The old clock on the wall read just past 6 o’clock when Diana heard Gilbert’s motor car pull up outside the cottage. She pulled herself up out of the old rocking chair in the kitchen and made her way out onto the porch, where the good Doctor was saying goodbye to his wife. Once upon a time, Diana would have said she’d thought that Anne’s hair would never turn grey, but there were more than a few silver streaks in it now.
It seemed impossible that Anne, of all people, should grow old like the rest of them. But then, the war had done a lot of impossible things.
Gilbert greeted Diana warmly, but he didn’t stay long. There was always another patient who needed his care, though Diana rather thought that that was just his polite way of letting them have the cottage to themselves at last.
“Oh, Anne,” said Diana, as Gilbert’s car disappeared down the drive, “I’ve missed you something terrible.”
“Dearest Diana!” Anne exclaimed.
They embraced, and Diana couldn’t help but think of the vow they’d made when they were just little girls of eleven who didn’t know what from what, as Rachel Lynde would have said. Well, maybe they had just been little girls, and Anne had been such a strange and fanciful little thing, but that vow ran just as deep as any other, even if it hadn’t been solemnised by the Minister or witnessed by anyone but their own selves and the Lord above.
Anne kissed her briefly as they pulled apart, and Diana didn’t like to mention her worry that Anne felt so very thin. Anne had always been slim, of course, and they did revert to type as they got older, Diana thought, running her hands across her own plump hips.
“You must be dreadful hungry after your trip, Anne,” said Diana. “I’ve got us a nice supper all ready.”
Anne smiled. “I couldn’t ask for a more thoughtful bosom friend than you, Di.”
Diana laughed. “It was no trouble. Fred dropped me off here at noon, and I had to keep myself busy somehow.”
She’d roasted a small joint of pork, and some potatoes, and there were plenty of vegetables at this time of year. For afters, there was a fruit cake Diana had made earlier in the week that would have equalled anything in Marilla Cuthbert’s larder.
Anne sampled everything, and exclaimed over every bite. There was nothing false or insincere about Anne; she meant every word, Diana knew. But Diana noticed too that Anne took small portions of everything, and even then she didn’t quite manage to finish everything on her plate.
Still, Diana tried not to pay it any mind. There was so much talking to be done, about how Jack was recovering so well from his old wounds, and about how Anne Cordelia’s children were learning to read now, and how Jem and Faith were expecting their first baby in September, and then Rilla getting married in October. They didn’t mention Walter at all, but he was there, Diana thought, in the shadows in Anne’s eyes, and the way she would go quiet and look down at her hands from time to time.
When they were done with eating they moved out onto the porch. They could hear the sea crashing in. Diana had always loved that sound, and found it soothing and something more than that too, though she didn’t have Anne’s way of putting that feeling into words.
It was late when the sun set, and the sky turned orange and purple. Diana felt a little shiver at the way the whole world seemed to change as the light disappeared. They both fell silent.
“Well, Anne,” said Diana at last, “aren’t you going to tell me now about how this is the time when the fairies come out to dance, or that the veil between the worlds is thinner now, or… well, you know the sort of thing.”
Once, Diana would have berated herself for saying that, and heard her mother’s voice scolding her for the fancies that she and Anne had indulged in during the incident of the Haunted Wood. But as she grew older, Diana found that she was willing to let go of such things.
Anne looked out into the distance, a small sad smile playing at her lips. “I can’t, Di,” she said. “Not anymore.”
Something sharp and painful twisted inside Diana then, though she was careful not to let it show. Instead she just rose slowly from her chair and extended her hands to Anne.
“Come along, Anne,” she said. “It’s time we turned in.”
The tiny cottage had only one bedroom, with a lovely old iron-framed bed, and a window that looked out over the sea. Anne and Diana held each other close that night, and Anne drifted off to sleep in Diana’s arms. Diana remained awake for a long time, thinking, worrying, and finally forming a plan.
* * *
Diana woke early, in spite of the trouble she’d had falling asleep. But there was no time to waste on feeling tired. She pressed a kiss to the still-sleeping Anne’s forehead, and set to work.
In the kitchen, Diana gathered the pork left over from last night, some bread rolls which were still fresh enough, a jar of the preserves and a bottle of elderflower cordial she’d brought from Avonlea, and a couple of slices of her fruitcake. She set a little porridge on the stove, which was just thickening nicely when Anne emerged.
“I’ve got a day planned for us, Anne,” said Diana. “We’re lucky that this good weather is holding.”
Anne looked over at her, a gleam of curiosity in her eyes, just reaching out from behind the shadows. “Oh?”
“You’ve always said you wanted to visit that little island off the peninsular. Well, today we’ll do it -- I was looking over the tide charts yesterday, and it’ll be 2 o’clock before the way is covered. We’ll set out soon, have an early lunch, and be back in time for a lazy afternoon.”
The island was, in fact, only deserving of that name about half the time. When the tide was low, it could be reached on foot by a sand bar. Though Anne and Diana had rented this cottage for a summer fortnight three times before the war, fate had always intervened in any plans to visit the sometimes-island: inconvenient tides, inclement weather, and unexpected -- but welcome -- guests had prevented them from making the trek out there.
Today though -- there was no reason that they shouldn’t go today. The weather was fine, and there was just enough breeze to keep the sand-flies away.
Although Diana knew that nothing would ever lift Anne’s grief -- how could it? -- she had seen how Anne always felt better out in beautiful places, where nature showed off all of Good Lord’s finest creations.
They must have looked quite the sight, Diana thought, as they set out from the cottage: two old matrons in their day-dresses, with broad straw hats to protect them from the sun. Anne said very little as they walked, but that was all right. Diana loved Anne when she was silent just as much as the talkative girl that she’d once known.
By the time they reached the island, Diana was short of breath, and her feet were dragging in the sand, but she was glad to see Anne scanning the island, taking in all the details that couldn’t be seen from the shore.
“Look over there, Di,” she said softly. “It’s the perfect spot for our picnic.”
A small rocky outcrop, surrounded by heather, rose from the sand at the island’s highest point. In fact, Diana could see now that it held a small cave, providing just enough shade from the sun, while allowing them an excellent view of the sea.
It was, as Anne had said, perfect -- especially once they had set down their picnic blanket and helped themselves to pork-filled bread rolls and the elderflower cordial.
Diana kept a close watch on Anne as they ate: her appetite seemed better now, but she gave no sign of telling any of the fanciful stories that rose out of that imagination of hers. Well, that idea had probably been silly -- it wasn’t as though Diana herself hadn’t gently chided her beloved friend for such things in the past. It was enough, Diana told herself, as her eyes grew heavy, that Anne was out here with her.
They curled up beside each other on their blanket. Finally the lack of sleep at night and the exertion of the morning caught up with Diana, and she drifted into a slumber at Anne’s side.
* * *
Anne’s desperate exclamation cut right through Diana’s dream, and jolted her back into wakefulness.
“What? Anne, what’s -- oh.”
“We must have slept for hours,” said Anne.
The sandbar was almost completely covered with the rising sea. There would be no way to make it back across safely before the next low tide. Nor would there be any escape from the storm that was very clearly rushing toward them.
“Quick!” said Anne. “Let’s get everything as far inside the cave as possible. And start collecting some driftwood -- we’ll try to keep it dry, so we can have a fire after.”
They set to work, and only hurried back to the cave as the first fat drops of rain began to fall.
Anne and Diana held each other tightly, in the most protected corner of the cave.
“I’ve gotten us into a dreadful mess, haven’t I, Anne?”
To her surprise, Anne laughed. “Oh, Diana,” she said. “It’s almost as though this scrape was one of my own.” She looked over at Diana. “I feel certain that this must be my fault in some way -- after all, you planned this to make me happy, didn’t you?”
Diana would have protested against Anne blaming herself, but a loud crash of thunder prevented her, and then the rain began to fall in earnest. The cave protected them from the worst of it, though Diana didn’t mind admitting that she was a little frightened as the time between the lightning strikes and deafening thunderclaps grew shorter.
She closed her eyes tight and tried not to shiver when the wind blew rain inside the cave. Diana focused instead on Anne’s warmth against her.
And when Diana dared open her eyes again, she saw a wonderful thing:
Although Diana could feel the quick beat of Anne’s heart against her, Anne wasn’t frightened. Anne held Diana tightly, but her eyes were brighter than Diana had seen them in years, and she looked out at the storm almost as though something holy had been laid out before her. Diana felt she was sure that the Minister wouldn’t approve of that thought, but there was no denying the truth of it.
The storm raged on for another quarter-hour, and Anne never turned her gaze away.
Then, all at once, it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. Diana and Anne emerged from their cave and, using the driftwood they’d stowed away, they soon had a merry fire going. Their lunch had been protected by an oil-skin and there was still plenty left. And they had just enough water to get by.
“We’re stuck here for the night, Anne,” said Diana. “But I suppose it won’t be so bad.”
Anne smiled. “It won’t. We’ll have each other, after all. And the tide will turn again just before dawn.”
Diana shook her head. “If anyone sees us making our way back first thing tomorrow, they’ll be gossiping all over PEI, from Avonlea to Glen St Mary.”
“Let them gossip,” said Anne. “I don’t care.”
Diana paused. “Neither do I,” she said at last. And she didn’t, either.
Before the sun set, Anne climbed to the top of the little island. Diana didn’t join her, but she could see the way Anne looked off into the distance, as though she was seeing something well beyond the horizon. And Diana knew all at once that even if Anne never spoke of her fancies again, that her most beloved friend could still feel them.
Anne climbed back down as the light began to fade. When she was by Diana’s side again she leaned in and kissed Diana’s cheek. “You are the dearest person in the world, Diana. Every bit as lovely as this island.”
If the fire hadn’t already brought a flush to Diana’s cheeks, she would have blushed like a schoolgirl. “You do go on, Anne.”
“It’s only the truth,” Anne replied.
Their hands joined, and they sat together like that for a long time. Diana thought that maybe this wasn’t a scrape at all -- perhaps it was providence, guiding them out here, to have this night under the stars, by the sea.
Diana let her head rest against Anne’s shoulder, and listened to the waves crash in against the shore.