Chapter 8: An overdue apology
Her legs off to the side and her voluminous skirts billowing around her, Anne crouched among the flowers in the Green Gables yard, fingers plucking at the weeds that had begun to creep around the stalks of the lilies of the valley. The delicate bell-like white flowers had long since bloomed and wilted, but the deep green blades of their leaves remained in the shady spots where they flourished.
Finished with one patch, Anne turned slightly to look for others that needed tending and saw instead a pair of brown shoes below brown trousers approaching. Her eyes fluttered up and met Gilbert's as he finished striding toward her. She rose, wiping the dirt from her fingers onto her white apron.
"I didn't mean to interrupt," Gilbert said.
"Oh, I'm finished," Anne replied, trying again to wipe a stubborn patch of dirt off her hand.
"It looks like they're spreading. If you don't thin them out, they'll take over the yard."
"I know, but I can't stand to pull them up. I always feel as if I'm casting off a friend if I take any of them out. Marilla does it when I'm not around," she said, her eyes again fluttering up to meet his. "They're among my favorite flowers, you know."
Gilbert's voice caught in his throat, remembering the way the bouquet of white and green had looked cradled against a graduation gown in Anne's slender arms, his heart leaping the same as it had when he saw her carrying his flowers. "I know."
Anne cleared her throat. "What brings you by today?"
Gilbert laughed a little. "Boredom, mostly. My parents still are refusing to let me do anything useful. So I thought I'd see what you were doing."
"Ah, well. Don't I feel special," Anne said, a sly grin creeping onto her face.
Gilbert grinned back at her, studying her expression. Was she flirting with him? That certainly wasn't Anne's nature, but he had to admit that he could get used to it.
"As well you should."
"I was just going to take some letters to the post office, so if that's interesting enough for you, you're welcome to join me," Anne said, walking toward the house.
"I suppose it will have to do," Gilbert answered in a tone of exaggerated arrogance.
As they strolled off toward the post office, Anne noticed she was no longer slowing herself quite as much to allow Gilbert to keep up with her. His coloring was normal again, and he was nowhere near as thin as he had been when he showed up there only weeks before. He kept up his end of the conversation without difficulty. Even after the journey to and from the post office, he did not seem tired.
They entered the Green Gables yard and were nearly bowled over by an exuberant Davy.
"Say, Anne, you must have talked Marilla into letting me and Dora go to the concert next week. She wasn't going to let us but now she is, and it's going to be bully …" Davy stopped at Anne's disapproving look, "splendid fun, just splendid."
"Yes, I did talk to her. And I hope you'll behave yourself," she said, to which Davy nodded his head solemnly.
Marilla came around the corner and shook her gray head with a frown. "Yes, it was all Anne's doing. And if they're all full of nonsense after, you can deal with them," she told Anne.
"Oh, Marilla, don't you remember when Matthew had to convince you to let me go to my first concert? Was I so much of a trial to you afterward?"
"You were and are and likely will be in the future," Marilla answered with a smile.
"Well, I suppose that's true. But I think they'll have a wonderful time. Oh, I can still remember every detail of my first concert; every performance was just magical to me."
Gilbert, who had been watching the exchange in amusement, now raised an eyebrow. "Really? Every performance?"
"Yes, why do you ask?" Anne responded, her lips twitching a little.
"Oh, I just happen to remember looking out in the audience and seeing someone who looked an awful lot like you totally absorbed in a book as I recited."
"Well, at least, I heard every performance. I couldn't prevent that. And of course I couldn't prevent Diana from telling me everything I missed," Anne said with that same sly smile she'd given him earlier.
Gilbert flushed, remembering how he couldn't prevent his eyes from seeking out the obstinate red-haired girl as he reached the lines of the object of the dying soldier's affection. Oh, how she had frustrated him with her refusal to even acknowledge his existence!
"I see. And, so, if you remember every detail, what was your critique of my performance?"
Anne laughed. "That depends. Do you want my opinion then or now?"
"I don't think I could bear to hear what your opinion was then, so now, I guess."
"Well, I've never read Bingen on the Rhine since without hearing it in your voice, quite honestly," she said a little shyly. "You were quite wonderful."
He raised his eyebrows in surprise, not expecting her to have heard him or to have had any effect on her.
Davy broke in, his confusion having reached its peak. "Why were you ignoring Gilbert, Anne? Weren't you friends?"
Anne and Gilbert smiled at each other while Marilla laughed.
"No, we were not exactly friends, Davy," Anne answered.
"To be fair, I always wanted to be your friend. It was you who wouldn't hear of it," Gilbert pointed out.
"Why not, Anne? I want to know," Davy said.
Anne thought of every moral lesson she'd tried to impart on the boy and tried to think of a way to tell the story without making herself seem too much a hypocrite, but Gilbert jumped in.
"I teased her the first day I met her, Davy. And Anne …" he paused and looked for Anne's reaction.
"Go ahead and tell him," she said through clenched teeth.
"Anne kind of, well, she broke her slate over my head."
Davy gasped and stared at Anne, the person who had so earnestly tried to mold his behaviors and make him into a gentleman. Davy had little imagination and could never have imagined even if he did that this beacon of etiquette could have behaved like that. "You did that, Anne?"
"Yes, Davy, I did," Anne answered regretfully. "I had a dreadful temper then."
"But you apologized, right? You always make me apologize when I've done something wrong."
Anne looked at Gilbert, who just shrugged.
"I don't believe you ever did," he said, a look on his face akin to the mischievous one he wore the first time she saw him, when he had just finished pinning Ruby's braid to his desk.
She took a deep breath and turned to face him, grasping his hands dramatically. He caught his breath and stared at her.
"Gilbert, I'm dreadfully sorry I broke my slate over your head and ignored you for five years, and I'm sorry I was so horrible to you when you saved me from the bridge … and," she dropped her gaze to her feet, hearing herself continue on even before she thought it through. "And for any other foolish thing I've done since to hurt you."
Davy may not have — and did not — understand what had just passed between them, but Marilla was much more mindful of the significance of Anne's words. Wordlessly, she pushed the boy into the house and away from the pair still standing before each other on the yard.
In the years since he had gained her friendship, Gilbert had become adept at hiding his true feelings for Anne. For a time, before he proposed he had stopped trying to conceal them, thinking she felt the same. But ever since then, he had worked to maintain a calm exterior no matter the torrent inside. And so it was that he was able to keep still the hands she still held and make his voice come out in normal pitch.
"All is forgiven," he smiled. "On one condition, that is."
Anne looked expectantly at him, and for just a second she allowed herself to hope at what the condition might be.
"Might I escort you to the concert of which Davy spoke? It might be fun, for old time's sake."
"I think I can find time for that," she answered, forcing a smile. Anne somewhat awkwardly released the hands she had forgotten she was clutching, immediately wishing she could hold onto him again.
"I should be heading home," Gilbert said, turning to go with a wave of his hand. "Until next time."
Anne watched him leave and retreated to the house.
Gilbert felt foolish leaving in such a hurry, but what else could he do? He could still feel the warmth from her slender hands holding onto his, and his heart was racing still as it had when she reached the end of her apology. He leaned against a maple tree, tilting his chin until the back of his head rubbed against the coarse bark.
His mind flashed back to the orchard of Patty's Place, that horrid afternoon where all his dreams had collapsed around him, where he had scorned her request to remain friends. He had known he wanted — needed — more than that from her, and he felt he could no longer hide the desire he felt for her.
At first he had been angry. Angry with her because he had been so sure that she felt the same way as he did. But he could not remain upset with her in any case, and especially not when the true blame was with him.
Gilbert replayed the scene in his mind as he leaned under the branches. He would never forget the desperate look in her eyes as she tried to distract him. She had tried to stop him, to spare his feelings. But he wouldn't listen. She had wanted to stay in his life. But the thought of continuing on as if nothing changed was impossible for him in that moment.
In the weeks and months that had followed, he had regretted everything and had grown more and more frustrated at his selfishness. If he loved her as much as he believed he did, why did he continue on with his pleas when it was obvious it wasn't what she wanted? Why had he walked away when he had seen the pain on her face, the pain he had caused? And how could he have tossed away the friendship he had worked so hard to gain?
Gilbert had prayed that he'd have another chance, not really believing he'd get one. He imagined again and again what he could have done differently. But he had known it was no use. And so the irritation continued to grow exponentially with each time he encountered her, each time he saw her on someone else's arm. If he hadn't been so impatient, so impetuous, that could have been him still at her side. They could have been talking and laughing, and certainly Anne wouldn't look nearly as bored with him as she had with Gardner.
He had remembered that irritation when he decided days earlier to wait. He wanted her to be ready, to feel the same as him. He couldn't rush headlong into this again. He had to listen this time. She had to know that what she wanted was more important to him than anything.
And so he had fled Green Gables when he felt the façade he had so carefully cultivated slipping away, before that desire and longing caused him to do something foolish again.
Gilbert bounced his head against the tree, willing his pulse to slow a little. But the little coquettish looks Anne had given him and the earnest look as she apologized wouldn't leave him.
He wanted so desperately to know that she loved him — and to have her not be afraid of that feeling.
That night he sat by his window, looking in the direction of Green Gables, wishing and praying that someday she might give him some sign that was clear, a sign that his lovesick brain couldn't twist, a sign that he could now give her what she wanted, not just what he wanted.
After Anne retreated to her bedroom that night, she collapsed into her pillows, thinking long thoughts about what she'd said to Gilbert.
Her mind traveled to that afternoon at Patty's Place, when he had caught her alone for the first time in months, his arms full of mayflowers and his face so full of hope. She remembered how her heart had fallen when he told her he wouldn't be in Avonlea that summer. How had she not realized how special he was to her?
But she hadn't fully realized it, even as she had implored him to remain her friend. Even as the thought of her life without him broke her heart.
He hadn't shown any reaction at her apology, almost as if he hadn't heard or hadn't understood the last part. Anne groaned to herself and wondered if she'd ever have a chance to right her mistake, now that she understood why that memory had haunted her.
And she knelt at her window that night, looking in the direction of Gilbert's home, wishing and praying for some way to tell him or show him how much she meant what she had said that afternoon in the yard, a way to tell him he had never been wrong to think she cared.