It was then, he realized, that he fell in love with her. A simple embrace—unexpected and fierce—that allowed him to feel something for the first time since he had hear the news that had broken his little family. The cold, desolate landscape brightened somewhat by the color of his emotion.
He had not been aware of it at the time, though. Bash had become so cynical in the wake of Mary’s death that the mere mention of love made him sick with grief.
“I feel guilty,” he admitted quietly one night after Delphine had fallen asleep, “to love and care for our daughter when she is not here. I don’t think I can give her the full amount of love she deserves.”
He didn’t respond. He felt like he never knew how to respond in the weeks after Mary’s passing. Bash cursed love, and Gilbert couldn’t argue. As a boy, he had often found his father in moments of rueful anger, cursing God for taking his wife too soon.
Love, Gilbert discovered, was the most painful thing in the world and hardly anything was worth it. Family was worth it. He wouldn’t trade his time with his father for anything. Anne had been right in retrospect, he supposed. He was lucky to have known his father for any amount of time, despite the hollow heartbreak that followed his death. Having Bash as a brother, too, was worth that pain, but romance? From his limited experience, he couldn’t imagine going through the pain his father or Bash had experienced.
His first weekend back at Doctor Ward’s was an adjustment. He had seen the worst a career in medicine could be, and it had left him shaken and confused. He doubted his ability to watch those around him grieve everyday. The births he had witnessed—there had only been two—were wondrous. Cures were miraculous. But, illness, death, and decay seemed to remove any trace of the joy of life that lingered.
He knew from the looks and little asides that Miss Rose wanted him to ask her to tea again. She was still lovely and sweet—she had given him some pretty words for the loss of his…“friend?” The word made him angry. It seemed too small a word to represent what they had lost—sister, wife, mother. No word was enough.
Later, he regretted his aloof reply; but looking at her polite, reserved expression, he couldn’t bring himself to concern himself with her opinion. Tea, manners, and small talk seemed so petty in the light of such great loss. Vapid conventions were not worth the possibility of loss. Convention didn’t suit him anymore. Bash proposed to Mary, hungover in a laundry tub, but he declared himself with more conviction and heart than Gilbert had every summoned in police company.
When he returned home, he bitterly threw the artificial flower he had taken from the tea room into the fire.
Returning to school proved just as difficult. He had arrived late, and everyone starred at him. Except Anne, of course. It wasn’t until later when he caught her eye and she smiled at him without the empty sympathy or invasive curiosity that had seemed to follow him. She understood what they had lost. She and Marilla had been at their house nearly every day to help with Delphine and prepare some of Mary’s dishes for them.
They hardly spoke when she was there. It was more comfortable that way, but it still pained him to have her stay so silent. Yet, he didn’t say a word more than necessary. He felt that Anne’s verbosity might just make the house feel normal again, and that was a trick crueler than reality.
Still, he contented himself with the fact that she understood. In a classroom of people who belittled or couldn’t comprehend the pain of losing such a remarkable woman, he wasn’t entirely alone.
That was until he saw Ruby approach him over the top of his book. Time slowed down, and he felt utterly helpless to brace himself for whatever superficial remark he was sure would come out of her mouth.
With pink cheeks and a tightened mouth, she spoke.
“I’m terribly sorry about your loss, Gilbert. You have been so brave in your mourning. And, so strong! You didn’t even cry at the funeral!”
Years later, Anne told him how Ruby defied her parents orders not to attend the funeral. He felt guilty that Ruby’s infatuation with him ever caused her angst and wished that she had still been around to thank her for her decision.
All that came to his mind when she spoke that day, however, was vitriol. He had not been strong. He had failed Mary, and he was still failing Bash and Delphine. He couldn’t fulfill Mary’s duties. He couldn’t fix the wound in Bash’s heart, and he wouldn’t be able to satisfy the longing that Delphine would have to know her mother. Lord knew that no description had ever satisfied him!
Yes, it was true he did not cry at the funeral. He did not shed a tear. He had been too preoccupied by the emptiness he felt. He hadn’t cried since he found out—since he and Anne had last truly spoken.
Now, the desire to cry was overwhelming, and he felt the urge to flee the room that was trying to suffocate him.
He wasn’t sure what he would have said or done had Anne not come at that moment. As she ushered Ruby away from him with some excuse he did not register, he was finally able to breathe.
The wave of gratitude he felt as Anne turned Ruby away from him was unparalleled by any other feeling, and he used the moment of clarity to walk outside into the nearby copse of trees. The crisp spring air stung his eyes as he leaned against a tree that was just beginning to grow back its leaves. He breathed deeply, gulping the air as if he would drown without it.
He was unsurprised when, he blinked his eyes only to see a flurry of red and blue appear before him. Anne wordlessly grasped his hand as he began to cry uncontrollably. Unable to hold himself up, he bowed his head, leaning into the gap between Anne’s shoulder and the tree trunk.
By the time he composed himself, the sky seemed darker and pinker than he had realized. Somehow, the darkened sky made the air more breathable.
She walked with him to the edge of his property before she released the hand that he had not realized she had been holding.
He slept deeply that night.
By the time spring had fully thawed the bright red soil, Bash began to laugh again. The sound had been so jarring to Gilbert that he had dropped the pile of wood he had been carrying into the house.
He rushed in the door to find Marilla kneading bread with a nearly imperceptible smile on her face while Anne was making faces at a gurgling Delphine. What truly caught his attention was the smile on Bash’s face—the lingering residue of his joyful laughter a moment before.
Anne’s bright eyes made contact with his, and he brimmed with admiration as she tickled Delphine, resulting in another peal of laughter from both Lacroix.
After the Cuthberts had left and Delphine was tucked in her crib, he and Bash sat silently in front of the fire as they did most nights.
This night, however, Bash spoke.
“I remember when Mary told me that we were having a baby. I was so excited. I started listing off things I wanted her to be. When Mary asked why I kept saying ‘she,’ I laughed.” Here he sighed a puff of laugher.
“I told her I want a baby girl. I spent too much time on ships with men who had to be hard to survive. I loved how Mary and all the women I admired could be so strong but also feel so deeply. I loved Mary because she taught me how to feel the good things—joy, love, pleasure—just as strongly as the bad. I wanted to have a daughter just like that.
“I wanted a child to take after Mary. I spent too long feeling nothing when I could have been feeling something. Hell, even the pain now is better than the emptiness I felt when I was your age.”
Gilbert paused for a second, wanting so desperately to respond positively. “Did you know Mary told me before she died that she was so grateful that she found you and married for love? She was so thankful for the joy you brought her. Even in the end she was loving and joyful. I can see it in Delphine. She’s the same way.”
To Gilbert’s utter surprise, Bash began to laugh. Without knowing why, Gilbert joined him in his laughter, and it was several moments before either of them could speak again.
“I have never heard you make a speech like that, Blythe! You’re always so serious and wry—that is until some girl gets you acting like a moke. Then, you move on to your books again!”
Gilbert protested, but Bash continued, undeterred. “Mary always had faith in you, though. She said you had a bleeding heart and a romantic soul deep inside you that would come out when you were truly in love.”
Gilbert had no response to this, so he scoffed.
Their teasing felt so familiar yet unnatural at the same time. He felt his shoulders unclench as he fell into bed, falling asleep unaware that his last thoughts were of a pale, freckled hand holding his against a towering tree.
He first began to suspect his regard for her was deeper than mere admiration one afternoon late in the summer. He had asked her to teach him and Bash how to cook some of Mary and Marilla’s dishes, and they were making a pie from the first tart apples of the season when she flicked a dash of flower at his face.
“What was that for?”
“You know what you did, Mr. Blythe! Please tell me why I particularly would be predisposed to enjoying spicy foods?” she challenged with an arched eyebrow.
It took him a moment to realize what she was referring to. “I was not referring to your hair, Miss Shirley, but merely to your passionate personality,” he said, smiling innocently.
She narrowed her eyes and starred at him until she somehow assured herself of his innocence. The moment she looked away, however, he laughed.
She whipped her gaze back up to his and threw more flour at his face, yelling Gilbert! in exasperation.
Still, she couldn’t keep a small smile off her face as she returned to rolling the dough. Feeling the strange urge to get her to look at him again, he threw a bit of flour at her, for once confident that she would not truly be annoyed at his actions.
After her initial shock wore off, she laughed. “You, Gilbert Blythe, are a charlatan!”
“How so?” he asked, feeling himself drawn to her by some invisible string.
“You always seem like the wisest, smartest person in the room, but really you are just as base as the rest of us!”
His face stretched into an involuntary grin. “Did you just say that I was the smartest person in the room?”
That cheeky remark provoked a delightfully heated conversation that covered topics ranging from their tied exam scores to Delphine’s first word—“Nan”—to the beauty of late summer nights. By the time, Gilbert had bid her good night, a humid breeze blew across the barley field making Anne’s hair loosen as she made her way home through the tall stalks. Had it only been four months ago, he cried in her arms on this then frozen ground?
Bash gave him a teasing smile as Gilbert returned into the house whistling a lilting tune, but Gilbert blissfully ignored it. He felt truly happy for the first time in recent memory, and not even Bash’s teasing could dampen his mood.
The day before they were to go to Queen’s Academy; Bash, Delphine, and Gilbert went to the Cuthberts for a celebratory meal. Anne had been in the depths of sorrow earlier in the day as she said goodbye to Diana, who would leave for France before Anne would return from her first term at Queen’s.
Yet, always the consummate hostess, she greeted them at the door, taking Delphine into the parlor. Gilbert was drawn to follow at the sound of her storytelling voice.
She looked down at Delphine’s cherubic face as she told her of a wounded man on beach and an angel who found him and healed him. She explained in the most colorful and heartfelt language how the angel and the wounded man fell in love.
It wasn’t until Anne described how God called the beautiful angel back to heaven that Gilbert realized that she was telling Delphine the story of Mary and Bash.
He watched her with rapt attention as she told Delphine very seriously of the wounded man’s brother whom the angel taught her powers of healing. “Not with magic, dearest Delphine, but with medicine!”
She suddenly looked up at him with a knowing look, and he nearly jumped, realizing that she had been aware of his presence. The smile she gave him then was so tender, it felt like a secret that only the two of them would ever know.
He must have been obvious in what he was thinking about in front of the fire that night because Bash began to speak in the serious tone he rarely ever used.
“Have I ever told you my philosophy on love, brother?”
Gilbert shook is head, and Bash stared into the fire.
“Love—romantic love, among others—is not a touchable thing. You can’t think about it as if it’s there or not. You never just fall in love in a moment and everything has changed. You have to think of it like a tree. Before you plant the tree, you have to have all the elements in place—the soil, the sky, the seed itself. Attraction and admiration—things like that. But, then the seed is planted and things start happening. The seed sprouts and it starts changing the landscape of your life.
“It needs lots of sunshine to grow, but it also needs rain. Sunshine keeps the sapling healthy and thriving, but the rain—so long as it doesn’t down it—makes it grow. It gets sturdy, and eventually in blooms and flowers making the land beautiful. With time, it becomes impenetrable and begins to support everything around it.”
He sat up in his chair and looked Gilbert straight in the eye. “Now, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but I want you to know that even from over here in my loneliness and bitterness that you have good soil and a promising seed and you’re going out of a rainy season that has left the ground ready for planting. Don’t hesitate to plant that seed and let it go. You deserve some flowers in your life as I had in mine.”
Gilbert felt his face grow hot and his heart beat rapidly. “I think the seed has already sprouted,” he said quietly. “I think it has for a long time.”
Bash said nothing, but Gilbert could see the shine of two silent tears on his cheeks as he smiled and stood up. He squeezed Gilbert’s shoulder encouragingly and padded to his bedroom.
Yes, he realized as he lied in bed that night. Anne had planted the seed months ago on that terrible April day amid a rainstorm that threatened to tear him down. She brought the sunshine back to them, and he was able to feel the happiness of her presence as strongly as he had felt the sorrow of Mary’s absence.
She was unconventional. They were unconventional. He didn’t bring her flowers and chat about the weather over tea. He didn’t escort her to events and give her unspecific compliments about her appearance. She embraced him in a moment of pure feeling and allowed him to be fully human again.
She had cracked him open that day, planting a bit of her love within him when he felt devoid of it, and then, she cultivated that love as she did for everyone.
Over the next year at Queen’s he often found himself lying on the ground on the school grounds, staring up at the gaps of sunlight through the trees. Many times, Anne was with him, musing on her thoughts about art and story and life and love. Other times, they would debate and joke irreverently. In those moments, he could feel the wind in the trees blowing around them, creating a world for the two of them filled with joy and laughter.
Once, when he and Anne sat scandalously in a secluded corner of the park with her hair down and adorned with flowers, she spoke softly. “How is it that someone grows to love someone?”
It was a very strange question for Anne to ask, he thought. She often chided him for thinking too rationally about the unexplainable phenomena of the universe.
He could not help himself from answering her with the answer he had come up with long ago. “Feeling,” he said with conviction. “A kindred spirit is someone who can make you feel the joy of life just as deeply as you would feel the pain without her. Someone who makes you feel fully human.”
She said nothing as she stared at him, seeming to read everything he held inside of him. He felt cracked open like he had a year earlier. He was no longer empty but filled with love and gratefulness.
To his surprise, she took his hand gently in hers and traced the lines of his hand—not daring to move for fear that it all could slip away.
She brought his hand to her lips and kissed his palm. “I knew you would know the answer,” she said simply. “You, after all, know how to love better than anyone I know.”
Without thinking, he cupped her face and kissed her gently, reverently. “I only know because you taught me.”
It was true that she had taught him how to love her, but they had also learned from others. She had learned from Cole and Diana and the Cuthberts, and he had learned from Bash and Mary and his father.
He learned more in the colossal rainstorm that followed Matthew’s sudden death the week after Anne’s 19th birthday, and she learned more when a stone-faced Doctor Ward told her that he wouldn’t live beyond the night on the eve of his medical school graduation. They learned together after the stillbirth of their first daughter.
In spite of the sorrows of life, they spent afternoons laughing and dancing and nights in passionate embraces, and they frequently mocked themselves for their youthful belligerence toward each other.
In fact, they had been doing just that under the oldest Blythe apple tree the twilit evening that Gilbert proposed. “You hated me so much!,” he chuckled, as he laid his head in her lap. “I can’t imagine what ever caused you to love me.”
She leant over his head and kissed him gently on the forehead, intertwining her fingers with his. “I’ve actually given this quite a bit of thought, and I believe it was the first time we ever embraced—as bereaved as we were. It was like I physically felt your pain that day, and I suppose it was then I realized I wanted you to be incandescently happy and would do anything to make it so.”
His lips curled upward and laughed at the irony. “Well, you have succeeded beautifully, Anne-girl. I am incandescently happy.” He paused to revel in the warmth of her gaze before continuing. “Marry me?”
Anne responded not with words but with her embrace.