Sylvia stayed late after school to tutor a friend in math. By the time she arrived home, her ma was helping Zap with his homework.
“I’ll be down in a bit,” she said. She felt tired and grungy. She’d stayed up all night before. But this time, she was so tired.
She fell asleep in the bath.
It was night when she woke. The water had cooled and her toes were chilly prunes.
“Where’s Zap?” she said when she came downstairs.
“In bed already, dear,” replied Miranda. “It’s past his bedtime. And how are you? Home safe and sound after your adventures?”
Miranda wrapped Sylvia in a hug. “Don’t think we don’t know when you’re out all night,” she whispered.
“I know, Ma,” Sylvia said. “Nothing escapes you and Papa .”
She felt her stomach sink in a premonition of guilt.
“You are right about that,” her mother said. “For example, we know you didn’t make it to your lesson last night.”
The guilt crashed down.
“I was going to,” Sylvia began.
“No,” replied her mother, “it’s not good enough.”
And then came the litany of all the reasons why Sylvia should count herself lucky. Why, that the Count would even agree to see her, without her having gone to finishing school, or coming with five letters of introduction, or having to move through the progressions of supplication, was practically a miracle, and due, in no small part, to a certain standing of the family along the maternal line…
“I would think you would consider yourself fortunate, Sylvie,” her ma said, “that he would deign to accept you as a student. And now, you’re throwing the opportunity away.”
Sylvia swallowed. Why was her throat so tight all of a sudden?
“It’s not that I don’t want to learn,” she said. “And it’s not that I’m not grateful. I’m grateful I can learn… I like some of it. It’s just–I know you went out of your way so I could study with him, and I know that’s why we moved here and all of that. It’s just–”
Her mother waited for her to continue.
“Just that you’re a very fortunate young lady,” her mother said.
“Not really,” Sylvia muttered.
“You think I’m lucky,” Sylvia said. “You think I should be grateful that I can learn–and I am–but not with him. And not…”
“Not what, dear?” her mother asked, in that slow way she had of showing how patient and understanding she was. It was a trick that Sylvia knew well.
“I never asked for this,” Sylvia said at last.
“Don’t be silly,” said her mother. “Do any of us ask for our positions? Why, when I was young, I wanted to be a ballerina! Can you imagine?”
“But you are a dancer,” Sylvia said. “And you fell in love with Papa. Nobody made you you choose him. And you–you take to it all. You like your life.”
“As will you,” said Miranda. “We come from a long line, Sylvia. We have always done what was expected. We’ve always answered the pulse of our lineage. Just wait. Your papa and I have been receiving many inquiries from the finest of families. You haven’t gone unnoticed, dearest. Soon, with a little more polishing, we can put your graces on display, and once you see the line of suitors, my dear! All of this will be worthwhile!”
But it wouldn’t.
This was what she’d suspected it was all heading for.
It was one thing to be trained in the old ways.
It was another thing to be groomed to take one’s position in the noble line.
But it was quite another to be trumped before the sons of other members of court, like merchandise–like a pawn in a play for alliances! She could never make her mother understand.
“I’ve got homework,” Sylvia said, walking towards the hall.
“Can I tell the Count you’ll make your next lesson?” her mother asked.
“Tell him whatever you like,” Sylvia said.
She didn’t head upstairs to the garret.
She walked through the kitchen and out the side door. The night air felt crisp after the stuffiness of the parlor.
She wasn’t a pawn. She wasn’t a piece of property to be traded. She couldn’t be made to study with that creepy old man who gave her the creeps and called her names and made fun of her clothes and her background and her way of talking.
She wouldn’t do it.
She wouldn’t keep this going, this tradition that was nothing more than forced servitude. She wouldn’t get married to the guy her parents chose. She wouldn’t align herself with old ways that forced her into this life that she had no taste for.
She wouldn’t marry. Not ever. She wouldn’t drink. Never. She couldn’t be forced against her will.
There had to be a way out.
There was a way out.
“Do you think that everyone in my life has always approved of everything I’ve done?”
That’s what Aylin had asked.
“It’s not being a rebel that’s the important thing. It’s following your own interests, not the interests that others think up for you.”
Some things were more important.
Calculus was more important than lineage. Being a mathematician was more important than being a Contessa.
When the time for her next lesson came, she’d be gone.
When the line of suitors formed, she’d be long gone.
When her mother stopped to wonder what would drive away her daughter, she’d be so far gone that not even the slightest sinking feeling of guilt could reach her.
She’d be with Aylin then, learning what it was she’d always wanted to learn: how to be her own person.
The road led out, and Sylvia took it, past the forests, past the mountains, beyond the clouds, where the empty plain waited and the horizon was so far that all one could see was possibility.