There's a knock on the door early the day after her birthday. Anne's busy with the pastries Marilla had asked her to make, but she hears as the woman greets whoever it is. Definitely Mrs. Lynde, as usual. She probably has some urgent gossip to share with them. Anne laughs under her breath as she continues to work the dough.
Steps sound coming towards the kitchen. Anne doesn’t stop. Mrs. Lynde has seen her in worse states, after all. She was sixteen now, and she had nothing to do but celebrate it. She was a grown woman. The steps reach her. She raises her eyes with a smile ready and freezes.
Gilbert Blythe is staring at her with an amused grin. She's pretty sure she has flour on her face and that her hair looks like a rat’s nest on top of her head.
“What are you doing here?” she blurts out without thinking.
Gilbert’s lips twitch.
“Anne!” comes Marilla’s reprimanding voice from the parlor and she winces. “Be polite to our guest!”
“Sorry,” Anne yells back, then turns to the boy in front of her. “What are you doing here?” she repeats in a whisper, and he chuckles, approaching her.
She drops the dough on the table and tries to wipe her hands on her apron. It doesn’t work very well. Looking down at herself, Anne realizes she’s wearing her oldest dress, one that barely fits anymore. She was just making pastries, after all, and she wanted to avoid getting one of her newer dresses dirty. Except now he was here. God, Gilbert Blythe had the worst timing.
She glances at him, searching for any sign of what he could possibly want. He’s not holding any books so they could study or a dish that Mary or Bash could have sent for Marilla. Instead, his hands are shoved in his pants’ pockets. Anne frowns, befuddled.
“What are you making?” Gilbert asks instead of answering her.
He’s dressed in nice clothes, a pressed shirt and grey pants that look new. His hair is arranged on organized curls for once, instead of its usual chaotic mess. He looks dressed up. Anne can’t figure out why.
“What’s going on, Gilbert?” she insists, feeling extremely confused.
It was a Sunday, what could he possibly be doing at Green Gables, especially in the morning?
He shuffles his feet. “I just wanted to say…” he hesitates, looking away from her. There’s a slight red tint to his cheeks. Anne’s not quite sure when the last time she saw him blush was.
“Yes?” she prompts, when he takes too long. She could feel her curiosity already start to eat her up from the inside.
“Just— Happy birthday,” Gilbert blurts out, eyes snapping up to hers quickly.
Anne’s the one blushing now. Was this the reason he had come all this way?
“Oh,” she breathes out. Her entire face is burning in embarrassment. “Thanks,” she manages, almost stuttering.
“Yeah,” he answers, softly.
Gilbert’s eyes are wide, staring at her. The light from the kitchen window illuminates his face and it brings a weird feeling to her chest. Anne feels her breath shortening and her hands shaking a little bit. She presses them down onto the table to try to still them. What was wrong with her? She felt like this was a pivotal moment in her life, some essential thing shifting on the Green Gables’ kitchen, the morning after her sixteenth birthday, Gilbert Blythe standing across from her. She can’t explain what it is, though, can’t find the proper words to describe it.
The floorboard from the kitchen doorway creaks and Anne jumps. So does Gilbert, whirling around towards the sound. Marilla enters the kitchen in a flurry, hands full with a huge basket overflowing with fabric. Gilbert immediately snaps to attention, rushing towards her to help.
“Oh, thank you, Gilbert,” the older woman says. “You are always so kind.”
It takes everything in Anne to stop herself from rolling her eyes, previous moment forgotten. Yes, Gilbert Blythe did seem always keen on being kind and polite and all-around perfect. It was incredibly annoying, especially when she was seen so often as the opposite of all those things.
While he’s gone, she attempts to tidy her things – and herself. Anne leaves the dough to the side to rise while she cleans her hands, getting rid of the clumps still glued to her fingers. She does her best to get rid of any flour that could have ended up on her face while also trying to put her hair back into tidier braids.
She’s not doing this because of Gilbert, of course. Anne does not care what Gilbert Blythe thinks of her appearance. It was only proper that she try not to look like a crazy woman when they had a visit.
She was definitely not trying to look good in front of Gilbert Blythe.
She looks up. Gilbert is not standing in front of the table this time. Instead, he’s right next to her, staring at her. Anne pushes back on the warmth that climbs up her neck towards her cheeks as she turns to him. How ridiculous. She refused to believe that every time he’s near she would simply start blushing. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert was not so hopeless yet. She peers at him, curiously. He’s fidgeting, shuffling his feet, his own cheeks with hints of red. She doesn’t know what could possibly have caused Gilbert Blythe to feel nervous. He was usually so self-assured. He looks away from her, clearing his throat. It looks as if here is the last place he would like to be. She has to stifle a smile at the sight. Gilbert Blythe nervous, who would have said?
Anne ignores the twinge in her chest she feels at that thought.
“Gilbert?” she asks, uncertainly, when he doesn’t do anything besides stand there.
Then she notices he’s carrying something now. A rectangular package, wrapped in brown paper, some twine holding it together. It scratches at the back of her mind, a memory from a couple years before, when he had—
“Here,” he says, pushing the package into her hands.
Anne looks down at it. There’s no stopping her blush this time.
“Oh,” she breathes out, taken aback.
“Happy birthday,” he blurts out, again. She glances quickly at him, noticing his flushed cheeks, before her eyes snap back to the package in her hands.
It’s fair to say she’s surprised by it.
“Gilbert, you shouldn’t have—” she tries to tell him, but he holds up his hand.
“Just open it, Anne,” he says, his voice soft. He’s smiling now, a little bit, in the humorous way he so often does, but there’s an underlying nervousness to his stance that gets her to look back down at the package and pull on the string to open to it.
Anne does her best not to rip the paper completely, even as she feels anxiety climbing up her throat. What could he have possibly gotten her? She unwraps the paper, and ends up with a book in her hands. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. It’s a beautiful edition, leather bound with gold stamped letters. Anne marvels at it, thumbing through its pages. It looks like it’s been read before. She can only imagine the stories the book holds.
“Gilbert, I can’t accept this,” she says, looking up at him again. He frowns in confusion but she only offers him the book back.
“I can’t imagine how much this cost you. I wouldn’t want to be the reason you spend your money. I know things haven’t been easy and that you would buy this beautiful book… I can’t accept it,” Anne tells him and Gilbert shakes his head.
“No, don’t worry about that—”
“It’s a gift, you can’t refuse it—”
“It was my mother’s,” he explains, in a low voice. Anne looks up at him, surprised. “It was one of her favorite books, so Dad kept it, but it was just collecting dust in a box at the house so I thought… You'd make better use of it.” Gilbert’s face is completely vulnerable as he stares back at her. She’s completely speechless. That he would part with such a token of his own mother, whom he had lost when he was so young… It meant so much. So much, she can’t even think about it.
She stares up at him in wonder. Gilbert’s eyes search her face.
Before Anne even notices she’s doing it, she stands on her tiptoes and presses a kiss to his cheek as a thank you. Her lips burn where they touch him and she feels as if the sensation of his soft skin under them will forever be imprinted in her mind. The surprised exhale he lets out hits her cheek in a warm breath and it causes chills down her spine. It doesn’t last more than a second before she’s back on her feet staring up at him. It feels like an eternity, though. And then she’s hit with what she’s just done.
Anne had just kissed Gilbert Blythe. God, what had she been thinking?
She looks up at him, an apology ready on the tip of her tongue. She doesn’t manage to get it out, though, as she finds his eyes on her. Gilbert looks like he’s been knocked over the head. His eyes are wide, his cheeks red, his mouth gaping open.
She snaps her gaze away from his mouth immediately.
“I—Thank you, Gilbert,” she manages to get out, as if nothing had happened, a feeling in her chest she can’t quite understand or explain.
“Yeah, of course,” he stutters out, gaping down at her. Her cheeks have never burned quite so much. She wouldn’t be surprised if her head suddenly blew up. “It's not every day one turns sixteen after all,” he says, after a while, taking a small step away from her.
She pretends like his gesture doesn’t sting.
Anne smiles back at him, chuckling. It’s just a little bit forced. “That is true.”
Gilbert stares at her then, and she can’t help but stare back. His eyes are shiny and even as her cheeks heat up she can’t look away. Anne can't quite fathom that he had given her the book. It was such a lovely, thoughtful gift. And Gilbert Blythe had been the one to give it to her.
He’s the one that snaps out of their trance first. She can’t quite tell how long they had stood there staring at each other.
“So,” he says, voice in a slightly higher pitch as he shakes himself. “Did you like it?”
Anne gapes at him, unable to believe his question. But when she sees the real worry in his eyes, she answers him.
“Of course. It’s lovely, Gilbert. I adored it. I can’t wait to read it.”
He sighs, visibly relaxing. “Oh, good,” he says, one hand jumping to his hair. “I thought it would fit you.”
Anne smiles again, it’s impossible to hold it back. She’s about to ask him why he thought that, but then the floorboard from the kitchen entrance creaks again.
They jump apart right as Marilla walks in. The older woman looks at them, one eyebrow raised in suspicion.
“Everything alright in here?”
“Yeah,” both of them blurt out at the same time.
It doesn’t sound suspicious at all.
Marilla huffs, unconvinced, but turns her back on them either way without any more questions. Anne glances at Gilbert from the corner of her eye. He’s already looking at her. Her cheeks flush again.
She looks away first, and Gilbert clears his throat. “I should be getting home, then,” he says, stepping forward. Her eyes snap up to him.
Marilla turns. “Oh, of course. Anne, would you mind walking him out?”
Anne doesn’t even try to curse at her luck. She already knows she doesn’t have any.
“Yes, of course,” she mumbles, before heading towards the entrance.
She hears Gilbert saying his goodbyes to Marilla before his step hurry towards her. Anne is already at the door when he reaches her. She’s still holding the book he gave her. He turns to her, one hand at the back of his neck.
“I guess… I’ll see you tomorrow?” he says, eyebrows raising, cheeks still a little red.
Anne nods, humming in agreement. Gilbert smiles then, a little nervously. He opens the door and turns to her to her one last time.
“Happy birthday, Anne. Again,” he says in a low voice.
“Thanks,” she answers, voice breathy.
Gilbert leaves. Anne only manages to walk away from the door when Marilla calls her, asking why she’s taking so long.
It’s only a few days later, when she’s reading the book, marveling at the notes left on the margins of the pages by Gilbert’s mom, that she finds his second gift. A fresh yellow flower, too fresh to have been left there from when his mother had read it, pressed into the pages right next to the spot where Mr. Darcy says to Elizabeth Bennet:
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.
She tells herself the warmth in her cheeks and the butterflies in her stomach are due to the romance of the book and how beautifully and eloquently Darcy had expressed his feelings for Elizabeth. There was obviously not any other reason. A pretty flower was just that, probably one he had seen and it had reminded him of her, so he had put it inside the book. Gilbert knew she liked flowers, after all. There wasn’t any other meaning.
It was just a pretty flower.