Here comes the all important tying of loose ends.

The final chapter, an epilogue, follows directly after.

Yes, you get two chapters today!

...

CHANGE of HEART

Two days later the last of Patty's Place girls arrived. Stella burst in first, then a footman, who delivered her trunk to the parlour and went back for Priscilla's.

Stella tossed her bonnet at the hat-stand without waiting to see if it had landed, marched into the parlour, and flopped upon a chair.

"Stella!" Phil gave her a welcoming hug. "Where is Priss?"

"That's nice, I walk in the door and you wonder where the tall one is."

Anne came into the room then, Aunt Jamesina on her heels. The latter felt about in the pocket of her voluminous apron and pulled out a few coins.

"Anne, would you mind giving this to the driver? I am sure my niece has spent every penny, and you know Prissy always tips too much."

Anne blew a kiss to Stella and reached the front door just as the cab drove away. Really, it was a carriage, and a splendid one too. Drawn by four horses with a driver and footman in fine blue livery. The coins in Anne's hand would not have been nearly enough to pay for such a fare.

Priscilla was tugging her trunk up the path, the bottom of it bumping over the wet, red brick and scuffing the brass corners. Anne took the other handle and helped her carry it into the house.

"But why didn't you wait for the footman to do it?"

"He was taking too long," Priss said, quickly, "so I thought I would do it myself."

The damp trunks remained in the parlour, steam rising from them as the fire blazed in the hearth. Jimsie brought in leftover Christmas cake for all her girls. Phil modelled all the new hats she bought, Stella entertained them with gossipy bits of her letters, and there was lots of groans from Priss about the looming final year exams. Despite the chatter, Anne said nothing so far as her news went. Telling Phil about Gilbert was one thing. But her old Queens chums would be merciless.

Stella was curious. Usually on returning from Avonlea, Anne couldn't stop her talking about it. Yet here she was lodged deep in the sofa and gazing at the fire. Was she heartbroken, homesick, madly in love? It was impossible to tell.

"Do you know if anything's the matter with Anne?" she whispered to Jimsie, who was doling out more cake.

"She's away with the fairies, these days," Jimsie nodded at the red-haired girl. "Always mooning about the place, and sighing all the time."

Priss jumped up when she heard this, and said she would make some tea to go with the cake. Stella perched on the arm of the sofa and clasped Anne's hand.

"Are you working on another story? I tried to tell that last one to Priss' Aunt but it didn't come out half as good. I think I must have missed a bit because she didn't understand why the flowers could talk."

"Nooo, I haven't written anything yet…"

"But Anne, you're always writing, what could drag you away from that?"

Phil gave her chum a good second to respond, before chiming in. "She's courting."

"Since when?" said Stella.

"With whom?" said Priss, who had just come back into the room.

She was holding a tray of tea things. When Anne murmured her answer, it crashed to the floor. Only Stella understood why Priss rushed to Anne's side instead picking up the broken pot.

"Oh Anne, Anne, d-do you l-love Gilbert?" Priss quivered so hard her words came out all wobbly, and tears sprang bright in her eyes.

Stella gave Phil a meaningful look. But this was not enough for Phil.

"You're going to have to spell it out, Stella Maynard. Nothing's made sense to me since I came back."

"Isn't it obvious?" Stella shook her head. "Priss is sweet on Royal."

She then announced she would make dinner and dragged Phil into the kitchen, while Anne took Priss by the hand and lead the trembling girl up to her little blue room. Jimsie put her novel down with a sigh. The mess on the floor was left to her.

...

Royal Gardner had run into Priss' Aunt when his train stopped in Amherst, and this time he received a far more genial reception. She had no idea he was one of the Gardners, and immediately invited Roy to supper. Just before he was due to arrive the Aunt called Stella upstairs, and left her niece in the parlour making up the fire. Roy turned up five minutes later with a box of Turkish Delight, and the housemaid led him in.

Roy hadn't really wanted to come, he could tell the Aunt was a bore but he was far too polite to decline. There was also the matter of returning to Cranborne with his tail between his legs. His mother would pretend to be slighted when he knew she would be relieved. Aline would doubtless crow in triumph, and Dorothy would probably cry. No, a hot meal with some pretty acquaintances was a far more salubrious option than another four hours on the train and a frosty reception at home.

Pretty didn't quite describe it when he walked into the small parlour and beheld the girl by the hearth. Had she been basking in the low glow of the fire that thunderbolt would have surely struck. But poor old Priss had ash on her cheeks, and her eyes were red from the smoke. Once upon a time Roy would have called the maid to clean it up, now he bent down beside her and offered to help.

After a turkey that Priss overcooked (much to the Aunt's consternation) they gathered around the upright piano.

"That's when I knew I was in trouble. You see I told Royal he must join the choir. And Anne, he said he would. Then I wished I could take it back, because if he did I would have to drop out–"

"Because of me?" Anne asked Priss gently, drawing her blonde hair away from her face.

Priss nodded as fresh tears began to fall. "I knew you and he were over, he told me that himself, but even so I would never think of encouraging him."

"I don't think he needed any encouragement, I never even knew he could sing so well."

Anne, of course, had heard Royal sing–all down the hall of the Harbour Hotel. While love had been blind in Anne's case, in Priss' it was deaf.

"The carriage you came in," Anne continued, "that was his mother's, wasn't it?"

Priss looked up, her pale lashes in spikes around her wide blue eyes. "Royal offered to send his carriage–all the way to Amherst–to save me and Stella the trouble of a train. Wasn't that good of him?"

Anne kissed her friend's cheek. "Very good of him."

Roy had never ordered the carriage for her, Mrs Gardner would never allow it. Anne felt reassured by the gesture. She was worried that perhaps dear Priss would prove to be a convenient distraction. But if Royal had wrested the carriage from his mother, then it seemed in Priscilla he had finally found a reason to cut those apron strings.

"And you're not cross, Anne–you can tell me?"

"No darling, I am incandescently happy."

"So, Gilbert got his girl, did he?" Priss dabbed her nose with her handkerchief, and screwed it into a ball. "My goodness, you lead him on a merry dance."

Anne had been expecting this, and burst into laughter. "Well, he is an excellent dancer!"

There was little time for dancing for the next four months. All thoughts were on the coming exams. Gilbert was especially preoccupied and could never sneak through the ladies' entrance for chapel without hearing someone whisper that he was surely going to take the Cooper Prize.

Anne had her own ambitions, and saw one of her dearly held dreams come true. She had been published, not once but three times, and was fielding offers of work from several schools and two publishing houses.

When Gilbert was free, Anne was not, and when Anne was free he was inevitably busy.

"I don't think much of these Island courtships," Phil opined one rainy day. "Give me cosy dinners and long winding strolls. You only see Gilbert at church."

As much as Anne would have liked to deny it, what Philippa said was true. Sunday was the one day of the week when they managed to snatch more than an hour together, and even then she had the feeling that Gilbert was forcing himself not to yawn.

There seemed to have been far more fluttering touches and lingering stares in the days when Anne would have answered anyone who asked her, that she and Gilbert Blythe were strictly friends. Now, when he walked her back to Patty's Place, all Anne got was a quick peck on her hand before he almost ran away.

The days flew and examinations were over. Anne took High Honours in English. Priss took Honours in Classics, and Phil in Mathematics. Stella obtained a good all round showing. Then came Convocation.

For years, this day had beckoned and allured Anne; but when it came the one single, keen abiding memory it left her with was not that of the breathless moment when the stately president of Redmond gave her cap and diploma and hailed her B.A., nor the awkward glance Roy gave her as he passed her on the platform. It wasn't Aline's condescending congratulations, or Dorothy's effusive reassurance that they should always remain good friends. It was of one strange, unaccountable pang that left in her an enduring flavour of doubt.

Crowds all rallied round Gilbert Blythe as he was hoisted upon their shoulders and carried away. Anne tried to catch up to them and was jostled into a corner. She saw him craning as he looked for her and their eyes met briefly, before she gave him her very best smile and nodded for him to go on. Through the door and towards those dreams he had worked so hard for.

The Arts graduates gave a graduation Ball that night. Anne had been looking forward to this for weeks, and crossed off each day on her calendar with the same anticipation she felt when winter melted into spring. This year it had come with a freezing sideways sleet; all of March was blighted. And April was proving to be a cold and distant lady.

"The first day of Spring is one thing," Anne wrote, "the first Spring day quite another…"

She sucked on her fountain pen, thinking of what Gilbert had said about falling and building, and how different they were. Like the past and the future, one remained unchanged; a memory one could take refuge in. While the other was full of hope, but uncertainty, too.

Gilbert had three more years in Kingsport, three more years to anchor himself to this place. The opportunities, the chances he would have here...

Anne swallowed down the doubt she tasted before, and it sat in her stomach like a stone.

That evening Jo came to collect Phil, and the bass-baritone came for Stella and Priss. Even Jimsie had donned her best tonight to visit with some neighbours, while Anne stood on the doorstep of Patty's Place feeling very alone.

She felt even more forlorn when Christine Stuart raced up the path toward her, breathless and pink, and handed Anne a note before dashing on her way. The note was from Gilbert. He was very sorry, it said, unfortunately he would be late. At the end of all that waiting, Anne walked to the Ball by herself.

At the Hall, she was met with more congratulations and some sly comments that her Gilbert did very well for himself. Another pointed up to a fusty old portrait of some bespectacled fellow, and told Anne that was what she had to look forward to now.

"Anne, is that you skulking in the shadows?"

Royal Gardner stood before her resplendent in white tie and tails and a red rose at his breast. Anne had forgotten his talent for effortless beauty, and recalled the posy of red roses that had arrived for Priss that morning–anonymously, of course.

"Waiting for Gilbert…" Anne murmured, as an ugly flush bloomed up her neck.

"He can't be here yet, if he was there would be a gaggle around him surely. If I'd known the Cooper was so lauded, I might have had a go at winning it myself."

Roy made a self-deprecatory laugh, and when he asked Anne if she was free for the next waltz the same tone rang through his voice. "I hoped we might have a chance to talk," he said, taking Anne in his arms. "I've been meaning to for quite some time."

"We've all been very busy, Roy–"

"Some busier than others," he observed.

Had Royal noticed Gilbert's absence too? The doubt in Anne's stomach heaved up inside her, but the proud part pushed it down. She had been staring at Roy's stupendously wide shoulders, now her chin rose and her grey eyes flashed.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, I wasn't meaning me, I assure you. I made a very ordinary showing. I'm looking to my future now."

Roy smiled at her. Anne did not return it. She was thinking of how tired she was of always looking to the future. Yet her eyes would keep darting around–as if she was looking for hers.

If Royal noticed he never said. He was preoccupied too. There was something of great import he had wanted to tell Anne for a while now, and he knew he might not have this chance again.

"Forgive me, Anne–"

"There is nothing to forgive."

"Then I hope you won't find me impertinent if I broach the subject of a certain Miss Grant?"

Anne discerned the anxiety in Roy's voice, and nodded for him to continue. If he mentioned his Mamma in the next breath–and her disapproval– then Royal Gardner would be dancing no longer. He would be hopping.

"She's a chum of yours," Roy went on.

"Yes. She is."

"Then I feel it my duty to tell you I would very much like to be her chum too."

Anne stopped dancing altogether. "I thought you were–that is I assumed…"

"You approve?" Roy's velvet eyes were wide.

"Priscilla Grant is a splendid girl. I wish you every joy."

Roy did not need encouraging, and stood there amongst the whirl of dancers eagerly cataloging Priss's every trait. Her kindness and beauty and sense of humour–and she took Honours in Classics.

Well, Anne thought, what better match for a god than an expert in them? She smiled up at Roy but his face had turned. The next thing she knew, he withdrew his arms and gave a brief bow. Anne saw Gilbert standing behind him, his hand outstretched. She took it gladly, and was whisked away.

Priss joined Roy and handed him a glass of punch. "I told you Anne would be happy for us."

"Yes you did, you clever thing." Roy grinned. "I'm happy for them too."

...

Gilbert had no chance to prove what an excellent dancer he was. The waltz was over and the floor began to clear. The two of them began to walk toward the main doors, though neither of them suggested it.

He was dressed as elegantly as Roy was, in a suit he had borrowed from Christine's brother. It was a little snug, but Anne was used to that. Gilbert Blythe was too almost big for life. You would not have known it by looking at him. His face had the same harried expression she had seen before, and he all but ran her outside.

Standing on the stone steps was the girl from English Lit. who brought out a small pencil and folded piece of paper. On it was one of Anne's stories that she had carefully cut from a magazine.

"Would you mind very much, signing it, I mean? When you become famous and I tell everyone I knew you, I want to have proof!" she laughed.

Gilbert offered himself as something to lean against and Anne signed it very self-consciously. A quick beat was pulsing through his back, yet they hadn't come so far. They strolled to one of the birches that grew around the edge of the college grounds. The slender branches were laden with catkins, and crocus spikes thrust up through the lawn. Despite the chill there was a heady smell of earth and sap in the air, and a pensiveness too, like a bud before it bursts into flower.

"You'll have to get used to that now," Gilbert said. "Anne Shirley, famous authoress."

He wasn't teasing, though he easily could have. Her accomplishments felt small compared to his. The uneasiness Anne felt had nothing to do with their old competitive spirit. If the trip across the ice taught her anything, it was that they had different strengths.

Anne could only nod, and a small one at that, she wanted to know what had been so important as to keep Gilbert from escorting her to the dance. Faint strains of music could be heard as the band started up again. But Anne did not feel like dancing anymore.

"You look very lovely tonight," he offered, that catch in his voice again.

Anne was wearing another green gown, but of a bolder, brighter hue. An aquamarine taffeta that brought out the rich tints of her hair and the starry grey of her eyes and the iris-like delicacy of her skin.

Anne doubted Gilbert could see much at all. The moon was a sliver of silver, and the stars were cloaked behind clouds. There were just his eyes of a golden hazel, and a flash of his tongue as he licked his lips.

"So do you, Gilbert. Very becoming." And he did. But he smelled all wrong. Where was the cedar, the unruly curls, and his comfortable black boots? "I suppose you had a lot of important people to meet before?"

"Hmm? Oh that had to be put off. I had some more pressing matters." Gilbert shifted in his shiny shoes and felt about in his pocket. "I've got something for you–"

"Would you like me to sign that too?"

Gilbert's hand shot out of his pocket. "That last story," he said, "it was really something. No wonder all those publishers are after you."

"Not all. Just two. Gilbert, is something wrong, would you like to go back inside?"

"No," he balked, "I can't stand crowds."

"I never knew that," Anne said. There was still so much she did not know about him, and they had been courting for four months.

"I didn't know it either, not till all that fuss with the Cooper. I tried to get back to you but they carried me away."

"And crushed my lilies."

Gilbert's raised his hand to the place Anne would have pinned it, near the deep V of her gown inset with white lace. The gossamer fineness reminded him of the lace he had torn from her petticoat. He meant to give it back, but with one thing and another… One thing being she never asked for it, another that it was a cherished reminder of that night they spent together. And when you were holed up in the library and living on coffee and sure with every passing day your willpower would succumb to your yearning, a lacy reminder couldn't hurt–though it had made sleep more difficult.

He swallowed hard and shoved his hand in his pocket again, then brought a small box tied with a purple bow.

The colour of the bow and the size of that box had not gone unnoticed. Any thoughts of engagement rings were swiftly dashed, however, when Gilbert rushed on to explain it was the belated birthday present he promised.

"I hadn't forgotten."

"I never thought you had," Anne said, "the picnic we went on was lovely–"

"Anne, it rained. This is what I always meant you to have–it can be a sort of graduation gift if you prefer."

Anne looked into his eyes and saw the flickerings of that fire she loved so well. She took the box from him. "I don't have anything for you."

"I wish you would stop saying that. You have everything I want. But now I can't help wondering if what I am is enough for you."

"You've just been awarded the Cooper, it hasn't been won for five years–"

He dug his hands into his pockets again and was looking very sheepish. "That was just a way to pay for medical school. My ambitions, as big as you think they are, never went any further than that. I should have told you before but I didn't want to disappoint you, I only ever wanted to be a simple country doctor."

"You do?"

Tears pricked Anne's eyes as her hand drifted to her mouth. She was happy, relieved, surprised. She didn't know what she was feeling.

Neither did Gilbert. He had deliberately kept his gaze from her, knowing once he saw her eyes he would know how she truly felt. "I thought about it long and hard, especially after all your successes. Courting, you know, it's a serious matter, and I know we have to be sensible–"

He stopped as he felt her hand on his arm. He had to look at her now.

"Gilbert, I don't want to be sensible. It isn't me–that's not who I am. And I know it isn't you–"

"Sorry, what did you say?"

"We've focused too much on our future. I want to be with you, here–now–in the present."

Gilbert gestured to the package in Anne's hand, feeling more and more sure of himself with every word Anne spoke. "You haven't opened yours yet."

Inside the box was the silver chain she recognised from before, but now instead of an enamel pendant was something entirely new. A small pearl the shape of teardrop in a rare pink colour glowed dimly from the chain. Anne's eyes widened and her lips parted to release an astonished sigh. It was the most exquisite thing she had ever seen.

"Where did you… how did you… what happened to the heart?"

"You broke it, remember–I found it in the mail sack. Not that it matters," he reassured her, "candy hearts belong to our yesterdays. But this pearl is, well I thought… the thing is I wanted to give you something that truly…"

Anne knew what he was trying to say, but she wasn't sure if he was ready to say it.

"It must have cost you lot," she murmured.

"Only a broken wrist."

He then went onto explain that the pearl was from Murtagh, who had wanted to give something to thank Gilbert for saving his life.

"You saved his life?"

"Did I forget to mention that part?" Gilbert shrugged. "Murtagh was the reason I was late. He said he would be in Kingsport Harbour in March, but he didn't arrive till this morning. Then I had to take the pearl to the jewellers so they could string it on the chain. Fortunately, I had Christine with me, she has a certain sway with Dawsons and got them to agree to do it today. I couldn't wait because of Convocation, and only just managed to get back to them before they closed for the night."

"And that's why you were late?"

"I thought if I could give you this, then you might… you might…"

Anne leaned in close and whispered, "Yes?"

Gilbert pinched his lips tightly together. The silence as Anne waited felt like an age.

"Wear it?" he finished, awkwardly.

Anne turned, and lifted the little curls at her nape. When she heard his sharp intake of breath, her heart started pounding too. He lay the silver chain over her collarbones and he took some more time connecting the catch. His fingers were trembling, she could feel it pass all the way through the chain and into the very heart of her. The clouds parted and goosebumps showed all over her skin.

Slowly she turned back to him. That glint of gold in his eyes had all but gone. His pupils were huge and black; his hands now sure and slow as they slid down the sleeves of her gown and curled around her waist.

"I'm ready now," she said, softly.

"Ready to dance?"

"Ready for yo–"

The last word caught as Gilbert bent low and nuzzled his lips against hers. His breath came out in short shallow pants, and his hands were cold against her cheeks. Hers were stretched wide, she was so dazzled by his candour, the tenderness of his feeling. All she wanted was to get closer, her arms went around his neck, her fingers messing up his neatly combed curls. Love was not at all like coming home, it was a whole new world.

He pulled back slightly, his brow was crumpled, and when he spoke it was almost a growl.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have…"

"Yes–you should–"

Gilbert swooped in so fast Anne staggered back, his strong arm wrapping around her as his lips were crushed against hers. Anne slid her hands from his neck and under his jacket. His crisp white shirt was warm to the touch and she breathed in a very familiar smell. He pulled her closer, the heat from his chest warming her all the way through. A deep, swirling, restless heat that turned the stone in her belly to a white-hot river.

His lips were at her neck and when they drifted to her collarbone, the air was cool where his mouth had been. Then from somewhere from very far away she could hear,

"Marry me, marry me, marry me…"

Anne hands went to his face again and guided him toward her. His lips were parted and his eyelids were low. When he dropped down lower, she wasn't sure what was happening until he fell upon one knee.

"It wasn't supposed to happen like this. I had it all planned out. I made myself wait, I held myself back, I even planned to ask your Marilla. I wanted it to be perfect, everything was supposed to be proper."

"And then?"

His nose wrinkled, then he bit his lip. "I forgot to be proper."

Anne grinned and pulled him up to her, he almost bounced on his feet.

"Oh my love!" she cried. "Oh yes, Gilbert yes!"

She went on tiptoe to kiss him, softly at first and then with an urgency that astounded them both. Sweet, hot, delicious kisses of the kind that says everything words cannot. His love for her came out just as wordlessly, in the touch of his hands at her throat and her hair. She leaned her cheek against his shoulder and when she looked up, Gilbert's smile like sunshine after a year of rain.

...