(Author's note: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. I'm a writer by trade but have moved into a new job that occasionally requires more creativity than my old one. I thought this might be fun practice and loved the stories I've read on the site. Let me know how I did. I hope to make this multiple chapters. I own no characters.)

John Blythe stood in the kitchen, a small smile on his face. Oh, how good it felt to smile again. Only two days earlier he wondered if he would ever smile again. At that critical stage, uncertain whether his son — his only child — would live or die, he felt he aged 10 years at least.

But now, knowing the boy — boy he would be always despite his 24 years — was comfortably sitting up in his bed for the first time in weeks, John felt at least a few of those years shave off.

It was at that moment that his wife returned home, her first visit out of the house since the day she discovered her son's fever and pain. Seeing John's small smile, she breathed a sigh of relief. Heading out to the store had felt like the first time she left her son behind more than two decades earlier, the same misgivings of whether he would be alright without her nearby.

"How is he now?" she asked.

"Just took in the second helping of supper," he replied, the smiling growing a little at his wife's surprise.

"The doctor didn't think he'd get his appetite back for weeks. What in the world has gotten into him?" she exclaimed.

"Well, I believe he may have received some letters that were of interest to him," John replied, instantly noting his wife's annoyed countenance at his answer.

Gilbert's fever had broken only two nights prior. In the day that followed, his parents discussed, out of his hearing, how much contact they should allow him with the outside world. John was on the side of carefully limiting his consumption of anything upsetting until the boy regained his strength, but his wife was not comfortable with deceiving her son, whatever news may come.

Without saying it out loud, both knew what bad news they expected to come. For more than a year, Avonlea gossip had buzzed about Anne Shirley's rich, well-connected beau in Kingsport. Their engagement was imminent, the other returning Redmond students had said. And so the Blythes hemmed and hawed over what to do should an invitation to a wedding show up.

Gilbert hadn't said anything about it before the fever had set in. Of course, that was not unusual. He had never told his parents he had proposed to the girl at the end of their second year of college, had never told them about his heartbreak upon the constant rumors of her new romance. The first had arrived at their ears by way of the stories going through town, the second they surmised from the change in their boy.

Gilbert had gone off to college almost four years earlier a strong, ambitious young man. He returned at the end of the final term pale, thin and defeated, even with the buzz of a prestigious award and plans for medical school. They knew the reason. And the fever proved them right, as his delirious ramblings proved he had never gotten the red-haired girl out of his mind or heart.

It was with that in mind that John had opened up a few pieces of his son's mail that afternoon. The first was from Anne herself, a nice note wishing him well, thanking him for flowers he sent her for convocation and asking that he visit when he was well. While John assumed that would be enough to perk Gilbert up, he knew the second letter would do even more.

John didn't recognize the name of the writer, but from what he inferred she was a friend of Anne's. And she wanted Gilbert to know Anne wasn't marrying the man in Kingsport.

John had resealed the envelopes, and with a thankful heart, delivered them promptly to his son's room.

When he returned half an hour later, a spark that had been missing from his son's eyes for more than two years had returned. Gilbert asked his father to bring him something to eat, then complained that he was bored and asked if the doctor had told them when he could leave the house.

John had chuckled softly to himself as he closed the bedroom door as he went to fetch some food for the boy. He knew quite well where Gilbert would go when he first was allowed to escape the house.

Now, hours later, John could only smirk at his wife's glare.

"It seems that I didn't need to be so worried about news that might upset him. The girl's not going to be married, and she wants to see him," John explained.

He was more than pleased. Eleven years earlier, when a strange tale of the new girl smacking his son with a slate for teasing her had reached his ears, he had laughed heartily. The boy had been a bit vain, given the amount of female attention he had received in his 13 years. Nothing his father said about behaving like a gentleman had sunk in, and John had nearly given up the regular lectures on the subject.

Anne had accomplished in one thwack what John had failed in several years of pleading. From that day on, Gilbert was on his best behavior, at least where the fairer sex was concerned. Never much of a slacker anyway, he became an even more dedicated student. And there never was any doubt as to where the sudden motivation had come.

And when Gilbert returned that night six years earlier and recounted that he had been walking Anne home after she finally accepted his long-proffered offer of friendship, John got his first glimpse at the spark in his son's hazel eyes. The boy was smitten from that first long talk with the girl, and his obvious feelings for her continued to grow as he got to know her.

John, like most others in Avonlea, had believed the two would return from college at some point and announce their engagement. Instead, his son had returned with a broken heart.

While John still held out hope that Anne would come around, knowing his son well enough to know that he wasn't going to be quick to jump to just any other girl, his wife had written off the situation almost as soon as the rumors of the refused proposal made its way to her.

It wasn't that she didn't like the girl. Quite to the contrary in fact, she had so set her heart on having her as a daughter-in-law that her displeasure was only second to her son's. Anne's fanciful, lighthearted ways — along with the happiness she seemed to bring to Gilbert — had filled the woman's heart with joy. The news that the girl had refused to enter their family had been a bitter disappointment, one that she wasn't sure she wanted to revisit. But still, news that the girl wasn't marrying another man certainly was better news for Gilbert's sake than if she was.

As his parents discussed the matter in the kitchen, Gilbert, having finished the food his father brought him, unfolded and read for at least the fifth time the two letters. Either would have been welcome. Upon seeing Anne's familiar handwriting, his heart beat faster and his face flushed. The letter she sent really wasn't much more than a friendly get-well note, though to know that she still cared, even if it was only in a friendly way, had been welcome information.

But when taken in combination with Phil's letter, the mail had most certainly fueled a previously missing desire in Gilbert to get better.

From the moment he had returned from Redmond, even before the illness debilitated him, Gilbert had felt like giving up. On school, on life, anything. Certainly taking the Cooper Prize had felt like a worthy accomplishment, and medical school had been his dream for years. But what was a successful career without the one he desired most beside him? What was a future without the person with whom he wanted to share it?

Even after Anne had told him he could never love her, he hadn't given up hope. He thought there was still a chance for him, though it might take time. Once word of her infatuation with Royal Gardner had reached him, he had felt like a weight was tied around his stomach, dragging him down and taking all his dreams for the future with him.

The only moments in the past year and a half where he had felt like maybe life was worth living was when some semblance of their old friendship returned as he walked with Anne after Diana and Fred's wedding and when he saw Anne carrying his flowers on the stage at convocation. But two moments were hardly enough to pull him out of the depths of despair. Because, yes, even in his moments of darkness, he still could think of nothing else to use to describe his feelings to himself but that which Anne would use herself.

As the fever took hold, part of him wondered what the point of getting better would be, after all, without Anne in his life.

So Phil's letter gave him hope he didn't think he'd ever get again.

"Dear Gilbert,

My inability to make decisions has always been a sore spot for me. Time after time in my life, I've thought I felt one way only to change with the wind. To help me overcome my deficiency, my husband has given me a rule of considering how I would feel about my decision when I'm 80.

For about one month, I've pondered whether to send you this letter, finally deciding that to not send it could lead to regret when I reach my ninth decade. Since I wouldn't want that, I'll get to the point.

I'm sure you couldn't help but hear word around Redmond that Anne was on the verge of being engaged, just as she most certainly didn't escape hearing of your supposed engagement. I want you to know that her engagement is no more real than yours. I should make my point clear: Anne is not going to marry Royal Gardner, not now or ever.

Now for why I'm telling you this, other than my utter joy of telling a good tale. I was the first person Anne spoke to after you proposed to her. I've never seen anyone as distraught and heartbroken as she was that afternoon. She swore she didn't have feelings of that type for you, but it was always clear to me that she did and hadn't realized it. When I discussed the dissolution of her relationship with Roy, the thing that stuck in my head — and forced me to write this letter — was her remark that she wanted someone who belongs in her life. She likely didn't even realize the implication of that statement at the time, but I did: on some level, she realizes you belong in her life. I know she does.

Best of luck to you, Gilbert.


Phil (Gordon) Blake"

Gilbert folded the letter carefully, placed it back in its envelope and put it in his drawer. Then, clutching the note from Anne against his chest, he closed his eyes and smiled. The future wasn't looking quite so bad anymore.