Vale muffled her sobs.

   "The blood transfusions should be strengthening, and when you visit Marcie tomorrow, you may be surprised by the apparent change in her condition. It's even possible that a temporary remission could occur. But for now we'll stick with medication, blood transfusions, and lots of hope."

   The doctor left a stricken group. Wealth, position, success — none of it mattered — for all the money in the world couldn't buy back Marcie's glowing good health.

   Diana put a comforting arm around Beverly Vale. "She'll come through this. Just wait and see. The Marcie I've always known is a winner."

   Louis and Beverly nodded absently and turned to walk down the long carpeted hospital corridor, disappearing into a side room.

   "They need to be alone right now," Steven observed. "Let's go. I think we've done about all we can do for tonight. You need to get some rest."

   Diana nodded miserably and moved numbly toward the exit doors. Passing the room the Vales had entered, Steven and Diana glanced inside.

   Kneeling together before an altar in the hospital chapel were Marcie's parents.

Chapter Eight  ||  Table of Contents