Gilbert dreams of his father sometimes. At least, he thinks he does, he never really quite remembers. He just knows he wakes up sad, with an ache somewhere around his heart.
For the most part he's glad Bash and Mary live with him; he'd been so lonely before. On these nights, however, he wishes he were alone again so he could pace the rooms of his house, trying not to cry. He knows maybe he SHOULD cry, but he also worries he won't stop if he begins.
He knows he won't be able to sleep again on these nights. He tries every time anyway, lying in the dark with his eyes shut tight. It never works, though, and eventually he gives up and does what he always does: he gets dressed as quietly as possible and slips out the door. Sometimes a wander around his own farm is enough, sometimes he walks as far as the schoolhouse, even. Whatever it is, there is something about the inky darkness that soothes him and tires him out at it same time, making him feel like he can rest.
Lately he's walked over past Green Gables farm. He knows why he does it (because you're gone on that girl, a voice that sounds suspiciously like Bash chuckles in his mind) but he tries not to think about it much. And he tries not to stay long, staring across the field at the window he thinks might be Anne's, like some love sick moke. Or worse, some...some lecher. He shudders at the thought. It's not like that, he just...he just feels better when he's close to Anne.
Gilbert is a deep thinking boy and always has been, but he's not much given to introspection. He thinks of himself as one of the least interesting topics to be found, and as such he doesn't spend much time divining the causes of his own behavior. He feels better when he's close to Anne, thus when he's sad and restless he wants to be close to her, and that is that. So he walks to Green Gables when the sadness weighs particularly on him, and stands in the field for a bit. He imagines Anne is sleeping inside, dreaming dreams that don't wake her with pain and sorrow. Thinking that makes him feel better, unties the knot of grief in his chest the tiniest bit.
It might have passed this way for a long time (though not forever; Gilbert will miss his father til the day he dies, but he is young and there is nothing so resilient as youth). He might have never told a soul about his night time rambles (though he suspects Mary knows, given the tender way she pats his head some mornings). He especially would never have told Anne. Except, of course, that one night Anne Shirley-Cuthbert woke up.
Anne can tell it's Gilbert Blythe, out there in the field. It makes her uncomfortable, how quickly she knows from just his shadow. But it's HIM. She can tell from the height, his straight back, the curls under his newsboy cap. Even at this distance, she knows it's him. But what could he be doing out there?
She herself had woken from a lovely dream she, too, cannot remember, other than that it had something to do with stars. She was one, she thinks. It was the most beautiful shining dream...but then she woke and she's not sure why, other than she thinks someone might have called her name. She was a bit surprised to find herself alone and awake in the black of night (or maybe early morning, she isn't sure).
She crept out of bed to the window to look upon the stars, hoping that she can slip back into the dream when she falls asleep. It's a clear, beautiful October night and it's almost as bright as day between the stars and the high, shining moon. So she sees the figure quite easily and after one jolt of fear, she realizes it's Gilbert. But why has he come? At first she thinks it's some kind of emergency, like the night of the Gillis fire, or when Minnie Mae had that awful croup. She thinks with a gasp of Mary, who isn't telling anyone but whom Anne knows (from all her Hammond experience) is at least 3 months gone with Bash's baby. But no, not an emergency. He isn't moving fast enough for that. He isn't actually moving at all.
She thinks for a minute she should just go back to bed, but she knows somehow that she could never mention this to him at school on Monday, and her curiosity is far too great to let this slip away. (Later, it will occur to her that she never thought to wake Matthew or Marilla, as she would have if it had been anyone else.)
She still feels like she's dreaming, in a way. So she doesn't think anything of just pulling her woolen stockings on under her night dress, and tip toeing downstairs before wrapping Matthew's thick plaid coat around herself. She laces up her boots quickly and creeps to the door. She should feel somewhat scandalous, going out to talk to a boy in this state of undress, but in dreams things like that don't matter so much.
Gilbert is still in a place of misery out in the field. He's grown up so much, he's had to, but in the wee hours of the morning he's just a boy yet. He misses his father and he needs him, to tell him what to do. To tell him what kind of man he's supposed to be trying to grow into. He wants to fall to his knees and holler up into the heavens, and he almost wishes he were very young so that he could. But he isn't, and he's concentrating so hard on not doing that that he doesn't see the front house door open until it's too late. Anne is walking out onto the porch and looking straight at him.
Gilbert's father brought him up not to curse and so he doesn't, but some of the more colorful phrases he learned on the ship run through his mind instantly. He should run, and he would have if he'd realized a minute sooner, but he's stuck. So he stands still as she stalks toward him, in nothing but (his cheeks are suddenly on fire) her night dress, and her hair loose for once, lying around the shoulders of the too-big coat she's wrapped herself in.
"Anne, I'm sorry, I just... I was just walking..." he stutters out in a loud whisper as she comes near him. "I didn't... I didn't mean to wake anyone, I didn't..." he drops his head to stare at the toes of his boots, unsure of what to say. He half expects her to slap him or something, though he isn't sure why. Surely she'll laugh at him, which is probably worse.
She says nothing, just walks closer to him until suddenly her toes are in his line of vision too. He forces himself to look up, look her in the face. Surprisingly she doesn't look angry at all, or like she's going to laugh. She just looks...well, questioning. (And pretty, eh Blythe? the Bash voice mocks)
"What is it, Gilbert?" she asks calmly. "Are you all right? Did...did you have a nightmare?"
He's shocked when she says that, when she reads him so easily. Although (and he feels a bit ashamed that he didn't think of it before) if there's one person in all of Avonlea who understands deep pain that comes for you even in your sleep, it's this girl in front of him, looking at him that way she does sometimes. Like she knows every part of him and doesn't judge him for any of it.
He nods once, then again. "I.. I miss my DAD" he blurts out. He winces to hear the tears in his voice, the desperation. What will she think of him? Anne thinks nothing at all, just feels a bone-rooted pity and understanding. She didn't before, but she does now. (She has a flash of Matthew's sick, white face and shivers.) Gilbert's eyes are shining in the moonlight from unshed tears, and she can't think of anything worse for him than to cry here, in front of her. She wouldn't mind at all, but she knows he would, and it would forever change things between them in a way neither of them are ready for. So she does the only thing she can think of, which is to reach out and take his hand.
His is warm and calloused. Hers is cold, soft and small. They don't speak. She keeps his hand in hers and leads him to the barn, where she sits on the big pile of hay just inside the door, and tugs him down beside her.
A few minutes tick by before Anne begins to talk. "At the asylum...well, I had quite bad dreams there, as I'm sure you can imagine. I would wake up and be afraid. I was afraid of the dark but...just the inside dark. Do you know what I mean? I use to think I... I wouldn't be afraid of the outside dark. It's so much more friendly somehow, don't you think?" He nods, still clutching her small fingers. He knows exactly what she means.
"And I used to think, if I could just go out into the outside dark and sort of, sort of make friends with it, I wouldn't be half so afraid. I used to lie in my bunk there and pretend I was walking under the full moon, and the bats were swooping overhead (but not in a frightening manner, Gilbert, you understand), and then I'd walk on and on and finally fall asleep in the forest, all curled up on a patch of moss. Like a wood nymph. So you see, I understand perfectly how you feel."
She lies back on the hay and so does he, reluctant to let go of her hand. He tries to swallow the lump in his throat, which is now part missing his father and part a strange joy at being so completely understood. "Did, um..." he croaks out. He clears his throat and tries again. "Did you ever do it? Leave and walk around?"
"Oh, no" she says absentmindedly. "We weren't allowed. We only got to go out for an hour every day by turn, depending on our ages. So I'd have been punished. But oh it was such lovely imagining!" Gilbert's chest knots for a second again with the cruelty of it, keeping this girl cooped up in a mean place where people hated her. This girl, who loves forests and butterflies and running streams, kept inside to fade away. He wants to say something, but nothing comes to mind except for sorrow, and she wouldn't like anyone feeling sorry for her, so he squeezes her fingers lightly instead. Her hand goes still with shock and he's mentally kicking himself for doing it when he feels the small, hesitant clutch of her hand in response.
After that they don't say anything at all for a long while, they just lie on the pile of sweet smelling hay, watching the moon through the open barn door. They inch nearer and nearer together, her head an inch or two from his shoulder. He wishes she would rest it there, but he knows that's too far. He wishes lots of things, but mostly that he could say what he's thinking, which is that he wants to stay out here all night with her. And all morning too. And maybe the night after that. And so on, forever. He also wishes he could tell Anne that he likes her so much because of the way she talks (on and on, so passionate, so sure, so interested in everything), but he'd never have guessed he could like her silence just as much.
The sky is beginning to purple around the edges when she sits up and says (and maybe it's just wishful thinking but he swears he hears reluctance in her voice) "Shall I walk you home? You could maybe sleep a bit now."
Gilbert wants more than anything to say yes. He lets himself imagine he could for a minute, that they could just stand up now and walk, holding hands, to his house. He even wishes (and a blush comes to his cheeks as he does) that when they reached his house, he didn't have to let go of her hand. He wishes he could open the door with the fingers not clasped in hers, that they could go inside and toe off their boots, then walk upstairs, still holding tight. He wishes that he could pull back his quilt and they could both climb in his bed. He wishes he could pull the blankets over them both and they could just fall asleep in their clothes, the way he used to as a little boy who needed naps. Sometimes, when he was small, his father would pull him onto his lap in the rocking chair and they'd creak back and forth until Gilbert was asleep.
Gilbert realizes that that's what he wants...he doesn't want Anne in his bed for anything dirty or wrong (come off it, boy, parts of you do, the Bash voice laughs) but just to be close and safe. Her nose is red with the chill now and he thinks about how warm and cozy they could be, snuggled in his bed, cold nose against cold nose. His palm aches for a minute, thinking of how it would feel to just put that one hand on her slender waist, and sleep. Like two bear cubs (he twitches a smile at the thought) tumbled together in their winter cave, without a thought to the outside world.
He knows he can't, of course. Even if she agreed (and she certainly would not), he could never do anything that would shame Anne. And the whole of it would shame her, even just walking to his house with her hand in his at this time of morning. Night. Whatever it is. The things people would say, would think, if they were seen make him angry, especially since he knows it's Anne they'd hold responsible. He can't have that. And anyway, he doesn't want her walking home again by herself. He knows nothing would happen to her, but after the grifters last year...well, he'd rather not chance it, is all. (Again he does not question these things, they simply ARE. Being close to Anne is good. Keeping Anne safe is good. He will do these things as much as he is able.)
"No," he tells her. "I'll be all right. Marilla and Matthew will be up soon and who knows what they'd think if you weren't in your bed!"
"Perhaps that some highwayman has come to steal me away!" she says dramatically. "Like in the poem." They both laugh. Anne and her dramatic readings. He hopes she does them forever.
"All right," he says. They stand up from the hay, brushing pieces of it from themselves. It's not easy to do one handed, but they don't want to let go just yet. Together they creep quietly toward Green Gables, keeping just out of sight of where, Anne says, Marilla's bedroom window is.
"And...and, that's mine," she says, and her face matches her hair as she points to one. "That's my room. If...if you ever, um, if..."
"Okay," he says, cutting her off, trying to save her any further embarrassment. "Thank you, Anne." He knows he will never use this information, will never actually stand there in the shadows tossing pebbles until she wakes. But he could. He could, and she would come down, and that means the whole world and then some. "I'm... I'm glad you woke up," he tells her, looking into her flushed, freckled face.
He likes Anne Shirley-Cuthbert more than he likes anyone in the world, he realizes. He wonders what she would say to that, if he just up and told her that she was his favorite person alive. He can't tell her, not now, but he wants to show her. He begins to pull a bit on the small hand still in his, just tugging her a tiny bit closer to him.
"Um, Gil..." she stammers out, but she lets herself be pulled. She maybe, even, nudges a little closer to him when he isn't pulling.
"I'm glad you woke up," he whispers again. "Although I'm sorry you'll be tired today...well. Anyway."
"Anyway," she breathes back, and suddenly they're both back in that tea shop before he sailed away from her. He remembers staring into her eyes then and having the oddest urge to lean across the table and take her hand and tell her to come with him. She wouldn't have, of course, and the ship would have been no place for her, but he wanted to ask all the same. Just as he wants to kiss her now. She's far closer than she was that day.
His heart is leaping in his chest. He's going to kiss her, he's going to kiss Anne. Her breath is coming fast and she looks a bit nervous, but not afraid. He's going to kiss Anne Shirley and she's going to let him. (That's the jubilant part, for him. She's going to let him because she wants to kiss him too.) He tugs her the tiniest bit closer yet and she comes willingly. He's not been this close to a girl ever (well, that breech birth doesn't count of course) and he's surprised that there's not much thinking involved, that you just know what to do.
His free arm comes up behind her, gently, not holding, just resting his palm on the scratchy wool of Matthew Cuthbert's coat. So lightly, she can get away if she wants to. He'd never hold her to him. If he has anything to do with it, no one will ever cage Anne in again.
His eyes are so close, Anne thinks. They're, why, they're GREEN. They aren't really, they're hazel for all everyone thinks they're brown. But up close, and looking like this, they're positively green. (She won't remember a lot about the details of this moment in later years, until their first son's eyes finish changing and take on this exact color, and she'll stare at him and say "why, your eyes are green," and though it is summer in that distant future, she will suddenly feel a crisp autumn chill. She will remember hay in her hair and her hand in his.)
Her mouth is so close, Gilbert thinks. I could kiss her. I'm going to kiss her. A strand of hair blows across her lips and he reaches out to nudge it away with his thumb. A small shiver goes through them both as he touches her mouth and the strand winds itself around his finger. It's so many colors at once, he sees, not just plain red. There's deep russet and flame orange and scarlet mixed in, altogether, and it's so beautiful. (In an even longer off future than the one with the green eyed toddler, Gilbert will be sitting in the same rocking chair he remembered earlier, with one twin daughter on each knee, falling asleep the way he did so long ago. The sun shining through the window hits their curls just right, both the dark haired little head and the one with her mother's hair, turning it to flame. He'll put one hand on each little warm head and feel a twinge of sadness that his father never got to see the rocker used this way, but mostly he just feels deep down happiness, a sense that everything has turned out the way it was always meant to.)
But all of that is many years and joys and sorrows in the future, and right now they are just children (barely, but children still), standing in the shadow of Green Gables, hands clasped, faces tilting and leaning toward one another. Their lips have almost touched when Anne pulls back with a gasp.
"I... Marilla!" Gilbert jerks away, half expecting to see the iron haired, iron willed woman herself, but Anne is merely pointing to the upstairs window, where a candle has just flared into view.
"I... I should go," he says, and for the first time in hours, he drops Anne's hand from his own.
"Oh, yes, I, I'll just sneak in downstairs and tell Marilla I thought the fox was in the chicken coop so I went to check," she says..
Foxes and chicken coops and candles, after a night of the moon and hand holding and kindred spirits, Gilbert thinks. Well, the dream like quality of the night is over for good.
"I'll, I'll see you Monday, at school," she says. "And, I hope you, you, um, get some rest. You'd better hurry." And then like a flash she's up on her tiptoes, and before he can register a bit of it her lips are on his cheek, and then she gasps out "sleep well" and flees into the house.
He's struck dumb for a minute. Her mouth was like a hummingbird. He presses his fingers to his face and then hears Marilla calling down "Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, is that you? What on earth are you doing?" That gets him moving if nothing else will. He's high tailing it across the field before he can think to do otherwise, though he stops at the edge to look back.
And there's Anne, in her window, holding a candle, watching him go. He lifts one hand hesitantly and she lifts hers in response. He knows they won't talk about this on Monday. They won't talk about this for years, maybe. But someday, he knows, someday.
And with that, Gilbert Blythe turns and walks home under the fading stars.