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Declaration Day

Chapter Text

 


 

“To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.”

 – Frederico Garcia Lorca, Blood Wedding

 


 

                                                                                                                        Thursday, February 22, 1900

 

Dear Gilbert,

I expect that you are perplexed at receiving a letter from me, but I am writing due to my increasing unease over a certain redhead of whom we are both very fond. Please, do not be alarmed. She is well. My concern is over her future well-being and happiness.

I am taking a great risk in writing you. Anne will never forgive me if I damage your friendship, which she treasures more than anything. If my assumption about your affection is completely erroneous, I beg your forgiveness for my presumption. I trust, however, that I am correct, for I have watched you watch Anne for years.

Let me be blunt. I believe that you are in love with Anne. While she has never confessed it to me, I believe that she is in love with you, too.

I apologize if I have made you uncomfortable. I must say that if you are not romantically interested in Anne, then you need to train your eyes to regard her differently. Your eyes, Gilbert Blythe, are very expressive, and you never look at another girl the way you gaze at Anne. If I am wrong, then I highly recommend that you to be more circumspect in the future.

Nothing makes Anne happier than receiving your letters. Whenever Mrs. Blackmore delivers one of your letters into her hands, she emits the most adorable squeak and usually secretes herself away to read them. She refuses to share her reactions with the other girls, but she will read them in front of me in the privacy of our room. Gilbert, you make her laugh. I watch her smile, giggle, roll her eyes, and occasionally become incredulous over something you have written. Sometimes she shares an anecdote or general information on your life. She frequently expresses how proud she is of all you are accomplishing in Toronto.

Do you react the same way when you receive her letters? Does she make you laugh and smile like no one else? Were you proud when The Globe finally published her editorial about Ka’kwet’s plight or when you heard that she is the only true contender to earn a full scholarship to Redmond College? Do not answer. I already know.

After the initial excitement over one of your letters subsides, Anne becomes contemplative. She quietly rereads your letter, sometimes more than once. She then often stares out the window. When I ask what is on her mind, she usually shakes herself out of her musings and either changes the subject or starts penning her reply to you. Sometimes, however, she answers vaguely but honestly. She claims homesickness and that she cannot wait to be reunited with her “loved ones” in Avonlea. She might say she is pondering what her future holds. Oh, but Gilbert, the worst was when she recently asked me if she was unlovable. When I objected and reminded her that so many of us love her, she clarified that she meant romantically. She has many young men here who are very interested in her romantically. Calm down. I will address that shortly. My point is that she is truly only concerned with one young man not loving her. When I then attempted to extract a confession of her feelings for you, she stammered, blushed, and denied your letters to her were in any way “romantical,” something she also claimed about your letter from Trinidad, which she hid to keep Ruby from crying on it. I would like to point out that she did not answer my question, and she never has when I have attempted similar inquiries about you. You are one of only two topics about which she will not speak freely.

I mentioned that Anne has suitors. Several perfectly pleasant and eligible young men call on her, and she only gives them polite attention. Do not misunderstand. She is friendly and her usual effervescent self; she cannot help but be who she is. Still, she encourages none of them. I worry, however, that one might eventually wear her down.

His name is Royal Gardner. Yes, you read that correctly. Roy is the living embodiment of Anne’s childhood romantic ideal. He is exceedingly handsome, wealthy, gracious, and loves literature as much as she does. He sends her extravagant floral arrangements every Saturday. He dotes on her and openly praises her intelligence and beauty. Unfortunately, he is humorless. He fails to laugh at her jokes, and the best he can coax out of her is a bland smile. Most importantly, he is not you. She feels nothing for him beyond a mild friendship. He has asked her to court twice. He appears to respect her refusals yet keeps pursuing her in the hopes that he will prove himself worthy enough to eventually sway her. That persistence seems to be taking on an air of entitlement. If he continues in this way, he will likely only succeed in making her angry. If he rethinks his strategy, however…

Our girl has not been in the best of spirits. Due to this recent despondency, I fear that she might eventually give in and accept him because she feels like she should. The other girls hound her and cannot fathom why she has not accepted the court of the most sought-after man at Queens. Anne has been told so many times that she is so lucky and should be grateful for his attention that she has questioned her judgment. “Perhaps I expect too much,” she said to me last week. “What more could I want?”

“Love,” I told her.

When I said this, she looked at your most recent letter that was sitting in front of her on her desk. Her response broke my heart: “I don’t think that’s my destiny.”

Please, Gilbert, you must remember that she bears scars from being unloved and unappreciated for her entire childhood. While Anne loves with all her heart, she has a difficult time always accepting that she is worthy of being loved. Perhaps even worse, she fears it is elusive, that even if someone does love her, it will be taken away. When she has pushed you away, I believe she often wanted to pull you closer, but instead she reacted out of fear and succumbed to her misguided attempt to protect herself from deeper loss.

I know Anne. She hides how she feels about you because she believes you do not return her affection. In an unguarded moment last spring, she told me that you looked like a hero from a novel when riding your horse and that you had “a splendid chin.” Of all the things she could say, a splendid chin? She thinks you are brilliant, handsome, funny, and she misses you terribly. She adores your family and probably hid from you how much she grieved Mary to spare you additional pain. I am not sure what else I can say to convince you.

So, here is why I am writing to you now. Next month, on the Saturday that begins our midterm break, a Queen's tradition called Declaration Day will take place. Its intent is to celebrate young love blossoming in the spring. Young ladies have the dubious pleasure of entertaining any young swains who plan to declare their intentions for their chosen lady love. After new couples and courtships are formed, the new couples are expected to promenade around campus, showing off their new status and new beaus. For those nearing an agreement, I suppose it is a charming tradition. For those not expecting or wanting such declarations, it must be a special kind of torture.

Roy will declare himself to Anne. Again. There are a few others who also might, including Charlie. If nothing else, please spare her from enduring that!

Gilbert, I wish you could see her. As I implied, she has been somewhat melancholy since Christmas. While she is still devoted to her academic pursuits and shines in class, during our free time, she is oddly quiet. Twice I have caught her brushing away tears when she thought she was alone. I believe your parting after Christmas pained her greatly, and she is pining for you. Last month, I asked her if you two had quarreled, which shocked her. She denied it but admitted she missed you and that the two of you had shared the “most delightful” break together. I know you saw her every day over Christmas. I had hoped you two would come to an understanding but was again disappointed.

Am I wrong? Do you really only feel friendship for her? Your lack of action does not inspire confidence, but I hope you will redeem my faith in you.

Because Anne has mentioned it often enough (she is eager to see you), I know you plan to return to Avonlea that week for your own break. Please consider whether you might be ready to declare yourself to Anne either that day or in a letter. I do not care how you do it. Her languishing is difficult to watch. I miss her vibrant spirit, and I do not want that spark to be permanently extinguished. If you do not love her, I beg you to find a way to let her go. She deserves to move on.

If you do love her, Declaration Day begins at noon, and the “Wooing Hours” last until 2, with The Promenade to immediately follow. Even Mrs. Blackmore will relax her usual strict visiting hours for what she keeps calling a diverting tradition.

Look sharp, Gilbert Blythe. You will be the envy of many a man here at Queen's.

Your friend,

Diana

 


 

                                                                                                                        Friday, March 2, 1900                                                                                                                                                                         

Dear Diana,

Thank you for every word you wrote! If I’m successful, I will owe you for the rest of my life. I’ll see you in three weeks.

Ever grateful,

Gilbert

Chapter Text

 


 

“L'enfer, c'est les autres.” (“Hell is other people.”)

 – Jean-Paul Sartre, “No Exit”

 


 

Anne berated herself yet again for not sneaking away on the early train to Bright River. She had no desire to subject herself to Mrs. Blackmore’s “diverting tradition.” This afternoon will be an utter agony. She consoled herself that tonight she would sleep in her bed in Green Gables. She would see Marilla and Matthew in a few hours and Gilbert tomorrow.

Gilbert. She dreaded and desired this week more than she could say. She yearned to see him. She missed his voice. She missed his smile. She knew that his departure, however, would slice her heart open all over again, but she intended to bask in his presence for every possible moment. She sighed. The next couple of hours would be difficult enough without complicating matters with thoughts of her confused feelings.

She rubbed her newest charm, a silver apple, dangling from her bracelet. Since Tuesday, she had read the short note that had accompanied Gilbert’s gift so many times that she had memorized it:

A very happy birthday, My Anne with an E,
On the day we met, I tried in vain to give you my apple. I hope you will finally accept this one to symbolize my long-felt admiration and affection for you. If you prefer, you can regard it as a symbol of your future as the best teacher to ever grace PEI. Better yet, you could join me and teach in Toronto. I have another gift that I would like to give you in person. I’m counting the days until I see you.

                                                                                    Yours,
                                                                                    Gilbert

 

For days, she had pondered his choice of words. She rationalized that he had been careless and had not intended his message to carry any romantic weight. After all, they were great friends. He likely meant the admiration and affection born from friendship. Gilbert Blythe, however, was painfully meticulous. Despite the risk to her heart, she desperately hoped that he had been expressing some tender feeling. He always signed his letters “Yours” but had never claimed her as “my.” Most shockingly, he suggested she move to Toronto. She knew he would welcome another friendly face in such a large city, but what if…

The grandfather clock in the hall struck noon. Anne jumped slightly at the clangor. She glanced at her friends perched around the parlor. Next to her, Jane rubbed at a small stain on the arm of the sofa. Tillie giggled. Josie wrung her hands in her lap. Ruby bounced on her heels. Straight-backed and elegantly poised, Diana smiled encouragingly at Anne. Diana seemed suspiciously cheery for this occasion. She had been grinning all week. When Anne had asked about her unusual ebullience, Diana had only said that she was looking forward to the trip home. Anne knew she was hiding something.

As the echo from the twelfth chime faded, a knock sounded on the door. “Allow me,” Ruby chirped and flounced from the room.

“Why am I here?” Anne muttered.

Jane laughed. “That’s the spirit!” Anne rolled her eyes.

The front door creaked open. Ruby’s voice floated down the hall. “Ooh, so many of you, and you’re all so prompt.” Her delighted laughter bounced off the walls. “Come in, gentlemen.”

Anne heard a rumble of masculine voices and an alarming number of feet clomping down the hall. She took a deep breath. First through the door was Jonathon, a delightful young man who had been calling on Josie regularly since Christmas. Josie’s face broke into an unusually large smile. Daniel Thompson, a clever but unimaginative young man from Anne’s mathematics lecture and study group, followed next. Anne grumbled inwardly. Her annoyance doubled when she saw Charlie follow on the heels of both Pauls. Finally, sauntering in as if he owned the place was Roy, carrying a ridiculously large bouquet of violets. Anne sighed. Jane snickered and whispered, “It’ll be over soon.”

“Not soon enough,” Anne whispered back.

When Ruby and Moody, the only official couple in the room, completed the group. Diana’s face fell. Was Diana expecting someone? Does she have a secret beau? Diana’s smile reappeared on her face as she shifted over to Anne to assist with the awkwardness of three young men attempting to ask her to court at the same time.

Jane patted Anne’s arm and stood, “Hello, gentlemen. Let me clear way for you.” She stepped aside to join Ruby and Moody near the window. There was a dignified scramble as all three young men attempted to sit on either side of Anne. Charlie lost.              

Charlie and Diana sat in chairs facing the sofa. The young men and young ladies greeted each other with the usual veiled pleasantries. All three had simultaneously vied for Anne’s attention before, but this was not a usual Saturday visit. Anne assumed that they likely felt that the stakes were higher. Unfortunately for them, should they ask, they would all receive the same refusal.

Roy thrust the violets toward her.

“Thank you, Roy. While the gesture is kind, you really shouldn’t keep bringing me flowers. It’s too much.” She had said this before, but he ignored her wishes every week. He must think that I don’t mean what I say, much like I must not have meant it when I said he couldn’t court me. She pursed her lips in annoyance.

“Ah, dear Anne, but why should I not shower you with pretty things? I only do it to bring you joy.”

Diana was too well mannered to roll her eyes, but she narrowed her eyes at Roy. “If your flowers brought her joy, she probably would not have asked you repeatedly to stop bringing them.” She smiled sweetly at him.

Roy appeared flummoxed before smoothly answering, “Anne’s desire to not appear eager is charming. All young ladies enjoy receiving flowers.”

Despite her annoyance, Anne shook her head at Diana. She knew arguing was pointless. He was too convinced he understood the minds of young ladies better than the actual young ladies. Diana graciously changed the subject. “Charlie, how is your family?”

The small talk flowed for several minutes, and each young man attempted to capture Anne’s attention. Roy had excluded the others by asking Anne her opinion on a poem they had recently read for their literature class. While Anne answered him, Diana engaged Charlie and Daniel with a humorous tale about a disastrous piano lesson and the havoc an angry cat could wreak when awakened inside the piano.

Seeing their distraction, Roy seized Anne’s hand. “Darling,” he whispered, “may we find a place to speak privately?”

“My name is Anne, not Darling,” she said, pulling her hand away with some difficulty. “And, no, I am perfectly fine right here.”

“But how can we make our courtship official with all these people around? Since they also want to court you, it would be unseemly.”

Before Anne was able to tell him where he could stuff his courtship, a loud knock echoed down the hall. Diana asked excitedly, “I wonder who that could be?” Her grin was back.

Moments later, Mrs. Blackmore escorted in William Evans, a chum from her lit class, and Fred Wright, a young man from outside Carmody, whom she suspected was very taken with Diana. Mrs. Blackmore walked over to Anne and took the violets, which were held loosely in her hand. “I’ll take care of these.”

Anne was so absorbed by staring between Fred and Diana, that she forgot to thank Mrs. Blackmore. Diana’s wide eyes betrayed her shock. Fred was clearly not the person Diana had been anticipating. The entire room watched this new drama unfold.

“Hello, Diana.” Fred looked at her earnestly.

“Hello, Fred. I didn’t expect to see you today.” The perpetually composed Diana fidgeted.

Fred’s face fell. “Oh, well, I’m sorry to have intruded. I’ll see myself out.”

“No!” Diana exclaimed, standing up quickly. “I did not mean to imply that you are unwelcome. Your presence is a pleasant surprise.” She blushed prettily. Diana did everything prettily.

“Oh. Well, I’m happy to hear it,” Fred said, smiling shyly.

“It’s a bit crowded over here. William, please take my seat. Fred, shall we sit over there?” She gestured to two empty chairs in the corner of the room. To Anne’s amusement and chagrin, Diana abandoned her to her four suitors without a backwards glance.

Anne could not help but giggle.

William spoke before the others could. “I take it you are satisfied with that development.”

“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is the first time he’s come to call. Diana does seem pleased though, and I want nothing but happiness for her.” She smiled at him.

“Anne, it speaks highly of you to want what is best for your friend,” Daniel chimed in.

“Do you find that unusual? I expect most of us want what is best for our friends, but Diana is practically my family. Her happiness matters to me as much as my own.”

“Diana has always been an excellent friend to Anne. She was the first of us to truly welcome her to Avonlea.” Charlie attempted to ingratiate himself by praising Diana.

“Yes, it’s a shame not everyone was so welcoming,” she mused. Charlie had the decency to look uncomfortable. Anne glanced down at the apple shining on her wrist.

Mrs. Blackmore returned with the violets.

“Thank you, Mrs. Blackmore.” Anne remembered her manners.

 “You are welcome, Anne.” She placed the vase on the end table next to Roy. “These are lovely violets, Mr. Gardner. You are so considerate.” Anne grimaced. She was being undermined by her landlady.

Roy preened. “It is merely my modest effort to brighten your lovely home.”

“Well, I’m sure your presence does that all on its own.” Anne had never seen Mrs. Blackmore smile so widely.

Anne’s jaw dropped. Mrs. Blackmore was flirting with Roy. She’s welcome to him.

Anne exchanged an incredulous look with William, who shared not only her literature class with Roy but also a bit of her sense of humor. He was smirking at her. She could not help but grin back as she watched Mrs. Blackmore excuse herself.

The conversation resumed. All the young men not-so-subtly fought for Anne’s attention: “Have you heard about the upcoming performance of Twelfth Night? You would appreciate Viola’s spunk.” “You have such an excellent grasp of history. I had never before considered your points about the Reformation.” “Anne was always the smartest girl in our class, and now she’s the smartest girl at Queen’s.” “You should really experience the museums in Italy. One day, I would love to be your guide.” “As much as you claim to despise mathematics, you are quite skilled at computations.” “Your dedication to your studies is quite admirable.”

The flattery grated on Anne’s nerves. Finally, Roy voiced his frustration.

“All right, lads, how much longer are we going to sit here and do this?”

Anne heard another firm knock on the door.

“What do you mean?” Per usual, Charlie was a bit slow on the uptake.

“Fine. I will be the one to say it,” Roy replied. “We all desire the same outcome but cannot make any progress until we can privately plead our cases.”

 “What do you propose?” asked Daniel.

“Taking turns, of course.”

“That’s a bit tactless, Gardner,” William rebuked.

“I am sorry if I offended your sensibilities, Evans.

“I’m more concerned with you offending Anne’s. She might not want to be alone with any of us.” Anne was grateful for William’s astute perception.

“No, I hate to admit that Gardner’s right.” Daniel jumped in. “How can we solve this when we’re crammed together like this? I mean, there’s no sense in pretending. We all want to court Anne, but none of us have been able to put ourselves forward with an audience. We should take turns.”

“I think that sounds like an excellent plan. I’ll go first,” Charlie volunteered.

“Why should you talk to her first?” Roy countered. “It is not as if she would choose you anyway. If she wanted someone from her hometown, then she would have arrived at Queen’s already courting.” Heat rushed to Anne’s face. “You had your chance, Sloane. Anne needs a real man to take care of her.”

Daniel broke in. “So you’re the one to do it, Gardner? Just because you’re richer than Croesus does not mean that you’re more worthy or who is best for her.”

“Actually, I think it does. I can provide her with more than any of you will ever be able to. I will show her the world and give her every comfort. She deserves to be showered with jewels and worshipped like the goddess she is.”

Anne was so annoyed that she was about tell them all to leave when she heard an unexpected voice behind her.

“Here’s an outlandish idea,” the voice said confidently from the doorway, and her heart leapt into her throat. She turned to look at her favorite person. Charlie groaned. “How about you stop talking about her as if she’s an object and ask Anne what she thinks? She is more than capable of deciding her future for herself.”

The room had gone quiet except for Diana in the corner, who loudly said, “Finally!”

Chapter Text


 

“Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives.”

 – Jane Austen, Emma

 


 

 

As Anne rose to cross to Gilbert, her suitors stared at the interloper. “Who’s he?” William asked curiously.

“That,” Anne heard Charlie say mournfully, “is our death knell. If he’s here, she won’t give any of us the time of day.” Anne fought to not blush at his words.

Gilbert was smiling at her. “Hello, Anne.”

Her thoughts were a maelstrom, so all she could manage was an inelegant “Gilbert, what are you doing here?”

“Interrupting quite the party, it seems.” His eyes crinkled in mirth. “I’m sorry to intrude.”

She spoke softly. “Believe me. Your presence is most welcome.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” He matched her low volume and smirked. “Anne, you seem to have been overrun by beaus.”

She rolled her eyes. “They’re not my beaus.”

“But they want to be,” he arched an eyebrow at her. 

“That’s their misfortune,” she huffed.

“I can’t fault their taste,” he said. “You look absolutely stunning.” Anne blushed as his eyes swept over her from head to foot. Anne mentally thanked Diana for forcing her to wear Gilbert’s favorite blue dress. Anne had argued that she wanted to look as drab as possible to reflect her mood on such an inauspicious day, but Diana had insisted she should not be deliberately ungracious to her misguided suitors.

“Thank you. I can’t fathom how you manage to look so dashing after such a long journey, yet you do. As usual.”

Gilbert smiled at her compliment. “I had an excellent incentive.”

Roy coughed loudly behind them. Gilbert glanced over Anne’s shoulder at her entourage. He looked at her mischievously. “Would you like some assistance getting rid of them?”

“Are you suggesting a ruse?” Anne questioned.

“No. Total honesty. I foresee no reason to lie, and I think I can help.”

“Yes, please. I’m at my wits’ end.”

“We can’t have that. Shall we?” He gestured for her to precede him.

As she returned to her group near the sofa, everyone stood. She turned to Gilbert to make introductions. “Everyone, this is my dear friend, Gilbert Blythe from Avonlea. He’s studying at the University of Toronto and plans on attending medical school. Gilbert, these are my classmates Royal Gardener, Daniel Thompson, and William Evans.”

As they exchanged handshakes, Gilbert exuded friendliness, and the others eyed him warily. “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you. And, Charlie. Good to see you!” Gilbert clapped his old friend on the shoulder. “How are you?”

Charlie shook his hand. “I’m doing well, Gilbert. What are you doing here?”

“Well, among other things, I’m here to escort Anne home, with her permission.”

She smiled and nodded. “Of course.”

There was no place for Gilbert to sit, so he leaned his elbow casually against the side of Charlie’s wingback chair as everyone else resumed their seats. Anne allowed her eyes to roam eagerly along his frame. He was loosely holding a modest bouquet of flowers and wearing a new suit. His hair was adorably rumpled. She did not understand how it was possible, but he looked more handsome every time she saw him.

“So, Blythe, medicine, eh? That’s quite the undertaking,” Daniel said.

“It is, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work or waiting patiently for things that I want.” He turned his gaze to Anne. She felt her skin grow hot again. “I miss my best study partner though. Anne keeps me on my toes.”

“You’re managing just fine.”

“Managing isn’t nearly as exciting.”

“As a medical student, you must study nothing but the dry sciences. You cannot share Anne’s love for literature. I would think you would not study well together at all,” Roy declared.

“You would be wrong. I love literature, and science contains its own poetic beauty. As a great lover of nature, Anne has always been a shrewd science student. Ask her to show you how to harness electricity from potatoes.”

“I can do that,” Charlie volunteered sullenly.

Anne ignored him. “Gilbert is a fantastic student in all subjects. Although,” her voice took on a teasing tone, “I might be the better speller.”

Gilbert clutched his heart. “You wound me. Do you want spell a few rounds for old times’ sake? Right now?”

Anne loved seeing him so playful. “How about v-a-i-n-g-l-o-r-i-o-u-s?”

Gilbert laughed. “Ouch. Let me see. B-e-g-u-i-l-i-n-g,” he said, smiling at her.

Anne felt herself blush again and tried to redirect the conversation. “Gilbert is also an excellent writer. He wrote an obituary last year that moved me to tears, and his letters are always exquisitely crafted and expressed.”

“You write each other?” Daniel asked.

“All the time,” answered Gilbert.

“I’m confused,” William said. “Anne, I thought you weren’t courting anyone.”

“I’m not,” Anne answered.

“Not yet,” Gilbert offered. Everyone stared at him. He smiled innocently. Charlie moaned quietly.

Roy tried again, “But surely you cannot properly appreciate Anne’s intense love for poetry.”

“I won’t claim to match it, but I enjoy poetry, Whitman in particular. Anne and I have spent many hours discussing literature. I’m not sure what you’re accusing me of. Do you claim to revere all her favorite books and plays as much as she does?”

“Well, I would assume she adores my favorite, Romeo and Juliet.”

Gilbert shook his head, but Anne answered. “No, I don’t like tragic love stories.”

Gilbert guffawed. “Anne, that is the biggest lie I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth.”

Anne laughed, too. “Apologies. Let me amend that statement. I once adored tragic love stories but have less use for them now. Perhaps such a fate felt romantic when I was younger, but I no longer desire such pain in my life. While Romeo and Juliet contains some beautiful passages, it is not high on my list. I favor romances that have a morsel of tragedy, but I prefer to see characters work through their pain and misunderstandings and emerge stronger on the other side.”

“An eventual happy ending, like for Miss Eyre and Miss Bennet.” Gilbert confirmed.

“Exactly.” They smiled at each other. “Although,” Anne sighed dramatically, “I will always have a soft spot for Elaine.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to relinquish all of your,” he coughed, “tragical sensibilities.” She glared at him; he smirked and stepped toward her. “Oh, I must be terribly distracted. I forgot that I was even holding them. These are for you, my Anne with an E.” Her heart lurched as he claimed her again, this time publicly, and offered her the flowers that had been hanging innocently by his side. Anne knew he had forgotten nothing but had chosen his moment to make a spectacle of presenting his flowers. Likewise, she would not hide her enthusiasm.

“Oh, Gilbert. Thank you,” Anne gushed. “You know how much I adore lily of the valley! The tiny blossoms are so precious.” She inhaled their sweet fragrance and was momentarily transported to Green Gables.

“You’re very welcome. We’ll be home in a few hours, but I wanted to bring you a piece of Avonlea.”

“I would think,” Roy tried, “that a would-be doctor would know not to bring a young lady poisonous blossoms.” He looked smug. Anne looked at Gilbert and rolled her eyes.

“Gilbert and I are both well aware that they are poisonous. Lily of the valley grows at my home. As I have never been inclined to ingest them, I believe I’m perfectly safe.”

Gilbert winked at her, and William chuckled.

 “Why is he permitted to bring you flowers, but when I do, you say it is too much?” Roy said hotly. He did not know when to stop talking.

“Perhaps she’s not comfortable accepting gifts from you, but she is from me. Anne and I have been friends for many years. Speaking of,” his eyes fell to her wrist. “I see you received my birthday gift.”

“I did and absolutely love it. I adore meaningful gifts.”

“So you value both meanings?” he asked earnestly. Anne’s breath hitched at the adoring look in his gorgeous eyes. His note had been carefully worded and not merely platonic. She believed it now.

“Yes, very much. Thank you, Gilbert.” His smile was blinding. She held his eyes until William addressed her.

“When was your birthday? I am sorry I missed it.” Of her Queen’s suitors, William was the one she thought of fondly. She hoped they could continue a friendship when this was over. She gave him a smile.

“It was Tuesday,” she answered.

“Well, happy belated birthday, Anne. How did you celebrate?” he asked.

“The girls and I had dinner at Diana’s Aunt Josephine’s home. My dear friend Cole was there, too. Aunt Jo spoils me, so it was a lovely evening.”

“How is Cole?” Charlie asked, attempting to stay relevant.

“Thriving. He’s finishing his second year of art school, which suits him. He’s found others besides us girls that value him, and his skills have grown so much. Gilbert, he wanted me to ask you to come by some time. Aunt Jo has likewise scolded me for not yet introducing you to her. If the timing does not work this week, they insist you must visit over the summer.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Gilbert smiled.

“Well, I am satisfied you spent your birthday with good company,” Roy interjected, “but if I had known, I would have taken you to the best restaurant in town. Their gâteau is exceptional.”

“I don’t believe she indicated she wanted to spend her birthday with you. Otherwise, she might have mentioned it to you,” Daniel said scathingly to Roy. Anne saw Gilbert grin at Daniel, but she was not sure Daniel appreciated Gilbert’s show of solidarity.

“Thank you, Roy, but Aunt Jo’s kitchen staff is exceptional. Her cook made me a delectable French cake with an almond meringue base with butter cream and chocolate that was the most decadent thing I’ve ever had on my tongue.”

She looked at Gilbert, who was staring at her mouth. He caught her eyes and smiled wickedly. She flushed.

“I am so pleased to hear that Diana’s aunt is so refined. You will be prepared when you meet my mother.” Anne reluctantly tore her eyes away from Gilbert to look at Roy.

“Oh, is she visiting Queen’s soon?” Anne asked distractedly.

“No, this summer, I intend to take you home. You will love Kingsport, and we will have a grand time. Mother wants to give her approval and is anxious to begin arrangements immediately afterward.”

“I will not be visiting you this summer, Roy. I have my own plans.”

“But, when we are courting –“

Anne cut him off. “I am not courting anyone, and I would appreciate you refraining from making assumptions or plans on my behalf.”

“But I think it is about time we move forward. After all, today –“

“Perhaps you should respect Anne’s answer when she tells you no.” Gilbert’s amusement with Roy’s impudence had given away to annoyance.

“Listen, Blythe, is it? I realize you accidentally stumbled into this gathering on your way home, but the rest of us are here in an effort to secure Anne’s favor. I think we would appreciate it if you would excuse us so we could resolve this today as it’s a bit of a Queen’s tradition.”

Gilbert straightened, looking down at Roy. “No offense, but I’m not interested in what you would appreciate. My only concern is for Anne. I know today is Declaration Day.” Anne held her breath. He knew. He knew exactly what he was walking into. “Why do you think I’m here?” He looked Anne in the eyes and smiled gently. “I wish to throw my hat into the ring, so to speak.” His face began to blur as tears filled her eyes. She blinked them away and smiled slowly at him.

Charlie groaned loudly.

Anne gently set his bouquet on the table, stood, and walked to him. She gazed up at him and whispered, “Do you mean it, Gilbert? This is what you want?”

“I do,” he whispered back. “Most fervently. I would like to discuss us privately, but, if you’d like, I could ask you very publicly right now to remove the other contenders.”

She nodded.

“All right.” He took both of her hands in his and raised his voice. “Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, you have been the only girl for me since the day we met and you walloped me with your slate.” Anne wrinkled her nose at him, and she heard laughter from some of the Avonlea group. “Would you do me the very great honor of allowing me to court you?”

She spoke clearly so that no one would misunderstand. “Yes, Gilbert Blythe. I believe I would like that very much.” She bit her lip as he brought her hands up and placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles. Goosebumps travelled the length of her forearms.

“Thank you,” he breathed.

“It’s about time!” shouted Diana, and the Avonlea group minus Charlie broke into applause.

From behind her, she heard Charlie say, “I warned you. Death knell.”

Chapter Text

 


 

“You're my blue sky.
You're my sunny day.
Lord, you know it makes me high
When you turn your love my way…”
 – The Allman Brothers, Blue Sky              

 


 

The next few minutes were chaotic.

Roy stormed out without a word but not before snatching his violets from Mrs. Blackmore’s vase, which caused William to openly laugh at his petulance. Anne immediately deposited Gilbert’s bouquet in their place. “That’s much better.” Daniel curtly but politely congratulated them before making his own hasty exit. Charlie likewise wished them his best while conceding he had long known this was the likely outcome. He then retreated to sulk by the Pauls. The Avonlea girls gathered around to express their excitement with hugs and squeals for Anne and Josie, who had agreed to her own courtship. Jane, whose somewhat cynical humor had sharpened over the last year, simply offered to Anne, “And you thought today would be miserable and ungratifying. So much for your usual astuteness.”

Anne and Gilbert laughed.

When the crowd had thinned, William approached. “Well, I won’t claim I’m not disappointed, but it seems I Inadvertently intruded into a longstanding yet unacknowledged relationship. It’s clear you both care about each other very much. There was no way I could compete with that.”

“No, I’m afraid not,” Anne chuckled. “Forgive me if I’m overstepping, but I would very much like to continue our friendship. While I tolerated the others to varying degrees, I genuinely enjoyed your company. Am I asking too much?”

“Not at all. I’d be very pleased,” his eyes turned to Gilbert, “as long as you don’t mind.”

“I would never attempt to limit Anne’s friends. They are hers to choose.” They shook hands.

“William, have you properly spoken to my friend Jane Andrew’s? Your slightly wicked senses of humor would complement each other nicely.” Sure enough, when Anne and Gilbert left for The Promenade an hour later, William and Jane were laughing together by the parlor window.

 

****************

 

Three new couples, one established couple, and one very confusing trio made their way around the Queen’s grounds. As the most experienced of the group, Ruby heaped excessive advice on Anne, Diana, and Josie but offered nothing directly to Tillie. Anne suspected Ruby no more understood the three of them than she did. Anne simply smiled politely at Ruby’s wisdom but felt trying to gauge what courting Gilbert would be like based on Ruby’s experience with Moody to be laughably naïve. She wondered what advice Diana could use for her surprising courtship, which they had announced only minutes before their departure.

While still in the parlor, Anne had managed to steal a brief moment with Diana by grabbing her by the hand and pulling her away from a chuckling Gilbert and a bewildered Fred. Anne heard Gilbert tell Fred, “You’ll have to get used to that.”  

When no one could hear them, Anne whispered, “Courting? Really? But this is the first time Fred ever called.”

“Yes, but we’re merely courting, not engaged,” Diana responded quietly. “We can get to know each other better.” Diana looked at her feet. “He’s the first boy I’ve been interested in since Jerry.” Anne squeezed Diana’s hand. “We talk often in class, and, as you know, he’s walked me home several times. He’s very shy, so it took a lot to come here today. He offered me more time to think about it, but I don’t need it.”

“Do you love him?” Anne asked.

 “I’m not sure. I think I might or, at least, I could. I don’t want to wait to court, so we can explore the possibility. I’ve been enamored with him since we danced at that social.”

“Diana!” she said loudly before lowering her voice to an urgent whisper. “Why didn’t you tell me? That was before Christmas! I knew you thought he was kind and attractive, but I had no idea!”

Diana smirked. “Why did you never tell me how you felt about Gilbert?”

“Touché.” Anne smiled before her face fell. “I hope I didn’t hurt you for not confiding in you, but I was so confused that I didn’t know how to talk about him.” Anne exhaled slowly, gathering her thoughts. “Voicing my feelings aloud would make them real – something I could no longer deny. And if he never loved me, it would hurt all the more having sent those sentiments out into the world.”

“I think I understand.” Diana replied gently. “As it has turned out well, I should confess that I wrote him and told him about today.”

Anne gasped. “You did?” Diana nodded. “What did you tell him?”

“Just what I felt he needed to hear. He needed a push, so I gave it to him. I hope you are not angry.”

“What? Of course not, but we will discuss this further, Diana Barry. There’s more to it than that, but for now, thank you.” Anne hugged her dearest friend. “Thank you, so much. I’m deliriously happy!”

“I know. That’s why I did it. You deserve to be happy. Gilbert does, too, but my concern was for you.”

“I love you, Diana.”

“I love you, too, Anne.”

Gilbert squeezed Anne’s hand that rested on the crook of his arm and brought her back to the present. “Where has your mind wandered, Anne? You’re very quiet.”

She smiled at him. “Oh, I was thinking of Diana. It was so unexpected, but I’m happy for her.” Gilbert and Anne slowed their steps so that they lagged behind the rest of the group.

“Fred seems like a good man. We had a pleasant conversation. He’s very taken with her.”

“I should hope so. I don’t want her heart broken.” She sighed. “Before we left, she told me that she wrote to you.”

He exhaled. “Good. Now I don’t have to evade that question. I wouldn’t lie to you, but I didn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable position. I’ve never been so grateful to read a letter that wasn’t from you.”

“And?” Anne questioned.

“She told me some things I needed to hear.”

“Hmmm,” she hummed. “That’s almost exactly what she said.”

“Is it? Well, it’s accurate. She told me she knew how I felt about you and her suspicions about how you felt about me.” Anne blushed and inwardly cursed her revealing complexion. “She also said she feared that you might eventually succumb to Roy. After seeing you with him today, I suspect she was either exaggerating or was simply wrong.”

“There was no danger of that happening. I felt sorry for him the first time he asked me to court.”

“The first time?” Gilbert raised his eyebrows.

“Yes, well,” she stammered, “he asked twice.”

“I know. Diana already told me.” He grinned at her.

Anne lightly smacked his arm with her free hand. “You’re no good sometimes, Gilbert.”

“I’m really not. As you were saying?”

She chuckled before continuing. “As I was saying, I felt sorry for him the first time. The second time a bit less. After all, my first refusal had been clear. The last few weeks, however, he’s become more insistent and more insufferable, as if third time’s the charm. You heard how he’d decided I was to travel with him this summer. He called me “Darling” before you arrived. His presumption smothered any previously felt sympathy.”

“She wrote me a month ago, so I guess that was before he really turned on the charm,” he said wryly. Anne rolled her eyes. “Diana said she was worried you’d accept him because everyone else kept telling you that you should be grateful for his attentions.”

“I can see how she might’ve thought that. I was feeling pretty low and was tired of hearing it. On paper, he was all I could have wanted, but he wasn’t you.”

Gilbert inhaled sharply. “That’s what Diana said.”

“Really? She’s become clairvoyant. It’s true though. He never had a chance.” Gilbert grasped the hand on his arm and kissed it. When he replaced it, he left his hand on top of hers and caressed the back of her hand.

They had entered the central part of campus. Dozens of couples paraded around the grounds, while a gathered crowd watched the display.

“I feel incredibly foolish,” confessed Anne.

“Well, I agree this is odd.” He grinned at her. “Still, it might be worth if prevent further unwanted suitors, but we don’t have to do this. Everyone I know at Queen’s watched us become an us, so the only pleasure I have is being the envy of half the unattached male population because I have you on my arm.”

“Stop exaggerating, Gilbert.”

“That claim is based on what Diana wrote to me, and I witnessed four suitors fighting over you when I arrived. You had five men all vying for the attention of the most beautiful, most brilliant woman on campus.”

Anne smiled cheekily at him. “Perhaps the most brilliant,” she sighed, “but I am far from the most beautiful.”

“You are in my eyes. I’ve yet to see anyone in Toronto to rival you, so I can confidently say that you have no rivals here.” Her stomach fluttered at his compliments.

“Gilbert, who knew you had such a glib tongue?”

“I’m utterly sincere. Look around. I’m getting death stares from a large number of men I’ve never seen before. Why else would they despise me?”

Anne surveyed the surrounding observers. Sure enough, there were some young men scowling at Gilbert. Anne noticed quite a few young ladies likewise glaring at her.

“Ah, you’ve attracted your own attention. Those ladies are giving me withering looks, and they’ve never even seen you before. They’re wondering how I secured such a delectable male specimen when they’ve never even seen him around campus.”

Gilbert laughed. “Delectable male specimen, am I? I like that. I will remind you that you described me as such one day when you’re angry at me for breathing incorrectly.”

She grinned at him. “I would never get angry at you for that. Blinking incorrectly, maybe.” They both laughed. “Still, they don’t know how brilliant, charming, and funny you are, so they’re only reacting to your looks. What shallow creatures they must be.”

Throughout their stroll, Gilbert tipped his cap at other passing couples. Many greeted Anne by name, and Anne stopped to introduce Gilbert to a number of people. They walked in frequently shifting groups with the others from Avonlea. As much attention as she and Gilbert had garnered, Anne noticed quite a number of young men likewise glaring at Fred. Tillie and her Pauls, of course, received the most baffled glances.

“I can’t believe they haven’t resolved this yet. How are they both still going along with it?” Gilbert wondered.

“They must view it as a war of attrition,” Anne opined.

“Or maybe they all like the arrangement” he chuckled.

“Gilbert! You can’t be serious! I’ve never heard of something so scandalous!”

“Well, you see more…” he paused, apparently searching for the correct word, “variety of arrangements in a larger city. Of course, even there, people are generally more discreet. Perhaps Tillie just wants to see who is willing to go further for her. Perhaps they all like it this way. Not really my business.”

“No, I guess it isn’t. I’m not afraid of unconventional arrangements but am not used to there being more than two people in any arrangement.” They both laughed.

“Yes, that is uncommon around here, even if there are entire religious groups and cultures where more than one wife is either acceptable or the norm. Seems like too much work to me.” He grinned at her.

“Careful now, or you might not get one wife.” When Anne realized what she said, she stammered. “Not that – I mean, I don’t wish to imply…” she trailed off uncomfortably.

“Oh, don’t fret, Anne. We’re courting.” He kissed her hand, which set her slightly at ease. At least, he had not fled after her remark. “It’s a perfectly normal expectation, isn’t it? While we haven’t yet made any disclosures, it’s a potential outcome.”

Anne was quiet. She stared at the toes of her boots as they repeatedly emerged from and then disappeared under the hem of her dress.

Gilbert slowed his steps. When he stopped walking, she halted. He faced Anne, taking both of her hands in his. “Anne, please look at me.” She complied. His face wore the kindest smile. “Would it make you feel better to hear that I want nothing more in the world than one day to marry you?”

Anne felt a sweet relief rush through her body. He wanted a future with her. She would not have to lose him. Tears welled in her eyes. “I…” she stammered. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything right now or even for several years. I thought you should know how I feel.”

Anne was tongue-tied. For one of the few times in her life, she could not find the words to express her elation.

Gilbert seemed to understand. “Would you like to go somewhere private, or would you prefer to table this discussion for later?”

She huffed a determined breath. “Private.” She was done promenading; only understanding what was happening with them mattered. Anne considered their nearby options. “This way.” They failed to say goodbye to their friends.

Anne’s head was spinning with his revelation. She quickly led Gilbert to a nearby park. Some of the trees were still bare, but others had begun to bud. The grass was green in spots. New life was making itself known. She approached a bench in a secluded corner where she sometimes liked to read.

Anne sat, grabbed his hand, and tugged Gilbert down next to her.

“Alone at last,” Gilbert said. His eyes drank her in. His eyes! She could not think clearly when he looked at her that way.

Anne bit her lip. “Where should we start?”

Gilbert did not hesitate. “I’d like to begin with an apology. I shouldn’t have needed a letter from Diana or a tradition at Queen’s to declare my affection. I should’ve done it last Christmas. No, I should’ve done it last summer, maybe earlier. I was too terrified that I would scare you away and lose you completely. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself. Maybe I was afraid of being hurt.” He examined their joined hands as he fiddled with her fingers. “Regardless, I convinced myself you didn’t feel the same way, so I remained quiet and was grateful for every moment we shared together. The truth is that I love you.” He looked up, and his eyes bore into hers. “Anne, I love you.” She smiled and nodded, encouraging him to continue. “I have loved you for so long and want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you. I realize I’m asking a lot because I will be in school for years, but I hope that one day, when you’re ready, you’ll agree to marry me.”

Anne’s heart could not contain her joy. She saw the sincerity and love in his eyes, and she wanted nothing more than to stop time, forget their obligations, and stay here with him forever. She placed her free hand on his cheek, and he closed his eyes at her touch. He grasped her hand and turned his face into her palm and kissed it.

“Oh, Gilbert. I love you, too. I love you so much it hurts, but it’s a sweet pain that I gladly bear. And I can’t envision a future without you by my side.” She did not wait for his response but gave in to her desire. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.

He responded immediately. He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her closer before wrapping his arms tightly around her. His lips moved gently but firmly against hers. Anne was soaring. He loved her, and she was finally kissing him. She felt him everywhere, could taste him, felt his warm breath on her face as he whispered, “My beautiful, brilliant Anne.”

They learned the feel of each other’s lips, and she shuddered when he kissed along her jawline and down to her neck. Her hands made their way into his delightful curls, and his hands stroked her back, her neck, her face. She never knew she could feel such rapture from the touch of another person. After some time, he pulled away, his eyes searching her face. His hand cradled her jaw, and he dragged his thumb over her bottom lip. When she whimpered at the sensation, he crashed his lips onto hers again, and he sucked on her bottom lip. She trembled at the sensation. They were lost to the world for what felt like hours.

What was actually a short time later, Gilbert pulled away from her lips and kissed a path from her cheek to her ear. As he languorously trailed his fingers along her spine, he whispered into her ear, “If you’d allow me, I’d like to give you my other gift.”

Anne felt woozy. She struggled to respond coherently. “Gilbert, I need nothing else for my birthday. My apple charm is perfect. I felt utterly spoiled and perhaps a bit adored.”

He kissed her cheek again and smiled softly. “More than a bit. Besides, this is not a birthday gift. Think of it as commemorating our courtship and finally acknowledging our love.”

She felt her face grow warm again. “I don’t think I could ever tire of hearing you say that you love me.”

“I hope you never do because I plan on telling you for the rest of our lives. I love you, Anne.”

“I love you, Gilbert.” He grinned at her.

“Now, please, Anne, I’ve been waiting to give this to you for years.”

“Years?”

“Years. I found it when we stopped in the Dominican Republic.”

She gasped. “But that was years ago.”

He laughed. “Didn’t I just say I’ve been waiting to give this to you for years?”

She laughed, too. “I’m sorry. I don’t think my brain is working right after those kisses.” He quickly leaned forward and pressed a lingering kiss to her lips. He grinned at her as he pulled away.

“Sorry. Hearing you talk about us kissing made me need to do it again.” He leaned forward. “Wait. One more,” and he kissed her again.

She giggled. “What were we talking about?”

“The Dominican Republic,” he replied innocently.

 “Of course. It’s just astonishing to think you bought me something so long ago and have held on to it all this time.”

“I wanted to give it to you when I came home, but I didn’t think you were ready for what me giving you jewelry would’ve implied. Actually, I don’t think I was ready to admit what it implied either.” They smiled at each other. “So, I hoped we’d be ready someday and gave you the dictionary instead.”

“I love that dictionary, especially the inscription.”

“Then I’m glad I included it.” He withdrew a small box from his jacket pocket and placed it in her hands. She hesitated. “Open it, Anne. I’ve waited a long time to see your reaction.”

Her fingers trembled slightly as she lifted the lid and was awestruck by the pendant inside. It was an oval, polished stone that was a striking cerulean, deeper than a robin’s egg blue, shot through with white veins. It was set in a simple silver setting on a delicate silver chain.

“Oh, Gilbert, it looks wisps of clouds in the sky! I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s absolutely extraordinary. I love it!”

“How could my dryad, lover of nature, not appreciate a stone that resembles the sky?” She smiled at him. “When I saw it, I knew it was meant to be yours. It reminded me so much of your eyes. I missed them. I missed you.”

“I never would’ve admitted it at the time, but I missed you terribly while you were gone. I worried about your health and safety and wondered what extraordinary sights you were seeing. I was thrilled to receive your letter yet so disappointed that you said you would be gone indefinitely.”

“Your letter helped turn my eyes back home.” He kissed her hand. “One day, I want to take you there. To the Caribbean. I prefer our island, but you should experience the vibrancy – the colors, the food, the music, all of it. You’ll just need a very large parasol to protect you from the sun.”

“Gilbert!”

“What? Your exquisite alabaster skin is not made for that climate, and I wouldn’t want you to suffer a sunburn.”

“I suppose you are correct. I don’t need more freckles.”

“I adore your freckles, especially the seven on your nose.”

“How do you know I have seven freckles on my nose?”

He arched his eyebrows at her. “I’ve studied you closer than you realize. I know your face far better than my own. None is dearer to me.” He kissed her forehead and brushed his thumb along her jaw. “Now, may I finally put this on you?”

“Please.” He took the box from her and extracted the necklace. She turned from him. She waited patiently while he fumbled with the clasp. “This is quite tiny.” She giggled at a rare moment of Gilbert maladroitness. Soon enough he managed it, and she turned to face him. “It looks striking on you as I knew it would.”

 She looked down at it, admiring the stone. “Thank you, Gilbert. I’ll wear it every day we’re apart and always think of you underneath the same sky.”

“I’d also like to see it on you occasionally when we’re together.”

“Then too,” she laughed. She leaned to kiss him again, and he met her eagerly. He loves me! As she enjoyed the feel of his arms around her and his lips on hers, Anne had to acknowledge that some disagreeable traditions might not be so terrible after all.