"Anne, could you please take the pie out of the oven?"
"Oh, Marilla, would you look at me? My hair is a disaster, and they are coming any moment!" Anne pleaded, staring in the mirror.
"Take the pie out, and then I'll come see," Marilla sighed, setting platter in the middle of the kitchen table. "And, let us all be thankful that the Virgin Mary wasn't so vain as you or we'd have no holiday guests at all!"
Marilla rushed over to where Anne was standing with the pie. "What's the problem?"
"My braid fell out and I can't find my brush!" Anne said weepily.
"Well, we don't have time to braid it again. We'll just have to make do with what we have. Brushing Anne's hair out with her fingers, Marilla took two strands of hair from each side of her face and tied them together with a plain, burgundy ribbon at the back of her head. When she turned Anne around to face her, she was shocked to see how grown up Anne looked. It had been nearly four years since Anne showed up on their doorstep, small and impulsive. Now, the woman who stood before her, although quite distressed, seemed elegant and poised. Marilla felt a tear threatening to fall from her eye as she thought of all her daughter's accomplishments over the past four years.
"Marilla, what's wrong? Are you having one of your headaches again? I can get your glasses if you would like," Anne looked at Marilla with concern.
Marilla shook her head and took Anne's hands, blinking back her tears. "No, no, Anne, I'm quite alright. You just seem so grown up at this moment. I keep forgetting that you're not a girl anymore."
Anne kissed Marilla on the cheek, "That girl is still in here for better or for worse, and she's going anywhere any time soon."
A knock on the parlor door took them out of their reverie. Marilla's voice slipped back into its natural stern tone. "Anne, go answer the door while I put the pie on the table."
Anne rushed over to the door, calling out for Matthew. "Matthew, they're here!" Opening the door, she tried to be the picture of grace. "Merry Christmas and welcome to our home!"
Mary stepped in first, holding Naomi, "Why, Anne, I don't think I've ever seen you looking lovelier."
Anne lowered her eyes and blushed. "We've been so busy preparing, I don't think I've looked in the mirror yet."
Bash and Gilbert stepped in behind her. "Merry Christmas, Anne," Bash said, holding out a wrapped fruitcake. "Three years, we've been coming here for Christmas now. I'd say that makes an official tradition."
Anne took the fruitcake, "I'm inclined to agree with you there, Bash." She gestured toward the sofa, "Please, take a seat, all of you."
Gilbert took an awkward step forward, "Anne, is there anything I can help with?"
She smiled warmly, "No, Gil. You are our guest. Just sit down, and I will be in after a moment."
As Anne went to place the fruitcake on the table, Gilbert stared at her. He had never seen her with her hair down before, and he was completely enchanted. He watched as she caught her reflection, a surprised look on her face. His gaze was fixed on her face as she studied her reflection.
He turned to face Mary. "Mr. Cuthbert just asked you how your apprenticeship in Charlottetown has been going."
"Oh, wonderfully. Thank you, Mr. Cuthbert," he said, watching Anne sit down out of the corner of his eye.
"Will you be able to continue with it when we get to Queen's?" Anne asked.
He looked at her, happy to have an opportunity to converse. Before he could open his mouth, Marilla called from the kitchen. "Dinner is ready!"
Dinner was delicious from the roast pork to the boiled potatoes. Anne was completely and positively stuffed. She couldn't recall a dinner where she had laughed so much in her life. Bash told stories of his and Gilbert's time in Trinidad, mainly embarrassing Gilbert, while Anne regaled them with stories of Aunt Jo's last summer soirée, leaving out the parts that would scandalize her guardians.
"So, Anne, will you read us something tonight?" Matthew asked, leaning back in his chair.
"It wouldn't be Christmas without one of your dramatic readings," Bash added.
Anne giggled. "I will," she acquiesced, "but only if Gilbert reads some too!"
"Of course, I'll read one, but you all have to promise not to compare me to Anne," he winked at her.
The group stood up and moved to retreat to the parlor, as Marilla made her way to the sink. Anne moved to where Marilla was and told her sternly. "Enough, Marilla. I'll take care of the initial washing up. Go and visit with our guests, and we can put away the rest once they have left."
Marilla opened her mouth to argue, but upon seeing Gilbert grab a parcel from his coat, she nodded and left the kitchen wordlessly. While Marilla always hoped that Anne would never limit herself for the sake of a man, she had grown accustomed to the idea of Gilbert's affection for Anne, certain that he would never hold her back. Like Bash, Marilla was acutely aware of Gilbert's affections toward her daughter. And, although she vowed that she would never interfere with Anne's own goals and ambitions, she found herself welcoming opportunities for them to spend time together.
Taking a seat in the parlor, Marilla watched as Gilbert made his way into the kitchen.
When he entered, Anne's back was turned away from him, wrapping the remaining loaf of bread in a checkered cloth.
"Need any help?"
The deepness of his voice startled her and jumped back from the counter. "Gil, you scared me!" she let out a nervous laugh. "Um, sure," she said looking around the kitchen. "Could you take the rest of the cranberry sauce and put it into a jar?"
He nodded and followed her directions. Summoning his courage, he decided to speak, "I don't know how you can still manage to look like royalty when you're scraping food into the slop bucket."
She let out a burst of laughter, "I'm not sure that there are any red headed queens out there, but I suppose I'm glad that I can slop the pigs with some measure of grace!"
"Queen Elizabeth had red hair."
Anne snorted, "No, she didn't. Who told you that, Gil?"
He leaned back against the counter alongside her, "I know that for a fact she was. When my dad and I were coming back from Alberta, we had to take a train to Montreal where I saw a painting of Queen Elizabeth in the museum. She had bright red hair, and she was considered the most beautiful woman in England--not to mention that she outsmarted and outmaneuvered all the men around her." Anne blushed under his gaze. "Reminds me of someone else I know."
Anne bit her lip as she heard his words. He was flirting with her--the realization brought butterflies to her stomach. His words had never affected her in this way before. Not wanting to let him have the last word, she stood up straight, and using her most regal voice, commanded him to put the candlesticks away.
Once they had finished clearing away most of the table, he turned to her with his hands behind his back. "I have something for you."
Anne smiled, knowing there was no way he could beat her present this year. She had Aunt Jo order it from Nova Scotia last month. "I also have something for you," she said as she took a brown paper parcel from the shelf behind her.
They exchanged parcels and began unwrapping them. Gilbert managed to unwrap his first and read, "The Medicinal Properties of Eastern Canadian Flora."
Anne grinned, "You mentioned once how difficult it was for country doctors to get all the medicines they need, so when I saw this in a catalog, I knew you had to have it."
Gilbert was incredibly touched. He was so passionate about medicine, and while he knew Anne didn't share his same passion for the subject, he realized how closely she must have been listening to have picked such a gift. "Anne, I don't know what to say. This is the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me."
Her heart lightened knowing that her gift had the desired effect. "No need to say anything."
She paused for a moment before laughing "I suppose I must be turning into a teacher if I gave you such an academic gift!"
"Well, thank you, Miss Shirley," he said softly before pushing her still partially wrapped gift toward her. "Go ahead. Open it."
She ripped the paper open to see a beautiful, green, leather-bound book. "The Collected Works of Walt Whitman," she whispered.
"He's my favorite poet." He matched her volume.
It was the most beautiful book she had ever received. She traced her fingers over the embossed title before opening the front cover to see Gilbert's small and neat handwriting: "Always read these poems aloud. His words were meant to be spoken by your voice. - Gil."
When she looked up, she saw him looking at her expectantly. She threw her arms around him and hugged him. "Oh, Gil, it's absolutely perfect. Thank you!"
For a moment, she was sure she could feel his heart beating loudly between the layers of fabric that separated them. She let the embrace linger a little too long before she stepped back. Only a few inches from his face, she studied him. His eyes were almost childlike in how they sparkled, but they were only a child's eyes on a man's face. The skin under his eyes were dark, betraying his intense work ethic, and his jaw and cheekbones were angular, so she could see every movement his face made. She always knew that he was handsome--it was the first thing she learned about him--but she never stopped and truly recognized it until now. She tried to step out of her body and view herself standing next to him--sure to find herself inadequate in some way. But, as he stared at her, she found she couldn't picture it. At this distance, his face told no lies, and she could see clearly that his gaze was one of admiration. Suddenly, she found herself forgetting what she looked like and simply felt, for the first time, that she was beautiful.
The feeling was intense and strange, and she felt the urgent need to break eye contact. She stepped back quickly.
Gilbert cleared his throat not knowing what to say.
"Well, I'm going to have to recite one of these poems now," she said, slightly too quickly to be normal.
He nodded and smiled gently, "Shall we?"
She nodded, and they made their way in to join the others.
"And what do you think Shakespeare is trying to convey by changing the meter in this scene?"
Anne's hand shot up in the air. As one of the students selected to take the Queens Academy entrance exam, she was finally being properly challenged in school, and although she missed sitting next to Diana in class, school was simply more exhilarating knowing that each lesson was preparing her for her higher education.
Miss Stacey nodded at Anne with a smile.
"I think he's trying to express something about the characters. Whereas Hamlet is pensive and brooding, Polonius speaks without thinking. In this way, poetry is a way of showing how the characters' inner motivations relate to the words they speak."
Miss Stacey beamed. "Well, there is no one right answer, but I would agree that that is a valid interpretation. Now, well I work with the younger students, I want each of you to work with the student next to you to try to make an argument about the text and write about it in paragraph form."
In front of her, Anne saw Josie Pye groan as Charlie Sloane looked at his book cluelessly. She giggled at the interaction before turning to Gilbert who flashed her a dashing smile that made her heart beat a little faster.
It was the first day she had seen him since Christmas, and it caught her off guard how her awareness of him had changed. Ever since their moment in the kitchen of Green Gables, Anne couldn't stop thinking about him. On Christmas, she had recognized his handsomeness as part of him, seeing his personality in his every feature. She stared at his face and felt beautiful. He compared her to a queen, and she felt respected. He gave her a gift, and she felt loved. It made her nervous and excited all at once to realize how much better she was because he was in her life. Was this what love felt like?
She swallowed nervously and returned his smile. "So, what part of Act III do you want to focus on?"
He pushed his open book in front of her watching her closely. "I was thinking Scene 3. I know how you like the most dramatic parts," he teased.
She laughed, feeling tension leave her body. She hadn't told him anything. He didn't know how much she thought about him, and how she had begun to imagine Gilbert as more than a friend for the first time. She could explore her feelings on her own, without telling him anything and nothing would change unless she wanted it to.
They fell into an easy rhythm together, discussing Shakespeare and debating intricacies of poetic literature, and as Anne explained her points, Gilbert sat in awe of her intellect. She was book smart and street smart. He loved that she could just as easily write a sonnet as barter with a pawnbroker. Taking a breath, he decided to try and show her. "I'm so lucky I sit next to you instead of Charlie."
"And why is that?" she said a little more flirtatiously than she wanted to.
"Because you actually know what you're talking about most of the time."
"Most of the time?" she raised one eyebrow.
He smiled impishly, "Well, all of the time, save for geometry."
She swatted his arm, "And to think that I brought you the extra apple tart I made today."
"You brought me a tart?" he said, one side of his mouth curling up.
She tried to look as restrained and graceful as she could when she replied. "Well, I figured that I ought to thank you for all the glorious poetry you bestowed upon me."
"You really liked it?"
She couldn't help but burst with excitement at the thought. "I read the whole thing yesterday! I can't believe I had never read any of his poetry before."
He laughed. "I knew you would appreciate it--not many do. His poems are…" he paused looking for the correct word, "unconventional, but they always spoke to me more than any sonnet could."
She looked at him with rapt attention, and he decided to continue, "My father read many of the poems to me as a child, but when he got sick, I read them to him everyday. He would always say that Whitman could 'speak to a free soul unlike anyone.'"
His face reddened slightly. "I guess that's why it would speak to you."
Anne smiled gently. They hadn't spoken of his father since that day in Charlottetown three years ago. She had always felt like it was a sore spot in their friendship--a testament to her self-centeredness. Hearing him speak about his father was like finally taking the bandage off of a wound to see that it has finally healed.
"I wish I had the opportunity to get to know him better," she put her hand over his on top of the desk. "He sounds like a true kindred spirit."
Gilbert's heart began to beat rapidly at the contact. He wanted to embrace her at that moment, knowing that she finally understood the man he lost. "Thank you," he said softly.
They didn't say another word until lunch when Anne went over to the corner where Gilbert sat reading the book she gave him and set a tart on the desk in front of him. "Marilla always says that proper nourishment is key to a growing mind."
He smiled and took a bite of the tart. "Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, your baking skills never cease to impress me."
She beamed and wordlessly went back over to sit with Diana and the other girls.
Gilbert finished the tart with single bite and turned the page. Suddenly, a hand snatched the book out of his hand. "Whatcha reading, bud?" Billy Andrews asked, flipping roughly through the pages, when a small piece of paper Gilbert had never seen before fell out.
Before Gilbert could bend down to grab the paper, Billy snatched it off the ground and began reading it aloud.
"Merry Christmas, Gil!"
Realizing the note's contents, Gilbert reached to take the paper back, but Billy only spoke louder. "I can only hope that this book inspires you in your vocation as much as you inspire me in mine. With love, Anne."
Gilbert's eyes darted over to where Anne sat. His mind was still reeling from the note she wrote for him, but as he looked at the horror on Anne's face, his embarrassment sank in.
"Looks like the orphan freak's got a little crush," Billy announced.
Gilbert was furious, but before he could do anything, Anne had walked up to Billy and stepped on his foot and snatched the note out of his hand in one movement. "Billy Andrews, you are a vilest boy I have ever met in my life! The least you could do is be an interesting villain, but all you are is a snobbish, insipid jerk!"
Billy grabbed his foot in pain, looking at Anne with complete shock. She had never hurt him before. A girl had never hurt him before. He set his foot down, ready to retaliate, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Leave it, Billy," Gilbert said, his voice as deep and as serious as ever.
Billy shrugged Gilbert's hand off his shoulder and stomped out of the classroom, mumbling, "Like I'd ever hit a girl anyway."
When Billy left, Gilbert went up to Anne, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Are you alright?"
Anne didn't meet has eyes and subtly stepped away from his touch. "Quite alright, Gilbert. Billy's comments were rude, and he clearly misinterpreted my note of fraternal affection for something completely different," she said, loud enough so the entire classroom could here.
The words tasted bitter in her mouth, and she quickly glanced up to see the look on his face. She couldn't tell if it was anger, hurt, or resignation--most likely all three. She looked down at the floor and turned away before he could say anything else.
The rest of the day was agony for them both. They were both keenly aware of the whispers of their classmates. Anne couldn't look at him, knowing that that sad expression on his face was her doing. She was angry at herself. He was so kind to her all the time, always supporting her, and sharing his honest thoughts and feelings with her. She could feel herself becoming the type of person she had always aspired to be. But, in this moment, she had never felt uglier or more conceited. She had hurt the person who she wanted to be happy more than anything. Her words had sickened her.
Gilbert felt at a loss. Only now that he found the most tangible sign of her returned affection, Anne wouldn't even look at him. He had felt her opening up to him, feeling confident in herself, and now she sat, looking miserable and shameful. He longed to take her hand and tell her that she didn't need to worry about Billy Andrews or anyone else because he loved her and that was all that mattered.
But, he didn't. She had drawn a line in the sand, publicly referring to him as a brotherly figure. He knew she didn't see him that way--they had become increasingly flirtatious of late--but he took her words as a sign that she was not comfortable talking about any romantic feelings yet. He sighed internally, feeling like he had taken one step forward, only to take two steps back.
He watched as his hand twitched on the desk next to her arm, waiting for their walk home when he could joke around with her and forget this whole mess. The day felt endless until Miss Stacey called for the class to be dismissed.
He turned to Anne, but before he could say anything, she had darted off to Miss Stacey's desk, and swiftly exited the classroom. He waited a moment before the entire class had left the classroom to approach Miss Stacey. "Where did Anne go?"
"She said that she wasn't feeling well and had to miss today."
The look of Gilbert's face made her wonder if there was something going on with Anne, but she decided to wait before asking Gilbert about it.
"Anne! Anne! Wait up!" Diana called after her friend who was currently running full-speed away from the schoolhouse.
Diana chased after her until Anne started to slow down, out of breath. She didn't turn as Diana came up behind her. "Anne, can we talk about what happened today?"
Anne whipped around as she cried angrily, "Why? So we can add another item on the infinitesimally long list of my humiliations?"
Diana didn't recoil, simply placing a hand on Anne's shoulder. "Anne, it wasn't that bad."
Anne shook her head violently, "No, Diana. Didn't you hear what they were saying about me--Gil--us?" Her eyes narrowed. "They kept saying that I had a crush on him!"
Diana's voice was even as she responded. "Why is that necessarily a bad thing?"
Anne struggled to find the words to justify her reaction. "Because--because…Ruby!"
Diana rolled her eyes. "Anne, you and I both know that Ruby hasn't looked at Gilbert since Hugh Crawford asked her to dance at the harvest dance last September."
Anne was flustered. "Well, okay, but you know how they mean it. I don't want them all to view me like the sad, ugly orphan girl who is desperately pining with unrequited love for Avonlea's golden boy!"
"Is that how you see it?" Diana asked softly.
Anne sighed and sat on the ground, falling back against a thick oak tree. "Diana, you know I don't have the easiest time liking myself."
Diana nodded. "I know, Anne," she spoke gently. "But, I was asking more about the love part. Do you love Gilbert?"
At this, Anne burst into tears and, covering her face with her hands, shook her head. "I think perhaps I do."
Diana moved to kneel beside her, wrapping her arms around her friend. "Oh, Anne, that is just wonderful."
Anne pulled away from their embrace. "Wonderful? Diana, this makes it so much worse, don't you see?
"Gil makes me feel beautiful and intelligent and loved, and what do I do? I tell him he's like a brother to me and make him think I have no feelings for him!"
Anne sighed and thought for a moment, not fully understanding why she reacted the way she did. "I suppose it all comes down to other people. When it's just the two of us, I feel secure enough to express my feelings, but when everyone else is around, I feel…I don't know…deficient?"
Anne nodded. "Like everyone is staring at me and realizing that I'm not good enough for him."
Diana frowned and placed her hands on Anne's shoulders, looking her dead in the eye. "Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, I've said this before, and I'll say it again. You are completely worthy of him, and if he makes you happy, who cares what anyone else says?"
Anne's sobs became louder. "Oh, Diana, you're right. But, I was scared and I hurt him! How can I fix that?"
Diana said nothing as she embraced her crying friend, stifling her sobs on her shoulder.
Over the next couple days, Anne did not stay after school. She found herself freezing every time she wanted to speak to him. Every time he spoke to her was about classwork, and the few times he smiled, it never reached his eyes. She was desperate to talk to him but found that she just couldn't bring herself to do it.
Miss Stacey began to notice how quiet Anne and Gilbert were in class. Their normal engaged conversation and banter was replaced by awkward interactions and noticeable silences. On the third day, Miss Stacey decided she had to intervene or watch Anne fall behind in her education.
"Gilbert? Could you come here? I'd like to have a word," Miss Stacey motioned Gilbert toward the teacher's closet.
"Yes, Miss Stacey?" Gilbert was a little surprised to be called in to talk with Miss Stacey during recess, but he smiled as he followed her.
Miss Stacey brushed her hands on her skirt as she spoke, "Now, Gilbert. Generally, I don't try to get involved in my student's personal lives. However, seeing as this matter has become academic, I feel I must intervene."
"Are my academics slipping, Miss Stacey? Because I can--"
Miss Stacey smiled slightly, "No, no, Gilbert. Your academics are fine. I was actually hoping that you knew why Anne hasn't been coming to after school classes."
Gilbert's face blanched. How could he tell Miss Stacey about what had happened? Would that betray Anne's trust?
"Gilbert, you know that if there's something I can do to help, you should tell me. I know that you don't want her falling behind in school either, so I'm hoping you can help me." The look Miss Stacey gave him was so understanding, he felt himself break under the pressure of her gaze.
He told her the entire story, even showing her the note Anne had written him--which he had conveniently kept tucked away in his shirt pocket. He told her about how he felt like Anne's self-esteem had finally begun to improve, trying to avoid revealing his feelings too much. "I really care about her, and I want to talk to her about what happened. She seems to want nothing to do with me anymore. She looks ashamed whenever she sees me." He hung his head slightly.
Miss Stacey put a hand on his shoulder. "I know you care, Gilbert, but know that her treatment of you is far less about you--yourself--than you think it is."
He nodded and gave her a half-hearted smile before leaving the room.
Once class was dismissed that day, Miss Stacey called Anne to her desk.
"Yes, Miss Stacey?" Anne asked anxiously.
"How are you feeling today? Would you be able to come to class afterschool today?"
Anne pinked and looked down at the floor. "I'm not quite sure, Miss Stacey. I'm still--"
"Because I'm worried about you missing so much class time especially with the Queen's entrance exam only 5 months away," Miss Stacey said with her most concerned expression.
"I'm sure that--"
"I just want to make sure you're taking this seriously, Anne."
Anne's eyes widened into shock, and Miss Stacey smiled, knowing that her words had their desired effect.
"Miss Stacey, I've never been so serious about anything in my life!" Anne exclaimed, gesturing profusely to properly express her passion for the subject.
"Then, you'll be coming to class now?"
"Yes, of course!" Anne nodded rapidly. "What would you have me do today?"
Miss Stacey tried to suppress a sly smile. "I want you to read this," she said, placing a book in Anne's hands.
"Pride and Prejudice?" Anne looked at her skeptically. "I must have read it a dozen times in the asylum."
"Sometimes books can take on a new meaning when we read them in different circumstances, so I find it can often be helpful to read a book again."
Anne nodded, silently looking down at the book.
"And," Anne looked up, hearing her teacher continue, "I would like you to write something--an essay, a poem, a story, anything--about a time when you treated someone unfairly."
Anne's eyes darted to the boy in the corner who was already looking at her. He gave her a small, supportive smile, and for the first time since the incident, she smiled back.
The rest of the afternoon, Anne and Gilbert worked in a companionable silence until Miss Stacey spoke, "Alright, you two, you've worked hard enough today. Go home and enjoy the weekend."
Anne was suddenly filled with a rush of anxiety. Would she and Gilbert walk home together today? Did he even want to after she disappointed him so? She felt her heart beat quicker, unsure of what to do.
She put her coat on slowly, waiting for a sign from him.
"You ready to go?" he asked.
She nodded and followed him out the door. She bit her lip nervously. What would he want to talk about? Would he bring up the note or how she hadn't looked him in the eye for days?
"I'm glad you're feeling better, Anne. Class was boring without you," he said, eyes twinkling.
She let out a breath of relief. He wasn't going to bring up the real reason she had been avoiding him. "Well, I'm glad to be back."
They walked on, laughing and joking, feeling as carefree as they had in days, but the incident in the schoolhouse still hung in the air. The incident had revealed something which exhilarated and terrified them both. Anne was falling in love with him.