(Thank you all for your lovely reviews on that last chapter, and … yeah, sorry it's taken so long to get another. Along with my regular work writing, I've had a vacation, a sick household. And I had a few false starts on this one, which was a special request from katherine-with-a-k, who wanted me to explore why Anne fell in love with Gilbert. The good thing about the creative process, though, is that I have another story close to written that I decided wasn't hitting quite the note I was going for with this one.
So here it is, dedicated to katherine, whose lovely Redmond Diaries have brought us all so much joy and whose earlier stories inspired me to write me own! We'll start with an obvious quote, the moment Anne realized how she really felt about him.)
Falling in Reverse
She loved Gilbert — had always loved him! She knew that now. She knew that she could no more cast him out of her life without agony than she could have cut off her right hand and cast if from her.
- Anne of the Island, Chapter XL, A Book of Revelation
For just a moment, Anne turned away from her window, and her eyes landed on the trunk sitting in the corner. It contained all of the things she hadn't bothered to unpack when she returned from Kingsport. It also contained one thing she hadn't been able to bear seeing.
Now the lid pushed open with a crash into the wall, and she flung contents from therein, not caring particularly in that moment where the quilts and blankets and towels landed. Her tear-blinded eyes were not much help in the candlelight, but finally her fingers landed on something more solid. She pulled it to her and stumbled back to the window.
She cradled the little white box in her hands for a moment before she opened it. Her jaw trembled as saw it again for the first time since she'd taken it from her pocket the morning after convocation. The little pink heart. Such a lovely little trinket, such a delicate symbol of the history behind it.
The clasp was twisted, the result of Anne's forceful removal of it from around her neck when Phil had told her of the rumors of Gilbert's engagement. Of course they were only rumors, Anne scoffed as she forced her shaky fingers to straighten the clasp, for he never could have been in love with Christine Stuart.
Anne tried to laugh at herself, but, given her condition, the strangled sound had a maniacal quality she never had heard escape her own lips before. Had she not realized, when the thought of Gilbert marrying someone else had brought tears to her eyes and inspired the violence against the innocent necklace, that she was in love with him? It seemed ridiculous looking at it in retrospect, when the wisdom of the present could straighten what had only been blurred lines and hazy images. Of course she had been in love with him then.
But when had she fallen in love with him? There was no single moment — there couldn't be. If there had been, perhaps she wouldn't have missed it. No, she thought, it must have been so gradual, so spread out over time, that she never had recognized what was in front of her while she searched for the vision of love she'd formed in her mind.
The romantic vision she always had wasn't real love; she'd learned that the hard way. Of course she had grabbed for Gilbert's lilies of the valley rather than Royal Gardner's violets as she left for convocation. The lilies fit in her hand just as Gilbert fit in her life.
And hadn't she known it, when her fists tightened into balls for just a moment whenever she saw Christine at his side? And the way she'd blush and have to catch her breath whenever someone mentioned either of them in her presence?
Anne had thought the emptiness she felt when Gilbert released her hand in the orchard at Patty's Place had been the feeling of their friendship slipping away. Now, she knew better; it was so much more than friendship. It was the feeling of part of herself slipping away.
How had Gilbert become that important to her? She couldn't remember how that came to be either. But it seemed obvious now why everything had felt off kilter the past two years. He had become her ground while she flew in the clouds and her logic when life let her down. Hadn't he been the only one who could make her see that all her hand wringing at the desecration of Averil's Atonement into a baking powder advertisement wasn't necessary?
She remembered flinging aside Ruby's first letter to her when she got to Kingsport just because her old friend had mentioned receiving a letter from Gilbert. How her hand shook when she saw that innocuous line.
Anne tried to look out the window, but the rain splattered and smeared against the pane and rendered everything hazy. She couldn't see the trees bent and twisted by the wind. All she saw was a memory. Of Gilbert striding up to Green Gables the night before they left for college and the two of them skipping back through the woods to the little apple tree he had found. She hadn't been willing to admit how much she admired the way he grabbed onto a low branch and hoisted his way into the tree and how he tossed her the best of the apples into her grasp.
Anne placed her right hand over her left, her eyes squinted shut with repressed sobs as she tried to remember the way it had felt when he had done that on the bridge the week before they left for Redmond. She had ended the moment before it started, but even then she couldn't deny the feeling of belonging that came with the tingling, warm pressure of his hand over hers.
She couldn't hold back the sobs any longer at the memory of that beautiful night, with its purple sunset and bright silver moon. There had been romance there, though she had refused to see it at the time. Not only romance, but love. Not the love she'd imagined but something much deeper, much stronger. Something that belonged in her life. And she'd turned her back on it.
If Gilbert died … no, she couldn't imagine it. How would she live, knowing that part of her was gone, too? It would be like living without something vital to her, like a hand — something she may have taken for granted but which was unimaginable to lose. What kind of life would she have without him? Not a life she wanted, certainly.
With one hand at her mouth and one across her abdomen, Anne tried to hold in the spasms of despair that coursed through her. Her eyes burned from the salty tears. Her face was stiff from trying to keep the tears from falling. Every muscle ached as if they could no longer offer her the strength to stay upright. And her head throbbed with all the guilt and anxiety that ran through her mind.
She kneeled at the window, arms crossed upon the frame and head upon her arms. Her legs and skirts were tangled on the ground, but she stayed there, with her silent prayers and silent tears and agonizing thoughts.
Anne knew not whether minutes had passed or hours when the howl of the wind and the beating of the rain on the window ceased. She pulled up her head until her eyes could see that the window again was clear, with just a handful of drops still sliding down. The trees, still moving in the breeze that had softened with the morning, were silhouetted against the pink and orange of the sunrise. The rain that came down in such torrents the night before now made the world sparkle in the new light.
The beauty of the moment stung. At least the wild and unrelenting storm of the prior night had matched the torrent of Anne's soul. Could she ever appreciate beauty again if Gilbert … if he …?
Her eyes were swollen and hot, and so she crept down the stairs and out the door where she might find relief. And she heard a whistling in the distance.
Just two words. That's all it had taken.
The stiff, sore muscles of her face loosened, and her drooping eyes widened. She felt like dancing upon the feet and legs that had felt heavy and weary only moments before.
The beauty that hurt her as she looked out her bedroom window now thrilled her. The way the sun cast little prisms into the raindrops. The way the feathery, white clouds floated through the blue sky, like boats upon calm water. The way the silver poplar along the lane glistened in the soft light.
Anne stared at that poplar. She hadn't felt one of her little aches for so long that she used to feel when she saw something perfectly lovely. This felt like that, but it wasn't the beauty of the white bark or the silvery green leaves that struck her. It was another memory.
She breathed in, then seemed to forget to let the breath out. The poplar at Echo Lodge. She'd just seen it the day before, really only hours before. But this wasn't that memory. It was much longer ago than that. Late August, late afternoon. It was the first time she'd felt it. The first time she'd noticed Gilbert's gaze. The first time she'd felt her heart beat so hard when she was standing still. The first time at least a part of her had known she was in love with him.
She remembered the lovely words he had said as clearly if she was back there under that poplar again with him, and she heard them over and over again in her mind as she wandered through the trees. Two people walking hand in hand all the way through life. No memories but those which belong to each other. No separation, no misunderstanding.
And then the drive home, when she couldn't remember what she usually would do with her hands. When they were in her lap, she had twisted at her fingers and rubbed at her palms. She had tried to set them at her sides, but then the left one had seemed precariously close to Gilbert's leg. So she turned her palms against her legs and spent the rest of the ride with her arms stiff at her sides. When she thought she couldn't sit like that for another moment, she had glanced out of the corner of her eye at Gilbert, expecting him to look as awkward and rigid as she felt. But no, he had looked as at ease and carefree as ever. Of course, he had the reins to occupy his hands. Or, rather, his hand. Anne had realized for the first time that he almost never used both hands to hold the reins, just his left. His right arm, she had perceived with wide-eyed shock, was draped against the back of the buggy seat. Behind her. Almost, but not quite, around her.
More shocking to her had been the realization that it wasn't the first time they'd ridden like that. But she'd never noticed. Until then, she had been as comfortable around him as around Diana. But somehow everything had changed with his words beneath the poplar. Everything and nothing.
Anne leaned against the poplar with a wistful smile. How wise he was! She felt a pang of regret that her blunder had kept them from having what he had described. Her head leaned back against the tree, eyes closed, hands at her sides running against the smooth bark.
"I'll make it all up to him," she murmured.
She pushed away from the tree and opened her eyes, taking in the majesty of the morning after the storm has gone and peace has returned. She felt a peace in her heart, as well, a calm that hadn't been there for years, since that moment at Echo Lodge, really. Nothing had made sense since then until she heard those two words.
Anne began gathering the flowers ravished in the storm, their little stems bent and broken by the wind but their delicate blossoms still lovely even with a petal or two left behind. Soon her hands and arms were filled, and she breathed in their fragrance. All types of flowers mixed together to provide a spicy, sweet, earthy perfume that seemed to match the way her soul felt that morning.
She knew the feeling had crept in to her heart so slowly, so gradually, that she never noticed. To think she had told him she'd never love him like that. Even then, part of her knew she loved him; it just hadn't seemed like that kind of love.
She had expected the scent of roses and only that. Not the lilies of the valley that always put her in mind of their studies and their shared ambitions, or the mayflowers that made her remember the way he laughed at her stories and the way she always laughed at his. The irises that harkened back to the summer day when they had come up with those silly Avonlea Notes. The clover and mint that always brought back the night she learned he had given her the Avonlea School. The apple blossoms and cherry blossoms and ferns and firs that recalled their wandering in the woods. The geraniums and pansies and daisies that seemed to speak of their A.V.I.S. days.
That's why Roy Gardner had seemed perfect. He was roses. But not just roses — hothouse roses and orchids and violets, none of which ever had been part of the fragrance of a moonlit garden. She never could enjoy a bouquet that she hadn't gathered in her own hands, that didn't belong to her.
But as Anne buried her face in the spray she collected from the storm refuse, it made sense. It brought back that peace, that calm again and again. The lilies, irises and mayflowers, the clover and the mint, the blossoms and ferns and all the flora that happened upon their path had been so strong that she hadn't noticed when the roses were slipped in among them. But they were there, their tangy sweet scent slowly becoming the strongest of the bunch, made sweeter by the array of memories and experiences that had come before.
Roses alone would never do. They'd only last a moment. It was the variety, the history, the ordinary things of beauty that gave life color.
She didn't just love Gilbert. He was her friend, the one who made her laugh. The one she could talk to for hours and feel like only a moment had passed. They were mirth and companionship and knowledge and adventure and sacrifice.
Anne pulled her bouquet into the crook of her left arm, and with her right hand she pulled out two roses, a white and a pink — his favorite and hers. Funny how she never noticed how well they looked together before. And how much they added to the rest of the flowers.
It was so much more than just roses.