(Thank you for all the feedback on Christine. That's the way I've always pictured her, and I'm glad to finally have an outlet for my imagination! And Katerina95, since I can't PM this to you, I'm glad you caught the Claire Hallett reference. She had to have some information for her snide little comment that Anne remembered 18 years later! We're nearing the end here, but there will be one more chapter after this one.)

Friday, Sept. 9, 1887

Anne made a quick run to the post office Friday morning, as she was expecting responses from a few editors for her little sketches. The checks that often accompanied the letters would be welcome as she settled in at Summerside.

One of those parcels was there, but she was far more excited to see the envelope from "Mrs. J. Blake, Kingsport," and she ripped into it on a bench outside the post office.

Most exalted Queen Anne,

I'll have you know that the moment I saw your name on the envelope moments ago, I had to read what you had to say immediately. I've been awaiting news for weeks and weeks, and now that I know for sure that I did something good with my meddling, I'll have the biggest head on Patterson Street. Though I'm sure there are some parishioners there who already see me that way…

I couldn't be happier for you if I tried! I'm so glad to hear you finally came to your senses about Gilbert. I foresee many happy years in your future.

Naturally, I went back and forth for weeks about whether to write him about you and Roy, and I finally decided I would regret it if I didn't. I didn't, however, anticipate the genuine glee I feel now. Honey, it does feel positively magnificent to help a friend find the happiness I have with Jo!

I'm writing this little epistle from the Patterson Street post office. I had to respond just as soon as I could. As luck would have it, I had a notebook with me, and I bought an envelope. But I had no pen and had to beg one off the other people in the post office. Would you believe it, it took me five people before someone had a pen they would let me borrow? I think the previous four had pens but simply didn't want to lend their property to a mad woman! I am sure I seem positively crazy, and in no way befitting a minister's wife. I can hear Aunt Jimsie proclaiming the further downfall of "poor" Jo's career with me at his side, but I promise you we are perfectly happy.

And speaking of happy, I have a little nugget of news for you, as well: Soon there will be three in our little manse. I am absolutely giddy with excitement, though I'm mortified at the thought of having to settle on a single name. I may fall to writing my favorites on a board and stabbing at them with a hat pin!

I'll write a proper letter soon. I'm nearly bouncing as I write this at the counter, and I fear if I don't conclude soon, my reputation will be complete around here.

All my love,

Phil

P.S. As for whether I was baiting you … Do you really believe I would lead you on in that manner? Don't answer that. I'd have been perfectly delighted had you married Roy and settled in Kingsport, but I wondered all along if you were really happy. You certainly never were as natural with him as with Gilbert. I really wondered when I saw whose flowers you carried at convocation. (Don't be vexed — of course I read the cards.) Once you refused Roy, I knew for certain you were in love with Gilbert, and I simply couldn't help put my oar in, with all good intentions.

PGB

P.P.S. Maybe don't mention any of the gossipy little comments I passed along to you the next time you see Jo. I'm not sure where good intentions fall when determining whether one broke the Ninth Commandment.

PGB

Anne chuckled at the letter, but shuddered at the thought of what would have happened had Phil decided not to write to Gilbert. She ran her right hand over the little circlet of pearls. Already it was a part of her, so much so that when she took it off she felt the phantom pressure of it around her finger. It was unsettling to think of the many different paths they could have taken without Phil's input.

She walked back toward Green Gables, her feet moving her down the well-trod path while her mind meandered through all the things that could have happened had Gilbert not learned she wasn't going to marry Roy Gardner. Gilbert might not have gotten well so fast, might not have gotten well at all! Or, he may have gotten well but continued to avoid her and never would have learned how she cared!

Anne stopped halfway across the bridge over the pond and looked out at the deep blue water. Her ponderings were interrupted by the sudden sensation of arms around her waist. She leaned back into Gilbert's chest and breathed in the scent of him. It had been less than a week since their first kiss, since the first time she'd felt his arms around her like this, but in that time, but the feel of him holding her had become familiar and comfortable.

"You look thoughtful this morning," Gilbert said, his face tilted into Anne's hair.

"Oh, I just had a letter from Phil, and it made me think," she answered, turning to face him.

"Hmmm. Phil must have changed some since I saw her last to make you think about something," Gilbert said, a teasing smile on his face. Anne recalled the ceaseless friendly barbs Gilbert and Phil had bandied about and laughed.

"You know she's not as shallow as she lets on," Anne said. "And we do owe her quite a lot."

"I suppose we do," Gilbert said.

Anne looked down, watching the water below the bridge as it rippled in the breeze. "Do you think … if Phil hadn't written you … do you think we still could have ended up together?" she asked in a quiet voice.

Gilbert smiled. "I suppose there is no way to know for sure, but I'd like to think so. I've always believed you and I belong together."

"But I … so many things had to be so perfect to get to this point."

"Doesn't that show it was meant to be? We would have found our way back to each other, no matter what."

Anne leaned into him, laying her head against his chest as she nodded. Satisfied with his answer, she moved to more practical matters.

"What are you doing out this morning?" she asked him.

"I was just coming to find you. I don't believe we ever came to a conclusion about when we should go to that party tonight."

Anne giggled, remembering the conversation the evening prior as they wandered in the shade of Lover's Lane. They had so many more interesting things to talk about, or not talk about, too many looks and kisses and laughs to share, that such pragmatic matters as when to arrive at the A.V.I.S. party kept going by the wayside. The youth of Avonlea would expect them to be there, of course. The party was a sendoff for those going to Redmond, Gilbert for his medical course and Moody for his senior year, among them.

"I suppose if we go at 6 o'clock for supper, we could slip away a little early without seeming ungrateful," she said.

"Then I'll be by a bit before that," he said before kissing her and heading back for home.

Anne took her time getting ready for the party. Time had cured her of some amount of the vanity that had led her to try to dye her hair and her freckles, but in her heart of hearts she still wished the reflection in the mirror was more pleasing to her eyes. She'd never see what anyone else saw — the starry flash in her eyes, the creamy skin brought out by her red hair, the graceful movements. She only knew she would never have the raven hair — or the nut-brown hair or the golden hair — or the violet eyes or the dimples or any of the other features she had so yearned to have.

And maybe it wouldn't have mattered so much anymore, at an age where she really had become comfortable in her own shell, had she not felt so insignificant compared to the girls who had been on Gilbert's arm in the past. Anne would never feel she could compare to Ruby's vibrant golden beauty or Christine's elegance.

So she didn't understand why he stared when she emerged down the stairs and walked into the Green Gables kitchen. She looked down, expecting to find a rip or a stain or a run, for why else would he look at her so intensely?

Gilbert found his powers of speech had left him the moment Anne entered the room. He recognized the dress as the one Anne had worn to Alice Penhallow's wedding a week earlier, the day before he proposed. He remembered visiting with Anne that afternoon, a pile of filmy green fabric on her lap, and he recalled the vision he had of her in a green dress.

But the vision before him was even lovelier than he had pictured. A frilly pale green ruffle covered her shoulders and skirted along her collarbone, showing off the milky white throat above. The darker green silk of the bodice accentuated her slender figure, and the billowy skirt seemed to float as if it were part of her. As she neared him, the slender arms that had held the skirt off the floor instead reached toward him.

He extended his hands to meet hers, momentarily forgetting about the white rose he brought for her, a late bloom he'd snatched from his mother's rosebush on his way.

"Is … is that for me," Anne asked with a gesture to his right hand.

Gilbert blinked and his mind snapped back to reality. "Yes, it is," he said as he gave it to her.

Anne breathed in the sweet fragrance from its petals. "Thank you," she said, weaving it into her hair, just above her left ear. "It's beautiful."

He shook his head and cleared his throat. "Not compared to you," Gilbert said. He kissed her cheek, right below where the flower sat. "But I like white roses. They're so timeless and pure. They remind me of you."

Anne was certain the butterflies she felt couldn't have fluttered faster had he written a sonnet to her eyebrows.

The party was at the Pye's house. Such end of the summer parties had become a bit of a tradition in the past four years, and the Pye girls would never hear of it being held elsewhere. The house was large enough to accommodate all the youth of Avonlea, even if the occupants of the home themselves were seldom as hospitable.

Anne and Gilbert made their way hand-in-hand through the foyer and into the house. But it only took a few moments to realize how much had changed within the past four years. Few of their cohorts were to be found. Jane was honeymooning in Europe. Diana and Fred were home with the baby. Oliver Kimball and Carrie Sloane had married and gone west. Billy Andrews, of course, was settled with the former Nettie Blewett. More than a few others felt themselves too old to participate in such childish rites. And dear Ruby had been gone more than three years.

Oh, a few of the old set were there. Besides the Pye girls, Charlie Sloane had come, an opportunity to show off his fiancée, the snub-nosed, blue-eyed girl whose affections he had gained in the year after Anne had rejected his proposal. Moody Spurgeon MacPherson was another guest of honor, looking as solemn as any minister in training could look as he prepared to embark on his senior year.

But Anne felt strangely out of place upon seeing as many of her old pupils as her old friends and told Gilbert as much when they sat on the veranda to eat their supper.

"It makes me feel like I don't quite belong in this world anymore but haven't quite attained whatever maturity is necessary for the next," she said with a sigh. "Somehow, everyone has grown up around us."

Gilbert laughed at Anne's melodramatic stance. "Do you really feel that way, though, Anne? You don't think you've grown or developed or changed your mind about anything … or anyone?" he asked, adding the last with a sly smile.

Anne laughed. "Oh, I'm sure I have grown leaps and bounds since we sat here four years ago, but not as much as the others. Every time I see Diana with little Fred, I feel so hopelessly left behind. And as for changing my mind," she paused, squeezing Gilbert's hand. "I don't know that I ever changed my mind so much as got better acquainted with it."

"In any event," Gilbert said with a mischievous grin, "I shouldn't have to worry about you walking home with Charlie instead of me tonight, should I?"

"No, no. I think I'll stick with you."

As the evening went on, Anne wished she could have stuck with Gilbert a little more. But politeness dictated that she dance with the other fellows, too. After dances with Charlie and Moody and a few of the boys who to her would never seem older than they had been when she sat at the helm of the Avonlea School, she slipped outside, exchanging a glance with Gilbert.

She stood with her elbows resting on the fence and her chin in her hands, staring at a crescent moon that looked just the right shape for the man in the moon to settle into with a good book. She pondered on what one could see from that vantage point for a few moments until she felt the soft pressure of lips at her nape then along a trail to the front of her neck. She shivered.

"Are you cold?" Gilbert asked as he placed his jacket on her shoulders. Anne snuggled into it and didn't bother telling him that her shiver was as much from the sensation of his kisses as from the chill of the fall air. "I didn't mean to take so long in following you, but Charlie wouldn't stop telling me about his bookkeeping work, and then Josie cut me off as I headed for the door. I still don't know what she wanted."

"I'm sure she was just trying to slow you down from coming to me. I only spoke to her twice tonight; once she told me in a hushed tone that this color of green makes me look seasick and the other time she said something to the affect that she certainly wouldn't want to be engaged to someone who was going off to Kingsport without her."

"And what did you say?"

"I let the seasick comment go without a direct response. But to the other I mentioned it didn't pay to worry herself over being engaged to anyone going anywhere."

Gilbert laughed and took her hand. "Shall we go?"

Anne nodded, and they took their time walking the long roads through Avonlea, followed by a moonlit stroll down Lover's Lane. As they lingered beneath the maples, now nearly void of leaves after a particularly strong wind the night before, Gilbert pulled her close and held her. And they stayed there until the night was half through, neither wanting their lone week together to end.