15

'Yes... yes I do,' Anne murmured, unsure if the shock she felt was because Diana saw what this was really all about, or because she finally did.

Diana was equally stunned. She had been expecting to fight Anne on this point and had no idea what to say. When she managed to speak it was only to ask how long Anne had loved him. Not that it actually mattered, it was merely the first sensible thing that came into her head. Besides which, she was curious.

'I don't know. Forever? I don't know–I can't answer–'

'Forever?'

'Not the way I do now. I mean I did, after Convocation... You knew how miserable I was.'

'I thought that was due to Roy,' Diana cut in, meaning Anne had let her believe it was Roy who had broken her heart.

'I know that you did, don't think I don't know. That was when it all began, when I learned to fold into myself. It hurt too much being open to the world, and I poured my heart into The Life Book because I wanted to believe I was still the kind of girl who could conjure a miracle from a disaster. No one wanted it, but what I told myself was that no one wanted me. I thought that belief had been banished when I came to Green Gables. But after Gilbert... when he almost died, I knew there could never be anyone for me but him.'

The reference to The Life Book went unnoticed as Diana hastily inserted this revised Anne into her memories. An Anne who refused to speak of the Blythes, laughed off Diana's attempts at match making, and put work above everything else. She remembered the letter Anne wrote announcing her sudden marriage to Roy, explaining that he was her ideal after all, for who else could tolerate a novelist for a wife?

It wasn't Anne marrying far from home in some castle in France that caused Diana to weep. It was the way she described her husband as tolerant, as though that was all she prized in him. Diana had tucked away Anne's snapshots of the Eiffel Tower and the Cote d' azur, then looked over at her husband studying a seed catalogue. Yes, Diana felt envy but it never lasted long. Not when there was love in her home and in her husband's eyes as he plucked Anne's letter out of her hand, pulled her into his arms, and shyly asked if she was ready to try for baby number three.

After that Diana never saw Anne without Roy by her side. Until this summer when Gilbert came back to the Island.

'This is why you were so set on Echo Lodge, I suppose? Were you planning on hiding out there like Miss Lavendar, waiting for Gil to come back to you?'

'Hardly, Diana. I'm a married woman.'

Diana's eyebrows disappeared under a fringe of dark curls. 'But for how much longer?'

Anne wasn't able to answer that question for almost a year. Her daughter, Di–Diana refused to stick–made a hash of her screen test in France. She blamed this on her father who insisted he wasn't flirting with the other girl up for the audition, though he managed to marry her anyway. The thought of watching her new stepmother redecorate Alderley took the shine off Redmond, and Di gave into Faith Meredith's urging and enrolled at Charlottetown hospital to begin her training as a nurse.

She was keen to find a house for them to share. Papa had suggested Echo Lodge, which remained empty since he bought it last year. Di laughed and told him on a very long collect-call that his suggestion like his purchase was a foolish one, and that he must "live with his folly as with a crime."

And so he did, giving tedious lectures about a book he'd neither written nor understood, while he attempted to keep hold of yet another wife who didn't want to be held onto. His daughter, Royal refused to lose. He secured her the only way he knew how, by obtaining a house to keep her in. It was neat, clean, and close to the hospital, on a street with the wonderfully strange name of Rainbow Alley.

Di and Faith walked through its crooked rooms with the proud eyes of new occupants, when Faith, with her usual frankness announced she had something Di would want to know before they moved in together.

'What's that, do you sleepwalk, have fry-ups at three in the morning, believe in ghosts? I've already boarded with my share of eccentrics, so it will take quite a lot to scare me.'

'I hope this won't scare you. And if it does, Di darling, then I shall know how to reply.'

Faith took a letter from the shapeless pocket of her favourite sweater. Di immediately recognised the Algerian stamps.

'From Will? So what, I know you two are writing to each other.'

'You don't know this.'

Faith smoothed the page on her thigh, her gold-brown eyes falling to the last line and she cleared her throat. Di had never known Faith to be this reticent. She had her roses on, as Una would say, glowing brightly on each cheek.

'P.S.' she began, her voice thick with self consciousness. 'About the "with love" I ended this letter with, I mean far more than that. Something's happened to me, Faith, and to you, I think. But I don't want to know what it is unless you want to find out with me.'

Di went white to Faith's red.

'Will wrote that to you?' Faith nodded. 'Well, I... He never wrote anything like that to me, he was always quoting someone else.'

Usually The Life Book, but Di had sworn to never mention the name of that troublesome book ever again. She walked over to a diamond shaped window at the bottom of the stairs and peered out the way her mother did.

'I'll shall always love him, you know. I don't think I could stand it if he settled for just anyone. I've seen what can happen when people settle. It may seem the easy option, Faith, but the mess it makes. Will makes messes. And I think you are the only one who knows how to clean them up. I can't think of two people more perfect for each other.'

Faith joined Di at the window, wrapping her lean arms around her friend and resting her chin on her shoulder.

'I agree with everything you say–except the bit about cleaning up his messes, those he will have to make good himself. But I want to be there when he does, I so dearly want to be with him, I-I–'

Di turned and placed a finger on Faith's lips. 'Don't let me be the first to hear it.'

Her cheeks were beginning to ache from all the smiling. She was happy for Faith, of course she was, but she was other things as well. Things that perhaps only Jack could understand. Di swallowed down the hard little pain and brought out a letter of her own.

'Now it's my turn for some news. I've found someone for the third room. Mamma's chum, Phil Blake, has a daughter, just returned from Mission work out west. She was going to go to Newfoundland but I've convinced her to try this Island. You'll adore her, Faith. She is named after Mamma but everyone calls her Nan...'

It was Nan who stood on the windy platform at Charlottetown station waiting to collect two doctors who had come to take over the practice in Glen St Mary. She had lived in the bustling harbour town since Di left nursing to pursue yet another scheme. With its emerald valley, darling lighthouse, tattooed sailors and motherless brats, Nan knew that she had found her home.

She smoothed down her starched apron and practiced a smile as the train spat steam on her boots. The older doctor she had met before, but what to say to his daughter? The three of them jostled shoulder to shoulder in the front seat. Gilbert insisted on driving Nan's car and the two women chatted easily along the forty mile drive to the Glen. Joy was married to another doctor, an Australian lepidopterist, who took a bullet to his spine in Gallipoli.

'We don't have children,' she said, 'we have butterflies and moths. My chief concern is this Ingleside we're moving into. Dad swears James will manage the wheelchair fine, but I won't feel easy until I've seen the place.'

'Houses can be fixed, Joy. It's the high-minded pronouncements of McAllisters and Elliots you should worry about.'

Joy clutched Nan's arm in mock terror. 'You'll help me win them over, won't you?' she said, as her father turned the car into the drive.

'I'll leave you to explore,' he said, tossing Joy the key to the house. 'Think I'll stretch my legs. Try not to turn half the town against us while I'm away.'

The smile on his face was not the long wearing kind, and before Gilbert had walked the length of Glen Road and rounded the corner of Carter Flagg's store he wondered if he should turn back. It was unlikely Joy would have ten minutes to admire the huge pantry and the wide veranda before neighbours bearing tarts and tart opinions came knocking on the Ingleside door.

He pictured the looks on their faces when his daughter informed them she was not the wife of the doctor, she was the doctor. Well, one of them. Gilbert too, had given up his position in Boston to help Joy build her practice. It was Leslie who would now make the twice yearly visits, though she did wonder why of all the places in the world her daughter chose the Island.

Joy's answer was one her father might give. 'Because I belong there,' she said.

Gilbert could hardly say this to Anne when she asked him why he was here. He was still thinking up a response when he closed a gate nestled between two pines and strode up the path to a small white house.

Anne moved to Four Winds in the new year because she needed a place to write that was cheap, quiet and beautiful. Gilbert had suggested she get in touch with Leslie, who had once run a boarding house near Four Winds Point. It was a thin reason, done because he knew how much Anne needed someone like Leslie: a woman who had stood her ground, flouted convention, and thrived regardless.

Now Anne was doing the same. She found new publishers who offered her a generous advance to write something daring and new for this daring new world they were living in. The Glen considered her quite the virago and Anne did her best to live up to her reputation. She usually wore loose shift dresses, brightly coloured kimonos and wide silk scarves, but today she was kitted out in a pair of Di's old corduroy trousers and a soft white chemise. The day was hot for early October and she had a lot of work to do. She didn't even put the paint brush down when she answered the door.

Gilbert too was feeling warm. He had rolled his tie into his pocket and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. His jacket was slung over his shoulder. It fell on the front step when he saw her.

'Your jacket,' she said.

'Your brush,' he replied, when it landed wetly on the floor.

'Your face,' she murmured, drawing a paint spattered finger down the deep line in his cheek.

'Your... you,' Gilbert said, kissing her.

It all took a deliciously long time. Anne's hand was in his and she attempted to undress him and herself without either of them letting go. Afterwards, when their old bones feel too uncomfortable on the floor and they scurried up to the bedroom, their hands were still locked together.

Anne slept in the smallest room, her bed took up most of the space and was jammed under the window. She lifted her leg and attempted to pull the thick red curtain with her toes. Gilbert brought his hand to her foot, slid it down her calf, her thigh, and rested it on her hip. Anne's hands went to her belly which bore stretch marks the colour of moonstone.

'Don't. I want to see you.'

He pulled her fingers away, kissed the pale striations tenderly, and then covered her with his body. When he told her he couldn't get enough of her it almost sounded like a growl. This time it was panicked, urgent, and over so quickly Gilbert chuckled with self deprecation.

'That was the young me, I'm afraid,' he said, panting against her damp neck.

'Well then,' Anne said, lifting his face to meet her own, 'it's fortunate I'm in love with the old you. Happy birthday, Gilbert.'

'That's not for two weeks.'

'I mean now, this... the birthday of our happiness.'

Gilbert huffed red hair away from his nose as her head rested on his heart. They talked for a few minutes, both aware that the world outside her bedroom would claim them at any moment. Not until Gilbert began buttoning up his shirt did it occur to him that he never mentioned his plans to stay. Anne listened, raptly, and placed a coffee on the small table next to a lamp. Over the glass shade hung a heart-shaped pendant. It swung almost joyfully when Gilbert reached for his cup.

Anne wore her pink heart the day they married at the Four Winds lighthouse and has never taken it off. Her grandchildren reach for it, greedily, as though it was a piece of candy. Di's daughter, Shirley, chipped her first tooth on it. Will's son, John, preferred to nestle into Gran's lap and rub it between his chubby brown fingers.

'You want to be careful,' said Jean, who had come to the Glen for the weekend before heading back to Queens. 'The enamel will wear off. You should keep it tucked away or you'll have to get a another.'

Anne recalled the first time she took the pendant from its box. Imagined the life she might have led if she had gone to Gilbert all those years ago and told him that she loved him.

There would have been no curling up and pulling away, no deceit and no settling. There would have been no Will to rescue those men in No Man's Land, no Di to found a Soldier's Retreat at Fern Wood. No unexpected happiness for Katherine, no life-saving discoveries by Gilbert. No Life Book for people all over the world to love and to argue over.

Oh, there would have been another life and it would have been good and simple, remained shiny and new. But it was damage that made life extraordinary.

'I don't want another,' Anne said, watching Gilbert lift Una's son onto his shoulders. 'I want just what I have right now.'

...

* 'There could never be anyone for me but you' and 'the birthday of our happiness' are from the last chapter of Anne of the Island.

* Gallipoli campaign was in Turkey, 1915

* Fern Wood is an anagram of the name Owen Ford

I don't know what I wanted to prove by writing this story, I was working it out just as you were. But I think what mattered most was that I didn't make their lives worse, just different. Cohen's famous line,

'There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in'

was clearly ringing in my ears as I finished this chapter, and I think that's the best way to see the world.

Thanks especially to the old friends and new faces who left me long questioning reviews and gave this story a chance. If you liked it please read The Enamel Heart by Bright River, which is the story that inspired it all in the first place.

k.