Oddly enough, the first person Anne thinks of is Ruby, recounting her sister's proposal all those years ago, and how she, Anne, had scoffed at "darling pet" and made a big, grandiose speech, and how that was how proposals should be, maybe, or at least...not like this.
She'd always thought that a proposal would come from her tall, dark, handsome ideal, and there would be roses and moonlight. But here she stands, on an October Saturday morning, in the kitchen of Green Gables, in an apron of all things, with flour on her cheek and an egg crushed at her feet and her best friend (save Diana) standing before her with his eyes pleading at her to say something.
(Her traitorous mind snipes that Gilbert is nothing if not dark and handsome, and he's certainly tall; she'd have to stretch to whack a slate across his face now and oh how she wishes she had one handy.)
"Gilbert...John...Blythe..." she grinds out, as he winces at each pause between words. "Do you mean to tell me that you just PROPOSED to me by MISTAKE?!"
His mind is blank. All he knows, all he can think, is that he didn't want to go home. He'd stopped by to invite the Green Gables folk to a party for Henry LeCroix's seventh birthday the next weekend, that's all. And then the house was empty except for the two of them (and Matthew and Jerry out in the field) and the kitchen was so warm and smelled so good, like the tarts Anne was making. She was chatting away, so pretty and lit up inside, and all he could think was that he loves her so much, and he never wants to go home. So he'd said... what had he said?
He'd just stuttered it out. He'd finally told the truth for once. He'd said it straight. "Anne? Anne, I love you." And then...and then, well, she'd dropped the egg she was holding, and stared at him in...what? Fear? Horror? And he couldn't stop.
So he'd blundered on, and none of what came out was what he'd dreamed of over the years, but simply, "I love you. You know I do. I -- I can't tell you how much. Will you promise me that some day you'll be my wife?"
If she'd just said something, he could have made it all right somehow, but she just kept staring at him as though he'd sprouted another head, and so he'd rushed to fill the awful silence. He'd said that he hadn't meant to do it, not this way, he was sorry, it was an accident...remembering that, he winces.
"So, so what, Gilbert?" she asks. "You...you're playing some kind of game?" Her voice tilts up hopefully at the end of the question. She's giving him a way out, the same way (the same words, even) that he'd given Billy a pass the day he met Anne, when they were children. But this is different, and he will not take the out she's so eager to hand him.
He straightens up. He could make a joke, he could say he was just larking about, but she would know, and he would know she knew. They'd pretend but they'd know, and come what may he's done pretending. He is John Blythe's son, John Blythe who never ran from an adventure, never saw a challenging mountain he didn't itch to climb. And so he stands up straight with his shoulders back and looks his love square in the eye.
"I may not have planned to ask you today, Anne," he says evenly. "But make no mistake, I've thought of how I'd ask you since Prissy Andrews' wedding that wasn't. I meant every word."
There, it's done now. No more pretending. No more innuendos or shy glances, no more accidental hand brushes that jolt through his body like summer lightning.
Her eyes, big and blue as the sky already, have inched open an incredulous degree with every word he's said, and she looks positively stunned. He'd laugh if this moment weren't so serious, if it didn't seem like every second of his life has led to this one.
Anne, never without her tongue for long, finds it at last. "Gilbert, you can't...we, we can't...there, we didn't, there hasn't been...you didn't court me, or-" she looks even more shocked now. She always knows what to say. The problem is usually in stopping the words, for heaven's sake, not this stuttering along like she isn't acquainted with the English language.
"Anne" his voice is low and rough. Has she ever heard him speak this way before? She doesn't think so. She's heard him angry, she's heard his tone watered down by tears he'd not shed in front of her. This, though, this is something else entirely.
"Maybe not formally, maybe I didn't come like I should have, didn't talk to Matthew, or, well, you, or...but you must know, you must have seen that in my mind, in my heart, I've been courting you since the day I met you."
And she DOES know it, too, which is the most wretched part of it all. Gilbert Blythe is many infuriating things, but he is no liar. Anne twists her fingers together in front of her, nervous and hoping this is all a dream, admitting in her mind what she never has before.
She loves Gilbert. She loves him, she loves him, she loves him. Of course she does. How could she not? How could anyone not love someone who looks at them the way he does, like he never wants to look at anything else, even though she's so bright to him it hurts his eyes?
She's giddy for a second, happy to finally let out the secret kept locked in her private heart of hearts, where even she has dared not rummage around til now. But quiet resignation follows quickly-- yes, she loves him, but it will never be enough. She will never be enough.
"Oh, Gil" she says, and her voice is full of such sadness and pity that he feels physical pain. He actually puts his hand on his chest to ease it, because it feels as though his heart has just shattered like the egg, smashed and forgotten on the floor.
"Anne," he says, not knowing what to say but knowing he must stop her. "Anne, don't. Let's...let's forget it for now, let's... I'll come back! I'll come back another time, with a ring, and do it right, I'll say the things I planned, I'll tell you.." But she's already shaking her head.
"No, Gil, don't" she says, and both of them feel a deep cringe inside at the pleading laced in those three words. "We can't...it would never work, it.."
"Why, Anne?!" he wants to shout it and he's sure he's going to but he doesn't. It's worse than a shout, worse than anger that would make it easy for her to tell him to leave, to be angry back at him. But he speaks in a deep, pained whisper, and it hurts her so much to hear it. "Why not? Why wouldn't it? I love you, Anne! I love you so much. Of course I want to marry you, that's...it's..."
"But why, Gil?" she shoots back at him. "Why do you love me? Me of all people!" She paces a bit, not realizing she's doing it. "I... I talk too much and I talk about the wrong things, and I want to teach and write, not just follow you around being a doctor's wife! Rolling...bandages or whatever it is they do! So why me, Gil, why? Why do you love me?"
"I don't KNOW why I love you, Anne!" he bursts out. The second it's out of his mouth he realizes how it sounds, and he wants to take it back but it's too late. She stares at him, eyes like a wounded animal. He's not sure when or how this went so wrong.
"That's not...wait, that isn't what I meant." He's frustrated, plowing one hand through his dark curls. "If you could just...you act as though...as though there should be words for everything, and I know there usually are for you. But sometimes there just aren't words. It's not as though...it's not..."
He rubs his palm over over his face, letting it rest over his eyes for a second like a masquerade mask. Anne can see the muscle in his jaw jumping, the way it does when he is feeling something deeply. She knows, because they're friends. And now that's gone, and nothing will be the same, and they're in her kitchen for heaven's sake. She has no idea how they got here.
"It's not as though I have a checklist, Anne," he finally says, "and I'm looking for a wife who ticks the boxes. You're beautiful. You're so beautiful. But many women are beautiful."
Anne gives an indignant squawk at that, and Gilbert flashes her a glare of warning few people have ever seen. (In fact it's a very short list: Billy Andrews has, and some Avonlea folk who tutted a bit too loudly about Bash's skin color.)
He still has that look in his eye as he stalks toward her, and for the first time in their long friendship, Gilbert Blythe looks positively dangerous. He'd never hurt her, she knows, nor let anyone else. But the kind of danger he poses to her now frightens Anne more than the thought of a careless slap or shove...she's experienced those before and lived to tell the tale. This, though, this is entirely new territory, and she has no map to find her way through.
She doesn't even realize she's stepped back until the countertop edge presses into her lower back, and she's stuck.
"You're smart," he continues, as he slowly walks ever closer. "You're the smartest person I know, probably, but there are a lot of other smart people, too." He's right in front of her now, and she has nowhere to go, and the hurt and heat are rolling off his body in waves.
"And you're kind...you're so kind, Anne. Your heart is, it's, it's so tender." He takes another step forward and then he can't get any closer unless he were to press his body against hers, and though he desperately wants to, he could never frighten her that way. This girl, who spent too many years at the mercy of people who did not care...he can't. He thinks for one wild second that he would sooner hurl his body off a cliff than use it to harm hers. Is this what madness feels like? It may be. He can't get closer, but he can't stop trying either, so he reaches out and clasps her hands in his.
She can't breathe when he's so close. He smells like the cider he and Bash were pressing that morning, like the crisp autumn air, and something else that is just Gilbert. His hands are so warm and steady around hers, which are cold and (she notes with disgust) shaking slightly. She's trapped between his solid body in front of her and the countertop behind, but she isn't afraid...which almost scares her more. He is tall and firm and dangerous, but he is also Gilbert, and try as she might she cannot muster up any fear of him.
"There are a lot of women in the world, probably, who are beautiful, and smart, and kind," he tells her, as she stares resolutely at their joined hands. "But Anne...look at me, Anne."
She shakes her head. She can't. She doesn't dare reveal what she knows is in her eyes. Her skin feels so strange...it's tingling everywhere, everywhere except where her hands are slowly steadying within his.
"Anne, it doesn't matter how many women I meet who are beautiful, and who are kind, and who are clever. They're not you. They won't gush over the color of someone's skin, they..." Anne groans at that, embarrassed. Poor Sebastian, what a rambling little fool she'd been. But (her ridiculous memory insists on reminding her) Gilbert had never thought so, not even then.
"They won't put me in my place," he says, and for just a second he feels the beloved phantom pain behind his right ear. (Anne Shirley-Cuthbert is a passionate individual, all right). "They won't talk to butterflies, they won't use words I have to look up in the dictionary...and even if they did?"
He's pulling her closer now, tugging on her hands, and she finally looks up at him. She can't help it. He's so tall and so near and his eyes are drawing hers like they were made for that purpose alone.
At first he just blinks, shocked and pained at the tears swimming in her eyes, but when he looks past them he sees nothing but desperate sadness and a tinge of hope, and he wants to cry himself. Cry, or run to find the first person he can and grab them by the shoulders and shout that Anne Shirley-Cuthbert loves him back. He doesn't do those things, though, he just pulls her closer still, then tentatively lets go of her hands so that he can take her in his arms.
She's so SLIGHT, he thinks, such a slender person to contain such multitudes. He can't believe he's touching her like this, but he is and he can't stop now. His hands spread open on her narrow back, trying to touch as much of her as he can without being more improper than he already is.
He leans forward and she tilts her head back, almost unwillingly, in anticipation of a kiss. Her eyes begin to close, her breath coming in little frightened puffs of air. He surprises her by not kissing her, after all. He bypasses her lips, putting his mouth right next to her ear instead.
"And even if they did, Anne," he whispers, so quietly she can barely hear him, close though he is. She shudders at his voice so close, his breath on her ear, his unruly hair tickling her cheek. Her knees are wobbling and she feels hot everywhere and what is this?
"Even if they did," he continues, delighting in the way she trembles under his hands. "It wouldn't matter, because they wouldn't be you, so I wouldn't give them a second glance. Or probably..." here he chuckles, low and rumbling in his chest, and it vibrates all down her front, curling low and heated in her stomach and she thinks she'll surely faint. No wonder they talk of swooning in all those novels Marilla doesn't know she reads!
"Or probably even a first glance." He pulls her even closer yet, stifling a groan at the press of her breasts against him. He inches his arms further around her and she's so beautiful and bright and trembling that he wants to tell her for a minute that she's like holding a meteor shower. (He doesn't though, he's not sure that's romantic enough for his Anne. He's not sure anything he can say would be.)
"Because you have to know..." he whispers into her ear. "You MUST know that there has been no one else for me since the day you cracked that slate across my face."
Anne makes a small humiliated sound that cannot be described any other way but a snort, dropping her face onto his chest. (How romantical, her mind mocks coolly.)
"And so I suppose there's really only one reason that I love you...because I'm Gilbert and you're Anne and we belong to each other."
"Gil..." she tilts her eyes back to his. Her tears are flowing freely now, and for the life of her she can't decide if she's slogging through the very depths of despair or incandescently happy.
"We do, sweetheart--please don't cry- you KNOW we do," Gilbert says. "No man has ever been any woman's as much as I am yours. I know that even if I can't tell you why... I don't know why, but I know it's true. And that's enough for me. I don't want you to be some 'doctor's wife' and I don't want you to stop teaching or writing....if we can just, just be us and be together, it's enough." It will always be enough for him, this he knows for sure, if he never knows a single other thing.
"It's only you, Anne." He brings his lips to her temple in a soft kiss, and she can feel everything she is open to him like a flower in the sun.
His lips press her cheek. "It's just you, Anne."
Repeating the action on the tip of her nose, "It's always you, Anne."
He takes his hands from her back and she wants to protest and tell him to put them back, but it would be so improper to beg a man to put his arms around you, even though she's about one second away from doing it anyway. But then, oh, he slides his hands up her arms to cup her face, so gently, like she's something precious, something delicate. His thumbs stroke her cheekbones slowly and his eyes are staring into hers and suddenly his breath is coming as fast as hers is, as it sinks in that he's actually this close to Anne, he's actually touching Anne the way he's ached to since he was 13 years old.
He rests his forehead on hers, overcome with the feelings swirling inside him, with the need to make her understand. "It's ever and ever you, Anne," he finally says, and he's whispering those words right against her lips.
She's always disliked her plain, common name, but he's saying it like it's a poem, or a spell, or even a prayer. Like there's a language he was born speaking and this one word is his favorite. Like this one word means love in his native tongue.
"Anne," he says again. He's practically vibrating now, shaking with holding himself back. He wants to hold her to him, melt into her if he can. The tendons on the backs of his hands stand out as he concentrates on not holding her too tightly, on not confining her. She is not meant for that.
"Anne, please," he whispers against her mouth. "Please, I need..."
It's that that breaks her. Just that one word. She could have turned him away, even loving him as true as she does, if he only wanted her. She knows men can want but get their fill quickly after they've had. She's seen it. And it would crush her, if he just wanted her for a short time.
But this, this need for her, and only her...it's as though she's a tiny, ragged, hungry child again, served last, holding out her bowl and waiting for the scrapings, the dregs, only to find that someone is there to pour in everything she ever wanted or needed or will again.
She loves Gilbert Blythe if she ever loved anyone, loves him pure and sweet and always, and when his voice breaks and his eyes look into hers she can see the mirror of her own heart. All she can do is lean forward and put her lips on his, and give a startled "mmf" when he sweeps his arms back around her and hugs her tight, his mouth not leaving hers.
She kisses him and he kisses her, slow and delicious and RIGHT, and his tongue sweeps hesitantly against the seam of her mouth and she sighs, and they don't pull apart until they're gasping for air and their lips are swollen.
She bites her reddened bottom lip and looks up at him, inhaling deeply before she opens her mouth, expecting to pour out a speech perfect for the occasion. But she finds that all she can manage to utter is "Yes. Yes, yes, yes....." and then with a great watery sniff a minute later "You know, I th-think I heard that the bandages come pre-rolled now, anyhow."
She's in utter earnest when she says it, and Gilbert loves her so much in that split second that he feels his heart crack open again, but it doesn't hurt. It just lets the light through. And then he throws back his curly head and laughs until he has to sit down, and he pulls her onto his lap and laughs some more.
"I love you, Anne," he says, when he can finally speak. "We've always loved each other, and we always will, won't we?"
She can only nod, her happy face pressed into his chest and the smell of cider all around.
And as it would happen, that is all that needs to be said.