'Are you sure you want to go in today, Gil dear?'
'Yes, Mom! I can't miss class.'
It is Gilbert's birthday. His eighteenth, actually. Most of his friends will stay home on their birthdays, preferring to wait for their soulmark to appear in peace. There was always the risk that your soulmate might be...unexpected. Or that you might not get one at all. Or that rather than the name of your one and only appearing in a requited black, it might glow red against your skin, showing all the world that your soulmate doesn't love you back.
But Gilbert isn't going to let it stop him from going to school. Exams are less than six months away and it isn't as though the mark will tell him anything he doesn't already know. He had known from the moment that he'd felt the sharp thwack of the magnetic locker board over his head that she is the only one for him. He knows just as certainly that she does not love him back, at least not in the way he loves her. But hey, that's okay. Some people never get a soulmate at all, and platonic soulmates are just as important as romantic ones. He knows that the words that will scrawl across his wrist at 11:23 will be red; he supposes that Anne might get his name in green on her wrist, sign of her platonic bond to him, when her time comes in a little over two months. In any case, there is no reason to miss school. There is a scrap of cloth tied securely around his wrist so that nobody will see. It is going to be just like any other day.
His mother is looking at him, her expression falling somewhere between concern and resignation. A knot twists in the pit of his stomach, and he reaches out to hug her.
'Hey, don't worry. I'll be fine, it's just a tattoo.'
His mother smiles wanly at him. 'That Shirley girl doesn't know what she missing out on, eh?'
Gilbert takes a sharp breath in through the nose, chokes, and starts to cough. 'How did you... what? I mean, er...' His choking denial is cut off by a look.
'Oh honey, you're about as obvious as...well, you. Don't give up hope though. There's still a good chance-'
'No, there's not. I'm sure of it. But if I cover the mark I can at least pretend.'
She sighs. He knows she's disappointed that she'll probably never have a daughter in law. She knows that her son is an idealist, that if he can't marry the woman he loves he won't settle for anyone else, and she respects his decision, but he still sees the hopeful looks she casts his way whenever they are invited to a wedding.
'Don't worry about me. Worry about the chemistry test I have to do this-morning.'
His mother chuckles. 'Ah well, get on with you, then. But call me if you need to come home, okay?'
'I will.' He knows she doesn't believe him, but she lets it slide as he leaves the house.
* * * * *
The chemistry test goes better than expected, and Gilbert is almost able to forget that his soulmark is only minutes away from appearing. He and Anne chat about the test as they leave at recess, arguing amiably.
Then she brings up his birthday.
'Oh, and Happy Birthday! You're such an old man! All grown up...wait, did you not take the day off just because of the chemistry test?'
Gilbert shifts uncomfortably on his feet, and glances at the clock on the wall of the locker bay. He fakes nonchalance. 'Well, I can’t slack off this close to exams; I have to make sure my career isn't jeopardised.'
Ruby suddenly appears behind them (she's clearly been eavesdropping), hooking her arms around both their shoulders. 'Ooh, making sure your lady love and the adorable children you'll have are well supported in your working life,' she coos, 'how sweet!'
Anne looks a little put out, probably because Ruby's arm is trapping her hair and tugging it. Gilbert chooses to distract Ruby by replying, 'Isn't there such a thing as just wanting to do well in a career for the good of society?'
'Probably, but not for youuuuu!' She continues in a sing-song voice, withdrawing her arms. Gilbert tries to ignore the way she' s winking at him, glancing back and forth between him and Anne. Anne however, has been distracted by Jane, and is looking a little too determinedly engrossed by their conversation over English homework. Ruby takes the opportunity to lean in and giggle in his ear, 'It's only a matter of time now! In about ten minutes she'll see your soulmark anyway.'
'No, she won't.'
'Oh yes she will, I'll make sure-'
'No she won't Ruby, because it's not going to happen.'
'That's what th-.....oh.' Ruby's face falls as he interrupts her, holding up his wrist to show her the piece of cloth tied securely around it. She stares blankly for a moment, before meeting his eye. 'It came in already?'
'No, I just know what it's going to say and I don't want to see it,' he says shortly, 'Please don't go on about it, I mean it.'
She pauses, before nodding slowly, her usually cheery smile replaced by an almost reproachful look. Gilbert takes the opportunity to turn and leave.
He begins to feel a prickling under the skin of his wrist as he walks, head down, to the furthest corner of the sports field. He sits under a large tree there, and waits. A small but searing pain burns across his wrist as his watch shows 11:23 exactly. His mark has appeared. He resists the temptation to look by reminding himself that as long as he ignores it, he can go on pretending that he and Anne can be together someday.
* * * * *
That night as he lies in bed, his thoughts are sluggish and troubled. He has had months in which to mentally prepare himself for this day, but apparently all the time in the world couldn't have prepared him for the finality of today. He toys with the cloth still covering his wrist, then succumbs to temptation and loosens it. He can't see it in the dark, but as he runs his fingers over the fresh mark, he can feel the raised markings. With his index finger, he begins to trace the words.
A quiet tear runs down the side of his face as he finishes tracing the name Anne Shirley.
He always knew it, but that doesn't make knowing the truth for certain any easier.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Anne is a little confused when Gilbert doesn't show his soulmark off at school. As private as the revelation of it usually is, most newly-marked people take the first opportunity they can the next day to tell all of their friends the name of their soulmate. Of course, not everyone does get a soulmark, but that is getting less and less common and the years wear on. It's considered polite not to ask, but flaunting your mark is part of the celebration for those lucky enough to get one. Then again, Gil never has been the type to show off, at least not when he thinks other people might be hurt by it. Yes, maybe that's it. It is something of an open secret that Josie Pye hadn't got one at all, and although a part of Anne mutters a vindictive serves her right in the back of her mind, she does feel sorry for her. Anne knows what it's like to know that nobody cares about you. All the same...it's strange that Gil hasn't even told her, Anne Shirley, who his soulmate is! He is just as close, if not closer than him than Ruby is these days. Anne wouldn't even be surprised if his name appears in green on her wrist in just under three months, for goodness sake! Why hasn't he told her!?
She refuses to ask him about it. It's not like it really matters to her who his soulmate is.
Well, only so far as knowing one of her best friends is going to be happy.
Yeah, that's the only reason.
She doesn't really care.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Gilbert begins to grow accustomed to the cloth on his wrist. He barely notices it after a week or so, sliding it out of the way only to wash his arm, keeping his eyes averted until he finishes and covers the mark again. He makes sure to wear long sleeved shirts and sweaters whenever he can, so as not to draw attention to the tie on his wrist. Dissenters to the soulmate system are often bullied, but nobody troubles him about it, probably because he's popular.
(The other reason is that Gilbert's unrequited crush on Anne is common knowledge; most of them can piece together the story for themselves. It's just typical that the whole school would know about the red letters on his wrist.)
But, all in all, life goes on. He goes to school, goes to hockey practice, comes home to the warm (if maddeningly sympathetic) smiles of his parents. He helps Charlie out when his car breaks down, convinces Moody to ask Josie to prom and catches up with Ruby over coffee. Life settles back into its normal rhythm.
Harder to get used to is the light buzzing in his wrist that wakes every time he sees Anne.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Anne, unlike Gilbert, is pleased to take the day off for her birthday. She wants to have the whole day to be able to imagine her tall, dark and handsome soulmate, imagine their first meeting, their first date, their wedding. She will finally have a name for the stranger that has haunted her dreams for years. And once you have a name, you have a way to stalk him on Facebook, as Ruby might say. But Anne is an idealist; she wants their first impressions of each other to be in person.
Just because she is staying home, however, doesn't mean she will be seeing her mark appear alone. Diana has just so happened to fall ill with a cold, so can be on Skype to her friend as Anne's excitement builds. As usual, Anne's excitement manifests itself in the form of a monologue. Also as usual, Diana is being a patient and tolerant listening ear.
'There is no way I've already met my soulmate! All the boys at school are far too...unromantic. And anyone else I've met is simply out of the question! There are kindred spirits of course, like you, Diana dearest, and I wouldn't be surprised to see your name in green next to Matthew's. But my one and only? Well, he will have a wonderful, distinguished name, like.... Percival? No, too high falutin. Roy? No, too boring...'
When her speculations are interrupted by a pain across her wrist, she squeals in excitement. She watches as the blood in her veins seems to shift and move towards the surface, in three lines of writing. When the sensation has settled down, she bounds to the window to read the words that will tell her the future, calling back to her computer over her shoulder.
'There's Matthew Cuthbert, in pale green.' It is written in simple, unassuming print. She knows that one already, of course. A small pang goes through her heart that he isn't there to see it. Diana makes a sympathetic noise, but Anne moves on to the next name quickly. She prefers to keep her grief private.
'And you, Di darling, in the most beautiful emerald colour!' There is a small love-heart forming the dot on the i.
Diana squeals in delight. 'But who's your romantic soulmate, Anne?'
The third name is in black, in a looping, cursive hand, and Anne takes a steadying breath before looking closely to read it.
Her heart stops.
It takes her a few moments to realise that Diana is still talking to her.
'I...er...no, this can't be right....' Anne shuffles slowly back into frame, staring at her wrist. Diana leans towards the screen, as though to climb through and see for herself.
'What does it say? Oh no, didn't you get...?'
'No I did, I just....' Anne's head is spinning.
'Then who is it?'
'It must be wrong, it can't be...'
Diana has one of her rare moments of shrewdness. 'Anne, is it Gilbert Blythe?'
A pause. Then: 'No...I mean, yes, that's what it says, but that can't possibly be right!' She looks up finally, to see Diana looking a little relieved.
'That's wonderful! There's no way it was ever going to be anyone else, you two were made for each other!'
For once, it seems that Anne has been rendered almost speechless. 'Errr...I...I should go. Um... I'll call you later.'
She ends the call before Diana can say anything more, and sinks down on her bed, staring at her wrist.
* * * * *
It's three hours later, and Anne hasn't moved from her bed. That's not to say that her mind hasn't been frantically at work, trying to figure out what has just happened.
Oh, who is she kidding?! She should have seen this coming! Everyone has been giving them pointed looks for months. They all knew. But why hadn't he said something?
Maybe he thought she'd reject him. Surely not, though?
Well, a small voice pipes up in her head, you did ignore him pretty determinedly for nearly a year. Maybe he doesn't want to rock the boat? Or maybe, another voice adds, more bitterly, he doesn't want a soulmate. Maybe he's choosing to ignore you so he can go and save the world without being weighed down by you.
Anne shakes her head, trying to clear it. She'll talk to him. That's what she's going to do. They're going to talk about it, like adults. Because they are. They're mature, responsible, legal adults.
...well, they're legal, in any case. But first, sleep.
Her dreams are strange, but pleasant, all full of flowers and trees and a small brook and glittering hazel eyes.
* * * * *
* * * * *
'Hey Gil, how are you?' Anne smiles, a little hesitantly in Gilbert's opinion. He still gets that buzzing feeling in his wrist, but he ignores it.
'I'm doing well, thanks.' Even he can hear the formality in his voice. Smooth. Now she thinks you hate her. 'Er...how did your birthday go? If you don't mind me asking...'
'It was...good. Surprising...' she shakes her head as though trying to clear it, 'but good. Great, actually. You, err, never told me how yours went.'
Gilbert's stomach drops.
'It was nice. Thanks for organizing the cake, it was amazing.' He carefully avoids her eye.
'What about...well, your soulmark?'
'Oh yeah, that's right, how did yours go? Found the love of your life, eh?' He hides his nervousness with the joke, heart beating way too fast. If she asks to see his mark...well, that'll be awkward.
'As a matter of fact, it....wait, haven't you looked at yours?' She abandons decorum, reaching out and wrenching his sleeve up. Her face registers nothing but shock at the cloth still wrapped securely around his wrist. 'You haven't looked at it.' Her voice is blank.
'Well, no. I haven't.'
'Oh. Right. Um, okay.' She's flustered now, determinedly examining her shoes. 'Oh, I just remembered, I have to go and talk to Miss Stacey. Yeah, that's right.' She nods her head emphatically. 'I'll see you later, Gil...Gilbert.'
With that, she hurries away.
Gilbert is nonplussed. Why is she acting so strangely? Was she going to say that she did have his name on her arm? Surely that wouldn't be that surprising to her, they both knew they were kindred spirits, and the green mark would just confirm it. Maybe she's offended that he's covered him mark up?
Girls are weird. He doesn't understand her, even if she is the love of his life.
* * * * *
* * * * *
'Ooh Anne, did you find out who your Prince Charming is?' Ruby flounces into class, taking the free seat next to Anne. 'Have you Facebook stalked him yet? Is he...' Ruby sighs dramatically '...dreamy?'
'I didn't need to Facebook stalk him, I already know him.' Anne mutters without thinking.
Ruby does a double take. 'Who. Is. It. I demand to know!' She's still got her air of banter about her, but there's a steely glint in her eye.
'Nothing...no, it's not...' But Ruby grabs her arm and twists it around.
Two seconds of silence pass before Ruby squeals. 'I knew it! I always said you'd be perfect, your babies are going to be gorgeous!'
'Miss Gillis, let go of Miss Shirley immediately! Apart from being against school rules, reading another's soulmark against their will is bad manners!' Mr Phillips (who has finally decided to pay attention to his class for the first time all year) is scowling at Ruby, who lets go of Anne's arm but is still grinning broadly. 'If you think it's so funny, perhaps a detention would be appropriate.'
'Oh, it won't happen again Sir, I'm terribly sorry Sir.' Anne is frankly surprised that Ruby’s simpering voice and eyelash-batting still words on Phillips, but apparently it does. He turns back to the whiteboard, still scowling a little. By this point Gilbert has turned around in his seat, sending a questioning look at Anne. She shakes her head slightly, feeling her face heat up in humiliation.
She's going to kill Ruby later.
* * * * *
* * * * *
'Gilberrrrrt. Gilberrrrrt!' Gilbert turns and sees Ruby making a beeline for him. She'd better not be harassing him about Anne again. He'd had just about enough of that for a lifetime.
'Ooh, someone's cranky, you haven't been reduced to monosyllables since Charlie asked Anne out that time at lunch.'
'You wanted something?'
'Only for you to realise that Anne is your soulmate.'
'Tell me something I didn't already...'
'Your romantic soulmate.'
He frowns. 'It's not a joke, Ruby. That's just cruel.'
Ruby rolls her eyes in exasperation. 'You two may be the smartest people in the year, but you sure do a good impression of stupidity when you want to!'
'What's that supposed to mean?!'
'It means, idiot, that she has your name on her wrist.'
'...oh. That's nice. I've always thought that green writing would match her eyes really n-...'
'It's black, Gil.'
'Yes. Yes it is.'
'No, it's...you're just messing with me.' He can't even find it in himself to be angry. The resignation he's been carrying around for weeks is beginning to press in on him. He knows Ruby can't be right, but he can't be angry at her for her cruel joke, either.
Her smile falls as his shoulders slump. She sighs. 'Look, just go home, sit down for a bit, have some food and then just have a look at your wrist, okay? If I'm wrong, you can delete me off every social media account you have, and you can ignore me for the rest of time. Just look at it, please.' It doesn't sound like the usual Ruby; she sounds tired, and almost as resigned as he feels. He just nods, dumbly, and she gives his arm a squeeze as she walks away.
* * * * *
When he gets home to his empty house, he tries to do as Ruby asked, but can't seem to relax. In the end, it takes him less that 15 minutes after walking in the door to finally, finally, peel away the cloth covering his mark.
His eyes grow wide.
No way. No, that's not...
But it is.
The words, written in black writing, curling gracefully across his wrist.
* * * * *
* * * * *
'Anne, there's a visitor for you.' Marilla's voice carries up the stairs.
'Who is it?'
There's a pause, before Marilla replies, 'Someone you'll want to see.'
Sure enough, when she makes it down the stairs, Gilbert Blythe is standing next to the piano, looking simultaneously happier and more awkward than she's ever seen him. Marilla looks from one to the other, makes a snorting noise that sounds suspiciously like 'finally' and vacates the room, leaving the two of them alone.
'Gil! I thought we gave up on studying together for this week so I could focus on Lit and you could concentrate on Biology? Not that I'm complaining, I like...I mean, I find...'
'It's not about homework.'
'Oh. Is it about the cake stall at the church fair next weekend?'
'Do I look like Mrs Linde? Besides, I'm helping with the jumping castle, not the cakes.'
'Oh.' She knows she should probably keep talking, but there's only one thing she can think of right now, and they're not talking about that. Nope. No. Never.
'This is about...soulmates....'Oh crap. 'As in, you.'
Anne laughs nervously. 'What about me, specifically?'
'Oh come on Anne, read between the lines!'
Anne's hackles rise 'Read between the lines!? As though I was the one completely ignoring the soul bond! You had that thing on your wrist for over two months and never said a word to me about it! Ruby says you covered it up the whole time because you didn't want to know! How was I supposed to take that?! You clearly don't want it, so fine! Here was me expecting a true romantic with stars in his eyes and instead I get you, who's so focused on his career that he doesn't have time for a soulmate!'
'No no no, Anne please! I covered it up because I thought it was...unrequited.'
A pause, then: 'What?'
'I knew I was going to get your name, and I was certain it would be in red, because you never seemed to reciprocate. And, y'know, that's okay, like I'm not entitled to you or anything, you're your own person, but I didn't want to have to accept that there was never any chance you could love me like that. So I covered it up, but then Ruby made me look at it today, and I swear, I couldn't have been more surprised if Chuck Norris' name had been on my wrist instead.'
'You're comparing me to Chuck Norris?'
He grins. 'Yes. Yes, I am.'
She tries to glower at him, but fails, feeling the corners of her mouth twitch. A weight seems to be lifting off her. 'I thought you didn't want a soulmate, because you didn't say anything about it after your birthday, but obviously you had one. I thought you were giving up your happiness for the sake of your career to help people, which seemed kind of...noble, at least until I realised it was me that had to sacrifice you for it. And I suppose that was when I realised there couldn't really be anyone for me but you.' She's blushing profusely now, but she doesn't look away.
He's grinning like all his Christmases have come at once. 'You can use that in our wedding vows, if you like. Ruby’ll squeal so much she'll rupture everyone's eardrums.'
He's still laughing as she tackles him into a hug.
* * * * *
* * * * *
'FOR THE LOVE OF NIALL, PLEASE TELL ME YOU'VE FINALLY FIGURED IT OUT!!!'
Ruby's voice is so loud that Gilbert has to jerk the phone hastily away from his ear, while Anne rolls around laughing on the couch.
'Niall, really?! I would have said Zayn, at least before he left.'
Anne cackles with glee as Ruby shouts 'DON'T TRY AND SIDETRACK ME! I WANT INFORMATION!'
Gilbert chuckles before saying: 'Yes, we figured it out.'
Ruby seems to be cooing again, at a much reduced volume, so Gilbert deems it safe to raise the phone to his ear again. Anne smiles at him as she leaves the room to get some water. Gilbert is so happy that his soulmate is his, that he completely loses track of what Ruby is saying.
'Awwwwww, you two are going to be so sweet, I am actually puking rainbows! And your children are going to be perfect, you'll have seven of them, and they're all going to be gorgeous, awwww...'
Gilbert cuts her off. 'No, I meant that we figured out who the crazy cat lady of Avonlea High School is going to be. I mean, all this matchmaking, it'll go well with those fifteen cats you've got on backorder...'
He grins even as his his arm jerks away from his ear.
'GILBERT JOHN PATRICK BLYTHE, I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!'
Anne's laughter from the kitchen as he hangs up is the best sound he's heard all day.