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Lovable

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"Well, Anne, I think this may be your best story yet!" Miss Stacey beamed, as she handed Anne back her paper.

At Miss Stacey's insistence, Anne had been working on her writing for an hour every day after school while Gilbert focused on his medical studies. In that time, Anne's writing had become polished, losing some of its flower while still maintaining a poetic tone. When Miss Stacey had met the fidgety and overzealous girl, she had expected Anne to be her "problem student"-- there was always one in every class. However, in the past year and a half, Anne had blossomed into a compassionate and thoughtful young woman while still maintaining the passion and fire which made her such a joy to teach.

"Really?" Anne broke into a grin. "It was the most arduous effort I have ever put into a story."

"Well, it most certainly paid off because the ending had me in tears," Miss Stacey smiled. "I can clearly see that all the Dickens I assigned you has made its way into your writing."

"I suppose I can relate to Oliver and Pip more than most," she said with a rueful smile. Breaking eye contact with Miss Stacey, she caught Gilbert's eye from the corner of the room, finally remembering he was there. He gave her an understanding look.

Over the past several months, they had begun walking home together after their extended school days. During that time, Gilbert had come to learn quite a bit about Anne's past as well as some of her "spells." He was always curious about what specifically was going on in her mind at these moments, but he never pushed her to open up. She was grateful for it, and she had begun to feel comfortable enough to entrust him with some of her more painful memories.

Quickly returning her gaze to Miss Stacey, she continued, "It was almost painful to write the story. Normally when I write, I like my protagonist. I try to make her into everything I wish I could be, but I took your idea of choosing someone who I disliked to mold my 'heroine' and found myself writing a much more interesting character."
"I was wondering who you based Mrs. Drummond on--if you don't mind me asking," Miss Stacey said, placing a gentle hand on Anne's arm.

Anne paused for a second thoughtfully, "When I tried to think of who I dislike, the first person who came to my mind was Mrs. Hammond--from the last family I was in service to."

She shuddered a bit as the memory of a specific beating came to mind. "She hated me and hated her children and hated her husband, and I would always wonder why she married him and why she had so many children if they made her so unhappy. At the time, I thought she had made these awful choices that made her unhappy. It was her choice to be so hateful, and her choice to be so awful to me. I still think it was to some extent, but as I was writing her character, trying to understand her emotions and motivations, I began to see that she had not made those choices. That she was trapped in a loveless marriage to a cruel man, unable to stop herself from getting pregnant, each child taking a toll on her. I suppose that why I made her a victim. Because although she's the villain in my story, I realized she had an entire life of experiences I was unaware of…" She trailed off.

Miss Stacey moved to take Anne's hand in her own, giving it a reaffirming squeeze. "Thank you for sharing that with me, Anne, especially because I know it's not an easy topic."

Anne's somber expression lifted, "You know, I actually think writing it made me feel a little better about that part of my life. There are so many things that I’m not supposed to speak about, so they just rattle around in my head stubbornly. When I put them on paper--write about them--I can examine those experiences and learn from them."

Miss Stacey smiled in understanding. "I do believe you have reached a breakthrough in your writing, and as such, I would like to submit your story to a political magazine in Montreal."

Anne's eyes widened. She--Anne Shirley-Cuthbert--could be a published author! Her mind raced with possibilities as she imagined her name and story in print alongside beautiful poems and other tragical tales. "But, why a political magazine, Miss Stacey? Why not a literary magazine?"

Miss Stacey's sly expression betrayed her pride in her student, "Anne, I think you have written a piece that is a bit more radical than you know."

"Radical? How?"

"Anne, I think the older you get, the more you will find that feeling compassion for the poor, for women, and especially for those who have hurt you generally makes the average reader uncomfortable. Luckily, you--both of you," she said, formally including Gilbert in the conversation, "have that sort of compassion in spades."

Gilbert smiled warmly at Anne. She looked down at her feet, feeling her face warm.

Miss Stacey clapped her hands together, "Well, that being said, Gilbert, how is the chapter on chemical nomenclature coming along?"

Gilbert smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. He hadn't been able to get more than a few pages into the chapter before he was distracted by talk of Anne's story. "I haven't finished yet. Can I take the book home and finish the chapter there?"

Miss Stacey smiled and nodded. While Gilbert's focus had been slightly affected by Anne's participation in their after school sessions, Gilbert had become noticeably more passionate and creative as a result. Not to mention how Gilbert's easy-going and considerate nature had clearly made Anne a more thoughtful and reflective writer. What had once seemed to be a fierce fight to prove who was the cleverest had become a more supportive competition, forging a bond between the two. Several times, Miss Stacey had come into the schoolhouse in the morning to see Gilbert proofreading one of Anne's stories or Anne explaining her anecdotal experience with a particular home remedy. And, as much as she wanted to stay out of it, she had begun to notice Gilberts lingering gaze as Anne tucked a stray curl behind her ear or as she recited a particularly romantic poem, secretly hoping in those moments that Anne would notice the lovelorn boy.

She turned to Anne. "As for you, I'm giving this back to you. Go home and edit the parts that I marked, and bring it back tomorrow for me to post."

Anne looked positively giddy, "And how much for the postage?"

Miss Stacey shook her head, "No charge. I'll pay for the postage. Consider it a belated birthday gift from me."

Anne beamed, "If this is how my sixteenth year of life begins, I'm excited to see what else it will bring me!"

Miss Stacey laughed, "Now run along home, you two! You have quite a bit of work to do tonight."

 

Once they had exited the schoolhouse, Gilbert held out his arm to Anne, "Why, Miss Published-Author, would you allow me to escort you home?"

Anne giggled and slipped her arm through his, "I'm not published yet, Gil. They may not even accept my story."

"Of course, they'll accept it! I've read all your other stories which, in my opinion, could have been published anywhere, and if this one is as much a masterpiece as Miss Stacey says, I'm sure this one will do the trick." Gilbert looked down at her, admiring the way the strands of hair that had fallen out of her braid framed her face.

Anne looked back at him, one eyebrow raised, "Well, how would you really know unless you've read it?"

"Is this your way of asking me to read your masterpiece?"

She gave him an impish grin, "Oh, Gil, I am truly wicked! I long to be complimented, but since I'm not beautiful, I need someone to compliment my intelligence!"

Gilbert frowned as she insulted her appearance again. He hated that she despised her appearance. He had always thought she was beautiful in an interesting way, but almost overnight, she had become one of the most "classically" beautiful women he had ever seen. Her bright red braids suddenly were combined into a thick auburn braid that hung over one shoulder. Her girl's dress had been traded in for a woman's skirt and blouse. And, her lithe figure began to attract the objectifying gaze of the other boys. It seemed that all of Avonlea, except for Anne, had come to see what he always knew. Still, complimenting her beauty terrified him. He felt that contradicting her would have been to reveal too much. He never paused to congratulate her on her intelligence and achievements though.

"Okay, fine, Anne! You win! I'll read your story," he said in mock exasperation. "Do you want to come over for dinner tonight? Bash just got some new spices to try out."
Anne hesitated for a moment before speaking, "Yes, that sounds lovely. Let's just stop by Green Gables, so I can tell Marilla."

 

"Bash, that was just about the most scrumptious meal I've ever had in my life!" Anne exclaimed. "Don't tell Marilla I said that, though."

"Thank you, Anne. It's always good to have you around here. I think Blythe here behaves better when you are!" Bash said, winking at her.

"I heard that," Gilbert cried from the parlor, where he put another log on the fire.

Anne blushed. Ever since Cole told her that Gilbert liked her months ago, it seemed like everything that went on between them had a different meaning. Sitting next to him at Bash and Mary's wedding, walking home, and even studying felt more intimate. It didn't help that Bash and Diana would make little comments about how Gilbert acted different around her. Even Marilla made a pointed comment about how Gilbert would make a very diligent husband to someone someday.

Sometimes these comments drove her crazy. How could Gilbert feel anything romantic toward her? She was pig-headed, homely, and always questioning everything. Gilbert, on the other hand, was Gilbert. He was intelligent--which was an admirable trait in a boy--considerate, driven, respectful, and handsome. It was a truth universally acknowledged in Avonlea that Gilbert Blythe was the best husband any girl in town could get. While Anne begrudgingly admitted to herself that he was perfect "life-mate" material, she refused to entertain the improbable idea of him ever loving her. Any insinuation felt almost like a joke they were playing on her.
Gilbert's re-entrance into the kitchen interrupted Anne's musings. "Okay, so our we going to hear this story or not?"

Bash looked between the two of them, grinning, "What story is this?"

Gilbert beamed with pride as he explained how Anne's story would be submitted for publishing. "I just hope I can find something to compliment," he teased.

Mary walked past and smacked Gilbert in the head as she did so, "Gilbert Blythe, it's a wonder Anne comes here at all with all of your cheek!" Glancing at Anne, she smiled,
"I'm sure we would all like to hear it. Let's go to the parlor."

In the corner of the parlor sat a bassinet where Bash and Mary's baby daughter was lying down. Rushing straight to the bassinet, Anne found a smiling baby Naomi.

Picking up the baby, Anne lifted the baby on to her shoulder with ease, walking around the room with her.

Gilbert, Mary, and Bash sat down around the room. "Anne, you look like you were born to carry that baby," Mary laughed.

Anne grinned back at her, "I should hope I can carry a baby by now. I've only been doing it my entire life."

Gilbert was transfixed. He could easily imagine Anne as a mother--a great mother. He thought back to the day when Anne told him she would be a terrible wife. At the time, it seemed like such a strange thing to say, but he found himself thinking about the episode quite often. And, when he did think about Anne as a wife--his wife, she wasn't a bad one either. Anne was an excellent cook, miraculous with children, and beautiful; but he could never see her as a wife like all the other women in Avonlea. He pictured Anne as a wife more like Mary. They were both strong, fun, smart, driven, and compassionate. But, then again, he figured that neither Anne nor Mary fit the traditional definition of wife as much Anne's word "life-mate."

Yes, he decided, Anne would not make a good wife, but she would definitely make an excellent "life-mate."

"Well, are you going to read to us or not?" Gilbert playfully raised an eyebrow, extending the copy of Anne's story.

Anne gave Naomi to her father and snatched her story from Gilbert's hands.

She sat on the sofa, her posture, the perfect picture of elegance. Clearing her throat, she began to read. "The town of Greenboro was an uneventful one. Children were born, grew up, and got married without incident…"

When she had finished, she looked up to see tears in Mary's eyes as well as a single tear rolling down Gilbert's cheek. Bash spoke first "Anne, I've gotta say, when I heard it was your story, I didn't expect something so bleak."

Anne shrugged with an teasing smile. "I suppose I can control my muse any better than Mary is able to control the likes of you."

Mary dabbed at her eyes, smiling slightly at Anne's quip. "Anne, I think you may have spoken to all women with that story." Mary liked and trusted Anne for this reason. Unlike most of the white women in Avonlea, Anne had truly lived as a social outcast; and, although she was now accepted as one of them, Anne's compassion for the outsider had never left her.

Mary knew what it was like to have an unwanted pregnancy--and to hate the man who got you pregnant. In Anne's story, Mary saw what her life could have been if Elijah's father had never left. It made her all the more grateful to have a kind and compassionate man like Bash in her life with a daughter she had wanted to have.
Mary got up and sat next to where Bash was cradling their child. She kissed him lovingly. "I am so lucky to have you in my life."

Anne suddenly felt like an intruder on their moment and looked to Gilbert to ease some of her awkwardness. She saw Gilbert looking at the pair wistfully and realized that he hadn't said anything about her story yet. "So, Gil, what did you think?"

Gilbert looked at her intensely and stood up. "Would you like me to walk you home now?"

Anne shook her head. She knew how much work he had to do before he went to sleep. "How about to the end of the orchard?"

Gilbert nodded, and they grabbed their coats.

"Goodbye, you three!" Anne waved at Bash, Mary, and Naomi.

 

The cold dusk air hit the two of them as they left the house. They walked several moments without saying anything. Gilbert's silence was unnerving. Anne was legitimately concerned that she had hurt him in someway. "Gil, your silence is making me a little nervous."

Gilbert sighed, "Sorry, I'm just deep in thought. I want to explain my opinion well."

He stopped and grabbed her wrist so that she faced him. Her breath hitched when she realized how close they were to each other.

"When I listened to your story, I was struck by this indescribable sadness, thinking about how this woman lived her entire life without ever being loved. You described it so vividly that I could feel her hopelessness and longing. But, then I realized that the reason you could explain the feeling so well is that you had experienced it yourself." He heard his heart beating and hoped that she couldn't hear it.

She didn't say anything but nodded stoically.

"But, I hope you know you're loved now." Her eyes shot up to meet his, and he stuttered, "By Miss Cuthbert, Mr. Cuthbert, Diana, you know..."

He watched as she averted her eyes, as if his response disappointed her. He slid his hand from her wrist to her hand. "You have such a talent for writing, Anne. I could feel everything that Mrs. Drummond felt in the story, but it also made me think. It made me think about how men treat their wives, or men treat women in general, and I worry about my future marriage."

She slowly brought her gaze back up to meet his as he continued, "It made me think about your idea of the 'love-bond,' and how I don't think I could every marry a woman who wasn't my equal in everyway. I never want the woman I love to feel forced into anything."

Anne could feel herself trembling as a terrifying though entered her head-- was Gil was speaking about her? She wasn't sure if she wanted to embrace him or run away from him, so instead she stood frozen to her spot, reeling in his ambiguity.

Suddenly, Gilbert released her hand and stepped back, allowing her to exhale a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "I don't know if that was your intention or anything, but that's what I got from it. And, I figure you have to be a really good writer in order to make me feel and think this much."

Anne smiled, feeling her fear melt into confidence. "Thank you, Gilbert. That's exactly what I was going for."

Then, before he could realize what was happening, she kissed him on the cheek and immediately started walking away. He stood there for several minutes watching until she disappeared from view.

She refused to look back as she made her way back home, but she smiled to herself, thinking about the kiss. If he wanted to be vague about his affections, then she would just have to be as well.

Chapter Text

"Diana, do you need anything else?"

"I don't think so!" Diana called from behind a shelf.

"Okay, that will be it for today," Anne told the shopkeeper.

"That will be 90 cents, Miss."

As Anne reached into her coin purse, Diana came up next to her. "I love that ribbon, Anne. It will look absolutely lovely with your green organdy dress."

"Not as lovely as it would look tied in your raven locks, my dear, sweet Diana; but it's lovely nevertheless."

Diana took Anne's parcel and took her hand as they exited the shop. "Fred told me on our Sunday stroll that blue made my beauty shine like no other color, and I quite agree." Diana giggled, "So, I've resolved to wear my dark blue to Prissy's wedding next week."

Anne beamed. No more than a month after she turned sixteen had Fred Wright who closer to Carmody begun to court her. Anne didn't really understand what Diana saw in Fred, but Diana's face lit up whenever she spoke of him. Although Anne was incapable of feeling jealous of Diana, she began to feel the sting of being the only girl her age who had not been courted. She couldn't even imagine herself on a romantic drive with a boy.

"I dare say I like this man a lot more than I ever cared for Mr. Phillips," Anne rolled her eyes at the memory of her old teacher. "But, then again, this man never called me a boy or tormented Cole, so it's not a high bar to reach. Gil and I were just reminiscing yesterday about the all-time worst Mr. Phillips moments."

Diana turned her head slyly to Anne, "Speaking of Gilbert, Fred told me that he hasn't asked anyone to escort him to the wedding yet."
Anne blushed furiously, "And, why would that be relevant to me?"

Diana tugged on Anne's arm. "Why, Anne, he obviously wants to ask you! He's only been telling everyone about how you're going to be a published author."

"That reminds me! Let's stop at the post office to see if they sent me my copies of the magazine yet!" Anne yanked Diana into the post office with such force, Diana was sure she would find a mark on her arm afterward.

Diana sighed. Anne was always avoiding discussing romance and Gilbert. She mentioned Gilbert frequently as a study partner and friend, and she constantly talked about romance in the abstract. But, one mention of romance with regard to Gilbert, and Anne would suddenly find the urgent need to discuss her most recent letter to Cole or the status of Matthew's crops.

"Oh, Diana! It's here!" Anne stood rifling through a stack of identical magazines until she found her story. "Look!" Anne held up a page that read "Mrs. Drummond's Atonement by Anne Shirley-Cuthbert" in elegant serif script.

"Anne, it's magnificent! Is one of these for me?" she asked, picking up one of the magazines.

"Of course, I have one for you, me, Marilla and Matthew, Aunt Jo and Cole, Miss Stacey, and--" Anne's face dropped.

"Gilbert?" Diana added.

Anne flushed, "And Bash and Mary, of course!"

Diana nodded sardonically. "Ah, yes, of course."

Ignoring Diana's remark, Anne pulled her out of the post office and into their buggy.

 

On their way home, Diana and Anne chattered on about how Aunt Josephine and Cole would respond to Anne's story. In the spirit of their generous friendship, Diana was nearly as excited as Anne about the publication. Still, Diana kept searching for a way to bring up the topic of conversation Anne wanted desperately to avoid.

"…I'm still quite surprised my first publication was in a political magazine, but Miss Stacey and Gilbert both said the story was too thought-provoking concerning the rights of--"

Diana cut her off. "Anne, can I ask you a question?"

Anne was a little surprised at Diana's abruptness, but nodded. "Of course."

"Are you mad at Gilbert? Did he do something to you?"

Anne was taken aback. "Of course not! Diana, what would give you that idea?"

"Anne," Diana was serious. "You always change the subject when I bring him up in conversation, and--"

"No, I don't!"

"You do when I mention Gilbert and romance, or Gilbert and marriage, or Gilbert and you in the same sentence! I genuinely don't understand why you would be so offended by the implication unless you didn't like him"

Anne opened and closed her mouth a few times, as she failed to come up with a witty retort.

"Gilbert is absolutely smitten with you, Anne! And, at times, I think he is falling in love with you, but for some reason, you seem determined to ignore any and all of his affections!"

"Diana, I really don't think that he does. I think you and Bash and Cole and--and everybody are just confused!" Anne was becoming increasingly flustered. She felt her heartbeat increase and suddenly felt dizzy.

"No one will ever want you."

Nance's hand pushed against her neck, pressing her head into the bed.

Anne felt tears prickle behind her eyes, sniffing aggressively to not show weakness.

"…Anne! Anne!"

Anne looked over at Diana disoriented. Since when was Diana driving the buggy? "Diana, why are you driving?"

"Anne, you had one of your 'spells' again."

Anne gently took the reins from Diana. "Sorry."

Diana placed her hand on Anne's shoulder. Although they had become rarer over the years, Diana had learned quite a bit about what to do when Anne was having her "spells." "No, Anne, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have pushed you. I just--I just don't understand. You and Gilbert have so much fun together."

When Anne didn't respond, Diana continued, "Where did you go this time, Anne?"

Anne swallowed and took a deep breath. "Do you remember hearing about Nance from the orphanage?"

Diana nodded.

"Well, I suddenly felt like I was back at the orphanage. She was pressing my face down into a pillow, and I couldn't breathe. She kept telling me that I was homely and how no one would ever want me. For a moment, I thought I would die" Anne shivered a bit.

Diana took placed her hand on top of Anne's. "Anne, you know that's not true, right?"

Tears began to fall from Anne's eyes. "Oh, Diana, I know that people love me! You and Marilla and Matthew and Aunt Jo and Cole, but loving someone as a friend or companion is not nearly the same as loving someone romantically! When you love someone romantically, you love that person more than anyone else. You find the beauty in every part of them! You see them as an extension of yourself! Your equal in every way!"

"Anne, I don't understand," Diana's eyes were full of concern.

"Don't you see, Diana? I can't be any of those things for Gil! He's the most handsome boy in Avonlea, and I'm plainer than any of the other girls. Gilbert is kind and thoughtful and responsible, and I'm stubborn and wicked! I may be able to equal him in academics, but how could I ever equal him in anything else?"

Diana's heart cried out for her beloved bosom friend. Even after nearly four years of close friendship, Anne never ceased to amaze her with her wit, candor, and infectious optimism and determination. "Oh, Anne, how I wish you could see yourself as I see you! I firmly believe that you equal Gil on all accounts.

"You may be stubborn, but only when people underestimate you! And, you are one of the kindest people I know! Your kindness led you to teach Jerry how to read and to stand up for Cole when he was bullied and to force the minister to allow Mary and Bash to come to church on Sundays!"

"Well, Gil and Marilla helped with that as--"

"Exactly, my point Anne! You and Gilbert did that together! And, as for your appearance, I don't think you've looked in the mirror lately because you are simply exquisite! You may not have noticed how beautiful you've become, but I have! Charlie Sloane blushed when you loaned him a pen in class last week. Billy Andrews can't even muster call you ugly anymore. And, either way, you once told me that you hoped that someone would love you for your personality above all!"

Anne sighed and opened her mouth to retort, but Diana was too quick. "Anne, you have a lovely personality. You are optimistic and resilient and passionate. It's why I love spending so much time with you, and it's why Gilbert's lights up when he speaks to you."

Anne was silent for a moment. "Anne, do you see what I'm saying?"

Suddenly, tears came pouring from Anne's eyes. "Diana, I understood every word you said, but I don't think I could believe it even if Gil met us at this very moment and told me that he loved me with every fiber of his being."

"Oh, my dearest Anne!" Diana threw her arms around Anne.

Anne giggled at Diana's dramatics and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Really, Diana, I'm fine. I'm only sixteen, and at the moment, I want to focus on my writing. In case you forgot, I am now a published author!"

The girls laughed and changed the subject, as they continued to drive down the White Way of Delight. Once Green Gables was in view, Diana had Anne stop the buggy and hopped out with her parcel and magazine. "I'll walk home from here. See you tomorrow?"

"Of course!" Anne exclaimed, grinning, "How could I survive one of the minister's excruciating sermons without your presence?"

"Then, I'll see you there!" Diana's face sobered slightly before she continued, "And, Anne, even if you cannot believe it completely. Please, don't close yourself off to affection. Try to be open to the possibility that you are lovable because I know it to be fact."

Anne smiled slightly and leaned down to peck Diana's cheek. "What did I ever do to deserve a bosom friend like you?"

"I suppose you're just lucky," Diana teased.

 

On this particular Sunday, the minister must have been truly trying to kill Anne of boredom because she could not recall ever feeling so restless in her life. Anne swung her leg back and forth in her seat, brushing the floor with the sole of her shoe. She wondered how long she could get away doing it.

She looked around the church to see who was there. The Barrys were there, of course, as were the Blythe-LaCroix clan (in the back, much to Anne's chagrin). The Pyes, the Andrews, the Sloanes, the Spurgeons. Anne looked around for Miss Stacey to show her the story, smiling to herself when she didn't see her beloved teacher among the families of Avonlea. Miss Stacey had once confided in Anne that she found the minister's sermons completely uninspiring and thought that her spirit would find better exercise at home.

Anne quite agreed, and any other Sunday, Anne would have wished to stay home, but she couldn't wait to show Gilbert her published story until Monday.

As soon as the service was done, Anne stood up and pulled a copy of the magazine out of her bag to give to Gilbert.
"Anne, what are you doing with that?" Marilla asked, incredulous.

"I brought a copy for Gil, Bash, and Mary," she stated matter-of-factly.

Marilla's shoulders dropped, "As much as I liked your story Anne, the other articles in the issue are a bit too scandalous for church."
Anne looked at Marilla pleadingly, and Marilla relented. "Okay, go along then, but be discreet about it!"

Anne ran to where Gilbert was standing with Bash, Mary, and Naomi. "Well, hello there, Anne. How are you today?" Gilbert smiled amiably.

Anne ignored the question, "Here," she said, pushing the magazine into his hands. "Page 15."

Gilbert shuffled through until he saw her byline and his face lit up. "Oh my goodness! You're story!" He hugged her and exclaimed, "You're a published author now!"

"Congratulations, Anne," Mary said with a smirk.

He took a step back at Mary's words, realizing the impropriety of his proximity. He felt his face grow hot, hoping that the cold autumn air would mask his embarrassment. He couldn't keep from smiling, though. Anne had come up to him to share her triumph--out of all the people in the congregation, she came up to him to share this news.

"Well, good afternoon, Mary, Bash," Marilla and Matthew had caught up to Anne and joined their circle.

Bash smiled, "Good afternoon to you too, Miss Cuthbert. Anne was just showing us her published work."

"We'll we are mighty proud of it ourselves," Matthew said, buttoning up his coat.

Baby Naomi began to whine, and Bash took her out of Mary's arms, rocking her gently. Mary sighed, "Well, I guess that's our cue to leave. It was lovely to see you all, and I'll see you tomorrow, Marilla, to bring over those apples you requested."

"Blythe, why don't you walk Anne home?" Bash suggested playfully. "We old folks are going to be needing our Sunday rest when we get home, but you two should enjoy the lovely weather."

Marilla caught Bash's eye and nodded, "Yes, Anne, why don't you and Gilbert take the long way back. I could use a little rest when I get home."

Gilbert smiled broadly, "What do you say, Anne? Feeling like an adventure?"

Anne stood up straighter and met his gaze, "Have you ever known me to say no to an adventure."

With that the two took off down the forest path, leaving four adults with knowing smiles on their faces.

 

"I can always tell when a frost is going to come," Anne boasted, "and I feel one coming tonight."

Gilbert raised one eyebrow. "And, how can you tell that, O goddess of the weather?" he asked sardonically.

She swatted at his arm, "Gilbert Blythe, how can you be so blasphemous when we were just in the house of God?"

They both burst out laughing at Anne's false piety. Gilbert knew better than most that Anne's soul was a bit too imaginative for the minister's Sunday pulpit.

"Lord, that was probably the most boring sermon in the history of sermons!" Anne exclaimed.

"I'm inclined to agree with you, and I've been none-too-forgiving toward the minister since he refused to let Bash and Mary worship in the church."

"Oh! That reminds me!" Anne pulled the magazine out of her bag and handed it to Gilbert. "I can't wait for you to read the other articles in here. I felt so enlightened after reading them last night, and a lot of the pieces are very relevant to medicine."

Gilbert looked at the magazine in his hands. "Anne, I can't take the magazine with your first published work."

Anne snorted, "As if I would ever give you something so precious! I got you a separate copy."
�Gilbert's eyes widened, "You got a separate copy for me?"

Anne averted her eyes. "Well, you have to share with Bash and Mary, of course. I also got a copy for Diana."

"Naturally," he replied nonchalantly, strangely pleased with her sudden bashfulness.

"And Marilla and Matthew," she could feel herself blushing now.

"As you should."

"I also got one for Miss Stacey, of course."

"Of course," the flirtation in his voice was undeniable.

 

"And--uh--Aunt Josephine and Cole!"

"Hmm," he said, before breaking into a wide smile. "Well, even if my gift isn't unique, I am rather honored to be included on that list of people."

Anne was suddenly feeling that hint of romantic affection that made her so uneasy and began to move a bit faster. Remembering Diana's words from yesterday, she tried to take a deep breath. Calm down, Anne, she told herself. He didn't really do anything. He just remarked on who you purchased copies for.

"Well, you were the first person I recited it to, so I figured you would only like to see the final product," she said as casually as she could.

Behind her Gilbert smirked. Taking a few long strides to catch up with her, he figured this would be as good a time as any. "So, Anne, Prissy Andrew's wedding is next week."

Her footsteps faltered slightly. "I'm aware."

"Well, because I don't have anyone to bring and you don't have an escort, I was wondering if you would like to go together?" Gilbert smiled to himself. He felt like he had handled his invitation smoothly without giving anything away.

Anne stopped walking and turned to him with a glare. "Well, Gilbert, thank you for reminding me that no one has asked to escort me, but please, spare me your pity! I'm perfectly capable of attending a social event by myself!"

With that she turned on her heel and began stomping off. Gilbert was at a loss. He didn't mean any offense by it. "Anne, wait!"

Without thinking, he ran after her, grabbing her arm and turning him to face her.

"What?" she said, not looking at him.

"I’m sorry. I didn't mean any offense by it. I promise you I'm not asking you out of pity. I'm glad nobody asked you because it meant that I could." He sighed, relinquishing his pride. "I really want to go with you because I think we would have fun, so please, accept."

Anne was shocked by his admission. Her initially instinct was to rebuff him, but she had had enough of punishing him. Be open, Diana said in the back of her mind. She took a breath and with a slight smile, replied, "Well, when you put it like that, how could I refuse?"

 

Miss Stacey had to admit she was surprised when Anne and Gilbert arrived at the reception hall, her gloved hand resting gently on his forearm. Gilbert was so hesitant about expressing his feelings that Miss Stacey felt quite proud that Gilbert must have asked Anne to be her escort. That, or Anne asked him--which was also very possible. She walked over to the pair.

"Well, how are Avonlea's brightest today?"

Anne smiled, "It was a beautiful wedding."

"And, all the more beautiful knowing that Prissy didn't have to sacrifice her education for it," Miss Stacey added.

Anne laughed. "Yes, I'd curse the man who ever tried to step in between me and my education."

Gilbert stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared at his shoes at her remark.

Miss Stacey watched Gilbert for a moment. "Well, Gilbert would never do that, would you?" she asked with a teasing smile.

Gilberts face turned red, but Anne spoke before he had the chance to. "If he did, I'd probably break another slate on his head."

Gilbert burst out laughing in response.

"What's this about a slate?" Miss Stacey asked, amused.

Gilbert smirked. "The first day we met, Anne cracked a slate on my head."

Miss Stacey brought a hand to her mouth to cover her laugh. "My, my, Anne! I've known you to be a lively participant in class but never violent. What brought that on?"

Gilbert looked at the floor with a faint smile, "I pulled her braid and called her 'carrots.'"

Anne giggled at the memory, but Gilbert teased her sternly. "You laugh now, but you weren't laughing then, Carrots!"

Miss Stacey beamed at the two of them.

As the band began to play a new song, Anne jumped up and grabbed Gilbert by the arm. "Oh, I positively love this song, Gil! Let's dance," she said, pulling him on to the dance floor and leaving Miss Stacey to wink at Gilbert.

While he was a little unsteady on his feet, Anne was a beautiful dancer. She didn't just do the steps like most people, but she had a slight skip in each step. He could feel her ribcage under where his hand lay on her back, and suddenly, he realized how close they were. This was the first time he had ever danced with her, and it was simply exhilarating. Most of the time when he was around her, he felt like he needed to control himself, like his soul would burst out of his body if he didn't hold together. But, on the dancefloor, he let go and felt free.

"Where did you learn to dance like this?" he asked over the music.

"Aunt Josephine's summer solstice party in Charlottetown! I've gone for the last two years, and gotten lots of practice leading and following."

He didn't say another word. He was too full of feeling to say anything.

When the song ended, Gilbert felt his heart sink. It was over too soon. Then, the next song began, and Anne held out her hand. "Fancy a waltz?"

He took her hand and began to step in time with her. This song was noticeably slower, and he suddenly felt vulnerable without the quick steps to hide the joy of being so close to her.

"I--uh--read the magazine you gave me," he said awkwardly, wanting to keep his mind off of the feel of her body under his hand.

She looked up at him expectantly, "What was your favorite piece?"

One corner of his mouth turned upward, "Well, aside from your story, I liked the article about the women who are trying to fund scientific advances to better understand pregnancy."

Her eyes lit up, "Oh, that was such an enlightening piece. To imagine a woman being able to control when she got pregnant! I had thought a lot about how pregnancy affects a woman's education and career, but I would have never imagined what these women are trying to do!"

His cheeks warmed at all the talk of pregnancy, but he felt more comfortable talking about science than he did, dancing without speaking. "Well, unfortunately, it's sounds like they are a long way off from making such a scientific advancement. The women's group hasn't even found a doctor to begin the research into such an idea, but its amazing to imagine a world where all children are wanted."

Anne smiled sadly, thinking of all the unwanted children she had grown up with.

"I loaned the article to Mary after I read it," Gilbert said softly.

Anne nodded in understanding. They both knew the toll Mary's first pregnancy had taken on her.

Just then, the song ended, and Anne decided she needed to lighten the mood. "I'm going to get some punch. I'll be back in a moment."

She bounced off to the refreshment table where she filled her glass. She hadn't taken one sip when she heard the unmistakable voice of Josie Pye. "Well, Anne, you finally found someone charitable enough to escort you to a social event."

Anne scowled. "Josie, do you have nothing better to do than insult me?"

"I just wanted to know if the rumors are true," she said with a sneer.

Anne clenched her fist. She didn't want to take the bait, but her curiosity got the better of her. "What rumors?"

Josie took a sip of punch and made a sour face. "Some people were saying tonight that Gilbert Blythe asked to formally court you."

Anne could almost see herself turning red.

"As shameful as it would be, it wouldn't surprise me. Gilbert is an orphan now, and ever since he decided to live with a colored family, he's lost a certain level of respectability. Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me that he would want to slum with a poor orphan."

Anne swallowed and blinked back the tears she felt prickling behind her eyes. "First of all, Josie, your prejudice betrays exactly the kind of person you are. Mary and Bash are far better people than you will ever be." She moved closer to Josie with a deadly look in her eye, "And, second, Gilbert Blythe is not courting me, so why don't you stop listening to gossip and making judgements about people based on the color of their skin and actually do something productive with your time."

Josie legitimately looked frightened for a minute, but then she smirked, looking behind Anne. Anne turned around to see Gilbert standing there dumbstruck.

"Gil! How long have you been there?" she asked, biting her lip, unsure if Gilbert heard about the rumors circulating about them.

"Long enough to hear you verbally rip Josie to shreds," he chuckled. "Do you want to head home? It's getting late, and I think after that encounter it might make sense to leave it at that."

Anne nodded and followed him out of the social hall.

 

Once in his buggy, Anne began to shiver. Finding his plaid, wool blanket; he gave one side to Anne to cover her lap and took the other side, tucking it around himself. It was not lost on either of them that they were under the same blanket, but each keeping their legs just far enough apart not to touch.

They rode on in a companionable silence for a while before Gilbert spoke, "I hate how this community treats Mary and Bash. Sometimes I forget the prejudice they face," his face fell. "I guess I'm luck that I'm able to forget."

Anne gave him a sympathetic look, "I understand. Sometimes it just seems incomprehensible to me that anyone can think Josie Pye is a more upstanding citizen than Mary LaCroix."

"What did Josie say anyway that made you respond like that?"

Anne cast her eyes downward, not wanting to repeat what Josie said.

"Anne?" Gilbert implored.

She sighed. He probably already had a good idea, so what good was it to hide the truth from him? "Josie said that she thought you had escorted me as an act of charity."

Gilbert's blood boiled, realizing that Anne's reaction to his invitation was not unreasonable given what others told her.

"Then, she said that…" Anne paused for a moment before her voice went quiet, "that she heard that you had asked permission to court me."

He had heard something about him and courting, but to hear Anne say it so directly stirred something in him. To say he hadn't thought about it would be a lie, but at the moment, he wasn't secure enough in knowing her feelings to face potential rejection.

"I see…" he said without emotion.

"Then, she said that it wouldn't surprise her because now you are an orphan too and--you had become less respectable since you started living with Mary and Bash," her fingernails bit into the skin of her palm as she spoke. "And, that it would make sense that you would decide to slum with orphan trash like me."

After a moment of silence, Anne worked up the courage to look at Gilbert. He was staring straight ahead with a furrowed brow, as if he was thinking very intensely about something.

Gilbert sat thinking about how to respond to Josie's insult when suddenly he let out an uncontrollable bubble of laughter.
Anne was shocked. How could he laugh right now? "Gilbert Blythe, how can you laugh at a moment like this?"

"I'm sorry, Anne, but I think it is absolutely incredible how jealous Josie is of us!"

Anne looked at him like he was crazy, but he continued. "Josie has always had a little bit of a crush on me, so it probably drove her crazy that I escorted you."

Anne couldn't help the wicked pleasure it gave her to know that Josie could be jealous of her.

"And, didn't you see who escorted her?"

Anne shook her head.

"Billy Andrews!" he exclaimed. "We both know that Billy wouldn't know good conversation if it hit him in the face. Not to mention, he spent the whole night sitting around without dancing once. So, I imagine the both of them were right jealous when I danced the night way with the most beautiful girl in Avon--" He stopped, realizing his mistake.

Anne cleared her throat. "The most beautiful girl in Avonlea?" she sounded confused, as if she wasn't sure she heard him correctly. "Are you talking about me?"

Gilbert rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "It's not like--um--I mean, everyone knows that you're one of the prettiest girls in Avonlea."

Anne looked at him quizzically. It felt a little like he was speaking a foreign language. "Me?" she echoed.

Gilbert didn't know what else to say. He shifted in his seat, focusing intently on the road in front of him.

Finally, she spoke, "Anyway…"

He looked her straight in the eye, looking for a clue as to what she thought. "Anyway…" he repeated, not daring to breathe.

Her bright smile broke the palpable tension. "I think I'm going to need to pray a little extra tonight because I got quite a wicked thrill out of snapping at Josie Pye!"

They both began to laugh, as a gentle snow began to fall, blanketing the White Way of Delight.

 

"So, how was it, lover-boy? Did you make your move?" Bash looked up from the boots he was cleaning to see Gilbert standing in the doorway.

"No," he said, completely preoccupied.

"Good God, Blythe. At the rate you're going, you'll both be dead before your first kiss!" Bash rolled his eyes, "Okay, so if you didn't tell her how you feel, what did you do?"

Gilbert sat down across from him and sighed. "Well, we danced a lot."

Bash motioned for him to continue.

"And, we joked around a lot."

Bash was unimpressed. "You two are always laughing about one thing or another! Give me the details! Did you have a good time?"

"A wonderful time, but--"

"But, what?"

"This one girl, Josie Pye, was saying the most awful things about Anne and--well--me, so Anne ripped her to shreds at the punchbowl."

Bash threw his head back and laughed, "Sounds like Anne, alright."

Gilbert snorted in agreement, "Well, then, we were talking about what Josie said about us, and I accidentally told Anne that I thought she was the most beautiful girl in Avonlea."

"Accidentally! Why wouldn't you tell her that on purpose?" Bash rubbed his face in frustration.

Gilbert shook his head. "You don't understand, Bash. She had such a strange reaction to it! Anytime I say anything regarding appearance or beauty or romance, she acts so…" He dropped his head in defeat, "I don't know."

"What do you mean 'strange?'"

Gilbert leaned back against the chair, thinking, "It was as if she was confused to hear 'beauty' and her name in the same sentence. Like she didn't believe what I said."

"Maybe she doesn't."

Gilbert looked at Bash like he was crazy. Why shouldn't she believe him? Had he ever lied to her before? He had never insulted her appearance nor had he ever made her feel unattractive, as far as he was aware. He was indignant, "I've never given her any reason to think I--"

"Blythe, that's not what I mean," Bash placed a brotherly hand on Gilbert's knee. "You read her story. You know her past, and you know what that awful girl said about her. Maybe its not that she doesn't believe what you said, but that she doesn't believe what you said is possible."

Gilbert said nothing as Bash's words sank in. Anne was always said she would make a terrible wife and that she was ugly and that she would probably never get married. It never seemed to faze her, though. Aside from her 'spells,' he never really considered how her past may have hurt her in other, less visible ways. A thousand memories of Anne flew through his mind, as he began to think of all the times she had alluded to just how little she thought of herself. The thought made him deeply sad.

He stood up to go upstairs.

"You good?" Bash called after him.

Gilbert nodded. "Yeah," he gave him a small smile, "just thinking."

That night, as he lied in bed, he though about all the time he wasted trying to make Anne love him when he should have been showing her that she could love herself.

Chapter Text

Christmas Gifts

"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.

"Gilbert?"

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!"

"Why, though?"

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?"

"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.

Chapter Text

"The man spoke eight languages! I couldn't believe it," Gilbert said animatedly.

Anne looked at him in wonder. "Where was he from?"

"China! From what he told me, it sounded like the most interesting place in the world!"

Anne and Gilbert had been discussing amazing people they had met in their short lives as they walked home from school. Anne found herself completely engrossed in Gilbert's tales of travel. He was so passionate when he spoke of how vast and varied the world and its people were. While slightly envious of his opportunity to travel by himself, she found her heart swelling, thinking about how much he understood her desperate longing to experience the world.  

"I would love to go there someday," she said dreamily as she turned her gaze away from him to look at the dusky horizon.

Gilbert brushed his hand against hers gently. "Maybe I'll take you one day."

She looked at him and blushed before turning away from his loving gaze. He smiled. His words had had the desired effect, and the thought sent a thrill down his spine.

"I think I have an acquaintance who can get us there," she smiled cheekily without looking at him.

"Who?"

"A woman I met from Nanking. She designs some of the most beautiful fabrics I've ever seen."

His eyes widened a bit, "Where did you meet someone from China?"

She narrowed her eyes and gave him a cheeky grin. "Believe it or not, Gil. There are other worldly people in Avonlea besides you and Bash."

He blushed and gave her an apologetic look, but before he could apologize, she put a hand on his arm. "I met her at Aunt Jo's."

His eyes lit up. He had heard so much about the world that Diana's great-aunt had opened up for her, and it dazzled him to see how comfortable she was with it. "Oh, yes. Miss Barry's infamous 'summer' soirée. It's coming up soon, isn't it?"

He tried to contain an amused look as her face colored bright red. He secretly wanted her to ask him to come--to show him a bit of her world outside of Avonlea. He had felt her warming to his affections in the past couple weeks. Their normal afterschool banter had developed into a deeper flirtation, and she had even shown up unexpectedly at his home twice for reasons unrelated to school.  He had been more sure of her affections than ever before, but he found himself lacking some stronger validation he needed to tell her of his love.

"Yes, we arrive in Charlottetown next Friday evening and leave Sunday morning," she said evenly.

"Sometimes I go down to Charlottetown on Friday evenings for my apprenticeship, so perhaps I'll see you and Diana on the train."

She nodded with a slight smile, and suddenly called out, "Matthew!"

Anne grabbed Gilbert's hand and pulled him as she ran toward the gate where Matthew stood, waving. To his slight disappointment, she dropped his hand once they reached the old, white fence.

Matthew smiled softly. "How was school?"

Anne stood on the bottom rung of the fence and leaned over. "A momentous day for exploration and knowledge! Wouldn't you say, Gil?"

Gilbert gave Matthew a bashful look. "I would say so."

Matthew chuckled, "Well, I shouldn't expect any less."

At that moment, Marilla came out to join them. "Well, Gilbert, what a lovely surprise. Would you like to join us for dinner?"

Gilbert took his hat off and held it in his hands. "Thank you, Miss Cuthbert. I would love to."

Gilbert thoroughly enjoyed himself during dinner. Over the years, he had grown quite comfortable around the Cuthberts after seeing the way in which they interacted with Anne. He had always known Marilla to be a good woman, but in the privacy of her own home, he learned how her stern exterior  was part of her sense of humor. Her sardonic comments had a way of turning into cheeky exchanges with Anne, always ending with the ghost of a smile lingering on Marilla's face.

On the other hand, Gilbert had known Matthew very little before he became a regular visitor to Green Gables. Anne spoke of Matthew frequently--about funny things he said, how much she enjoyed spending time with him, and how he was the first person to ever love her. Seeing Matthew interact with Anne was like seeing a completely different person. His eyes lit up, and he spoke with a teasing lilt to his voice. It was clear to any casual observer that Anne could do no wrong in Matthew's eyes.

As much as he liked the Cuthberts, however, he felt anxious whenever he considered asking  Matthew and Marilla about the prospect of courting Anne. Sure, they liked him now, but how would they feel if they knew?

Marilla's voice brought him out of his thoughts, "Anne, do you need me to do any alterations on your green dress before the party on Saturday?"

Anne shook her head, and catching Gilbert's eye, her cheeks pinked. "Actually, I'm not wearing my green dress. I'm using an old one that Aunt Jo has--it's a bit more summery."

"And, Gilbert," Marilla turned to him. "Are you all ready for the party this weekend?"

Gilbert's eyebrows rose, and he looked to Anne for clarity. She turned violently red. "Marilla, I actually hadn't asked him yet."

Gilbert's eyes twinkled as he tried to suppress a smirk. "Ask me what?"

"Diana and I need to go to Charlottetown, but Mrs. Barry and Marilla insist on us having a male chaperone for protection. Last year, Jerry did it, and the year before, it was Cole. But, since both are unavailable this year, I thought you would be good because you're going to Charlottetown anyway.

Anne's voice sped up as she continued. "You don't have to stay and come to the party if you don't want to. You may just want to go home after your apprenticeship, and I'm sure Cole could escort us back if you didn't want to stay."

"Anne, let the boy answer for goodness' sake," Marilla said.

Gilbert unsuccessfully tried to hold in a bubble of laughter. "It's alright, Miss Cuthbert. I'd love to go, Anne.  Just let me know what I need."

Silently in his chair, Matthew observed Gilbert closely, seeing an unmistakable look of admiration and love on the boy's face as Anne spoke. His one wish in the world was that Anne would never be without love again, and gazing at the pair's besotted expressions, he was quite sure she never would be again.

Anne's eyes scanned the platform for Gilbert, who was nowhere in sight.

"Anne, you haven't answered my question," Diana tugged on Anne's arm to get her to sit down.

"What?"

At Diana's look of exasperation, Anne slumped back against the bench. "Sorry, Diana. It's just that the train is boarding in 15 minutes and he's still not here."

"Anne, he'll be here, alright?" Diana put a firm hand down on Anne's jiggling left knee. "Now answer my question. What do you expect to happen when he hears your poem?"

Anne dropped her head. "I don't know. I guess I'll let him decide what his reaction will be. He may not even realize I wrote it about him."

"Anne, anyone who knows the two of you knows you wrote it about him."

Anne only nodded as she turned her head to see Gilbert running toward them down the platform. "Sorry I'm late! Mary needed some help in the kitchen."

Diana looked at him incredulously. "Gilbert Blythe, you know how to cook?"

"Not as well as either of you, I'm sure, but I am a man of many talents," he said with a flirtatious look at Anne.

Anne rolled her eyes and turned to Diana, pulling her toward the train. "Clearly, he knows how to have a big ego," she said loud enough for him to hear, "but he does make an excellent stew."

The train ride filled with laughter as the three of them joked around about the various happenings around Avonlea. Diana was silently thrilled seeing Anne and Gilbert together. They had so much chemistry that even the romantic tension that hung in the air between them didn't affect their natural ability to converse with each other. Still, she was longing to get a reaction out of either one of them.

"Anne, I can't wait to see you in Aunt Gertrude's dress. Cole said you looked breathtaking in it," Diana said knowingly, staring directly at Gilbert.

Anne felt her face flush and glared at Diana. "Well, it's just an honor that Aunt Jo wants me to wear it, given how much Gertrude meant to her."

Diana suddenly looked to Gilbert. Did he know who Aunt Gertrude was to them? Did he know about Cole? She began to explain. "Gilbert, Gertrude was--"

"Your aunt's life-mate. I know," Gilbert interrupted with a knowing smile.

Diana looked at Anne in surprise. Anne sighed, "Gil was under the crazy impression that Cole and I had an understanding, so I asked Cole to see if I could tell Gil here the entire story."

"Diana, I have no problem with Miss Barry or Cole loving whom they want to love. I'm really just excited to finally get to meet some of the people I've heard so much about."

Diana let out a silent breath of relief. She had become quite protective of Aunt Jo, ever since she found out about her and Aunt Gertrude. "Sorry, Gilbert, I guess I just don't want to expose Aunt Jo or Cole to prejudice, and I get anxious."

Gilbert shook his head, "No need to apologize. I know what you mean more than you know."

Then, Diana watched curiously as Anne reached to squeeze his hand for a moment before withdrawing it to her lap. The two exchanged a look of understanding. It was an act of intimacy Diana had never seen between the two before, and it almost brought tears to her eyes.

The next morning, Anne did not get the opportunity to speak with Gilbert before he headed off to his apprenticeship at dawn. She was absolutely delighted by the impression he had made on Aunt Jo the night before. He passionately spoke about his desire to bring high-quality medical care to Avonlea and the surrounding communities, and he way he spoke of equality and inclusivity made her heart want to burst with pride.  

Playing it over in her mind, she smiled blissfully and began to hum to herself as she combed her hair.

A knock pulled her out of her reverie. "Come in!"

Aunt Jo appeared in the doorway with a dress in her arms. "Where is Diana?"

Anne exhaled dreamily as she turned around to face the door. "Oh, Diana is downstairs, practicing her lovely melodies for tonight."

The older woman smiled wistfully. "I am so proud by how proficient Diana has become at the piano." She sat down on the bed beside Anne's vanity. "I'm starting to realize how mature all of you are becoming."

Anne moved to take Aunt Jo's hand. "Older perhaps, but I'm not so sure I'm maturing," she said with a wink.

Aunt Jo sighed, "Oh, I seem to recall a young girl getting awfully worked up in the middle of the woods over a certain boy, absolutely certain that she hated him."

Anne chuckled, "Well, perhaps I have matured a bit."

"I can't tell you how delighted I was to finally meet your admirer that Cole has told me so much about," Aunt Jo paused, waiting for Anne to react. Anne remained silent, looking at Aunt Jo thoughtfully.

"I have often wondered what kind of person would be able to capture your romantic heart, Anne. You have no idea the happiness it brings me to see you opening yourself to someone so worthy."

Anne looked at her feet. "It has taken such a long time for me to realize it--to conquer my fear of romantic feelings and allow myself to be loved."

She watched as a tear fell onto her hand and sank into her skin.

"Anne, you are not even seventeen, and you have already learnt a lesson it took me ten years longer to learn."

At this, Anne looked up as Aunt Jo continued, "I met Gertrude when I was twenty-two, but it took me five years to come to terms with my love for her."

"But you and Gertrude dealt with much different problems than we have to deal with. You had to keep your love private and--"

"Anne, you and I both know that you have had some big obstacles of your own in realizing love. Our experiences may be different, but the struggle was no less real for you than it was for me. That is what makes us human."

Tears flowed freely from Anne's eyes now as she moved to embrace Aunt Jo. "I'm so afraid," she said with a slight tremble.

Aunt Jo released herself from the embrace to take Anne's hands in hers. "I know you are, my dear, but you're still allowing yourself to be open to it. And, that makes you the bold, courageous, Anne Shirley-Cuthbert that saved Minnie-May that night so long ago.

"Now," she said, standing up. "That's enough waxing poetic for me. That is your job, my dear. Get dressed, and I will see you downstairs in half an hour to greet the guests."

"Did you see any exciting illnesses today?" Cole asked, lying on his bed in a red and white linen suit.

Gilbert chuckled as he buttoned his shirt. "Nothing too crazy. A pair of twins with the common cold, and an old lady with a bad knee."

He finished buttoning his shirt and tightening his tie before shrugging on his suit coat. "What do you think?" he asked, holding out his arms.

Cole sat up and laughed. "What are you wearing?"

Gilbert looked down and frowned. "What? It's my best suit, and Diana told me I had to look my best."

Cole shook his head with a smile. "You look like you're going to a church social in Avonlea."

"Well, it is what I wear to go to a church social in Avonlea! And, as least I don't look like a piece of ribbon candy like you!"

Cole threw his head back and laughed. "Gilbert, this is not your average party. Most people wear clothes that would not be acceptable on the streets of Charlottetown or even Montreal!"

Gilbert sat on the foot of the bed and sighed. "Well, what do I do know?"

Cole didn't speak for a moment. Suddenly, he sprung up from the bed and rushed over to the wardrobe and rummaged through it. "Here," he said as he threw a shirt at the bed.

Gilbert picked up the shirt, examining it. "It looks like my dad's old nightshirt." He looked up at Cole incredulously. "You want me to wear this?"

Cole nodded happily. "Just put that on and keep your same pants. I wore it last year, and Anne christened it 'the Heathcliff shirt.'"

Seeing Gilbert's confused glance, he continued. "She said it's what she always imagined Heathcliff wearing in Wuthering Heights."

Gilbert tucked the shirt in an looked in the mirror. The shirt hung loosely around his body gathering at the wrists and tapering into the waistband of his pants. There were no buttons or collar and the shirt opened in a 'v' that exposed the skin below his collar bone. He gave his reflection an uncomfortable glance and turned back to Cole.  "I feel almost...exposed."

Cole smiled gently. "Isn't that generally how a man feels when he's around the woman he loves?"

Gilbert looked at his hands. "Is it really that obvious?"

Cole nodded, and neither of them spoke for a moment.

"You know, I told her once."

Gilbert looked up at Cole. "Told her what?"

"I told her you had a crush on her—the day we came here to help Miss Stacey."

"What? Why would you—" Gilbert couldn't tell if he was mad or curious or grateful in that moment.

Cole put a hand on his shoulder. "I didn't do it to embarrass you or sabotage you. I just wanted Anne to know that she was capable of being loved, and I encouraged her to give you a chance. I know Diana has too."

Gilbert looked up at him in utter shock and misery. "Well, thank you, I guess. But, if she knows and nothing has happened so far, I doubt anything will happen now."

"Gilbert, I know she feels something for you, but you need to be more honest with her about what you're feeling. It's scary, I know. But I've found that when it comes to Anne, being honest about who you are and what you feel is the best thing you can do."

After a moment, Cole moved to leave the room, standing in the doorway for a moment. "Think about what I said. See you at the party."

Before Cole completely shut the door, he heard Gilbert reply quietly. "Thank you."

Gilbert looked in the mirror once more, studying himself. He thought of the stories his father told him about his mother. How she had worked with his Uncle Dave and how she seemed unattainable. "I decided I would offer her my world. If she refused me, there was nothing I could do because either she was not good enough for me or I was not good enough for her."  Gilbert knew that he had tried his absolute hardest to be the best man he could be. He was making something of himself. He loved her. He would work his hardest to help her achieve her dreams. And, by God, tonight he would tell her.

Anne was in heaven as she helped Aunt Jo greet her guests.  After three years of these parties, Anne had come to know most of the people in Aunt Jo's artistic circles quite well.  

"Anne! How lovely it is to see you!" A woman in a suit came to embrace Anne. "I read your story in The Montreal Progressive  last November. It was absolutely brilliant!"

"I completely agree," a voice said from behind Anne.

She spun around to see Gilbert, standing tall and strong in Cole's "Heathcliff shirt," looking exactly like he had just walked out of a Brontë novel. She lost her words for a second and felt her lower abdomen burn. Recovering her shock after a moment, she turned back to the woman. "Rebecca, this is my friend Gilbert Blythe from Avonlea.

"Gil, this is Rebecca Young."

"Rebecca Young, as in the suffragist?" Gilbert asked, slightly incredulous.

Rebecca chuckled. "Well, I guess you could say that. I'm surprised you know of my work."

"Well, Anne has loaned me several magazines with articles you wrote. I loved the piece you wrote about the paradox of living in a society that relies on women to be strong and independent but treats them like they are soft and delicate," Gilbert could feel his voice getting loud with enthusiasm as he spoke, so he took a slight step back.

"I suppose you support women's suffrage then?" Rebecca asked, slightly amused at his enthusiasm.

Gilbert nodded, "Absolutely. Anne consistently beats me in all the humanities in school and has been published in a political magazine. She's probably more qualified to cast a vote than I am!"

He winked at her as he mentioned her, and she flushed. Rebecca smirked as the sound of music began. "Hold on to this one, Anne," she said, winking. "And, don't be a stranger. I want to show you around Toronto one of these days!

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe that my lovely Maria is beckoning me for a dance," she said before walking across the room to dance with a woman in a pale pink summer dress.

Anne felt Gilbert's eyes on her before she turned back to him. She felt vulnerable under his gaze and attempted to muster some nonchalance. "Gil, I'm glad you made it. How was work with Dr. Ward today?"

He laughed in a way she had never heard before. "Nothing interesting," he said dismissively. "Would you like to dance?"

"I suppose so," she tried to say with an air of sophistication.

She took his hand, and he immediately pulled her into an intimate dancing position. He took a deep breath as he looked down at her and took the first step in the waltz. He had no idea where his confidence had come from. In fact, just several minutes ago he had been struck dumb by the sight of her as he descended the steps. She had been standing in the middle of the living room in a white ballet gown. The sleeves fell off the shoulders, revealing her entire collarbone, and her ivory chiffon skirt ended just below her knees. Her auburn hair hung in curls down her back and a crown of pastel flowers wreathed her head. She was an angelic vision of beauty, but what struck him most of all was the way she held the people around her captive with her expressive storytelling. He had had to wait until the crowd had dispersed to summon the courage to approach her.

"I feel rather unsatisfactory dancing with a such a graceful ballerina," he teased.

Her eyes finally met his. "Well, I'll move slowly, so you can keep up."

Anne felt heat pool in the pit of her stomach as they moved with the achingly slow beat of the band. The first beat of each measure seemed to drag in a way that made her heartbeat increase.

As if he could read her mind, he remarked, "I like this song. It's different."

She forced herself to continue looking at his eyes. "Yes, I believe Aunt Jo said that the band was from Argentina. They used to be dock workers at the port of Buenos Aires who played together in bars during the evenings, but now they tour the world playing."

"They're amazing," he looked over at the band, finally taking a breath.  "Everyone here is."

"Gil, I think perhaps you missed your calling. You went from dock worker to doctor, but perhaps you'd find more success as a musician." She smiled freely for the first time since she saw him today. For the last few minutes, he had ceased to be Gil and became cool and confident Byronic hero of her dreams, and she found that while it made her heart race and her stomach tighten, it didn't feel like him.  He could take her breath away without the guise of a romantic hero.

He let out a boyish laugh, and she felt his shoulders relax under her touch. "You've never heard me sing, Anne. Bash says that he's seen flowers die at the sound of my voice."

They both burst into a fit of giggles, and by the time Anne caught her breath, she noticed how close they were and found her eyes staring at his mouth. She cleared her throat and broke the growing silence. "So, is the party living up to your expectations?"

He smiled softly. "Exceeding them. I shouldn't be surprised that you seem to be the belle of this ball."

She shook her head, "Aunt Jo and Cole are, but I guess I do feel more comfortable here than at Avonlea's social events."

He spun her before pulling her back in close. "You aren't just comfortable here, but you're free. These people seem to understand you." He brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm almost afraid that you'll decide that you don't want to return to Avonlea and stay here like Cole."

His voice was so quiet that she almost didn't hear him.

"You're forgetting, Gil. There are people in Avonlea who understand me," she beamed up at him. "You understand me."

At that moment, the band finished playing, and Anne stepped out of his embrace as Aunt Jo clinked a glass at the front of the room.

"Thank you all for coming, and please give a rousing round of applause to the Marinero Quartet all the way from Buenos Aires."

The room erupted into applause.

"Now, we will be serenaded by the musical stylings of Cécile Chaminade and Diana Barry!"

Gilbert was entranced by the beautiful duet they played that he hardly noticed that he had taken Anne's hand in his until she pulled her hand away to clap. And, before he could do anything, she pulled him to a room on the side. "I want you to meet someone."

She tapped a short, stout woman on the shoulder. "Miss Brunelle?"

The woman turned around with a wide grin on her face. "Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, how is my favorite redhead?" she said in heavily-accented English.

Anne rolled her eyes playfully, "Miss Brunelle, why must you insist on calling me that?"

"Because it is true, my dear," she said with her hands on her hips.

"Well, anyway. I have someone here that you simply must meet," she said, pulling Gilbert toward them. "This is my friend Gilbert Blythe who is planning on attending medical school.

"Gil, this is Valérie Brunelle. She was a field nurse during the Franco-Prussian War."

Gilbert's eyes lit up, and he moved to shake her hand enthusiastically. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Brunelle. I can't believe I'm meeting a field nurse. I've always wanted to talk to someone in the medical profession in France. I hear they have some of the most advanced medical techniques in the world."

"I would love to speak more with you, Mr. Blythe. Anne wrote me about your vision of bringing first-rate medical care to rural areas, and I must say I was very impressed.  Before the war, I worked at Charité Hospital in Berlin and know what quality medical care can do to impoverished peoples.

 

"Feel free to take my address from Anne, and I would be happy to forward you any journals or articles I come across in France."

"Thank you so much, Miss Brunelle. This means the world to me."

 

As the older woman walked away, he turned to Anne in astonishment.  "She is incredible."

 

Anne smiled and nodded.  "Indeed, she is—and a wonderful correspondent as well.  And, as brilliant as Miss Stacey is, I think that you need a mentor who is specialized in the medical field."

 

"Anne, you have no idea what this means to me."

 

She shook her head, but he stopped her.  "I mean it. I don't think anyone—"

He was interrupted as a man dressed as a sunflower approached followed by another man in turban. The sunflower spoke jovially, "Miss Shirley, there you are! I was wondering if you would be honoring us with a reading at some point this evening."

Anne grinned, "Indeed, I am, Mr. Karolinsky."

The man in the turban spoke next, "Between Miss Barry's playing and Mr. McKenzie's sculptures, I am incredibly impressed with the youth of Avonlea. I'm tempted to visit one of these days!"

"Well, it certainly has scope for the imagination in my opinion," Anne replied, beaming. "And, speaking of the youth of Avonlea, I would like you two to meet Gilbert Blythe."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Blythe. My name is Salman Saleh," he said, extending his hand.

"And, I am Andrey Karolinsky. Now, Mr. Blythe, what's your poison—music, sculpture, the written word?"

Gilbert looked down and rubbed the back of his neck bashfully. "Oh, no, I'm not artistic like the others. I'm more of a scientist."

"That is completely untrue, Gil. You have as much of an artistic soul as any of us." She turned confidently to the two men, "Mr. Blythe, here, recites poetry beautifully."

Mr. Saleh clapped his hands together joyfully. "Lovely! Then you must recite something for us."

At the word recitation, several people began to gather around them.

Gilbert looked at them with wide eyes. "Now?"

Anne nudged his shoulder with a wink. "Come on, you have an audience! Recite some Whitman--I know you have half of his poems memorized."

Gilbert sighed and nodded. Only one poem came into his mind at that moment, and he knew he had to recite it then and there. Have courage , he told himself as he stood up straighter and looked at the handful of people who had gathered around.

"Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage

For fear I effuse unreturn'd love,

But now I think there is no unreturn'd love,

They pay is certain one way or another.

I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not return'd,

Yet out of that I have written these songs.

He spoke to the crowd, never making direct eye contact with Anne. His voice was clear and strong and sincere because in that moment, the words were not the poet's but his own. And, when he had finished, the group applauded enthusiastically, and he gave a little bow.

Without looking at her, he turned to go back to the main ballroom. He had laid himself bare at her feet—his frustration, his fear, his love, and his acceptance. He couldn't bear to see any reaction from her at that moment.  

He heard a voice call from behind him as he raced toward the piano, "Gil!"

He turned back rapidly only to find Cole, grabbing Anne's hand and saying, "There you are! It's time!"

Gilbert's brow furrowed as he watched Cole push a very distracted Anne up to the foyer where Aunt Jo was standing. The old woman rapped her walking stick on the ground twice as everyone looked up at her expectantly.

"Thank you all for being here, and I hope you are having a marvelous time! To those of you who have come before, you know that this party was the brilliant idea of my dear Gertrude," she placed her hand over her heart before continuing. "And, every year Gertrude would honor us with a recitation from one of her favorite works of literature. Since Gertrude's passing, that honor has been passed to the ever-enthralling, ever-entertaining Anne Shirley-Cuthbert.

"This year, we have a special treat for Anne is reading us a poem she wrote herself which will be published in next month's edition of one of Canada's premiere literary magazines!"

The room erupted into applause as Anne beamed at them. Gilbert's brow furrowed. Did Anne really publish a new poem without telling him? He didn't even remember her working on a poem. His heart sank as he entertained the idea that his romantic affection had made her trust him less. He braced one hand against a nearby table and turned away from the foyer where she stood.

As Anne's unmistakable voice began, he looked up to see her staring at him.

My love for you is steeped in prejudice.

A heart captive to imagination's whims

And expectations of literary ghosts and half-told stories.

Only your lion's heart could set it free--

Free from a mind belabored by words and glances.

But Your face is a mirror that reflects my beauty more than a glass* ever could.

Your passions are gifts from which I reap never-ending benefit.

Your mind is a map that guides me far beyond myself.

I cannot deign to understand the ways of your love

And perhaps that is all the better.

For my love for you is steeped in prejudice,

Ignorant of its own unworthiness.

She spoke without breaking eye contact with him, her voice never wavering until the last word.

The crowd applauded, and she gave a little bow, feeling a tear escape her eyes. She knew he understood. He had laid his heart bare to her, and she had finally responded in kind. She supposed she felt happy, but it was not a light happiness. It was deep within her, hidden by sudden vulnerability and relief, lying frozen in the pit of her stomach until she could speak to him.

She tried to make her way to him but found herself accosted by a flock of acquaintances commenting on her poem. He looked up at her as she politely struggled to move down the steps and gave her a strange smile before disappearing amid the chaos.

He ran into a small, dark reading alcove separated in the unoccupied library and sank down against a wall. She loved him, and she told him in a room full of people. His heart felt like it was going to explode, and he felt himself grinning uncontrollably. He suppressed the urge to run to her and pull her into a kiss in front of everyone. He needed some time to process her poem--to figure out what he would say in response to such a complex declaration of love.

Anne couldn't find Gilbert for the next half hour, much to her frustration. She consistently had to remind herself that he had admitted his love almost as directly as she had tonight, so she shouldn't be afraid of rejection--should she?

Her heart began to beat faster and faster as time went on and people began to go home. Where was he? Had he already gone to bed? When she couldn't stand it any longer, she marched over to where Cole was waving goodbye to one of the band members, and tugged on his arm.

"Have you seen Gil?" she asked imploringly.

Cole closed the front door and took both of her hands in his. "He's in the library alcove.  Waiting for you, I presume," he said, smirking.

 

She shuddered. "Cole, I'm terrified."

 

"Anne, do you trust him?"

 

She sighed.  "Of course. Perhaps more than anyone in the world..." she smiled fondly, "except Matthew."

 

He put his hands on her shoulders.  "Then, you have nothing to worry about."

Taking a deep breath, she walked into the library and found her way into the little alcove. Her breath hitched as he looked up from the little window seat next to the window--his face awash in moonlight.

"Anne," he said, slightly breathless.

She sat down next to him and gently placed her fingers on his mouth. "Before you say anything, let me speak."

She withdrew her hand as he nodded and looked directly into her eyes.  

"Gil, there is very little I could say that I haven't already said this evening, except to tell you unequivocally and unambiguously that I am in love with you."

 

He looked at her intensely.  "Anne, I've been in love with you for so long I feel like I'm still dreaming.  Say it again."

She smiled softly and intertwined one of her hands in his.  "Gilbert Blythe, I love you so much I can hardly breathe."

 

He cupped her face in his hands, and she saw his eyes drop to her lips.  Her mind went blank only to be replaced by the feeling of her lips on fire. Instinctively, her head shifted, and her hands dropped to his chest. After a moment, she felt him smiling against her lips and pulled away to see the most dashing smile etched on his face.

He tucked a curl behind her ear and tipped her chin up to look at him.  "You're so beautiful."

 

His words were so gentle and sincere.  Tears came to her eyes as she sank into the same feeling of love she had felt at Christmas.

 

Seeing her tears, he looked concerned.  "Anne, what is it?"

 

"I believe you, Gil," she said, blinking at him through her tears.

 

His look of confusion urged her to continue.  "I have felt ugly my entire life—inside and out.  Even when people have told me I'm beautiful, I could never believe it...until Christmas."

 

She sniffed and breathed a laugh.  "I don't know why—I don't know how, but we were standing in the kitchen, and the look you gave me...it...it made me forget what I looked like.  I remember thinking 'How could I want to change myself when he looks at me like that?'"

 

He smiled and bent to kiss her forehead.  "You have no idea what it means to me that I helped you feel beautiful." He then kissed her temple. "Because you have no idea..." her earlobe, "how my heart races..." her neck, "when I see you," he finished, kissing her lips.

 

This kiss was more passionate than the last.  She sighed as his kisses wandered over her face and neck, and she responded in kind, pressing her lips to each of his eyelids, his nose, and along the strong line of his jaw.  Her hands moved into his hair as his hands moved to her waist, fingering the chiffon of her dress.

 

After several minutes, they broke apart, and she dropped her head to his shoulder and leaned against them.  They were silent in their contentment as she traced the lines of his hands with her finger.

 

"Gil?"

 

"Hm?"

 

"Why do you love me?"

 

He looked down at her to see her staring intently at their intertwined hangs.  She continued, unable to look at him, "I don't understand why. I've been blind and haughty and unforgiving toward you, and I've seen how my reluctance and coldness has hurt you even though I never wanted to hurt you because you—" her voice cracked as tears began to fall again, "you deserve every happiness and I...I..."

Gilbert couldn't bear to hear anymore. He pressed his forehead against hers and took her face in his hands, wiping her tears with gentle thumbs. "Shh," he murmured. "You are my happiness.

"You're talented and witty and confident.  You make me laugh, and you make my heart race. I can argue intensely with you one minute and read poetry with you the next. You encourage me to be better than I am everyday.  You believe in my dreams more than anyone else ever has. And, you understand me."

He pulled away slightly to tilt her chin up to look at him. "I know you can hurt me, and I won't lie—I have not been immune to your coldness. But, we've moved past it. I trust you with my heart--the ability to hurt me--because I know you, Anne. You are kind and compassionate and forgiving in ways that I am not, and that is why I can love you as I do."

Unsure of how to communicate her feelings in words, she leaned in to kiss him tenderly.  In that kiss, she showed him how much his words meant to her and how his love touched her.

 

When she pulled away, she flashed him a cheeky smile.  "I love that I can do that whenever I want, now. It'll be my backup method of communication when words fail me."

 

He winked at her and leaned back against one side of the window seat, resting his hand on top of his bent knee.  "I don't think words ever fail you, Anne, but I'm happy to communicate like that with you anytime."

She couldn't help but let out a burst of blissful laughter, and suddenly, the two of them were giggling uncontrollably. After several minutes, their laughter died down, leaving them in comfortable silence.

She tucked her legs to her side and leaned against the window, peering out onto the deserted street. "Gil, what happens now?"

He hummed softly. "I guess," he said, stroking her hand with his thumb, "Tomorrow I ask permission to court you formally."

Anne sighed. "Would that I could stay here with you forever, basking in each other's love, revealed and returned."

He smiled fondly at her poetry.  She shifted her position and slumped against him, resting her head on his shoulder.  He placed a kiss on the top of her head. "We don't have to think about it tonight. Tonight is about us and us alone."

 

He looked out the window and saw the faint beginnings of dawn. "However, you should probably get to bed soon, or Diana will think you've been kidnapped."

Anne let out a breath of laughter as she spoke. "In a moment, but just for a moment, let me bask in this moment of perfect, incandescent happiness."

They remained in their embrace for as long as possible until Anne spotted a newspaper delivery boy making his way down the street in the faint light of dawn.  Silently they walked hand in hand to the top of the foyer where Gilbert placed a lingering kiss on her lips.

 

She reluctantly let go of his hand as they moved to opposite sides of the house.  She was quiet as she slipped into her nightgown, careful not to wake Diana, but she couldn't help but let out a sigh as she sank into her pillow.  

 

Her night had been a romantic and idyllic dream that she was reluctant to let go of.  However, the thought of tomorrow pushed any sense of regret out of her head because for the first time in her life, she would go to sleep and wake up with the knowledge that the most wonderful boy in the world found her special and beautiful and beloved.

 

Chapter Text

Calm Before Complication 

Miss Stacey smiled as she caught Gilbert and Anne glancing at each other fifth time that day.  She was sure something must have happened between the two.  They would sit quieter than normal during their after-school classes until Gilbert would look up and catch Anne's eye for just a moment.  He would flash her a knowing smile. She would blush faintly, and they would return to their work with lingering smiles.

Muriel Stacey was by no means a romantic.  She had always been tough as nails, and as a girl, she had found science fiction more to her liking than courtly romance.  But, she was a woman who had loved her husband and knew why she had fallen in love with him.  And, while she had nothing against marriage or romantic love inherently, she bemoaned how so many of the young women she taught would dream so big only to trap themselves in unequal marriages.  She would fight for and win the respect of the young men she taught only to watch them diminish the girls they courted and married.

Gilbert and Anne were different than so many of the other school-age crushes she had seen in 15 years of teaching. They were so young, but each one of them had a deep-seated maturity.  Gilbert was steadier and calmer, but his experience caring for his father and providing for himself after his father's death had given him a deep-seated understanding of his own values.  Anne was visibly Gilbert's opposite.  She was free-spirited and vivacious and vocally passionate about everything that struck her fancy, but underneath she had the same deep compassion and independence that he did.  She had been an outsider--neglected and abused--but she had an intense sense of responsibility and duty to making use of her opportunities and taking care of the people she loved.

Together, they were supportive of each other.  Anne was fiercely assured of her rights and goals--even if she was a bit unsure of herself--and Gilbert had no qualms about any of her ambition--even if he wasn't always sure how to support her.  She could only imagine what two such brilliant young minds could accomplish together.

Anne looked up from her reading again and gave Gilbert another little smile before he suppressed a small breath of laughter.

"Okay, you two, I must know what is so funny," she said with a wry smile.

Gilbert looked at Miss Stacey with some alarm.  "Excuse me, Miss Stacey.  I didn't mean to disrupt--"

"It's quite alright, Gilbert.  It just seems that you two keep glancing at each other as if you are in on some secret hidden from the rest of the world," she said with her hands on her hips.

Anne looked at Gilbert anxiously.  It had been four days since Aunt Jo's party, and they hadn't told anyone in Avonlea except for Diana.  Had they truly been so obvious? 

Knowing she was unable to keep a secret, she gave Gilbert and exasperated look.  He looked at Miss Stacey and was suddenly unable to speak. 

He glanced at Anne bewildered when she burst out saying, "We're courting!"

Anne could feel her face turn beet red and put her head in her hands, mumbling, "I'm not sure why I said that."

Miss Stacey looked to an equally red Gilbert who had an uncertain smile on his face.

"Well, good," she said, smoothing her skirts, "It's about time."

She chuckled when they looked at her in shock.  "You seem to have forgotten that I have been teaching for a long time, and I know young love when I see it.  I'm just glad you both finally did something it."  She sat down at her desk with a sly smile.  "So how long has this been going on?"

"Um…four days," Gilbert said nonplussed.

Anne found her voice again at this point.  "Miss Stacey, you mustn't tell anyone just yet.  We're planning to tell our families tonight and want them to know first."

"Your secret is safe with me," she responded decidedly before taking a softer tone. "I don't mean to embarrass either of you.  I am genuinely happy for both of you, and I'm proud of how far you've come.  You practically hated each other when I first started teaching here, but you both do credit to yourselves with how well you treat one another."

Gilbert laughed, feeling his cheeks heat.  "Well, I never actually hated Anne--not even close."

Anne laughed bashfully.  "I will admit that most of the vitriol was coming from my side."

Miss Stacey smiled softly and looked down at her hands clasped on top of her desk.  "Well, I'll dismiss you two for the afternoon, and I'll see you tomorrow."

They both said thank you and left their teacher at her desk, grading papers with a gentle smile on her face. 

As soon as they exited the schoolhouse, Anne burst into giggles.  Gilbert looked at her amused.  "What's so funny, Anne-girl?"

"Oh, a lot of things I suppose," she said cheekily, taking his hand in hers, as they walked.  "Miss Stacey certainly just proved herself a kindred spirit."

"As if she wasn't already," Gilbert chimed.

She smiled sweetly at him.  "And, I guess I just thought about how funny it must be to see us from Miss Stacey's perspective.  Like she said--I was absolutely obnoxious to you when we met.  Then, we slowly became the best of friends, and now we're courting!  I'm surprised she believed it!"

"I'm having trouble believing it myself."  He spoke softly, and his look was sincere.

She looked down and brushed a loose hair behind her ear gently.  "Me too quite honestly."

He looked at her and wasn't sure he could adore her anymore than he did in that moment.  He felt like he had been in an idyllic dream for the past four days and was constantly terrified that he would wake up to find himself alone and depressed.

He squeezed her hand gently.  “Can I be honest with you about something?”

“Always,” she replied without hesitation.

"I'm almost afraid to let your hand go in a few minutes because…" he trailed off for a moment unsure how to phrase his next words, "I'm so happy being here close to you, finally honest about how I feel, and I'm terrified to go back to how lonely I was before you told me you loved me too and before Naomi and Mary and Bash.  I feel more alive than I have in a long time...” he paused before resuming. “I can't find the words to explain the feeling of sitting in that house after Dad died.  It was-- I still have nightmares that I’m still in that place."

His breath hitched, and Anne moved closer to him and cupped his cheeks in her gloved hands.  "You will never been alone like that again, Gil.  I love you.  Bash and Mary love you.  You are so loved and so capable of loving. I just know your parents are looking down on you right now from the clouds so incredibly proud that they created someone as amazing as you."

She desperately wanted to talk more about his father’s death with him at some point.  While he always told her it was water under the bridge and they had moved on from it in many ways, it still nagged at her that she didn’t fully understand what that experience meant for him, especially when he knew so much about her past.

He could only close his eyes and touch his forehead to hers in response.  It was almost intoxicating to feel so completely loved after such loneliness.  He opened his eyes to see her staring back at him.  Slowly and unsure of themselves they leaned in to kiss each other tenderly.  He felt his heart beat, and his senses melt into hers, and he found himself kissing her more passionately than he had ever done before.  

Anne was slightly breathless from the intensity of his kiss.  "And, that's why I'm finding it hard to believe this is all real."

He flashed her a lopsided grin, "Because we can now do that whenever we want?"

"Well, yes," she said swinging their joined hands between them, looking down at his feet, "but also because I used to believe that I would only ever dream of love and romance, and you're standing here loving me for me."

"What else could I possibly love you for other than the fact that you are the funniest, most passionate, smartest, most beautiful, and most wonderful girl in the world?" he grinned, lifting his arm twirling her around once.

She giggled as she spun before hugging herself into his chest.  "Don't you see how this could feel unimaginable for a girl who grew up as I did?  I didn't even know love could feel like this." 

"Neither did I," he whispered into her hair before kissing the top of her head.

Wordlessly, they continued down the birch path of the woods before they reached the turn off point to go to Green Gables.  He reluctantly let go of her hand, and she gave him a quick cheek kiss.  "See you tonight," she said softly.

"I can't wait."


 “So, Gilbert, we asked Anne, but never got the chance to ask you.  Did you enjoy the party?" Marilla asked, raising her fork to her mouth.

"Yes, Miss Cuthbert," he said politely before tossing a glance at Anne, deciding it was the right time.  "And, that's actually why I wanted to invite you and Mr. Cuthbert to this dinner with my family."

"Oh, really, Blythe?" Bash asked in mock surprise.  "You didn't mention any such reason to us!"

Gilbert tossed Bash a strained look, "That's because we wanted to wait until everyone was here together."

"We?" repeated Bash with raised eyebrows.

"Yes, we," Anne said carefully, taking Gilbert's hand gently.  "Gil and I have decided to court, and we thought it best to discuss this with all of you."

She smiled at Gilbert gently, looking for reassurance, before looking around the table.  Bash, understanding how important this was for his brother, decided to say nothing, barely containing his mirth.  Mary was quite frankly overjoyed, having always felt some kinship for Gilbert, couldn't imagine anyone better suited to his steady charisma than Anne.  However, Anne stomach twisted as she saw Marilla's fingers pressed to her lips and Matthew's motionless expression.

"Mr. Cuthbert, Miss Cuthbert, I want you to know that I love Anne and fully intend to support her in whatever she wants to do.  But, I'm not asking for permission.  This decision is my and Anne's alone, but we respect you both and wanted to discuss this with each of our families."  It took Gilbert every ounce of courage to say this, knowing that his refusal to seek permission could be construed as disrespectful.

Suddenly, Matthew began to chuckle, and Gilbert just stared as the old man spoke.  "I don't think we could ever give Anne permission to do anything when it comes to matters of the heart." 

Anne beamed at her guardian with laughing tears in her eyes.  "You are quite right about that, but we still wanted to talk to you about it."

"Well," Matthew said slowly, "Gilbert said he plans to support you and respect you, and I suppose that's all I need to know to be content."

Anne leaned over the corner of the table to kiss Matthew's cheek, and he grasped her hand with a watery smile and gave it a gentle squeeze before releasing it.

"Marilla?" she turned to her guardian with an expectant look.

Marilla took a deep breath and exhaled before cracking a small smile.  "As if I could ever disapprove of you courting a boy named Blythe."

Gilbert looked at Marilla, and he found his moment of reassurance in her eyes and in the way Anne clasped his hand a little tighter. 

For Marilla, this was a bittersweet moment.  She could not help but remember John Blythe asking to court her in this very room fourty years earlier.  She wished he was here to see the anxiously happy look on his son’s face and the exuberant girl gripping his hand.

"Well," Gilbert said with a half laugh.  "I guess we should ask if you have any questions."

Bash laughed heartily.  "I have nothing to say, but that Mary and I have been waiting for this moment for a long time.  I knew from the moment Blythe started talking about this red-headed wild child back home, he was done in for."

"Truly, you two," Mary said warmly, "we couldn’t be happier.  Anne, you have to know selves always favored you."

Anne and Gilbert blushed, as their families expressed their happiness--the LaCroix's perhaps more spiritedly than the Cuthbert's--but joyfully nonetheless.

When the meal was done, Anne went to sit with Bash and Naomi in the sitting room as Marilla and Mary cleared the dishes and Matthew and Gilbert went to saddle up the horses.


 "Well, it looks like this saddle will need a little repair work soon," Matthew said bending down to examine a stirrup.

"I'll have Jerry look at that tomorrow," he mumbled as he stood upright again with some effort

"Mr. Cuthbert?"

"Hm?"

"I just want to be sure I made it clear that I meant no disrespect for not asking permission to court Anne," Gilbert said somewhat anxiously, having always been a little off put by Matthew's quiet demeanor.

Matthew was silent for a moment while he sat down on a barrel next to the buggy.  When he spoke, Gilbert could hear the emotion through the man's usual unassuming drawl.  "All I want--all I've ever wanted--is for Anne to be happy—happy and loved.  Now--Marilla and I won't be around forever, and I just feel a lot better knowing that you and Bash and Mary will always be there for her."

Gilbert nodded solemnly, not knowing how to respond verbally.  For the first time, he realized that Anne would eventually have to go through being orphaned again and shuddered internally.  He fully planned to make Anne his family in the eyes of God and the law eventually, but in all of his fantasies and plans, he never considered the logistics of marriage.  Anne was halfway to 17, and he would be turning 19 right as they went to Queens.  They both wanted to get their B.A.s, which would take another 3 years if they were able to afford to go right away and worked every summer.  That would mean 4 years before getting married at least, maybe 5 or 6 if they hit snags.  Then, he wanted to go to medical school, and they probably wouldn't be able to get a steady place to live until after that.  What if they had kids?  They hadn't even talked about the possibility of that being a possibility.  Gilbert had never felt as young and unprepared as he did in that moment, and it filled him with anxiety.

"That's far enough, Gilbert."

Matthew's words broke his reverie, and he looked up to see that he had brought the buggy around to the front of the house.  Anne, Marilla, Mary, Bash, and Naomi were waiting on the veranda.

He walked up on to where Anne was standing as Marilla made her way into the buggy.  Anne smiled and took his hand as she leaned into whisper in her ear "If Marilla and Matthew weren't here right now, I would most definitely kiss you like I want to, but for now, we'll have to leave it at this even if I'm agonizing over it all."

When she pulled back, his face was slightly pensive.  "Gil?"

He smiled at her concerned tone and kissed her hand.  "Sorry, I'm just tired after all that.  Can we meet at the halfway point and walk to school together tomorrow?"

Her smile was bright.  "I can't wait."

He helped her into the buggy, feeling bashful at Marilla's interested gaze.  The buggy started moving, and Gilbert stayed and waved until the moment they were no longer visible when Bash called, "Blythe, get over here!"

With a dry grin, Gilbert walked up to the veranda and embraced him.  "I couldn't be happier for you, Brother."

When Bash stepped back, he looked at Gil critically with his hands on his shoulders.  "What's wrong?  You're not looking like the love stuck fool I know you are."

The pair began to walk inside and take off their coats and boots.  "Don't worry.  I'm still the same love struck fool I was before," he said a strained laugh.  "I'm just starting to realize how little I know about being someone's life-mate!"

Bash moved to sit down on the sofa.  "Life-mate?"

Gilbert shook his head with a little smile.  "Anne's word for spouse."

Bash threw his head back in laugher.  "Sounds like something Anne would say alright.  But, why are you concerned about that?  Did you propose when I wasn't looking?"

Gilbert's brow furrowed.  "No, but we told our families that we are courting which basically means I declared that I'm going to propose one day.  But, that might be years from now because we both want our educations, and she can't go to college if she's married, and--"

"Slow down, Blythe," Bash chided.  Gilbert looked at him in distress, but he continued. "Here me out.  You're a good man.  I don't know where I would be today without your support and friendship, but you need to take a step back.  You're always planning out the future and charting every possible scenario, but you can't keep doing that, especially when you're in love.  People change.  You will change.

"I agree you've got a long way to go, but I know Anne is in it for the long haul just like you.  But, you've been together for four days.  Just enjoy it for now, and as things come up you'll learn how to deal with them."

"But, I really just cannot mess this up--" Gil started.

"But, you will make mistakes," Bash said.  "And when that happens you learn from it and you will keep going, but you are not going to mess this up."

Gilbert stared thoughtfully toward the fire.  "I suppose so."

"No," Bash said.  "You don't suppose so.  You know so.  You've made mistakes--we can't forget the slate incident, of course."  Gilbert shot him a mock glare, but Bash continued unaffected.  "But, you took a girl who hated you, and you befriended her.  Four years later, she looks at like you're everything to her.  Just enjoy that for a while."

Gilbert pondered this for a while.  He wasn't very good at living in the moment--except for when he was with Anne, he supposed.  A gentle smile graced his face thinking about Anne's love for life. 

"And, when the time comes for any proposals, you can be sure that I will talk your ear off with tips about being a good husband and father.  I'm an expert by now," Bash teased.


Gilbert waited at their meeting tree thinking about his conversation with Bash last night.  He was determined not to worry, yet he somehow managed to exclusively think about all the things he and Anne had yet to talk about.  He still couldn’t be sure that she actually loved the real him. He was a different person when he was with her—more passionate, livlier, and more open.  He shuddered to think of Anne realizing he wasn’t everything she thought he was.  His train of thought was interrupted suddenly when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of red and broke into a grin.

Anne ran toward him and boldly threw her arms around his shoulders, kissing him.  He stumbled a couple steps backward as he leaned against the tree.  She smiled at the happily bewildered look on his face.  "Since I couldn't kiss you goodbye yesterday, I needed to make up for it today."

"When you do something, you really go for it, don't you?" he said, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. 

Her heart fluttered at his tender look and responded cheekily.  "Have you ever known me to do anything less?"

He kissed her temple gently.  "Never."

"So," she asked, taking his hand and pulling it down the path, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, "we've told our families.  Miss Stacey knows.  Diana knows.  I think that's everyone we need to tell for now.  Don't you think?"

"Well, I suppose they are all the people we need to tell, but I'm wondering if you don't want to tell anyone else at school because of what happened with Josie at the dance?" he asked her pointedly.

She pulled on his arm and looked at him pleadingly. "Please, Gil, don't think I would ever been embarrassed of you or your love, but you have to know that Billy and Josie and all the rest of them are going to be simply revolting about all of this."

"Yes, but don't you think it's better to get it out of the way now?  I don’t think I can pretend not to be incandescently happy when we're at school."

Anne sighed, "Okay, fine.  We won't sneak around, but I'm not telling anyone either.  They can find out on their own.  I don’t want to go searching for trouble!"

"Okay, then.  Perhaps I'll come over and kiss you right in the middle of our lunch break.  I think even Billy could figure out what that means," he teased.

"Gilbert Blythe, you wouldn't dare!"

"Oh, I wouldn’t?"

Suddenly, she picked up a chunk of snow and threw it at him.  He dodged it and quickly made his own snowball tossing it in her direction.  "You asked for it, Shirley."

They were soon pelting each other with snow balls until Anne landed a blow right in the middle of Gilbert's chest sending him falling back into the snow.  Anne scurried over to where Gilbert lie.  "Oh, Gil," she giggled, "I'm sorry!  I appear to have forgotten my own strength.  Here," she said holding out her hand.

Grinning, Gilbert took her hand and pulled her into the snow where she fell, laughing.  After a moment, Gilbert's head and body were hovering above hers, and her laughing stopped abruptly. 

When he bent down and kissed her, she felt like she could melt into the snow.  Her whole body felt hot and flushed, and she felt the instinctive urge to pull him down on top of her. The moment ended quickly, though, and he swiftly sat up, pulling a rather breathless Anne up with him.

"Well," he said with a note of self-satisfaction, "I think we better get to school, don't you?"

"Yes, I think we should," Anne said, hoping her voice did not sound as weak as her knees did.

As they walked, Anne told him all about her idea for a new story about a man who was left deserted on an island for 15 years only to be reunited with his long lost daughter.  Gilbert was enraptured by her storytelling abilities, forgetting completely his earlier anxieties as he basked in her presence.  Before they knew it, they were approaching the school building, and much to Gilbert's chagrin, Anne released his hand, continuing on with a few feet between them.

When Gilbert opened the door to the schoolhouse, and they walked in; the first thing they heard was Ruby's indignant, "Anne, are you and Gilbert courting?"

Anne looked at Gilbert and back to Ruby before nodding.  And, for the first time since Gilbert's declaration of love, she felt her spirits sink.