Gilbert spent his childhood covered in flowers.
He often wondered what his soulmate was up to whenever a new one appeared on his knee, or on his palm, or on his face, or at his elbow. He often wondered whether she was okay, and what could she possibly be doing to have so many injuries all the time? She must be awfully clumsy, and the image of a stumbling little girl would make him share a secret smile with the sweet petals, though he wished she wouldn’t hurt herself so much. The flowers made for pretty company, and sometimes decorated him in unusual places (his favourite, he thinks, was the time they grew just behind his ear and peeked out from over it).
Like any other child, he too would injure himself every so often, but not nearly as much as his soulmate did. She, by the looks of it (of him), was injured almost constantly in some small way, at least. The flowers appeared so often, in fact, that sometimes he felt quietly glad when he scuffed his knee or cut his little finger on paper, so he could share some flowers with her too.
The little girls of Avonlea often asked him, “Oh, Gilbert, where are your flowers today?”, and he would show them, when he could. It was difficult for the other little boys to make fun of him for looking girly when he received so much positive attention for it.
The adults found it amusing. His father had once said when he had woken up and discovered a pretty purple flower on his temple, “Gilbert, we’re going to have to make sure we are never short on bandages and such when your girl appears,” to which Gilbert had nodded fiercely, before scurrying to put all medicinal items into a small box and stored them in a kitchen cupboard.
Occasionally, their neighbours over at Green Gables would pass by, or the Blythes would pass by Green Gables, and Marilla Cuthbert would say, “Another flower, Gilbert? Dear me,” and Matthew Cuthbert would say, “Must be an energetic girl,” in that shy, quiet way of his, and John Blythe would say, “Well, I hope we meet her soon and can patch her up,” and Gilbert would nod and smile and wonder.
The flowers increased in number as he grew, which worried him. He had started school by then, and sometimes it became difficult to hold his slate or his chalk or his books due to the flowers growing on his hands, and he could almost feel the switch across his palm where the buds sprouted. He had a few thicker, extra large jumpers especially reserved for the days when flowers would appear on his behind, though his father usually allowed him to stay home “sick” when he saw the forlorn look on his son’s face. “Don’t worry, Gilbert,” he reassured, patting the boy’s head and ruffling his dark curls, “I’m sure she’ll be just fine.” Blossoms would appear in rings around one of his arms, or his wrists, faintly imitating the tracks of splayed, tightly-gripping fingers. He would stare at them for hours at a time, poking at the delicate petals and observing their paths on his pale skin, and often receiving a telling off from Mr. Phillips (who he aggressively disliked; he had not been very impressed when the rumour had started spreading that their teacher had a “thing” with Prissy Andrews).
One day, the flowers disappeared.
A few days after this, on his way to school after having just returned from a trip with his father, the odd sensation of new flowers growing returned just as he heard a scuffle off to his left. The flowers weren’t going to grow, he could tell, and he silently thanked God that his soulmate (the word felt almost silly, like something out of a children’s romantical tale) was seemingly okay as he followed the unmistakable sound of Billy being an absolute knob.
He did not expect a girl with fiery red hair to be the target of his snobbery.
“Hey, Billy,” he called out, and he couldn’t wipe the mildly perplexed expression off his face before Billy turned around. A few seconds later it was gone, but it was then much more difficult to actually focus on hurrying Billy along while nagging curiosity tempted him a few feet away. He could hear the leaves under her feet as she shifted them, and the sound tugged at his senses.
“School,” she said, and dropped down to swipe her books up from the ground before scampering past him.
“Need anything else?” he called after her, watching her braids swing. “Any dragons ‘round here need slaying?”
“No, thank you!” she barely shouted back, and he had to pause for a moment to absorb how literally she had taken the statement before resolving to run after her; after all, a girl with hair like that was new to Avonlea, and girls this close to his own age didn’t simply appear from thin air. He had an inkling as to where she might have come from, a miniscule suspicion, based on the few of Billy’s words which he had managed to overhear, but he needed a name.
“Who are you?” he said, once, twice, three times; thrice she ignored him, ignored him all the way to the school door, where he bolted ahead of her and opened the door in the most gentlemanly fashion, and then, only then, did she speak.
“I’m Anne,” she said with polite confidence, a sudden change from the nervous girl he had happened upon amongst the trees, and the smile pulling at the corners of her mouth casting a much more pleasant hue on the features he had paused to ogle at just before pushing open the door.
Something rose in him then, whispered finally, and he replied, “I’m-” before a chorus of boys from the classroom shouted, “Gilbert!” and he was pulled away into greetings and questions, only managing to spare a glance back and see her leave whence she had come.
It didn’t take very long to discover her origins. “Why were you walking with that… orphan?” The word dropped like a pebble inside him, with a dull plop, and a ripple of pity followed it.
“I don’t care where she’s from,” he rebutted immediately, keeping his expression jovial; he knew the other boys listened to him -- he was humble, not blind. “A cute girl is a cute girl.” The other boys snickered, as if not quite believing it. Gilbert wondered where she had gone off to, and for a moment his soulmate and her flowers were forgotten.
He had tried to give her an apple, and she had snapped, “I’m not supposed to talk to you!” before storming away. He had seen the other girls at the window, watching their short, mostly one-sided conversation -- namely, Josie Pye -- and it gave a clue as to what Anne’s meaning was.
Now he watched her as she wrote on her slate, posture rigid and uncomfortable, as if holding up a barrier against the eyes that pierced her back. He wondered how he could get her attention, this interesting girl with red hair and big words. The apple sat on the corner of his desk.
Again, she ignored him thrice, like she had that very morning. Two pieces of chalk and one sneaking passage across the classroom accompanied by an apple on the corner of her desk, all eyes trained on him, and on her by extension, and he could already see Josie Pye rearing up as if ready to bring down Heaven’s thunder upon the strange girl’s head. He caught Diana’s eye as he shifted, and could see surprise and a plea in their depths and in the downward curve of her lips: Don’t. But he wanted her attention so very badly, and for a moment he wondered if he would get it if he behaved like the other boys did.
“Carrots,” he hissed, and tugged on her hair.
He was only given a split second to register the familiar prickling of new (but not growing) flowers at the back of his head before Anne’s slate smashed across his face. “I’m not talking to you!” she shrieked, and there was a collective gasp around them as his hand rose to his smarting cheek. She stared down at the slate in her hand, aghast, before yelping and clutching her own cheek in an exact mirror of his position.
Flowers had burst forth across her cheekbone, large and dainty and blue like her eyes.
“Shirley!” Mr. Phillips roared, and there was something biting about how he used only her orphan surname. “Get up here, now.”
And Gilbert tried, he really, truly did. But he could only exchange a dumbfounded look with Diana, who was watching Anne step up to the chalkboard with a trembling bottom lip, before stumbling back into his seat and dropping into it with a thud, his hand still clutching his cheek as he stared agape at the flowers on Anne’s.
The subject of soulmates was one where Anne had always found herself at a crossroads. On one hand, the idea of being destined, fated for one single person, from the day you were born til the day you died, to be connected forever and til death did you part, was a highly romantical notion. However, the concept of not being able to fall in love of your own accord was one that didn’t sit quite right with her; in particular, the dependence of it. Most of the girls she had ever known chattered all day about their soulmates, and showed off their flowers like medals of honour. The flowers were lovely , that was true, though it did always give her a bit of a fright when any appeared on her person, and she often imagined that her soulmate must be covered in them almost constantly with the oftenness of her afflictions.
At that very moment, however, she hated the darned weeds with all her might.
At the blackboard she stood, staring straight ahead at the door, listening to her classmates’ jeers and Mr. Phillips’ pathetic voice as he intoned, “Anne Shirley has a very bad temper,” like it was her fault that some boy she hardly knew had been following her all day, doing absolutely nothing to help her predicament with Diana and the other girls. She had glanced at Diana long enough to see the astonishment on her face, but had swung her vision up, up, and away from the desk behind her, where Josie Pye and Ruby Gillis sat. Oh, dear sweet Ruby, who had looked so lost when Josie Pye had approached Anne and told her in very certain terms that Gilbert Blythe was strictly off limits to all. Dear, darling Ruby. How Anne hated to disappoint her, for she seemed like such a sweet girl; she couldn’t even bear to look at her and see her disillusionment. In fact, the simple act of standing here and showcasing her shame in the form of pretty plants and a broken slate to all those who had shamed her in the past few days was nothing short of excruciating.
And there was no way on earth she would so much as glance towards where the boys sat, especially towards where one particular boy very likely had a large bruise forming across his cheek, much like the flowers on her own.
Flowers, in this case, meant injuries rather than nature’s happiness in physical form, and injuries meant sinking into the depths of memory. She could remember; she could remember almost every single occasion where a flower -- or a whole bouquet -- might have appeared on her soulmate’s -- that boy’s -- body, and suddenly she felt short of air. She breathed deeply, staring straight at the peeling paint of the white, wooden door. It wasn’t enough. She breathed again, less deeply but faster. Again. Again. Her eyes faltered, alighting for a moment on the corner of the ceiling, then the very top of the stove in the middle of the room. Again. Again. Her eyes watered, and she knew for certain that there wasn’t enough air in the entire room to supply her suddenly useless lungs. One step, another, another; she matched them to her quickening breaths, the steps less futile, and was only faintly aware of her name being called as her eyes focused on the door again. Air. Air! Unwillingly, she spared a glance at the boy. He was staring up at her, eyes wide, looking forlorn, and she was unsure of how she looked or what emotions she conveyed to him as the dizziness abated for a split second and she caught it, caught it like a sheet flying away in the wind, and ran right out of the room.
There was stunned silence for a moment when Anne left the schoolhouse. Diana had stood up, calling after her, and Gilbert was halfway out of his seat. The rest of the class had made noise for about half a second before falling quiet.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Phillips did not take long to reclaim their attention with a few sharp raps on his knuckles on the desk. “That is quite enough disruption. I will not tolerate any more petulant behaviour from a single person in or out of this room. Have I made myself quite clear?” There was a collective mutter of, “Yes, sir,” then he turned, wiped the incriminating sentence off the board, and continued with whatever it was he had been talking about, because no one could quite remember at that moment.
Gilbert was still halfway out of his seat, and slowly fell back into it, turning to stare at the door through which Anne Shirley-Cuthbert had disappeared. My soulmate. He had always thought he would feel more full, but the look in her eyes when she had caught his on her speedy flight had left him enormously empty. She had looked completely terrified, her eyes swimming with tears and clearly struggling to breathe. There had been a hint of something else in the look she gave him too, some sort of anger, but it had been overshadowed by her sheer panic, and it ate away at the corners of his young mind to not know what it was. It must be anger. She probably hates me. And she had to stand up there where the whole class could see the flowers and know exactly what had just happened. His eyes dropped from their fixed stare at the door. She’ll hate me forever. So much for being like the other boys. Never again.
On the floor was a solitary blue petal. Fully knowing that all eyes in the room were still on him and not caring in the slightest, he bent down and snagged it between his fingers, lifting it up in front of his face and resting his bruised cheek in his hand. It was a pretty thing, an odd shade of blue for a flower but pretty nonetheless. He twirled it between his fingers slowly, eyebrows slightly furrowed.
Gilbert Blythe, you truly are a fool.
“Anne, how long do you plan to ignore Gilbert Blythe?” The question caught her by surprise, and she almost tripped with it. Diana was watching her face, waiting for a response, impassively.
Anne turned away, staring straight ahead, dreading their arrival at school more than usual. “I have no clue whatsoever as to your meaning.”
Diana sighed exasperatedly. “Anne, please. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“And what of it? Am I supposed to fall into his arms just because he is my-” she pauses suddenly, hissing through her teeth. “No. He insulted me in front of everyone, and I was the one blamed, and he made me remember things I mean to forget.”
“What things?” Diana asked carefully, aware she was treading on sensitive ground.
Anne pursed her lips. “I don’t like to speak of it. Bad things, is all. From the orphanage and the Hammonds’.”
“I see.” They fell quiet for a few steps, before Diana continued in the most nonchalant tone she could muster, “When we were all little, Gilbert always had flowers on him.” She gave Anne a sidelong glance to see her reaction. She remained impassive, though the corner of her lips twitched. “Us girls found it made him more handsome, or, well, cute, as he would have been at the time. As we all got older, he often took sick. When we were about eleven or twelve years old.” Anne’s lips twitched again, and she took in a slow breath. “We all assumed he had developed a poorly disposition of some sort. One day, I asked him of it quietly; I didn’t mean to pry, but I genuinely wanted to know if he was alright. He told me that he wasn’t poorly at all, and when I asked him, he quietly admitted that on some days flowers would appear… well, in unexpected places.” Anne glanced at her then, and Diana glanced downwards and backwards, raising an eyebrow. Anne released another long breath, reddening ever so slightly. “He told me that he was worried about his soulmate when that happened, and that his father -- John Blythe, you might have met him -- would let him stay at home, then swore me to secrecy.”
Diana waited. She had always had a calmer disposition than the other girls, less prone to sudden shrieks or squeals, and less boisterous and energetic than Anne. Waiting was something she was very good at, and she knew that at this very moment the key was to wait.
“I was a servant at the Hammonds’, not a daughter,” Anne began, with a wry laugh. The sound was unbecoming of her, and Diana found she never wanted to hear such a noise escape her lips ever again, or any other unhappy thing, for that matter. “They didn’t need any more children, not with three sets of twins. Mr. Hammond, as I have mentioned before, was a drunkard, and Mrs. Hammond wasn’t the nicest person either; not that I could blame her, with such a husband and so many children, but I wasn’t at fault for that. Anyhow, they would lose their patience with me quite quickly, and quite easily, no matter how thoroughly I did my chores or how well I attended to their children. Mrs. Hammond didn’t do much in terms of punishment, but Mr. Hammond’s choice weapons were a switch or the very belt he wore around his waist. Sometimes he would hit my hand, right across the palm.” Anne paused, taking a shuddering breath. Diana nodded; she remembered Gilbert’s flowery palms. Anne’s eyes had that faraway look she got when she was imagining, but this one more resembled the look she had when she fled the schoolhouse the day she broke her slate across Gilbert Blythe’s face. “Mostly, he would make me bend over in the front yard and… with the belt...”
Anne fell silent, biting her trembling lip, and Diana sought out her fingers, clutching them tightly between hers as they walked, staring straight ahead, as straight as she could so that Anne could look away if she wanted to.
Close behind them, concealed between the bushes and trees which created an alternative path to the schoolhouse, Gilbert’s head fell into his hands.
Although Anne would have very much liked to continue ignoring Gilbert Blythe for the rest of her days, others in her class simply would not have it. The soulmate revelation became the perfect go-to bullying topic -- because that’s what it was, bullying, not teasing or gossip or silly children's things -- particularly in the apt hands of Josie Pye, and in the less apt hands of Billy Andrews.
This constant return to the dreaded subject caused Anne a great amount of stress for several reasons. Firstly, she wanted to forget it ever happened; after the slate incident, she had decided to opt for the against-soulmates position, and was therefore opposed to the notion entirely. Secondly, she knew that the repetition of it was hurting her now dear friend Ruby Gillis greatly -- for she still carried the hope that, due to Anne’s rejection of Gilbert as her soulmate, she still had a chance.
Lastly, well… it was embarrassing. All of it. The whole, entire thing.
Thus did they find themselves outside one day, enjoying the freshness of the cold after a dreary few hours copying whatever Mr. Phillips was writing on the chalkboard, when the wind suddenly picked up. The girls squealed, hands flying to hold down their skirts, while Billy Andrews and his friends jeered at them. Josie turned and gave them a withering glare while somehow managing to hold onto her hat and her skirts.
Anne, as usual, was much less lucky.
Her skirts, yes; her hat, not so much. It flew right off her head and hit the wall of the schoolhouse, dropping quietly onto the ground. Before she could even think about retrieving it, and much to her chagrin, Gilbert Blythe hopped up from his seat on a nearby bench and plucked it up from the grass, already making his way towards their group and looking completely and utterly smug about it. Anne was, needless to say, furious. Ruby, on the other hand, was not.
“Oh, Anne!” she whispered shrilly, clutching Anne’s coat sleeve and wringing it in her small hands. “I know you dislike him so very much, but isn’t it so gentlemanly of him to fetch your hat? Oh, I wish mine had flown away! But at least now I’ll get to talk to him when he approaches to give it back, yes.”
Anne hardly managed to hum in response before Gilbert was upon them, holding the criminal item out for her to take. “Here,” he said quietly, holding it out a little further. “Careful, it’s windy today.”
“Really. I didn’t notice.” She snatched it from his hands, growing angrier still when his expression dropped slightly at her harshness. I have every right to be angry with him. I shouldn’t feel bad at all! But feel bad she did, and it nagged at her. “Anyway, I suppose thanks are in order, so thank you.” She nodded primly, doing her best to imitate Marilla’s usual manner.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, the smile returning to his face, the small one that made him look as though he knew something she didn’t. How infuriating!
The wind gave another strong gush, blowing her hair back away from her face and ears. Behind her, Tillie shrieked, and Billy laughed again. Anne ignored him, expecting Josie to reply and instead more focused on the lack of blood circulation beginning to become apparent in her arm due to Ruby’s tight grip.
“Why, Anne!” Josie said suddenly, standing next to Ruby. Anne blinked at her. “You have a scar right behind your ear. I’d never noticed it, since your red hair is always in the way.” Anne coloured slightly at the mention of her hair, and Josie’s expression turned doubly mischievous. “You know, I remember once that Gilbert had a flower there; it came up just over his ear. We all thought it was such an odd place to be injured in, which is why I remember, of course."
Anne felt more than saw Diana step closer to her on her other side as she inhaled deeply, colouring even more. Ruby’s grip weakened as she looked between Anne and Gilbert as though she were watching a bird fly to and fro.
“I remember that,” Gilbert said suddenly, shoving his hands into his pockets. Anne’s head whipped around to face him, already rearing up with the absolute betrayal that his continuing of Josie’s story constituted, just as he continued with, “that one was my favourite.”
Anne blanched. “But- What?”
Gilbert shrugged, expression nonchalant, though his eyes did not leave hers. “It was my favourite; of all the flowers that grew on me, I’d say that one was the one I liked the most. It was cute.”
Josie huffed and said nothing more, plan foiled. Anne sputtered at him, because what on earth does he mean, it was cute? His favourite? She blinked at him quickly and repeatedly.
He held her gaze, an odd expression in his eyes that she couldn’t quite name or place, before he glanced downwards, looking her up and down quickly as he always seemed to do, then turned away with that small smile again. “See you later, Anne with an ‘E’.”
Anne, Ruby, and Diana watched him walk away and resume his reading on the bench, Ruby hardly able to withhold her hurried whispers of, “Why, did you see how handsome he looked just now, defending Anne? How gentlemanly! Oh, this is too much,” Diana linking her arm with Anne’s and giving it a comforting squeeze, and Anne for the first time seeing a Gilbert Blythe who wasn’t just the boy who called her “Carrots” and made a fool out of her. Rather, she saw, simply, a boy.
For once, she thought she could understand a little of what Ruby meant.
Gilbert’s father died, and Anne wondered if it was possible for flowers to grow around pained organs, as well. If so, she was sure that her heart must have turned into a large bush in her chest.
It certainly felt that way, watching Gilbert walk away from her, away from his own house, and back from whence he had come.
The feeling stayed with her for a time, and it made her wonder. Before that point, she had avoided “the soulmate issue”, as she and her friends sometimes referred to it, altogether, despite not hating Gilbert quite so much anymore, and sometimes even allowing a smug remark rather than delivering a scathing rebuttal. They were not friends, and they wouldn’t be -- he was her sworn academic rival. But the bush was there, and didn’t seem to be planning on leaving anytime soon.
“Of all the flowers that grew on me,” he had said.
“Gilbert always had flowers on him,” Diana had said. “He told me that he was worried about his soulmate when that happened.”
Anne remembered how she had almost constantly been injured in some way or another as a child. Back then, she had imagined that her soulmate must look like some sort of faerie, covered in flowers all the time. I must admit, Gilbert would make a rather… handsome… faerie. Ruby would agree, at least. Occasionally, a flower or two would appear somewhere on her as well, and it would feel almost like a gift, an exchange of experiences. Diana’s story about Gilbert’s apparent poorliness had struck Anne the most. Gilbert must have had flowers on him in the most inconvenient of places during the duration of her stay at the Hammonds’, and according to Diana, he had worried about her. Obviously, he hadn’t known it was her , Anne Shirley, but all the same he had cared. He cared. Gilbert Blythe had wondered as a child whether his soulmate was alright, just like she had wondered what her soulmate might look like covered in pretty blossoms. He’s been nothing but polite to me -- minus the “Carrots” incident, of course -- and I failed him.
The bush shrinked slightly only when she was running to the Blythe house, ready to apologise to him, then doubled in size when she found it empty. Gilbert had left without saying goodbye.
Not that I deserve it.
The memory returned to the forefront of his mind as he clutched the worn letter in his hands. Bash watched him stare at it, eyebrow raised. “Who’s it from?”
“Anne,” Gilbert breathed, instantly, before blinking. Bash was giving him a smug look. “I mean, someone from back home. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert. She goes to the same school as me.”
“Right,” Bash said, sounding unconvinced. “That all?”
“She’s a friend,” Gilbert quipped. He stared down at the letter again, fingers ghosting over her slightly awkward handwriting. “I wonder why she’s written to me.”
“How she found you’s the question, Blythe.” Gilbert only hummed in response, before suddenly sitting up. “Now what?”
“Do you have something sharp?”
“Sharp?” Bash scoffed goodnaturedly. “Does the fancy white boy need a letter opener?”
Gilbert threw him a glare over his shoulder. “I’m not fancy. I just need… oh, well then.” He plopped down again, raised the edge of the open envelope to his little finger, and swiped it across the top.
“Blythe! What possessed you to-”
“She’ll know I got it,” Gilbert said simply, shoving his stinging finger into his mouth. He grimaced as the realisation dawned on Bash’s face.
“She’s your soulmate, Blythe?” Noting Gilbert’s stubborn lack of response, he laughed out loud. “And you really expect me to believe ‘she’s a friend’?”
“Yes. We both found out quite a time before I met you.”
Bash frowned. “Then…?”
Gilbert sighed. “I pulled her hair and called her ‘Carrots’, and she whacked me over the head with her slate. She’s a redhead; fiery temper.”
“Well, she should've done more than whack you for that.” He laughed again, lying back on his cot. “So you don’t get along.”
“We decided on a truce the last time I saw her, in Charlottetown, so I’d say we’re… friendly rivals.” He smiled, withholding a beam.
“So are you gonna open that love letter or not?”
“It’s not a love letter,” Gilbert remarked offhandedly, more focused on the contents. “There’s gold in Avonlea?”
Miles away, Anne’s spoon clattered into her bowl of soup as she yelped.
“Anne! Please be more careful,” Marilla chided, already rising to retrieve something to clean with. She came up short as she caught sight of what had Anne so completely enthralled.
“It’s Gilbert,” she gasped, poking the small blossom on her little finger. “He got my letter.”
“‘Miss Anne Shirley-Cuthbert’!” Anne squealed, wringing the letter in her hands. Marilla shook her head at her, a small smile playing on her features. “Oh, I have never seen my name written with ‘Miss’ before!” How good of Gilbert, she thought to herself, careful to not spill that particular opinion. Something in the depths of her mind told her that he had written her name as such deliberately. “And it’s from Trinidad! How marvelous to receive a letter from such an exotic, faraway place!”
She strode around Marilla, who turned and watched her go with raised eyebrows, staring at the neatly written “Miss” as she made her way to the kitchen. Still staring at the letter, she pulled a small knife out of a drawer.
“Anne, must you open it with a- Anne!" Marilla all but shrieked, hurrying into the kitchen after her.
Anne only laughed, raising her bleeding little finger like a trophy. “It’s quite alright, Marilla, I’ve had worse. Now Gilbert will know that his letter has reached me.”
“Goodness,” Marilla sighed, shoving Anne’s finger into a bowl of cold water. “This soulmate situation is proving to be useful to you, then.”
Anne straightened suddenly, looking at Marilla in a very serious manner (which was somewhat ruined by the single braid covered in ribbons draped over her head). “This is not romantical in the slightest. At all. Not the letter and not the cut or the flowers, soulmates or otherwise. Not romantical at all.” She nodded once, sternly.
Marilla nodded as well, more slowly, smiling a little again. “If you say so.”
Anne reddened slightly. “I do.”
They walked in silence, as they did most days. Despite the fact that they were now friends, Anne insisted on maintaining a certain degree of animosity between them — nothing negative, of course, but “to better keep the rivalry going”. Gilbert was miles ahead of her now, and she knew that he was, what with studying for medical school, but she had always been miles ahead of him when studying literature and other such subjects, so they were even.
Anne missed her afternoon walks with Diana, though she couldn’t say that she didn’t enjoy Gilbert’s company, even if they did walk in silence. It gave her leave to imagine as much as she liked. She hadn’t had much time to imagine to her full potential as of late, what with extra school work and helping around Green Gables and whatnot, so although she did want to walk with Diana, she was glad for the quiet her bosom friend’s absence afforded her, and was satisfied with being able to walk with her in the mornings.
“Anne,” Gilbert said suddenly, in that kind tone of his, as kindly as how Diana or Ruby or Tillie or Jane spoke to her, but different somehow. Anne kept walking, waiting for him to continue. “I owe you an apology.”
That brought Anne to a halt. “What?”
“For pulling your hair, and calling you ‘Carrots’. And…” he paused, rubbing the back of his head bashfully. “You know… the soulmate thing.”
Anne pursed her lips, shoving the the tip of her shoe into the ground. “Hm…”
“So… do you forgive me?” Gilbert shifted from foot to foot, watching her from the corner of his eye. He smiled hesitantly.
Anne blinked up at him. That smile again. The corners of her mouth pulled upwards slightly. “I think I forgave you a long time ago, Gil, though I did not want to admit it.”
“Gil?” he repeated instantly, the smile widening into a cheeky grin.
Anne reddened. She turned and continued walking, nose in the air, cheeks still bright. “Yes, well, since I’ve officially forgiven you I suppose we are official friends. Officially.”
Gilbert nodded slowly. “Friends. I like the sound of that.”
“Nothing romantical whatsoever,” Anne added automatically, as she would to Diana or Marilla or Matthew (or, more recently, Jerry) before reddening further and stopping suddenly. Gilbert stopped a pace ahead of her, eyebrows raised and ears reddening almost as much as Anne’s hair. “I- I mean- Well, you see- Oh, bother, Gilbert Blythe, don’t look so… so…! oh, so smug!” She swung around, trying to hit his arm. He hopped away, laughing loudly. His laughter was cut short when she jumped forwards, attempting another hit. He spun and dashed away from her, holding his books close to his chest as she ran after him. “You stop right now, Gilbert Blythe!”
And stop he did, right in the middle of the heavily trodden path. She shrieked as she rammed into his back -- it was like running into a locked door; he only gave a little, and she bounced off him, very nearly falling ungraciously onto her behind. He turned and grabbed her arm, beaming mischievously again. “Careful. I wouldn’t want any more flowers back there.” Though he tried to keep his voice level, Anne could see his ears reddenning again, and again her face matched them as she stood straight.
“Indeed,” she said quietly. His hand, rather than release her arm, slid down to hers. He seemed to hesitate, his grin dropping into that small smile, eyes crinkling, before he gripped her fingers awkwardly when she didn’t pull away. She didn’t move, though heat rose in her face for what felt like the umpteenth time that afternoon, as well as somewhere between her chest and stomach. His thumb rubbed her palm slightly. She took a deep breath, steadying her suddenly bubbling nerves, then sidestepped him resolutely, twisting her hand in his and gripping it, then pulling him after her on their walk home.
Perhaps the pretty injuries they shared weren’t such a bother after all.