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we can leave the christmas lights up 'til january

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Gilbert scrunches up his nose as she picks up her order.

“I will never understand how you can drink that monstrosity,” he grumbles.

Anne huffs, looking down at her peppermint vanilla mocha with whipped cream and an extra shot of espresso (which is delicious, by the way, Gil doesn’t know what he’s talking about). The barista had written Ann again. She felt like screaming. They’ve been coming to this Starbucks for months now, and she had made a point of telling the dude that her name was Anne, with an E for weeks. He had never learnt. Stupid Billy Andrews. She couldn’t understand how he had gotten this job even though he apparently couldn’t spell. Or listen at all.

“I’m getting into the Christmas spirit,” she tells Gilbert with a smile.

“Yes. I can see that,” he replies with a pointed look to her outfit, eyes roving from her torso to her face. So what if she was wearing a black and gold sweater patterned with snow and Santa Claus and reindeers? It was cute and it looked great with her skinny jeans and ankle boots. Anne didn’t regret it.

She shrugs as an answer, her shoulder brushing against his chest, and he chuckles next to her ear, a deep sound that sends a shiver down her spine. Anne rolls her eyes, turning away from him so he can’t see the blush that takes over her cheeks.

Okay, so she might have a slight crush on Gilbert Blythe. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s purely hormones. Gilbert happens to be extremely cute, with his crooked grin, cutting jawline and curly hair. His broad shoulders and lean arms also don’t help. So, she’s attracted to him. It’s nothing to be alarmed of. It’s fine, really. She can handle it. It’s not like she blushes profusely whenever he’s around her or as if her mouth runs away from her until she says something stupid and rash in an attempt to not show him that she’s attracted to him and ends up making him think she hates him instead.

Except, you know, that totally happens.

It’s fine either way. Anne will get over this stupid crush and then she’ll go back to being normal around Gilbert and everything will be okay. Even if it seems to be going on for a while now, it’ll go away. It has to. They’re friends, nothing more, and Anne won’t let a feeble attraction ruin the friendship they’ve worked so long for. She just needs to get through the party and then they’ll all be apart for the Holidays and by the time they come back it will be alright.

Anne doesn’t know whose stupid idea it was to have their group throw a Christmas party at the boys’ apartment before they all leave to spend the end of the year with their families (who is she kidding, it was definitely Cole’s). Honestly, she’s just glad they didn’t even consider the possibility of hosting it at the place she shares with the other girls. It would have been utter chaos. She’d rather they trash the boys’ apartment, since it’s pretty much trash already. Either way, the party is the next day and Jerry had already acquired large quantities of alcohol and promised a wild night to all of them.

Suffice to say, Anne was kind of scared.

It was widely known by her friends that Anne couldn't really hold her liquor. Ever since the raspberry cordial event with Diana when they were barely teens, she hasn’t been able to take on more than a couple of drinks before getting completely drunk. It’s not all bad, though. She quite likes the feeling, actually, being looser and freer and bubbly with alcohol in her veins.

Except, you know, drunk-Anne is also honest-Anne. She starts saying everything she’s thinking without absolutely any filter (which already happens quite often when she’s sober and only gets a thousand times worse with alcohol). It can be quite entertaining and she normally doesn’t mind it much, but being at the same party as Gilbert with a loose tongue could mean blurting out her feelings without wanting to, which could mean ruining her entire relationship with him and then she’d start the new year with one less friend.

So, she’s determined to stay sober for the entirety of it, no matter how much Jerry and Josie try to annoy her into drinking.

“Honestly, peppermint is not an acceptable flavor for coffee,” Gilbert continues, voice still betraying his disgust.

Anne elbows him on the side. “You’re the only one who thinks so, you Grinch, so whatever.”

She goes to their apartment in the early morning to help them set up. None of them are awake, but Cole had given her a key a while ago. God knows the boys are completely hopeless, and Anne’s told them that if they want to have a Christmas party, the least they have to do is have a proper Christmas tree set up.

For all her complaining, Anne loves Christmas. And she loves doing the whole Christmas shebang. Also, she’s the best at it, so it’s really no question that she’d be the one to set up the most amazing Christmas tree (plus all other decorations) so they could throw an unforgettable Christmas party.

The boys, obviously, had accepted it immediately.

Gilbert comes out to help her with assembling the fake tree Moody had gotten at Walmart. It’s crappy, to say the least, and it feels entirely too cheap to use it instead of a real one, but all of them had agreed it would be too much effort (and money) to get a real pine tree that would get demolished within a few hours of the party. So, cheap plastic tree it is.

He doesn’t stay for the decorating part, though, tasked with borrowing the sound system from one of his colleagues. Anne is grateful for it, the proximity to him too much for her when she’s already feeling extra sensitive. She can’t focus with him around, and she’s got a lot of work still before she has to go home and get ready, so Gilbert Blythe needed to stay away.

Anne hangs the ornaments on the tree in the best way she knows how — extremely over the top. It’s a colorful Christmas tree, to say the least, and when she adds the tinsel and the string lights, it’s bright enough to illuminate the living room. Anne loves it. Sure, it doesn’t look like it would fit in a fancy decorating magazine, but it’s cheerful and Christmas-y and she’s looking forward to see her friends’ reactions to it.

She proceeds to decorate the rest of the apartment, or at least some of it. Cole was still going to add some of his artist touch to it, but Anne had all the Christmas regulars with her, so she puts up the stockings (she had had one for each of them made, and they’re the cutest) on the kitchen cabinets, since they didn’t have a fireplace in the apartment, then adds wreaths on the doors and string lights wherever she can manage to hang them.

And then, she reaches the last box of decorations. The only one with stuff she hadn’t been the one to buy. With a deep, suffering breath, she opens it and grabs the branches inside.

Anne blushes the entire time she’s hanging the mistletoe. Jerry had heckled her for days, insisting they should fill the apartment with it. We need to make it fun, he had said, waggling his eyebrows like an idiot. Anne had relented, even if she knew he was only doing this because he hoped to get Diana under one of them. He was right, in some way. Christmas was not Christmas without mistletoe. Besides, if they were throwing a party for a bunch of college kids, they might as well have mistletoe to spice things up a little bit.

That doesn’t mean the thought of it doesn’t make her nervous.

She tells herself that by being the one to hang them up she’ll at least know where they are so she’ll know how to avoid them.

It’ll be fine.

It hasn’t even been five minutes and she’s already been offered a drink by every single one of her friends. Even Ruby had tried shoving a cup with some red-something in it with a hysterical laugh that told Anne everything she needed to know about how much her friend had had already. She politely declines everyone, making up some lame excuse about how she needs to get up early the next day to travel home and can’t afford to be nursing a hangover when she sees Matthew and Marilla for the first time. Diana and Cole see right through her, but it gets them off her back at least.

She is not letting alcohol ruin everything tonight.

Anne wanders into the growing crowd, everyone decked in some kind or other of Christmas-themed outfit. She sees reindeer antlers and Santa hats and red and green everything. It’s quite cute, actually. Maybe the party had been a good idea after all. She greets the people she knows from the university, but it’s not many. The guests were mainly the boys’ acquaintances (Cole’s, really). Anne wasn’t one to know this many people, but she talks to the ones she does know, making her way to try and find one of her friends that have already gone missing.

That’s when she finds Gilbert.

It’s not technically an ugly Christmas sweater party, but Anne had thought that if they were doing all of this, she might as well go all out. So, she did. She’s wearing a red sweater that definitely clashes with her hair with a huge Rudolph the Reindeer printed on the front, its antlers wrapped by string lights that actually light up. It’s hideous, but Anne loves it. It had taken her ages to find the perfect sweater, but once she had seen it, she had known it was the one.

Anne had not expected Gilbert to have the same idea. She definitely hadn’t expected him to basically match with her, real flashing lights and all.

She’s not sure how it’s possible, but Gilbert Blythe manages to make a light-up dark green Christmas sweater with cartoonish elves dancing over it look good. Maybe it’s the way he’s matched it with the dark grey jeans that are specially tight on his butt (not that Anne’s paying it any special attention). Or how his curls are flopping perfectly over his forehead in a way that looks very casual but she knows is actually extremely deliberate. Or maybe it’s how the sparse lighting makes his jawline look even sharper than usual in a way that causes a heat low in her belly.

Jesus Christ, she is not getting out of this party alive.

Gilbert smiles when he sees her, moving away from the two boys he was talking to and making his way towards her. Anne also quickly ends her conversation with Charlie Sloane, a classmate from her Gender and Diversity class that the more she talked to the less she understood what he did there, considering his seriously warped views, and walks towards Gil, sinking into his hug the second his arms come up around her.

Even in the middle of the crowded, loud room, she can smell his orange and cedar scent. It’s more inebriating than any alcohol could ever hope to be.

They separate and he looks down at her and Anne’s taken aback for a moment by their height difference. Had he grown even more since the last time she had seen him? They’re still standing quite close, and Gilbert’s hand comes up to fidget with one of the lights on her sweater.

“An ugly Christmas sweater, huh?” he says, crooked grin in place.

Anne shrugs, her own hand nudging the top of the hat of one of the elves on his shirt, a white pom-pom that pops out of the sweater. “Great minds think alike, I guess.”

He laughs, low and true, and she feels his chest vibrating against hers.

“I guess,” he replies, Anne catches it more by reading his lips than by hearing what he’s said. It’s slightly worrying that she’s sober but her eyes can’t seem to move away from his lips and they’re still standing too close together and her thought process is starting to slow down.

Anne takes a hurried step back, bumping into the person behind her as Gilbert’s hand falls from her sweater. His grin lessens a bit. Her heart is racing too fast on her chest and her cheeks are definitely red.

“You want to grab a drink?” he asks after a beat when she can’t muster up any words.

Anne shakes her head. “Nah, thanks. I need to find Diana,” she tells him and leaves as soon as she sees his nod, her heart beating wildly in her chest.

It’s too much. He’s too much. And Anne had to come out sane of this.

She was not going to lose him.

It’s one hour into the party when Josie grabs Anne’s arm and drags her to a corner of the party where Diana and Cole are waiting for them. Ruby and Moody were apparently off somewhere making out while Jerry and Gilbert were not supposed to participate in this conversation. Or at least that’s what Josie hisses in her ear.

She props Anne in front of them and glares at her in a way she hasn’t since high school. It’s a bit scary and a lot aggravating, because she had fought to get into Josie's good graces and she refuses to believe it’s suddenly all been for nothing.

“Is everything alright, Josie?” Anne asks, glancing at Cole and Diana behind her and trying to figure out if anything had happened in the last few hours that she was supposed to know about.

“No,” Josie growls. “This is an intervention.”

Anne blinks, gaping at her. The other two behind her seem to be fully in support of Josie Pye's insanity, which is not something that happens often, to say the least. She has no idea what is going on or what her friends mean to do with her, but she does know they had set her up.

“You're too damn slow, Anne Shirley-Cuthbert,” Josie adds before she can say anything. Her eyes are glaring and judging.

Anne clears her throat, fidgeting, still clueless but getting more nervous by the second. How hard would it be to run away and evade them for the rest of the party, she wonders? “What do you mean?” she says instead, shrinking into herself.

Josie huffs, rolling her eyes, “I mean that it’s been literal years and you and Blythe still haven’t resolved all that sexual tension with a heated make out against the wall and I’m tired of it,” she says, a frown between her eyebrows and her hands on her waist. There is not an ounce of doubt in her voice or stance.

Anne feels like she might die. Her face is already burning like never before and she’s glad the room is dark enough her redness won’t be completely obvious. She glances at Diana and Cole standing behind Josie and they both seem about to burst out laughing at the same time they apparently support what she’s saying. She can’t believe this is happening. Not today.

What?” Anne hisses, louder than intended, but she’s horrified enough she doesn’t mind it. She’s not wary anymore, she’s angry. Josie Pye tends to have that effect on her.

“Come on, Shirley, this is your chance. Grab the boy, kiss him and get it over with. It’s not like you haven’t hung up a ton of mistletoe around the entire apartment for exactly that reason.” Josie arches an all-knowing eyebrow, and Anne’s mouth falls open in disbelief.

“That’s not why—”

“Besides, we’re all getting tired of waiting for you two to get your act together,” it’s Cole that says it this time, interrupting her attempt to defend herself, a mischievous smirk on his lips.

Anne feels utterly betrayed. And by her best friends, of all people.

She’s mad in a way she’s never felt before. Especially not towards them. Tears are starting to burn in the back of her eyes, and she tries to blink them away. This was a Christmas party, after all, you were not supposed to cry at Christmas parties. Except this is a little too much and she’s a little too angry. No matter how much she loves her friends, they have no right to intrude in this. It’s her relationship with Gilbert and it’s important. She isn’t going to let it all go because some of her friends think she should simply “make out” with him at a party as if it’s a simple problem with a simple solution.

They don’t have that right.

“Listen,” Anne starts, and she thinks they realize she doesn’t find any of this funny by the way her voice wavers and their eyes widen. “This is none of your business. Gil is my friend, and that’s all. I’m not going to push him against a wall or whatever it was just to get rid of an attraction. He means more to me than that, and I wouldn’t ruin my friendship with him for something as stupid as that. Besides, none of you have anything to do with it, so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t try to get in between us again.” She’s breathing heavily by the time she’s done, her friends looking properly chastised by her speech. It doesn’t make her feel good, though. She’s just tired. And worried.

If they knew, did that mean that Gil had noticed too? Did he know how she felt? God, the mere thought of it makes her want to puke.

“Anne, we’re sorry,” Diana says, then, taking a step forward and grabbing her hand. The tension in her shoulders immediately leaves at the touch of her bosom friend. “We just wanted to help.”

Anne bites her lower lip to stop herself from saying something rude. Like, you know, how she didn’t need that kind of help. Not with this.

“It’s fine. Just leave it be,” she says instead, shrugging.

“Anne,” Cole calls, softly. With a deep breath, she turns to him. “We just thought—”

He trails off, freezing in place. She frowns at his widened eyes and gaping mouth. Diana, in front of her, soon takes on the same stance as him, both of them looking at a spot over Anne’s shoulder.

“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a—” she starts, turning to follow their gaze, and trails off as well.

She can’t speak, can barely breathe, caught too much by surprise by all of this. It was not something she had expected. Not one of the things she had imagined that could have gone wrong today and, somehow, it’s worse than everything else that could have happened.

Josie is the one that voices what she's thinking.

“Who in the holy hell invited her?” she asks, twisting her nose much in the same way Anne’s stomach is twisting inside of her at the scene unfolding in front of them. They fade in and out of view as the people on the improvised dance floor move to the beat of some electronic music Anne can’t bother to pay attention to. They’re still there, crystal clear, and she can’t look away.

Winifred Rose is smiling up at Gilbert, her luscious blonde hair up in a fancy up do so different from the messy ponytail Anne had thrown her hideous red hair in and paired with a Santa headband. She’s not wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, but a pretty red dress with a sweetheart neckline and a flaring skirt that reaches the middle of her thighs and fits her like a glove. She’s beautiful, as always. They look like a perfect couple together.

Winifred lays her hand on his arm as she laughs, and he looks delighted. Anne feels like she’s about to vomit. They’re moving through the living room, closer and closer to where she and her friends stand. Then they stop, Winifred leaning closer to say something to him. Gilbert looks up. So does Anne. There’s a branch of mistletoe hanging over their heads, right where she had hung it. He looks back down at the blonde girl and it’s too much for her to take.

Anne turns around and leaves before she can see something that will make her sick. The last thing she hears from her friends is Diana’s irritated jab:

“Gilbert Blythe is the biggest idiot I’ve ever met.” Anne can’t say she disagrees.

She makes a straight line for the drinks table where Jerry is gleefully restocking the heavily spiked eggnog. She grabs one of the red solo cups on the side and fills it to the brim. Honest-Anne could screw herself, because she was not getting through this wreck of a party sober.