When Gilbert gets to medical school, he decides, he fully intends to create a research team dedicated solely to figuring out how Anne Shirley can infuse one word with this much emotion. One word and he already knows that she is (understandably) shocked and (possibly) confused and (definitely) very, very indignant. If, he thinks, correcting himself. If he gets to medical school, and that is seeming less and less likely as Anne's glare grows more pronounced with every second that passes.
"I said-" he pauses for a moment, steeling himself, "I said that maybe we should pretend to date."
Anne's face softens and suddenly she's looking at him with what might be concern. "Did you hit your head? Get concussed somehow at hockey practice by a flying puck or- or a wayward but well intentioned stick?"
"What?" Gilbert furrows his eyebrows. "Why?"
The glare comes back. "Because," Anne hisses, "that's the only way that anyone would think that what you just said sounded like a good idea."
A passing librarian looks around in alarm at the noise and shushes them. Gil is beginning to think that maybe he should have tried to make his case somewhere other than the poetry section of the Avonlea Public Library.
"Look, Anne, I don't know about you, but ever since Josie posted that video, people won't stop bothering me about it. Total strangers keep tweeting at me and asking when we're going to get together. You can't tell me that's not happening to you, too."
"So what if it is?" Anne asks loftily. "Unlike some people, I don't care what others think of me."
"Neither do I! It's not like I'm following the Avonlea Gossip Girl twitter that Ruby tried to set up last year."
Anne opens her mouth like she's about to ask something, then seems to think better of it and shakes her head.
"Josie used us as a subject for a school assignment," Gilbert continues. "That's crossing a line, but she would never listen if we just told her not to do it again."
"And you think that the way to magically turn our friends into reserved people -- people who would never dream of starting rumors about our personal lives on the internet -- is pretending to date and therefore doing the one thing that they started rumors about on the internet?"
Well, it just sounds ridiculous when she says it like that. "Look, maybe it'll make things worse for a day or two, but then all we have to do is be the worst couple they've ever seen. Show them that they were wrong and we're actually terrible together. We just let them see the evidence and watch them arrive at the conclusion that the matchmaking business really isn't for them."
Anne goes quiet for a moment. "How long would we have to pretend? Not," she adds hastily, "that I'm considering this harebrained plan anyway."
"Three weeks. Long enough to go on a couple of dates and realize that we have absolutely nothing in common."
"Well- well, even if I thought it would work, I simply refuse to be part of a stereotypical week-long high school relationship."
He's not sure if that was a dig at him and Ruby, but he shoots Anne a flat look just for good measure.
It works. A second later, she adds, "Not that the people who have those relationships are bad. I mean, that's what Ruby does, and Ruby's great. It's just not what I want."
Gilbert shrugs. "I mean, if we did this, we wouldn't have to be in everyone's face about it. If we started posting all over Twitter and Instagram, people would know something weird was happening because -- well, first of all because I have exactly one picture up on Instagram, but also because that's just not you...or me, actually."
"But then how would anyone know about the fake relationship? If the whole point is for them to see that we're terrible together, then we have to tell them at some point, right?"
"Well, this is all hypothetical, since you never agreed to it," he says, looking pointedly at her. "But if we were going to go through with it, the best way would be to let someone see us out together -- preferably Josie or Ruby. Then we'd just wait for them to ask about it."
"But that could take forever," says Anne.
"Ruby and Josie? Resisting the urge to say 'I told you so' and tell everyone they were right? They'd last five minutes."
The tiniest smile crosses Anne's face and Gilbert tries very hard not to care that this is the first time she's smiled at something he's said.
"If I say yes, then the first thing that we're doing is setting ground rules. We should know exactly how far we're willing to let this go and how much time we'll give it and all that."
"So you are saying yes? Yes to the harebrained plan?"
Anne glares at him again. He thinks that using her own words against her might have been a poor choice, but she surprises him by nodding. "Yes," she says curtly. "I am agreeing to be a part of this harebrained plan."
"Good," Gilbert says. "Great. Do we shake on it? I guess that's- why are you taking out your notebook?"
"I said there'd be ground rules, didn't I?"
Twenty minutes later, they're still hammering out the details in an honest-to-goodness contract, Anne's stack of poetry books lying forgotten next to Gil’s Thomas Mütter biography.
"So then we agree?" asks Anne, reading from her notebook. "A maximum of three weeks including at least five planned outings. The three week period begins on the first acknowledgment of the relationship from either Josie Pye or Ruby Gillis and must end with public acknowledgments from both participants that the relationship did not work. No public displays of affection, no oversharing on social media, and no lying to our families."
Also on the list: no cutesy pet names, no portmanteaus, no blasting 80's power ballads from a boombox under anyone's window, and no sharing desserts -- although really that last one is just Gilbert defending against cold season and protecting his right to have a whole piece of cheesecake to himself.
"That sounds fine, except- Anne, I know you don't want to lie to the Cuthberts, but as long as Mrs. Lynde is on Twitter, you can count on them finding out sooner or later."
"That's for me to deal with, Mr. Blythe. It's not your concern," she says, her stare turning icy.
(It's possible that Anne isn't actually annoyed at him at that moment. It's possible that she just wants him to stop asking questions, because it's possible that Anne's way of 'dealing with it' involves telling Marilla a half-truth that might be more truthful than Anne is willing to admit.
She's getting coffee with Gilbert, Anne explains on the first day of the harebrained scheme, because she's trying to overcome her wounded pride and befriend him.
"I am triumphing over my ego, Marilla," Anne declares, in that particularly Anne-ish way of which Marilla will never admit to being fond. "This is a moment of great personal growth for me and I think it should be celebrated."
The excuse feels a little thin to Anne, but Matthew and Marilla buy into it. Marilla flatly interjects that she'd make a cake for the occasion, but this kind of announcement merits town-wide festivities.
Anne tries not to give it a second thought after that. She tells herself that her impeccable acting sold the story and usually pretends it didn't happen at all.)
There is, of course, no way for Gilbert to know this at the time, but her glare is intimidating enough that he decides not to push his luck with more questions.
@RubyRedGillis: Is anyone else seeing this?????
@RubyRedGillis: @josieberrypie where are you???
@josieberrypie: @RubyRedGillis calm down im in front of lawsons
@RubyRedGillis: @josieberrypie HURRY
@josieberrypie: @RubyRedGillis what is sooooo important???
Anne doesn't have a particularly long and varied romantic history to her name, but she's pretty sure this doesn't look like a date to anyone.
Since she and Gilbert met outside the Starbucks ten minutes ago, they have argued about pretty much everything, including but not limited to: what to order, who's paying, where to sit, and whether the French word for trash actually does come from the name of the man who modernized the French waste disposal system or if that's just a cute story they tell kids. Now, they've moved on to 'what to order, the sequel: what you ordered and why it's terrible.'
“I don’t understand the point of a Gingerbread Latte," Anne says, waving a coffee stirrer in the direction of Gilbert's drink. "Why wouldn’t you just get a latte and some gingerbread? It's the same thing.”
"It's not the same thing. Gingerbread has a textural component. This is spice based. Two completely different things."
"Why is that your counterargument? That just makes it worse! Not only do you have to deal with artificial gingerbread spices; you don't even get the joy of eating cookies."
“It’s an experience, Shirley.”
“Yeah, the experience of drinking liquified gingerbread. You know, most people stop eating pureed food when their baby teeth come in.”
"I will not be shamed for my drink choices, especially by someone who's drinking apple juice with whipped cream."
“Excuse you, Mr. Blythe. The Caramel Apple Spice is steamed, spiced apple juice- which, by the way, I wouldn’t have even even had to order if they weren’t out of my favorite tea.”
"Oh, they were out of your favorite tea? Is that why you greeted the barista with 'Please tell me you still have the Caramel Apple Spice'?" Gilbert asks, grinning.
Anne glares at him. "They're always out of my favorite tea. Maybe I've just given up asking."
He opens his mouth to reply, then catches sight of something and stops. "I think we've been spotted," he says from behind his coffee cup.
Anne starts to look around but Gilbert stops her with a hand on her arm. "It'll be suspicious if you look around for them. Look at the barista."
The barista in question is standing at the edge of the counter closest to the door, squinting out at something in the direction of the parking lot. There's no way to be sure of what she's staring at, but on a hunch, Anne unlocks her phone and pulls up Twitter. She finds her answer at the top of her feed, a series of vague but excited tweets from Ruby that place her directly outside the Starbucks.
Anne slides her phone over to Gilbert so he can see them, too. "It's definitely them."
"Okay," Gil says slowly, considering something. "So we hold out and make it believable, then when we finally spot them, you're going to run out, right?"
"Right," says Anne. "I'll head down towards the used bookstore and you count to fifteen before following me."
Gilbert nods. "Sounds good. Now I'm about to do the good old 'casual and awkward arm over the back of the chair' move so it looks like we're closer than we are. Don't freak out."
Anne raises her eyebrows. "The 'casual and awkward arm over the back of the chair'? That's not a thing."
"It is very definitely a thing and I would appreciate it if you didn't criticize a classic," he says, faux-scandalized.
He gets an eye roll in response, but Anne also slides her chair closer to his so he doesn't have to maneuver around a whole table. If they agreed to do this, she thinks, they might as well do it right.
"We can't just sit here in silence," Anne says, after Gilbert slings an arm around her chair. (It is, admittedly, both casual and awkward.) They're much closer than they were before, and the weird angle of the chairs means they have to keep turning and leaning in to speak with each other. "Say something funny."
"Why do I have to say something funny? Is this not an equal opportunity fake relationship?"
"Fine," Anne says, forcing a pleasant smile. "Did you know that the image of Santa's flying reindeer came from reindeer in Scandinavia eating hallucinogenic mushrooms and jumping ridiculously high in the air?"
That startles a laugh out of Gilbert. "What? Why do you know that?"
Anne's smile relaxes and she shrugs. "It's from some quiz show I watched with Diana once."
"That's...kind of excellent, actually. Any other fun facts?"
"Arthur Conan Doyle was once set on fire at a cricket game. Oh, and they're probably directly behind us since the barista is now staring confusedly at the space above our heads."
Anne and Gilbert turn simultaneously, just in time to see Josie and Ruby duck behind a column and out of sight.
"Very stealthy," Anne deadpans as she turns back.
"Yeah, subtlety has never really been Ruby's strong suit."
"Are you surprised that Josie cares enough to hide from us? Because I am. I really thought she'd be doing a victory dance or something."
Their phones, resting on the table, light up almost simultaneously with a new message from Josie Pye. There are no misspellings or repeated punctuation marks in the text, just a simple and perfectly capitalized 'I told you so', which is almost worse, but as good a cue as any for a dramatic exit.
Anne hurriedly stands up and pulls on her coat. "This wasn't a good idea," she says to him, and if she's over-enunciating so they can read her lips from outside, well, no one ever said she was a professional actress. "I just- I don't think I can do it."
She slings her bag over her shoulder and heads for the door, slipping out as another couple enters. Gil runs a hand through his hair in what might be frustration and watches her leave.
Then he counts to fifteen, pretends not to see Josie and Ruby's shocked faces as he leaves the shop, and follows Anne out.
He catches up with her at the door of the bookstore and they have a conversation articulated clearly enough to even be lip-read in the dark. Anne says something about being a spectacle and her life being public property. Gilbert very loudly defends their friends, assuring her that no one would tease them or share anything about them on the internet if they really knew it was private. It ends with Gil promising to call Anne tomorrow as Matthew's car pulls up in front of the shop.
No later than four seconds after Mr. Cuthbert and Anne drive away, Ruby runs over to Gilbert, her eyes wide with worry.
"Did we ruin it?" she asks. "I'm so sorry! We didn't mean to; it's just that we couldn't believe it and then you guys caught us and we didn't mean to make you guys uncomfortable or anything, I swear."
“Ruby, it’s fine,” Gilbert says.
“But it’s not! I know you really like her and-”
“No, really, it’s okay,” he says, not entirely sure that he wants to hear how that was going to end. “It just got a little awkward for a second, but I think we’ll be fine.”
Ruby thinks over this for a second before a grin spreads across her face. “So you and Anne are a ‘we’ now?”
Gilbert shrugs. “Uh, something like that.”
But Ruby is too excited about being right to accept Gilbert’s nonchalance. “What do you mean ‘something like that’? Gil, you were on a date. A date. With the girl who once bent a locker board over your head. This is basically a Nicholas Sparks book.”
He cringes. “Really? Nicholas Sparks?”
“That is not the point,” Ruby says, swatting his arm. “You and Anne are going to fall in love and get married and be the perfect couple and it’s all because of me and Josie.”
“Ruby, it was one date.”
She claps her hands, looking positively gleeful. “Ha! You said it was a date! Oh, this is so exciting!"
Gilbert tries to ignore the twinge of guilt that accompanies Ruby's earnest smile. "I feel like you're happier about this than either one of us is."
"Of course I am! I care about both of you and I'm just happy because I know you're going to be happy. That's not a crime, is it?"
"No, I guess it's not- although the creepy staring through the window might have been."
"We were trying to be stealthy, not creepy."
"Maybe next time try that without the livetweeting?"
Ruby rolls her eyes. "I was trying to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, okay? I just needed someone to confirm that."
"Speaking of creepy livetweeting, where's Josie?"
"Starbucks," Ruby says. "We figured that this required a more, uh, delicate touch. And also she really wanted her coffee."
They continue towards the coffee shop in silence for a moment before Gilbert speaks up again. "So you're...okay with this, right?"
Ruby laughs. "Obviously. Look, we were together, which makes me the perfect objective observer to your relationship." She pauses for a moment, then adds, "Well, actually, to be the perfect observer, I guess I'd have to date Anne, too, but she might be out of my league. I don't think I'm deep enough for her."
"Do relationships really require objective observers?"
"Clearly, this one does, since you're here talking to me instead of driving Anne home like a good boyfriend," Ruby says, with a disapproving shake of her head.
"But she said she was being picked up. I didn't think-"
"You should have offered anyway, Gil. If she says no, she says no. At least she's not going to smash a chocolate bunny or hit you over the head with something now."
"For the safety of my head and chocolate rabbits everywhere, I think I'll avoid assuming that for now," Gilbert says, holding the door for Ruby as they walk into Starbucks.
"Well, you don't have to assume anything now, because you've got us."
"Who's 'us'?" he asks warily.
"Me and Josie, of course. We'll be like your relationship GPS."
"Ruby, Anne and I have been on one date. I don't think we need a relationship GPS."
"Oh, really?" asks Ruby. "So what time are you picking her up for Jane's Christmas party?"
"Jane's Christmas party. You're going, right?"
Gilbert waits as Ruby orders her coffee, then answers her question. "Well, yeah. Aren't we all?"
"Yes, but you should be going with Anne."
"It's a Christmas party with a few friends, Ruby, not a ball."
"It's little things that matter, though," Ruby says. "Everyone knows what to do with big things like Valentine's Day or fancy parties. You have to pay attention to the little things."
"Should I be taking notes?" Gilbert asks, passing Ruby her mocha as the barista calls it out.
"Thank you," Ruby says. "And yes. Always."
@AnneWith_An_E: Let us go then, you and I.
@RubyRedGillis: Missing @JustJaneAndrews's party but my friends are finding me ways to cheer me up anyway
"Are you sure you don't need a hand?" Gilbert asks for what might be the third time in the past five minutes.
"I told you, I'm fine," Anne grits out as she attempts to keep the hand mixer steady and hold the bowl in place while somehow lifting up the parchment sling filled with perfectly sifted dry ingredients. "I've made these cookies a hundred times."
And it's true; she has. Except that usually she uses the stand mixer, and the few times that she's had to wield the handheld beater, she's had Marilla there to help. Today, however, the six dozen butter tarts required for Mrs. Lynde's book club's Christmas Social have commandeered both the trusty KitchenAid and Marilla herself, leaving Anne with nothing in her culinary corner but a recipe card, a fake boyfriend, and sheer force of will.
She huffs and turns off the beater after her fourth failed attempt to pick up the flour. "Okay," she says, "only because I don't have all afternoon."
Gilbert is up and awkwardly hovering by the counter in a second, his face mercifully free of an unspoken 'I told you so.' "What do you need me to do?"
"Just...hold the beater exactly like this," she says, handing it off to him and then adjusting his arms slightly. "And hold the bowl with your other hand and don't move a muscle."
"Not even if-"
"I said no muscles, did I not?"
He obliges. (Mostly. If he notices the smirk playing at the corners of Anne's mouth and grins a little, no one sees it anyway.)
Anne flicks on the mixer and finishes the cookie dough, taking pity on the impressively still Gilbert and moving faster than she usually would so his arms don't get too tired. (But still slow enough to make sure nothing goes terribly awry. No one wants a repeat of that time she had a cold and confused liquid smoke with vanilla.)
If Anne notices while she's portioning out cookie dough that Gilbert is glued to his phone and texting someone who clearly makes him laugh, she doesn't mention it. She just thanks him for his help and slides the cookies into the oven, setting the timer and rushing off to get ready.
She does not wonder who he could be texting. She does not suspect that it's the gorgeous, dark-haired transfer student from Regina that she saw Gilbert talking to outside the French classroom the other day, and she certainly does not feel the tiniest prickle of jealousy when she thinks about it for too long.
She also does not zone out for five minutes halfway through brushing out her hair, contemplating exactly what this -- nonexistent, of course, and totally hypothetical -- surge of pettiness might mean.
What she does do is run into the kitchen -- with only one eye eyelined, by the way -- a good ten minutes after the timer should have gone off, certain that the cookies are burnt to a crisp because she took longer to get ready than expected. Instead, she enters to see two trays of perfectly baked cookies being transferred to a cooling rack by a spatula-wielding Gilbert.
He looks up to see her skidding into the kitchen. "Ready to go?" he asks.
She blinks. Gilbert Blythe, in her kitchen, with a spatula. It feels more like the answer to ‘who killed Mr. Boddy?’ than anything she ever saw in the realm of possibility. "I, uh- I need another minute,” she says. “Sorry, I just thought I might have ruined the cookies."
"Well, I guess we're all lucky that I was here to save the day,” Gilbert says, striking his ‘triumphant superhero’ pose.
"I guess we are," Anne says. “I’ll be ready in five minutes.”
She’s ready in two minutes, actually, which is bad because he lets out this weird yelp when she reappears in the kitchen doorway and has to hang up on Diana mid-sentence.
Anne furrows her eyebrows. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, fine. Don’t worry about it,” he says quickly, before changing the subject in what he’s sure is a totally-not-suspicious way. Maybe if he ignores her skeptical side-eye long enough, it’ll just go away.
(It doesn’t, but Diana should get there at the same time as them now, and it’s not like Anne’s suspicion is going to be a severe blow to their fake relationship.)
The drive is uneventful, barring a small tussle over the radio: Anne wants to listen to Christmas music; Gil has heard "Last Christmas" thirty-seven times in the past twenty-four hours and is unwilling to risk a thirty-eighth. They settle the argument when they stumble upon a station that's playing an indie song that Anne apparently loves and Gilbert’s never heard before. It’s quiet the whole rest of the ride, Anne softly humming along to the next few songs and Gilbert being equally unfamiliar with all but the Hozier song that they catch about ten seconds of before pulling up to Jane’s house.
Anne pulls her camera out of its bag and turns it on, fiddling with something for a moment before turning to Gilbert. “Can you grab the cookies? I don’t think I can juggle the camera and the box without dropping both of them, and I want to film the beginning of the party.”
“Or I could carry the camera and you could carry the cookies? It would probably make the shot a little more steady.” She seems hesitant, so he holds up his right hand and solemnly adds, “I will guard it with my life.”
She rolls her eyes, but hands him the camera anyway.
She’s talking about Jane’s party and the cookie baking as they make their way to the front door, but just after they’ve knocked on the door, Gilbert hears another car pull up. He turns, swinging the camera around to face the street and asking, “Whose car is that?”
Anne turns to see what he's pointing at and gasps. “That’s Mr. Barry, and- Diana! Diana’s here!”
He’s not entirely sure what she would have done with the camera and box of cookies if he wasn’t there, but since he’s conveniently placed, she practically throws the box at him and hurries down the walk to greet her friend. Anne pounces on Diana as soon as she's out of the car, tackling her in a hug that almost takes both of them down.
Jane opens the door to see Gilbert filming the reunion and he hands her the box of cookies while trying to keep his other arm steady. "I guess there's no way to tell if Anne liked the surprise," she deadpans, but she's smiling as she sets the box down.
"I think she did," says Gilbert. "Good job, team." He holds up his free hand for a high five, which Jane returns with the only minutest of eye rolls.
"You guys are nerds," Josie says, looking unimpressed.
"We know," Jane and Gilbert say in unison, and Josie groans as they high five again.
Something that Tristan says (possibly Scrabble trash talk in Latin, but Gilbert really wouldn't know) has Jane heading back inside, but the other two wait a little longer so they can let Diana and Anne into the house. When the best friends make it to the door, Anne is so deep into regaling Diana with a story that the latter can only wave hello to Gil and Josie.
Gilbert turns off the camera and is about to follow them in when Josie speaks up, looking from Gilbert to the door that Anne just walked through. "You know what?” she says slowly. “I see it now.”
"You two as a couple, obviously," Josie says. "No offense, but you were both so awkward around each other at first that I kind of thought your relationship was a joke."
"Not offensive at all," he replies flatly.
Josie shakes her head. "No no no, but like- I get it now. Look at you. You can't stop smiling, but it has nothing to do with you. You're happy because she's happy. It's nice," she says sincerely. Gilbert mulls over her words for a moment and wonders if he gives Josie enough credit. Then she adds: "Oh, and you're totally welcome since I'm pretty much the reason you guys got together."
He scoffs and shakes his head as Josie flounces back into Jane's house, but it takes twenty minutes and a game of scrabble before he can meet Anne's eyes again.
The harebrained scheme is put on pause over Christmas, but as the end of break approaches, there's a mountain of work looming over them and they both figure that the library is as good a place as any to dispatch one of their contractually obligated outings (which, in case you were wondering, is their cute nickname for fake dates.)
"Besides," Anne says in the text she sends him, "Ruby will probably be there stalking Tristan and Jane. What better way to convince her we're the most awkward and boring couple ever?"
Gil pretends that he's not immediately reminded of Josie's words at Jane's Christmas party and just agrees to whatever Anne suggests.
(He wonders later if 'chemistry homework and awkward handholding @ 3 PM' would look weird among the sticky notes on his wall. The answer is probably yes, but he scribbles it onto a post-it anyway.)
There's no Ruby in sight when they get to the library, so they manage to study in not-awkward silence for a while until Anne whacks him on the arm and whispers that Jane has just walked in. As they both watch their friend move from the information desk towards where they're sitting -- near the poetry shelves, at Anne's insistence -- Gilbert forgets pretty much everything that he knows to be true about people. Do couples study differently than single people? Are libraries appropriate spaces for harebrained fake-dating schemes? Do they need to fool Jane at all? How big an impact does someone as sensible as Jane Andrews really have on the Avonlea rumor mill?
It's one thing to fake a relationship at Starbucks for Ruby and Josie, but at the library and in front of Jane? Gilbert isn't sure of the protocol. This is not something that he and Anne hammered out in the three page contract stipulating the terms of their arrangement. (Which is a little surprising, since that contract was set out literally one bookshelf away from where they're currently sitting. You'd think it would have occurred to them.)
Gilbert opens his mouth to suggest that they do nothing when, out of nowhere, Anne hooks her right ankle around his left one and his mind goes blank. Anne Shirley is touching him and Gilbert kind of maybe possibly can't breathe.
Normally, Gil's a focused student who's not at all easily distracted. The exception to this rule, he has learned, comes when Anne is holding hands with him, fingers interlaced to declare their couple-ness to everyone who sees them. Or when she's talking to Jane about storytelling and everything about her lights up as she wildly gesticulates to prove her point. Or when she's scrunching her nose the way she does when she's thinking particularly hard. (It's possible, Gil realizes, that he might not be that well-focused.)
Still, Gilbert trains his gaze on the chemistry textbook in front of him. If the Doctor can channel regeneration energy and Jedi masters can wield the Force, he should be able to control his own mind, right?
Gilbert wills his brain to be more interested in stoichiometry than it is in the wayward curl that Anne keeps tucking behind her ear.
This isn't the relationship you are looking for, he thinks in his best Obi-wan Kenobi impression.
It doesn't work.
The thing about pretending not to be flustered is that it's a lot more convincing when your face isn't bright red and your heart isn't thudding loudly enough to be heard by the person next to you. Anne is trying her best to pretend that neither one of these things is happening and that she’s not at all flustered, doing Miss Stacey’s assigned reading with what is probably more intensity than is required by a poem entitled "Crack Squirrels".
She can't focus, though. Anne was the one who convinced Miss Stacey to put together this slam poetry primer in the first place, but now she's too distracted to enjoy it. If she had known that agreeing to fake-date Gilbert Blythe would have taken away her ability to appreciate poetry, she’d have said no immediately. Now, instead of hearing the poems come alive in her head as she reads them, she’s staring at a single spot on the page, her mind whirring with every possible way that this ruse could derail and go horribly, awkwardly wrong.
What if Jane's not the only one who sees them? What if Mrs. Lynde's knitting circle is meeting at the library today and they decide they'd like a stroll through the stacks first? Anne knows her hair is pretty impossible to miss, as is the fact that she's sitting closer-than-necessary to Gilbert Blythe, and Mrs. Lynde would probably jump to conclusions and tell everyone that Anne and Gil are engaged or something equally ridiculous.
(Anne also knows that's not a kind thing to think about Mrs. Lynde. She'll feel bad about it by the time she gets home, but for now, this fake relationship is taking a toll on Anne's normally-charitable nature and she will exaggerate about whomever she wants in her own head, thank you.)
Anne's not sure whether she's more annoyed by the fact that she can't focus or that Gilbert apparently can, but she takes it out on the packet of poems they got from Miss Stacey, flipping to the end so furiously that the pages thwack against the table. She feels Gil's eyes on her for a moment, but refuses to look up, staring at the poem that she's landed on and realizing that she's looking at its last two verses. Flipping back through the packet to find the beginning would be as good as admitting that Gilbert's presence is enough to distract her from work, so she pretends that this is what she meant to do.
The poem at least appears to be somewhat morbid, and that's good. Morbid, Anne can deal with. All the other poems seem to be love poems (except "Crack Squirrels", which in retrospect seems like a weird choice), and she does not feel like reading about loving someone even when they are a hurricane. Anne refuses to let herself be swept away by metaphors about tuning fork hearts today, not when she walked to the library with her hand in Gilbert's and found that she definitely didn't hate it.
She can hear the scratch of a pencil as Gilbert takes diligent notes next to her. Meanwhile, Anne has read the same line at least twelve times and retained exactly none of it. Determined not to be shown up, she circles and underlines a few things in the first verse without really reading them. That's when she glances down at the next verse just to see how long it is and finds that it hits a little too close to home.
'We all face our monsters differently/just because I smile while I do it/doesn't make me any less serious,' the poet writes, and for a second Anne goes right back to the time when her life only felt bearable when she was pretending for a moment that it wasn't hers. She thinks of all those days when she pretended that she’d been stolen away and hidden instead of just consistently ignored, of having to imagine that someone out there missed her because it felt like no one ever would.
She's not sure how long she stares at the page, but suddenly there's a hand on her arm and she looks up to see a quizzical Jane. On her right is Gilbert, looking at her with concern. She wonders how badly she must have zoned out.
"Sorry, I just got so wrapped up in this poem," Anne says brightly, though it rings a little false in her ears. "What did you say?"
"Tristan and I were going to get some coffee," says Jane. "Did you want to join us?"
"Coffee! Yeah, yes. Coffee sounds good. Gil?"
"Yeah, I think I could use a little caffeine if I'm ever going to get through all this," Gilbert says, holding up his half-done chemistry assignment. He glances at her again, eyebrows furrowed, but Anne just looks away.
It's only then that Anne realizes she and Gilbert are still basically joined at the hip. She springs back a little, moving her foot and kind of hopping sideways in her chair to add a few extra inches between them. If Gilbert gives her a weird look as Jane walks away, Anne refuses to acknowledge it.
They're packing up their books when Anne goes to put away the poetry primer and catches sight of the last line of the final poem in the packet. It makes her blush furiously, for some reason, and she stuffs the pages into her bag without a second look.
She'll underline it later, make some notes for their inevitable in-class discussion, but for now she pretends she never read it at all.
'Nobody wants to be noticed when they are falling in love.'
@JustJaneAndrews: Will challenged me to a Scrabble game today and said he'd do all my chores for the week if I won.
@JustJaneAndrews: So I guess I've got a lot of free time for the next week.
@RubyRedGillis: @JustJaneAndrews oooh I wonder if @trystio is free for a library date
@RubyRedGillis: Listening to Ms Stacey's poetry videos is making me feel so artsy
@RubyRedGillis: I feel like I should be dressed in black and drinking tea to appreciate this
@josieberrypie: so basicly you want to be the goth version of @AnneWith_An_E??
@RubyRedGillis: @josieberrypie @AnneWith_An_E don't we all?
@josieberrypie: @RubyRedGillis @AnneWith_An_E uhhh no?
@RubyRedGillis: Don't listen to @josieberrypie, @AnneWith_An_E. You're adorable.
@josieberrypie: @RubyRedGillis @AnneWith_An_E I never said she wasn't! I just don't like tea or poetry or hipster music that no ones ever heard of so.....
@AnneWith_An_E: @josieberrypie It's ok, Josie. I don't think I could make a very good you, either. I can’t even name all the guys in One Direction.
@RubyRedGillis: @AnneWith_An_E if that's your only problem @josieberrypie and I can teach you everything you need to know about 1D :)
@AnneWith_An_E: @RubyRedGillis @josieberrypie I think somehow I'll survive with my limited knowledge.
@josieberrypie: i would carry you over fire and water for your love
@AnneWith_An_E: @josieberrypie That's pretty! Is it from a poem?
@josieberrypie: @AnneWith_An_E omg no its a 1d song
@AnneWith_An_E: @josieberrypie Seriously?!
@josieberrypie: @AnneWith_An_E um ya its called through the dark
@AnneWith_An_E: @josieberrypie Listening to it now!
@AnneWith_An_E: @josieberrypie It's a little bubblegum pop-y for me, but the lyrics are actually lovely!
@josieberrypie: @AnneWith_An_E they actually wrote it
@josieberrypie: @AnneWith_An_E i guess theyre kind of poets too but with like better hair
Their final contractually obligated outing is just an excuse to finish homework before school starts again. They both have a chemistry assignment to finish (or in Anne's case, start) and reading to do for Ms. Stacey's class, so an awkward half hour in a coffee shop is not a particularly tempting prospect at the moment. They've found that they can work pretty well in silence -- significantly better than they could when they were busy incessantly comparing their marks and glancing at each other's papers to see who was working faster.
Anne suggests that it might not technically count as a date, but Gilbert assures her that the cookies and cocoa upgrade it from a study date to an actual date -- ("Just, you know, with more of the Periodic Table than most people see on their dates.") -- and she acquiesces.
On the appointed day, he awkwardly escorts Anne up to his room -- somewhere, he thinks, Ruby Gillis is missing the opportunity to mine a year's worth of joke fodder -- and hopes that the tedium of balancing equations keeps thoughts of romance far, far away.
Anne settles in with her chemistry book, glancing around his room, though he can't tell if it's curiosity or disdain that motivates it. She's too far away to read the sticky notes, but just in case, he pulls down the wall's latest addition as he walks past it.
"Music?" Gil asks her, reaching for his laptop. She nods and he pulls up iTunes, skimming through his library. “My music is probably a little mainstream for you, but- wait, you know what? I do have some One Direction, and I hear you’re a pretty big fan of theirs now.”
(Gilbert staunchly maintains that the presence of One Direction in his iTunes is strictly a student council thing. He less-than-staunchly admits the fact that he has a bass heavy remix of one of their songs on his running playlist.)
He’s busy enough laughing at Anne’s affronted gasp and cuing up "Best Song Ever" that he doesn't notice the crumpled-up wad of paper that Anne throws at him until it whacks him in the arm.
"Is this how you treat all your hosts? And to think I brought out peppermint bark cookies for you."
"I don't know; do you accuse all your guests of being fans of terrible boy bands?"
"We don't know that they're terrible, Shirley. They could be perfectly decent people."
"Didn't one of them break Taylor Swift's heart or something?"
"That's true," he says mock-seriously. "And T-Swizz is kind of my homegirl."
Anne rolls her eyes and turns back to her chemistry assignment, but the corners of her mouth are upturned.
Gilbert switches to a playlist of scores and picks up his own assignment, settling in to work in silence beside Anne.
He finishes his assignment first and his concentration suffers for it. The reading for Ms. Stacey is interesting, but it's easy to get distracted between poems, which is how twenty minutes later finds him building a small tower out of paper clips instead of reading the last of the slam poems.
Anne looks up from an equation that she's been working out, her eyebrows furrowing. "What are you doing?"
"Building a small city out of office supplies," he says, like it's a normal way to spend an afternoon. "Would you like to join me?"
"No," she says slowly. "Especially since your one-building city is totally structurally unsound."
"What? I'll have you know that the BlytheCorp building is a paragon of structural integrity."
Anne raises her eyebrows, casually flipping her notebook shut and watching as the gust of air collapses his tower. "I'd get my money back if I were you."
"I knew I should've gotten the insurance policy that covered fake girlfriends," he says, gathering up the paper clips.
"Well, you didn't, so now you only have one option: let Shirley Consolidated take over reconstruction."
He lets out a laugh, surprised that she's playing along. "Ah, but you see, that's not my only choice."
"Oh? And what's your other option?"
He brandishes a pencil like a sword, affecting a thick-but-terrible Spanish accent. "Hello. My name is Gilbert John Patrick Blythe. You killed my paperclip tower. Prepare to die."
The room is silent. Gilbert's impressions are usually pretty well received, but there is not a single flicker of amusement in Anne's eyes.
"Like Inigo Montoya?" he prompts. "From The Princess Bride?"
Comprehension dawns on Anne's face. "Oh! Well, that makes sense. I've actually never seen it."
His jaw drops. "How have you never seen The Princess Bride? It's a classic -- it's the classic!"
(Gilbert's not even sure what 'the classic' means, but it sounds important and he figures that he's allowed to be dramatic on behalf of his favorite movie.)
"Oh, and you've seen every movie that's ever been labeled a classic?" Anne asks, leveling a challenging look at him. "Funny Face? Casablanca? Lawrence of Arabia?"
"I didn't mean it like that, Shirley. It's just a...well, it's-" he casts around for a moment trying to find a word that's not 'classic' "-widely loved. It's very widely loved and it gets referenced all the time."
"Well, clearly not all the time, if I've somehow survived this long without seeing it."
"Survived, yes. But have you really lived? I think not."
Anne seems unmoved by his poetic phrasing.
"I think that's what we should do for our last contractually obligated outing," Gilbert continues. "I can introduce you to the magic of The Princess Bride and die knowing that I have brought true joy to another human."
"And if I really can't stand it, I guess we could always watch something else," Anne says, after mulling it over for a moment.
"If you can't stand The Princess Bride, we have the perfect excuse for ending this relationship. I could never date someone who wasn't moved by Buttercup and Westley's story."
Anne rolls her eyes, but she’s fighting a grin and suddenly Gilbert thinks that if she really can't stand his favorite movie, he may have to rethink his rule.
@AnneWith_An_E: Finally watching The Princess Bride. Looks kind of cheesy, but I'm trusting the person who recommended it to me.
@josieberrypie: @AnneWith_An_E but how cute is westly though???
@DianaBarry96: @AnneWith_An_E I still can't believe you haven't seen it! Let me know what you think.
@Call_Me_Gil: "You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."
@RubyRedGillis: @Call_Me_Gil practicing your bedside manner?
@RubyRedGillis: @Call_Me_Gil "my name is Dr. Gilbert John Patrick Blythe. you require heart surgery. prepare to…not die?"
@Call_Me_Gil: @RubyRedGillis It just doesn't have the same ring to it.
@AnneWith_An_E: "This is true love. You think this happens every day?"
@RubyRedGillis: @AnneWith_An_E you guys are too cute!!!!
@josieberrypie: @AnneWith_An_E @RubyRedGillis omg dont encourage them this is so mushy its gross
"Well, Mr. Blythe, it's been...interesting working on this harebrained scheme with you," Anne says as she and Gilbert walk out of Starbucks. Their mutual fake break-up occurs over lattes and Anne asks Diana -- the only other person in on the scheme, because 'tell no one' obviously doesn't apply to bosom friends -- to spread the news among their friends.
"Yeah, it's actually been kind of fun," Gilbert says. "I mean, awkward, but fun. Also, slightly worrying, given how gullible most of our friends seem to be."
"They just saw what they wanted to see," Anne says. Her phone chirps with an incoming text message and she holds it up so Gil can see Ruby's emoji-filled sympathy text. "I do feel a little bad about it, though."
"Well, at least we're not lying to them anymore, right?" Gilbert says, though he might be trying to convince himself as well as her.
"We'll tell them one day," says Anne, with sudden resolve. "Not for a while, but one day."
They're facing each other on opposite sides of Gil's car. "Need a ride home?" he asks.
She turns it over in her mind and decides that any post-scheme awkwardness would be preferable to waiting in the cold for Marilla to pick her up. "That would be great, but I reserve the right to hide if we pass Ruby or Josie or Jane."
"That's fair," he says with a shrug as they both get in. "Radio's yours if you want to listen to anything in particular."
Anne bypasses the tape deck in favor of the radio dial, finding the indie station from the day of Jane’s Christmas party just in time to catch the final notes of what sounds like a mariachi song.
The next song to play makes a grin spread across her face, but the expression turns to surprise as Gilbert points at the radio and says, “This is Bear’s Den, right?”
“Yeah- uh, yes. It’s from their new album,” Anne says, glancing curiously at him. His eyes are on the road, though, and as far as Anne knows, he’d never even heard of the band until the day of Jane’s party.
She could jump to any number of conclusions, but instead she keeps her feet firmly on the ground and looks out the window without saying anything.
Gilbert breaks the silence next, but this time it’s not to identify the band playing on the radio. (Anne’s already done that anyway: it’s Bedouin Soundclash featuring a female vocalist she doesn’t recognize. She’s about to use this as an excuse to break out her phone and do some unnecessary googling when he speaks up.)
“I wanted to apologize,” he begins, and Anne freezes. “I know I said I was sorry about the carrots thing, and I am, but I think what I did after that might have been worse. I should have backed off when you didn’t want me involved in your life and I didn’t. I’m sorry.”
Her mouth opens and shuts three or four times before she can come up with anything to say and even then it's just a quiet, "Thank you."
She doesn't know whether he thinks that's a sufficient response or if he's waiting for her to figure out what else she wants to say, but Gilbert only nods once and continues to drive without another word.
"Thank you," she says again, "for knowing that that's what you did wrong and for apologizing for it. I'm sorry, too. You know, for the locker board. And the chocolate bunny. And for the subtweets at Thanksgiving, although I think we kind of shared the blame on that one."
He lets out a laugh. "Yeah, I think that's fair. It's very possible that I intentionally brought up controversial things to watch you argue with no one in particular."
"I totally fell for it," Anne says. "Maybe our friends aren't the only ones who are easy to manipulate."
"Well, personally, I think it's important to have strong opinions on pie," Gilbert says. "It's an indicator of good character."
"And you've learned this from your many years of studying human character in relation to pie preferences?"
"Obviously. I want to be a doctor; I can't just be hurling hypotheses like that willy nilly."
She laughs out loud and he shoots her a grin as they wait at a traffic light. Somewhere in Regina, Diana is sending out text messages informing the Avonlea crew of the end of Anne and Gilbert's short-lived relationship, but in this car heading towards the Cuthberts' house, Anne knows that it's a beginning.
@josieberrypie: whatevs i was right about them not hating each other
@RubyRedGillis: Uh oh. Maybe I should take a break from the matchmaking business
@JustJaneAndrews: @RubyRedGillis I think that’s probably a good idea.
@RubyRedGillis: There is a girl who still writes you. She doesn’t know how not to
@AnneWith_An_E: SWEET SPRING CHERRY BLOSSOMS THIS CANNOT BE REAL.
@AnneWith_An_E: I THINK I JUST GOT THE COOLEST NEWS EVERRRRR
@AnneWith_An_E: Sooooooo guess who just got a super-cool newspaper internship for copy editing in Saskatoon this summer?
@AnneWith_An_E: Her name starts with A-N-N and ends with an 'E'!!!!!
@JustJaneAndrews: @AnneWith_An_E Congratulations!
@RubyRedGillis: @AnneWith_An_E congrats!!! We should celebrate with candy and a movie marathon or something
@josieberrypie: @RubyRedGillis @AnneWith_An_E o yeah that was suuuuuper subtle
Anne gets five days. Five days to bask in the glow of good news and not have to fake a relationship with anyone and feel like the new year is getting off to a good start.
Five days before she loses Matthew and then everything seems to crumble at once.
Logically, Gilbert knows that he can do nothing to make things any easier for Anne and Marilla, but that doesn't stop him from offering -- once on Twitter and once in a text message. Diana replies to the latter, thanks him for his concern and lets him know that she'll tell him if they need anything. He watches her videos to make sure that she's at least on her way to being okay, helps Jane with her homework pool so he can feel like he's at least doing something to make things easier for Anne.
(The other side of grief, he decides, is helplessness, but naming it doesn't make it easier to get his head around. He should ask Tristan how to say it in Latin. It'd probably sound more profound that way.)
It's not until her video two weeks after it happens that he figures out how he can help. He pulls up the contact information that Ms. Stacey gave him in December, does a little research, and writes about twelve drafts of his email before he's ready to send it.
(After Mrs. Lynde tells Anne what he and Diana did, between the incredulous tweets for the benefit of their friends and the video for the benefit of her viewers, he gets a text from her. It's just a 'thank you', but it feels, Gilbert thinks, like another beginning.)
@RubyRedGillis: I will love you when you are a still day. I will love you when you are a hurricane.
@AnneWith_An_E: “The world is waiting for you to set it on fire. Trust in yourself and burn.”
@josieberrypie: i realize your laugh is the best sound i have ever heard
She realizes midway through a late night phone conversation with Gilbert that she's talked to him on the phone every week for at least the past month. She is doing homework when her phone first rings, but she abandons math for doodling in a notebook and then gives up both in favor of flopping onto her bed and playing with her hair as Gilbert recounts the many tribulations of a student council president.
"...and then," he says, "they told us that we couldn't do the mural because someone might paint in gang colors. Gangs. In Avonlea."
She tries and fails to smother a laugh, Gilbert huffing in mock offense when he hears her giggle.
"That's nice, Shirley. Go ahead. Laugh at my pain."
Anne knows what to say before Gilbert has even finished his sentence. "Life is pain, Mr. President. Anyone who says differently is selling something."
"Does this make me Buttercup? I always knew I was the fairest maiden in all the land," Gil replies, and Anne can just see him preening.
"I believe it's 'the most beautiful in a thousand years', actually."
"Shirley, I had no idea you felt that way about me."
Anne sputters for a moment, but regains her composure fast enough to reply, "I'm the Dread Pirate Roberts. I'm driven by nothing but the urge to swashbuckle. What would I even feel?"
"Well, true love, obviously."
"To blave? Is that what you said?"
She can hear him holding back his laughter as he repeats, this time in his Montoya voice, "True love: the most noble cause of all!"
"To blave. To bluff. Wait 'til I tell the student council that their president thinks gambling is a noble cause."
"Shh! You said Mrs. Lynde was over. If she hears you, half of Avonlea will think the Council is fundraising for a casino or something."
Anne laughs. "Never go in against Rachel Lynde when a rumor is on the line."
"Speaking of classic blunders," Gil says, "I did actually call you for a reason. It, uh, seems that there was a little miscommunication about the flower deliveries."
"What kind of miscommunication?"
"The kind where the flowers might now be arriving at seven tomorrow morning?"
"Seven? On a Saturday? But the school's not open. Who would even-" Anne trails off as she remembers that Gilbert opened the phone call with a request for a favor. "Oh. Oh, no."
"I know, I know, and I'm sorry. Ruby said she'd try to be there, but she has a cold, so I thought maybe our trusty Grade Twelve representative could accompany me?"
"Seven AM?" Anne repeats.
"I'll bring coffee," Gilbert offers.
Silence. Then: "There had better be doughnuts, too, Mr. Blythe."
Gilbert laughs loudly and Anne feels a warmth spreading in her chest, somehow familiar and yet totally new.
"As you wish."