Vision in Blue
The letter arrived on her birthday.
Big-eyed at being entrusted with such an important errand, one of the first year girls intercepted Gemma on her way to the music room.
"Thank you, Mary," Gemma said as she took the letter. It was bigger and heavier than the usual quarterly note. Hope jumped, unbidden and unsought, from the place deep inside where she usually crammed it down.
"Yes, miss." The little girl dipped a curtsy as she would to one of the teachers.
Gemma hid a sigh. She was as old as some of the instructors, and to the younger students, she must look much the same. Although officially now a parlor-boarder, she sometimes helped out with the children. When she had been that age, the brick walls of the school had seemed like a fortress, protecting her. Lately, they seemed more like a prison.
Today she turned one and twenty. Many girls her age were already married, mothers, even. She might have that chance, too, to fall in love, marry, create a family, defy the emptiness of her life, if she only knew she had the right to wed a respectable man.
Gemma looked down. The outer sheet had her name and address: Miss Gemma Smith, Miss Maysham's Academy for Select Young Ladies, York. But she had had her quarterly allowance weeks ago, and the solicitor never sent personal greetings--what--
She broke the wax seal and read the first words with growing incredulity, then read them again, and again. She pressed the letter to her chest and felt behind her for the bench at the edge of the hall, falling onto it.
Her world had suddenly expanded outward, and nothing would ever be the same again.