Nan plopped the last strawberry on the last one of her little pies. Then she stepped aside to make way for the ultimate culinary critic of Ingleside.

"Good enough," Susan pronounced the verdict. "It seems that your Aunt Diana did teach you well. But let me top them with cream, pet. You need a steady hand to do that and you've ben particularly fidgety these past few days."

Nan exchanged amused glances with Mother, who had just stepped in with a bunch of peonies for Doctor's study. Taking her garden gloves off, she watched Na,n who didn't seem at all offended by Susan's patronage. It gave her time to take off her apron and check on her hair in the hallway mirror.

"By the way you prink and prim, one could think you were going for another dance," Susan's cousin Sophia disapproved in her usual moanful voice.

But Nan was too high-spirited to mind even cousin Sophia.

"It feels as if I were," she said chirpily, wrapping a pearlstring around her bun. "Isn't it a night made for dancing? At a pinch, Jerry's harmonica would do for accompaniament. And our glade by the spring would make a devine dancefloor! Not to mention we wouldn't get any blisters for once!"

"How so, girl?"

"Well, if the nymphs of our dear old Valley can wander around it barefoot, why should we suffer in slippers? They really are a sore!"

Cousin Sophia's face expressed purest outrage.

"There were letters from Avonlea today," Mrs. Blythe said quickly, pointing to a small table.

Nan tore the envelope to shreds out of hurry and voraciously proceeded to read the letter. Then she laughed fondly.

"Before I begin the letter proper, I simply have to write this: Mother sends her warmest thoughts and feelings to Aunt Anne and plenty of kisses for you. There, it's done. Would you believe it, Nannie, that she wouldn't let me be about it ever since she found me scribbling to you?"

Mrs. Blythe smiled fondly, while Nan read on.

"And my own husband hasn't been any better. He's been bending my ears about sending greetings to 'his pal'. And Jack- oh, but if I go any further, this letter will become a litany of pass-ons- and where would my joy be in that? I'll make him write his own letter."

Nan read the letter out loud to Mother; almost all of it, as she skipped the part where Delia, in her usual teasing manner, expressed her hope that Nan's 'morose friend, whom she recalled visiting' had been cheered up by the summer weather. Nan vowed in thought to write the cattiest response she was capable of. Mrs. Blythe smiled sagely whenever her daughter pretended to struggle with the handwriting to omit some passages; she knew well enough that Small Anne Cordelia, as she insisted on calling her, carefully rewrote all her letters before sending to make sure they were legible. She found out many interesting things, anyhow; little Tommy had two new teeth, Sarah had grown almost an inch, Ned was about to embark on another cruise, luckily a rather short one, and Little Fred and his wife were going to have a third wee one. "And, would you believe it, Nannie, after all that boasting about his boys, Fred now says he will only accept a little girl!"

Nan folded the letter, smiling thoughtfully and put it in her pocket. She would hide it in one of her pretty boxes later; at present she was impatient to run to the Valley and Susan was finally putting the finishing touches to their hamper. That is, she was furtively slipping in Shirley's favorite cookies, among the fruit pies.

"It's ready, Nan dear," she announced with a sly grin.

Nan suppressed a frantic giggle and left, but when Anne took to the verandah with a book, she found her daughter leaning on the railing, propping her chin on her hands, the basket carelessly thrown aside. She was looking out to the sun, which settled itself snugly in the highest branches of the trees in Rainbow Valley, picking up a golden glint here and there. But Anne knew that Nan wasn't merely marveling at the loveliness of it all; her eyebrows were knitted in the same dear, funny way as Gilbert's over medical periodicals.

"What is it, dear?" she asked, standing behind her girl. "Has something in Delia's letter upset you?"

"No," Nan responded quietly and then made a veritable pirouette to face her. "It just sort of woke my pining. I would love to see Jack so! And Delia, and Ned, and my Little Jack and- everyone! I just now understood that my days in Avonlea and over and done with, that I will now at best get accounts of the happenings, that I won't be a part of them anymore. I won't be there for Sarah when she goes to school for the first time- and Aunt Diana will have to do without me in the garden- and I won't see Tommy's third teeth coming out-"

"Taking into consideration how he most probably behaves with it erupting, I daresay you're better off here," Anne said humorously, causing her daughter to laugh.

"But then I looked at our Valley and I thought- and, Mother, it made me so ridiculously happy!- I thought that it's been perfectly lovely to be Nan of Lone Willow Farm for a whole year, but it's a thousand times lovelier to come back and be Nan of Ingleside!"

Anne laughed and kissed Nan's cheek.

"That's good to hear. But run now, before Shirley's cookies get cold," she said, proving her eyes were as watchful as Nan's own ones.

She did run- and she soon reached the glade where they were all gathered. Shirley and Carl, Di and Una, Walter and his poetry notebook. Jem was fishing with the assistance of Faith. If, of course, trying to push somebody into the bubbling waters of the brook could be considered assistance.

And there was Jerry, sitting on a fallen trunk on his own, having a go at his old harmonica. She gave the basket to the boys, who launched themselves to its contents and plopped down next to him. He lifted his head, smiled and handing something over with a clandestine gesture.

"It's fixed," he said quietly, so that Di's pricked up ears would not register his words. "And I hope there won't be any occasions for you to break it again."

Nan threw the golden chain around her neck; the well-known pink enamel heart nestled itself in the hollow in her throat yet again.

"So do I," she said honestly.

A loud ahem resounded behind their backs. Faith rolled her eyes impatiently, as Jem was wedging in between Nan and Jerry.

"What took you so long, Kitten?"

She indicated binging Shirley with a nod of her head.

"Chocolate cookies."

Una, Di and Faith settled themselves in the grass, beside the younger boys, stretched languidly. Walter suddenly perked up his head, smiled and joined their circle.

"Will Ken be coming today?"

"He'll be late," Nan answered. "He's walking Ethel Reese home."

At Walter's astounded expression, Jerry laughed and explained,

"We bumped into her at Carter Flagg's today. She practically blackmailed him into helping her carry the shopping. It is at times like these when I know I chose the right profession, you know."

The evening was slowly drawing on, and they were all happy with the loud, boisterous happiness of the youth. Nan felt a certain lighteness filling her to the tips of her fingers; a feeling she was getting used to now, after a few days. Every time she glanced at Jerry, she caught him already watching her. It was a very sweet routine to fall into.

She lay down in the grass next to Di.

"`God's in his heaven, all's right with the world,'" she whispered softly.

there, it's done. I'm still quite incredulous. thank you all so much for being with me throughout writing and for being such help and inspiration again.

by the way, has anyone noticed the parallel between the first and the last title? ;-)