Anne has decided she hates clocks.
The clock struck two when Anne realized she loved Gilbert Blythe. By the time it rang for three, she was saddling up to ride to his home and tell him.
When she arrived at his door, Bash told her that Gilbert left to take the train into Charlottetown. She’s too late, he said. But there's another train, she knew, and there was no time to tell Bash goodbye before she jumped back on Belle and raced for the station.
As she rode, Anne couldn’t help but picture Gilbert walking up to perfect Winifred’s perfect home and taking her out to dinner for the perfect proposal, where she knew he would be the perfect gentleman. He would wait until the perfect moment, look into her eyes, sink onto one knee, reach into his pocket…
She refused to get distracted now. None of this will matter if she falls off Belle before even reaching the train station. Marilla always warned her that a wandering mind could have dangerous consequences.
At the exact moment Anne stepped onto the train, Gilbert was walking up to Winnie’s front door. She smiled brilliantly when he offered her his arm, and Mr. Rose playfully made Gilbert promise to return her before dark. Gilbert was too nervous to laugh in response, and just nodded stiffly.
Dinner was lovely. Winnie quizzed Gilbert on the etiquette she taught him all those weeks ago (had that really been just the beginning of the summer? Had it really gone by so quickly?) and he quizzed her on the anatomy of Mr. Bones, just to see how she was doing at the good doctor’s office without him. As dessert approached, Gilbert reached into his pocket to ensure the ring was still tucked inside its pouch. It was- thank the Lord- but...
Eyebrows furrowed, Gilbert withdrew something else from his pocket. In his hand was a pen, the one Anne had loaned him during their study session at Mrs. Stacy’s home. He had forgotten to give it back; his mind had been too distracted, trying desperately to focus on anything other than her knee gently pressing against his leg as their classmates interrogated him about his “girl” from Charlottetown.
After their success at Town Hall, he had followed her outside to talk privately, prepared with the flimsy excuse of returning her pen. But she had disarmed him with her usual Anne-ness. Suddenly the pen was the last thing on his mind, and again she swept away leaving his mind fuzzy and confused in her wake.
What was he doing? Here he was preparing to propose , and all he could think about was a fiery redhead miles away. This is not what Mary would have wanted. Now that he was listening, he could almost hear her telling him, only for love , and he could feel Bash telling him to be a man . Don’t take the easy way out . It was Anne, it has always been Anne. If she didn’t love him, then he would rather live alone than live a lie.
Winnie was still talking, and ashamed, Gilbert realized he had no idea what her story was about. When he finally looked her in the eye, he had a feeling she knew. Gilbert said nothing. The walk back to her door was quiet, with just the crunch of the walkway beneath their feet, but it was a companionable quiet. Until Gilbert spoke.
It’s not fair to Winnie, but neither is leading her on. Gilbert tells her the truth. Most of it, anyway. He has come to realize that while they are great friends, there is no future for them together. He will always be grateful for having known her, but it was time they part ways. The conversation that ensues is not exactly the amicable or clean break he had hoped it would be, but Winifred is entitled to anger. To her hurt. She doesn’t say it, but he can hear the resignation in her voice even as she tells him off-- they both know what he isn’t saying.
Gilbert makes his way back to the Charlottetown train station in a fog. It is now late, and the near-setting sun is casting a golden haze on the world. And out of that haze, out of the smoke from the train, Anne Shirley-Cuthbert appears to Gilbert like an angel. When their eyes meet, they freeze. Time seems to stop, even as the station clock chimes in the new hour. Whoever moves first is unclear, but somehow Anne is right in front of him, nearly as close as she was the day the Take Notice board appeared. Not close enough.
Before Gilbert can make his brain work properly, Anne begins gushing.
“Gilbert! I didn't expect-- well I had hoped but, oh-- you must have-- and I just want to,”
“Anne...” Gilbert breaths her name, the only thing he is capable of saying. She does not stop.
“I suppose congratulations are in order! Let me be the first to, well I’m sure I’m not the first , surely her parents were the first, silly me, but really do let me say I am so, so happy for you and I just--”. She was beginning to tear up.
“Marriage is an awful grand event and no one is better suited for it than you, Gilbert, and she’s perfect so let me say--”
“Anne.” Gilbert grabbed her gently by the shoulders so she would finally look him in the eyes. “I didn’t propose.”
“It wasn't right. Mary once told me to marry only for love, and I realized that Winnie is a great friend and a wonderful woman, but she is not the woman I love. Anne, I... I know I have made mistakes, and I know I’ve hurt you, but do you think you could ever...” He trailed off, unprepared to take the final plunge. Gilbert hadn’t expected to get this far.
“I love you.” Anne said, cheeks rapidly turning red with blush. “I have loved you for several days at least, and I think I have known for several years. Coming here, I believed I would never have the chance to say this, but I love you, Gilbert Blythe. L-O-V-E.”
Anne’s first kiss took place in the middle of the Charlottetown train station-- a place she didn’t think she would ever see in quite the same way again. Gilbert pulled her closer, one hand cradling her cheek and one reverently resting on her back. Anne could hear women whispering around them, how scandalous, wild youth, so improper , but the words sounded far off compared to the sound of Gilbert’s clothes rustling as he moved in closer still, the sound of her name on his lips like a prayer.
Yes, word of this will definitely find its way back to Marilla, and by extension, Rachel Lynde. No, Anne did not know what would happen next, what the exam results would say about their future, or what she would do about the printing press or the gossip or anything , but she knew one thing. They would face it together. Four little words, and Anne’s home. Four little words and she’s the happiest she’s ever been.
I love you too.