"The man spoke eight languages! I couldn't believe it," Gilbert said animatedly.
Anne looked at him in wonder. "Where was he from?"
"China! From what he told me, it sounded like the most interesting place in the world!"
Anne and Gilbert had been discussing amazing people they had met in their short lives as they walked home from school. Anne found herself completely engrossed in Gilbert's tales of travel. He was so passionate when he spoke of how vast and varied the world and its people were. While slightly envious of his opportunity to travel by himself, she found her heart swelling, thinking about how much he understood her desperate longing to experience the world.
"I would love to go there someday," she said dreamily as she turned her gaze away from him to look at the dusky horizon.
Gilbert brushed his hand against hers gently. "Maybe I'll take you one day."
She looked at him and blushed before turning away from his loving gaze. He smiled. His words had had the desired effect, and the thought sent a thrill down his spine.
"I think I have an acquaintance who can get us there," she smiled cheekily without looking at him.
"A woman I met from Nanking. She designs some of the most beautiful fabrics I've ever seen."
His eyes widened a bit, "Where did you meet someone from China?"
She narrowed her eyes and gave him a cheeky grin. "Believe it or not, Gil. There are other worldly people in Avonlea besides you and Bash."
He blushed and gave her an apologetic look, but before he could apologize, she put a hand on his arm. "I met her at Aunt Jo's."
His eyes lit up. He had heard so much about the world that Diana's great-aunt had opened up for her, and it dazzled him to see how comfortable she was with it. "Oh, yes. Miss Barry's infamous 'summer' soirée. It's coming up soon, isn't it?"
He tried to contain an amused look as her face colored bright red. He secretly wanted her to ask him to come--to show him a bit of her world outside of Avonlea. He had felt her warming to his affections in the past couple weeks. Their normal afterschool banter had developed into a deeper flirtation, and she had even shown up unexpectedly at his home twice for reasons unrelated to school. He had been more sure of her affections than ever before, but he found himself lacking some stronger validation he needed to tell her of his love.
"Yes, we arrive in Charlottetown next Friday evening and leave Sunday morning," she said evenly.
"Sometimes I go down to Charlottetown on Friday evenings for my apprenticeship, so perhaps I'll see you and Diana on the train."
She nodded with a slight smile, and suddenly called out, "Matthew!"
Anne grabbed Gilbert's hand and pulled him as she ran toward the gate where Matthew stood, waving. To his slight disappointment, she dropped his hand once they reached the old, white fence.
Matthew smiled softly. "How was school?"
Anne stood on the bottom rung of the fence and leaned over. "A momentous day for exploration and knowledge! Wouldn't you say, Gil?"
Gilbert gave Matthew a bashful look. "I would say so."
Matthew chuckled, "Well, I shouldn't expect any less."
At that moment, Marilla came out to join them. "Well, Gilbert, what a lovely surprise. Would you like to join us for dinner?"
Gilbert took his hat off and held it in his hands. "Thank you, Miss Cuthbert. I would love to."
Gilbert thoroughly enjoyed himself during dinner. Over the years, he had grown quite comfortable around the Cuthberts after seeing the way in which they interacted with Anne. He had always known Marilla to be a good woman, but in the privacy of her own home, he learned how her stern exterior was part of her sense of humor. Her sardonic comments had a way of turning into cheeky exchanges with Anne, always ending with the ghost of a smile lingering on Marilla's face.
On the other hand, Gilbert had known Matthew very little before he became a regular visitor to Green Gables. Anne spoke of Matthew frequently--about funny things he said, how much she enjoyed spending time with him, and how he was the first person to ever love her. Seeing Matthew interact with Anne was like seeing a completely different person. His eyes lit up, and he spoke with a teasing lilt to his voice. It was clear to any casual observer that Anne could do no wrong in Matthew's eyes.
As much as he liked the Cuthberts, however, he felt anxious whenever he considered asking Matthew and Marilla about the prospect of courting Anne. Sure, they liked him now, but how would they feel if they knew?
Marilla's voice brought him out of his thoughts, "Anne, do you need me to do any alterations on your green dress before the party on Saturday?"
Anne shook her head, and catching Gilbert's eye, her cheeks pinked. "Actually, I'm not wearing my green dress. I'm using an old one that Aunt Jo has--it's a bit more summery."
"And, Gilbert," Marilla turned to him. "Are you all ready for the party this weekend?"
Gilbert's eyebrows rose, and he looked to Anne for clarity. She turned violently red. "Marilla, I actually hadn't asked him yet."
Gilbert's eyes twinkled as he tried to suppress a smirk. "Ask me what?"
"Diana and I need to go to Charlottetown, but Mrs. Barry and Marilla insist on us having a male chaperone for protection. Last year, Jerry did it, and the year before, it was Cole. But, since both are unavailable this year, I thought you would be good because you're going to Charlottetown anyway.
Anne's voice sped up as she continued. "You don't have to stay and come to the party if you don't want to. You may just want to go home after your apprenticeship, and I'm sure Cole could escort us back if you didn't want to stay."
"Anne, let the boy answer for goodness' sake," Marilla said.
Gilbert unsuccessfully tried to hold in a bubble of laughter. "It's alright, Miss Cuthbert. I'd love to go, Anne. Just let me know what I need."
Silently in his chair, Matthew observed Gilbert closely, seeing an unmistakable look of admiration and love on the boy's face as Anne spoke. His one wish in the world was that Anne would never be without love again, and gazing at the pair's besotted expressions, he was quite sure she never would be again.
Anne's eyes scanned the platform for Gilbert, who was nowhere in sight.
"Anne, you haven't answered my question," Diana tugged on Anne's arm to get her to sit down.
At Diana's look of exasperation, Anne slumped back against the bench. "Sorry, Diana. It's just that the train is boarding in 15 minutes and he's still not here."
"Anne, he'll be here, alright?" Diana put a firm hand down on Anne's jiggling left knee. "Now answer my question. What do you expect to happen when he hears your poem?"
Anne dropped her head. "I don't know. I guess I'll let him decide what his reaction will be. He may not even realize I wrote it about him."
"Anne, anyone who knows the two of you knows you wrote it about him."
Anne only nodded as she turned her head to see Gilbert running toward them down the platform. "Sorry I'm late! Mary needed some help in the kitchen."
Diana looked at him incredulously. "Gilbert Blythe, you know how to cook?"
"Not as well as either of you, I'm sure, but I am a man of many talents," he said with a flirtatious look at Anne.
Anne rolled her eyes and turned to Diana, pulling her toward the train. "Clearly, he knows how to have a big ego," she said loud enough for him to hear, "but he does make an excellent stew."
The train ride filled with laughter as the three of them joked around about the various happenings around Avonlea. Diana was silently thrilled seeing Anne and Gilbert together. They had so much chemistry that even the romantic tension that hung in the air between them didn't affect their natural ability to converse with each other. Still, she was longing to get a reaction out of either one of them.
"Anne, I can't wait to see you in Aunt Gertrude's dress. Cole said you looked breathtaking in it," Diana said knowingly, staring directly at Gilbert.
Anne felt her face flush and glared at Diana. "Well, it's just an honor that Aunt Jo wants me to wear it, given how much Gertrude meant to her."
Diana suddenly looked to Gilbert. Did he know who Aunt Gertrude was to them? Did he know about Cole? She began to explain. "Gilbert, Gertrude was--"
"Your aunt's life-mate. I know," Gilbert interrupted with a knowing smile.
Diana looked at Anne in surprise. Anne sighed, "Gil was under the crazy impression that Cole and I had an understanding, so I asked Cole to see if I could tell Gil here the entire story."
"Diana, I have no problem with Miss Barry or Cole loving whom they want to love. I'm really just excited to finally get to meet some of the people I've heard so much about."
Diana let out a silent breath of relief. She had become quite protective of Aunt Jo, ever since she found out about her and Aunt Gertrude. "Sorry, Gilbert, I guess I just don't want to expose Aunt Jo or Cole to prejudice, and I get anxious."
Gilbert shook his head, "No need to apologize. I know what you mean more than you know."
Then, Diana watched curiously as Anne reached to squeeze his hand for a moment before withdrawing it to her lap. The two exchanged a look of understanding. It was an act of intimacy Diana had never seen between the two before, and it almost brought tears to her eyes.
The next morning, Anne did not get the opportunity to speak with Gilbert before he headed off to his apprenticeship at dawn. She was absolutely delighted by the impression he had made on Aunt Jo the night before. He passionately spoke about his desire to bring high-quality medical care to Avonlea and the surrounding communities, and he way he spoke of equality and inclusivity made her heart want to burst with pride.
Playing it over in her mind, she smiled blissfully and began to hum to herself as she combed her hair.
A knock pulled her out of her reverie. "Come in!"
Aunt Jo appeared in the doorway with a dress in her arms. "Where is Diana?"
Anne exhaled dreamily as she turned around to face the door. "Oh, Diana is downstairs, practicing her lovely melodies for tonight."
The older woman smiled wistfully. "I am so proud by how proficient Diana has become at the piano." She sat down on the bed beside Anne's vanity. "I'm starting to realize how mature all of you are becoming."
Anne moved to take Aunt Jo's hand. "Older perhaps, but I'm not so sure I'm maturing," she said with a wink.
Aunt Jo sighed, "Oh, I seem to recall a young girl getting awfully worked up in the middle of the woods over a certain boy, absolutely certain that she hated him."
Anne chuckled, "Well, perhaps I have matured a bit."
"I can't tell you how delighted I was to finally meet your admirer that Cole has told me so much about," Aunt Jo paused, waiting for Anne to react. Anne remained silent, looking at Aunt Jo thoughtfully.
"I have often wondered what kind of person would be able to capture your romantic heart, Anne. You have no idea the happiness it brings me to see you opening yourself to someone so worthy."
Anne looked at her feet. "It has taken such a long time for me to realize it--to conquer my fear of romantic feelings and allow myself to be loved."
She watched as a tear fell onto her hand and sank into her skin.
"Anne, you are not even seventeen, and you have already learnt a lesson it took me ten years longer to learn."
At this, Anne looked up as Aunt Jo continued, "I met Gertrude when I was twenty-two, but it took me five years to come to terms with my love for her."
"But you and Gertrude dealt with much different problems than we have to deal with. You had to keep your love private and--"
"Anne, you and I both know that you have had some big obstacles of your own in realizing love. Our experiences may be different, but the struggle was no less real for you than it was for me. That is what makes us human."
Tears flowed freely from Anne's eyes now as she moved to embrace Aunt Jo. "I'm so afraid," she said with a slight tremble.
Aunt Jo released herself from the embrace to take Anne's hands in hers. "I know you are, my dear, but you're still allowing yourself to be open to it. And, that makes you the bold, courageous, Anne Shirley-Cuthbert that saved Minnie-May that night so long ago.
"Now," she said, standing up. "That's enough waxing poetic for me. That is your job, my dear. Get dressed, and I will see you downstairs in half an hour to greet the guests."
"Did you see any exciting illnesses today?" Cole asked, lying on his bed in a red and white linen suit.
Gilbert chuckled as he buttoned his shirt. "Nothing too crazy. A pair of twins with the common cold, and an old lady with a bad knee."
He finished buttoning his shirt and tightening his tie before shrugging on his suit coat. "What do you think?" he asked, holding out his arms.
Cole sat up and laughed. "What are you wearing?"
Gilbert looked down and frowned. "What? It's my best suit, and Diana told me I had to look my best."
Cole shook his head with a smile. "You look like you're going to a church social in Avonlea."
"Well, it is what I wear to go to a church social in Avonlea! And, as least I don't look like a piece of ribbon candy like you!"
Cole threw his head back and laughed. "Gilbert, this is not your average party. Most people wear clothes that would not be acceptable on the streets of Charlottetown or even Montreal!"
Gilbert sat on the foot of the bed and sighed. "Well, what do I do know?"
Cole didn't speak for a moment. Suddenly, he sprung up from the bed and rushed over to the wardrobe and rummaged through it. "Here," he said as he threw a shirt at the bed.
Gilbert picked up the shirt, examining it. "It looks like my dad's old nightshirt." He looked up at Cole incredulously. "You want me to wear this?"
Cole nodded happily. "Just put that on and keep your same pants. I wore it last year, and Anne christened it 'the Heathcliff shirt.'"
Seeing Gilbert's confused glance, he continued. "She said it's what she always imagined Heathcliff wearing in Wuthering Heights."
Gilbert tucked the shirt in an looked in the mirror. The shirt hung loosely around his body gathering at the wrists and tapering into the waistband of his pants. There were no buttons or collar and the shirt opened in a 'v' that exposed the skin below his collar bone. He gave his reflection an uncomfortable glance and turned back to Cole. "I feel almost...exposed."
Cole smiled gently. "Isn't that generally how a man feels when he's around the woman he loves?"
Gilbert looked at his hands. "Is it really that obvious?"
Cole nodded, and neither of them spoke for a moment.
"You know, I told her once."
Gilbert looked up at Cole. "Told her what?"
"I told her you had a crush on her—the day we came here to help Miss Stacey."
"What? Why would you—" Gilbert couldn't tell if he was mad or curious or grateful in that moment.
Cole put a hand on his shoulder. "I didn't do it to embarrass you or sabotage you. I just wanted Anne to know that she was capable of being loved, and I encouraged her to give you a chance. I know Diana has too."
Gilbert looked up at him in utter shock and misery. "Well, thank you, I guess. But, if she knows and nothing has happened so far, I doubt anything will happen now."
"Gilbert, I know she feels something for you, but you need to be more honest with her about what you're feeling. It's scary, I know. But I've found that when it comes to Anne, being honest about who you are and what you feel is the best thing you can do."
After a moment, Cole moved to leave the room, standing in the doorway for a moment. "Think about what I said. See you at the party."
Before Cole completely shut the door, he heard Gilbert reply quietly. "Thank you."
Gilbert looked in the mirror once more, studying himself. He thought of the stories his father told him about his mother. How she had worked with his Uncle Dave and how she seemed unattainable. "I decided I would offer her my world. If she refused me, there was nothing I could do because either she was not good enough for me or I was not good enough for her." Gilbert knew that he had tried his absolute hardest to be the best man he could be. He was making something of himself. He loved her. He would work his hardest to help her achieve her dreams. And, by God, tonight he would tell her.
Anne was in heaven as she helped Aunt Jo greet her guests. After three years of these parties, Anne had come to know most of the people in Aunt Jo's artistic circles quite well.
"Anne! How lovely it is to see you!" A woman in a suit came to embrace Anne. "I read your story in The Montreal Progressive last November. It was absolutely brilliant!"
"I completely agree," a voice said from behind Anne.
She spun around to see Gilbert, standing tall and strong in Cole's "Heathcliff shirt," looking exactly like he had just walked out of a Brontë novel. She lost her words for a second and felt her lower abdomen burn. Recovering her shock after a moment, she turned back to the woman. "Rebecca, this is my friend Gilbert Blythe from Avonlea.
"Gil, this is Rebecca Young."
"Rebecca Young, as in the suffragist?" Gilbert asked, slightly incredulous.
Rebecca chuckled. "Well, I guess you could say that. I'm surprised you know of my work."
"Well, Anne has loaned me several magazines with articles you wrote. I loved the piece you wrote about the paradox of living in a society that relies on women to be strong and independent but treats them like they are soft and delicate," Gilbert could feel his voice getting loud with enthusiasm as he spoke, so he took a slight step back.
"I suppose you support women's suffrage then?" Rebecca asked, slightly amused at his enthusiasm.
Gilbert nodded, "Absolutely. Anne consistently beats me in all the humanities in school and has been published in a political magazine. She's probably more qualified to cast a vote than I am!"
He winked at her as he mentioned her, and she flushed. Rebecca smirked as the sound of music began. "Hold on to this one, Anne," she said, winking. "And, don't be a stranger. I want to show you around Toronto one of these days!
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe that my lovely Maria is beckoning me for a dance," she said before walking across the room to dance with a woman in a pale pink summer dress.
Anne felt Gilbert's eyes on her before she turned back to him. She felt vulnerable under his gaze and attempted to muster some nonchalance. "Gil, I'm glad you made it. How was work with Dr. Ward today?"
He laughed in a way she had never heard before. "Nothing interesting," he said dismissively. "Would you like to dance?"
"I suppose so," she tried to say with an air of sophistication.
She took his hand, and he immediately pulled her into an intimate dancing position. He took a deep breath as he looked down at her and took the first step in the waltz. He had no idea where his confidence had come from. In fact, just several minutes ago he had been struck dumb by the sight of her as he descended the steps. She had been standing in the middle of the living room in a white ballet gown. The sleeves fell off the shoulders, revealing her entire collarbone, and her ivory chiffon skirt ended just below her knees. Her auburn hair hung in curls down her back and a crown of pastel flowers wreathed her head. She was an angelic vision of beauty, but what struck him most of all was the way she held the people around her captive with her expressive storytelling. He had had to wait until the crowd had dispersed to summon the courage to approach her.
"I feel rather unsatisfactory dancing with a such a graceful ballerina," he teased.
Her eyes finally met his. "Well, I'll move slowly, so you can keep up."
Anne felt heat pool in the pit of her stomach as they moved with the achingly slow beat of the band. The first beat of each measure seemed to drag in a way that made her heartbeat increase.
As if he could read her mind, he remarked, "I like this song. It's different."
She forced herself to continue looking at his eyes. "Yes, I believe Aunt Jo said that the band was from Argentina. They used to be dock workers at the port of Buenos Aires who played together in bars during the evenings, but now they tour the world playing."
"They're amazing," he looked over at the band, finally taking a breath. "Everyone here is."
"Gil, I think perhaps you missed your calling. You went from dock worker to doctor, but perhaps you'd find more success as a musician." She smiled freely for the first time since she saw him today. For the last few minutes, he had ceased to be Gil and became cool and confident Byronic hero of her dreams, and she found that while it made her heart race and her stomach tighten, it didn't feel like him. He could take her breath away without the guise of a romantic hero.
He let out a boyish laugh, and she felt his shoulders relax under her touch. "You've never heard me sing, Anne. Bash says that he's seen flowers die at the sound of my voice."
They both burst into a fit of giggles, and by the time Anne caught her breath, she noticed how close they were and found her eyes staring at his mouth. She cleared her throat and broke the growing silence. "So, is the party living up to your expectations?"
He smiled softly. "Exceeding them. I shouldn't be surprised that you seem to be the belle of this ball."
She shook her head, "Aunt Jo and Cole are, but I guess I do feel more comfortable here than at Avonlea's social events."
He spun her before pulling her back in close. "You aren't just comfortable here, but you're free. These people seem to understand you." He brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm almost afraid that you'll decide that you don't want to return to Avonlea and stay here like Cole."
His voice was so quiet that she almost didn't hear him.
"You're forgetting, Gil. There are people in Avonlea who understand me," she beamed up at him. "You understand me."
At that moment, the band finished playing, and Anne stepped out of his embrace as Aunt Jo clinked a glass at the front of the room.
"Thank you all for coming, and please give a rousing round of applause to the Marinero Quartet all the way from Buenos Aires."
The room erupted into applause.
"Now, we will be serenaded by the musical stylings of Cécile Chaminade and Diana Barry!"
Gilbert was entranced by the beautiful duet they played that he hardly noticed that he had taken Anne's hand in his until she pulled her hand away to clap. And, before he could do anything, she pulled him to a room on the side. "I want you to meet someone."
She tapped a short, stout woman on the shoulder. "Miss Brunelle?"
The woman turned around with a wide grin on her face. "Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, how is my favorite redhead?" she said in heavily-accented English.
Anne rolled her eyes playfully, "Miss Brunelle, why must you insist on calling me that?"
"Because it is true, my dear," she said with her hands on her hips.
"Well, anyway. I have someone here that you simply must meet," she said, pulling Gilbert toward them. "This is my friend Gilbert Blythe who is planning on attending medical school.
"Gil, this is Valérie Brunelle. She was a field nurse during the Franco-Prussian War."
Gilbert's eyes lit up, and he moved to shake her hand enthusiastically. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Brunelle. I can't believe I'm meeting a field nurse. I've always wanted to talk to someone in the medical profession in France. I hear they have some of the most advanced medical techniques in the world."
"I would love to speak more with you, Mr. Blythe. Anne wrote me about your vision of bringing first-rate medical care to rural areas, and I must say I was very impressed. Before the war, I worked at Charité Hospital in Berlin and know what quality medical care can do to impoverished peoples.
"Feel free to take my address from Anne, and I would be happy to forward you any journals or articles I come across in France."
"Thank you so much, Miss Brunelle. This means the world to me."
As the older woman walked away, he turned to Anne in astonishment. "She is incredible."
Anne smiled and nodded. "Indeed, she is—and a wonderful correspondent as well. And, as brilliant as Miss Stacey is, I think that you need a mentor who is specialized in the medical field."
"Anne, you have no idea what this means to me."
She shook her head, but he stopped her. "I mean it. I don't think anyone—"
He was interrupted as a man dressed as a sunflower approached followed by another man in turban. The sunflower spoke jovially, "Miss Shirley, there you are! I was wondering if you would be honoring us with a reading at some point this evening."
Anne grinned, "Indeed, I am, Mr. Karolinsky."
The man in the turban spoke next, "Between Miss Barry's playing and Mr. McKenzie's sculptures, I am incredibly impressed with the youth of Avonlea. I'm tempted to visit one of these days!"
"Well, it certainly has scope for the imagination in my opinion," Anne replied, beaming. "And, speaking of the youth of Avonlea, I would like you two to meet Gilbert Blythe."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Blythe. My name is Salman Saleh," he said, extending his hand.
"And, I am Andrey Karolinsky. Now, Mr. Blythe, what's your poison—music, sculpture, the written word?"
Gilbert looked down and rubbed the back of his neck bashfully. "Oh, no, I'm not artistic like the others. I'm more of a scientist."
"That is completely untrue, Gil. You have as much of an artistic soul as any of us." She turned confidently to the two men, "Mr. Blythe, here, recites poetry beautifully."
Mr. Saleh clapped his hands together joyfully. "Lovely! Then you must recite something for us."
At the word recitation, several people began to gather around them.
Gilbert looked at them with wide eyes. "Now?"
Anne nudged his shoulder with a wink. "Come on, you have an audience! Recite some Whitman--I know you have half of his poems memorized."
Gilbert sighed and nodded. Only one poem came into his mind at that moment, and he knew he had to recite it then and there. Have courage , he told himself as he stood up straighter and looked at the handful of people who had gathered around.
"Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage
For fear I effuse unreturn'd love,
But now I think there is no unreturn'd love,
They pay is certain one way or another.
I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not return'd,
Yet out of that I have written these songs.
He spoke to the crowd, never making direct eye contact with Anne. His voice was clear and strong and sincere because in that moment, the words were not the poet's but his own. And, when he had finished, the group applauded enthusiastically, and he gave a little bow.
Without looking at her, he turned to go back to the main ballroom. He had laid himself bare at her feet—his frustration, his fear, his love, and his acceptance. He couldn't bear to see any reaction from her at that moment.
He heard a voice call from behind him as he raced toward the piano, "Gil!"
He turned back rapidly only to find Cole, grabbing Anne's hand and saying, "There you are! It's time!"
Gilbert's brow furrowed as he watched Cole push a very distracted Anne up to the foyer where Aunt Jo was standing. The old woman rapped her walking stick on the ground twice as everyone looked up at her expectantly.
"Thank you all for being here, and I hope you are having a marvelous time! To those of you who have come before, you know that this party was the brilliant idea of my dear Gertrude," she placed her hand over her heart before continuing. "And, every year Gertrude would honor us with a recitation from one of her favorite works of literature. Since Gertrude's passing, that honor has been passed to the ever-enthralling, ever-entertaining Anne Shirley-Cuthbert.
"This year, we have a special treat for Anne is reading us a poem she wrote herself which will be published in next month's edition of one of Canada's premiere literary magazines!"
The room erupted into applause as Anne beamed at them. Gilbert's brow furrowed. Did Anne really publish a new poem without telling him? He didn't even remember her working on a poem. His heart sank as he entertained the idea that his romantic affection had made her trust him less. He braced one hand against a nearby table and turned away from the foyer where she stood.
As Anne's unmistakable voice began, he looked up to see her staring at him.
My love for you is steeped in prejudice.
A heart captive to imagination's whims
And expectations of literary ghosts and half-told stories.
Only your lion's heart could set it free--
Free from a mind belabored by words and glances.
But Your face is a mirror that reflects my beauty more than a glass* ever could.
Your passions are gifts from which I reap never-ending benefit.
Your mind is a map that guides me far beyond myself.
I cannot deign to understand the ways of your love
And perhaps that is all the better.
For my love for you is steeped in prejudice,
Ignorant of its own unworthiness.
She spoke without breaking eye contact with him, her voice never wavering until the last word.
The crowd applauded, and she gave a little bow, feeling a tear escape her eyes. She knew he understood. He had laid his heart bare to her, and she had finally responded in kind. She supposed she felt happy, but it was not a light happiness. It was deep within her, hidden by sudden vulnerability and relief, lying frozen in the pit of her stomach until she could speak to him.
She tried to make her way to him but found herself accosted by a flock of acquaintances commenting on her poem. He looked up at her as she politely struggled to move down the steps and gave her a strange smile before disappearing amid the chaos.
He ran into a small, dark reading alcove separated in the unoccupied library and sank down against a wall. She loved him, and she told him in a room full of people. His heart felt like it was going to explode, and he felt himself grinning uncontrollably. He suppressed the urge to run to her and pull her into a kiss in front of everyone. He needed some time to process her poem--to figure out what he would say in response to such a complex declaration of love.
Anne couldn't find Gilbert for the next half hour, much to her frustration. She consistently had to remind herself that he had admitted his love almost as directly as she had tonight, so she shouldn't be afraid of rejection--should she?
Her heart began to beat faster and faster as time went on and people began to go home. Where was he? Had he already gone to bed? When she couldn't stand it any longer, she marched over to where Cole was waving goodbye to one of the band members, and tugged on his arm.
"Have you seen Gil?" she asked imploringly.
Cole closed the front door and took both of her hands in his. "He's in the library alcove. Waiting for you, I presume," he said, smirking.
She shuddered. "Cole, I'm terrified."
"Anne, do you trust him?"
She sighed. "Of course. Perhaps more than anyone in the world..." she smiled fondly, "except Matthew."
He put his hands on her shoulders. "Then, you have nothing to worry about."
Taking a deep breath, she walked into the library and found her way into the little alcove. Her breath hitched as he looked up from the little window seat next to the window--his face awash in moonlight.
"Anne," he said, slightly breathless.
She sat down next to him and gently placed her fingers on his mouth. "Before you say anything, let me speak."
She withdrew her hand as he nodded and looked directly into her eyes.
"Gil, there is very little I could say that I haven't already said this evening, except to tell you unequivocally and unambiguously that I am in love with you."
He looked at her intensely. "Anne, I've been in love with you for so long I feel like I'm still dreaming. Say it again."
She smiled softly and intertwined one of her hands in his. "Gilbert Blythe, I love you so much I can hardly breathe."
He cupped her face in his hands, and she saw his eyes drop to her lips. Her mind went blank only to be replaced by the feeling of her lips on fire. Instinctively, her head shifted, and her hands dropped to his chest. After a moment, she felt him smiling against her lips and pulled away to see the most dashing smile etched on his face.
He tucked a curl behind her ear and tipped her chin up to look at him. "You're so beautiful."
His words were so gentle and sincere. Tears came to her eyes as she sank into the same feeling of love she had felt at Christmas.
Seeing her tears, he looked concerned. "Anne, what is it?"
"I believe you, Gil," she said, blinking at him through her tears.
His look of confusion urged her to continue. "I have felt ugly my entire life—inside and out. Even when people have told me I'm beautiful, I could never believe it...until Christmas."
She sniffed and breathed a laugh. "I don't know why—I don't know how, but we were standing in the kitchen, and the look you gave me...it...it made me forget what I looked like. I remember thinking 'How could I want to change myself when he looks at me like that?'"
He smiled and bent to kiss her forehead. "You have no idea what it means to me that I helped you feel beautiful." He then kissed her temple. "Because you have no idea..." her earlobe, "how my heart races..." her neck, "when I see you," he finished, kissing her lips.
This kiss was more passionate than the last. She sighed as his kisses wandered over her face and neck, and she responded in kind, pressing her lips to each of his eyelids, his nose, and along the strong line of his jaw. Her hands moved into his hair as his hands moved to her waist, fingering the chiffon of her dress.
After several minutes, they broke apart, and she dropped her head to his shoulder and leaned against them. They were silent in their contentment as she traced the lines of his hands with her finger.
"Why do you love me?"
He looked down at her to see her staring intently at their intertwined hangs. She continued, unable to look at him, "I don't understand why. I've been blind and haughty and unforgiving toward you, and I've seen how my reluctance and coldness has hurt you even though I never wanted to hurt you because you—" her voice cracked as tears began to fall again, "you deserve every happiness and I...I..."
Gilbert couldn't bear to hear anymore. He pressed his forehead against hers and took her face in his hands, wiping her tears with gentle thumbs. "Shh," he murmured. "You are my happiness.
"You're talented and witty and confident. You make me laugh, and you make my heart race. I can argue intensely with you one minute and read poetry with you the next. You encourage me to be better than I am everyday. You believe in my dreams more than anyone else ever has. And, you understand me."
He pulled away slightly to tilt her chin up to look at him. "I know you can hurt me, and I won't lie—I have not been immune to your coldness. But, we've moved past it. I trust you with my heart--the ability to hurt me--because I know you, Anne. You are kind and compassionate and forgiving in ways that I am not, and that is why I can love you as I do."
Unsure of how to communicate her feelings in words, she leaned in to kiss him tenderly. In that kiss, she showed him how much his words meant to her and how his love touched her.
When she pulled away, she flashed him a cheeky smile. "I love that I can do that whenever I want, now. It'll be my backup method of communication when words fail me."
He winked at her and leaned back against one side of the window seat, resting his hand on top of his bent knee. "I don't think words ever fail you, Anne, but I'm happy to communicate like that with you anytime."
She couldn't help but let out a burst of blissful laughter, and suddenly, the two of them were giggling uncontrollably. After several minutes, their laughter died down, leaving them in comfortable silence.
She tucked her legs to her side and leaned against the window, peering out onto the deserted street. "Gil, what happens now?"
He hummed softly. "I guess," he said, stroking her hand with his thumb, "Tomorrow I ask permission to court you formally."
Anne sighed. "Would that I could stay here with you forever, basking in each other's love, revealed and returned."
He smiled fondly at her poetry. She shifted her position and slumped against him, resting her head on his shoulder. He placed a kiss on the top of her head. "We don't have to think about it tonight. Tonight is about us and us alone."
He looked out the window and saw the faint beginnings of dawn. "However, you should probably get to bed soon, or Diana will think you've been kidnapped."
Anne let out a breath of laughter as she spoke. "In a moment, but just for a moment, let me bask in this moment of perfect, incandescent happiness."
They remained in their embrace for as long as possible until Anne spotted a newspaper delivery boy making his way down the street in the faint light of dawn. Silently they walked hand in hand to the top of the foyer where Gilbert placed a lingering kiss on her lips.
She reluctantly let go of his hand as they moved to opposite sides of the house. She was quiet as she slipped into her nightgown, careful not to wake Diana, but she couldn't help but let out a sigh as she sank into her pillow.
Her night had been a romantic and idyllic dream that she was reluctant to let go of. However, the thought of tomorrow pushed any sense of regret out of her head because for the first time in her life, she would go to sleep and wake up with the knowledge that the most wonderful boy in the world found her special and beautiful and beloved.