"Anne, Anne," says Diana, her face bright and mischievous, "Gilbert Blythe is back from his semester abroad."
"Who?" asks Anne. Being a transfer student feels a little like coming in during the middle of the movie, or starting a book on chapter ten. Diana is lovely and wonderful and the most perfect friend Anne ever could have hoped for, but it took all of fall semester just for her to catch up on everyone's names, and now here Diana is adding another one.
"He's the best rugby player in our year, Anne! All the girls want to go out with him, and he's a perfect gentleman. Flowers, chocolate...a true romantic."
Anne scoffs. "Diana, romance is just another word for misogyny. The ideal of the knight in shining armor is all well and good for stories, but how will men ever respect us in real life if we don't stand up for ourselves?"
"He pays for dinner, Anne."
"I can pay for my own dinner," says Anne, flushing. Her flush looks terrible with her red hair, even darkened as it is now, but she can't help it. For orphans, money is always a sticky subject, and Anne's worked hard for what she has now. Two years of state school before she won the scholarship to transfer to a more prestigious university. If she can't afford the social life other girls can, that's fine. She doesn't need a pig of a jock with outdated chivalric ideals to take her out.
"Oh, you know I didn't mean it like that!" says Diana, looking aghast.
"I know you didn't," agrees Anne. "I just have trouble getting up your enthusiasm about boys, Diana. None of them have ever lived up to my ideals."
"And what are your ideals, Queen Anne?" asks Diana, linking her arm in her friend's.
"A true equal," says Anne loftily. "Someone bright, intelligent, with a genuine respect for me. Too many men claim to be feminists, thinking it will help them get wives. It's so backwards! I want someone who treats me as a person, not a poor orphan or a pair of breasts."
"Gilbert isn't like that, Anne," says Diana. "He's a dying breed."
"As far as I'm concerned," says Anne, "they can't die too soon."
Gilbert Blythe is in her literature class. She doesn't know it at first, of course--her literature class is full of unfamiliar faces, people from other years, people from her own. But her professor does the roll and there he is, the second called.
He is, Anne must admit, handsome. She's not surprised to hear Diana swooning for him--he's dark-haired with a wicked smile, exactly the kind of boy Diana would like. The smile is what drives home for her how duplicitous he must be--anyone who smiles like that can't be a gentleman. Just another boy trying to win girls by acting like he cares.
She's so angry at the idea that Diana dated this boy, maybe slept with him that she almost misses her name.
"Present," she says quickly. Gilbert Blythe flicks a glance her direction, looks her up and down, and smiles. It's a slow smile, like he's something he likes. Something he wants. Clearly, he's just like all the others.
Anne looks away sharply, puts all her focus on the syllabus as the professor explains it. She's sure it's just her imagination that she feels eyes on her. Everyone's always says she has rather an overactive one.
She takes her time getting ready to leave after the shortened first class meeting. It's still winter outside, after all, even if this is called the spring semester. She has to wrap herself in her coat, her scarf, her hat--it takes time. If that keeps her from seeing Gilbert Blythe, well. She certainly won't object.
It's not actually a surprise, though, when she walks out into the cold and he's leaning against a tree. He's eating an apple, of all things, his breath coming out in little white puffs as he takes bites. He looks like a magazine ad for something she can't name.
He grins when she comes out.
"You're Diana Barry's new roommate, aren't you?" he asks. "Anne Shirley?"
"And what if I am?" she says. She doesn't speed up or slow down, walks at her normal brisk pace. He falls easily into step with her.
"I thought I'd introduce myself. Diana and I, we're great chums."
"Is that what you're calling it now?" she asks.
"Hey, now! What's that supposed to mean?"
"She told me all about you."
"I haven't pissed her off while I was gone, have I?" he asks, sounding genuinely baffled. "I've always liked Diana. I wouldn't want her mad at me."
Anne sighs heavily, looks at him for the first time. He's a good head taller than her, broad-shouldered, his cheeks going red in the cold. He looks much larger here than he did across the classroom, and Anne refuses to be intimidated or impressed. He's a person, just like she is.
"She said you were the last romantic," she says.
Gilbert laughs, a little self-deprecatingly. "She did, huh?"
"She did. If you're ever like that to me, I'll punch you."
"Like what?" he asks.
"Pulling out my chair, holding open the door, fighting my battles. I hate when boys do that."
Gilbert laughs again. He has the kind of face that looks like it might always be laughing. "Trust me, Anne. I can already tell you don't need any help fighting your battles."
She flushes. She must look terrible. Not that she cares. "Of course I don't!"
The bells ring across campus, and Gilbert swears. "Shit, I'm late for lunch. I'll see you in class on Monday, right? And say hi to Diana for me."
He waves as he jogs off. Not that Anne knows that, because she doesn't watch him. She doesn't.
"Gilbert Blythe says hello," says Anne when Diana gets home from her own classes.
Diana squeals. "Did he? You've met him? Oh, Anne, you saw you were wrong about him, didn't you? The two of you would be best friends, I know, if you just gave him a chance!"
"I wasn't wrong," says Anne. "I saw him, and he's nothing like you said. I'm sure he acts noble and winning, but I could see it was only that--an act."
Diana looks befuddled. "But wouldn't that make you like him more? I thought you said you didn't like when boys were gentleman."
Anne sighs. Her philosophy is very complicated. She's not sure she can make Diana understand.
"I think the two of you would be good friends, Anne," says Diana softly. "I'm not telling you you should go out with him. Just get to know him. Give him a chance. He's very smart and funny."
"Did you go out with him?" she asks.
Diana turns pink. "Me and Gil? Never! He's...well, I did like him our first year, but I never said anything. We've been nothing but good friends."
Anne finds herself unexpectedly enraged. She hadn't liked the idea of Gilbert Blythe using Diana and casting her aside, or dating her seriously and not realizing how wonderful she was, but the idea that Diana liked him and Gilbert Blythe, the champion of romance, had never gone out with her, is somehow even worse. Anyone would be lucky to have Diana.
Anne says as much. "Diana, dearest, if he was too foolish to go out with you, I can't see how he could be smart at all."
"Oh Anne," says Diana, laughing, "you always overestimate me. Promise you'll give him a chance, please? For me?"
Anne sighs. "I'll try," she says finally. "But only for you."
Diana beams. "He'll be at Moody's party tomorrow."
"Does that mean you want to go?"
"It's the first party of the semester, Anne. We have to go!"
"Very well," she says. She looks slyly at Diana. "And will Fred be there?"
Diana turns positively maroon.
"I see," says Anne, smirking.
Moody Spurgeon has parties, Anne suspects, because otherwise no one would talk to him. He has goggle eyes and stick-out ears and just isn't the kind of boy girls like. He desperately wants to be, though, so he has parties.
Anne privately loves parties, because they give her an excuse to dress up. She thinks that, as a modern enlightened woman, she perhaps shouldn't love clothes as much as she does. It seems somehow too shallow. Still, she can justify herself because there's nothing wrong with wanting to look good for oneself. She doesn't dress up at parties in order to attract the opposite sex, she dresses up because she likes how she feels in pretty clothes. She found the best green dress that brings out her eyes and looks beautiful with her hair, and walking in it she feels like some kind of goddess of the spring, like her very footfalls on the snow will bring flowers.
She says as much to Diana, who giggles. "Oh Anne," she says. "What will become of you?"
"I'll become a famous poet, living in an ancient castle on a windy moor," she says.
"And you'll let me visit you?"
"There will always be a wing reserved for you," she says. "The Diana wing. The east, I think."
Fred finds them on their way over. Fred is not whom Anne would have picked for Diana--he's a chubby boy, a little nervous, and Anne is sure that when Diana was young, she didn't dream of Fred Wright. But he's earnest and sweet and thinks Diana hung the moon, so Anne can't fault him too much.
Anne walks more slowly, gradually allowing Diana and Fred privacy. Diana would never send her away, of course--Diana is too sweet to even think of it. But Anne knows that the two of them would prefer to be alone.
Diana looks back when Anne is a good ten feet behind them, concern in her eyes. "My boot's come untied!" says Anne, kneeling down. "I'll just tie it and catch up with you. Don't worry, I know the way!"
Diana nods, flushes, clearly understanding Anne's aim. But she doesn't object, and Anne finishes untying and retying her shoes with satisfaction. When they arrive, she'll take off the heavy workboots and change into her silver flats and feel much more goddesslike, but for now, she accepts that even Proserpina herself must have sometimes been concerned about freezing her toes off.
It's a lovely night--clear sky, stars like pinholes in the night, the crescent moon just bright enough that she can see the outlines of trees and other students, their breath hanging in the air. She stays crouched on the ground for a long moment, drinking it all in.
"Anyone else I'd offer a hand, but I'm afraid you'd bite it off if I tried," says Gilbert Blythe, shattering the peaceful night.
Anne picks herself up hastily. "I was taking in the night," she says primly.
She knows Gilbert is grinning only from the white glint of his teeth. "Let us go then," he says, "you and I, while the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table."
"Does quoting Eliot impress most girls?" she asks sharply.
"Maybe I just like him," says Gilbert. "And I don't think being etherized is a turn-on."
"I should hope not."
"Can I walk with you?" he asks. "I promise, no more Eliot."
"Fine," she says. "You're going to Moody's?"
"Of course. I was surprised you weren't with Diana, but when I saw the look on Fred's face I figured it out pretty fast. When did that start?"
"He started coming to our room to chat at the end of November. He still hasn't asked her on a proper date."
Gilbert laughs. "Typical Fred."
They're silent for a moment, and then Gilbert says, "Look how the pale Queen of the silent night doth cause the ocean to attend upon her."
Anne smiles before she can stop herself, and from the way his smile grows, she knows Gilbert saw it.
When she and Gilbert come in together, Anne can hear a few murmurs of surprise. Gilbert insisted on waiting as she changed her shoes, redid her hair, now free of her hat, and shook the snow from her coat. To his credit, he offered no help and no comment, simply hung up his own things and rubbed feeling back into his chapped hands.
"I think we're causing a commotion," he says to her, as if they're sharing a secret. "It's nothing special for me to walk in with a beautiful girl, so it must be you."
Anne stiffens. "You must have been very worried about coming in alone. I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting for an escort."
She takes off quickly, and Gilbert follows her. "Anne, come on, I didn't mean it like that! I just--seriously, that's not--"
Anne whirls. "I'm not your arm candy."
"I know!" he says.
"Then what do you want?" asks Anne. This has been bothering her ever since she found Gilbert Blythe waiting for her outside of their classroom. She doesn't know him, he doesn't know her, and there's no reason for him to follow her around quoting poetry and cracking jokes. He could get a much easier date.
Gilbert rakes his hand through his hair. "God, every e-mail I got while I was in France was 'my roommate this' from Diana and 'Anne Shirley that' from Charlie. I'm curious, okay? All my friends think you're great. And you seem pretty great when you're not, you know, trying to rip my head off."
"Oh," says Anne.
"I'm getting a drink," he says. "Can I get you one and we try to have a normal conversation like normal people?"
She did promise Diana. "Vodka and cranberry juice if he has it," she says. "PBR if he doesn't."
Gilbert grins. "See, you drink PBR. I knew I wanted to get to know you."
Anne sighs. She knows, in her very soul, that she's going to regret this.
Gilbert Blythe asks Anne to dance once, and Anne does her best to refuse in a way that is inoffensive and does not involve a feminist tirade.
"It's a dance," says Gilbert. "Or a party, anyway. You're supposed to dance at least once."
"I don't put a lot of stock into what I'm supposed to do."
Gilbert smiles ruefully. "I walked right into that one, huh. Okay, how's this? I like dancing. So far, I like you. If we combine the two, Charlie won't yell at me for hogging his goddess and not even dancing with her, and Diana won't yell at you for coming to a party and spending the whole time talking about early Scandinavian literature."
Anne realizes Diana has been giving her pointed looks for the last hour. "What makes you think she'll do that?" she asks anyway, putting on a haughty expression.
"I've known Diana for three years. And I did get those e-mails from her." He affects a high-pitched voice. "Oh Gil, my roommate is wonderful, but I do wish she'd get out more! She's the most beautiful girl at every party and she won't give anyone the time of day!"
Anne flushes, cursing her pale skin. "She did not say I was the most beautiful girl at every party," she mutters.
"That might have been artistic license," says Gilbert, his eyes twinkling. "One dance. I promise I won't step on your feet or hit you with my uncoordinated limbs. And afterward, we can come back and you can explain to me about the role of women in the Prose Edda."
Anne feels her resolve wavering. "You can't call me beautiful anymore," she says, managing to still be firm. "Absolutely not at all."
"Never again," he agrees solemnly, offering his hand. She takes it like it might bite, but it doesn't. It's large and warm, rough from being outside. His fingers close around her as he tugs her, and Anne can see the look of absolute triumph in Diana's eyes.
"We're going to tell Diana that this is just a dance," she says. "I don't want her thinking we're getting married."
"She's probably already picking out china patterns, you're right," says Gilbert, laughing. The song is fast, for which Anne is grateful; there's no need to get too close to him. But Gilbert doesn't release her hand as they go, even though he has no need of it anymore.
Then, of course, it's just her luck--the song winds down and something slow starts. Gilbert smiles at her. "You shouldn't have dawdled so much," he teases. "Now you're really going to have to dance with me."
He puts his hand on her waist, and she feels a callus catch on the fabric of her dress. He pulls the hand that's still holding hers back, placing her hand against his neck before how own goes to her waist.
"You can put your other hand up there too," he says, his voice soft and difficult to pick up through the music and the thrum of other people.
She does so slowly, surprised by the first brush of his hair against her fingers. "I've never really done this before."
"What, danced?" he asks. "Really?"
She looks away. His face is very close to hers, which she should have expected, but somehow she didn't. "My school didn't have dances. I mean, my high school didn't."
"The sisters didn't approve."
"You went to school with nuns?" he asks. She can feel every one of his fingers, strong against her waist. She can't bear to think how red she must be right now, how ridiculous she must look.
"I'm an orphan," she explains. "Raised by the church."
"And at college?"
"I was studying all the time. I needed to get a scholarship to--here. They couldn't afford to send me anywhere but to the state school."
"Wow," says Gilbert, but he doesn't sound pitying or disgusted. He sounds impressed. "That's...you're pretty amazing, Anne Shirley, you know that?"
She's looking at their shoes. His are black, a little shiny from the wet of the snow, and hers are her silver flats. They look very delicate next to his.
"Hey," he says, and one of his hands is gone from her waist and is under her chin instead.
His face is still large in front of hers, but his expression is the softest she's seen it. His eyes are hazel--she's never thought about hazel eyes very much before, but they're very interesting this close, flecks of color, and she's so distracted by them she almost doesn't hear him talking.
"I don't bite," he murmurs, and then he tries to kiss her.
He very nearly succeeds but she jerks her hand off his neck and slaps him across the face before he can. What was she thinking? Dancing with a boy like that just because--because he told her Diana would be upset if she didn't! And how could he use Diana against her like that? It's unfair, it's rude, and it's inconsiderate.
It's exactly what she expected he would be.
"Anne--" he tries, but she's already tearing off. She hears Diana too, Jane, Ruby, all her friends, she thinks, could be trying to stop her. But she doesn't listen. She grabs her coat, picks up her boots, and runs out into the freezing night in her silver flats, before anyone can catch her.
"Anne, Anne!" says Diana, rushing into the room.
Anne's face is buried in her pillow. She's a very good sulker; she's read Victorian literature, after all, and there is no better place to learn to be dramatic and upset. "Go away, Diana," she says, horribly muffled by the pillow. "Go away and leave me to die."
"Oh Anne, whatever happened?" asks Diana.
"You saw!" says Anne, turning her head to throw it out of the pillow.
"I saw you talking to Gil," she says, "and it looked like you were having a good time. Then I saw you dancing, and then he tried to kiss you and you slapped him in the face and ran away."
"Then you know everything!" says Anne. "And you can leave me to die in peace."
"But why did you slap him?" asks Diana.
"He tried to kiss me!"
"Is that so bad?" she asks.
"Yes!" says Anne. "A girl's first kiss should be something special," Anne says, her face back in the pillow.
Diana sits down on the bed; Anne can feel the dip and the sudden heat from her body. "Anne, that would have been special."
"No, it wouldn't."
"For someone who hates romance, you certainly have very high ideals," says Diana.
"I don't hate romance," says Anne. "I hate boys who think they're romantic."
"What do you want, Anne Shirley?" Diana asks.
"I told you," says Anne.
"I know," says Diana wistfully, which doesn't make any sense.
Gilbert Blythe sits next to her in class on Monday. He writes I'm sorry in the corner of his notebook, with a frowning face next to it. Anne sniffs and focuses very hard on the board, the lecture, the professor, and anything and everything that is not Gilbert Blythe.
At the end of the class, he says, "Will you just listen to me?"
"Why should I?" she asks, putting on her scarf violently.
"Because you've got me all wrong!"
"I doubt that."
"I'm not that guy!" says Gilbert. "I don't just--I don't just kiss girls."
Anne whirls on him. "I believe the evidence will show that you do."
"Not--god," he rakes his hand through his hair again. "I like you, okay? That's it! That's all. I don't--I wasn't just doing it because I was..." he actually blushes. "I wasn't horny or desperate or...I just wanted to kiss you, okay? And I shouldn't have, and it was stupid, and I'm sorry."
"You're going to want to do it again," says Anne. It's not a question, because even if Gilbert isn't lying, he still said he wanted to kiss her. The thought makes her stomach ache a little, like she might throw up a pile of stuffing. Maybe she's coming down with something.
"Yeah," says Gilbert, still blushing. "But I won't."
"Oh," she says.
"Unless you want to!" he corrects quickly.
"I want to get good grades and keep my scholarship."
"Then we'll just be friends," says Gilbert quickly. "Promise. If I ever try it again, you can punch me in the face and I won't bother you. Ever."
Anne sighs. "You aren't planning to give up on this, are you?"
Gilbert grins--Anne's sure now that he can sense when her will weakens. It's very inconvenient. "We're meant to be friends, Anne Shirley. I know it."
"You're a very peculiar boy, aren't you?" she asks before she can help herself.
Gilbert only grins wider. "A dying breed," he says.
It turns out, unfortunately, that Gilbert Blythe is an excellent study partner, which Anne discovers quite by accident. Soon after their talk, he starts stopping by Anne and Diana's room before class to walk over with Anne and discuss their homework, since he claims it's on his way.
(Never having been to Gilbert's room, Anne isn't sure if she believes him about this. Diana assures her it's the truth, but Diana is so delighted by Anne forgiving Gilbert that Anne can't trust her either.)
Their discussion of their readings is always animated, which is why Anne agrees readily when Gilbert asks her to have coffee and talk about their first essay. Something about debate with Gilbert is easy--he challenges the weaknesses in her arguments, but it's clear even to the touchy Anne that he's doing it to make her think, not to fight about it. She returns the favor, and she can almost feel her paper strengthening as she talks through it with Gilbert. Her coffee is cold and forgotten by the time they're done, and Gilbert smiles.
"Want to stop by the dining hall?" he asks. "I'm starving."
"Of course," says Anne, glancing at her watch. "I didn't think it was so late. I'll just call Diana and tell her I won't be meeting her."
Dinner is easy too, the natural talk of equals, and she feels refreshed afterward, confident about her class and surprised by what good company Gilbert Blythe is. She has trouble ignoring the way that he, at one point, wanted to kiss her, but she agreed to not hold it against him unless he did it again.
Her general good feelings continue until Thursday, when she runs into Jane Andrews.
"I heard you went out with Gilbert Blythe on Monday," she says. "Are the two of you an item? You lucky girl!"
"No," says Anne. "We were talking about our papers."
"Well, you should snatch him up if you want him," says Jane. "He's gorgeous, you know."
Anne doesn't think that's the first word she'd pick for Gilbert. Interesting, perhaps. Or smart. Handsome is there, she supposes, but rather far down on the list. "We're friends," she says, surprising herself with the term.
"Well, Josie Pye looks at your friend like he's a steak she'd really like to eat," says Jane.
Anne scoffs. "Gilbert wouldn't go out with Josie."
"Have it your way," says Jane. "I'm just warning you. She wants him. If you want him, you should get him while you can."
"He's not a piece of property. Gilbert can make his own decisions."
Jane looks at her almost pityingly. "What are you waiting for, Anne?"
"I don't know what you mean," says Anne honestly.
"What's wrong with Gilbert?"
"Nothing," she says honestly. He moves a bit quickly and is a bit self-confident, but those aren't the horribly damning character flaws she suspected they might be. He's fine.
Jane shakes her head and goes with a wave, leaving Anne confused.
In many ways, it was a lot easier being with the nuns.
"Are you going to date Josie Pye?" Anne asks Gilbert the next Wednesday. They're in her common room, both reading, and Anne is being occasionally distracted by the way the sun turns Gilbert's slightly curly hair golden in patches. If he turns, it won't be a problem anymore. That's why she brings it up, so he'll move.
"Hmm?" asks Gilbert. He does turn, his pencil in his mouth. All his erasers are chewed from the habit.
"Jane Andrews said you might be going out with Josie Pye."
"Not that I'm aware of," says Gilbert. "Why?"
"I was curious," says Anne. "I thought I would have noticed if you had a girlfriend."
"You definitely couldn't have missed it," says Gilbert in an odd tone. He's looking at her and her breath catches, just a little.
She's suddenly at a loss for words.
"Josie's not really my type anyway," says Gilbert, clearing his throat.
"She's kind of a party girl," he says. "Fine for her, but I like a little more substance."
"She's very pretty, though," says Anne casually.
"I don't know," says Gilbert. "I can think of a lot of prettier girls."
Anne knows, for certain, that she's one of them. That if she asked, he'd say she was the prettiest.
She doesn't ask, but it's a little nice, knowing that he'd say it.
Fred Wright finally asks Diana out for Valentine's Day, for a romantic dinner. Anne helps Diana get dressed, helps her put up her hair, and holds her hand during the inevitable nervousness. Fred comes in a smart suit with flowers, and Anne can't bring herself to disapprove even a little, with how happy Diana looks. She waves them out and finds herself at a loss.
She checks her e-mail, her facebook, and then her e-mail again before she figures out she's actually going to need to do something.
She realizes halfway through calling Gilbert that he could be busy. It is Valentine's Day, after all.
He picks up before she can go so far as to hang up. "Hey, Anne."
"Hello," she says. "Diana's off with Fred."
"I heard," says Gilbert warmly. "He came over here so me and Charlie could help him tie his tie. I've never seen him so nervous."
Anne laughs. "Diana wasn't much better. I thought I might need to hold her hand the whole time."
"No glamorous plans of your own?" asks Gilbert, too lightly.
"No," says Anne. "That's why I called you, actually."
There's a pause. "Oh?" asks Gilbert, in the same strange tone.
"I'm bored," she says bluntly. "I thought--maybe if you weren't busy..."
"I'm not busy," says Gilbert quickly. "I can come over," he says.
"Yes," says Anne. "I'd like that."
They eat take out in front of the TV in the common room--the dorm is dead, everyone out for dinner with boyfriends, and Anne stretches her legs out and spills noodles on her shirt while Gilbert laughs.
"That's why I don't eat lying down, Anne," he teases.
"I like this shirt too," she says sadly. "I'll have to change."
Gilbert clears his throat. "You know," he says. "If you're changing anyway, there's a party in my building. We could go."
Anne looks at him. He's looking at his takeout, but she can see the corners of a blush.
"Are you asking me out, Gilbert?"
"That depends," he says. "If I was, would you say yes?"
Anne takes a deep breath.
She thinks about feminism, and about romance, and about damsels and knights and independent women.
Mostly, though, she thinks about Gilbert Blythe. She thinks that he didn't give up on her, even though she might have deserved it. He thinks that he wouldn't go out with Josie Pye, that he's actually never gone out with anyone in the time she's known him. She thinks about how, when they walk to class, their shoulders brush, and how she used to pull away when they did. How now that she doesn't, he smiles more.
She likes when he smiles.
She thinks that if Gilbert were to kiss her, it would be a good first kiss.
"Do you think it's silly," she asks, "that I've never kissed anyone?"
"No," he says. "It's kind of cute."
She flushes. "Well," she says, "then yes. I'd say yes."
Gilbert laughs, a quick relieved sound. "Hallelujah," he says.
"I'll just--" she feels awkward in the wake of revelations and admissions. "I'll just go change."
He catches her wrist. "Anne."
"If I try to kiss you, will you punch me in the face?"
She can't breathe, can't speak, so she just shakes her head.
"Hallelujah," he says again, softly, and then he kisses her, again and again.