Anne Shirley-Cuthbert didn't sleep well that night.
In all honesty, she wished she hadn't slept at all, for in such case she would have been nothing more than tired, instead of weary and disturbed as she was right now. No, she didn't lack sleep – and that was what made her night so feverish, so painful. It was those scraps of time when she fell into slumber, the short naps that instead of rest gave her that horrible, irrational exhaustion.
It was the dreams, the nightmares that came to her every time as she as much as closed her eyes.
No, not dreams; not nightmares, even.
"You red-headed witch."
She took a deep, sharp breath, still unable to decide whether she wanted to get out of bed in one jump, leaving the horrors of her past behind her, or whether she'd rather tuck herself neatly under the duvet, curling up and pretending this false protection from the outside world would be enough to make her feel better. Maybe if she focused on something pleasant, like Princess Cordelia and another adventure of hers, she would calm down a little; maybe she'd even feel happy.
"I like imagining better than remembering."
Even that, however, didn't seem to work that well that morning. Summoning Cordelia did not make her think of balls and castles, but of the constant, merciless mockery. The girls at the orphanage laughing, always laughing at her – her imagination, her big words, her looks.
Her skinny silhouette.
Her many, many freckles.
She shook her head and opened her eyes, determined not fall into the hole of fear and despair that was once again looming before her. She shouldn't be thinking of her looks right now, Marilla had already told her so more times than she could count – and if the last year had taught her anything, it was that she should not try to change her appearance, let alone her hair. No, one haircut was more than she wished for for a lifetime.
And yet, it still hurt so much.
A noise came from downstairs, clearly indicating that Marilla was up, starting the day together with the rising Sun. Anne sat up on the mattress, listening closely, half-expecting to hear her guardian's step on the staircase; but she heard no such thing. It was still early, and although Miss Cuthbert certainly wasn't the one to tilt to anyone's lazing around, Anne realised she wasn't expected to be up and ready for at least some time now.
She plumped down on the bed, her cheek hitting the soft pillow once more. She frowned when she felt the wet stain left on it, something she hadn't been aware of earlier. Again, she lifted herself on her elbows a little, ready to examine the damage caused by -
Her tears, of course.
She had been crying again.
She blinked repeatedly and felt another drop slide down her face before she wiped it away. She'd assumed the only reason why her vision had been so blurry was her tiredness; now she knew there was more to it.
Anne held her breath as another sound reached her ears as the realisation dawned on her. Skinny or not, freckled or not, she must have looked terrible after a night like this. Her hair was not only red, but completely dishevelled as well, and she was more than sure she had dark bags under her eyes, which in turn probably matched her hair in colour at the moment. It wasn't vanity this time, she knew that much – at this moment she had much more noble reasons for paying her own appearance so much mind.
Marilla would notice.
And then she'd get worried, which was bad enough on its own, and would become even worse after, when she'd start asking questions. No matter if Anne would answer truthfully, the inquiry would surely bring the memories back and Heaven only knew whether she could bear to keep her emotions hidden inside.
In a second, she made up her mind. She got up from the bed and folded her covers neatly, all while trying to remain as silent as possible during such a task. She walked towards the mirror, ready for the most terrifying sight on earth, only to be greeted by a slightly strained face and hair far less spiky than she'd expected it do be. Her sleepiness was gone too, making her look much more lively, even if it wasn't peaceful.
All in all, not all hope was lost for her.
Still, her eyes spoke of her exhaustion and as long as she didn't take care of that, she had no business in coming downstairs or even more so, greeting Marilla in her own little room. So she wiped away the rest of the tears that still lingered on her lashes and set off to work over the wide metal bowl, ready to splash the cold water on her face. The water was, indeed, icy – but just this once, Anne found herself grateful for the fact. In a few seconds the embordering of her eyes went from red to pink, allowing the girl to believe that by the time she'd comb and braid her hair all traces of her untimely distress would be gone and, with a little work and luck on her part, even forgotten. Her tangled hair turned out to be of help in that, as she needed a few good additional minutes to gain any control over it – but, as mentioned afore, it only made her gain the time necessary for her flushed skin to come to its regular hue.
She sprayed some more water on it just to make sure she hadn't neglected anything – and with that, she was gone downstairs.
She could handle this, couldn't she?
"Good morning, Marilla," she announced cheerfully, hoping the tone of her voice wouldn't seem forced or worse, fake. It was a good morning, after all, and she knew it; she just didn't feel it entirely just yet.
Marilla gave her a stern, astonished look. "You're up early."
"Oh, I really am not," Anne protested, sending her guardian a radiant smile as she walked towards the cupboard and took out their everyday dishes and cutlery. "It's barely twenty minutes before my usual get up time, and to be completely honest, how could one sleep in – or simply sleep at all – on a morning so lovely as this?"
Again, her words, so seemingly far from the truth, were nothing but genuine. The morning was indeed beautiful – crisp but fresh, chilly but bright, and Anne knew it would only grow more delightful as time progressed. Focusing on her work made her think less of the disturbances of the night as well and she was already beginning to feel better altogether. It was Green Gables she was at, for goodness sake, not any of the horrid places she had ever had a misfortune to live at.
It was also real, unlike the lands she'd so frequently dreamt of. She was here, and she was loved – and all of it was true.
Maybe that's the point, she realised suddenly, placing the plates on the neat, empty table. Maybe imagining, while most certainly better than remembering, is still nothing compared to actually living.
Hadn't she once said that coming to Avonlea was better than anything she could ever imagine on her own?
"Lovely or not, you're as skittish as always," Marilla's voice tore her from her reverie the very second she came to her revelation. "Matthew's gone to Charlottetown, he won't be accompanying us at breakfast. I told you that twice last evening."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Anne stuttered in surprise. "I did not think of that. Matthew's presence at breakfast is such a natural thing, it didn't as much as cross my mind it could be otherwise, no matter the circumstances. Although now that I think of it, I can remember you say he was to be absent today. Would you mind telling me why he went, again?"
"Why, business, of course," the older woman responded matter-of-factly, as usual trying to make her voice sound harsh and scolding; an attempt as noble as pointless, for everyone, Anne included, knew she could not be truly cross with the red-haired girl she'd come to call her own. Still, Marilla believed it was her duty as Anne's warden to keep up appearances, as feeble as it may have seemed. "Although I don't see why I should tell you anything more, since you're as good as forgetting it now."
"Oh, that's not true at all," Anne opposed, her grin not fading in the slightest. "I have great memory, even Miss Stacy says so, if only I choose to use it properly. That's what Miss Stacy says too, for she also believes the only reason I sometimes fail to provide a good answer is because I decide to remember things not worth remembering. At least she doesn't mean remembering poetry by that, as so many people I've met so far did. I am pretty sure Mr Phillips did as well, even though he was – he is – a teacher and it is my belief that teachers of all people should encourage children to read poetry and to learn it by heart. In fact, Miss Stacy agrees that -"
"Oh for Heaven's sake, Anne!" Marilla decided to cut her off at last. "Almost two years spent in this house and you still talk as much as on the day you first came here. Now, I don't doubt Miss Stacy agrees with whatever crazy ideas you shared with her, but she won't be any more understanding towards you when you get late to school than she is to the other children."
Anne laughed quietly over her untouched food.
"I'm sure I won't be," she protested. "I got up earlier today, after all – or didn't I?"
"Yes, and you're on the best way to waste all of that precious spare time on your blabbing when you could eat your breakfast in peace for once."
Anne did not dare respond to that. With a smile, she bit onto the slice of bread she'd been holding and proceeded with her meal in silence, only sending her older friend teasing, yet most loving glances which the latter tried to ignore.
Yes, Anne thought, out of the three – remembering, imagining and living – living surely is the most pleasant one.
Author's note: Good day, Kindred Spirits!
I have some good news and and an explanations for you.
This work is the first chapter of a bigger story - however, I am determined not to post it until it's complete. Still, this chapter seems to be working as a story of it's own, so I decided to share it after all - and then share the big story under a different, more appropriate title.
God bless you all,
- Anne with a Gee