The house is still as he’d remembered it from the many years he had been away, the comforting sight of its solid brick and creaky wooden floors filling him with the sense of home he hadn’t felt ever since he’d left Avonlea. It hadn’t been difficult to buy back the property with the tidy sum he’d earnt from owning and selling his practice in Moncton on the mainland. The house is like a ghost of his father with all the new furniture crammed inside, and he has to trace over the burn mark on the only cupboard he had kept from when he was still a teenager to feel the warmth his father had once brought.
It’s too difficult to think about, however, so he slips off his coat and gets to work pushing the furniture this way and that until it fits in perfectly, reminiscent of how it had once looked to him. He has to dig through the box he had yet to unpack completely to find the kettle, and when he does, he fills it quickly and sets about making a strong cup of tea. By the time he’s sat at the dining room table with the cup, he manages to dig the letter out of his jacket pocket so as to read over it once again, to ensure he has it memorised if anything should happen to it.
Mary and I will join you in 6 weeks, on the 28th of January. Find some pretty girl to hang about with at Christmas, maybe even that redhead girl you talked about when we first met. Then you can teach me how to work the farm like you promised, you moke.
Sebastian had always been a character, and certainly never held back from teasing him about anything, but it’s been a long while since he had thought of Anne. After all, he’d left her when he was barely 16 and she 14, and though he sometimes dreamt of fiery, golden red, it had never been quite enough to spur him back to Avonlea, where ghosts rounded every corner and he felt so out of place. That isn’t to say that Anne hadn’t been his everything for quite some time; after his father was gone, he didn’t have much else to hope for, and the girl who had snapped up his attention the first day he met her occupied his mind often.
When he was at sea, tossing and turning in his cot surrounded by sweaty men with their own demons to chase, he held onto the thought of the freckles that splattered across her face and imagination that could conjure up storms and snow queens. He’d felt far more for her then he had ever let himself think when he was younger, but as he grew older, he realised just how deep those feelings had run, how they’d carved a mark in his heart that shone bright gold. She had been everything, but time had passed and now he was back he could only pray she was the same girl he had left behind.
His bed is creaky once he settles into it, and he has to light the fire in the corner of his room in an attempt to remain warm, as his thickest bedsheets had been lost somewhere in the move. He’d found himself unable to take up the master bedroom, where he had tended to his father day and night in a desperate bid to keep him alive. Sometimes, when he looks back at it, he thinks of what a foolish child he had been, reading books aloud to a man that could scarcely breathe as if that would invigorate life into him.
He knows it’s even more foolish to think such thoughts, had squeezed the shoulders of children doing the same thing for their own parents enough times to know that it had helped everyone present. Still, the thoughts invade his mind often enough, especially in the dead of the night, when he thinks of everything he could’ve done more of to help; stuff he only knows now and stuff he should’ve known then. But he tucks those thoughts away and instead thinks of the girl he had been on the precipice of falling in love with once upon a time when he was simply Gilbert Blythe and she was simply Anne Shirley-Cuthbert.
Anne believes her head may implode. Teaching children is a hard task as it is but doing so when they’re all screeching due to it being a few days out from Christmas is even more of a challenge. So much so that when the clock hits 2 pm she lets them all out to return home nearly an hour early, in a desperate bid to retain her eardrums. She packs up quickly enough, tidying away the benches and stifling the fire until the next morning before grabbing her books and jacket, fleeing the wooden building she had spent most of her life in.
Marilla is sipping at a cup of tea when Anne enters Green Gables, a grin taking up the younger girls face as she plants a kiss on her mother’s cheek before pouring herself a cup as well. “How was your day?” She asks, seating herself on the other side of the table and dumping her books on the floor resolutely.
“What have I told you about doing that?” Marilla replies critically, watching as her daughter lifts the books onto the table instead. “My day was fine. Jerry’s still showing Harold how to run the yard, though I don’t know how it’s taking him so long.”
“Oh, I’m so glad that Diana’s parents have finally agreed to let them be married, I don’t think I’d be able to live if she had to endure such a tragedy as being separated from her love,” Anne says, glad to be home where there are no screaming children and she can express her joy freely. Marilla simply gives her a warning glare as she prattles on about the romantical nature of it all; Anne had never really let go of her childhood fantasy of true love and knights in shining armour, even if she had learned to rein it in and rarely rambled on about it as she used to be prone to doing.
The girl’s only cut off from her talk of how Diana would be doing her hair for the wedding when Rachel Lynde bursts through the front door, chest rising and falling dramatically, and cheeks tinted red. “Rachel?” Marilla questions, rising from her seat as Anne does the same out of politeness.
“Marilla, you will never believe this,” the woman says instead of explaining herself, hurriedly rushing over and taking a seat as well. She gives them both a warm smile, and the two other women watch on as they sit back down, anticipating whatever new gossip has arisen from Mr. Williams making a loss on his crops or Mrs. Tyler having to take some new form of medication. “Gilbert Blythe has returned to Avonlea!”
It takes Anne by shock, largely because Gilbert Blythe was simply meant to be a distant memory that she took out on cold winter days to warm the coldness she felt in her heart occasionally, not a constant thing in her life. When she’d asked him to return home all those years ago when she was but a child, desperate to hide the blush that arose on her cheeks at his deep, intense looks, she had meant it truly, wanted to learn everything about him once he returned.
But he hadn’t and it had been seven years, where she’d grown up and learnt to move on for fear of being too attached to a strong jawline and dark, curly hair. That wasn’t to say she hadn’t thought of him on occasion, on days when she had fallen into her traps of self-doubt and hatred, had wondered if he’d think of her differently if he saw her now. It hadn’t mattered then if she’d clung onto a childhood crush as a way to escape from the drudge that could be everyday life (for, even though she hadn’t admitted it then, that’s what it was, and it was one that ran far deep then she realised until he was gone from her life).
She hadn’t met any other man that had spiked her curiosity as he had, back when she was only 14, and she felt bad about it after some further thoughts; Anne had always complained of her red hair and dull looks, but she had met a few men that didn’t care as much as she had thought they would, and there she was thinking of a boy she hadn’t seen in years. She can’t tell if she’s glad he’s back or wishing he had simply left her forever as she’d thought.
“– yes, he’s the new owner of his old house. He bought it back, no doubt after selling where ever he lived beforehand. It’s certainly a fine piece of news,” Rachel says as Anne tunes back into the conversation, nervously glancing away from Marilla when she catches the older woman already inspecting her. “It’ll be a pleasure to see him again, at least. I do hope the Barry’s invite him to their Christmas party, but why wouldn’t they? He’s just as much a member of this community as anyone else, even if he has been gone for so long.”
“I don’t doubt they will,” Marilla says drily. After a few more moments of polite gossip over Gilbert Blythe and then the new development of the youngest Laycock child being seen with a farm boy, Anne can excuse herself, saying she must mark some tests the children had done the day before. Whilst this isn’t a lie, as soon as she makes her way to her room, she simply dumps her books and lets out a loud groan, fleeing to her window that still has her pretty tree beside it.
Her thoughts are almost frantic in nature, and she has to bottle them up and tell herself to calm down so she can finally settle down at her worn desk and begin marking the geometry and algebra tests the class had done. Still, she has to pause every so often, as the scribblings of a group of 13- and 15-year old’s isn’t nearly enough to keep her whole mind busy, and she finds that it wanders every so often, remembering the young boy she had cared for far deeper then she had believed herself capable of.
Anne had always been jealous of her bosom friend’s bedroom, and though she always told herself that what she had was more than enough she couldn’t help but crave to have the same lacey table covers and ivory desk. The two of them are sat upon Diana’s bed, giggling together like they had since they were little girls. Anne wouldn’t deny that she was still a child when the moment struck, still got caught up in her fantasies and thoughts, even though she had matured, learning to control her temper and appease societal beliefs (though she still broke both occasionally, when she felt her emotions particularly strongly).
Still, Anne knows that if Mrs. Barry wandered in then she’d disapprove of the way they laid on their backs, feet propped on Diana’s beautiful pillows as they discussed all manner of things. “I’m so excited,” Diana had said at one point. “The Christmas party is only a few days away and then we have my engagement party and oh, Anne, you do not know the joy that Jerry has brought me.”
“I’m so glad that your father finally allowed your engagement,” Anne replies, rolling onto her side so she can stare down at her friend, whose eyes are alight with such happiness that she feels it swell within herself.
“It’s more like he caved,” Diana says as if that is something she would’ve agreed with years ago, though they both know that isn’t true. “I practically told him I’d never speak to him again if he withheld me from, and sorry for borrowing your words here but you do also phrase things so sweetly, ‘experiencing the greatest love of a woman’s life’. He couldn’t do much about it after that, though he has remained rather annoyed with me for stepping out of place.”
“Oh, do not apologise for stealing my words, I have far more to share that you can take at any moment. I am truly glad for you, my bosom friend. I do not know what I would’ve done if you had not received the joy you so clearly deserve.”
They sit in a comfortable silence after a few more giggles, content to simply spend time together until Diana remembers. “Anne, I do have something to tell you,” she says, making her friend glance over at her words. “I’m sure you’ve heard of Gilbert’s arrival, though it is only a rumour at the moment, but my mother took it upon herself to go and discover the truth, so she could invite him to the Christmas party.”
“And?” Anne says, almost too eagerly, from the look Diana gives her out of the corner of her eye.
“He’s here, and apparently better than ever. He agreed to attend.” Anne nods as if she isn’t waging an internal war with herself over wondering just what had happened upon that meeting. “Mother says he’s grown up to be a handsome man, though that is no surprise.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we all knew he was the most handsome boy at school, it was why Ruby obsessed over him for so many years.”
“I do hope she doesn’t start up again on him, especially as she has finally settled on a beau. I do not think I could take the stress of dealing with such things.” Diana simply hides a smile at the words, nodding as if to agree. “Do you know when Cole is set to arrive?”
“Tomorrow night, I believe.” Anne can’t hide her excitement at this, looking forward to the party and seeing her friends again so much so that she lets out a short squeal. It produces a laugh from Diana and the two girls spend the rest of the evening laughing and talking, neither discussing the topic of Gilbert again, although it weighs upon Anne’s mind.
Anne could almost say she looks pretty, but Diana is standing beside her and it’s difficult to believe such things when someone so gorgeous is nearby. She’s wearing her emerald green dress (now with two sources of income, Marilla occasionally lets her splash out on things she truly wants, and this had been one of them), delicate stockings that Diana had let her borrow for the evening hiding her skinny legs. The dress has the puffy sleeves that she’d loved for years and beautiful lace along the high collar and sleeves, its green tones contrasting nicely with her hair and pulling out the green specks in her eyes.
Her bosom friend had tied half of her hair up, securing it simply with a lacey ribbon that matched her dress. “It accentuates your natural beauty,” her friend had said, whilst standing beside her looking like an angel. Her dress was a light blue and was similar to Anne’s in its simplicity, even if it was made with higher quality workmanship and material. Still, as they primp themselves for the party set to begin in only a few minutes, Anne has to fight the urge to simply stomp off and return home to Marilla.
She isn’t nervous, that is for sure. She has complete faith in herself to politely say hello to Gilbert, expressing her happiness at him returning to Avonlea and asking about his travels and medical practice. The sloshing of her stomach is simply the joy she feels whenever she attends one of these parties, glad to be in a place so welcoming, even through her struggles. Everything will be fine. Diana is looking at her slightly worriedly, and she has to garble out an excuse after a moment. Anne is definitely going to be fine.
When they descend the stairs together, she flattens out her dress once and glances around, taking in the beautiful sight of the Barry’s usually quiet household, though now it is alight with the laughter of friends and new acquaintances. Being amongst everyone lessens the swirl of her stomach, finding it easier now that she’s grinning with Ruby and discussing how pretty the girl is in the evening light, questioning her about her beau, Thomas. Her friends are all there and when she finds Cole, she refrains from throwing her arms around him in joy. Marilla had taught her that some battles are worth fighting and others less so, and a discussion on the propriety of hugging her best friend is not one she wants to start.
Everything is going marvelously, though her eyes do sometimes still scan the surrounding area, looking for dark curls. It’s only when she’s leaning into Diana, giggling at Jerry’s cheeky joke that she feels her skin prickle, and she knows instantly. The feeling sends her back to her school days when she could tell when he was gazing at her simply from how her body responded, when she would find herself caught up in the intensity that was Gilbert Blythe.
Diana sends her a glance and Anne simply smiles to ease her friend's mind. She doesn’t want her to be worried on such a happy night, where she could be dancing with Jerry and laughing with Cole, especially on something so trivial as herself. Still, she nods in understanding as the couple split away from her a few moments later as the song changes to a slow one, leaving her to fidget uncomfortably every so often at the gaze still fixated upon her.
In the end, her annoyance at being so anxious wins out over her nerves (she can’t even dispute that that’s what they are now, they’re so strong) and she turns around to arch an angry brow at who she knows is behind her. Anne still manages an angry glare, until shock crosses her features because Gilbert is – well, older. His shoulders are broader and he’s obviously strong, no doubt from working aboard ships, whilst his skin is slightly more tanned. His hair is still curly and dark though his jawline is somehow even sharper.
It’s really his eyes that make her falter in her glare; they’re the same as they had been when he was but a boy. She could deal with him still being handsome (or that’s what she tells herself) after all these years, but he still stares at her the same way, and it produces the same feelings she’d had as a kid. But there is something new to them, a gleam that tells her he’s happy and finally found his place in the world.
“Anne Shirley-Cuthbert,” he says once he manages to weave his way towards her, voice deep (had it always been like that?). He’s tall, basically towers over her. She’s always been short and skinny, but he had grown a lot more then she thought he would’ve, her head only brushing his collarbones. “It’s good to see you.” And then he gives her one of his charming smirks that she remembers so well, and it makes her hackles rise and her knees weak.
“You too,” she manages to say, giving him a small smile even though she wants to smack the amusement off his face. The music is too loud and the room too hot, she can’t think, let alone breath with Gilbert so close to her. He’s hardly pushing the boundary of propriety, giving her the appropriate amount of space, but she still feels as if she’s choking. Why is this so difficult?
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs after a moment, knowing how rude what she’s about to do is. Marilla would scold her if she was there. “I need some air.” Anne turns, heading towards the back doors, not caring if it looks like she’s running away from him at that moment. It’s insane that he still has such a stifling effect upon her, even more so because she is far more in control of herself nowadays. She heads out into the backyard, walking around the side of the house slightly to lean against the wall in the secluded area, placing a shaky hand over her eyes.
“Anne?” God, this is mortifying, him seeing her in such a feeble position.
Anne drops her hand, turning to face him with a burning glare. She nearly snaps but catches her tongue just before it forms the words, she wants to say to him; to leave her alone like he was supposed to when he left and didn’t return, to leave her alone so she doesn’t have to feel everything she’d once forgotten about. “Please, Gilbert,” she ends up saying instead. “I just need some air by myself.”
He’s changed, she can see it in the slight hesitation to step closer towards her and the way he looks confused and slightly worried, as if she had meant something to him too back when they were children. “What’s wrong, Anne?” He asks and it’s so gentle and different from the brash boy who spelt out truce for her and offered to defeat her dragons. She wonders what he’s seen and done, where his body and his brain has led him, partly out of curiosity and partly out of wanting to extinguish the fire burning in her gut.
“I’m fine,” she says, giving him as happy a smile as possible whilst pushing back her own emotions to force herself through a conversation with him. Really, she needs time and space to work out how she feels and why, but she can’t tell him that. “Can you spell out the places you’ve been, for old times sake?” It’s almost teasing, but she does truly want to know, and he seems to sense this too, because he settles beside her against the wall, ensuring there is still an adequate amount of space between them. Always the gentleman, she thinks.
“Hmm, how about P-A-R-N-A-I-B-A,” Gilbert replies, and they’re back to teasing after the few seconds where he had shown real, genuine concern. She wonders if he does it to distract her from her thoughts or if he simply thinks this is just a catchup between old friends. Then, Anne remembers herself and finds it difficult to think that he’d think of it as anything more than just that; two old friends, discussing everything the other had missed in their lives and nothing more.
They return to the party nearly half an hour later, and Anne feels slightly more comfortable. Talking to him had eased the nerves she’d felt at his appearance but has given way for her to be hopeful. Hopeful that he looked at her and saw the same girl he was fascinated with when they were children; that he was still just as intrigued in her as he had once been. She didn’t kid herself with the thought that he held any romantic feelings for her back then, and she doesn’t now, trying to enjoy herself in the company of a friend. Simple as that.
Gilbert makes the rounds with all his old classmates and she watches him in between the occasional dance she does with Cole or Jerry, finds him laughing with Charlie and catching up with Ruby. She’s glad that Ruby has finally moved on after a few years of pining for the boy across the sea, and even happier that the two seem to be becoming some form of friends.
When her eyes flit to the dark-haired boy over Cole’s shoulder during one of their dances she finds her friend squeezing her waist to gather her attention. “Have you talked to him yet?” He asks, as if it is that easy and she hadn’t nearly run away from the man at first.
“Yes,” she replies. “He’s a doctor now, apparently. Doing very well for himself. He plans to set up here.” Cole’s grin turns teasing and Anne has to bite back a slight groan of annoyance, giving him a sharp look. The boy ignores it and teases her anyways.
“Doing well for himself? Well, he’s definitely got the dark, mysterious aura down pat.”
“You’re unbelievable. You still won’t tell me about that boy you’ve met in Carmody yet you’re making up romantic tales about a friend I haven’t seen in seven years, much less thought of during that time.”
“His names Philip,” Cole says around a grin, before adding, “And I wasn’t making up romantical tales, I was simply suggesting that he’s very attractive to many females who want a husband.”
“And I am not one of those females, you know that. I’m too concerned with my career for such things.” Cole simply shakes his head out of both amusement and frustration, not replying to his friend’s denials. Anne’s glad for him to not continue with his strain of ideas, focusing on not stepping over his feet as they continue dancing. Gilbert can become the beau of any female he likes, she thinks, for it is neither any of her business nor does she care if he does.
In the new year, Gilbert finds a small shop towards the centre of Avonlea where he can set up his new medical practice and sets to buying it and moving in as quickly as possible. He still has all his equipment from Moncton, so the most difficult parts are painting the place and organising everything. Still, by the end of the first week of January everything is complete, and he instead focuses on rejuvenating the farm.
His and Bash’s plan is simple; he spends a while teaching the older man how to run the farm then returns to his practice, so they have two forms of income, and jobs they both enjoy. Still, on one of the early mornings he’d awoken to patch the fence bordering his property, he doesn’t expect to see Diana and Anne wandering past.
Gilbert couldn’t deny that he had thought of Anne nearly every day since the party, having found that he was just as mesmerised by her as he had been as a little boy. Whilst he’d been shocked by how much she’d matured physically, the fact that she was simply so interesting to be around had allowed for her hooks to dig into his heart once again, had brought him back to the precipice that was loving Anne Shirley-Cuthbert. He chooses to ignore this and how sudden it all is.
Conversing with her, after her brief moment of panic within the Barry’s household, had filled his body with such warmth that he couldn’t help but crave to be around her again. He couldn’t force it, however, so he simply remained working at his practice and preparing the fields for Bash upon his arrival.
“Anne, Diana,” he says politely as the two women lean against the fence near him. Diana has a cheeky grin on her face whilst the redhead girl beside her looks as if she wants to sink into the ground, and Anne’s awkwardness makes his heart sink slightly. He pushes it to the back of his mind, simply returning Diana’s smile. The girl had changed a lot, no longer abiding by every social code, and it was no question to him who had changed the girls view on so many things.
“I saw that your medical practice is close to opening,” the engaged woman says after there’s a moment of pause between them. Gilbert’s in the middle of lifting one of the heavier logs, sweat pooling on his brow even though it’s the dead of winter. He pauses after he’s positioned it correctly, wiping at his brow and leaning against a stable part of the fence for a moments break.
“That’s true,” he says in reply. He feels Anne’s eyes on him, and he can’t help it if his eyes snap to hers instantly, finding a pretty blush working its way up her cheeks, her blue eyes wide as she stares at him. He shrugs it off as the cold, seeing as the two are wrapped warmly in heavy coats and scarves. “Hopefully I can open within the next two weeks, after I finish fixing everything around the farm. I’m sure it’ll be useful to have a doctor in Avonlea.”
“What are you fixing the farm for, if you’re not planning to run it?” Anne finally says, voice sweet and lilting in the morning air.
“My friend, Sebastian, and his wife, Mary, are joining me in about four weeks, and he’s going to run the farm.”
“Oh, is he a farmer?”
Gilbert has to hold back a snort at the thought. “Not yet, he isn’t. I met him when I first worked on the steamer and liked him enough to cart him off with me whilst I did medical school. He met Mary whilst we lived in Moncton.”
The fiery girl nods in understanding, eyes darting away from him to gaze out at the fields that lead back up to his house. He finds himself watching her, glad for the watery sun in the sky, for it brings out the gold in her hair and illuminates the freckles that dot her face so prettily. She looks likes an angel in the light and he has to bite back a sigh, forcing himself to look away. Diana is watching him with an arched brow, a knowing look on her face.
Gilbert coughs. “So, how’s Jerry?” He asks as if that will cover up how awed he surely looked staring at Anne. He busies himself, returning to maneuvering the large logs of wood so as to nail them in place, though he can feel his ears burn slightly, and he’s glad he had managed to shove a cap on his head that morning to cover them, even if he’s only wearing a thin shirt to cover the rest of his body.
“Jerry’s great,” Diana says with a grin, and he’s glad to have distracted her. “My parents are slowly warming up to him, even if they’ll always hold him at an arm’s reach. You know, he did say he wanted to meet you properly, something about you being Anne’s fu-” The end of her words come off garbled and he doesn’t quite catch them, looking up from his crouched position in the mud to find Anne’s hand firmly muffling her friend.
“Anne’s what?” He says teasingly to the girl in question, an amused smile that he knows she hates crossing his face as he stares at her. Anne releases her friend, but he notices the fact that she heavily pinches Diana’s elbow, as if in warning.
“Anne’s friend,” the redhead says. “He remembers you from back before you left and wanted to meet you properly.” Gilbert nods, hiding the slight pang of disappointment by turning his back to look for his hammer and nails. Anne’s friend.
“Well, I’d love to meet him,” he agrees happily, genuinely glad at the thought of meeting the boy who had made Diana so joyful. He had always liked Diana, even when she followed her parents’ rules so strictly, simply because she was one of the few girls who had greater aspirations in life, even if she had never realised it. Anne had brought out all the good he had once seen in the other girl, but he knew that was just who Anne was; someone so deeply motivational and inspirational that she could change all those around her with simply a few words.
“We best be going,” Anne says just before he begins to nail the logs in place, and he turns to face the pair, even if his eyes narrow in on the woman furthest from him. She, for possibly the first time he’s ever met, seems to be unable to hold his gaze, eyes dropping to the hammer clenched in his hand tightly.
“It was good to see you two,” he says. “I’ll look forward to meeting Jerry.”
Diana is on the verge of laughter and Anne can see it very clearly. She tries her best not to be in a huff at the event that her bosom friend just dragged her into, but it’s difficult when she had clearly emphasized to her friend that she didn’t want to interact with Gilbert Blythe unless by choice. And that had not been by choice.
They’d simply gone out for a morning walk, something they had started doing every Saturday so as to refresh from a long week and catch up with one another; but Anne hadn’t thought of the fact that the walk usually took them past the Blythe household, which usually wouldn’t be an issue considering the Thompson’s once occupied it. But now it was an issue, and Diana had practically dragged her into saying hello to their ‘old friend’ when they stumbled upon him mending the fence along his property.
Now, Anne wasn’t against talking to him; she had managed it fine after her initial panic at the Christmas party – but it was different. Gilbert Blythe, to put it simply, had become very attractive whilst he was away and finding him sweaty, in only a thin shirt as he worked outdoors was very distracting. Marilla would grill her if she knew, complaining about propriety, and this was the argument she attempted to press on her friend as she was dragged up the hill, to no avail.
She hadn’t even been able to look at him, for heaven’s sake, had simply stared at the muscles she could see shifting underneath his shirt and wondering if she should throw herself into a lake on the way home. Anne had managed one question, in the middle of the discussion about lord knows what, something about him running the farm whilst also running his practice. She hadn’t sounded very smart, as she usually so strived to be in Gilbert’s presence (she still had to prove something, she supposed, from all those unfinished years ago).
“You’re infuriating,” she hisses at her friend, arm linked with Diana’s as they wander their way along the dirt path through the forest. Anne still leans into the other girl as her laughter finally breaks forth, spilling over the two like a rush of clear, pure water. She loves her friend dearly, even when she finds amusement out of her embarrassment (because that was all it was. For proprieties sake and her own), and rarely teases her with insulting words. But this time she can’t help it.
“Oh, Anne, I do love you, but your face was hilarious. You looked as though you wanted to run away.”
“That’s because I did!” She says indignantly, though the words fall on deaf ears. “That was so inappropriate!”
“And you should’ve seen his face when you turned away from him. You two are daft.”
“I am not daft,” she says, pinching her friend on the hand after finally growing sick of such words, grabbing Diana’s attention. “I’m not daft and I doubt Gilbert is either, from what I know of him.”
Her bosom friends hand tightens around her bicep for a moment before resting back where it had before, a small smile on her face. “I know you’re not daft, Anne, though I do think you should tell him how you feel.”
“What? That I wish we could be great friends and nothing more?” she replies, fixing Diana with a hard look to warn her against contradicting her words. It’s bad enough that Cole finds joy out of teasing her, but Diana too makes her feel as if she truly is the butt of everyone’s joke, no matter if they mean it in a loving manner.
“Let’s have some tea at your place,” is all Diana says, giving her a warm smile, and moving on from the topic of Gilbert Blythe and romance altogether. Anne could never be more grateful.
Gilbert’s annoyed, though he knows that it’s entirely unfair to be so. Bash and Mary arrived an hour ago, two weeks earlier then they’d said they’d be here, and he’d had to send one of the town boys to collect them because his office is overrun with mothers and fathers, desperate for him to see their children. He’d managed to wrangle a few explanations from the calmer parents and diagnosed the issue quickly enough.
It’s simple enough, the virus that is going about, simply a severe fever that is worsened by the winter, but it’s harsh enough that it’s caused hysteria amongst the families. He organises everybody quickly enough, working out who’s children are affected the worst and quickly set out with a supplies kit to visit their homes individually. He’d sent all the parent’s home, promising to visit all of their children if not by the end of the day then early the next morning. It should pass easily enough with the correct treatment, and this mass panic will end.
The first child is from the Anderson’s family (people he didn’t know, who had moved to Avonlea during the time he had been away – it blew his mind how much the town had changed in the slightest ways, things he hadn’t expected). They have five children and the second youngest, a boy, is bedridden from a high temperature, wet coughing and brief moments of unconsciousness.
By the time he’s finished checking all of the families, explaining to them that the virus will pass with hot fluids, steaming the face and lots of rest, only four of them are severe enough that he promises to return the next day, simply to check. It’s exhausting, being a doctor, but he’d already gotten used to the strain, both emotionally and physically. Plus, the payoff is far greater; he feels as if he’s doing something his father would be proud of, something that would’ve helped the man himself.
It’s only 2pm, so he hurries towards the school so he can individually check all of the students and send home the ones with early symptoms, to try and limit how far the virus spreads. He knocks at the door out of politeness, slightly cold because he’d forgotten his cap and gloves when he’d hurried from his office, praying that the fire is strong inside.
“Please get the door, Florence,” says a muffled voice and he only realises Anne Shirley-Cuthbert will be inside once the door is opening to reveal a young child, some sweat along her hairline. Gilbert’s allowed inside readily enough once Florence seems to realise he’s an adult, and it feels awfully weird to be inside the school building again after so many years.
“Doctor Blythe,” comes the sweet voice he could recognise anywhere. “Florence return to your seat quickly, please. Joseph, please continue reading aloud the next two pages to the class, whilst I talk to the doctor.” Anne’s walking over to him quickly then, hand firm around his wrist as she tugs him further into the closet area.
“Gilbert,” she hisses, some worry finally leaking through her cool façade. She’s able to stare up at him today, though she releases his wrist as if it burns her skin as soon as she realises she’s still gripping it. “Is Marilla okay? Why are you here?”
“Marilla’s fine,” he says, though he can’t know for sure. He hasn’t seen her yet since his return, and he briefly does wonder how the kind woman is doing. “There’s been an outbreak of a virus, I’m sure you’ve noticed you’re missing a few children,” he says, poking his head around the door to find that everyone’s already staring in their direction. Including Joseph, the child whose stuttering through his reading whilst trying to look at the two of them. He simply arches a brow at the class before turning back to the woman. “I need to check all of your students so we can limit how far it spreads and I can send home the ones with early symptoms. They’ll be sick within a few hours anyway.”
“Is it serious?” Anne asks, concern wrinkling her brow as she stares up at him.
“No,” he replies seriously, recognising how much these children clearly mean to her. “Just a winter bug, but still.” He can tell she’s still worried, so before he can think it through fully, he’s cupping her cheek and holding her gaze. He’s determined now that she’s staring up at him, shock overruling her worry, her eyes wide and lips parted slightly. It’s inappropriate and goes against every lesson his father taught him about being a gentleman and propriety, but he still doesn’t drop his hand. “The children will all be fine, they’ll just need a few days rest. I promise you, I wouldn’t lie to you.”
Something flickers across her gaze, and he knows what that flash was, knows it’s indignation, but he swallows his pride and holds her gaze. She can’t be mad for him comforting her, can’t be mad for his assurances. Was it him promising? He shakes from his thoughts, stepping back far further than need be, simply so he won’t be drawn back into all that is Anne Shirley. He has children to look after, he is a doctor, not some lovesick fool.
“Thank you, Joseph,” Anne says as she turns her back on Gilbert, heading back to the front of the class. He watches her go, takes in her confident posture and the smile she gives the class as she reaches the front. She’s an enigma; so different from the girl he had known who was scared of the world, but so brave to push through all the hurdles anyways, but yet the exact same person. “This is Doctor Gilbert Blythe, he needs to check all of you for early signs of a virus that is currently going around the town to make sure we don’t spread the infection.” The children hang onto her every word, so captivated by her that he feels like he’s one of them. “It isn’t a deadly bug, so there’s no worry of anyone becoming seriously sick, but you will have to head home and rest for a few days if he says so. Do you all understand?”
The children all nod, and Anne nods with them, giving them all another warm smile before saying, “Please return to reading in silence, and Doctor Blythe will call you individually for a check. Don’t read further than chapter 8, so we can answer questions as a group.”
The woman glances back at him and he gives her a small smile, hoping it provides some form of reassurance. She simply gestures to her desk and at his nod, begins cleaning away a few books so he has the space to put down his equipment. Gilbert takes it to mean that he should begin, so he taps a boy in the back row on the shoulder, gesturing for him to come with him towards the front of the room.
The rhythm settles quickly, Gilbert checking the students individually whilst Anne floats about, answering students’ questions and talking to the children who have been informed to head home. He knows she’s telling them to only return when feeling at their best from the way the way they all stare up at her, enamoured by her teaching and manner. It makes a smile curl at his lips.
“Do you know Miss Shirley?” One of the girls asks her. She’s quite short, but probably the same age as the majority of the class, brown eyes wide as she stares at him.
“I went to school with her for a few years,” he replies, gesturing for her to lay her tongue out flat so he can check the back of her mouth and throat for infection. The sentence feels empty when he doesn’t add more to it, so he simply tacks on, “We were academic rivals. Your Miss Shirley is a very smart woman.”
“Yes, she’s very smart. She likes to do readings with the class quite often.” A smirk curls at his lip, and as he busies himself cleaning the thermometer from the last student he glances up at Anne, who’s explaining to one of the boys something from the book.
“That sounds about right,” he says, turning back to the girl with the thermometer in hand. She’s staring up at him and the look vaguely reminds him of how Ruby used to look at him, so whilst stifling back a wince, he tells her to open her mouth. He ends up sending her home, her temperature two degrees above the average and the back of her throat having a few white spots of infection forming. “Rest for a few days, steam your face and drink hot soups,” he says before sending her on her way, gesturing for the next student to come up.
By the time he’s finished there’s only a few minutes left of the school day, so Anne lets the students out early after telling them of an essay to write. At first, she doesn’t really glance at Gilbert, paying him no mind as she goes about cleaning the room and preparing for the next day. He busies himself packing up his stuff before helping her tuck in the chairs. He puts out the fire whilst she writes some information on the board for the next day, and yet the silence remains. It isn’t awkward or uncomfortable, and when he turns to face her Gilbert wishes he could bask in it forever.
“I’ll walk you home,” he says as they exit the building together.
“There’s no need,” Anne replies, turning to face him as they stand at the bottom of the school steps. “I can make it on my own.”
She’s still so stubborn, desperate to prove she doesn’t need help in the slightest, and it makes a smile stretch across his face. “I know you can,” he says, and it comes out a lot rawer then he’d intended, has a hint of depth to it that doesn’t get past the girl. “I’m offering because I want to.”
Anne nods in understanding, and the two turn to trudge down the path that leads out of the schoolyard. The silence is slightly more awkward now and Gilbert doesn’t doubt it’s because of his assurances, but he pushes through it because this is Anne, the girl with the sun behind her smile, and he doesn’t want to lose another moment with her. “It was odd to be back in that classroom,” he ends up saying as they enter into the forest, finds himself staring at the side of her face to see her reaction.
“That’s how I felt when I went in there on my first day,” she replies, with a smile aimed at the ground that tells him she’s delving into her memories. He wishes he could join her. “I felt like a kid again and I didn’t know how to act at first, but the children seem to have warmed up to me. I know at least that I can’t be as bad as Mr. Philips.”
“Anne,” he says, and she glances up at him because of the use of her name, gaze just as sharp as it’s always been. “From what little I saw, you’re the best teacher Avonlea’s ever had. The students all love you, they hang on to your every word, and I’m certain you inspire them.” Gilbert leaves it at that because he doesn’t want to add that she inspires everyone she meets.
The girl beside him doesn’t realise that he’s just as deep in his thoughts as she is, because she simply replies with a quiet, “Thank you.” And then they descend back into their silence, both content to simply walk together.
They reach Green Gables and Anne wanders through the gate, Gilbert on the other side as he stares down at her. He takes in the delicate shape of her face and the strength of her brows, eyes gliding over the curl one of her hairs has produced. They don’t discuss how he’d held her face, hidden from a classroom of interested children by simply a wall, as he attempted to comfort her. Instead, he simply watches her.
“Thank you for walking me,” she says, rewarding him with one of her smiles.
“It was my pleasure.” Anne’s turning to leave, heel already spinning in the mud when he can’t help but say, “Do you remember the day I called you carrots?” It attracts the girl’s attention, and she turns to face him with a defensive look in her eyes, clearly preparing herself for a fight.
“Of course, I remember it,” she spits out. “You humiliated me. Mr. Philips tortured me.”
“Yes,” he says, apology clear in his voice. “I just wanted to say that your hair has never been the colour of carrots.” There’s a silence, and he can’t help it when he leans forwards, looping one of her locks of hair around his finger. It’s soft, and such a vivid red that he wonders how he ever could’ve been so foolish to call her carrots; it’s the colour of everything he’s ever loved in the world, reminds him of the setting sun and the colour his dad’s nose would go in the winter.
Anne’s simply staring up at him with wide, shocked eyes and he can’t say those things to her, can’t tell her such things. So, he simply finishes with, “It’s pretty.” And that’s not what he wants to say, even though it isn’t a lie, but it seems to be enough because her lips part to let out a soft breath and she’s looking at him in a way he can’t even comprehend, let alone understand.
“Thank you,” she says breathily, before turning around to head up into her house, not saying anything more. Gilbert watches her go until the front door slams shut behind her and he has to turn and leave.
Anne barely spares Marilla a greeting before she’s sprinting up the stairs, heading to her window to watch as Gilbert wanders back down the path. One of his hands is tucked into his pocket whilst the other holds the case of equipment he’d used to check all of her students. His broad back disappears back into the trees and she finds herself letting out a shaky breath, wobbling her way to her bed so she can sit down.
He’d called her hair pretty. It isn’t that big of a statement, isn’t something that would’ve shocked Diana or Ruby or even Josie Pye, but it riddles her core with flames, and she can’t help it if she loops her finger around one of her locks, bringing it into her eyesight. Anne’s hair had always been something she’d detested; it brought out just how pale and bland she was, made her freckles even more unattractive and was, simply, the ugliest colour in the world. It had never been something she’d been complimented on, something she tried to ignore to the best of her ability.
And yet, Gilbert Blythe found it pretty. That isn’t much for some girls, but it was enough for her, because he had seen the world; he had seen all types of people (no doubt many pretty women, her brain tells her), had watched the sunrise across the ocean, and watched the seasons pass in places she would never be. Gilbert Blythe has many opinions, she knows, and it is enough that he finds her hair pretty.
She can still feel the way he had touched her hair gently, had cupped her cheek in an attempt to comfort her as she worried over her students. She could never understand the man, but now even more so. What had he meant with his words? His eyes had been as intense as they always were, so inky and dark that she felt as if she would be rooted there forever. Gilbert had always said more with his eyes than his words, but still, she simply didn’t understand. Anne didn’t think she ever would.
“What on earth are you doing, girl?” Marilla says her doorframe, and she jumps, hand dropping to her lap and eyes flitting to the woman. “You are the vainest child,” she says, though there’s no heat to it, clearly having seen her stroking her hair. “Come help me with dinner.”
Bash and Mary understand once he explains that there’d been an outbreak early in the morning, and they simply nod before returning to their meals. “I won’t be able to teach you about farming tomorrow,” Gilbert says during a lull in the conversation. “I still have to check up on the younger year level of students, as well as all of the new patients and those that had more serious cases. I suspect I’ll be busy until late in the afternoon.”
He wasn’t wrong; inspecting the younger students takes a while, as some of them are more hesitant to place a thermometer under their tongue or let him check their throats, and it ends up that more of them are sent home than Anne’s class. The new patients are largely either very old or very young, with a few mothers being ill as well. One of them had been pregnant, so he had spent some extra time with her, checking her baby as well to ensure that they were on the safe side. The four people he’d promised to return to are only slightly better, most still sweating profusely and drinking large amounts of water, but he knows they’ll heal quickly.
By the time he returns home, it’s 3 pm and Bash is attempting to fix a patch in the fence. Gilbert tiredly wanders out, desperate to simply eat Mary’s delicious food and relax for a few hours, but instead, he explains how to balance the beams of wood whilst also nailing them in place. It ends up taking them a little while longer then it would’ve if he’d just done it himself, but Bash had always been a quick learner when given instruction, so they end up getting through it.
“How are you feeling Mary?” He asks as the two of them enter the house again, stomping their feet upon the mat and entering the warm kitchen. She’s only a few months pregnant, barely showing, but still, he worries. Gilbert doesn’t want them to lose their child; after they’d gotten married, they’d tried to have a baby, losing two that they’d struggled to get in the first place.
“Feeling good,” she replies, hands steady as she chops an onion. “The change of scenery is good, Avonlea’s very pretty. I like how small it is.”
“You should see it during summer, the sun’s surprisingly bright out here,” he says, getting the kettle off its holder to make them all tea. “It feels good to be home, to be honest.”
Bash simply nods in understanding, and Gilbert casts his mind back to work out how long it’ll have been since he had returned home. He wondered if the man would ever again, as it had been at least five years since the two had decided to move to Moncton so Gilbert could become a doctor.
“Have you seen that girl yet?” Bash asks and Gilbert nearly pauses, before forcing himself to push through the shock of the change of conversation. He really does not want to discuss Anne with the man, for fear of what his friend will do. He wonders how Bash even remembers her; other than his first explanation of her and a few teasing comments over the years, they hardly ever spoke of the girl he had left behind.
“A couple of times,” he says, hoping that this will all blow over, but Mary’s looking somewhat interested now as well. She’d heard mention of a redhead a few times, and she likes to tease just as much as her husband, so Gilbert simply prepares himself for what he knows will come.
“A few times, huh?” Bash says, the lilt to his voice that means he’s not going to let this go. “Was she as pretty as you remember? Hair just as red?”
Gilbert shoves the man his cup of brewed tea perhaps slightly too forcefully, but this only makes his grin widen. “Yes, Bash,” he says. “She is just as pretty as I remembered her being.” He hates this because it only reminds of the fact that Anne despised him for months before he left and is clearly still hesitant to even consider him her friend at the moment. There’s also the worrying fact that he could say more than he means to because if there’s one person he can’t control his mouth with, it’s Anne Shirley-Cuthbert.
“So? Are you finally going to admit to your feelings instead of being a little boy?”
“Bash,” Mary says warningly, clearly realising that Gilbert doesn’t want to discuss this.
“She’s a friend, Bash, nothing more. That’s just how it is.” Bash seems to pick up on the sensitivity that bleeds into his words, from the glance that he sends his wife, and Gilbert hates it, wishes he could simply bury himself beneath his sheets and never return to the world. “Just leave it alone,” he ends up saying, giving his friend a look that clearly tells him to back off. He wishes it was as simple as Bash suggests it is, but Anne is not his and she doesn’t want to be. She’d always wanted to be her own, free, independent person, not tied down by things such as marriage. He can respect that, even if his heart tells him he wishes it wasn’t so.
Anne doesn’t see Gilbert for three and a half weeks. This is hardly surprising; they are both busy adults with jobs and social lives, and no real reason to see one another. She knows he’s helping his friend to learn his way around their farm whilst also attempting to fix up the last of his patients with the virus, as well as checking up on the few older, sick or pregnant people in town. She’s spending most of her free time either helping Marilla with chores (her eyesight is deteriorating quickly, and it scares her), supporting Diana as she chooses colours and themes and dresses for her wedding and engagement party, aiding the few students in her class that ask for extra help and marking essays and tests.
Anne found that she hadn’t been able to tell anyone about what had happened between her and Gilbert, as she felt it wasn’t even real herself, could only sometimes feel the tingle of his fingers upon her cheek and in her hair. Diana doesn’t comment on the fact that she talks a little bit more about romance and love, doesn’t point out that Anne has always feared herself unlovable for her loudness and appearance. She’s glad she has a friend as kind as Diana.
Still, Avonlea isn’t a big town, even if it had grown ever so slightly since Gilbert had left, and they run into each other whilst Anne is returning from Rachel’s, having picked up some left-over loaves of bread and pastries as well as some knitting. The basket handle cuts into her fingers and she makes a note to fix it up, so it provides more of a cushion, having only bought it the other day. Her old one had broken in her hands at the strap a week before.
She finds him exiting Mrs. Tarner’s house, waving at the youngest daughter and her father, his arms laden with some more equipment. “I never realised being a doctor required so many tools,” she says from behind him as the family shut the front door. He turns on his heel at her voice, and she drinks him in because she doesn’t know when she’ll next happen upon him. Gilbert’s hair is as curly as always and his eyes just as intense as they usually are when the fixate upon her, and she smiles at him because she wants to.
She wants to smile at him and talk to him, engage him in conversation about how he is and who he’s seen. She wants to hear his voice list all the things he’s done, wants to hear more about his life in Moncton, and the ports of Parnaiba and Albufeira and Trinidad. He returns the smile after a moment, a real one without the trace of amusement that makes her think he’s laughing at her, or the smirk when he’s confident in himself.
“I never realised being a teacher required so much bread,” he replies teasingly. The two set off, both heading in the same direction, as she wants to return to Green Gables and him to his practice.
“There are lots of hungry children to feed,” she replies with a grin. “You would be surprised how much food their small bodies can hold.”
He snorts and she glances at him, briefly taking in the curve of his nose and the curl of his smile. “Please, Anne, I was once one of those children. I can understand it well.”
“That’s true enough,” she replies, tearing her gaze away from him and up into the sky, where it is sunny, for once. It is a watery sun, however, due to it being winter, and she watches as a flock of geese cross the sky. “Have you ever wished you could fly?”
The question doesn’t take him by surprise as Anne expected, he simply bites his bottom lip in thought and glances up as well, watching the birds until they disappear from view. “I’ve never put much thought into it, but I think I would love it if I could. I can only imagine how freeing it must be up there, and how clear the air must be.”
“I think I’ve always wanted to fly,” she says. “I wanted to fly ever since I saw a bird, simply so I could see everything from above. Oh, how pretty everything must be when you’re so far from it all, looking down and watching. I can only imagine how blue it is up there, how the whole world would appear so small.”
She can feel his gaze upon her, like she always does, and her skin prickles like usual. She ignores it but has to fight back the urge to spin on the spot, over and over again until she’s sick, with her arms spread wide. Anne knows she’s in a mood to dance with the fairies and put flowers in her hair, but Gilbert is with her and he has never been judgemental, but she has learnt her lesson from people like Billy Andrews and Josie Pye. Her laughter is generally not wanted in polite conversation, so she bottles it away.
Anne has no expectations from Gilbert; she knows that she is little more than his childhood friend, a ghost of his past that he returned to, for whatever reason. She doesn’t need to show him that she is mature, as she does with the others of the town, because he doesn’t tell that sort of thing, but she wants to measure up against him, prove that she is more than simply an orphan with a large imagination. She doesn’t understand it much.
They part at a fork in the woods, the walk before that silent but not uncomfortable. “I’d walk you the rest of the way,” Gilbert says, sounding apologetic. “But I’m needed back at the office. Mr. Edwards said he needed me today as of 4, so I should make sure it’s nothing terrible.”
“I can walk myself home,” she replies, but she doesn’t mean it to prove anything, and he seems to sense it. She tells him so he won’t worry, and it’s foolish of her because he doesn’t appear particularly pleased at the thought of her believing him to be concerned with her. But he doesn’t appear upset by it either, so she pushes through her embarrassment, holding his gaze steadily. Her insides feel like mush.
“I know you can,” he replies, voice coming out a bit deeper than intended from not having spoken for a little while. Anne simply smiles at him, turning around. She can feel his intense gaze on her back until she turns a bend in the path, and he can no longer see her. Her hands shake slightly, and she desperately shoves them into her pockets. She does not care what Gilbert Blythe thinks of her. Absolutely not.
“Hello, Diana,” she says with a grin, unbuttoning her coat as they stand in the foyer of the girl’s massive house. “Where is your mother?”
“She’s picking some fabrics for the new couch with Minnie May,” her friend replies, hanging up her coat for her as Anne slips off her gloves and beanie. The redhead simply arches a brow at the other coat on the rack, recognising it as Jerry’s. “Yes, Jerry is here as well. He’s in the parlour, so come along.”
“Hello, Jerry,” Anne says cheerfully as she steps into the parlour. It had been a few weeks since she’d seen him, as he’d left Green Gables and was currently working as the manager of a transportation company, a job he’d gotten with the reluctant aid of Mr. Barry. She was glad he had achieved so much; he’d basically become her brother over the years they’d spent together, and she couldn’t be prouder of him.
The man greets her with a large hug, a smile painted on his handsome face. He’d grown up well, his lanky frame having filled out over the years. “Hello, Anne,” he says directly into her ear, and she’s glad the Barry’s aren’t home because even though they’d explained they’re siblings, the lack of shared blood between them always made the couple question the propriety of it all, considering his engagement to their daughter.
They split, and Anne hurries over to the fire, desperate to warm her freezing hands. “How’s the new job treating you?” She says as she’s blasted with heat, cheeks colouring from the dramatic change of temperature.
“Well enough,” he replies. “I enjoy it quite a lot, it puts my brain to good use, that’s for sure. Is Harold doing alright around the farm? I can swing by tomorrow if he’s still struggling with some things.”
“No, he’s fine. I had to show him how to unlock the chicken coop a few times, he didn’t seem able to understand it the first few times,” she says with a laugh. Harold was a 16-year-old German and was slowly learning how to speak English, with Anne’s occasional lesson when she had spare time, so he struggles both understanding her and Marilla, but he had quickly enough worked out what they meant in regard to their farm. “He’s a good kid.”
“He seemed nice enough,” Jerry agrees. “He’s a cheeky little boy though, that’s for sure.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Diana says with a laugh. Anne smiles, about to open her mouth to agree when a rapping at the front door interrupts her. “Oh, that must be Gilbert.”
“Gilbert?” Anne says, obvious shock filling her tone as she turns to face the couple, who are sharing a look. “Why is Gilbert here?”
“I said I’d introduce him to Jerry,” Diana says, glancing over at her. The redhead gives her a look of panic as she leaves the room to let the man in. “It’ll be fine,” she calls from the hall, and Anne is left to pat down her dress and straighten her hair to the best of her ability. She ignores the look her brother is giving her from across the room and instead sticks her tongue out at him childishly.
“Oh, Anne,” Gilbert says as he enters the room, obviously shocked at seeing her as well. It’d been at least two weeks since he’d walked her part of the way home and he had been weighing heavily at her mind, despite the fact she tried to push him out of it as much as she could. “It’s good to see you,” he says charmingly, giving her a smile. He’s already stripped from his coat and hat, though his nose is still red from the chill outside.
“Hello, Gilbert, I’m Jerry,” Jerry says, extending a hand to the other man with a smile.
“We met once before, right?” Gilbert says, shaking hands with her brother, whilst Anne shoots glares at Diana from across the couch. Her friend simply gives her an innocent smile as the two men talk – something about working on ships, or manual labour, Anne doesn’t know or care – and she grits her teeth and puts up a pleasant façade whilst internally screaming.
Later in the afternoon, when they’re all sat on separate couches – Anne was glad that Gilbert had chosen to take the one furthest from her, otherwise she fears she might’ve stumbled over her words – the discussion turns to Gilbert’s homecoming. “So why did you come home?” Jerry asks politely, giving his new friend a smile. The two had gotten along very well, even though there was still the veneer of adult discussion over it all. Anne knows the two will end up joking and laughing together in no time if their friendliness continues.
She feels Gilbert’s gaze upon her, and she glances at him. It’s a searching one, as if he’s looking for the answer deep inside of her, and Anne can feel a blush rising up on her cheeks, despite how much she struggles to keep it at bay. “There are some things I could never leave behind,” Gilbert ends up saying, turning his gaze back to Jerry. “I missed Avonlea, but I am glad that I learnt how to exist outside of it.”
Anne loves learning about the world outside of Avonlea through Gilbert, but she hates hearing him talk about himself living outside of the town – it reminds her that he had existed, at some point, in a world without her, where she was simply a memory he probably never thought of. It stirs feelings in her that she detests, ones that make her side ache and her brain spin.
She glances out the window opposite her, desperate to escape for a moment for simply a moment, so she can gather her thoughts and return to the conversation. The others continue talking, and Anne studies the trees that are slowly growing their leaves again. Winter is passing, slowly thawing out to reveal the richness of spring that had been hidden for months on end. She’ll be glad to see the flowers sprouting again, even though they’re going through the last chill of winter, where she’ll be able to dance in the fields and laugh by the river.
“I should be heading home,” she says a few moments later, knowing that Marilla will be worried if she spends too long out, even though she’d told her she was going to the Barry’s. Anne gets to her feet and thinks for a second that Gilbert won’t offer, as he always does, to walk her homes. She’s wrong.
“I need to return to home as well,” he says. “I can walk you.” She thinks of how she’d once thought this offers to walk her home was always because he thought she needed help – which she doesn’t, because she’s Anne Shirley-Cuthbert. Oh, how wrong she had been, to mistake his kindness as some form of gloating. She wonders if things would be different if she accepted every offer he had given back when they were children.
Anne says her goodbyes to Jerry and Diana, pulling on her jacket without thought. Gilbert walks beside her in silence, having only spoken when he’d offered to take her basket, so she’d have her arms free. It’s a happy silence and she lets it sit there until they’re at her gate, again. It feels the same as the time he’d called her hair pretty, both of them on either side of the fence and staring at one another.
She doesn’t know what to say, and that’s terrifying enough on its own, because words have always been her everything, her defence and her attack and her negotiation with the world, but Gilbert’s eyes are upon her and she feels stripped clean. It’s unfair, really, how he can pull her apart with a single look, but she doesn’t say this either. “Did you like Jerry?” Is all she ends up saying, and the words feel pitiful on her tongue but it’s the best she has, really.
“He’s just as protective over you as he was all those years ago,” Gilbert says instead of answering her question properly. “But yes, I did like him. He and Diana suit each other well.”
“I think theirs is a romance written in the stars,” she says. “They’ve always gravitated towards one another.” Anne looks away from him then, because it’s easier when she can’t see his gaze upon her, only feel it. “I think if soulmates were a thing, they would’ve been each others. Even Mr. Barry, for all his reservations about their engagement, can’t deny that they’re perfectly well suited for one another.”
“And you?” Gilbert asks, and she swears she can see a hint of fondness across his face when she glances back at him, before it’s gone again. Anne simply gives him a confused look because she doesn’t understand what he means. “Would you say you’ve met your soulmate yet?”
She feels as if all the airs been punched from her gut, and she can hear Marilla screaming in her ear about propriety and social rules. Gilbert’s eyes are intense, such a deep brown that she has to fight to breathe. “I wouldn’t know,” she says, gaining some control over her brain. “I used to think I was unlovable, that I’d spend my life as a spinster, but some days I feel differently about it.”
“I think everyone who meets you loves you,” he answers and, for perhaps the first time since she’d met him, Gilbert looks out of his depths. He’d always been so controlled and measured, knew the weight of his every word and was completely unflappable despite whatever you threw at him, but now he didn’t. He looked as if he was nervous, unable to spell out his own feelings. She feels much the same.
She has to break up the moment or she fears she might do something foolish, something she’d regret once he rejected her. “I think Billy Andrews and Josie Pye could attest that,” she ends up saying as some form of a joke, dropping her gaze to inspect how pale her hands look against the dark wood of the fence.
“Josie Pye and Billy Andrews are selfish, arrogant fools,” he says, and it’s possibly the most hateful thing she’s ever heard him say, but it doesn’t matter because he’s doing it to make her feel better and she has to get a grip, or she might kiss him when he’s looking at her so fiercely that she feels as if she’s on fire.
“Don’t let them hear you say that,” Anne says jokingly, giving him a smile. “I should go, Marilla will worry after me.”
“Have a good evening,” Gilbert agrees, with a nod of his head and an amused smile. She gives a brief wave before turning and heading into the house, feet light on the steps and a feeling of happiness washing over her. Marilla is sat doing some knitting by the fireplace, something so out of character that Anne has to step back and take it all in.
“Rachel convinced me to pick up knitting,” Marilla says as an explanation. “I’m enjoying it so far. How was Diana’s?” Anne’s about to drop her basket by the table, but the older woman gives her a sharp enough look that she carefully places it on the table with a sheepish grin.
“Good,” she says. “Jerry was there, and he met Gilbert, finally. It was good to catch up with everyone.”
“You’re quiet,” Marilla says with an arched brow. This isn’t a lie; usually, Anne runs into the house, her childish side released as she talks about the wonder of Diana’s house or the lesson she’d taught her class that day, but she finds that although happiness is spilling from her every pore, she can’t vocalise such things.
“Just not in the mood to talk as much today,” she says, as if that makes any sense in regard to herself. It’s an excuse, however, so she pretends that it’s normal. “Do you mind if I do some work upstairs? I need to mark some essays from a few days ago and organise some stuff for a history lesson. I’m thinking of some re-enactments; the class always love those.”
“Alright,” Marilla agrees, but there’s a suspicious look to her eyes as she watches the redhead climb the stairs, books in her arms. Anne collapses on her bed in a very unladylike fashion, head buried in her pillows as she lets out a low groan. Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert, her mind screams at her and wishes she could scream, would love to stick her head out the window and yell in a desperate attempt to get rid of her feelings.
She knows what the feelings are, but they’re far more intense than the ones she’d had when she was a teenage girl, feel as if they’ve been amplified with the time and distance that once sat between them. Anne knows she has to come to terms with whatever it is she’s feeling because it’s unfair to herself and Gilbert to simply push them to the back of her mind, but there are so many, and they’re all muddled together, and it feels far too difficult. Oh, if life were simple.
Winter passes and spring begins, flowers growing and trees gathering their leaves once again. Gilbert meets Anne after school as often as he can, walking her home as she talks of the lesson she’d taught that day or the fairies that live in the trees. He just thinks she’s wonderful, so tightly ensnared in all that is Anne Shirley-Cuthbert that he doesn’t ever want to leave.
Still, there are some days where he has to stay longer at his medical practice, where he can’t see her for a few days until all of his patients are feeling much better, and it’s tiring but it’s good, honest work, even if he doesn’t get to see the redhead. Life moves on; Mary’s stomach continues growing, Bash continues getting better at farm work, and Anne becomes more and more beautiful. He hadn’t really put much thought into it when they’d first seen each other again, but her once awkward and lanky form has become willowy and soft, the fabric of her dresses curving with the shape of her small breasts and waist.
Now, sometimes, it is all he can think of. Gilbert knows his father would smack him around the back of the head if he knew he was having such thoughts, would tell him of the indecency of it all, but he’d lived onboard a steamer for nearly two years, with hoards of gross, sweaty men. He heard things his innocent ears shouldn’t of, if he was going to be honest, and he blamed his thoughts entirely upon that. No one else found out, and he intended to keep it that way.
He and Anne fought once in the first week of spring, over their different interpretations of a book and it lit a fire in Gilbert, reminded him of the crack of a slate over his head and the burning chaos behind her eyes. He loved her fiery nature, though he didn’t doubt that if he told her that it would make her even madder, and he swung by Green Gables that Saturday, apologising even though it was over something so ridiculous. She hadn’t apologised, not that he expected her to, and simply said that she was correct in her ideas.
That night he thought he might be in love with her, but he couldn’t know for sure and didn’t say anything. It didn’t matter very much either way; Anne was his friend, and that was enough, because she was in his life and he wouldn’t ask any more from her. Diana’s engagement party happens, and Anne shines so brightly in her new dress, a sweet lilac colour that chokes him of air and allows the curves of her body to be seen far easier than her everyday dresses.
They laugh together for some of the night, but he has to spend time being social, so he talks to Charlie and Jerry and some of his patients, his eyes always searching for her amongst the crowd. They don’t dance together that night, though his hand twitches with the craving to extend it to her occasionally, but he fights it back. He can’t dance with her; if he is that close, he fears he might do something he’ll regret, something that could ruin them. Anne had never wanted a husband, even if she did want romance. He did not know how she felt about it now; he kept away from the topic as best he could in their discussions.
Spring leads to summer, and the sun shines every day, the flowers blooming and the sweet scent filling the air.
He looks forward to seeing Anne every day, though he can no longer walk her home due to harvesting season, so she simply swung by his work once he finished up. The sun would shine in her hair, bringing out the gold and the red, and her freckles would darken slightly in the sun, splattered across her nose so prettily that he couldn’t help but stare at them as they walked together. She had met Bash and Mary a few months earlier and found that she loved them, loved their teasing nature and kind hearts. It just led to more teasing for Gilbert, however, who had to put up with talk of how he looked at her and how he was so caring to her.
He didn’t care, not really, because Anne had always owned a piece of him, had always carried a chunk of him with her wherever she went, whether she was aware of it or not. He could put up with some teasing if it meant feeling the security of being near her, with her, by her side. He didn’t care because it was Anne and he’d do anything for her, really. Even bottle up his feelings so he wouldn’t ruin their friendship.
Summer had always been Anne’s favourite season. It was sunny and the flowers were out, and she could dance in fields with wheat so high that nobody could see her. It reminded her of Gilbert in many ways; it was warming and kind, could light a little flame in your stomach, and make your skin prickle with the heat. He was summer in many ways, made her think of the wind blowing through the trees and bees that danced along the tulips along the border of Green Gables.
Harvest season had begun near the end of spring, so she had weeks off, far more time then she needed. Whilst she prepared for the new lessons for the start of classes, she still found that she had far more time than needed and found herself lazing with Diana quite often, counting down the hours until she could visit Gilbert, when he would be finished with his work.
The engagement party had been incredibly successful and after it, before she could return home to check on Marilla, Diana had pulled her to the side, words hushed. “You cannot keep doing this, Anne,” she’d said. “Please, decide upon your feelings. I know it’s difficult for you to understand them and come to terms with them, but Gilbert would do anything for you. You’d be foolish to let him go, especially over something as simple as stubbornness.” She had squawked at the time, indignant that Diana could say such things to her, but after pondering her words for weeks, speaking to the birds in the trees and the growing flowers, she had realised there was some truth to her words.
Confronting her feelings head-on, however, was incredibly difficult. It felt like being stuck under an overflowing current, unable to get her head above the surface of the water, but she soon learnt that this was not such a bad thing. She liked to believe that she and Gilbert had the same perspective on many things – books, education, morality, the world – but he always managed to shock her with his ideas and viewpoints, would pull the rug from under her feet as he contradicted her on many a thing. She liked that about him, his ability to make her think differently.
The wedding happens in the middle of summer like Diana had planned and Anne feels pretty in her dress, though it makes her hair stand out shockingly. Your hair has never been the colour of carrots, he had said, voice gentle and careful like it always is when he discusses something important to her; it lets her know that he really, truly means whatever he’s about to say next. The dress is a baby blue colour, with detailing on its puffy sleeves and lace along the wrists and collar. It’s simple, the way she likes it, and it makes her blue eyes pop.
Diana looks gorgeous, walking down the aisle with tears in her eyes and a flowy white dress on. Dinner starts next and Anne curses Diana for sitting her beside Gilbert, whose hair is as crazy as ever and his suit neatly presses, tailored to fit his broad shoulders. He teases her less in public, though she believes this is more for her sake than anyone else’s, because most peoples eyes are glued to the couple about to lead the first dance.
It's only after a few moments where the dance floor has begun to fill that Gilbert rises to his feet. Anne thinks for one, frightful moment, that he is about to offer a dance to someone else, before his hand is extended in front of her and he’s got a teasing smile on his face, one that makes her stomach flop. “Can I have this dance, Miss?” He asks, voice as clear as ever, and it makes her think of Billy Andrews and the forest, when she was only 13 and scared of the world.
“Of course,” she replies, placing her hand in his and letting him lead her to the dance floor. His body is warm this close to her, the smell that is entirely his own filling her nose and making a small shiver run through her. Gilbert’s a good dancer, has a gracefulness about him that she could never have, even after years of dancing in the woods. She’s nervous, though, can feel his breath tingle against her neck and the tingling along her skin that means he’s watching her. Anne glances up at him, arching a brow when she sees his mouth is slightly parted and he’s staring at her in a way she can’t recognise.
“You’ll catch flies,” she says somehow, though she can’t focus on much more than his warm hand on her waist and how work-worn his fingers are between her own. Gilbert manages to shut his mouth, however, and a giggle escapes her at this as he leads them further into the fray of dancers.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, voice barely above a murmur and her thoughts run short, collapse into one another. His eyes search her own, dance across her face delicately and she thinks of what Diana had told her, thinks of Josie Pye and her taunts of Anne’s unattractiveness, thinks that maybe the hope blossoming in her stomach isn’t so foolish after all. But the song ends and they both seem to snap from it, Gilbert releasing her from his grip and Anne slowly removing her small hands from his bicep.
“I’m going to head out for some air,” she says with a smile. “It’s rather hot in here.”
“Take your coat or you’ll get cold,” he says to her back and she simply nods, darting to the back door and simply picking up her shawl instead. She doesn’t care if she gets cold in that moment, thinks it’ll be good to wash away any trace of hope she feels. Anne finds a spot tucked around the side of the building and, making sure she doesn’t get her dress dirty, leans against the wall, letting out a long exhale.
Perhaps most surprisingly, it is Ruby that finds her in her hidden spot, a wide grin on the girl’s face. She has only grown prettier over the years, womanly curves growing and once childish features becoming even more doll-like. “Anne,” she says, in that high-pitched voice of hers, not leaning against the wall but standing beside her.
“Hello, Ruby,” she says, though it sounds far more mournful then she’d intended and instantly gathers the attention of her friend.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” she says, though she feels as if how strongly she feels for Gilbert Blythe might kill her. “I’m fine, really.”
“I saw you and Gilbert dancing,” the girl says, and a pang of guilt washes of Anne – though that is ridiculous because Ruby has Thomas now and she clearly loves him, but the younger girl had called dibs all those years back, no matter how childish it had been. “You looked happy. I’m glad. I spent so long pining after him, though he was never truly mine. He’s always been yours and I think that I was foolish to never realise that. But I’m glad you are one another’s now, because of everyone who deserves love and happiness, it is you two.”
Sometimes, Anne is struck by how truly wise her friends are and she is ever so grateful for them. “What do you mean he’s always been mine?” She asks, daring herself to hope once again.
Ruby inhales deeply beside her, and she glances over, finding the girl gazing up at the moon that is rising above them. “Well, you two have just always been meant to be. You challenge one another and make each other laugh – and, really, Anne, I have always wished I was as smart as you, because there is no use to my good looks when I’ve always attracted such shallow men. You are lucky, because you are smart and pretty and Gilbert loves you for all that you are. I am glad I found Thomas, because he is much the same, really, even though I do not have your brains.”
“You are a kind soul,” Anne says after a few moments of silence, soaking in her friends’ words. “Thank you.” She means it, she really does, because Ruby has perhaps brought the greatest reckoning of her life to her and it’s swept her away. The two head back inside, the conversation turned to a story Anne had begun writing only a few weeks ago. The party is still going on when they return, now in full swing, and Ruby is whisked away quickly as Anne places her shawl back over her chair gently.
Now is not the moment, she knows. It is Jerry and Diana’s wedding day; they are both full of food and enjoying the night, there is no point in distracting themselves in the happiness that is her best friend’s wedding. Perhaps the next day would be better, or the one after that. It doesn’t matter too much, because she knows that Gilbert is as much hers as she is his and that their souls have been intertwined from the moment they met. She doesn’t doubt it will be that way until they die.
Anne doesn’t find the right moment until they’re separated by Green Gable's fence, Gilbert having just dropped her off after she’d had tea at his house. School starts up again in a few weeks, and she’s excited, she truly is, because she loves her students and finds so much joy in teaching them. The sun is shining down on the two of them, highlight the strength of Gilbert’s jaw and the quirk of a smile on his lips.
It feels like it did when he called her hair pretty, reminds her of that afternoon all those months ago, the one that had weighed upon her mind far too often. Gilbert is talking and she has to remind herself of this to zone back in on his words, forcing herself to listen to the man she loves so very much. His lips look very pink and she must stop her train of thought before she simply implodes. “– but he should be fine, the treatment isn’t too complicated. I’ll just have to get some more ingr–”
She has to press herself fully against the fence and loop her arms around his neck, dragging him closer so she can kiss him, but when she does Anne can’t regret it for a second. His lips are soft beneath her own and she knows that her old school friends would tell her off because you should never kiss a man, he should always kiss you, but he had looked at her so tenderly, made her heart race. Anne pulls back after a moment where he doesn’t seem to move, shoulders stiff with what can only be shock (or disgust, a voice says to her) and she feels as if she might cry.
Gilbert does look shocked when she gets a glance at his face, but not in such a way that she feels as if she might cry. Instead he looks dazed and slightly awed, eyes tracing her face and making her knees shake. He moves and shifts in front of her, pulling her forwards so he can plant his lips upon hers firmly again. Anne feels something akin to a whimper rise in her throat at the passion behind it, but she manages to muffle it, not wanting to give herself away so quickly. Her lips are moving of their own accord and she runs one of her hands through his hair, finding it to be just as soft as she’d always anticipated. He pulls her closer until they’re both pressed against the fence, as close to one another as possible.
It feels so right, one of his hands slipping to her waist whilst the other cups her cheek, so secure and tender that she wants to bask in this forever. They part for air in the end, his lips brushing over hers, featherlight and calming, as he places a kiss on her jaw, once, twice, and then another upon her lips. She thinks she’s falling apart beneath him, like the papers of her story that she’d dropped in the river last summer and the snow beneath her feet during winter.
He’s got a dazed look in his eyes when they pull apart further, a gleam to them that hadn’t been there earlier, but he still manages to give her ones of his smiles, the ones that make her insides jump. She returns it as well as she can. “Can I see you tomorrow?” He asks, voice low and gravelly. Her knees shake again, and she fights down a wide grin. He doesn’t question her for kissing him because, she thinks, they have always been push and pull, have always been earnest with one another, and it had simply been right.
“Of course,” Anne says, planting a kiss on his cheek before turning and bounding up to the house a grin on her face. “Meet me after you finish your work!” She calls over her shoulder, glancing back at him once before opening the door to the house and shuttling a quick hello to Marilla, bounding up the stairs as quickly as she can. She’s never been happier, she thinks.
Gilbert doesn’t think a day has ever been so long. He’d been teased by Sebastian for the entirety of breakfast, Mary only scolding him occasionally when his words hit too close to the truth. Bash had left before him and his wife had simply patted his hand reassuringly, saying, “Do what feels right, Gil, and don’t string that girl along.” As if he’d ever hurt Anne like that. He thinks if anything she’s always been the one to string him along, even back when they were children, as he clung to her every word and felt the decimation of leaving her.
Still, setting Mr. Prewitt’s wrist and checking up on some of his sickly patients is hardly enough to occupy his mind for the entirety of the day, so he finds himself reorganising the cupboards and calling in to have lunch with Mary, checking on her baby once more. By the time that 4 pm has arrived he’s nervous, unsure of what he’s going to say to the girl. He knows what he wants to say; explain that he loves her, has always loved her and doesn’t know what he would do if he didn’t. They have always just existed around one another, their relationship like the tide, but now he has to discuss this it feels like he might choke.
When he sees her, though, descending the steps of her house to meet him in the bright sunlight, he knows that he is always stripped clean with Anne; she has always seen his soul, has perhaps always known the truth, even if she never realised it. He’d never done a good job at hiding it, that’s for sure. Still, he offers to take her basket for her, and they walk in silence for a while. It’s never uncomfortable, their silences, but there is the weight of having to say something, so by the time they’ve happened upon the river running through the forest and Anne has already begun filling up her basket with flowers, he knows he has to say something.
It doesn’t turn out that way, however, because Gilbert turns to face her, feet pulling to a stop, and Anne’s blue eyes are upon him, so clear and serene that he wants to dive into them for the rest of his life. Her hair glimmers, shifting in the breeze and he loves her more than anything. So, he kisses her, because it’s what he’s wanted to do all day and night, gathering her strong body into his arms and feeling complete. She’s shocked but her lips soon work against his own, as soft and pretty as they were the day before.
It’s ridiculous, really, and he drops her basket so he can hold her properly, his body slowly backing her up against the tree until she lets out a high-pitched sound that makes his stomach warm. Their bodies are pressed together, so close that he can feel the shape of her against him and it’s almost too much. Gilbert can’t help himself when he pulls away, eyes dark as he traces kisses down her neck until her dress gets in the way. He’s only reminded of the fact that he’s meant to be talking to Anne when her hands are raking through his hair, their lips searing together and burning a bright light through him.
“Sorry,” he pants out as he steps back roughly, sees her lower herself from the balls of her feet so she’s standing flat footed again. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have just…” But the words fade out because Gilbert’s just glanced at her again to see her bruised lips and messy hair, eyes wide as she stares at him. “I should have asked, that was inappropriate of me,” he ends up saying.
Anne doesn’t appear able to speak, and that’s enough of a shock to him because Anne has always had words, always been able to talk for hours on end, but now she looks as if she’s been struck by lightning. He wants to tell her so badly that he finds himself stepping closer to her once again, nervously exhaling a breath of air. “You must know,” Gilbert begins. “You must know that it’s always been you – you’ve always been it for me.”
There are tears pooling in her eyes, and it’s so out of character for Anne to cry in front of him that it makes him believe he’s done something wrong, guilt pooling in his stomach. He shouldn’t have simply kissed her; his father had raised him better. “I’m in love with you,” Anne says, however, and she lets out a wet sob, a smile gracing her lips.
“Anne,” he says, content filling his veins and the marrow of his bones, flooding him with a blanket of warmth and refuge. “Anne, I love you too. How could I not?” She sniffles slightly, tears stopping just as quickly as they’d started and a hopeful look filling her eyes.
“Really?” He knows she’s always had her doubts on if she could be loved; always thought that she the bold, redhead orphan that she is could never be more then that. But he knows her, is in awe of how she moves and changes those around her, how she is the start of his life and will be his end, no matter what.
“I’m in love with you, I always have been.” She leans forwards, kiss gentle and soft, and Gilbert thinks he and Anne are blurring together into one beautiful mess of colours. He wonders if she sees it that way too. “Will you promise to be my wife one day?” he asks quietly.
Anne lets out a demure laugh, lip curling around a smile. “Of course, I will Gilbert.” She stoops, picking up her basket and placing a quick peck on his lips, begins wandering down the trail again. He has never understood her train of thought, but now even more so. Perhaps it really is that simple for her; she loves him, and he loves her, and they should be married. “I do have to say,” she says, fingers brushing his own. “I used to dream that I would be proposed to in the moonlight with a dark, handsome man who’d risked his life for me. But this is so much better.”
“We can do it again if you want,” Gilbert says with a chuckle. “I do have to get you the ring, so we can try again if you’d like.”
“No,” Anne says determinedly. “That was better than any dream I had as a child.”
Gilbert thinks that she is magical and beautiful, that her hair could paint the skies and her imagination the universe, that she fills up every room with her mere presence and is too much for the earth, too much of a gift to be real. But right now, beside him, she is nothing more than flesh and skin and bone, and she is Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, his everything.