It was the evening of the party. Everything was going smoothly and thank Heavens for that-for all of the worrying that had gone into it, Diana dreaded to think what would happen if it was short of perfect.
Father had hired a small orchestra to perform; a well known group that traveled quite frequently to play events like this one. They were very good; it was the most exquisite music she had ever heard and gathered that the guests enjoyed it as well. They were impressed. She even heard as she passed by, someone remarking that Mr. Jameson only hired one violin player for the occasion and that he hadn't nearly been as good.
Her father would be delighted if he knew. He didn't like Mr. Jameson-whomever he was. Diana heard the name roll off her father's tongue once or twice and both were with disdain.
And speaking of her father, he was lost within the crowd. As soon as the first couple arrived, he had taken the husband into his study while his wife stayed with her mother and they made their way to the kitchen so Mrs. Barry could find out if the lemon meringue squares were ready.
As of right now, she gazed around the room and caught sight of one of the maids trying her best to take Minnie May upstairs but her sister wasn't having it. While not making a fuss to attract attention, she was squirming to attempt at getting away. She'd been allowed to attend but only for a certain time. Now, it was growing closer to the time when she should have been tucked in bed.
With another glance, she saw that her mother had not yet noticed. She was entertaining a group of women, unbothered by her daughter's behavior. Diana felt sorry for the maid but also knew better than to intervene. Her mother would turn around at the exact moment Diana would try at getting Minnie May to listen and then, after the party was over, she would have to listen to them prattle off how disappointed they were and how much embarrassment she caused them.
She'd listened to enough on the days leading up to the event.
She refused to listen anymore.
A sigh escaped her lips.
She felt awfully lonely, just standing there by herself. Everyone else was with someone and they chattered amongst themselves, whether they wanted to or not; they kept up their appearances. But no one had voluntarily come to speak to her nor had anyone brought a girl her age.
She wished Anne was there, to speak her mind on how absolutely stuffy those people were and tell Diana one of her wonderful stories. Oh she could just imagine it-it was in a beautiful ballroom from an ancient castle that was built on a rocky cliff next to raging waters. There was a ball, where people from near and far came to attend; the prince was rumored to dance only with the perfect lady, the one he felt he could marry. His true love. Dozens of other girls would plead with him, urging him that they were his true love but he knew better. His father would sit in his high chair, watching it all from afar, knowing that his son would make the right choice.
And then she would appear, wearing a long, lovely blue dress. Her hair would flow down to her shoulders. She would not wear a bow. The prince would be listening to a different girl, a much meaner girl, obnoxiously insist they should dance when he noticed her. And he noticed how pretty she was, standing there all by herself. He would gently push aside the meaner girl, and approach her with a small bow. She would curtsey, giggle softly as he reached out for her hand-she would allow him to take hers, blushing at the contact of their skin.
And they would dance together.
The crowd would part and with a feeling that was only them two in the world, they would hold each other close and dance and the prince knew; he knew she was the one.
A sense of forlornly settled inside of her.
She wanted to have a happy ending like the prince and the girl. She wanted just a taste of that sort of happiness. But she wasn't ever going to get it; not if her parents had any say in it.
Diana hadn't moved much throughout the night. She stood in the corner by herself, holding onto a glass with her fingers wrapped tightly around it. She would sip, cautious to avoid making any noise in the presence of her mother or guests. Every once and awhile, after meeting the eyes of other people that she'd definitely seen before but was unable to recognize by name, her lips would quirk up into a halfhearted smile; an attempt at appearing friendly despite that she didn't want to be there.
Despite that the anxiety in her stomach was overwhelming her.
She wanted to vomit.
She set the glass down on one of the nearest tables and fiddled with her dress, needlessly adjusting it and disregarding what her mother had said about touching it.
Her mother had said a lot of things, not minding that most of it had been hurtful.
"Honestly, Diana, what are you thinking?"
"Sit up straight! Look ahead, don't touch your hair!"
"That looks hideous on you, dear."
"Look at what you're doing to your father and I! Have you no shame?"
"You will do as you're told and you will marry well!"
Behind her ears, they began to prickle with tears. She swallowed back the urge and evened out her breathing. She needn't cry, especially over something as trite as that. She needn't embarrass herself or her family on this special day. This was about her father and his accomplishments.
It was in those times, where she was consumed by a fire of revenging emotions, that she began to become envious of her younger sister. It was an awful feeling; one that devoured her. She was a Christian lady. She ought not to be thinking that way, thinking so...so...so devilishly.
It wasn't Minnie May's fault. She had no say in the matter. Diana should have been rational about it, should have had more sense. But irrationality had taken over her entire being.
In more ways than one.
She knew, she knew Minnie May was just a little girl, therefore it wasn't at any fault of hers that she was still able to stay content in her childhood pleasures while Diana was pressured into a society she wanted no part of.
But we must do even what we don't wish to
She'd learned that, from growing up in the Barry family, that was how things were meant to be.
Diana Barry didn't get a choice.
Now she just had to accept it.
But it wasn't easy. She didn't want to accept it; she was praying for a miracle to strike. She didn't want to be resigned about it. She didn't want to go along with the plans for her that her parents had carefully put together since her birth.
She wanted to be free.
She wanted to be her own person.
All while I long for someone else
The ache grew more profound. She closed her eyes.
I must stop thinking this way
"Oh, Diana!" her mother's overly cheerful voice floated to her. Diana, cautiously, looked her way. Her mother was gesturing for her to come over. The other wives watched her closely, observing how she would respond. Their lips were pursed and oozing judgement. She could feel it, feel the air thickening. "Diana, darling, come here, please."
Diana didn't have any other choice. Though, standing alone was far more appealing, she went over and feigned a smile. She curtseyed, hoping to remember all of what she'd been instructed to do by her mother and Mrs. Rodefer. "Good evening," she said, upon realizing that they were waiting for her to speak first. She nodded politely at each lady, making sure they were acknowledged properly.
These were important women-the wives of the men her father worked with. Making a good impression was a must. If she met her goal, she might have a reference or two, should she ever need them. These women had connections; they knew the finest of teachers and eligible men out there. They were who she should be associating herself with, for she would be part of their society soon enough.
And they looked so divine. Diana admired the vast array of dress colors, the lace and the puffed sleeves! Anne would be swooning. Oh, and they wore the most beautiful jewelry that she'd ever seen! One woman-the first to arrive-Mrs. Bennet, wore the prettiest pearl necklace. It hung gracefully from her neck and shoned when the candle light struck it.
She might have been beautiful but her personality begged to differ. Diana had overheard her subtly bragging to the other ladies that her husband had bought it on one of his trips. She was vaguely reminded of Josie Pye.
The wives nodding approvingly and a rush of relief flooded through her. "My, my," Mrs. Bennet said with her hand on her pearl necklace. "Eliza, I must say, she's grown up so much. I think you have the making of a fine young lady."
"Oh, yes," another wife-Mrs...Clark? She racked her brain for an answer but was unable to recall the woman's identity correctly- said to her mother. "Quite so. Why, just look at her! She's a beauty if I've ever seen one."
Her mother beamed at the praise, pleased that all of her hard work was paying off and getting the recognition that she felt it deserved.
One of the other wives was eyeing Diana's dress, a mixture of curiosity and possibly envy within her eyes. Diana lowered her own, until she heard a faint cough-it came from her mother, subtly trying to tell her she must keep her head up like a proper lady.
She straightened herself immediately.
"I hate to pry," the same woman spoke up with a slight smile that didn't meet her eyes, in a tone that conveyed that she did not feel that way. "But I must ask, dear: Where did you come by that dress? It's stunning."
Her mother laid her hands on her shoulders-taking her back to when she'd woken up from that...that wonderful dream-and giving her another tight squeeze. Diana didn't know why but she didn't like the feeling she felt after hearing the question. It was uncomfortable and she wished for the topic to be over. "It's from the states," she revealed and the women seemed impressed. "Just for the occasion."
"The states?" Mrs. Bennet inquired with a raised eyebrow. "That's quite the trip."
"It must have been plenty expensive," another agreed.
"Well, well, only the best for my children," her mother said, having a horrible time at trying to appear modest.
She hated to be thinking such thoughts but she couldn't deny her feelings.
The dress had arrived that morning, much to her mother's relief. She'd been panicking, worried that it wouldn't come until after the party. Diana didn't believe that she needed another dress; really, all of the ones she owned fit perfectly and were all pretty. But her mother wouldn't have it. She insisted that Diana needed a new one. Her shoes were polished and her bow was new as well.
Besides that, her mother had ordered the maids to assist Diana and Minnie May with their baths to make sure they were presentable. Diana had sat with her knees covering her breasts as the maid scrubbed her hair until it was shiny.
The conversation died down and went onto other things; things that grown up ladies discussed that didn't interest Diana. Her mind was still on the dress and how they'd reacted to it. They were like her schoolmates; how they had reacted to Josie being allowed to wear a grown up dress.
And she didn't like it.
Was that how she was expected to grow up? To be around such people that hadn't changed from their childhood? She didn't want to be around such people and to be expected to enjoy their company. Those people weren't genuine and it became clear from the moment they stepped into the house that their reasons for going weren't to enjoy a night with friends.
"I hear you're going to be our entertainment tonight, Diana," Mrs. Bennet said in a tone that Diana didn't particularly care for.
The other ladies looked to her inquisitively.
"Yes, ma'am," she said carefully.
"And what will you be playing for us, Dear?"
"A composition from Beethoven," she said, trying to calm down the knots that were forming in her stomach.
"That's quite a feat," Mrs. Clark remarked. "A beauty with talent, Eliza, I've got to hand it to you. What well rounded children you have." She sighed in that way mother's do. "I do wish my children followed in your daughter's footsteps."
"You're too kind," her mother put a hand to her own chest. "I must say, it's taken great time and effort. Diana wasn't interested in preparing for her role as a woman of society initially, I'm afraid. But I believe we've gotten over it."
Mrs. Clark tisked in sympathy. "Children always think they know better at that age."
"I'll say," Mrs. Bennet added. "I just don't understand what possesses them to act so. Why, if I did when I was their age, my mother would hit me with a switch! She meant business, too. You didn't question it."
The women nodded to her words.
"Well, you just have to be persistent," her mother told them, tossing a quick look over to her daughter. "They'll learn. I've told Diana many, many times that her behavior needs to improve if she wants to find a respectable husband."
"That's right," Mrs. Clark said, as if she had been oblivious to it and suddenly remembered that Diana was at the age to be courted. "You're to be arranged soon. How is that going, Eliza? Have you found a suitable young man, yet?"
Diana's ears perked up.
"No, I'm afraid not," her mother sighed.
She felt that she was able to relax again.
"William and I are at odds. He wants to find her a husband before she is to leave for Paris but I must insist that she wait. Wait until after finishing school." Her mother leaned in to say in a hushed voice, "I'm quite certain she will become smitten with a French boy there. It's perfect, isn't it? William can find her the perfect man, no need to settle for some common boy here in Avonlea."
The very little appetite she already had vanished.
She was still uneasy about it, about going somewhere new and meeting all sorts of new people. On one hand, she appreciated that, should it occur, her marriage wouldn't be set with a classmate of hers. Although, she'd already witnessed several of her peers pair off, whether intentionally or not.
Billy and Josie were eyeing each other from across the room more often as of lately, rather than focusing on their schoolwork. Miss Stacy had caught them a time or two.
Ruby had an admiration for Moody now. She would be interested to see where God would take them to.
And then there was Gilbert pining after Anne, of whom she was sure held affections for him as well.
And then there's you...pining after Jerry
She brushed the thought away. Whatever it was that she felt in regards to Jerry, she needn't let it get to her. Nothing would come of it, anyway, logically speaking. So why think about it?
Yes, that is a very good question. Why am I thinking about it?
But she could not stop herself.
The soft touch of his hand-he'd gone for her hair but his fingertips had softly grazed her cheek on the way there in a beautiful gesture. She could scarcely feel his hand still there and she bit back a smile; a genuine, wide smile that seemed far and few for her.
And her heart felt like leaping. Just merely drifting her thoughts away from what she was supposed to concentrate on and onto him brought so many fond feelings that rose to the surface and made her feel light.
It was wrong. Every ounce of her core told her so; told her how people would react.
It was dirty.
It wasn't becoming.
She would throw aside everything she had ever been taught.
I mustn't, she thought strongly. I mustn't. I won't.
It was silly, these feelings. They happened to every school girl at some point and perhaps only arose because she was growing restless just thinking about Paris and finishing school.
And once she met the man of her dreams, once she finally settled down, everything would fall into place. All those nonsensical affections she thought she held for Jerry would disappear at last.
"My, my," Mrs. Clark waved a hand as if to cool herself, "a French boy. You're certainly a lucky girl, Diana."
"Yes, ma'am," she said, clasping her hands together. "I know."
"Are you excited for Paris?" one of the other wives, of whom she didn't catch her name, asked her straight away. "My own daughter is studying in Paris."
"Oh?" she said, pretending to be interested. "That's lovely. I suppose I am. I will miss Avonlea, though."
The same lady gave her a strange look then laughed slightly. "Why? What's there to miss?"
She wasn't sure how to word it so she didn't come off as offensive.
But her mother rushed in to 'save' the conversion before Diana ruined it. "You'll have to forgive Diana, ladies. She's being a bit emotional as of lately."
I am not
"She fears that she will miss her friends while she is gone," her mother continued, as if the thought was absurd. "Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
"Well, I wouldn't worry too much about that," Mrs. Bennet advised her. "You will have to push that aside and focus on your education. A man doesn't like a lady to be idle."
"Quite right," Mrs. Clark was wagging a finger. "You want to marry well, don't you?"
All eyes (including those of her suddenly apprehensive mother) were laid on Diana. She was stuck speechless and her words became caught in her throat.
"Well-I, erm, yes. Yes, of course."
"Then you must do your part," Mrs. Clark told her. "A lady your age must have grace and poise. She must know when to speak and when to be silent. And she must, must be socially aware."
"Is all of this really necessary?" her mother said to the group, nervously chuckling. "My Diana knows all of this. She is being taught in the marvelous art of etiquette and I have no doubt that when she is away she will conduct herself in the highest quality possible."
"That's rather bold of you," Mrs. Bennet said slyly, "when you were just telling us that Diana wasn't interested."
Her face appeared innocent, seemingly trying not to seem confrontational. But Diana knew better. She saw right through the façade. She saw the gleam in her eyes, the one that falsely believed she had pinned Diana's mother into the corner.
Her mother held her composure (which was far better than she had been all week leading up to the party but she digressed), straightening herself and didn't let any emotion be evident on her face. "I appreciate your concern but I assure you that I have complete confidence in Diana." No you don't. "I know she will go to Paris and make us proud."
"That's wonderful," Mrs. Bennet said but Diana saw the tight smile fall as soon as her mother turned her attention on someone else.
A clicking noise echoed throughout the room. Diana's father was standing near the center, holding up his glass with a spoon. Everyone was looking towards him now and all those nerves she'd tried to suppress came back to her. They'd gone over it, gone over when she would be playing and even how she would approach the piano (her parents wanted perfection. After all, Barry's deserved perfection).
"May I have your attention please?" he brought the glass back down. "Thank you. Now I want to, first and foremost, thank all of you for coming this evening. This has been a fantastic turnout and I couldn't have done all of this without my magnificent wife, Eliza." He gestured to her mother with his hand.
Her mother did a half curtsey as the crowd clapped.
"And now, for our entertainment. My daughter Diana will be playing a piece composed by Beethoven, himself. Diana, take it away!"
The audience clapped again.
"Thank you," she said as she came over and just before she seated herself, she added, "I hope you all enjoy this." Diana smoothed down her dress, briefly stalling for time as she tried not to be overwhelmed.
But by goodness, there she was! The moment she'd dreaded the most was there! Now what was she to do?
"If you get nervous just take a deep breath and count to twenty. Count backwards if you have to."
"It will keep your mind focused."
She exhaled shakily and positioned her fingers.
I can do this
She began to play.
It was going well enough. She hadn't messed up yet.
No one was saying a word and she hadn't decided whether it was good or bad.
She was getting close to the part of the piece where she would continually mess up. Even after all the practicing she'd done, Diana wasn't wholly confident in her abilities.
She was going to mess it up and her parents would be furious. Everything would be ruined and Mrs. Bennet would be subtly taunting her mother for Diana's failure.
What if they sent her off to Paris early? What if they were so disappointed that she would have to leave no matter much she pleaded and begged?
I cannot let that happen, she vowed. I won't.
She pushed away everything and anything from her mind and played as though...as though he were there, smiling that wonderful smile of his and waiting to congratulate her.
The nerves, the worry, the butterflies. It all just fell away. And she was perfect. She didn't mess up, not even once.
And she had Jerry to thank for her peace.