Today I will once again set foot on my native New York. I will greatly miss my life abroad while I am visiting, but rest assured that I will be departing once more in two weeks time, and so the adventure will continue…
—FROM THE "LETTER FROM PARIS" COLUMN IN THE
NEW YORK IMPERIAL, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1900
Diana clutched the rail of the Lucinda and searched the slowly approaching harbor. She was wearing a fitted jacket of navy linen and a matching skirt with a wide brown belt to emphasize her waist. She was eager to see a familiar face, after two long months of only strangers. She was returning for the birth of her sister Elizabeth's child. Time and distance had cleared her mind and she came to realize that pursuing her dream in Paris didn't mean severing herself from family, and missing this special time; especially with the new wealth the oil field had granted her family to pay for her return ticket.
Elizabeth had been polite, as always, in her letters, but Diana could read the sadness between the lines. Elizabeth needed her sister to be with her, and supporting her when she welcomed Will's child into the world. Diana was not so selfish as to abandon her own blood when there was nothing keeping her in Paris. She could return once the baby was born.
As the faces became distinguishable along the docks, Diana searched and found her aunt Edith. Without thinking, she continued to search the others there; hoping to see Henry right where she had left him. Of course he wasn't there. Sadness gripped her as she remembered yet again the rash decision that had separated her from her one and only love. The shame of her immaturity had plagued her in the weeks since her departure. Why she was in such a rush to leave still baffled her.
After the euphoria of the first few days had faded, Diana began to second-guess her choice to leave. By the time she realized what a horrible mistake she had made, two weeks had gone by; and she knew that after publicly rejecting his proposal and leaving Henry, she had given up any chance she ever had with him. But she was a fighter and she picked herself up. She wasn't going to let a broken heart keep her down.
She traveled all over France seeing all the things she had dreamed of, and so much more. She wrote of the cities, the royalty, the artists, and all the beauty that her new home had to offer. But, deep down she felt empty, because she wanted to share it with someone. Not just someone, she wanted to share it with Henry.
As the ship docked and the passengers began to make their way onto the island, Diana called on her resolve, and tried to muster the welcoming smile she had been wearing before her thoughts had drifted to Henry. She carried with her the same small suitcase she had when she left New York, for although she had acquired quite a few belongings in France, she had left them in her apartment waiting for her return.
As she took her first steps in the city she once called home, she once again felt the rightness of why she was there. With that in mind she purposed to cease thinking of Henry, and sought out her aunt in the noisy crowd.
"Diana, over here!"
The many bodies between them subdued the voice of her aunt, but Diana could make out her gloved hand waving above their heads. She made her way toward it. Aunt Edith was wearing white and pale blue seersucker, as well as a face still so similar to Diana's. Once Diana was within reach, she pulled her into a warm hug.
"Oh how we've missed you." The warmth in her eyes melted away the last of the worry from Diana's.
"And I you." Diana replied, her lips pulling back in an earnest smile.
She had cut it very close, Diana realized, as she looked across the master suit of her sister's room, and took in the size of Elizabeth's belly.
"You're huge!" Diana couldn't help but exclaim, as she crossed the room to stand at her sister's bedside. Elizabeth really was on bed-rest this time, a fact for which she was clearly not happy about. She turned and beamed at Diana's rude comment.
"Oh Di, I'm so glad you're here. I'm sorry I couldn't be waiting for you at the harbor but Teddy won't let me out of this dreadful room," she said with an uncharacteristic whine in her voice.
"Ah, but it's a lovely room." Diana teased glancing around at the cardinal walls and white décor.
"Oh do excuse my complaining." A blush crept onto Elizabeth's cheeks and she glanced quickly over to where Teddy was now rising from his perch by the fire, wearing a cream linen shirt and brown trousers.
"I love this room, Teddy has made sure to keep me most comfortable. It's only that I hate being cooped up, no matter where it is, or how perfect the setting." Her voice had taken on the proper tone she was famous for, and she smiled her winning smile.
"No need to excuse your discomfort Lizzy, I know this is hard for you, but it's almost over." Teddy had reached the bed and brought Elizabeth's hand up to his mouth for a brief kiss.
The evidence of their love was written so plainly on their faces that Diana's heart gave a little throb, and she looked away quickly. Her eyes rested on the newspaper atop the nightstand. Picking it up, she saw that Elizabeth had been reading Diana's column. A small smile formed on her face.
"We read it every week," Teddy said. Diana welcomed his brief hug. "You are very talented Miss Diana," he added with a smile. She felt her cheeks warm at the compliment.
Elizabeth was pushing herself into a sitting position, so Teddy returned to her side and helped arrange her pillows to make her more comfortable.
"Well if it's alright with you, I'd like to make a brief trip into town now that I know you are here to be with my Lizzy." He leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Elizabeth's smiling lips.
Diana knew he was only excusing himself for her benefit, and loved him all the more for it. How happy she was, that her sister had found love again.
"But of course, I won't leave her side," Diana promised.
He took his leave and Diana rushed to her sister and enveloped her in a tender hug.
"I've missed you. I'm so sorry for leaving like that; right when you needed me most…" Diana trailed off, her eye's brimming with tears.
"Shh, it's alright, you're here now, and all is forgiven. After all, I'm the one who told you to leave. Although I believe you were supposed to bring someone with you." Elizabeth raised a delicate eyebrow in question.
"I panicked." Diana shrugged her small shoulders, and sat on the bed at Elizabeth's feet. "I thought a life with him would trap me here, and I couldn't bear it. It felt like my last chance at freedom was on that boat." Diana looked down at her fingers, staring at her empty ring finger. "He proposed."
"I said no."
"I really messed things up didn't I?" Diana couldn't bring herself to meet her sister's gaze.
"You did what you thought you had to do. Do you regret leaving?" Elizabeth's voice wasn't accusing, but Diana felt the shame of her decision weighing on her all the same.
"No, I know that I was always meant to leave this place. I only wish that I had waited…for him." Diana's heart was pounding again and tears slipped silently down her cheeks. "I let fear get the better of me and paid for it dearly, and now I have to live with that." She finally looked up at her sister, and was met with a knowing smile.
"You still love him." It was a statement, not a question but Diana nodded in admission.
"So much it hurts." Diana could feel that pain constricting her chest.
"Then take him with you next time," Elizabeth said with a teasing grin.
"I don't think he'll still want me after I so publicly turned down his proposal." Diana couldn't dare to hope, her heart had broken enough already.
"Nonsense, I turned down Teddy three times, and do you know what he did? He came back and rescued me. If Henry loves you as much as I believe he does, there's no way it's over between you."
Diana took solace in the strength of her sister's conviction; maybe there was still a chance.
"You will go to him Di, and everything will be as it should. But first you will tell me all about your adventures in Paris." Elizabeth always knew when to change the subject, and Diana was very grateful for that now.
She let her mind wander back to her days abroad, and let the memories distract her from the thrumming in her chest. But, as she left her sister sleeping sometime later that afternoon, only one thought dominated her mind, Henry.