Everything else is dark, in an unbelievable kind of way – Mary is dying, and there’s nothing any of them can do. He is going to be a doctor, and he can’t save one of the only people in the world he truly loves. And Mary is so kind, so funny, and she has lit up his home with her cooking and her teasing and her laughter. She has enriched his life in a way he didn’t think would be possible after his father died, but somehow with her and Bash he has found himself a new family.
And just like that, it is being taken from him.
He dislikes these thoughts because he knows they are selfish. Bash is losing his wife. Delphine is losing her mother.
Mary is losing her life.
But he paces across the fields and he can’t help but cry out inside for how lonely he is going to be, how desperate things will seem, how empty the house will feel. The cold cuts across his cheeks and worms into his coat and he welcomes it because it reminds him that he is part of the world and he cannot retreat into the deep, scary place he has been too often before. He has to get Delphine home, so that Bash can see his wife and daughter together.
He manages better with the Cuthberts than he does with Mary, not because it has sunk in more but because he seems to have gone numb. The apathy spreading protectively through him allows him to explain – monotone and distant – that his dear friend is dying, has only days left with them, and she wants to hold her daughter for every second she can.
He doesn’t look at Matthew, so comical with the little girl. He doesn’t look at Marilla, so unusual to see her surprised. He doesn’t look at Anne, because she wears her heart on her sleeve and he can’t add any more heartbreak to what he is feeling. He does take time to briefly thank God that they are quiet and practical as they gather their things and load themselves into the carriage. They are so sensible, in their shock and their grief, and it makes his life immeasurably easier.
It is this that he thinks of as he strides back home – of how he collapsed, and they stayed strong – and he tells Anne that. It is easier to be angry at himself than it is to think of dear Mary.
“Mary needed me to be strong,” he says, and is ashamed of his failure.
“Caring deeply will always be the right thing,” she replies, and for a moment he can’t help but agree because her voice is strong and her eyes passionate as they hold his, and her caring rolls over him like a balm, soothing his fragile, shivering heart. She moves on but he is trapped, clinging to the moment of peace that shining girl has brought him.
But then he looks upon his home – which was his home, and then his mother died, and then his home, and then his father died, and then finally his home again, and now this – and the sharp fingers of death knife through him, cutting him open and vulnerable. Caring deeply will always be the right thing, he thinks, but still he tries to hold in the tears until his jaw is trembling and his breath comes in fractures.
And Anne - that sweet, brave, hopeful angel – wraps her arms around him, and allows him to hang onto her. She feels tiny in his arms, but at the same time she is bigger than the world. It is the brightest of mercies on that awful day, when she steps forward and accepts all his pain, allows him to feel it and express it, and she holds him in a silent promise that she will not leave him.
Gilbert doesn’t realise it then. Anne certainly doesn’t.
It will be a long time; time carrying pain and loss and loneliness, but also friendship and laughter and finally that burst when yes they can be together. There will be a time when she is in his arms and they are both bigger than the world. There will be a time when he knows the exact placement of every freckle on her, knows the softness of the smile that she reserves only for him. When all of her predictions about how good a doctor he is will become true, and she will know because she will be next to him.
Gilbert doesn’t realise it then, but when he looks back he will know.
Anne wraps her arms around him, and holds him up as his world crumbles, and in that instant – for that kindness - he loves her. And there will never be a moment, for the rest of his life, when he doesn’t love her.