Actions

Work Header

The Secret of Distance

Chapter Text

“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 at 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 gotten 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.

~~*~~

During the moonlit peace of the evening 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 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 lights: “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 exceed beyond 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 peaked 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 years’ 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 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 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, genuine 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.)

(PSS: 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 to touch 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 as 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 finally autumn! She’s officially arrived 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 autumn 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 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. 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 bed, 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 all weekend. 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.”