He’s wearing the sweater again, the silly lights blinking at her. So is she. The temperature had started dropping alongside the number of people inside, and Anne had wanted to put herself back into the Christmas mood. Seeing him matching her again thaws something in her chest, just enough that he’s able to pull her along without her struggling to get away.
This time Gilbert doesn’t try to shock her into talking by freezing her to death. He brings her to his room instead. It instantly brings a flush to her cheeks as they walk through the door, which is stupid, because they’ve been friends for years and, before this whole mess, she had been in his room hundreds of times. They would spend hours in there studying or watching a TV show or simply hanging out together. Ever since Winifred, though, Anne hasn’t gone inside it.
Also, you know, walking into the bedroom of the boy she has a crush on does something to her.
(Sometimes she regrets having such a wide scope of imagination.)
Gilbert, oblivious to her troubles, as usual, sits her down on the edge of his bed before dragging his desk chair over and plopping himself right in front of her. He’s closed the door behind them, whatever noises lingering inside the apartment completely muffled by it. He stares at her, hazel eyes a little dark and wild.
And then it’s just the two of them.
“What girlfriend were you talking about?” is his first question, and it’s so stupid Anne almost walks out of the room right then.
Jesus, was this how he wanted to start? Did he have to remind her of this?
She rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Gilbert, I saw you and Winifred together,” she tells him, already feeling a little tired.
It’s not often she stays up this late, especially with large quantities of alcohol in her blood, and having an emotionally draining conversation wasn’t helping with that. Plus, wine makes her sleepy. She’d really rather be in her own bed right now.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Gilbert says in a confused tone, eyebrows dancing above his eyes.
Did he think she was dumb? Or blind? Honestly.
Anne glares at him.
He licks his lips. It’s distracting and she hates it. “Not anymore,” he finishes, glancing away from her with a slight blush on his cheeks.
Anne sighs. “You were together. You were standing underneath the mistletoe with her,” she says, wondering why she even bothered. It’s not like it would change anything. “I saw you. Everyone did.” Her voice wavers and she takes in a shaky breath to calm herself. “Either way, I really don’t want to do this right now. It’s none of my business. Can I go?”
She’s about to get up but his hand is on her forearm before she can even try.
“Anne, come on,” he pleads, eyes searching hers. She looks away. “I’m not with Winifred. That ended over a month ago. You know that.”
“I also know you kissed her under the mistletoe a few hours ago, so—”
“But I didn’t,” he interrupts her, voice rising in volume as his eyebrows jump up to his hairline.
Anne leans back, blinks, searches his expression for a lie. She doesn’t find it.
“Me and Winifred are done,” he repeats. “I saw her here and we were talking and, yeah, we ended up underneath some mistletoe, but I didn’t kiss her. I don’t know what you think you saw but—”
“I didn’t,” she blurts out. Gilbert’s eyes snap up to her. “I didn’t see you kiss her, only… The mistletoe bit.”
“Jesus Christ, Anne,” he huffs, his shoulders sagging as his hands run through his hair in frustration.
He’s angry now, she realizes, but she doesn’t know how to fix it.
“I thought—” she starts, not sure how she’s going to continue, but Gilbert doesn’t let her.
“Why does it matter, anyway?” he asks, voice cutting, eyes staring deep into hers. God, why did they have to be such an enchanting color? It’s amazing how they’re not just simple hazel but hints of golds and greens and browns that make up a kaleidoscope of shades she could spend days trying to figure out.
Anne is definitely too drunk for this.
“Anne,” he repeats, when she doesn’t say anything. “What’s going on?”
She groans. Not this question. “Nothing,” she tells him, whining.
She sinks her face into her hands. She knows that tone of voice, has heard it many times over the years. She knows how insistent he can be.
“Come on, I know you,” he says. “And I know something’s wrong. Let me help.”
The sentence is so ironic Anne has to laugh, the sound coming out muffled from behind her hands.
“Just leave it alone, Gil,” she tries, hoping the nickname will ease his worries.
There’s a moment of silence where she swears he actually will.
She’s wrong, of course.
“Would it matter?” he asks suddenly, his tone changed so completely even she can’t understand what it means.
She drops her hands and looks up at him.
She can’t read the emotions in his eyes either. She’s never seen him like this before.
“Would it matter if I was back together with Winifred?” Gilbert asks, then, his voice breaking a little in the middle.
And then Anne can read him. Just a little. Just enough.
She still doesn’t understand.
“Why would it?” she manages to croak out.
“You tell me,” he says, then stares at her.
It’s too much. Way too much. And she’s drunk and one second away from saying something she’s not supposed to and this was not the plan and she really, really needs to leave.
Anne stands up and walks towards the door as fast as her unstable feet can take her. Gilbert is there before she reaches it, hand closing over her wrist and pulling her back.
“Anne, stop!” he exclaims, his grip on her unwavering, eyes roving wildly over her face. She needs to get out of there.
“Gilbert, let me go!” she replies, her voice matching his in volume, struggling as she tries to disentangle herself from him.
Then both of his hands close around her forearms.
“Why can’t you just say what’s going on?” he exclaims, frustration tinging his tone and she wants to scream at him, tell him that she’s the one who’s frustrated and hurt and he doesn’t get to turn this around on her.
“Because I’ve lost you before!” she yells instead, exhaustion taking over her body and unshed tears pricking at her eyes. All the air leaves her chest and she sees the surprise appear on his face. “I’ve lost you before and I can’t afford to lose you again, Gil. Not again.” Her words are a whispered confession, one she shouldn’t be making, but she can’t take it back anymore.
The damage is done.
Gilbert’s silent for what feels like hours, simply standing there and staring at her. It’s taking everything in her not to burst into tears right there in front of him. Then he opens his mouth and she braces herself for it.
“And why—” he starts, voice failing. He clears his throat before continuing. “Why would you lose me?”
Anne lets out a shaky breath, panic gripping at her throat.
“Please don’t make me do this,” she whispers, her voice shaking.
“Anne, what’s wrong?” he asks, worriedly.
She closes her eyes and shakes her head, and then she doesn’t seem able to stop, the movement turning frantic. She tries to tune him out. Gilbert calls her name, but Anne ignores it. She needs to stop and get out of there, she can’t ruin things right before the holidays, she can’t lose her best friend.
She just needed some time away and things would be fine.
“Hey, Anne-girl, look at me,” he asks, the softness in his voice something she can’t reject. That, and the nickname, that wretched one he had come up with in their late teenage years, when she had accepted his friendship whole-heartedly and he had become one of the most important people in her life. The two words she hadn’t liked at first, but had learned to love as she noticed the care he put into them every time he said it.
She can’t say no to that nickname. Not even now.
So, she opens her eyes. Slowly. Wary of what she will find once they meet his again.
He’s standing close to her. Too close.
“You’re not going to lose me,” Gilbert tells her in a soft whisper.
Anne feels like she’s about to cry.
“You don’t know that,” she breathes out, her voice cracking.
“Of course I do,” he says, crooked grin in place. “Nothing, not a single thing in this world, could ever make you lose me, do you hear me? You’re my best friend. My kindred spirit, right? And that’s forever, Anne. No getting out of it now.”
My best friend. It’s ridiculous how the words hurt a little bit at the same time they warm her from the inside.
“Gil—” she starts, but then can’t quite manage to say anything else.
“Listen,” he continues, eyebrows scrunching up in determination. “You were never going to lose me in the first place, I don’t know what gave you that idea. And you’re not going to lose me now.” His eyes shift between hers. Searching. “Please, tell me what’s going on.”
The first tear runs down her face then. Anne wants to scream. She was not supposed to be crying now. Not in front of him. But she can’t hold it in anymore. There are too many feelings overwhelming her and he’s looking at her with something in his eyes that brings a chill down her spine and she’s too drunk for this.
Anne looks at Gilbert, then, and imagines. What if she did tell him? What then? In the worst possible outcome, he’d reject her after knowing how she felt. Or things would get awkward between them. Or he’d decide to stay away from her so it wouldn’t. No matter what, she’d lose him. In the best possible outcome, he’d return her feelings and they’d live happily ever after. Or they wouldn’t, and they’d have a couples’ fight at some point and she’d lose her best friend either way.
Maybe there wasn’t any best possible outcome.
“I can’t do this now,” she tries, one last time, because she has to. She can’t risk it.
But Gilbert groans loudly. “Are we going to stay on this back and forth forever? Since when do we keep stuff from each other?”
Anne almost laughs again. She’s pretty sure they’ve been keeping stuff from each other for years.
“This isn’t something I can just tell you when I’m drunk and crying in the middle of a Christmas party!” Anne doesn’t know when she’s started yelling. “Stop trying to make me do this, I can’t. And I’m not going to. I don’t care if you want to satisfy your curiosity or whatever it is, okay?”
“My curiosity?” Gilbert leans back, offended. “I’m just worried about you!”
“Well, don’t be,” she replies. “Just leave me alone. I don’t need your worry right now.”
There’s silence. Tense, painful silence, and then—
“Fine,” he snaps, bitterness imbuing his tone. He turns in a flurry, swiping something from his desk before shoving it at her. “Merry Christmas,” he says tersely.
It’s a Christmas present, tidily wrapped in a muted gray paper, flourished with a perfect dark green bow. The elegant tone of his is a stark contrast from the over-the-top way she had wrapped her own, with colorful patterns and huge bows and flowers she had taken a long time finding in the winter embellishing the present. Anne wonders if that means something for the contrast of their personalities as well.
Before she can get herself together enough to thank him, he’s already out of the room, banging the door closed behind him.
With everything that had happened, Anne had kind of forgotten about the Christmas gift. Hers was still safely stored in Cole’s bedroom away from peering eyes. They hadn’t planned on exchanging presents with everyone (it was a quite large group, after all, and they were still broke university students), but Anne hadn’t resisted buying something for him. She wasn’t expecting Gil to do it as well.
She wonders what he would think of his, when she gave it to him.
She wonders what he got for her.
Anne sits down on his bed, holding the present as if it’s fragile. He probably wasn’t coming back into his room any time soon, anyway, so she supposes she could just open it here. With a care very much unlike her, Anne unwraps the gift, trying not to tear the paper.
It’s not a large package, and when the wrappings fall away they reveal a jewelry box. Gilbert had never gotten her jewelry before. There had been a mini dictionary, back when they were still kids, then countless books, a planner and even some fancier pens, but never jewelry.
There’s a knot in her throat before she even opens it to see what it is. With a deep breath, Anne lifts the lid and her breath rushes out of her.
It’s a necklace. A delicate chain with a silver running fox pendant. It brings tears to her eyes. It’s one she had seen in a store months ago, while hanging out with Gilbert, back before the whole Winifred thing had gone down. She had gushed over it, mesmerized by how delicate and pretty and utterly her it was, before walking away because of the price.
Except Gilbert had remembered.
Blinking the tears out of her eyes, Anne notices, tucked into the corner of the jewelry box, a small carrot charm that will fit perfectly on the bracelet Matthew had given her on her sixteenth birthday and that she had worn every day since. She had been collecting charms for years, and the sight of this one brings an irritated laugh out of her. Carrots. Of course.
She wonders when the revolting nickname had become endearing to her.
At last, there’s a note. She takes the envelope tucked into the inside of the box’s lid. Anne, it says, in flowery writing. She opens it with shaky fingers and, with one final, deep breath, starts reading it.
For a long time, I have struggled on how or when I would say these words to you. I feel like the time has come, for I can no longer hold it all in. This necklace, as you said when you first saw it, signifies how you see yourself. A fox, a free spirit, constantly in search of another adventure. The carrot (and please don’t kill me for this) is a small representation of how I saw you. But not in a bad way, I promise. The carrot signifies the moment when stupid, fourteen-year-old Gilbert thought it would be a good idea to get a pretty girl’s attention by pulling on her braid and calling her a vegetable and then having her (rightfully) smack him over the head for it. What followed were painstaking years trying to earn your forgiveness. And then wonderful, happy years having your friendship and company. It is, I hope, but a small token of how much you mean to me.
(In the end, I guess I’m a little bit thankful for young and foolish Gilbert being brave enough to try and talk to the new enchanting and smart red-headed girl in class. At least now it means I get to have you in my life.)
You are, as you like to say, my kindred spirit, the most important person in my life. You know the deepest, darkest parts of my soul, and you’ve never judged me for them (most of the time, at least). I am thankful every day that I get to experience life with you in it. You make my days brighter with the enchanting way you look at the world, more interesting from the manner you speak with words that are always beautiful, more mesmerizing with your radiant smile and your flaming hair and your shiny blue eyes. There is no one in my life that could ever replace you, as you are the keeper of the key to my heart (sorry if that was cheesy, it’s the truth). I’ve loved you since I was a boy, and I’ll continue to love you for as long as I shall live.
It’s always been you, Anne. My Anne with an E.
P.S.: Please believe me when I say I don’t expect anything from you. I’ve known for a while that you would never feel for me the same way I do. I’ve just been holding in these words for so long, and it seemed about time to get them out. Merry Christmas.
She’s crying by the time she’s done reading. The tears fall even harder when she’s done the second way through. And the third. And the fourth. And then the fifth.
God, she had really messed things up, hadn’t she?
But she wouldn’t do that anymore.
With a determined sigh, Anne dries her tears, gets up and leaves his bedroom, heading for Cole’s. Ignoring the complaints (and the things she didn’t want to see) from him and some other boy, she grabs the gift she had bought Gilbert from under the other boy’s bed and tries to find him.
Except she can’t. He’s not anywhere in the apartment.
She ignores the pang of concern that realization causes her and heads to the living room, taking a seat at the couch. He’s bound to come back at some point. And so, Anne sits and waits.
Ruby finds Anne still sitting on the couch. Everyone’s left the apartment besides their group, and it’s all silent, everyone having turned in already. The girls were sleeping over, too tired to go to their own place right now. Ruby and Diana would be staying with Moody and Jerry either way and Josie had demanded to be let into Cole’s room while kicking out the boy he had been with in the process. There had been some yelling following that scuffle that had ended quickly because they were all too exhausted for it. She hadn’t bothered checking what was going on.
Anne’s waiting in the living room. She might spend the night there, even.
She doesn’t know where Gilbert’s gone off to.
But she knows he’s coming back. He has to.
“Anne?” Ruby says, in a soft, careful voice.
Anne looks up at her, feeling a little dazed. The alcohol hasn’t completely worn off yet, and she’s in the distracted, mind racing a million miles a minute stage. It takes her eyes a few seconds to focus on her blonde friend, standing in front of her with a concerned smile.
“Are you coming up to sleep?” Ruby asks, her hand laying on her shoulder.
“I’m waiting,” Anne replies, eyes shifting back to the apartment door. It’s still closed. She feels as if it’s been closed for hours now.
He’s been gone forever and she’s worried. Super worried. Is he wandering around the dark, cold streets alone? Is he not alone? She doesn’t know what option is worse. What if he’s getting wasted at some dingy bar downtown all by himself? What if he’s been kidnapped? Anne’s fingers tighten around the cellphone in her hand. Gilbert isn’t answering her calls, either.
Leave it to Anne Shirley-Cuthbert to mess things up this badly when her whole intention was to not mess things up.
“Waiting for what, sweetheart?” Ruby says, sitting down next to her.
“Gil,” she breathes out.
She feels her friend take in a sharp breath as she grabs her hand.
“And where is he?” Ruby’s tone is delicate, as she always is. No matter how passionate the girl could be (really, there was no one that could dramatize a situation like Ruby Gillis, exaggerate theatrical tears to match), she was always careful when it came to these moments.
Anne shrugs. “I don’t know. But he’s coming back.”
There’s a moment of silence where both of them wait. She’s not sure what for.
“That’s a pretty necklace,” Ruby says.
Anne had put it on, of course, her hand coming up to play with the fox charm every five seconds as she tried not to freak out too much. The carrot was also already in place on her bracelet, but this one was hidden by her sweater’s long sleeve (the one that matched Gilbert’s even though they hadn’t planned which just felt like a message from the universe or some really ironic coincidence, she wasn’t sure which was better yet). She was almost as in love with them as she was with the boy who had given them to her.
“It’s my Christmas present from Gil,” she tells her.
Ruby hums in response.
“You two are finally working things out, then?” she pipes up, tone way too nonchalant to be truly casual. Anne’s eyes snap up to her.
Her friend has a small, mischievous grin on her lips. Her eyes are twinkling with something she can’t identify. It’s a far cry from the moony eyes she used to give Gilbert whenever he walked into a room. Things had changed so much recently that Anne sometimes forgot Ruby had been in love with him up until the start of the term (there hadn’t been a very long grieving period, it was basically one day she was picturing what having Gilbert’s last name would be like and the next Moody was all she talked and sighed about).
She had been happy that her friend was finally letting go of her unattainable and slightly obsessive crush, and not just because Anne had started feeling something for the same boy around that time. Ruby had become so much more herself since letting go of her delusions over Gilbert Blythe. She had finally realized how amazing she was without needing some boy to give her any validation. Besides, she and Moody made an unimaginable but cute couple, and he was always up to showering her with compliments and making sure Ruby knew just how amazing she was even if she didn’t need it as much anymore.
“What do you mean?” Anne asks, a little hesitantly, trying to understand the weird look on the other girl’s face.
Ruby sighs, looking away from her and shrugging. “Well, you guys have been dancing around each other for years,” she chuckles. Anne’s pretty sure her eyes are so wide they might pop out of her head at any moment. “I was hoping you had finally gotten over yourselves and talked it out, you know? Especially since there’s nothing stopping you anymore. No Winifred confusing things. No Roy bothering you at every chance he gets. No Ruby with a ridiculous crush.”
Her tone is so self-deprecating, Anne isn’t quite sure what to do. Her entire face is burning from embarrassment. Fuck. She’s a terrible friend.
“Ruby, I swear I’ve never—” she tries, although she’s not really sure what she can say to look like she’s any better than she actually is.
“Oh, no,” Ruby interrupts her, shaking her head and smiling. “I’m not accusing you of anything. I know now that I was stupid.” Anne tries to contradict her, but she doesn’t let her. “I also know you don’t think that. But listen, I was blind, okay? I couldn’t see what was right in front of me because I kept imagining my white picket fence life with Gilbert Blythe, when, really, he’s been in love with you this whole time. If anything, I’m the one who should apologize for intruding in your relationship with him all these years.”
Anne gapes at her, still in shock.
“But how did you know—”
“How did I know you were in love with him?” Ruby snorts. “Please, Anne, everyone does. Except for him, of course, but that’s because when he looks at you he’s only thinking about how in love with you he is and he can never see that you love him back.”
Anne blinks. She’s completely speechless. Her mind has gone blank.
“Listen, I’m happy with Moody,” Ruby continues, smiling, and it’s such a genuine one that Anne finds herself smiling as well. “I truly am. In a way I could have never been with Gil, especially considering I’ve only managed to have a proper conversation with him after I was no longer obsessed with him.” They both chuckle at that. “I know I was in the way, for a while, and I’m sorry. You were always too good of a friend to me, better than I deserved. But I need you to know, now, that the path is free, Anne.”
She’s pretty sure she’s about to cry.
Ruby sighs and turns to her on the couch, grabbing her hands and looking into her eyes.
“This is your time,” she says. “Finally, you guys can make it work. Forget everyone else, okay? You’ve been waiting for this for too long. You’re allowed to be happy, Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, and you’re allowed to be happy with Gilbert. So, do it. Tell him.”
Her arms are around Ruby’s neck before her friend is even done talking, and then they’re both cry-laughing into each other’s shoulders.
“Thank you,” Anne mutters, her voice muffled against Ruby’s shirt. “I didn’t know I needed to hear all that, but I did. So, thank you.”
Her friend laughs. “Hey, you don’t have to thank me, okay?” she says as they separate. “But,” she adds, mischievous grin back in place. “If you truly want to, you can do that by kissing Gilbert Blythe until he forgets his own name. Making up for lost time and all that.”
With that, Ruby leaves her with a teasing wink and flaming cheeks.
She’d never admit this out loud (especially not to Gilbert), but that sounded like a great idea.
Anne’s almost asleep when the doorknob turns.
She’s on her feet before he even walks in, though. Surprise takes over his expression as he opens the door, crosses the threshold and finds her there looking at him. Gilbert is wearing a winter coat over the sweater, cheeks flushed from the cold and hair tousled from the wind outside. With a wary look, he takes off the coat, eyes glued to her.
Anne feels like she can’t breathe properly.
“Hey,” she blurts out, when he doesn’t say anything.
“Hey,” he replies, gingerly.
The lights on his sweater are not on anymore. She feels a bit silly in hers then, multi-colored lights blinking on the edge of her vision. They feel a little too cheery for the serious conversation she intended to have.
“What are you doing still up?” he asks, voice intentionally casual, and Anne knows he’s giving her a choice. She could tell him upright what she wants or she could let it go, use the out he’s offering and make up some lame excuse that he won’t question. Gilbert’s just that nice, even in the middle of one of their fights.
But Anne’s tired of running and his letter is gripped tightly between her fingers.
“Waiting for you to come back.”
His eyes snap up to hers, completely unreadable. Then they flutter down, snagging on the gap between her collarbones where the necklace rests and then on her hand. He looks back up at her, nodding.
It’s vague, but she accepts his answer. They stare at each other for a moment, silence brewing between them in the uncomfortable way it hasn’t been in years. Anne’s rehearsed this in her head, but all the words are suddenly gone, her mouth dry, so she does the second-best thing. She turns, grabbing the package from the couch, and hands him his present.
“Merry Christmas,” she croaks out, heat creeping up her neck.
“Oh,” he breathes out, slowly reaching out for it.
There’s a soft smile on his lips when he looks down at the gift, wrapping paper a little crinkled, wildflowers tucked into a red bow that’s a bit wonky. He unwraps it much like she did, slowly and carefully, unfolding the paper to reveal the present inside.
It’s a journal. Leather-bound, his name engraved in the front with gold lettering and in his handwriting. It’s simple, especially compared to what he had given her, but it had required some digging to get it done. There’s no card, of course, outside of the simple ‘Merry Christmas’ note she had left on top of the wrapped present. Anne had tried her best to stay away from anything that could possibly hint at her having feelings for him.
Well, it seemed like that had been all in vain, considering what she was preparing herself to do.
He’s still smiling as his fingers run over the cover of the journal. “I love it,” Gilbert says, eyes fluttering up to hers, honesty dripping from his words.
Anne shrugs even as her lips twitch into a small smile. “It’s nothing much, really, but I remember you saying that—”
“Anne,” he interrupts her, then repeats, “I love it. I mean it.”
“Good,” she replies, with some effort to muster up any words at all. “I— I loved my present too.” Her fingers touch the silver fox touching her sternum. Gilbert’s eyes follow the movement.
“Did you?” he asks, his own voice failing. Anne can only nod.
There’s a beat, one where she tries to figure out if he meant something more in his words about his gift in the same way she did, a hidden meaning she guesses won’t stay hidden for much longer. Then his hand jumps up to his hair, running through his curls the way it always does when he’s nervous. Color starts appearing at the tops of his cheeks.
They both speak at the time, then stop, staring at each other wide-eyed. It’s the kind of awkwardness Anne’s been trying to avoid in the fear that it would surface when unrequited feelings interfered in their friendship. Too late for that now, apparently.
Except Anne Shirley-Cuthbert is as stubborn as they make them, and she’s determined not to let this ruin their relationship. Not ever.
But she’s still a bit confused as to why he’s apologizing.
“What for?” she asks.
Gilbert clears his throat, looking away from her for a moment. “What I wrote,” he starts, his entire face reddening, from the tips of his ears down to his neck. He doesn’t look at her. “I know you’re probably uncomfortable, right now, and angry at me, because of what I said. And that you… Don’t feel the same, so. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to throw it all at you like that, I just needed to… Get it out, I guess.”
He’s breathing heavily by the time he’s done, shoulders tense with embarrassment but also something else. It’s like he’s ready, poised to receive an attack. Anne frowns.
It’s from her, she realizes. Gilbert’s ready for an explosive reaction from her, for shouted words or maybe even a slap. It shames her, that he would imagine that’s how she’d act after reading his letter. That she’d be mad at him for what he feels for her. It makes her wonder just how awful she’s been to him all these years that this is what he expects from her.
It makes her wonder how he’s even stayed friends with her for so long.
“Gil,” she calls, softly. “I’m not angry at you.”
His eyes snap up to hers, hazel irises sparkling, pupils dilating, eyebrows flying over his forehead in confusion. She swallows dry, gathering her strength, before speaking.
“Open the first page,” she mumbles, nodding at the journal in his hands.
Her hands are starting to sweat, anxiety climbing up her throat and every single instinct she has is telling her to bolt, but Anne Shirley-Cuthbert has finally decided to stop running from her own feelings and so she stays. She watches as realization and fragile, vulnerable hope fills his eyes and Gilbert looks down at the journal and slowly, hesitantly, pulls back the cover.
She takes in a sharp breath and holds it as his eyes rover over the words written on it.
It had hurt a little to open the carefully done wrapping paper, and cost some of her pride to re-do it again, slowly and painfully, but still not nearly as perfect or pretty as it had been before. As Gilbert’s eyes clear and start reading it all over again, though, Anne decides it was worth it.
She had drunk a lot tonight, mixed more different alcoholic drinks than she can care to remember, tried to drown her sorrows too many times for only one party. And yet, as she watches him read the words on the first page of the journal, Anne’s never felt so sober. All the haze of the alcohol has left her, replaced by a sharp focus on the one boy that matters to her more than anyone else. And her feelings for him.
She can recite the words she’s written there, if he asks. It’s a small note compared to his letter, even though she had always enjoyed large, fancy words to encompass great feelings. This time, as it turns out, all she had needed were simple ones. There was no point in complicating things further.
I’m sorry I was scared before and I acted out.
I’m not anymore.
I love you.
Five, ten, fifteen seconds pass. Gilbert’s eyes continue glued to the page. She knows he’s reading it more than once, just like she had with his letter. She understands the need to do so, to make sure the words are real, that the feelings are.
And so, Anne waits.
When he finally looks up at her, his hands are shaking and his eyes are wild, shifting between hers. Searching.
“Is this true?” he whispers, his voice wavering, and her heart breaks as she sees the vulnerability in his expression. “Do you truly—”
“Yes,” she breathes out, before he can finish the dumb, obvious question.
There’s one more second of silence where Gilbert continues looking at her and Anne tries to remember how to breathe normally as they’re both breathing heavily like they’ve just run across town to get to each other. This silence is completely different from the one before. This time, Anne can practically feel the tension that fills the small space between them.
And then it snaps.
Gilbert surges forward, hands coming up to grab her cheeks at the same time her hands reach for his shoulders, and his lips land on hers in a glorious, miraculous kiss. Anne melts against him, one of his hands travelling down to her waist as he pulls her against him and it’s like every single one of her dreams are coming true at the same time she realizes that this reality is a thousand times better than anything her imagination could have ever come up with.
Gilbert Blythe is kissing her and she feels like her heart is about to burst out of her chest.
She’s warm all over, the places he touches her burning like he’s pure fire. It’s a desperate, needy kiss. Anne can’t tell if it’s because of her or him or both of them. As his lips move over hers in a heady caress, she remembers the months of hopelessly pining, of hurt, of fear, and of imagining this moment with the certainty that it would never happen.
And yet, here she is. Gilbert Blythe is kissing her because he has feelings for her, just like she does for him, and it is glorious.
Then Gilbert’s tongue enters her mouth and she stops thinking altogether.
Anne only notices things are getting out of hand when they stumble back and the back of her knees hit the couch and they fall onto it in a tangle of limbs. It’s a mess, and it takes them a few moments to properly settle themselves, but once they do Gilbert’s hovering over her, his hands supporting him on either side of her head, their faces inches from each other, one of his legs between hers.
It’s definitely the most intimate position they’ve ever found themselves in, and it makes Anne blush until she probably looks like a tomato. She’s not in any rush to get out of there, though.
“Hey,” he says, lips crooking into a flirty grin that makes her want to kiss it off (although she’s pretty sure she’ll forever want to kiss him now, no matter the situation, because, God, was Gilbert Blythe a good kisser).
“Hi,” she replies, pretty certain she’s not capable of mustering anything other than that, since his lips seem to be very bad for her brain functions.
“You love me,” Gilbert whispers, delighted. Anne can’t hold in her own smile at that.
His curls are flopping messily over his eyes, his cheeks are flushed and his lips are kiss-swollen. He’s never looked more beautiful. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to act normally around him again, now that she knows what he looks like after she’s gotten her hands in his hair and her lips on his. She had never thought a boy could turn her into this much of a wanton mess, and yet, here she is.
She’s always known Gilbert Blythe would be the death of her.
“I do,” Anne agrees, a smile appearing on her lips. “But do you? I mean, you haven’t actually said it yet.”
It’s a joke, kind of, because he’s said it, if not in those exact words. She almost laughs when he gapes at her as if she’s said the most absurd thing in the world. But still, although she’ll never say it to him and it’s probably stupid, Anne kind of needs to hear him say it out loud, after so long believing this moment would never come. She’s spent years fighting against her insecurities and the deprecating thoughts that had been drilled into her head during her time in the system, training herself to believe that people can love her, but it’s still hard sometimes.
Especially in this way, she thinks, where Gilbert is looking at her like he wants nothing more than to kiss her again, like she’s the most precious thing he’s ever held in his arms. Until not too long ago, Anne Shirley had believed she would never find someone that would look at her this way, that no one would ever want to marry her, that no one could ever love her. It’s frustrating how these feelings stick with her, but they do.
And she just… She needs to hear it. Just once. Just so she can believe it.
Gilbert apparently understands that, expression softening as he looks down at her, one of his hands cupping her cheek and making her stare back at him.
“I love you,” he says, and it’s so certain, so honest, his voice so sure of this feeling that Anne can’t find it in herself to doubt him.
Gilbert Blythe loves her.
Anne’s kissing him again before he can get any other words out. He kisses her back eagerly a second later, the hand on her cheek travelling into her hair to pull her face against his as he lowers his body on top of hers. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world. His warmth seeps through the layers of their clothing and into her body, his weight pressing her down into the couch, and somehow what maybe should feel stifling only feels safe. It feels like home, even.
Anne thinks she might be living in the fictional universe of some young adult romance novel, because there’s no way this is a feeling that exists in real life, right?
She could stay here forever, kissing Gilbert, relishing the feel of his hand spanning across her back, of his fingers tangling into her hair, of his lips pressing down on hers, of his teeth biting lightly onto her lower lip and pulling it towards him until she let out a soft gasp. Her nails sink into his shoulders and she feels his lips curve up into a smile before his tongue sweeps into her mouth and she’s lost to his kissing abilities once again.
Jesus Christ, where had he learned all of this?
They separate when the need for air grows greater than the need to keep their mouths glued together. Gilbert lays his forehead on hers, and they breathe together.
“You have no idea,” he starts, before pecking her on the lips. “How long.” Another one. “I’ve been waiting.” And another. “To do this.” This time, the peck turns into a longer, chaste kiss. Then he pulls back, eyes glittering and smile blinding, and Anne is smiling just as much as he is as all that is happening hits her. His hands cup her cheeks again, thumbs caressing her skin. “How long I’ve wanted to say it. I love you.”
Anne’s pretty sure she’s about to cry.
“I love you too,” she whispers, voice hoarse, and he presses her lips to hers again as if he’s incapable of keeping them separated. She understands the feeling. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before, I just…” Anne swallows, and then, looking at his open, honest eyes, the words escape her mouth, everything she’s kept bottled up for months, years even coming out in a rush. “I was scared and I thought throwing my unrequited feelings onto you would ruin our friendship forever and I couldn’t lose you. Not again. Not even if that meant watching you marry some blonde model while I went forever being your best friend and hiding my true feelings. It would hurt but it would be okay as long as I had you in my life.”
Gilbert stares at her for a moment before he shakes his head, breathing out a laugh.
“Unrequited? Jesus, Anne, I’ve been in love with you since you smacked me over the head with your notebook,” he says, still laughing, while she gapes at his confession. He kisses her cheek and speaks the next words so close to her face she can feel his breath on her skin. It’s almost like a prayer. “I’m sorry I made you hurt, I swear I had no idea you felt those things. There was never, and there will never be anyone for me but you. I could never get over you before, and now, knowing that you feel the same for me, I can’t even—” He shakes his head again, and Anne thinks, for a moment, that she sees tears in his eyes. “I can’t believe you love me too,” he whispers, the words coming out in a quiet confession.
Anne kisses him again.
“Well, I do,” she says against his lips.
Gilbert’s the one that kisses her this time.
They don’t talk again for a while. There would be time for that, later. So much time. They’d be able to put it all out there, all their feelings, the pain, the jealousy, the pining. But now, laying on the couch with his body over hers and their mouths pressed together, Anne wants nothing more than to stay like this with him, for as long as they can, no talks of misunderstandings and hurt feelings getting in the way. From time to time, she whispers the three little words to him again, and he says them right back.
It’s enough for now.
The next day, Anne wakes up tangled together with Gilbert on the couch, her ears ringing and her head aching as their friends yell excitedly and way too loudly at the scene they’ve walked into. She ignores the hangover threatening to come in, and only snuggles closer to him, pressing her face into his chest, a smile on her lips she’s pretty sure will never leave.
She can take all the teasing in the world. All that matters is that Gilbert Blythe is her boyfriend now, and he loves her just as much as she loves him.