Anne Shirley was miserable.
Not that you'd know it from the outside. Even though she'd often expressed her 'depths of despair' on the outside in the past-like when she'd accidentally dyed her hair green, oh how she'd cried that time-for some reason her current misery wasn't one she could express. It had been three days since the fight with Gilbert Blythe at the White Sands hotel and Anne was only growing more miserable as each day passed. Oh how she cursed her temper! It always got the best of her and now she was paying dearly for her outbursts that night, and the things she'd said to Gilbert.
Mixed in with her regret was hurt. It still hurt that Gilbert hadn't confided his school problems to her in all the time they'd spent together over the summer. He hadn't answered why when she'd asked him for a reason but it didn't take a genius to figure it out. As much as she had trusted him with her confidences and problems it was obvious HE didn't trust HER enough to do the same. That hurt more than anything else. How could they be friends if the friendship was one-sided like that?
They hadn't spoken since that Friday night and here it was Monday already. Even in church yesterday they hadn't spoken to each other, either before or after services. And why would he? Anne asked herself. Why would Gilbert stop to talk to her after the things she'd said to him? And Anne hadn't gone to him either because...well, because for all her life she'd been pretty good at the temper part but she'd never been any good at the apology part. She didn't know where to begin or how to approach him.
After services she'd slipped away from Marilla's side for a few moments and had gone to visit Matthew's grave. Oh how she missed him, missed the support and guidance of that kind loving man with the gentle soul. It had been two years already. Two years since he'd left them, Anne had reflected as she'd placed a few late-summer wildflowers at the base of his headstone. She'd smiled a little, remembering all the years back when she'd first come to Avonlea. It was Matthew really, Matthew who had extended her the first welcome. She remembered it so clearly. It was on the buggy ride back from Bright River station. She'd warned him then that she talked too much, that people were always complaining about it and she could make herself stop if she really put her mind to it. "Talk all you like. I don't mind," Matthew had replied. His answer had stunned her for a moment. It was the first time in Anne Shirley's life that someone had accepted her just as she was, and if Matthew Cuthbert had stolen a little piece of her heart that day what he'd given in return was far greater. For it was at that moment the little lost girl she'd been knew she'd found her way home.
But now nothing seemed right in her world anymore, Anne sighed heavily. She was almost glad it was Monday-washday. If she couldn't erase the unhappy thoughts about Gilbert from her mind at least she could busy her body with hard labour. And hard labour it was. Anne stood before the cookstove, stirring the boiling contents of a large cast iron pot with a wooden paddle. She was wearing her oldest dress, its faded print no longer distinguishable, an oversize apron with a large deep pocket at the front covering it all. No matter how many times she righted it, the apron strap on one side persisted in falling down, hanging in a limp loop off her shoulder. Anne's hair was pulled back, gathered in a single braid than ran down her head and back. Whisps of hair escaped from the braid, framing her heat-and-steam-flushed face in a fiery cloud.
"These whites are almost done, Marilla," Anne called in false cheerfulness over her shoulder, delivering a few final stirs to the batch of white clothing boiling in the pot. Anne had only to rinse them in cooler water, wring them out and then hang them on the washline to dry.
Marilla Cuthbert didn't reply to Anne's announcement as swept the kitchen floor but she eyed the back of Anne's form worriedly. Marilla sensed that Anne was troubled and was throwing herself into her work with almost TOO much energy. No one liked to do the wash THAT much. She knew it had something to do with Gilbert, that the pair was on the outs with each other. Marilla had known no good would come of Anne's attending the White Sands ball with Arthur Richardson. And when Anne and Gilbert hadn't spoken after church yesterday Marilla's fears were confirmed, but she didin't know how to help or even how to ask Anne about it. Oh, how she wished Matthew were still here. He'd always understood Anne better than she did; it had always been more of a struggle for her, something she'd learned by trial and error, and there had been a LOT of trials and errors. Maybe it's because they were so much alike, her and Anne. Both stubborn and proud. Those weren't traits that did either of them any good.
Marilla watched as Anne loaded up a wicker basket, filling it with wet clean clothing. The clothes heaped high in the basket and when Anne lifted it she almost disappeared behind its mass. "I'll just go hang these on the line," Anne said, again more cheerfully than any basket of wet laundry deserved, as she pushed open the back screen door to head outside.
Marilla sighed when the screen door bounced closed again after Anne's disappearance. Marilla swept her way out of the room and in a few minutes she reached the front of the house, taking her broom out onto the front verandah. She had only swept for a moment or two before she noticed a figure approaching, coming up the front laneway. As the figure drew nearer, Marilla's eyes widened in happy surprise.
"Gilbert Blythe!" Marilla exclaimed, stilling her broom as a wide smile crossed her weathered and time-lined face.
"Goodday, Miss Cuthbert," Gilbert replied with a nod, stopping a few yards from the bottom step of the verandah.
"Gilbert, how nice to see you! Won't you come inside?" Marilla was all effusive neighbourliness. This was positively providential. Now Gilbert and Anne would reconcile! Marilla fairly grinned at the prospect.
"No thank you, ma'am," Gilbert refused the invitation. "I'm just on my way down to the Barry orchard. I'm working there today. I just stopped by for a moment," he explained, his workday apparel corroborating his destination.
The smile was partially reduced on Marilla's face. "But you've come to see Anne, haven't you?" she asked, turning slightly towards to the front door. "She's just out back hanging the wash. I'll go get...,"
"No ma'am, please don't," Gilbert quickly interrupted, forestalling Marilla's actions. Gilbert was glad to have missed Anne today, that it was just him and Miss Cuthbert. He just didn't know if he could face Anne and bear it if she rejected him again. After Friday night he didn't know if she ever wanted to see him again. It sure seemed to him that she didn't and wouldn't. At Miss Cuthbert's blank look, Gilbert took a step or two up to the bottom step of the verandah, looking down as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small package. He looked up again and swallowed hard. "I was wondering...I was wondering if you would give this to Anne for me," he asked, holding out the package.
Marilla eyed the small brown-paper wrapped box. It was no more that five inches long and maybe three across. A folded note lay on top, secured by a piece of string crossed and wound around the entire circumference. "But...but...," Marilla hesitated, looking up from the box to meet Gilbert's eyes. "But wouldn't you like to give it to Anne yourself?" she asked hopefully.
Gilbert shook his head and didn't reply, only implored her with his eyes.
"Alright, Gilbert," Marilla acquiesced, then stepped to the edge of the top stair, taking the box that Gilbert held up towards her.
"Thank you, Miss Cuthbert. I appreciate that," Gilbert said, retreating back a few steps. "Goodday," he said, before turning and heading down the Green Gables front path.
Marilla Cuthbert stood on the top step of the Green Gables verandah and watched Gilbert Blythe as he retreated in the distance. Then she turned and made her way into the house.
It was a short while later when Anne Shirley re-entered the Green Gables kitchen. "Well, I got it all on the line, although I had to get a bit creative to squeeze it all in. We really should get Jerry Buote to string us another line," Anne babbled as she came in the door, lugging the empty basket.
Her back to Anne as she rolled out some pie dough, Marilla remarked casually, "Gilbert Blythe was here earlier. He stopped by for a moment on his way to the Barry orchard." Dead silence greeted her comment and Marilla smiled a little, sensing by the silence that Anne stood frozen behind her. Casually she continued on, "He left a package for you. It's on the parlour table." Marilla turned just in time to see Anne plunk the empty laundry basket on the table and bolt out of the room towards the parlour. It was all Marilla could do to keep from laughing out loud at Anne's eagerness. Maybe things would be alright after all, she thought, sending a silent prayer heavenward.
Anne Shirley almost skidded to a stop before the parlour table. She could hardly believe her ears when Marilla had said Gilbert had stopped by, that he'd left a package for her. Her wide eyes and pounding heart alluded to her shock, the same shock she now displayed staring down at the parlour table. On its surface lay a small box, a folded white note tied on top with her name written on it in Gilbert's bold strong handwriting. Anne reached for the box, hugging it close to her body for just a moment before she turned and sprinted up the stairs to her room. She closed her door and sat on the edge of her bed. With trembling fingers she tore off the string, freeing the note on top. Opening the letter, she read:
I bought this a few weeks ago and I was saving it to give you as a Christmas present but I thought I'd give it to you now as a sort of peace offering. I'm sorry for what happened Friday night-you were right, friends DO help each other out and it was wrong of me not to tell you about my med school problems. I'm hoping you'll give me another chance and we can go back to being friends like always. Please say yes, if you don't I'll have to chum around with Moody and as you know he doesn't cook nearly as well as you...
Sincerely, your friend (I hope)
Anne almost laughed out loud. Oh Gilbert! Funny, incorrigible Gilbert! Already she forgave him, that is, if he also forgave her...Anne had no illusions about her own culpabilities in their misunderstanding. But her heart was suddenly lighter and there was a smile on her face. Gilbert had given her a great gift just by being the first to initiate their reconciliation-something Anne found hard to do herself. The note was more than enough in itself, there was no need for a present too, Anne thought as she turned her attention to the small wrapped box. Carefully she tore off the paper and lifted off the lid, then peeled back the layer of gauzy paper inside to reveal Gilbert's present.
Anne blinked then froze at the sight before her, her breath catching in her throat. A small wooden figure lay inside the box staring back at her. It was intricately carved, its military coat painted a brilliant red with black buttons and gold epaulets. Its legs were painted black as well and along the side of one thigh ran a miniature sword. Its face was painted with an expression that befitted both the seriousness of a soldier and the playfulness of a child's toy. With great care Anne lifted the figure out of the box, cradling it in her palm. It was a Nutcracker. From the ballet. And it was beautiful. Even more beautiful than the one she had told Gilbert about. The one she'd seen in the store window all those years ago and had wanted for Christmas, but had never gotten because she was just an orphan, an invisible orphan, who didn't get Christmas presents.
Suddenly from deep down inside her, from a place she hadn't known even existed, Anne felt something well up and rise to the surface. She gulped for air once, twice, but it didn't help. The sobs wouldn't be derailed and they came full force, great wracking sobs that shook her back and shoulders. Tears streamed down her face, blurring her vision. Anne bunched the folds of her apron and stuffed it before her mouth, muffling the noise, as she slid from the bed down onto the floor to sit with her knees drawn up tightly before her, her body turned sideways with her head resting against the side of her mattress. There was no stopping them now. The sobs. She couldn't have stopped them even if she'd tried. It was just that she hadn't known. She hadn't known about the little girl. She'd had happy Christmases with the Cuthberts, ones that more than compensated for the giftless ones all those years ago. But she hadn't known about the little invisible girl. Had she been inside her all this time? Waiting? Waiting for someone to finally see her? Waiting all these years? And finally, today, someone had. That invisible little orphan had finally gotten her Nutcracker and it was as if a small part of Anne's heart that she hadn't even known was missing was restored to her. She wasn't sobbing out of sadness but out of joy and gratitude.
It was a good long while later when Anne finally sniffled the last of her sobs. She took several deep steadying breaths and then wiped her tears away with the hem of her apron as she stood, lovingly tucking the toy soldier into her roomy apron pocket. She turned to the door, opened it and headed down the stairs.
"Marilla, I'm just going out for a bit," Anne called over the bannister, hurrying down the stairs and out the front door without waiting for a response. She probably looked a mess, first because of her washday wardrobe and hairstyle, and second from her crying jag, but she didn't care. She had to see him.
Hearing Anne's call from the kitchen Marilla smiled. She wondered what was taking Anne so long up in her room and she had contemplated checking on her but had decided not to.
The Barry orchard. That's where Marilla said Gil had gone today, Anne focussed her thoughts, turning around the side of the house towards the orchard at a brisk pace. The pace too slow for her emotions, Anne broke out into a run, hoisting her skirts out of her way as she tore down the path.
Up on a ladder picking apples, Gilbert Blythe turned his head when he heard his name being called. It was far off and it took a moment for him to focus his eyes through the foliage and discover the source. It was Anne! She was running towards him from over Green Gables way. Quickly Gilbert climbed down from the ladder and removed the bag of apples strung over his shoulder. His first thought was that something was wrong. Why else would Anne be running like that? There was nothing to spark such urgency except trouble. His heart racing at the possibilities, Gilbert ran to meet her.
"Anne, what's wrong?" he shouted, pulling up short a few yards in front of her.
But Anne didn't stop, she flew at him, throwing her arms around his neck in a fierce hug. Gilbert Blythe went rigid in shock and stopped breathing.
"I've come...to thank you...," Anne puffed in a breathless voice near his ear.
Thank him? Gilbert forced his mind to work. The present, he realized. The nutcracker. She was thanking him for the nutcracker. But...but...she was hugging him! Didn't she know? Didn't she know what that did to him? And he was sweaty and dirty from his work. Didn't she realize that?
"Anne...Anne please...," he pleaded. He put his hands on the round of her shoulders, trying to get her to stop. He'd given her the note and the present to restore their friendship, to get them back to where they'd been before the fight but how could he think of friendship when the woman he loved was hugging him, her soft body pressed up warm and intimate against his. It made him want to do things, things he had no right to do, like put his arms around her and hug her back and...and other things, things she wasn't ready for. He tried to make her stop. But Anne wouldn't be deterred. Her heart was too full with love...yes, love, for the man who had done so many things for her, the greatest of which she was only beginning to realize.
"Anne...please!" Gilbert begged.
But Anne had her own agenda. "Thank you, Gil...thank you for my present," Anne breathed to him, then stretched herself up along his length and turned to press a tender kiss to his jaw. Gilbert froze at the gesture, stunned beyond all scope or measurement.
Then suddenly Anne was gone, racing back to Green Gables the way she had come, her apron strap hanging down off one shoulder, her skirts flying up around her knees and her braid trailing wildly behind her.
His mouth agape with astonishment, Gilbert Blythe stared after her and stood rooted to the spot for a good long while.
I re-uploaded this chapter to fix some typos. Sorry for the Blythe/Barry Orchard confusion in the earlier upload. I actually realized the mistake just as my head was touching my pillow at 1am last night, so I didn't fix it then! There are still a few mistakes as this program tends to eat my punctuation on me in places, but overall it's better.
Thanks to everyone for all the story comments so far! There is only one more chapter to go and I'm both sad and excited for be finishing this story that has been in my head these past 2 months. Please leave me comments, I love to hear from readers.