Dr. Gilbert Blythe had grown accustomed to nights such as this one. He smiled into his glass of wine as the biologist across the table forced the economist beside him to consider Darwin’s last additions to evolutionary theory. For a moment he thought he might join the conversation and disclose that he actually subscribed to some of Darwin’s theories, but reconsidered. At intellectual conferences such as these, sometimes it was best to choose one’s battles wisely.
Across the room, Gilbert spotted a familiar face arguing with determined animation with another gentlemen at her table. In spite of her golden hair and pleasing features, Winifred always demanded adequate respect. In fact, she’d been the one to extend an invitation to him to begin with. Up and coming scholars from all sorts of fields come to share their theories. It’s perfect for you. So he’d come, eager to hear directly from the minds that would write themselves into history.
There was one mind in particular he was anxious to see.
“Dr.Blythe,” a young woman called across the table. She was peering down at the lecture program, pointing to a name at the very top of the list of speakers. “It says here that you’ll be lecturing tonight. Forgive me, but don’t you think you ought to go backstage?”
Gilbert peered down at this own program, momentarily worried that a mistake had been made. Then, he chuckled to see what the woman had been referring to.
Dr. A. S. C. Blythe - “What is Fair?”
“You gave me quite the start, Mrs. James. The opening speaker isn’t me. It’s actually-”
“Could I have your attention please?” an older gentleman called over the room, taking the stage. The murmur of academic discourse and exchange dulled to a silence, and all eyes were turned to the master of ceremonies. Satisfied with the focused silence, the man continued.
“It is my pleasure to welcome our first speaker to the stage. This scholar has been the recipient of much acclaim in the fields of English and Education. The topic to be presented tonight will be the first of its kind for this conference, but it won’t be the only thing to set precedent.”
Gilbert took this opportunity to lean across the table and with unmistakable pride, he whispered, “My wife.”
“Please welcome to the stage, Dr. Anne S. C. Blythe, presenting on her piece ‘What is Fair.’”
This was the point at the program during which the audience was typically wont to applaud, but in this instance, they were stunned into silence. Gilbert thought he even heard a few stunned claps. It was then that Gilbert realized that the Toronto Conference of the Social Sciences had never before invited a woman to speak. Anne would be the first female scholar to speak her mind on the this stage.
Then, dauntless and assured, Anne strided onto the stage. Gilbert felt his throat close at the sight of it - his wife etching herself into history with every step. She looked the picture of elegance, dressed in a royal blue gown that resembled the moonlit sea. Under the warm lights of the stage, the sapphire necklace he’d bought her glistened, making Anne appear every bit the queen Gilbert believed her to be. She took the podium with her chin lifted in pride and excitement. If she was nervous, even Gilbert was none the wiser.
“Good evening everyone,” she greeted warmly, a wonderful change from the stoic tone with which speakers usually used. “I’d like to begin by saying it has been a delight this evening to discuss such inspired, superlative theories and ideas with many of you. Even more so, I cannot express what an absolute honor it is to be the first of many women who will take this stage.”
At this, some older men across the room rose to their feet and stomped out of the door. Anne’s eyes flickered to them, but instead of being flustered, she merely chuckled and blazed on.
“The piece I am about to share with you was born as a newspaper article I wrote when I was sixteen years old. Though the message remains the same, it has since been edited to include empirical evidence and support from experts of the social and medical sciences. To them, I offer my gratitude - especially my husband, Dr. Gilbert Blythe, who has read many, many drafts of this paper since its original publication.”
She met his gaze, grinning when his own eyes were brimming with pride and admiration. Then she began to speak, uttering words that would take root in the minds of those who listened. Gilbert was speechless to bear witness to the sound of hearts changing, ideas blossoming, and acceptance spreading - all because of his brilliant wife and her gift of beautiful resilience.
The applause was mixed. Some scholars sat silent in their chairs, unconvinced that the essay bore any merit worth celebrating. Others clapping numbly, jaws dropped in shock as if they had been shaken to their core. Winifred and her partner joined Gilbert in a standing ovation, which many others followed.
“That is some woman you’ve got there, Dr. Blythe,” the economist complimented as everyone took their seats.
“Oh, don’t I know it. Isn’t she brilliant?” Gilbert beamed.
Gilbert was more than happy to be the doting spouse that held Anne’s arm when she was swarmed by a dozen eager faces. People who just had to speak with you before you left! And others who have always felt that way but could never put it into words!
When they were finally able to sneak away to their hotel, Anne sat at the vanity, pulling the pins from her hair. With each one, she retired her confident scholar self for the night in favor of the simple PEI dryad who was slightly homesick. Changing the world, it seemed, as incredibly exhausting.
“I could not be a mite prouder, Anne-girl,” Gilbert said, unbuttoning his vest. “You should’ve seen the way you controlled every listening ear, even from the opening lines. I’ve read that essay dozens of times over, but to hear you speak it...I wish Marilla and Bash could have heard it.”
“They have, remember?” Anne laughed.
Gilbert turned to her, eyes hungrily taking in the sight of Anne sitting at the vanity with her hair loose over her corset. How was it like this no matter how long they were together? How was it that after five months of being married, Gilbert still felt himself being drawn to her like a sailor to a siren - the same exact way he had when he was a schoolboy? Everything about her was impeccably marvelous to him.
Anne caught him staring in the mirror and cocked an eyebrow. She brushed her coppery hair, turning fiery gold in the warm lamplight. It gave color to her soft skin as her rosy lips curled into a smile.
“What an exceptional woman I’ve married,” Gilbert breathed out.
Anne exhaled slowly, eyes still locked on his in the reflection. She set her hairbrush on the vanity and rose to her feet, facing him with the same confidence with which she’d given her speech, only this time, it was all for him. The vest in Gilbert’s hands slipped to the floor and his lips parted. With soundless steps, Anne slowly approached him. When she was close enough to feel his breath on her lips and see the greens of his eyes, she gently nudged him backwards. Gilbert sat like a stone on the bed, not willing to turn his gaze away from the alluring wonder before him. His hungry hands found their way to her waist, and she climbed onto his lap, draping her arms around his neck.
“I love you,” he murmured as she leaned over, hair curtaining their faces. A blissful smile fell on Anne’s cheeks and she closed her lips over his. Gilbert returned the kiss, inhaling sharply through his nose.
“I love you,” she replied. Gilbert kissed the underside of her jaw, holding her to his lap.
Right when Gilbert was about to flip her onto the bed, Anne pressed against his shoulders and forced him further back on the bed. He plopped down with an amazed expression on his face, and slid back until his head was on the pillows. Anne followed him, settling above him where she could see every bit of longing that plagued him. Her hands found his shirt buttons while his undid the laces of her corset. Soon, they were chest-to-chest, sharing the same rapid heartbeat.
Gilbert was clay in her hands as she pressed her lips along his neck and bit tenderly at the sensitive skin. His nails ran over her back at how perfect it felt to be the object of her attentions, willing her closer and closer. Overwhelmed by sensation, he pulled her face back up to his and kissed her as if she were divine refuge from every worldly wrong.
He wanted to articulate to her everything she deserved to know, but his mind was incoherent and his throat was tight. Anne opened her eyes and smiled, because even if he hadn’t said anything, she knew. She always knew. And when she kissed him, Gilbert’s heart turned to fire, because he knew it was the same for her too.