The month of March eased into Avonlea like a warm blanket pulled up over the village. Anne awoke on her birthday with a calm realisation: She was 17 years old and filled with a sense of bliss. She was home at Green Gables, with Marilla. That in itself was the best birthday present of all.

Anne walked down the stairs to the kitchen, with the smell of warm porridge wafting across the room. Marilla had already set the table with a beautiful green sprig of weeping dwarf laid across each plate. Today was most definitely a special occasion; Marilla had brought out the cherry conserve and brewed her own special tea. At the table was a small present wrapped in muslin with a vibrant blue ribbon. When Anne saw this, she gave a short gasp of surprise.

Marilla turned at the sound. "Good morning, Anne. Happy birthday!" Anne ran over to Marilla and embraced her in a warm hug. "Now, now. Watch the porridge. I don't want to burn it on your birthday."

"Oh, Marilla! I feel truly spoiled with these treats! Thank you!"

"Well, you only have one birthday each year. That makes it special. But I want you to know you are special to me every day of the year." At these last words, Marilla's voice caught a little and she quickly turned away before Anne could see the tears in her eyes.

Anne knew anyway. It just made her hug Marilla even tighter. "And thank you for the present."

"Oh, that I have to confess is not from me. Well, not exactly. I found it in Matthew's room when I was tidying up. It would seem he had already planned a birthday present for you."

Both women turned to look at the table. Anne was filled with conflicting emotions. She desperately wanted to know what Matthew's gift was. But once unwrapped, it would forever be gone as his gift. Marilla must have known what Anne was thinking. "Anne, he would want you to open it. No point in wasting a good gift."

With a small nod, Anne walked over to the table and looked at the present. The ribbon was really quite lovely; like the deep hues stretched across the island, meeting the golden fields on the horizon. Anne gently pulled at the ribbon and slowly unwrapped the muslin cloth.

Inside was a beautiful leather-bound book, with a forest green cover and a tree etched on the front. It was soft to the touch, finely stitched, and smelled like a rich old library. Anne lifted the book up and inhaled the rich vanilla tones. This book was both new and old, and aching to be opened. Anne tenderly creaked the spine and glanced inside, noting the blank pages. A note fell out.

"Anne…", Marilla started but Anne had already seen it. She picked it up and started to read aloud.

"My dearest Anne-girl," Anne's voice broke at the words but she cleared her throat and continued.

"My dearest, Anne-girl. Happy 17th birthday. I bet you're the smartest girl at Redmond, and I bet you have the best stories to tell. I saw this book while waiting for your train and I knew I had to keep it for a special occasion. Don't tell Marilla. Keep this book for your little stories, and bring it back during the holidays. We will sit under your big tree and you can read them to me before dinner. I want to hear all of them."

Marilla was sniffing back tears. "Matthew never wrote any letters unless he had to or really wanted to know. I never knew he did this."

Anne simply sat down and wrapped the book in the muslin. Matthew never knew she had delayed Redmond. Matthew never knew she had taken the teaching job in Carmody. And yet, Anne felt no shame or disappointment in that. In fact, she felt just as happy with her decision now as when she made the choice last year. Matthew would have been proud of her choice to stay with Marilla.

As Marilla served up the steaming porridge for breakfast, Anne smiled. They may not be from Redmond but Anne already had a few great stories to share with her little book.

A few weeks later, Anne was sitting on the steps of the Carmody school, lazily staring at the garden beds. The snow was starting to clear and early tulip blossoms had started to show around the building. This was Anne's new favourite place on Friday afternoons; as the days started to warm ever so slightly and colour returned to the landscape, Anne would sit and admire her flowers and little garden bed. The children loved to watch and document the garden changing, inspired to write many stories and poems about the path of nature.

Anne's thoughts were interrupted by Gilbert's characteristic whistle. "I'm going to miss seeing this garden on Friday afternoons, now that the weather is warming up. They sure do brighten up the area."

"Yes, the children love the colourful greeting each morning. I can't wait for the daffodils to bloom as well. How is your garden?"

"Well, I think you gave me all of the red ones. Though, it does look beautiful against the walls of the school."

Anne gasped! "But I had no idea what colours would blossom. Mr Lawson just handed them…"

"Slow down, Anne-girl!", Gilbert laughed. "I was joking! Yes, there are plenty of red blooms but I like red." Gilbert winked at the last comment and Anne smiled in return. "It was a very nice surprise from you. I had no idea what you were up to. And the idea of bringing our schools together with matching gardens. Very sweet."

Anne smiled and looked down at her lap. "Avonlea will always be my home but Carmody has welcomed me with such a warm embrace. Oh, Gil! I truly love teaching here!"

"Did you tell anyone about your little gardening exercise?"

Anne shook her head. "It was always meant to be a 'natural surprise'. Mr Lawson ordered them in the catalogue for me but ended up with too many so he donated the remaining to the school. Oh, and Joshua helped me with the bulbs around Carmody…"

Gilbert's smile waned a little. "Oh. I see. I suppose he helped with the Avonlea bulbs too?"

"Oh, no! That was my special project. I wanted to give you that gift all by myself."

Gilbert couldn't hide the perplexed look on his face. One minute, Anne was implying a special relationship with Joshua. The next, she was giving Gil the impression he was special to her. Maybe he should stop questioning and just enjoy the day as it comes.

"Well, either way, Charlie has noticed."

Anne raised her head in surprise. "Charlie? Did he say something to you?"

"Yeah. He has called an emergency AVIS meeting for tomorrow. And he has asked you to be there."

Anne blinked hard. "I'm sorry, what?"

Gilbert shrugged his shoulders. "Like I have any idea of what is going on in his head. But apparently, he wants to talk about the flowers. He noticed they were around both Avonlea and Carmody, so he says you should be there too. Are you up for it?"

Despite the sense of trepidation, Anne knew she had nothing to fear. What could Charlie do? Kick her out of the AVIS group again? Nevertheless, Anne always felt vulnerable when it came to belonging anyway. She sorely missed being a part of AVIS and, unfortunately, did not trust Charlie at all.

Oh, well. There was nothing to do about it until tomorrow.

Anne and Gilbert arrived right on time at the Sloane's house together. Diana had arrived earlier with Fred, now that her father was allowing them to court properly. Anne was happy for Diana but it still felt weird seeing her bosom friend sharing all her feelings with… well, Fred. He was neither debonair nor charming like their childhood dreams.

"Hi Anne, Gilbert. Real proud of you for making it. And by the way, if Charlie tries anything, I'll start a walkout and never come back."

Okay. Fred was charming and rather brave. Anne felt her smile brighten and her eyes glisten. "Fred, that is the most wonderful thing I have heard all week!"

Gilbert gasped. "Hey! I offered the same thing!"

"Yes, but Gilbert. We all know you'd defend Anne no matter what. I'm the last person anyone expects to do something like this. It's all about the effort, my good sir." Fred winked at Anne before he walked back to Diana, who had already taken a seat. Gilbert just stared at Anne and said, "Oh. So, he finally has your approval, does he?"

Anne smiled back at Gil. "Yes, but he doesn't have my tulips." She walked over to the chairs around the table, completely missing the shy smile and rosy cheeks on Gilbert's face.

Charlie saw it, however, and immediately called the meeting to order. This was supposed to be his turn.

"Order, everyone. Order. It's time to start our emergency meeting. I note for the minutes we have a special guest today. Thank you to Anne Shirley for joining us, especially on such short notice."

Anne simply nodded her head in acknowledgement. No point saying anything until she had her bearings on the matter.

Charlie continued. "The purpose of today's meeting is the sudden appearance of flowers at the Avonlea school. Not just any flowers, but tulips. Thus, we know they didn't grow there naturally. Gilbert has advised me of some parents noting the flowers and fortunately, they have been appreciative."

"Yes, the parents have been quite happy with the extra colour. And the kids have brightened every time they see them." Gilbert knew where this was going but was patient to see how Charlie would go.

"What a lovely thought, Gilbert. You are always doing so much for the children there." Gertie punctuated her statement by fluttering her eyelashes. Gilbert tried very hard not to laugh but Anne just rolled her eyes with boredom.

"Thanks, Gertie. But it wasn't me. It was Anne."

There was a collective gasp from the group. Well, all except Charlie.

"Yes! Well, I knew it wasn't Gilbert. In fact, I noted the same tulips around Carmody School and worked out for myself that it was actually Anne who planted the bulbs, with the help of Mr Joshua Pye."

Another collective gasp echoed through the room. This time, Gilbert was the one to jump in. "Well, Joshua helped with the Carmody School. But Anne did the Avonlea School all by herself."

Nobody quite knew what to say to this. Everyone looked at Anne; some with confusion and some with understanding. Anne realised they were all waiting for her to explain why. "Um, thank you for inviting me here today. Yes, Charlie and Gilbert are correct. I am responsible for the tulips at both Carmody School and Avonlea School."

"But why, Anne? Why both schools?" To be fair, Anne wasn't exactly sure who asked this question because everyone was looking at her with such intensity, it felt like they had all asked. Like a hive mind full of buzzing bees, vibrating with curiousity. It was all rather overwhelming.

"It was always my intent to plant the flowers at both schools. You all assumed it was just for Carmody. I actually planted the bulbs around Avonlea school first because it will always, always, be my first love. But after the dance with both schools, I realised how much better it would be to benefit both schools. To give the children something they could share together. We have family and friends across both schools." At this, Anne shyly glanced at Gilbert, who simply nodded in acknowledgement. "I think a little rivalry will always be a good thing but imagine how much stronger we could be if we worked together. Think of how much higher we can reach when we lift each other up, rather than push each other down."

Anne watched the realisation roll over her audience like a gentle wave. Her last AVIS meeting was filled with jealousy and confusion, where nobody really wanted to hear her out. This time, she could see people understanding her intent. It was always about improving Avonlea, but now they could see how it worked outside.

It was Fred who spoke up first, and in doing so, cemented his place in Anne's heart as a good friend. "Anne, I misspoke at our last meeting. I said Avonlea should always be prioritised first. But I didn't understand that the students, the children, are the growing flowers of Avonlea. Flowers are pretty and all, but you gave the students something to share with others. And that's a bigger improvement than I thought. Thank you. I move to invite Anne Shirley to return to AVIS and her role as Secretary."

Julia was quick to jump in. "I second it. So many families really did enjoy the combined school dance. We raised more money that night than any other dance! I think Anne's flowers have really improved everyone! I'm sorry, Anne!" Julia quickly jumped to Anne's chair to give her a hug. Anne was so stunned, she could only pat Julia on the back with gentle thanks.

"Wait! I was going to invite Anne back!" Charlie seemed unimpressed with other people taking control of his ideas. Gilbert, sitting next to him, laughed and pat him on the back. "That's fine, Charlie. Just like Anne's flowers, it's more important to thank the intent than to worship the flower expression. We're all glad to see Anne back. All in favour?"

It was unanimous. Anne smiled with tears threatening to fall again. "Really? I would love to come back. And thank you, everyone. Thank you for making the effort to understand. Avonlea will always be my first love. It's my home, it is the heart of my stories. And I will always do everything I can to return the warmth you gave me when I first moved here. Now. What other projects can we do around Avonlea?"

And it was straight back to business again.