When Anne appears in front of them in a flurry of red and blue, Gilbert’s taken aback. He usually is, when it comes to her. Except this time Miss Winifred Rose has her arm laced through his and he shouldn’t be thinking about red hair and freckles. Anne freezes in front of them, eyes wide in surprise as she stares at Winnie. Her hair is loose and the sight of it really shouldn’t be making a blush rise over the back of his neck.
Gilbert rips his eyes from Anne. He knows what he has to do in this situation.
“This is Anne, my classmate and family friend,” he says to Winnie, with a smile.
Gilbert had spent hours trying to come up with what words exactly to use to describe his relationship with Anne to Winifred if it came down to it. He still thinks he botched it up. He had never quite been able to define what Anne was to him, after all. Classmate and family friend don’t do her justice, and yet… What else would he tell Winifred?
She asks Anne how her name is spelled, but Anne doesn’t answer. Gilbert tries not to let that affect him even as he can’t help but frown at her silence. He should have expected that specific topic of conversation to get her to talk forever. He turns to Winifred then, ready to introduce her.
“This is my, uh…” Gilbert trails off as he realizes he spent a long time trying to define what Anne was to him and no time at all coming up with what to tell her about Winnie. And now, no words come to him. Not any right ones at least.
Winifred, bless her, steps in and introduces herself. Gilbert watches as the two shake hands. Anne hasn’t said a word yet and it’s giving him an uneasy feeling. Is he only imagining how awkward this encounter is? Is it all in his head because of his confusing feelings? Feelings that he shouldn’t even be having. Old, unrequited ones that he should have let go of a long time ago, especially now that Miss Winifred Rose is here, smiling at him in a way that Anne had never done.
Except she had. Maybe. In a dance, where they had held hands and he had spun her and she had looked at him as if—
The tasting of Anne’s cake starts and she turns her back to him. He’s relieved, certain now he’ll get to focus on something else besides her, but his eyes are attracted directly to the blue bow on her red hair. Gilbert gulps. Winnie’s hand is back around his arm now.
The judges take a bite of Anne’s cake and he watches as they spit it out and Anne runs. He lifts Winnie’s hand from the crook of his arm.
He’s going after her before he can even think about it. Gilbert knows Anne, knows how she feels things too much. He had said it once before, after all. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert is a passionate individual, alright. He knows how she’d see this as an utter failure and talk herself into a corner of bad thoughts about not only her cake, but herself. He knows, too, that he needs to stop her before she can do it. No matter how much he likes her intensity and her passion, he never could take it when she harms herself with it.
“Anne,” he calls her, as she seems to run faster than should be possible in her dress.
She doesn’t stop. Gilbert dodges the people standing around in the fair and looking confused at the boy and girl running around even as they look too old to do so.
“Anne,” he calls again, having almost reached her. This time, she turns around.
She’s standing in front of the Tunnel of Love, a big, red heart framing Anne from behind. Gilbert ignores the even more confusing feelings in his chest at the sight and approaches her. Before he can say anything, though, she’s already talking a mile a minute.
“It’s fine,” she says, voice breathy from the run. “I’m fine. Honestly, I wish you two every happiness.”
The words he was about to say regarding how Mary would have laughed about the whole ordeal die in his mouth as he processes what she’s said. Anne’s not talking about the cake. She’s talking about him. And Winifred. Gilbert looks at her, frowning, unable to stop his confusion as he looks into her wide, blue eyes. It’s impossible not to notice how they stand out against her red hair and are complemented perfectly by her dress.
He’s a little speechless, to be honest.
What could she mean? He’s never been the best at figuring out what Anne was thinking, but at this moment he’s completely dumbfounded by her. Gilbert can’t grasp at the meaning of any of her words.
“I was just going to say that…” he starts, not quite sure how he’s going to finish the sentence as he does.
Then he looks up at Anne and her expression has opened. There’s a kind of hope in her features as she stares up at him expectantly. Her mouth hangs open, her wide eyes shine, and he has to tell himself to look away and not focus on how pink her lips look. It’s not proper. Not even a little bit. His cheeks are burning even more. Anne’s eyes are searching his.
“You look really pretty.”
It escapes his mouth before he can think better of it. Anne’s eyes widen even more and she takes a step back, startled. Her entire face is instantly red.
“I—” she blinks a few times, looking stunned. If he hadn’t been blushing before, he certainly is now. God, why couldn’t he just control his mouth? It’s not like he had lied, but he can see panic settling into her features and he really didn’t want to spook her. “Gilbert you shouldn’t say those things,” she exclaims, at last, suddenly angry.
It should never be said that Anne Shirley-Cuthbert was predictable.
“What?” he lets out, unsure how he’s supposed to react to her.
He never knows how he’s supposed to react to her.
“You’re courting someone else,” Anne tells him, her voice still loud and still angry.
And, oh. Now he gets it. But she looks like she’s about to run away. Again. He can’t let her.
“Anne, wait,” he says before she can take another step. She freezes. He takes a step towards her to shorten the distance between them once again.
Gilbert is pretty sure she gulps at his movement.
“Just…” he tries, not quite sure where to go from here. “I’m sorry,” he says, because he feels like it’s the right thing to do, and yet. She looks lost. It’s the last thing he’d ever want her to feel. He’s not quite sure how to deal with all this. Was this what she had meant before? When she had claimed she’d be fine but that she wished them all the happiness? Could she have been… Jealous, perhaps? Affected by the notion that he was courting someone else?
The thought brings a warm feeling to his chest that he’s pretty sure also isn’t allowed, but he doesn’t quite care.
“We’re not courting,” Gilbert blurts out, because he needs to clarify it to her, even though he doesn’t want to dwell on why that is. The moment he sees her shoulders losing their tension, though, and a breath being expelled from her lips, he’s quite sure it was the right thing to say.
“What?” she asks, sounding faint.
His cheeks are definitely red. And why did they have to do this in front of the stupid Tunnel of Love? The reds and pinks are distracting him from where he can see them from the corner of his eyes. Gilbert clears his throat.
“I mean, Winifred came here as a friend. It’s not like we’re courting officially or anything. I’m not… We’re not…” he’s not quite sure what words are coming out of his mouth, all he knows is that he needs to make it clear to her that nothing is settled. He’s not marrying Winifred. He likes her, thinks she’s pretty, of course, but Bash had been clear that attraction wasn’t nearly as important as love.
Gilbert’s not quite sure of what he feels yet. Or for whom.
“Why are you telling me this, Gilbert?” she asks, biting her lower lip, her hands twisting in front of her.
He blinks, then shrugs. “Well, you… I… I don’t know,” he admits, at last. The words had come out before he could think better of it, after all. He has no idea why. “But I didn’t lie, before. You do look pretty.”
He doesn’t know where his bravery to say it came from, but he doesn’t take the words back. Anne is stunned, and they look at each other for a moment, in the way they always seem to do. It’s been years, but Gilbert still can’t find it in himself to look away from her, not ever.
“Shouldn’t you get back to her?” Anne says, at last, voice failing. “Even if you two are not officially courting?”
For a mere second, he wants to tell her no.
“Yes, of course,” he replies instead, because it’s the proper thing to do.
Anne nods, in the way she always does when she wants to end a conversation but doesn’t know quite how to. It’s also how she avoids talking about things she doesn’t want to talk about. She had done the same thing a week ago, after church, when the other girls had been making her ask him quite… Weird questions. The memory makes him blush again, but it doesn’t distract him from what she’s doing.
She’s about to leave again. He doesn’t quite know why but he can’t let her.
“Also, just so you know, Mary would have found that really, really funny,” Gilbert tells her, breathing out a laugh, trying to get her to break into a smile as well. He hates seeing her so distressed, hates the frequency it happens.
The small tilt of her lips he earns is almost enough, he thinks.
“Thanks,” she breathes out. He doesn’t know exactly what she’s thanking him for, but he decides he’ll take it. He’s lost in her eyes again and, if he didn’t know better, he’d say she was lost in his. Finally, she takes a step back from him. “I have to go.”
Gilbert watches her leave, a knot in his throat that stops him from saying anything else. He doesn’t know what he could say, really. At least not here, in the middle of the county fair, in front of the Tunnel of Love. He doesn’t know where all the things he had said had come from in the first place. He glances one last time to the big, red heart beside him before heading back. He really shouldn’t keep Winifred or her parents waiting for too long.
His cheeks are still burning when he gets there.