For a week after she first tells Gilbert about the Take Notice board, she can’t quite look him in the eye – not since the disastrous attempt to ask him a question led to her staring at him inexplicably and making him run away.
It’s mortifying, in the extreme.
On the other hand, the plan she’d concocted to get to the orphanage to find her family relied on spending time with Gilbert, and she hopes that a week is enough to dull the air of awkwardness that seems to follow her around.
Once Cole tells her to absolutely come visit, she has few excuses left.
This time when she approaches him, after once again everyone has disappeared to gossip outside about the Take Notice board (the stupid, stupid Take Notice board) she mentally rehearses her speech before crossing over to the boys’ side of the classroom and sitting next to him. He looks up, surprised – why does he always look surprised by her? – no matter – and smiles brightly.
Her plan immediately goes astray.
“Hello,” he says, and sit up a little, his full focus on her. His book lies open across his legs, his hands holding the edges of pages covered in detailed illustrations. Perhaps she should have done this outside, with everyone around, but somehow –
She doesn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea.
(She doesn’t know, herself, exactly what the right idea is.)
“Hello,” she says, mustering her focus. “I wanted to ask you a favor, actually, if you would be open to it, and it’s not too much trouble, and – ”
He doesn’t stop her as she rambles on, and it seems less like he’s letting her get all her words out than that he’s interested in what she’s saying. Partly she’s just trying to cover her nerves, and really, it’s just Gilbert Blythe; if she looks at the way his eyebrows furrow instead of at his eyes, maybe she’ll get through this. Maybe if Ruby hadn’t mentioned them in the first place – maybe this is a horrible idea.
“Marilla and Matthew have agreed to let me search out my family lineage, but only if I have an escort to Charlottetown, and I hoped since you go there every weekend, we could take the train together,” she says, wrapping it up at last. She takes a long breath, recovering.
“You’re seeking out your family?” he asks, interest mixing with some other un-nameable sentiment – something elusive, just out of reach – and she nods forcefully.
“I want to know where I come from,” she answers, and looks down at her hands. “I hope it will tell me more about where I’ll go.”
When she looks back up there’s that something more in his eyes again, and really, maybe she should just beg Jerry to take a day off work to help her, but then –
“Of course,” Gilbert says, and his smile brightens up the whole classroom. “How’s next weekend?” he asks and she shakes her head, trying to clear it of thoughts she has no business thinking.
“Perfect,” she says, the hopeful joy of finding her roots bringing a smile out in her that rivals his own.
She’d taken the train only a handful of times but as she sits across from Gilbert, watching the world speed by faster and faster, she can’t help thinking how unspeakably glorious it is. Winter hasn’t left them yet, a cloak of snow still covering the distance between Avonlea and Charlottetown, and it’s like a winter wonderland they travel through by magic.
“The world is so big,” she murmurs, almost to herself, and catches Gilbert watching her in the window reflection, a smile quirking at his mouth. He does that, she’s noticed, when he looks at her.
(She tucks it away with the other moments she’s not supposed to linger on, more forbidden than any other uncharted land.)
“There’s a whole lot of it beyond Avonlea,” he agrees, and after a while she coaxes a story from him about western Canada, about the steamer ship, about all the places in between here and the next adventure. For all that she loves telling stories, there’s something wonderfully soothing about someone telling her a story in turn, and the familiar rumble of Gilbert’s voice lulls her into a peaceful quiet. The tension goes out of her shoulders, worries she didn’t even know she was carrying slipping away across the snow, with miles and miles left to go.
(Perhaps, she thinks, there’s no harm in collecting these moments, after all.)
A week after the trip to Charlottetown, and five days after Anne had explained the situation to Ruby with Diana giving her a now trademarked knowing look in the process, Gilbert asks if she’d like to come over to the farm to study for their Queen’s Academy exams.
“It helps to have a partner,” he says, a sheepish look to his smile. “Only if you want to, I mean – ”
“I’d love to!” she exclaims, and then stops herself. “I have to ask Marilla first, though. I’m sure she’ll say yes.”
“Of course,” he agrees, grinning happily as he pulls his coat and hat on. “And Mary and Bash wanted me to ask you all over for dinner this Saturday.” He gives her an arch look. “Bash is cooking, so Marilla had better come prepared.”
“Hot,” they both say in unison, laughing, before Diana pokes her head inside, looking for Anne.
“There you are,” she says, pulling Anne away. “I have to talk to you,” she adds, and shoots Gilbert a friendly look that also says I see you. He steps back, bidding them both goodbye as Diana pulls her outside.
“What was that about?” Diana asks, and for some reason, Anne can’t quite meet her eyes.
“Nothing,” she says firmly. “Studying. What did you want to talk about?”
After her trip to the orphanage, she and Aunt Josephine had sorted out a plan to contact the church in the town where she’d been born, in an effort to track down any other family members or records. It was a thin thread, but she’s glad the trip wasn’t a total waste. Even though she doesn’t expect much, it plants a seed of hope in her chest all the same.
She tells Mary about it when she and Marilla next visit, and while Marilla coos over Delphine as if she were a fairy princess, Mary asks how her Queen’s Academy studying with Gilbert is going. Marilla looks up, watching carefully, and Anne splits a look between them.
“I am determined to get top marks,” she says, adding “to prepare for my life of adventure” as Marilla smiles widely.
“And I’m sure you will,” Mary says, and then rolls her eyes. “Do me a favor, though.”
“Anything,” Anne promises, eager as always, and Mary grins fully.
“Make sure you get as good marks as that boy, with all that studying you’re doing,” she says, and Marilla snorts.
“I have no doubt,” Marilla says. “I hardly see her, with the two of them studying so much, here and at school and at Green Gables. They’re liable to disappear into those books.”
The two women exchange an exasperated look that’s also something else Anne doesn’t quite recognize before Delphine starts fussing, insisting on their attention anew. The afternoon takes them into its spell of work, Mary’s singing and Marilla’s humming a gentle buzz of industry around her. By the time Bash and Gilbert come in from the barn, covered in sawdust, it almost feels as if she belongs here, in this cocoon of warmth and friendship. It’s practically a second home by now, with how much time she’s been spending here.
(Perhaps, she thinks, it really is possible to have more than one family.)
There are advantages to studying at Gilbert’s home, like his father’s impressive library, and Mary cooking them sweet cakes to study with, and the hum of the house around them. She always feels a little odd when he comes over to Green Gables – it feels like he already belongs there, and –
(It’s one thing to feel something, even something that beckons to her with both hands, and another thing to acknowledge it.)
And anyway, Marilla’s scones are just as wonderful as Mary’s sweet cakes. She licks the sugar off the tips of her fingers and when Gilbert looks up at her, his eyes go dark and surprised.
“Don’t leave the sugar behind,” she instructs dutifully, and he swallows hard.
“Okay,” he agrees, and ducks his head to keep taking notes, more studious in this moment than her, and she flushes, a competitive drive lighting inside her as she opens her poetry book, preparing to truly commit The Lady of Shalott to memory. They take breaks to quiz each other and to filch from the kitchen pantry, and by the time they realize it’s snowing, it’s too late.
“It looks wonderful,” Anne breathes, her nose pressed against the glass, and Marilla clucks her tongue.
“It’s not safe,” she replies, and looks at Gilbert. “I didn’t realize you were both still studying.”
“I’ll be alright, Miss Cuthbert,” Gilbert says, reaching for his coat before Marilla swats his hand away.
“Absolutely not!” she exclaims. “I couldn’t let John Blythe’s son walk out into a blizzard! I won’t hear of it. You’ll stay until it’s stopped snowing, won’t you?”
Gilbert exchanges a look with Anne, and then Matthew, who both shrug helplessly. Sometimes with Marilla, it’s better to just comply.
And with that, Gilbert is stuck at Green Gables.
When he says goodnight at the top of the stairs and turns right when she turns left, she looks back at his departing shadow. Something about having him here, at night, feels vibrant, and when she crawls into bed with an extra blanket her body is still humming with electricity.
(It takes her forever to finally sleep, and when she does, it’s to a very strange land of dreams.)
They do actually get snowed in, which Anne has only ever read about in books and is quite delighted to experience for herself. If Gilbert hadn’t been there, and Marilla hadn’t been hovering over them a worried hen, she might have spent the whole time wistfully staring out the windows at the falling snow.
“Anne, really,” Marilla says for the third time that day, pulling her attention away from the window and gesturing towards the stove. “Please find something to do.”
As it happens, the only thing that keeps her focused with the outdoor world shut away is studying with Gilbert. He’s borrowed some of Matthew’s old clothes, which are still too big for him even with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and his wet hair sticks up in spikes, drying into curls as they sit by the fire, quizzing each other on every subject they had. She catches him watching her and he quickly looks back down at his book, a faint flush to his cheeks.
(The fire in this room, she realizes, is quite warm.)
“I have to do well,” she mutters absently, flipping through another book.
“You will,” Gilbert says, eyebrow raised as he looks at her again, and she lets out a frustrated sigh.
“I mean, school means everything to me,” she explains, her hands tightening around the book she’s holding. It’s easy to tell him this; easier than she might have thought; easier than a lot of things.
“Anne,” he says reassuringly, “of all our classmates, you’re the last person I’d worry about not doing well on the exams.” He pauses, and then adds as almost an afterthought, “or anything, really.”
He returns to reading the open page before him, and it’s a long moment before Anne finds she can look away.
(He complicates spaces, and he complicates her, but even still – )
On the third day of the snow, she wakes up early and steals downstairs to watch for the sunrise through the snow clouds. She’d dreamt of warm reds and oranges splashed over endless stretches of smooth white, and in her rush only throws her dressing gown over her nightdress, hair still tied in a messy ribbon over her shoulder.
The last person she’d expected to find on the stairwell was Gilbert, before even Marilla was usually awake.
“What are you doing up?” she hisses in surprise, clutching at her dressing gown. His wide eyes had startled her, coming out of the dark, and he puts up his hands appeasingly.
“Can’t sleep,” he whispers back. “I’m always up this early on the farm.”
It’s a sobering thought; Gilbert is shouldering his share of the farm and school and his medical studies all at once. His eyes track over her, lingering over the long trail of her hair, and she shakes off the last of sleep as he does the same.
“Why are you up?” he asks back, hands falling behind his back. “Are you okay?”
“I wanted to watch for the sunrise,” she admits, feeling as if she’s been caught at a childish activity – and yet Gilbert beams, as if she’s said the cleverest answer to one of their study questions.
“Want some company?” he asks and she hesitates only a moment before nodding. He goes to the kitchen and gets milk out of cold storage, heating it on the stove and pouring it into two mugs for them. She curls up on the loveseat in the sitting room, hands curled around the mug and gaze fixed on the eastern horizon. When he sits next to her, back to the window and blowing steam off his mug, she shifts to make some space for him.
“Green Gables isn’t ever very loud,” she says, unprompted, and then adds, “unless Jerry is here.” She looks at Gilbert and they share a grin before she keeps going. “But it’s a different sort of quiet in the morning, before everyone wakes up.” She pauses between revelations, drawing her story out of herself slowly, like the sunrise. “At the orphanage, it was never quiet, and I would find hiding spots to read. They would always find me.” She can feel his gaze on her now, steady and open, and she can’t bear to look at him yet.
“So this is your quiet space,” he says, and she looks at him again, nodding as he adds, “I don’t usually think of you as quiet.”
“Sometimes I am,” she says, and looks back at the horizon. “I suppose everyone is like that in some way; quiet and loud in their own measure.” She pauses before adding, “But I’m glad you’re here,” realizing it might sound like she was telling him to shove off. Instead, he smiles softly, still focused on her. It’s a comforting presence she can feel without having to check.
(In another life, she thinks – maybe she’d have been this lucky.)
She's determined to find her own luck in this one.
“I wish we could tell Mary and Bash I was okay,” he says, “but – I’m glad I’m here too.”
“Mary knows Marilla,” Anne says drily, and Gilbert catches her grin. “She knows Marilla would never let you leave in a storm.”
“Does she know Marilla would catch you up an hour early?” Marilla asks from the doorway and Anne whips her head around, caught, but Marilla merely shakes her head. “You two stay there. Breakfast will ready soon.”
Anne settles back against the loveseat, eyes fixed on the horizon.
(Towards whatever lay ahead.)
When he leaves – she doesn’t want to acknowledge the hollow ache inside her. She doesn’t like it – it shouldn’t be there – it doesn’t belong to her – not her –
(Despite her reasons – it doesn’t go away.)
A week after school re-opens, Rachel Lynde manages to get a ball on the social calendar, which means the older students have dancing lessons for a whole set of afternoons. It’s the worst timing imaginable, as far as Anne’s concerned, as the Take Notice board survived the blizzard against all reason and is covered in nothing short of gossip.
She wishes Miss Stacy would just take it down but that – that would probably just cause other problems.
Part of her is actually excited for it; the part of her that still dreams of castles and Princess Cordelia and romance, not just adventure. Part of her just sees it as another stressful activity with no relevance for her future and comments from Josie Pye on that point, no matter how Diana tells her to stop. Part of her wishes she didn’t have this new knowledge of herself, the treacherous path she had somehow found herself upon, alone and with no friends to call on.
(She was, she thought, entitled to be a little dramatic about her own traitorous heart.)
“Anne, you partner up with Gilbert,” Miss Stacy says, calling out names, and Anne snaps to attention. She looks at Gilbert, who smiles at her, and then, fear in her heart, over at Ruby.
“I know you don’t want to, Anne,” Ruby says, almost indifferently, and Diana gets that same trademarked knowing look from when Anne didn’t want to share Gilbert’s letter, or when she’d explained about the trip to Charlottetown, or when he’d had to stay over during the blizzard. She looks like she really, really wants to say something but stops herself as Miss Stacy pairs up Diana with Moody.
“What is this list?” Diana hisses under her breath as Ruby is paired up with Charlie.
Anne doesn’t reply; she’s looked back over at Gilbert who is pretending to listen to whatever Paul is telling him but keeps glancing over at her. Butterflies are jumping in her stomach and she prays that she won’t step on anyone’s feet, or worse.
(And yet – she’s smiling.)
Miss Stacy lines them up, and instructs them to curtsy or bow to each other, and something is twisting at her heart. It’s romantic, even if it is the boys from her class, and perhaps if she imagines they are all lost princes and princesses, every one of them, they really will be. Diana practically is a princess, after all, and as Gilbert takes her hands for the first steps, the dream takes hold. He turns her in a half-circle, and the fluttering in her heart calms, her eyes fall shut in trust, and without warning, the dream is replaced with a better reality.
(It’s new, and unfamiliar, and in her heart it’s long overdue.)
“All good?” he asks, smiling, and she opens her eyes to look at him, nodding with a quick smile before the change in partners comes.
(Whatever that was – she knows she’ll come back to it before the end.)
She and Gilbert spend the last few days before exams bent over their textbooks, studying and studying. There’s a competitive edge to their quizzing each other, but just as much friendliness. It’s easier to be around him, even if he is strangely distracting with his hands covered in ink stains and a crease between his eyes as he works out a problem. She’s getting better at ignoring it in favor of trying to beat him in marks, for Mary’s sake. By now, she’s taking exams in her sleep, and has promised herself that if nothing else, she will not come second to Gilbert in exams.
(More than that, she doesn’t know. Not yet.)
The day of the exam is the most stressful of her life, and for Anne, that’s a new milestone. She steps out of the schoolhouse after Gilbert and Diana, taking the exams in defiance of her family, and lets out a sigh of relief. Spring is giving way to the first hints of summer and she opens her arms wide, breathing in the fresh air and spinning around.
“Race you to the woods?” Gilbert asks at her shoulder, his voice jangled with pent-up tension. Diana scoffs, but without warning Anne takes off at a flat run, heart pumping, breath coming heavy, and with a burst of energy she at last leaves the stress of exams behind and Gilbert at her heels, laughing.
A few days before the ball, Diana comes over to Green Gables, hiding from her family under the pretense of practicing hair styles with Anne.
“I’m going to Queen’s Academy anyway,” Diana says fiercely when she walks in. “Aunt Josephine says I can go and study music or anything else I want.”
“Oh, Diana!” Anne exclaims, flinging her arms around Diana and holding tight, relieved at last. The whole time she’d been thinking of losing her bosom friend, and now – now almost everything was right with the world.
“We can be roommates,” Diana says excitedly and Anne laughs, the future opening up wide before them.
“I also have patterns,” Diana says, and waves a magazine at Anne. “For the ball.”
The groan that Anne lets out is decidedly not ladylike, but Diana grins and pulls her along to the sitting room. Later, after they go through patterns for the terrifying prospect of attending an actual ball as grown-ups, Diana insists on styling Anne’s hair. Her hands weave back and forth through Anne’s hair as she tries something new, and Anne patiently lets her try all of them.
“This one’s a topknot, by the way,” Diana says through a mouthful of pins. “It’s very stylish right now among young ladies.”
“It’s not really going to matter for me,” Anne says, feeling warm and cozy as Diana brushes her hair into place. “Teachers don’t need to have fancy hair. Pianists do though!”
“It’s for you as much as anyone,” Diana says. “Miss Stacy knows these things as well as Josie Pye’s mother, I’m sure.”
“I want so much to be like her,” Anne says wistfully and Diana snorts, a little unladylike herself.
“You can be more than one thing,” Diana says, and when Anne turns her head to look at her, Diana drops Anne’s hair from her hands. “You do know…”
(She pauses. It’s knowledge that she’s been trying to share for over a year, heavy between them.)
“You do know Cole was right, don’t you?” Diana asks quietly, and looks at the doorway in case Marilla is near. “About Gilbert.”
Anne drops her eyes from Diana’s and her hands twist in her skirt as Diana adds, “and even if he wasn’t – Anne – Ruby and Gilbert haven’t had a single conversation in years. You have, though.”
Sometimes, Diana was too perceptive.
“I’m only the bride of adventure,” Anne says, trying to shake her sense of self back into place. “And Gilbert doesn’t like me as more than a friend, anyway. How could he?” She gestures at her hair and Diana sighs, sensing defeat.
“All I’m saying,” she says, gesturing for Anne to turn around as she returns to her task, “is don’t be surprised if he says something.”
(If he does – she has no idea what she’ll do.)
“And tied for first are Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley,” Miss Stacy finishes, her delight at her top students taking firsts in the exams all over her face. “I think a celebration is in order.”
“Congratulations, Anne,” Gilbert says, and she shakes his hand, still stunned. “You too,” she says distantly, and shake herself, grinning.
(The future opens up before them, the long path leading wherever they chose.)
“Guess all that studying paid off,” says Diana, bumping her shoulder against Anne’s. “You did it!”
“I guess so,” Anne says, smiling. She’s going, Gilbert’s going, Diana’s going.
(More than that, she won’t say. Yet.)
“It’s perfect,” Anne whispers, rapt gaze fixed on her own reflection. She might cry. Marilla tries to frown at the vanity but can’t quite manage it, and Matthew gives a gruff nod and pats her on the shoulder.
She’d outgrown the first dress with puff sleeves Matthew had given her, and she doesn’t want to think too hard about how they managed to save up for this one. It’s a darker blue than the first one, lace patterns stretching across the neckline, and it reaches her ankles, a true woman’s dress. Anne thinks she really could be Princess Cordelia in this dress, her heart three sizes too big.
When Jerry sees her, waiting to drive them all to the ball in the carriage, he frowns.
“You look like a girl,” he says, and she wishes heartily for a snowball to throw at him.
“That’s what she is,” Marilla answers for her, a note of pride in her voice, and it’s enough that Anne feels her heart get even bigger. If she tells Marilla any of this – but she’d rather hold it inside her, just a while longer.
Diana’s joyful exclamation at her arrival is only outstripped by her joy at Anne’s new dress.
“You look lovely,” Diana says happily, but her eyes are half-distracted, looking across the crowded dance floor. Her parents had at last relented on her going to Queen’s Academy with Josephine’s influence, but Anne knew she’s still avoiding her mother’s displeasure. “Oh, there she is,” Diana whispers, and disappears into the crowd, away.
(Only for now.)
Of course that’s exactly when Gilbert appears before her wearing a new suit and an anxious expression. Both features make him look taller – or perhaps he really is taller, broad shoulders hidden under coats and more. The clean lines of his suit cling to his frame, drawing her gaze, and it’s a moment before either of them manage to speak.
“Miss Shirley,” he asks as the music starts up, and then stalls. He looks as if the air’s been punched out of him and she bravely takes a step closer, putting a hand on his arm.
“Gilbert?” she asks. “Are you okay?”
(She thinks of an afternoon after school where she’d been speechless – an afternoon that feels like a hundred years ago.
This feels like a lot more than that.)
He takes a breath, swallowing hard, and collects himself.
“Anne. Will you dance?” he says, finally, and it’s her turn to freeze. At this rate, someone is going to interrupt them, or steal him away, and she’ll be left here still unable to give an answer to Gilbert Blythe’s question, his eyes vulnerable and anxious and at the same time hopeful, more than anything.
(There are a hundred things she could say. She could say something about Diana, or Jerry, or Ruby.)
“Yes,” she says instead, her voice gone strange just like his. It’s an answer that contains the promise of more worlds than she knew she had.
His eyes ease as he leads her out on the floor with the other dancers, and if she could look anywhere but him she’d probably find a dozen eyes on her. Diana will have a thousand and one questions; she has as many herself and of herself. She doesn’t have the answers, not yet – but perhaps she has the questions.
She doesn’t look away. When she meets his eyes, her hand falling into his as his arm slips around her waist, she finds her voice this time instead of losing it.
“I think I know this one,” she says, and something in her chest tightens with hope and even more, a wish for something, for herself. For the future.
(She doesn’t tuck this moment away, safe from any doors it might open.)
Instead, she steps into it, and jumps.