The Pyes were not the richest family in Avonlea— that title belonged to the Barrys. Nor were they the most joyful— that was a title that belonged to the Boulters. They were simply a well-to-do family, with connections and gossip but nothing that truly made them stand out. It vexed them, knowing that they were unable to hold onto any superlative. But the Pyes were determined to be the best at something, and so they decided to stake their claim on the title of "most perfect daughter", with their pride and joy, their Josie.
Their Josie was even beautiful as a newborn: the physician couldn't help but coo at Josie's cherubic face, or so they claimed.
Their Josie had a voice that could rival an angel's, not that they would ever challenge God's most heavenly messengers. That would be blasphemous and horribly inappropriate.
Their Josie would be the first girl married out of her age group. After all, she was the most beautiful and most suited to be a wife, was she not? That smile could bring any man to their knees— but of course, it would be reserved for her husband-to-be, whomever that may be.
Josie Pye grew up with firm hands on her shoulders, her family beaming behind her as they made bold claims on her character. She grew up with tightly curled hair and beautiful dresses that were modest but flattered her complexion perfectly. She was told how to smile, how to lead the girls, how to be perfect. She was to be someone for the other girls to look to, a faultless model of what a young lady should be.
Josie Pye enjoyed the attention. She was only a little girl, and little girls loved to be doted over. Little girls loved lavish gifts, and hearing things that they weren't supposed to, and being complimented by everybody around them.
Josie Pye loved having the spotlight and having the control. She loved knowing that all the other girls turned to her, leaving her the final decision. Sometimes Diana protested, but that was alright. Diana wasn't one to go off and do things on her own anyways. She always came back. Besides, Diana Barry was Diana Barry, and she was only Josie Pye. She didn't know it then, but it was cathartic, to have control over her school-life when she had such little control over everything else.
And then Anne Shirley-Cuthbert showed up.
Anne Shirley-Cuthbert was everything the Pyes despised and pitied. She was an orphan, ill-bred, wild, and spoke too much on topics no girl of polite society should ever mention. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert had awful red hair, and her clothes were far too ratty, and an orphan had no place amongst the good folk of Avonlea. Josie was a Pye, and so Josie disliked her too.
Then Anne had begun taking away Josie's friends. First Diana left Josie's side, sending a firm look of disappointment as she turned away. Then followed Ruby, with exuberant cries at Anne's return to school. And soon enough, Tillie and Jane left her side too, leaving her alone. She hated it.
Josie Pye hated Anne Shirley-Cuthbert. What was so special about that orphan anyways? She spoke too loudly. Her recitations were comical at best, and her intelligence and academic accomplishments did not make up for her origins. Trash would always be trash. Anne had even been talking to Gilbert Blythe— had even walked in with him and made Ruby cry in doing so! How callous was that freak— Josie couldn't comprehend why Ruby even wanted to spend time with the orphan trash. And besides, the Cuthberts may be an old and upstanding family, but they were also odd and poor. She wasn't to fraternize with such people, or at least, not often.
Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that Anne was here to stay, and Josie resigned herself to her situation. With any luck, Anne's poor upbringing wasn't contagious. Just because Anne was one of them now doesn't mean she had to like the red-headed and freckled freak.
As the months passed, Josie watched as Anne pulled the girls out of their shells. She'd turn to hear shrieks and laughter, and Josie couldn't help the way her lips thinned and her eyes narrowed. It wasn't proper nor ladylike to be behaving the way they were. She could hear her mother's voice in her mind, whispers on the immaturity of their behavior, how foolish they all looked. Josie couldn't help but agree. But a small part of her envied the freedom of those heads tilted back in unabashed joy. Anne walked around with her braids and her flowers and her odd ribbons and nobody cared, not really. They just saw Anne— and how was that fair? Josie spent hours at night with her hair in rags, and she meticulously picked out each outfit to perfection, and yet some days it felt like most rarely spared a second glance! Some nights she felt compelled to pull out her rags and skip the curling altogether, just to see if it made any difference. Surely she was already beautiful enough— but then her mother would remind her what it was for, and she'd acquiesce once more.
One night it wasn't enough, and she yelled at her mother, to her parent's chagrin. Her father exploded in response, his temper rising to the forefront in the face of Josie's disobedience. His face turned red, furious at the scene she'd made. Her mother had hastily stepped forward, firmly stating that she'd take care of the situation. It was a tense moment, one where everybody stared at each other, unsure on who was to move first. Finally, her father straightened, turning a stern glare at her before spinning around and walking out the door, not to be seen until dinner.
Tears had been streaming down her face, unbeknownst to her. Her face had turned red and splotchy, and her mother had tutted, quickly taking a cold wet cloth and dabbing at her face.
"These splotches can make wrinkles, and your skin's been so beautiful thus far. We mustn't ruin it now."
Rage built up inside her once more and she moved to speak, only to be gently shushed by her mother.
"It's painful and tiring, yes, but my dear, beauty is power, and beauty is security. I only want for you to have the best life, and your beauty will give you that. As your mother it is my duty to preserve it, to make you shine brighter than all those around you. You need to beat out the competition, as your father would say. Now, wipe that ridiculous frown off your face, and hush with your shouting. It's very unattractive, and not the makings of a well-bred lady, let alone a good wife."
Josie Pye understood. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert may seem happier, but it would be Josie Pye who'd have the last laugh. She'd be the one to marry a handsome man, she'd be the one to have her perfect life, the happily ever after. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert would never have her romantical tale, or whatever that odd girl dreamed of in her plain bed at night.
Years passed, and over time Josie grew from apathetic to grudgingly accepting of Anne. Anne had found a way to truly fit in with the girls, and it had become difficult to imagine their group without the red-headed orphan. The girls together balanced each other out perfectly, and Josie was settled enough to admit that sometimes it was best to bow to Anne's expertise— or at the very least to Anne's connection with Gilbert so as to gain Gilbert's expertise. The pettiness of years past now felt a little childish, if she were to be completely honest. While her pointed jabs and less-than-kind comments still fell from her lips often enough, she meant them less— however habits were hard to break. And if she were to be truly transparent with herself, she was slightly worried that Anne would never find a husband. Being the wife of a worthy man was a sensible endeavor, and one that would provide security and profit for any young lady— and she was certain that should Anne stay a maid forever, she'd both be a burden and the source of heartbreak for the other girls. Josie would certainly rather avoid hearing hours upon hours of sobbing from Ruby on how Anne was ever so lonely. There was simply no time to be dealing with such frivolity and pointlessness, especially once she became a wife.
There were moments when Josie shed her expectations. Moments, just moments where she let loose and joined the girls in their wild shrieks and uproarious laughter. She could understand why Anne so loved to feel the wind in her hair, or how Ruby loved to twirl in the cold snow. It was freeing, and for once Josie could forget her future or her past, and just be in the present. She could forget about controlling her expressions, and all those other minute things that were to make her desirable. She could dance with the girls and giggle over something inconsequential like Tillie's boy problems. She could study furiously, focusing on doing well in her studies without any regard for her appearance or her future.
(It thrilled her a little, to know that she could go to college when Diana Barry couldn't. For once, she had something the other girl didn't.)
Her life was near perfection. She had her friends, she had Billy on her arm, and she was on her way to college. Her friends still considered her important and turned to her for advice, namely romantic advice, Billy was sweet and just the kind of man she'd want for a husband, and before long she'd be able to leave Avonlea. Life had fallen into place perfectly, as it often does for beautiful girls. Despite any previous misgivings, she was glad that she had listened to her mother. Josie Pye was content. No, she was happy.
And then it all came crashing down in one fell swoop. Suddenly Anne's bouts of anger and temper didn't seem so foolish after all, for she wanted to do the same. She wanted to scream, to throw a fit, and to cry until there were no tears left to cry. The humiliation had been unbearable.
Of course, that freak had to go and make things worse, turning everybody's unfavorable eyes back onto her. (It was difficult, you see, for someone previously so unanimously adored to be under such harsh and inescapable scrutiny.) Anne Shirley-Cuthbert had always been jealous of her anyways, so of course she'd take advantage of the situation. Her mother had warned her. Kindness was never so freely given.
She felt all their gazes like brands on her body. She couldn't stay, she had to leave, she needed to go—
Their eyes felt like Billy's hands.
Their words felt like Billy's lips.
It was there on her bed, sobbing in her mother's lap, where her life tilted on its axis once more.
"He's not a nice boy!"
"Nice isn't relevant."
Josie's breath caught in her throat, and her mother's next words burned through her ears and burrowed themselves in her mind.
"You put yourself in a situation. That was a choice. Now you have a reputation. And girls with reputations do not have choices."
"Mother he hurt me!"
"Well, you seem to be all in one piece now. How bad could it be?'
Josie turned her face away from her mother, reeling from it all. Beautiful girls were supposed to have everything. And look where she was. She had nothing, not even her mother's kindness. In the past she'd enjoyed hearing her family's harsh words, the way they sneered at everyone and anyone, but now it was too much. They'd disavow her? But she couldn't think upon the situation for long— her inner aches were far too severe and would not be ignored. And so she cried some more.
This time, her mother's touch did little to comfort her.
Anne's visit, and proper apology, had given her the calm necessary to truly ponder all that had happened.
"No one but you is allowed to dictate what you're worth."
Those words had stuck with her too. Perhaps even more than her mother's words.
She'd done everything perfectly. She'd been a perfect daughter, a perfect lady, a perfect friend and a perfect leader to the girls— and it was all gone because some man— no, some boy couldn't listen? Her horror turned into fury, anger at the situation and her mother and the world in its entirety. It wasn't fair. Where was her say? Where was her voice? Why wasn't it heard? Why was it buried beneath Billy Andrews' words? Had she not proven herself, time and time again? Would the town really just ignore her protests, simply because Billy Andrews claimed otherwise?
She'd been told all her life that beauty was most important. She'd been taught that beauty was what would bring her security, power, happiness, a perfect life. If this was security and power and happiness and perfection, she didn't want it. She was more than just beautiful, and there had to be other ways to achieve those ideals. Josie sat at her mirror, staring at her reflection as she unraveled the rags in her hair. It wasn't much of an act of defiance, but it was a start.
(She could just see Anne's smile in her head, but she pushed that away. She was not doing this for anyone's approval. She was doing this for herself.)
When Billy showed up at her window, all Josie felt was resigned. She just wanted all this to be over with, to move on with her life. She had liked him, yes, but had she truly known him? Had she truly known herself? It mattered little now. All she wanted was the last word.
"I don't want anything from you. Least of all redemption."
She was done with him, done with finding her worth in her beauty and in outside opinions. Those opinions were all worthless anyways. What mattered was what she thought.
And she had one last thing to do.
Joining Anne on that stage had been exhilarating and an eye-opening experience. It had been a last minute decision, one that she'd settled on only moments before she'd raced through the door. There was something deliciously addicting about doing something for herself— was this how the others had felt for so long? Was this the source of Anne's imagination? Of Ruby's smiles? Jane's conviction and Tillie's giddiness and Diana's strength?
Three words floated to the forefront of her mind as she stood there on that stage. Beauty, power, happiness. That was what had mattered most to her mother. Well, as she stared at the welcoming smile on Anne's face, she found beauty. As she turned, she took in the faces that had once found amusement in her humiliation. Now they were staring at her and the students in awe. She felt powerful. And when all was said and done, when she was laughing with Prissy afterwards, drinking fruit juice as they celebrated their protest, she was happy. Truly happy.
There were other ways to reach those goals, other ways to achieve those ideals that felt more true to her. It was clear to see.
It wasn't absolution, but it was a start to her future, a future that she dictated.
And now, standing in Anne's room at Blackmore House, giggling as she read the house rules, she couldn't help but feel pure elation. She watched the faces around her, a little bit of love for all the girls in the room. They hadn't all stood by her, but it was time to forgive and forget. She had to move forward, and she didn't want to do that without them all by her side. She may feel like leaving most of Avonlea behind, but she wasn't sure that she could ever let go of these girls. They all burst into laughter, and Josie's heart soared.
For the first time in her life, she could be whomever she wanted to be. She could be Josie, whatever being Josie meant.
Wasn't that exciting?