Again, a long while between chapters, my apologies.

For Ever

Anne had been easing into life with the Blythes. She had endured her ups and downs, but anything was better than living with the Blewetts. It had taken John a wee bit longer to come to terms with her than Marilla who embraced her as soon as she knew of Anne's existence, or so Jack told her. "I'd only just told her about you standing forlornly outside the schoolhouse when she was pressing a spare sandwich in my hands," he'd explained one day. That story made Anne all warm inside. Marilla was the mother she'd longed for all her life. She was unfailingly kind to Anne even sometimes to the detriment of her own girls.

Eliza and Mary had been wary of Anne and never went out of their way to make her feel welcome or part of the family. Whatever Anne did, never met with their approval. It was as though they were always rolling their eyes when she uttered a word and heaven help her if she dropped a pan or a teacup whereas Marilla would smile and tidy things up as though she was at pains to make her feel wanted. But ever since Mary's letter relations had improved between the girls and they did their best to make Anne feel like part of the family.

Everything was going along pretty well until Jack's Aunt Mary Maria turned up. Jack had warned Anne and she had been disbelieving that anyone related to the Blythes could be quite so nasty. Sadly, it turned out that Jack was right. From the moment Mary Maria set foot in the door she started criticising Anne. Jack said she was always horrid, but it seemed she ignored the family now that she had a new victim. Anne appreciated that Jack and his parents tried to defend her and deflect the criticism, but Mary Maria would not be deterred. And in quiet moments when it was just the two of them, she would take the opportunity to quietly remind Anne that she was no good that this family were above her in every regard and that she had better smarten up her act or they'd cast her out.

Objectively Anne knew they would never do that. Marilla was always very kind to her and John as well, yet Mary Maria's whispered asides replayed themselves in the dark recesses of her mind. She would hear her in her sleep and wake up with the negative thoughts in her mind. It started to have an effect, setting a negative tone for the day ahead.

"Get out of bed on the wrong side today?" Marilla asked her kindly when Anne sloshed hot water on the table as she tried to pour water into the kettle.

"I'll wipe it up, Marilla. There's no need to worry," said Anne anxiously.

"It's fine Anne," Marilla said with a smile. "Not to worry." Anne hurried away to the sink to fetch a dishrag and set about wiping it up and did not smile back at Marilla. She sat down momentarily but jumped up when Jack and John entered the kitchen. John took no notice, but Marilla did. Something was up but she couldn't put her finger on it.

That night Anne was still on edge, she burnt herself and burst into tears when she dropped the roasting pan. Marilla left the boys to tidy up while she fetched some butter to tend to Anne's wound. Somehow, she felt Anne's tears were not only for the pain.

After dinner when the children had gone up to bed Marilla said to John, "remember what we said about adoption?"

"Hm?" said John around his newspaper.

"I'm worried about Anne."

"Not having second thoughts, are you?" he said crumpling the paper down on his lap.

"No, it's not that. She's just acting oddly. Like a startled deer all the time. I just hope she's all right is all. I can't think what's caused this change."

John raised an eyebrow suggestively, Marilla glanced across at him, "what?"

"I can."

"What, oh you mean…" she trailed off as his meaning became clear. "You don't think she said anything do you?"

"Mary Maria can be a vindictive piece of work."

"We'd better have a chat," Marilla said. She looked up at the clock, "do you think it's too late?"

"She might like it. If she's wrought up, I doubt she'll be asleep."

"Hm, you may be right."

Marilla fetched a candle and together they made their way up the stairs and knocked gently on Anne's door. "Come in," they heard faintly. "Is anything the matter?" Anne asked fearfully, unable to think of a reason both Marilla and John might enter her room at this late hour.

"Nothing at all, we just wanted a chat, Anne," said Marilla gently. "I'm, that is to say we're, just a bit worried about you is all." She sat down on the end of Anne's bed while John leant against the lintel. Anne's eyes glinted in the candlelight. "Anne," started Marilla a little unsure how this conversation might proceed. "I just get the feeling you're a little unsettled."

Anne adjusted herself against her pillow but was silent unsure of the direction Marilla was headed and worried too what John might add to the conversation. She glanced up at him fearfully and he softened his stance, his heart breaking a little when he saw her frightened look.

"I'm fine," Anne said. "Unless… that is to say unless I've done something to upset you."

"No, you haven't done anything darling," said Marilla. "You just seem a bit upset. We were worried that something might have happened," she scratched her head not wanting to lead Anne on, but needing to get to the bottom of the situation. "That is to say you seemed to be settling in beautifully and the girls were finally accepting you as part of the family and then something seems to have shifted."

Anne moved against her pillows once more, seeking but not finding much comfort there, she knew what they were talking but was loath to divulge. Aunt Mary Maria was family, and the Blythes were clannish. If she said the wrong thing, they might fling her out even after all this time. Marilla's words were calm and welcoming but that was only because she didn't know how undeserving Anne was; only Mary Maria seemed to have twigged. "No, there's nothing," she said in a small voice. "Everything's fine."

"Are you sure, Anne? said John in his deep melodious tones. "We really do want you to be happy. You know it occurs to us that perhaps it's your tenuous status that might be concerning you? With that in mind we thought we might look into formally adopting you, how would that be?"

Adoption. Had Anne heard right? Adoption. She hardly dared breathe. Hardly dared hope that it might come true. Hardly dared react. She swallowed hard and looked up at them both meekly. "Only if you'd like to," Marilla said unsure of Anne's reaction. Anne only dimly heard Marilla's comment because she was still processing this new development. "Anne?"

"I'm sorry," Anne said. "Could you repeat that?"

"We thought," repeated John carefully, enunciating his words slowly. "That we might adopt you, to make it official. So that all the world knows you are our daughter."

"For ever?" Anne said.

"For ever darling," Marilla said emphatically. Anne scrambled to her knees and into Marilla's arms sobbing. She would do anything to prove her worth to these kind people. "I don't deserve it," she wept. John knelt down next to them and heard her words.

"What do you mean?"

"Aunt Mary Maria said…"

But John stayed her, "Anne, there's no need to say anything more. Mary Maria is a bitter twisted old woman who just hates to see anyone be too happy, I guess. Something happened to her a long time ago to make her that way. I promise whatever she said to you has no bearing on our decision. I want you to put her meanness out of your mind. She will never influence our love for you." He stroked Anne's hair and was nearly thrown off balance when she flung herself into his arms.

Later when she had settled down, Anne said, "Aunt Mary Maria made me feel quite small and insignificant as though I was undeserving of love."

John was silent but he hugged her hard, hoping through his actions to undo the bad work his cousin had wrought.

A few days later John received a letter. Opening it he was curious for he did not receive many letters addressed solely to him. Once he did though he read it frowning and even before he finished it, he had crumpled it up and stuffed it in his pocket. That spiteful old bitch. He shook his head at even thinking that word but really the woman went beyond the pale. The phrase, 'Marilla always was a sucker for lost causes, first with your imbecile and now with this orphan. I tried to counsel you against marrying her,' wove through his mind. Deciding that the letter had to be better concealed he pulled out of his pocket, flattened it with his hand and then proceeded to rip it into tiny pieces before he deposited the lot into the bedroom grate. Watching it catch light and burn brightly was strangely cathartic as though he was incinerating his relationship with his sour relative. If he had to make a choice between Mary Maria and Anne, John knew who he would choose.

That night Marilla was curious. "Who are you writing to?" she asked him as he folded one piece of paper and set out another and dipped his pen in the ink. "No one important," John replied airily.

"You're plotting something, I can tell."

"Not at all, these are just boring business letters. I'm writing to the bank, just a few things to attend to," he said innocently. Marilla narrowed her eyes in his direction but was otherwise silent. She knew when he was up to something, but she supposed he would tell her in his own good time. It was infuriating though, no two ways about it. She knew if she were Rachel for instance, she would have worried the truth out of him, but Marilla preferred to play the long game.

"Right," he said to them all at breakfast a few days later. "Get dressed, we're going to Charlottetown."

"What?" they all replied.

"Yes, we have a meeting with the justice, I have a new daughter to meet," he said smiling at Anne. Anne dove into his arms as Marilla and Jack looked on fondly. "Come on, get ready now quicksticks," said John affectionately. "Don't want to be late."

Dressed in their Sunday best the family rattled down the stairs and John chivvied them into the buggy. It was a merry journey as they chattered and sang their way along the red roads waving to passers-by who sometimes waved back in shock.

Outside the courthouse Marilla was surprised to find Mary and Eliza standing in the road with their families by their side. "Whatever are you doing here?" Marilla greeted them warmly.

"Pa said to come, said he had a surprise for us. What's happening and why are we all so dressed up?" Eliza asked her father.

"Ma and I are receiving a new daughter and you all," he said looking at his children, "a new sister. I want you all here to witness it."

Jack hugged Anne and the girls, and their husbands did likewise. Taking a deep breath, Anne clasped Marilla's hand and together the family walked up the stairs of the courthouse.

Afterwards John had a surprise for them all, lunch at a local restaurant. They laughed and chatted and swapped funny stories until John hushed them. Getting to his feet he proposed a toast. "This family has endured its fair share of tragedy," he said. "But we have always stood together. Today starts a new chapter, as we welcome our third daughter Anne Blythe into the fold. We are eagerly anticipating watching you thrive and grow with us Anne. Marilla and I have known the highs and lows of parenthood. We will never forget our Jamie, you are brought into the family not as a replacement for him, for he is irreplaceable, but as a new and welcome daughter whom we love so much. We hope to continue doing so for forever and a day."

And they all lived happily ever after.*

* Well except Aunt Mary Maria but she's a complete bitch so who cares about her? Though thinking about it, I wonder what happened to make her so bitter? Dun dun dun. Don't watch this space, I may never unearth that plot bunny.