After she had settled little Jem down to sleep, Anne went out to join Leslie in the rose garden. The roses had begun to lose their petals as autumn approach, but in the red gleam of sunset they briefly regained their crimson glory.
Leslie looked so beautiful in the rich red sunset light that it almost hurt Anne to look at her. The red sash flared around her slender waist, and in the dying sunlight Leslie’s coronet of wheat-gold hair glowed like an autumn bonfire.
Anne paused, entranced, gazing at Leslie as Leslie gazed past the garden fence toward the open sea. She looked like the figurehead of a ship, heading proudly into the bright future, and Anne blinked back tears as she thought of the long stormy passage Leslie had sailed on the way.
Then the sun slipped below the horizon, and Leslie’s otherworldly radiance relaxed back into her own ordinary beauty. Anne wiped her eyes and crossed the garden to slip an affectionate arm around Leslie’s waist. “Thinking of Owen?” Anne asked.
“Oh – yes,” Leslie said.
But there was a hesitation in her voice, and when Anne looked into her face, Leslie averted her eyes. “What is it, dear?” Anne asked. “Does it still seem too good to be true?”
Leslie sighed. She touched a rose, and the flower fell apart into a drift of dried petals on the ground.
“Is Gilbert out?” Leslie asked.
“Yes; he’s been called to attend a lying-in,” Anne answered, although the question puzzled her.
“She went back to her sister’s this morning, you remember. It seems her sister’s broken leg isn’t healing as it should. Why do you ask, Leslie?”
Leslie’s blue eyes looked deep purple in the twilight, like pansies, if pansies could yearn for understanding. “There are some things I want to talk to you about,” she said, “that I could never tell another mortal soul. Things that they might think were… unwomanly to talk about. But you’ll understand, won’t you, Anne?”
“Of course.” And Anne let go of Leslie’s waist and took both of her work-roughened hands, instead, and held them as gently as if the skin had been smooth as satin. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”
“It’s Owen,” Leslie said, and added quickly – “Well, not Owen, exactly. It’s really that I’ve been wondering if I can make a good wife for Owen. Oh, I’m not worried about cooking and cleaning and taking care of his house, or even about being a good hostess when people come to talk about his books: I’m sure I can do that well, even if I am just an untutored country girl. But the – the physical side of marriage.”
Instantly Anne understood why Leslie had wanted to make sure that Gilbert was away. “Leslie dear, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You’re a beautiful, passionate girl, and a wonderful dancer; and I’m sure Owen will be everything that a girl could wish in a lover and a husband on your wedding night.”
“Yes, I’m sure he will too,” Leslie said, and a little sigh escaped her. “I’ve even dreamed about it, Anne – I’m impatient for it. Is that wicked and shameful of me, Anne?”
“No,” Anne said firmly. “That’s an entirely natural feeling for a bride.”
“I’m glad,” Leslie said. “It’s so different from how I felt before my first marriage, you see.”
Anne’s breath caught in her throat. “Oh, Leslie!”
“Oh, don’t pity me!” Leslie cried, with one last outburst of her old resentment. She pulled her hands from Anne’s and hid her face in them. “Oh, I’m sorry, Anne. I knew I could never talk about this to anyone else in the world but you. You see, I never made Dick happy – I hated kissing him so – and although I want to kiss Owen and dream of it, and do all the other things that married couples do, I’m afraid that I might not be able to give myself to him as I ought to, with those bad old memories lurking in the back of my mind. I thought…”
She bit her lip. A flood of crimson, rich as the red of her lips, rose to her cheeks, and her lashes lowered to veil her eyes. “I hoped,” she said, “that you might kiss me, Anne. You might show me how it ought to be done, so I could remember that – with Owen – instead of Dick.”
Her blush receded now that the words were said: her face was no longer rose-red, but the delicate pink of the inside of a shell. “Of course,” Anne said. “I would do anything to help a friend, Leslie.”
She took Leslie’s hands again, and led her gently to a bench embowered deep in roses. They sat down together, close enough that they touched from hip to knee, and Anne laughed a little. “As it happens, I taught my bosom friend Diana how to kiss – or perhaps I should say we taught each other. And Katherine Brooke, my friend when I was at Summerside. I haven’t heard from her in some time…”
Perhaps it had been unwise to write Katherine such an effusive letter about Leslie, before Anne even knew Leslie’s name, when she was only the beautiful mystery girl Anne had glimpsed on her wedding night. But of course it wouldn’t have been proper to effuse about the wedding night itself…
With that wedding night in mind, Anne assured Leslie, “There’s a garden of delights in store for you, Leslie. I know you’ve come through great trials, but truly, I believe that the harbor will be worth the storms. Now then – I’ll be the man – ” And Anne drew one leg up beneath her, to give her the requisite height to play this part effectively. “He’ll put his hands on your cheeks, like so…”
And she cupped Leslie’s soft cheeks in her palms, and tilted Leslie’s face toward her. Leslie drew in a soft shuddering breath, and Anne felt her heart shiver in her chest in response. “And then he’ll kiss you,” Anne said softly, and placed a gentle kiss on Leslie’s lips. She paused, and looked tenderly into Leslie’s pale face, and then kissed her again, more lingeringly.
Leslie didn’t resist, but she also didn’t relax into the kiss. Anne drew back again, and pressed her hands gently over Leslie’s, which clutched fistfuls of the fabric of her skirt. “Perhaps you should put your hands on your suitor’s shoulders?” Anne encouraged.
Leslie relaxed her hands She lifted them to Anne’s shoulders, then to her face, her callused fingertips light against Anne’s skin. Anne put her hands on Leslie’s waist. “What a glorious figure you have,” Anne murmured, smoothing her hands over Leslie’s hips.
Leslie laughed softly, her full warm lips parting. Anne tugged Leslie’s lower lip between her teeth, even as Leslie’s hands slid up into Anne’s hair. “I’ve always loved your hair, you know,” Leslie told Anne, as they parted briefly for breath.
“Oh! When you have such beautiful hair yourself, Leslie!” Anne cried. She had climbed, now, nearly onto Leslie’s lap, and they were kissing again, more passionately now, lips and tongue and teeth, with Anne’s hands moving up into the rich heavy masses of Leslie’s hair. The twist of the coronet unraveled under Anne’s hands, and the braid spilled over Leslie’s shoulders, as long and thick Rapunzel’s, even as Anne’s hair burst free of its pins and tumbled down her back.
It was this sudden release of hair that broke their kiss this time. They both drew back, although not totally apart yet: Anne still perched on Leslie’s lap, her hands falling to Leslie’s shoulders, and Leslie’s hands cradled Anne’s waist. Leslie’s splendid bosom expanded as she gasped.
They smiled at each other and then averted their eyes, flushed and smiling. Anne slid off Leslie’s lap and began to put her hair back up. It certainly wouldn’t do for Gilbert to come home and find them like this. “Just do it exactly like that,” Anne encouraged, “and you’ll be just fine, Leslie. Only when you’re with Owen – don’t stop!”