It was at Christmas that his aunt suggested his sudden, inexplicable bouts of sadness were something of a more extraordinary nature.
He was opening his presents when he was struck with loneliness. He sniffed. He wished for someone to call his name and hold him tightly and call him dear. He looked up with tears in his eyes. He saw his father, and at the sight of his father's warm, familiar smile, he bolted to his feet, ran to him, and threw his arms around his neck.
Immediately, his whole extended family was concerned at his behavior.
"What's the matter with him?"
"Has he taken ill?"
"John, whatever is wrong with the child?"
His father rubbed his back. "It's all right," he said. He was accustomed to Gilbert's sudden, sharp fancies of emotion.
But when he explained that deep, dark feeling often struck Gilbert unexpectedly, the rest of the family was unable to accept that it was simply Gilbert's nature. His aunt, in particular, told her brother-in-law that it was nonsense. She demanded that Gilbert release his father, turn to her, and explain his tears.
"I—I—" He wiped at his nose. "I—I'm ugly and stupid and useless, and—"
"Child!" she said, aghast.
He calmed down eventually, but she refused to let it go. At her insistence, he was taken to the doctor. Gilbert felt guilty at upsetting everyone's Christmas, so he went with his head bowed low.
He was six, and had never thought anything strange about the things he felt.
The doctor was large, portly man with a mustache that drooped in waxed tails past his chin.
His aunt explained his displays of emotion. "He acts as though his brain were cooked with fever, but his father says he's never sick when he's struck with a bout of feeling." She repeated several stories his father had told her.
He examined Gilbert thoroughly.
"Well?" she pressed. "What do you think? What is the matter with him?"
Gilbert was certain the doctor was about to reveal that Gilbert was gravely ill.
"I see no evidence of illness," said the doctor.
"His behavior is beyond the pale of average childish emotion."
"Yes," he said, "but I suspect it is not his emotion he's experiencing." He smiled. "Mrs. Vollick, I believe the boy has a soulmate."
"There are accounts of such early bridges," he continued. "It seems to me he is experience another's emotions. At his age, the bond is always entirely emotional by virtue of the immaturity of mind as well as body. I can think of no better explanation for his behavior."
"I see," she said, gathering her composure. "Well, I can't say it entered my imagination."
"It is rare to see the bond in children of his age. And, to be frank, your descriptions of his feelings lead me to suspect the bond will develop as few do. Certainly, it may remain only an exchange of emotions. But since the emotional bond seems particularly robust, I believe it more than likely the connection will grow to shared physical feeling, and, perhaps, could eventually result in a meeting of minds."
"You don't say?"
"I have encountered a bond of that nature in my lifetime only a handful of times," he said, "but, yes, I believe it's possible in his case."
"My." She looked at Gilbert. "My, my, my."
He wanted to ask her what a soulmate was, but he knew she thought it impertinent for children to pepper their elders with their questions.
"Well, Gilbert," she said, "it seems you are a very lucky boy."
He wanted to ask her why, but he refrained.
She talked with the doctor for a little while longer about ways to calm him when he grew especially disquieted, thanked the man for his time, and took Gilbert's hand at last for them to return to the house.
He had to ask her in the street. "What's a soulmate?" He looked at her with hopeful eyes.
"It is a quite special gift," she told him.
"Yes, dear." She bestowed a rare warm smile on him. "It means you are blessed by God in a way that few are. I'd venture it's one in a hundred who has a soulmate. You are the first in our family."
"Oh." He considered. "But what does it mean?"
"It means you are one of a pair. God has created another especially for you. The purpose of soulmates is His to know, of course, and we are only to trust in Him."
"I do," Gilbert said.
"I know." In a fit of rather uncharacteristic affection for his older, childless aunt, she smoothed a hand over his hair. "You are a very good boy, Gilbert."
"Your fits of emotion aren't your own. They are your soulmate's. She is despairing, and when the feeling is powerful, you feel it, too, because you are connected. Bonded. You may grow to feel what pains her physically, too, or to know her thoughts."
There was an air of satisfaction in his aunt's voice. She was pleased, he realized. He took that for further proof what a very good thing it was to have a soulmate.
"Yes," she said, "you are a most special child."
"Who is she?" he asked. "My soulmate. Will I meet her at school?"
"I cannot say who she is. You will meet her in the time that God intends. Until that time, you needn't concern yourself with her."
"She . . ." He frowned.
"It is rude to start a sentence you have no intention of finishing, Gilbert."
"If I'm feeling what she's feeling, that means she's sad." The more he thought about it, the more concerned he grew. "Is she sad?"
"I don't want her to be sad."
His aunt didn't share his anxiety. "She'll learn to conquer her emotions in time. She is likely even younger than you, and unable to reign in what she feels. Give it time, and you'll no longer suffer episodes of melancholy." She quickened her step, and he was forced to hurry, too.
"I do not like sentences that begin such, Gilbert, and you know it."
That was that.
He decided it was better to wait to ask his father how he might help his soulmate be happy.
At home, his aunt was keen to share the news. Everyone was shocked, but they accepted the idea without a doubt. Gilbert found himself in a shower of hugs, because he had a soulmate.
The more they said it with that tone of voice, the more elated he became.
He had a soulmate.
In the midst of his delight, he forgot to ask his father about what to do until that night.
His father was tucking him into bed.
"Are you glad that I have a soulmate?" Gilbert asked eagerly.
"I am." His father's smiled gently at him. "The love of a soulmate is incomparable." Strangely, his father's gaze grew pensive. It made him look older. Gilbert didn't like when the lines in his father's face deepened like that.
"Aunt Constance says that I feel sad because my soulmate feels sad," Gilbert said, quieter. "She says it'll stop soon, but I want it to stop now. I want my soulmate to be happy."
"I have no doubt someday you will make your soulmate very happy."
"I want to make her happy now."
"I know, son. I know. But if you feel what your soulmate feels, it is likely that she feels what you feel." He raised his eyebrows. "Do you understand? If you are happy, she will be happy, too. Do you think you can be happy for her?"
He nodded. "Yes." He would think happy thoughts every possible moment if he must.
His father kissed the top of his head.
It was, he thought, the very best Christmas of his life. How many children could boast they were given a soulmate for Christmas? It was a dream he hadn't known existed, and now it was his most treasured gift.
It wasn't long before he began to feel his soulmate's deepest emotions almost daily.
He liked it.
He learned quite quickly to recognize when a feeling in him wasn't his own, and there was something so wonderful about realizing the feelings that overtook you were the touch of another person's soul to your own. He was special. And while most of his soulmate's innermost emotions were feelings of longing, loneliness, and sorrow, Gilbert found himself often overcome with feelings of joy, too, and of hope, with great, gasping excitement that made him feel ready to leap to the moon.
The bond only grew stronger.
He was sitting in school on a perfectly average afternoon when he was struck on the face.
He toppled out of his seat at the blow.
The teacher was ready to yell at him, only to choke when he got a look at Gilbert.
"Gilbert," said Charlie, "what have you done to your face?"
He touched his fingers to the hot, throbbing curve of his cheek, and wanted to cry at the pain of his own gentle, hesitant touch. His face had begun to swell. It was cut, too, and, within an hour, he sported a puffy purple bruise that spanned the length of his cheek.
Somebody had backhanded his soulmate.
Nobody in Avonlea knew whether it was normal for a connection to involve such immediate, shared physical suffering.
Regardless, it quickly became routine for Gilbert.
Bruises bloomed easily on his shins, and cuts were hidden in his palms, and he was forced to suffer a blow to the back of the head so often it made his father probe his skull anxiously almost nightly.
He wondered if his soulmate felt his pain when he sprained his wrist, or when he tripped, tore his trousers, and cut his knee.
He wished he knew who she was. She needed him. He knew her emotions, and he suffered her trials, and he didn't understand how one person could endure so many terrible things.
Grief. Fear. Dejection.
It took him quite a while to recognize that especially, to understand why he would feel ravenous, eat and eat and eat, and, still, the gnawing in his gut remained woefully unchanged.
If she was hungry, why didn't anyone give her something to eat?
He tried to help her.
He ate until it made his stomach feel ready to burst, and hoped she might somehow know it, that she might be able to relish the fullness of his stomach in her own. He watched his fingers grow sore, cut, and bloody at school, and he sucked on them to soothe the ache, wondering what school she attended that made her abuse her fingers so thoroughly. He tried to be as happy as possible, to fill his afternoon with friends, with laughter, with frivolity, and he hoped it filled her with joy, too.
In the middle of dinner, he suffered a sudden, stinging bite of pain to his back.
It wasn't one single blow like usual. He was struck again, and again, and again. It was unceasing, and he could only clutch at the table, begging and screaming and crying.
He couldn't even breathe for the pain.
His father was desperate to comfort him, but the violence that seemed only phantom to his father was real to Gilbert.
"Heavens," said his uncle, "someone is beating the girl!"
In the end, a doctor was fetched from Charlottetown.
He looked at the angry red marks that spanned Gilbert's back with warm, dry hands. "I'm afraid I cannot tend to wounds that are not his own," he said, apologetic. He did what he could for Gilbert, but it was very little.
They thought he was asleep when they spoke in low, soft voices after.
"You need to keep an eye on the boy, John."
"What can I do?"
"I don't know. This is. . . . I'm going to write to a couple of friends who know more about bonds than I do. I've never seen anything like this before. But if things keep going the way they're going, it's going to get him killed."
"Tell me what to do," said his father, "and I'll do it."
"I know." There was the scrape of a chair. "I'll let you know what I learn." He sighed. "In the meantime, let's hope it doesn't grow stronger."
Gilbert knew they would find a way to help him, because his father had never yet failed him.
But who was going to help her?
He hoped the bond grew stronger. He hoped it grew so strong, it led him right to her. He hoped, and he prayed. Make it stronger, he begged. If God had really made them a pair with purpose, surely He would hear Gilbert's plea, and answer it.
He felt his soulmate's nightly longing for someone to hold her close, and he swore to himself that when he found her, he would never stop holding her.
He was on the slow, snowy walk home from school when he wanted to cry, and he stopped, breathing in deeply, and fighting the feeling of fearful, anxious melancholy that squeezed his lungs.
I'm sorry, he thought. I'm sorry that you're hurting.
He was nine, and had only recently begun the habit of trying to soothe his soulmate's vexed emotions with his own, happier feelings, imagining that she might know when he wished her calm, happy, and well.
Think of things that make you happy, he thought.
The utterly beautiful glitter of sunshine on snow, said a sweet, girlish voice.
The first sweet blush of blooms in spring.
He spun. There was nobody at his back, however. He was alone.
"Who said that?" he demanded.
The little, happy hop of birds on a branch. They are the happiest of creatures, don't you think? To be a bird would be a most delightful dream.
The voice was in his head.
The whistle of the wind in the trees on a very blustery day, singing to you.
"Hello? Miss? Can you hear me, Miss?"
Oh, my brave, handsome sir, said the voice, I didn't see you there.
"Miss?" His heart was in his throat. A dreamy, contended feeling had settled in his chest. He didn't know what was happening, but he was beginning to imagine a possibility. "Miss?"
I am Geraldine, she said.
"Hello, Geraldine." He swallowed. "I'm Gilbert."
Gilbert. She hummed. That isn't an especially knightly name. What about Roderick? I think that sounds most romantical.
"I . . ." He was at a loss. "It's you, isn't it? My soulmate? You can hear me because we're connected?"
"I think I'm your soulmate," he said. "The doctor told me once that on occasion, soulmates share thoughts. I think that is happening to us now. I think I can hear your thoughts, and you are responding to mine."
It was silent.
I have a soulmate ?
He smiled. "Didn't you know?" He couldn't be certain if the warmth that filled him in that moment was his own, but he didn't really care.
How could I have known? You never said anything! I have a soulmate.
He laughed. "I couldn't say anything before now. We've never been able to talk before. I have wanted desperately to talk to you." Snow was falling thicker around him, and a small, sensible part of him knew he had to continue on his way home before he was caught in a storm.
I have imagined friends before, but I had never thought to imagine a soulmate. I didn't even realize how limited my imaginations were! Oh, soulmate, you must tell me everything about yourself.
"My name is Gilbert."
I think it should be Roderick. No! It should be Galahad.
"It doesn't matter what you think it should be," he said. "You don't get to pick my name. I've already got one."
I picked my name.
Isn't it romantical?
"It's pretty," he said, amused.
Galahad, are you an especially tall, handsome knight?
"My name is Gilbert. And I am not tall yet, but I think I shall be, and I am told I am handsome, but it would be vain to repeat it, and I am certainly not a knight. I am a boy."
I am a princess.
"You are playing make believe with me, aren't you?"
I am, aren't I? Oh, Galahad! I have always wanted to play make believe with someone.
You are stubborn. I am, too. We are surely kindred spirits, Galahad.
"Why don't we call my steed by the name of Galahad? He is much more deserving of the appellation. He is a noble, handsome stallion with a pure white coat that shines in the sun."
He is possessed of a wild, free spirit, but you have raised him from a foal, and he is devoted to you. Oh, Gilbert! I hope you are ready to hear a tale of great romance, tragedy, and imagination.
A gust of wind blew directly into his face before he could reply, and he winced, holding up a hand, and realizing that the storm had arrived, and the snow at his feet had piled up nearly to his knees.
"I hope you're somewhere warm," he said.
He was going to have to fight the cold, the snow, and the wind to make it home, and if he lingered any longer, he wouldn't be able to.
He realized that he couldn't feel anything but his own, common feelings.
He didn't have time to dwell on disappointment, though. He needed to get on home, and quickly. He held up an arm to block the bite of the wind, and made his way.
"I knew it was her as soon as I heard her voice in my head," he explained. "I knew."
"Goodness," said his father.
He was conscious of the fact that his father had grown slightly wary of his bond, but Gilbert had never been more certain that his bond was special, and important, and good, and he hoped his father was going to see that again now, too.
She was his soulmate, and they were bonded in soul, body, and mind.
He had spoken to her!
It had taken him by surprise, but it had happened!
Now that they had spoken once, he was convinced it would happen again. That was how it worked. They would talk daily, he thought, and he would learn everything about her, and, soon, he would be able to find her, and to keep her safe, and to make her happy.
"She said her name was Geraldine, though I suspect she was playing make believe with me."
"Is that so?" said his father.
He smiled. "I think she might be a very silly girl." He liked that about her.
He was eager to talk to her again. He spent the day that followed loudly thinking her name, trying to gain her attention, and return her voice to his mind. He didn't understand what would bring her back.
It was three whole days before he was overwhelmed by a sudden, tearful anger.
Girls are cruel, awful creatures! she said, barging into his mind brashly with the declaration.
Gilbert! I have never been more thankful to hear your voice!
What's the matter?
The girls with whom I live are the despicable, wretched girls! I hate the lot of them! If I were a witch, I would turn every single one of them into toads!
"Gil?" Charlie said, interrupting.
He glanced at his friend, and motioned at him that he was busy.
She was silent. She had left him again.
He pursed his lips in frustration, and snapped at Charlie when Charlie tried again to speak to him.
He had to wait another two weeks before he heard her voice again.
They had a long, lovely talk that night, though, when she interrupted his prayers.
He abandoned his devotions quite readily, of course, climbing into bed, pulling his blanket to his chin, and grinning at the ceiling, imagining they would talk throughout the night.
She didn't know much about soulmates, he learned.
If one of us feels something very strongly, he explained, the other is able to feel it, too.
Do you mean every time I am overwhelmed quite suddenly by happiness, it's you ? It's your bright, irrepressible joy? Do you mean to say you are the sun that lights my soul at my darkest, most desolate hour?
I think. You can usually tell the difference.
She began volleying dozens of questions about soulmates at him, and he was happy to explain every detail, and she told him that she was glad she had such a clever, percipient soulmate.
They talked until his eyes were heavy with the temptation of sleep, and he had to give in.
They spoke again the very next morning, however.
It took a couple of months, but he began to understand the workings of the bond.
He learned that the bridge of connection was there only when one of them was feeling particularly emotional. Once it was formed, it was precarious, and would disappear immediately when one of them was distracted. He was reassured, however, by the knowledge that every time their connection was severed, it wouldn't be long before they would speak again.
Most of the time, they spoke in stories.
She told him that she lived in a castle, that she was a handmaiden to a beautiful, golden-haired princess, and that the other handmaidens were petty, evil girls who hated her because she was the favorite of the princess.
You don't really live in a castle.
I live wherever my imagination takes me.
I live in a house.
He learned some facts about her, of course.
She was two years younger than he was. She didn't have very many friends. She had survived the measles.
She liked to befriend the trees.
To some, that would have seemed very little to know about your soulmate. Gilbert wasn't bothered. He knew what mattered about his soulmate: that she was clever and bold and opinionated, that she was imaginative, that she was kind and creative and good.
And even after a year of conversations with her, he always remained eager for the next.
The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat.
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
Do you mean to court me, Pussycat? he asked.
I beg your pardon?
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O, Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are!
Gilbert! she exclaimed. You are such a wonderful, lively orator!
And what did the pussy say to the owl? he said.
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
I accept, he interrupted.
Your proposal of marriage, I accept.
He grinned. His father had read him Lear's collection of poems when he was small, and that was his favorite.
It's my favorite, too! It is clever and nonsensical and sweet, and I adore it!
She became his best, most constant companion. He had plenty of friends at school, but none of them understood him as well as she understood him. She knew him intimately, knew the subjects in school that challenged him, and the chores at home that bothered him, knew that he was afraid of thunderstorms and loved the song of crickets and dreamed of traveling the world, knew the things that weighed mostly heavily on his heart.
It was impossible to keep anything from her. He talked to her in his head like he would a person in front of him, but she heard the thoughts in between the words he meant her to hear.
At ten years old, his heart was broken for the very first time.
My soul has grown dark with melancholy.
The suit he was in was too stiff, fitting him awkwardly.
He died, he said. He was the last of them. I used to have three cousins, and now I have none.
She understood. Michael. Her voice was soft with sympathy.
Michael was a student at university, and he was full of life, bright and charming and kind. He was. Influenza had ravished him completely, and he had died in his sleep.
Influenza is a most cursed plight!
His eyes burned with tears. I don't understand why everybody has to die. It felt as though he had cried too much to have more tears to cry, but yet there they were in his itchy, overworked eyes.
I am told that I cry too liberally, and that I must learn discipline of feeling, but I find that crying is the only possibly way to free my soul of the miseries that ensnare it.
In a year, he had lost his grandmother, two of his uncles, and all of his cousins.
There is no mystery so great as misery, she told him.
What's that mean?
I don't entirely know. I read it in a book once. I thought it romantical to imagine a shroud of mystery encompassing misery.
He didn't see what was mysterious about misery. It made him feel angry and hollow and lost all together at once. He wanted to cry, and he wanted to shout.
Why did God need another angel for his great heavenly choir?
The air in the church was stifling, and he wanted desperately to escape it, but he didn't relish what would follow when at last he was allowed to leave: the procession to the cemetery and the burial and the afternoon of neighbors at his house.
Would you like me to tell you a story?
She began a tale of pirates who traversed the seas on a ship with black, billowing sails. The most vengeful, covetous, and odious of them was Captain Otis Blackheart. She voiced the captain with a low, guttural voice, and extolled the beautiful of rolling, shining waves in the sea for at least five minutes, and described in detail the duel in which Blackheart was finally, soundly defeated by a young merchant orphan who, incidentally, was actually the long lost prince of the kingdom.
By the time she was finished, he had made it through the motions of the burial, and was at the house.
And they lived happily ever after.
What about the curse of the old, one-eyed witch?
Oh! I forgot!
He never did learn how they undid the curse, however, because his uncle snapped his fingers in Gilbert's face, stealing his attention, and carelessly banishing Geraldine from his mind.
He didn't mind too terribly much.
She had been there when he needed her most. She always was.
It became a wonderfully familiar occurrence, sharing their thoughts. They slipped into each other's minds seamlessly. The tendency of the world at hand to interruption their connection quite abruptly didn't even bother them the way it used to.
It was simply the way it worked.
She claimed they were kindred spirits. He believed it. The cloth that was cut to make her was cut to make him, too. There was nobody in the world more suited to him. They were soulmates.
It was never a secret that Gilbert had a soulmate. They were uncommon, but they were celebrated. Everyone in Avonlea had known for years of his blessing.
The stronger it grew, the more they fawned over him for it.
One of their own good, Island boys had a soulmate with whom he had bonded emotionally, physically, and mentally.
Wasn't it extraordinary?
His schoolmates were the most familiar with his connection, of course.
He had shared the existence of his bond with his friends when he was young and had newly discovered it. They had seen the evidence of the bond when it become suddenly physical, of course. And even if they were skeptical at his claim that he now spoke to her in his mind, none of them was willing to suggest he grew strangely quiet, ignored the rest of the world, and mumbled to himself just because he wanted to.
They liked to ask him questions about her.
Early on, he was happy to answer.
They asked him to describe her feelings, and he would. They wanted to see the small, red welts that had sprung to life on his forearm, and he showed them eagerly. They wanted to know if he was sleepy at school that day because of her, and he told them that sometimes his soulmate's feelings were indistinguishable from his own.
Once he began to talk to her, their questions grew more personal.
They wanted to know what her name was, and where she lived. They wanted to know what they discussed. They wanted to know how old she was, and what she looked like.
He found himself protective of her.
She wasn't for them to know. She belonged to him.
"Do you know what she looks like?" Billy said. "What if she's a poor, ugly girl with pockmarks and warts and a big, fat nose? Don't you want to know?"
"What's it matter?" Gilbert said.
"What's it matter?" He laughed. "You are supposed to love her, and you don't care what she looks like?"
He sighed. "I'm not supposed to love her. I do. She's a part of me, so, no, I don't particularly care what she looks like." He turned away from Billy pointedly, facing the front of the schoolhouse.
Sometimes, he wished it were a secret that he had a soulmate.
She wasn't simply another person whose thoughts he knew. The people of Avonlea didn't understand. He wished he could properly explain it, but there was only one person who stood a chance of understanding.
She found him while he was chopping the firewood. He straightened. She was happy that afternoon, and he listened to her imaginations for a couple of minutes.
Isn't spring the most hopeful time of year?
It's the feeling of newness, he said.
Exactly! Gil, you do understand me better than anyone!
He smiled. Do people ever question you about me? he asked. It occurred to him suddenly that she might have kept him a secret from the world because that would be much more romantical.
I tell everyone I meet about you, she replied.
And what do they think of me?
They think I have imagined you, because they refuse to believe a boy as handsome, dashing, and gallant as I describe could possibly exist.
What do you tell everyone of me?
I tell them you are the silliest, most imaginative girl I have ever not met, he said. They ask what you look like a lot. I know it doesn't matter, and that they don't need to know, but I would like to know.
I like to imagine that I have long, raven locks, and my eyes are the color of crystal blue water in a lake that sparkles with sunshine, and I have smooth, creamy skin that is the envy of everyone.
I know what you like to imagine, he said, fond.
It is much better than the truth, Gilbert. In truth, I am a wretchedly plain, unfortunate girl. I would much rather you picture me as I wish to be than as I am.
He wished she would think inadvertently of the way she looked, so he could know despite her insistence that he shouldn't. She was always strangely careful with her thoughts of herself, however. He told her things about himself by accident almost constantly, but she had never once revealed a secret to him that she intended to keep.
This is a secret I must take to my grave, she told him.
You won't be able to blind me with your imaginations when we meet in person, you know.
I don't believe we shall ever meet in person.
That is why our souls are connected. It is fated that we shall never know each other in body, thus we must commune in spirit. That is the way of this cruel, unfeeling world.
You mean to say you enjoy the tragedy of imagining we'll never meet? he said. Honestly, Geraldine. You are incorrigible.
I have decided I would like you to call me Cordelia .
What? Why? Is that your name?
It shall be. I am fond of Geraldine, but I am ten years old now, you know, and I need a name that befits a lady of my age. Something more ladylike. Cordelia is such a lovely, poetical name, don't you think? I think it's the most beautiful name.
Don't you like it?
I want to know your real, given name.
You mustn't ask it of me! It's such a plain, awful name. You must believe me when I say that Cordelia is a much more romantical name.
Fine. He didn't want her cross with him. I'll call you whatever makes you happiest, Cordelia.
You are the man of my dreams, Gilbert.
"But we are going to meet," he said, speaking the words into existence.
She didn't reply immediately, and, after a moment, he knew she had left his mind.
He had no idea if she heard his declaration.
Her present, physical world had stolen her attention, and when he remembered the amount of wood he had left to chop, he knew it was probably for the best.
There were times when they went weeks without a conversation. It was inevitable. They had their own lives to lead.
He knew the connection remained regardless of the silence.
He was reminded of her by the bruises that dotted his shins after a long, sunny Saturday, by the ache in his red, sore knees when he woke in the morning, by the wistful, distracted mood that caught him by surprise in the middle of his chores that told him she was feeling particularly quixotic that afternoon.
He winced, and looked at his bare, unmarked arms in surprise, seeing the red, angry marks start blooming to life on his skin.
The pain only grew worse.
Are you okay?
Fear seized him. It made his heart swell within in his chest, pounding, and pushing up against his lungs, making it hard to breathe. He was terrified. His fingers curled around the edges of his book, and had to stave off tears. There was no way to escape.
Cordelia? He panicked. Who's hurting you?
He didn't know how long he sat in the kitchen like with terror coursing wildly through his veins, but it began to ebb away at last, and he released a slow, shaky breath, only for his eyes to well with tears again at the feeling of desperate, choking loneliness.
There—there was a mouse, and they . . .
His chest grew tight were sadness and fear and desperate, overwhelming loneliness, and he felt he was a mouse, tossed about carelessly, disliked and unwanted and forgotten, better in the shadows, small and worthless and dead.
I don't mean to be so different, she said. I don't, I swear, I—
No, he cut in. There is nothing the matter with you. Nothing. You are different, and you are perfect.
I wish I could be somebody else entirely. I wish I hadn't been born a girl at all. I wish I were a mouse, and could hide away where nobody would find me.
Would you hide from me, too?
You don't want me. Not really. You don't know what I am.
You're my soulmate.
If I were a mouse, I would like to live in the hollow of a tree with a matchbox for a bed, a leaf for a blanket, and the cap of an acorn for a bowl. I wouldn't, though. If I were a mouse, I would live trapped in the walls of the asylum until the day I was caught in trap.
If you were a mouse, I would be a mouse, too, he said, feeling suddenly fierce, and we would be together.
You are more than a mouse, Gilbert.
I am whatever you are.
Gil, I . . . Her mind seemed suddenly, strangely blank, but he was struck with a rush of fear, and hopelessness, and hurt. I'm sorry, Gil.
You have nothing to apologize for.
It startled him what happened next. He heard the girls who hurt her, who grabbed her by the arms and taunted her and tortured her. They whispered their poisonous words in her mind, and he heard it.
Don't let's think about them any more, he said, desperate. Forget what they think. You are better than they are. They are cruel, small-minded girls, and you have the most open, most beautiful mind of anyone I have ever known.
I . . .
I don't . . .
Why don't I read to you? I have a book with me. May I read it to you?
Yes. She sniffed. I—I would like that very much.
He flipped quickly through the pages to the start, only to panic. Cordelia? His action might have been enough to sever their connection.
He released a breath. In merry England long ago, he read, when good King Henry the Second ruled, a famous outlaw lived in Sherwood Forest near the town of Nottingham. It was exactly the kind of story she enjoyed. His name was Robin Hood, and no archer was his equal, nor was there ever such a band as his hundred and forty merry men. He had to make his voice slow down, to read it with enough care to bring the story to life for her.
She didn't say anything for a while
He felt her with him, though, and he read through the whole first chapter. And that is how Robin Hood became an outlaw and gained a band of merry companions, including his right-hand man Little John. He paused.
Oh, Gil, she said, I don't know what I would do without you.
You'll never have to know, he said.
I have to go. I'll get in trouble. I'll be all right, though. I want you to know. I'll be all right.
He was overcome with a feeling of tenderness, and he didn't know whether it was he who felt it for her, or she who felt it for him, but it didn't really matter.
Thank you for reading to me.
I'll talk to you soon?
He knew when she was gone. It was strange. They had never really been able to say goodbye like that, and it was unexpected and lovely and bittersweet.
He closed his book.
The marks on his arm had grown into bruises, and he had to clench his jaw when he recognized the shape of fingers.
Mostly, her thoughts filled his mind by accident. There were certainly times when her emotions welled inside him, and he said her name, got her attention, and started a conversation. Usually, however, the connection took Gilbert by surprise.
He was in the middle of his chores, and he heard her talking to the trees, and he felt her joy so deeply it brought a smile to his face.
It must be glorious to live in the woods, she said.
He thought of the song.
"O! the fairies have not all departed," he sang.
"And bid this dull planet adieu,
For I know a maid gentle hearted,
With eyes that are tender and blue!"
With eyes that are tender and blue!
"You'd take in a moment to be one,
She weaves in all bosoms a spell,
So if you are longing to see one,
It's Jenny who lives in the dell!"
It's Jenny who lives in the dell!
"Jenny who lives in the dell," he sang.
"Jenny who lives in the dell,
So if you are longing to see one,
It's Jenny who lives in the dell!"
Gilbert! She giggled. You have a divine singing voice.
Or at least I think I do.
It's Jenny who lives in the dell! she sang.
Someone must have called her name, and stolen her thoughts from his mind. She was gone. He returned to his work, though a small, secret smile stayed with him for a little while longer.
There were certainly times when they argued. She had a lot of opinions, and whenever he disagreed, she was of the mind that he meant to antagonize her, and a loud, passionate discussion would follow. It was rarely truly antagonistic, however.
The day of his aunt Constance's death, it was.
It was a peaceful, expected death. The very night before it happened, Gilbert had listened to her praise him for being a very good boy, kissed her impossibly soft, wrinkled cheek, and told her that he loved her. He was sad at her death, but it was a quiet, calm kind of sadness.
Your feelings are unlike you today.
What's the matter?
My aunt died in her sleep last night.
I, too, am having an unequivocally rotten afternoon.
The sigh in her voice was enough to make him want to ask her what the matter was, but he knew she wouldn't actually answer him. They had been down that road before. He knew her in a lot of ways, yet he didn't know her name or her family or her circumstances.
You know my spirit, she said.
Gilbert, please, you mustn't be cross with me.
I am not cross with you. I am frustrated. I am allowed to feel what I feel, aren't I?
But your feelings are unfair!
Unfair? He was incredulous. How it what I feel a matter of fairness?
You resent me for my imaginations! You wish to know my name and my family and my circumstance. You believe you deserve it. But if you knew the facts of my life, you would most certainly wish you did not. I am skinny, and I am homely, and I am loud. I am friendless. I am perfectly, wretchedly unlovable. Can't you see? If I were to reveal to you my circumstances, it would only serve to make you hate me for revealing to you that you have been saddled with such a loathsome, unlovable soulmate!
He had never been so angry with her. Do you truly think that little of me? He could barely control the violence of his feelings in that moment.
Am I really that cruel in your eyes?
That isn't what I meant!
I need you. That is what I meant. I need you, and I could not possibly survive losing you!
Has it occurred to you that I might need you, too? That I have lost nearly every single member of family one by one, and now my father is sick, and that I am anxious and frightened and lonely, too? Does everything have to be about you?
You misunderstand me.
I understand that my aunt is dead, and you want to talk about your woes.
I was trying to sympathize with you!
I know how difficult your life is. I know. I'm your soulmate. I feel what you feel. And I wish desperately that I could do anything to help you when you're hurting, but I can't.
She was silent.
Don't you know that already? Don't you know what I feel? Don't you know that you are my soulmate, and I love you, and the things you've suffered could never make me stop?
You love me?
I love you, too. I'm sorry. I—I am afraid of losing you, and I know I shouldn't be, but I have never had anyone love me before, and I am unused to it.
He felt the tension start easing from his shoulders. I need you to get used to it, he said. He was struck by a feeling of longing that welled up inside him, a feeling that belonged to her, and that, he realized, was about him.
I am an orphan, she said.
I put that together years ago. I don't care. It has no reflection on who you are.
I love you, too. There was a tearful, trembling tint to her voice. Fervently.
Do you promise you will love me forever?
Would you tell me about your aunt? She paused. Since I shall never meet her, I should like to know her from your eyes.
She is the reason I discovered I had a soulmate.
He told her the story.
He had never really described his aunt to anyone. The rest of his world had always simply known her. He found himself smiling when he described the arguments she used to get in with her husband, and her small, pompous lapdog, and how she insisted on drinking her tea in a particular, "proper" way.
He was cut off from her when his father called his name.
The warm, contented feeling in his chest remained with him, however, and he knew it belonged to her.
He heard her laughter. It wasn't a thought, exactly, but he knew the thrum of laughter that welled up inside him suddenly was because of her. Laughter was infectious between soulmates.
He stood in the cover of several birch trees with a snowball in his cold, mittened hand, and he knew he ought to concentrate on the world at hand, on his friends, and their game, and the certainty that Billy would lob a snowball at his head as soon as Gilbert's vigilance waned, but it was impossible to resist the pull of her.
He imagined her standing in the woods with him.
He had a picture of her in his mind, of course.
She had shared her imaginations of herself with lovely raven locks of hair, which he took to mean she had the opposite, and he pictured her with lighter hair, though it changed day to day whether he imagined a warm honey color or a nearly white blonde or a light, mousy brown. He had collected other pieces of her, too, from the things she had told him in passing: that she was skinny and pale and freckled. He cherished that piece of information, in particular, simply for the specificity. Mostly, he had to picture her in a vague, ethereal way, but he knew that one, single detail: his soulmate was gifted with freckles. He tried to imagine the shade of her freckles, and the number.
He had made the mistake of staring at the smattering of freckles on Ruby at school one afternoon, trying to picture his soulmate with such a dusting, and he had paid for it: Ruby had noticed his attention, and was enamored with him for weeks after that.
In his mind, he dressed her up in the coat Josie had worn that day to school, and he put a bow in her hair like Diana's, and he pictured Ruby's freckles on her cheeks.
He imagined her standing in front of him with a nose turned pink from the cold.
My nose is rosy from the cold! she said.
Doesn't snow cover the world in a blanket of absolutely sublime beauty? I love it. It makes the world more forgiving, don't you think?
I don't think I've ever thought of it.
I love the sight of snow, and the smell, and the taste.
Haven't you ever tasted snow?
I didn't know it had a taste.
Lean your head back right now, and catch a snowflake on your tongue. Oh, Gilbert! It's heavenly to feel the touch of cold, otherworldly crystal on your tongue.
He turned up his face.
He ignored Moody's voice, and stuck his tongue out to catch the snowflakes.
I think it would be romantical to find myself lost in the snow.
Do you want to freeze to death?
I would be found on the brink of death, and they would think me dead for a breath at the sight of my pale, sleeping face, and it would be really most romantical.
He didn't even realize a snowball was coming at him until it broke on his jaw.
He jerked, and blinked, and heard the laughter of his friends.
He chased after Charlie, and nailed him in the back with a snowball of his own, laughing, and leaning on a tree to catch his breath, taking off again to avoid a snowball from Billy's overeager throw.
It happened after he spelled indelible correctly under Mr. Phillip's cool, indifferent gaze. His whole body jerked at the blow. It made Josie frown at him, because she was trying to spell her word, and he was making a scene.
There was another sharp, stinging hit to his bottom.
He staggered backwards slightly at the pain. "I—" He looked at Mr. Phillips in apology.
"Is something the matter, Mr. Blythe?"
His eyes burned with tears.
"I have no idea what you hope to gain with this display," said Mr. Phillips, "but—"
He stumbled to the desks in front of him to take a hold of something. Her scream was a soft, muffled echo in his head. He grit his teeth and gripped the desk and allowed his knees to buckle at the pain that struck him again. Someone was beating his soulmate. It had happened more than once before, and he knew he was helpless to stop it.
He could barely manage to withstand it.
"What's the matter with him?"
"He is possessed!"
"Somebody has to help him! Gilbert!"
It stopped. He breathed in shallowly. It was over, though, and he began to straighten, only for his lungs to seize with panic.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Gilbert?" Charlie said, touching his shoulder.
He closed his eyes. Can you hear me? Cordelia? Are you all right? He knew she wasn't, that she had just been beaten. He needed to know she was safe, though. He had to hear her voice.
His mind was empty of her, though.
He realized with a lurch of his heart that she was gone from his emotions, too.
He straightened. "I'm fine." Everyone was staring at him in open, shameless concern.
The pain of the beating was gone, too. Usually it lingered for a while. It had already faded completely, however, and he didn't know what that meant.
"I need a minute." He cleared his throat. "Excuse me."
Nobody said a word to stop him when he crossed the schoolhouse, opened the door, and escaped. The cold had a sharp, silver edge that cut him immediately. He should have grabbed his coat, but, actually, the bite of the cold was helpful, reminding him of his good, working lungs, and clearing his head.
Eventually, he had to return to the schoolhouse.
He ignored the stares of his friends, was grateful that Mr. Phillips said nothing about his behavior, and tried to focus on his division.
"Hey," Charlie said, quiet. "Was it her?"
He was tempted to pretend he didn't hear Charlie's soft, sympathetic question, but he paused, and without actually looking at him, curtly nodded once.
Thankfully, Charlie didn't question him further.
He waited the rest of the day to hear from her, to feel an emotion, or for his bottom to start to hurt again with the memory of the beating. Nothing. He lay in bed that night with his heart in his throat, waiting and waiting and waiting.
This wasn't how it worked. They got cut off from each other on occasion, but it was never like this. It was never so total a severance.
In the days that followed, he began desperately trying to reach her.
He called her name in his thoughts like he had often done when he was younger, and he focused on his own anxious, awful feelings in hopes the focus might make them strong enough to create a connection, and he shouted her name in his thoughts with the sudden, senseless notion that volume might bridge the distance between their minds.
It was fruitless.
After a couple of weeks, he was desperate for a bruise he himself hadn't earned to bloom on his skin.
He couldn't feel anything from her either. He searched his emotions with special care, but he was certain they were entirely his own. He had never gone more than a handful of days without feeling something from her, and now it was as though he didn't even have a soulmate.
It scared him.
He went to visit the doctor in Charlottetown with his father, and after Dr. Ward had finished with his father, he asked how Gilbert was getting on, and Gilbert's usual, genial reply got stuck in his throat.
"May I ask you a question?" He swallowed.
"I—I have a soulmate."
Dr. Ward smiled gently. "I remember," he said.
"I . . . something's the matter. It's like I've been cut off from her. We've gone time before without speaking, but we've never—it's never been like this. I had her with me, felt her pain and her fear and—I had her, and, suddenly, she was gone, and I haven't felt anything from her in weeks. That's never happened."
Dr. Ward's brow furrowed.
"I don't know much about soulmates," Gilbert said. "I know—us. This isn't usual for us, but I . . . I hoped it might be normal for soulmates in general?"
"You say you had her with you, and you felt her pain?"
"Yes." He swallowed. "She was—someone was beating her. That's happened more than once before, though, and it stopped, and I felt her panic, and—and she was gone." He shook his head. "I haven't felt anything from her since."
"I see." He glanced at Gilbert's father. "I am no expert in the science of soulmates."
"But you have a guess?"
"I do." He sighed. "It sounds to me as if your bond has been broken."
"Broken?" Gilbert's heart stopped. "Is that possible?"
"I'm afraid it's actually quite common. Bonds can fade. That isn't very well known among the general, unbonded population, but it happens."
"Why?" Gilbert said. "How . . .?"
"There are a myriad of reasons. But, regardless of why, it's usually a process that happens over a period of time. If a bond is broken quite abruptly, and you said your bond was, the only real, possible explanation I know of is that your soulmate . . . is that she has died."
"No," Gilbert said, immediate.
"I'm sorry." He placed a hand on Gilbert's arm. "Truly."
It had occurred to him, but he hadn't allowed himself to linger on the thought. "It stopped. The beating. It stopped." And it hadn't even been the worst of the beatings she had taken over the years.
"But you don't know what happened next?"
Gilbert was silent.
"I could be wrong," Dr. Ward said. "There might be another explanation. As I said, my knowledge on the subject is limited. But it might be time to consider the possibility."
His father didn't comment until they were home again.
In the quiet of the kitchen, they ate a late, cold dinner by candlelight, and when Gilbert's father cleared his throat, it took a moment for Gilbert to look at him. "I think there's something you ought to know," he said. His face looked especially drawn in the shadows of the candles, and Gilbert's gut squirmed at the reminder that he was at risk of losing his father, too.
"I'm sorry I've been difficult today," Gilbert said, and he meant it.
"I had a soulmate," said his father.
Gilbert was stunned. "What?" Why didn't he already know that?
His father gave a small, wistful smile. "It was years ago. I don't know that it's possible to forget the feeling of feeling another's emotions, however. It's an experience that stays with you." He dropped his gaze to the table.
"My aunt told me I was the first in the family to have a soulmate," Gilbert said.
"She believed it. She was your mother's sister. She never knew that there was someone I loved dearly before your mother. Make no mistake, I loved your mother. There are many great loves in your life, Gilbert. She was one of mine. But, before I married her, there was another."
He knew it was meant to comfort him.
His father had recovered from the loss of a soulmate, which meant Gilbert might recover, too, and find love again.
It wasn't a matter of whether he could, however. He did not want to recover from her loss. He was fifteen, and had spent all of his life with a soulmate, had spent years believing he was meant to marry his silly, stubborn girl, and he refused to abandon the dream so easily.
"Love isn't as easy as we might like it to be," said his father.
"How did you know for certain that she had died?" Gilbert asked. "Your soulmate?"
"Well, I . . ." He sighed. "She didn't. She is alive to this day, and of very stout health as far as I know. That isn't what happened."
"You know who she is?" Gilbert said.
That didn't make any sense. "She's alive, and you know who she is, but you aren't with her?" Irrationally, he was angry with his father.
"You have to understand. Love isn't simple, Gilbert. We were young, and she was proud and . . . and she was faced with obligations, too, and I . . . She said we couldn't be together, and I accepted it, and I found myself falling in love with someone who wanted my love. After I married your mother, the bond that joined us faded in the way of Dr. Ward's description."
Gilbert couldn't believe it. "You shouldn't have given up on her."
"She was your soulmate!"
"If I hadn't, I never would have married your mother, and I never would have had you for a son."
He didn't have any way to argue with that.
"I know you love this girl. It is impossible not to love someone with whom you share such a deep, intimate bond. But, in truth, you know very little about her."
"I know what matters," Gilbert said, fierce. "I know that she has the most vivid, enchanting imagination. I know that she's suffered, but she continues to believe in the goodness of the world. I know that she is clever, and she loves to read, and she is a storyteller, and—"
"And if she is gone from this world?"
He pushed his chair from the table. "If she is gone, I know I'll never love another as much as I love her!" It was unreasonable of him, and unkind, but he found it impossible to reign in the accusation in his voice.
"Then I hope sincerely that she isn't gone," said his father.
Gilbert didn't sleep very much that night.
In the morning, he started doing oft-neglected chores around the house, and when it was clear he had no intention of going to school, his father didn't say anything.
The dark, dreary days of winter passed slowly that year. There was nothing to sustain Gilbert's heart. He managed to carry on because he had no other possible recourse but to carry on.
He didn't feel anything from her.
To make it worse, his father's health continued to deteriorate. He could hardly work by the advent of spring. And though he claimed that he didn't want Gilbert taking time away from school to work on the farm, the fields would surely go fallow in the coming spring months if something didn't change.
It wasn't until his father announced his decision to take the pair of them to Alberta that Gilbert's spirit lifted.
His father was eager to show Gilbert some of the world, and Gilbert was eager, too.
In the city, he became so suddenly, fervently excited it overwhelmed him momentarily, and he found himself chased by hope and joy and anticipation in the days after that.
He should have recognized the unexpectedness of the feelings for what it was.
He didn't, though.
His father said that at times in a man's life, a change in scenery was good for the heart, and Gilbert had to agree, because it had been a long, long time since he had felt this lust for life.
But a fortnight into their stay in Alberta, he was overcome with heartbreak.
The despair blossomed inside him, and his eyes burned with tears, and he came to a stop in the middle of the street, because world had never seemed crueler than it was at this moment. He didn't understand how this happened. His life was a dream, only to become a nightmare, and he had never, ever felt as forlorn as this.
"Gilbert," said his father, "whatever is the matter?"
"I—" He choked. "I'm alone." He was certain he would never again know happiness. "I . . ."
"Son." His father's brow grew furrowed. "You mustn't think that way." He touched Gilbert's shoulder. "No matter what happens, I promise you will never be alone."
He felt a sudden, stormy stab of rage at the world.
That was when he realized.
It had been such a long time that he hadn't recognized the difference at first.
"No," he breathed. "No, Father, I—"
Cordelia! he thought, and he thought it as loudly as he could, shouting it.
"I know that look on your face," said his father. "It's your girl, isn't it? She's returned to you at last. My goodness."
What's the matter, my girl? Gilbert thought gently. That's you. You're my girl. Tell me what happened. He had never wanted anything more than he wanted in that moment to hear her voice. I'm here.
The sick, joyless feeling in his stomach seemed briefly to abate.
Cordelia? He feared suddenly that she was lost to him again already. Are you with me?
You're back! she said. I thought you had left me for good. Where have you been? It's been awful with you.
He thought he might cry with joy at the sound of her dear, dear voice.
Oh, Gil! Is my voice truly dear to you?
Gilbert! she cried. How can you be happy at a time like this?!
I've missed you, he said. I was worried I had lost you. It's been so long. I didn't know what to do. You have no idea how gratifying it is to feel you with me again.
I have missed you, too. But, oh, Gilbert, you cannot imagine what great injustice has been done to me!
Tell me what's happened. Can I make it better? You know I hurt when you hurt.
I shall never be happy again. I cannot be. Joy has fled from me forever.
I don't believe that. What's it you say? There is always a tomorrow.
I detest my tomorrow!
He tried to squash the feeling of bliss that filled him at the sound of her lovelorn, exaggerated sigh.
I am bereft, she replied, and you feel joy at my suffering.
You know that isn't true.
Oh, you cannot possibly understand! I am a rosebud that knew only darkness, that struggled for every weak, sickly inch of stem I grew, and had petals of the dullest, most unloved colors, only to be brought into the light, to learn the delight of sweet, sun-kissed dew on my leaves for the very first time, and now after only a taste, I am to be shut into darkness once more. Eternally! Oh, Gil. I mourn the death of a dream!
His father began ushering Gilbert out of the street. Gilbert didn't pay any mind to the action. If he allowed his mind to bother with the concerns of the physical world around him, the bridge of magic that connected him to his darling, dearest girl would be lost.
You are the only one who has ever held me dear.
I cannot begin to describe it. I was wanted, Gilbert! I had given up hope that the day would ever come, but it came, and I could not have imagined better, only they didn't really want me!
I want you, he said, feeling her sadness overpower his delight at having her back.
I know. That is how I know you are a figure my imagination has conjured to buoy my spirit at my worst, most desperate moments of despair .
You aren't serious right now.
Why would God give a soulmate to such an ugly, unwanted creature as I am?
I want you.
Do you mean it?
I've never been able to lie to you, Cordelia. You're so careful with your thoughts, but you know that I am not. You know my heart, mind, and soul wholly.
Oh, Gil. Do you really, truly believe we are destined to meet?
You know I do, he said, firm. I think about how it'll happen sometimes. I wonder if I'll know you the moment I see you, because my soul will recognize your soul. I know I'll recognize your voice.
I imagine you will be disappointed that I am not a boy.
He laughed. What? Sometimes, she said the oddest, most unexpected things.
I would be much better loved if I were a boy. Boys are useful. I am useful, too, only I am never given the chance to prove myself because I am not a boy.
Well, I am glad you are a girl.
It's does my heart such good to have you back, Gilbert.
I know. I don't know what happened. It scared me. I feared something terrible might have happened to you. I thought I had lost you.
Something terrible has happened to me!
What can I do to make it better?
Never forsake me again. I need you. Nobody else will ever want me!
It was quiet. With a sting of disappointment, he realized he couldn't feel anything that wasn't his own, settled feelings. She was gone.
Goodbye, my girl.
"I see you're back," said his father.
"How is she?"
He smiled. "Upset." He knew he should be worried, but he couldn't make himself unhappy when he had felt her emotions, when he had heard her voice. "It's all right. She's strong. It'll be all right." He had her back.
"Me, too." He couldn't stop smiling. "You have no idea how much."
"I think I might."
He looked at his father.
"Did she know why you two have been separated for months?"
He shook his head. "No." He wondered if there was a way to know, if there was any real, reasonable explanation. "She seemed to think it was my fault, and made me promise I would never forsake her again." He had never felt so fond of her.
"I suppose it may be one of the mysteries of soulmates."
A small, niggling part of him worried that it could be another long, miserable stretch of months before they spoke again. He should have asked her name, and where she lived. He should have insisted. He should have made her understand that if he knew such facts, he would be able to find her even if the connection that joined them was threatened. But, of course, it was too late for that now.
He was struck with the urge to cry again.
That was Cordelia, he was certain. It was far too powerful, and had taken him by surprise, which was always a sign, and he knew her. He knew her heart, and the shape of her feelings.
Their bond had been restored. Miraculously. They wouldn't be separated again.
"I like Alberta," he said, turning to his father with a smile. "It's been very good to me so far."
He knew immediately that something had happened, and it was good. His father was resting after their long day yesterday, and he was reading, and the house seemed especially quiet, lifeless, and dull. He was suddenly utterly thrilled, was so happy it was impossible not to smile, and he thought he might just burst with the joy that filled him.
You're happy, he said.
I don't think you've ever been so elated. He was grinning at the small, empty room. I like it.
If all the griefs I am to have,
Would only come today,
I am so happy I believe
They'd laugh and run away!
Is that so?
The meaning of that poem has never been made so plain to me as now!
If anyone's happiness could chase away all grief, it's yours.
If all the joys I am to have
Would only come today,
They could not be so big as this
That happens to me now!
Well, aren't you going to tell me what's made you so full of gladness?
I am wanted !
He laughed. He couldn't help himself. He was happy.
Gilbert, I am going to stay.
She didn't reply, and he knew she had left him.
He assumed she was distracted by whoever had made her feel so jubilant. Her joy lingered with him, however. It made him wish he were there with her in person. He didn't simply want to feel her happiness. He wanted to live it with her. He would give anything to see the delight on her face, to hear the sound of her laughter, to feel the press of her smile to his cheek when he embraced her. It made him wistful to imagine.
His father wasn't going to recover. He knew it. He had known it weeks ago, but the trip to Alberta had seemed to reinvigorate him initially, and he had almost been his old, lively self again.
Things were going steadily downhill again, however.
They were meant to stay in Alberta for the rest of the week, but he didn't think they would while his father was bedridden.
He would be much more comfortable at home.
He closed his eyes at the sound of her voice. I'm sorry, he said. He hadn't even realized how emotional he was.
Gil, she said, gentle. What's happened?
He moved to sit at the table. It's my father. He's sick. And he isn't going to recover. He scrubbed a hand through his hair.
I don't know what I'm supposed to do. He's getting slowly worse by the day. I don't know how to help him. He wanted to show me Alberta, and he was happy when we got here, and he was behaving like he might be turning a corner, and I thought . . . He wiped at his cheeks. I don't know what I'll do if I lose him.
You must not abandon hope!
He's dying. He clenched his jaw. Hope hasn't anything to do with it.
There is always hope.
"Do you know my mother died bringing me into this world?"
She was quiet.
"I was born when my parents were older. They wanted a child for years. I grew up hearing from everyone how I was a miracle."
You are a miracle.
"It's a miracle that my mother died for me?"
That isn't what I meant. I meant only that I am so grateful for you. You give me hope when every other horizon before me is dark.
He softened. I had a really big family, you know. I was loved. I had aunts and uncles and cousins. Grandparents. I had a family that doted on me, that . . . He swallowed. And I lost every one of them. One by one. Now I've only got my father, and I'm going to lose him, too. I'm scared. I'm going to be an orphan.
You have me.
Do I? He was crying again. You were gone for months. I had no idea what had happened to you. You can't promise me that will never happen again.
I will never leave you, Gilbert, she said, fierce.
You don't know that.
I don't know why I was cut off from you for those many, miserable months, but I suspect it was because my desolation was beyond the pale of understanding, and, in the most wretched state, I was lost. I will never allow it to happen again. You are my soulmate, and though the world may deny me every other comfort, I will never again allow it to take you.
Can you tell me something about you? he asked. It can be small.
I was working for a family the last few years. They were awful. It was while the husband was beating me that he suffered a fatal heart attack. I think you were there. I heard your voice. I will never forget that day, Gilbert. It will stay with me.
After he died, I was returned to the asylum.
It was the most detail she had ever given him about her life. But now another family has taken you in? He knew he had asked her to tell him one, small thing, and she already had, but he couldn't resist asking.
Yes. Yes, Gilbert. They have adopted me, and they are the gentlest, most kind-hearted persons.
May I ask you a question?
He heard his father cough loudly from his bedroom. I'm sorry, I have to go. But if she answered, he didn't hear it.
He thought about their conversation later that night. If he asked her now, he suspected she might tell him her name. He was going to, he decided, when they next spoke, and he was going to ask her where she was, and he was going to meet her finally.
He quickened his step when he heard the taunt in Billy's voice. "Hey, Billy!" He pinned his gaze on the boy, and he made his words as pointed as possible, and he stopped whatever cruelty Billy meant to inflict
It wasn't until Billy was heading off that Gilbert was free to turn to the girl.
"You all right, miss?"
She bent to gather her things. He was concerned. She hadn't yet spoken a word, and, apparently, she had no intention of talking to him ever, passing him wordlessly, and heading in the direction of the school.
"You're welcome," he said, bewildered.
It was rare to see a stranger in Avonlea. He was intrigued. She was pretty, he thought, with bright red hair, a face of freckles, and such large, clear eyes.
"Need anything else?" He smiled. "Any dragons around here need slaying?"
She ignored him.
"Who are you?" He followed her. "Hey, who are you?" She walked on steadfastly, ignoring him, and refusing to share her name, and she was moving at quite a clip, too, forcing him to run to catch up with her. "What, you can't tell me your name?"
She refused to look at him.
He hurried up the steps of the schoolhouse in front of her, holding the door for her. "Here! Here. Allow me." He was about to ask her name yet again when she turned to him at last.
"Gilbert!" hailed his friends. "It's Gilbert!"
Her eyes went impossibly wide. He was alarmed. Before he could say a word, she stumbled in her haste to alight away from him, and he could only stare after her in puzzlement.
The boys circled Gilbert happily.
He smiled, and he answered a couple of questions, and he asked. "Who's that girl?" He jutted his chin at where she had gone out the door.
"Anne," Moody said.
"She's an orphan," Fred said. "She's staying with the Cuthberts."
"What were you doing with her?"
"I, ah—I met her in the woods just earlier, but she refused to speak to me. I think I frightened her."
"She's a freak," Fred said.
"It's the cooties from the asylum," Charlie said. "Hope you didn't catch any."
He made a joke a reply, and told them that he didn't care that she was an orphan, because "a cute girl is a cute girl," and he repressed the urge to ask anything else about her. He was going to talk to her. He would learn more about her from her rather than from the rest of the class.
It wasn't as easy as that, unfortunately.
She seemed momentarily thrilled when Mr. Phillips told her to read, and she rose to her feet, only to pause, and glance at Gilbert, and change her mind. She refused. She sat, shaking her head, and pressing her lips together so pointedly it turned them white, and when Billy joked that maybe she didn't know how to read, she didn't say anything.
Was she shy?
At lunch, he went to offer her an apple. He thought it might be easier for her to speak to him when they were alone. She opened her mouth for a second, only to close it abruptly, look away, and refuse to meet his eyes again.
She seemed almost offended at his presence.
He tried to get her attention again in the afternoon, tossing his nubs of chalk at her, and willing her to look at him.
He had to go to her, to kneel in front of her, and, still, she ignored him. It made frustration well in him. He had never had anyone actually ignore him this way, especially when he hadn't been anything but kind to her.
He pulled on her braid. "Carrots!" He didn't know what he expected her to do, but it wasn't what she did.
"I'm not talking to you!" she yelled.
He didn't even realize what was happening until it happened: she slammed her slate into the side of his face, breaking it, and sending a shock of pain through him.
Her eyes were wide when he looked at her.
"You just did," he said.
She touched a hand to her head where she had hit him as if she felt the ache of it, too.
She was called up to the front of the classroom. It flooded him with guilt. She was in trouble, and it was entirely his fault. He tried to say so, but it was useless. She stared at the air in front of her, and he would've given anything to have her look at him, wanting to beg her forgiveness. She didn't. She continued to stare in front of her with a tremor in her face.
He was sick to his stomach at the humiliation. Anne starting walking slowly, purposely out of the schoolhouse. He had never felt this small, this judged, this hated. She left the door swinging open after her. He would never possibly be able to forget this treatment, to forgive it.
Why did everyone hate him?
She didn't answer him. But. She was there. Somehow, he could feel her presence in his mind, and he knew she was able to hear him, only she was choosing to ignore his voice, and that had never happened before. She was there, and she was silent.
What's the matter?
Anger suddenly licked at his insides with the fury of a white-hot flame. She was angry.
She was embarrassed, and she was angry, and she was betrayed.
He stood so abruptly it shoved the bench back several feet with a screech that tore through the schoolhouse.
"Gil?" Charlie said. "What's the matter?"
"Sit," said Mr. Phillips.
"Is it your soulmate?" Ruby said.
Anne had heard Gilbert's voice when he spoke to Billy in the woods.
He started for the door. Mr. Phillips called angrily after him, but he couldn't have cared less about Mr. Phillips. Outside, Anne was nowhere in sight. He turned in a circle. She was staying with the Cuthberts, he remembered, and that was where she would most likely go.
He took off at a run.
She was an orphan. He should have known. They had told him she was an orphan, and he hadn't even considered the possibility.
He hoped to catch her on her way to the Cuthberts, but he gave up the hope at the sight of the farmhouse. He slowed his gait, and tried to catch his breath. Miss Cuthbert had always been especially kind to him, but he had no idea what Anne might have told her.
Before he could actually knock on the door, it opened, and he was face to face with Mr. Cuthbert.
"Mr. Cuthbert." He swallowed. "Hello. I was hoping to speak to Anne. Please."
"Who is that?" Miss Cuthbert appeared in the doorway. "Gilbert?" Her eyes went wide with surprise, but, after a moment, she hardened, and he knew she was going to send him away. "This is a surprise."
"I know," he said. "I'm sorry. I don't know what Anne's told you, but I need to speak to her."
"I'm afraid she is resting at the moment."
"You'll need to call again later, Gilbert," she said, firm.
"She's my soulmate," he revealed.
"She's my soulmate, and I didn't realize when I saw her, because she—she's never, ever told me what she looks like, or where she lived, or—or her name. She always had me call her Cordelia. She—please, I think a part of her believed we would never meet, and she is overwhelmed at having it happen, and I—I need to speak to her."
"Please," he said, desperate.
"I shall speak with Anne," she said. "But if she does not wish to speak to you, I shall respect that, and you will, too."
"Yes." He nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
She disappeared into the house.
He was left to wait on the doorstep with Mr. Cuthbert. He had never really spoken with the man. He was older, and kindly, and Gilbert had never had a reason to suspect Mr. Cuthbert might not like him, but he couldn't help feeling particularly judged by the man in that moment.
After a couple of minutes, Miss Cuthbert reappeared.
He knew by the look on her face what she was going to say.
"You'll have to call again later."
"I'm sorry, Gilbert." Her voice wasn't unkind, but her tone was final. "I think it were best you were on your way now."
He nodded, and he turned to leave, only to stop.
He turned back around. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I'm going to wait." He swallowed. "I know this is inappropriate. I need to talk to her, however, and I—I can't leave until I do. I have no choice but to wait as long as she'll make me." He moved to sit on the steps.
Neither of the Cuthberts said anything in reply.
They didn't chase him away either. He was allowed to sit. They resumed their chores, he assumed, and he was left on the porch by himself.
He shouldn't have teased her.
Anne? he thought. Please, Anne. I didn't realize it was you. I'm sorry.
Even if she hadn't been who she was, what he had done was wrong. She had made it clear she did not wish to speak to him, and he had refused to accept the fact, had harassed her and goaded her and humiliated her. It was behavior that shamed him.
He had found her, though. If she would just give him the chance to explain, he could make it right. They had found each other, and surely a part of her was as happy as he was at that fact.
He didn't know how long he waited.
It must have been a few hours at least, because the sky grew warm with the colors of sunset, and Mr. Cuthbert passed Gilbert to go in the house, and the tips of his fingers had gone numb with the cold.
He needed to check on his father, and he was beginning to think he might really have to leave, and that was when she came, and he sprang to his feet, turning to face her.
He drank in the sight of her.
The splotches of color on her pale, freckled face made it clear she had cried, but she leveled him with a look that dared him to comment.
"It's you," he said, breathless.
She had red hair. Why had that never, ever occurred to him? She had bright, beautiful red hair.
"Anne." He smiled. "Anne."
"Marilla is concerned that you'll catch your death," she said.
"I'm fine." He cleared his throat. "I had to speak to you. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have teased you. I didn't understand why you were ignoring me, and my behavior was childish, and uncalled for. Truly, I am sorry. But, Anne, we found each other." He knew he should be acting more contrite, but the sight of her was too much for him. "It's you."
"I, personally, would not mind if you caught your death."
"You were wretched to me," she told him, "and now you have the gall to come to my home, and smile at me."
He opened his mouth, and closed it. "Anne, I . . ." He didn't know what he could say. The cold, unadulterated fury on her face was unchanged. He was sorry for what he'd done, truly, and he was sorry at her anger, but, somehow, he was happy, too, because it was so very much her.
"I would like you to leave," she said.
He nodded. "I know." He dropped his gaze, coming to a decision, and moved to kneel in front of her. "I am sorry, Anne," he said, looking up, and seeing the shock on her face. "My actions were unforgiveable, and I shall understand if you cannot possibly forgive them, but you must allow me to apologize. I wanted your attention. I could not understand why this beautiful, breathtaking stranger was ignoring me, and it made a child of me. I acted in the most unforgiveable way. From the bottom of my heart, I apologize." He bent his head to look at the ground.
"You called me carrots."
The tears in her voice made his head whip back up again to look at her.
"I've only ever had one person in my life who had no idea how awful my hair truly was, who might have imagined me beautiful, and who insisted that he did not care what I looked like, and the moment he saw me, he called me carrots."
"How could you?"
He felt the pang of betrayal like a knife to the heart. "Cordelia," he said, soft. He had never hated himself more than he did in that moment. How many times had he heard her cry in his head? How many times had he felt her desolation? How many times had he hated whoever made her hurt, and had wanted so badly to comfort her properly? And, now, she stood in front of him, and she was hurt, and he could not comfort her, because he was the reason.
She shook her head.
"I'm sorry." He moved to his feet. "I'm sorry."
"I would like you to leave."
He nodded. "I will. I'm sorry. I'll go." He wanted to reach for her, but he had no right to touch her.
She turned on her heel, and flew into the house.
He wanted to follow her. He wanted to take her hands and beg her forgiveness and make everything right. He wanted to undo the day, and have it start new again. None of those things were possible, however. He was left to turn, and leave, to head home under the dusky, darkening sky.
The weeks that followed were a kind of torture. She was lost to him. It was awful when they were separated for those long, miserable months before, and he wanted to take comfort now in the fact that now at least he knew she was alive, but it was impossible to make himself feel thankful when she hated him.
She couldn't bring herself to look at him.
He had thought when they were together at last, they wouldn't be able to stop looking at each other.
If she was disappointed, too, she was able to hide it.
She returned to school, and he was overjoyed at the chance to redeem her opinion of him. It was fruitless, though. He had the privilege of learning the sound of her laugh and the shade of her blush and the stride of her gait, but she despised him, and everything he learned of her, he learned from a distance.
For a while, he feared the bond that joined them would dissolve that way his father had spoken of.
She knocked her knee, and he knew, because the bruise was on his skin.
He shared her feelings, too.
And, of course, her thoughts entered his mind as often as always.
She refused to speak to him, however. She was quick to break the connection when her thoughts found his thoughts, and she never, ever gave him the time of day in person. She had no interest in speaking to him in any way, shape, or form, and, to his chagrin, his stupid, childish mistake had rendered him helpless to change that fact.
His father's health declined until Gilbert couldn't bring himself to leave the farm. He needed to be at hand. His father had protested the decision, but Gilbert was stubborn. School would always be there. His father needed him close right now.
Gilbert was startled when Anne came to visit.
She made it clear that she was there to bring his work from school, though, and he believed it.
He was ready for her when she came the very next day. "Would you come in?" He met her gaze, and held it. "My father has refused most company, but I'm certain he'd enjoy your company. You have a way of cheering up people. And, honestly, I would like him to get to know you, and there isn't much time left for that." He swallowed.
He wanted his father to know his soulmate.
That wasn't awful of him, was it?
"I—I understand." She nodded. "I'd be happy to talk with him."
He stepped back slightly to allow her in. She looked around shamelessly, and he gave her a moment to do it, to look at the home he had grown up in, and where her thoughts had often found him over the years. He took the time to look at her.
"Do you mind if I tell him you're my soulmate?"
"What?" She glanced at him. "Do I mind?"
"I know you don't want anyone to know," he said, sheepish.
"You're the one who doesn't want anyone to know."
"You haven't told anyone at school!"
He frowned. "You haven't told anyone at school. I was following your lead. You're the one who hates me, remember?" He raised his eyebrows at her.
"Forget it." He sighed. "May I please tell him?"
He led her through the hall, motioned at her to wait, and knocked on the door to let his father know he was coming in. "We have a guest," he said. He gestured at Anne, and she came in gingerly, holding her hat in her hands.
"Anne," said his father.
"Hello, Mr. Blythe." She paused. "I hope you don't mind my intrusion."
"On the contrary, I am glad for it. Please. Come in."
She nodded. "That's very gracious of you." She glanced at Gilbert.
He took her hat, and, in a quiet, awkward shuffle, he took her coat, too, and her scarf, and her gloves. "You can . . ." he started. He nodded, and she sat in the chair that was usually his.
"Your house is really quite lovely," she said. "Though I haven't seen everything, I was charmed by the kitchen. The plantings of herbs in the window were arranged most artfully."
"Do you know I don't think anyone's ever noticed that?"
"I noticed. I'm observant. I've been told that I notice too much, in fact."
He chuckled. "Nonsense," he said. "You can never have too keen an eye. It's how you see the world. And the more you see of the world, the better off you are." He smiled.
Gilbert had known his father would like her.
"And how is our Marilla?"
"She is doing very well, thank you," Anne said.
"I knew Marilla when we were young. Grew up with her. I have always been fond of her."
"I am fond of her, too."
Gilbert took the quiet that followed for a cue. "Dad, there is something I've wanted to tell you. He glanced at her, and found her looking at him, only for her gaze to flee his immediately. "Anne isn't simply a friend at school." He looked at his father, and took a breath.
"I am his soulmate!" Anne said.
"You are . . . ?" He gaped at her, and at Gilbert. "You are Cordelia?"
"Goodness." He shook his head. "That is . . ." He laughed. "I should have known by the way you spoke of Anne, Gilbert. I should have known! You have only ever spoken so warmly of a single other person."
Gilbert released a short, embarrassed laugh. "Right." He glanced at Anne.
"It's with an e," she blurted.
"My name is Anne with an e," she told him. "It's a nearly tolerable name if you spell it with an e."
His father nodded his head at her. "I see." He reached for her hand. She was surprised, and glanced at Gilbert, but she gave it to him. He clasped it between his own. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Anne with an e," he said. He smiled.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, too," she said.
Gilbert had never loved her more.
They talked for a little while longer after that. His father asked Anne about herself, and she was happy to answer, describing her interests and going on a tangent about Diana and explaining how happy she was to live in this wonderful, wonderful world. The small, stuffy room was more cheerful than it had been in a long, long time.
His father's face began growing pale, however.
Gilbert was reluctant to leave this moment, but he knew his father needed his rest. He moved to his feet, saying that they ought to let Anne go on her way, and hoping she understood it wasn't a dismissal. She seemed to, agreeing, and rising to her feet.
"Thank you very much for coming to see me, Anne," said his father.
"You're welcome." Impulsively, she pressed a kiss to his father's temple. "It was my pleasure."
In the kitchen, Gilbert gave Anne her things.
"Thanks," he said. "For . . ."
She nodded. "I'm honored that you asked it of me." She put on her hat, and looked at him.
There was a pause.
He wanted to ask if she might stay longer with him. He wanted to say again that he was sorry for the way they met. He wanted to make her laugh, wanted to hear her thoughts, wanted to become her friend.
He wanted so, so much, and he had no idea how to ask for any of it.
"I should go," she said.
"Do you want me to walk you home?"
He opened the door for her. She didn't look back once. He watched her, though, until her small, bright figured had disappeared from sight, and he hoped she would be back again tomorrow.
He was seated at the table with his head in his hands when the door of the house was thrown open violently, banging on the wall.
He looked up. "Anne." His voice was rougher than he meant it to be.
She stumbled quickly towards him, sinking to her knees, and reaching for him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. "I knew as soon as I felt it," she breathed. She took his hand, and squeezed it tightly, meeting his red, watery eyes with her own bright, heartbroken gaze.
He had to look away from her.
But when bowed his head in an effort to hold in the tears that burned his eyes, she hugged him to her, holding his head to her chest, and murmuring his name.
Distantly, he was aware of another soft, concerned voice.
His world had narrowed to the fact that his father was dead, however, and the only thing that kept him anchored was Anne's arms around him, holding him tightly, and the way she rested her cheek on the top of his head.
I'm sorry, she thought.
He's dead. He's gone. He's dead. I've got nobody else left. He's dead.
You have me.
He didn't know how long it took him to calm enough that he pulled away from her hold. She allowed it, but she didn't move from where she had knelt beside him. He saw that Miss Cuthbert was there, and her brother, too, and he realized with a measure of embarrassment that they had witnessed that display.
"Would you like something to eat?" asked Miss Cuthbert.
He nodded. "That isn't necessary." He wiped at his face. "I didn't mean to disturb your afternoon. I'm fine. I am capable of looking after myself." He refused to look at any of them.
"It isn't a matter of capability."
It's going to be all right,she told him.
"It'll do you good to eat."
He shoved to his feet. "I think I need—I need to lay down for a couple of minutes. Excuse me. I appreciate you coming, but I—I need a moment." He left the kitchen without sparing a glance at any of them.
He left the house in favor of fresh, clean air in his lungs. At the sound of footsteps at his back, he assumed it was Anne, and he was ready to ask her again for a moment to himself. It was Mr. Cuthbert who came to stand in front of the fence with him, however. Gilbert didn't know what to say. And, apparently, Mr. Cuthbert didn't know what to say either.
They stood there silently until Miss Cuthbert's strong, steady voice called them inside for supper.
He made the decision soon after. He knew the life that lay in front of him in Avonlea, and he knew it would remain waiting for a while. He wanted to discover what other, possible lives were open to him.
He told Anne when she was at the house in the afternoon.
She sat at the table with schoolwork in front of her, was in a bright, cheerful mood, and had just finished a tale of Moody's incompetence that included a mention of "when you return to school," and he knew he needed to tell her now.
"Actually, I don't think I'll be back at school for a while," he said.
"I need to leave for a while. Avonlea, I mean. I don't know what I want for my future, but I know—I know that to decide, I need to see more of the world. I want to travel. It's what my father would have wanted."
"But what about your farm?"
"I don't have to decide about that right now."
She was quiet.
"I'm going to get a job on the docks in Charlottetown, I think, and, hopefully, that will lead to a job on a steamer."
Her gaze was steady on the grain of the table. "When are you going to leave?"
"I don't have a reason to delay it." He sighed. "I know this might seem like it's sudden, but I promise that I have thought about it, and it's what I want to do."
"Why haven't you told me about it before now?" she asked.
"Anne," he said.
"That isn't really our relationship, is it?"
She frowned. "You know you can tell me anything. I'm your soulmate. I know that we haven't always gotten along since I came to Avonlea, but that's no reason to believe you can't share with me the dilemmas you face. I've been here for you these last few weeks, haven't I?" She glared.
"Yes," he said. "You've been very kind to me." He meant it.
It was quiet.
He moved to his feet to check on the tea.
"I think Marilla had a soulmate. I don't know for certain, but the way she speaks of them makes me certain she must've. I wonder what happened, and if . . ." She bit her lip. "Marilla told me that a soulmate is a person like any other, and a soulmate is not without flaws."
"I'll be the first to admit that I'm flawed," he said, wry.
She was flustered. "I meant that I am flawed. I am. I am quick to judge, and I keep a hold of grudges, and I have an awful, uncontrollable temper." She hesitated.
"I am sorry I was unkind to you. I—I was scared. I had never really expected to meet you in person. You did antagonize me when you pulled my hair like that, and called me carrots, but I held that against you for longer than I should've."
"You don't need to apologize," he said.
"Well, I'm sorry, too."
"You don't need to apologize." She gave him a look that dared him to argue.
"Fine." He smiled. "I accept your apology, Anne."
He took a seat. "Since we're talking about what's happened in the past, there is something I need to say. The day we met, I made a mistake. I meant every word of my apology, however, and I didn't say anything just because I was trying to apologize." He raised his eyebrows in hopes she might follow what he meant to say.
"Right," she said, slow.
"Anne, I need to say what I've known since we were children. You are beautiful."
"Gilbert, I don't—"
"—believe it, I know," he said. "But I know your heart, and I've known it was beautiful since I was a boy. And when I met you in person, I saw the rest of you was beautiful, too. You detest your bright red hair, but I have no idea why. It's the color of a sunrise, Anne, that warm, shimmering color of the light when the sun is glimmering on the edge of the horizon, and . . ." He shook his head. "Believe it."
"You are beautiful, too."
"You are every bit the dark-haired, gallant knight I imagined you were."
"I'm glad to hear it," he said.
All of sudden, she leaped out of her chair to tackle him, and it knocked the breath from him. "I'm going to miss you!" she breathed. She was strong for such a small, slight slip of a girl, hugging his neck, and clinging to him.
Slowly, he wrapped his arms around her.
He had wanted to hold her since he was six years old. He closed his eyes, and hugged her tightly. He didn't know when he would see her again, and, suddenly, he feared that was a mistake.
"We'll be able to talk," he said.
"We're always together even when we aren't."
He didn't want the embrace to end, but it had to. She pulled away from him. He met her gaze, and he smiled, and he laughed at the sight of tears in her eyes.
"You aren't leaving until tomorrow," she said, wiping at her cheeks. "That's no reason we can't study now. We don't want you falling too far behind while you are seeing the world." She returned to her seat, and pulled a book in front of her. "I want to beat you fairly when you return at last."
"Obviously," he said.
The conversation stayed entirely on topics of school in the hour that followed.
In the quiet of the house after she left, he questioned if leaving was really what he wanted. It was, though. He couldn't stay simply because Anne was here.
She couldn't be everything to him.
There were times, honestly, when he doubted she would be anything to him. She had proven to him today that such a fear was baseless. They were soulmates, and their lives were meant to intertwine, though he didn't yet know exactly how.
Before he could discover what they could be, he had to discover who he could be.
She came tearfully into his thoughts with the news of Matthew. He comforted her the best he was able. She told him, too, as soon as she learned they might lose their farm, and he instructed her to go to his house in search of items to sell.
He was there to meet her when she arrived in Charlottetown.
She wasn't her bold, brazen self. It worried him. She was quieter, and seemed a little bit lost.
"I can put off my leaving if you need me," he said.
"No," she said. "You need to go. We'll manage. Just promise me you'll come home someday." She looked at him with soft, certain eyes. She wore maturity well, he thought. She was certainly much stronger than most of Avonlea gave her credit for.
"I will," he promised.
It wasn't long after that he got a job on a steamer, and was on his way to see the world.
Only after he was assured it hadn't did he admit to himself that he was worried the distance might somehow interrupt the bond he shared with Anne.
The scrape on his chin was a gift from her. He smiled at the sudden, tremendous excitement that found him while he lay in bowels of the ship. Her voice in his hand was the same sweet, girlish voice he'd known for years.
There is gold in Avonlea!
Gilbert, it's true! I learned it from Nate! He discovered it!
It was hard to talk to her for more than seconds. He rarely had time to himself. Nobody was hesitant to remind Gilbert what his job was, and that he shouldn't be dreaming, because coal wouldn't shovel itself.
"What is it you've always got your mind on anyway?" Bash asked. "A girl?"
"She isn't just a girl," Gilbert said.
"She's my soulmate. And I don't just have my mind on her. I'm talking to her. If one of us feels particularly emotional, we are able to hear each other's thoughts. To talk. That's what I'm doing when I seem slightly dazed. I'm talking to her."
"You have a soulmate?" Bash said, incredulous.
"Is that what you're doing on this boat?" he asked. "You're in search of her?"
"No," Gilbert said. "I know exactly where she is."
"That's where you're from," Bash said.
"She is back home where you left her," he said.
"Boy, what are doing with your life?"
There were plenty of times when Gilbert wondered that himself. Had he made a mistake? He was homesick more often than he would have thought, and the work was backbreaking, and he missed Anne despite the bond that bridged the distance between them.
In a way, his relationship with Anne was better than it had been in a long, long time. He told her stories of his life on the boat. She gave him the news of Avonlea. He sang. She recited a lot of poetry to him. He cheered her up when she was sad, and she made him feel just a little less homesick. It was the way it used to be before they met in person, when she was glad to hear his voice in her head, and said his name with such bright, pure happiness whenever his thoughts entered her mind.
He missed her, though.
What's the matter? Why was I struck with terror in the middle of the afternoon?
They were scoundrels!
He had never much liked what Anne told him of them, honestly.
You were right about them. It was a hoax. There isn't gold in Avonlea.
I'm sorry. They didn't hurt you, did they?
But as much as he missed his home, his friends, and his soulmate, he knew this was where he needed to be.
He wanted to see the world, and he did. He was awed by every single place he was privileged to visit. His travels opened his eyes in ways he could never have imagined. He met Bash, too, and he would be grateful for that for the rest of his life. He was a better person because of his travels, of where he went, what he saw, and who he met.
And, of course, it was while he traveled that he realized at last what he wished to do with his life.
He set off for Green Gables as soon as he was able. The sun had set already, and he knew it wouldn't be proper to call on her at this hour, but he couldn't make himself wait until the morning. He was home at last, and he wanted to see her now.
It was dark, but the bright, cold moon above him lit his way for him.
Miss Cuthbert opened the door with a frown.
"Hello, Miss Cuthbert."
"Gilbert!" She smiled. "I didn't know you were back."
"I got back just this afternoon," he said.
"I suppose you want to speak to Anne." She looked at him with a warm, knowing glint in her eye. "I'm afraid our Anne is feeling rather dramatic this evening. There was an incident with her hair. She refuses to leave her room."
He smiled. "Do you mind if I try to talk to her?"
She eyed him. "I suppose you may try." She moved to allow him entrance to the house. He went in, and she led him up the stairs. She knocked on the door at the end of the hallway. "Anne?" She glanced at Gilbert.
He knocked on her door. "Anne?" He touched his hand to the doorknob.
He smiled at the shock in her voice.
But when he started to turn the doorknob, she yelled "no!" at the top of her lungs. "You can't come in here! I'll die if you come in! You can't see me like this!" She was hysterical.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"I can never leave this room ever again," she said.
"Honestly," said Miss Cuthbert. "If you need me, I'll be in the kitchen." She left.
"Anne?" he said. "It's just us."
She was silent.
"What's the matter?"
"Do you remember when you compared my hair to the beauty of a sunrise?"
"I do." He leaned his forehead on the door. "I'd like to see that glorious, shining beauty again."
"Anne." He had to stomp on the laughter that rose in him. "What's the matter?"
"I have made the most terrible mistake!"
"I'm sure whatever's happened isn't as bad as that," he said. "Please." He sighed. "I've been gone eight months. I came straight here as soon as I arrived, and now you won't see me. Anne, I've missed you."
After a beat, she spoke, and her voice was close. "I've missed you, too." She must have come to the door, though she hadn't yet opened it.
"Can I open the door?"
"You must promise you won't laugh at me."
"You must make a vow."
"I vow that I will not laugh at you."
She opened the door.
He breathed in the sight of her pale, loved face, of freckles upon freckles, of her large, lovely eyes that shone nervously under his gaze. He smiled. He knew immediately, of course, the source of her embarrassment: her hair was shorn off completely, and it made him stupidly, wonderfully fond, seeing it, and thinking he never knew what to expect from his darling, dramatic girl.
She was staring at him, too.
She cleared her throat. "I appreciate your restraint," she said.
I love you, he thought.
He really had thought it, and he'd had no intention for her to hear it. He knew the moment she had, though. He saw the change on her face.
I mean it. In the time they had known each other in person, their thoughts had invaded each other's minds while they spoke in person only a handful of times, and it was intimate in a whole new, heart-pounding way. I love you.
I love you, too.
Don't you know how much?
"Not really," he said.
She bit her lip.
He felt her wave of sadness. "It's fine," he said. He knew her rebuffs of him were entirely his doing.
"There is a lot I have to tell you," she said.
"I have a lot to tell you, too." He grinned. "I have a lot of good, new material for your stories. I know I told you some. But I saved the best of my adventures to share in person."
"I . . ."
She took his hand, and turned to go in her room, only to realize the impropriety of that, veer, and head for the stairs. He followed. She stopped on the stairs, too, however, and craned her neck as though to see her way down the stairs. "Here." She sat.
He sat beside her.
The old, narrow stairs forced them closer. It made his neck grow warm. They were pressed shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, thigh to thigh, and she hadn't yet relinquished his hand. He had heard the most lewd, scandalous stories in his time on the ship, and witnessed, to his mortification, a little of the world's bold, bawdy nature, too, but, somehow, the intimacy of sharing a step with Anne was enough to make his young, eager heart race.
He looked at her, and waited for her to look at him.
"There is something I must say," she said, "and you must let me say it. You must not interrupt me until I've said what I need to say. If I don't say what I must say now while I have the courage, I fear I shall never be able to say it."
"That's a very convoluted way of shushing me."
"I will not say a word until you have said every world you must say. I promise."
But, of course, he was forced to wait for several long, silent moments after that while she gathered her thoughts.
"I . . . didn't know what to think of you when I met you in person. I had been told for years that you were a figment of my imagination, and it got to the point that I hadn't told anyone in Avonlea I had a soulmate in fear of the judgment that always, eternally followed that revelation. And when I heard your voice, I was stunned. I was afraid for you to realize it was me, because I hadn't prepared myself for meeting you, and I—I had to work up to it, only you were determined to hear me speak, and when you called me carrots, I was furious, and I—"
"Anne, we already talked about—"
"Let me finish!"
He made a point of pressing his lips together.
"In a way, it was easier for me. My anger. It took me a while to realize, but I was frightened of your real, solid existence, and our interaction that day was a reason for me to avoid that reality of you."
"The you who lived in my head was dear to me," she said. "He was my safe, solid ground in the most troubled times. The you who lived in my head was entirely my own." She looked at him with such an open, heartbroken expression. "I was afraid to know the Gilbert who belonged to the rest of the world."
"Why?" he asked. "If you knew me already, what was there to fear?"
"I feared I was going to lose you!"
"What if the Gilbert I knew in Avonlea supplanted the existence of the Gilbert in my head? What if I had imagined you? What if the you I thought you were really was a dream I invented, and your existence in person could prove it, and take him from me?"
"I know your imagination is unrivaled," he said, "but I have never been your invention."
"I know." She turned to face him properly, pressing her knee into his thigh, and holding his gaze. "That's what I need to say. I know. I understand what I didn't before, and it's because you left."
"We were finding our way to friendship, but I was afraid. Once you left, I . . . It should have been what I wanted. I had you back safely in my head. I missed you, though. I knew your homesickness, and I shared your sore, aching muscles at the end of the day, and I spoke to you in my thoughts, but I missed you. I wanted to see you in person. I wanted—I wanted you in person."
He smiled. "Really?"
"Gilbert, I mean it when I say I love you. I do. I love you."
"Anne, I . . ."
He had never been so full of hope and want and love.
It overwhelmed him.
He shared the feelings with her, and, he realized, it was in a way that was different than ever before. It wasn't a matter of simply not knowing whose feelings were influencing the other's. Their feelings were shared in a strangely normal, natural way that rendered their bond superfluous.
They finally, truly, openly felt the same.
Slowly, he leaned in.
She kissed him. It happened in a flash, and it was a soft, nervous press of her lips to his.
He stared, and when he started to smile, she released a soft, girlish wisp of a laugh. His cheeks were flushed with heat. He moved to kiss her again, and she gripped the sleeves of his shirt, and it was a longer, slower kiss this time.
Her breath fanned hotly against his mouth when they broke apart. "Gil," she whispered.
He wanted to pull her closer, and kiss her deeply. He wanted to have her in his lap, he realized. He wanted to kiss her collarbone and run his hand up her back to count the knots of her spine and feel the warmth of her body in his arms. They had known each other so long, and they had never, ever been able to touch. Now that he could finally touch her, he didn't ever wish to stop.
He cupped her cheek in his hand. It was possible to feel the heat of her blush. He brushed his thumb over her freckles.
He looked at her lips.
Impulsively, he tilted his chin, and pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose.
She giggled. He grinned. She reached her hand into his hair, combing her fingers through his curls, and he couldn't quite suppress the shiver that it sent through him. He turned his head to kiss her wrist, and when she lowered her hand, their fingers tentatively brushed together, tangling. She had such soft, little hands.
She leaned in.
"Anne!" Miss Cuthbert's voice carried upstairs easily. "Supper!"
They broke apart with a quick, breathless laugh. "Coming!" Anne yelled back. She moved to her feet, smoothing her dress, and he stood, too, and ran a hand through his hair.
They made the mistake of looking at each other again.
She hugged him.
He grinned, and wrapped her tightly in his arms.
She tugged away abruptly. "Coming!" She ran down the stairs, and he followed in her wake.
"I see your mood has improved," said Miss Cuthbert.
"Gilbert is back!"
"I am aware." She glanced at him, and he flushed at the realization that they had been up there rather a while, that she could very well have heard their conversation easily if she had stood by the stairs, that somehow she might actually possess the ability to know by the look on their faces that they had kissed. "It's good to have you home, Gilbert."
"It's good to be home."
Anne was setting the table with a smile.
"Would you like to stay for dinner?"
"Ah, no." He pulled his gaze from Anne. "I mean, yes, I would like to stay, but I have company at home. A friend. I met him while I was abroad, and he is going to run the farm with me."
"I'm happy to hear you'll have help."
She smiled. "We'll have to have the both of you for supper soon."
"I'd like that very much," he said.
She paused in her preparation of supper, and looked at him significantly, reminding him it was time for him to go.
"Well, I'll, um. I'll be on my way. I'll see you at school, Anne."
She met his gaze. "Tomorrow?" The joy in her eyes made a grin split his face.
"If you'll be there, I'll be there," he said.
He made himself turn away from her, gave Miss Cuthbert a nod, and left at last.
Outside, he pushed his hands into his pockets, and started the trek through the dark. He had expected she would be happy to see him again, because their conversations over the last several months had made it clear she cared about him. He couldn't have imagined what had happened, though.
She loved him.
He wondered how it was going to be tomorrow. She had always just ignored him at school. He pictured the two of them in the schoolhouse at lunch, sharing a bench, and studying.
Half the night I waste in sighs,
Half in dreams I sorrow after
The delight of early skies;
In a wakeful dose I sorrow.
For the hand, the lips, the eyes,
For the meeting of the morrow,
The delight of happy laughter,
The delight of low replies.
I thought you were having your supper, he said.
I don't know that happy does my feelings proper justice.
Yes. He grinned. I am rapturous.
He would have liked to talk to her longer, but he supposed Miss Cuthbert didn't appreciate when Anne went inside her head in the middle of supper.
She was probably defending herself at that moment.
He smiled. I'll see you tomorrow, Anne-girl, he thought. He was already looking forward to it.