It's a Thursday evening. Anne's at a youth open mic thing that Diana dragged her to, except Diana's snuck off with Fred to go outside, so now Anne's drinking her diet coke alone and trying not to feel the loss of the chemistry revision she should've been doing on a school night.
Her best friend being in a happy relationship isn't the only reason Anne regrets coming. Sometimes she feels that the universe choreographs unfortunate situations especially for her, and this very moment is evidence of that. Because just a few minutes ago, Gilbert Blythe came onstage.
Anne didn't even know he could play guitar.
He isn't looking at her, exactly, but she knows he knows she's there. Everything he does she takes as a challenge, so she remains glued to her seat, watching dispassionately as he croons Dean Martin.
“But Anne, don't you think you and Gilbert could be good friends, if you would just a little less stubborn?” she recalls Diana asking.
Diana is partly right, so she'll admit: she doesn't quite hate him with all the fire in her soul — but it's something close. She has reason to fuel the fire, too. Take tonight. She's certain the song he's singing now was a deliberate choice to mock her. He must know it's one of her favourites, because she would swear he laughed — mockingly, of course — when he caught her singing it three weeks ago. And now he's standing there, ruining this song for her by forever making her associate it with him. (What makes it worse is that she secretly likes his rendition.)
Then comes a moment when things shift.
Gilbert sings, "There's another, not a sister," — and Anne, who is watching him, as would be polite to do, finds his eyes looking straight into hers, uncomfortably and surprisingly direct. Then he looks away.
Anne isn't stupid, and she can read subtext better than anyone, after she spent the first ten years of life trying to figure out what adults meant when they talked about her. But she can also read mockery, and belligerence, which are much more sensible fits for this situation. So she decides on them.
After the song, Josie Pye and Ruby Gillis appear, and Josie asks Anne very loudly how she felt about her serenade.
“It takes more than an acoustic guitar to win me over,” she replies, probably a little louder than she needs to, and blushing furiously as she says it.
Ruby frowns, but Josie looks gleeful. “Really?” she asks. “What kind of grand gesture would match up to your standards, then?”
Right on cue, Anne sees Diana waving. “I think I see Diana,” she says. “Nice talking to you, Josie. Ruby,” she nods, then makes her escape.
She turns to leave, and almost walks into Gilbert.
“I didn't mean it like —” she tries, but he's already storming away.
She feels terrible.
2. Mrs Lynde
"Anne, your young man's at the door!"
Anne rolls her eyes. She often finds herself reminding herself that she loves Mrs Lynde, she does. But this — a regular occurrence now — is something she feels she is entitled to be slightly angry about.
"He is not my young man!" she calls, with a touch of lightness so Mrs Lynde can't tease her for protesting too much.
"Ah! So you knew who I was talking about!"
Anne allows herself a final eye roll, then goes to meet Gilbert at the door.
"You have a young man?" he asks innocently, completely unfazed by Anne's glare.
They're friends now, she and Gilbert. After the acoustic guitar fiasco, Anne finally surrendered her pride and apologised, and Gilbert accepted her apology far more graciously than she thinks she deserved. Since then, they've been hanging out. They've discovered a mutual love of Humphrey Bogart and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and sometimes they go on walks, where they exchange playlists and talk about Grey's Anatomy.
"Gilbert Blythe, don't test me," says Anne, as she lets him in, then runs to find her scarf and gloves.
"I'm hurt!" he calls after her. "Anne, I thought we had something! Don't throw it away for another!"
Anne swears she can see Mrs Lynde smirking, through all the walls between here and the kitchen. Even Marilla calls for her to be home before nine as she rushes down the stairs, which is unnecessary and Marilla definitely has an ulterior motive, because Anne knows the rules anyway, and there's no need to say it in front of Gilbert, especially as it's juxtaposed with Mrs Lynde's comment. It's enough having one gossiping busybody around, but two is just too much.
Still, when he smiles at her in that warm, familiar way, slightly indulgent and slightly conspiratorial, she can't help the thought that there's no one who smiles at her quite like Gilbert does.
3. Mrs Allan
It is a mark that this has been going too far when Mrs Allan talks to Anne about it.
"And how are things with Gilbert?" she asks. High school has finally ended, and Anne's life, for a few months, is picnics and TV marathons and spontaneous road trips. Today, she is with Mrs Allan in an elegant hotel, taking afternoon tea, and because of her question, Anne suffers the mortification of almost choking on her cake.
"Oh, Mrs Allan," says Anne, once she has recovered. "You've got the wrong idea. Gil and I — well, there isn't any thing with him. We aren't together."
Mrs Allan lifts one perfect eyebrow, and Anne feels as if something is being squeezed out of her, even though there is absolutely nothing to squeeze. She shifts in her chair, uncomfortably.
"Of course not," Mrs Allan says smoothly. "Dearie, I'd just assumed — forgive me — because you're together so much and would suit each other so well."
Anne knows this. Gilbert keeps her imagination in check. His interpretations of books — always so different to hers — sharpen her views and their discussions are always so broadening. But that's the kind of thing that a friend should do. Gilbert doesn't make her heart beat faster. She doesn't long to see him the way Diana does Fred — and she's pretty sure he doesn't either.
"We're good friends," says Anne, shortly, and Mrs Allan knows not to push it.
Philippa Gordon is a darling, and Anne loves her dearly, but sometimes she wishes she asked questions which were a little less — invasive.
"So, what's up with you and Gilbert?" Phil asks, one day. They are in Starbucks, despite Anne's disapproval for tax-avoiding massive corporations, because this disapproval is outweighed by Phil's — and her — need for an espresso macchiato.
"Nothing," says Anne, in a way she hopes skims the boundary between innocent and slightly bored by the idea.
Being good at reading people and a lack of reservations is a brutal combination, thinks Anne, as Phil slowly picks off the chocolate chips on her muffin.
"Anne," says Phil. "You know I love you and won't judge you for anything. Are you saying you've never thought of Gilbert in that way?"
Anne nods, arranging arguments in her head — arguments she's repeated to so many people, not excluding herself. "Of course not," she says. "People gossip, but we really are just friends." She stops, then starts speaking faster. "And I think it's ridiculous that people see romance in every friendship between a guy and a girl. It's so heteronormative. And people don't know what the friendship is like. They just make assumptions. And there's nothing in mine and Gilbert's friendship to suggest anything romantic."
That last sentence is an outright lie, because last night when Gilbert walked her to her door, he lingered and Anne squeaked out a goodbye before escaping into her room. Last year, when they both got into Redmond, there was a moment where she thought he might kiss her. And countless other times: eye contact during that Christmas dinner party five months ago; their platonic waltzing, mocked endlessly by Stella; Gilbert's comforting through his refusal to dismiss her tears as dramatic, after she got her first B.
In going through all these memories, Anne's missed most of what Phil's said. But she's moved on to talking about Alec and Alonzo... wait, no, her friend Roy...
"... and it's such a relief to hear that about Gilbert, because the second I met you, I knew you'd be perfect for Roy! Well, maybe not perfect," Phil amends. "But he does like Whitman."
Anne tries to smile. "Phil, darling, that's a lovely offer. But I don't think I'm interested in that sort of thing right now."
It's true. She isn't.
There is a sharpness in Phil's eyes Anne feels very uncomfortable sitting opposite, but it's quickly gone. "All right," she says. "Started your history essay yet?"
"So you've never felt anything for me?" asks Gilbert. It's ten in the evening, they were about to have a movie night, and Gilbert just tried to kiss her. "All those times, when people implied we were, or should be together — no part of you thought, 'actually, Gilbert's not so bad'?"
Anne hates that he's putting himself down. To date Gilbert, objectively, would be very nice.
"No-o," she says slowly. "Did you? For me?"
And she prides herself so much on being good with language: knowing the right words for the right moment. But apparently Gilbert does this to her now; he makes her into a stumbling, hurt mess, who says the wrong thing and is unobservant and cruel, and now she thinks that proves that they would not be good together.
He laughs bitterly, and it's like someone stuck a knife through her middle. "Yes," he says. "Yes, of course I did, and I was terrible at hiding it, too. But you never noticed, did you? God, Anne, don't you know you see the world the way you want it to be? And you saw me how you wanted me to be: your platonic, joking friend, who made you happy but never crossed the line you'd drawn out for me. And I thought: maybe, if I go along with this, be who you want — then maybe you'll realise that's not what you need."
Anne hates that word — need — because she knows she spent so long needing love. But she managed to cope without it for those few lonely years, so surely it wasn't need after all. "'Need'?" she asks. "Oh, that's so unfair, you telling me how I feel and what I need. After you spent all that time doing nothing, apparently silently miserable, waiting for me to come around — not going after what you apparently need... And this idea that I've put you in some kind of friend zone? That's a horrible thing to say. You're half of our friendship — don't you dare tell me I've been forcing you into a corner you don't want to be in!"
"I didn't mean it like that," he says quickly, and hates himself for the cliché. "Anne, stop ignoring what's in front of you. You want romance and being swept off your feet? Fine! Anne Shirley, I've been in love with you probably ever since the first time I saw you. You want descriptions? I realised I wanted you ever since, oh, I don't know, you broke that board over my head. At first it was just wanting what I couldn't have, but God, Anne, don't you see? We've been skating around each other for years. Everyone sees it, Anne. Why can't you see it too?"
Anne stiffens at the mention of other people. “I never knew you cared so much for other people’s opinions, Gilbert,” she says, coldly, proudly.
He hates it. But he’s desperate now; there are about a minute before she closes the door to stop him seeing her crying. And then after that, months of silence. “Anne, we talk every day,” he says. “We spend more time together than Phil and Alec! You’re the most important person in my life, Anne, and I can't keep on just being friends with you. I want and need more."
Very quietly, Anne says: "I didn't know our friendship meant so little to you."
Then she starts to cry, and Gilbert feels like the worst excuse in the world for a friend. He's made Anne cry, because he's too selfish to keep accepting what little she can afford to give him. So he leaves, as he knows she'd want, and as he slumps against the wall of his dorm room, he supposes that it was stupid to imagine one speech from him would change her mind. He was so bound up in his hope and excitement that he forgot about her.
So it's probably better that they don't speak for a while. Like two particles rebounding after a collision, or something. He sighs, flips off the light switch, and tries to fall asleep.
"And would Gilbert like to come to dinner as well, when we go home?"
Anne chokes on her tea. "Wha — Why?"
They are sitting in Anne's dorm room together. Marilla has made tea, which is infinitely better than anything has Anne drank all year. Davy and Dora are arriving later, with Mrs Lynde, and Anne's going to take them all around the city, before they go for dinner. Then they're going home, Marilla is staying overnight, and tomorrow lunchtime they'll go home as well.
Marilla sighs. "Anne, I would like to meet your boyfriend properly. And I daresay Rachel would too. Heaven knows how worried she was when you told us about Roy."
"He isn't — " Anne begins weakly. She gives up. "How did you guess?"
Marilla doesn't roll her eyes, but manages to give off the same air as if she had. "I met him coming out of your dorm half an hour ago. He looked happier than I've ever seen him. Also, I didn't think you bought clothes two sizes too big."
Anne looks down sheepishly at the hoodie she has on. "I didn't realise it was so obvious," she mumbles.
Marilla smiles. "So would he? He'll have to face Rachel and Davy's interrogations, but that's bound to happen sooner or later."
"Well, I was planning on telling you all together when we got back," says Anne, guiltily. "I didn't want to just mention it casually. It wanted occasion."
"Nonsense," says Marilla briskly. "Anne, you were nervous because you like this boy a lot, and you were worried about our opinion. You oughtn't worry," she adds, in a brisk, matter-of-fact way that is so Marilla, Anne reckons she must've invented it. "If he's anything like his father, I will like him very much."
There's an untold story there which Anne is dying to imagine fantastically about, but she holds it in. "I'll text him now," she says impulsively, and furiously types out a message to Gilbert, desperately hoping that he'll say yes.
Seconds later, he texts back. Tell Marilla I'd be honoured. Dad did mention her lemon pie once. Did you say she liked daffodils or peonies?
Anne replies, smiling, and doesn't even bother hiding it behind her mug. "He says he'd be honoured. And I know you will like him," she says, secure in her knowledge of the kind of person Gilbert is. "He makes me very happy."
"It's about time a boy did," says Marilla dryly, memories of Charlie Sloane, Billy Andrews and Roy Gardner going through her head. Then she shifts in her chair slightly and clasps her hands together. "I always thought you and Gilbert would be a good match, even if I wasn't so vocal about it. I didn't approve of pushing you in any direction, Anne. People did that to me, when I was younger, and I let them decide my life more than I'm proud of. So I am very glad that you didn't listen to anyone else, and got to this in your own time."
"So am I," says Anne, still bathing in the radiance of fresh happiness. "Oh, Marilla, I — I feel so happy I could burst. I know I haven't made it easy for him. But I like to think that it's better this way — that I know all of myself before I start to know all of him."
Just then, there's a knock on the door. Anne jumps up, and Gilbert's standing there.
"Made it halfway across campus before I realised I forgot this," he says, and leans in to kiss her.
They don't see her, but Marilla is smiling into her tea as she drinks it. Then Anne, midway through another kiss, realises that Marilla is sitting there alone and ignored, and a combination of hostess's etiquette and general embarrassment causes her to break out of the kiss and stammer out introductions.
"Please, call me Marilla," says Marilla, and although she says it a little stiffly, and Gilbert probably looks at Anne too much for Marilla to entirely approve of his manners, it's hopeful. And Anne thinks, happily, that this reality is so much better than any dream.