“Do you ever think about what would have happened if we hadn’t become friends?” Anne asks. They’re sitting on the dock together, Gilbert’s legs crossed while Anne’s dangle out towards the water. “I mean, if you hadn’t traded schools with me for the teaching program we might not have.”
Constantly. At times, Gilbert had genuinely thought he might never earn Anne’s forgiveness. “Yeah, I guess I’ve thought about it a time or two.”
“Well, I am very glad we did. You’re not so bad, considering how you’re a straight white guy and everything.”
Her tone is teasing, but the words still lodge in Gilbert’s chest. It feels just the tiniest bit like the time he’d gone swimming and ended up with a lungful of water. He’d coughed up saltwater for what felt like hours. She doesn’t know, Gilbert tells himself firmly. It almost helps. “I’m glad you think so.”
“Don’t make that face at me, Gilbert Blythe, I’m giving you a compliment.”
“I know.” He’d been nine, that day on the beach, and for a few moments before his mom pulled him out of the water, he’d genuinely thought he might drown.
“Besides, if you’re really aware of your privilege it shouldn’t be a problem that I’m pointing it out. If my queerness and blackness have to be labeled, your straightness and whiteness do to. Otherwise it becomes invisible just because it’s what people expect to be the default.”
He nods. There’s water in his lungs, but he tries not to show it. It isn’t Anne’s fault she doesn’t know. Like she’d said, straightness and whiteness were the default.
If he unfocuses his mind, he can almost forget the part about straightness. You’re not so bad, considering how you’re a white guy. That’s what she said. Of course, he knows he’s lying to himself.
Later that day, he drives his bike into a pond. It’s like drowning, but only a little bit.
They’re sitting on Gilbert’s porch swing, looking out at the trees and the sky. Anne hasn’t been talking, and he’s determined to wait her out. He used to fill the silence when she got like this, but in the past few months he’s learned that the times Anne isn’t talking are often the times she most needs to.
“You’re quiet,” Anne tells him.
“So are you.”
The sit for another moment before Anne speaks. “I guess I’m just… really missing Diana? I mean, I’m happy she and Fred have found each other and everything, but I don’t really feel like I get to see her anymore now that they’re together.”
“It’s not about my feelings for Diana, either. I mean, I think I may still have some romantic-type feelings about her, but I’m not jealous of Fred because of that or anything. I just wish I could still see her more.”
“That’s understandable, Anne. I’m sure she’ll feel the same way when you get in your first relationship.” He ignores the pain in his chest when he pictures Anne with someone else. If she can get over Diana, Gilbert can get over her. He’s gotten over every crush he ever had, even the one on Moody Spurgeon MacPherson when he was thirteen. So this is the first time the crush has been a girl. That doesn’t mean anything.
“I’m not even sure I’ll ever be in a relationship,” Anne says. “Maybe I’ll roam through the wilderness as a single woman, writing about everything I come across!” She makes a sweeping gesture with her arms, then drops them. “Anyway, finding someone to date is a little difficult when I’m the only queer person for miles.”
Gilbert looks away, digging his fingernails into his leg so hard that it hurts even through his jeans. “You know, if you want to get mathematical about it that can’t possibly be true. Not that you would ever want to bring math into anything if you could help it.”
Anne hits his shoulder. It hurts, but only a little. It’s his chest that’s hurting the worst, and he wonders why he just doesn’t tell her the truth. But then she’s talking about something else, and just like that, the moment’s gone.
They’re in her bedroom with the door open. Marilla insists on the open door, which both Anne and Gilbert think is hilarious, seeing as Anne projected her crush on Diana to the entire internet and they’re still allowed to have sleepovers. Anyway, the door is open, but the atmosphere is still peaceful. Anne’s sitting at her desk working on a poem, and Gilbert’s stretched out across the bed writing the essay that’s due tomorrow, and it’s nice.
“Can you think of a word that rhymes with loss?” Anne asks.
“Boss. Floss. Moss,” Gilbert says. “‘Goss’ too, if you’re one of those people who likes to shorten words like gossip for absolutely no reason.”
She throws a pencil at him. It misses.
“What are you writing about, anyway?” he asks.
“It’s a love poem. Not to a particular person or anything. I was talking to Priscilla about how I’m still sometimes uncomfortable with my sexuality and she said that maybe if I wrote more love poems with a female subject it would help.”
“Is it working?”
“I’m not sure yet. I think this poem is turning out pretty well, though, so if nothing else it’s helping me improve my writing.”
“That’s good, then.”
“You don’t sound so sure.”
Anne sighs. “I guess I’m just—tired of only hanging out with straight people? I mean, you and Diana are basically my favorite people, and Ruby and Jane are lovely, but I kind of wish I had more queer friends.”
She turns back to her poem, but Gilbert’s heard is already racing uncontrollably as he realizes that he can’t let another opportunity get away.
“What if I weren’t?” he asks quietly.
“What if you weren’t what?” Anne asks, not looking up from her poem. “Hey, do you think that I could rhyme ‘sun’ and ‘lung’ for this poem? I mean, I know it’s only a slant rhyme, but there’s no good rhyming word that says what I need it to.”
“Straight. And go for it, the slant rhyme is a time honored tradition in the realm of poetry. It was good enough for Shakespeare at any rate.”
Anne looks at him, a grin forming on her face. “Gilbob Blythe, did you just tell me that you’re having some sort of sexuality crisis and then try to quickly cover it up by talking about Shakespeare?”
Gilbert laughs. “Fuck off. I can’t believe that Ruby managed to get that nickname to stick.”
“Okay.” He looks away for a second, then decides that he should make eye contact as he says this. “It’s not really a crisis, I don’t think. I mean, I don’t know exactly how I identify, but I’ve known I like boys for a while now—” he swallows hard, thinking carefully about how much to tell her, “—there’s at least one girl I like, anyway. I don’t one hundred percent feel like I have the word for what I am, but I wouldn’t call it a crisis at any rate.”
“Are you looking for a label?”
He shakes his head.
Anne stares at him for a moment, then walks over and sits next to him on the bed. “Sorry, it just seemed like we were a little too far apart to be having this sort of conversation.”
“You don’t have to have a label right away. Hell, I’ve been out for months and I still don’t really know what to call myself. It’s kind of funny since I usually love words, but I can’t find one that feels right.”
“Maybe that’s why it’s so hard,” Gilbert suggests. “You love words so much that it would feel wrong to use one that didn’t fit well.”
Anne nods. “You might be right.”
“I often am.”
“Asshole.” She shoves his shoulder playfully, then takes his hand. “Let’s make a pact, okay?”
“Are you going to make me swear an oath of eternal friendship? Remember, I know what you’re like. I watched all of last year’s videos.”
“Not eternal friendship. But as of yet, you’re the only other queer person I know in Avonlea—that is, if you’re comfortable with me using the word queer for you?”
“Okay. So if we’re the only queer people we know, we should make an oath that we talk to each other as we try to figure things out. I’m not saying we have to tell each other everything—”
“Yeah, that’d be weird,” Gilbert says immediately.
“But if we find a label that seems like it fits, or learn more about ourselves, we should feel safe talking to each other. That way we can help with each other’s processes. Or, something to that effect. Do you agree? Can we make the pact?”
Gilbert squeezes her hand. “Anne Shirley, I would be honored to.”