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Once Upon a Winter's night

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Winter 1879

 

            The snow drifted softly on the breeze, sparkling like diamonds in the crisp evening air.  Anne lifted her lantern higher, allowing the light to spread further into the darkness, illuminating the swirl of the dancing flakes in the night sky.  

            The wind was moving faster, but Anne paid it no mind as she continued to walk.  She was utterly entranced by the flakes which were rapidly overcoming the black of the sky.

            She walked in solitude, having stayed long after class in a deep discussion with Miss Stacey regarding the characters in Anne's latest story and, of course, some extra material for the Queen's entrance exam (though it was mostly about the story).  Despite Miss Stacey's numerous offers of a ride, Anne stood firm in her resolve to walk the route home.  The snow was so magical that it called to her very soul, and Anne knew that was soon as she was home Marilla would bustle her inside, and Anne wouldn't get a chance to enjoy the uniquely magnificent experience of the first proper snowy night of the year.

            Fastening her cloak tightly around her shoulders and graciously accepting the lantern offered by Miss Stacey, Anne blazed forth into the cold, like the adventurers of old, with only her wits and hearty spirit to guide her. 

           The pathway home was winding, but so familiar that Anne's feet carried her along almost without a thought, leaving her mind free to wander amongst the snow as she made her way along.

                Her gaze fixated on one particular snow flake.  It was the most beautiful flake she had ever seen, with a pattern so complex and inspired that she knew that it must have come directly from the hand of God. 

                Then, the world fell out from under her foot and she skidded downward, stopping only when her foot broke the iced over ditch and ended up drenched in muddy water up to her knee. 

                And the lantern had gone out. 

                Suddenly, the snow flakes were no longer beautiful gems which glittered in the air.  They had morphed instead into an insurmountable blanket of white.  Anne couldn't see the trees that she knew should be lining the road beside the ditch, nor could she make out the where the road should be.  Even her footprint which was vacated only a moment before was rapidly filling with snow leaving only a thin outline of its former glory. 

                The cold was seeping into her bones, making her flesh tingle and pucker in a futile defence against it. 

                Anne struggled to her feet, her ankle (the same one she had hurt previously) was a little tender from the fall though she could put some weight on it. 

                Limping forward a step and then another, but then Anne turned suddenly uncertain that this was the right way at all.  Paralysed with fear, Anne looked out into the nebulous white.  Her heart tightened beneath her breast and her ears roared.

                A cold hand gripped her shoulder from behind.

                Anne screamed leaping forward away from death's grip.

                "Anne!" A voice which seemed a whisper over the wind.

                Turning, Anne squinted through the snow.  "Gilbert?"  She shouted back, but her voice was similarly lost.

                Gilbert was talking as he stepped closer to her, but all she could see was his mouth moving. 

                "I can't hear you"  She shouted again, trying to overpower the ceaseless roar that only seemed to be getting worse.

                He visibly let out a huff of annoyance, before putting an arm around her waist and helping her walk on her injured foot. 

                Anne flushed, feeling the heat of righteous anger coursing through her body.  'Why was it always him?'

                The door of a small cabin slammed behind them, cutting out the worst of the wind. 

                Gilbert let go of her and jumped away as though he was burned.  "Anne, it's a blizzard out!  What were you thinking?!"  He scolded as he crossed the room and put some more wood in the dirty fireplace.  It clearly hadn't been used in years.

                "Well how was I supposed to know it was a blizzard"  Anne snapped back, defensively.

                Whirling around, Gilbert stalked over to her again.  "You could have died!"

                They glared at each other in silence for a long moment, the crackling of the fire the only sound in the room.

                Finally Gilbert let out a breath, breaking the look between them.  The tension in the room started to melt away.  "Anne, you're sopping wet."

                Looking down at her dress, Anne could see he was right.  The snow had long since melted and soaked into the fabric, her shoes were ruined and her stocking we're absolutely dripping.

                "Here." Gilbert said suddenly, and a long linen shirt hit her in the face.

                Anne looked up to see Gilbert pulling his suspenders up over his undershirt.

                "You can't keep wearing wet clothes, you'll catch your death."  He explained in a sedate tone, turning his back to tend the fire.  "I won't look."

                Feeling a little sick at the prospect, Anne ducked behind the wardrobe and slipped the shirt over her head, letting her sodden clothes fall to the floor.  When she was done, the shirt went down past her knees.  Gilbert was much taller than her, so that wasn't surprising.  Anne could feel her face heat,  the fabric smelt just like him.

                Feeling unusually self-conscious, Anne gathered up her clothes.  Carrying them in front of her like a shield, she inched back into the room.  "I'm done"  She said finally, though her voice was hardly more than a whisper.

                Gilbert looked up at her from his perch by the fire.  The light casting strange shadows over his face, making him seem somehow more dangerous.

                Anne's breath caught in her throat, and she clutched the bundle of clothes closer to her chest.

                Standing, Gilbert took the wet material from her hand and laid her clothing over a chair near the fire.  "Getting changed won't do you any good if you just get wet again"  He said softly as he worked.

                Crossing her arms over her chest, Anne looked around, trying to distract herself from how naked she felt.  Her face was absolutely red now, she could feel it.

                With a small chuckle, Gilbert swept a wool blanket behind her shoulders and wrapped it tightly around her.  "There, that's not so bad, is it?"  He asked, giving her arms a quick rub before bringing her to sit beside the fire.

                Up until this point, Anne had lost all her words.  They had frozen inside her breast, distant and unreachable.  When Gilbert sat down beside her and threw another log on the fire, Anne suddenly spoke.  "This doesn't change anything you know"  She said in a tone that was trying to be angry, but sounded almost sad.

                Gilbert let out a breath that was very nearly a sigh.  When he answered, he sounded defeated.

                "It never does."