"Well, Anne, I think this may be your best story yet!" Miss Stacey beamed, as she handed Anne back her paper.
At Miss Stacey's insistence, Anne had been working on her writing for an hour every day after school while Gilbert focused on his medical studies. In that time, Anne's writing had become polished, losing some of its flower while still maintaining a poetic tone. When Miss Stacey had met the fidgety and overzealous girl, she had expected Anne to be her "problem student"-- there was always one in every class. However, in the past year and a half, Anne had blossomed into a compassionate and thoughtful young woman while still maintaining the passion and fire which made her such a joy to teach.
"Really?" Anne broke into a grin. "It was the most arduous effort I have ever put into a story."
"Well, it most certainly paid off because the ending had me in tears," Miss Stacey smiled. "I can clearly see that all the Dickens I assigned you has made its way into your writing."
"I suppose I can relate to Oliver and Pip more than most," she said with a rueful smile. Breaking eye contact with Miss Stacey, she caught Gilbert's eye from the corner of the room, finally remembering he was there. He gave her an understanding look.
Over the past several months, they had begun walking home together after their extended school days. During that time, Gilbert had come to learn quite a bit about Anne's past as well as some of her "spells." He was always curious about what specifically was going on in her mind at these moments, but he never pushed her to open up. She was grateful for it, and she had begun to feel comfortable enough to entrust him with some of her more painful memories.
Quickly returning her gaze to Miss Stacey, she continued, "It was almost painful to write the story. Normally when I write, I like my protagonist. I try to make her into everything I wish I could be, but I took your idea of choosing someone who I disliked to mold my 'heroine' and found myself writing a much more interesting character."
"I was wondering who you based Mrs. Drummond on--if you don't mind me asking," Miss Stacey said, placing a gentle hand on Anne's arm.
Anne paused for a second thoughtfully, "When I tried to think of who I dislike, the first person who came to my mind was Mrs. Hammond--from the last family I was in service to."
She shuddered a bit as the memory of a specific beating came to mind. "She hated me and hated her children and hated her husband, and I would always wonder why she married him and why she had so many children if they made her so unhappy. At the time, I thought she had made these awful choices that made her unhappy. It was her choice to be so hateful, and her choice to be so awful to me. I still think it was to some extent, but as I was writing her character, trying to understand her emotions and motivations, I began to see that she had not made those choices. That she was trapped in a loveless marriage to a cruel man, unable to stop herself from getting pregnant, each child taking a toll on her. I suppose that why I made her a victim. Because although she's the villain in my story, I realized she had an entire life of experiences I was unaware of…" She trailed off.
Miss Stacey moved to take Anne's hand in her own, giving it a reaffirming squeeze. "Thank you for sharing that with me, Anne, especially because I know it's not an easy topic."
Anne's somber expression lifted, "You know, I actually think writing it made me feel a little better about that part of my life. There are so many things that I’m not supposed to speak about, so they just rattle around in my head stubbornly. When I put them on paper--write about them--I can examine those experiences and learn from them."
Miss Stacey smiled in understanding. "I do believe you have reached a breakthrough in your writing, and as such, I would like to submit your story to a political magazine in Montreal."
Anne's eyes widened. She--Anne Shirley-Cuthbert--could be a published author! Her mind raced with possibilities as she imagined her name and story in print alongside beautiful poems and other tragical tales. "But, why a political magazine, Miss Stacey? Why not a literary magazine?"
Miss Stacey's sly expression betrayed her pride in her student, "Anne, I think you have written a piece that is a bit more radical than you know."
"Anne, I think the older you get, the more you will find that feeling compassion for the poor, for women, and especially for those who have hurt you generally makes the average reader uncomfortable. Luckily, you--both of you," she said, formally including Gilbert in the conversation, "have that sort of compassion in spades."
Gilbert smiled warmly at Anne. She looked down at her feet, feeling her face warm.
Miss Stacey clapped her hands together, "Well, that being said, Gilbert, how is the chapter on chemical nomenclature coming along?"
Gilbert smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. He hadn't been able to get more than a few pages into the chapter before he was distracted by talk of Anne's story. "I haven't finished yet. Can I take the book home and finish the chapter there?"
Miss Stacey smiled and nodded. While Gilbert's focus had been slightly affected by Anne's participation in their after school sessions, Gilbert had become noticeably more passionate and creative as a result. Not to mention how Gilbert's easy-going and considerate nature had clearly made Anne a more thoughtful and reflective writer. What had once seemed to be a fierce fight to prove who was the cleverest had become a more supportive competition, forging a bond between the two. Several times, Miss Stacey had come into the schoolhouse in the morning to see Gilbert proofreading one of Anne's stories or Anne explaining her anecdotal experience with a particular home remedy. And, as much as she wanted to stay out of it, she had begun to notice Gilberts lingering gaze as Anne tucked a stray curl behind her ear or as she recited a particularly romantic poem, secretly hoping in those moments that Anne would notice the lovelorn boy.
She turned to Anne. "As for you, I'm giving this back to you. Go home and edit the parts that I marked, and bring it back tomorrow for me to post."
Anne looked positively giddy, "And how much for the postage?"
Miss Stacey shook her head, "No charge. I'll pay for the postage. Consider it a belated birthday gift from me."
Anne beamed, "If this is how my sixteenth year of life begins, I'm excited to see what else it will bring me!"
Miss Stacey laughed, "Now run along home, you two! You have quite a bit of work to do tonight."
Once they had exited the schoolhouse, Gilbert held out his arm to Anne, "Why, Miss Published-Author, would you allow me to escort you home?"
Anne giggled and slipped her arm through his, "I'm not published yet, Gil. They may not even accept my story."
"Of course, they'll accept it! I've read all your other stories which, in my opinion, could have been published anywhere, and if this one is as much a masterpiece as Miss Stacey says, I'm sure this one will do the trick." Gilbert looked down at her, admiring the way the strands of hair that had fallen out of her braid framed her face.
Anne looked back at him, one eyebrow raised, "Well, how would you really know unless you've read it?"
"Is this your way of asking me to read your masterpiece?"
She gave him an impish grin, "Oh, Gil, I am truly wicked! I long to be complimented, but since I'm not beautiful, I need someone to compliment my intelligence!"
Gilbert frowned as she insulted her appearance again. He hated that she despised her appearance. He had always thought she was beautiful in an interesting way, but almost overnight, she had become one of the most "classically" beautiful women he had ever seen. Her bright red braids suddenly were combined into a thick auburn braid that hung over one shoulder. Her girl's dress had been traded in for a woman's skirt and blouse. And, her lithe figure began to attract the objectifying gaze of the other boys. It seemed that all of Avonlea, except for Anne, had come to see what he always knew. Still, complimenting her beauty terrified him. He felt that contradicting her would have been to reveal too much. He never paused to congratulate her on her intelligence and achievements though.
"Okay, fine, Anne! You win! I'll read your story," he said in mock exasperation. "Do you want to come over for dinner tonight? Bash just got some new spices to try out."
Anne hesitated for a moment before speaking, "Yes, that sounds lovely. Let's just stop by Green Gables, so I can tell Marilla."
"Bash, that was just about the most scrumptious meal I've ever had in my life!" Anne exclaimed. "Don't tell Marilla I said that, though."
"Thank you, Anne. It's always good to have you around here. I think Blythe here behaves better when you are!" Bash said, winking at her.
"I heard that," Gilbert cried from the parlor, where he put another log on the fire.
Anne blushed. Ever since Cole told her that Gilbert liked her months ago, it seemed like everything that went on between them had a different meaning. Sitting next to him at Bash and Mary's wedding, walking home, and even studying felt more intimate. It didn't help that Bash and Diana would make little comments about how Gilbert acted different around her. Even Marilla made a pointed comment about how Gilbert would make a very diligent husband to someone someday.
Sometimes these comments drove her crazy. How could Gilbert feel anything romantic toward her? She was pig-headed, homely, and always questioning everything. Gilbert, on the other hand, was Gilbert. He was intelligent--which was an admirable trait in a boy--considerate, driven, respectful, and handsome. It was a truth universally acknowledged in Avonlea that Gilbert Blythe was the best husband any girl in town could get. While Anne begrudgingly admitted to herself that he was perfect "life-mate" material, she refused to entertain the improbable idea of him ever loving her. Any insinuation felt almost like a joke they were playing on her.
Gilbert's re-entrance into the kitchen interrupted Anne's musings. "Okay, so our we going to hear this story or not?"
Bash looked between the two of them, grinning, "What story is this?"
Gilbert beamed with pride as he explained how Anne's story would be submitted for publishing. "I just hope I can find something to compliment," he teased.
Mary walked past and smacked Gilbert in the head as she did so, "Gilbert Blythe, it's a wonder Anne comes here at all with all of your cheek!" Glancing at Anne, she smiled,
"I'm sure we would all like to hear it. Let's go to the parlor."
In the corner of the parlor sat a bassinet where Bash and Mary's baby daughter was lying down. Rushing straight to the bassinet, Anne found a smiling baby Naomi.
Picking up the baby, Anne lifted the baby on to her shoulder with ease, walking around the room with her.
Gilbert, Mary, and Bash sat down around the room. "Anne, you look like you were born to carry that baby," Mary laughed.
Anne grinned back at her, "I should hope I can carry a baby by now. I've only been doing it my entire life."
Gilbert was transfixed. He could easily imagine Anne as a mother--a great mother. He thought back to the day when Anne told him she would be a terrible wife. At the time, it seemed like such a strange thing to say, but he found himself thinking about the episode quite often. And, when he did think about Anne as a wife--his wife, she wasn't a bad one either. Anne was an excellent cook, miraculous with children, and beautiful; but he could never see her as a wife like all the other women in Avonlea. He pictured Anne as a wife more like Mary. They were both strong, fun, smart, driven, and compassionate. But, then again, he figured that neither Anne nor Mary fit the traditional definition of wife as much Anne's word "life-mate."
Yes, he decided, Anne would not make a good wife, but she would definitely make an excellent "life-mate."
"Well, are you going to read to us or not?" Gilbert playfully raised an eyebrow, extending the copy of Anne's story.
Anne gave Naomi to her father and snatched her story from Gilbert's hands.
She sat on the sofa, her posture, the perfect picture of elegance. Clearing her throat, she began to read. "The town of Greenboro was an uneventful one. Children were born, grew up, and got married without incident…"
When she had finished, she looked up to see tears in Mary's eyes as well as a single tear rolling down Gilbert's cheek. Bash spoke first "Anne, I've gotta say, when I heard it was your story, I didn't expect something so bleak."
Anne shrugged with an teasing smile. "I suppose I can control my muse any better than Mary is able to control the likes of you."
Mary dabbed at her eyes, smiling slightly at Anne's quip. "Anne, I think you may have spoken to all women with that story." Mary liked and trusted Anne for this reason. Unlike most of the white women in Avonlea, Anne had truly lived as a social outcast; and, although she was now accepted as one of them, Anne's compassion for the outsider had never left her.
Mary knew what it was like to have an unwanted pregnancy--and to hate the man who got you pregnant. In Anne's story, Mary saw what her life could have been if Elijah's father had never left. It made her all the more grateful to have a kind and compassionate man like Bash in her life with a daughter she had wanted to have.
Mary got up and sat next to where Bash was cradling their child. She kissed him lovingly. "I am so lucky to have you in my life."
Anne suddenly felt like an intruder on their moment and looked to Gilbert to ease some of her awkwardness. She saw Gilbert looking at the pair wistfully and realized that he hadn't said anything about her story yet. "So, Gil, what did you think?"
Gilbert looked at her intensely and stood up. "Would you like me to walk you home now?"
Anne shook her head. She knew how much work he had to do before he went to sleep. "How about to the end of the orchard?"
Gilbert nodded, and they grabbed their coats.
"Goodbye, you three!" Anne waved at Bash, Mary, and Naomi.
The cold dusk air hit the two of them as they left the house. They walked several moments without saying anything. Gilbert's silence was unnerving. Anne was legitimately concerned that she had hurt him in someway. "Gil, your silence is making me a little nervous."
Gilbert sighed, "Sorry, I'm just deep in thought. I want to explain my opinion well."
He stopped and grabbed her wrist so that she faced him. Her breath hitched when she realized how close they were to each other.
"When I listened to your story, I was struck by this indescribable sadness, thinking about how this woman lived her entire life without ever being loved. You described it so vividly that I could feel her hopelessness and longing. But, then I realized that the reason you could explain the feeling so well is that you had experienced it yourself." He heard his heart beating and hoped that she couldn't hear it.
She didn't say anything but nodded stoically.
"But, I hope you know you're loved now." Her eyes shot up to meet his, and he stuttered, "By Miss Cuthbert, Mr. Cuthbert, Diana, you know..."
He watched as she averted her eyes, as if his response disappointed her. He slid his hand from her wrist to her hand. "You have such a talent for writing, Anne. I could feel everything that Mrs. Drummond felt in the story, but it also made me think. It made me think about how men treat their wives, or men treat women in general, and I worry about my future marriage."
She slowly brought her gaze back up to meet his as he continued, "It made me think about your idea of the 'love-bond,' and how I don't think I could every marry a woman who wasn't my equal in everyway. I never want the woman I love to feel forced into anything."
Anne could feel herself trembling as a terrifying though entered her head-- was Gil was speaking about her? She wasn't sure if she wanted to embrace him or run away from him, so instead she stood frozen to her spot, reeling in his ambiguity.
Suddenly, Gilbert released her hand and stepped back, allowing her to exhale a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "I don't know if that was your intention or anything, but that's what I got from it. And, I figure you have to be a really good writer in order to make me feel and think this much."
Anne smiled, feeling her fear melt into confidence. "Thank you, Gilbert. That's exactly what I was going for."
Then, before he could realize what was happening, she kissed him on the cheek and immediately started walking away. He stood there for several minutes watching until she disappeared from view.
She refused to look back as she made her way back home, but she smiled to herself, thinking about the kiss. If he wanted to be vague about his affections, then she would just have to be as well.