For once in his life, Gilbert Blythe was blissfully unaware of the winter chill. It might have been the scarf Mary had just finished knitting for him with soft midnight blue yarn, or his father’s old sweater that he was finally beginning to fit into. Each breeze brought faint scents with it - the flowery perfume of Mary’s soap, the lingering essence of his father.
Yet, Gilbert was only half aware of these comforts as he marched through the snow. Perhaps what really was warming him was the trail of footprints leading from his back door directly to the Green Gables homestead. The small boot tracks, without a doubt, belonged to the youngest member of the Shirley-Cuthbert household. Gilbert’s eyes glazed over as he walked, following the footprints, though his mind was off elsewhere. As it was, he couldn’t help but notice hints of Anne in everything he saw - the white-tipped tree branches, the cardinals on their high perches, the unique stellar shape of each snowflake that flurried before him.
His thoughts were consumed by her up until the moment he saw her through her window. Anne - as lovely as she ever was, floury apron tied around her waist and her braids tumbling down her back. With movements somehow laced with affection, she kneaded a sugary dough on her kitchen table. Her lips moved in a song Gilbert couldn’t hear until he nudged the side door open. The melody from her lips was her favorite Christmas tune, “The Holly and the Ivy,” but the words were entirely of her making.
“My footprints fall behind me, across this crystal field. It’s you I’ve come to see, my love. It’s you that brings me here.” Her voice echoed through the peace of the house like a hymn loose in a cathedral. “So come and stand beside me. And hold me in your arms. I long to lay close with you, beside our warm hearthfire.”
Already rosy from his trek through the cold, Gilbert felt his cheeks tingle. How tempting it was to pretend that this kitchen belonged to him and Anne, that the pastries she crafted with her loving hands were for their very own Christmas dinner. Just the two of them. She’s keep singing her song, and he’d heed its lyrics to reap all of its marvelous benefits...
With a shake of his head, Gilbert rapped his knuckles against the door before letting himself in. He’d been subject to too many of Marilla’s “Gilbert Blythe, you know you’re welcome anytime. Please let yourself in!” lectures to wait for Anne to get the door herself. Her head rose from her baking, and the sight of Gilbert made her face split into a grin.
“Hello Anne,” Gilbert greeted warmly, unwrapping his scarf from his neck so that he could speak. If he’d been looking, he might have seen Anne’s eyes linger on his chin and neck as they became exposed, and if he’d been looking even closer, he might’ve noticed her bite her lip. But instead, he smiled and took a few steps into the room, tracking some melting snow in behind him.
“You look like a mountain man just now returning to society,” she teased, crossing over to him. With a captivating softness, she brushed a flurry of white flakes from his hair. Gilbert’s eyes watched her face with tenderness. She was so close that he could smell the vanilla on her hands. Seeming to notice the boldness of her action, Anne gave a friendly sweep of her hands across his shoulders and then patted it firmly. “Ah, there’s the Gilbert Blythe I know. Next time wear a hat!”
“It’s only a short walk across the field,” he argued.
“The field and the orchard,” she corrected.
Gilbert rolled his eyes, though he was smiling.
“Aren’t you going to ask why I’m here?”
Anne moved back to the table and began to roll out her dough until it was as smooth as ice.
“Do you ever need a reason to visit?” She peeled off a tiny bit of the dough and held it out to him. “Try this.”
Gilbert smelled the sweetness of the biscuit dough seconds before he tossed it into his mouth, but it wasn’t enough to prepare him for how divine it tasted. His expression must’ve betrayed his thoughts immediately because Anne smiled in victory and began to press a circle shaped cutter into the dough.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Anne. What are you baking for?”
With a gasp, Anne slammed her hand down the table. The various bottles and containers of flavorings and flours rattled at the impact, but thankfully, nothing capsized onto the floor.
“I nearly forgot! These biscuits were going to accompany me as my persuasive gift when I went to invite you and your family to Christmas dinner. I was going to leave as soon as they were out of the oven so they’d still be hot.” She paused, realizing she’d confessed her surprise plan. “I’d still like to make a formal invitation, if you don’t mind.”
“I do mind, in fact,” Gilbert countered. Anne dropped her shoulders incredulously. “I’m afraid I’m here to make the same exact formal invitation, only I hope you will still accept even with my lack of baked goods.”
“Gilbert Blythe, you mean you came here to-”
“-to invite you and your parents to Christmas dinner at our house, yes. You were kind enough to invite Bash and I last year. It’s only right that we return the invitation.”
For a moment, Anne hesitated. She’d had been planning the Christmas dinner decorations for over a week, collecting the necessary stray ribbon and pinecones in her room. Anne felt it was far more comfortable to play hostess to your loved ones than be the guest, however perhaps that was merely her proclivity to hospitality rearing its head.
But then she remembered the sweet laughter of baby Delphine and the fact that it likely had been many years since Mary had the chance to host a Christmas dinner for a full sized family.
“Well?” Gilbert asked. Anne crossed her arms across her chest and pursed her lips.
“I tentatively accept on a few conditions,” she stated firmly. Gilbert cocked a brow but nodded for her to continue. “My first is that Matthew and Marilla must agree.”
“That’s a given.”
“My next is that Mary absolutely let us bring a dish or two.”
“Alri-” Anne cut him off.
“ And I’d like to help Mary cook and decorate,” she concluded. Then remembering her manners, quickly added, “Only if it isn’t an imposition on her. I think it would be so lovely to spend time with her that way, especially since she’ll need an extra pair of hands to cook and take care of Delphine.”
“You act like Bash and I don’t know how to take care of the baby,” Gilbert bristled, though not genuinely offended. Anne couldn’t help but smile warmly as she slid her tray of sugar cookies into the oven.
“Oh, I’d never. Between the three of you and my family, that little girl will grow up with more love than she’ll know what to do with.”
An unreadable expression crossed Anne’s face, but Gilbert noticed it before she could hide it completely. Maybe she was remembering the childhood of another little girl who never knew such an abundance. A sigh slipped through his lips. Things were different for Anne now, but if he could go back and provide all the love she’d been lacking, he’d do it in a heartbeat.
Lost in his thoughts, Gilbert did not notice Anne dip her finger into the flour and walk up to him. With a dramatic flourish, she tapped his nose with the powdery substance.
“Do you accept my conditions or not, Mr. Blythe?” she asked playfully. Any hints of her past haunting her were gone now, but the ache in his chest that urged him to merely love her was still overwhelming. Gilbert rubbed his sleeve across his nose and smirked at her.
“I accept your conditions and offer one last offering of my own.”
Anne nodded, eagerly awaiting whatever he had in store. She was too busy staring into his forest hued eyes that she didn’t flinch when he took a step closer. With the stealth of a storybook hero, Gilbert reached behind her into a small pile of flour and swiped it across her cheek. The white streak made it that much more endearing when she beamed up at him, but her smile turned heavy when his fingers lingered on her skin. For half a second, she felt his fingers move ever-so-slightly against her cheek to hold it, then-
“Why! Gilbert Blythe is here!”
Anne and Gilbert jolted back a few steps, the latter wiping excess flour onto the sleeve of his coat with heated cheeks. Marilla took no notice of the tension she’d walked into, or if she did, she was kind enough to spare Anne any indication.
“Gilbert invited us to Christmas dinner with his family. Isn’t that positively grand?” Anne said, enthusiasm barely masking her distress. Surprise lit up Marilla’s countenance.
“That’s awful kind of you, we’d be delighted!” Marilla said.
“Wonderful! Bash and Mary will be thrilled to hear it,” Gilbert replied. He pulled his scarf from the hook and began to wrap himself back up, as neat as a Christmas package. “I ought to be heading back. I promised Mary I’d collect a few things for her in town so she can get a headstart. Anne, I’ll speak with her about you assisting her with the cooking.”
Anne’s face was still the same color as her hair, but she nodded with a tight smile. He was halfway out the door when he turned back, sending her a look so intense with adoration that she shivered down to the soles of her feet.
“Until then,” he said softly. Then he was off back into the flurry of Avonlea snowfall, a figure of warmth amongst the blanketed crystal field.
Initially, Gilbert thought it might be interesting to see what it was like to have the house entirely to himself, but all he felt was a dull loneliness in the background of his mind. Without work or Anne to distract him, he found himself keenly aware of a thousand oddities he’d never noticed before. There was a spot on his collar that was oddly itchy. A weird stain looked like a shadow of a spider above the kitchen stove. The tiny apron tied around his waist, which he borrowed from his ever-generous wife, constricted him like a snake skin, but was resolved to keep flour off of his pants and waistcoat.
Gilbert peered down at the countertop before him, analyzing the sticky dough he had just mixed together. Anne’s never looked quite like that. Maybe if he kneaded it more, it would take a more familiar shape? Clapping his floury hands together resolutely, a tiny cloud of flour exploded into his face. He coughed, wiping his cheeks with the back of his hand and began to fold the dough over on itself.
That was how Anne found him ten minutes later, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, kneading biscuit dough with all of his manly strength. Under his breath, he sang a song that was too quiet for her to hear. Icing sugar was smeared across his cheek and his forehead, making Anne bite her lip.
When the door closed behind her, his gaze shot up to hers. In all of her glory, Anne S. C. Blythe stared upon her husband with appreciative eyes, a bundle of firewood in her arms and dirt on the knees of her trousers. The sight of her broad shouldered and confident made Gilbert swallow, but his face was contorted in confliction.
“Welcome home, my love,” he said, with controlled evenness.
“Thank you, darling,” she replied sweetly, wiping her snowy feet on the doormat. She made no move to rid herself of the logs tucked in her bicep. Gilbert’s brows knit together at the sight. “Charlottetown was positively rife with christmas spirit! Usually those townspeople are so dreadfully-”
Anne paused, noticing the somewhat pained look on her husband’s face.
“Alright, out with it, Gilbert Blythe,” she ordered. Gilbert set down his dough and tried to look nonchalant, but only succeeded in appearing hesitant. Slowly he began to explain himself.
“As your doctor, I logically know without a doubt that you are more than capable of lifting a few fire logs without any sort of danger to your health,” he began.
“Uh huh,” Anne drawled, amused. It wasn’t often Gilbert was so bunched up.
“And you know I respect your desire for us to do equal parts of all the work in the house, and return that desire. I recognize that you specifically asked not to be coddled.”
Gilbert’s resolve melted away as he unburdened himself.
“But as your doting husband - who, by the way, loves you more than anything and anyone - it positively kills me to see you doing heavy lifting. What are husbands for if not to wait on you hand and foot so that you don’t need to lift a finger?” he exasperated.
With a patient sigh, Anne dropped the logs next to the stove and came to stand by her husband’s side, arms wrapping comfortably around his neck. Gilbert’s hands immediately cradled the bump on her stomach, rubbing the tiny spot where a growing baby could just barely be noticed. A print of his strong hands was left on the soft fabric of her dress in white flour, sending a chuckle through Anne’s throat.
“Oh Gilbert Blythe, you have no idea how much I appreciate that you care for me to such extremes,” she murmured, pressing her lips to the spot on his cheek where the icing sugar was smeared. “I’d be lying if I pretended to be completely unaware that my, as you say, heavy lifting would bother you. But I’m just so anxious to get everything ready in time for when our families arrive, that when I saw the logs at the side of the house, I figured I’d knock one more thing off our to-do list.”
“That’s what I’m here for!” Gilbert argued gently. “I’m baking your favorite cookies from Mary’s recipe, I cut down that tree you said you liked, set it up in the living room, and brought down the candles and ornaments. I’ve even started decorating the house.”
With a hand running through his hair, Anne scanned over the house. Gilbert’s heart lifted in relief when an impressed smile filled her face. There were candelabras in the windows with sprigs of winter flowers underneath them and a garland of pine was placed on the mantle. Gilbert had channeled Anne’s artistic soul as he adorned it with pinecones, ribbon, and holly.
“I left the table centerpiece and the wreath untouched so you could decorate them. I know how you love it so,” he explained. “I thought we could do the tree together, just like last year.”
Anne held his face lovingly, nuzzling his nose with with hers before planting a soft kiss on his lips. The second she pulled back, something caught her eye. Above the fireplace, Gilbert had hung not two, but three stockings - two adult sized, and one tiny one. Stepping away, she neared the stocking with a growing lump in her throat. With the stocking completely in sight, she noticed one word embroidered across the red fabric with an unskilled hand: Jem.
“Gilbert…” she muttered with a bittersweet heart. “You don’t even know if the baby will be a boy, yet.”
Anne relaxed when she felt her husband’s strong arms wrap around her waist, his lips in her hair.
“That’s why I put Jem instead of James. Even if the baby is a girl, she’ll still be our little gem. Joyce’s stocking is on the tree, up near the star.”
Anne’s throat was too thick to say anything. She held Gilbert’s arms close to her and leaned her head back on his chest. It would be her first Christmas since she’d lost her first baby, but her and Gilbert had decided it wasn’t going to be a sad time. They’d make sure it was bright, peaceful, hopeful. That was why had invited the Lacroixs and the Cuthberts to their home this Christmas - to bring family near, to prove that they were alright.
“I’m sorry I worried you,” Anne said quietly, spinning in his arms until there was hardly any room between their lips. “Since you’ve respected my wishes, I’ll respect yours and resolve to be slightly more relaxed.”
Gilbert pressed his lips to the spot underneath her ear that made her shiver, and nodded against her skin. When he pulled back, he glanced at the clock.
“Our families will be here in a few hours. Will you please help me salvage the gingerbread cookies? I fear I missed a step.”
With a burst of laughter, Anne caressed Gilbert’s cheek. How wonderfully dependable he was, this husband of hers. She couldn’t remember what Christmas looked like without him by her side, and cherished the future of many, many more holidays spent together. In a few hours, they’d reveal the impending arrival of their family’s newest addition, but for now, Anne was quite content to bake biscuits with the man she loved and smear icing sugar along his lips for her to kiss.