"Please Gil, can't we just be friends?" the words were hopeful but they tore at Gilbert Blythe's heart just the same as he stood on the edge of the path, next to Anne Shirley. The sun was beginning to set but the air was still warm and a gentle breeze wafted around the couple as they conversed, a question asked and unhappily answered.
Just friends. How cruel those seemingly innocuous words could be. So Anne Shirley wanted to be just friends. Gilbert smiled weakly. "Just friends, Anne? I thought we were kindred spirits," he reminded her.
Anne Shirley had the grace to look uncomfortable. "Gil, you know what I mean," she tried to explain.
"No Anne, I don't think I do. Explain it to me." Yes, thought Gilbert, explain to me why you've turned me down. Turned me down and ripped out my heart.
"Gil, I'm happy as I am. I won't ever marry," Anne proclaimed feverently, wanting him to understand that it wasn't him she was rejecting. She just didn't want to marry, was certain that she would never marry. Indeed, it was difficult to doubt her sincerity when she looked at him the way she was, Gilbert thought. Her face, turned upwards to his, was filled with despair and her big grey eyes bore imploringly into his. She stood with hands clasped anxiously before her as she willed him to understand her words, her refusal.
But Anne Shirley hardly understood it herself. Gilbert Blythe was her chum, her best friend in fact, next to Diana Barry. That he wanted to marry her, had proposed to her this very evening, had brought her untold anxiety and not the joy anyone else might rightly expect such a proposal to bring. Anne could hardly explain her feelings to herself. How was she to make him understand? Oh, she supposed if she ever were to marry then certainly Gilbert would be the finest prospect for there was no boy she liked better. No other boy whose company and conversation she enjoyed as much. But for reasons she couldn't quite comprehend it was that 'boy' part that troubled her. For truly it ought be said that Gilbert Blythe was no longer a boy, but a man. At twenty-one he was three years her senior, a tall handsome man, wide of shoulder, a dedicated medical student on his way to becoming a doctor. There was little in the way of 'boy' about him anymore.
"Please Gil," Anne pleaded again. "Can't we go on just as we are?"
Gilbert Blythe was silent a moment. You know, it wasn't every day a man proposed, he thought. It wasn't every day a man was rejected either. He didn't know what hurt worse. Being refused, or seeing the obvious anguish his proposal had unleashed on the very person he cared so much about.
"All right, Anne," Gilbert answered slowly. "Just as we are."
Anne visibly slumped in relief. "Then...then, you're not angry with me?" she asked hesitantly, and perhaps a little warily. Really, she supposed there was no one more entitled to a bit of anger than a spurned suitor, Anne thought. Spurned suitors were always reacting rather badly in books, weren't they? And presumably those authors knew more about the matter than she, after all considering this was her first experience with such a thing. Her eyes widening as numerous scenarios began to play out in her active imagination, Anne unconsciously eyed the path beside them, as if planning an escape should it be required.
Gilbert's mouth twitched in spite of himself. He'd always been able to read Anne's expressions well, and even in the midst of such a horrid evening as this, he found a small measure of amusement in observing the workings of her mind. "I will say I'm disappointed Anne, but rest assured I'm not angry," he replied, raising a brow in slight mocking askance...what had she expected him to do? Pitch her into the lake for refusing him?
"Ah...er...I'm glad of that Gilbert," Anne replied a tad sheepishly, her wild imaginations put temporarily on hold. "And you'll still come by to see me? We can still chum around?"
Gilbert paused. There was that hopeful tone of hers again. His undoing. She'd refused him his marriage proposal and yet he knew in his heart he could refuse her nothing. "Yes, Anne, if you still want me to," he replied quietly.
"Of course I do Gil!" Anne exclaimed happily and smiled up at him, fairly glowing with pleasure that it seemed their friendship would survive the proposal after all. Unable to resist the radiance of her smile, Gil smiled back. She'd broken his heart tonight. Ripped it out, stomped on it and kicked it into the dirt and yet she'd made him smile. The slight breeze worked a strand of hair loose from the side of Anne's head and Gil fought the sudden urge to reach out and tuck the wayward tendril behind her ear.
For her part, Anne reckoned she endured the depths of despair and an accompanying joyous relief tonight, all within the span of a few moments. She'd refused Gilbert but he would still be her friend. She wouldn't lose him altogether then. He could just as easily have stormed off, never to bother with such a troublesome girl as she again.
For his part, Gilbert reckoned the woman he loved deeply with all his heart, had always loved for as long as he could remember, did not love him back. Not in the same way at least. She wanted a friend and nothing more. He would have to be content with that for the alternative-never to see her again, never to speak to her again-would be far more devastating.
In truth, neither of the pair standing on the edge of the path amid a sweet evening breeze and an encroaching dusk understood what had transpired this night. A man thought he had proposed to the woman he loved and had been rejected. But it was a girl, not a woman, who had refused him. It wasthe girl, overcome by the prospect put before her and for reasons she had yet to decipher herself, who had refused to marry Gilbert Blythe.