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The Secret of Distance

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The Secret of Distance, Part I


“It was all I wanted for the longest time- to open my eyes and see you there. To stretch out my hand and touch the soft, yielding warmth of your skin. But now I have learned the secret of distance. Now I know being close to you was never about the proximity” - Lang Leav

~~*~~

There wasn’t much Anne could do except lay back on her unfamiliar bed and create constellations from the cracks in the ceiling. Her heart was so full in her chest that it weighed her down against her mattress, and she reveled in the feeling. Could a person die from so much happiness? Her mother’s book on the language of flowers laid against her breast right above her heart, and she swore its lingering traces of motherly love seeped into her skin like stale perfume in an empty bottle. 

Diana’s quiet footsteps land in the doorway, but her beloved kindred spirit merely allowed Anne to exist in the quiet of the room. Anne’s happiness bled out of her like sun rays, and it was all Diana can do to keep looking at her.

Then, with the unexpected haste of a well cranked jack-in-the-box, Anne sat up in bed and gave Diana a stunned look.

“I want to hear the whole story,” Anne murmured, half-rushed, half dazed. “Whatever did you say to him?” 

Diana stepped into the room, admiring the cleanness of her bed across from Anne’s. She settled at the side of her best friend’s mattress and crinkled her eyebrows sheepishly.

“I might’ve read him the riot act after he told my father he wasn’t engaged,” Diana began. The guilt in her voice drained away and she grabbed Anne’s hand. “Dearest, he never received your letter. You should’ve seen his face when I told him there was one.” 

Anne’s jaw dropped. She stammered for words, “I...But I left it...How do you even miss a letter like that in broad daylight?” She blanched. Regret dripped into each of her words as she said, “Oh, I know exactly how. For instance, if a person where to, say,  tear up the letter before reading it and then throw it out her gable window…” Anne groaned. “What did it say!?” 

Diana, piecing together the rambles, grabbed Anne’s pen from her side table and handed it to her. 

“You can just ask him, you know.” 

Anne held the pen in her hand as if it were made of solid gold and jeweled with ancient crystals. For some reason the sight of it makes her remember him at her doorstep, chest heaving from running. His eyes had been filled with such overflowing devotion that Anne thought she’d drown the closer she grew to him, but there was no where else she wanted to be. The overwhelming feeling begins to fill her chest once more and she takes a deep breath.

“Are you scared of what he’ll say?” Diana questioned quietly. Shaking her head, Anne bit her lips and tried to remember the exact feeling of when Gilbert had kissed her.

“No, something tells me that anything he has to say will be such wonderful poetry.”

“Gilbert isn’t very poetic.” 

“On the contrary, dearest Diana, there is always something inherently poetic when a man reveals to you the contents of his heart.” 

Diana grabbed one of Anne’s pillows and stuffed it against her chest. For a moment, Anne wondered if it was insensitive, talking of love when Diana had ended her own romance with Jerry so abruptly. But then Diana smirked and plopped down unceremoniously on the bed.

“I see how it is! You kiss a boy once and suddenly you’re an expert?” she teased. A thrill went down Anne’s spine and she smothered a squeal with both hands over her face. 

Three times, Diana! We kissed three times! ” she shrieked, so lovesick that Diana couldn’t help but laugh. She couldn’t wait until they told Cole, and Aunt Jo, and-

“You kissed whom three times, Anne?!” 

Anne and Diana’s laughter ended abruptly on their lips when Josie Pye came into the room. She was followed by the other three girls, who waited on baited breath for Anne’s answer. Biting back a chuckle, Anne did her best to keep her face neutral. They all looked so silly! Ruby’s eyes were wider than Anne knew they could be, and Tilly was pressing her lips together to physically lock back all of her questions. 

Anne and Diana righted themselves on the bed, backs straight like the proper ladies they were. She spoke in the most neutral tone she could muster -  which was not very impressive, considering how happy she was to be confessing that she had kissed - “Gilbert.”

Their jaws dropped to the floor with a silent BANG, and Anne wondered if maybe one of them still liked Gilbert, after all. Her doubt only lasted a second, and suddenly the room  erupted in shouts of triumph and delight and confusion. They threw questions at her, all of which Anne tried to answer as best she could.

Gilbert Blythe!? Anne, you never said you liked him! When did you start-” 

“Earlier this year! Maybe always? Definitely always.” 

“Is he good at kissing?” 

“I don’t have much experience to base it off of, but it was incredibly perfect” 

“I thought he was engaged to-”

“I thought so too, but apparently he ended things with her to pursue his ‘unrequited love.’” 

“Unrequited love?” Diana cut in. “He really thought you didn’t return his feelings?” 

Anne shrugged.

“There were a lot of misunderstandings, I think. I still don’t know for sure how it all transpired.” 

There was a pause before Jane crossed her arms.

“Well, where is he?” 

A twinge of disappointment hit the back of Anne’s heart. This day had been so beautiful in ways that even she could not have imagined, but the entire summer could have been that way if she hadn’t been so…so foolish ! All they’d been given was a few moments before he was swept away to Toronto. Her little twinge of disappointment was overshadowed by how proud she was, and how much she loved him, but it was present enough that her eyes fell to the floor. 

“He’s attending University of Toronto. Miss Stacey contacted a friend of hers, I think. He said it was imperative he arrive today. It’s quite a long train ride, so that’s where he is right now.” 

Anne couldn’t help but smile. How sweet he looked from the back of the carriage. She had half a mind that he would’ve given up college right then and there if she asked him to stay. As wonderful as it would have been to spend the afternoon in his arms, kissing and clearing up all the confusions, his future came first. Now that she was part of it, she didn’t feel so afraid to let him go off into that bright, expansive world.

“So I guess that means you’re courting him now,” Ruby said excitedly. 

Anne looked down at the pen in her hand, then at her group of friends. Was she? Anne wanted to court him, even if it was for a long time. Not to mention, he’d broken off his courtship for her. Anne’s stomach fell to the floor when a rush of affection overtook her. Gilbert Blythe had turned down a girl who was everything Anne had once wanted to be, and the Sorbonne, so that he could try again with her. 

“I...I suppose I am courting him, in a long distance sort of way,” Anne concluded carefully. “I’m adding that to my list of follow up questions. I want to know for sure.”

“We’re happy for you, Anne,” Diana said, placing her head on Anne’s shoulder. Resting her cheek on Diana’s new updo, Anne heaved a sigh of relief. What a gift days like today were, where Providence proved he had not left her behind. Wrapping her fingers around Diana’s, Anne brought their hands up to her lips. 

“Shocked, but happy,” Josie supplied in a Pye-ish voice. “But can we eat now? I came up to tell you lunch is ready?” 

The girls began to file down the hallway, their footsteps echoing against the tall walls of the house as they clambered down the stairs. Diana stood in the doorway once more, watching as Anne pressed a kiss to the pen in her hand and placed it on her bedside table. There’d be time for writing letters later. For now, Anne had her own future to step into once and for all.

~~*~~

The moonlit peace of the evening hours was Anne’s favorite time to put her heart to paper. As she sat down at her new desk, she wondered if pen and paper had ever been put to better use.

 

Dear Gilbert, 

I look like my mother. I look so much like her, in fact, that for a brief moment I thought I was looking down at my own reflection. But the glorious name “Bertha” was scribed atop the portrait, and an equally lovely name was signed across the bottom, “Walter.” How those names fill me with such warmth to say on my lips. 

I do believe I’m leaving out an integral part of this story. Matthew and Marilla visited today. They had gone to see a woman I lived with as a child and brought with them a book on the language of flowers. (Expect some pressed blossoms in your near future, I have much I’d like to say to you!) The darling book had once belonged to my parents, and it was there my father sketched a portrait of my mother. 

I will be forever astonished at how a girl like me, who had such meager beginnings,  could come upon such a wonderful family! Not only Marilla and Matthew, but the kindred spirits I’ve collected along the way. (Of course, your name is written on that list and underlined twice.) Today has taught me an eternal appreciation for love, and I find myself overwhelmed by the intensity of it. I wonder if you know the feeling. 

As you’ll recall, I have several follow-up questions, but in exchange for your honest answers, I feel it’s only fair to offer you some explanations of my own. It’s just that I’m unsure where to begin. What do you already know? Hmm…The beginning is as good a place to start as any. 

Gilbert, you must understand that love is such a young concept to me. I have only been on the receiving side of love since shortly after arriving at Green Gables, before which, I’d never even observed it with my own eyes. I’ve had being loved by family mastered for quite some time, thanks to Marilla and Matthew, but allowing you to come into my heart was so much different.  Trying to translate what I’d read in books and compare it with what I truly felt was much harder than I anticipated. 

Oh, it wasn’t the loving part that was hard. Loving you is as easy and breathtaking as stargazing from my new window. But realizing it, letting it happen, allowing myself to believe that a person like you could care for me...that was where the difficulties arose. It wasn’t until everything was still and I was nearly perfectly content that you hit me like a roll of thunder. I sat up in my bed and exclaimed, “I’m in love with Gilbert Blythe!” Gave Diana quite the scare. 

 I’m sorry it took so long for me to come to my senses. Part of me wonders what would have happened if I’d realized sooner. Nevertheless, I’m exceedingly grateful that you appeared at my doorstep today, as magnificent as ever, to take one last chance. 

You’re likely curious about the note I wrote you. To be honest, I cannot explain to you why you never received it. I left it right underneath the water jug on your kitchen table. I wonder where it is now. Thankfully, the contents of the letter were quite short and, in more ways than one, sweet. I’ve inserted a new copy inside this letter so that you can have what you were originally meant to have. 

There are more questions I have, but I think I’d rather hear what’s on your mind first. (Not that I can mail this until you write to me first with your return address.) There is one thing I will ask because, though I’m 99% certain I know the answer, I’d like to be entirely certain: are we courting? If you’re waiting to hear what I think on the matter first, I’d like to court you, even if it’s a four year process. Or longer. Truly, Gilbert, all I want is you. 

Oh - and how much does train fare cost from PEI to Toronto? I’d like to start saving as soon as possible to come see you. 

Alright, my love, I think I have sufficiently taken up an adequate amount of your time. Please know that I’m thinking of you during your first days of college, and I already miss you beyond words. 

Yours always, 

Anne 

(PS: Where in the world did you learn to kiss like that? No - don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.) 

Chapter Text

Gilbert had grown so accustomed to the rattling of the window on the side of his face, that as the train slowed to a stop, he roused from his sleep. Around him, passengers shuffled on tired feet down the aisle of the train, but Gilbert squinted tiredly, adjusting to his surroundings. Where was he again? 

Outside the train, a sign was lit up by electric light bulbs: “Welcome to Toronto, Ontario.”

Oh, that’s right, he thought to himself, I’m going to medical school. At 4:30 in the morning it seemed. As he grabbed his trunk, his brain felt like it was trudging through mud. He’d left PEI on a ship to the mainland, then situated himself on the train for a fifteen hour trip. And he had kissed Anne. 

That woke Gilbert up. He had kissed Anne at exactly noon yesterday, and she had kissed him back. He kissed Anne. She tasted the way he expected sunshine would taste if you could jar it like honey. She fit perfectly against him when he pulled her close, drawn to him as strongly as he was to her. Soft hair framed her face, feathery tufts that grazed his fingers when he held her cheek. He’d never forget the sight of her, so beautifully grown, yet so breathtakingly Anne . The thought was distracting enough that he didn’t realize his footsteps had slowed to a halt in the middle of the path. 

He might’ve stood there forever, burning the memory of Anne’s kiss into his mind, but a drunkard rambled past him, colliding with his shoulder. Gilbert stumbled on his feet, righting his coat on his shoulders with a bristled frown. He needed to find his new apartment before he was swept away into whatever unsavory things happened at four in the morning.

From one of his hidden inside pockets, he pulled out a note in Miss Stacy’s familiar script. 

Gilbert, 

Emily couldn’t get you into a boarding house because of your late admission. She does, however, know a young man who has an extra room in his apartment. He’s agreed to let you board with him, and will leave the door unlocked so you may let yourself in. You’ll find Ronald Stuart at 293 North Sunset St - the right hand apartment. 

Good luck on all your endeavors! I know you’ll outshine all our expectations. 

Your Exceedingly-Proud Educator, 

Miss Muriel Stacy

Gilbert didn’t know much about this Ronald Stuart, but had sent the young man a letter telling him when to expect him. Part of him was glad he wouldn’t be living under the supervision of an owner of a boarding house, like Anne certainly would be. If he found this Ronald Stuart agreeable, they could become close friends and enact their own rules, answering only to themselves and to each other. 

The house on 293 North Sunset St. was a sizeable place built of bricks the same color as the PEI roads back home. Gilbert snuck as quietly as he could up the creaky stairs leading to the door of his new apartment, before twisting the door knob. Stubbornly, it refused to budge. 

Gilbert peeked at the house number, then his note, then tried the door again, this time with more strength. Maybe Ronald hadn’t gotten his letter in time? Maybe he’d forgotten to leave the door unlocked. 

There was nothing to do about it. He rapped his knuckles hard enough on the door that the noise likely could be heard by the next door neighbors. Even so, the door remained closed. The chilly August air was beginning to sink into his bones. Gilbert knocked again, more aggressively this time. 

“I hear ya, I hear ya!” came a voice from inside the house. Gilbert took a step back from the door, steeling himself for whatever would come once the door opened. A shadowy figure appeared behind the curtains before the door swung open. 

Gilbert cleared his throat. “Mr. Stuart?” 

The fellow before him was a tall one, lanky with hard angles. His dark hair was a mop upon his head where long, straight hair stuck out in all directions. Long eyebrows quirked back at Gilbert, who clenched his jaw. 

“Gil?” the man answered back. Gilbert cocked his head. No one called him Gil. Not even Bash or Anne. 

“Yes, that’s me. Gilbert Blythe. The door was locked, otherwise I’d have let myself in.” 

Ronald ran a hand through his hair, tousling it into an even greater mess. He stepped aside and let Gilbert enter the space. 

“I was real glad was Dr. Oak reached out to me about you coming to stay,” Ronald explained with a yawn. “The last fellow who stayed here graduated last spring, and I’ve been having trouble paying for the whole apartment myself. It’s not much, but it’s plenty for two men to share.” 

Gilbert pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to his new roommate. Inside was the first of four months’ worth of rent payments. Bash had promised to send Gilbert his share of the farm’s earnings in plenty of time each month for him to pay his debts. 

“That reminds me, this is for you,” Gilbert said. Ronald only tossed the envelope on a nearby table and leaned against it, tired eyes examining his new roommate. 

“You drink?” he asked. Gilbert couldn’t tell if the man was offering or judging. 

“No,” he replied, shaking his head. 

“You snore?” 

Gilbert frowned. “...Not...that I know of?” 

Ronald shrugged and headed up the stairs. 

“We can talk in afternoon. I’m going back to sleep. Your room is up the stairs on the right. Mine’s on the left. There’s one more empty room, for guests I guess, if you ever have any.” 

Gilbert bit the inside of his cheek. Would the people from home ever come all the way to Toronto just to see him? Adjusting his cases in his hands, Gilbert took a deep breath. 

“Alright, thank you.” But Ronald had already gone. 

Outside, the street echoed silence around, giving it an eerie stillness. If he hadn’t been so tired, he might’ve felt the weight of being so far away from home and his family. But exhaustion prevailed in numbing his thoughts, and he found his bed without any welcoming ceremony. Laying fully dressed on top of his blankets, Gilbert fell deep into sleep. 

*

“You a novelist or something?” 

Gilbert looked up from the kitchen table and found Ronald in the doorway. He must’ve looked like some sort of writer, with pages upon pages of inked words spread across the table in front of him. A mug of coffee steamed at both places and at the table, and Gilbert nodded down to it. Ronald accepted it appreciatively, sipping it with a satisfied smile. In the daylight, and perhaps after bathing, the man seemed to have a sophisticated air about him that came solely from his looks and upbringing, and not his attitude.

“No, I’m just writing some letters home. There are a few people who’d want to know I made it here in one piece,” Gilbert replied, somewhat nostalgic for home. His gaze found the opening line of the paper in  front of him: My Anne...

“Where is home, anyway?” 

“Avonlea, PEI.” 

“That far away, eh? No wonder you wandered up to the house so early this morning. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of Avonlea, though.” Gilbert nodded politely, not sure how much Ronald Stuart wanted to share about himself or how much he wanted to share in return. “I’m Ron, by the way. I apologize that I’m not terribly friendly before seven in the morning.” 

Gilbert chuckled and shook his head. 

“I guess I didn’t realize the trip would be over sixteen hours. Sorry for waking you up.” 

Ron got up from the table, grabbing some bread from the breadbox and shoving a piece into his mouth. 

“What made you want to come here, anyway?” 

“Ah, my teacher from home knows Dr. Oak. I was initially intending on attending the, uh...well, the Sorbonne in France, but I changed my mind.” 

The expression on Ron’s face told Gilbert he was not convinced.

“Yeah right, you just weren’t accepted. That or you can’t speak french.” 

“No, I was accepted - or as good as, anyway. I just chose not to go.” Gilbert paused. “But you’re right, I don’t speak french very well.” 

Ron’s jaw dropped. 

“I didn’t take you for an idiot, Gilbert.” 

Gilbert straightened his shoulders, crossing his arms defensively. 

“It’s a long story, one that I’m sure would make perfect sense if you were to hear it.” He paused. Would this Ronald Stuart be convinced that genuine love was more valuable than an educational opportunity? “But to tell the truth, I’d like to just write these letters and get them sent out before the post is collected in a few hours.” Ron held up his hands in surrender and trekked back up to his room. 

Returned to silence, Gilbert tilted his face to the sun pouring in from the kitchen window. He wondered if Anne was enjoying the same warmth on her first day of school. Picking his pen back up, he continued to write.

My Anne, 

I cannot think of a more wonderful way to start a letter. It does my heart such good knowing that wherever you are, you might be anticipating this specific correspondence. I’d like to begin this particular letter by informing you that I have made it to Toronto safe and sound - albeit at four in the morning! I haven’t been on a train for such a long period of time since I traveled with my father. Should you still desire to be my penpal (though I hope you’ll want to be a much more than penpals) you’ll find my complete address on the envelope. North Sunset street is just as beautiful as it sounds. 

Have I beat around the bush with enough formality? I may as well jump right in.

Anne, what a fool I’ve been. I’ve had sixteen hours to compose the perfect way to reveal to you in extensive detail all the ways I’ve been a fool, but I fear I don’t have your gift with language, so you will just have to tolerate my inadequate explanations. As Diana might have informed you, I never received your letter, and for the sake of clarity and fairness, I’m going to assume that you never received mine.  

I want to eradicate every doubt in your mind. Anne, I never had any real feelings for Winifred. I have learned the hard way that there is a vast difference between enjoying someone’s company and genuine love. When you love someone, you don’t just enjoy their company. You ache until the next moment you see that person, yet they’re always with you - in your mind, in your heart. The extent to which I adore you and take pride in your existence is so overwhelming that I wonder why I thought I could ever settle for anything else. Is it bold for me to hope you feel the same way? I truly do love you, Anne. 

With all that disclosed, I’m certain there are times when I made you feel like I didn’t care for you at all. For that, I hope you know how very ashamed and sorry I am. You won’t ever feel like that again, I promise. If, in our separation, you grow doubtful or lonely, I’ll be on the first train bound for Charlottetown. 

As for follow up questions: 

  1. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, when in heaven’s name did you start to have feelings for me? Most days I was certain I’d never win your heart, but then I’d catch you looking across the classroom and think maybe it wasn’t so hopeless after all. 
  2. Did you receive the letter I left you in your room? You never said anything, so I wondered. Oh! And what did your letter say? I’m so bitter that it disappeared.
  3. Are you well? How are you adjusting to being away from home? I know Green Gables was so precious to you. How is Queens? Do your new classmates adore you, yet? I’m certain they do.

I’m sure I will have more questions the more I fondly remember each encounter I’ve had with you, but for now, I won’t bombard you. 

As for me, I’m better now that I’ve arrived to Toronto and have unpacked all my things. My roommate, Ron, is a peculiar brand, and it’s still unclear as to whether or not he is - as you’d say - a kindred spirit. So far, I have my doubts. We’ve known each other all of eight hours and he’s already called me an idiot. But we have our own bedrooms, and there’s more than enough space for the two of us, so I can’t complain. Class begins tomorrow, but I’ve some final paperwork to complete. I hope to explore the campus and learn all the hidden nooks where a medical student might read and daydream about his love back home.

I still have to write to Bash, and I want to send this as soon as possible, so I’ll conclude here. I miss you terribly already. Yet, how thankful I am that we got the time we did. Know that I remain always 

Yours, 

Gilbert 

(PS:  My roommate called me Gil at our first meeting. I’ve not decided if I like it yet, but maybe if you call me by that name, I’ll warm up to it.)

(PPS: Is it too much trouble if I ask you to enclose a picture of yourself, or something that I can keep on my bedside table that will remind me of you?)

Gilbert had just folded the letter up and sealed it, when Ron came back into the room. In his hand was a picture frame that Gilbert recognized immediately. 

“Who’s this?” Ron asked. 

Gilbert snatched the frame, eyes icy. 

“Were you going through my things?” 

“I was just leaving some clean linens, and I saw it on your table. Not trying to pry, but I’m...curious.” 

Gilbert peered down at the frame, and felt a wave of homesickness sweep over him. It was a photograph he’d had taken shortly before Hazel had come to live in the house. It had been difficult to find a photographer who wouldn’t fall prey to their prejudices. 

“It’s my brother and my niece,” he explained. Ron seemed to sense the thin ice he stood on, so he nodded. 

“She’s sweet,” he commented, nodding down at Delphine’s bright eyes. 

“The sweetest,” Gilbert agreed, pushing away the photograph when he felt his throat close up. They were silent for a few moments when Ron fixed his eyes on Gilbert.

“Why didn’t you go to the Sorbonne?” he asked evenly. Gilbert matched the serious gaze, unashamed of his choices.

“I would’ve had to marry a girl I didn’t love, and leave behind the one I do.” 

Ron’s face didn’t change, but the lack of judgement was slightly promising. 

“Family and love, huh? Wish I could relate.” Then he spun on his heels and headed toward the front door. “Well, I’m off.” 

“Oh, uh, bye?” 

The tense, awkward air in the room evaporated when the door slammed behind Ron. A long exhale left Gilbert’s lips and he grabbed a clean sheet of paper. This letter to Bash continued much like his letter to Anne’s had, full of apprehension about Ronald Stuart and anxiousness about the impending start of school. He’d exhausted all of his mildly uninteresting topics before he added:

I do have some news that might interest you. Anne and I are...well, I don’t know for certain what we are. Courting? Yes likely. More than friends? Absolutely. Together? In every way a man can be together with his love across 1000 of distance. I ended things with Winifred and ran like a madman through Charlottetown to see if Anne would give me one last shot. She did. Thank god, she did.

My courtship with Winifred actually ended two weeks ago, as poorly as you can imagine. But I did right by her in every way I could, and respected her enough to be honest that I could not be with her if it’s Anne that I so greatly adore. Not that I said Anne by name, but Winifred knew. She made me promise not to tell anyone until she could safely leave Charlottetown, which is why you are just hearing about this now. Though I regret having humiliated her to the point of returning back to France, I feel so much...lighter, happier. Knowing that Anne cares for me the way I care for her leaves me feeling confident I made the right choice. I think Winifred will see that one day, too. 

I miss you, Bash. Delly too. The more I’m here, the harder it is to imagine that I’ll be living without you. I can barely remember what it was like when it was just me - without my brother, without the laughter of the baby. There’s a room here for guests if you ever want to visit, but I’ll come home when I can. Something tells me if I stray from Avonlea too long, something vital in me will starve.

I love you all. I hope the harvest is going well.

Your brother, 

Gilbert.

With both letters sealed and addressed, Gilbert stepped out onto the new streets, drinking in the Toronto sun as he made his way toward town. 

Chapter Text

Sebastian had known from Gilbert’s first mentionings of college that he was going to miss the skinny boy he called brother, but it had always seemed so far away. Now Gilbert’s room had been empty for an entire week. Leaning against the doorframe peering into the room, Bash noticed noticed how Gil’s bed-frame and desk were already beginning to collect dust. Delly sat on his hip, sucking her thumb in comfort, her hair growing out so much like her mother’s that Bash’s heart clenched when he touched it.

Bash hated change, as most people do when they have to leave behind the things they love most. But standing in Gilbert’s room, Bash couldn’t help but feel homesick for a time when Mary was alive — Delly was strapped to her back, Gilbert was only a few acres away at school, due to return home in the golden hour. Where had his family gone?  

So many miles lost in his own thoughts, he didn’t hear the front door squeak open.

“Sebastian, you’ve got letters from Gilbert!” Hazel’s voice echoed from downstairs.

Bash jolted, wrapping another arm around Delly as he hurried down the stairs and slid through the hallway toward the kitchen. Hazel was ready to receive the baby, handing him two cream letters once his hands were free with a smirk and a shake of her head. Her eyes stuck on Bash as he greedily read Gilbert’s scratch on the back of the envelope. 

“Bash - open this one first.”

“Well, what it say?” Hazel asked impatiently. 

“Give me a chance to read it and I’ll tell you!” Bash retorted. As his eyes skimmed over the slanted words, he relayed bits and pieces to his mother. “It says he’s settled into his new house, living with some fella, Ron. Nervous about school and…”  Bash’s jaw dropped. 

“And?” 

“And he’s courting Anne,” Bash continued, a grin sneaking into his voice. “He stopped to see her before she left.” 

Hazel spun around from the stove, startled enough to let her ladle drip onto the floor. She considered the news, before a steady look of satisfaction graced her features.

“Finally that boy got his head on straight. I thought he’d always drag it around with him on a leash with the way things were going.” 

“You’re telling me,” Bash mumbled, continuing to read. “PS: Please take the other letter to the Cuthberts. I wanted to tell them in person, but with the timing, I wasn’t able to. Would you be my ambassador?” 

 He flipped the second envelope in his fingers and noticed the difference in address.

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert
Attn: Sebastian Lecroix

“I’ve got to run to Green Gables. I’ll be back in time to help set the table for dinner,” Bash told his mother. He was halfway out the door when he froze and turned around. “Actually, do you mind if we have guests over for dinner? I want to celebrate.” 

*

He must have caught a glimpse of her through the thin autumn curtains, because the very second Anne lifted her hand to manse’s knocker, the entryway door swung open. Anne jumped back an inch, expecting to find the friendly, yet solemn face of Rollings, but instead found Cole. He wore a chestnut colored suit, but his sunny hair matched the elated smile on his cheeks, making his spirit recognizable even dressed in his resplendent clothes. Any of the neighbors peeking out their window would’ve seen the young man sweep Anne into his arms and lift her up off of her feet. 

“There’s my queen of Queens!” he said, voice straining through his laughter he held her up. Slipping out of his arms, Anne’s toes found the ground as she straightened this collar.

“I meant to come sooner, but I’ve been in so many meetings with professors and attending so many of the Freshman welcome events that I’ve barely had any time to myself. But I’m not just here to catch up. I’m here on business, as well,” Anne explained. She pulled a drawstring satchel from her purse and held it out before him. “Tell me, are these sufficient funds for a portrait commission?” 

Cole didn’t look inside the bag yet, fixing her with an expression of amusement and confusion. “A portrait of you?” 

“Yes,” Anne stated matter-of-factly, though she failed at hiding her budding excitement. 

“Anne, I have plenty of portraits of you in my portfolio. Why don’t you just take one of those?” 

Her new curls bounced as she shook her head. 

“I mean a real portrait. It’s going to be a gift, and since a photograph is beyond my allowance, I thought I’d offer you all that I could for the next best thing. Besides, a hand drawn portrait by you is better than any photograph I’ve ever seen. I merely stopped by to give my offer and payment, and see what time would be agreeable for you.” 

Cole considered this, vaguely wondering if the smell of violets was coming from the flowerbed or from Anne’s perfume. 

“I don’t like accepting your money. I know how hard you work to earn it,” he said honestly. Anne reached forward, moving his hands to cover the sack of coins, then pushed it toward him. 

“It’s payment for a service you’d be doing me. You’re a professional artist now, Cole. You deserve to be compensated as such, especially by friends,” she insisted. “Besides, I want you to accept the money now so I can finally tell you what it’s for.” 

Biting his lip, Cole finally nodded. He grabbed her hand and tugged her into the house, sitting her down in the parlor. He was darting up the stairs to grab his supplies when he skidded to a stop. From the hallway, Anne heard Cole’s voice echo, “You’ve got time right now, don’t you?” 

“Yep! I have all afternoon free!” 

He reappeared moments later, large pads of paper in one hand and a leather case in the other. It was only when he began to situate himself directly before her that Anne realized he’d strategically placed her in a beam of bright sunlight. In the corner of her eyes, her hair looked like gilded thread, shining gold and warm. When she turned her gaze back to the artist, she found he had laid out his sketching pencils beside him, as well as the opened his wide assortment of paint pigments within reach. 

“Jo is out for the afternoon, but if you can, you must stay for dinner. If she discovers you were here without seeing her, she’ll never let you hear the end of it,” Cole explained, flipping open to a fresh new piece of paper. Then, with a keen energy of excitement and a pretense of professionalism, he straightened his shoulders. “Now, what did you have in mind for this portrait, Miss Shirley-Cuthbert?” 

Anne opened her mouth to answer, but pressed her lips together with a knowing smile. 

“Well,” she drawled finally, “As I mentioned, I’ll be giving this as a gift. I’d like to send it already framed to my new suitor. He requested something for his bedside table.” 

Cole slammed his pencil on his lap, nearly breaking the tip. The expression of delighted shock on his face nearly had Anne roaring with laughter, but she knew she had not yet delivered the best part. 

“Anne Shirley Cuthbert. You attend college for all of one week and you’ve already got a suitor! Finally, the young gentlemen of Prince Edward Island are realizing what a gem exists amongst their midst!” Cole praised. Then, his face became more masked, but his voice dropped to the floor, low with hesitance. “Does this mean that you...no longer care for Gilbert?” 

For a split second, Anne remembered the last thing she’d told Cole about Gilbert - about how she expected him to marry, and how she’d forever love him across an ocean of distance. She could remember with visceral perfectness the way she’d ached to let him go. Thus, it was with resounding joy that Anne allowed a cheek splitting grin to overcome her face as she spoke. 

“It’s for Gilbert.” 

Cole blinked. “It’s for Gilbert,” he repeated blankly. Then, nearly knocking over his things, he cried, “It’s for Gibert!?” 

This time, Anne did laugh, covering her blush with her hands. 

“Oh, Cole, I could burst just thinking about it! It’s a story right out of a fairy tale book.”  

The feather-haired blonde pointed the sharp edge of his pencil at Anne. 

“I told you so! Years ago!” he bragged. Anne nodded through her laughter, struggling to maintain a poised portrait pose. “Alright, I want to hear everything. Sit just like that. You talk, I’ll draw.”

*

Bash had no idea what the letters. All he knew was that the one in Marilla’s hand was the one he hand delivered from Gilbert, likely making her aware of his intentions, and the other one was from Anne, likely of a similar content. The Cuthberts read their respective letters with such severity that Bash feared for a moment Marilla would crumple up the correspondence and toss it in the oven. He fidgeted in his seat, scolding himself when he thought to himself, Wonder if I’ll read so slow when I get that old. 

Matthew was the first to finish, placing down the letter with tender fingers in front of Marilla. The woman in question hurried over the last lines of hers, then scanned over the entire paper once more, before handing it to Matthew. Bash bit back a groan. Couldn’t they just get to the celebrating? 

His patience broke sooner than he thought it would, and he leaned across the table as if to ask for a secret. 

“What’s it say, Marilla?” 

Marilla peered at Bash over the rim of her glasses and forced her smile from growing too noticeable. Beside her, Matthew blushed as he set down Gilbert’s letter and fisted his hands on the table to give his shaking fingers something to do. Taking a short inhale, Marilla began to read. 

 

Dearest Matthew and Marilla,

The view from my window reminds me ever so much of my own gable room. I find small hints of Avonlea everywhere I go - from the people I share my house with, to the billowing wildflowers in my neighbor’s gardens. Charlottetown people aren’t as rude as I had once surmised, and I expect that I will find a bouquet of kindred spirits at queens. You remain my most beloved kindred spirits, always. 

I’m afraid I’m short on time this afternoon - the Freshettes have an orientation to attend within the hour.  A lengthier letter will follow this one once I have settled into my classes, fully denoting every delicious thing happening here. The purpose of this quick note, then, is to give you a delighted warning at something that I suspect will be arriving at Green Gables within the next few days. 

That is to say, if Gilbert Blythe writes to you both speaking of intentions and courting, please don’t be alarmed. I have given him my own ecstatic, wholehearted consent, but it would be so very like Gilbert to want to honor you both as well. I don’t know for sure, as he and I didn’t have very much time to detangle all of our many misunderstandings last we saw each other, but if on the off chance he chooses not to write, let me be the first to tell you: Gilbert and I are going to start courting. Oh, the last time something felt so beautifully perfect was when I came to live at Green Gables and when Mrs. Barry said Diana and I could be friends after all! Truly, my feet haven’t touched the ground! 

I hope all is well for you both. I miss you abundantly. Charlottetown will never truly be home, not when there’s a Green Gables and a White Way of Delight beckoning me. I give you both

All my love, 

Anne

(PS: Please tell the Lacroix’s I miss them. Bash looked so forlorn the last I saw him.) 

As silence fell back over the room, Bash remembered the last time he’d seen Anne. She’d been peering up with such a hopeful smile and a handful of Avonlea blossoms, but he hadn’t really thought much of it until after peace had settled over his household. By then, Gilbert was gone, and it occurred to him he never got a proper goodbye with Avonlea’s Anne with an E. 

“Well, she was right about him sending a letter,” Matthew concluded in a strange voice.

“I hope that boy gave you a good explanation for all his foolishness these last months,” Bash said finally.

“I do believe he has made a more than adequate case for himself, though you’re welcome to have a look for yourself,” Marilla replied. Bash lifted his brows as if to ask Are you sure? Marilla gave a stiff nod, but smiled, sliding Gilbert’s letter across the table for him to read. 

 

Dear Mr. and Miss Cuthbert, 

I’m sure that I am the last person you expected a letter from, especially after all the gossip about me that has made its rounds through Avonlea. However, the matter I wish to write to you about is of such importance that it could not wait until my next visit home. It’s times like these I wish I had Anne’s elegant command of language. Instead, all I can do is tell you that I adore your daughter and humbly request your blessing to begin courting her. 

Your immediate feelings must be some variation of confusion because of the public knowledge that I intended to marry a young woman in Charlottetown. The sole reason I had been contemplating this decision was because Miss Rose’s presence in my life would have granted me the opportunity to fulfill an academic dream of mine. It all seemed so providential that I assumed Miss Rose’s presence in my life was supposed to be providential as well. This assumption was not only incorrect, but it also led to the pain of many people I care about. 

Still, I have been so relieved every day that I read my Book of Revelations when I did. All my confusion has been cleared away, it is so apparent to me that I was a complete fool to pretend I could ever move on from how much I care about Anne. I’ve decided I don’t want my life to be successful because of the people around me. I want those people to be part of my success and the blessings of life - blessings that I intend to earn all on my own merit. 

I tell you all these things so that you don’t assume Anne is my second choice. I hope you understand me when I tell you that Anne has always been and always will be my first, and only, choice. From the day I met her, I admired her intelligence, her passion, and the loveliness of her spirit. My dream isn’t just to be become a successful doctor - what good is that if can’t honor the people I love most? And I truly do love Anne, as well as your family. That is why I ended my courtship with Winifred. It would be unfair to lead on her heart when mine was so undeniably and permanently tied to someone else. 

It’s unlike me to lay my heart on my sleeve, but it’s because I believe this matter is important that I do. I anxiously await your response (In full disclosure, I am fully prepared to travel sixteen hours home to convince you in person if this letter isn’t enough.) 

It’s my genuine hope that you all are faring well. Enjoy the warm harvest weather! 

With Sincerity, 

Gilbert Blythe

When he was done, Bash folded the letter back up and pushed it to the middle of the table. His chest swelled with pride for his brother, who had finally grown into the man he’d been rushing to be all these months. Now, the lad had done it on his own volition and on his own merit. 

“Well, what’s it to be?” Bash asked carefully. Matthew and Marilla exchanged a look that only a pair of siblings would be able to decipher before the older woman took up her own pencil and a sheet of paper. For a moment, Bash worried that she would say, “Sorry Bash, but he isn’t good enough for our Anne.” But then she sent a smile of genuine satisfaction across the table and he heaved a sigh of relief. 

“If you give me just a moment, I’d like to write to Gilbert to tell him that he’s had our blessing long before Anne burst into our kitchen to say she was in love with him. Would you mail it for us once I’m finished?” 

“I’d be delighted to,” Bash replied warmly. He paused before adding, “Everyone knew except him, didn’t they?” 

“Seems so,” Matthew said bashfully. “She said it so loud, even the horses knew.” 

*

The perk of living with a philosophy major was that the house was almost always quiet. Silence suited the Sunset House - they’d begun to call it that without realizing it - and Gilbert couldn’t help but sometimes feel like he was sitting at his own desk back home. When he listened to the birdsong just outside his window or looked up at the printed skeleton models hanging above his desk, he could almost forget he was a thousand miles away from home. He shared the apartment’s study with Ron, but the man worked so soundlessly that the only sound Gilbert could ever make out was the gears turning in the man’s head.

School, as it turned out, was more tiring and more fulfilling than he could have prepared himself for. Two weeks into his classes, he’d collected an odd array of friends - mostly people Ron knew, which explained their peculiar nature. Yet, none of them were, as Anne would say, kindred spirits. Ron was either growing on him, or he was merely becoming more accustomed to his nosy roommate’s antics. 

But when the day was over and Gilbert needed to share the intimacies of his heart with someone who belonged in his life, he’d add another page to his weekly letter to Anne and tell her everything that was on his mind. It paled in comparison to having her in person. 

On days like these when he was exhausted and homesick, he imagined what it would be like to rest his head on Anne’s chest while she held him and stroked his hair. Knowing she’d probably let him only made being away from PEI worse, but the quiet daydreams had a way of keeping him grounded. 

He was gazing out his window, picturing Anne dancing in ambered firelight, when Ron called up the stairs, “Gil? You’ve got mail.”

The legs of his chair screeched against the old wood floors and Gilbert pushed himself away from his desk and raced down the stairs. He found Ron shuffling through the various letters, peering with interest at a paper-wrapped parcel tied to one of the letters. 

“Let’s see. One from Sebastian Lacroix, one from the Cuthberts, and…” Ron wiggled his eyebrows and waved the package. “One from the ever-lovely, ever-red headed Anne Shirley-Cuthbert. My, you are popular!” 

“Give me those,” Gilbert chided, snatching away his mail and pulling it to his chest. For a second, he contemplated running back upstairs and locking his door behind him where Ron wouldn’t be able to follow, but the man would probably just pester him wherever he tried to hide. Shooting Ron a warning look, he sat down on the parlor couch and heaved a deep sigh. Where should he start? 

“The one from her parents is probably the most pressing,” he said aloud.

His fingers hovered over the flap of the envelope, trembling with hesitation. What if they said no? If he had a daughter and some schmuck like him came calling after her, he’d send the poor lad running. 

“Jesus Christ, Gilbert, just open the damn thing,” Ron cried, snapping Gilbert out of his thoughts. Tearing open the flap, Gilbert gently pulled the letter from inside. 

 

Dear Gilbert, 

Matthew and I have been anticipating this development for quite some time. Rest assured that you have proven yourself to be a most admirable young man. We all must learn the hard lessons of life at some time or another. I imagine you will discover more about the matters of the heart as you grow older - Matthew and I are still learning with Anne in our family - but it’s the best type of learning a person can undergo. Thank you for your transparency and your honesty. Anne has expressed to us that she has already given you her consent, and therefore, you have our blessing to court her. Though it does sadden us a little bit to see our young girl mature into a woman, we could not keep her from the desires of her heart. I hope you know we could not have asked for a better young man for Anne. Both Matthew and I wish you all the best in your studies. You make Avonlea proud.

Sincerely, 

Marilla Cuthbert

Gilbert’s relief must have been tangible because Ron whistled as he blew a cooling breath over his coffee. 

“Did you expect them to send you to the witch’s stake or something?” Ron asked. 

“For everything I’ve put Anne through? Yes. Absolutely,” Gilbert said, stunned. 

Unable to wait any longer, Gilbert took Anne’s parcel in his hands and smiled at the familiarity of her handwriting. There were two letters attached, one with a note on the envelope that said, “I wrote this before I received your letter. Open the present last.”  He was unsure whether that boded well for the contents inside, but decided to take the risk and finally read the letter he’d been waiting for all week. As his eyes skimmed the text, he fell back onto the couch and held the letter above his head. 

“What’s it say?” Ron queried.

Shhh !” Gilbert shot, pulling the letter closer to his face. He read and read and read. When he was finished with the first letter, he found he had a lovesick grin plastered across his face and a glimmering light in his eyes. With a voice as gentle as wind, Gilbert breathed, “She says she loves me.”

“I thought you knew that already,” Ron replied. 

“Not for sure. When I asked her if she did, she kissed me. I was fairly convinced then, but to have the words written out is much more certain,” Gilbert explained, already opening the second letter. He could barely bring himself to care that he sounded like an absolute romantic fool in front of his roommate. Anne loved him! 

 

My dearest Gil, 

It’s nearly autumn! She stops by every now and again with her cold air and hints of dusky colors on the leaves. It makes me wonder if all those miles away, you’re seeing any hints of fall as well. I was so pleased to hear that you’re doing well and settling in to your new home. I can just picture your apartment on North Sunset street! Tell me, is your home made of bricks the same color as the PEI roads? Does your window overlook anything spectacular? In truth, my window has a lovely view over Charlottetown, but I find myself preferring to reread your letter than look out over the city. 

Do you truly love me, Gilbert? Oh, I know you do, but I think I’d like to see you say it over and over and over - that is, if it isn’t too much trouble. It’s just so breathtakingly wonderful to see it written in your handwriting. You have my full permission to be bold and assume that I love you to equal measure. So much so, that I’m tempted to write you of little else. Perhaps one day I shall tell you how I adore you, in every way my imagination can conjure. For now, I will answer your questions. 

You asked me when I began to have feelings for you. In truth, I pondered this myself because once I realized what the feelings were, I couldn’t remember a time when they weren’t there. I trace them farther and farther back, and there I am, looking upon a very dashing young man asking me if there are any dragons in need of slaying. It seemed at times, I wasn’t only jealous and spiteful of your kindness and intelligence, but I seemed to desire it too.  Perhaps that accounts for my lengthy bout of confusion. Once we became friends, every day I grew closer to realizing that my admiration was equal parts attraction. 

As for when I realized that I cared for you. It was after dance practice that I realized I wanted to be the object of your warm gazes and soft touches for the rest of eternity. But it was after that night at the ruins that I realized I loved you. I didn’t want to be the one thing holding you back. Love was what prepared me to let you go, and be grateful that you’d be happy, even if it meant without me. I am a thousand times more grateful that we intend to be happy together, not apart.

As for the letter you wrote me, I am utterly ashamed to admit that I tore it to pieces before reading it. I hadn’t really allowed myself to be angry and hurt until that moment, but as soon as my anger expressed itself, it was gone. I tried to piece together the torn fragments, but came up with a message in which you said you didn’t love me and intended to marry Winifred. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away though. They’re in an envelope in my bureau at Green Gables. Do you think you could piece them together for me during Christmas break? 

Phew! With all that out in the open, I can tell you that I am doing wonderfully here at Queens! I do occasionally get homesick, especially for you, but I do love my curriculum and the people in my classes. In my free time, when I’m not writing you or my family, I plan to write some more short stories for publication. Hopefully, I can earn enough to come visit you soon. Would Ron mind? 

My hand is cramping, so I will conclude here for tonight. Think of me in the golden hours of the morning and afternoon, and I won’t be terribly far away at all. 

Unabashedly yours, 

Anne 

(PS: I tried out that new nickname. How did you like it?) 

(PPS: I’ve included something for you, per your request. Is it vain to say that Cole did a magnificent job?) 

Gilbert did not waste time, pulling parcel from his lap and tearing off the brown paper. Immediately the breath was knocked from his chest as he gazed upon a small painted portrait of Anne, signed at the bottom by Cole Mackenzie. She was depicted with her face angled toward the sun, with a rose blush on her cheeks and cherry color to her lips. Cole had paid amazing detail to her freckles, capturing them in each perfect location. She’d worn her hair and dress exactly as she had the last time he’d seen her, freezing that moment in the timeless artistic existence. Her smile was as he remembered it, so realistic that he could vividly hear her laughter as if she were in the room. 

He must’ve been staring at the portrait for so long that Ron rose from his chair and peered over Gilbert’s shoulder. 

“You weren’t kidding about the red hair,” he commented. Gilbert glanced up, before returning his gaze to the picture. “Not too far off from the color of carrots.”

Gilbert snorted, an affectionate smile turning his face to sunlight. “Don’t let her hear you say that.”

Chapter Text

Even in late October, a line of warblers and chickadees sat at the top of the boarding house’s ridgepole and turned the wind to a haven of effervescent song. It gated the garden in, blocking it from the rest of the bustling city. Anne took a deep breath of the fresh air, relishing the way it felt crisp in her chest.  The journal on her lap was seemingly forgotten, the last sentence yet unfinished - “With one look at George, Averil realized...”  Though the perfect way to complete the sentence evaded her, Anne didn’t fret. In these moments of near silence and endless inspiration, she felt helpless to do anything but reach into the essence of nature and let it tell her what to say. 

Then, as if she had turned an open palm to the sky and the phrase flitted down into it, she murmured, “Got it!” Her beloved fountain pen scratched across the page as she wrote. “With one look at George, Averil decided ideals weren’t terribly silly notions, after all. The trick, she realized, was knowing your one’s own ideals as well as one knows themself. George may not have been the melancholy Apollo of her girlhood dreams, but he was steadfast and compassionate. Only in George’s embrace would she feel truly as if she was right where she belonged. 

With a sigh, Anne closed the journal. What a wonderful feeling it was to finally complete a story! To give a break to endless essays and readings and merely be with the words of her soul. Averil was a heroine truly deserving of her steadfast and compassionate suitor, even if writing about him did make Anne miss her own. 

Before her thoughts could drift too far away to her hazel-eyed love, she heard the back porch door open. There was Lily, wearing her usual kind smile and a perfectly white apron. 

You blend in with the trees!” Lily signed from the porch. Anne spared a glance around at the sunset colored leaves drenched in the afternoon’s golden light. 

One always blends well among friends,” Anne replied, hands forming what she was nearly certain were the correct signs. 

Anne had discovered, much to her surprise, that she was the first person to ever really ask Lily to teach them sign language. Past boarders had picked some up over the duration of their stay, but never tried their hands at it - as it were. But Anne wondered what a life must be like spent mostly watching and not expressing. If Lily had truths and passions of her heart that she wanted to share, it wasn’t fair that a barrier should come between them. Thus, every night, Lily sat Anne down at the dining table and taught Anne her language. Anne thought it was beautiful and challenging the way the language focused on meaning rather than the way a thing was said. Nearly three months later, Anne was more proficient than she dreamed she could be, though there was still so much to learn. 

You should come inside,” Lily said, her face suddenly taking an apprehensive expression. “I think you have a visitor, but Mrs. Blackmore won’t receive him.”

Snatching up her journal, Anne quickly thanked Lily and followed her inside. It wasn’t long before she heard Mrs. Blackmore’s exasperated voice echoing on the thin walls of the home. 

“This is entirely uncalled for! In all my years of keeping this house I’ve never -” 

“I promise ma’am, I don’t mean to intrude. I was just in town and thought-” 

“I don’t want to imagine what you thought!” 

Anne gasped. She’d recognize that voice anywhere. Bursting into the entryway, she met eyes with an equal parts frustrated and awkward Bash. He clutched Mary’s old carpet bag in his hand, the fabric crumpling under the strain. As soon as he saw Anne, relief flooded his eyes before elation took its place. 

“Bash! What are you doing here?” she exclaimed with a joyful laugh, throwing her arms around his neck. Anne wasn’t sure what shocked Mrs. Blackmore more, Anne hugging Bash, or him lifting her off the ground to shake her.  

“I was in town and thought I’d visit! I didn’t get a chance to see you before you left Avonlea,” he replied. “I don’t mind sayin’ that I’ve missed you terrible.” 

“Believe me, I’ve missed you all so much.” 

“Some more than others,” he said, cocking a brow. Anne nudged him and stepped back to Mrs. Blackmore. 

“Mrs. Blackmore, this is Sebastian Lacroix, a very close family friend of mine and my suitor’s brother.” 

Suitor, eh?” Bash murmured. Anne gave him another light whack on the arm. 

“Bash, this Mrs. Blackmore. She so graciously allows me a roof over my head and a meal on the table.” 

By the look on her face, Mrs. Blackmore wasn’t feeling so very gracious to provide any of those things to anyone. Still, Bash managed a friendly smile and offered his hand. “It’s a fine pleasure to meet you, ma’am. Sorry about the scare.” Mrs. Blackmore peered down at his hand, weathered from years of labor, her lip curling in disgust. 

“I’m sorry, Anne, but your guest cannot stay,” she stated with finality. 

What ?!” 

“I don’t say a thing twice.” 

A blush rose up Anne’s neck, whether from rage or embarrassment she could not say. She grabbed the woman’s wrist, dragging her away from Bash’s hearing distance. 

“Pardon me if I’m having trouble understanding why my guest is not allowed to stay. He’s not my suitor, and therefore he isn’t confined to Saturday afternoons. He came in respectable clothes at a respectable hour, which is more than we can say of some guests we’ve received-”

“Anne.” 

“Why, just three days ago, Tillie had several rowdy guests in the parlor and I heard not a complaint from you. In fact, I commend you on your cordiality. So please, Mrs. Blackmore, I’d like to know why my guest can’t be treated with the same courtesy. It goes against our Presbyterian duty to hospitality and-”

Alright!” Mrs. Blackmore interjected. It was enough that Bash’s wandering gaze snapped over to them, before darting away. “He can stay until dinner.” 

Anne frowned. Dinner was only thirty minutes away. “He should stay for dinner.” 

“What will the other girls think?” 

“The other girls know him! They all love him. Mrs. Blackmore, please!” 

There was no stronger persuading force than reminding a good Christian woman of her Presbyterian duty, even in the face of unrelenting prejudice. Not to mention, Mrs. Blackmore was quickly running out of excuses. With an exhausted sigh, the older woman threw up her hands in defeat.

Lily, add another place setting to the table. We’re having a guest for dinner,” said Mrs. Blackmore’s lips and hands. Lily tossed Anne a victorious smile, curtising first to their guest, then to the other ladies, before flitting off to the dining room. Anne turned to thank Mrs. Blackmore for her understanding, but found the tired woman halfway up the stairs. With a sheepish smile, she looked to Bash. 

“I’m so sorry about that. She’s usually one of the kindest people I know,” she explained. “Please, come in!” 

“I’m just glad to see you. Avonlea is so much quieter without you and Gilbert around. Every day I wait for you to show up at our door with a bouquet of flowers or a basket of Marilla’s plum puffs.” 

At the mention of Gilbert, Anne perked her ears, but folded her hands in her lap to keep her fingers from tapping. 

“I hope that my absence hasn’t meant Marilla stops baking for you.” 

“Of course not, she just delivers them herself. I think she does it as an excuse to come and visit Delphine. Not that she needs one. Probably misses having a child around.” 

A tender smile lifted Anne’s lips. 

“Everything is well back home then?” she asked hopefully. As close as Avonlea was - 45 minutes was admittedly not a long train ride - sometimes she couldn’t help but feel like she was on the other side of the planet from home. And Gilbert even farther. 

“The harvest is going well. For me, it’s strange not having the extra pair of hands, but we’re managing.” Bash paused, opening his mouth before closing it again. 

“Go ahead, Bash, whatever it is,” Anne prodded, already having a sneaking suspicion what he was about to say. Like a carbonated bottle shaken up, Bash threw up his hands and slammed them on his knees.

“I’m dying to know how it happened! One minute he’s moping around the kitchen tellin’ me his feelings for you are unrequited, and the next he’s breaking off his engagement and moving to Toronto.” 

A burst of laughter burst out of Anne. 

“He never told you? He tells you everything!” 

A joking shadow of regret came over Bash and he shrugged, “I think I teased him too much in the years leading up to it that the poor boy couldn’t take anymore. Besides, I think he’d rather spend his letter-writing time writing to someone else.” 

“My goodness, how long have you been teasing him?” 

“About you? Almost since the day I met him.” Anne’s cheeks turned rose kissed and she bit her lip against a satisfied smile. “You gonna tell me or no, Queen Anne?” 

“It’s strange, there’s so much to tell and yet it’s all such a simple story,” she began. “My best friend, Diana, was riding the same train out of Carmody that Gilbert was leaving for Toronto. She heard him say that he wasn’t engaged, nor was he going to Paris. He almost got away, too. But Diana moved to his seat and demanded to know why he’d been behaving toward me the way he was, why he’d ignored the letter I wrote to him.” 

“Well, why did he?” 

“He never received it. I left it on your table, so I can’t fathom what could have possibly happened to it. When Diana told him what my letter said, he all but jumped out of the train window to find me. He showed up here, cleared up the biggest misunderstanding between us, then rushed off to Toronto. As for me, I ran into Winifred in town. She informed me, as you said, that Gilbert believed his feelings were unrequited. I did my best to ensure him otherwise.”

Bash whistled. “The Almighty really been trying his hardest to match you two up and you’ve given him the hardest time. I’m very glad it worked for you.” His gaze turned down the carpet bag beside him. Anne had forgotten about it in the midst of her storytelling, but she watched with interest as he pulled it into his lap. “There’s actually a reason I came today.” 

Anne lifted a brow with a curious smile. 

“Gilbert left for Toronto in such a hurry that he left behind some of the things I think he’d like to have with him. I was wondering if you’d take them to him for me.” 

“Me?” 

“I can’t leave Delphine for too long. Or the harvest for that matter.” He handed her the bag’s worn handles, but Anne handed them right back. 

“I’d love to, truly, but I don’t have enough money for the train or a hotel.” 

Bash scoffed. “Already taken care of. There’s an envelope with train fare in the bag, enough to get you there and back. Gilbert has a guest room you can stay in, so a hotel won’t be necessary.”

Anne could feel herself being won over, but she was still hesitant. “What about Marilla?” 

A wicked glint flickered in his eyes that Anne looked strikingly familiar to one she’d seen right before a boy tugged her braid. “We don’t have to tell Marilla.” Anne could feel her resolve draining away, but what settled her mind was, “He’d be real happy to see you, Anne. I think he’s been homesick.” 

With an excited smile, Anne yanked back the carpet bag and gave a beaming grin. 

“Okay, I’ll go this weekend,” she stated, elation bubbling over. 

“Good. I’m thankful to you.” 

After dinner when Bash had departed, Anne went through the things Bash had packed away for Gilbert - a few medical books, extra socks, a velvet bag she wouldn’t open - and realized that she wasn’t doing Bash a favor at all. He was doing her the favor - it would’ve been less expensive for him to just ship the things. Still, Anne added a few things of her own to the bag of things to give Gilbert, and shoved it underneath her bed. 

Plopping back on her mattress, Anne grinned at the ceiling. At this time in three days, she’d be with Gilbert. Would she survive until then? 

*

Anne stepped off the train and onto the platform with stiff legs, but the relief in her muscles went almost entirely unnoticed when the sight of beautiful Toronto came into view. The mainland felt so different beneath her feet, as if she were a sailor taking her first steps onto solid land. Around her, travellers rustled and bounded by, talking of business, of family, of pleasure. With a surprised gasp, Anne noticed that beyond the train station, there were no rolling fields or orange-topped trees. In their place were tall buildings, one after another, after another, after another. 

“First time in Toronto, eh?” a stranger said, noticing Anne stock still in place. She nodded in response, meeting the kind gaze of an elderly woman. The woman reminded her of Aunt Jo in that her spirit felt trustworthy and she was wearing one of the loveliest hats Anne had ever seen. 

“Yes, by chance, could you point me in the direction of…” she snuck a glance at one of Gilbert’s old letters. “...North Sunset Street?” 

“Certainly! Why, I grew up on that street. Just follow this main road for about a mile or so, and you’ll find Sunset on the right. A lovely row of brick houses. My mother used to put flowers in the window because the sunlight was always so bright.” 

Anne smiled. A kindred spirit, after all. 

“I think flowers are nature’s sweetest gift to us. I’ll put some in the window to honor her,” Anne promised. “Thank you so kindly for your help!” 

As she traveled up the streets, Anne found her pace matched that of the city-goers around her, fast-paced and eager. How could she help it? There was only a mile distance between her and Gilbert, and the sooner she closed it, the sooner she’d pull him close to her and…and...do something terribly romantic. She’d figure it out when the time came. Tightening her grasp on her cases, she all but jogged through the winding crowds. Then, a street sign came into view with a familiar name and Anne’s heart jolted. 

The woman had been right - North Sunset Street had some of the most lovely houses Anne had ever seen. The road was lined with old trees and was full of more greenery than she’d seen in the entire city. How Gilbert’s roommate had come to secure one, she couldn’t fathom, but she was glad Gilbert would spend his time somewhere that had hints of PEI’s loveliness. As she counted the house numbers - 290, 291, 292… - her stomach filled with an entire forest worth of butterflies. 

293. There it was. Ivy rimmed and gold in the late afternoon light, Gilbert’s Toronto residence waited for her to burst in. Yet, instead of allowing herself in using the key she knew was under a ceramic dog on the windowsill, she knocked like the perfectly respectable lady she strove to be. Almost instantaneously, an unfamiliar voice boomed through the inside of the house.

“Did you lock yourself out again ? I keep telling you that I put a key underneath-” The door swung open. “Oh. You’re not Gilbert.” 

Anne, stunned to be peering up at a man who was nearly an entire foot taller than her, merely offered a shy smile and shook her head. 

“I take it you’re Ron?” she said cordially. 

“Anne Shirley-Cuthbert in the flesh,” he realized right back, eyeing her with an analytical gaze. “You’re... younger than I expected you to be.” 

The grin on Anne’s face twitched and she held back the urge to shift awkwardly on her feet. How old did he expect her to be? After all, she was only about a year-and-a-half younger than Gilbert, old enough to be in college! 

Ignoring the comment, Anne snuck a glance behind Ron’s shoulder.

“Is Gilbert in, by chance?” 

Much to her disappointment, the man shook his head. 

“He’s got a friday class that finishes at four o’clock. It’s probably just ended.” His eyes fell to the bags in her hand. “Are you staying?” 

“Ah, well, I hoped to. Gilbert’s brother mentioned you both had a spare room that I could probably stay in to avoid the expense of a hotel. Only for the weekend. That is, if it isn’t too much trouble.” 

Ron shrugged. “I don’t mind. Gil will probably insist on it with the way he moons over you. School is only a few blocks from here. Why don’t you leave your things here and I’ll show you where his usual haunt is?” 

All at once, Anne’s butterflies were back with a passionate fury. 

“I’d be ever so grateful!” she nearly exclaimed, her eagerness knocking Ron a few paces backwards. He grabbed his hat from the hook, plopped it on his head, and slid past her. As tenderly as if she were walking on glass, Anne followed behind, trying desperately not to make an utter fool of herself. 

“Gilbert said you’re a college girl yourself?” Ron chatted amiably. A gust of wind brought a whiff of his expensive cologne to her nose. 

“Yes, English and Teaching.” 

“Ah, a reader then.” 

“An avid one,” Anne confirmed. “But mostly I want to inspire students to believe in their own talents and grow to love learning just as much as I came to. A good education can  help a person through anything. There is nothing so thrilling as watching those you care about succeed at the things they’re passionate about. Don’t you agree?”

Ron cocked a head in interest. If she had been attempting to put up a facade of decorum, that last statement had been the first hint of the free-spirited Anne he had heard so much about. 

“You know, Anne, I believe you’re onto something,” he said. “At any rate, it matters little what I think. Your students will crave your approval, and I daresay they’ll have it.” 

Anne beamed. Perhaps this Ron could be a kindred spirit, after all. She seemed to be finding them everywhere these days. Around them, the scenery grew taller and denser as they journeyed into the heart of the city. Ron rambled beside her about some strange fellow in one of his classes, but Anne could only half listen. Then, all of her senses turned to electricity when the sight of an imposing, majestic castle came into view. 

“Welcome to the University of Toronto,” Ron interjected when he saw her eyes sparkling with amazement. “Gil should be around here somewhere.”  

Yet, as Ron was leading her closer to the main hall’s regal entrance, Anne’s heart tugged her to glance behind her. She squinted to make out a few people sitting on and around a staircase near the west section of the building. Her feet moved on their own volition with slow uncertainty, but her heart had already confirmed what she desperately hoped was true. The closer she got, the more she recognized the outline of his features. His soft hair, his strong shoulders, his chin. 

“Who’s that?” Anne heard from the group. 

Suddenly, she stumbled to a halt, her breath stuck in her throat. She watched as his head turned toward her, and wondered if he could hear her heart beating from across the garden landscape. He leaned forward, as if not believing his eyes, straining to get a closer look. 

Then, all at once, he jumped to his feet, stumbling forward a few steps in shock. A cry of elation tumbled from his lips, a matching one breaking Anne’s silence. His friends cried after him, but he was already bounding away. She didn’t make him run far, hoisting up her skirts to meet him halfway. 

On the train ride here, Anne had imagined what she believed to be every possible reunion that could possibly happen when she finally saw Gilbert again. She imagined him opening up his arms and her leaping into them. She imagined him crushing his lips onto hers for a kiss that would heat her to her toes. What she didn’t imagine was running full speed to him, then stopping a mere breath away. Gilbert’s hands were frustratingly at his sides balled into fists. But his eyes...Anne beamed up into them. They were very bit as warm and earthy as she remembered them being, beautiful enough in their affection that she felt a shiver go down her back.

“You’re here!?” he said in disbelief. Much against her own will, Anne felt her eyes mist over just enough that she blinked into sunlight. 

“Surprise!” 

Gilbert let out a joyful laugh so loud that students on their way to class turned their heads to him. But he couldn’t find it in him to care. Not when Anne was before him, even more breathtaking than he remembered her being - which admittedly, was an impossible amount - smiling up at him with dimpled cheeks. If he didn’t do something soon, he was certain he’d combust on the spot. 

Anne seemed to read his mind, and suddenly they were pulling each other in for a kiss. Flinging her arms around his neck, she pushed up onto her toes, sending Gilbert arching back against her fervor. Taking his cue, he lifted her up off the ground, and spun her around, laughing against her lips. The months of separation were suddenly forgotten, and Anne was content to do nothing except bury her face into his neck and breath in his familiar scent. 

“But- but how?” he stammered, chuckling through Anne’s onslaught of cheek kisses. Her fingers were still locked behind his neck when she pulled back. 

“I took the midnight train and slept most of the way. Ron brought me here.” 

Gilbert sighed in relief, finally conceding to the blissful fact that this was not a dream. He dropped his forehead onto hers, and she nuzzled into his touch. 

“I really missed you,” he murmured, grasp tightening at her waist. “We barely got any time together before I left.” 

“I missed you just as much, but I’ll be here until Sunday. That’s enough time for you to make good on all of the promises from your letters.” She blushed remembering some of the things he’d sworn he’d do when they reunited. They ranged from proper teas and dinners to embraces and experimental kisses where he’d learn the face was extra sensitive. 

“I hope you’ll make good on yours too,” he replied with a raised brow.   

“Count on it,” she assured. Her own promises entailed a detailed report of her romantic daydreams and ponderings from the months before they started their courtship. I know how my own pining went. I’m aching to know every bit of what you were thinking, he’d written once in a letter a few weeks back. The preview she’d granted in her response had been promising. 

“Let me take you to dinner tonight. There’s so much I want to tell you.” 

Anne nodded happily, not caring a might that they’d been giving each other comprehensive written reports of their daily life. She wanted to hear it all from him, watch the stories unfold on his face as he told them. 

“But first,” he continued. “There are some people I want you to meet.”

Chapter Text

Anne knew she was not what Gilbert’s friends were expecting. She remembered what it was like to see Winifred for the first time, with her thin gloved fingers holding Gilbert’s arm and curlicues of golden hair framing her beautiful face. Even tripping on the uneven Avonlea ground, Winifred had looked every bit like an elegant novel heroine -  one that made complete sense to be at Gilbert’s side. Now Anne was the one at Gilbert’s side, it was her hand holding his forearm. She had to wonder if she looked half as suitable for him as Winifred had. 

When Gilbert squeezed her hand, Anne let go of her nervous thoughts with a sigh. What did it matter how she looked ? She knew better than anyone how suitable she was for Gilbert. It was a fact that could not be disputed, and if anyone tried, she’d prove them wrong with fierce determination. Even though first impressions were not, historically speaking, Anne’s forte, she could only feel pride as Gilbert swept her before his peers with an eager smile on his lips. 

His friends, much to Anne’s complete relief, seemed just as pleased. There were four, including Ron, and each off of their own distinct energies that Anne immediately got to work trying to read. 

“Gotta hand it to you, Gil, that was quite a show you put on for the entirety of Toronto,” one of the boys teased with a smirk as they approached. The young lady beside him whapped him on the arm with a murmured admonishment. Anne blushed, biting her cheek against the urge to apologize for scandalizing them all, but Gilbert could not have been less embarrassed.

“Anne’s come to visit!” he exclaimed, as if his excitement had bubbled over beyond his control. Then, remembering to maintain some semblance of decorum, he said, “Everyone, this is Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, my sweetheart from back home that I’ve been telling you about. Anne, this is Fred, Trevor, and Priscilla. You know Ron.” 

“Ah, the ever famous Anne-with-an-E,” the same lad from before, Fred, appraised. He offered a friendly hand, which Anne accepted immediately. “It feels like we all already know you with how much Gilbert talks about you.” 

“The feeling is mutual, Mr. Wright,” Anne chuckled. Fred grinned when she remembered his name. “It certainly is a delight to put such lovely faces to names I’ve only read in letters. Thank you for taking care of this afoot-and-lighthearted man of mine. I’ve rested easier knowing that he’s been in good hands.” 

Priscilla extended her own hand to Anne, except when the redhead moved to shake it, Priss pulled her down beside her and tucked her arm through Anne’s elbow.

“Gilbert, I think I am quite taken with this lady of yours. I’ll be seizing her from your hands presently, if she doth not protest,” she said with a dramatic flair.  

Priss, Anne recalled from Gilbert’s letters, was one of the only women in Gilbert’s medicine department. It had taken a headstrong Emily Oak single handedly battling against a conference room of a male admissions officers to get them to consider accepting Priscilla’s application. After which, she exceeded every expectation of her academic success, and soared past Gilbert as top of the class. Someone has to keep you on your toes while you’re at school, Anne had said in a letter. Maybe, Gilbert replied, but if there’s anyone to concede to - and it can’t be you - I’m not opposed to it being Priss. You’d like her a lot. 

“I come willingly!” Anne laughed. “I want to hear all about what it’s like to be the only female presence in your classes. You must have thrilling tales of battling unfairness and conquering injustice.”

“I do!” Priss replied earnestly.

“I admire you so much for it! Gilbert and I have some stories of our own if you’d ever like to hear them. Although, I do think I’d much rather hear yours first!” 

“Don’t tempt her,” Gilbert joked, settling down at Anne’s free side. “She means it when she says she’ll steal you away indefinitely, and I won’t have that.” 

A breeze caught some of Gilbert’s cologne and drifted the familiar scent to Anne, who smiled when it graced her. It meant he was close, here . Already, Toronto was every bit as captivating as she expected, but his persistent loving smile had much to do with it. 

“This lot has heard all the stories I have to tell. I’d much rather learn more about you, Anne,” Priss stated. Her eyes wandered along Anne’s auburn curls, but her nose scrunched when she noticed a knotted fluff on the back of her head. “Gilbert has gone and kissed you with no consideration for your hair. Please allow me to remedy that for you.” 

Laughter bubbled out of Anne, and she angled her back so that Priss might detangle the mess Gilbert had left. 

“If you have anything you’d like to know, ask away. I’m an open book,” Anne said, glancing around the circle. 

“Gilbert told us he had an apprenticeship with PEI’s best doctor. How true is that?” Trevor spoke up. He was a young man with a round face and a fleshy scar under his eye. But it gave his personage no hint of villainy. In fact, he reminded her of Moody back home. Perhaps this poor fellow was just as clumsy.

“Ah, I see. I am to fact-check. It’s true, at least in common opinion. Dr. Ward was Charlottetown’s best doctor, but he treasured Gilbert’s family. In fact, I’ve just gone to him for my annual check up. It’s no wonder he took Gilbert under his wing because they truly are quite alike.” 

“He took care of my father when he was sick, and then my sister-in-law when she was ill,” Gilbert added. Anne found his hand and pressed it to her lips. How hard it must’ve been to be away from home when your heart was still grieving. 

“Isn’t that the same doctor Winifred worked for?” Ron piped in. Gilbert stiffened. 

“Who’s Winifred?” Priss questioned innocently, but frowned when she noticed the subtle droop in Anne’s shoulders. 

Ron-” exasperated Gilbert, but Trevor held up a hand. 

“No, now I want to know, too.” 

Gilbert was determined not to answer, and even more resolute to change the subject. He didn’t intend to spend his first weekend with Anne since he’d left talking about the past. Not when there was so much future to look forward to, not when there was so much of the present to enjoy. But Anne had said they could ask any questions they wished, so she gave a small smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. 

“She was the girl Gilbert was courting during our last year at school. I met her at the county fair in the summer,” she answered evenly. 

This stunned the group to silence, except Ron, who had, by then, heard the entire story. 

“You all don’t go around airing your dirty laundry and mistakes,” Gilbert defended against their judging stares.

It was too late. Fred was now too deeply invested in the story and leaned his elbows onto his knees to look Anne in the eye.

“That must’ve been difficult, trying to get along with someone you didn’t like for Gilbert’s sake.” 

“Oh, I liked her well enough,” Anne admitted.  

“You weren’t jealous?” 

Anne’s gaze fell to brick of the steps. She didn’t mind Gilbert’s friends knowing, but it was different to have Gilbert hear it. Somehow, the pain she’d felt during those days felt private and shameful. To expose feelings which had long since dissipated now would only cause Gilbert discomfort.  

Eventually, she confessed, “I was sick with envy. But there wasn’t anything about Winifred to dislike. Her family was charitable and she was friendly, not to mention gorgeous. Avonlea was so pleased at the match that I resigned myself to the notion that sometimes one must swallow their grief in favor of a friend’s happiness.” 

Priss let go of Anne’s hair to take her hand, squeezing it gently. At that moment, Anne realized she was being understood, and the comfort it brought made her throat thick. She wouldn’t meet Gilbert’s eyes, even though she could see his fingers twitching against the urge to reach out to her. 

“The victory is yours to brag to all of Avonlea about,” Priss said quietly. “I’ll help you if you’d like! Teach those Avonlea folk who to underestimate.” 

“That’s alright,” said Anne sweetly. Finally, she met Gilbert’s gaze and found dense with his own shame. “The victory is mine and Gilbert’s alone. All of Avonlea knows about about it now, and the people who care about me are happy. It doesn’t matter to me what the others are saying.” 

“What are they saying?” Gilbert said. 

“Really, Gil-” Anne interrupted, but his brows creased and she gave an unconvincing shrug. “All they’re saying is that it must be terrible to be someone’s second choice.” Gilbert’s mouth snapped open, the argument nearly off his tongue when Anne rushed to finish. “But I know that’s not true, so what does it matter?”

Anne supposed it occurred to Gilbert right at that very moment that perhaps she’d had left some important truths out of her letters when she said that the unpleasantness of the Winifred situation was long forgotten. 

“Golly, I’m sorry I wanted to know,” Trevor murmured awkwardly. 

Anne released a sigh, and with it some of the tension she’d been holding in her heart. 

“In truth, it’s actually quite the story. One of two unreceived letters of love declarations, dancing, and rushing through Charlottetown for last chances.” 

“That sounds right out of a Jane Austen novel,” Priss swooned. 

“I thought so too,” Anne agreed, a blush blooming on her cheeks. “But for the sake of the gentlemen in our group, why don’t I choose another story of dramatic adventure for them? Like the time Gilbert and I battled a house fire together?” 

This had Fred and Trevor intrigued enough that Anne began to weave the tale together with the tenderness for storytelling she always had. Within the first few words, Gilbert’s friends came to discover he hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said she was a gifted storyteller. With ease, she painted the vivid image of the burning Gillis house in their minds. They could feel the heat on their cheeks and smell the smoke. Gilbert, whose heart was still tight from Anne’s forgiveness and his own remorse, couldn’t help himself from leaning forward and press his lips to her cheek. She only stuttered her story for half a second, giggling and holding his head to her. 

“I don’t even think his jacket got singed, but I was covered in soot by the end of the night,” Anne said through her laughter. He hadn’t quite pulled back when someone rushed up to them. 

“Here you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for-” 

Anne paused her story and looked up to see a tall young woman with black silk for hair and a delicate porcelain face gawking at her with something Anne couldn’t place. Horror? Shock? Revulsion? As soon as it was there, though, the raw emotion faded away, and the woman turned to Gilbert with practiced neutrality. It took Gilbert a split second to realize he was being addressed, his face still close to Anne’s.  

“Gilbert, we’re going to be late for Global Histories if you don’t hurry,” the woman stated, almost through her teeth. 

“It was awfully kind of you to come find me, but I think I’m going to skip my last two classes for the day. If you could tell Professor Harden that I’ve got someone in town visiting me, I’d appreciate it.” He stood, pulling Anne to her feet and bringing her over to the woman. “Anne, meet Christine Stuart, Ron’s sister. Christine, Anne,” he introduced. 

“Your...sister?” Christine asked hopefully. 

Anne snorted, and nudged Gilbert. 

“If I was, he wouldn’t be nearly this handsome. Gilbert is thankfully not my brother, but my suitor. It’s wonderful to meet you, Miss Stuart,” Anne said warmly. She couldn’t tell how, but Christine seemed awfully familiar. Then, all at once, she placed the resemblance. “You look exactly like a story character I created when I was a girl. You can only imagine how much an eight-year-old orphan longed to have the looks and grace of a princess!” 

Christine was neither charmed, nor flattered. 

“How delightful,” she said dubiously. Remembering something, she spun to Gilbert. “Does this mean you aren’t going to the Autumn Banquet tomorrow?” 

“I suppose that just depends on Anne. I’d be fine either way,” Gilbert replied. 

“My goodness, that’s this weekend, isn’t it?” Anne cried. She placed her hand on Gilbert’s shoulder, and very narrowly missed Christine glaring at it. “I was so eager to get here after Bash asked me to that I completely forgot you had made plans. Of course you must still attend the banquet! I don’t mind leaving you alone for a few hours. It's important!” 

The Autumn Banquet, as it turned out, was a ball put on by the Toronto Science Department annually to allow the students to network and meet their professors, as well as visiting professionals in a range of fields. Gilbert had been preparing his good first impressions for weeks - successfully, too, after Anne had given him a constant stream of support in her letters. 

“Nonsense! You’d be welcome to attend with me. I’d appear exponentially more intelligent escorting you,” Gilbert insisted. “Anyone who doesn’t take to you, Anne, is someone I don’t want to be around.” 

Christine wrinkled her nose at this, and folded clenched fists behind her back. 

“Then who will take me?” Christine tried to sound curious instead of frustrated, but her performance fell flat. 

“Science isn’t your department, Chris. But if you’re eager to go, I’ll take you,” Ron offered. 

Christine frowned. 

“I’d take you too!” Fred cut in. She opened her mouth to argue, but realizing that her options were running dim, pressed her lips together and nodded.

“That’d be fine, Mr. Wright. Thank you.” 

“And you’ll go, Anne?” Gilbert said hopefully. 

“I wouldn’t miss it!” she agreed, before groaning and biting her lip. “Except I’ve nothing to wear. I brought one of my old Green Gables dresses with me. Appropriate for milking cows, but certainly not for balls.” 

“You can borrow one of Christine’s. I’m certain they’d fit,” Ron said.

Christine might’ve rebuffed this with a fury, but then Gilbert turned to her with optimistic eyes and said, “I could bring Anne over and then you could come with us to the banquet, after all!” 

It was then that Anne realized that Christine’s heart wasn’t thorny because of a predisposition. The second Christine had met Gilbert’s hazel gaze, her hard exterior had melted, a blush arose on her cheeks, and she brushed a loose strand of hair away from her face. Anne waited to feel threatened or anxious, but instead, she could only sympathize with Christine. After all, it wasn’t long ago she herself had accidentally stumbled upon the knowledge that Gilbert was previously engaged. 

“If that makes you uncomfortable, then I’d be more than happy to go in what I’ve packed. People will understand once they hear that I’d surprised him without previous planning,” Anne supplied, but Christine was determined to save Gilbert’s opinion of her. 

“Not at all, I’d be happy to loan you a dress. Stop by tomorrow and I’ll do your hair, as well. It is such a lovely shade of red,” she said politely. 

“That’s very gracious of you, Miss Stuart, thank you,” Anne replied honestly. She tried to take the cordiality as a victory, but before she could, she saw the envy lining the edges of Christine’s green eyes. 

“Well, Global Histories awaits. I’ll see you all tomorrow at the banquet.” Her dress caught dandelion floss as she disappeared away toward her class, but she didn’t look back. 

Christine had only been gone a moment before Gilbert took Anne’s hands in his. 

“What do you say I show you around Toronto a little bit. There’s a park nearby that has all the trees a redheaded dryad like you could want.” Anne cocked a brow. “For a city, that is. Just you and me?” 

“That sounds nice,” Anne agreed, a warm smile dimpling her cheeks. She turned to the group who had split off into their own conversation. “I’m so glad I got the chance to meet you all. Thank you for your kindness. It seems there are kindred spirits even 1000 miles from home.” At this, Anne smiled at Priss. 

“We’ll see you at the banquet tomorrow,” Priss said, with a wave. 

They’d made it halfway across the yard when Ron called out, “Don’t forget to bring that report to Dr. Oak, Gil!” 

Gilbert groaned and slumped over a little, before shooting Anne an apologetic smile. 

“I don’t mind a detour,” she promised, much to her beau’s relief. 

Off they went, up the brick paths of the campus, still lined with flowers and their last lingering traces of life. Anne was the recipient of many impressed glances as Gilbert’s classmates offered passing hello’s and how-do-you-do’s, an unexpected phenomena that fed her healing pride. Before long, they were passing through the grandiose corridors of the medicine department where the air smelled of formaldehyde and rubbing alcohol. Anne wrinkled her nose at the overwhelming scent, but Gilbert seemed already accustomed to it. The hallways were completely quiet other than the sound of the faint murmur of nearby classes and the clicking of Anne’s heels. 

They came upon Dr. Oak’s office, only to find the door closed. Gilbert sifted through his bag until he retrieved an ivory stack of parchment, then after a moment of awkward hesitation, he slid it under the door. They turned to walk away when a muffled voice called from inside the office, “Gilbert? Is that you?” 

“Wait here a moment,” he told Anne, squeezing her hand. 

Just as Gilbert opened the door to enter, an older gentleman emerged out of the room. He gave a brief, polite nod to Gilbert as he passed, before sparing a glance at the waiting Anne. A jolt of awe surged through her, the same one she’d felt when she’d met Bash, Ms. Stacy, Ka’kwet, and Priscilla. It was as if her mind was prodding her saying, This is a person who is changing the world. Listen to their stories, share in their worldview, let them teach you.

The man was an educator just by the looks of him. He wore his fearlessness on his broad shoulders and had skin a cool shade of brown. Only fueling to Anne’s growing fascination was a familiar book tucked under his arm. 

“Excellent taste in literature, sir,” she complimented shyly. The man stopped his strong steps and peered down at Anne with amusement. He pulled the book from his arms and held it out before her, a glint lighting his eyes when her face fell. 

“I didn’t think I’d ever meet a fan of Tristram Shandy. How rare such a moment is,” he teased. Anne bit her tongue, suddenly wishing she could crawl into a hole for a winter long hibernation. 

“Oh, how I wish I could attest that that I am a fan of Laurence Stern’s work,” she began with failing enthusiasm. “Unfortunately, I mistook that volume as a copy of Middlemarch, which shares the likeness. I’m afraid I have to regretfully rescind my compliment. Tristram Shandy is deplorable.” 

The man let out a hearty laugh and stuffed the dreaded text back into his satchel. 

“That is quite alright. It’s is an acquired taste for a peculiar type of palate. I prefer Eliot myself, though I find it’s a dangerous pastime ‘for we all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.’

Anne grinned. She, too, had quotes up her sleeves.

“Yet, I wouldn’t trade such powerful literature for the world. After all, ‘it is always fatal to have poetry or music interrupted’ and removing prose and posey from my life would certainly result in my ruination.”

If the pleased smirk on his face was any indication, Anne had successfully made another kindred spirit. 

“I’m offering a class on women authors next semester. You should take it, Miss…”

“Shirley-Cuthbert, sir. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert. I’d be delighted to, only I’m not a student here. I’m just in Toronto for the weekend visiting my beau, the young man speaking with Dr. Oak.” 

“I see. Encourage him to find some time in his busy medical program to take the class just for the joy of it. I’m Dr. Clarence Sullivan if he asks.”

“I certainly will, thank you!” Anne cheered. He gave her a nod and an accompanying smile before stepping away to his next engagement. 

“Oh, and Anne,” he called out over his shoulder. She quirked a red brow. “If you’re ever visiting again during the week, you’re welcome to sit in on one of my classes. I feel you could provide my students with a fresh perspective.” 

Before she could respond, he had disappeared down another corridor, leaving her alone for only a few seconds before Gilbert had closed Dr. Oak’s door behind him. 

“Sorry about that. Shall we?” He offered her his arm, which Anne accepted. A fluttering excitement bloomed once again throughout her entire chest, growing bigger and bigger against her ribs. As they began to walk, Gilbert cleared his throat.“Dr. Oak wanted to meet you, but she has a meeting in a minute.” 

“There will be plenty of time to meet her on my future visits. I just met Dr. Sullivan from the English department. Any man that can quote Middlemarch without hesitation is a kindred spirit. He enlisted me to convince you to take his class on female authors next semester.” 

“I haven’t taken that many classes outside of my medical curriculum, so it’d be long overdue. I’ll talk to Dr. Oak about fitting it in my schedule,” Gilbert agreed heartily. 

As they exited the building, a warm autumn breeze swept across Anne’s freckles, carrying with it the perfume of fallen leaves and the last faint blooms of the garden. 

“The longer I’m here, the more it seems I could just toss my train ticket to the air and stay here by your side,” she murmured against the wind. 

“Don’t taunt me with promises you don’t intend to keep, Miss Shirley,” Gilbert teased. Without warning, he wrapped his arm around her waist and tugged her closer. “Any more talk like that, and I’ll be inclined to whisk you into my arms and drag you to all my classes. Queens be damned!” 

Their laughter carried them to the city gardens where the trees released their sunset leaves to the open air and the pair walked without care or worry down the dusty path. 

*

Without knowing it Anne and Gilbert stepped into Lovegrove’s Restaurant sharing the exact same thought: So this is what it’s like to be courting. The whole affair felt entirely new — even for Gilbert, who had been attributed some experience in courtship. In the dim lighting of the dining room, Anne was the picture of elegance, so familiar and beloved to him that he knew his heart wasn’t racing in anxiety, but anticipation. Suddenly, he felt a keen readiness to pull out her chair for her, to accidentally nudge her feet under the table, to listen to her speak her mind and to be listened to in return. It hadn’t been that way with Winifred. He wasn’t nervous about misstepping or doing something wrong. With Anne, he could be himself unapologetically and be certain she’d accept him unconditionally. 

On her part, Anne was still a novice in being the center of a person’s attention. During their walk, through the park, she found herself slightly unaccustomed to the unashamed adoration in Gilbert’s attentive gaze. And now, as he fulfilled his every urge to be her perfect gentleman, Anne couldn’t help but feel a blush rising to her cheeks. 

As the host lead them to their table, she felt him brush his fingers against hers. A chill traveled up to her elbow, and she bit her lips against a shy smile. Her smile only grew as he uttered a sweet compliment in her ear, pulling her chair out for her with scarcely veiled pride. “You look lovely.” 

Anne dropped her shy gaze. She didn’t look any different than any other time he saw her. Maybe it was how he always saw her? After all, she felt the same way about him. 

When he settled across the table, they gave the waiter their orders and stared at each other in breathless anticipation. Where could they begin? Nothing had changed terribly, except that their friendship involved quite a bit more kissing and a lot less arguing than it had in years past. Anne’s mind rushed, hoping she could find a satisfying dinner conversation. 

“Anne.” Her gaze snapped up to his, and it occurred to her maybe he’d called once or twice already. “Relax. You look like you’re afraid I’ll reach across the table and bite you.” 

It was only then that Anne felt tight tension in her own shoulders and her fists clenched together on her place setting. Gilbert reached across the table, taking her hand and shaking it gently. A small smile lifted the corners of her mouth, and the tension dissipated. 

“It feels just like that day I last saw you. As if no time at all has passed,” she confessed. “Yet, I’ve read all about your first two months of university over and over. How strange it is that that happens.” 

“I know the feeling,” Gilbert agreed. “Sometimes I remember our early days in school and I think, This isn’t the same girl you’ve cared for all this time. It’s your imagination tricking you. But mercifully, you’re no trick of the mind.” 

“I spent much more time than I realized imagining about you - even when I thought I hated you. And you know how my imagination is.” 

“Really?” Gilbert murmured, both shy and delighted.

“Of course.” Anne shrugged. “At first, they were just intrusive daydreams, tiny moments where I’d find myself picturing you smiling or writing calculations on your slate. Then when you were gone, I’d look out at the ocean and play all the different ways you’d return back home. In some of them you were a grown man finding me on the shores. Others took place the very second I imagined them, as if had expected you to appear out of nowhere. I never confronted the possibility you wouldn’t come back. It’s like part of me always knew. Of course, a point came when my imaginings took an unavoidably romantic turn.” 

Gilbert had been stunned speechless, and Anne felt another hot blush color her freckles. 

“I’m sorry, that was incredibly forward of me,” she said quietly. 

“No no!” he stammered. “No, I just...still can’t believe you’ve been thinking of me as long as I’ve been pining after you.” 

“And I can’t believe you longed for me right under my nose, and I never knew!  The entire idea seemed impossible, but I clung to the possibility that you might care the same way children don’t want to suspend their belief in magic. In fact, if you hadn’t brought... guests to the county fair, I would’ve probably confronted you.”

Gilbert’s eyes widened. Then, to level the playing field he made his own quiet admission.

“If you hadn’t mentioned Ruby, I probably would’ve posted about you on the Notice Board. Even after you did, I still considered it. Had a few notices planned.” 

An image came across her mind - one where she’d approach the Take Notice board, only to find a beautiful message written in his familiar scrawl. She would’ve taken it down gently, saved it somewhere special, maybe even written one or two of her own. 

“We’ve been just barely missing each other all this time,” Anne said, somewhat mournfully. 

“Not anymore,” Gilbert reminded her.

“No,” she agreed. “And not ever again.” 

Eventually, their meals came, and the conversation took a lighter turn. Now that she’d had met all of his friends, she was more interested in hearing more about them. In turn, Gilbert - much to her immense surprise - wanted to hear all about the Avonlea girls and their various exploits. When she’d mentioned how excited she was to be learning sign language with Lily, his face had brightened. 

“Can you show me some?” he asked eagerly. 

Anne pondered this, remembering all her favorite practice sentences or the books she’d signed while she read. Instead, she decided on something she’d never signed before. Gilbert watched her hands, trying to catch any semblance of meaning, but fell back in his seat. 

“I couldn’t even begin to guess!” he laughed. Anne repeated the question, this time speaking aloud while she did it. 

What did your T-A-K-E N-O-T-I-C-E note say?” Then, occupying her hands with her cutlery once more, she said, “Do you remember?” 

Gilbert’s smile was warm and open. He nodded, murmuring his reply as if it were a secret he had long ago packed away. “One day Gilbert will be brave enough to tell Anne the truth ,” he recalled. “I almost wasn’t.”

“Don’t torture yourself with ‘almosts’. Believe me, my experience with them is vast.” She tried to keep her voice light, but Gilbert could sense the underlying weight. “Marilla and Matthew almost didn’t let me stay, we almost didn’t save Miss. Stacy’s job, you almost didn’t make it in time to end our misunderstandings. But all those things ended up for the better, just as they were meant to.”

“You’re right, not that I’m surprised,” he conceded with a fond smile. A mischievous glint flickered in his eye. “If you could’ve written a notice about me, what would you have said?” 

Anne released a laugh that was almost too loud for the establishment. To dangle the poor boy in suspense, she playfully tapped her finger to her lips. She waited until he was halfway through a sip of tea to say, “Anne thinks Gilbert has a marvelously, splendid chin.” 

And if nearby diners glared at them while Gilbert coughed and laughed, then that was their business. The Avonlea pair was none the wiser, content to be alone in their own little corner of the world, together at last.

*

Nighttime came far too soon for Gilbert’s liking. Yet, he found himself warming to the idea as Anne waited for him to finish washing in his room. He came back, fresh and clean, ready to be in her company once more. What he saw made him heave a lovesick sigh. 

 It was moments like these that he wished he could go back in time to somehow convince some famous painter to follow him back to the present and capture the moment before him. A photograph wouldn’t do, not when a thousand different hues of orange and gold glinted off of Anne’s loose hair in the candlelight and the silver of the moonlight turned her lacy nightdress to crystal. Surely Renoir or Monet would understand the exquisite beauty of Anne stargazing into the Toronto sky. Still, there was much to be said about Gilbert getting to keep this sight entirely to himself. 

Leaning against his door frame - for fear that any movement would shatter the moment - Gilbert felt like the wind was sweeping his feet out from underneath him, pulling him into the skies above the dewy grass and the tall cityscape. Love was pulling him under its stupor, it seemed, but he was more than willing to follow. Where else could he go, except toward a future with Anne’s tender support and unyielding affection to warm him?

Yet, there was something that he could not withstand ignoring any longer. 

“You didn’t mention had a bay window,” Anne said lightly, glancing back at the half-lit Gilbert waiting at the edge of the room. Her brows creased together when he remained unmoving. “What’s wrong? Is it because I’m in here, because if it is, I don’t mean to make you a stranger in your own bedroom?” 

He wasn’t going to ask her to leave. Not when Ron just confessed to them that Actually, I forgot I’ve been using the guest room as storage. Anne’s more than welcome to use the bed, but the floor is covered in cases. They’d taken a peek inside, only to find that even the bed was covered in Ron’s many belongings. Anne had assured them she didn’t mind sleeping on the sofa downstairs, but Gilbert insisted she sleep in his bed. He’d sleep on the sofa. 

Another cloud came over his thoughts. He should sleep outside in the cold for all he put her through. How long could he keep pretending he’d done nothing wrong? How much longer could he ignore that he’d done little on the front of atonement?

“Gilbert?” Anne called softly. His hazy vision cleared and he found Anne’s soft lips pressed together in worry. She’d moved to the edge of the window seat, clutching it so tightly that her knuckles turned white. Gilbert rushed to pull together his thoughts, but they were racing at a million miles a minute with no coherent end in sight. The words she said next made all the roaring his head turn silent. “If you want me to leave, I can take the midnight train.” 

“N-no!” he stammered out of his contemplation, his instincts working on his behalf.

The fingers Gilbert had been anxiously holding together fell limp at his side. Mind suddenly clear, he crossed the room so softly, as if approaching a frightened animal. Her stormy sea eyes widened when he dropped to his knees before her - a gesture of prostration, but one that put him on her eye level. 

“Anne, if I could have every one of my dreams exactly how I imagined them, you would never leave my side. You’d sit here in this window every night, and I’d watch the movement in your imagining eyes in hopes that might be thinking of me.” He paused. “Do you think you could ever forgive me for being so selfish?”

“Gilbert-” Anne scolded gently, but he shook his said. 

“I am so ashamed. I’ve been selfish and foolish. I should’ve known better than to think I’ve atoned for the pain I caused you, that heartache you felt was over. I’ve been so caught up in my own happiness, that I forgot I ever wronged you. I should’ve known better than anyone that heartache doesn’t merely disappear when it becomes irrelevant. But that ends right now. I don’t have much to offer you right now, but what I can give you are certainties, things that will never change.” 

He took one of her hands, covering it with a soft touch, and brought it above his heart. It raced under her fingertips, matching the pace of her own heart. With a shaky sigh, he continued. 

“I’m certain that you’ve never been second best to anyone or anything, especially when it comes to me, because you’re the only person ever I adored with my entire soul. I’m certain that no matter what adventures life sweeps you away on, I want to be by your side, upholding you, protecting you, being your strength. I’m certain that you will always have a safe space with me to talk and dream and cry and speak your mind without restraint. But most of all, Anne, I’m certain that I love you. I will love you enough to make up for all the times you felt like it was impossible that anyone ever could.” 

A tear slid down the side of Anne’s nose - then another, then another - but still she said nothing. With her one hand still pressed up Gilbert’s heart, she lifted the other one to the side of his face, caressing his cheek with the back of her fingers. He leaned into her touch, closing his own glossy eyes. 

“I wonder if you could forgive me for my moments of doubt,” Anne muttered. Gilbert met her gaze and his soul sighed as if to say There’s nothing to forgive . With a fraction of movement, he leaned upwards smiling when she shortened the distance. Her hair draped along the sides of his face when she brought her lips onto his, curtaining them away from the rest of the world. He inhaled a deep breath when she wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him up to sit with her on the window seat. 

Anyone peering up from the road through the lace drapes would have seen Gilbert take Anne’s face in both hands and kiss her with unapologetic ardor. The lady herself found her hands tangled in his hair, chest heaving against his own as she battled the need for air with the pressing desire to keep kissing him. For the first time in her life, she felt desirable and invincible, incandescently overjoyed to have her past fears be proven so wrong. 

Another tear slid down, sending salt onto her tongue. Gilbert pulled back with a warm smile, his cheeks dimpling with adoration as he brushed aside her tears. Anne was helpless to do anything but gaze up in wonderment and say the only words she knew, “I love you so terribly, Gilbert Blythe.” 

A tiny, lovesick chuckle escaped his lips before he could hold it back. In seconds, Anne was wrapped in his arms, her face buried into his neck where he smelled so comfortingly like home that she couldn’t help but grin. The slightness of her frame fit against the strength of his arms and shoulders, and suddenly, Anne forgot all the consequences of refusing to let him go. 

“Anne,” Gilbert murmured in her ear.  

“Hmm?” 

He shivered as her fingers trailed down his back through his nightshirt. 

“I’m so sorry that I hurt you. Believe me when I swear to you it won’t happen again.” 

Anne pulled back just enough to rest her forehead to his. 

“I’m the one that hurt you,” Anne said quietly. “Can you forgive me for that too?”

Gilbert kissed her brow, then tucked her back into his embrace.  

"It's water under the bridge."

Later that night, Anne was wrapped in the cozy blankets of his bed, engulfed in his scent and warmed by his presence in the doorway as he took his last looks of her. For a moment, Gilbert allowed himself the briefest of daydreams - one where he was a doctor disappearing into the night to take care of a patient and Anne was his sleepy wife bidding him goodnight. But instead of whispering her tender farewell, she said, “Wouldn’t you be warmer if you slept here?” 

“I already told you, I won’t let you sleep on the sofa. It’s entirely too uncomfortable.”

“I meant , wouldn’t you be warmer if you slept here... with me,” Anne said shyly, propping herself up on her elbow. 

Gilbert swallowed. The only thing he loved more than a good night’s rest was spending time with Anne. Combine the two and the offer was far too alluring for him to pass up. He muttered a soft Alright before blowing out the last candle and sitting on the bed’s edge opposite of Anne. She lifted the blankets for him, tucking them around his shoulders when he settled down into the soft mattress. Her familiar warmth began its work easing away the last traces of his troubled heart until nothing was left but the gentleness of her presence and the faint scent of her soap. He reached out and folded their fingers together, kissing them, before settling them on the pillow between them. 

“Goodnight, my love,” he whispered. 

“Goodnight, my love,” Anne mirrored. 

The creaking sounds of the old house singing its night time lullabies lulled them to sleep, but sweeter yet was the faint breathing on the neighboring pillow and their gentle shared dream.

Chapter Text

Anne woke up the next morning to her favorite sound. As she stretched out her toes and gave a little sigh, she listened to the birds perched outside the window chirping their friendly greetings. Blinking her eyes open, she squinted against the bright sun drenching the bed. Her hand sought the empty space beside her, the lingering trace of someone’s heat fading ever more away. She frowned. Where was Gilbert? 

Then, the undeniable scratching of a pen against paper rose faintly from across the room. Anne’s eyes followed the sound, glinting an icy blue color when they found Gilbert hunched over his desk. His elbow moved quickly as if he were hurriedly jotting down his every ounce of his heart he could pour out. Every few moments, he’d pause to gather his thoughts, before taking to the paper with a renewed vigor. Anne was pleased to continue to watch him, pondering all the different things racing from his mind to his paper. He dropped his head back to the ceiling with a slow exhale, then noticed a sleepy Anne peering up at him with smiling eyes.  

“Good morning,” he said sweetly. 

“How long have you been awake?” she asked with another stretch. 

“Long enough to write half of my next letter to you. I wanted to get a head start so that you have plenty of reading material on the train ride home tomorrow.” 

Anne knew it was pointless to try to bite back her grin. How could she when Gilbert looked so dear with his uncombed hair and suspenders down at his waist? A pool of heat shot from her heart down to her stomach at the reverent tenderness in his own smile. She pictured herself sliding out of bed, padding barefoot across his floor, and draping herself around his shoulders. But when her hand fell against the spot he’d lain, a better idea crossed her mind. 

“How romantic it would’ve been to wake up beside you,” she said dramatically, falling back against the pillows. “Tell me, Gil, was it terribly poetical?” 

Gilbert quirked a brow, pressing his lips togethers. “Oh, very terribly.” 

“I know Mrs. Gillis says that reenactment is unchristian because it’s essentially lying...but if you wanted to share a few details, then I wouldn’t object.” 

The message rang loud and clear to Gilbert, who shot to his feet, crossed the room in two strong strides, and buried himself under the blankets with impressive speed. Laughter burst out of Anne as the mattress bounced at the impact. The warmth of her presence had already begun permeating over to him, refreshing against his cool skin. Much to her delight, Gilbert wrapped his arms around her, pulling her so that her head rested comfortably against his chest. Under her ear, the strong and steadfastness of his heart kept time like a pocket watch. Anne was never so pleased to listen the seconds tick away, the only reminder than time itself had not slowed to a halt. She shivered as his lips pressed into her hair, and she shifted so that she might return the embrace. 

“This close, your hair smells like the honeysuckles Mary used to plant,” he murmured into her hair. Humming in content satisfaction, he continued, “I woke just like this to the sound of some people laughing outside the window. I thought you might be awake because you were running your fingers up and down my back, but then you sighed in your sleep and turned around.” 

Keeping up with the story, he nudged her so that she’d turn her back to him. Anne let her eyes fall shut, pulling his arm around her waist so she could hold it against her breast. He pressed a soft kiss to her cheek, reveling in the silence of the morning. 

“And this is where I stayed - that is, until Ron dropped something in his room and I weighed the possibility of him walking in on us like this. The man refuses to knock.”

Anne’s frame shook with small chuckles. In the distant corners of her mind, she wondered that Ron wouldn’t particularly care if he saw them like this. Even if the man wanted to know every detail of everyone’s business all the time, he was not a fellow of judgement. That was part of what she liked so much about him, she supposed. She wished everyone could be like that. 

“Can I tell you something honestly?” she muttered. He hummed into her hair. “I don’t see what’s so wrong about this. Why is it so bad to lay here together like this?” 

Gilbert propped himself onto his elbow.

“You think it’s bad?” 

“No! No, I don’t think it’s bad at all. That’s the problem,” Anne rushed out. She craned her neck back so that he could see the honesty in her eyes. “If Rachel Lynde knew we were like this, we’d be married tomorrow with no chance of fulfilling our dreams. You’d have to work the farm and I’d be a farmer’s wife, just to distract the town from their silly notions of propriety. If anyone in Avonlea knew, you know what they’d say. They’d make it so that I could never teach, nor you ever heal.”

Gilbert was quiet, and for once, Anne was unsure of what he was thinking. His grasp on her had loosened, so she tugged him closer and continued. “But now that I’ve lived it, I just can’t fathom what is so reprehensible. You’re my lifemate, Gilbert. And I’m happy, I’m safe, I’m loved. What’s so unholy about that?”

The answer might’ve been clearer if their embrace had been of a more passionate nature, but this innocent affection held nothing wrong that even Gilbert could see. He shared her opinion, feeling so unbelievably content that surely the good Lord would have nothing to reproach. After all, it was a certain twist of fate that led her to his arms. Shouldn’t humans enjoy and explore all the depths of their emotional capacity.

“I’m not sure that I’ll ever understand it. But I think a time will come when people will change their minds. But until then, we’ll just have to pretend that time is now,” Gilbert responded, running his fingertips over her arms. “Besides, Rachel Lynde is on her own island far, far away from us. My conscience is crystal clear, Anne. I’m not ashamed.” 

Anne’s heart swelled. She spun in his arms and pressed a kiss to his nose. 

“Good. Then I’m not either.”

 

Chapter Text

Anne fit in so well at the Sunset House that it was easy to forget she’d only been there less than a day. With a keen intuition, she knew exactly where to find things in the odd drawers and shelves around the kitchen as Ron held out his non-cooking hand. 

“Three eggs! The milk jug! A serving spoon!” 

“Aye aye, Captain,” Anne replied each time, dutifully helping her new friend prepare their first breakfast together. “I still wish you would’ve let me make breakfast. It’s the least I can do after I showed up entirely unannounced. Besides, Gilbert has had my cooking before, but I’ve never cooked for him.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” shot Ron. “If anything, Gil should be the one cooking for you. After all, it’s only polite to make a woman a meal after she’s spent a night in your bed. Especially when he snores.” 

Ron! I didn’t-...He doesn’t snore!

“But alas, Gilbert’s breakfast skills leave so much to be desired, even if they are improving. Poor man makes the same recipes over and over again - his sister-in-law’s from this tiny notebook he’s copied them down in. If it wasn’t for her, he’d still be eating bland vegetables and overcooked pork.”

 Even Anne’s laughter sounded familiar bouncing off the cream walls and brightening the quiet Saturday morning. Above their heads, the running water of Gilbert’s bath kept the room from becoming completely silent. 

Ron found that it wasn’t a lack of things to say that caused his own stillness, but rather, a strange desire to open his entire heart to her. He supposed that was the danger with people who were so easy to like, so easy to talk to. The words fizzed in his throat, and if he moved even an inch, they’d pour out. This is silly, he thought. What’s there to lose?

“Anne,” he began out of the blue. She snapped the gaze away from the autumn-crowned tree outside the window she’d been daydreaming with, joining reality once more and smiling her encouragement. “I’m absolutely, without a doubt one to make assumptions.” 

Having read as much, and more, in Gilbert’s letters, she replied, “I’m not sure that’s always a bad thing. Your assumptions have to be correct some of the time.” 

Ron shifted in his seat, making sure he could hear Gilbert still in the bath upstairs. 

“And if I were to assume you’re a nonjudgmental sort of person, would I be correct then?” 

“I very much try to be,” she offered. 

Ron’s gaze fell to the wall where a small sized portrait of him and Christine was hung across the room. Why would it be easier to say this Anne than it ever would be to say to Chris?  

“There’s this tradition,” he began slowly. “Whenever the science department hosts its autumn banquet at the Meryton Hotel, it empties the basement of all its ornate tables and chairs, leaving it completely empty. That’s not the tradition part - what I mean is, the students who aren’t smart or rich enough to go to the banquet ultimately end up working the event, but then they sneak away to host their own party in the basement. Their own dancing, their own music, their own drinks.” 

“That sounds like fun,” Anne responded honestly.

“The only reason I know about it is because, um, Adam told me about it.” 

“Who’s Adam?” 

Ron couldn’t bring himself to say it. Either that, or he couldn’t find the words to articulate everything it meant. Every ounce of shame and every speechless moment of awe that being with Adam brought was caught in his throat waiting to be spoken. His eyes had glazed over, focused on a patch of flour spilled on the counter, though his mind was miles away. Nudging his arm with hers, she leaned over and drew a smiling face into the flour. 

“It’s always been women and men for me. I don’t know why,” he admitted aloud. The words loved the air they took, and Anne didn’t reject them. Instead, she only smiled. 

“A secret for a secret, Ron Stuart,” she replied just as quietly. “I’m the same way.” 

Anne was much shorter than him, and when she met his gaze head on, he saw the gold of her eyelashes. 

“Does Gilbert know?” 

She shrugged. “He might, but I’ve never said it. I don’t suppose it would make much of a difference to him. I can tell there isn’t a bit of me he doesn’t love, even the parts of me that he doesn’t know yet.” Wiping a bit of flour off of his sleeve, she added, “And he’s not the only one out there who loves unconditionally.”

“You think there’s hope for me yet?” Ron said, half teasing. 

“Ron, I have every hope for you,” Anne said seriously. The man’s protective smile fell and his eyes turned glassy.

Gilbert chose this moment to come leaping down the stairs two at a time in a way that was so distinctly Gilbert, that a warm smile lifted on Anne’s cheeks. He heaved a blissful sigh upon entering the kitchen, carrying with him the smell of freshness and soap. The tips of his hair were still damp, but it didn’t stop him from wrapping his arms around Anne’s waist from behind and leaning his chin on her shoulder.

“Good morning, Anne-girl.” 

“Good morning to you too...again.” He smiled against her cheek. “That soap smells familiar,” she commented off handedly, laughing when he kissed her blush. 

“That’s because Marilla sent it.” 

Marilla?”

“Along with fresh socks, a ream of paper, and some of her preserves.” 

“She never sends me anything!” 

“Sweetheart, you live less than an hour away from Avonlea! You probably live right next door to the post office she mailed the parcel from!” 

He was right, but she wasn’t about to tell him that. 

“Besides, it was only once,” he added. Then, taking in the atmosphere of the room, he released Anne and sat down at the table. “Did I miss something important?” 

Ron schooled his features, looking for something useful to say but coming up flat. 

“A very important, very serious debate on adequate breakfast food,” Anne filled in. “Gilbert, you’re a medical student. Tell Ron that plain toast is not nearly adequate enough sustenance for breakfast. Omelets aren’t just for when guests are around.” 

“I could tell him that, but then I’d be a hypocrite.” 

“Toast is one of the only breakfast foods he can make, poor lad,” Ron interjected. “And even then, he burns it half of the time.” 

“Hmm, kind of like that?” Gilbert said slyly, pointing down to the pan where a piece of brown bread was burnt black and smoking against the skillet. Ron rolled his eyes, sticking his spatula under the bread and flinging it at his roommate. Gilbert caught the bread and hissed at how hot it was, flinging it onto the counter where it promptly slid into the sink. 

“I’m starting to get a sense of what daily life is like with you two,” Anne laughed. “Ron, something tells me you’d get along swimmingly with Bash.” 

*

Toronto had more wonders than Anne could count. In one short afternoon, Gilbert had taken her to roam the histories of the art museum and smell the sweetness of the botanical garden, but not excluded from these marvels was the Stuart Estate. Ron led the way as dirt streets became pristine brick, and small houses turned into domineering manors of stateliness. The working class of Toronto was but a mile away, but Anne felt like she’d stepped into another country - a wealthier, more outstanding country.

“His parents live here? Have you ever been to his home before?” Anne whispered to Gilbert as Roy said a passing hello to someone on the street. Gilbert shook his head, just as awed by the grandeur around them. 

“I knew he was wealthy, but not this wealthy.” 

“My apologies,” Ron said, returning to the group. “You were saying, Anne?”

“Oh! Well, the conservatory botanist was actually watching the child tear off the flowers from the corner of the room, and when he came roaring over, I thought the mother would perish on the spot.” 

“So Anne, being Anne, rushes over to them,” Gilbert added. 

“And I picked up all the flowers from the ground while the man was getting ready to whip the poor child. A few moments later, I was placing a flower crown atop his head. All I said to him was, ‘Forgive this imaginative child, oh king of the gardens’, and his anger died away.”

“You’ve an odd way with people, Anne. I doubt you’ve ever had a single enemy in all your days," Ron decided, shaking his head.

Anne’s mind flashed all the unpleasant faces she’d encountered over her short lifetime, each bringing a sour taste to her mouth. Her gaze fell to her dress, a bit plain on this side of town, and she remembered the enemy she might be meeting at her destination. 

Oh, Gilbert didn’t know Christine despised Anne, much less the reasons why, and Anne had done her best to stay optimistic inwardly and outwardly. She hoped Christine wouldn’t think her cruel, that she was only borrowing a dress to rub it in that she was the one Gilbert loved. In fact, a person Gilbert held in such high esteem had to have redeeming qualities. Were it not for the barrier between them, Anne suspected her and Christine could be kindred spirits. 

“Home sweet home,” Ron muttered, swinging open an iron gate. 

The Stuart estate was built three stories tall of sand colored stones and sun-thirsty windows. Some of the gabled windows had their own balcony where a person could gaze out over the city for miles. Rounded hedges and a thousand blooms framed the home, though the flowers had started to brown in the autumn chill. As the group crossed onto the terrace, Ron’s mood dropped further and further into the dirt. He knocked on the front door, only to be greeted by a small, mousy servant girl. She eyed Ron first, then Anne, both with disapproval. Her gaze crossed over Gilbert with interest, so she spoke directly to him.

“How can I help you?” she said in a saccharine. Ron frowned.

“Are you new?” he asked. The young woman blinked and her brows furrowed as she decided whether to answer truthfully or scold him for his rudeness. “Nevermind that. Please tell Mr. Stuart that Ron is home.” 

The maid was unsure, but she did what she was told, making way so that the guests could file in behind her. 

“Why don’t you live here?” Anne asked quietly. 

“Remember that thing we talked about this morning?” 

Anne nodded.

"That,” Ron answered, just as a man a mere inch taller than Ron appeared from the side room. 

“Ronald, I’m surprised to see you.” The man’s voice bore a deep timbre, one only men of class seemed to possess. 

“Well, father, I do favor a visit every now and again.” 

Mr. Stuart’s hard brow softened, but only by a fraction. His hard stare fell on Anne and the kind smile on her lips.

“I’ve brought my friends with me. This is my roommate Gilbert Blythe, and his young lady, Anne Shirley Cuthbert. Anne surprised Gilbert with a visit all the way from Prince Edward Island, but she needs a dress to wear for tonight’s banquet.” 

“And you’ve come to ask for money?” Mr. Stuart deadpanned.

“Oh, not at all, sir!” Anne interjected. “Christine was ever so kind as to say that she might let me borrow one of her dresses. Personally I’d be comfortable in anything, but good appearances help maintain Gilbert’s reputation, and I’m only here for the weekend. If it suits you, I can wash and press the dress before I leave on the morning train.” Mr. Stuart was speechless, so Anne charged. “Your home is magnificent! I’ve only ever dreamed up such places, but being here now, please allow me to compliment your exquisite taste. Did much of the furniture come from overseas or is it purely Canadian?” 

Mr. Stuart cleared his throat when she was finished speaking and turned to Gilbert. 

“Mr. Blythe, are you quite sure about this one?” 

The smile which had arisen on Gilbert’s face listening to Anne be so unashamedly herself fell almost an imperceptible amount.

Quite certain,” Gilbert assured, perhaps a bit harder than he intended. “Anne is PEI’s treasure.” 

Christine appeared at that moment, descending the stairs with the elegance of a fairy tale heroine. 

“I can entertain our company from here, father. You needn’t trouble yourself.” 

Anne steadied her face, desperately fighting off a bad feeling in her gut. She fell back at Gilbert’s side, sliding her arm through his and relaxing only a little when his other hand reached over to take the one on his arm. 

“Nonsense. I’d like an opportunity to catch up with my son and meet his friend. You may take the young lady up to your room and find her something adequate to wear,” declared Mr. Stuart. Gilbert and Anne exchanged a look that only they could decipher, but Anne bravely let go of Gilbert’s arm and followed Christine up the stairs. 

Out of the autumn wind that blew when she first met Christine, Anne was able to smell the lilac perfume Christine had sprayed about her neck and hair. She vaguely wondered if she should invest in some of her own, if Gilbert might like the sweetness of it.

“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your help. I’m all but a stranger to you, and yet you’ve been so gracious,” Anne began. Christine did not turn around. “Um, if there’s anything I could do to repay you, don’t hesitate to name it. Truly, anything.” 

Christine tossed a bitter glance over her shoulder. 

“Your silence will be payment enough,” Christine hissed so sharply that Anne nearly spun on her heels to fly down the stairs, yank Gilbert by the collar, and make for the Sunset house. But instead, she nodded politely and complied. 

When Christine opened the door to her room, Anne decided that if Christine was Cordelia, then this was the perfect bed chambers befitting her childhood ideal. A four post bed was pressed against the wall, silken pillows resting atop its lush quilts. A tall wardrobe was nearby, in addition to a walnut desk and a loveseat for reading. 

Christine threw open the doors of her wardrobe, eyeing the various gowns hanging within. Each one she pulled out made Anne’s heart soar with excitement. They were the most glorious dresses she’d ever seen, each just as breathtaking as the last. 

“I won’t look nearly as lovely as you do in any of those dresses,” Anne offered quietly.  

“No, you won’t,” Christine agreed. Anne’s lips snapped shut. She paused a moment before venturing out again.

“You know, Miss Stuart-” 

She didn’t have a chance to finish because Christine had yanked a dress off the rack and spun around, holding it out to Anne. It was a gown of raven black velvet with a modest bit of beaded detail around the high collar. 

“It’s positively lovely, just as lovely as the others,” Anne began slowly. “But I think I’d much rather wear what I’ve brought.” 

Christine still held out the dress, and Anne wondered if she ought to accept out of politeness.

“It’s just that I would hate to wear a mourning gown and disrespect the person it was meant to honor. If people asked who I lost, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have an answer. I’m blessed enough to have no one to mourn," Anne continued.

“But you do have something to mourn,” Christine said. 

“I do?” 

What Christine said next, she stated with such a matter-of-fact air that Anne was frozen in place: “Gilbert’s good prospects.” 

Anne had lived through a thousand different types of ridicules, and even more harsher verbal attacks. But this...This was so calculated, and petty that Anne’s surprise drowned out the growing flame of anger at being ridiculed. In fact, the silence in which a triumphant Christine was smirking was broken by Anne’s roar of laughter. 

Christine doubled back, but Anne laughed on. 

“Because of… me? ...Gilbert’s prospe-” Anne tried to speak through her hilarity, but another wave would come on. Christine was positively horrified. Of all the ways she had expected Anne to react, this was not one of them. But Anne feared if she stopped, there’d be no preventing whatever real reaction she was holding back to such viciousness.

Anne was still laughing when Ron poked his head through the door. His eyes moved from the black dress in Christine’s hand to Anne wiping tears from her eyes. Be it the connection between siblings or Ron’s own cleverness, but horror dawned on his face. He looked over his shoulder before coming in and closing the door behind him.

Christine!” Ron scolded on a sharp hiss. “Of all your dresses, why is this is the one you-”

“Oh, Ron, it’s alright,” Anne interrupted, her voice finally even. “She’s not serious.”

“I am!” Christine spat venomously. She spun around to face Anne, whose smile drained away at Christine’s brutal loathing. The inky haired woman continued, stepping closer to Anne. “What did you expect? You’re a child from the blemish of society pretending to be a high society woman and you want me to help you?” 

Anne stuttered, helplessly looking for a way to stop her, but finding no words. Christine trudged on. 

“You’re going to make a country hick out of Gilbert. You’ll take the person who could be the best doctor in Canada and bring him back with you to tumble around in the mud for sport. What’s worse is he doesn’t even realize it because he’s such a bumbling fool, happily shoveling every bit of his promise into a grave, and it’s entirely you’re doing. You’ve made him a simpleton.”

Anne’s mind broke away from all its restraints. Christine had doused gasoline on her rage, and if she wanted to see Anne burn, so be it. Ron watched in horror as Anne took another step into Christine’s space.

“I won’t stop you, Christine. Say what you want to me. Give me every insult you can sneer between your teeth, and make every petty move under the guise of propriety you want. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before, believe me.” Anne clenched her jaw and her stormy gray eyes flashed lightning, making Christine stiffen her back. “But don’t you dare speak of Gilbert that way again.”

“Come on, Anne, let’s just go,” Ron called from the doorway. She ignored him, and eventually, he turned around and closed the door behind him. Alone with Christine, Anne liberated hersel to speak her mind.

“Miss Stuart, I know you’re in love with Gilbert and that fact in and of itself didn’t make me jealous or worried. I know unrequited love well and I wouldn’t wish that type of heartache on my worst enemy, much less you.” Losing her control, she snagged the black dress from Christine’s hands and tossed it on the bed. “But I know a thing or two more about the world than you think. This viciousness is going to get you nowhere fast. You think Gilbert is going nowhere in life, but he’s going everywhere. And I intend to go with him, wherever that is.”

“You say you’re not worried, but you should be,” Christine replied. “You really should be. He’s here in Toronto and you’re on another island. Even if it’s not me, someone is bound to steal him away eventually.” 

“If you think that’s how love works, then you’re the simpleton.” Anne hummed low and serious. “But I don’t think you are, and I’m not either. I may look like I’m worth nothing in your eyes, but I know my mind is rich and my heart is kind and strong. And it loves Gilbert. So you can give it all you’ve got and waste your time, Christine. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Anne’s gaze fell to the mourning dress she’d thrown onto the bed. “The fact that you even needed one of these makes my heart hurt for you,” Anne commented. “It’s so finely made. I’m sure it honored whomever it was made for. But you, Miss Stuart...this behavior? It doesn’t even honor yourself.” 

Christine was red and quiet. 

“I’m not...” she began finally, but then shook her head. The crease between Anne softened as she watched a battle rage in Christine - the same one she’d once watched in Josie Pye.

“No, please, go ahead,” Anne encouraged softly. Christine ran her fingers down an emerald green gown, avoiding Anne’s gaze. Whatever she was about to say had been locked up deep in the catacombs of her truth, and Anne wondered if she’d ever manage to unlock it, if it was even worth trying. 

Then, as if she’d said nothing at all, Christine spun back to the wardrobe and grabbed one of the gowns that Anne had been drawn to from the moment she’d seen it. Christine saw Anne’s uneasiness and said, “You should wear this tonight.” 

“Are you sure? I really wouldn’t want to-” 

“Wear it. I’ll do your hair and embellishments, as well.” 

“Embellishments…? One minute ago we were fighting and now you want to do my embellishments? I don’t even know what that means.” 

Christine didn’t elaborate. She only pulled a gold colored gown from the wardrobe and began to undo the laces of her day dress. Anne looked down at her own ensemble, its silky emerald fabric and what seemed like a million shimmering jewels embroidered on. The neckline was modest by usual standards but lower than anything Anne had worn before,  and the sleeves billowed at her shoulders in an attractive fashion. She stepped into the dress, surprised when Christine came up behind her and began to clasp the buttons at the back. When she was finished, she turned her own back to Anne, where the redhead quietly returned the favor. 

Anne turned to the mirror, her reflection causing a short gasp to escape her lips. She couldn’t remember the last time her own appearance had left her speechless. Not even in her best daydreams could she imagine herself this way.

“I’m not usually a cruel person,” Christine murmured, eyes still locked on her reflection. 

“I believe that,” Anne replied truthfully. “When I was in the depths of despair, so heartbroken that I thought I would never breathe easily again, I was horribly hateful to Gilbert.”

“But the things I’ve said to you, even thought about you...Ron probably thinks I’ve lost my mind.”

“Is that an apology?” They met eyes in the mirror reflection.

“I suppose in a way it is.” 

“Then consider us even.” Christine didn’t look convinced, so Anne shrugged. “Historically, I hold dreadful grudges, but I’m working on that.”

Uncomfortable under Anne’s increasingly compassionate expression, Christine turned to her vanity, where she finished adding the final pearl pins to her dark hair. 

“It’s hard to imagine you heartbroken,” she confessed.

A wound on the surface of Anne’s heart tugged, like the scar was trying to break open, but the dull pain was nothing to her trust in Gilbert. 

“Would you believe me if I told you that just six months ago, Gilbert was courting someone else? Not just that - he was planning to propose to Winifred, move with her to France, and achieve his greatest dream by attend the Sorbonne in Paris?” 

Christine’s frown deepened in disbelief. 

“What happened?” 

“He realized he loved me too much to be with anyone else.” Anne sighed, sitting beside Christine, close enough that her genuineness was palpable, but not so close as to snuff out the fragile understanding between them. “I’m not telling you this to rub salt in what I know is a painful wound. I’m telling you because it would be unfair of me not to tell you that your time is better invested finding someone who would turn down the Sorbonne if it meant being with you. And you’re very beautiful, Christine. You won’t have to look hard.” 

They sat in silence for another few moments as Christine began to run a brush through Anne’s loosened hair. Finally, she wondered, “What was Winifred like?” 

“Astoundingly beautiful - easily just as lovely as you are - and so sweet and refined,” “There was nothing I could fault her for. She just wouldn’t give me reason to dislike her, much to my frustration. I almost hated her for being so perfect.” 

“I know the feeling,” Christine murmured. Then, a bit lighter, “How did you meet Gilbert?” 

“Oh, I saw him galloping on a chestnut steed between our two houses and I knew immediately that I must marry him, and if I didn’t, I would certainly perish of consumption within the year.” 

Christine stopped brushing. “...Really?” 

“No, of course not, though can you imagine? ” Anne laughed. “Gilbert saw me getting picked on in the woods shortly after I arrived in Avonlea and diffused the situation. After that, I refused to speak with him and eventually broke my slate over his head.”

“Now you’re just playing around.” 

“It’s the truth! Ask him, he’ll tell you. I did leave out the part when he tugged my braid and called me carrots, but it’s so unpleasant to think about. Truly, little boys have the most barbaric behavior.” 

“Then how did you fall in love? When?

Anne shrugged. “I think the whole time, something in the depths of my soul - the part that knows the way of things - had been nudging me for years saying ‘Anne! What are you hiding from? Let him see you! Open your eyes and see him!’ One day it yelled and I listened. I began to see how kind and admirable he is. He was all I wanted to watch and learn about.” She paused. “I’m sorry, this is probably incredibly unpleasant.” 

“Only a little,” was Christine’s answer. “I want to know...in case it ever happens to me, that is.” 

Meeting Christine’s eyes through the reflection in the vanity mirror, Anne smiled. 

“It will,” she promised. “Besides, I’ve learned that nice young men have equally nice friends. Have you considered Fred Wright?” 

“Fred’s not nearly as handsome as Gilbert,” chuckled Christine. 

Anne let out an overly dramatic sigh of resignation. “Alas, no one is.” 

Somehow, strangely and unbelievably Anne’s mind corrected, they managed to pass the next bit of time in easy company with one another. Anne could still see the lingering traces of heartache in Christine’s eyes whenever they met hers, but the icy wall between them had melted enough that they could speak like friendly acquaintances. Their bitter fight, which had raged like a wildfire and scalded the wallpaper, seemed like ages ago. Much to Anne’s relief, Christine had Ron’s sense of humor - a bit dry, but quick to wit. The interaction was a peace offering - Christine offering Anne a bit of rouging on her cheeks and lips (“These are embellishments, Anne”  Christine had informed her, darkening her auburn lashes), Anne offering embarrassing stories she’d known about Gilbert.

“His brother says his singing was so earsplitting that they made him clean the latrines!” 

Christine bit back an amused smile, spraying some perfume over Anne’s hair. 

“He likes to sing on his way to class, did you know?” 

“No! I have to tell Bash immediately. Where’s the nearest telegram office?” The laughter on her lips died out as Christine finished her handiwork and stood back so Anne could see her reflection. 

“How’s that for your Princess Veronica?” Christine said, a hesitant, but pleased smile on her lips. 

“Cordelia,” Anne corrected on a murmur. “I think there’s a very unloved, very homely eleven-year-old orphan out there who will be so happy she lived to today.” She turned to Christine, unable to help a toothy grin from brightening her face. “Thank you, truly.”

It seemed that was the final piece for Christine - the part of the story that she hadn’t asked for, but the part that made her able to look upon Anne’s face without feeling sick with bitterness. All at once, Christine realized she’d been dreadfully wrong in her initial judgements of Anne. She wondered that she hadn’t seen the truth of it right away.

“I didn’t mean those things I said,” she said softly. “Well, I did, but I don’t anymore.”

Anne wanted to say something , to apologize for appearing out of the blue and for being the source of Christine’s failed hopes, but she struggled for the right way to articulate it. Before she could, Christine had taken off, leaving Anne alone to wonder how much time had passed - an hour, a day? 

As she made her way down the stairs, she heard Gilbert debating with Ron about something - the philosophical meaning of healing - to pass the time near the front door. Ron saw her first, giving Gilbert a knowing glance and a nod towards the steps. 

For all her imaginings about Princess Cordelia, Anne decided the moment Gilbert settled his molten gaze on her that she didn’t mind being the Anne Shirley-Cuthbert to his Gilbert Blythe. His gaze held multitudes - dreams, submissions, prayers. Each of them were wordless and inexpressible, each only for her. As if by instinct, he reached out a hand to help her off the last stair, though they both knew she didn’t need it, and used the opportunity to pull her close enough that he could smell her perfume.

“If you’re all ready to go, Chris and I ought to go say goodbye to our father,” Ron said. 

Gilbert didn’t watch them go, he couldn’t look anywhere except on Anne’s freckled neckline and rosy cheeks, but he knew the second they’d disappeared into the other room. 

Before she could tease him for his speechlessness, he tangled their fingers together and said in a soft tone, “You’re beautiful, Anne.” It made her want to drag his face into the nape of her throat so that he could compliment how sweet she smelled, how soft her skin was. Though she suspected Gilbert wouldn’t object in the least, they were far from romance heroes who had no sense of decorum, and if she wanted to engage in chancy embraces with him, she’d have to wait until after the banquet. 

For now, she settled on a small kiss against his lips and a wink. 

“What can I say, Christine works miracles.” 

Soon, Ron and Christine had joined them in the front entryway. Much to Anne’s surprise, she found herself being shuffled alongside Gilbert to the family carriage. Ron and Christine sat across from them as if they’d done it a hundred times over. Peering out the curtained window, Anne watched the neighbor pass along. 

“You know, Gil,” Anne began, letting her thumb graze over his knuckles. “I doubt we’ll ever be terribly rich in wealth, and I don’t mind a mite. But to be sincere, I also haven’t minded trying it out for a day.”

Chapter Text

All those months ago, Gilbert hadn’t been lying when he’d told Bash that Winnie was easy to be around, but being around her parents had been an entirely different story. With perfect vividness, he remembered nights after dinners with the Roses that he’d trudged back to Avonlea, more tired than he’d ever been in his life. None of the studying in the world, not even the endless weeks of Delly crying in the middle of the night, could compare to the exhaustion of entertaining people socially higher than you and not crumbling under their expectations. 

But tonight, ascending the marble steps of the Meryton Hotel with Anne on his arm, Gilbert realized that would be exactly what she’d be facing tonight. People would ask her about her country upbringing (“You’re surprisingly elegant for an islander” ) and her family (“ It’s most peculiar to have two last names, Miss Shirley-Cuthbert”).  He knew because he’d spent his first months answering uncomfortable questions of his own. The only difference was that Anne wouldn’t be doing it for herself, but for him. 

He stopped mid-step on the grand staircase. 

It wasn’t too late to turn around and go home. Or to a concert, a nice one where the seats were made of velvet and they’d be able to feel the orchestra’s music inside their chests. Somewhere they could enjoy each other’s company, somewhere they wouldn’t have to be put on display. 

If he was being entirely honest with himself, as oftentimes he wasn’t, maybe he was a bit more nervous for himself. Of course, people would like Anne - lately she had developed a mastery of first impressions. Her own confidence and compassion enchanted everyone she met, but somehow Gilbert wasn’t so sure about himself. Sure, in Avonlea, it was easy to believe he was intelligent, a meaningful contributor to society—everyone knew him there. But here where society was so much bigger, so far out of reach, would he measure up?

“Gil?” Anne called quietly. “There’s nothing to be worried about. They’re going to love you.” 

The light within the hotel was so bright that it turned Anne’s eyes bright blue as it flooded out the open doors. She peered up at him with increasing concern the more he stayed frozen staring at him. 

“Do you feel sick?” she continued, uncertain.

Gilbert only lifted her hand to his lips, kissing the back of her palm for a long second before pulling her to keep moving with him. In front of them, Ron and Christine were crossing the threshold into the grand entrance. The younger, much lovelier, of the Stuarts  watched Gilbert with a strange expression on her face that he wasn’t sure how to interpret. When she caught his glance, she spun around and glided faster past Ron.   

“You’re not usually a man of silence,” Anne commented. 

“Maybe having a creature of such astonishing beauty beside me renders me speechless,” Gilbert replied slyly, causing a pretty rose blush to rise on Anne’s cheeks. 

Anne knew him better than that. “And?” 

And my thoughts are preoccupied, too,” he admitted. 

“On what?” 

Gilbert turned to her, catching a trace of her sweet perfume. 

“Is this truly a good use of our time together? I barely get to see you anymore.” 

Gilbert-” 

“Ron and Christine won’t miss us if we disappear. I want to hear more about you, and Queens, and Avonlea. I want to spend our last evening together in your company and not trying to impress a bunch of big-wigs at my school. Let’s go somewhere, let’s have fun!” 

“I’ve already told you about all that, twice , and we have had fun!” Anne replied laughing. “Gilbert, we have our entire lives to go out and explore every inch of the world together. But tonight...tonight is for you to take your next steps toward a bright, magnificent life of helping people.”  

How could he refuse her when her voice was so glorious with hope and pride? Heaving a deep breath to calm his nerves, they made their way into the hotel. 

An awed gasp left Anne’s lips as they took in the brilliance of the party. The ceilings lorded high in the air, supported by corinthian pillars and edged by an ornate marble trim. A small quintet comprised of strings and a grand piano played their opulent songs and the harmonies filled the space high into the flickering chandeliers. 

Gilbert glanced down at Anne, whose grin was the reflection of all the breathless thoughts running through her head. 

“It’s amazing ,” she said simply. They made their way through the crowd of Gilbert’s classmates and distinguished guests, smiling politely at those they passed. 

“I’m glad I get to spend this night with you,” Gilbert commented lowly. “After this, you’ll want to leave me for sunbursts and marble halls.” 

“Don’t be silly, I just want you ,” Anne replied, nudging his side with her elbow. The statement, which had seemed obvious to her, sent a thrill through Gilbert, and instead of encouraging him, was only successful in brightening his eyes with desire. He dove down for a kiss, but she ducked away,  nodding to the gathering of dignified guests congregated in front of them. “Are you ready to forge your connections, Mr. Blythe?” 

Just like that, all the wind was knocked right out of him. Was he ready? Absolutely not. He had to make good impressions and connections. He had to be memorable for the sake of his future, for Anne. He had to. His thoughts were spiraling out of control when a voice interrupted their uncontrollable descent. 

“Ah! Gilbert!” 

The pair turned to find an older gentleman reaching out his hand to Gilbert, another fellow trailing behind him. 

“Dr. Joselin, a pleasure,” Gilbert said politely, catching his professor’s hand and giving it a stiff shake. 

“You country fellows can clean up well, after all,” Dr. Joselin teased, only to be rewarded by a stiff chuckle from Gilbert. “And I see you’ve found yourself a city girl.” Anne nearly pressed her lips together against her correction that To your disappointment, sir, you’ll find that I am completely and utterly nature’s child, and smiled as sweetly as she could. 

“How are you this evening, sir?” she asked.

“Oh, very well, my dear, very well. I just hoped I could steal a moment of Gilbert’s time so that he could share his stance against phrenology with my colleague. He’s trying to get a full opinion, you see.”

“Of course,” Gilbert agreed evenly. 

“I’ll go get us something to drink,” Anne cut in. 

There was something very unlike Gilbert in the way that he walked away, stiff and uncomfortable. She watched him for a few moments before turning over her shoulder to find a waiter. When she returned, two crystal glasses in hand, she found him alone and a bit gray. 

“How was it?” Anne asked, handing him his share of the wine. The dejected man in front of her sighed. 

“I must’ve said something he disagreed with. He interrupted me right in the middle of me telling him about phrenology’s recognition as a pseudoscience, and made a comment about finding engagement somewhere else,” he murmured, almost as if he were afraid someone around him might hear. “Dr. Joselin looked so embarrassed.” 

“Oh, darling, I’m sure it wasn’t you. He seemed like an odd sort of man.” Anne ran her hand down his arm comfortingly, but her touch did little to soothe his troubled eyes. “Better you know so you don’t waste your time on him.” Just then, she caught sight of a familiar face across the room. “Here’s a man I know has good taste!” 

Gilbert followed as Anne lead the way, weaving in and out of people until finally she said, “Dr. Sullivan!” 

The tall man was amongst his peers, though they were standing silently, taking in the splendor of the party. Upon hearing his name, Dr. Sullivan lifted an amused brow with a small smile to match. 

“Ah, come to finally convince me to invest in more suitable literature, Miss Shirley-Cuthbert?” Dr. Sullivan said lightly. 

“Not quite. I was hoping to introduce you to my beau so you could help him invest in suitable literature.” 

Dr. Sullivan spared a glance at Gilbert, waiting for the young man to speak up, but was met with silence. Anne squeezed his arm and glanced at him. The message took a second too longer to register, and when it did, Gilbert was stammering, “Oh! Uh, Gilbert Blythe, sir.” 

The lines of Gilbert’s shoulders were straight and tense. He shoved a stiff hand out, somewhat ungracefully, and gave Dr. Sullivan a brisk handshake. Sullivan’s colleagues exchanged a look that Anne hoped escaped Gilbert’s notice. 

“How are you finding your studies, Mr. Blythe? It must be hard to be so far away from home,” Sullivan asked. 

“My studies are going well,” Gilbert answered. Anne’s brows furrowed at his vapid, flat tone. “I’m fortunate enough not to suffer any homesickness. I’m solely focused on my coursework, and only that.” 

“You have no diversions for pleasure outside of school?” Dr. Sullivan wondered. 

“None whatsoever,” Gilbert replied almost too quickly. From where Anne was standing, she could feel the situation slowly spiralling out of control. 

“I hear you’re a medical student. What special topics capture your attention, then?” 

Anne smiled in pride, knowing that Gilbert had such an interesting answer to this question. She had letters full of his thoughts about upcoming vaccines and mind-boggling breakthroughs in pathology. His knowledge was nearly comprehensive, so it was to Anne’s utter dismay when his reply was an almost uninterested, “I like all topics, sir.” 

Dr. Sullivan nodded politely, but his eyes revealed he was unimpressed with what he saw. A man at his side leaned to mutter something in his ear, and he turned back to Anne. 

“It’s about time we find our seats at the table. Good evening, Miss Shirley-Cuthbert.”

And then they were gone, leaving Gilbert staring at the floor with a disheartened dullness in his eyes. Anne’s hand moved over his back, rubbing a warm circle, but he shirked away. 

“Gil, it’s not so bad-” 

“Let’s go home,” Gilbert interrupted. Anne’s face dropped, and he rubbed the heels of his hands over his eyes. “I know you got all dressed up, but I’d rather leave before I make a fool out of myself. Again. Seems to be a trend lately.” 

“If that’s what you want,” was Anne’s dispirited reply. “But I don’t have to be a medical student to diagnose the situation.”

“That I’m in over my head with these people?” 

No! Just the opposite!” Anne surged forward, grabbing his hands and squeezing tightly. “The people here are drawn together not because they want to prove they’re the  most driven or because they want to show off how smart they are. They’re here because they’re alike in their passion . You have that passion, too. Right here.” She patted his chest. “But you’re keeping it locked up. You’re putting on a stale, disinterested version of yourself that isn’t real because you think it’ll make them like you more. It’s having the opposite effect, darling.” 

“I thought I was being professional,” he admitted.

“You’ve already got that mastered without trying to fake it. Just be yourself, love, and I promise the night will go better.” 

“I don’t know, Anne…” 

She placed a hand on his cheek, and he kissed it, eyes melancholy.

“Gilbert, you are the most intelligent, brave, refreshing, stimulating, exceptional, impressive-” 

Anne.

“- amazing person I know, and I am so proud of you.” She poked his nose and took a step back. “I just don’t want you to give up so soon. Give it one more go, and if you really aren’t having a nice time, we’ll go. Alright?”

Gilbert swayed forward, like he wanted to kiss her but thought better of it. Instead, he only gave a small smile and nodded. “Alright.” 

They ambled throughout the room, pausing periodically to greet upperclassmen Gilbert was acquainted with. One after another, each interaction just got better and better. Anne observed it all with a prideful swell in heart, offering a few thoughts of her own here and there, much to Gilbert’s delight. The approval of his peers seemed to stoke up the fire of excitement in his eyes. A short time later, all the pretense that he’d managed to fabricate had dissipated, leaving behind the real genuine Gilbert Blythe in its wake. 

Anne bit back her grin as Gilbert all but strutted across the floor in his newfound confidence. As they drew nearer to Dr. Joselin, Anne tried to steer Gilbert away, not wanting to ruin his improved disposition, but his ears had already twitched to the conversation, and he approached it without hesitation. 

“Dr. Joselin, is this talk of that Montreal trial on aphthous stomatitis? ” he interjected with ease. 

“Ah, Mr. Blythe, just the lad I was hoping to run into.” To Anne’s surprise, this response was not accompanied by any evident insincerity. 

Another one of the students seized Gilbert’s hand, shaking it with vigor. Without a spare look at Anne, the young man grinned eagerly and said, “Gilbert, Dr. Joselin was just sharing your review on that study. Do you really suppose the results could have been invalid?”

“It’s a strong claim, I know, but with such a small population size, the results can hardly be generalized to the Canadian public. Had they interviewed the participants on their eating habits, their sexual behavior, even their home environments, I’d be more inclined to trust the validity of the results. The list of confounds was infinite, yet the clinicians acknowledged none!” The deeper Gilbert dove into dismantling the study, the less Anne comprehended of the conversation. But when it was over, there was a rosy flush of pride lighting underneath his scarce freckles and a delight that Anne hadn’t seen in his eyes the whole night. 

As they walked away, Anne pressed herself onto her toes and leaned toward his ear. He bent it to her as she asked, “What in heaven’s name is aphtho...alphath…”

Aphthous stomatitis, ” Gilbert corrected sweetly. “It’s the medical term for a sore on your lip.” 

Anne hummed in understanding. “And would you diagnose me with aphthous stomatitis, Dr. Blythe?” 

His ochre eyes drifted down to her lips. With a shuddering breath, he licked his own before he could stop himself. 

“No, I think your diagnosis is not sores, but an irresistible sweetness.” To prove his point, he placed a hasty kiss on the corner of her lips. Anne wondered if he could feel the heat emanating off of her cheeks at his coy attentions, and nudged him away playfully. When Gilbert pulled back, his gaze met something across the room that made his jaw tighten. Without preamble, he declared, “I have to apologize to Dr. Sullivan.” 

It was because Anne said “Yes, I believe you must” that Gilbert felt even more sure he had chosen - as she would say - the right lifemate. Anyone else would’ve told him, No, Gilbert, he’s probably already forgotten. But Anne understood what had to be done if he was to remember this night with any sort of satisfaction or pride.

Across the room, Ron was wiggling his eyebrows at her, gesturing her over with a short wave of his hand. Anne sighed dramatically. “It appears I’m likely being summoned, likely for discussions of philosophy.” She paused, shaking his fingers in her own, before saying, “I’ll be cheering for you.”

Then she was disappearing into the crowd, the red of her hair blending with the raining candlelight. 

*

Dr. Sullivan sat by himself against the wall like a moth who has shunned its lifelong work of chasing the moon, contrary to his earlier remark that he was departing for the dinner table. His even eyes observed the dance floor with a light interest, but the content of his thoughts was miles away. It was only when two shiny shoes appeared in his view just before him that he lifted his head up and met eyes with Gilbert. The boy’s shoulders were looser and the stern stiffness of his brow was missing.  Dr. Sullivan did not have to be a PhD to surmise the cause of the change. 

“Rejoined the world of the living?” the older man asked casually. Gilbert laughed on a somewhat embittered scoff, and settled into the seat next to the broad shouldered professor. “No doubt you have your young lady to thank.” 

“No doubt I do. She sees everything with her own eyes, and no one else’s. I admire her unique perspective of the world, and am thankful when it helps me see things differently.” Sullivan made a sound of agreement in the back of his throat. Clenching his fists to ground his thoughts, Gilbert continued. “I don’t pretend to be as fetching or as interesting as Anne, but I’m not the tasteless person you saw earlier who completely lacked a backbone.”

“I’m aware,”  Dr. Sullivan admitted. “That is the test of events like these. Do you come merely assimilate and try to mirror what you think you’re observing around you? Or do you rise to the occasion and add yourself into the discord without compromising your own integrity? It’s sink or swim, Mr. Blythe, yet I think you’re doing just fine. I knew you must be a fine student as soon as Emily Oak said so.” 

“I’m glad you think so, sir.” 

There was a moment passed in silence where Gilbert could not fathom whether or not Dr. Sullivan’s thoughts had moved on, or if he was quietly altering his judgments. He almost jumped when the man finally spoke. 

“Favorite poet, Gilbert?” 

Without hesitation, “Whitman.” 

For the first time that Gilbert had seen, Sullivan’s smile stretched across his entire face and he nodded approvingly. 

“Ah, and there lies the rub. ‘Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune .’ Adequate on nights like these, no?” 

At first, Gilbert didn’t know what he meant, but as they settled into a comfortable discussion about the sacrilegious themes in “Song of Myself,” Sullivan’s meaning settled over him. Had he spent the party with a rake up his backside and listlessly trying to engage his peers, he’d have asked for good fortune, yet found no return. I myself am good fortune , Gilbert repeated in his head. What it meant tonight was I am enough. He’d lost sight of it, but now that it was regained, the vastness of the future didn’t seem so daunting. 

Many minutes later, Gilbert skimmed the room for Anne’s red hair or Ron’s lofty head, but the search was fruitless. Not even Christine was anywhere to be found.

“I apologize, sir. I’m supposed to be escorting Anne this evening, yet I’ve done a poor job of it. I should go find her.” 

“Very well,”  agreed Dr. Sullivan. “You should know, Mr. Blythe, that just because I’m an English professor doesn’t mean my office door is closed to medical students. Should you need someone to talk to as you rage through your freshman year, please don’t hesitate to stop by.” 

“I appreciate that, sir. Thank you!” Gilbert replied sincerely. He nodded once, then left Dr. Sullivan to his quiet solitude. Yet, even as he departed, he could still hear the professor’s lyrical thoughts emanating from the corner - “To drive free, to love free, to court destruction with taunts. One brief house of madness and joy!”

*

When Anne snuck a peek over her shoulder at Gilbert and Dr. Sullivan, she found easy smiles on both their faces and a tender bloom of pride blossomed in her chest. The more Anne became acquainted with Gilbert’s heart, the more she could see its warmth emanating around him like a constant crown. Not all the gentlemen in the room could claim having such a vast soul, one that had the capacity to love and learn with such brilliance. Perhaps the almighty had been up to something after all when he tied her to Gilbert. 

She let a lovesick smile dimple her cheeks, when suddenly her hands were seized. Ron was before her squeezing her fingers in his with a mischievous look in his eyes. 

“It’s time,” was all he said. Fred was at his side, a wooden instrument case wrapped under his arm, and he shared Ron’s conspiratorial smile. 

“Time for what?”

“Remember that tradition I was telling you about? The one in the basement?”

“Yes…” Anne replied, interest piqued.

“The festivities are about to begin, and I wanted to know if you’d like to join us.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly!” Anne replied immediately.  “I came to support Gilbert, and I know if I say I want to go to this party, he’ll just end up following.” 

“He can come,” Ron added in.

“He’s supposed to be making connections.” She squeezed Ron’s fingers before dropping his hand. “You all go and have fun. I’m having a splendid time where I am. Promise!” 

Ron pursed his lips, his shoulders slumping down in dramatic disappointment.

“As you wish, Miss Shirley-Cuthbert. I’ll come find you before the end of the night so we all can walk home together.” 

When Ron and Fred were gone, Anne scanned the room, wondering if she’d find some long lost friend in the sea of faces and finery. Gilbert was gesturing in circles in front of him, explaining something with a fierce conviction. She wondered if she ought to go and silently impose herself at his side, but hated the idea of interrupting him unnecessarily. Then her eyes fell on Christine. 

Just one look at Christine told Anne that underneath her silken black hair and throat of jewels, Christine was decidedly not having a good time. Her lips were downturned in a bitter frown, and a line crinkled between her brows. There were a few fellows beside her who seemed to be rambling on about this or that, nothing which amused Christine. Another young man joined the small circle, and when he lingered a kiss on her knuckles, the color drained from her face. 

Before Anne knew what she was doing, she was marching up to Christine, mind set and hands clasped at her side. 

“Miss Stuart, I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” Anne announced. The taller gentlemen jumped at the intrusion, grumbling when they were forced to back up and make room for her. “There’s something you must see. Come now.” 

“We were talking!” a fellow objected as Anne snuck her arm into Christine’s and tugged her away.

“Excellent understanding of the past tense, sir!” 

Christine was stiff beside her until they were out of sight, upon which she let out a heavy sigh of relief. 

“Some of those gentlemen seemed to think I was on the menu,” she admitted. “I was  relying on Fred to fend them off, but he disappeared.” 

“He ran off with your brother to the party in the basement.” Anne replied.

“He’s supposed to be my escort,” Christine said bitterly. “It’s not like I wanted to come with him in the first place.” 

Gilbert was supposed to take me - Christine didn’t have to say it but Anne still heard it. She wondered if Christine agreed to still attend the event in order to save face, hoping that Gilbert wouldn’t notice the real reason she wanted to stay home. Still, no matter her reasons for coming, it didn’t warrant being abandoned by her escort. 

“Well, we ought to go tell him so,” Anne decided fiercely. 

“Absolutely not.” 

“Okay, maybe not. Fred’s sensitive. But you should still have a good time tonight, regardless of your escort’s presence. How about I take you down to the party? There’s supposed to be music, dancing, drinks. We can get you situated, and then I’ll come back up and find Gilbert.” 

“It’s for the servants. They won’t take kindly to my presence there.” 

Across the room, the gentlemen they’d disposed of seemed to be watching them with hawkish eyes. One brave soul began to trek across the room toward them, dragging a tired groan out of Christine. 

“They won’t even notice you. Don’t you worry,” Anne said hurriedly. She wove their arms back together and rushed down the marble corridor. Christine’s dainty heels clacked against the floor as they hurried, and she nearly fell forward. When Anne reached out and caught her, a sputtered laugh snuck out of Christine’s lips.

“You’re alright?”

“I’ve never run in a gown before!” Christine laughed.

“Neither have I!” Then, remembering the day she’d seen Winifred in Charlottetown corrected, “Okay, I have, but it was only once!”

They followed the harmonics of lively music to a thin doorway leading down to the basement of the hotel. From the top of the stairs, they could hear the roar of laughter, cheering, and chatter. Much to Anne’s surprise, Christine was the first to descend toward it. They came upon a wide room with low ceilings and golden light. It was filled with bright red faces and lined with crates that had been shoved aside to make room for the dancing. 

“My God,” Christine breathed out, though Anne barely heard it over the noise. 

In the front of the room, some of the smaller crates were pushed all together with a large sheet of wood laid on top to form a makeshift stage. Fred was among the musicians fixed on it. He had discarded his jacket on a chair, but was still sweating through his white shirt as his fingers danced over his fiddle at rapid speed. Ron was nearby, stomping his feet to the quick rhythm of the jig. One of his hands was on the knee of the blonde fellow beside him, who returned the touch with an arm around Ron’s shoulder. When he caught sight of his sister and Anne wide-eyed in the corner, Ron shot up to meet them. 

“You brought my sister?” he stammered. 

“Fred left her, what was she supposed to do!?” Anne said, trying her best to be heard over the music and cheering. 

“Think you can handle it, Chris?” Ron answered, uncertain.

“Better than you expect, I think.” 

“And the two of you..?” 

“Have sorted out our differences,” Anne said evenly. She knocked his shoulder with a light tap of her knuckles. “How much longer do you intend to herd us in the doorway?” 

Ron’s brows shot up. 

“Come on in,” he chuckled. Christine nodded primly as she strode past him. She’d only taken a few steps when a short girl with ear length hair burst from the center of dancing bodies and latched hold of Christine’s hand. Christine turned back to Anne, a look of panic on her face. 

“It’s alright! Go dance!” Anne encouraged. It only took one sheepish smile for the girl to spin Christine around, and they disappeared into the crowd. 

“Come Anne, there’s someone I want you to meet,” Ron said lowly. He led her through the only clear path in the room to a raggety table. The man he’d been sitting with before looked up at her through long blonde lashes - easily, without judgment. His features were that of any prince in the Grimm fairy tales, so startlingly beautiful that Anne felt a blush rise to her cheeks. “This is Adam...my uh, well, you know. Adam this is my roommate’s sweetheart from PEI.” 

Adam’s smile was small and relaxed. He shook Anne’s hand with geniality but said nothing. 

“A pleasure to meet you. Ron speaks of you with such esteem,” sputtered Anne. 

A hint of insecurity rose within her the same way it might if she met George Eliot or Jane Austen. Would he think her simple and foolish, a sixteen-year-old girl here to drink and dance with adults? But the kindness in Adam’s eyes suggested otherwise. Finally he said, “Thank you.” But Anne got the impression that he was thanking her for more than just the polite compliment. She smiled in return, contagious and sweet. 

“It’s been so lovely to drop by, but I really did want to save Christine from those awful vultures-for-men. I ought to go find Gilbert. Dinner will be starting soon.” 

“Stay for a song,” Adam suggested. Anne hesitated, finding no help in Ron’s eager face. 

One song. I won’t leave Gilbert alone upstairs.” 

That was enough to satisfy Ron, who tugged another crate for Anne to sit on. She settled down beside him, and found herself immediately enraptured by the sight before her. The band played fast paced folk tunes that kept the hearts of the dancers racing, but each jig and reel only powered the dancers through each measure with energy. It was a mess of wild hair, rolled up sleeves, rosy cheeks, and somehow, it was one of the most beautiful things Anne had ever seen. Dances like the “Dashing White Sergeant” may have their benefit with the right partner, but this... this was self-expression and freedom. Without knowing it, Anne had begun to sing along to the familiar tune. 

“You sing too?” Ron asked incredulously. The song stopped abruptly in her throat.

“Not really. My best friend back home is the real musician. I just love a good song,” Anne replied sheepishly. 

“Your voice is beautiful,” Adam added. “You should go up and sing something. I know the band was disappointed they couldn’t find a singer for tonight.” 

“I doubt I would know any of their songs!” Anne objected.

“You knew this one.” 

She squirmed in her seat, hoping Gilbert would appear in the door and save her. 

“It’s so kind of you to suggest it, but really—”

It was too late. Ron had taken Anne by the arm and tugged her in front of the stage. 

“This young lady is a singer.” 

The banjo player peered down at Anne with obvious musical interest. 

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” he said. 

Anne spared a desperate glance at Fred, who merely let out a hearty guffaw and helped the banjo player lift her up by her underarms to stand on the stage. Anne stumbled, eyes widening as the dancers watched the scene unfold. 

“It’s alright, Anne. What songs do you know?” Fred muttered in her ear.

“...I’ve been learning Scottish songs. For my heritage. Some Irish ones too. Canadian classics too, I suppose,” she answered quietly. “I really don’t like this, Fred.” 

“Relax. Gilbert says you’re a story-teller.” 

“Well, yes, but—”

Before she could finish, Fred began to string together a melody on the fiddle. The guitar behind her jumped in, strumming a familiar set of chords. Fred lifted a brow at her, an unspoken You know this one? To Anne’s dismay, she nodded and after a moment began to sing.

“‘Oh, rise up my darling and come with me

I want to go with you and leave this country

To leave my father’s dwelling, this house and the land.’

So away goes Jamie with his love in his arms.” 

Anne’s instincts had taken over before she could stop them. Every story she’d told in class, to the bird’s in the trees, every song she had sung to the forest air had prepared her to let loose her inhibitions. This was just another story to tell—a man captured by his love’s father, his love desperately trying to plead his innocence in court, a fate doomed from the start. Anne forgot she was singing and dancing on a stage that was seconds away from falling apart. Rather, she was whisked away with the tale, desperately trying to rescue her “Bold Jamie.” 

“The judge says ‘this young girl being tender in youth

If Jamie is guilty she will tell the truth.’

It was here a familiar face appeared from the stairwell at the back of the room. Gilbert had his hands stuck in his pockets, the way he always did when he wasn’t sure what to do with them. He seemed to search the room for something, before his eyes fell on her, dancing on the stage. Anne laughed as she sang the next lines, a grin turning her face to golden light. He smiled back, shaking his head with surprise.

Then the radiant beauty before him did stand

“‘Oh I'm happy to see you, my bold Irish lad!’”

Anne was only slightly aware of Gilbert finding his way through the crowd to the front of the stage. His eyes were hazy and lovesick as he watched her move and sing and let strands of hair fall from their pins. Occasionally, she’d flash another small smile down at him, and he’d feel it resonate down to the soles of his feet. As Fred played the last notes of the song, Anne fixed her gaze on her love and was thankful the song had only been a story. Her own bold man was here before her, very much not in jail and very much hers to adore. 

Behind her, another upbeat song filled the air. Anne placed her hands on Gilbert’s shoulders, biting her lip at the ease with which he lowered her back to the ground. They were inches apart, Anne’s chest still heaving from her song. 

“I didn’t mean to leave for so long,” Anne apologized lightly. Gilbert shook his head, brushing a strand of hair away from her sticky face. 

“I’m the one that left you alone. You were right, Dr. Sullivan is a kindred spirit, after all.” Their explanations were cut short when a dancing couple all but crashed into them. They scurried to the wall, the only place where no arms or legs could hit them. Out of public eye, Gilbert bent down and pressed a kiss against Anne’s smiling cheek.

“I didn’t know you sang that well,” he admitted. Anne shrugged.

“It certainly was very fun to try! One minute I was telling Christine to go off and have fun, and the next minute I was being lifted on stage.”  

“I wish I could have seen the whole thing.” His hands found hers and he caressed her skin gently. “Are you hungry? They’re starting dinner.”

Anne laughed and looked around the room. 

“After all this, I could use some sustenance. And some quiet time to hear about your conversation with Dr. Sullivan.”  

After a quick nod to Ron, they were heading back upstairs, the sound behind them turning into a mere mumble in the distance. Anne was glad to breathe some fresh air that didn’t smell of sweat and whisky. Beside her, Gilbert had fixed her with a strange expression, one that was nearly smiling, but also deeply distressed.

“What is it, love?” Anne asked.

“I wish you didn’t have to leave tomorrow.” 

“That’s a whole day away. There’s plenty of time to…” 

Her voice trailed off as she caught sight of something several feet ahead of them. Gilbert traced her gaze to another couple pressed up against the floral-papered wall of the hotel. The silhouette of a woman was pressed beneath that of her lover, who held her flush against him. Perhaps the strange thing which had stolen Anne’s breath was the way the man had his face buried at his lady’s pulse point along the hollow of her neck, luxuriating there for a long moment before slowly moving his way along the skin. Gilbert felt his own face burning. He’d seen kissing before, but not quite like that. Judging from Anne’s reaction, neither had she. 

It looked really… nice. Different, but nice. 

As they passed, Anne rushed into a new conversation, desperately trying to avoid his eyes. Is she embarrassed? he wondered. Is she scared I’ll kiss her like that?

Anne on her part was violently trying to keep all thoughts of what she had seen from her head, but found it was difficult to think of anything but that. Her fingers touched her throat, but she tore them away before she could imagine what it would feel like if Gilbert kissed her the way she’d seen. Would he even want to? Her mouth rambled of the strange men she’d fended off from Christine, but Gilbert was smart enough to know her mind was somewhere else. So, for some reason, he said the very first thing that came to his mind. 

“Hey, Anne?” It cut off her thoughts and she snapped her lips shut. 

“Hmm?” 

“I love you.” 

Anne laughed, tugging Gilbert’s arm closer to her chest to nuzzle her head against his shoulder. 

“I’d like to see anyone try to love you as much as I do!” she declared. Anne tried not to think about how this time tomorrow she'd nearly be arrived back home to the Blackmore house. The Sunset House would be a thousand miles away, her soft-hearted man kept safely inside of it, and she would be missing his warmth at her side. For now, she grounded herself in the present moment, ran a finger down his handsome jaw, and tried to prepare herself for what might be the most lavish dinner she’d ever attend.

*

Some time later, their bellies were full of delicious food and the guests of the banquet began to file out. Leaning tiredly onto Gilbert, Anne wondered if this was the first in a very long future of attending events like these. If he became a renowned doctor like he planned to, he’d receive all sorts of invitations to more banquets, conferences, meetings. On one hand, Anne looked forward to it with everything she had in her. On the other hand, Anne was very ready to lay beside her love and get some rest. 

The streets of Toronto at night were mostly lit by shed candlelight from its surrounding streets. Ron was in light spirits as he led the way, a blissful spring in his steps as he hummed “Bold Jamie.” Gilbert had leaned in close to whisper, “He’s a night owl and an alcoholic.” But Anne knew the kiss she’d seen Adam quickly plant on him had something to do with his chipper mood as well. 

She turned her face to the moonlight and felt the crisp night air lay smooth against her cheeks. Oh, if only nights this wonderful were eternal , she thought. No one in the world could be unhappy then. 

They’d long since taken Fred to his boarding house, next planning to bring Christine back home. She was quiet in front of Gilbert and Anne, and had said nothing about her time at the party. When they arrived at the Stuart house, she was the silhouette of Juliette Capulet on a Shakespearean doorstep. Without warning called out, “Actually, Gilbert?” 

Gilbert couldn’t make out Christine’s expression in the darkness. A strangeness had taken over her voice and it was with uncertainty that he replied, “Yes?” 

“Might I speak with you...for a moment? I won’t keep you long.” 

Gilbert’s eyes fell on Anne, who squeezed his hand gently. “I’ll walk slowly with Ron for a bit.” 

He wasn’t able to make it any further up the walkway when Christine began to speak. 

“You’re probably waiting for an apology,” she rushed out. 

“An apology? For what?” Gilbert asked.

“Anne… didn’t tell you?” 

Gilbert stuffed his hands in his pockets at the growing awkwardness radiating off of Christine. Instead of an answer, he shrugged and shook his head. A shadowy cloud crept over the moon, shielding his sight from the embarrassed flush warming Christine’s cheeks. She took a deep breath.

“When you offered to take me to the banquet all those weeks ago, I thought you were doing it because you liked me.” Gilbert’s heart dropped to the pit of his stomach. “And I was really ...elated, I suppose, because, well…I’ve been in love with you since I first met you.” 

“Christine, you don’t have to say it. Or apologize. I must’ve just assumed you knew about Anne. I should be the one apologizing. It’d never be my intention to hurt you,” Gilbert responded truthfully.

“No, you don’t understand. I knew you were courting someone . It just didn’t make a difference until today.”  Christine grabbed the handle of her front door, squeezing until her knuckles were white. “I was so jealous of Anne when I met her. Then this afternoon, I said dreadful things to her, things I’m not brave enough to repeat to you. I insulted her in every way I could.” 

Gilbert’s lips drew thin. 

“Oh.”

“She didn’t let me get away with it, of course,” continued Christine. “But she didn’t despise me for it either. Anyone else would have. Her and I talked. I apologized to her, and now I’m apologizing to you.” 

Silence fell between them as he shifted his weight. 

“If Anne forgave you, I’ll have to too,” he said half-heartedly. What else was there to say? The thought of someone being cruel to Anne on his account made his blood boil, but Anne had already won the battle, it was all over with. Yet he felt an increasing distaste for Christine the longer he stood there, so he gave a small nod. “Goodnight, Chris.” 

Anne was not hard to catch up with. Gilbert found her shortly ahead of the Stuart house, humming along to Ron’s off-key tune and touching any flower heads that grew tall along the pathway. She didn’t startle when he appeared beside her, only let out a blissful sigh.

“I love to smell flowers in the dark," she said. "You get hold of their soul then.”

Gilbert let out a sigh of his own as he wrapped an arm around her and leaned his head onto hers. 

“Why didn’t you say anything?” 

Anne smiled knowingly.

“I didn’t think there was anything to tell. Sometimes we have to just return to our natural roots. Like mountain cats, we had it out bitterly and violently, and once it was over, we were...oh, I don’t know, hunting together?” 

“Hunting together?” Gilbert chuckled.

“I cannot be expected to hold a decent metaphor so late in the evening. But you understand what I mean.” Anne hoped it would be enough for him to drop the topic. It wasn’t. 

“What did she say to you?” 

“What good would it do you if you know?” 

“None, I suppose,” he stated unhappily. “She really didn’t hurt your feelings too badly?” 

“Maybe for a moment. But look here, Gilbert.” She took his hand, kissed it, then lifted it up to twirl around underneath it. “I’m a young lady dreadfully in love, exploring a foregin city with the most handsome man I’ve ever seen by my side. I intend to kiss him very soundly when we settle back home, and expect each kiss will be reciprocated ten-fold! Jealous girls can say what they will, I have won the grand prize!”

“You’ve got it all wrong, Anne. You are the grand prize.” 

Anne of a year ago might’ve crinkled her nose at his boldness, and declared that she was not a prize to be won. But the Anne of today knew that Gilbert didn’t have to be reminded of respect, so she nuzzled herself back into his side and began to hum a new tune. 

When they were home, the tune still lingered in the back of Anne’s mind. She sat on the edge of Gilbert’s bed, scanning her eyes along his bare bookshelf to catalog the few books he did bring with him, and braided her hair. Gilbert himself was combing his wild curls in a mirror, or at least was supposed to be—when Anne looked up at him, she found him watching her in the reflection. 

“What are you thinking about?” she asked quietly.

“Truthfully?” 

“Mhmm.” 

“What we saw in the corridor at the hotel.” 

“Really?” she squeaked. 

For some reason, this sent a thrill of delight down Anne’s spine. Off-handedly she thought that Gilbert’s shoulders looked so strong when they weren’t being swallowed by his jacket. 

“I’ve never seen anyone kiss like that before. It seems too…” 

“Intimate?”

“Maybe.” 

They stared at each other nervously, a budding fire of desire tugging at each of their hearts. Then, without being prompted, Gilbert threw his hands up in surrender. 

“It’s just that, you’re so beautiful, you know?” he exploded. “You’re gorgeous, and sitting there with your neck exposed, and the moon is out, and—”

“The moon?” Anne chuckled, face red. “What’s the moon have to do with it?” 

“It just makes you look—” Gilbert let out an exasperated sigh. “And you have no idea.” 

He was right. Anne barely followed what he was talking about. “Alright, then tell me.” 

Gilbert’s own cheeks were growing hot now. 

“I really would like to kiss you like that someday,” he admitted quietly. Anne bit her tongue against a gasp, trying miserably to hide her own hopeful desperation. 

“Someday?” she questioned timidly. “Why not now?” 

It was Gilbert’s turn to squeak. “Now?” 

Anne nodded. 

Her breath was short as Gilbert nervously set down the comb and crept toward her. Without thinking about it, Anne uncrossed her legs and let her arms fall down at her side. Gilbert’s eyes glistened in the low candlelight— half wrought with confidence, half shaking. He sat on the bed beside her, brushing some loose hair away from her hair. Anne wondered if she’d ever get used to feeling so desired by him, as if she really was the grand prize among women. He leaned forward and Anne’s breath caught in anticipation.

Then, he stopped.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” he admitted almost bitterly. Anne smiled easily, lifting his chin back up to her face. 

“Then why don’t you start with what you know?” 

With that, she captured his lips, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him flush against her. Gilbert’s hands fell to her side and he let out a soft breath. She was soft in just her nightgown, the way women were, the rigid boning of her corset gone for the day. They kissed like that for a few moments, long enough that every ounce of Gilbert’s self-consciousness fell by the wayside. When he was brave enough, he broke off of her mouth and trailed his lips from her cheek down to the underside of her jaw, and eventually her neck.

It was euphoria to the highest degree. Anne shot an arm out to hold herself up, but when Gilbert sucked gently at her collarbone, the arm went limp and they fell backwards. Anne laid flat against the bed, peering up at Gilbert with adoration. Her braid had fallen beside her face, and the sleeve of her nightgown had crept just barely down her arm. For a split moment, he considered helping her up, but then she smiled at him and all that was left was his utter ruination. He bent back down, done with experimenting. Instead, he intended to kiss all of his love into the pulse point of Anne’s throat so that it would seep into her veins and reach all of her. She didn’t stop him when his lips found the borderline of her collar and chest. 

“You have freckles here too,” he muttered blissfully, tasting her sweet skin and inhaling her perfume. 

Without thinking, Anne clutched the fabric of his shirt and said, “I have freckles everywhere.” 

Gilbert ceased his ministrations, freezing above her. He planted one more kiss to the corner of her lips and laid down at her side. In the silence, he forced himself to think of anything other than all the places Anne could have freckles. Time began to move at real speed again for Anne, who slowly roused to reality. 

“How was that?” she heard him say eventually. Then, sparked with an idea, she propped herself onto her elbow. 

“Would you like to know?”  

His eyes turned wide, and whatever self control he had left evaporated. After he gave a nod of consent, Anne pushed gently on his chest to get him flat on his back. She’d been attuned to every way he’d kissed her, and she replicated it effortlessly. The moment her lips met his skin, he heaved a heavy sigh. His fingers found their way to her hair, and he contemplated undoing his braid and letting her loose auburn locks fall over him. 

“I’ve always liked your chin,” she commented, pressing a kiss to it before moving back to the sensitive part of his collarbone.

“I’ve always liked you ,” he replied breathlessly, desperately. 

“I haven’t always liked you, but I’m warming up to it,” Anne teased. Below her, Gilbert was a moment away from begging for mercy. 

Suddenly, the door swung open and Anne jumped up. Gilbert’s hazy vision made out Ron standing in the doorway, jaw dropped to the floor. He knew they were a sight to behold—messy hair, red cheeks, swollen lips—but he couldn’t find it in him to care. Anne pressed her lips together against a laugh, and helped Gilbert sit up.

“Can we help you?” Gilbert asked, annoyed.

“Gilbert Blythe, you saucy man!” Ron exclaimed, shocked. 

“This from you! You know how many times I’ve heard you sneak girls home like I wouldn’t hear you?”

“That’s me, though. You’re... you! ” 

“Goodnight Ron!” 

“Not so fast there, lover-boy. I came to say goodbye to Anne. I’ll be dead asleep when she leaves for her train.” 

Much to Ron’s delight, Anne jumped out of the bed and gave Ron a tight squeeze. 

“Good luck with Adam,” she whispered. 

Ron shook her around like a rag doll, before letting her free. 

“Come back whenever you’d like. I mean it! This fellow is miserable when he’s homesick.” 

“I will, I will! Thank you for being an excellent host and making a delicious breakfast.” 

“Oh, you’re most welcome. Sorry again about my sister.” Anne shook her head, waving the comment aside. “Well, see you soon, Anne.” 

They were nearly rid of him—at least in Gilbert’s mind—until Ron poked his head through the door one last time.

“Try to maintain some semblance of propriety under my roof, Gilbert.” 

Anne’s laughter followed him until he had shut his own bedroom door behind him. Finally alone, Gilbert turned to Anne and gave her a sad smile.

“We should probably get some sleep. You have a big trip tomorrow,” he said. 

“You hated being kissed that much?” Anne teased, but Gilbert could hear the barest hint of honesty in the question. 

“Quite the opposite. I think any more and I’d be a dead man. Too much happiness is the strongest weapon.” 

Anne chuckled as she crawled underneath the soft blankets. When Gilbert was settled beside her, he leaned over and kissed her cheek one last time. Anne turned to her side toward the window where she looked at the moon making faces down at her. She felt a hand come to her waist, and pulled it all the way across her. That was how she fell asleep, praying that nights could continue forever in the warm embrace of the person she loved most. 

Chapter Text

At first, Gilbert thought he was dreaming of feathers—silky feathers trailing down his nose with effervescent softness in long strokes. Once, twice, three times...He scrunched his nose at the tickling sensation, unwilling to move away from whatever warmth he was encased in. The feather smoothed over his brow, trailing down in deliberate slowness to his upturned lips. 

“Gil,” a familiar voice whispered, breaking into his dreamless slumber. “I’m loath to wake you up, but I have to get ready to go.” 

Gilbert’s eyelashes fluttered on his cheeks as he stirred awake. His dopey grin was sunshine in the dawn-less room when he peered down at the young lady sharing his pillow. For a moment, he could forget that just an hour from now Anne would be gone. Her fingers still caressed the apples of his cheeks, lingering for a long moment. When her touch vanished, she tried to push out of Gilbert’s arms, only to be held against his chest. 

Anne , it’s four in the morning. Lay with me awhile,” he said, his voice hoarse with sleep. 

“I have to make the five o’clock train,” Anne replied softly. “Thirty minutes to get dressed. Twenty to walk to the station. Leaves me a few minutes to spare to buy my ticket and board.”

“Take a later train,” suggested Gilbert.

“If I don’t arrive home at a decent time, Mrs. Blackmore will think I’ve been killed, or worse, eloped. Even then, she believes I’m visiting a female cousin on family matters.” 

“It’s not too late to elope,” he teased, his lopsided grin finding its way to her jaw. His breath was warm against the morning chill, nearly enticing enough to convince Anne to throw caution to the wind and slide back into bed. Instead, she pressed a good morning kiss to his waiting lips and moved in search of her luggage. 

“You should rest a bit longer. I’ll wake you before I leave.” 

“If you think you’re walking by yourself to the station, then you are sorely mistaken,” grumbled Gilbert. He dramatically swung his legs out of bed and grimaced at the cold air. 

“I don’t mind going to the station by myself. You’re probably still exhausted from the party,” Anne argued, but Gilbert heard none of it. 

He grabbed some trousers and a fresh shirt from his dresser, then spoke in a gentle voice, “I’ll wait downstairs for you. Take your time.” 

When he was gone, his essence still lingered about the room in the way it smelled and felt. Lovingly, she caressed the soft surface of his quilts, then the smooth wood of his table and dresser. The mirror hanging on the wall had already collected a few month’s worth of dust, but instead of wiping it away, she drew a heart and labeled her initials with her pinky. There might never come another time she could return to the comfort of this room, and as she crossed the threshold, she gave it one last indulgent look. 

By the time she was presentable, Gilbert had cracked open one of his textbooks, reading it with sleepy eyes. When he heard her footsteps creak down the stairs, he gently closed the book and smiled wistfully. Anne fell by his side, giving his hand a squeeze.

“Can’t keep Queen Anne away from the island too long, can we?” 

Gilbert was quiet the entire walk to the station. Any light topics Anne tested out failed miserably to lighten his mood. He met each of her hopeful smiles with unconvincing attempts of his own, every time turning his face away to the street lamps. The sky was still  obsidian in the fresh hours of the morning, unpleasantly starless and cloudy, making Anne glad Gilbert had insisted on accompanying her. 

He waited on the platform as Anne purchased her ticket, shoulders slumped. With the ticket in her purse, she came to his side and placed a hand on his shoulder. Anne’s heart dropped when his heavyhearted eyes met hers. His strong facade had finally fallen, leaving a troubled frown unveiled. 

“Gilbert?” Anne asked gently. She couldn’t bring herself to ask what was wrong, unsure if she’d be able to leave if he told her. Gilbert’s gaze fell down to where she was reaching for his fingers. 

“I haven’t been entirely honest with you,” he admitted. Despite the bitter taste in her mouth, Anne schooled her features and nodded in encouragement. 

“That’s okay. You can tell me now.” She meant it. 

Behind him, a high whistle resonated within distance as the train slowly screeched began to screech to a halt. Gilbert caught Anne looking over his shoulder and a flash of panic washed over him. He followed her gaze where a handful of tired passengers boarded the train, but when he felt a soft caress touch his cheek, he whirled back to Anne. 

“Go ahead,” Anne prodded gently.

“I really miss you,” he confessed breathlessly. Anne scrambled for something to say to ease his heart, but he rambled on before she could find the right words. “Bash asked you to come because he figured out how homesick I’ve been. It was never so bad because I’d always traveled to escape the realities of home. But now, with Bash and Delphine in Avonlea, and you in Charlottetown…”

Anne’s stomach twisted.  “I...had no idea.” 

“I tried really hard to hide it in my letters,” Gilbert muttered. “But one of them to Bash was too vague. He made me tell him what was wrong.” 

“I should’ve been able to tell,” Anne lamented. 

“No, Anne, I made sure you wouldn’t be able to tell. I didn’t want to worry you. You’ve got too much going on.”

Anne felt like she was caught in the undertow, floundering desperately for something to say that would take the cracks in his heart and mend them instantly. Yet she knew that nothing she said could change the fact that in a few moments they’d begin another month and a half of painful separation. She wished she had thought to bring a token of home, anything from the island that she could’ve stuffed into her luggage. All she had was a parting embrace, one that she wrapped around him like an old heirloom quilt. As Gilbert’s desperate arms came around her, she hoped that her warmth would linger enough to give him the strength he needed to see his heartsickness through. Anne could feel Gilbert’s breath on her throat as he heaved a sigh of relief, dissolving into her touch and allowing her to hold him up. 

“Remember what I said, alright? You’re intelligent and brave. You’ll get used to life here. If last night was any indication, you already have,” she said, determined and kind. 

He nodded against her shoulder, running his fingers over the softness of her hair with tender reverence. Behind him, the train master gave her the Time’s Up glare. 

“I have to go,” Anne lamented. Gilbert squeezed his eyes shut. 

Instead of asking her to stay, as he so desperately wanted to, he pressed his lips into a thin line and nodded. “Alright.” 

A month and a half suddenly seemed like an insurmountable mountain, the end of which was deathly out of reach. Even though her limbs were weary with lack of sleep, she found the strength to pull away from him to memorize the lines of his cheeks and jaws. She’d never forget the way he looked the day she met him, or the day when he first kissed her, but she wanted to burn today’s Gilbert into her memory and save it for days that were stormy and punishing. Gilbert seemed to be doing the same. 

Ever so slightly he tilted his face to her, and she met him, crashing a month’s worth of kisses to his lips until the feeling of it was unfading. His hands were under her cheeks, holding her to him until he had tasted enough of the sunshine on her lips to hold him together. 

When they broke apart, Anne leaned down to grab her carpet bag and gave Gilbert one last beaming smile. 

“How’s two letters a week sound?” 

Gilbert let out a chuckle that was rough with stifled tears. “That sounds perfect.” 

She took one step away, then two. 

“See you at Christmas.” 

“Safe travels.” 

As she boarded, the door closed behind her blocking away the fresh air for the duration of her day long journey. When she found her seat, though, she found Gilbert was still there, watching and smiling. 

Anne watched her beloved until the sight of him turned into a silhouette of shadow against the train station. Her eyelids grew heavier and heavier, but hope sparked in her chest as Gilbert heaved a sigh and stepped off the platform with a renewed strength in his shoulders. She imagined him trailing up the Toronto streets like they were Avonlea hills, sheltered in warm dew and residual moonlight. And then, she fell asleep. 

*

It was the last days of November and several love letters from Anne later when Gilbert began to feel like he could actually imagine a future for himself in Toronto. It could never be a permanent future, but it seemed less daunting to imagine another four years in the city—maybe even seven if he wanted to obtain his licensure here. It also meant that he decided to stop living like each day was a battle to survive until Anne and Bash’s next letters arrived.  He would have to start doing things here that he liked and turn this loud, boisterous city into a home away from home. 

Gilbert went to explain all of this to Dr. Sullivan, who bid him to sit in a stiff leather chair upon seeing the young lad in the doorway. November had brought with it many dreary days of cold and early snow, but today the sun made a much needed reappearance. It filled Dr. Sullivan’s office through two small windows, drowning away the light of a small electric lamp.

“I bet you caught a few perplexed stares on your way here, a medical student wandering the humanities hallway,” Dr. Sullivan teased. He pulled his glasses from his nose and folded them into his breast pocket, peering at Gilbert curiously. 

“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I was wondering if I might beg your help for something?” Gilbert replied, dropping his leather bag onto the ground beside him.

“No begging will be necessary. Your visits are always welcome. Besides, I’ve been marking freshman essays for nearly two hours and could use fresh company. What has you on the wrong side of school?” 

“When Anne was here in October, you told her about the Women in Literature class you’re offering next semester. I wanted to add it to my class schedule, but the registrar refused. She said the class is already full, and even if I got you to sign me in, she’d refuse to forward the application to the dean of the humanities college.” 

“That’s absurd. Did she give a reason?” 

“Only that with fifteen medicine and biology credits, the last thing I’ll want to do is spend my nights reading George Eliot and Jane Austen.” 

Dr. Sullivan leaned back in his chair. 

“She does make a valid point. The class is a lot of reading—one or two texts a week. Emily tells me you’re already studying more than any other student she’s had. Are you sure you’re prepared for the extra coursework?”  

“Anne is back home taking on two fields of study. What good would I be if I couldn’t handle one extra class? I’m determined to do it. I only came because there’s the matter of the class being full.” 

“And Miss Eaglen in the registrar’s office taking your fate into her own hands.” 

“That too.” 

Pushing himself back from his chair, Dr. Sullivan ambled over to his filing cabinet and pulled open a raggedy drawer. He retrieved a stack of type-written pages and turned them toward the sunlight so that he might see more clearly. 

“The class is indeed full, but half the seats will be free by the time we finish introducing the syllabus. If you come on the first day, you’ll have nothing to worry about. I’ll speak with Miss Eaglen.” 

Gilbert blinked. “Pardon, did you just say that half the class is going to withdraw?”

Dr. Sullivan didn’t look up from his roster. “I did.” 

“People can’t hate reading that much.” 

“No, but they can and will despise a black professor enough to drop the class.” 

Gilbert’s face fell. He couldn’t imagine being accepted into the University of Toronto, only to reject a member of its faculty based on such...asinine prejudice. A faculty member with a PhD, campus wide acclaim, and a kind disposition, at that! How could anyone claim to have gotten the fullest extent of their UofT education if they closed off their minds and only listened to viewpoints of people just like them?

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a student so upset on my behalf,” noted Dr. Sullivan, interrupting Gilbert’s mental tirade. Gilbert looked up, only to feel his cheeks locked in a tight scowl. He straightened his chair, expelling his frustration with a small sigh. 

“It just hits a bit close to home.” 

Dr. Sullivan sat back down at his desk, waiting patiently for Gilbert to elaborate. 

“My entire family is black,” Gilbert clarified softly. “My brother, my niece, his mother, my late sister-in-law, her son. It’s not the same, but it breaks my heart to watch them struggle in my hometown, the home that I shared with them. I had hoped that the cruel behavior they encountered could be blamed on the small-town mindset of our community. I didn’t expect to cross the country and find it here in the city too.” 

“Every corner of the world has its own brand of enmity and unfairness. You won’t be able to escape it. You could take your brother and his family across the Atlantic and you would find this to be true.” 

“I have,” Gilbert chuckled bitterly. “The states, Cuba, Trinidad, Spain. And you’re right, in each country they looked at Sebastian like he was living on the wrong planet.” 

“I know the feeling.”  

Gilbert wasn’t sure what to say next. Part of him wanted to apologize, but for what? What was some fruitless apology supposed to fix after a lifetime of enduring injustice? It wouldn’t make Dr. Sullivan’s students stay, it wouldn’t make it easier for Delly to go to school, it wouldn’t erase a lifetime of service from Bash or Hazel. 

He shook his head. If Anne was here, she’d know what to say. 

He must’ve looked particularly defeated, because Dr. Sullivan only smiled and said, “Alright, Gilbert. How about a proposition?” 

“A proposition, sir?” 

“I propose an independent study. You’ll complete the same assignments as your peers, but will report for class with me in my office twice a week. You’ll have to come prepared with topics for discussion and you won’t be permitted to cut class. And no asking Anne to summarize the books for you. You must complete all the reading yourself.” 

When he was done, he extended a hand across his desk and waited for Gilbert’s approval.

Gilbert only had to ponder his options a moment before a grin blossomed on his face. He shook Dr. Sullivan’s hand more excitedly than was permitted for a gentleman and said, “Yes, I think that arrangement sounds wonderful. Thank you so much!”

“Don’t worry about the registrar. She’ll only change her mind with your advisor’s approval, but I’m sure Emily will be more than happy to give it.”

Hurriedly grabbing his things, Gilbert clutched his bag to his chest. 

“I’m thrilled, sir. Thank you again.” 

Dr. Sullivan chuckled, sliding his glasses back onto his face and leaning forward over the stack of freshman essays before him. As Gilbert rose to leave, he called out, “Gil, one more thing.” 

Gilbert paused in the doorway, glancing over his shoulder. 

“Yes?” 

“What’s the real reason you wanted to take the class?” 

The lad shrugged. “You know I love to read.” 

Dr. Sullivan was not wholly convinced. 

“And?” 

And it’ll give me something to talk to Anne about in my letters,” he confessed. Dr. Sullivan threw his hands in the air and Gilbert let out a loud laugh. “She’s an English major, I have to stay on my toes! But I really do like to read, I promise!” 

“You better. You’ve got a lot of it next semester!”

*

There was no other explanation, except that she was in trouble—so much so, that she was about to be reprimanded by the oldest and sternest professor in the entire English department. Professor Wood was due any second and would no doubt deliver a fierce verbal lashing. Why else would this particular group of schoolmates be summoned into this dim classroom so late in the day? Anne scanned the room, counting three faces that she had...stated an opinion at. Sternly. Perhaps a bit loudly. It had only been a matter of time before her classmates banded against her and the day had finally come. 

But who could blame her? It had long been established that Anne was anything but timid and demure, so certainly if they said obtuse things in class, it had to be someone’s job to correct them. If her professors were planning on merely nodding and humming “Hmm, yes, interesting point,” the task would just have to go to her. 

“Do any of you know what this is about?” murmured Janie Paul, the only person in the group Anne hadn’t corrected in class. Mostly, though, this could be attributed to the fact that Janie Paul rarely said...well, anything

“We all know what this is about. Or who, ” lamented another classmate. 

Four sets of eyes slowly turned to Anne, who leaned against one of the desks with crossed arms.

“It could be about anything!” argued Anne. “Unless you all have been conspiring.” 

“Oh please,” scoffed Anne’s worst nemesis. “Like we’d even need to. I bet right now the entire faculty is gathered in the conference room deciding whether or not they want to allow you to remain enrolled at Queens. We’re only here because they want witnesses.”

“That’s preposterous!” Anne snapped. 

“Why? You’re a disturbance to class and detrimental to the distinguished education we’re supposed to be receiving.”

“Having a bright mind and a quick wit is not a detriment, Georgie Beckham. Nor is having your opinions challenged. In fact, I’d say it’s rather good for you.” 

Anne wondered that there were many things that would do Georgie Beckham some good. A change of heart, a swift kick to the behind, a bath. He was a shortish young man with flat yellow hair that stuck his head with sweat, grease, and dirt. The bottom of his chin was tan from always walking around with his nose pointed up, and he glided about as if he were Queen Victoria herself. Anne had decided with a fury that of all the disagreeable people she’d met, Georgie Beckham was by far the worst. She hated him more than she hated Gilbert the first time she met him, and Georgie wasn’t nearly as handsome or charming. 

Georgie’s snobbish nose crinkled when Anne spoke, as if her very essence smelled too strong, like stale perfume or a full garden. 

“When they kick you out of Queens, you’ll have to get married to escape ruin and there’s no way you’ll find someone who’ll want you,” he sneered.

For the briefest of moments, Anne wondered what would happen to her if Georgie was right. She supposed she wouldn’t have the money or credibility to attend a different school. Instead, she’d just help on the farm until Gilbert graduated college, then they’d get married. For an even briefer moment, Anne pondered what it would mean if Gilbert decided not to marry her. Such imaginings were too painful, and she pushed aside her doubt. 

“I suppose I’m fortunate you’re full of hot air, then,” Anne stated bitterly. 

Just then, the classroom door swung open and in walked Professor Agnes Wood, a creaky woman of ninety who still had the energy to teach British Classics and Senior Shakespeare twice a day.  Upon stepping into the room, she sensed the restive atmosphere and gave Anne a wary look. 

“Stirring trouble already, Miss Shirley?” 

“No ma’am. We were just anxious to uncover why you’ve called us all today.” 

“All will be revealed presently. Take a seat.”

The five wary students did as they were told, Georgie taking the seat furthest from Anne. Professor Wood moved to the front of the class, commanding attention in its rawest form with a domineering scrutinization. 

“Thank you all for arriving in a timely manner. I’m sure receiving this summons has made you curious to the reasoning.” She paused, as if waiting for nods of agreement, but was met with five frightened faces—one especially freckled and pale. To prevent further trepidation, she continued.

“It is my pleasure to inform you of a potential opportunity that has befallen you. You five have been chosen from the entirety of the Education program’s long list of pupils. As you know, Queens is a traditionally education focused college. Many of Canada’s greatest educators have earned their teaching certificates within these walls, though the best of the best were granted this offer. Anne, you look as though you’re a second from keeling over.” 

Anne’s head snapped up. 

“Oh, I’m just full of suspense,” she admitted eagerly. “Please, continue!” 

“Two of you will be granted the opportunity to assist real teachers in their classrooms for the duration of a month. As student teachers, you’ll be expected to aid the instructor in their daily lessons and perhaps lead a few exercises yourself. The assignment is planned for September of next year, however the application process may take some time. The chosen candidates will be announced finals week in May. ”

“If we’d be teaching in the fall, won’t that put us behind in credit hours?” the classmate at Anne’s right asked. Anne rolled her eyes. What were credit hours when there was real actual teaching to be done?

“As a full time hands-on assistant, you would be granted nine credits of your recommended fifteen. Your remaining two classes would be completed via correspondence until you could resume them October 1st. Though only two of you will be chosen, the rest of you needn’t fear. Other opportunities may arise in the coming years and you all are model candidates. I’m sure you have questions, however, and I’ll endeavor to answer them.” 

Questions exploded out of the students the way volcanoes erupt after years of boiling. Yet, of the students bursting at the seams with questions, there were two who remained painfully silent. Anne was one, lost in the whirlpool of her thoughts. But in the madness, she realized with narrow eyes there was one more person who was just as quiet and determined as she was—Georgie. 

*

My dear man, who is here with me in spirit and heart, 

I would like to begin with a disclaimer: Your last letter had me blushing as much, if not more, than you surely intended. I see through your little tricks, Gilbert Blythe, and let me say, I delight at turning to mush upon reading your words. I will acknowledge them in due time, but first, a matter of utmost importance.

I. HATE. GEORGIE. BECKHAM. I can’t recall if his name has snuck its slimy way into one of my letters before, but here it has made a most unwelcome appearance. And yes, I know hate is a term that Marilla would reprimand me for, yet it cannot and will not be denied that he is the worst person I’ve ever met. Gilbert, I cannot emphasize this enough. I know that in the past, I have not been an excellent judge of character of the male sex, but Georgie has done more than tug my braid and call me carrots. He’s bitter towards women, worships himself in class, and once, I heard him say the most atrocious things about the people of the Bog. Billy Andrews has met his match. And worst of all, Gil-est of Gils, we’re competing for the same student teaching position!

 I see I am getting quite ahead of myself. Allow me a moment to compose myself. There. 

I have been chosen along with four other students to compete for an opportunity to assist a teacher in an actual school. Professor Wood even thinks that if our progress is satisfactory enough, that we’ll be permitted to lead exercises all on our own. Think of how much I could learn, how ahead of my classmates I’d be! Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, a bona fide teacher! Or, very nearly one! 

Of course, there is the chance that Georgie could win the other slot if I receive the first. Oh, this troubles me almost as much as if he were to get the position instead of me! I would fail at the assistantship miserably if he were there, always criticizing every little thing I did. It can’t happen, Gilbert! 

It isn’t entirely up to chance. I’ll just have to work very hard to put forth the best application Queens has ever seen. It’s quite involved too—essays, interviews, observations of my character. I’ll have to be on my very best behavior from now until May. Oh, and could I send you my first application essay? I’m writing about integration of community and its positive impact on children. I know you have plenty of reading of your own, so please don’t put yourself out. 

Now! That is quite enough about schoolmate nuisances. How are you, my darling love? I’ve had the most peculiar feeling that you’ve had a very pleasant week since your last letter. Is that because Christmas holiday is very nearly upon us and it’s a mere fortnight until we’ll be reunited? That means we have precisely one week to devise our disguises, and I don’t mean fake mustaches and hats! My brand of deception is the flirtatious sort, involving carriage rides with you and promises to Marilla to not wander from Lover’s Lane. Except! We’ll wander off the road and find a place where even the most wandering eyes cannot amble. The falling snow will cover the evidence and I will have some much needed quality time with my ever-captivating suitor. How many kisses shall I reserve for you?

Oh,  how easy it would be to spend the rest of the evening writing the world’s longest letter to you. Ten pages on the sweetness of your eyes, another twenty on how divine it is to be wrapped in your warmth, tucked tightly into your arms. Instead, I must direct the vigor in my hand to many drafts of this application essay and begin planning on the second. When the application process is over in May, I’ll have all summer to venerate every ounce of you. And remember, sweet one, I don’t do a thing half-way. 

So for now, I’ll sign off.  As always, I miss you dearly. I feel like Mr. Rochester did when he thought Jane was going to leave him. If I tug this cord around my rib, will you feel it in Toronto, tugging on yours? Are we still connected in heart, mind, and spirit? I believe we are. 

Reader, I love you. 

Anne

*

The two weeks until winter holiday passed with surprising ease. The winter sun, which had gained a habit of suspending over the sky for long hours at a time, seemed to make the days pass at a bearable rate. Anne was relieved to find that finals week wasn’t nearly as dreary as the sophomores had cautioned. She studied long hours by her window, and found her concentration honed to perfection under a bright sun. Exams came and passed, and though she was confident she’d championed them all, she couldn’t feel complete freedom until she was home at Green Gables. When the Carmody-bound train screeched off toward home, Anne leaned her head on Diana’s shoulder and let out a soft sigh. 

“Tired, Anne?” asked Diana, leaning her head onto Anne’s hair. 

“A bit. That sigh just now was one of relief. American Literature and Geometry may distract one from the strains of homesickness, but college is nothing compared to being home.” 

“I daresay I could weather any sort of sickness if you were beside me. I’m so glad I’m only taking a forty minute train ride and not a forty day trek across the ocean.” 

Anne hugged Diana’s arm, bringing Diana’s piano-playing fingers to her lips.

“If you had gone to Paris afterall, I’m certain I would have perished. Now we have all month to revisit our old haunts and relive at least some of our youth.” 

The train pulled into the Carmody station, pulling Anne out of her light sleep. The world outside moved by slowly as Anne nearly leapt across Diana’s lap to look out at the train platform. Among the many faces of the waiting and leaving, Anne couldn’t find Matthew or Marilla. For a moment, she wondered if something had gone wrong.

“Is that Sebastian?” asked Diana, pointing to the far left of the platform.

Anne grinned. Sure enough, there was Bash talking to Diana’s father in a casual manner. He wore two scarves wrapped around his face to block out the chill, but his eyes were unmistakable and he was wearing one of Gilbert’s old hats. 

Knocking into some disgruntled passengers, Anne scurried as fast as she could off the train and over to Bash. He caught sight of her fiery hair among the crowd and stopped what he was saying mid-phrase. 

“Now there’s a sight for sore eyes! Hello Anne,” he beamed.

Before she could think better of it, she jumped into his arms and pressed a warm kiss to the scarves over his cheek. 

“My, Anne, you’re still quite public about your displays of affection,” commented Mr. Barry, who glanced nervously around the scowls of nearby travellers. 

Anne pulled back with a chuckle. 

“I do wish you would forget you ever saw that, Mr. Barry. Your family is far too close to Rachel Lynde.” 

“Forget what?” Bash asked, but Anne waved her hand. 

“Nothing! Nothing!” Before he could argue, she picked her bags back up. “Are you here to pick me up?” 

“If you need a ride back home to Green Gables, I’d be happy to drive you, but no, I’m not here for you. I’m here for Gilbert.” 

Anne’s heart jumped into her throat. 

“Gilbert isn’t due back until tomorrow,” she stated, failing miserably at getting her hopes up. 

“No, you weren’t due back until tomorrow. Gilbert was due back today.” 

“But I marked my calendar as soon as I got his letter. I wrote to Matthew and Marilla and told them today.”

“Your calendar can say what it wants,” interrupted Bash. His gaze drifted behind her  shoulder. “But he’s right there.” 

And he was. Marching through the crowd was a young man with snowflakes crowning his curly head and a blush from the chill on his dimples. The sight nearly brought Anne to her knees. She hadn’t realized how desperately she needed to see him, how dull the ache in her heart had grown in their separation. Because she was a woman of very little self-control, she cried out his name above the noise of the chatter with a delighted laugh. His attention snapped to her and he fumbled with his bag. He matched her elated laughter, walking as fast as he could through the web of people. 

Anne shoved her bag into Bash’s arms and rushed to meet Gilbert halfway. When he was within reach, he made no greeting or polite salutations. Instead, he grabbed her face in his hand and kissed her in front of the entire train platform. He must’ve felt Anne’s knees go limp the second he tasted her bottom lip, because he quickly wrapped his arms across her back and held her to him. 

Claiming the last bit of propriety she could, she pushed his chest and forced herself away. Gilbert chased her mouth, but sighed in resignation when she stuck a finger to his lips.

“Sorry, can’t help it,” he murmured. His breath was steam against her lips. “You just grow more beautiful by the day. Takes a lad off guard after a month.”

“Gilbert!” Anne chuckled, blushing. 

“I’m serious! Exponential growth. I may have to start writing my will.”  

“Stop,” reprimanded Anne, but her sweetheart knew she meant quite the opposite. “Where did you come from? You said you were coming tomorrow!” 

“No silly, I said I was coming today . You were the one arriving home tomorrow. I even planned to pick you up tomorrow and surprise you.” 

“Well, you’ve done that.” She froze. “Does that mean we were on the same train the entire time and didn’t know it!?” 

“Probably,” Gilbert smiled, kissing her knuckles and earning a few doey-eyed looks from passing ladies. “We have nearly all month to make up for it. I was promised disguises and secret trysts.”

“So far, you’re getting the secret part all wrong,” a voice chimed in behind her. Gilbert rolled his eyes at Bash’s knowing smirk. “Say Anne, is this what Mr. Barry meant about public displays of affection?” 

Anne tugged his hat clean over his eyes, making Gilbert laugh so loudly, someone beside him jumped. 

“Alright lovebirds. Let’s fly on home to our separate nests.”

*

Christmas was a jubilant affair, the Cuthbert dinner table growing by two members for the third year in a row. When they realized that Hazel and Elijah filled the last available seats, Anne wondered who would stumble into their family this year and if they’d mind sitting at a separate table. With a child, a courting couple, and a spirit of song, the home was filled with endless moments of noise and joy. 

But there were some quiet moments too. Anne and Gilbert particularly tried to find as many as they could together, but often found themselves interrupted by the baby, or by Bash’s halfway-intoxicated teasing. By the end of the night, Marilla had sensed her daughter’s frustration and taken her guests into the parlor where they could sit and converse. Anne stayed behind, tugging on Gilbert’s sleeve before he could walk away. He turned around, a happy smile on his face. 

“Could you give me my Christmas present now?” asked Anne timidly. Gilbert’s face fell. His eyes focused on the cracks of the floorboards, as if he couldn’t bear to look at Anne’s disappointment.

“Love, I uh...I spent all my money on the ticket to come home. I don’t have anything for you, I’m sorry.” 

But Anne shook her head, lifting his chin with a few fingers. 

“I didn’t mean like that. You know I don’t mind if you don’t have anything for me.” 

“Then what—?” 

Anne revealed a small velvet pouch from behind her back. For a split second, Gilbert’s heart stopped, thinking that it was his mother’s ring she had found. For an even shorter moment, he realized if she had asked him to propose to her, he would’ve done it without hesitation and against his logical reasoning. There was a different swell in his heart when he realized that the bag didn’t contain a ring, but several scraps of paper. 

“My letter,” he realized. 

“What’s left of it, at least. Do you suppose you could piece it together?” 

“I think so. I may not remember it verbatim, but the sentiment is impossible to forget.” 

He spilled the torn pieces onto the floor, sorting out the words so he could see them all at once. Anne waited eagerly at his side, her hand finding its way to his hair as he began to piece the fragmented letter together. She tried not to read it as he strung sentences together, but couldn’t help but be drawn to the words affection and desire. 

“You really did a number on this, didn’t you?” teased Gilbert when he found a few pieces with a stray letter or two, detached from its word.  

“Whatever you did to mine must have been worse since it disappeared. ” 

“Hey now,” protested Gilbert, smirking. “I can hardly be held accountable for something I never knew existed.” 

“For all you know, it was on the bottom of your shoe, trekked into the mud and turned to mush.” 

“Good thing it was short enough for you to remember it. I keep the second edition in my bedside drawer and read it before I go to sleep.” 

Second edition ,” laughed Anne, leaning her head onto his shoulder. She turned her face to the fire and let her eyes fall close. Beneath her, Gilbert’s arm moved as he worked. 

She didn’t realize she was dozing off until she heard, “Alright, Anne-girl. All finished.”

Rubbing the haze of sleep out of her eye, she peered down at the letter before her. It was pieced together like a puzzle with careful consideration with a few pieces from the sides missing. A quick surveyance of the writing told Anne that she’d still be able to read it, regardless of its inadequacies. With a steadying breath, Anne moved her eyes to the first line. 

Dear Anne…

Gilbert pressed his lips to her cheek and rose to move into the other room. 

“Where are you going?” asked Anne. Gilbert gave a small smile.

“I mean every word of that letter, but I’m still a bit embarrassed to watch you read it.” 

“You write me love letters all the time.” 

“But this is the love letter. The first. The ones I write you now are different because I’m well-practiced at it. But this one...It was my swan song, a last move of desperation.”

Anne bit back a smile at the rosy blush on his cheeks, anxious to finally see what all the fuss was about. Still, she mustered up some patience and reached out her hand to him. 

“You don’t have to watch me read it, but stay by my side, will you?” 

She didn’t have to ask twice. 

“Alright.”

He settled beside her and took her hand in his, running his fingers over her knuckles and palm while she read. Anne, on her part, moved through the letter deliberately, letting every wash of emotion and reaction occur as it would. She’d forgotten that Gilbert had been longing like this, even during his involvement with Winifred. When the words became blurry with her tears, Anne read even slower and squeezed Gilbert’s hand in hers. 

With love, Gilbert. 

She read that line over and over, before glancing briefly at the postscript, then bringing herself back to the top. Gilbert was quiet beside her, letting her take the time she needed. 

Anne’s heart was heavy, saturated with a million feelings she couldn’t quite place. She wanted to say that things would’ve been so different if she had read the letter when she’d found it in the first place, but what-if’s didn’t do her any good now. What mattered in this moment was the person beside her, whose heart seemed to beat in unison with hers. A person who was waiting very patiently for her reaction, even though it left him vulnerable and exposed. 

Her palm found his face, and the second his hesitant eyes found hers, she kissed him slow and purposeful. She hoped that he could feel the years of longing she’d felt for him, the same way her letter had made her feel. She hoped it was electricity from the top of his head down to the soles of his feet, long and warm, unrelenting in its ensnarement. 

When they broke apart, Anne gazed intently down at her hazel-eyed boy and counted the freckles around his nose. His heart was wide open on his sleeve, in his eyes, in his smile—beating and loving on full display without fear. 

“I feel like I could take on the world just now,” Gilbert admitted blissfully. 

“There’s two of us now,” noted Anne lovingly. “Let’s do it together.” 

Chapter Text

The Secret of Distance, Part II


The summer had come to Gilbert like a story within the pages of a book. It was slow at the start, gears slowly trudging in the beginning of May as the warm weather settled over Toronto. Then came a surprise visit from Bash, a successful meal outing with Dr. Oak and Dr. Sullivan, and finally, the news that Anne had been selected for the student teaching assistantship. The news had brought with it an I-told-you-so sort of feeling, like when you’ve known something all along but someone finally decided to listen. Gilbert had returned home the next day, and they celebrated by sneaking out to one of the hilly parks on the south side of town to speak the way young lovers do with their words and kisses. 

Suddenly, summer’s pages flipped and flipped and flipped until Gilbert found himself at the end of the book. He was left reeling, wondering what happened to the dusky hours spent in wandering the orchard hand-in-hand with Anne, or the early afternoons spent babysitting Delly. In fact, he’d been so enamored by the bliss of Anne’s company all summer that he’d almost forgotten his Sunset House and the kindred spirit spending some lonely months there. 

Oh, don’t you worry, you old soul ,” Ron had written in his latest missive. “I’ve got plenty of friends coming in and out to keep me company. They’re not quite as polite as you are, but then, no one is. I suppose they can cook better, so there’s something gained. Ah! Speaking of good company, how is your Anne? I’ve been reading some Thoreau, and seeing someone devour the world with such hungry eyes and words reminded me greatly of her spirit. Pass along this message to her, surely the allusion will be one she recognizes—Live deliberately. Live deep and suck all the marrow out of life. The same goes for you, Gil."

And for every long day the summertide brought, Gilbert heeded the guidance of his faraway friend. He laid by Anne when she lay in the fields and inhaled the homey, fresh smell of the sweet grass. He held her steady in the sand when she dipped her toes into warm shoreline waves. He listened reverently when she whispered kind greetings to whatever souls lay inside the forests and amongst the treetops. 

And he stood with her now, both of her cases in his hands and a homesick feeling already burrowing into his heart. 

“How much longer until the carriage arrives?” he asked, smiling at the sun-wrought blush on Anne’s cheek. She’d fashioned a few mums blossoms into the ribbon of her hat, giving her eyes a more golden look than their usual grey. The caught wind caught the underside of it and Anne’s hand shot up to catch it. 

“About one minute sooner since the last time you asked,” she teased gently. As she tried to right the hat upon her head, one of the ribbons caught in the curl of her hair. Gilbert set her cases down at his feet and let his fingers begin their gentle work of detangling the copper coil from its twist. 

“How was your parting with Matthew and Marilla?” he asked.

“Tearful on my end, of course. Confident on Marilla’s. Nervous on Matthew’s.” 

“Nervous? What’s there to be nervous about? You’re going to do great.” 

The hair came loose, falling down beside the dimple of her smile. 

“Well, he was the only one to try to talk me out of choosing a residential school like the one Ka’kwet attends. Marilla didn’t love the idea either, but she knew my mind was set. Matthew was the one who was there ...when we went to rescue Ka’kwet, that is. Even though it was a year ago, it was still terrifying. Leaving her behind was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. It tore Matthew up when Aluk and Oqwatnuk returned home without her. I think he believes that if I go, I’ll be the next one who won’t come back.”

Anne hadn’t meant to pass Matthew’s worries onto Gilbert,  but she could see the exact moment he pictured a reality in which she didn’t return. The apples of his cheeks grew pale under the unwelcomed image, but Anne took his hand and pressed her lips to the inside of his palm.   

“Matthew thinks that sort of risk isn’t worth it, but I think it is. I don’t just want to teach. I want to love my students, help them grow just like Miss Stacy did with us. And those children, Gil… just the air around the school felt stifling and miserable. They need someone to believe in them, someone to advocate for their happiness and the right to a worthwhile education. Maybe I’m biting off more than I can chew with my lofty dreams. I am only going for a month, after all.” 

“Ah, but you know what they say about dreamers,” Gilbert replied quietly. “I don’t love the idea of you putting yourself in the heart of a ruthless beast, but I do love you . If you believe in this and it’s important to you, then I say, Dreamer, get out there and change the world. Just don’t forget to write your reasonably apprehensive beau while you’re gone.”

“I won’t,” Anne said with a warm grin. She brought her hand up to his face and caressed the corners of his smile with her thumb. “Thank you, Gilbert.” 

They shared the same mind when they leaned forward and met in a soft kiss. It wasn’t like the ones Anne had been spoiled with all summer—the ones where they were shielded away from the public eye, pressed heart to heart, kissing so long her lips grew tingly and her mind, faint. But it still did her heart some good to have a short taste of the raspberry tea lingering on his lips and feel his palm on her cheek. 

They broke apart after a moment, finding newly arrived Janie Paul standing awkwardly beside them. She resembled Ruby in appearance, a whole head shorter than Anne, with porcelain doll features and an abundance of curlicue brunette hair. She clutched her bags so tightly her knuckles were shaking and white. When she caught Gilbert’s eye, she blushed in apprehension and gave him a polite nod. 

She hadn’t come alone, though. Georgie Beckham stood at her side, holding another one of Janie’s bags with an expression of nauseous disgust plastered on his face.

“Hi Janie,” Anne greeted cordially, ignoring the presence of her escort. “Are you ready to embark on this thrilling adventure?” 

“Yes, quite,” Janie replied quietly, though it sounded anything but true.

“You look as pale as death,” Anne remarked empathetically. She took Janie’s hand and gave it a reassuring shake. “Come now, isn’t this a beautiful day for a drive across the island? With all the sunshine and breathtaking views, you’ll forget all about your nervousness.” 

“It’s only that I came to the realization just this morning that the school made a mistake selecting me. And it’s too late to turn back now.” 

“Who put such a notion into your head?” Anne’s eyes darted over to Georgie. “I don’t suppose you had anything to do with that.” 

Georgie, after all, had been the runner up for the assistantship, but lost in the last round to Anne.

“I merely suggested that perhaps the council had made a slight human error in the selection of their candidates. There were so many worthy applicants.” 

“I don’t know about that,” interjected Gilbert. Anne recognized his practiced, fake politeness immediately. “Seems to me that the assistantship went to the candidates who proved their worthiness through hard work and plenty of genuine spirit. Besides, who are we to suggest the board of Queens College doesn’t know what it’s doing.” 

Georgie stared at him, jaw dropped to the dirty ground.

“Gilbert Blythe, by the way. I’m Anne’s suitor,” the smirking lad in question introduced. He held out his hand to Georgie, who took it with a glance of distaste.  

“Why...why have I never seen you around before, Mr. Blythe?” Georgie asked slowly. “Perhaps you are not a student, but a tradesman? A laborer?”

“Oh no! I’m a student myself. I attend the University of Toronto for medicine, so I’m not often home during the academic months. But I was so pleased for Anne that I insisted on sending her off. I see you had a similar idea with Miss Paul.” Janie shifted on her feet, as though she did not have much say in the matter. “Perhaps, though, Anne and I could take it from here?” 

“I am quite capable of being a proper escort, thank you,” snapped Georgie.

Anne opened her mouth, a quick retort on the very tip of her tongue, but Janie squeaked. 

“There’s the carriage,” she muttered. 

“I’ve never been in a carriage so fine,” Anne mused, watching eagerly as the coach approached. Then turning to Gilbert, she heaved a heavy sigh. “It’s not too late to squeeze you into my luggage and bring you with me.” 

“As appealing as that idea sounds, sweetheart, I think this is an adventure you have to brave on your own.” 

“With Janie, of course.” 

“Yes, with Janie. Whom I’m very jealous of, since she gets to spend so much time with you.” 

Beside them, Georgie scoffed. 

As soon as the driver had taken Anne’s luggage from her suitor’s grasp, Gilbert leaned down and pressed his lips against her cheek. 

“Take courage, my heart. You can do this,” he whispered against her freckles. 

Anne returned the kiss to his cheek, uttering her own, “I love you” just quiet enough for him to hear it. And then she was swinging herself into the carriage, nothing like her companion who accepted Georgie’s hand as she ascended in. The interior was plush with soft upholstery and golden molding across the ceiling. Even Janie looked impressed by the grand qualities of their escort. 

As soon as the horses began to trot forward, an anxious sinking feeling sunk into Anne’s heart. She moved across the seats to peer out the back window, where she found Gilbert watching her from the pathway. His gaze was as intense as hers, as if they both wanted to memorize the way the other looked in this moment. Anne lifted her hand in a gentle wave, grinning wide as Gilbert returned it. 

“That fellow of yours seems like a kind sort of person,” Janie commented when Anne returned to her proper seat. 

“The kindest,” Anne agreed. 

“How did you meet him?” 

Anne’s smile grew wider. 

“It actually makes for a fairly romantic, if not a bit amusing, story...”

*

10 Days Later

Dear Murray Harbor’s Newest Schoolteacher (aka my Anne-girl), 

Ron tried to persuade me to give you a detailed retelling of the embarrassing show of behavior I exhibited upon receiving your first letter. Blame his lack of influence, but he failed. I hate to deprive you the mental image of the clumsy, hysterical manner in which I conducted myself, but rest assured, it was very worthy of the occasion. Your letter came very long awaited—the anticipation almost killed me! It’s because of all this I have to express just the tiniest bit of disappointment. 

Oh, not in your love-filled words. Your epistolary voice never fails to send me blushing all the way down to my toes and does wonders to dull the ache of having to live so far from you. But sweetheart, I just wish you wouldn’t have to feel like you needed to lie to me and tell me everything was going alright. Don’t even attempt to deny it. I can tell the difference between an Anne-girl who is speaking her heart and an Anne Shirley who is putting on a front. I know that writing the truth of a matter can make it more real, more undeniable, but that’s never been the type of person you are. You’re honest, even when the world throws you its darkest challenges. All that is to say, I hope you know I won’t judge you if you feel like things aren’t going how you hoped or if you’re struggling. If anything, it’s all the more reason for you to tell me the truth so that I might bolster your confidence and shower you in just the right words of praise. 

At risk of making too many assumptions, let me try to surmise what part of the problem may be and offer some words to ease your heartache. You’ve only been there 10 days, Anne. Dreamers change the world, but we rely on them so heavily because of the persistence of their dreams. Not because their dreams work quickly, without toil. Give your work the same heart and persistence that you gave the application process. Gave to me when you first kissed me and wrote your first love letter. There is more strength in you than anyone I know, and I know that your hard work will pay off. Just... don’t be surprised if maybe it doesn’t pay off in the ways you expect. I know you can do it.

To answer your questions, I am doing very well. Sophomore year feels so much more natural. Perhaps that is because the upperclassmen have stopped looking at me like fresh meat or a fish out of very deep waters. This will be Ron’s last semester—he has some credits to finish up before he is eligible to graduate. However, he’ll graduate with the rest of this year’s seniors in May, so if you’d like to come up to witness the ceremony, we’d both be glad to have you. 

That reminds me—Christine says hello. Her and I haven’t spoken much about the incident at the banquet last year, but Ron told me some about it. Is it true that she tried to dress you up in a mourning dress? No wonder you laughed so hard. But all that is in the past. I’m taken to believe that her affections for me have sizzled out into nothingness and she has redirected her attention to Fred Wright of all people. It’s sort of strange, I sometimes get the impression that Fred would be better suited to a different type of person. Maybe someone like Diana? I haven’t met anyone like her here. I suppose your kindredest spirit is one-of-a-kind. Ah, I got off track. Christine sends her regards and wishes you a very exciting teaching adventure. In fact, she may reach out to you soon to ask about being an education student. I believe she may be considering changing her major. 

It actually seems you are quite popular among my small group of companions in Toronto. Dr. Sullivan sends his very best wishes too. When I told him about your assistantship, he was positively thrilled. He said he wishes he had a chance to gain that experience early on, but that you were very deserving of the honor. Him and I have been working once a week as promised on my independent study. Currently, I am halfway through Northanger Abbey, which is Dr. Sullivans’ favorite of Jane Austen’s books because of its gothic satire. To be quite honest, I could not be more grateful that you persuaded me to take this class. I read my Austen in between biology assignments, and it is the perfect thing to set my mind at ease. (Oh, but don’t spoil anything or give me any hints! Dr. Sullivan wants all my analysis to be my own and I understand I have some work to do yet before I’m worthy of hearing your opinion). 

Bash told me he wants to celebrate with you about your assistantship when you return back to Charlottetown, but was worried you wouldn’t want to spend the day with him in the bog. He has to fight tooth and nail to be allowed a meal in Charlottetown’s midtown, but doesn’t want you to have to go through all that. Let him know what you think about the idea or if you have any ideas of your own. 

I think it’s best if I wrap up my letter here for now. I still have about 25 pages of Austen to finish before class tomorrow. Please write to me as much as you need to. I meant what I said, Anne. There is none like you and I believe you can weather any storm that comes your way. 

I love you, Anne. And “I have no notion of loving people by halves. It is not my nature.”

Yours, 

Gilbert Blythe 

*

28 Days Later

Anne My-Anne, 

I haven’t received a letter from you in quite some time. Of course, I’m not worried. I know there are only two possible reasons this could be: you’re either still so tired from your long stay at the school in Murray Harbor or your last letter got lost in the mail. Should the reason be the former, then darling, take all the rest you need. Queens has you right back to your regular classes, doesn’t it? I hope Georgie isn’t giving you too many problems. However, in your time of rest, could you find just five minutes to write even one sentence to your beau? You know how he misses you and wants to rest assured you’re alright. If the reason was the latter, then I beg you to re-write your letter and tell me all about your time in Murray Harbor. I am so curious and want to hear all your stories. Even the unpleasant ones. 

However, I won’t monopolize your time with a regular length letter. I just wanted to let you know I’m still thinking about you and miss you fearsomely. Write back soon! 

-Gilbert

*

15 Days Later

Diana, 

I’m writing to you because I haven’t heard from Anne in over a month. I thought she might write upon returning to Charlottetown, but I’ve reached out to her twice and have heard nothing back. To be honest, I’m trying not to worry unnecessarily. I have faith in Anne and know that she wouldn’t stop writing without warning unless there was a very good reason. Has she perhaps changed boarding houses? Did she extend her stay in Murray Harbor? Has something happened to the Cuthberts?

I suppose it is equally possible that I’ve done something to anger or hurt her. If this is the case, I beg you to tell me what I’ve done wrong that I might make amends. Although I cannot fathom what I would have done to justify this type of response, I know I have done Anne wrong in the past with my best intentions. I really couldn’t stand to have her so upset with me. 

Please write me back as soon as possible, before I do something impulsive like jump on a train back to PEI. I can’t help but feel something is terribly wrong. 

Thank you in advance, 

Gilbert Blythe

*

9 Days Later.

Gilbert sent the telegram first thing in the morning.

COMING HOME STOP BE THERE TOMORROW STOP LOVE YOU.

Chapter Text

Teaching Assistantship, Day 1

Anne supposed the only person who would understand what she was feeling was Emily Bronte in the days before she wrote Wuthering Heights . Emily had probably stood on the hilly moors, peering out into the fog to question whether or not she wanted to venture into it for the sake of her gothic tale. It would’ve been easier to traverse a more Austenian path and write only of gardens and the frivolous lives of the wealthy. But Emily Bronte had made a choice, and with it created thousand ripples into the history of the world. She ventured into the dark unknown and broke through the fog of her moors. 

Now it was Anne’s turn. She was on a hill of her own, questioning whether it would’ve been better to complete her assistantship at a regular schoolhouse or if she had made the right choice to shed light into the fog of a residential school. But her mind was set. A thousand ripples started with just one drop in the water, after all. 

She hadn’t moved from the damp spot where the carriage driver had deposited her before slowly pulling away. Janie was at her left, fidgeting to right her dress and flatten out the ribbons in her hat, but Anne was consumed by the scenery before her. 

September in Murray Harbor had seen its fair share of rain, but the heavy grey clouds were cracked like dry clay, as if attempting to spread some sunshine where none had been for days. The air was stiff and heavy with humidity, bearing with it the sour smell of the ocean coast not but a mile away. In the middle of it all was a ramshackle hall, built of old whitewashed boards and cracked stone. It bore a nameplate across its breast, a bit rusted around the edges and worn from the natural elements. 

Anne adjusted her grip on her bags and took a few steps closer to the plaque. Through the grime and wear, it read, St. Averil’s Indian Residential School, est. 1889. 

“A strong name, is it not?” a voice beside her commented. 

Anne couldn’t help but startle in an unladylike fashion at the interruption to the quiet. The voice had come from an older woman waiting for her on the steps. She was a tall sort of lady, whose nose sat high on her face in between paper-crinkled eyes. The turn of her lip was sour, as if there was little that brought her delight or joy. She appraised Anne, reaching an indecipherable conclusion and an even lesser affected one when Janie came scurrying up the path. 

“It is a strong name,” Anne agreed, remembering herself. “Averil was the name I chose for a protagonist I wrote about in a story once. I called the story Averil and the Dawn . She had a very strong, yet kind disposition.” 

“An unbecoming match of qualities for a young woman,” the woman appraised. “But allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sister Elinor Christie. I am the headmistress of this school. Although I was surprised to discover education students such as yourselves wanting to apprentice here , I hope your stay is as informative as you hope. And your names are?” 

Anne looked to Janie to speak first, but the young girl was pale and refused to utter a single word. 

“I’m Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, ma’am.” 

Headmistress ,” Elinor corrected. 

“Headmistress,” Anne amended, uneasy. “And this is Miss. Jane Paul. We’re so very grateful to be under your hospitality and will endeavor to assist you in any way we can. I, myself, have many great hopes for our month here.”

Elinor frowned, but pushed open the school door and gestured for the girls to come inside. 

The smell was the first thing to hit Anne. It crashed into her like a steam engine to the chest—a noxious mix of body odor, mold, and a hot outhouse. Next came the noise. Not the laughter or chatter of children she expected, but the clamber of hard labor made audible in grunts and shaky breaths. The main hallway was narrow, and did nothing to reveal the source of the smell or noise. Anne followed Elinor despite the fear of what she’d find when she did finally see the students.

“If you are to remain here, there are some rules by which you must abide without argument or question,” Elinor explained. 

“Of course,” Anne said politely, exchanging a nervous glance with Janie when the headmistress was not looking. 

“First, you must not engage the children in frivolous conversation. Your purpose here is to educate them, not humor their every whim. We don’t want the children’s thoughts to roam back to their barbaric roots.” Anne frowned, but Elinor continued. “If you must address the children at all, you will call them by their Christian name. Not their savage one. You’ll find their proper name in the class roster. If they address one another with their savage names, then they are to be reprimanded.

“Second, you are not to discuss with the children their past before arriving here. Some of them have had truly uncivilized upbringings. However, if you follow the first rule, you should have no difficulty.” 

The more they wandered through the building, the more Anne noticed something integral missing. 

“May I interrupt to ask a question, headmistress?” she asked. 

“If you must.” 

“Where are the children right now? I can hear them, but haven’t seen a single child in any of the classrooms.” 

“They are in the labor portion of their afternoon. What you hear are the sounds of the girls cleaning the school—scrubbing the floors, beating the rugs, washing the dishes. They began this main floor after lunch, and have since moved onto the upper floor.”

“...And the boys?” Anne wondered. 

“Why, outside in the fields, of course! They manage our gardens and barns.”

“To earn their keep?” Janie cut in, voice as quiet as a mouse. 

“Indeed. But such work builds up their constitutions and shows them the valuable fruit hard labor can bear.” 

Anne had been the sower of “the fruits of hard labor” for her entire childhood. If there was any value in degrading the youth of a child in favor of the little financial aid their humiliation could bring, then she had yet to see it. She was surprised the children were currently using their minds to labor , instead learn things in their classroom. Weren’t they here for school, after all? 

“This is my office. Come inside and take a seat,” the headmistress instructed. Anne bit her lip, but did as she was told. Janie followed behind, pale from either the smell or the awful thoughts playing behind her eyes. 

“Your main task for the first week of your stay will be to observe the manner in which our teachers conduct their classroom activities. After this week of examination, you will lead a lesson of your own. It is at this point my faculty and I will determine whether or not you are ready to take on more responsibility. I trust you will work hard.” 

“Yes, headmistress,” both girls agreed.

“Then I will tell you the third, and final, rule.” Elinor straightened in her chair and looked directly at Anne. “Do not show the students any kindness of any sort.” 

What ?” stammered Anne.  

“It is not not your job to be their friend . It is your job to educate them, to teach them the error of their ways and the dangers of their upbringing. You are here to serve Canada in resolving the Indian Problem. This task is vital to the advancement of our nation and the integrity of its people. To do your job properly, you must not engage the students in a compassionate manner, nor will you afford them any gentleness of nature. This task requires a firm hand.” 

Silence fell over the room. Anne could not help but feel more and more like her old self, the unloved orphan sitting in the darkness, murmuring apologies to a dead mouse. She had barely survived a world without love or compassion as a child. But now that she knew what love was, knew the necessity of it to a person’s soul, how could she be expected to give it up? 

“I know it sounds harsh,” Elinor sympathized. “But these methods work. ” 

Anne could only bear so much.

“They can’t possibly!” 

Excuse me ?” the headmistress bit out lowly. A warning. “You dare question my methods?” 

“Forgive me, but I must. Only because I grew up in an orphan asylum just like this school. And someone must’ve told those nuns to deprive us of affection, because I certainly never saw any. But it did not make me a better person or a better Canadian. It only taught me fear and pain to such a strong extent that I barely recovered. I just would hate for your students to have to relearn love like I did. All I suggest is...a reevaluation or, or maybe a change of pace. Just to try it out.” 

Janie turned to Anne, eyes soft and wide. 

“Your circumstances were caused by your own weak disposition, Miss Shirley. I will not have my methods questioned again. They work for this school and every other residential school in Canada.” 

Anne opened her mouth to argue, but Elinor lifted her hand. 

Hannah!” she called. Behind Anne, the door opened, but she could not yet tear her cold, disbelieving eyes from the terrible woman before her. “Show Miss Shirley and Miss Paul to their rooms.” 

Janie rose from her seat, placing a hand on Anne’s shoulder as she passed. 

“It’s alright, Anne. Let’s just...go rest,” she whispered. 

As Anne lifted herself from her seat, she gritted her teeth. 

“I will abide by your rules,” she stated bitterly. “But I just have to wonder, Sister Christie, if you would have liked to be deprived of love and compassion as a child. I wonder how your disposition would have fared.” Then, before allowing her superior the chance to reprimand her, she turned toward the door. “Good day, headmistress.” 

But when she looked up, she stopped dead in her tracks. 

Hannah had come to take Anne and Janie just as she’d been bid, but it wasn’t Hannah at all. Not really. 

It was Ka’kwet

*

Headmistress Christie’s voice echoed bitterly in Anne’s head the way thunder terrorizes a countryside. Her friend’s name was caught in her throat, bit back by the restraint of the headmistress’ Rule One. She held her tongue between her teeth as Ka’kwet led them through the winding hallways of the school and up a flight of creaky stairs. By now, her hands had begun to grow cold. 

Ka’kwet still hadn’t looked her in the eye. Instead, she saw her orders out until the end, pointing to the wooden door of a small bedroom when they arrived. 

“This is your room,” she said heartlessly. The rich traces of her mother tongue were less present in her voice than Anne remembered.

“Ka’kwet...” Anne begged, finally gaining control of her voice. “I went with my father to find you. We took your parents with us and traveled all the way to Nova Scotia as soon as we found out you were taken. We were going to bring you home!” 

“This is your room,” Ka’kwet repeated more firmly, voice shaking. 

“They had guns. They were going to hurt your parents for trying to take you home. We had to leave. Please believe me! I knew when it came to choosing between your family’s safety and bringing you out of there, you would’ve asked me to make the choice I did. I know they’ve changed your name and your hair, but I’m still so happy to see you. I don’t understand what you’re doing here now, but Ka’kwet, I’ve missed you so much and—”

“—Hannah,” Ka’kwet interrupted. “My name is Hannah.” 

“No, it isn’t,” Anne protested. “You are Ka’kwet, the sea star. You are a bright, adventurous soul. You’re my friend.” 

“I am not your friend,” Ka’kwet snapped. “ You said for me to come here.” 

Anne gaped, a tear sliding down the freckles of her face. 

“I swear I had no idea. I just…” 

“Wanted me to be more like you,” Ka’kwet finished. “Well, now I am.”

Ka’kwet began to trek back down the long hallway, but before she got too far she turned around, looking older and wiser than her years. 

“Pretend you do not know me while you are here. Should be easy. You are good at pretend.” 

 Anne held onto the sob in her throat until Ka’kwet had disappeared back into the maze of the school. Then, she entered her room where Janie was waiting for her, hit her back against the door to close it, and slid onto the floor. She pressed the heels of her palms to her eyes and swallowed big, gulping breaths. It didn’t help, though. Her hands still shook, her heart still felt like it was bleeding. 

“I...I don’t understand,” Janie said from across the room. Anne lifted her gaze and peered at her friend through wet lashes. “If you knew what they were like, why did you insist on choosing a residential school?”

Anne’s arms fell to her knees. 

“I told Matthew it was because someone has to love these children. Someone has to show them the potential of this world to be generous and good to them. To some extent, that’s completely true! I believe in that a hundred percent.” 

“But…” 

“But Ka’kwet was right. I told her school would change her life for the better. I encouraged her to come. She was torn away from her family, stripped of the things she loves, depleted of her self-worth and all because I put the notion in her head that she should go to school. Her parents...they...they didn’t want to let her go, but they trusted her because she trusted me. I hate myself for it. I guess I came here to make up for my mistake. To fix what I ruined. I didn’t know she’d be here, though.” 

Janie crossed the room and sat next to Anne on the floor. It was cold beneath them, unpleasant and foreign. Almost damp. She didn’t say anything, so neither did Anne. Janie only put her hand over Anne’s and stared at the same grey wall. 

Then, after some time, Janie did speak. And she was not often one for words. 

“Anne, I’ve been in class with you for a year now. You will do the things you set out to do and resolve what needs mended. That’s why you’re here and Georgie isn’t.” 

Anne sniffled and leaned her head onto the door behind her. 

“You know, Janie, I think you’ve got the heart of a kindred spirit and that’s why they never even considered choosing Georgie over you.” 

*

By dawn, Anne’s eyes were wiped clean enough for her to attend her first observation. She donned a clean blouse and skirt, ran a comb several times through her hair, and bolstered her spirit to weather the next twenty-nine days just enough to achieve what she came here to do. But the second she laid eyes on the classroom, Anne’s heart fell into her stomach like a stone. 

The children were...Anne couldn’t even find the word to articulate the wretched condition they were in. Their clothes were loose on their small frames. Their hair was all chopped into variations of the same, drab style. Their clothes had stained from their afternoons of labor. The youthful glow in their eyes that all children are born with had given way to something much heavier, much more miserable. 

The floorboards creaked underneath Anne’s feet as she moved slowly to the front of the class. From the corner of her eye, she could see some of the children eyeing her with uncertainty. Some, even fear. She heaved a deep breath, blowing it discretely from her lips. 

The teacher of the class, Sister Abernathy, rose from her seat at the instructor’s desk and joined Anne at the front of the room. 

“Class, this is Miss Shirley-Cuthbert. You may call her Miss Shirley. She is becoming a teacher. As such, you will respect Miss Shirley as your elder and superior. You will not look at her or interrupt her learning. During independent work time, you may not ask her for assistance. You will not plague her with your presence.”

Anne noted her name listed on the chalkboard in large, printed letters: Miss Ann Shirley-Cuthbert. As politely as she could, she took a piece of chalk between her fingers and added a capitol E at the end of her name. Then she turned to the class, gave them a small smile, and said, “It’s my pleasure to meet you all.” 

In the back of the room with the older children, Ka’kwet glued her eyes to her desk.

A strange confusion passed over Sister Abernathy’s face, but she cleared her throat and directed Anne to her chair at the back corner of the room. 

The class was every child’s worst nightmare. The lecture was cold and callous, the subject material was dull, and the warmth in the room was surprisingly cold for a September afternoon. Anne occasionally had to pause from writing her notes in her journal to rub her palms together. 

On one such instance, she glanced down to see what sorts of notes she had written for the morning. 

- The phonics lesson relies too heavily on memorization. The children won’t be able to spell bigger words if they don’t have the foundational skills. Will they be able to construct larger, more complex words? Will their failure to spell correctly result in punishment? 

- No real-world applications to the math problems. Just simple arithmetic. The children will struggle to use it in practical contexts. I’ll write some sample problems using examples they’re familiar with--trade, objects in the forests, maybe even words from their language. I’ll have to use them discreetly. 

-Reading has been somewhat successful, but I wonder if this is because the students have read the same book so many times they have memorized the text. Again, is there a lack of foundational skills? 

Anne found herself stuck in the corner with no ideas of how she’d tackle the many, many problems this classroom presented. She didn’t want to look at the kids, for fear her gaze would frighten them or the sight of their poor conditions frighten her. She didn’t want to look at the board in order to avoid any and all memories of being in Mr. Phillips’ class. She didn’t want to look at her notes because she couldn’t bear the sight of another critique of this dreadful classroom situation. 

But that’s when she heard it. The drip, drip, drip. The chatter of teeth. 

Anne discreetly scanned the class until she found the source of the noise. One poor little girl had been assigned a seat directly under a leak in the roof. The leak must have persisted throughout the entire morning lesson directly onto her.  She had moved her book out of the way to protect it from being damaged, but her left shoulder was soaked and a small puddle had gathered around her feet. Even from several rows behind, Anne could see her back shivering from being damp in such a drafty room. The girl clutched her pencil to keep her hands still, but the effort was futile. 

Anne’s intellectual reason had been so drained after sitting through the lesson that her spirit took over without her permission. 

Very quietly, she rose from her seat, pulled out her handkerchief, and knelt beside the student. As cautiously as she could manage, she wiped the wet marks from the student’s face and neck. 

“Rub your hands together. They’ll warm up,” she instructed quietly, offering a small smile. The girl listened, sighing at the immediate effect, almost as if she’d been silently praying for permission. Anne then caught the attention of the other students  in the row and gestured for them to slide down the line. Afraid to disobey, they complied without hesitation. “There we go. Now you won’t have to sit right underneath it.”

“Miss Shirley.” 

Oops.

Anne swallowed back a sigh and lifted her eyes to Sister Abernathy. 

“Yes ma’am?” 

“What do you think you’re doing?” the nun asked quietly in an attempt to keep the conversation private from the other students. 

“The ceiling was leaking on her. She was freezing,” Anne explained. 

“Did she ask for your help?” 

“Of course not.” 

“Then why did you intervene?” 

Anne thought carefully. Sister Abernathy was not stupid. She knew why Anne intervened. But that did not stop Anne from replying, “Because she would have gotten sick and we don’t have the funds or resources to care for another sick child. There are...already so many in the infirmary. Besides, how can a child learn if they’re battling off numb fingers and toes?” 

Sister Abernathy frowned. Anne’s explanation was good, but not quite good enough. 

“But...perhaps I was thinking too much in the long-term,” Anne apologized. “It won’t happen again.” 

“No,” Sister Abernathy agreed. “It won’t.” 

*

That night, Anne pulled out her tablet of paper and her quill. There was no desk in the room she shared with Janie, so she resorted to sitting on her bed and using her journal as the hard surface to write on. It was the first time she’d ever sat down to write her weekly letter to Gilbert that she hadn’t felt eager to write to him. Frankly, she almost dreaded it. 

“How did today go for you, Anne?” Janie asked, untying the laces of her corset in the candlelight. They fell loose in her lap, a little tangled and raveled up. 

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and suppose your day was the same as mine. My children were spiritless and lethargic. Alarmingly so.” 

Janie heaved the daily sigh of relief that comes when one’s corset is finally removed, but her lips were still twisted in a frown. Anne suspected there was more there than she could see.

“Yes. Our days were quite the same,” Janie paused. “Though I hear you caused, er… a slight commotion.” 

“Me? Cause a commotion?” Anne said sarcastically, but it didn’t hold any of her usual commitment to dramatics. 

“Just...be careful. If they send you home early and leave me here by myself, I just know I won’t survive. Not to mention, Georgie would never let you hear the end of it.” 

“Now that’s reason enough to avoid causing too many problems,” Anne chuckled bitterly. “For what it’s worth, I don’t try to make everything so difficult.” 

Janie stayed quiet, as if she believed agreeing with Anne would be too rude for their new acquaintanceship. Across the room, Anne had wrapped herself up in the thin cotton blankets each of them had been provided and was scribbling away at a sheet of paper. 

“Writing to Gilbert?” 

When Anne looked up, there were a few tears balancing on her lashes. She seemed to notice them the same moment Janie did and brushed them aside with a sweep of her hand.

“Yes, I am,” Anne replied softly. 

“Then why are you crying?” 

“Because I don’t know how to tell him I’ve bitten off much more than I can chew. In fact, I think this whole thing has bitten me, instead.” 

“He’ll understand,” Janie assured. “He seemed like the sorta fellow who would.” 

“That’s just the problem. He’ll understand right away and I’ll feel awful if he does.” 

Again, Janie didn’t reply. She only laid down in bed, pulled the few blankets up over her shoulder, and turned to face the wall. 

“Good night, Anne.” 

“Sleep tight.”

When Janie’s breathing had evened out, Anne looked back down at the paper and ran a hand over her face. 

 

Dear Gilbert, 

Things here are worse than you can possibly imagine. The children here need immediate help. They’re cold, they’re hungry, they’re frightened, they’re bitter. I almost argued with two faculty members because of it. I want to fix every leaky roof and bake them all their own pies, but I’m just a single, lowly student in a sea of poorly funded supplies and heartless witches. My heart is broken for these students. They need their families. They need security and stability. 

I don’t know a better way to describe it. They drained all the love out of this place so drastically that it’s hard for me to remember my love for you without feeling guilty. I hope you’ll forgive me if I try not to think of you very often for fear my fondest memories will be tainted. Being here, it’s hard for me to remember that you love me. I feel like little orphan Anne again, confined to the darkest corners of the asylum, left crying by herself, and so, so bitterly—

Anne shook her head. No. She couldn’t write these things to Gilbert. Blinking back more tears, she crinkled the paper up into a tight ball and threw it across the room by her bag. The sound of it caused Janie to stir, but not completely waken. 

“I’ll just...try another time. Tomorrow will surely be kinder.” 

*

But tomorrow was anything but kind. In fact, for the next eight days, all the tomorrows proved to Anne that they could fight back against her very best efforts to stay grounded. She still hadn’t helped the students. Still hadn’t written the truth to Gilbert. Still hadn’t broken any ground with the heartless faculty. Already a third into her stay, and all she felt was lonely, freezing, and absolutely, positively miserable. She hated to admit it, but she had lost hold of herself in every way. 

The beginning of her tenth day began at breakfast, unpleasantly the same as the previous mornings in company and situation. She found herself at a rough wooden table, eating silently next to Janie and the other twelve nuns charged with teaching the Mi’kmaq students. At the head of the table was a cantankerous man whose lips had thick lines that sunk all the way to his chin. Headmistress Christie had introduced him as Father Anthony Barletta. His eyes seemed somewhat swollen, making it appear as if he were always glaring at this or that. The apples of his cheeks were unhealthily red and his hair, white with age. The few times Anne had seen him outside of the meal table, he had been slinking out of hidden shadows, leaving some sort of dubious distress behind him like a lingering trail of smoke. 

Anne hadn’t been paying attention to the quiet conversation at the table and started when Father Barletta interrupted the chatter to declare, “We’ll be receiving a new student today.” 

Another? ” one of the sisters asked incredulously.

“How many does that bring us up to?” added Sister Abernathy, alarmed. 

“A hundred and sixty, on the dot!” Father Barletta answered. “Quite the feat if I do say so myself. To think, the builders of this fine school only dreamed that 125 students could reside within our walls. Yet, here we are, 160 strong. Praise God!” 

Anne set her toast down, suddenly not hungry anymore. Neither, it seemed, was Sister Abernathy.

“It is indeed a success worthy of being celebrated, but perhaps we should stop accepting new students before we stretch ourselves too thin. Why, almost ninety of our students are sick in the infirmary. We barely have what we need to feed the healthy ones, much less care for the sick ones,” she said. 

“All the more reason to gain new and healthy bodies,” Headmistress Christie cut in. “Consumption will inevitably take some of our students, but their loss only opens the door of opportunity for us.” 

“I only suggest we...pray for more provisions and the healing grace of the Lord before we welcome any more students,” Sister Abernathy gritted. 

“Do not question the ways of God,” Father Barletta snapped. “He has brought our students here. He has blessed this sacred task. If you are unable to weather this baptism by fire, then I suggest you begin praying on different matters. Perhaps your own strength.” 

Anne felt as though she had stopped breathing ten minutes ago. Her body was heavy with rage and her mind was unfocused. She held her tongue between her teeth to keep from interjecting that prayers would not aid an ungodly endeavor. Her stomach churned, like she might lose her breakfast if she didn’t take some air. 

However, someone beat her to it. 

Whatever Father Barletta was about to utter next was interrupted by the pitiful choking sound of a student retching onto the wooden floorboards. Anne pinpointed the sick child by following the sight of students evacuating the scene, and found a small boy clutching at his shirt and trying to steady his breathing. 

“The primitive nerve of these children,” the headmistress muttered. Anne watched, terrified, as Elinor Christie crossed the room with domineering steps to appraise the situation before her. She peered down her nose at the boy and the mess on the floor. “What insolence is this?” 

“I…” the boy stammered, but swallowed, like his mouth still tasted bitter. 

Speak ,” came Elinor’s fierce demand. 

“I have felt sick for days. My throat...it...and, and the food…” 

“Your disrespect shall not go unpunished.” 

With that, she pulled a switch from her belt, raised her hand, and aimed it toward his face. 

Anne saw the scene play in her mind before it happened. She stumbled from her chair, raced across the room, and shot out a hand to grab Elinor’s hand before it could hit the child. But again, someone was faster.

Ka’kwet jumped in front of the boy, covering his body with her own to take the blows. Her own hand shielded her face, eyes squinted together to brace herself against the impact that never came. The headmistress hesitated at the intrusion, taking a moment to push Ka’kwet to the side. She slammed onto the floor, nearly hitting her wrist against one of the chairs. But before Elinor could land another slap, Anne heard herself speak. 

Matthew 10:8! ” she screeched. 

Elinor whirled around. 

“Do not interfere!” 

“‘Heal the sick, raise the dead...Freely you have received; freely give,’” Anne quoted like her life depended on it. “It isn’t hit the sick, headmistress.”

“Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, what is the meaning of this?” 

“O-Or Psalm 41:3! ‘The Lord nurses them when they are sick and restores them to health.’ Are you going to question the ways of the Almighty, headmistress?” Anne’s hands shook as she held them up in surrender. “This student didn’t mean any disrespect. He’s just sick. And K- Hannah was just trying to help. I’ll clean up the mess myself, but if you really want to teach these students, show them what Christ’s forgiveness looks like.”

The headmistress’ face was crimson with rage and fire, but Anne could see her words seeping into the heated skin and taking root. Despite the displeased look she casted over the crowd of spectating children, Elinor had already been defeated, beaten by her own weapons. There’d been value in memorizing Bible verses in the orphan asylum, after all. 

“Hannah, you’ll get Miss Shirley a mop and the rags. Miss Paul, please assist me in moving this student where he belongs.” 

 Janie shared a pale look with Anne as she crossed by, taking the little boy by his shoulders and leading him from the cafeteria. Ka’kwet had returned with the cleaning supplies before they had even left eyesight. 

“What you did was very brave,” Anne told her seriously. 

“It is not brave to survive,” was all Ka’kwet replied. But instead of walking away, as she’d done every time Anne had tried to speak to her, she knelt down and helped. 

Soon, it was just them in the dining hall, the shadow of their friendship waiting in the corner.

When the mess was gone, Anne opened the window to dump the cloudy water of her pale out the window. A warm breeze flitted in through the opening and bathed her in the heat of that early September afternoon. Ka’kwet was waiting for her, eyes sad, as if watching a memory. 

“I’ve thought about what you said,” Anne told her. “About how it’s not brave to survive. But I disagree. I think survival is the bravest thing anyone can do in a place that’s trying its very best to kill your spirit. You, Ka’kwet, are as brave as they come.” 

It was because sunshine bathed the room that Anne could make out the small smile that curved the corner of Ka’kwet’s lips. For the first time in days, she felt the glow of hope alight in her spine and travel around to hug her heart. 

Chapter Text

The knock on the door shattered the midnight silence of Anne’s room like a stone to glass. In the other corner, Janie was still curled up on herself, shivering mid-sleep in their drafty room. Anne wasn’t sure who she expected to find when she opened the door, but it wasn’t the person waiting anxiously in the hallway. 

“Ka’kwet!” Anne glanced nervously up and down the corridor. “Come in! Janie is sleeping so we have to be quiet, though.” 

She took Ka’kwet by the hand and pulled her into the small space, patiently waiting for her friend to explain why she’d risked sneaking to a faculty member’s room so late at night. 

Instead of any explanations, though, Ka’kwet only peered at Anne’s face and asked, “You have been crying. What are you doing?” 

Anne blinked, remembering the drying streaks that had been tears several moments ago. With an embarrassed chuckle, she held up a small stack of papers and shrugged. 

“Reading a letter.” 

“...A bad one?” 

“No, a very good one. It’s from Gilbert, my...well, the boy who loves me.” Before Ka’kwet could ask any further questions, Anne hurriedly hid the letter in her bedside drawer. “But what about you? Is everything alright? What are you doing here so late?” 

A shadow crossed Ka’kwet’s face. 

“I want to show you something.”

It felt much like old days, Ka’kwet grabbing Anne’s hand and leading her through the hallway, seeing in the darkness what Anne could not. The feeling of it was familiar, like the afternoons spent twisting and turning down unmarked paths in the forest, following Ka’kwet’s lead and listening to her stories. Except this time, the world was dark and cold under the blanket of nighttime, and Anne had a feeling Ka’kwet was leading her to a place that wouldn’t be so pleasant to remember. 

They came upon a corner of the school that Anne had never encountered before. It rested underneath a stairwell and contained a single door held shut by one sliding lock.

“What’s inside?” Anne whispered. 

“Not what. Who,” Ka’kwet corrected. With practiced deftness, Ka’kwet used both of her hands to slide the bar of the lock over without making a single sound. Released from its clasp, the heavy door began to swing open.  Ka’kwet guided it to prevent it from announcing their stunt to the whole floor with its grates and creaks. 

And there he was. The boy who’d been sick in the cafeteria.

He lay sleeping against the back wall, curled up on himself in the same position a newborn baby would take if it were left for dead in the open. His whole body shuddered, freezing from the drafty room. There was one bucket against the other wall to operate as a sort of chamber pot, but the child had no other possessions with him. No blanket, no pillow, no plates of eaten food, no books. As Anne took an even closer look at the room, she noticed there were no windows either, nor candles to provide light. It was just this poor child, locked like an animal in the darkness with only sleep and his thoughts for company. 

Anne felt trapped, fixed to floor unable to do anything but stare in horror at the student.

“Melkita'ulamun,” Ka’kwet called to her. Anne closed her eyes and remembered the meaning of the name Ka’kwet had given her. Strong and brave heart. Even if she felt like anything but, Anne needed to swallow her fear and be brave. “There is someone I want you to meet.” 

Ka’kwet knelt by the child’s side and placed a hand on his shoulder. 

“Wake up, my friend,” she said warmly. The boy stirred, teeth chattering. When his eyes slid open, he became wracked with violent coughs. Ka’kwet rubbed wide circles over his back and whispered encouraging words in their mother tongue that Anne could not make out. 

Umisl, ” he murmured with a scratchy voice. Anne recognized that word. Big sister. “Are they asking for me?” 

“No. They are all asleep. But I have brought a friend to help you.” Anne seized this moment to kneel beside Ka’kwet and offer the child a smile through the dark. “This is Melkita'ulamun . ” 

Gwe’. Taluisin?” Anne said. Hello, what’s your name? 

He tried to answer, but was taken with a fit of coughs again. He almost seemed to startle at the sound and tried to stop it by shoving his fist against his mouth. 

“Ben,” he managed. “My name is Ben.”

“What about the name your parents gave you?” Anne asked gently. 

“I don’t know. I have not met my parents.” 

“Haven’t met your—?” 

Anne turned to Ka’kwet. 

“He has been in this school since he was three. He does not remember his parents or his name. He’s eight now,” Ka’kwet explained. She was in the middle of pulling a candle from the sleeve of her dress, along with a small matchbook. Then, lighting the candle, she continued, “He is sick and should not stay in this place.” 

“Why isn’t he with the other children in the infirmary? Are there not enough beds?” 

“There are beds. This is a room for punishment.” 

Ka’kwet set the candle on the floor in front of them. It illuminated the features of Ben’s face that Anne hadn’t gotten a very good look at during the incident with breakfast. He was a boy of wide cheeks and a long smile. His dark eyes were the highlight of his face, shining with something youthful that only children have. 

Anne couldn’t understand why exactly Ben had been punished—perhaps it was only because he’d gotten sick, or worse, because she herself had interfered.

Now fully awake, Ben had begun to shiver even more. Ka’kwet opened the thin sweater over her nightclothes and welcomed Ben into an embrace. 

“He needs help,” Ka’kwet explained. “You must talk to the headmistress.” 

Anne scrubbed her hands over her eyes. 

“The headmistress absolutely will not listen to reason. I’ve been trying to get through to her for weeks, but she hasn’t listened to a single word I’ve said. She’s almost at the end of her patience with me and then I really won’t be able to help,” Anne replied. “If we can help him, it’ll have to be...unconventional.” 

“What does that mean?” Ben asked. Anne smiled, opting to withhold the answer until she could show him what she meant. 

“I can see you’re cold, Ben. I’m sorry for that. I’ll find a way to warm you up. Are you hungry too?” 

Ben shook his head. 

“Does your stomach still hurt?” 

Again, Ben shook his head. 

“It was the food,” Ka’kwet explained. “He already had no hunger for it. It is his throat. His lungs. That is what hurts him most.” 

Anne’s thoughts raced through every conversation she’d had with Gilbert regarding his medical training. Having a doctor for a husband would barely give her the authority to make diagnoses and treatments, but having a medical student for a suitor afforded even less. If it had been croup or bronchitis, Anne suspected she could have treated Ben herself. But Anne remembered what Sister Abernathy had said earlier that week. Ninety-six of the students had come down sick with consumption. Ben probably made ninety-seven. 

“How long do they intend to keep him here?” 

Ka’kwet frowned. 

“Usually, it is two weeks.”

Anne held back the urge to grab both Ben and Ka’kwet and drag them out of the school. But doing that would’ve been a waste of this opportunity. If Anne was going to help, she needed to think every move through. She needed to make sure they didn’t get caught.  She needed a plan. 

If the sisters refused to treat Ben, he was only going to get sicker and sicker. Perhaps this period of punishment could be turned into their strength. 

“Who brings you your food, Ben?” Anne asked. 

“Miss Paul,” he answered, eyelids droopy. 

“Only Miss Paul? No one else?” 

Ben nodded one more time and rested his head onto Ka’kwet’s shoulder. He’d fallen back asleep in moments, slumping against Ka’kwet with another round of small coughs. She pulled her arm around him and tried to rub some heat back into his arms.

“Miss Paul is always the one to bring the food,” Ka’kwet elaborated. “Ben is not the first student to stay here since you arrived. But what are you thinking? Can you help him?”

Anne wasn’t sure, but she had hope, and that was certainly a good place to start.

“Yes. I think I can.” 

*

By the time Anne snuck back to bed, her exhaustion addled mind had devised a flimsy strategy for helping Ben. She couldn’t sneak him out of the room without risking his life, knowing firsthand the dangerous fire she’d be playing with. She could, however, provide him the things necessary to stop him from falling deeper and deeper into his sickness. Sure, she didn’t have Dr. Ward’s impeccable treatment or even Gilbert’s passable advice. But she did know that the first way to battle sickness was fluids and rest. If she could create a warm atmosphere for Ben to sleep in, convince Janie to bring him more food and tea, then maybe he’d stand a chance before the infirmary could take over. Otherwise...Well, she didn’t want to think about an “ otherwise.” 

“Where were you?” Janie asked suddenly. Anne jolted and the shoe she was retying clambered to the floor. She found Janie upright in bed, arms crossed.

“I think you already know,” Anne retorted sharply. 

“What does that mean?” 

Anne turned to face Janie head on. 

“I just don’t understand how you can sleep so soundly after you’ve been helping the headmistress keep students locked up in the cold and dark for days on end.”

“That’s not true! I only bring them food!” Janie argued. 

“Ah, but that’s the crux of it right there. You only bring them food and then shut the door behind you and forget there was anyone there at all. Did it ever occur to you that Ben is a real human child, with feelings and basic needs that are more than just food.” 

“Well, what would you do? I’m only following orders! You go against the headmistress’ wishes and see how you fare. I’m doing what I need to keep the kids safe.” 

“No, you’re doing what you need to do to keep you safe,” Anne scoffed. “Janie, you’re the one person who knew about where he’d been taken and how sick he is. You’re the person who can bring him everything he needs, but you haven’t been able to do it.” 

“Not everyone can be you , Anne! Okay?!” Janie exploded. 

Anne had heard enough. She rose out of bed and began stripping it of all its sheets and blankets. One by one, she folded them up and set them in a pile on the floor. 

“What are you doing?” Janie asked. 

“What does it look like I’m doing? Ben needs blankets so I’m bringing him blankets.” 

“But those are yours.” 

“I’ll live,” Anne said offhandedly. She pulled the pillow case off of her pillow and began to drop some of her own possessions inside it—another candle, more matches, her gloves, and the copies of Oliver Twist and Mother Goose that she’d borrowed from the classroom library. She twisted the extra fabric of the pillowcase around her wrist and tied a knot at the top. When everything was piled neatly, Anne took it in her arms and headed for the door. 

“Wait,” Janie muttered. She took one of the thin quilts from her own bed, folded it, and placed it on top of the stack in Anne’s arms. 

“Only do this if you intend to follow through with it. You’re the only one who can bring him extra water and food without seeming suspicious.” 

Janie’s face was half-shadow in the moonlight, but full conviction when she said, “I understand what I’m doing and what needs to be done. I’m sorry I didn’t before.”

In the next quiet minutes, Anne walked the intricate path down the hallway back to Ben, where Ka’kwet had fallen asleep with him in her arms. The candles provided just enough light to allow Anne to take the blankets and arrange them on the floor, mimicking the shape and feel of a bed as best she could. Then, she carefully moved the chamber bucket to the corner of the room and placed the pillowcase of helpful objects behind it to obscure it from sight. When everything was in working order, Anne shook her friend awake. Ka’kwet took in the sight of the bed with a surprised face. 

“Where did you get them?” 

“Somewhere no one will notice they’re missing. Let’s get him warmed up.”

Anne pulled back the blankets, allowing Ka’kwet to gently place Ben underneath them. His whole body seemed to sigh in relief when the warmth met his skin, and he curled further into the soft coverings with a sleepy smile. It wasn’t the fluffy feather beds at Aunt Josephine’s, but it beat sleeping with nothing on the cold floor. 

Right as Ka’kwet blew out of the candle, Anne reached out and took her hand. Her friend met her eyes, golden in the light.

“Ka’kwet… Can I say something to you?” 

Ka’kwet nodded. Anne drew in a slow breath.

“When we first reunited here, I was so worried about explaining myself that I never actually apologized to you. Not really. I never even asked you how you ended up here in Murray Harbor. I just talked and talked and never listened. But I want you to know that I am sorry. I am so sorry. I was terribly naive and lost in my own idea of what an ideal life should look like. School has just been one of life’s greatest treasures for me, and I selfishlessly assumed that the things I love would be the best things for you, too. I know now that school has been cruel to you, but I won’t stop until I can bring you home. You’re my friend and I just want you to be happy.”

A thick tear escaped Ka’kwet’s eye, but instead of wiping it away, she grabbed Anne and pulled her into a warm embrace. 

“I heard you that day—yelling and begging,” she confessed against Anne’s shoulder. “But when you never arrived, my heart became sick. I was so sad I thought I was going to die. The truth is, when my mother and father did not leave, the teachers snuck me out in the night when I was sleeping. I woke up in a carriage that took me here.”

“That’s terrible,” Anne cried. 

“When I saw you here, I was so jealous of you that you were able to come and leave without question. That you still had your family, your boy, your home to return to. But I never hated you. Even if you cannot save me, Anne, I will not hate you.” 

Anne wanted to swear that she could save Ka’kwet, but even with a heart built of strength and bravery, she could not bring herself to make promises she didn’t know how to keep.  For now, she made a solemn oath that she would try and hoped it would be enough. 

Later that night, when she returned to her room to sleep, Janie was still awake waiting for her. The moment Anne opened the door, Janie held up her blankets and nodded for Anne to lay inside them. 

“So you don’t freeze,” was all Janie said. Anne did not argue. 

Despite the small pillow and the narrow width of the bed, they slept side by side, warmer in heart and body than they had been in weeks. 

*

A day later, when the headmistress brought Anne news that had earned the right to begin teaching lessons of her own, she did not feel as elated as she expected she might. Perhaps if she had more control over the subject matter of the lessons, or the methods with which she chose to instruct the classroom, she might have felt less hesitant. 

Not to mention, there was the headmistress’ warning that accompanied the honor. 

“Sister Abernathy has reported that despite your reckless shows of impudence in the past, you continue to observe her teaching with a watchful eye and have made a phenomenal effort to assist the students’ learning. However, I have not forgotten our early encounters with you. I’d like you to know that should you make one wrong choice or jeopardize my mission in any way, and I will send you back to Charlottetown with a recommendation to your school that you should not be permitted to become a teacher. Is that understood?” 

Of course, the headmistress still had not found out about Ben, or the fact that Anne went to see him nightly. He’d told Anne that she was his only visitor, that not even Ka’kwet risked calling on him anymore. Anne didn’t tell Ben that this was probably for the best, especially if Ben’s illness was what she thought it was. She tried to make the best of their time together, telling him stories to make him laugh, reciting fairy tales and poems, and asking him about what he liked to do. At first, it had been hard for him to think of time he enjoyed, instead telling Anne things he didn’t mind doing, like weed-plucking and flower watering. 

“But what are things that when you do them, it makes your heart happy? For me, I like to write stories,” Anne had explained. 

Ben mulled this over in his mind. 

“I like to draw pictures,” he decided finally. He’d broken down into body-wracking coughs a second later, covering his mouth with his blanket. Tears of strain had gathered in his lashes, but Anne couldn’t bring herself to ask if it was because of the coughing or if it was because he was scared.

The next day, Anne stayed a few minutes late in the classroom under the guise that she would be looking over the essays the students had handed in. But the moment Sister Abernathy had left the room, she went up to the chalkboard, snatched a few of the smaller nubs of chalk, and dropped them into the pocket of her dress. There they stayed, protected and unseen, until she went to make her nightly visit to Ben. His eyes had widened with surprise when Anne told him she brought a surprise. 

“What is it? Miss Paul has already brought me more food!” he exclaimed, coughing a bit at the excitement. 

“It’s not food,” Anne grinned.  She poured the five pieces of chalk into his hands and pointed at the wall. “So you can draw.” 

Ben peered down at the chalk as if she had just handed him golden nuggets. The pieces left white powder on his skin as he rolled them from palm to palm. Anne took one and went over to a portion of the wall that was free from cracks. Even in the candlelight, Ben could still see the white markings appear on the dark painted wall as Anne drew a tree that was nearly bigger than he was. She adorned its branches with birds, nests, flowers, and apples. 

Too weak to move across the room, Ben wrapped his blankets around his shoulder and drew on the wall space right next to his bed. With every stroke, a river began to appear with a canoe floating peacefully inside. He drew a person with oars sitting in it, using his thumb to erase mistakes he’d made. 

“That’s me, because I miss the streams,” he said. “I want to see them again one day. It always smells so good, the air.” 

“The air? What does the air smell like?” Anne asked, coming to sit by his side.

Ben closed his eyes.

“At first, rocks and dirt. But you can smell the water too, and the wasueg on the side. I think you can smell the sun, too, but I don’t know if the sun has any smell.” 

“It does. It smells sweet, like a warm breeze. Like motherly women they hug you or fallen apples in a field. At least, that’s how the sun smells to me,” Anne hummed, drawing one, bright sun over the tranquil scene. Then, she turned to him. “When I was younger, I lived in a place just like this. I was very lonely.” 

“But you are not Mi’kmaq,” Ben said, confused.

“I had no parents, so I stayed in a different sort of place,” Anne explained. “I even had days spent in rooms like this one. You’ve definitely...had to be braver than I ever did, but we have that in common. But you know what I did to stay happy?” 

Ben shook his head. 

“I imagined. I pictured people in my mind who were kind to me, beautiful places in the world I wanted to visit. I pretended I was there. Maybe drawing these pictures can help  you imagine.” Touching a blank spot of wall in front of him, Ben seemed to mull over the possibilities. “As long as you don’t tire yourself out, you could fill up your whole wall if you want to. Just use one of your blankets to erase them after a while.”

An uneven smile lifted on Ben’s lips and he turned his gaze back to his drawing. In the chalky canoe, he carefully drew another person sitting behind him. 

“Who’s that?” Anne asked. 

“You. One day, we’ll go on a boat together and try to smell the sun.” 

Despite the risk of catching his disease, Anne put an arm around his shoulders and leaned her head onto his. 

“We will,” she promised. “We will.” 

But even with the happy moments Anne could find in her day, the whole situation at St. Averil School was really quite terrible. Nevertheless, Anne had worked hard to make the best of it. When she wasn’t visiting Ben, she reviewed her lesson plan with Sister Abernathy—who wasn’t quite a kindred spirit, but could’ve been if she’d only start thinking for herself—and practiced her lessons in her room with Janie. It’d gotten to the point that if she prepared for a second more, she felt like she was going to lose her mind. 

When the first day arrived that she’d actually be teaching, Anne found herself front and center of a classroom, peering over curious faces who seemed relieved to have a break from their usual instructor. She leaned against her desk in a fashion that seemed to echo Miss Stacy’s demeanor, and gave the students a small smile, just long enough to send them a silent message of promise and safety. Ka’kwet sat in her usual spot, and offered Anne an encouraging smile. 

For a blessed moment, it was just her and the students. It felt right. 

“I suppose many of you are surprised to finally hear me speak after I’ve spent so much time as a silent wallflower in the corner of your classroom. Believe me when I say that I have watched you with immense pride. You all have taken the grim circumstances brought upon you and still worked hard to learn. I’ve seen you come to class exhausted, hungry, cold, and sick, and every time, you still persevere. That is more than I can say for most students I have met, even myself. But in the remaining ten days I’ll be here as a visitor in your school, I hope to create an environment where class isn’t just another chore, but something you can enjoy.”

An imperceptible rustle of moment just barely caught Anne’s eye from the right side of the room. She paused her speech for a moment and found one of the older boys, perhaps the same age as her, sneaking small pieces of toast into his mouth. He froze when Anne met his eye—toast, after all, was only for the teachers. He had stolen it. His face went pale with fear, but Anne offered him a small smile. 

“We will be learning about the life cycle of plants,” she continued, ignoring what she saw. The young boy very carefully kept eating, relief slumping into his shoulders.  “I think you’ll come to enjoy this topic. It always astounds me what Mother Nature is capable of. That the whole planet of bugs and plants and birds and people can all work together to grow actual life. Is that not astounding?” 

The door at the back creaked open as Father Barletta slid into the classroom. He loitered along the back wall, eyeing Anne first, then the students like a hungry vulture. As best she could, continued with the introduction to her lecture, writing notes on the board, drawing appropriate pictures. Ye, she was still keenly aware of the priest’s presence looming over the room, a churning storm cloud waiting to escalate into a typhoon. When he began to slowly work his way up the right aisle, he carried with him an aura of calamity that washed over the students like a bucket of icy water. 

Suddenly, Anne caught eyes with the boy still eating his stolen bread and shook her head at him as subtle as she could manage. Her eyes were desperate for him to heed her warning. He cocked his head to the side, unaware of Father Barletta growing closer and closer still, then tore another piece off with his teeth. 

It happened before Anne could stop it. 

Father Barletta grabbed the student by his collar and yanked him out of his seat. The shock of it made him trip over his own legs, landing on his knees before Barletta. But the priest used both hands to pull the boy up, breathing heavily in his face, spittle falling onto the boy’s cheeks. 

“You dare disrespect Miss Shirley by eating in her classroom?” he seethed. The classroom was as silent as death. “Well?!” 

“Father, it’s alright!” Anne called out, but her desperation fell on deaf ears.

I’m sorry !” the student whimpered. He tried to drop the slice of bread behind him, but it landed right by Father Barletta’s feet. The violent man-of-God scoffed when he saw it, realizing just what the boy had been eating. 

“Where did you get that?” The boy did not answer, locking his lips together against his secret. “Do you know what the Bible says about a thief, Samuel?” 

Samuel shook his head. 

“‘If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies , there shall be no bloodguilt for him.’”

“Father Barletta...” Anne warned, voice shaking. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Samuel rambled, terrified. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorr—”

The tension snapped.

No!” Anne screeched, a second too late.

Father Barletta pulled back his fist and brought it down hard upon Samuel’s jaw. His knees gave out and he collapsed on the floor in an unconscious heap. 

Anne held her breath to stop her eyes from welling with tears. Her hands clutched her desk, knuckles white and aching. Father Barletta turned to Anne, pupils blown wide and fingers bruised. 

“Don’t look so, Miss Shirley. He’s not dead,” he appeased, almost as if he were annoyed by this fact. 

Anne swallowed. Her legs carried her to the spot where Samuel had fallen. Biting back the impulse to glare at Father Barletta, she knelt beside her student and placed a hand on his chest. His heart maintained a steady lub-dub under her touch. Air worked its way to her touch as she lifted a finger under his nose. A trickle of blood dripped from the side of his torn lip, so Anne pulled out her handkerchief and wiped it away, smearing it across his chin. This caused Samuel to stir awake. He jolted back seeing Anne so close, but she gave him a small smile. 

“You’re alright,” she whispered. “You’re going to be alright.” 

“Miss Shirley,” Father Barletta warned. “Rule 3.” 

Father Barletta and his rules could rot in hell for all she cared. 

“Hannah,” she called. Ka’kwet met her eyes, just as pale and terrified as Anne felt. “Could you please assist Samuel down to the infirmary?”

“I will carry him,” Father Barletta stated. 

“No, you will not,” Anne snapped. Then, remembering herself, “You are a busy man, Father, and we have already taken up so much of your valuable time. My students will assist in this matter. It is the least they can do after their...insolence.”

The word tasted like bile on her tongue. Anne wasn’t sure what she was going to do if he pulled rank on her, but miraculously, he wiped his bloody hand on Anne’s handkerchief and began to head toward the door. 

“Very well,” he grunted, then disappeared out the door. 

Forty sets of eyes fell on Anne, who covered her face with her hands. She took one deep breath, then another, then turned to Ka’kwet.

“Will you be alright to take him?” Anne asked her. Ka’kwet nodded, coming to Samuel’s side. She uttered a few words to him in their language, offering him reassurance when his eyes fell nervously on Anne. The only one Anne understood was igatg —to protect, defend, fight for. Samuel met Anne’s eyes as he stood up, nodded at her once, and then headed on unsteady feet with Ka’kwet’s help to the infirmary. 

When they were gone, Anne found her place at the front of the room once more.

“That’s the thing about the cycle of living things,” she began, face hard. “Sometimes in the mix of all the plants and people in this world, there are those that do not want to see life endure. It is up to us brave enough to survive to continue the cycle, for the sake of ourselves, any love in our hearts, and our spirits.” She sighed. “I know that was incredibly frightening. Give yourselves a minute, take some deep breaths, and we’ll continue our work.”

*

A storm blew in over the harbor that night, angry and carnivorous. It churned in the sky, clouds battling to top one another, mixing greys and reds into bloody swirls above the school. Anne had paused by a window in the hallway, watching it with a sick feeling in her stomach. Someone, some thing , had insulted the Almighty and now he was taking revenge. 

“Anne,” someone called behind her. Anne recognized Janie’s voice right away, unable to remember the times when the girl would barely utter any words at all. But now, Anne knew Janie’s voice well enough to recognize the terror it held.

“What’s wrong?” Anne said nervously. Janie hurried up to her and lowered her voice as quiet as she could manage.

“You need to go take back the things you gave to Ben. They’re going to put Samuel in there.” 

“But, Ben’s time isn’t up yet. He still has one day left.” 

“I thought you wanted Ben to be free?” Janie faltered.

“Of course I do, but I wanted him to have full meals and plenty of rest for as long as he could manage.” Anne rubbed her palms together, off-handedly noticing that they had gone numb. “Okay, you’re right. We need to take everything out of that room before the headmistress can see it. Do you have any ideas?”

“Samuel isn’t scheduled to occupy the room until tomorrow. You should be able to go tonight without anyone noticing you,” Janie replied. “Can any of Ben’s things be saved for Samuel?” 

Anne thought about this. 

“It isn’t wise. Ben has been so ill. If Samuel uses the bedding or even the gloves or books, he could become sick, too. We just need to hope that Samuel is strong enough to withstand the cold until we can find something else.” Anne took Janie’s hands in hers. “You’ve proven yourself to be more courageous than anyone ever expected. Thank you, Janie.” 

“I should be thanking you. I always wondered why anyone would want to be as confident and insistent as you, but...I’m starting to see why.” 

They parted at the sound of familiar heels turning the corner at the end of the hall, disappearing before the headmistress could find them conspiring. But Anne had already begun counting the minutes to bedtime and forming one, last plan.

*

Despite the way the storm had managed to blow through the weak creaks of the walls and ceilings, Anne was thankful for it. With all the shrill squeaks of wind in the hallways and rain dripping through the edges of the windows, her own footsteps could not be heard. Yet, even with the added gale to muffle the sound of her scheme, Anne had never felt so nervous in all her life. Her heart pounded in her chest, warning her that something terrible was chasing behind her and there was no time to waste. 

When she’d finally made her way through the silence of the school to Ben’s door, she slipped inside as she’d done a dozen times. The boy’s tiny frame was spread out under his blankets in sleep. Anne crossed his candle and lit it with the last match in the matchbook. 

The second light flooded the room, Anne’s heart swelled. 

The orange, yellow light of the candle revealed four walls filled with hundreds of chalk drawings created by Ben’s own hand. He’d continued his river so that it flowed all the way onto the left wall, lining it with rows of trees drawn just like the ones Anne had done that first day. The drawings were only as tall as Ben was, but every few feet, he’d added another sun. He drew what he supposed his family looked like, the many creatures of the forest, big and small. He’d written names of people he loved—Mother, Father, Ka’kwet, Melkita'ulamun. He drew flowers in the way he remembered them and hands plucking them from the ground. Everywhere Anne looked, there was something new. 

She knelt beside him, shaking his shoulder gently over his blanket. 

“Ben? I’ve got good news.” 

Anne’s heart sank. His top blanket had a crimson stain near the edge. Blood from the coughing. 

“Oh, you poor thing. Don’t worry. You’ll get help at the infirmary soon.” 

But the boy did not answer, nor did he stir. Her eyes scanned his whole body, finding his hand laying flat and open to the side. A piece of chalk had fallen from it and rolled a few inches away on the ground. 

Ben ,” Anne choked, throat thick. “Sweetheart, wake up. Wake up!” 

She tugged his shoulder again, harder this time. He fell from laying on his side to his back like a doll, and Anne stumbled backward. His hopeful eyes were closed and his lips were blue. There were a few drops of dried blood at the corner of his parted lips, but no matter how long kept her hand in front of them, no breath came out. 

Anne’s lips trembled. There was a scream building up in the pit of her lungs. She kept her wide eyes held to his face, smoothing his hair down like a mother consoling a weeping child. Tears made her vision blurry, but she refused to blink, afraid that he’d disappear if she did. Her hand caressed his hair as she silently begged over and over for him to wake up. 

“We were supposed to row a canoe together,” Anne shook. “We were supposed to count the trees and smell the sun.” 

The cry did tear from her then, from the deepest pits of her heart. She didn’t care who heard her. What did it matter? Ben was gone. 

Her hands clawed at her chest, the ache of grief too heavy in her breast, but it wasn’t enough. If she couldn’t tear her own heart out from inside of her, the pain would only grow and grow until it ate her alive. 

She shot to her feet, stumbled over to the walls, and with a growl of rage, began wiping away the drawings with her bare hands. She swiped and clawed and raged and cried for a time that didn’t seem real, until her hands were scraped and bleeding. Exhausted, she collapsed into the middle of the room, whimpering, unable to look at the cold boy beside her. 

When the door opened, Anne didn’t look up to see who it was. 

“Anne?” Janie called. “When you didn’t come back to bed I got wo—” 

Anne lifted her face slowly and found Janie taking in the sight of the walls, the blood, the boy. Her face crumpled under the grief and she fell before Anne, reaching out desperately to hold her. 

They trembled in each other’s embrace for some time, whimpering and crying. Janie was the first to get up. She began to fold up the bloody blanket, leaving one behind to cover Ben as a shroud. She stuffed the blankets into the makeshift bag Anne had made with her pillowcase, but ripped off two rag-like pieces and handed them to Anne. 

Together, they scrubbed the rest of the drawings away, not uttering a single word. One by one, Ben’s dreams disappeared, turning to chalk dust that floated to the ground. When the walls were clean, Janie took Anne’s hand. 

“We have to go,” she whispered, voice hoarse. “Have you said goodbye?” 

“Yes,” Anne muttered, face blank. 

“We have to burn the blankets. They can’t be reused.” 

Anne was still looking at Ben. 

“Yes,” she said again. 

When Anne closed the door and slid the lock in place, she knew she would not open it again. 

They found the stove in the dining hall, lit the fire, and threw the evidence of Ben’s sickness into the raging flames. They danced as they erased all the white cotton and the blood, leaving behind ash and soot. Anne and Janie waited until the flames had died to embers, then went back to their room. But when they laid beside one another, they did not sleep. They only closed their eyes and prayed. 

*

“Headmistress, could I speak with you, please?” Anne whispered from the doorway. 

Elinor peered at Anne from over the rims her glasses and gestured for her to come in and take a seat. It didn’t miss her attention that the way Anne’s hands were trembling and her eyes were red. 

“Has something happened?” the headmistress asked. 

“There’s something you should know before you bring Samuel to the room under the stairwell.” 

Elinor’s eyes darkened. 

“How did you know about that?” 

“Ben is dead. He died yesterday.” 

Elinor closed her notebook. The silence hung between them, but Anne no longer felt fear. There was only a pool of ire and hatred in the pit of her stomach that was quickly growing into a raging fire. 

“Who told you this?” 

“I’m the one who found him,” Anne explained. The headmistress gawked but Anne continued. “I know you must be surprised to discover that I knew about Ben’s confinement and isolation. The truth is, I knew about it from the first day he was brought there. I gave him the blankets from my bed, the gloves from my pack to warm his hands, and visited him every night. I changed his chamberpot, told him stories, made sure he was resting and well fed. But it was because I was afraid of you, afraid of what you’d do, that I did not demand him better care. I should’ve made you look me in the eyes and explain to me why getting sick because of rotten food was a crime punishable by two weeks of isolation. You punished a sick child that way! I was naive to think I could make up for it myself. I took matters into my own hands, and I failed. But my failure is nothing in comparison to yours .”

Anne Shirley-Cuthbert!

“You have failed these students in the most despicable ways. You have denied these children a valuable education.  You kidnap them from their homes, strip them of their names, keep them from their parents, and leave them to fester in the cold and bitterness within these walls. And for what? For the glory of God? For the glory of Canada? This will be Canada’s greatest sin. This is Canada’s greatest evil. You may choose to be complicit in it—”

Silence!”

“—but as for me, I will not be complicit. I will not have the taint of this terrible, horrific place on my soul. You will regret the day you did not heed my warnings or the teachings of your own Christ. And when you die, sick and alone like Ben did, you’ll be the one to look the Almighty in His eyes and tell him you persecuted His children. You had better hope your God is as merciful as they say, because it’ll take a miracle to wipe your blood clean.”

 The headmistress had gone red, but Anne burned redder.

“Well, aren’t you righteous. Do you honestly expect me to apologize ?” she seethed. “Is that why you’ve come here to admonish me. Rebuke my mission?”

“No, ma’am. I wouldn’t expect anything so humble from you.” 

Now the headmistress was shaking. Then she did something that Anne really should have seen coming. She rounded the table, lifted her hand, and brought it down upon Anne’s cheek. The burn of it exploded down Anne’s spine, sending her to her knees in front of the desk. The headmistress squatted before her, a glare of malignity in her eyes.

“I don’t care if there’s still four days left in your stay here. I’m telegraphing Queens and you will leave tonight. Go inform Miss Paul that your arrogance has ruined you both.”

When Anne rose to leave the office, she found Father Barletta standing with wide eyes in the doorframe. He’d heard the whole thing. 

“About time,” he commented. 

Anne pushed a strand of hair out of her face, meeting his eyes head on.

“‘For he is God's servant for your good,’” She quoted. “‘But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.’”

With that, Anne left. 

*

Janie wasn’t surprised to discover they’d be leaving. Rather, she was relieved. She almost cried when Anne told her the news. 

“I didn’t think I could stay here a day longer.” 

“We’re lucky we get to leave,” Anne muttered bitterly. “But all the kids...They have to stay here and try to survive. The only ones who tried to fight for them are leaving. It’ll break their hearts.” 

“You gave them hope, Anne. That itself is a treasure.” 

“What good is the gift of hope if it doesn’t come with the gift of freedom?”

“You’re just one person. You can’t stop an entire residential school on your own.” 

Anne tilted her head, an idea blooming like a quick growing spring flower inside her mind. Janie was right. She couldn’t stop the school on her own. But there had to be a way to earn allies, to rally the public understanding that the residential schools were not what they claimed to be. Anne let out a mirthless laugh, determination filling her. As it so happened, the most effective method of persuasion was a skill she had already mastered, already had used to make the world a better place. 

“I’m going to write a book,” Anne declared. “I’m not going to leave anything else. I’ll tell the world exactly what this place is. Then I won’t have to stop this school on my own. It’ll destroy itself.” 

*

Anne found Ka’kwet in the fields, pulling weeds with the other girls while the boys harvested potatoes. She raced right up to Ka’kwet, breath coming in heavy bursts. Ka’kwet met her halfway in a hug, swaying with her until the golden September light. 

“I heard about Ben,” Ka’kwet said, voice shaking. “Miss Paul told me this morning before class.” 

“I’m so sorry, Ka’kwet. I know he was family and that you loved him,” Anne sniffled. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m being sent home tonight. But before I leave, I need your help.” 

“Anything,” Ka’kwet answered right away. 

“Then come with me.” 

They ran down the long rows of fields, passed the other students as they looked on, and hid behind a wide willow tree. Anne pulled a leather journal from under her belt, opened to the first page, and said, “Tell me everything.” 

“About what?”

“About the things that happen here. Every student injured. Every terrible thing said. Every little bit of evil you can think of. If there’s anything good, tell me about that too.” 

Ka’kwet let out a humorless laugh. 

“There isn’t. But what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to turn what you tell me into a book. I want all of Canada, the entire world, to know what this school does. Do you trust me?” 

Ka’kwet pressed her lips together, but nodded. 

“I do.” 

“Then start at the beginning. Everything you can think of.”

They sat together in the golden hour of the coast for several hours, talking and crying. They took breaks in between some of the crueler tales, always to continue again and reveal more truth.  Anne’s hand cramped from writing so frantically, but he didn’t dare stop. She took notes on every black eye, every broken limb, every cruel word, every death that Ka’kwet could tell her. The stories took the span of years and years, a complete history of abuse and mistreatment. 

When the carriage that would take her home could be heard venturing up the lane, Anne turned with panicked eyes to Ka’kwet. 

“I don’t know when I’m going to see you again,” she stammered. “But I won’t fail you this time. I’ll write the best novel ever published in Canada.” 

“Do not worry about us until then,” Ka’kwet smiled, taking Anne’s hands. “We will be brave. We will survive.” 

Anne gave Ka’kwet one last hug, holding her head in her hands. 

“I love you, Ka’kwet,” Anne whispered. 

“Oh, Melkita'ulamun,” Ka’kwet wept.  “Kesalul.” I love you. 

They parted in the warm Prince Edward Island air, spirits full with peace and love, even if just for now. As Anne made her way to the carriage, where Janie waited for her with all their things, she gazed back at Ka’kwet’s strong silhouette and gave one last wave. 

But Anne did not look back at the school. She did not look back at the headmistress, or Father Barletta. She did not spare a glance for Sister Abernathy, or any of the other nuns. She just took one last breath of the oceany air and stepped into the carriage. Janie followed behind, a soft smile on her face. 

“What an adventure,” she exasperated, pulling off her hat.

“It’s not over quite yet,” Anne replied, turning over to a clean page in her notebook. 

Then, in thick, bold letters, Anne wrote a title across the top of her page. 

Averil’s Atonement: A Biography of Villains .