(A.N.: Thanks, once again for the lovely reviews. I was worried that last chapter was a bit lackluster, so I was happy to see it was well received. We're nearing the end, just this one and one more to go before we rejoin the original text!)
Chapter 9: A Concert and a Confession
Anne studied her reflection in the East Gable mirror. Her new dress, a cream challis* with tiny violets scattered among the tucks and folds of the fabric, was part of the wardrobe she'd prepared to take to Summerside. It seemed a little dressy for a country concert at the Avonlea hall, but she had agonized for days over what to wear. Finally, she had put it on, determined to look her best when Gilbert showed up.
It didn't really matter the occasion at that moment; no, Anne would have spent nearly as much time deciding what to wear had he been coming to escort her to the store. They hadn't gone to anything together since the spring of their sophomore year, weeks before his proposal had all but severed their friendship.
Her hair coiled and pinned atop her head to her satisfaction, she went down the stairs, through the hallway and saw Gilbert approaching the open door. Anne's heart fluttered a little at the sight of him dressed carefully in a brown suit with a coppery tie slightly askew at the throat of his white shirt.
"You look lovely, Anne," he said with a smile.
A friendly smile, Anne thought ruefully. But she replied in kind. "Thank you. And you look quite dashing tonight." Then, without thinking, she raised her hands to his collar and straightened his tie. "There. That's better."
She glanced up at him, then pulled her hands back at the surprised look on his face. She looked down, a little embarrassed at her forwardness.
"Thank you," he said softly.
"Yes, well, we should be going," she said, walking toward the door.
"Where are the twins?" Gilbert asked as they descended porch.
"With their friends," Anne replied.
Gilbert felt thankful to have Anne to himself for the walk to the hall, though he found himself fighting to keep his composure once again. The sensation of those slender fingers at his neck, so familiarly adjusting his clothing as if that was something she always did, was almost more than he could take.
But even with Anne fretting over not being able to elicit a better response out of Gilbert and Gilbert trying hard to keep from letting Anne see how often he cast admiring glances at her, they both contrived to enjoy their walk to the hall. They never lacked in topics of conversation or debate.
The Avonlea hall no longer was the brilliant blue it had been in years past, the A.V.I.S. having repainted it the green it had been supposed to be all along while Anne and Gilbert were at Redmond.
"It does look better that way, doesn't it," Gilbert noted.
"Of course it does. That's how we planned it, after all," Anne said with a smile.
As they neared the door, neither could help but notice the glances the good townsfolk were giving them. More than one nudged someone and whispered something as they approached.
And some didn't whisper. Mrs. Andrews rarely concerned herself with decorum in such situations.
"See that? Couldn't get the one she wanted at college, and now she's chasing after poor Gilbert again," she told a nodding Mrs. Sloane.
Anne's face burned in embarrassment, and Gilbert knew by the look on her face that no good could come out of going anywhere near the two ladies. He pretended to take no notice of the gossips and offered Anne his arm.
Anne took a deep breath, pushing down the temper that she really hadn't quite outgrown and took his arm. She tightened her grip on him as several more heads turned to glance at them as they entered.
Gilbert led her to a pair of seats near the back of the hall then sat down beside her. Soon the concert began, and Anne watched with rapt attention for the performers — the little boys and girls she had taught and who had grown and changed so much.
Barbara Shaw managed to make it on the stage without tripping and looked almost as if she was getting comfortable in her own skin. St. Clair Donnell looked just as annoyed at his saintly name as he had when Anne would call him that. Prillie Rogerson was still the undisputed belle of the class, and Anne laughed as she watched how she made eyes at the boys, just as she used to when she'd get Jack Gillis to do her sums for her.
She stifled a giggle as Anthony Pye took the stage and recited Bingen on the Rhine, then leaned toward Gilbert. He slipped his arm behind her lowered his head to hear her.
"What is it with boys who give me trouble reciting that poem?" she whispered.
He grinned and whispered back, "I don't know which would be worse — a slate or a pointer."
With a grin back at him, she settled back into her seat. He didn't bother moving his arm, and to his surprise, she leaned into him ever so slightly, as if that was nothing unusual — as if she belonged there against him. Which, of course, he always had thought she did anyway.
When the concert ended, children surrounded Anne, excited that their beloved teacher had come to watch them. Annetta Bell threw her arms around her, and even Anthony Pye came up to say hello.
Gilbert watched the interactions with a smile on his face. If ever he had thought the way he viewed Anne was tinged by the way he felt about her, he only had to watch her with children to know he wasn't the only one who found her utterly delightful.
Suddenly, his mind shifted to the future. What a wonderful mother she'd be! Gilbert could imagine her with a baby in her arms or crouching beside a toddler, telling bedtime stories. He tried to put himself into the picture, but he stopped himself. He couldn't let himself get his hopes up any farther than they already were.
After some time, the children dispersed, going to their own parents or their friends. Gilbert reclaimed his spot next to Anne.
"Would you care to take a walk?" Gilbert asked, offering his arm as they walked out of the crowded hall.
Anne linked her arm through his. "Oh, yes. I'd hate to waste all the moonlight."
They strolled over all the familiar roads, lit by the crescent moon that cast shadows from the trees and flowers across their path. Finally, they reached Gilbert's destination, the top of a hill just beyond town. They sat down in the soft green grass, as close as they could be without touching.
"This is my favorite spot to watch the stars," Gilbert said, laying back and propping himself up on his elbows. "There's nothing in the way of them up here."
"Beautiful," Anne murmured. "The stars have always been such good company to me. There were times, before I came to Green Gables, that I would gaze out the windows at night, and I wouldn't feel so alone."
"I know what you mean," Gilbert said. Then, noticing Anne's surprised look, he explained. "Oh, mostly for those years we were away, but even sometimes after we returned. I had my parents and all manners of other relations around. But I always felt like something was missing. I guess I just always wanted a big family."
Anne smiled, but then she shivered as she glanced at Gilbert, who had a faraway look in his eyes. Was he thinking of Christine? Of the children they'd have. Oh, they'd be beautiful, of that she had no doubt, though she couldn't really imagine Christine with children. Anne's eyes burned, but she willed the tears gathering there not to fall.
Anne hadn't thought about Christine in weeks. Ever since that night in the Haunted Woods she had been simply content to enjoy spending time with Gilbert. But it all came back in a rush. And in less than two weeks time they'd go their separate ways, possibly forever.
She had no way of knowing, of course, that Gilbert was thinking how the big family of which he dreamed was full of little red-haired children, just like their mother. He let his mind wander back to where it had been going after the concert, and he could see himself sitting on a front porch with Anne beside him while a little red-haired child toddler before them.
But one look at Anne's face told him something he said had bothered her. How insensitive of him to talk of families when she never knew hers! He watched her for a moment, as she ran the little pink enamel heart between her slender, white fingers. It occurred to him for the first time that he hadn't seen her without it since he recovered.
"Anne," he said softly. "When did you start wearing the necklace?"
She slipped her hand to the ground, having realized only with his question that she had been holding onto the pendant.
"I think I've been wearing it since I found out you were ill," she said slowly.
Gilbert nodded. What did that mean? Had she realized then that she did care for him? Or was it just some romantic notion she had imagined, making herself believe she loved him because it would be so tragic?
He was so deep in thought he barely realized she had continued.
"But I guess the first time I wore it was the graduation dance."
Gilbert conjured up a memory of the dance. It was painful, in a way, even now. After seeing Anne holding his flowers at convocation, he had thought maybe there was a chance. Then she had told him she couldn't fit in a dance with him, and he had given up hope.
But even still, he could imagine every detail of how she looked that night, in the softly flowing gown, just the shade of green that suited her skin and eyes and hair. Her eyes had sparkled in the soft candlelight, her cheeks flushed pink in excitement.
"I don't remember you wearing it," he said.
"Yes, well, umm," Anne took a deep breath. "I had put it on before I left Patty's Place, but I took it off before I got to the dance."
"Why?" Gilbert persisted.
"Because, well, because Phil told me she heard your engagement was on the point of being announced. I guess I just didn't feel like I should wear it." Anne didn't try to explain further. She couldn't have even if she found the words. At any moment, she was sure the tears she'd held back that night months earlier would pour down her face. She hadn't understood then why that upset her so much, but she certainly did now.
Gilbert didn't say anything right away. Anne imagined how disgusted he must be with her; she had passed up her chance but was upset at the prospect of his happiness. A tear escaped down her cheek, but she wiped it away.
"Well, I think it looks lovely," Gilbert said, smiling at her tenderly. "I know you don't think you should wear pink, but I think it suits you."
Anne laughed, a hollow little laugh. "Thank you. But I'm afraid it will have to stay the only pink piece in my wardrobe."
"Well, all the same, I'm glad you like it."
Gilbert paused for a moment, thinking through what she had just told him.
"And Anne, there is something else I've wanted to ask you. Why did you carry the flowers I sent you for convocation? I'm sure Gardner had sent you something."
"He … he did. Violets. But at the last moment, I just realized I preferred your lilies," she said quietly. "I guess I should have realized then it was not him I was in love with."
Gilbert looked to the ground beneath him, wondering if it was shaking or if it was just his heart beating. Anne looked so distraught at that moment, as if embarrassed by what she had just shared with him. He wanted badly to comfort her, but this wasn't the time.
"I'm glad you realized it. And I'm glad you liked the lilies. I suppose we should be heading back?" he said finally.
"I suppose we should," Anne answered, turning from him and wiping her pink-rimmed eyes as she stood up.
*From Anne of Windy Poplars