BEGIN AGAIN

April, 1919

'My dear, you're not dressed!'

Royal Gardner stood in the hallway watching his wife feed fresh ribbon into her typewriter. A strand of red hair fell over her brow and she huffed it away.

'The train isn't due till two,' Anne said, wriggling her nose.

She longed to scratch it but that would no doubt leave an inky moustache. Not that her daughter would mind, though her husband certainly would. He drummed his fingers against the door frame in time with the ornate carriage clock. Anne glanced to the mantle where it sat and forgetting herself rubbed her upper lip.

'Is that ink to match your suit?'

Royal tossed Anne his starched white handkerchief. He looked so odd without it unfurling from his top pocket his appearance almost unnerved her.

'I take it you don't approve of the colour I'm wearing,' she replied, dabbing her face. 'We're not going to the theatre, Roy, we're going to the station–'

'To collect our only daughter, whom we haven't seen for two years.'

'Exactly. I doubt Dido will care what I'm wearing. Besides, I thought you liked this?'

Royal eyed the sombre charcoal suit. 'I do like it. For funerals.'

He shouldn't have said that, he could tell by the way Anne had slumped into her chair. He ventured into the study, crossing the Persian rug as though the garden woven into it concealed hot coals, then plucked at the knees of his trousers and crouched down beside her.

'Forgive me, duck, we've had more than our share of those.'

He reached for Anne's hand and she remembered how she clutched it as they listened to the eulogy for Phil's son and Jane's husband, for Lewis' wife and Jen's brother... The waxy ends of his moustache pressed into the back of her hand as he brought it to his lips.

'The war is won, Dido is coming home,' Royal reminded her, wondering why he should have to. 'She's spent far too long in some khaki rag. Don't you think she'll want to see her Mamma in something a little more...' He dropped her hand to make a flourishing gesture, 'chic?'

His wife nodded mutely as he twitted her nose.

'You missed a bit,' he said.

Anne felt she was missing more than that, but only smiled.

'You're right Roy, of course, you're right. I haven't given this moment the attention it deserves. I've been so caught up with the draft–the publishers–I just wanted it done before our girl came home. I don't want to waste one moment. We have so much to relearn about each other... This young man she's engaged herself to, for one.'

Royal stood and caught his reflection in the oval mirror above the fireplace. He approached it, purposefully, his long-lashed eyes lighting upon the photographs Anne kept in here. They were what he called Her Lot: the Avonlea dears, the Patty's Place clique, her writers, musicians and poets. His gaze rested on the one image that had always rankled, though he knew it was unreasonable. It was Anne in her cap and gown graduating from Redmond, a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley at her breast. He picked it up the photograph, put it down, and smoothed back his slick black hair.

'Dido is not engaged,' he told his reflection. 'This whoever-he-is merely asked for her hand. She hasn't accepted him–'

'You mean you haven't accepted him.'

Royal turned to find his wife using his handkerchief to wipe the typewriter keys. He slammed his hand upon the edge of mantel.

'No, I haven't accepted him! Who is he to us? Some nobody–'

'He's hardly that, Roy, he's a Captain and a DC.'

'You sound as though you want Dido to attach herself to him.'

'I don't have an opinion one way or another, and I don't see how I can be expected to have one when we haven't even met the boy.'

'Your indifference is baffling. One would think you were more worried about your precious books than your own daughter. I don't understand you.'

Anne flung the handkerchief to the floor. 'And I don't understand how you can be such a snob. It wasn't that long ago when I was considered a nobody.'

'A low blow, Anne,' said Royal, picking up the handkerchief and examining the stain. 'His standing has nothing to do with yours.'

The soiled cloth was calmly folded and placed upon Anne's desk. No doubt she would prefer him to throw it into the fire. What was one silk handkerchief to the literary sensation, Anne Shirley-Gardner? She took her lifestyle too much for granted. Servants, parties, endless jaunts abroad... These things weren't simply summoned from the air like her fairy stories.

'But as you mention your past, my dear, then consider. Had your parents lived, who would they would have wanted you to marry? Who did your people in Avonlea want you to marry?'

Anne eyes darted to the mantel, the lilies. She left her desk and walked to the door.

'We should continue this conversation later,' she said, coolly. 'I must change.'

Royal followed her out of the room, peering up the stairs to ensure they were alone.

'There is nothing to discuss,' he said. 'I don't care who he is or what power he thinks he has over our daughter, he is not welcome at Alderley. He is not to be invited, he is not to be encouraged. We shall simply collect Dido from the train, tip our hats and keep walking. Do you understand?'

For a brief moment Anne thought about reaching for her husband, before remembering the ink on her fingers. She learned long ago not to raise her voice in a house full of servants, but how else could she get through to him?

'She's in love, Roy! Don't you remember how that felt? I can't believe you'd do to Dido what your mother tried to do to us–'

'Perhaps I should have heeded Mother's advice.'

Anne shrank away and swiped at sudden tears. A black smudge appeared under her eye. Seeing this Royal softened and he brought his thumb to his wife's pale face.

'You know you have a talent for making me say things I don't mean,' he said. 'It should be obvious how much I adore you–and Dido. I'm not half as surprised as you think I am that she has done something so foolhardy. No doubt she went through hell in France, it's natural she might mistake her feelings under the circumstances. Any woman would. Which, if you'll remember is another reason why I disliked the idea of her serving in the Ambulance Corps. I gave into her whim against my better judgment and now...' Royal gestured for his wife to continue.

'We must pay for our folly as for a crime,' Anne recited, dully.

'Exactly.' Royal wet the tip of his finger to erase the ink from Anne's skin. 'Do you think I want to upset our daughter the moment she steps off the train? Of course I don't. But in the end she'll see her Papa was right.'

He slid his hand down Anne's throat and fingered her onyx choker. His eyes darkened as he pressed her against the flocked green wallpaper in the hall. Her hair formed a halo around her face which was still as smooth and glowing as it was when he married her the day she turned thirty-three. She wore no make up, excepting a ruby stain on her lips that made her teeth seem whiter still.

'To think we've been married these twenty years and I still haven't managed to tame you.'

Anne perceived a rare excitement in her husband's eyes. He was quite as handsome as he ever was, if a little blurred round the edges. His black hair was thinning, his chin no longer strong, nor his waist so trim. None of this prevented Anne from wishing he would look at her the way he looked at her now. It had been months since he had given her so much as a kiss, years since he'd gone to her room. Yet all she could think of was getting free of him.

'Roy, Morrison could walk by at any moment and I have to change.'

'Of course,' he muttered, letting her pass up the staircase. 'You'll have to do without Harriet, I'm afraid. She's hanging Dido's new drapes.'

'Oh Roy.' Anne sighed. 'It's such an extravagance when so many people are going without. I thought we had decided to keep the old ones. There'll be nothing left for our girl to return home to,' she said, referring to four poster bed and furnishings that had been purchased for Dido's room.

'Is it a crime to want to make her happy?' said Royal, sending his wife a brilliant smile.

Anne turned away knowing they were about to break their daughter's heart. Upstairs, she took out her own. A cheap heart-shaped pendant of pink enamel that she kept in a shoe box of letters.

She held the little charm tightly until it seemed to pulse in her hand.

But she never wore it. The chain broke long ago.

...

*The Red Cross provided nurse aids, ambulance drivers, and catering services during the first world war.

*DC is a medal for Distinguished Conduct in battle