Set after Season 3, Anne has been at Queens for the term and enjoys a reunion with her family and friends. And yes, a certain young University of Toronto medical student might join her.
Icicles cast wild reflections as they swung in the gentle breeze one bright sunny late December afternoon. Marilla roamed her boots crunching in the fresh snow, her mood cheered by the weather and the fact that Anne was coming home the next day. It had been a long term and Marilla was not afraid to admit she had missed her. All those long years on her own with just Matthew had not prepared her at all for Anne's absence. She had said as she waved Anne off to university that she would be fine, but she had not been and felt Anne's absence acutely.
Anne had once accused her of having no imagination, but Marilla was proving her wrong now. In her mind she played out their reunion greeting her girl at the door and sitting down to afternoon tea and dinner together. Anne would be wearing some fancy town outfit and would make Green Gables seem dull and boorish. In anticipation Marilla had scrubbed, mopped and dusted the entire house. She had beat the rugs and washed the sheets, the windows and the eaves. Raked the lawn and swept the porch.
In short Green Gables was spick and span and Marilla was exhausted.
A local lad delivered Anne to the Green Gables front gate promptly at 3.30pm. Anne for her part enjoyed the ride up from the station immensely. It reminded her, as it always did, of her first trip along that road all those years ago when she had talked Matthew's ear off. On this occasion she was quieter, drinking in the familiar sights blanketed in snow. Dear Prince Edward Island was as beautiful as ever and as she grew closer to home her excitement mounted.
"Thank you," Anne said as the boy helped her down from the sleigh and deposited her bags on the doorstep. "I'll take it from here."
"Halloo, Marilla, Matthew! Anyone home?" But all she heard was her voice echoing off the bare walls. That's odd, thought Anne as she took off her hat and coat. Still, she was a day earlier than expected; perhaps they were out? The fire was still warm which meant Marilla couldn't be too far away. Rubbing her hands first to warm them Anne set about setting out the tea things, it was bitter out there and she figured Marilla would need a warming drink.
Anne was rummaging around in the pantry when she heard the distinctive sound of the front door opening. She saw Marilla before Marilla saw her and had a good chance to see how thin and frail she had become. Marilla's arms were full of boughs, their aroma suddenly filling the house with their piney freshness.
"Ahem," Anne cleared her throat for Marilla's benefit and as she turned Anne watched as her face changed from shock to joy. "Anne! Wha, what? I wasn't looking for you until tomorrow." She faltered and Anne made her way swiftly to Marilla's side. She stroked the older woman's face and almost white hair and hugged her tightly, "I came a day early, I couldn't wait. Here I have some tea nearly ready, it's so cold out there. You sit down darling Marilla, and I will play mother."
In her emotion Marilla turned brusque and matter of fact, "Anne," she said sternly. "I do hope you didn't miss any classes on my behalf."
"No indeed, I assure you I am quite finished. There was one last party, but suddenly, I felt a great longing for home, and I just needed to get back to you. I've missed you both."
"Fiddlesticks," Marilla glanced around at the worn-out room. "What is there to miss? It's just one more kitchen. I'm sure you've sat in many finer rooms these last few months."
"I might have at that," said Anne softly, placing her young hand over Marilla's work-worn one. "But there was always something missing."
"Hmm," grunted Marilla. "And what pray tell would that be?"
"You," said Anne fondly. "You were missing. All the finery and grand architecture doesn't hold a candle to you."
Marilla got to her feet to make another pot of tea. "What nonsense you do talk, Anne," she said abruptly though of course she was secretly delighted.
"Sit down. I've been away for so long it's my turn to care for you," said Anne pressing Marilla back into her chair.
"No Anne, I had a lovely dinner planned for you, er tomorrow night. You're just home I can't let you cook."
"Hush, don't be silly. I've been cooked for for months, I'm dying to try out something on you," Anne urged.
Marilla winked, "hold the liniment, please."
Anne laughed, "if you say so." Remembering a long-ago baking disaster.
When Matthew came in for his afternoon tea, he was more than delighted to see his little girl sitting in the kitchen. Not little he corrected himself, young lady rather. Anne looked simultaneously out of place in her finery yet completely at home. He hugged her tightly.
Dinner was delicious as any food you have not had to prepare from scratch could be, but in truth Marilla barely tasted it so happy was she to have her girl there. Anne chatted gaily telling them all about her adventures. They listened intently until at last, a large yawn overcame Marilla.
"I've kept you up, I'll do the dishes if you like and you go to bed," said Anne. Marilla prevaricated but she really was tired after her exertions. She made her way to her bedroom and just as she was pulling back the sheets heard a quiet knock at the door. Anne entered carrying a warm brick wrapped in a blanket, "I want to spoil you while I'm here. You work too hard. Don't think I haven't noticed that the house is cleaner than even I remember. I suspect you did it for my sake, which wasn't remotely necessary you know. It's not the house I care about, it's the people within."
"I was just afraid you'd think..."
"Think what?" Anne interrupted.
"That it was too mean here. You've seen all these wonderful sights. We never wanted to impede you, Matthew and I, he has always been most particular about that. We want you to go off and enjoy your life to the fullest. The last thing we ever want to do is hold you…" Marilla's voice broke a little, "hold you back. You have so much ahead of you, my darling. Green Gables is so small and backwards you must go out into the world and make that your home."
"Marilla! You must stop saying those things. Green Gables small? It's everything. Don't you know what it means to me? It's my home, you two and it centre me. I was no one. I was nothing to the world. I was just one more unloved penniless nobody before you took me in and gave me a home and family," she hugged her mother close. "You are my everything and I can't imagine a world without you in it. But," she said calming down a little, "you worry me." Marilla shrugged. "You're far too thin, darling. Are you eating enough?"
"We do eat, but I must admit it's hard to find much interest in food when you cook the same food day after day," replied Marilla wearily.
"Well, you must let me spoil you a little while I'm here. Have we been invited to the Barry's for Christmas Dinner?"
"Yes, they sent word the other day which was kind of them. I believe they will have quite a large party. I'll take my Christmas Pudding to share, though it's a meagre offering," Marilla said, self-effacing as always.
"Marilla don't sell your mother's recipe short, you know it's the finest pudding in all of Avonlea."
"Oh fiddlesticks, Anne," in her usual manner Marilla deflected the compliment, "but it's nice enough I reckon."
Christmas Day dawned all dark and stormy. "It doesn't seem right, does it? One imagines this day will always be fine," Anne said peering out the window. "I always worried Father Christmas would struggle to find us all the way out here if the weather was bad."
Marilla looked over her shoulder into the gloom, "but he always managed regardless, didn't he?" she said with a smile.
Anne turned and nestled into Marilla's shoulder, "yes," she said dreamily, "he always did."
Dinner was a cheerful affair. Delphine had just started to crawl. Bash said laughing that he rather wished she'd stayed immobile as he caught her disappearing into the kitchen one more time. "She must be following the smell of your Christmas pudding Miss Marilla."
"Here give her me," said Anne. "I need a cuddle."
Diana and Anne kept everyone in stitches telling them about the antics of their fellow students. Anne had quite a way of mimicking their housekeeper as she sternly told them that they were there to study. "Now gels, how many times must I tell you that enjoyment of any nature is expressly forbidden." Causing them all to roll about with laughter. Delphine looked on from her vantage point in Matthew's lap wondering what all the fuss was about.
Tilly Boulter was hosting a bonfire a few nights later, Gilbert paid a call the day before and asked permission to drive Anne there. Anne worried about what to wear but on Marilla's advice eventually went for warmth over fashion. "I don't want you catching a chill, Anne. It's not worth it," said Marilla.
"You look lovely," Gilbert said when he picked her up. He couldn't help recalling the first day he met Anne all those years ago. The day he'd made a fateful mistake, one he would grow to rue over the years. Looking at her in her long forest green coat Gilbert understood how very stupid he had been. If by any chance she'd never forgiven him he would be denied her beauty forever.
"Why thank you kind sir," Anne said as Gilbert tucked a thick blanket around them. Gilbert chucked the reins and the sleigh moved off into the night. "How've you been Anne?" he asked.
"Well enough, Queens has been challenging but I've had a wonderful term," Anne said perhaps too brightly.
Gilbert looked across at her, "are you sure everything's all right?"
Anne sighed, "sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision. I get so homesick. I'll be sitting in a class, and I wonder how Marilla and Matthew are faring. There was a wonderful simplicity to those times that I miss."
"How are Marilla and Matthew?"
"I worry about them they seem older somehow." Gilbert raised his eyebrows. "Well yes, I know of course they have aged, but oh it's stupid I know; but somehow, I thought time would stand still while I was away, but it can't can it? It marches on for all of us. I suppose in my mind's eye Matthew and Marilla are the same age as when I first came here, but when I saw them the other day, I was shocked at how old they look. And Matthew, well you know we've been worried for his heart for some time now. I know Marilla tries to make him take it easy, but it's never been in his nature." Anne sighed, "I just don't know how I could continue if anything happened to them, Gilbert."
"You'd survive," said Gilbert sadly.
"Oh, I didn't mean it like that," Anne suddenly remembered to whom she was talking. Gilbert had lost his father not that long ago. "I mean of course I will, but they are as dear to me as any parent could be and to lose them, especially when we've had so little time together would be a terrible blow. Matthew was the first person to love me you know, after my parents died. When you have survived without love for a long time, that is a powerful gift."
"Yes, of course," Gilbert agreed. "I've been doing some reminiscing myself while I've been away. Sometimes," he looked across at Anne shyly. "Sometimes I dream about the time you hit me with the slate."
Anne laughed, "an inauspicious beginning some might say."
"God, I was such a fool. Dad was furious with me."
"Mr Blythe? Really?"
"He said it was like history repeating."
"What do you mean? Were you in the habit of naming young girls after root vegetables?" Anne asked curiously.
"No," laughed Gilbert. "It was more because Dad and Marilla had a relationship back in the day."
"I think I've heard mention of that," said Anne. "Marilla doesn't like to talk about it much. The one time I asked her she went all misty eyed. Tragic romances are all very well in books, but it's not as much fun when it's your mother. Say," she added looking around, "this isn't the way to the Boulter's."
"No, I thought we might take the long way, go via the old White Way of Delight, if you don't mind," Gilbert replied. Anne shivered in the wind, but she did love that old avenue, so she nodded her approval, "what a gorgeous idea. So, what did happen to your dad and Marilla?"
"I think Dad wanted to go travelling and Marilla couldn't leave home."
"It's so sad. Maybe that's why they're so insistent that I get out into the world because she couldn't."
"It's quite the sacrifice when you think about it. I reckon they'd rather have you marry and stay close by, but they know you're bigger than Avonlea, that you would struggle to stay happy here. Your mind is too broad."
"But that's not true at all, I love it here. It's my first real home," Anne said in protest though in her heart of hearts she knew it was true. She was silent as she thought it through. Gilbert turned the sleigh into the avenue. On this moonlit night it glowed in the light, a different sort of white than the petals for which she initially named it. Anne drank in its beauty for a moment then asked, "and what about you? How are your studies going?"
Gilbert smiled, "well enough I guess. Although if I thought I'd have some sort of advantage over the other chaps I was swiftly disabused of that fancy. They're a clever lot and mostly a bit older and better educated than I am. I have to work hard."
"No time for partying then?" Anne asked shyly.
"Indeed not, I must work hard every night until I collapse into bed, I hardly have time to write to you, sorry about that. I feel just awful. You send me such beautiful letters Anne and I can hardly summon the energy to dash off more than a few lines."
"Is that why, I thought perhaps..." Anne trailed off.
"That I had found someone else? Sorry if I gave you that impression. No, it's just that there's so much to learn. Lately we've been memorising the human anatomy. I have to know every little bone, muscle and ligament. I can't tell you how difficult that is."
"Try," said Anne, intrigued by what kept him from writing.
"No, it's too boring and I don't want to ruin this beautiful drive with descriptions," he looked across at Anne who looked back eagerly. "Very well then," he took her hand in his own and held it gently palm down. "You know you have the most beautiful metacarpophalangeal joints," he kissed each knuckle gently. "But this version is so very much more beautiful than the ones in my textbooks. Hands are very complicated things, you've no idea. I imagine your hand when I'm naming their internal workings." He raised his head and kissed Anne on her cold lips. The horse sensing its driver was not too much interested in forward movement came to a halt and puffed its breath condensing into the chilly air. Eventually Gilbert looked around, "we're going to be late. We'd better get moving."
As much as Anne was looking forward to catching up with all their friends, she was rather sorry their interlude had come to an end. The sensation of being kissed first on her hand and then on her lips stayed with her all night long.
"Where were you? You're late!" Tilly admonished them when they finally walked over to the bonfire. "I was getting worried." With a boy on either side of her Tillie looked as though she had probably forgotten all about them and Anne smiled her apology, "sorry we, um, got held up. The horse was awfully stubborn."
"Seemed it was upset at leaving the cosy barn tonight," agreed Gilbert keeping up the lie.
"Why Anne you look almost pretty in that coat, green becomes you," commented Josie slyly. "Have you met Henry? He's staying for the holidays. He's from Toronto too. Fancy that, both of us with Toronto beaux. Though of course Henry is a Torontonian native, not merely there to study."
"How do you do Henry?" said Anne politely. "How are you finding Avonlea?"
"It's swell," he replied. "Kinda cute really." He jumped when a log shifted sending up a spray of sparks while everyone else let out a cheer.
When Gilbert's sleigh stopped at the Green Gables door Marilla emerged from the parlour to envelop Anne in her warm arms.
"You didn't need to wait up for me," Anne protested. "Where's Matthew?"
"Matthew went to bed, he needs his rest, but I wanted to see you come in. How was it, did you have a nice time?"
"It was just lovely. Everyone may have left Avonlea for a while, but it was just like old times," Anne said wistfully.
"Here let me fix you a cup of warm milk and you can tell me all about it." As Anne sat at the kitchen table telling Marilla all the news, she felt that she had never left Avonlea and half wished that she never had to again.
"And how was Gilbert, I haven't had much of a chance to talk to him since he's been back. Christmas was too busy wasn't it."
"He's well. He's studying hard. We had a good chat. I was a bit worried actually," Anne said quietly.
"Worried?" Marilla said, confused.
"I write long missives to him and I'm lucky if I get two or three lines back," explained Anne.
"In my limited experience men can be like that," said Marilla patting Anne's hand comfortingly.
"He explained that he was terribly busy. He has a demanding schedule and no time to write. I was worried..." Anne paused unwilling to express her deepest fears even to Marilla.
"That he might have found someone else?" Marilla gently prodded.
"Mm hm," tears welled in Anne's eyes.
"He put your mind at rest then. I'm pleased."
"We talked a little about you and Mr Blythe, Marilla. That must have been agonising. Gilbert said his father commented when I cracked the slate over his head that it was like history repeating."
It was Marilla's turn for tears, and she wiped one away from her cheek, "ah yes, I felt a little that way myself. Seems Blythe men and Cuthbert women are destined to go together. Far be it for me to put any pressure on you Anne, but I must say it would seem like righting past wrongs if you two ended up together. I've always had a soft spot for Gilbert," she added wistfully.
"As though in another life he might have been your son?" said Anne gently.
Marilla roused herself, "it's silly isn't it. It's not possible, if John and I had, had... then Gilbert would not have been Gilbert and you'd have languished at the orphanage. As much as it hurt at the time, I can't imagine my life without you in it."
"I love you Marilla, forever and a day."
"I love you too, Anne. We're so very proud of you, Matthew and I, you've done so well."
"Well, the year's not over yet, plenty of time to fail."
"You're not going to fail, Anne. I don't know much, but I do know that. And even if you did, we'd still love you as much. It's not your brains we love, it's your bright personality. You could never be a disappointment to us whatever you do."
Anne climbed the stairs and walked into her old gabled room. Her old friend the snow queen glistened with snow balanced on its stark limbs. She sat by the window and gazed at it contemplating how very lucky she was, "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world."