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To Be There

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Gilbert met Ruby Gillis with a smile. He enjoyed her company, mostly, although sometimes she was a bit too presumptuous for him. She seemed to think walking together meant he was “dead gone” on her, in the phrasing of their childhood, and he was far from it. But Ruby was pretty enough, and entertaining, and she kept him from wishing things were different. If he hadn’t learned by now that a certain slender red-haired girl wasn’t worth his time, he ought to have.

Today, Ruby was prattling on about a new dress, or hat, or something of the kind. She was always getting new things, and Gilbert had little interest in the details of flounces and lace that seemed so dear to Ruby’s heart. He wondered why she didn’t walk more with the other girls and tell them of these things. Surely they would be more interested than he was.

“Of course, I’ll need a black armband, as well,” Ruby said, a brief frown crossing her face. She didn’t allow the frown to stay for long; Ruby knew her own beauty, and the way merriness and laughter set it off, too well to allow any less cheerful emotion to mar her looks for any extended period of time.

“Why is that?” Gilbert asked, his curiosity piqued. He didn’t know of any recent losses in the Gillis clan.

“Oh, of course, you wouldn’t have heard.” Ruby clung to his arm. “Now, Gilbert, do be nice. I know she isn’t your favorite person, but it’s a dreadful loss to her.”

With a chill in his heart, he realized she must be talking about Anne. “What happened?” he asked hoarsely.

“Matthew Cuthbert; they say he just … fell over. And their bank failed, too.” Ruby shook her head, her face unusually serious. Beneath the shallow exterior she liked to play up, she loved Anne as much as the rest of the girls did, Gilbert knew.

“What … what are they going to do?” he asked carefully, trying not to let her see how much the answer mattered. Anne was supposed to go to Redmond this year; she’d won the scholarship, and he had secretly been so proud of her, so happy that she was to have that. If the Cuthberts had lost their money, though, surely that dream was lost to her. He felt it as deeply as if it had been his own dream.

Ruby shrugged. “I guess Anne can’t go to college. I don’t know why she wanted to, really. She can teach somewhere; I heard White Sands is open. I’m sure they’d take her—she knows enough big words to share with the students.”

“I … suppose they would,” Gilbert said softly. “Say, Ruby, would you mind if I walked you home? I’ve got some … errands to run.”

She blinked at him in surprise; usually their walks took longer than this. But she didn’t love walking, preferring to remain indoors where her showy beauty could shine against the proper backdrop, so she didn’t argue with him.

Leaving her at her front door with a distracted smile, Gilbert turned his steps toward the long way around, needing a good long ramble in the woods today to get his thoughts straight. Anne’s sorrow shouldn’t be his—they had nothing to do with one another. She was stubborn, cold, unforgiving. She had rebuffed every one of the many efforts he’d made to apologize, and still held against him one little prank pulled when he was an arrogant, thoughtless schoolboy. She wasn’t worth his sympathy, much less the heartsick sorrow he felt on her behalf right now.

But all that aside, there was something about her, something that sparkled and sang. Something Gilbert had been drawn to from the very beginning, that made him want to be friends with her. Whatever it was in him that recognized that something in her mourned now, mourned the lost chance to go and help her through this crisis in her life, this heart-deep loss that he knew would change her forever. He wanted to be the shoulder she cried on, the friend she turned to, and he would never be.

He thought more of Anne than he did of Matthew Cuthbert, or of Marilla. Before Anne had come to Avonlea, the Cuthberts had been nothing more to him, and to most people, than a pair of elderly siblings who kept to themselves; they weren’t anyone he had ever given much consideration to. He thought his father had known them better once, but that had been a long time ago, long before Gilbert was born.

It was Anne whose anguish touched Gilbert most, and he felt a despair that anything he might think to do would be no help. His presence would make things worse rather than better, he knew that. He considered other possibilities, other ways he could somehow ease her pain, at least a little. Flowers? A gift of some sort? She wouldn’t appreciate them, not from him; they might make her angry, which was the last thing he wanted.

Then he thought of what Ruby had said, that now that she couldn’t go to Redmond, Anne would be likely to teach somewhere. In truth, what else was there for her to do? It was late to be looking for a teaching spot, though. Most of them were already taken. Gilbert himself had agreed to take the Avonlea school.

But it occurred to him that he could go to White Sands just as easily … and he was sure they would take him. Anne would need to be closer to home, to care for Marilla in the days to come; the Cuthberts had been so close to one another that without Anne and without Matthew, Gilbert could only imagine what would become of the older lady, and he couldn’t think it would be good.

Yes. He nodded decisively to himself. He would go tomorrow to the school board and withdraw his acceptance of the Avonlea school, and then to White Sands and apply there.

It was less than he wished he could do for her, but for such a small sacrifice on his part it would make such a difference in her life. Gilbert only wished Anne knew how much more he would have been willing to do, and once more he regretted that hasty joke, made before he knew her, that meant they hadn’t been able to start off friends. If only he could go back to that day … but time didn’t work that way, and neither did his heart, which had yearned to know her better ever since. He thought of her there at Green Gables, suffering, sorrowing, and would have given anything he could to be there to hold her hand through it.

Chapter Text

They were walking again. Gilbert loved his walks, and there was enough cachet in being seen with him that Ruby was willing to walk, even though she would have preferred to stay in, quietly indoors where the light would shine on her face. It crossed her mind, not for the first time, what a shame it was that Anne was so stubborn where Gilbert was concerned—the two of them would suit each other perfectly, so busy talking and walking all the time.

Still, a nice walk allowed Ruby to wear the new dress she’d gotten, and if she could convince Gilbert to walk into the village other people might see it. After all, what else was a new dress for?

Over the winter, she’d convince him to sit inside more often, or go to dances. Or perhaps she’d find someone with a bit more zip to go with. There was that boy from Carmody, she thought, picturing broad shoulders and blue eyes and almost missing what Gilbert said.

“The board at White Sands was happy to have me, they said, and it won’t be that far—I can come home and visit my mother on weekends.”

“White Sands? I thought you had the Avonlea school.”

“I did.” He was looking off into the woods with a funny expression on his face. “But then, I thought … I could go so far away, and … and Anne couldn’t, and I suggested to the board that she would be the right choice for the Avonlea school.”

Ruby’s eyebrows flew up. She’d wondered once or twice about what Gilbert’s thoughts might be about Anne—he was pretty close-mouthed about the subject, and most people had given up asking, assuming he simply despised Anne for her long-standing grudge over a foolish joke. But what if he didn’t despise her? What if his feelings were entirely different?

That would explain why no other girl had managed to land him, Ruby thought, looking at the handsome profile next to her with a womanly appraisal. She sighed a little; it would have been nice to have imagined Gilbert Blythe dangling after her. But there were plenty of other boys, boys with more dash to them, a bit more spice, and she would be happy enough with them.

“I’m sure you’ll be pleased with White Sands,” she said, allowing Anne’s name to drop from the conversation. If he was going to be besotted with a girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day, no sense letting on that she knew about it.
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Mrs. Rachel Lynde looked out her kitchen window, watching as her husband came in his slow way up the walk toward the house. Was he looking particularly tired, she wondered, her eyes resting briefly on his familiar face as if seeing it for the first time. Maybe he was working too hard; he always had done so, for all her complaints about his lack of zip and go.

As he opened the door, she was about to ask as much, to make certain that he wasn’t feeling quite as tired as he looked, but his first words arrested the question on her lips, and she forgot to go back to it in her surprise. “Rachel, you’ll never guess what I heard.”

Since Thomas wasn’t one for hearing much of anything when he was in town, she certainly couldn’t guess. He rarely paid attention to the kind of gossip that was Rachel’s bread and butter. So she turned from the bread dough to look at him, waiting, fit to burst with curiosity.

“That young man of John Blythe’s—“

“Gilbert,” Rachel interrupted.

“Yes, that’s the one. He was due to take the Avonlea school this year.”

“So I heard,” Rachel said impatiently, waiting for the news. She wished there was a way for Anne to take the Avonlea school; as things stood, the best Anne could hope for was Carmody, and even at that, it would be hard for Marilla to stay on at Green Gables alone but for Anne’s visits on the weekends and the little French boy coming in during the day. Marilla wasn’t what you might call warm, but she was the steadiest friend Rachel had, and having her go away would put a hole where it wouldn’t be convenient for a hole to be.

“Well,” said Thomas in his slow, considered way, “I heard tell that the lad’s not going to take the school after all. They said he turned ‘em down and went to go look at the White Sands school.”

Rachel was a woman who could see a bit farther than her nose, and she hadn’t spent her whole life watching people and thinking and talking about what they did for nothing. A man trying to save for college didn’t turn down his home school district and add the extra expense and inconvenience of boarding during the week without having something more than a whim. “What do you know,” she said, pleased with herself. “Haven’t I been saying that all along, Thomas? He’s sweet on our Anne. I always thought so.” It never occurred to her to find anything unusual in considering herself to have a part in Anne; the long-ago insults and apology had been forgotten and all she remembered was the young girl who had done so much to brighten all their lives.

“Have you?” Thomas looked at her inquiringly, and she clucked her tongue at him, but affectionately. She didn’t much mind that he paid attention to less than half of what she said; he’d made them a good home all these years, and she had always had plenty of other people to talk to. “I guess you’ve been right, Rachel, as you so often are.”

She wiped her floury hands and took off her apron.

“I’m just going to run up to Marilla’s, Thomas. I’ll be back to get you your dinner directly.”

“You take your time, Rachel. I’ll just take a little rest.”

Rachel paused again, looking at him, that disquiet stirring in her again, but she told herself it was nothing, and hurried up to Green Gables, armed with some of the most interesting gossip she’d had in quite a while.
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Marilla went to bed that night with a glad heart. It had weighed heavily on her that Anne was giving up her chance to go to Redmond and yet wouldn’t be here with her; even weekends home from Carmody wouldn’t have been the same as having her girl with her, or knowing that her girl was working toward her future. Having Anne working here in Avonlea was a blessing Marilla hadn’t thought to pray for.

And that it should come from Gilbert Blythe! Marilla remembered John Blythe, all those years ago. He had been a good man, an honest and kind man, and it seemed that his son was equally so. A faint spark of a dream that had lain almost buried in Marilla’s heart for years warmed into a flame. If Anne and Gilbert … wouldn’t it be poetic?

Poetic, Marilla thought dryly. She’d been spending too much time with Anne, that’s what it was. Still, though … all those years that Anne had hated him so steadfastly … There wasn’t anything so objectionable about Gilbert Blythe to cause such hate. Others had taunted Anne about her hair and she’d forgiven them. She had a real forgiving heart, when you got down to it. Except when it came to Gilbert, and that gave Marilla hope that there could be more there, some yearning of Anne’s toward the boy that she was fighting against. As Rachel had said just this evening, there was a great deal of the girl still left in Anne. It was no surprise that she might fight against an emotion that threatened to draw her from her dream world into reality.

Well, Marilla wouldn’t push. The loss of Matthew had been more than enough reality for Anne, and she had taken it hard, but she had been such a support. Marilla shuddered to think what it might have been like to lose Matthew and have no Anne there to take care of, to talk to, … to love. The mistake that had first brought them Anne had been ordained. She believed that with all her heart.

And with that thought in mind, Marilla got slowly down to her knees and poured out her heart in thankfulness for the blessings she had been given, chief amongst them the lively girl with the red hair who had stolen her heart so completely.
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Anne rushed into the Barrys’ house with a breathless hello to Mrs. Barry, who was too used to Anne and Diana’s constant hurrying to take the offense she might have done once upon a time.

“Diana, you’ll never guess what I have to tell you—“ Anne said as soon as the door opened, just as Diana said, “Anne, I have the best news!”

They both laughed. With a warm smile at her chum, Anne plumped down on Diana’s bed. “You go first.”

“Good.” Diana was beaming all over, looking about to burst. “Anne, you’ll never guess!”

Anne chuckled. “Not if you don’t tell me.”

“Gilbert Blythe has given up the Avonlea school! He’s going to teach at White Sands.”

“I know it,” Anne said, just as calmly as if she hadn’t been about to burst out with the same news herself. She had a firm policy of not going wild over anything Gilbert Blythe should happen to do, and she had remembered it just in time.

“He told them to take you instead. Anne, don’t you see what this means?”

Anne was about to stand on her dignity and freeze Diana’s suggestion solid … but this was a bit of a poser, and she did want to talk it over with her bosom friend. “I see that it means I’m in his debt,” she said slowly. “After I’ve been cold and unfriendly to him since the day we met.”

Diana watched her but didn’t say anything, having learned that sometimes silence worked on Anne better than a flow of words.

“Why would he have done that? Surely White Sands will be less convenient for him than it would be to stay in Avonlea.”

“Maybe he has a reason to want to spend time in White Sands.” Privately, Diana had her own suspicions of who Gilbert would have been thinking of, but it wouldn’t do to push them on Anne. And if she could plant seeds of jealousy in Anne’s mind, all the better. Diana was a romantic at heart, and it had seemed to her for years that Gilbert and Anne were meant for each other; but Anne was so stubborn, you couldn’t do anything with her once she had set her mind to be unmoved.

“Maybe.” Anne looked troubled at this, and not at all convinced. “I can’t let him do that, though. I’ll … I’ll go to the trustees and tell them they have to take Gil— take him instead.”

“You can’t do that! He’s already signed the contract with White Sands. You have to take the Avonlea school—for Marilla, if not for yourself.”

“You’re right, of course. You so often are.” Anne sighed. “I just hate to be in debt to Gil—to … Yes, I hate to be in debt to Gilbert Blythe. There, I said it.”

“Of course you do,” Diana said. “But just think, you’ll be here to take care of Marilla all winter, and you’ll be within signaling distance of my window.” She squeezed Anne’s hand. “You have no idea how lonesome it was to look out and see no light while you were at Queen’s, and I was … well, I’d rather have had you go to Redmond, of course, but …”

Anne laughed. “Dearest of Dianas, I know exactly what you mean. And there’s no little consolation in being able to be here with you, and to be able to make sure Marilla takes care of herself. Still …” Her face grew thoughtful and she looked out the window, and Diana wisely kept silent, letting Anne’s thoughts take care of themselves.

Had this been any other topic, she would have ventured to suggest to Anne that thanks and perhaps a thawing of relations between herself and Gilbert might be in order, but in this instance, she had to hope that Anne’s usual instinct for doing the right thing would kick in eventually … and if it didn’t, she might just take things in hand herself.

The conversation turned to other subjects, less fraught with pitfalls, and the two girls let the name of Gilbert Blythe go, for that night at least.

Chapter Text

Gilbert left the house in a good mood. He had heard that Anne had been offered and had accepted the Avonlea school, and it made him glad at heart to know he had been a part of that. Even the long winter traveling to White Sands and back every week seemed well worth it.

He whistled a merry tune as he closed the gate behind him—and then the notes froze on his lips as he turned to see Anne standing in the lane before him. Her face was as frozen as his, so pale, and her great eyes so wide and startled. He couldn’t help thinking she looked beautiful standing there … and then thinking what a pity it was that she was still letting one word, spoken in boyish high spirits and many times apologized for, come between them. He lifted his cap with chilly courtesy, meaning to pass by her, heaping coals of fire on her head as he did so, given what he had done for her.

But to his complete surprise, Anne held her hand out to him. Her pale cheeks flushed red as she spoke in a rush, stumbling a bit over his name as though she wasn’t used to saying it. “Gilbert, I want to thank you for giving up the school for me. It was very good of you—and I want you to know I appreciate it.”

It crossed his mind to be cautious, to consider that perhaps she was speaking out of obligation and not out of good fellowship, but a look into her eloquent eyes soon disabused him of that idea. Wide and guileless as they were, she couldn’t have hidden any reservation, but all he saw there was honesty, and a hint of uncertainty as to whether her overture would be accepted.

Under that consideration, and so as not to leave her waiting a moment longer than necessary, he eagerly took her hand, noting to himself how slender and delicate it was in his. “It wasn’t particularly good of me at all, Anne. I was pleased to be able to do you some small service.” He couldn’t quite hide his eagerness as he asked, “Are we going to be friends after this? Have you really forgiven me my old fault?”

Anne laughed. She was tugging her hand backward as though to withdraw it from his, but Gilbert didn’t want to—couldn’t—let go. He wanted to hold her here until she promised that everything between them would be the way it always should have been: the two of them together, laughing and sharing their dreams and … someday maybe sharing their lives.

Having given up on trying to get her hand back, Anne let it rest in his for the moment. “I forgave you that day by the pond landing,” she told him, “although I didn’t know it.” The red lingered in her cheeks as she continued. “What a stubborn little goose I was. I’ve been—I may as well make a complete confession—I’ve been sorry ever since.”

Gilbert’s heart leaped within his chest in a way it had never done before. It wasn’t exactly the way he had dreamed it would be—that had generally involved confessions of growing feelings that matched his own—but it was more than he had truly expected. Her frank apology made him jubilant.

“We are going to be the best of friends,” he said, a broad smile spreading across his face. “We were born to be good friends, Anne.” They had been born to be more than that, if you asked him, but there was time to get there, time to show her exactly what they could mean to each other. “You’ve thwarted destiny long enough.”

Anne looked a bit taken aback by his enthusiasm.

He didn’t wait for her answer, just kept talking so that she didn’t have time to demur. “I know we can help each other in many ways. You are going to keep up your studies, aren’t you?” He couldn’t imagine her not doing so; Anne’s thirst for learning was one of the foremost reasons he had wanted to become better friends with her all this time. Just the chance to talk things over with her, to learn with her instead of constantly being pitted against her … “So am I,” he added, and was glad to see that she looked pleased at that. “Come, I’m going to walk home with you.” He started to hold his arm out for her to take, as he would have had he been walking with Ruby or one of the other girls, but caught himself just in time. She had only just agreed to be friends—he would spook her if he tried for more just yet.

They were silent for the first few steps. Gilbert cast about in his mind something to say, and then remembered the most important one, the one that had started all of this. “I am very sorry about Mr. Cuthbert. I never knew him well, but he always seemed such a gentle man.”

“He was.” Her voice throbbed with emotion that hinted at the depth of her grief. “From the first moment we met, he … he made me feel as if I belonged to someone, which up until that time had been a rare feeling indeed.”

Gilbert had never felt as though he didn’t belong to anyone—his mother and father were warm in their affections, if not effusive. “Had you been at the home long?”

“Long enough.”

The unusually clipped character of her answer kept him from continuing on that line of discussion, so he returned to the one dearer to her heart. “How is Miss Cuthbert holding up?”

“Better, especially now that I’ll be able to be home with her. Really, Gilbert, I can’t thank you enough.”

“You already have,” he assured her. “Being able to mend that old trouble between us and be friends is more than thanks enough. Besides, White Sands isn’t that far. I’m hardly going to be trudging on snow shoes for miles every day with nothing to eat.”

She smiled at his fancy. “I suppose it’s not as dire as that. Still, it was very generous of you, and I hadn’t done anything to deserve that generosity.”

“You’ve kept me on my toes and challenged me to do my best ever since you arrived. If I had the chance to teach school at all, to study for college, it’s because I’ve had you there to keep me from slipping all this time.”

“You would have done just as well without me.”

“Well enough, maybe, but not just as well.”

Anne blushed, ducking her head. “I wasn’t trying to challenge you to do your best, you know. I was just trying to be better than you were. I was such a goose!”

“I know. Can I tell you a secret?”

“What?”

“I wasn’t trying to challenge you to do your best, either. I was trying to show you what you were missing holding a grudge.”

She looked up at him, her wide grey eyes lit with a smile. “Well, it worked. I’ve thought for … a long time that we could be good friends if only I hadn’t been so silly that day at the pond.”

“Let’s not think about it any longer, shall we? That’s all behind us now.” He grinned, teasing her a little. “Water under the bridge.”

Anne rolled her eyes, but took the hit in good grace. “Do you think you’ll go to Redmond next year?”

“Maybe. I hope to, if I can. What about you?”

She sighed. “It all depends on Marilla. She has to be able to stay at Green Gables, but with her eyes in the condition they are, and she isn’t getting any younger … I don’t see how. Still,” she said, squaring her shoulders, “time enough to cross the bridge of reality when it’s in front of me. For now, I am Anne Shirley, Redmond scholar, merely delayed by one year.”

“Have you mapped out your course of study for the year?”

“I’ve given it some thought. I’d be taking a BA, so I can focus in that area, but I don’t want to fall behind in the other subjects. Particularly math.”

“Geometry especially?” he teased, and Anne laughed.

“Yes, you were always better at that than I was.”

“I would have helped you with it, you know.”

“I thought we weren’t going to get into all that anymore.” The impish glance she gave him made her eyes sparkle.

“You’re right. My apologies.” They were nearing the end of the Green Gables lane now; too soon he was going to have to say good-bye to her. Gilbert was reluctant to do it, wanting to keep her out here talking as long as possible. Part of him was afraid that once she went inside, this magical new friendship was going to go away, and their next meeting would be back to the coldness he had grown so used to.

This moment, the beautiful light of the early evening touching Anne’s face with its rosy glow, the soft breeze that ruffled her admittedly red hair, it all felt enchanted. Anne was fairy-like enough; perhaps there was some spell that convinced him she had forgiven him.

He looked away from her with some difficulty, chiding himself for his romantic fancies. Anne’s province was romance; he knew that well enough from all their years in school together. His was the real world, practicality, taking what was in front of him for the solid reality that it was. There would be a next time, and a next time, and a time after that … but if that was what he wanted …

“What would you say to a long ramble in the woods next weekend?” he asked her.

Was there a faint flush on her cheeks as she answered? “Can you spare so much time from your studies?”

“If you can from yours. We can bring our books, or draw geometry problems in the dirt with sticks.” He grinned at her.

“I can think of more delightful ways to spend an afternoon,” Anne said dryly.

“So can I, but you were the one who was worried about getting enough time to study.”

“I think I can put the geometry aside for an afternoon’s ramble. Have you—have you ever been to Hester Gray’s garden?”

Gilbert shook his head. “Not that I know of.”

“Then it’s settled. I’ll take you there and tell you Hester’s story.”

“I can’t wait. Anne?”

“Yes?”

“I’m so glad that we— So glad.”

She looked at him for a moment, as if not sure what to say, then nodded slowly. “I am, too.”

“Until Saturday, then?”

“Until Saturday.”

Gilbert stood watching as she walked slowly up the lane, with her little trick of looking up into the trees and the sky as if she was seeing wonders no one else could discern. Only when the door of Green Gables had closed behind her did he turn and head toward home, feeling a whole new world stretching out in front of him.