Anne was the last of the girls to receive a suitor in the parlour.
Unsurprisingly, Tillie had been the first, her cheeks rosy as she announced to the girls how she would be spending her Saturday afternoon. The others had insisted that they would use the time to go on a walk, but they found themselves back at the boarding house at a quarter to four, just in time to peak their heads past the window of the parlour and see Tillie sitting opposite her beau. Unfortunately, the head of the boarding house was sitting in a chair directly behind the couple and caught the girls looking in. When she announced that the next Saturday, there could be no male visitors, Anne could not bring herself to be too disappointed.
Ruby was the next. She was uncharacteristically quiet in the lead up to the afternoon, diverting the girls pondering questions back to their Queen’s work, visiting Avonlea and, to Anne’s dismay, Gilbert. It was decisively enough to put Anne off prodding for more answers because the more she thought about how her and Gilbert could never be those ‘Saturday afternoon in the parlour’ types, the more it disheartened her. Though, when Ruby’s visitor turned out to be Moody, Anne wrote down every detail to Gilbert in her nightly letter and no tears fell from her eyes as she did.
Unconventionally, Jane and Josie received both of their suitors for the first time on the same afternoon. They were a set of twins from Charlottetown who the pair hadn’t been able to stop gushing over for weeks, especially after an incident in town when both girls managed to ‘drop’ their books in unison. At the time, Anne could only roll her eyes at the situation, but as she strode past the parlour, watching the girls secretly smile to each other as they spoke to their beaus, she would be lying if she had denied the pang of jealousy that ran through her.
Two months after the girls had arrived at Queen’s, Diana spent her first Saturday afternoon in the parlour. After dinner, the two girls were finally alone and ready to dissect every word and movement in the two-hour time gap when there was a knock on the door. A letter, somehow misdelivered earlier that day, had finally made its way to Anne.
“It’s Gilbert’s handwriting!” Diana exclaimed. “You have to open it!”
Anne sighed and lowered herself back onto her bed beside her best friend. “Diana, you act as if I don’t receive letters from Gilbert almost every day, it can wait. I want to hear all about you and Fred.” She placed the letter on the pillow behind her and turned back around, waiting for Diana to start telling her tale.
“No, Anne, I insist. You must open it now.”
Anne could only crinkle her eyebrows in confusion. “Okay.” She reached for the letter once more and opened it slowly. It was much shorter than the usual correspondence between the pair, but when Anne read the words, she suddenly couldn’t care one jolt. “Diana! He’s coming, Gilbert’s coming!”
Diana swept her best friend into a hug, partly for joy, but partly to stop Anne from shouting at a volume that would get them told off.
When she pulled back, Anne’s cheeks were red and small lines of tears could be seen coming from the corners of her eyes. “Did you know?” Anne asked, raising her hands to wipe the tears away.
“Of course, and I have been waiting what seems like forever and ever to tell you.”
Time seemed to go incredibly slowly on the week leading up to Gilbert’s visit, but on the big day itself, Anne found herself dashing around at the last second, collecting odds and sods that she wanted to show him in between making sure that her appearance wasn’t messed up by her rushing.
As the clock in the house struck two, Anne froze completely. “Diana,” she whispered, breaths starting to come out in panicked waves, “is it really time?”
Diana raised herself up from her bed, glad at least that Anne had stopped wearing holes in the floorboards with her manic pacing. “You know as well as I do what time it is. Do you want me to walk you down?”
With Anne’s nod, Diana strode towards Anne’s shaking figure. Taking Anne’s hand in hers, she started to lead her out of the room and towards the staircase. It was slow going, even to the point where they were halfway down the stairs, until Gilbert came into Anne’s view at the bottom, standing in his suit with his hands clasped in front of him. Despite the distance, Anne could see that his curls had gotten longer and that he had somehow managed to grow, again, but despite the differences, he still had the same smile, the same piercing eyes and the same way of making her knees go weak.
Letting go of Diana’s hand, she sprinted down the last few steps and ran straight into his open arms. She buried her face in the crook between his shoulder and his neck as she felt his arms wrap around her waist. Taking a deep breath in she smelt the sharp scent of his shaving cream mixed with a calming woody undertone that was unmistakably Gilbert. She could feel his mouth moving against her ear, the sound of her name being repeated over and over as his lips brushed against her soft skin.
“Miss Shirley-Cuthbert!” The shout made them both spring apart, by no means to an acceptable distance, but to a distance at least. “I know that this is your first time receiving a suitor, but that is no way to greet them.” The head of the boarding house turned sharply around and headed back into the parlour, her skirts swaying with anger.
Anne turned towards Gilbert to find him gazing down at her. “Shall we?” He asked, gesturing for her to head in first. With one quick look back at Diana, who was on the edge of running back up the stairs, she strode in and took up her place on the wide sofa as all the other girls had done before her.
Once they had both been served tea, with a matching scowl, there was a slight pause before both tried to start speaking at once.
“Some things never change,” Gilbert found himself joking. “Nor would I ever want them to.”
With Anne’s smile in reply, Gilbert gestured for her to go ahead and before they knew it, they were deep into tales of their two different cities. As opposed to how they normally spoke, both found themselves using their hands in their storytelling, throwing their arms in a way that they hoped would appear wild to their guard, but were secretly conducted so that they could brush hands against hands and skin could be felt against skin.
A ring at the front door interrupted Gilbert’s story of the huge libraries he found in Toronto. The scowling woman, as Anne had then chosen she would describe her, deciding she had no choice but to trust the pair, silently left the room. In the pause, Gilbert suddenly noticed the clock.
“It can’t be.” Anne turned at his words and saw that it was almost ten to four. She looked back in dismay towards Gilbert, who’s shock was written all over his features.
Taking a moment to process, she reached out for Gilbert’s hand and held it firm within her own. Trying to ignore how wonderous it felt to have their skin touch, Anne prepared to relay her plan to him. “You know how much I love going on adventures? Well, I think now is the perfect time for one.”
In a moment they were both standing, fingers interlocking in a way that made Anne’s heart flutter. Walking in a slight crouch, they made their way out of the parlour through the side door and ended up in the large kitchen. Anne thanked her stars that no one was around this particular afternoon as they snuck through the room and out of the back door into the boarding house grounds.
If any of the girls were looking out of their bedroom windows, Anne had to trust that they wouldn’t snitch on the figures they saw sprinting across the lawn and through the small gap in the hedges. “Are we safe?” Gilbert whispered as they stood with their backs against the hedge in the gardens of the boarding house next door.
“Almost,” Anne whispered in return. “Mr Wells doesn’t tend to keep as tight of a rein on the boys here, I doubt he even looks up from his ship models, but you can never be too careful.”
Following Anne’s lead, Gilbert skirted around the edge of the garden. The image in front of him reminded him of so many of his dreams over the previous months, his red-haired goddess leading them away from society and to a place where they could finally be just the two of them.
Reaching the hedge on the other side of the boarding house, Anne led Gilbert through another gap, bringing them into a much more unkempt garden. Twigs and leaves littered the ground and overgrown trees hung around them as if inviting them into a twisted hug.
“What is this place?” Gilbert asked, not letting his hand fall from Anne’s as she pulled him closer towards the groupings of trees.
“This is my forest of mysteries.” Anne brought them to a stop beneath one of the trees, the pair standing between roots extending far beyond the tree’s width before disappearing into the ground. As she turned, it brought them into such close proximity that Gilbert had to remember how to breathe. If he looked dead straight, he could see the line where her freckled forehead met her hairline, but he much preferred to lower his gaze, past her stormy blue eyes and to the slight curve of her lips.
“Why is it a forest of mysteries?” Gilbert found himself asking the question without realising the words had escaped his lips.
“Because I have yet to discover its purpose.” Anne’s whisper in return was enough to send Gilbert over the edge. With her lips still pursed from the s sound, he lowered his own lips to meet them. The electricity that jolted through him in response made him instinctively reach his free hand out to her waist, to steady himself and to pull her closer.
He hummed in contentment against her lips when he felt her hand find its place as the base of his neck, tickling his hairline. Feeling every curve of her body against him through his clothing, Gilbert found his mouth opening, granting her movement and him the opportunity to caress his tongue against her lips, gently prizing them apart.
The opening of her mouth in return was the moment Gilbert would pinpoint as when his control started to slip. This new way of kissing, one he had only been able to fantasise about before, unveiled a primal instinct within him and before he could register what he was doing, he turned Anne in his arms and pressed her back into the tree, using his leverage to bring himself closer to her, if that would even be possible.
Realising what he had done, Gilbert prepared to pull back and apologise, but the sound that Anne released and the way her hand tightened in his hair only encouraged him. Squeezing the hand of hers he was holding before he let go, Gilbert moved his fingers until they were tracing delicate patterns against Anne’s exposed neck. In response, Anne’s then free hand moved to his shirt, scrunching it over his heart.
Though he never wanted to let Anne’s lips leave his, feeling her response to his fingers against her neck, Gilbert decided to trace a line of kisses away from Anne’s lips, heading slowly towards her ear and then even more slowly down along her neck. Feeling her pulse as he traced and sucked his lips against her skin, he felt her nails dig into the back of his neck as she let out a whispered “Gil.”
At her words, Gilbert suddenly pulled himself back, so harshly breaking the contact that Anne could feel a rush of cold air against her skin. Opening her eyes, she found him standing a few feet back, lips swollen and outfit partly disassembled.
“I’m sorry,” Gilbert said, letting out a small cough into his fist. “I should have never prepositioned you like that.” He cast his gaze downwards as if fearing her wrath.
“You say it like I didn’t want to be prepositioned.” Anne pushed herself off the trunk of the tree, stepping closer to her lover. At his lack of response, she lifted a hand to coax his chin up and bring his gaze back to hers. “Hey, what’s all this?”
“I just feel like if I went any further, I wouldn’t be able to stop.” Gilbert took a deep breath and let himself get lost in her eyes for a moment. “You intoxicate me, completely. And if I could, I would marry you right here and whisk you away to Toronto, Queen’s be damned.”
Anne bit the inside of her cheek, trying to stop herself from agreeing with his plan at that very moment. “Gil, as rare it is that I’m the voice of reason and as wonderful as that plan sounds, it’s impossible for us right now.” She let her eyes search his until she found the agreement she was looking for. “But just because we can’t let things get as … heated as that, doesn’t mean that we can do this.” She raised herself up on tiptoes to reconnect their lips and felt her heart flutter as Gilbert allowed their lips to gently brush together.
Pulling back ever so slightly, Gilbert found himself whispering less than an inch away from her lips, their breaths mingling as he spoke. “I think we’ve found a purpose for the forest of mysteries then.”