This is a little story set between the events of Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside

Meet me in the Middle of the Air

Rosemary West could not say what first attracted her to John Meredith. She knew little enough about him but had heard the town gossip about his wayward children often enough. Faith in particular was considered quite ungodly in her ways. Really Rosemary's heart went out to them all. John just seemed so lost and she felt the children needed a loving mother's hand.

On those occasions when he called by Rosemary longed for Ellen to leave them be, not that she interceded on their conversations but well she was just always there even if all she did was lurk in the corner reading. It was impossible for them to just be. Rosemary dreaded the moment John might propose for she felt honour bound and the girl who made the promise never to marry no longer existed and she hoped Ellen might understand that at some point, that it was unfair to keep her to it.

It grew so difficult that she could not stand to be near him. One morning she saw John passing along the road and she shrank into the verge behind a tree so as not to have to engage with him. She watched him walk away with a combination of relief and embarrassment feeling she should have been able to confront him but knowing in her heart of hearts that she was not up to it.

How strange that it should be brave little Una who forced her to act. When the dear little girl came to her that afternoon Rosemary's heart quite melted. Despite believing that stepmothers were evil creatures she knew it was in her father's best interests to marry Rosemary. How could either of them ignore her plea and it was with a calm determination that Rosemary went to her sister to explain her plans and upmost relief when Ellen eventually gave her blessing.

After they were married, she would sit in church and listen to John's sermons feeling her heart swell. All diffidence disappeared for he was a wonderful minister bringing light into the world and she felt so proud to be married to him and to take up the mantle of being his children's mother.

Almost the first thing she did when they returned from the honeymoon was take the children to town to buy them new clothes. The girls looked so happy in their new dresses and smart shiny shoes while the boys received new pants and shirts. Their old clothes were consigned to the fire despite Aunt Martha's disapproval. "I want to start us all off on the right foot," Rosemary said. "Those old clothes aren't fit to be dishrags, let's be rid of them altogether." Their new wardrobe made the children feel ever so much more confident and happy.

They had not been long married when Mrs Cornelia Elliot came to pay a call. Her visit was not of a tender nature but more to upbraid poor Rosemary for the latest exploit perpetrated by her stepchildren.

It had all begun when Dan Reese had scoffed at Una's expressed fear of the manse graveyard at night. "The moon casts all sort of weird shadows and I can't help but imagine there are spectres waiting to jump out at me," she said half thrilled by the thought and half terrified. "I worry that it might be Henry Warren or someone else come to steal my soul."

"Ghosts!" said Dan scornfully as he walked by the group of girls at lunchtime. "Catch me being frightened," he said boastfully.

"She's not talking to you, Dan Reese," said Nan Blythe. "Mind your own business." But his taunt stuck with Una and she nursed his scorn close to her heart. Her brothers and the Blythe boys found her later looking sad.

"What's the matter Una?" Walter asked.

"Nothing," she replied quietly. But they wheedled it out of her and hatched a plan to put Dan in his place.

Walking home from church a week later, after all thought of his conversation with Una had been long forgotten. Dan was surprised when a hooded bowed figure startled him and started speaking in a deep solemn voice, "I am the ghost of Henry Warren, prepare to meet thy doom Daniel Reese," and one skinny arm reached out for Dan's leg. Dan took one look at it and raced down the road straight home to his mother's confused arms.

She placated her boy and complained bitterly to Mrs Cornelia Elliot when she paid her a visit on church business. "I don't think it's right what those terrors did to my boy and in the manse churchyard no less," for she had got to the bottom of the escapade and straight after had sent Dan up to change his pants.

Cornelia wasted no time to make the matter known to Rosemary, "you must take those children to task for their outrageous behaviour," she ordered. "It's not like this is their only example of poor conduct but we had hoped that their antics would die down once you had married their father. I think it is high time you asserted yourself, Mrs Meredith."

Rosemary showed her to the door and leaned against it sorrowfully. She knew the children were high spirited, in fact they had told her themselves of the manner of their defence of Una's honour and she commiserated; graveyards were unsettling places in the moonlight.

Shortly after she'd seen Cornelia off, she heard another knock at the door. Sighing heavily for she fully expected yet another tirade, she went to answer it with some trepidation. Instead of the usual biddies though there were the more welcome figures of Anne Blythe with her mother Marilla Cuthbert leaning on her arm and gripping a walking stick on the other side. "Don't tell me you forgot?" said Anne with her familiar twinkle.

"Come in, come in," said Rosemary gaily, very much relieved though in truth she had forgotten they were due. As the mother of her own rambunctious brood Mrs Blythe was sure to offer some counsel, though she was unsure how Miss Cuthbert might react as she did not know the woman well.

As Marilla slowly made her way into the parlour Jerry's clear voice rang out from the garden causing Rosemary to wince slightly, but Anne merely laughed with that clear high voice of hers, "Jerry is such a sweet boy, our Jem loves him so," she said gaily. Miss Cuthbert eased down on an armchair and smiled vaguely as though she were not quite all there. "Have you noticed, Marilla?" Anne said, patting her mother's hand.

Marilla came to and smiled at them both. "I rather miss the days when I had my own children calling out. It's so quiet at Green Gables now that Davy and Dora have grown up," she said in fond remembrance.

Rosemary relaxed upon hearing Marilla speak thusly and said, "you've adopted a few children yourself over the years, I hear Miss Cuthbert."

"That I have, Mrs Meredith," replied Marilla, "and they brought such joy to my life. I don't know where I'd be without them," she added with a wink at Anne. "Still I never took on four at once. How are you managing?" Rosemary couldn't help it, having endured the frowns and side glances of her neighbours with fortitude this gentle interrogation sent her over the brink; first one then a succession of tears welled up and tracked down her cheeks.

Once such an outburst of emotion would have rendered Marilla speechless but much to her and Anne's surprise, she was the one who responded first. "My dear girl, my dear one," she said as she rushed to Rosemary's side. Rosemary was speechless, all she could do was lean into Marilla's bosom and sob. Marilla looked up at Anne and gestured with a subtle glance towards the door. Understanding at once Anne went out to fetch the tea. While she was gone Marilla rubbed Rosemary's back and let her sob soothing but not attempting to curtail her tears.

When Rosemary had calmed down sufficiently Anne handed her a fresh handkerchief then a teacup. She looked at them fondly while she gathered her thoughts. "Thank you," she whispered. "I just, it's just…"

Another bout of tears threatened so Marilla spoke into the void. "Folks were stunned when my brother and I decided to adopt Anne you know and I admit I thought she was possessed at times," she smiled at Anne, "but that was merely my lack of experience. Mothering is hard work, no two ways about it. I reckon you took on a Christian duty when you agreed to marry Reverend Meredith," she continued. "I've heard Mrs Elliot comment on their waywardness, but I believe that's due to lack of mothering rather than inherent wickedness. No child is born bad, I've come to believe. Our Davy was a right harum scarum when he came to Green Gables, wasn't he Anne?" Anne nodded. "But with love he came round and has grown into a fine young man. Mr Meredith's children will do just the same with your guidance, I am certain."

"Do, do you really think so?" Rosemary asked tremulously. "I've just had Mrs Elliot here complaining about their latest exploit. I don't know what to do." She knew something of Mrs Blythe's past but had never heard it put quite so bluntly. Mother and daughter were quite upfront and unapologetic about it. In Rosemary's experience orphans were not highly regarded so it was intriguing to see how affectionate these two ladies were with each other. Rosemary noted how similar they were despite their lack of kinship, not in looks so much but in their mannerisms. She listened to their easy banter and reminiscing about Miss Cuthbert's other charges. If this Davy fellow had really done half the things they recounted, he must really have been a handful. "Folks think I should whip them into shape, but Miss Cuthbert I don't believe I could," Rosemary said with a quiver in her voice.

"I'm not a fan of corporal punishment myself, Mrs Meredith, so we are on the same page there," replied Marilla. "It seems an easy way out initially but ultimately doomed to fail to my way of thinking. I prefer a gentler touch."

"Mm hm," nodded Rosemary. "One hears of these wicked stepmothers in fairy tales and I would do anything to avoid that epithet."

"Dearest, you could never be anything of the sort," Anne pronounced firmly. "I believe you will be exactly what these children need. You'll provide a steady shoulder for them to cry on and redirect their energies. Mr Meredith is a dear kind man, but we all know he is somewhat of a dreamer. Despite his best wishes those children have gotten somewhat out of hand, but there's no malice meant."

"When Ellen was counselling me against marrying John, she said he wanted a housekeeper and a governess. But I don't agree," Rosemary said thoughtfully.

Anne looked at her with shock in her eyes, "dearest Rosemary nothing could be further from the truth. I believe John looks years younger since you came into his life. You are no hand maiden you are his partner."

"I don't want folks thinking I'm trying to usurp his first wife; Cecilia was too important."

"Of course not, but he needs a wife now and those children need a mother and who knows in time you may have a baby together," Anne said gently. Rosemary blushed at that which Anne noticed but deigned to comment upon; if Rosemary was in the family way, she would tell her in her own good time.

Rosemary nodded towards Marilla and Anne looked over to see that the old lady had nodded off with her teacup sloshing precariously. Anne leant over and plucked the cup out of her lax hands and placed it on the table. The younger ladies chatted quietly so as not to disturb her. Anne explained that she did this from time to time, "but she'll pop back in with something pithy I expect, she surprises us like that."

"You're good to her, I can see how close you are," remarked Rosemary.

"I owe her everything. If it had not been for her I'd be no one. I'd have grown up unloved and wound up who knows where? She will always have a place in my heart," Anne replied looking at Marilla with so much love it nearly broke Rosemary's heart.

When Marilla woke Anne announced that they had taken up enough of Rosemary's time. "I do hope we'll see you again soon. You must come to Ingleside for tea next week." They bundled Marilla into the carriage, no easy task nowadays and accompanied by a string of muttered complaints which Anne bore with fortitude. Rosemary approached when Miss Cuthbert was settled and the older woman said to her, "one day years from now, after I'm long gone, someone will say to you what a nice young man Jerry is and say how lovely the children always were and you'll smirk in remembrance of this moment." Rosemary smiled and waved as they drove off considerably lightened in spirit; far from being worried about Miss Cuthbert she realised she was of the Race of Joseph as Mrs Elliot might say, elderly but still feisty.

Many years later Mrs Elliot met Rosemary on the road. They exchanged greetings and then Mrs Elliot said, "I saw your Jerry the other day, what a fine young man he's become, of course I never had any doubts about any of your children, they are a testament to you and Rev Meredith." Rosemary was reminded of the dear departed Miss Cuthbert's comment and she smiled inwardly. When Mrs Elliot continued on her way Rosemary smiled upward to where she supposed good Miss Cuthbert now resided and winked.