“Are you heading home now?” Gilbert asked, watching as Anne grabbed her hat.
“I planned on it.” She said with a small smile. “As beautiful as the stars are I fear I will be frightfully cross if I don’t get some sleep.”
Gilbert reached for his own hat. “Let me walk you back.”
Anne’s eyes widened. “That’s hardly necessary. It’s been a long day and it’s quite the distance out of your way and I-“
“Anne.” Gilbert interrupted. “It’s dark out. Besides, I’d enjoy the walk.”
After the moment they’d shared on the porch earlier, they both felt as though they were delving into rather uncertain territory. Despite her reservations, Anne gave a small nod, and Gilbert put his hat on and stepped to open the door for her.
The night air was cool, seeming entirely peaceful compared to the last few days.
“Don’t you think the stars are shining brighter tonight than usual?” Anne asked, mostly to herself.
Gilbert answered anyway. “It does seem that way. Probably to reward you for your efforts.” He smiled at her.
Anne smiled back. “Our efforts. Don’t pretend that it isn’t because of you that they would even listen to what I had to say.”
He shrugged. “I just used your words. Either way, I’d call your plan a success.”
“As would I.” Anne grinned as they entered the path through the woods. “One of my better plans, if I do say so myself.”
“I don’t know,” Gilbert tilted his head. “I’ve yet to see you let yourself fail in anything.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“I find that-“ Anne’s attention was pulled to something off the path. “Did you just see something?”
Gilbert followed her gaze. “I don’t see anything. A rabbit maybe?”
“Must be.” Anne stopped and peered into the bushes. “Perhaps it’s my fox. If that wicked Billy Andrews didn’t get to it-“
“You just can’t keep your mouth shut, can you Anne Shirley?” A taunting voice sneered from behind them.
Anne and Gilbert both whipped around, both of their faces settling into glares as they took in Billy Andrews.
“I speak the truth.” Anne said, staring at him defiantly. “If it offends you I suggest you grow up.”
Billy took a step toward her, and something in his gaze prompted Gilbert to step forward.
“Come on, Billy. It’s over. You made a mess of things and now they’re being sorted out. Don’t go making things worse for yourself.” Gilbert tried to calm him.
Billy scowled. “And what of her?”
“Of her?” Gilbert frowned. “Of Josie?”
“Don’t you ever speak about Josie again!” Anne insisted. “You’ve lost that privilege.”
“No, not about Josie.” Billy glared at Anne, before turning back to Gilbert. “About Anne. I don’t supposed you bothered to scold her for acting up.”
“She didn’t act up, Billy.” Gilbert’s voice was hard. “Go home. Now.”
Gilbert turned his back. “Come on, Anne.”
He placed a hand at the small of her back and they started hurrying down the path.
Billy strolled after them. “I didn’t come out here to talk, you know.”
“Good night, Billy!” Gilbert shouted over his shoulder.
“I warned you, Anne Shirley. Don’t mess with me or my family.”
Anne whirled around. “That was years ago, Billy! And how is what you’re doing now not the same thing the town did to Prissy back then.”
“I said don’t talk about my family!” He screamed, stepping right up to Anne’s face.
Anne didn’t have to good sense to back off, and just crossed her arms and faced him head on.
“Just admit it, you’re a coward and you don’t know what to do now that everyone knows.”
“Anne, let’s go!” Gilbert insisted.
“Stay out of this!” Billy shouted. “This is between me and this little piece of orphan trash.”
“HEY!” Gilbert stepped up. “Stop right now, before you can’t take it back.”
“You know,” Billy turned his attention to Gilbert. “If you hadn’t gotten in my way back then I could’ve taught her a lesson, and here you are, getting in my way again.”
Gilbert clenched his jaw. “And I’m going to stay in your way. So I’m telling you one more time, go home now.”
“Hey!” A hand landed on Gilbert’s shoulder.
Anne wasn’t sure what she was imagining. Matthew, maybe Jerry, someone who would intervene and calm things down. Bash, even, anyone could’ve shown up.
Instead, the hand shifted to Gilbert’s arm, and someone else joined him in hauling Gilbert back.
“Moody!” Gilbert shouted. “Charlie, what are you doing?”
“Sorry, Gil.” Moody said as they pulled Gilbert away. “Things got out of hand. Just let him finish this up and then everything will go back to normal.”
“Go back to normal? What do you mean?” Anne looked frantically back and forth.
Suddenly, she realized that they were outnumbered. Gilbert was being held back by two people, and there was nothing standing in between her and Billy Andrews except her words.
“I told you, Anne Shirley.” Billy sneered down at her. “I’m going to teach you a lesson.”
“This is too far, Billy! Stop this now!” Gilbert warned, trying to wrench Charlie’s grip off him.
“Billy…please. We can move on from this.” Anne said, suddenly convinced she needed to pacify him.
“No, I don’t think we can.” He studied her face for a long moment.
And then reeled back and punched her square in the jaw.
Anne went down. She was no stranger to taking a beating, but the sheer force and shock of it was enough to send her sprawling. Her hat lay next to her on the ground as she pushed herself up into a sitting position, holding her face with one hand.
“What are you doing?” She demanded. “Have you lost your mind?”
“What the hell, Billy?” Gilbert struggled.
Billy ignored him. “I warned you. And hey, at least I don’t need to worry about messing up your face. You’re ugly enough as is.”
Anne blinked as she tried to process what was happening, and that one second was long enough for Billy to swing his leg into her stomach.
She crumpled, wheezing as she tried to catch her breath.
“Billy, stop!” Gilbert was shouting. “You’ll hurt her!”
“That’s kind of the goal.” Billy grabbed one of Anne’s braids and pulled her upwards again. “I thought that fancy university education was supposed to make you smart.”
He turned his attention to Anne. “What? Don’t have anything smart to say now?”
Anne spat in his face. “You’re crazy.”
Billy scoffed, trying to look nonchalant, but anger flashed through his eyes. He punched her again, this time directly in the mouth, dropping her to the ground. He gave no mercy this time, immediately starting his onslaught of kicks and fists. Anne scrambled to cover her face, as events of the past flashed in her brain she reverted to her old self. Stay quiet. It’ll be over faster.
She came hurtling back to reality as a foot pressed on her throat.
“Billy!” Gilbert’s voice was joined by others.
“What?” He turned to look, his foot still pressing down.
Charlie was holding Gilbert with an arm locked around his neck, while Moody tried to restrain his arms.
“It wasn’t supposed to go this far.” Moody argued. “You’re going to kill her.”
“This far?” Gilbert tried to elbow Charlie in the chest. “You are killing her. Stop it, Billy!”
Billy rolled his eyes, lifting his foot off. Anne gasped for breath, feeling like her throat was closing up. Her lungs were only filling with half of the air she needed, and she couldn’t bring herself to do anything other than attempt to breathe.
Billy stalked over to Gilbert. “You just keep getting in my way. Do you want to be next?”
“Yes, Fine. She can’t fight back, I will.” Gilbert glared at him.
Billy grinned, before launching a punch into Gilbert’s jaw.
Gilbert was anchored by the two boys still holding him, and so he was able to recover quickly and glare at Billy. “Happy now?”
“Happier.” He turned to leave, walking past Anne’s prone form. “Next time, you won’t be so lucky.”
With another swift kick to the ribs, he continued down the path. “Come on boys.”
Charlie and Moody let go of Gilbert, who dove immediately for Anne.
“Sorry, Gil. We didn’t realize it would get so bad.”
“I have to walk by Anne’s house on the way back anyways.” Moody said. “I’ll tell them to come get you guys.”
Gilbert stared at them, unable to process their calmness as they hurried down the path.
A strangled breath tore his attention away.
“Anne!” He exclaimed. “Can you look at me?”
Her eyes were open, but her gaze seemed to be focused on something else. Gently tapping her on the cheek, Gilbert did a quick check. He tried to separate the doctor in his head from his care for Anne as he searched for injuries. He couldn’t find any blood except on her face, but given the way she was breathing he imagined there to be several broken ribs.
“Gilbert?” She said quietly, her voice raspy.
He looked up, fingers tracing her throat. “Don’t talk. I think he may have damaged your throat.”
“Did you get hurt?” She mumbled, a hand weakly raising and touching the bruise forming along his jaw.
He swallowed. “I’m fine. You just need to hang on, okay? Matthew will be here soon and we’ll be able to get you home.”
She groaned. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” He couldn’t keep the shock off his face. “This wasn’t you fault, Anne.”
“Yes, it was.” She sighed. “I’ll be okay, but I’m sorry you got hurt.”
“What do you mean you’ll be okay?” His fingers traced her scalp now, looking for any cause of a head injury. One of her braids was undone, and in his panicked haze he undid her other one and placed her hair ribbons in her hat. “Anne, just stay still, okay? You’re very hurt.”
She hummed lightly. “I’ve had worse.”
“You’ve had-“ He looked away so she wouldn’t see the way his jaw clenched.
“Are you mad at me?” She asked. “This is all because of my mess.”
“Of course I’m not mad at you!” He exclaimed, looking back. “Billy Andrews is a coward. I’ll make him pay for this Anne, I promise.”
He didn’t even know what he was saying anymore, just rambling nonsense to comfort himself more than her.
“Good. I thought we were….we were past the fighting.”
She was silent for a long moment. “I can scarcely breathe. I feel as though my throat is closed.”
Her chest heaved another breath, and he thought he sensed her growing panicked.
“Hey, hey,” He leaned over her. “You’re okay. Help will be here soon.”
Her eyes fluttered closed.
Gilbert pinched her cheek. “Anne, keep your eyes open!”
They opened again, but her expression was even more dazed.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized that he needed to help take pressure off of her throat so she could breathe easier. Shifting so he was sitting by her head, he gently pulled her by the shoulders until her head was resting in his lap. She made a slight noise of protest at being moved, but her breathing seemed to calm now that her head was elevated.
Looking down at her Gilbert stared down the road. Where was Matthew? Did Moody decide not to tell him.
“Diana said…” Anne mumbled, her eyes staring up at him. “Diana said you’re selling apples?”
Gilbert blinked. And then was unable to suppress a laugh.
“You’re laughing at me?” A tiny smiled etched its way across her face.
Noticing the blood collected around her mouth, from what he suspected was a split lip, Gilbert reached for his handkerchief. Finding it not in his jacket, he settled instead for ripping the bottom off his shirt and dabbing at the blood.
“I’d never laugh at you, Anne.” He promised. “I just don’t know many people who would be preoccupied with apples in the current situation.”
Anne sighed. “I think the word people keep using is peculiar.”
“Peculiar.” He considered the word. “I don’t know, I think extraordinary is more appropriate.”
Anne smiled. “Sometimes, Gilbert Blythe, you’re extraordinary too.”
He smiled. “Why thank you.”
The sound of a horse caught his attention, and he spotted a wagon making its way down the path.
“Help is here, Anne.” He whispered. “It’s all going to be okay.”
“It is.” Impulsively, he pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I promise.”