(I am completely overwhelmed by the reviews on that last chapter. I'm so glad you all liked my ramblings on mayflowers. I think I had to write it because spring seems to have finally come to stay in my cold little part of the world! But, I'm going to jump to Christmas for this one. Unlike the other chapters here, the lines I'm using to start this one has very little to do with the story; the real story is an empty space where something should be!

There's a gap in Anne of Windy Poplars (Willows, if you prefer) from November to March of Anne's last year in Summerside. So, I'm diving in to that last Christmas. I've been hindered slightly by toddler-induced sleep deprivation, so if this doesn't flow … well, nothing coming out of my brain in the past week seems to!)

Christmas Future

Dovie was quite all right as soon as she found herself irrevocably married to Jarvis. What Anne rather cattishly described in a letter to Gilbert as "the honeymoon look" was already on her face.

- Anne of Windy Poplars, The Third Year, Chapter 7

The dishes were cleaned, the floors were swept and scrubbed, and not a speck of dust was to be found anywhere in Green Gables. Anne let out a contented sigh as she surveyed her work. Marilla and Mrs. Lynde had looked at her strangely when she told them she'd rather tidy up the house for all the Christmas festivities rather than go with them to help prepare and enjoy the Ladies Aid supper, but she was glad she had stayed.

Avonlea always would seem like home to her, but somehow the gossip and small talk failed to interest her anymore. She hadn't really lived there for the past 6 ½ years, after all, and she hated to have every back story explained to her as if she was a newcomer.

And more than that, Anne had wanted to be left alone with her imagination. No longer was she a princess trapped in a tower, though. Now she envisioned how she would keep her House of Dreams — the little unknown house that would be all hers to put together. All hers — and Gilbert's.

While she had been dusting, she could see the muslin curtains she'd put in the windows. They'd be gathered at the top and trimmed with the lace she'd been crocheting in the quiet, cold nights around the fire at Windy Poplars. And they would let in just enough light to fill their house with sunshine.

The sweeping had been accomplished while she decided which pictures would hang in the living room and which in the dining room and which in the bedrooms. And what kind of flowers she'd plant in the garden. How delightful it would be a year hence to pour over the seed catalogs and decide what to plant at her own home!

She was scrubbing the floor when she settled on a china pattern. It would be the simple white ones with the darling pink rose at the center and the gold leaves and edging that she'd seen the last time she was in Charlottetown. She may not be able to wear pink, but she certainly could have it on her table!

Her little household was fairly mapped out in her mind while she finished drying and putting away the dishes. It was so easy to see herself finishing up making supper in her own kitchen, setting two places at the table, gazing out the window until she saw Gilbert pull the carriage up. Then, she'd rush out to him, and he'd wrap his arms around her and kiss her.

Her work complete, she settled down in the parlor with a book, but her mind, as usual, wandered. She hadn't seen Gilbert since May, when she'd gone to visit him in Kingsport. It had been the longest she'd gone without seeing him since she was 11 years old, and the hours until she'd be with him again the next night seemed to stretch interminably in front of her.

Anne slipped his latest letter out of the front of her book and read it again. Her face flushed and her heart raced as she read it, just as happened the first time she read it and every time she read one of his letters. She had giggled once remembering the flowery compositions that had been Roy Gardner's love letters to her. They seemed so ridiculous now. They could have been written to anyone, really, so bland and generic. Gilbert's letters now — those were love letters, for her and her alone. They were sweet and funny and filled with memories and jokes and thoughts that only the two of them could understand.

"I poured over an anatomy book for six hours before my first lone surgery. I so wished for your presence, that you might correct me when I went wrong as when we studied the Aeneid and you badgered me so about how Virgil was warning the Romans about the importance of home. You knew that lesson much better than me. I was certain the whole tale was just an adventure. Of course, you were right, and now I long to abide that counsel and remain at your side always. Though I do hope that we find better things to occupy us than epics or musty old textbooks."

The thought of seeing him again filled Anne with almost as much joy as the thought that they'd be together always in less than nine months time. She tried to complete construction on her imaginary House of Dreams, but found her contemplations drifting instead to what it would be like to live with him, to wake up beside him, to feel his arms around her not after months but every day.

She looked through the window, frost creeping in at the corners, and watched the snowflakes fall outside. How much cozier the stuffy parlor would seem if Gilbert already were with her. Anne practically could feel herself sitting beside him, her arm brushing against his. And he'd take her hand and she'd lean against him, and their lips would meet and …

A knock on the door interrupted her. She rushed to the door, her face flushed at her musings. Likely the hired man had come to ask if he could leave early or Mr. Harrison had come to complain about something Davy had done.

Anne pulled at the door, and behind the little swirl of snow that blew in was a man, but not the hired man or Mr. Harrison. He wore a black coat on his long frame and a black cap on his head. His face was lean, and his moustache had little ice crystals in it from the December day. His hazel eyes met Anne's and she gasped.

"Gilbert! I didn't expect you until tomorrow!"

"I finished my classes and was able to get out a day early," he said. "I just couldn't wait to see you."

He shook off his boots and stepped into the kitchen. Anne only could stare. How different he looked. If she had thought him a stranger the Christmas before, certainly he seemed even more so now, his physique chiseled by his summer on the railroad crew and his face leaner and matured. Little remained of the boy with whom she had fallen in love, and she felt she scarcely knew the man removing his dripping boots.

Even his voice sounded different. Anne wondered if her voice sounded different. Or did she look different? She was acutely aware of the shabbiness of the blue serge skirt she wore planning only for a quiet day of chores. And of the heat that had rushed to her face, rendering her what she could only assume was a shade of red similar to the hair held back by a long braid.

She fiddled with the hem of her apron and bit her lip as she watched him remove his coat. Only moments earlier she had yearned for Gilbert's presence, and now that he had appeared she found herself strangely mute.

She could feel his eyes on her as she took his coat and hung it up, and the unusual, awkward silence filled the room. Their letters to each other spanned pages and pages, and Anne had found herself of late sharing with him her most intimate thoughts — thoughts that suddenly embarrassed her to have shared. And try as she could, she couldn't seem to recall even one thing they had discussed in their recent letters, or one memory or, really, any point of interest to get her discomfited tongue to move. Her own thoughts seemed to have been drowned out by the sound of her thumping heart, and she wondered suddenly if Gilbert could hear it, too. But she just faintly made out his voice.

"Pretty quiet around here today?" Gilbert asked.

And then Anne could hear her voice, and she had no real idea what she was saying as she walked toward the parlor.

"Oh, yes. I've just been taking care of the chores, and it really isn't as noisy around here as it once was. Even Davy has quieted down some, and of course, Mrs. Lynde and Marilla have never been overly boisterous. Well, Marilla hasn't, anyway." Anne wondered if she sounded as loud to Gilbert as she did to herself. Or as ridiculous. The thumping had been effectively silenced, and she contemplated that it may have been the preferable noise.

As she crossed the room, she felt a hand at her waist pulling her back.

"Anne, is something wrong?" he asked as she turned, her eyes level where his gray tie came out of his white collar.

"No-o, you just surprised me," she said in a deliberately quieter voice.

"I can go and come back tomorrow, if you'd rather," Gilbert said.

Anne's gaze shot up in alarm, and, in his twinkling hazel eyes and that smile that never failed to make her heart beat a little faster, she found back the Gilbert that all the months away and any outward changes could never really change. Her eyes softened as she gazed at him and found herself losing the strange shyness that had overcome her.

"Don't you dare leave," she whispered as his face moved toward hers. "I've missed you far too much to have you go so quickly."

Anne could feel herself relaxing against him and wondered at how something as light as his touch at the small of her back could make her feel so loved. Moments passed in silence, lips too occupied for talking.

"I am glad you're not going to kick me out yet," Gilbert said when they pulled apart. "It is miserably cold out there."

"Ah, and there we have it. Just hanging around until you warm up, I suppose."

Gilbert grinned and winked at her as he plopped down on the sofa in the corner of the parlor. "However long that may take," he said.

She settled in next to him and found the conversation as easy as ever it had been. He told her more about his classes and friends in Kingsport, and she told him how her students had done on their exams and the social scene in Summerside. She already had forgotten that Gilbert looked different to her, and his voice seemed as familiar as her own as she listened to him — with no problem hearing him over the heartbeat that no longer overpowered her ears.

"But I suppose I'm interrupting your reading," Gilbert said as he picked up the book Anne had left on the table beside the sofa and looked it over. "Hmmm, I do believe I recognize your bookmark. And if it was marking your spot, I don't believe it was your book that you were reading. I would say whoever wrote that letter must be quite the fellow. Handwriting looks familiar …"

"Give me that," Anne demanded, her face growing red. She didn't mind, of course, that he knew how she cherished his letters, but she certainly didn't need him to think she was languishing in agony over his absence.

Gilbert held the book in his outstretched arm, making Anne lean over him to grasp at it, which may have been his intent. When her fingers took hold of it, he held on, too, so that her next tug pulled her back onto the sofa and him over top of her.

"Whoops," she said with a giggle as the book fell to the floor. Her now unoccupied hands stroked his brown curls, still damp from his snowy walk, and she pulled him to her.

"I tried to ask this earlier," Gilbert said moments later, a little breathlessly, as he propped himself up on his elbows and looked down at Anne's flushed face, "but where is the rest of the household this afternoon?"

Anne, who very nearly had forgotten anyone else existed in the world, answered uncertainly: "Marilla and Mrs. Lynde are at the Ladies Aid … and Davy, I think will be at the Boulter's until tomorrow … and Dora is … I believe … spending the night with Minnie Mae Barry."

"Quite providential that I got that early ticket out of Kingsport, then, eh?"

"Quite," Anne replied pulling him back down to her.

She sighed and tilted back her head back as she felt Gilbert's lips exploring down her neck and around the collar of her dress. With every kiss, she felt more at ease. Hadn't they spent many lazy afternoons just that way that one beautiful summer they'd had together after her first year at Summerside? Not even Mrs. Lynde's narrowed eyes and grumbles about early weddings had been able to make her uncomfortable about being close to Gilbert. And it was so much easier, there in the empty parlor, to imagine they were alone in their own house than ever it had been in any of their secret haunts.

"Tell me more about this honeymoon look you wrote about," Gilbert whispered as his kisses moved back up her neck to the soft skin under her ear.

Anne giggled. "I think you'll just have to wait and see."

"So, you were just teasing me when you wrote that?"

"Oh, well," Anne began as her unconsciously began playing with his tie, loosening the knot ever so slightly. "Perhaps I was. Or perhaps I was just wishing it was our turn."

"It will be soon," Gilbert replied. And the sensations of his lips on hers and his hand sliding along her side made her forget the months that still stretched in front of them.

But it all came back in a rush soon enough.

At the click of the knob and the creak of the front door opening, they jumped apart. Anne instinctively began smoothing her hair and straightening her apron, while Gilbert tightened his tie. Anne picked up her forgotten book and placed it on the sofa between them as footsteps made their way toward the parlor.

"Say, Anne, have you seen my ice skates? It stopped snowing, and Milty and me are gonna go out on the pond," Davy said as he came in the room. "Oh, hi, Gilbert. I didn't know you were here."

Gilbert gave him a little wave. "I think they're in the closet, Davy," Anne said.

They sat in silence as Davy clanged around in the closet, and not until the front door shut behind him did Anne collapse against Gilbert's chest, shaking her head. Gilbert wrapped an arm around her while his other hand stroked at the ruddy curls that looked a little more unruly than when he arrived.

"I never would have thought Davy would be the tool of a guardian angel," he said with a little laugh.

"I wouldn't think that he was," Anne grumbled. "Though I'm glad it was him and not Marilla and Mrs. Lynde."

Gilbert laughed and kissed her upturned face. "Yes, I believe Davy was the easiest interruption, not that I wished for one. Say, Anne, why did you seem so uncomfortable when I arrived?"

Anne flushed and buried her face against him. "I don't know. I'd just spent the whole afternoon imagining our home and our life together, and I just felt so foolish all of the sudden when you came in and I scarcely recognized you. I … I think I was scared that we could have grown apart. It's been a long nine months."

Gilbert held her closer and laid his head against hers for a moment. "That could never happen. You're as much a part of me as my heart — I couldn't live without you."

"That is nice to hear."

"And darling, just think, next Christmas we'll be in our own home. You'll be decorating the mantle with evergreen, and I'll … well, I'm sure you'll want me to help you, and you know I can't tell you no. And there will be a fire flickering in the fireplace, frost on the windows, the smell of gingerbread."

Anne smiled as she worked her vision into what she already had been imagining before he arrived. It all fit, just as they did.

"And we'll be together every day then," Gilbert continued. "You'll probably be quite tired of me by then."

"Oh, I think it will take longer than that, though one can never be too sure," Anne teased.

"Well, I know I'll never tire of getting to come home to you, that much is for sure. Never, as long as I live," he said with a smile. "Oh, I almost forgot — Mother said to ask you to supper tonight."

"Yes, just let me go change." She looked up at Gilbert a little shyly. "Can you help me with these apron strings? I could get them, but I suppose there is no sense in struggling with them when I have someone to help me."

Gilbert ran his hand down her back to the string at her waist. Anne sighed at the slight shake in his hand as pushed the strings softly forward until his hand rested on the front of her waist. His other hand brushed her long braid of red hair over her shoulder. He kissed the nape of her neck as he undid the knot resting at the center of her shoulders.

"Anything else I can help you with?" he whispered as the apron fell forward.

Anne turned and kissed him before rising from the sofa.

"Perhaps next Christmas."

(Next up is a request from katherine-with-a-k …)