It’s all the summer’s fault – if you can do a thing like blame a day as glorious as this one, and Anne can’t, not really. For oh, it’s such a beautiful day, the kind of day she can’t even put a word to because surely no one’s come up with one, or at least not yet. The sun beats boldly down over everything, and a breeze (she yearns to call it a zephyr, even if it’s not a west wind – it feels like a zephyr, feels far more divine than a plain old breeze, and that’s what’s important) teases the grass and the trees and your skin. The wind makes the leaves whisper things, mischievous little encouragements that suggest – no, insist that this is the very sort of day that must be savored, like last pages or fresh fruit, and this is why Anne (even though some – ‘some’ here taking on the voice of Mrs. Rachel Lynde – might say sixteen is too old for such nonsense) races Gilbert to the Andrews’ house on the way to the picnic. How thrilling it is to do it, too! They’re chums now, of course, she and Gilbert, but the second she starts running, she remembers just how much she liked competing with him for top marks in school. She imagines making it to the picnic first, breathing heavy and red-cheeked but triumphant, turning around just in time to watch him come in second. It will be even better, she’s sure, than scoring higher on a test; this, this is ever so much aliver than even that was—
She’s winning, and intends to keep it that way, ignoring Gilbert’s laughing protests from far off behind, but then she comes up against a barbed wire fence. She decides, after a split-second’s hasty deliberation, that she should be able to make it over if she’s careful, but then Gilbert calls, “I’ll leave you in the dust yet, Anne Shirley!” and that’s enough to catch her off-guard. Her palm slides thoughtlessly against one of the barbs and pain blooms there.
“Oh!” she exclaims, tears prickling as she looks at the cut. It isn’t too deep, but it hurts badly all the same. Her heart thunders in her chest; her feet tingle, still wanting to run.
“So you’ve chosen to forfeit? Wise move,” Gilbert is saying as he comes up next to her, but then he realizes what’s happened. “Anne, you’re hurt.”
He reaches for her hand, and is so sure as he does it. His fingers close around her wrist, and even the pain goes a little fuzzy. She wants to jerk away, and doesn’t quite understand why. She doesn’t, and doesn’t quite understand why.
“It isn’t bad,” she protests, hating how breathless she sounds. It’s only that it’s very undignified. She stands a little taller to make up for it. “And I’ll have you know I would have beaten you fair and square otherwise.”
“No argument there,” Gilbert agrees, chuckling a little as he glances up. He meets her eyes for a few seconds before returning his attention to her hand. She feels her hair against her throat, her face; a lot of it had fallen loose while she was running. She must look a terrible mess. She doesn’t like it, that one little glance from him can set her off worrying what she looks like. It doesn’t make any sense at all. “We’d better put some pressure on this.”
“Gilbert, I told you, it’s nothing.” The sun beats hot against her back; she wants to squirm, or maybe shiver. “We’re going to be late, and I absolutely promised Diana—”
He reaches into his pocket and pulls a handkerchief out. She’s struck by sudden and unforgivably foolish thoughts of court ladies giving their scarves to knights as tokens. Gilbert Blythe is her good friend, is a perfectly ordinary boy from Avonlea, and she refuses to so much as compare him to a valiant knight in shining armor. Refuses.
He’s careful but firm as he wraps the handkerchief around her hand, pressing two fingers against the wound with easy, effortless deliberation. She watches her blood sneak up through the white fabric. Neither of them say anything; they both stare down at his hand and hers, temporarily joined. The leaves whisper things, mischievous little encouragements.
“Your handkerchief’s ruined now,” she says, and for some reason her voice seems much louder than it is.
“Sacrificed for a good cause,” he replies amiably. “Just keep it there, all right?”
“All right.” She wishes she could think of something funny or playful to say. It’s as though her whole brain’s gone dry.
He pulls his fingers away. Her hand suddenly feels almost empty with lightness.
“Miss Shirley,” he says in pretend tones of gallantry (and if there’s one thing she knows, it’s that Gilbert Blythe isn’t really gallant – he’s far too much a normal boy for that, he just is), “might I beg the honor of escorting you to Jane Andrews’ picnic?”
“You may,” Anne replies primly, unable to keep from smiling all the way. He offers his arm, and she accepts it. “You know, Mr. Blythe, I think you may very well make a fair doctor someday.”
“I’m glad you think so,” he replies, sounding truly pleased. He looks right at her when he smiles. “You’re a good patient.”
Anne ignores the peculiar flutter that sparks, and insists that she is no such thing. They bicker comfortably the rest of the way to the picnic, where there’s lemonade and friends and blind man’s bluff and Josie Pye being as insufferable as ever, and after one round of concerned questioning about her hand, it’s easy to forget what happened on the way.
“Oh, Anne,” Diana positively swoons later after Anne tells her about it in tones that she’s sure to keep clipped and unremarkable. “He was so worried about you, and took such good care of you right away! I can’t even imagine how romantic it all must have been!”
“There’s nothing romantic about a childish race and a bloody handkerchief, Diana,” Anne says obstinately, and vows to throw the handkerchief out later to prove it. It is pure accident that Marilla happens to get the stain out. (Marilla has an unparalleled knack for getting stains out.) And if Anne folds it – maybe a little more carefully than one tends to fold handkerchiefs, the corners pressed gently together, overlapped like a kiss – and tucks it away in her dresser, well, then, it’s purely practical. One can never have too many handkerchiefs.