HELLO EVERYONE! I've been absent for a long while- and I'd hoped to have finished this chapter months ago. This story is ridiculously long now, however, I can't bear to not finish what I started- consider this is six-months worth of updates in this one...

For everyone who was concerned about my imminent injury from bushfires, Covid-19 and the infamous drop bears, I'm okay- especially in the light of the suffering going on in our world, we're really, really alright.

I've barely written in the past six months, to be honest; I thought our little world was crazy until 2020 did its best to send us all completely bonkers. I have a ten-year-old who burst into tears on me, saying that everything was just too confusing for him. We're all right there with you, buddy!

I hope you are all well, and that you are finding peace and comfort somewhere in this toilet-paper/hand sanitizer-mad world we are currently living in. I'm telling myself that this will pass and that it will be a very weird chapter in someone's history book, someday.

Love and my most enormous thanks to those who have messaged, reviewed and generally been awesome- and to the other writers on here, who are doing their part to make the world a slightly less insane place. Big Socially Distant love and hugs to you all.



Chapter 41

In the wee hours of the night, faint moonlight shone in through the open window of the Mushroom. At a time when the household should have been asleep, quiet laughter and the murmur of low voices could still be heard in the bedroom while Rusty slumbered peacefully behind the stove.

The pale light flickered over the quilts and clothing scattered comically on the floor, and over Anne herself, securely wrapped in her husband's arms, watching as the curtains waved softly in the night breeze.

"The moon is said to be the guardian of lovers," she murmured into his cheek, smiling to herself at the fancy.

Gilbert chuckled, tugging her close with one broad hand. "Do you think we need one right now?"

Anne smiled, as she brushed the brown curls back from his forehead. "Oh, I think we should want to guard what we have here, beloved."

"With my life."

He had stretched out beside her, comfortable in his own skin, and she moved again to rest against the warmth of his shoulder, her fingers lightly tracing the fine, dark hairs on his chest. There was silence between them for a time, Gilbert's own smoothing over the soft skin of her belly. She shivered at the sensitive touch and nestled closer.

"Are you concerned, at all?" she asked softly.

Gilbert raised his head at this and frowned. "No. Are you?"

"No." There was another pause, and then she chuckled, sheepishly. "Oh- maybe a little." He lifted himself to rest his chin on his hand, his eyes running down her slender form, unable to keep back a dreamy smile at the sight of her pale skin. She moved from his shoulder to mirror his position, a reassuring roguish look in her eye. "I'm not sorry," she whispered, heat brushing over her as his eyes skimmed her form. "And I do fully intend for us to repeat this as soon as may be," she teased, relishing in his answering grin. "I'm just aware of how much will change, now."

Gilbert shrugged, ruffling her curls with a lean hand. "I don't suppose much has changed at all, really." he murmured. "We're just as in love- just as married as we were before- you know that."

"I'll remind you of that when our firstborn first calls you papa."

This made him choke in shock, and he broke into a belly laugh that echoed through the night. Anne's grey eyes sparkled, and she poked him in the side. "You see? Things have changed." There was a pause as he subsided, and she spoke slowly. "You were the one who was more worried than I was, last night."

"Well, I'm not now. And this had better not be about you thinking that I would regret this," Gilbert mumbled, unable to suppress a small yawn.

"Nooo, I don't have the sense that you do," she said thoughtfully. "It's just about moving from theory to practice."

He was quiet then, until an odd glint came into his hazel eyes. "And- just- just how did you find the said 'practice'?"

Anne chuckled, leaning back on her pillows as he rose to watch her. "You need to stop fussing."

"I'm not!"

His indignation made her laugh, however, the concern in his gaze was real. Her hand came up to stroke the stubble that covered his jaw, and she smiled. "It was wonderful. And unfamiliar. And raw- and funny- and- passionate-"

"And- a maybe little terrifying." This addition made her pause, and Gilbert's smile twisted. "You didn't think you were alone in that, did you?"

"Oh, I'm quite sure that I wasn't alone-" This piece of cheek from his wife made him roll over on top of her, grinning at the way laughter shook her slim body.

"I assure you that I was there," he retorted, before he met her eyes, suddenly grown serious in the faint light.

"You were afraid?" she said, softly.

There was a pause, and Gilbert sighed. "Of course. How am I supposed to live up to something that neither of us has experienced yet? Although, hasn't that been the story of our entire marriage, so far?" he commented, humorously. "How am I meant to take care of you- of us- when I don't know what lies around the bend in the road?"

Anne's glance was tender, and she shrugged slim shoulders as best as she could under his weight. Seeing this, he moved off with a word of apology, allowing her to snuggle into his side again with a deep sigh. "It isn't like that, Gil. We do this the way we do everything- together."

"Well, obviously," he quipped, groaning when a sharp elbow met bare ribs.

"You know what I mean," she said, with an unconvincing scowl as she turned to him. "You once said that you don't want us to be like anyone else- that however fine and noble they may be, our marriage is our own. We don't have a template to follow. And I rather like that, about us."

He nodded, his hand tracing a line up her side, newly entranced by the dip and curve of her waist. "Did I hurt you?"

It was obvious that this was his real concern, and Anne's heart melted. "A little bit the first time was only to be expected-"

This made him react instinctively, and he pulled her into his arms, his grip hard. "Anne, darn it, I'm so sorry-" he faltered, breaking off at her indulgent look as she took his face in her hands.

"We promised each other the truth, beloved. That is the only reason I mentioned it. It was- a little sharp- just for a moment- exactly as your mother and Di had said it would be-" she ignored the way he blanched at the mention of his mother, and continued. "And then it all became rather lovely, as I am in no doubt you are aware," she mumbled, her cheeks flushing at the memory of her own enthusiastic participation in their first bout of lovemaking. He let out a breath with a smile, as he studied her face.

"You're not just saying that for my sake?" he asked quietly, needing to be sure.

Anne shifted in bed, her smile luminous in the moonlight. "The truth will set us free, dearest. You've quoted that to me so often, over the years- I think it no less true now."

At her rather explosive yawn then, Gilbert pushed all philosophical questions aside and tucked her into his side with a chuckle. He dragged the discarded quilts over them in the cool of the spring night and watched her golden lashes fall, smiling at the sleepy mumble she gave as she patted the hand over her chest, before falling quiet. He brushed the unruly curls that had been left untied back from her face, and when her breath had steadied, he lay back, his mind still far too busy to sleep.

As he lay in the dark, he found himself unable to stop himself from grinning like an idiot, the tension that had been coiled inside for far too long finally dissipated. It wasn't merely the act of lovemaking, he decided, his cheeks burning in the darkness; no, they'd really begun now. They were almost at the end of college- and perhaps one day soon they would begin a family-

It was this thought that decided him, and when he felt that she was sleeping soundly, Gilbert eased himself away from his wife, his agile mind now leaping erratically from one possibility to the next. He bent to kiss her warm cheek and drew on a pair of pants, pausing to gloat over the loveliness of his red-headed wife in the moonlight. He tiptoed out of the room to where the fireplace slumbered, looking around the dark room with a triumphant grin on his face. With no one to view him, he thrust his fists into the sky with a silent yell of exultation and turned to his desk with a glint in his eye.

He suddenly had more important things to do.

The sun was well up the next morning when Gilbert eased the bedroom door open with his foot, a steaming cup of tea in either hand. He muttered at Rusty crossly for getting underfoot as he did so, watching the multi-coloured beast leap onto their bed, where Anne was securely snuggled. He couldn't help but smile at the chuckle that came from beneath the quilts now, as the cat trod his way up the bed, prodding her into wakefulness.

"I was planning to wake her, you wretched animal," Gilbert stated, setting a cup on her bedside table. He took a seat at the foot of the bed, watching in appreciation as Anne righted herself, brushing her red hair from her face, her mouth opening in a big yawn that made him laugh. Rusty appeared to lose interest in the couple then and stalked across Gilbert's pillow to leave the room. For once though, Gilbert couldn't have cared less.

"Good morning, love. Sleepy, are we?"

Anne poked him with her toes then, her cheeks rosy as she pulled the sheet up to cover her chest. "Rusty is not the only one who woke me last night," she teased quietly.

Gilbert grinned at her. "We both knew that we weren't going to get a lot of sleep. I just made my peace with it."

To his pleasure, Anne moved to his side, unembarrassed as she tucked herself under his arm, the sheet trailing drunkenly after her. "Did you really not sleep?"

He chuckled, setting his cup down to take her in his arms. "Oh, a bit after- well, the second time."

Anne had awoken to her husband bouncing onto their bed at close to two that morning, a huge grin on his face as he rambled about the myriad of plans he had come up with- at first oblivious to the fact that his wife was having trouble keeping up in the middle of the night. When he had eventually apologized for waking her, she had been unable to stop her laughter- and as her only response had been to pull him under the covers with her and kiss him senseless, it had not been long until he had been thoroughly distracted from the things he had been doing while she slept.

Anne looked up at him now in the morning light, smiling at the dark stubble on his chin, his face brighter and more contented than she had ever seen him. There was a flutter in her belly as she touched his lean cheek, her eyes impossibly soft. How she had wanted to know Gilbert in this way, since that night by Barry's pond. The need, the longing had startled her with its intensity- she had attributed it to their disagreement, at first- until the revelation at the railway station had shown her how necessary he was to her very being. It had filled her dreams in their time apart, the long summer seemingly burning under her skin- the possibility for them to have everything they had ever dreamed of in their marriage.

She stretched up to kiss him now, thrilling in the way strong arms lifted her onto his lap, her long curls gathered in one hand as he nuzzled her neck. As a sigh left her throat, she pressed her body greedily against his firm one- this was what she had longed for: the passion between them, the promise of becoming one heart, one soul, one body.

"Our tea will get cold if we do this now," he mumbled. "Are you concerned about that?" He grinned at her giggle as she shook her head and pulled her down on the bed again, his big hands running down her naked form. "There wasn't anywhere we needed to be, today, was there?"

Anne only pressed him to her luxuriously, her hands moving to his hastily buttoned shirt. "Even if there was, I'm sure it would wait."

As it happened, there was something happening, that day: something that knocked at the door at just ten in the morning. Three sets of smart boots marched up the alley beside the boarding house, their owners chattering merrily; three sets of ears missed a muffled exclamation from the depths of the Mushroom's bedroom at the sound of their knock, and three pairs of eyes blinked at an only slightly rumpled Gilbert, who opened the door several minutes later.

"Good grief! Did you only just wake up?" Phil demanded.

"Oh, give the man a break," Stella grumbled, breezing inside to drop a load of books on the small table. "We'd all rather be sleeping at this point in the college year. Is Anne here?"

"No, no; do come in," Gilbert commented dryly, rolling his eyes at Prissy's impudence as she went to help herself to Anne's cookie tin. "Am I to assume that you aren't looking for wonderful me, then?"

Phil had already dropped into one of the chairs and yelled- "Aaaaanne! We need you now!"

Gilbert rubbed his face with a sigh, realizing that their first, beautiful night was well and truly over. "Look, she was busy washing her hair- I'll go and see if she'll be out soon, alright?"

He was inside the bedroom door before any of the girls had a chance to move, and locked it quickly behind him. Anne was standing in her robe behind the full copper tub that lay on the braided mat, with still-dripping wet hair. Having witnessed the shriek and the herculean leap she had given out of the tub at the sound of their knock, he couldn't help but laugh at her dishevelled state.

"I'm so sorry, Gil," Anne whispered, panicking. "I told the girls to come here on the way home from the library, but that was yesterday, before everything-"

"It's fine, sweetheart," he said, his voice now calm. "We'll just dry your hair and get you dressed-"

Anne moved quickly to the drawers, her cheeks ruby-red. "Well, obviously, Mr Blythe," she said crossly, making him laugh. "I only meant that I would rather not advertise-"

He was quick to wrap her in his arms, stilling her words. "And neither would I. Although I don't see any reason for them to find out."

She pulled away with another blush, gesturing to the room. "If they looked in here, they just might."

He chuckled, looking at the underclothes still strewn across the room, the quilts that lay in every direction, and the nightgown of honour hanging like a flag off the bureau. Gilbert moved now to collect their clothing, a slight flush on his own face.

"They were wary of our bedroom, to begin with. I think it will be fine."

"I would feel much safer if they still were." Privately Anne agreed with him, although she wondered if their new boldness in the Mushroom had more to do with her latest reassurance to the girls that it hadn't been the time for that, yet.

Although time was a funny thing...

Gilbert sat her on the edge of the bed, smiling a little at the ruby-red flush that still covered her face. He picked up her towel to dry her hair, working the damp, red mass until she could run a brush through her curls. The couple ignored the voices through the door, enjoying the silence between them as Gilbert worked.

"You're rather good at this," Anne commented softly, after a time.

His smile twisted, and he ran his hand down the auburn length. "By now, I should be. I love your hair."

Anne turned to him then, a mischievous smile on her face. "Then insulting it was hardly sensible, dear."

There was a groan, and she laughed as Gilbert fell backwards onto their bed, the brush dropping to the floor. "For mercy's sake, woman; I was thirteen!"

She rose from the bed with a smile, moving to pick up her underclothing. With a glance under her eyelashes at her prone husband, she began to dress in the room, blushing hotly at the way he rolled over to watch her, a satisfied smile on his lean face.

"You'll have me looking as red as my hair if you keep watching me," she grumbled before he winked, and rose himself to dress properly. She worked to pull on her corset while Gilbert pulled an olive green tie from the wardrobe. When the last hook was in place, she paused with her petticoats in hand to watch him button his waistcoat; the same one, she realised in a flash of heat, that she had removed the night before in seemingly-indecent haste.

He grinned and turned to her with a smug look. "Now, who's staring?" Anne groaned, her hands coming up to cover her still hot face, and he pulled her into his arms, his touch gentle. "I'm teasing, sweetheart. I'd be most upset if you weren't able to look by now."

"I've been looking for months," she muttered, smiling slightly at the way his eyes suddenly gleamed. The time since realizing her love for him sometimes seemed like only a fleeting moment- and his tenderness as he held her petticoats in place so that she could step into them melted her heart, remembering some of the first fumbling but miraculous moments on their sofa, as he had learned exactly how many layers stood between himself and his beloved wife's skin. She tied the petticoats, all the time watching the curve of his smile, the way his eyes twinkled into her own- and the way that his love was apparent with every gesture he lavished on her. Their Mushroom- so cold and unappealing at first, had seen them learn to know each other as husband and wife, first as team-mates and co-conspirators- and now, as lovers.

Gilbert's thoughts were likewise occupied as he helped her to drop a pale yellow dress over her head, and he smiled as she emerged from the fabric, huffing and blowing impatiently at the curls that fell over her pretty nose in the process. He brushed them back to kiss her forehead, and Anne moved to nestle into his arms for long moments. After a time, she pulled back from her husband with a faint sigh.

"Happy honeymoon, beloved."

Gilbert turned her to get at her sash. "Nope. This is not our honeymoon," he muttered, tying a very lop-sided bow. "Our honeymoon will take place when our beloved friends can't intrude- when we have no schoolwork, no college and are all alone, and have nothing to do but love each other. And that will only happen this summer."

Anne's laughter was silver, and she stepped away to retie the ribbon while Gilbert collected discarded towels from the floor. She swept her damp hair into a low knot and secured it with a few pins, listening to the girls rattling around in the outer room, and turned to face him drolly. "After Phil's wedding, you mean. There. Do I look presentable now?"

"Utterly ravish-able."

Her eyes twinkled as she placed a hand on the door. "Not right now, dear. We have guests."

Honeymoon or no, Anne and Gilbert would always remember the month that followed blissfully. The college continued much as it had, with the added pressure of prizes and finals to be fought over. There were classes to attend, students to tutor and social functions that could not be missed. Anne's writing lay on her desk beside a large, yellow envelope addressed to The Canadian Woman, with a note from Professor Winston congratulating her on its completion- and warning her to not expect too much, on this first outing. Gilbert completed exams and interviews and all manner of faculty meetings- and yet every night that could be spent at home alone with his wife was, blissfully wrapped up in the cocoon that was their home. There were opportunities ahead of the couple that needed to be discussed, and they were content to do so before their own fireplace, stretched out on Mrs Lynde's quilts, Anne's hand tracing over the contours of his arms as he talked to her animatedly. It wasn't the same as a honeymoon, but it would do for now- the many hours spent getting to know her curves and her sighs, of heated skin and the look on her face as he moved over her, made it all worth it.

Over the next few weeks, as far as most of the inhabitants of Patty's Place were concerned, nothing appeared to have changed between the couple. Anne and Gilbert still made themselves at home in the cozy living room on Friday evenings, notebooks tossed aside for an evening of laughter before the big fireplace, still necessary in the cool house. Prissy teased for stories of the Mushroom's domestic bliss, and Stella grilled the student body president for details of the college life that was due to finish all too soon. Aunt Jimsie was more astute, hiding a little smile at the girls' attempts to make the young couple stay later in the evenings. She would cordially usher them out the door at ten, smiling at the way that Gilbert and Anne thanked her, before scampering down the hill toward their own cottage.

Phil, of course, was busy preparing for exams, graduation and a wedding- and between letters from her own and Jo's parents, and the worries over the new parish, it was almost a month before she was able to push Anne into an armchair and demand answers to some rather pressing questions.

March had become April, and a cheerful Anne had arrived at Patty's Place with her bag as she had a year earlier, while Gilbert was playing football in- well, she couldn't quite remember where, actually. She rather thought that he had mentioned the destination as he pushed his curly head under the quilts to kiss her goodbye, lingering to run a hand down her naked body and promising to be at Patty's Place the following evening in time for dinner- although it had escaped her completely now.

There was a little frown on Anne's face at that thought, and it was another minute before Phil was able to draw her attention back.

"Honey, I need you to focus on me, now- and not on your absent lover," her friend said severely, as Anne tried to keep a blush from her face at Phil's words. "He will be fine; I, however, am NOT."

Anne smiled at her dramatics, before settling back into the chair. "And what are you not fine about? Does your mother want you to change the place settings again?"

Phil scowled. "She does, but no; that wasn't what I wanted to talk about."

There was no time to ask the obvious question before Priscilla and Stella came stomping down the stairs with several arm-loads of washing, which were promptly dropped in the hallway to run and greet Anne. She hugged and exclaimed as they did so, however her curious gaze was on Phil, who seemed to be simmering with frustration at the delay in confidences. After a few minutes, Anne extracted herself with promises of studying together and helping to make a sumptuous supper that evening, before bundling Phil into a jacket to take her for a long walk to the park.

When Anne judged Phil to be ready to begin talking, she settled herself down under a tree in St John's, leaving her friend to throw herself down beside her.

"I've not often seen you like this, beloved," she teased lightly, giving Phil a nudge with her shoulder.

Phil wrinkled her nose in disdain. "I don't like it myself if you must know," she muttered. "I just wanted to talk to you without anyone else around, for once."

"You could have come at any time-"

"No, because Gilbert is there!"

Anne pulled the hat from her head with a smile and settled back against the tree. "Alright. You have me captive and alone. So- talk."

Phil huffed around for a few minutes, before checking the tree for caterpillars. When she was assured that her brown curls were safe, she rested her head against the trunk.

"It's all- so much," she grumbled. "Mother and her obsession with the wedding- Mrs Blake is desperate to share recipes with me that I couldn't possibly cook, and Jo is being so sweetly patient around my studies. I feel pushed and pulled, and the only thing I truly want to be is his wife."

"And you will be, in less than two months."

Phil shrugged. "Yes. But there are a lot of questions I have- and no one to ask, really. What does my mother know about thrifty living? At this point, I have more experience than she does. And since Aunt Jimsie tells me regularly what kind of minister's wife she thinks I will make- it's not flattering- I don't exactly want to ask her."

Anne flinched, knowing the truth of that. "And yet she loves you."

"Ye-ees, but she doesn't seem to have a lot of faith in me, for all that."

There was silence for a time, and Anne clasped Phil's hand. "Well, I do. And you know that Jo does too. He's not worried."

"The trouble is that you and Gilbert make marriage look so easy," Phil mumbled.

There was an incredulous laugh from Anne. "I don't recall ever seeing anyone make it look worse," she said, her voice flat. "You were there, darling. We compromised ourselves nicely- in reputation, if not in fact- and had to get married within one week to avoid eternal disgrace. Then we took months to get to a place where any sane couple would even begin a courtship-"

"Oh, I know I was there. And yet you make everyone so envious, now. Your little home just oozes with comfort and affection. You balance that with good marks in college, and don't have a thing to worry about."

Anne smiled, her look thoughtful. "We work best together. Perhaps that is our only real secret."

"I want that," Phil said baldly. "I want to be a part of Jo's world, even though the idea of it terrifies me."

"You will be, Mrs Reverend Blake," Anne teased, pinching her side. "I've heard you tell Aunt Jimsie that everyone should envy Jo for having you- and they should! Why question it now?"

Phil chuckled. "That was bravado, I think. It still plagues me in the night. And speaking of which-" she turned to Anne, a comical look now on her face. "My parents never even shared a bedroom with each other- and Jo and I will have a teensy manse where we can't even swing a cat!"

"That isn't a bad thing, Phil."

There was a scowl on Phil's face, and she crossed her arms. "Not even when one's monthly visitor arrives?" At Anne's startled look, Phil humphed. "He came bounding up to the laundry door yesterday while I was doing the washing, and Stella let him in!"

"Darling, if the man is afraid of you doing chores-"

"No, Anne! THE washing!" she said, seething. "The disgustingly messy, inappropriate-to-have-your-intended-bounce-into-the-laundry while you are up to your elbows in-" Anne burst into laughter at this, and when she sobered it was to see real anguish in her friend's brown eyes.

"I'm sorry. For what it's worth, I understand."

Phil slumped against the tree trunk. "I was dreadful. I was so horrified that I ordered Jo from the house like a criminal- and how am I meant to explain it?"

Anne turned to face her, her slender face gentle. "The truth is best, dear. He will find out, sooner or later- husbands do-"

There was a snort, and Phil crossed her arms. "Oh please, I'm sure that Daddy still doesn't know what women go through. Mother wouldn't let him."

"Then that is sad," Anne said severely. "Do you want to have the kind of marriage where you need to hide things from Jo?"

"Of course not!"

"Then come clean." Phil gaped at Anne, who turned to sit cross-legged on the grass before her. "When it was me worrying about all of this two years ago, you were completely calm!"

"That's because it wasn't happening to me!"

Anne rolled her eyes. "Look, you once told me that real love would be messy- and you were right. So is marriage. And there is something wonderful about allowing yourself to be vulnerable about everything- even the things that make 'monthly washing' necessary…"

"Does Gilbert know everything, then?"

Anne snorted. "Yes. I won't say that it was always comfortable for either of us, however after the first few conversations that made me wish I could wipe his memory permanently-"

Phil groaned. "Ugh. That sounds awful."

"It's not. We learned to deal with it when we were just girls- and that is not something they could have done at that age," Anne said cheekily. "They are men, now- and manhood has its own embarrassing secrets." Phil gaped at her, and Anne gave a faint sigh. "You are both starting from the same place, darling. He might just need a simple explanation from you about this."

Phil's face had lightened, although she scowled up at the leaves for a moment. "Fine. But what I really want to know is what to expect in this teensy-tiny bedroom that is practically filled to the roof with an ancient bed."

"You've seen it?"

"Oh, Mother insisted on going over the manse with a decorator at Easter- and apparently Jo's parish council can't say 'no' to her either."

Anne struggled to marshal her thoughts, a slight smile blooming at the edge of her mouth. "So you know at least that you can expect a bed, then."

"That creaks," Phis said, dryly. "Won't that be fun when Jo is summoned out in the middle of the night? Although Mother is insisting on a new mattress, at least. And you know perfectly well what I want to know! You've lived with a man for almost two years now- you must have some idea whether all Mother's 'duty' and 'marital unpleasantness' talks have any substance to them." Anne blinked into Phil's grim face. "Mother's lectures became rather specific after the dining room table debacle."

"Oh. Do I want to know what happened?" Anne inquired feebly.

Phil's blush was telling, but she waved a hand carelessly. "We were going through the manse, and mother announced that she wanted us to have the fruitwood set. It's larger than the whole dining room, however, she wouldn't hear reason; Daddy carted her off to the kitchen, and Jo was being such a dear, trying to make me feel better, and then Mother stomped back in to find his arms around me in an apparently 'indecent' manner for a clergyman!"

"Oh, Phil!" Anne said, with more than a smile lurking this time.

"Yes, 'oh Phil'," she grumbled. "I don't believe her, I don't. But in the absence of something else to believe in, it does rather plague the mind. Hasn't Diana said anything useful to you about it?"

Anne's flush was deep, and she drew in a calming breath. "She has. And you have nothing to worry about."

"Yes, but what kind of 'I have nothing to worry about'?" Phil retorted. "Nothing to worry, because it doesn't happen again once you fall pregnant? Or that it's all delightful, which is a secret that rotten little old ladies like to keep from us? Or nothing to worry about because, after all that waiting, it doesn't take up all that much space in married life?"

Anne exhaled slowly and took her hand. "No, nothing to worry about because it is a continuation of the love you and Jo already share," she said distinctly. "It is new- and nerve-wracking and vulnerable and everything we are told to not be as young ladies, but everything that is desired between a husband and a wife." Phil turned to look at her sharply. "How many women are told that marital love is pleasurable? How many instead are told that it is unpleasant, but 'necessary' to do your duty to King and country?" Anne eyed Phil challengingly. "I think that it is terribly wasteful to squander the genuine physical love between a man and a woman because a generation of people was mistaken in their own."

It was Phil's turn to eye Anne calculatingly. "Mistaken?"

"Utterly and completely."

Phil turned to face her then, her eyes enormous. "Anne, have you and Gil- have you?"

The deep blush on Anne's face was answer enough, and Phil fell over on the grass laughing, the grass tangling in her brown curls. "Oh my goodness, Miss Shirley!"

"Mrs Blythe, thank you," Anne reminded her, her eyes twinkling as they dropped, her cheeks hot. "We- we decided that we didn't want to wait until the end of college," she said quietly. "We're almost through our schooling, and we were ready for this."

Phil sat up, her grin mischievous. "And the nightgown?"

"Thoroughly christened," Anne said, with a smile. "It was the most marvellous gift- and it showed the faith you had in us- in me. It was all- a wonderful miracle."

Phil exhaled, shaking her head. "Well. I won't lie to you, that is a relief. My nightgown is being made now, apparently. Mother suggested a seed-pearl trim."

Anne let out a bright laugh at this detail from her childish imaginations of nightgown-splendour. "Of course, darling! Always chose pearls if you can." She dropped her voice then, her tone soft. "You know, I don't quite understand, Phil. You and the girls were all so eager to talk about the nightgown and its significance all those months ago! I didn't expect you to need reassurance on this."

"You know as well as I do that theory and practice are two very different things," Phil said, reluctantly. "Perhaps I- just needed a little time for it to become real for me. And it will be, soon."

"It will. And practice is frankly wonderful," Anne said candidly, before breathing in the scent of spring in the air. "It's new- and yet, somehow, it isn't. It's not different to that hunger to spend time with the one you love- to flirting and heated glances, and passionate kisses that leave you wanting so much more of something you don't yet understand- somehow, it's the culmination of all of those things," she said dreamily. "It just came naturally. And I think that we find our way to real intimacy by choosing to be vulnerable, choosing to make a gift of ourselves, heart, body and soul."

Anne's thoughts on the matter seemed to have done the trick, and by the time the two girls arrived back at Patty's Place, Phil was back to her old, incorrigible self. The afternoon that followed was a delight with the girls, their studies put aside for a picnic in the orchard, and a chaotic dinner with four merry cooks. A sheepish Jo arrived early in the evening bearing flowers for Phil, who carted him at once off to the dining room, presumably to receive a thousand apologetic kisses, as well as the grim facts about the washing-that-must-not-be-named.

Anne watched all of this with a smile, turning to study Stella and Priscilla thoughtfully. When would their own moments come? Stella was popular, and talked of many lads, but not yet one- and Prissy had only teased that another Island boy would have to come along, to win her parents' hearts. There was time for that, however. Both women wanted to teach, and both were eager for new adventures.

As the two girls argued about commencement gowns together before the fireplace, Anne picked up the pages that she had been carefully marking, her fingers running over the short dedication she had written for the front. It was almost time for them all to take flight- and who knew where they would all be, soon? She slipped the manuscript back into her satchel and slid onto the floor to join the girls, who turned to her with bright smiles of welcome.

Work could wait.

It was nearing six o'clock in the evening the next day when Gilbert knocked on the front door of Patty's Place, his bag slung over one shoulder, with the unmistakable look on his face of someone who had thoroughly trounced the enemy. The door was flung open by his wife who leapt at him with a shriek, ignoring the calls from the girls she had shamelessly abandoned moments earlier. He had no time to get a word in edgewise before she was kissing him absorbedly, and his bag fell to the floor with a clatter, causing Aunt Jimsie to scold him for his carelessness.

"Now, that's something worth coming home to," he muttered into Anne's dishevelled curls, kissing her forehead and sending her a wink before turning to greet Aunt Jimsie with all due courtesy. The girls and Jo were there to greet him then, asking questions about the trip and his game while Anne beamed at his side, her arms wrapped around his waist securely.

"It was great," he answered, with a grin. "Although the uniforms are a mess. It was wet and muddy, and then a broken nose from Timothy went everywhere-"

"Oh, and it was such a handsome nose!" Stella said, with a moan that made everyone laugh.

"-But as long as the uniforms are clean for next month's game, there'll be no problem."

"Well, better get washing, then, Gil," Jo commented, with a sly grin.

Aunt Jimsie soon ushered everyone out of the doorway and into the living room for supper, leaving Gilbert standing with Anne, who suddenly had a very peculiar look on her face. He paused, wondering what the matter was.

"Was the nose too much?" he asked, chagrined. She didn't answer him. Instead, the kiss he gave her was roundly ignored, and Anne's face turned to meet his in dawning shock. After a moment, she cleared her throat and spoke very slowly.

"You need to get them clean for next month. But- I haven't done the washing."

Gilbert's brow rose, and he folded his arms, waiting for her to see the incoherence of her statement. When she only remained silent, he spoke. "We'll get to it later, love. It's fine." When she only stood gaping at him, he gripped her by the shoulders warmly. "Anne, honey, you're starting to worry me."

"No. I haven't had to wash anything, Gil," she said, her eyes distant. "Not since- not since we-" she stopped cold, and her hands drifted down to her belly, and she turned to him, a wild sparkle flashing in her grey eyes. "I didn't even think about it."

Gilbert's look followed her slender hands, and it was only a moment before faint understanding struck him. "What? When?" he asked, breathlessly. "When should it have- when?"

Anne swallowed, her cheeks pale. "A week- no, almost two weeks ago."

There was a thunderous shout that echoed through Patty's Place then, and the girls came running back to the hallway to find that Gilbert had lifted his precious wife bodily from the ground, who was simultaneously laughing and crying, her arms around his neck in a tight stranglehold.