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we can leave the christmas lights up 'til january

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Gilbert had met Winifred Rose at the beginning of the semester. They had a class together, some Advanced Bio thing Anne could barely understand, choosing to stick to her English Literature courses instead. Winifred was beautiful, one year older than him, and more charismatic than it seemed humanly possible. They had become fast friends, but it was easy to see that wasn’t all that it was. As time went along, the happier Gil seemed, the more he talked about her and the jokes she had told him and the cafés she had taken him to and how smart she was at class. It was so easy to see that even Moody had taken to teasing Gilbert about it, asking him about his girlfriend whenever he got the chance.

Gil had rolled his eyes and refused to answer every single time. It was a non-answer that said more than any words ever could. It had made Anne sick to her stomach.

Winifred had arrived right around the same time Anne had realized she was into Gilbert. It was all incredibly stupid, really, just thinking how much of a bad timing she had. It had taken her ages to understand that being hypnotized by Gilbert’s eyes or staring at the movement of his arms for five minutes straight or wishing constantly she could run her fingers through his hair were not exactly the behavior of someone who was “just friends” with someone else.

Having an answer, though, had felt wonderful. And scary. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to think about falling for one of her best friends, or what that would entail in the long run for them, but Anne had mostly felt relieved she could finally explain why things were changing. And she thought, maybe, it would all be okay at the end of the day. It was just Gilbert, right? They could work this out. And who knew, maybe…


There had always been talks around it. Comments about how the two of them were different than, say, Anne and Jerry. That maybe their relationship was a little more like Jerry and Diana’s. She had always thought that was a bunch of crap, of course. He was just Gil, just her best friend, the boy she could always go to, who would listen to her craziest ideas and would never make her think she was crazy herself. She had never wanted to believe her friends when they told her he liked her in a different way. She had never wanted to believe when they said that she felt the same for him.

And yet, here she was, halfway in love with just Gil.

Anne had decided to open up about it, then. She remembers first talking to Diana about her crush on him, being glad that she could finally talk about all the confusing feelings she had been having around Gilbert, imagining if, in some hypothetical, wonderful world, he reciprocated her feelings, and going over all kinds of scenarios with Diana. Then having all her hopes crushed by watching him arrive with a beautiful blonde girl on his arm to the Queen’s College Gala a couple of days later.

And that was that. Gilbert was dating someone else.

It had hurt more than she could explain the distance that had developed between her and Gilbert at that time. She had watched as he turned completely towards his career and studied and hung out only with his new friends, who were also Pre-Med students, focused on charting his future with professors and advisors, while getting farther and farther away from them. Weeks would go by where even the boys, who shared the apartment with him, would only see him at night when he arrived home to sleep. To top it all off, Winifred Rose came from a family with connections, a family that loved him as soon as they met him (as it was hard not to), and was willing to help him get into Med School in the Sorbonne, which had always been his ultimate goal.

Winifred Rose was every single one of Gilbert’s dreams come to life. Anne could never compete with that.

They had started fighting again, stupid things that wouldn’t have shaken them a few months before but suddenly felt like huge reasons for her to yell at him and storm away. It was as if they were back to their early teenage years, bickering and competing all the time, from the moment they had met in 6th grade and she had been unable to forgive him for pulling on her braid and calling her Carrots.

Their friends had been taken aback by the sudden change, and Gilbert probably had too, but while Anne could barely stand to be in his presence, just like back then, this time it had been for such different reasons she couldn’t find it in herself to feel sorry for it.

This time, Ruby and her years-long crush on him had no play in it. Not when she and Moody had just started going out, the name Gilbert had all but been erased from her vocabulary, and the couple was acting so in love it was kind of sickening. This time, there was no school competition as their completely different majors meant they had no more classes together. This time, it wasn’t Anne’s pride or thick-headedness keeping her from listening to his apologies for some stupid nickname that had never truly mattered as there were no apologies.

This time, it was just about Anne being too hurt to be around him and then acting in the best way she knew how — attacking him. This time, it was Gilbert being completely clueless as to why she was behaving that way and then reacting in the best way he knew how — snapping back.

(She had cried way too much in those months. Every single time, Diana had gotten her to lay down on her lap, held her hand and listened as Anne ranted and complained and teared up over a boy in the way she had always claimed wouldn’t happen. Her best friend never uttered a word to anyone, only being there for her whenever she needed. It meant more to Anne than she could find words in the English language for.)

At some point in between all of that, she supposes some of her other friends had caught on. Cole had seen her crying once after a particularly harsh encounter with Gil and his apparent beau and had then become one of her most trusted confidants, bashing Gilbert and his stupidity often and loudly, without ever betraying the real reason behind his harsh comments towards the other boy. Josie, on the other hand, had always been too perceptive for her own good, so it made sense that she knew as well — especially as Anne remembered how she had never been too fond of Winifred, though Anne had initially awarded that to the fact Gilbert wasn’t around them as much anymore due to his new relationship and also that Josie was naturally not very fond of many people.

It had all come to a halt a few weeks ago, however. Gil had never properly explained it to them but talk of Winifred Rose had ceased completely. She hadn’t appeared to have lunch with them anymore, no one else had seen her around with Gilbert and the Sorbonne had apparently become a no-go once again. The only reason Anne allowed herself to indulge in her selfish feelings and be glad about it was because Gilbert himself had never seemed too sad about it.

After that, Anne and Gilbert had gradually gone back to their usual routine. Grabbing coffee together at the campus Starbucks in the mornings before class, study sessions when they had free periods together, Movie Night Fridays with everyone else in one of their apartments. Anne had had her best friend again, and, feelings or not, it was the best thing in the world.

With their recent alleged break-up, however, Winifred Rose was not supposed to be at their Christmas party. She was not supposed to be talking to Gilbert in the middle of their improvised dance floor. She definitely was not supposed to be standing with him underneath the mistletoe, possibly kissing, as tradition demanded, rekindling their relationship right before the Holidays.

She was not supposed to be the reason Anne broke her decision to stay sober and got drunk off bad eggnog in the boys’ kitchen, trying to hold in her tears.

Jesus, it was like the nightmare never ended. It’s not like Anne wanted to confess her feelings to him — actually, that was exactly what she didn’t want — and she probably shouldn’t even be mad at him for getting back together with Winifred. He had been happy with her, she supposes, and there was so much she could offer him, Anne supposed she could even be happy for him. Eventually. Just not right now. She had to get over him first.

And she would.

Anne was so tired of feeling sad and hopeless and conflicted around him. She just wanted to be best friends with Gilbert Blythe again, the way they’ve been for almost their entire lives. No romantic anything involved and making things complicated.

Anne snorts out a laugh to herself, grip tight on her cup as she fills it up again. Honestly, that was so unlikely to happen she might as well continue drinking.

Anne’s not sure how much time has passed, but she is sure that she’s drunk. Properly wasted, really. Her thoughts are fuzzy, her steps wobbly, her face flushed. She’s even discarded her ugly Christmas sweater, the crowded apartment getting warmer by the second. She feels sad without the blinking light on her torso, though, her green cropped top not nearly as festive as she’d like it to be.

But there’s a drink in her hand and good music playing and she’s pretty sure she’s kissed Diana, Josie and Cole under the mistletoe (just them of course, since Moody and Ruby were in a relationship and Jerry’s kind of her brother and her other friend is unthinkable of right now), so Anne’s okay. She’s not happy, which is all stupid Gilbert Blythe’s fault, but she’s okay. And if she can drink more shots than Jerry now that he’s challenged her, she’ll be even better.

Everyone’s chanting them on as they near the table on opposite sides, a line of tequila shots lined up neatly paired with lime and salt for each of them. Jerry’s smirking at her and she does it right back at him, adrenaline pumping her blood and her competitive trace spiking. She can barely remember why things were bad before, all that matters is winning.

Moody is at the corner of the table, hand poised in the air and ready to give them the go-ahead signal. Anne reaches for the first glass, shoulders tense in preparation. Moody yells, and she’s about to lift the shot to her mouth when a big hand clasps her wrist and stops the motion. There’s a general booing from the crowd as the game is interrupted before it can even start, and Anne turns with a groan of frustration to whoever thought it was okay to stop her.

She finds Gilbert’s eyes sternly looking at her.

Her anger spikes even higher.

“What are you doing?” she yells over the loud noise of the room.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Miss Shirley?” he says, a hint of amusement in his tone that only makes her angrier.

“Actually,” she replies, with a bitter grin. “I’ve had none, thanks to you.” And she quickly remedies that by grabbing one of the other shots with her free hand and quickly downing it before he can try to stop her again. Gilbert’s jaw sets and his eyes flare up with something harsher than amusement.

Anne couldn’t care less.

“Come on, Blythe,” Jerry exclaims drunkenly. God, Anne so would have beat him. “Stop intruding in our game!”

Gilbert looks briefly to him. “Game’s over, dude,” he tells him before turning back to her and forcibly dragging her away from the table, his other hand holding onto her upper arm.

She tries to disentangle herself from him, but the levels of alcohol in her blood have impaired her motion capabilities, so she settles for yelling and slapping him with her free hand. A lot.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” she exclaims, still hitting him as best she can. She’s not normally big on swearing, and the fact she just did betrays how angry and drunk she is right now.

“Sparing you from the worst hangover of your life,” Gil answers simply. She rolls her eyes at his stupid excuse, struggling to keep up with his fast footsteps.

He stops suddenly, stunning her so that she finds herself unable to slap him for a brief moment, then he opens the door to the balcony and pushes her outside into the freezing cold and Anne lets out a high-pitched yell before going back to slapping him, this time because of the shock of the low temperature on her heated, bare skin.

What. A. Stupid. Idiot.

“What is wrong with you?” Anne shouts, both of her hands free now so she can slap and punch his chest as much as she wants. It’s only now she notices he’s also divested himself from his ugly Christmas sweater, wearing only a light blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up. The fact they don’t match anymore makes her even angrier at him, in a crazy, twisted way.

Gilbert chuckles, which is outright disrespectful to her efforts to hurt him. Then he grabs her hands and pulls them against his chest to stop her. There’s not much of a distance between them now and that does things to her rational mind.

“I’m trying to help you,” he tells her in a low voice, crooked grin in place. She hears him perfectly, the closed balcony door enough to block the sounds coming from the party inside.

His words bring her sadness right back, for some reason. So much that Anne feels for a brief moment like she’ll start crying right there in front of him. How dare he do this to her? Sound worried and fond when she’s mad at him?

“I don’t want your help,” she blurts out, Honest-Anne kicking in so suddenly even Gilbert reels back a little bit.

He breathes out a laugh, but it’s a weak, fake one. “Anne, you’re completely drunk already. Having a drinking competition with Jerry, of all people, would be a terrible idea,” he tries reasoning with her. She doesn’t want to listen. “Besides, didn’t you say you were staying sober tonight?”

Oh. Yeah. She did.

“I thought you didn’t want to be hungover in front of Marilla and Matthew when you arrived home tomorrow.”

At that, Anne can’t hold in a snort. That’s right, Gilbert didn’t actually know the real reason she needed to be sober.

When she looks up at him again, he’s frowning.

“What do you mean the real reason?”

Shit. She had said that out loud.

Anne giggles nervously, trying to play it off by using her other drunk, silly side. “Nothing,” she tells him. “There’s no other reason besides, you know, my parents.”

Gilbert peers at her, eyes roving over her face in the way he does when he’s searching her for a lie. Unfortunately, he’s always been way too good at spotting them.

“So why did you drink?” he asks her and Anne has to physically bite her tongue to stop that answer from escaping her mouth.

She shrugs. “Just, you know, felt like it.”

“Anne,” he starts, in an almost reprimanding tone. It’s like he’s talking to a child and it makes her angry all over again. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” she replies in her best innocent voice.

“Anne,” he repeats, letting her hands go to put his own on his hips. He looks like he’s questioning her.

“Nothing’s going on, I swear,” she lies, in a tremendous effort to hold back the filter-less words that are dying to escape her mouth.

You know, like how he was the thing that was going on. About how being near him now felt like being underwater, beautiful and magical but hard to breathe, as if she’s on the brink of drowning. About how Anne really wishes she hadn’t seen him and Winifred earlier because she’s fallen for him way too hard and it’s way too difficult to get over him (and she knows this because she’s tries) but it’s worse to be away from him, so she prefers to suffer being around him knowing they’ll only ever be friends than stay away from him and not even be that. About how he’s always just so—

She stops herself. She can’t afford to even think about it. Because thinking about it just increased the chances of her saying something she’d regret, and she can’t afford that either.

Gilbert, because he’s Gilbert, doesn’t believe her and also isn’t deterred by her inner turmoil. She wants to hit him again.

“Come on, Anne,” he insists, hands grabbing her shoulders and his eyes back to staring deep into hers. “You can tell me.”

Those words are the last straw. She’s suddenly angry again, because he’s wrong. She can’t tell him, not when all of this is his fault in the first place, when he’s the one standing underneath mistletoe with Winifred Rose and not letting Anne enjoy the party the way she wants to. When he’s the one being way too perfect that she can’t help but have feelings for him even though it’s still going to ruin everything.

She pushes him away in a burst of drunken strength. He stumbles, his back hitting the balcony rail and face contorting into a painful expression. Anne can’t find it in herself to feel bad about it.

“Goddamn it, Gilbert, why don’t you just leave me alone and go find your girlfriend?!” she exclaims before whirling away from him and exiting the balcony, leaving him outside.

Ironically, it’s only once she’s inside the crowded, hot room that she feels like she can breathe again.

No matter how angry Anne is at Gilbert, she doesn’t drink more once she’s inside. She’s pretty sure if her alcohol levels were higher than they had been, she would have said stuff she shouldn’t and ruined everything in that balcony.

Also, that last tequila shot has kind of screwed her up.

So, instead, she joins Josie as they dance and sing until their voices are hoarse and there’s sweat running down their faces, while Moody and Ruby are dancing together close by, Anne swears she sees Jerry and Diana kissing underneath some mistletoe (he did it!) and Cole has apparently gone missing with some boy from his Psychology class. Thankfully, she doesn’t see either Gilbert or Winifred Rose.

They’re probably off in some corner making up for the time spent apart.

That is, if they had ever broken up in the first place.

The thought of the two of them together almost causes her to throw up in the middle of the room. Or cry. She can’t figure out which one would be worse.

“Josie!” Anne yells suddenly, trying to get the image out of her head and throwing her arms around her friend — who immediately scrunches up her face in disgust, still trying to pretend she doesn’t like affection after so many years. Anne knows better, so she doesn’t let her go.

“What is it?” Josie exclaims in her ear, somehow being able to showcase her dry voice perfectly even amidst all the noise.

“Do you know that I love you?” Anne says, not quite aware of the words coming out of her mouth but letting Honest-Anne do her job.

Josie actually chuckles. It’s so different from what Anne was expecting, she giggles. “Oh, God. Are we already in the sentimental drunk phase?”

“Yes!” Anne yelps, hugging her tighter. “You’re so pretty and smart and a good friend! I love you so, so, so much!”

Josie laughs again. “Don’t tell anyone I said so,” she starts, and Anne waits expectantly for what’s coming. “But I love you too.”

Anne gasps at her friend’s admission, wishing she was less drunk than she is so she had thought to record it. It’s definitely never happening again. Damn it, she hopes she remembers this tomorrow. She tightens her grip on her.

“Josie, I can’t believe you said that!” she exclaims, unable to help herself. “Does this mean you’re actually capable of human emotions?”

(She’s well aware she’s yelling a lot, but there are too many feelings churning inside of her right now and she has to externalize them somehow.)

“Hey!” it’s Josie that yells this time, pushing Anne away and glaring at her. “That’s rude.”

The only reaction she can muster is laughing at Josie’s expression, who rolls her eyes but is soon laughing alongside her.

Anne’s laugh dies in her throat as someone bumps into her from behind. She turns, an apology ready on the tip of her tongue, but Winifred Rose is there, with a sour look on her face. Josie’s hand is immediately holding hers, in quiet support, and Anne squeezes it in thanks.

“Hey, Winifred,” she says, feeling awkward.

The thing is, no matter how much she wants to, she can’t hate Winifred Rose. She’s nice and funny and intelligent, and the two of them have had some quite wonderful conversations. In any other situation, Anne would have likely considered her a kindred spirit. Either way, it’s not her fault that she feels for Gilbert the same thing Anne does, or that only one of them was brave enough to come clean about it. None of it is on her, and Anne is too much of a feminist to ever hate on a woman because they both like the same boy.

Even when she can feel envy blossoming in her stomach at the sight of her, still looking perfect after hours in this party. The slight flush on her cheeks from the heat only makes her more lovely, and it’s quite frustrating when Anne knows how terrible she must look right now. Winifred doesn’t look like she’s tripping-on-her-own-feet-drunk either, which could come to bite Anne in the ass later.

Anyway, no, she doesn’t hate Winifred Rose, and she’ll be nice to her whenever they see each other, whether she’s with Gilbert or not.

Winifred, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to share the sentiment.

“Oh,” she says, sounding entirely too displeased about it. “It’s you.”

Her tone makes Anne feel like she’s a bothersome cockroach, just waiting to be squashed under her shoe. It’s not a feeling she appreciates, or one she’s felt since the hellish years of middle school. Anne feels, more than sees, Josie squaring her shoulders beside her as if readying herself for a fight. She squeezes her hand again, asking her to stand down. No matter how grateful she is for her friend’s support, she does not need a fight right now.

“How are you?” Anne says, trying to sound cheerful and composed and sober. Winifred’s eyebrows fly up to her hairline.

“Well, I suppose you can imagine,” she replies haughtily. Anne blinks, not quite sure what she means. “Especially as you seem so cheerful and happy.”

“Um, yes,” Anne starts, unsure, sending a wary glance Josie’s way. She seems as lost as Anne is, which makes her feel a bit better. At least this conversation isn’t befuddling only because she’s drunk. “I suppose I am happy? And I hope you are too?”

Honestly, she has no idea of what words are coming out of her mouth anymore. There’s too much alcohol in her blood and too much rationalizing for her to do. The two things apparently don’t mix well.

Winifred snickers bitterly. “Please. Stop acting so nice,” she says, taking a step forward while Anne instinctively takes a step back. “We both know that I’m not and that you—” She raises a threatening finger in Anne’s direction but before she can say anything Josie steps in between them.

“Hey,” she says, voice loud and clear in her best commanding-Josie way. “You don’t talk to her like that, do you hear me? I don’t know what your problem is, but you’re not going to take it out on Anne.” Josie sounds like an avenging angel, her shoulders back and chin high and hands poised on her hips. It’s a far cry from the girl that tormented Anne in the first few years of their acquaintance. Anne has never felt gladder that she hadn’t given up on conquering her friendship.

Winifred visibly deflates, raised finger falling to the side of her body. She casts one last glance at Anne over Josie’s shoulder before leaving with a muttered, “Whatever,” and for a moment, she can swear the girl’s eyes are shiny with tears.

It’s only when Josie turns around to check on her that Anne realizes she’s shaking. She falls into her friend’s comforting hug without another thought.

She’s still dizzy from the confrontation with Winifred when the party starts to wind down. Her friends have not wandered far from her side, clearly enlisted by Josie to make sure Anne was okay until the end. It’s sweet, if a little overbearing, but she decides not to comment on it.

Far be it from her to embarrass Josie Pye in one of the rare moments she’s allowed herself to publicly show she cares about someone.

As people start leaving, Anne doesn’t see either Winifred or Gilbert. That might be Cole’s doing, since he keeps pulling her from side to side, apparently finding interesting things and people to entertain her every five seconds. Even if it isn’t, she appreciates his effort to keep her happy and cheerful and with her mind away from troubles related to curly-haired, nice boys.

Anne supposes that’s what makes it all worse. Gilbert is too much of a good guy for her to ever resent him. Even the anger she had felt earlier is fading away. In the end, he’s not at fault either. None of them are. It’s not like Anne can control how she feels or like Gil knows how she feels or like Winifred has any kind of responsibility towards her feelings. It’s just a crappy situation, in which Anne is the one coming out at the bottom.

She’s starting to believe all the drama of the night is over, sitting on the couch with one last cup in hand (she had only accepted it because it was some cheap champagne that Ruby had found stashed in the boys’ cupboard and, even though it was barely chilled, it sounded way better than bad eggnog) and feeling a nice buzz settling over her again, but then Diana sits down in front of her with a determined set to her eyebrows and Anne has a feeling she’s in for more. When Cole joins them, she’s certain of it.

“What’s going on?” Anne asks, wearily, when it takes them too long to start talking.

Cole squints at her. “Are you drunk?”

She watches him for a moment.

“No.” Yes.

Diana hums in disbelief, but her condition doesn’t seem to stop them. “We need to talk about Gilbert.”

Anne is already shaking her head in denial before they can continue. “Nope. I’m not doing this.” She immediately tries to get up, but Cole wraps his hand around her wrist and brings her back down.

“Sorry, love, but you don’t really have a choice,” he tells her with a shrug.

“Why?” Anne whines, trying to send them a pleading look.

Diana only gives her a sympathetic smile. “We already convinced Josie not to join us so this could be a bit more pleasant for you, but we’re doing it either way.”

Anne stares at them for a moment, trying to see if they’ll somehow change their minds, then groans when all they do is stare right back. Why couldn’t she just have one moment of peace? Now, here she was, thrown back into the whole Gilbert problem. How many times would this come back to haunt her tonight?

“Fine,” she sighs. “Get on with it, then.”

“Right,” Diana starts, clearing her throat. “So, we know you’re hurting.”

It doesn’t even occur to her to contradict that. Anne was hurting. Because of Gilbert Blythe. It was the truth and she was drunk and it was a whole lot easier to admit it now when she’s not sober.

“We also know Winifred’s appearance hasn’t made things any easier,” Cole continues, wincing slightly as if he had intended to be a bit less crude about that. Even then, Anne shrinks a little into herself.

She feels like her champagne buzz is already wearing off.

The two of them share a look. Anne knows the hit is coming.

“But don’t you think maybe you should tell him?” Diana says, her voice low and hesitant. Anne’s eyes widen.

“No!” she blurts out. “Are you insane? We’ve talked about this. I’m not ruining my friendship with Gilbert over nothing.”

“But it’s not nothing, Anne,” Cole tries to insist. She’s already shaking her head.

“He’s my best friend. I’m not going to ruin things for stupid feelings that will eventually go away.”

There’s a beat of silence.

“How do you know it will go away?” Diana asks, leaning forward. Anne stares at her, tears springing up in her eyes. Jesus Christ, alcohol really was the worst.

“It will,” she says, “it has to. I’m not going to lose him.”

Cole leans forward as well. “Why are you so sure you’d lose him over this?”

“Are you kidding?” she lets out with a bitter laugh. “With Winifred around? What do you think he’d do if I told him I liked him?”

They share a look again.

“Anne,” Cole starts, “have you ever imagined that Gilbert may like you back?”

She stares at them then lowers her head.

“I’ve imagined all kinds of things, Cole,” she tells him, her voice tight as she tries to hold back the tears. “And I know what you used to think, but it’s useless and it only hurts more. He’s got someone else, doesn’t he? I’m not getting in the middle of that. I’m not risking it.”

“Anne, they broke up,” Diana says with a sigh.

“And now she’s here with him again,” Anne replies simply. “It’s time to face the music. It’s never going to happen, and I’m fine with that.” She’s ready to get up and end this conversation, but both of them hold her down this time.

“First, no. You’re not fine. We’re your friends and you don’t have to pretend that you are to us.” Diana grips her hand tight in hers.

“Second, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Cole tells her. “They might not be together. In fact, I don’t think Blythe is so stupid that he would get back with her suddenly like this,” he grumbles the last phrase, more to himself than to her, but she’s heard it and she’s not letting it go.

“And why would that make him stupid?” Anne asks, shoulders falling. She’s tired, she realizes. Tired of this conversation and these problems and these feelings. She wants to go to sleep and wake up in the new year with Gilbert Blythe as her best friend who she doesn’t have to walk on eggshells around.

“Because she’s not the one he’s in love with,” Cole blurts out, eyes widening immediately as if he’s realized what he’s said, and Diana whirls her head around at him.

Anne barely notices she’s shaking.

“Please, don’t,” she breathes out, her voice failing her.

“Anne, just listen,” Cole says, seeming to want to go with it now that he’s started.

“I really don’t want to,” she tells him, shaking her head as she tries to figure out how she can extricate herself from this conversation.

“Why do you think they broke up in the first place?” he insists.

“I don’t know. And I don’t care.”

“Well, you should. Especially if it was because of you.”

Anne feels like everything stops in that moment. All the noise from the remaining guests muting for a second where the world shifts and hope blooms in her chest before she pops her own bubble. No. She isn’t going to do this to herself again. She is not going to put herself through the same pain and heartbreak again.

“Why would Winifred snap at you otherwise?” Cole is still talking and she tries not to listen, but it’s impossible.

Anne looks up at them, confused. He shrugs guiltily.

“Josie told us,” Diana informs her.

Of course.

“Look, I appreciate your effort,” Anne manages to get out with some difficulty. “But Gilbert isn’t in love with me. No matter how much we want to imagine it, he just isn’t.”

“Anne, you’re not listening,” Cole says with frustration. Diana lays a pacifying hand on his shoulder and turns to Anne.

“Do you remember how Cole said Gilbert had a crush on you? Years ago?” she says and Anne lets out a snort.

“Yes,” she tells her derisively. “I also remember how that gave me just enough hope to think something could happen between us right before I found out he was dating someone else.”

“Cole isn’t the only one who noticed,” Diana continues, ignoring Anne completely. “It’s not that hard to see. Not after all these years.” Anne stares at her hands, closed in tight fists over her knees, as her bosom friend continues. “It’s always been the two of you dancing around each other. We all thought it was just a matter of time.”

With a shuddering breath, Anne looks up at them. Deep down, she knows they have her best interests at heart, they’re her best friends after all, her kindred spirits. But it still hurts. Every word out of their mouth is a pretty picture feeding her already wild imagination and it hurts. It hurts because, no matter how much she loves the worlds she can conjure up in her head, this one time she wanted it all to be real.

But it can’t.

“Look, I appreciate what you guys are doing,” Anne starts, unfolding her hands slowly. “And I love you for it. But whatever Gilbert felt when we were kids or a few years ago or at the start of the term, it doesn’t matter. He’s made himself pretty clear that he’s with Winifred now, didn’t he? If it was a matter of time, I guess ours ran out. Maybe I took too long, maybe it was never going to happen, I don’t care. All I want right now is some distance so I can forget all of this by the time school starts back again.”

With a sigh, she gets up and stares at them with a self-deprecating smile.

“Who knows,” she tells them, a forced laugh escaping her lips. “Maybe Roy Gardner will still be interested after the holidays.”

And then she leaves them there, each step a bit easier, as she heads for the kitchen. Maybe there was a little champagne left somewhere for her to drown her sorrows in.

Jesus, this was getting repetitive.

No matter how much she wishes it won’t happen, Gilbert finds her again when almost no one is left in the emptying apartment. Anne is nursing her last cup, filled with cheap wine she had found in Jerry’s bedroom after a not-so-thorough search (the champagne had run out and she could not handle anymore of the bad eggnog). She hasn’t noticed if Winifred’s already left, but she’s not around. He’s alone.

Anne still can’t hold in an aggravated sigh at his insistence. She is drunk, after all, and tired of dealing with all of this.

She’s especially tired of his utter obliviousness and the fact her mind is racing, and her heart is hurting, and he has no idea it’s happening. Or that it’s happening because of him.

“What do you want now?” she whines, eyes raised to the ceiling as she silently pleads to whatever deities are out there to save her from this misery.

“To talk,” he replies darkly and it’s the worst possible answer he could have given her. Anne wants to run away and hide in a closet for the rest of the party. Looking at him, though, and the determined set of his jaw, she knows he won’t let her even try.

This was happening.