Finale – The Last One
Anne Shirley had always been quick on her feet and this time was no different. Hardly had Gilbert had the time to miss her when she was back from the house, a ready smile on her face and a full basket swinging in her hands as she approached him, eager to set off on the journey that could be of no meaning at all – or the one that could change everything that was to be changed.
Gilbert raised his brow at her.
"Anne, I thought I made myself clear when I said I only planned on a little walk around the place," he said with emphasis, although the corners of his mouth were twitching. "There is no need to bring a feast with us."
The girl in front of him lifted her chin with an air of determination to it and answered resolutely, "You are still weak, and if nothing else, you need to drink regularly after a fever like this. And it's certainly not a feast – a sandwich or two, some apple tart to accompany it... None of them of my making, of course, as I'm still not allowed to work in the kitchen, but then I suppose that's only a good thing."
"I can smell a good story coming with this, and I honestly can't wait to hear it. Still, Anne, I can't see how any of this is for drinking."
"It's not," she answered impatiently with a roll of her eyes. "Marilla's raspberry cordial is, something I would have told you if you had let me finish a thought for once."
"I'm sorry, are you trying to inebriate me?"
"Good grief, Gil!" Anne called out towards the sky, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the laughter her friend let out at her reaction and the butterflies that seemed to flutter in her stomach at the very sound of it. "You're lucky you're still recovering, or so help me -"
"Alright, alright," he interrupted her with another small laugh as he approached her, reaching out for the basket she held. "Just give it to me, and we can be on our way in a second."
Anne stepped back for what seemed like the dozenth time that day, although fortunately, just this once, it caused nothing but confusion on Gilbert's part. His eyebrows went up again as he looked at his companion; then he frowned again, having comprehended what her action meant.
"You aren't seriously thinking that I'm going to allow you to carry it, are you?" he inquired with a gentle smirk.
It was obvious Anne had had her retort long planned and practised when she answered, "I'm not exactly asking for your permission, Mr. Blythe. It's a small burden, and unlike some people I know, I am also in a perfect health and thus entirely capable of carrying it myself."
"For Heaven's sake, I am not an invalid, Anne!"
"And neither am I, so if you'd be so kind, stop doing so much ado about nothing and let me do what I choose for the best. I am quite determined, you know; so you can either agree to my terms or go on that ramble of yours on your own."
"And you speak of losing control," Gilbert muttered under his breath, loud enough for her to hear him but not enough for her to distinguish the words. Out loud he said, "You do realise this is blackmail, don't you?"
Anne couldn't help but smile at his words. "Well, I did learn from the best."
Their bickering did not last much longer after that, and now they were both strolling through the Haunted Woods, arm in arm, as they had used to do so often – and yet, both feeling different than ever before. Their talk was light, touching upon topics no more serious than the well-being of their families and friends, little Avonlea gossip and Gilbert's recovery; their hearts burdened with anticipation and uncertainty, of fear of having their newly awakening dreams shattered again.
They could both sense the dissonance of the case – and still, none of them felt ready to address the matter just yet.
As Anne glanced up at her friend, she realised that nothing could reflect that discord better than Gilbert's outer looks. He was wearing a casual, grey suit, the kind he'd used to wear when they had both taught at school: the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows, the matching jacket left somewhere back on the Blythe farm, making him look every inch like the comrade she had made her peace with so many years ago. She could swear that even the cap on his head was of the very same fashion as the one she had once given him, and yet, somehow, he looked nothing like his old self at all.
He looked older, for sure. He must have, after so many years of work and hardship, some of which she was personally responsible for. The typhoid had taken its toll on him too, perhaps even more so than anything that had happened to him during the time that had preceded it – or had she simply been too blind and selfish to notice it before? Anne didn't know.
She couldn't know.
She looked up at Gilbert again and saw him frown a little, his gaze fixed steadily on the path before them. One of his hands was buried in his pocket, while he used the other for gesturing, emphasising what he was currently rambling about. He was talking about Jane's upcoming wedding, Anne believed, something about him not being able to forgive Jane for leaving him out of the invitation list. Again, his voice was light and cheerful; again, Anne couldn't tell how sincere his cheerfulness was.
For the first time in her life, she felt as if their long established roles had reversed – him, talking animatedly about everything and nothing at all, resolved not to meet her eyes unless the conversation truly demanded it; and her, giving him furtive, insecure looks, trying to guess how he really felt and what did he think of having her by his side like this.
If this was how he had felt throughout all these years...
She realised he'd stopped talking and raised her eyes on him once more, half-expecting him to mock her about not being attentive enough towards his speeches. To her surprise, she found him gazing down at her this time – and gazing seriously and hesitantly, as if he was preparing himself to speak up again, but not quite sure whether he should altogether.
Despite the tightening in her chest, Anne gathered her strength and mustered a small smile, opening her mouth to say something – anything – to ease his mind; but then he turned away from her, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.
"I got your letters," was all he cared to say.
He still wasn't looking at her; however, his simple words were enough to make the already distraught Anne catch her breath. They weren't a surprise – should not have been one – but still, she found herself completely dumbfounded by that most obvious announcement, unable to do anything but stare at the hem of her dress and blush uncontrollably to her further dismay.
Oh, how foolish she felt right now!
But then something else caught her attention, something she had missed in the first moment of shock. Gilbert talked about letters – and Anne did not need Redmond's High Honours in English to realise the meaning of the plural form he'd used.
"You've read them?" she asked shyly, still not able to raise her eyes at him and risk meeting his, even when she felt he was no more willing to look at her at the time. It took him another moment to answer, a moment during which Anne could think of nothing else but the sudden pounding of her heart, wondering whether he was able to hear it as clearly as she did.
"I have," Gilbert answered her then, finally gathering enough courage to shift his gaze to her, a change she could feel as distinctively as if he had taken her hand in his. "But Anne, I don't – I can't – I'm so confused."
She felt the heat come up to her cheeks as she blushed in embarrassment again, remembering not only the impropriety of the correspondence but also the very state she was in while writing it. She had put so much thought into the former that she had forgotten the results the latter had caused – how obscure was her writing and how little meaning it must have carried for him.
Of course he was confused; of course he couldn't understand.
Why oh why had she written those letters in the first place?
"You shouldn't pay any mind to those, Gil." She tried to explain by answering the very question she had just asked herself. "I was so scared that night – I had only just come back from Echo's Lodge when I learned about your disease, and that was when it was at its worst. They told me you were dying -" her voice trembled a little at the memory, and she needed to inhale deeply before she was able to continue at all, still incapable of as much as glancing at the man by her side. "They told me it was certain and that there was no hope – Mrs Lynde tried to soften the blow by saying otherwise, but I knew she did not believe it any more than I did, and I couldn't just sit and do nothing. I cried, and I prayed, but after a while, even that seemed too little... So I settled for the only thing I hadn't tried and wrote those letters to you. I knew I was being ridiculous – I've known it all along, and I am admitting it now. But I had to do something. It was the only way for me not to lose my mind that night."
She somehow managed to force herself to glance up at him then, only to be met with the look of further confusion on his part. Anne sighed painfully and looked away once more.
"I know it makes little sense to you, with all of my wickedness that you have got to witness first-hand, but I really was scared that night. I was frightened," she continued a little more quietly, yet with the same stubborn determination that had been as much a part of her as her hateful red hair and the imagination she could never truly control. She saw Gilbert open his mouth to protest, but did not give him the chance to speak. "And I know that my writing was anything but clear, but that's only proof of how I really felt – and since I didn't think you'd ever read them, I cared for nothing but my own need to get those fears out of myself."
"But that's exactly what I mean," Gilbert opposed then, staring at her expectantly. "Can't you understand? I don't mind your ramblings, your lack of plan or wording; I don't mind anything these letters do or do not touch upon. Except -"
"Except that they weren't meant for me."
Anne came to a halt, astonished by his confession, not quite able to comprehend what he had meant by a statement of this sort. He stopped right after and turned to face her properly for the first time since they'd left the Green Gables porch.
Somehow, the scene had seemed like a lifetime ago.
"What are you talking about?" was all Anne managed to stammer eventually, immediately feeling ashamed for asking a question so foolish.
"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about." Gilbert's voice was firm, but somehow, it lacked the hint of irritation she'd so easily come to expect. "You started your first letter from explaining how you were not going to send that letter to my house; you kept bringing it up afterwards, whenever the occasion arose. You called yourself ridiculous then and you are doing it now, and yet, you still wrote; all I'm trying to do is understand why."
"Gilbert, please, I know it sounds insane -"
"No, Anne, it doesn't. There's nothing wrong or strange about not knowing how to handle your own thoughts nor with putting them on the paper in an attempt to get a hold of them – I've done it myself more times than I could count, and I could name half a dozen people of whom I know doing the same. And I don't mind you choosing this form for it. If you really cared enough to spend a night writing those letters instead of resting as you should have -"
"Of course I did!" Anne cried out, amazed.
"If you did, I can only feel grateful for having a friend like this," Gilbert finished with a slightly strained voice, clearly doing his best not to give in to the emotions that were starting to overcome him. "But even then, it by no means explains why I should ever receive that envelope. So why did you send it?"
Anne felt another wave of guilt wash over her at his question, as she realised it meant yet another confession made on her part. All of a sudden, she felt exhausted – exhausted and small, smaller than she had felt on that day by the pond, when she had so stupidly refused to make amends with him, smaller than when she had refused him so cruelly in the orchard so many years after. She turned away and stepped aside, leaning on a tree nearest to her, and she sighed again in a resigned manner. There was no way around this, no answer other than the only truth she could offer him, and yet, it was still so difficult to give voice to that truth.
In the corner of her eye she saw a clearing in the forest, looming only a few yards from where they stood and immediately recognised it as the little sacred spot Gilbert had once shown her. It was there where he had taken her when she'd felt so insecure about leaving; it was there where he had reminded her that staying true to one's heart and dreams was more important than whatever others could say on the matter.
It was where their apple tree grew, 'the brave little thing' that stood and flourished against all odds, indifferent to the laws by which it should have been long gone.
There wasn't a place that could give her more of the courage she needed.
"I didn't send it," she replied eventually, looking up at him and meeting with his surprised glare. She mustered a weak smile and continued her explanation, "I finished writing the last letter shortly before dawn. I signed and folded it, and then I put it in the envelope with the other two and addressed it. I can't tell you why I did it, Gil, but for some reason, it felt important at the time. One way or another, I left it on my desk before falling asleep again, not for once thinking that anyone would enter my room without me noticing it. Dora did, however; and following out an old practice, she assumed that I had left the letter in that particular spot intending to have it sent later."
Gilbert nodded absently, although Anne could not pretend she did not see the sadness that reflected in all of his features at her words.
He took a deep breath and asked, "So you really didn't want me to read them?"
"No, Gil," she answered him softly. "I didn't intend to let you do it; it doesn't mean I didn't want you to."
She was met with another confused look of his and smiled a little more widely at him, praying inwardly that her newfound bravery would not go away before she carried out the task that had been laid before her. She had acted like a coward too many times in her life; she was not going to repeat that mistake today.
She could not, for both of their sakes.
As her flustered companion showed no intentions of responding to her words, she decided to resume her walk, hoping that reaching the clearing they had known and cherished so much would help him regain some of his spirits in the same way it had her. Gilbert, however, did not follow her immediately, nor did he react to her actions in any other way – not until she had crossed the edge of the line of the trees and stepped into the sun she'd been yearning for.
"You thought I didn't want to read them!" he called out after her then, with a strange mixture of hurt and disbelief ringing in his voice, making her stop in her tracks once more. "You thought I didn't care enough to want that, that 'I wouldn't pay any regard to the lines, even if you had delivered the envelope to my hands'. But why, Anne? Why – how could you ever assume such a thing when you know how much I have always cared?"
It was Anne's turn to look at him with astonishment not unequal to his own.
"How could I not?" she asked, bewildered. "We had hardly talked at all before you fell ill. The last time we did, you asked me for a dance and all I did was huff at you and refuse for no reason at all. I had hurt you so much in the past, and I kept doing so, because I was too selfish to realise or admit how awful I was. I called myself your friend, Gil. I felt proud of you for winning the Cooper – and yet, I didn't even notice how greatly it affected your health! Once or twice I thought of how your mother would react to me daring to write to you, and I couldn't help but think that your reaction would have been just as stern as hers – and what's more, it would have been the only sensible one. No, Gilbert; I had no right to believe that after all I'd done to you, you'd be willing to pay any mind to anything I had to say."
"Anne, these letters meant everything to me," he answered immediately, finally deciding to join her on the glade. "I felt weak, and hopeless and so desperately alone, sure that you had better things to do than concern yourself with my sorry, irrelevant life -"
"Gilbert! Don't you ever dare call it that again!"
"It felt like that, Anne," he insisted, walking as close to her as reason and propriety allowed. "You can blame it on typhoid if you wish and you probably won't be wrong; but it doesn't change the fact that I hardly could find it in myself to hope for a change. It came regardless of my will or lack thereof, undoubtedly to my parents' enormous gratitude – but it was your letters that helped me recover so fast."
For a long while, Anne looked at him in disbelief, not quite able to comprehend – let alone believe – what he had just said to her.
She fixed her eyes onto the ground and shook her head vigorously. "I can't imagine how reading such nonsense could speed your recovery in any way. For all I know, that is not how medicine works."
Gilbert smiled weakly at her. "You seem to forget how much depends on the patient's psyche. And Anne, it wasn't nonsense. Even if it was, I was too overjoyed to realise anything of the sort. All I knew was that, even after everything that had gone wrong between us, my best friend still cared for me deeply enough to worry about me that night. Enough to fear for her own mind to suffer under the pressure. That's more than I could ever have asked for."
"It never should have come to this," Anne whispered flatly before raising her gaze again and boring it into his eyes. "That reaction, that fear, was the only one I could have had after hearing the news of your state. You should not have been surprised about it; you shouldn't have treated it as something extraordinary. I know it seemed to be, but that only makes me feel all the shame again, because I never should have let you believe that I didn't care."
"I suppose we were both rather foolish about it, then," Gilbert stated unexpectedly. "But it's not too late to make amends, is it, Anne? Can't we just put it behind us and... perhaps focus on the contents of these letters instead?"
"I thought we'd just established there wasn't much to talk about," she answered somewhat hastily, as if she'd rather forget the whole business and never come back to this conversation again; her actions matched her tone as she turned away from him and set off towards a fallen tree, 'the woodland throne' as Gilbert had once called it, once again leaving the young man in question to follow her according to his own liking.
Gilbert watched her in silence for some time, smiling to himself at her sudden change of attitude. He had grown to know that part of her in the past, but then again, it had been so long since they had last talked like this that he had almost forgotten what it was like to experience those changes first-hand, as Anne herself had put it.
Of course, he would be naive to assume that he could ever forget anything about her for good.
"That's what you say," he called after her playfully, burying his hands in his pockets and trailing after her. "I, on the other hand, think quite differently on the matter, not to mention that I still hope to get some clarification on the subject."
Anne glanced at him rather unenthusiastically. "And what is it that a Cooper Prize Winner would not understand?"
"To be completely fair, anything," he answered a little more seriously this time as he sat down next to her. "I don't understand anything."
She sighed heavily. "You need to start somewhere, Gil. It's not like I learned these letters by heart."
"Looks like I'm one step ahead of you, then," Gilbert commented with a satisfied grin but, again, seeing Anne's impatience, he schooled his features again and continued, "I don't know, really. There is so much I want to ask, but I can't even be sure if I really should, and then there is the question of what I should begin with while, in all honesty, I don't know how to put any of it into words."
Anne finally offered him the encouraging smile he'd been waiting for and suggested, "How about you start from the easy part?"
"Anne, there is no easy – why would you write about Christine?"
The question had taken her by no small surprise, and once again, Anne Shirley found herself completely and utterly speechless.
Had she been drinking, she would have choked; being as she was, she did not even have the luxury of that particular response. All she could do was stare into those bright, hazel eyes that were once again gazing into her own with expectation while she could hardly think of any way to express what she felt.
She swallowed nervously.
"I thought it rather obvious," she managed to stammer after a while; all she achieved was making Gilbert's brow rise higher at her words. "There was so much talk about you two – around the Convocation especially – and I did see you together myself, so I could only assume..."
The realisation dawned on Gilbert's face, and he would have had to force himself not to laugh at the explanation, had it not been so thoroughly ludicrous at the same time.
"Anne, you couldn't have possibly believed that!" he exclaimed, shocked, as he realised she truly meant what she had said.
"Trust me, Gilbert, I believed many sillier things over the course of my life," she responded in a small voice, not yet able to interpret his protest properly. "And why should I not believe it? You seemed so happy with her. Why is the notion of the pair of you being... romantically involved so baffling all of the sudden?"
It was Gilbert's turn to gaze at her, as if she had just uttered the most absurd of thoughts.
"Christine is engaged to someone else," he said with emphasis. "She had been before she even came to Redmond, and for all I know, she still is engaged to the same happy man now. Our relationship could not have been more platonic, on both sides – and you of all people should know why."
Anne didn't dare to look at him then, too preoccupied with the beating of her heart and the butterflies that seemed to flutter in her stomach at his words. Could it really be that there was nothing there between Christine and him? That all of her silly, petty jealousy had been for nothing, simply because Christine had been promised to another all along?
Could it be that she had heard him correctly when he'd said that that was not even the main reason why he did not care for her?
"I see," she managed to stammer out after a moment, trying desperately to think of anything more eloquent to say, while simultaneously endeavouring not to let him see the hope and sheer happiness that seemed to overcome her against her will. She assumed the most reasonable choice would be to simply continue the subject, and yet, she could not bring herself to do it.
Gilbert saw her agitation and smiled sadly at her.
"There was a lot of talk about it, wasn't there?" he stated rather than asked, tilting his head in a vain attempt to catch her eye. "Anne, I won't pretend that I didn't know about the rumours or the expectations everyone else had. Goodness, I think someone even congratulated me on my impending engagement once! And I know that I could have – should have – corrected those gossips, but in all honesty, I didn't really care about such nonsense spread behind my back, especially as Christine didn't seem too worried about it, either. But most of all, I never thought you could think it to be true."
Again, Anne could only nod in acknowledgement, thinking back to all the times she had heard of the beautiful Miss Stewart and the admirer she had caught. She remembered people smiling somewhat piteously, speaking of the mesalliance she would make if she decided to settle for the poor soon-to-be-doctor from P.E.I., as well as her own vexation at hearing such opinions. Then she had believed it to be caused by nothing but the esteem she had held Gilbert in, helped perhaps by a bit of the islander's pride they had undoubtedly shared.
Now, as she sat by his side, she understood how much more there was to it.
"Well, she certainly treated you better than I often have," she said eventually, hoping he'd understand she referred to more than just his disastrous proposal from two years back and remembering with dismay how kind Christine always seemed toward her friend. "And you did accompany her almost everywhere – you cannot say the rumours were entirely ungrounded."
"Surely they were more so than the gossip I've heard," Gilbert answered her quickly, before he could stop himself.
Anne looked up at him then, her gaze so full of sorrow and shame that Gilbert couldn't help but edge away a little, cursing his own foolishness for allowing him to make a comment of this sort. But he could not withdraw now, either; he had brought the subject up for a reason and now all he could do was address the matter properly.
He sighed heavily, rubbing his hand against his eyes. "I'm sorry for bringing this up. I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable or sad. But there's one thing I haven't told you when I know that I should, and even though it may appear as some unrelated nonsense to you now, I promise you it is quite the opposite in fact." He hesitated for the briefest of moments before admitting, "Anne, I did not read you letters at once."
The mixture of sadness and guilt that reflected in her eyes was quickly replaced with confusion as she gazed back at him, astound.
"But you said that -"
"That they meant a world to me. And they did, Anne, they still do. But I can't pretend I've been so enthusiastic towards them from the start. I would have been, if only I had known the contents; but I had no way of knowing that. I wanted to open that envelope, hoping naively it would be nothing but a friendly note from you – but I couldn't bring myself to it. I was too scared of what I might find inside. But then I read Phil's letter and -"
"Phil wrote to you?" Anne interrupted his explanation, her eyes wide with anticipation and shock. "Why would she – and how could it be of any meaning then?"
Gilbert was looking intensely now, his gaze dark and serious and yet, full of insecurity she had never seen in him before. "Anne, I had no reason to think that your letters would be anything close to what they were. I had next to none to believe you had spent your precious time writing about the meaningless occurrences of everyday life, not after we had hardly spoken to each other for so long. There was only one thing I could think you could have been writing about. And I wasn't ready to see it."
He paused, as if giving Anne the opportunity to chime in, to maybe tell him to stop speaking altogether. She did not; and so he continued, praying silently that his sudden boldness would not be his downfall. "I was sure I would find a wedding announcement in that envelope and yet, I was too much of a coward to face it openly. But then I opened the one from Phil – and learned that I wouldn't have to worry about that announcement for a time now. She didn't give me any details, in fact, she hardly told me anything at all. Only that... That you were not engaged to him."
The same guilt reflected in her eyes again, guilt Gilbert could not quite understand. However, she nodded; and that had to be enough for him for now.
"And... that you are not going to be?"
"I refused him, Gil," she answered straightforwardly, her lips trembling with emotion, her voice scarcely more than a whisper. "Roy, he... He proposed to me only a day after Convocation. He made it as romantic as I could only imagine it to be. He was kind and gentle and everything he always had been... And yet, I refused him."
Gilbert's eyes searched her face, wide in astonishment her admission had caused.
"But why?" was all he managed to ask.
"Because I didn't love him," she answered a little impatiently, remembering the talk Phil had given her on that awful day. "Because I'd been blind and stubborn and only realised that the moment he asked for my hand. Because he didn't belong in my life. Because..."
Because he wasn't you.
Her eyes were cast down again, fixed on her fingers that had started to tremble uncontrollably at some point during her speech. She felt foolish and unsure again – and yet not at all free from the burden than still seemed to weigh on her soul.
Gilbert cleared his throat; she did not dare to look up at him again.
"I don't suppose there was any other reason for you to reject the poor man at the time?" she heard him ask eventually.
Anne smiled sadly at her knees. "None that I knew of."
Another pause followed their exchange, during which Gilbert seemed to be contemplating his next move with great care, while she wanted nothing but to hear him speak again, even if it was to be another meaningless remark.
Then again, it seemed that nothing was meaningless at this point.
"Anne, I'm sorry," he said in a pained voice after a while, looking at her imploringly. "I'm sorry for not being able to ignore this. For not being capable of staying silent, when I know I should be. I told you I was a patient man – a pathologically patient man – but I'm afraid I can't be one after all, not after... Not after hearing all this."
He paused and swallowed, his fists clenched and his eyes boring into her profile in the hope that his gaze, if not his words, would make her look at him. She did not look; and Gilbert could do nothing but continue his fervent declamation.
"Anne, I have made this mistake once – a terrible mistake of speaking too soon or maybe of speaking at all, when you so obviously didn't want me to. And I promise you there is nothing I want less than to repeat it, but unless... Unless you say something to stop me now, I fear I will not be strong enough to do it for myself. Anne!" he exclaimed expectantly and took her hands in his when she still refused to grace him with a glance, let alone her answer. "I... can't do it. I can't pretend I'm calm or collected when I'm everything but. You ask me what your letters meant – and I tell you, they meant life. They brought me back to it, together with Phil's. They gave me an aim, a reason, a cause... I was lost and they showed me the way. I was wanting hope and they gave me faith. You can't know – you can't imagine what it was to wake up from the fever and learn that you cared for me… that you were no longer his I didn't dare to call you mine, either, but that itself was enough. It was enough to make me want to fight again – for anything at all."
Anne's heart beat wildly at this confession and she glanced at Gilbert in spite of herself. Her eyes were misty with happiness and shock and it only took a second before she turned away again, not trusting herself at this moment. Gilbert, who only saw one of the emotions playing in her grey eyes – and the less favourable one – stopped abruptly, not sure whether he should withdraw. But Anne had not interrupted him; she had not told him to drop the subject when there was still time.
Hesitantly, he slid on his knee, her hands still firmly in his. Again, she did not protest.
"Anne, I beg of you, look at me," he pleaded in a small, broken voice. "Don't think I forgot what you told me in the orchard. I could not forget your words even if I wanted to – they've rung in my ears for the past two years, they echoed in my head during the fever. I know that I asked for too much back then, for something you said I could never, never have..." his voice cracked further but he did not seem to care. "I promised myself that I would never ask for it again, that I would never hurt you with my selfishness like this. But now... With your letters... I can't point out the reason why they seemed so different, but they did. And maybe I'm being a fool reading into signs that are not even there. But even if that's the case, I cannot have you think I don't care for you when I myself can't imagine caring any more than I already do. Than I always have."
His gaze dropped at their joint hands, and he drew in a deep breath before shifting his gaze up at her again.
"Anne, I am fairly sure this is not what you've expected of me and that you are most probably disappointed seeing how weak I am after all. But I am less of a fool than you might think. I... I don't dare to hope, Anne, I don't dare to ask... Just pray tell me – tell me if I have a chance."
She looked at him then, her gaze strangely wistful yet by no means bleak. And yet, her words were like iron to his faint, unguarded heart.
"I'm so sorry, Gil."
Gilbert's reaction to them was as violent as it was expected. His jaw tightened in the pain he could not afford to speak of – his breath caught in his throat for a second too long. When Anne gazed at him she saw the same face, white to the lips, the same haunted expression of his eyes that she had seen when he'd come to profess his love for the first time. But the Anne who sat before him now was not the same Anne he had asked then – not the one who had hurt him with her refusal.
It was her who wouldn't let go of his hand when he tried to free it this time.
"No, please, wait," she asked of him instead, clenching her fingers on his and even pulled his hands a little closer to stop him from springing to his feet as he undoubtedly wanted to do. His gaze darted back to her and she smiled weakly in response. "I am sorry, but not for any of the reasons you may think of. I'm sorry that you think you have to ask all this. Not only that you have to ask again, but that you have to ask at all, because my answer is not obvious enough. That you still feel you need to make sure when I want you so badly to know it without asking. I'm sorry for confusing you, again, because I failed to make myself clear."
Gilbert's eyes widened. "Anne, you can't possibly mean -"
"I love you, Gilbert," came her resolute, unwavering answer, immediately followed by a smile much wider and surer than any smile she had ever gifted him with. "I know this is sudden – unexpected – I feared it would come as unwanted, too. But I do, and I have for such a long time, too, even though I could never tell you how long exactly. I realised it that night when I learnt about your fever. Davy told me you were dying when I was on the porch of Green Gables... And by the time I reached my own little room I knew I could not live on if you were not to be there with me. I was so scared," she nearly cried out, while the first tears glistened in her eyes, but she paid them no mind. "So terribly, terribly scared that my realisation had come too late and that you'd die not knowing how much you meant to me... That's why I wrote to you. Because it felt like the only way for me not to go mad on the spot."
Anne laughed openly then, her laughter not of trivial mirth but of the sheer happiness that filled her all being as her confession had finally been made. Gilbert stared at her in awe for a moment, trying to comprehend the marvel of the scene, before he too laughed in unison with her. But nothing could stop him from standing up now. And so he did, pulling Anne to her feet with him and embracing her lovingly, with the eagerness only a heart once broken and now healed could command.
She clung to him tightly, her whole figure shaking with laughter and tears and tension that she finally let herself release, while he buried his face in her hair, drinking in the closeness he had long stopped hoping for.
"Anne, darling, please tell me this is real," he whispered into her locks, not quite daring to believe his own senses and mind. "Please tell me that it's not just another dream from which I'll have to wake up way too soon. Tell me this is going to last. That I haven't gone mad yet."
"I say yes to all," she answered him solemnly, despite the smile that still would not leave her lips. "Even though you must be mad to want me after everything that has passed between us. But seeing how I'm positively mad for you, I say we'll match just fine."
It was then that Gilbert pulled away, freeing her from his grip and using his hands to cup her flushed, rosy cheeks instead.
"You're serious about this, aren't you?" he asked in a hushed, yet hopeful voice. "You really have changed your mind?"
"I don't think there was anything to change, Gil," she answered him sweetly. "Only things to learn and see."
"And you truly love me?"
"It isn't just pity that tells you to have mercy on me?"
Anne's eyebrows flew up in indignation. "Of course it's not!"
"And I'm not just a second choice to you?"
"Gilbert Blythe, if you're going to spoil this moment with ridiculous inquiries like these -"
"Anne," he cut her off softly. "Just answer the question."
Anne rolled her eyes. "You're not. Of course you are not."
Gilbert's smile grew wide and slightly mischievous, but his tone was gentle when he said, "Does this mean I can ask you, then?"
It took her a few seconds to realise what this last question of his really meant for them, and when she did, she was too taken aback to give him a proper answer. But the smile that blossomed on her face was all too bright and certain to leave any doubt about what answer it would be. She forced herself to nod; for Gilbert that was sign enough.
He took her hands in his again and kissed her fingers. Anne was sure her heart would jump straight out of her chest.
"Will you marry me, Anne?"
A wave of infinite happiness came over her as she cried her most eager 'Yes!', a feeling that could only be rivalled by those swirling in Gilbert's own heart. He drew her close; he leaned towards her; and then he kissed her, with all the passion and longing of a love nursed and fed for a decade, to be met with the eagerness of one just discovered but for that all the more cherished and heartfelt.
As they stood together like this, Anne's thoughts went to the letters she had so hastily written less than two weeks before, and hovered over the three signatures she had put under them.
There was nothing more sincere than the love they'd just confessed; the love to which they would remain faithful to for the rest of their days.
And she was, at last, his.
Author's note: And here the story comes to a close. I hope the length of it somehow justified the length of your wait and that it was, after all, a finale worth waiting for.
I can't thank you enough for all the kindness and support you've given me - I can only name two of my stories that gained a similar feedback, and neither of them related to Anne. It feels so wonderful to be a part of this community, not to mention how happy it made me to know that my little, accidental story could be of such meaning to you.
Now, as this story ends, other begin... Ones that I hope to share with you soon. I can tell you that I've already started working on two other long, books based stories, and I have about a hundred ideas beside them. I hope you'll stick around to find out what they're like and that you won't be disappointed when you do.
"You ask me what your letters meant – and I tell you, they meant life."
Your letters - your kind words - mean just the same. So for the last time: thank you.
God bless you, Kindred Spirits