In Apple Blossom Time

Author's Note: This is my first oneshot, and for those reading my other long-running fanfic, Blossoming Madonna, I apologise very, very sincerely for the very long unofficial hiatus I've been putting it on, but lately I haven't been able to write anything longer than half a chapter without feeling that it's worthless, or that I can't sustain it. Hence, this. I just felt like writing it, and I do hope you like it. The title I took from the Mills Brothers' (a barbershop quartet from the 30s and 40s, whose song Let Me Call You Sweetheart was the one Anne sang in the movie AoGG: The Continuing Story) song I'll be with You in Apple Blossom Time, one of my favourites. Read on, and please review! I hope you enjoy it. (If you like my writing, I have a few other little stories on my blog; the domain is blogspot dot com, the URL is oh-fortheloveofenglish.)

Love, Evening. :)

"Of course, it isn't much," said Di, flushing as she held it out to Nan.

"Oh, Di," exclaimed Nan. Tear sprang to her eyes as she grasped her twin's slim white hands in her own. "It's lovely—lovely. It's splendid of you—you shouldn't have."

"Nonsense," murmured Di, stepping forward to tuck the glimmering pin into Nan's hair. How she had always envied her sister's glossy brown hair, as rich as the wood of the Rainbow Valley, alive with youth and beauty outside the Ingleside window. "I know you're supposed to have something old and something blue, but this, Nan—this is beyond anything and everything. It belongs to you."

The bride turned her face towards the great mirror on the wall and touched the pin, with a single, wonderful diamond in the middle, tucked away in her tresses. She laughed—and cried.

"Do you remember how we shared our pretty things when we were children, dearest?" Nan turned to the wistful-eyed girl with her hands clasped to her chin in unselfish admiration. "We must share this—one day, when it's your turn. Oh, Di, don't look like that, I know your turn will come. And I shall watch you walk down the aisle, this jewel in your hair, as everyone else ooh and ah in envy. It's the emblem of our happiness, Di, and—oh, how happy I am!"

"Nan?" Dr. Blythe's head appeared in the doorway. He cleared his throat, fixing his tie as he did so. "We're waiting for you downstairs."

Di laughed. "Every single one of us will have our wedding in the lawn," she prophesied, fussing with the veil lovingly. "How shocked Mrs. Elliot will be! But it is the only thing to do, after all. The lawn is the only place right for something so marvelous."

"You look wonderful," Gilbert said, his voice full of emotion. He held his hands out for the first child to leave Ingleside for good—the first daughter he was to give away. Nan was getting married today—Nan, the mischief of the family! He had known this day was coming, of course, but surely nothing could prepare a father for this goodbye.

"Oh, father!" cried Nan, kissing his cheek affectionately.

"We'd better go, then," said Di rather breathlessly, taking up her flowers and running down the stairs before Nan to join Carl. Little Carl, who was blind in one eye, the best man. It was such a flurry then, passing her arm through Carl's, stepping over the threshold into the glorious May morning and walking, as gracefully as she had ever been able to manage, down the passage between family and a few friends, and turning around to see Nan appear with father.

"She's beautiful, isn't she?" breathed Jerry to no one in particular.

Yes, Di agreed with a pang. Very beautiful, even more so than usual, with her cheeks aglow with bridal bliss. And after today, she wouldn't have a Nan Blythe anymore—no, there would be Nan Meredith, Mrs. Jerry Meredith, who would kiss her and go away, as Nan Blythe would go away forever, after they said—

"I will."

"I will."

The doctor held his wife's hands tightly.

"There," he said, and in his voice was everything they did and did not know.

"She's gone, Gilbert," said the bride's namesake in disbelief and wonder. "Gilbert, she's gone—our Nan is gone."

Anne turned her great grey eyes to him and—rather unexpectedly, even for Gilbert—laughed.

"Oh, Gilbert—weddings are such strange things!"

The birds sang—the people laughed and cried—the flowers waved—Di kissed Nan and Nan hugged everybody and it was time to go.

When she looked back on this day many years later, Di would never remember anything more clearly than the moment she stood at the gate, among the horde of merry rice-throwers, looking after the buggy that was carrying the two happiest people in the world fifty miles away—or five hundred, it made no difference.

There it went, down the road, stained a faint purple as the sky paled to yellow above their heads, over the white apple tree tops of the Millers' orchard and the white manse, calm and somewhat lonesome in the departure of her first son. On either side of the lane the blossoms hummed in the company of late evening birds, and cast a joyous melody over the glen. Upon the bend, Nan turned around, the dipping sun giving her hair a golden kiss, and waved to Di.

Di waved back—and waved—and she was gone.

Heavily, almost reluctantly, she turned around and followed the Blythes back into the house. The guests lingered outside, murmuring appreciatively among themselves.

"She looked so perfectly divine," sighed Una Meredith dreamily. Still, Di thought, her eyes were as wistful as they had always been, as she gazed over the treetops, to where the white clouds lolled about in the sky over Rainbow Valley, like she was seeing something—or someone that no one else could.

"Nan Blythe always had spunk," boomed Norman Douglas. "Even when she was a little girl. One of my favourites, the girl is. Give a pretty girl twenty years, and she might turn as brown or grey as a fisherwoman, but little Nan Blythe will always have life. Look at her eyes—that kind of eyes always does.

"It'll be Rilla's turn next," teased Jem, holding his blushing little sister close to him. "Little Spider! I guess you're not that little anymore, are you, Kid?"

Even Rilla had grown up, thought Di gloomily as she left the unbearable crowd for Rainbow Valley, slipping down underneath the Naked Lady. She nestled her head into a crook in the milky white trunk—how Walter had loved the birch!

"Oh, Walter, if only you were here," she murmured sadly. "I miss you so—and everyone else is gone. Even Rilla will be married off in another two months—and then there is me. It's been such a long time, but it hasn't made the pain go away, Walter; nothing can."

"I miss him too," said a wistful voice, and she looked up to see her mother standing over her, an unfathomable smile on her face.

Anne sat down next to her daughter.

"Has it gotten better for you?"

"Never," confessed Anne, her eyes great with old grief. "But you'll get used to it. First it was Matthew, when I was only a girl, then, later, Aunt Marilla. It was terrible at first, but we sail on through, even if the winds are weak and the waters rough, and even if we have to work the oars ourselves—the shore is never out of reach."

"How can you bear it?" cried Di, throwing her head into her mother's lap. There was no place of more comfort, thought she miserably, than a mother's lap. "Day after day, knowing he will never come home, and even if he lives in my heart—it's not enough. It's never enough. Jem has Faith, Nan has Jerry, Shirley has Susan, and even Rilla has Ken. I'm the only one left, mother."

Anne's lips twitched at the declaration that Shirley "had" Susan, but she didn't show it.

"You have me, darling," she said calmly, stroking the red hair—so like her own, which she still hated, even now. "And you have your father, too. He loves you very, very much, Di, and so do I. It makes it better, I promise. When Matthew passed, I had Aunt Marilla, and when she passed, I had your father." Just like, she thought, but did not say, she had had Gilbert when little Joy—darling, white little Joy, had come and gone.

What a comfort mothers are, thought Di, but the sunbeam her mother had been disappeared when, two days later, she stood at the train platform, suitcases in hand, to go back to Kingsport, where she was to study further, already aspiring to become a professor at Redmond one day. She had dreams—she had her studies, her brains, and she would certainly always have herself.

"But it isn't enough," she muttered under her breath, feeling as if all the weight of the world was in those suitcases of "worldly goods", and she had to carry it forever—and ever—and ever. For she knew what she wanted—what everyone had—everyone except her.

"Must you go?" asked her father plaintively—so plaintively she laughed.

"Yes, father," she said ruefully, pecking him on the cheek. "Redmond is where I belong."

"My little girl," he smiled fondly, holding her slim fair hand in his. "You're the one who should have been named after your mother, not your sister."

"Goodbye, father," she said, grasping his hand as the train whistled into the station. "Mother."

Anne hugged her daughter tightly, feeling a choke rising up her throat. Did it never get any easier, sending your children off? It was not the first time Di had left home, and she was not going off to war like her brothers had gone, but it gnawed a hole in her heart, as she would leave a hole in her already almost-empty home. But she let go, clasping Gilbert's hand in her own by way of compensation—reflecting amusedly that it was not a thought she would voice—and smiling with that same eternal glow that all mothers who offer their children to the ways of the world possess, in that time, before it, and for all eternity to come.

"Goodbye!" cried Di, leaning out of the carriage window impulsively, her great green eyes lingering on the sweet sight of the last remnant of home to be carried to Kingsport. "Goodbye!"

"And off I am," she huffed, dropping into her seat with more passive force than was necessary. "Off again, like I always am. Always going off, always alone, always to Kingsport. Oh," she exclaimed miserably, "will that always be my life? Perhaps one day I'll start carrying my one hundred cats with me onto the train." And she laughed half ruefully, half hysterically, to herself.

There was a throaty, appreciative chuckle, and Di stopped mid-breath, colouring vividly as she raised her eyes to the fellow traveler who had suddenly materialized before her.

"Only you didn't materialize."

"Beg your pardon?" said the young man, cocking his head, the playful smile still ghosting on his lips.

She started embarrassedly.

"I mean, you can't have materialized," she blurted out by way of explanation.

"You're right, I can't have," he agreed placidly.

"You clearly," she enunciated carefully, "were sitting there right in front of me while I was playing out my monologue, titled 'The Old Maid Who Left Home', and laughing."

"Laughing hysterically."

"All in the role," she retorted, and they laughed gaily.

She stuck out her strong white hand towards him.

"I'm Di," she said.