"How dare they?" Anne said, rushing from the attic and placing a big box of Christmas lights on the kitchen counter. There was a piece of spider web stuck to the end of her braid, but she was too upset to notice.
Diana had just gotten home and was trying to enjoy her peppermint hot chocolate in peace, as it was freezing cold outside and she was still shivering from her walk. The sight of Anne made her worry again.
"You really should let it go, Anne... It's not doing any good to your nerves," Diana remarked, twirling her hair nervously.
"No, Diana. I– We always win the neighborhood competition!! It's bad enough I have to deal with Josie trying to outdo me every year, now I have to—"
She heard the keys jingle in the lock and saw Cole untying his boots in the hallway.
"Hey guys, I think the reindeer outside needs a battery change, his head isn't moving anymore. I'd do it but my hands are so frozen I can no longer feel them."
Cole walked into the kitchen, looking back and forth between Diana and Anne, sensing the tenseness of the situation. His eyes then fell on the Christmas lights box.
"Ah, yeah... The evil neighbours again?" he asked in amusement.
One month ago the older couple from across the street moved out and someone else moved in. Anne had been bitter about it, since she liked talking to their former neighbours and in the five years of them living there had developed quite a friendship with Mrs. Allan. Her husband was the Reverend and Anne had voiced her disappointment over his replacement many times, saying that this year's Christmas mass is going to be an excruciating affair.
"I don't get why they're trying to ruin our Christmas, Cole!" Anne shouted, waving her hands in the air.
"Tell her she's being ridiculous, please," Diana said, raising her eyebrows at him.
"Oh, I'm enjoying this too much to interfere," he laughed.
"I'll tell you what's ridiculous! They've only lived here a month and already think they can just waltz into the competition and beat me— Us!!" Anne ranted.
"Why do you care so much about this? You're 27, Anne... Can't you just calm down and enjoy the holidays? Who cares who wins?"
Diana and Cole exchanged looks. Anne was angrily untangling the light, leaning on the counter and not paying them any mind.
"You know, maybe we haven't been the nicest neighbours. We had aunt Jo visiting when they moved in and everything, it has just occured to me that we haven't once gone over there to say hello," Diana said, trying to get Anne's attention. "Maybe we should bake some Christmas cookies and go say hi. You know, to be polite."
Anne turned around with a wide grin. Diana was eyeing her carefully. "That's a great idea! I can take a look at their backyard!! What a way to scope out the competition..."
"No, Anne. That's not what I meant," Diana tried to explain, but Anne wasn't listening, already on roaming through the cupboards in search of flour.
"And I can make my secret recipe!! I can't wait to see the look on their faces when they realize I'm not just better than them at decorating, I'm also better at baking!" Anne exclaimed and Diana rolled her eyes and gave up.
When Anne discovered she didn't have all the ingredients needed, she quickly put her coat and her mittens on and ran out the door. On her way to the store she changed the batteries, smiling at the now nodding reindeer. There was a small grocery store at the end of their street so she figured she needn't drive all the way to the town. She rarely goes there though, since the lady who works there always gives Anne bitter looks while checking out her purchases. Anne has always been a person fond of arts and crafts and she thought it childish.
It was just a five minute walk to the store, but in the cold air it felt like an eternity.
When she finally reached the store she got in a zone, walking around and grabbing everything she could think of and putting it in her cart. She was on her way to the counter when she realized she had forgotten the flour she came for. Turning around abruptly she bumped into a handsome dark haired stranger and dropped the cart, her groceries rolling all over the floor.
"I'm so sorry," she apologized, kneeling down to pick them up and then realized the boy was already on his knees helping her.
"I'm such a klutz," she said, taking the carton of milk he was handing her. Their fingers brushed for a second and it threw her off. "Thank you, you're very nice, but you really needn't help, I can do it myself, after all, I'm the one at fault here..."
The stranger laughed. "I see you're in full Christmas preparation mode," he remarked, holding a box of red and green food colouring.
Anne gave him a half smile. "Yes, well, there's still so much to be done... I haven't even finished decorating my roof!"
Then she saw the confused look on his face. "I go all out," she explained. He chuckled at that and they both stood up.
He gestured towards the checkout counter. "After you."
"Oh, thank you, that's very kind of you, but I forgot to get flour, so..."
"Mind if I accompany you?" he asked, smirking.
"Accompany me in getting the flour?" she laughed, but saw he was being serious. "Sure, if you can prevent me from crashing into other people along the way."
"I'm Gilbert," he said, extending his hand. Anne took it and stared him up and down. "Well, nice to meet you, Gilbert. I'm Anne."
"So, what are your Christmas plans, Anne?" he asked while they were walking through the isles.
"My adoptive mother's coming to visit me, she does every year. Ever since we sold our childhood home Christmas hasn't been the same, so each year I try to make up for it by putting up crazy decorations and baking hundreds of cookies and trying to make every detail perfect. I'm sorry, am I rambling too much?"
"No, no, I get it. Trust me. I take Christmas very seriously too," he replied.
She talked with Gilbert until they both exited the store, they exchanged a few childhood Christmas stories and she helped him load up the trunk of his car. It started snowing while they were shopping and Anne was looking around the parking lot, hypnotized by the beautiful scenery.
"Do you want a ride home?" he offered, but she shook her head.
"No, I enjoy the snow. And I could use the walk. But thank you for offering, really," she replied, already backing away and waving him goodbye.
"No worries. It was really nice meeting you, Anne."
And with that he got in the car and drove away. Anne stood there for a moment, letting the snow fall on her face and breathing in the cold December air. I should've asked for his number, she thought, but then scolded herself for having such thoughts. You don't know anything about him... He could be married with kids or a serial killer, besides if he liked you he would've made the first move.
It's ridiculous, Anne decided and went home.
"I am putting these lights around our chimney," she announced back in the kitchen, with her cookies already in the oven.
"That doesn't sound safe," Cole noted, but did nothing to talk her out of it.
"Just think about how splendid it will look when we light it, Cole... And with your Christmas sculptures decorating our front yard we should have no problem beating those imposters living across from us."
"I just know Diana won't like you climbing up on that roof. Especially now, Anne. It's slippery," he said, barely lifting his gaze from his sketchpad.
"Well, I'll just have to do it tommorow. She said she's going out in the morning, didn't she?"
An hour later, the three of them stood before the house, ready to knock. Anne for the first time noticed the names on their mailbox, it read Blythe and Lacroix. In that moment she realized she had never even caught a glimpse of the new neighbours, now pretty curious as to who they might be.
"I hear one of them is really hot," Cole wiggled his eyebrows at Anne and she scoffed loudly.
"Oh, just knock already!" she said to Diana, who's hand was already in the air.
The door was opened a few minutes later by a tall attractive black man mixing batter in a bowl with a spatula. He looked at the trio rather confused.
"Uh, good afternoon," he said, smiling.
"Hi, we're your neighbours from just across the street," Diana said and gestured towards their house. "We know it's late, but we didn't get the chance to properly welcome you to our neighbourhood earlier—"
"That's very nice nice of you, hold on a second. Blythe! We have visitors." He yelled at someone and a few moments later a familiar face appeared.
"This is my brother—"
"Gilbert," she breathed, staring at him in surprise. His expression was mirroring hers. Huh, so he didn't know we're neighbours either, she thought.
"Anne, hi! What are you doing here? Are you stalking me?" Gilbert cracked a joke but immediately regretted it. Anne looked angered by it, shoving a box of cookies in his hand.
"Merry Christmas," she said a little too harshly and crossed her arms, looking down and refusing to further engage in the conversation.
A few more things were said during that brief encounter. She learned that his brother's name was Sebastian, but he went by Bash, that the two of them bought the house so that Gilbert could live closer to his job and Bash closer to his girlfriend. Diana was the leader of the conversation, explaining that the tree of them moved here after college as roommates. Anne, on the other hand, was innocently looking at their backyard... She had decided in that moment that she didn't like this Gilbert Blythe and that she would do everything in her power to win the competition and shove it in his face.
"Well, it was really nice meeting you two. And seeing you again, Anne. Good luck with the Christmas preparations. And thank you for the cookies," he smiled, but Anne just stared at him blankly.
"Uh-huh," was all she gave him.
Once at home she angrily shoved her mittens in the drawer and groaned.
"You didn't tell me you and hot neighbour have been fraternising," Cole laughed.
"I'd hardly call it fraternising. We met in the grocery store. Of course I didn't know he was the smug jackass living across from us..."
"Anne, that's not exactly fair. He was really nice," Diana said carefully and Cole agreed.
"HAS EVERYONE IN THIS HOUSE GONE MAD?!!" Anne shouted and left to roam through the attic again.
She didn't talk to Diana or Cole again, but spent the day hanging garlands and lights around the place and making Christmas wall decorations. Her Pinterest page looked like the inside of an elf's house, or so Cole has once said and she had been pretty proud of that statement ever since. The next morning Diana went out at around 8am, so naturally Anne was already on the roof by 8:15. She loved Diana dearly, but if she wanted someone to boss her around she would've gone to live with Marilla again. Speaking of which, it was just three days until her arrival and Anne was beside herself with joy. For one, she was glad Marilla wasn't spending her holidays cooped up in Rachel Lynn's cottage. The duo have been spending most of their time together since the tragedy of Matthew's death struck the hearts of Avonlea five years ago. A tear came running down her cheek just then and she quickly wiped it. In her moment of nostalgia she dropped the two wire angels she had been planning to pin down around the chimney on the ground.
"Good morning, Anne. Need any help?" the voice of Gilbert Blythe echoed behind her. He was standing in the middle of the street smirking at her. She turned around carefully, praying to God not to do anything embarrassing such as slipping in front of him.
"Not from you, I don't."
"Something tells me you're angry with me," he said, opening their gate anyway.
"Oh no, really? What gave it away?" she said sarcastically and quickly took the angels he was handing her.
"I'm really sorry for offending you, Anne. But I was hoping we could move on and be friends."
Anne furrowed her brows. "I'd rather not." She hoped this would send him on his way, but he remained in place looking at her. She was done pinning the two angels down and wrapping white Christmas lighting around them and began her way down the ladder. However it was just her luck that as soon as she put her second foot down she lost balance, slipping and knocking the ladder down. She squinched her eyes shut, waiting for the sharp pain of hitting the ground. Before she could comprehend what was happening she felt a grasp of two arms under her knees and her back. Gilbert Blythe had caught her and probably saved her from a few broken limbs. She let out a few breaths of relief and looked at her savior. He was staring at her intensely with worry.
"Are you okay?" he asked, realized he was still holding her bridal style and put her down.
She hissed a little when her feet touched the ground, feeling a stab of sharp pain in her right ankle. Annoying as ever, Gilbert was already squatting on the ground looking at it.
"I don't need you to be a hero," she said sharply. "I'll go and get that looked at by a doctor."
"I am a doctor," he replied, ignoring her previous comment.
Of course he is. Cause that would be ridiculous if he was anything but...
"Lift your foot up. Can you move it?"
Anne made a couple of circles in the air, moving her ankle.
"It's most likely just sprained. How's the pain?"
"Manageable," she replied and he got up.
"If you want I can take you for an X-ray... I'm headed down to the hospital for an hour or so anyway," he offered.
"Thank you kindly, Dr. Blythe, but I can take care of myself."
There was still spice to her tone, but Gilbert ignored it completely.
"I don't doubt that in the slightest," he said, walking to his car. "The angels look spectacular, by the way."
And with that he waved her goodbye and drove off once again. She stumbled inside and put her foot up on the coffee table, yelling for Cole to bring her some ice. They put on The Christmas Carol after, eating popcorn and drinking tea when Diana came home.
"Jesus Christ, Anne... What happened? I saw the ladder on the ground outside, are you all right? Should I take you to the hospital??" she said taking a seat next to Anne, clutching her hand.
"Ha, no need, the hot neighbour had already examined it, isn't that right, Anne?" Cole elbowed her in the ribs.
"Cole, if I had two healthy feet I would kick you so hard right now," she shook her head. "Apparently, he's a doctor and I'm fine, it's just a sprained ankle."
"I'll tell you what, Anne... You're lucky to only end up with a sprained ankle after such fall. You could've broken your ribs or something!! I warned you not to climb on that roof!"
"Oh, but she didn't fall, right? A certain someone caught her..." Cole giggled.
"I swear to God, Cole... Stop it or I'll throw your Christmas presents into the fireplace," Anne said and shoved him a little.
"Gilbert caught you?" Diana asked.
"Oh," she breathed. "Well that's awfully nice of him, don't you think?"
"Sure, it must be exhausting playing the hero all the time..."
"Oh, that's it. I'm going over there to thank him for saving you from spending the holidays in wheelchair," she said and put her coat back on.
"Don't bother, he's probably out saving lives as we speak!" Anne yelled, but Diana was already out the door.
The next few days went by uneventfully. Anne was unable to finish decorating the roof as she planned and since Diana was still mad at her for taking her well being for granted and Cole went away to visit Miss Barry, she had no one to ask to finish it for her. Marilla came the morning of the 20th, carrying Christmas presents for everyone. Anne was glad she finally had someone to talk to and decorate the Christmas tree with, the two of them making a fun evening out of it. Saturday the 21st was the day of Josie Pye's Christmas party, when the results of the competition were announced. Diana tried to drag her there as a way to make amends, but Anne refused to go and watch Gilbert win. Josie usually lets the winner know beforehand, so Anne knew there was no way she was winning this year. Instead she spent the night drinking eggnog and going over old family albums with Marilla.
Diana returned from the party when they were both out cold on the couch, placing a blanket over them and waking Anne up. She was holding the first place prize from the competition in her hand.
"How?" Anne asked in awe.
"I don't know... Go ask Gilbert tomorrow."
And go and ask she did. As soon as the clock showed 8 am she was out the door, crossing the street and knocking on his door. He emerged almost immediately, already up and dressed, a cup of coffee in hand.
"Hey, how's your ankle?" He was wearing a white sweater and black jeans, his hair was all messed up, but Anne thought it made him even more attractive.
"Fine, thank you for asking. So—"
"Congrats on winning the first place. I was told you are the annual winner. Your house looks amazing, by the way," he said, leaning on the doorframe.
"Why did you withdraw from the competition? Diana told me you did. You would've won..."
He laughed at that.
"I figured someone as passionate about Christmas decor as you is much more deserving of the prize than I am. To be honest, I didn't care about the competition. My dad was really into the whole Christmas thing, so I always go all out in his memory."
Anne felt horrible after that. She looked at the boy in front of her and admitted just how stupid she had been acting.
"I do that too... I didn't mention this before, but my adoptive father died just before Christmas six years ago and I remember just how horrible that Christmas was for me and my mother. That's why I am... the way I am. I have to apologize to you, I got carried away and acted terribly, even though you've been nothing but nice since we met. I don't deserve first place."
"Anne, to be completely honest, when I refused the prize my intentions weren't as pure as you seem to think," he admitted and she narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. "I was hoping you would accept my invitation for a coffee sometime."
The corners of her mouth twisted into a wide smile. "I'd like that very much."
Gilbert took her out for coffee the next day, the two of them talking about anything and everything over two warm cinnamon lattes, which they discovered to be their shared favorite. The following Christmas Eve day they went for a hike, Gilbert making her stop every few miles and checking her ankle.
She invited him over for Christmas Eve dinner and he invited her and Marilla over for Christmas brunch, she got to know and love Mary and Bash, who had just announced their engagement. After that they spent nearly every single day together, reading books near the fireplace, building snowmen or having ball fights in teams against Cole and Diana.
He asked her to be his girlfriend after they shared a passionate kiss after the countdown to midnight and stepped into the New Year. For next year's Christmas they entered the competition together, decorating their houses to match perfectly. After nagging her about it for nearly two months, Anne finally shared her Christmas cookie recipe with him, making him pinkie swear he would never tell another soul.
After next year's countdown to midnight on January the first instead of kissing Anne, Gilbert got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. Without even thinking she said yes and years after they were telling everyone the story about the stubborn redhead, who fell in love with a dark haired stranger she met at the supermarket buying ingredients for cookies she would then unknowingly bring to his doorstep. Needless to say, Christmas wasn't the same since.