Thrice weekly it is.

But I would like to give a shout out to the Guest reviewer

who asked for this story to be posted once a week so that she could savour it.

Anne Shirley would approve.

...

CHANGE of HEART

...

The girls all piled into Priss and Stella's room that evening because they had the best mirror. Phil was already dressed, Jo was calling for her any moment. She wasn't going to the Christmas concert, she had a boring dinner.

You wouldn't know that by looking at her, and Phil Gordon was used to everyone looking. She would be Eatons' catalogue beautiful if not for her darling imperfections that she played up to the full; the crooked smile, the pointy brows, her careless extravagance and wilful opinions. Only Phil could get away with her teal gown trimmed with lilac Chantilly, and this her version of dressing down.

"I promise to try and come after," she said, "Jo says that can be my dessert. He's only going because the Bishop is going to drum up some funds for the hospice, and I'm only going because of Jo. He warned me not to use my feminine wiles on the bigwigs, but he'll change his mind when he sees how much I can squeeze from a stone."

"How very unchristian," Stella laughed.

"Can I help what God gave me? Listen, there's Jo. Give me one last look-over darlings, Philippa Gordon's on show tonight!"

"When isn't she?" Stella laughed again. "Now for me. Stars or hoops?" she said, holding an earring up to each ear.

"Definitely stars?" Anne said, eyeing Stella's emerald gown. "Then you'll look like a Christmas tree."

"Ha ha, Queen Anne. Just because you're disdaining fine feathers tonight, it doesn't mean I have to."

"I'm not going to the concert–"

"Not going?" Priss swivelled on her little heels. "But Anne, I've been practicing for weeks!"

"There's no time, I would need hours to make myself decent."

"If that's your only worry dear, take a seat."

Stella pressed Anne down on the stool before the mirror, Priscilla loosened her hair. Anne was going to object but secretly she enjoyed the fuss; there had been moments lately when she almost felt invisible. Besides, she was only humouring the girls, she wasn't intending on going. Although the soft pompadour was charming, and the combination of Stella's gold belt against Priss's winter-white tea gown was utterly stunning.

"Now we'll just unhook these lace inserts," said Priss, fiddling about Anne's neck, "and the drapey pieces at the sleeves and you're done. Go fetch your slippers, the ones with the buckles."

"I'm not going in a tea gown!" Anne said. A very soft, very goddess-like tea gown. And strictly for wear at home.

"But it's long enough," Stella pointed out. Priss was a half-head taller than Anne. "And Priss removed all the furbelows–"

"Priss removed far too much, you can see a bit of my bosom."

"Don't you know the trick for that?" Priss lay a gold choker around Anne's throat. "Now everyone will be looking at your ravishing neck and not an inch lower. You look like Diana when you stand tall like that. The Roman one, I mean, not Mrs Wright."

"I'd rather stay home and be Vesta," Anne said.

"Which one is that again?"

"She's the goddess of virgins, Stella," Priss said dryly. "The one who sits by the fire all night instead of coming to her best chum's performance."

Anne caught the dig and tipped her nose in the air. "Very well. I'll go."

"Better pop into Phil's room and nab her silk shawl," Priss whispered to Stella as they headed downstairs. "Don't tell Anne I said this, but she's showing more than a bit of bosom."

...

When she saw them together at the Christmas concert she knew she had made a miscalculation. Philippa Gordon was chastened. Everything about them was right.

The logical part of her said, No, no, no. The romantic side said, Yes! Then the logical part said, Hmm, you have a point. It was as obvious as the perfect nose on Anne's laughing face.

"Did you catch any of the singing?" said Stella, passing Phil a cup of punch.

"I definitely noticed that shawl." Phil nodded to where Gilbert was whirling Anne on the dance floor, the silky tassels brushing over his chest as she turned.

"I always thought they should be together." Stella was not one for mincing words.

"Is that's why you don't like Roy?"

"It's not that I don't like him exactly, it's just… he isn't Gilbert. Look at him go," said Stella watching. "I hope he has the stamina for the next dance, I've got him for a polka."

"Gilbert Blythe has oodles of stamina," Phil nodded over her cup.

Stella raised her eyebrows in assent. "And oodles of everything else."

"You're not pining, Miss Maynard, just the teensiest bit?"

"For Gilbert Blythe? He's like a brother."

"So says every girl who pines."

"Oh, I'm pining, but not for Gil. There," Stella sighed at the bass-baritone chatting with one of the tenors. Just the memory of his booming voice sent tingles to her toes. She was a tiny thing, with large laughy eyes and a rosebud mouth, but that was as far as the fairytale went. Beneath the pixie exterior lay an utter pragmatist. "Why do you think I'm always teasing Priss about him? I have to be sure she doesn't pine for him too."

"Go over there–"

"No, I'm about to dance."

"Then make sure you dance by him," Phil advised. "Nothing distracts a mannie so much as seeing a girl in the arms of someone else. Especially a mannie like Gilbert."

"Lucky thing Roy isn't here then. He's already so muddled, if he saw Anne he'd misremember how to tie his cravat."

Phil swallowed down the dregs in her cup and went for another. "I saw him tonight. Royal Gardner. He was at that boring dinner."

"Anne told me he had a family engagement, at least that's what his note said."

"Dorothy was there too, and Aline, the entire Gardner brood."

"Then you must have had some fun at least."

"Not a bit. Do you know what I thought when I saw them all hobnobbing together with those bankers and merchants and clergy?"

Stella wasn't listening, she was pointing. "Who's that with Christine Stuart?"

Phil forgot whatever insight she'd had, and rocked up on her toes. "That's Andrew Dawson. You know, the Dawsons. Apparently, Christine is engaged to him. I wasn't inclined to believe it myself; Christine wouldn't be the first girl to invent a rich suitor. But it looks like it's true."

"Does Gilbert know?"

"Does it look like he cares?"

"Not right now, but he's about to."

Phil turned back to the couple on the dance floor to see Roy tap Gilbert on the shoulder.

Gilbert gave him a gentlemanly nod and strode off to the edge of the room. Stella darted after him. Phil remained by the punch, and that insight, one that had barely been a nudge, hit her with full force.

They way Roy held Anne, the expression on her face. Everything EVERYTHING was wrong.

When the polka started up, Anne begged to step out and catch a breath of air. Roy was exceedingly amenable to this, and lead her out to the foyer.

"I meant outside," Anne said, blinking under the electric light. "I believe the rain has stopped."

"You won't be too cold? No, of course you won't, you've got me to keep you warm."

Anne lowered her head unsure how to react. She had never heard Royal speak to her that way before.

Roy wove them through the crowd with an expert ease. They had reached a part of the balcony that offered the best view of the fountain. There were coloured glass lanterns all around it lighting it up with rainbow hues. It was the perfect spot for young lovers, there was just one tiny problem. Royal cleared his throat discreetly. A freshman with his young freshette took one look at Roy and scuttled away.

"They didn't have to go, there's plenty of room for all of us."

"No dearest," Roy took Anne's hand, "only one moon can fit in the sky."

His hand went to her shoulder. Anne turned and looked at the fountain. She wanted it to stay like this, with no words, just this feeling between them: the two of them together, small and quiet in a beautiful world. Roy squeezed her shoulder gently, he didn't need to, she knew he was there. This is nice, she told herself. Almost as nice as being alone.

"You're blushing," he said. "That same blush you gave me before. When I saw you dancing with Blythe tonight, it took my breath away. You look luminous, Anne. I could curse myself for going to that dinner, instead of spending every hour I have left with you."

"I never intended to come without you, but the girls–"

"Have got you wrapped around their little fingers…"

His voice was husky and his eyes were dark. Phil Gordon had been right on the money, at least as far as one theory was concerned. Nothing made a man want a woman more than when he saw her in the arms of someone else.

He was coming closer, his lips slightly parted. Anne took a step back and brought her hand to her face. Roy was inches away from giving Anne her very first kiss–when she sneezed all over him.

"Roy, I'm so sorry!"

She waited for him to laugh. He didn't. He pretended it had never happened and went in for a second attempt.

"Wait, Roy, please, I think I'm going to sneeze again."

Anne was sure Roy was going to laugh this time. To her astonishment, he stood there and waited. The tickle in her nose was infuriating, but the sneeze wouldn't come. She swallowed hard and discerned a tickle in her throat too. What did she expect on a Jonah day?

"No more sneezes?" Roy was looking hopeful.

"I think I'm getting a chill, I got caught in the rain today."

Roy flashed her a superlative smile, Anne swore the moon shone off his teeth.

"You can't go then. You can't possibly travel all the way to P.E.I. when you're ill."

"Of course I'm going, it's only a cold."

"It might get worse."

Anne tilted her head and regarded him. "Would you wish that on me, Roy, wish me ill so that I can't go? I miss my family, I miss my home. It's different for you, your family are here–Roy?"

Roy was only half listening, and felt he could hardly be blamed. Anne's shawl had fallen from her shoulders, revealing what he had only glimpsed on the dance floor.

"Anne, may I–may I kiss you now?"

"Aren't you afraid I might sneeze?"

"Nothing you could do would ever frighten me."

He bent toward her, Anne half-hoped her nose would tickle again. Her throat was feeling hot and tight as his lips brushed over her cheek. She sneezed again, it wasn't a real one, but Roy wasn't to know that. He did look slightly put out, however, and pulled back abruptly and straightened his jacket.

"You are unwell."

"I'm fine."

She wasn't really, but she had no idea what else to say. Royal Gardner hadn't done more than squeeze her hand devotedly for over a year. It wasn't that she didn't want to be kissed or that Roy wasn't utterly kissable; this was simply so unlike him. He seemed like a stranger and Anne wanted her first kiss to feel like coming home.

Then it was just as though it never happened. Roy cleared a path, fetched her coat from the lobby, and ordered her a cab. He couldn't go with her, he had come here with some business friends, but he convinced Priscilla to leave.

Just as Anne was about to get in the cab, she spotted Gilbert. He was chatting with another driver and patting his horse. When she waved at him, he came straight over and helped her climb inside. Anne sat close to Priss, then looked out the window as the cab drove them away.

"I almost forgot," she called to him, "I've got something that belongs to you!"

"I know," Gilbert murmured, as she disappeared from view. "You can keep it."

He never planned to go home, he had already spent more than he could afford on her present and even splurged on a first class stamp so that it would get to Green Gables by Christmas day. But then Phil Gordon just happened to mention that Roy would not be accompanying Anne to the Island tomorrow. And he did not take her home either, Gilbert noticed.

Also notable was Anne's glad acceptance when he asked her to dance earlier that evening. Well, she did look a little uneasy when he scribbled his name on her dance card. But Gilbert rather liked that.

Anne had always been very sure of herself. From the moment he met her, she had always been a definite girl who stuck to her decisions and would not quit. He thought she was going to stick with Roy out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Gilbert could not believe she actually wanted to give up the Island for Kingsport. And he stopped believing she would ever want him, until tonight.

He spotted her at the back of the Hall standing there like a wallflower, and he thought, so be it, if she says no it's not like I'm not expecting it. His pride, at least, would remain intact. It had taken a lot to rebuild that pride. Christine helped a bit. It didn't hurt to have a beautiful girl on his arm, people stopped pitying him then.

So, there he was with this perfect façade and nothing inside but some fading echo. The sort you hear in the quiet times when you find yourself alone. Whenever he was near the source of that echo, he would fill himself up with her laughter. It cleaned him somehow, like sweet spring water, and all the bitterness that pride can sometimes bring began to wash away. The day he said hello to her was the first time in a long time he was truly proud himself. He didn't fall apart the way he feared he would, though Anne was even more stubborn than usual. As if she had got to very edges of herself and was afraid of spilling over.

Until their dance tonight. My God, the feel of her in his arms again, the purity of her laugh. He didn't know how he kept moving. How he kept himself from tripping up on the walls he had carefully built and were now beginning to tumble down.

He didn't even care when Gardner interrupted, and was almost relieved to get away. Eventually he found himself outside the Hall and he said to himself: Blythe, you've done it. Nothing you do will ever be as hard as what you did just then.

He was sitting there among the ruins of himself, when Phil turned up. Jo Blake standing awkwardly beside her and giving him lots of sympathetic looks.

"One more thing," she said to him, as Jo tried to pull her away. "Anne's leaving first thing in the morning, just in case you wondered what train."

Gilbert's first thought was that there was no way he could make that, which stunned him really, because only seconds before he had no intention of going home for Christmas. But once he knew he wanted to go, he had to stop himself running to his boarding house to pack.

The following morning he went to the station, bag in hand, but he couldn't get a ticket till Monday. Anne would at Green Gables by then–and his present. He could clearly picture (and often did) the pink heart nestling between her collarbones. What he couldn't guess was how she would react. He just hoped it made her laugh.

While Gilbert was enquiring about a ticket, Anne was in the waiting room waiting for the train. Royal Gardner had come with her. He had turned up in a cab at Patty's Place that morning and drank some tea with Jimsie, all thoughts on the moment when Anne would come downstairs. He stood up with a jerk when she entered the kitchen, a posy of hothouse violets in his hand. Anne wasn't looking at them, however, she was looking past his vast shoulder to the larder and wishing she could hide in there.

"Good morning, Miss Shirley," Roy liked to keep things formal around the older folk, "are you feeling any better today? Allow me to make amends for not escorting you home last night, I have a cab outside to take you to your train."

"Good morning," Anne said, finding her voice. "I'm feeling quite well, thank you."

"I wouldn't take her word for it," said Jimsie, leaving the kitchen, "I could hear her sneezing from here."

She kissed Anne as she walked passed and promised not to kill Rusty while she was away, then gave the girl the merest push in Royal Gardner's direction. He was still holding out his violets.

"They're lovely," Anne said.

"They reminded me of you."

Roy was speaking the truth, but then everything was reminding him of Anne. He tossed and turned in his sheets all night, and found himself in quite a state in the morning. Even the cold bath didn't help.

"Is it a big one?"

"Beg pardon?" Roy coughed.

"You're not getting a cold, are you?"

He was looking very uncomfortable and stood there with his flowers sticking out.

"They smell heavenly." Anne couldn't smell much at all as she held them, her nose was completely stuffed up. "Excuse me while I fetch the girls, I can't call up, Phil's still sleeping. They'll be happy we won't have to rush now, we were going to take the tram."

"The girls?"

"Priss and Stella. They're going as far as Amherst, that's why I wanted to know if the cab outside is a big one, it wouldn't be fair to go off without them."

"Right, of course, the cab. Yes," he said, "they'll fit."

The news rather ruined his plan of snuggling up under the travelling rug, but then Anne did have a cold. The girls came down a moment later, they had heard a male voice and were giggling together. That all stopped when they saw who it was.

"Roy!" Priss gasped.

"You do surprise me!" Stella said, with a sideways glance at Anne.

"Couldn't have my girls taking a tram to the station. Now where's all your luggage? I'll call the driver in."

"This is it," Anne said, gesturing to three small bags lined up in the hallway.

"It isn't," said Priss, "there's a giant trunk of mine and Stella's things. Would you mind very much, Roy?"

"Not at all," he said gallantly.

He did not look so gallant as he brought it down, he was wearing narrow trousers and his slim fit coat which hampered his movements horribly. He found the girls all squashed up along the back seat, and ended up sitting opposite them and looking all forlorn.

All the way to the station he would not take his eyes off Anne. She wished he would look away just once, she was desperate to blow her nose.

The girls jumped out quickly in order to let the 'two love-birds' says their long farewells. Anne vowed to herself when she got back to Kingsport she would invite the famed bass-baritone to Patty's Place for supper, and see how they liked it.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye," she said, wondering if Roy would try for another kiss.

"Shall I accompany you into the station?"

Before Anne could answer, Roy said that he would.

They walked past the long queues at the ticket office and into the waiting room. Ordinarily, Anne would sit on the platform, her bag on her lap, and think of the happy day when Matthew came to fetch her. There were no cherry blossoms in here, however, nothing to divert her away from the tender caress of Roy's thumb over the back of her hand.

"Are you taking a book with you?"

Anne was about to tell Roy about her Christmas read and the mix-up at the library, but somehow that day had got all tangled up with candy-heart pendants. Instead she said: "No, I don't want my bag to be heavy."

"It just occurred to me," Roy went on, "most of your things will be at Green Gables. You don't need to take much with you."

"Not even presents. I get those in Charlottetown. I have a one hour stop there before my train to Bright River."

"Lovely name."

"It is, and very dear to me." She started telling him about the wild cherry that grew near the station. Anne was so caught up in the telling, she forgot it was rude to blow her nose. She was stuffing her handkerchief into her pocket when she got to the part about her plan to sleep in the tree if no one came for her.

Roy listened intently, all the while stroking Anne's hand, and a picture was forming of an unwanted orphan. "No wonder you never talk about home," he said. "What you've been through, Anne, the fact you got yourself to college with no help from anyone else–"

"That's not true–"

"And so wonderfully modest with it. I've never known a girl like you."

"There you are!" Priss burst into the waiting room.

"Come on, Anne," Stella urged, "before everyone nabs the window seats."

Anne quickly revised her plan to wreak revenge on the girls and gave them both a smile. "I'd better go," she said, as Roy jumped up with her. "Thank you again for the cab, Roy, it was very good of you."

Roy said nothing, he just held onto Anne's hand as if he could not let it go. He walked with her down the platform and into a third-class carriage. It was quite nice, third class. No cushions, of course, but quite clean.

"Are you sure you'll be comfortable?"

"Oh yes."

"And you've something to eat?"

"I do."

"And something to read?"

"Roy–dear, the whistle's blowing."

"Oh yes, yes of course."

Priss and Stella had been staring out the window for the whole of this exchange and turned now to say thanks and goodbye. Roy took a step towards the open door, steam flooded over his shoes, then he stepped back and placed a quick kiss on Anne's brown velvet cap.

"Dearest–we're moving, if you're going to get off you must do it now."

Roy watched the platform pass by his feet. Not fast and not far, he was certainly limber enough. He'd often daydreamed about running alongside a train, and wished he had thought of it now. Him dashing to keep up with her, her waving a lacy handkerchief. Wishing, wanting to climb on board and claim her for his own… It occurred to him then: he didn't need to. She was sitting right there.

Roy closed the door to the carriage and plopped himself next to Anne. "I'm coming with you," he said boldly, "Anne, I want to see your Island!"

...

Who knew Royal Gardner would be such a treasure? Bless his silk socks! Thanks for your encouragement, gratitude and delicious insights, it means so much to me. I hope this little story lives up to your expectations, I certainly had a lot of fun writing it for you.

love kwak