To speak again
Bunches of soft green fabric in her arms, Anne looked around the rather dour Green Gables' parlor. She desperately needed to finish her dress for Alice Penhallow's wedding, but she found herself spending more time trying to come up with ways Marilla would allow her to brighten up the room. Finally realizing that she wasn't getting anywhere, she took the dress out on the step with her, thinking the early autumn day already beautiful enough to keep her mind from trying to improve upon it.
But instead her mind wandered elsewhere, the same place it had many times in recent days.
Anne had replayed the evening of the concert over in her mind again and again in the days that followed it. On one hand, she had had a wonderful time. Seeing her old pupils had been delightful, as had strolling in the moonlight and watching the stars with Gilbert. She could still feel the gentle warmth of his arm draped behind her as sat beside him, and she longed to feel that closeness again.
On the other hand, she had given Gilbert an open opportunity to tell her whether he was engaged to Christine. He hadn't addressed it at all. Before he left her at the gate of Green Gables, he had pulled her hand to his lips and bestowed the gentlest of kisses on her skin. Still she trembled just to think of it.
But then he had strolled away, as if nothing had happened. As if she hadn't practically confessed her love to him. As if they were nothing but friends.
Which of course, they were, Anne thought bitterly. That's what she had wanted, and that's what he gave her.
The leaves rustled in the early autumn breeze as Gilbert walked through the warm September day toward Green Gables.
When he had arrived home from Redmond, the world was in the splendor of spring, the little green leaves forming on the branches, the colorful buds erupting on the flowers. He hadn't noticed the beauty around him as he contemplated the emptiness of his future.
Then he grew ill, unable to appreciate or even realize the season had changed. Phil's letter had brought the warmth of summer — when he felt the brightness of the world and knew again what it meant to hope. When he was again able to make it outdoors, the summer had taken hold in full. The greens of the grass and blues of the sky and water were their most steadfast.
Soon there would be another change. The green grass had begun to fade. Yellows and oranges dotted the trees. But Gilbert knew the biggest change was still to come.
Before, he had thought about waiting. He wanted to know that he was what she wanted, to make sure she knew what she wanted. They could write each other. Maybe by Christmas he'd be sure.
But that night of the concert, as they talked under the stars, everything fell into place. The flowers, the necklace — that was all before Anne had turned down Royal Gardner's proposal.
So many little moments had swarmed his mind. His flowers cradled in Anne's arms. The way she looked at him now, so different than she ever did before, as if she was no longer holding herself back. How she no longer pulled away at his touch. Her explanation of why she hadn't married Roy. How she had apologized for all those things in the past.
But the string tying it all together was the little gold chain around her neck, the chain holding the pink enamel heart that recollected the candy he once had slipped under her arm as a failed peace offering.
Gilbert thought of the day he bought it. It hadn't started well, that dreary December morn. An acquaintance had told him Roy Gardner was certain to propose to Anne before Christmas. It hadn't been the first delivery of such news he had received, and as always, it was an unwelcome thought.
As he wandered the streets of Kingsport, the snow that had seemed so white and fresh the day before had become gray and brown and old. He barely remembered how he ended up in the store or why he had gone in there. He found himself looking at a little box, containing the pink trinket. He had bought it and packed it up in his trunk to go home for the holidays, knowing it would be a season wholly lacking in magic and hope.
With tears stinging in his eyes and a deep hurt in his heart, he had wrapped the little white box and written on a card, "With all good wishes from your old chum, Gilbert."* He thought bitterly how he'd never be more than her chum; the word choked him, even to write. But he sent it to Green Gables, wishing at least that Anne could remember him fondly as that.
He treasured her little note of thanks, hearing the sweet laugh that would have accompanied the words.
Still no word had come of her engagement, though again and again the rumors of its likelihood reached him through the scores of people who never realized he had so maddeningly wished to be more than just her old friend. With every day, his hope grew less.
He never saw her wear it, though to be fair, he hadn't seen her often. Too great was the pain of seeing her on Roy's arm; so he avoided her, avoided anything that made him think of her.
He had noticed it instantly, snug against the white of her throat, the first time he went to see her after the fever. He had hoped it meant something deeper, but bitter experience had taught him to doubt. But time and again she wore it; her fingers seemed drawn to it.
Still, he didn't know if it meant anything, any more than he knew what to make of the flush on her cheeks when he gazed upon her. Until, that was, the night on the hill, when she'd admitted, in her own way, her despair at the thought of him being engaged to someone else. And more than that, when she'd come as close as she ever had to admitting she herself loved him.
Finally he knew. It hadn't been his imagination. She had always cared, even if she hadn't known it or hadn't been ready. But she seemed to know it now.
Gilbert hadn't realized before then that Anne didn't know the nature of his relationship with Christine. And he didn't tell her. It was nice, for once, to feel like he had the upper hand, or at very least, equal footing. She'd know soon enough.
When he'd walked her home that night, he had wanted desperately to hold her against him, to taste for the first time those perfect pink lips, to run his hands in those red strands. But there would be time for that later. So, instead, he took her milk-white hand in his and brought it to his lips, gazing into the eyes that never strayed from his.
He had formed his plan as he walked home — practically skipped home — from Green Gables, having decided he couldn't wait any longer — had waited long enough already. He couldn't remember if he'd slept at all that night or simply thought of her, thought of their future.
The path that had brought him to that point had not been easy to travel, from the moment he tripped onto it that long ago September day in the little school house. There were twists and turns, hills and valleys, and all manner of bumps. But now he realized that every step and every stumble had been there for a reason.
If the conceited young boy hadn't grasped onto those long red braids, he may never have noticed how different Anne Shirley was from every other girl in the Avonlea School — really, every girl in the world. And if she, like the other girls, had forgiven him easily, he didn't know who he would have become nor if he would have fallen so completely, irrevocably in love with her.
Certainly, it would have been easier if, when they finally became friends, she had realized the strength of the bond that held them together. But because she hadn't felt it then, she found out for herself that her dreams of romance paled in comparison to the realities of it.
And while the pain and weakness that came with the fever seemed like a high price to pay, he knew he'd do it all again if it meant Anne finally felt the stirrings in her heart of the love that he knew was there all along. It also had taught him how important she really was to him, that he could never take that for granted.
So he was thankful for everything that had happened along the road — the pleasant and the not so pleasant, the heartbreak and the triumph. And now that path was taking him back to Green Gables.
September dawned. Anne had a wedding to go to tonight; he remembered the green dress for which she had sought thread and buttons. So, this afternoon he'd go ask her to go for a walk. He knew she'd turn him down, as it wouldn't leave her enough time to get ready.
Once he was sure she was gone, he'd go back and talk to Marilla. He had been in such a rush the first time — so worried he'd lose his chance with Anne when she went home and left him behind in Kingsport — he hadn't done it. This time, he'd do everything right. He wouldn't take any chances.
He'd come back the next day, and they'd walk to Hester Gray's garden. Anne loved it there, and as no one but her frequented the out-of-the-way spot, he knew they'd be alone.
He didn't know exactly what he'd say. The first time he had a little speech planned out, but Anne hadn't even given him the chance to start it. Now he knew he didn't need any special soliloquy; his heart would know what to say and how to tell her of the dream he still held so dear.
Gilbert took a deep breath as Green Gables came into sight. Anne was there, sitting on the old red stone step, a pile of green on her lap, her auburn hair shining in the sunlight.
The first time he'd asked for her hand, he'd been nervous. His heart had known Anne loved him as he loved her, but his brain had tried to tell him to stop and wait. He didn't listen and bitter had been the consequences. But this time, his heart and his brain and every other part of him agreed, and he was confident that this time he was right.
He gazed upon her for a moment, then took a deep breath and walked around the corner of the porch — ready finally to make his dream come true.
"I've come up to ask you to go for one of our old-time rambles through September woods and 'over hills where spices grow,' this afternoon."
And this is where I leave you to return to Anne of the Island and read Chapter XLI: "Love Takes Up The Glass of Time."
Thank you for following along and for encouraging me with all your lovely reviews. This has been so much fun!
So many of the reviews lately have asked if I'm going to keep going with this, so you may be happy to know I'm already working on a sequel about the first days of Anne and Gilbert's engagement. I should have the first bit posted in a few days.