This is the story I never expected to write- I honestly thought I'd exhausted every idea I would ever come up with to do with Anne and Gil. It turns out I was wrong. For everyone who has walked with me through One More Day With You and When Tomorrow Comes, thank you. I hope you enjoy this story, it's a very different walk through our favourite couple's relationship. It's definitely an AU, and it was inspired by someone commenting that no matter what, the two of them would always end up together. I quite agree. I think we all need to believe that second chances are real. So with more excitement that I would have believed possible, I'd like to introduce to you Shore of Dreams.
The summer had drawn to a close around the little seaside town, and a cool wind came blowing in across the waters. The summer visitors were swiftly departing their holiday cottages for home, and as a lone woman stepped off the train at the busy station, she smiled at the sight of harassed mothers and restless children, their fathers more intent on the paper than on children squirming on railway seats. The smell of scalding metal and wood smoke filled the air, and all around her was the sound of the hissing engine and the shuddering of the ground beneath her feet.
Few looked twice at the woman as she moved in the opposite direction to the bustling crowd. Her hat was pulled over her eyes, and as she took a sturdy walking stick in one hand she lifted the carpet bag she held in the other a little higher, making her way to the ticket office. She had been told that a Mr Jones would meet her train, and the station master was quick to find him amongst the crowd. Within a short time, her belongings were being placed in the back of a wagon and she was being assisted to sit beside the brown-bearded man with a thankful sigh.
As they drove, he spoke to her at length of the fish market and the whales that had been spotted offshore, the price of beets in town and the fact that the town's doctor seemed to finally have himself a girl; and of the strange rash his father got after eating a bad clam. The woman suppressed a little smile, choosing to be diverted by the turns of conversation deemed interesting in a small town, and she cheerfully discussed the benefits of calamine lotion over salt water to help stave off the dreaded spots. By the time they had arrived at their destination, the man was utterly charmed by the conversation of the pleasant-faced young lady. He took care to help her down from the buggy, seeing the slight frown that creased her forehead at the movement and reached out a hand to steady her as she touched down to the ground.
"Thank you, I'm sure that it will become easier once I have loosened up a little. Would you be able to bring my things inside the house?"
As the big man began to unload her trunks, she walked to the front door and sighed in relief as it opened immediately. The housekeeper who stood there looked in askance at the walking stick, bringing an amused look to the younger woman's face. She shifted the bag to her other hand and looked up at the stone house with interest.
"It's very nice to meet you, at last, Miss," the housekeeper said kindly, opening the door wider to allow the driver to pull the trunks inside the grey house. The smile she was given heartened her wonderfully, and she wiped her hands capably on the wide apron that she wore. "You must be real thankful to be here, at last. It's all ready now, the house was in fairly good order before I got here. According to Mr Jenkins, the school board had it painted only a short time ago."
By this time the woman was moving around the small house with a look of interest, her hand running over the little table with a smile. It was small but pleasant. The fireplace in the living room crackled in a friendly manner, and she could already smell freshly baked goods coming from the kitchen. She drew in a deep breath, spying the open doors of the downstairs bedroom. This she moved into now, seeing with pleasure the simple furnishings and the low window that opened out to the garden. The driver was thanked and paid for his trouble, and when the door closed behind him she placed her carpet bag on the floor and began to work at the buttons on her overcoat. She turned and smiled at the housekeeper.
"Well, I think this will do very nicely, Miss Baker," she said, turning to study the rest of the house. "Do you need time to get yourself settled?"
"No, ma'am, I was able to do that this morning." A funny look came over the housekeeper's face. "Ma'am, if you don't mind, I'd prefer it if you'd just call me Susan."
The woman laughed, as she pulled the hat pin from the little hat that she wore. "On one condition- that you don't ever refer to me as Ma'am again. It makes me feel terribly old."
Susan gave a little chuckle herself. "I think you're hardly out of school yourself."
An auburn eyebrow tipped upwards. "You might be surprised."
Susan went back to the wide stove and proceeded to fill her teapot, as she watched the lady move around the room looking carefully at her new home. Susan's eyes narrowed, her eyes on the teacher's limp. It was caused by a severe fall, that much she knew from the letters the two of them had exchanged. She turned back to the biscuits warming in the oven, still unable to believe her luck in finding this position. It was purely by chance that Carter Flagg had spoken to her mother about the last meeting of the school board. The new schoolmarm required a housekeeper for the cottage that sat beside the school, and it was not far from her mother's- she could keep an eye on her as well without neglecting her job. And there was something about her, as well- she could tell that from her writing. As Susan moved the tray to the table, she looked up to see the lady removing the hat from her head, her eyes widening at the colour of her hair. She watched her turn with a smile to sit down, her grey eyes thoughtful.
"Would you like this in the sitting room, Miss?"
There was an amused look that hovered on her face, and she shook her head. "Susan, dear; we may as well get one thing straight now. You are not here as a servant, nor am I in the slightest bit inclined to stand upon ceremony in my own home. I should think that we will become very good friends. Please, won't you sit down and share a cup of tea with me?"
Susan's surprise showed on her face, however, it was soon overcome with a smile that she couldn't seem to help, as she sat down at the table. "Shall I call you Miss Shirley, then?"
She shook her head, but her smile was sweet.
"Please, just call me Anne."
When Anne had lived at the little house for five days- now freshly christened Rosewood Cottage after the tangle of plants that she had found at the foot of the garden, a bewildered Susan felt as though she must have always been there. From the way she would thank her for her assistance with an affectionate pat on the arm, to the way Susan had to go chasing her with her walking stick amongst the trees that bordered the schoolhouse; to the vases of flowers on every available surface- the ones that did not have books on them already. Anne had arranged the house as she had seen fit, all the while contriving to make Susan feel as if the two of them had decided on the changes together. She had a laugh that sounded like a bell in the old house, and yet at times, a look would cross her face that seemed to hurt more than tears would. To this look, Susan had learned to not respond, that soon she would shake herself and be at work once more.
It had only taken a day to learn that Anne did not wish to discuss her injury with anyone. She would only shake her red head with a smile, insisting that there were greater stories in the world that needed to be told. Susan had been asked by townsfolk eager for information about the new school teacher, to which she could only reply that Miss Shirley's business was her own. For Susan's own part, she was learning to look for clues.
That she was in mourning was immediately obvious. Susan had taken several trunks of clothes that had arrived to the attic, brighter and far dressier ones that made Susan sigh, wishing Anne would choose them instead. The black hardly did the younger woman any favours, and she so wanted her to make a good impression that Sunday at church. Already she had heard the whispers of the townsfolk, wondering that the elusive Miss Shirley hadn't visited the grocery store herself yet- was she so above everyone that she sent her maid? And what was with the alterations she had demanded to the schoolhouse? Joshua McAllister had put a rail in beside the steps of the schoolhouse and was now working on creating a path to the teacher's cottage. Mr Pritchard had never required that- and yet he had been sixty-four.
With only a week to prepare before the start of the school year, Anne had traversed the winding path between the back garden and the old schoolhouse daily, preferring to spend her mornings setting up for the year ahead. The previous teacher had left comprehensive notes behind, and Anne sat at the broad timber desk in the warm sunlight, familiarising herself once again with the curriculum. Twenty-three bright young faces would be on her doorstep come Monday morning, and she would be there to greet them. Susan had been able to give her some background on most of the families, slipping in little comments about life in Glen St Mary.
Anne pushed back from the desk with a little sigh, her eyes wistfully on the trees waving in the wind. Susan had followed her that morning, insisting that her washing could wait until she had swept the schoolroom out and washed the windows. Anne had planned on tackling those the next day, but capitulated when Susan insisted that the cottage was as clean as it could possibly be- and that she didn't see why a teacher should have to wash her own windows as well. Anne thought back to the Avonlea schoolroom with a brief smile. Once a month she would devote a Saturday to that job- usually with him-
With practised indifference she stood to her feet, and walked around the room, studying the maps and charts that hung on the walls, including one of the island. With her finger, she traced the train line that ran to Avonlea, before pulling her hand away resolutely and stepping around the children's desks to her own. It would take some time for her to become accustomed to teaching younger children again- back to tiny boys and girls, big-eyed at sitting in the classroom, struggling to understand that A was A. Anne smiled. The difference that a year could make in the lives of young children had never ceased to amaze her.
What a difference a year could make in her own.
With a brief shiver, she turned her attention to the front of the classroom. For now, the work for the day was done, and soon she would be teaching once more. Less time to think, less trouble to distract herself. Gathering her basket in hand, she walked to the doors of the schoolhouse, calling to Susan that she was heading home for the day.
As she walked through the closely packed trees, Anne drew in a breath of fresh air, catching the hint of salt on the breeze. The pathway was almost clear now, and as she navigated the gate, she leant against it with a sigh looking up at her new home. The second story would almost exclusively be Susan's domain now. With the large bedroom and office on the lower floors, Anne would have everything she needed there. She gave a small shudder, remembering the trouble she had had in getting up and down the stairs at Green Gables- and just as quickly that thought was repressed as well.
As she pulled her skirt from the briars beside the path and shook off the dirt that clung to Marilla's walking stick, she walked through the back door of the house, only to fall into the comfortable chair before the fire.
Anne slowly raised her foot onto the step stool that Susan had procured, her forehead contracting in pain. She rolled down her stocking carefully, sighing at the telltale swelling of the ankle, and the deep silver scars that ran from her foot up her calf. Anne rubbed her face tiredly, and then unexpectedly felt a bubble of hysterical laughter rise in her throat. Doctor Anthony had looked at her dubiously when she announced that she was going back to work; he had shaken his rough grey head many times, insisting that she take seriously the disability that had been thrust upon her. Anne's chuckle faded then. It was the reason she had handed in her resignation at Summerside- the place that had been her home for almost six years. The steep grounds and pace of the busy school had proved too much for her after her injury, and within a fortnight of her return in April she had written to the school board about standing down. In her letters, Katherine had encouraged her to try a smaller school first, to give herself time to heal again.
That evening, Anne was visited by three of the school trustees. The gentlemen had at first looked in askance at Anne's walking stick, and it had taken most of the visit for them to forget its presence. Anne tactfully spoke to them of her concerns as she had learned to do now- she knew what she was capable of, and had put much thought into managing her limitations in the classroom. The older of the three gentlemen had a twinkle in his eye as he compared the craftsmanship of his own cane- Anne explained with a smile that her own had once belonged to her guardian's mother. If there was a shake in her voice at that point, the men did not see- the bright look she presented convinced them alone of her good humour. As she served the men Susan's award-winning pound cake and Susan poured the tea with a look of grim satisfaction, glances were exchanged and Miss Shirley's appointment was confirmed. The men departed then, promising to make the alterations that would ensure the well-being of Glen St Mary's newest resident.
Anne saw them go with a smile, and while the gentlemen stood talking at her front gate, an exhausted Anne bid Susan good night, falling into her comfortingly soft bed. She thought that sleep would find her easily.
The low hoot of an owl could be heard in the nearby forest when the old clock struck one, and Anne listened to a ships' bell echo through the valley. She shifted on her pillows to see the moon shining through the trees, creating flickering patterns against the dull grey walls. The pattern of forget-me-nots had faded from the paper, leaving faint ghost-like impressions that caught the moonlight. Anne drew her knees up, trying to close her eyes against the sharp pain. It was a night not unlike so many she had spent in the hospital, in rooms that were never completely silent. A cough here, a patient whimpering several rooms over. When hot tears would fall from her cheeks into her hair, when she was unable to reach the handkerchief the nurse had kindly stored away. The pain would recede, they had said. It would become manageable.
Anne opened her eyes, her jaw set against the tears she had little time for now. They had never promised her that the memories would fade, that she would be unscarred. And she hadn't been.
Now resigned to another broken night, Anne let her mind go to the place she had been avoiding. Her imagination moved from room to room at Green Gables, stepping through the distant house like the ghost she felt herself to be. Her little white room lay as bare as it had been on her first night she had slept there- Anne had packed up all of her belongings with a heart that hurt terribly, knowing that it would be some time before she could return. The hallways were still, the kitchen fire cold, and Anne herself had pulled the doors closed behind her. Perhaps she would return in the summertime, she told herself. Meanwhile, white drapes lay over the furniture, and the once busy house would rest in peace under the same moon that shone down on her now.
When preparations were finished for the house to remain unoccupied, Mrs Lynde's family had taken the last of their mother's furniture from the house. The now elderly woman had embraced her warmly, promising to write when she was settled in Charlottetown. Anne said goodbye to her from the painfully tidy veranda, the chairs she and Marilla had once sat in now packed away in the barn. All was still.
When Diana pulled up at the gate, Anne was waiting for her there, pale and quiet. Thanking God that Fred had insisted the children remain at home, Diana wordlessly assisted Anne into the buggy and talked to her lightly of other things as they drove back to Lone Willow farm. Fred was at the other end to take the team, and Anne came inside to meet the chattering youngsters, who clamoured for attention from their favourite aunt. They waited as their mother had taught them until Anne was settled on the settee in the kitchen, and while Diana finished preparing dinner Anne listened to little Fred read from his new primer, while his sister sat beside Anne, bossily instructing young Jack to mind Aunt Anne's foot. Diana kept a careful eye on her friend, deciding that for now, the distraction would be a blessing.
Later that night, she left Fred half snoozing in the parlour over his farming periodical and walked to the back door. Anne was sitting on the lawn chairs with her back to the house. She had a shawl wrapped around her thin shoulders, and in the light of the new moon, Diana stood watching her with an aching heart. After pulling her own sweater from the hook, she let the door fall closed behind her, and walked to sit beside her friend. The two were silent for a time.
"Thank you for having me to stay, Di," Anne said quietly. "I want you to know how much I appreciate it."
Diana's throat closed over. "Anne, I wish you would stay here."
She watched her friend give a little sigh. "You know I can't do that."
"I don't know anything of the kind-"
"Anne, this is your home-"
Diana stopped when Anne stretched out a hand to take her own, her look gentle. "Di, I would do anything to be able to pick up where I left off in Avonlea- but I can't. I need to find work."
"You wouldn't need to if you sold Green Gables-" Diana froze, seeing the look of grief on Anne's face. "I'm sorry darling, I didn't want to make this any harder for you."
Anne gave the ghost of a laugh. "It already is hard, Di. I know. And the time may come when I will be ready to sell. But I can't right now. To do it would be like a slap in the face to Marilla- she kept the house for me. And I can't keep it up on my own- not like this." She gestured to the walking stick, and Diana sighed. All this had been discussed so many times- and she saw the look on Anne's face that said she would not yield.
"Glen St Mary is so far away."
Anne gave a wry smile. "Oh, I think I will manage just fine. Miss Baker sounds like a dear, and the school is quite close to the house."
Diana lifted her hands to rub her anguished face, wishing more than anything that she could put off this conversation. "Anne, I know we've talked about this- but you know that he might be there." There was a long silence then, and her hands fluttered drearily. "I'm sorry, darling, but I didn't want you to go in there unprepared."
If she hadn't heard Anne's exhale, she might have thought she was alone in the growing dimness.
"I still think it unlikely."
For the first time, Diana found herself growing frustrated in the face of Anne's calm exterior. "You can't know that-"
"He always planned on working in a hospital first. He wanted a broader experience-"
Diana let out an exclamation. "Anne, doesn't this matter to you? You came to me six years ago-"
Anne turned to her then, her grey eyes showing such hurt that Diana halted immediately. Her voice was low. "Diana, I have no home. I can only work where someone is willing to give me a chance- and you know the Glen was the only school that got back to me. I can't stay here, Di. And I can't run from phantoms that may or may not exist. If he is there, it doesn't matter anymore, it can't. All I need to do is teach. I only need a corner to do that."
Diana wiped a tear from her dark eyes. "I'm sorry, Anne, I'm just- I'm worried. I won't be there, and I don't know what you're walking into- and I don't know if you can come back here easily."
Anne reached across to take Diana's hand, her eyes filling. "I know. But I'm trying- I'm just trying to have faith. Some faith in myself, some faith in- something. I promise you that I will be back here for Christmas."
Diana sniffled. "You had better mean that, Anne. I don't know who will cry more when you leave, the children or myself."
Anne stood up from the chair, holding the back to steady herself while she took up her walking stick with a shake of her red head, and a smile that tried to be cheerful. She held out her hand to her oldest friend and pulled her into a hug.
"I'll be alright, Di. I'll write as often as I can. And I can't thank you enough for the help you've given me this summer."
Diana wrapped her sturdy arm around Anne's waist, and the two of them set off towards the house again, Anne leaning on her friend. "We swore an oath, beloved. I'm always here for you."
Back in the present, Anne pulled her red hair over one shoulder, smoothing it over the white of her nightgown. She was here now, and in a better situation that she had hoped to find herself. She drew in a deep breath, thankful for small mercies, that she had a chance for a new beginning. The owl sounded again in the still night, and Anne lay back in bed with a deep sigh, listening to the unexpected sound of someone moving down the nearby road on horseback. Idly she wondered if it was perhaps a baker's apprentice coming to light the ovens for the not so distant morning. Or someone trying to make it to the harbour by sunrise, perhaps to meet a ship coming into shore. With a brief prayer for the safety of the rider, Anne closed her eyes firmly, willing her mind to find rest, to find a sleep without dreams.