Author's note: I'm sorry for not updating in a long time – life has dumped a lot of spring events on my hands (that's the short story version). But things are definitely heating up for the usually placid Rilla…

Usual Disclaimer: These are NOT *sob* my characters, but L.M. Montgomery's. This story is not written for any profit nor to change any of the characters for my own benefit, but purely for the enjoyment of myself and others.

center~*~/center

"Phone for you, Rilla." The eyes of the damsel in question fluttered open to see Di poking her red-curltouseled head inside the door of Rilla's bedroom.

"This early?" Rilla growled a bit to herself and stretched herself out more under one of Mrs. Lynde's apple quilts.

"You're the sleepyhead of the family! Honestly, if my sweetheart was on the phone first thing in the morning, I'd be right there before the second ring."

"What?!" The covers were thrown back and Rilla sprang out of bed.

Di grinned and said over her shoulder as she left, "How did I know that would do the trick?"

With a few deft movements Rilla had gathered her dressing gown around her waist, smoothed her hair a bit, and was halfway down the stairs, passing Di on the way. As luck would have it, her father was sitting at the small table in the kitchen reading the newspaper, and Susan had just gone out to the garden, likely to return at any second. Always an audience, Rilla groaned to herself before picking up the telephone

"Rilla?"

"Oh, Ken, hello! I apologize for keeping you waiting – "

"Don't worry about it…I didn't wake you, did I?" A roguish tone crept into his voice, and Rilla could hear a dozen receivers going down along the phone lines. An audience of 50, no less.

"No, not at all!" That was Di's doing. She couldn't stifle a yawn in time, and even through the none-too-clear St. Mary lines she was sure he could hear.

"I see…well, I was calling to ask if you wanted to come down to the cove today. My parents just got back – they're staying at the House of Dreams, and I thought we could talk, have dinner…"

"Kenneth Ford, are you asking me on a date?"

He laughed. "No, I'm asking my fiancee to meet my parents."

There – now the whole glen knows we're engaged! Rilla was both chagrined and exhilarated. "Ah, but they've already met me."

"But never as my fiancee."

"True. And that of course is the crucial difference."

"You've got it. Knowing Mother, she'll want to start making wedding plans right away."

"Especially if she and my mother join forces. Of course," Rilla's voice dropped, "I wouldn't make too much of a protest myself."

She had forgotten how intimate his laugh could be…even across a crackly connection. "To be honest, neither would I. Nor would I protest if you came early."

"I have a play date with Jims this morning, but I'm free after that. Would noon be all right?"

"As I said, you can't come too early. I love you."

She blew a kiss into the phone. "Right back at you. Bye!"

~*~

As soon as she could make herself presentable, Rilla collected her cards (Anne was a firm believer in calling cards, though it was practically a new decade), snatched her umbrella in case of rain, and took a quick survey of herself in the mirror. Her new hat – oh the joy! the hated green velted she had worn since the war began was in the refuse pile and a new delicate blue creation purchased – was perched at a delicious angle, and complemented her simple cotton dress the color of cornflowers. Of course Jims never cares what I wear, but he loves blue…

It was surprising how differently her thoughts tended as opposed to the Rilla of her girlhood. Then she had found it difficult to stay on any serious subject for long and soon drifted towards more corporeal, frivilous matters. Now it was hard for her to simply dwell on any thoughts of dress, fashion, or parties without her thoughts turning in some way to people connected to her, or being drawn down a contemplative path of some sort. Perhaps I am learning how to truly love…

Well, it was making her more into the person she wanted to be, but it certainly didn't help her much around some of her old 'friends,' she snorted, giving the reins of the family horse-and-buggy an extra flourish. Hazel, Irene Howard…with people like Irene, there was hardly any way to open one's mouth and be civil, and without trivial things to talk about like they used to, there simply was nothing to talk about. Their Junior Red Cross organization had dissolved a month after news of the war's end had come, so there wasn't even that to fall back on. And Irene rarely made it through a conversation with Rilla without sneaking in several stings of pain and at least one honeyed personal dig.

But one couldn't ride in the open air with a spring sun shining gloriously and tumbling green countryside passing by and continue thinking of such gloomy thoughts as Irene Howard…especially when there were far pleasanter reflections to be entertaining. Rilla breathed in the crispness of the airy zephyr that enveloped the road. Her heart felt lighter than she could ever remember it feeling. She urged on Ladybird, who caught her mood and breezily cantered the rest of the short distance into town.

"Willa!" Jims's triumphant cry greeted her from the yard of the Anderson home, a small but tidy residence in a good neighborhood of Glen St. Mary (thanks in part to Mrs. Matilda Pitman). Rilla hopped down from the buggy and received the fierce onslaught of the little boy with open arms. "And how are YOU?" she inquired as she lifted him up with difficulty up to eye level for a second, then pretended to collapse from the weight, bringing him down with her in a laughing heap. Mrs. Anderson appeared on the porch, aproned and kerchiefed. Flushed, Rilla scrambled up, still laughing. "I came as early as I could, but I'm afraid Jims's standards of early are different from the rest of the world's."

"Indeed, Miss Blythe!" Sophie Anderson's merry voice matched her face. "Jims is truly incorrigible. Won't you stay a minute and talk…?"

"Let's go NOW!" Jims insisted, tugging on Rilla's dress.

"Perhaps when we come back," Rilla smiled. "This one will not take no for an answer." She swung Jims up onto the seat of the buggy, nudged him over, and sat down beside him. "We'll be back shortly!"

Oh how beautiful everything was! There was no dust on the roads to spoil the verdant green vistas of the view, and all around were the new sounds of spring. Jims chatted complacently beside her, content to do most of the talking (I'll just listen for the "whys"), and Rilla sighed with happiness, extending her magnaminity to the rest of the world. There was not one person she could not smile at…

Irene Howard's unmistakeably condescending address could be heard from the chaise approaching from the opposite direction. Rilla knew she had tempted Fate too irresistably, and Fate had given in to the delightful impulse to irk her. "Why hello Irene!" Sweetness could be a two way street.

"Oh isn't that lovely, taking dear Jims for a country drive!" Somehow Irene managed to make this simple remark sound as though Rilla was terribly oldfashioned and childish.

"We thought we'd enjoy the weather and find a nice spot to play," Rilla simpered through clenched teeth.

"I was traveling myself to Harland's. The season is just getting underway, you know, and I have nothing, absolutely nothing to wear."

"I'm sure you don't, Irene." Rilla had to smile, however bitterly it came.

"But Willa, she's wearing something *now*," Jims said from her other side.

"I haven't seen you much at the parties lately, Rilla. You really should get out more often, now that you don't have Jims to take care of. There are dozens of soldiers returning now who are simply divine dancers…" Irene smirked and tittered to herself. "Oh but I almost forgot…you are infatuated with Kenneth Ford, aren't you?"

"How did you hear?" Rilla's brow furrowed. "You were listening this morning, weren't you?"

"Don't get self-righteous with me, Rilla Blythe! You know you do it all the time! Besides, you sometimes hear things to your advantage…" Irene drew her very chic chaise up besides Rilla's buggy. "For instance, you might have heard the phone call Ken made to Ethel Reese yesterday…"

"That's a lie! He was with me nearly the whole evening…" Rilla could feel her temper rising, and her pulse started to pound.

"Oh, I think there's a lot of things you could learn about Ken Ford if you picked up the phone once in a while." Irene smiled her superior, perfect-toothed smile, and leaned forward conspiratorilly. "As an old friend, Rilla dear, let me give you a warning about the charming Kenneth Ford."

"Thank you very much, Irene, but your warning will have to wait till another day." Rilla adjusted her reins. "Jims and I are late. Good day." Flicking the lead, she spurred Ladybird on and escaped from Irene's oppressive stare.

You're a fool for letting a jealous cat spoil your happiness. Her heart still raced from the jabs given and the accusations made, and nothing Rilla could rationalize or explain away made the words disappear. She remembered how Irene's talk in the past, though exaggerated and warped, almost always started with a grain of truth. She rode in silence, saying over and over to herself that Irene was lying this time.

"Willa, is she the devil's sister?" Rilla was startled out of her revery by the small voice of Jims.

"James Kitchener Anderson! Don't ever let me hear you talk like that again!" Her own misgivings from yesterday, the weight of Irene's terrible hints, and the hurt look on Jims's face all gathered upon her once bright and hopeful spirit, and sunk her heart down to her toes. She closed her eyes, feeling tears prick the back of her eyelids and slip down her cheeks. "Jims," she gasped, catching him in her arms while letting the reins drop to her lap. Tangible pain shot into her heart. "Forgive me, forgive me. She is not a nice person, but we shouldn't speak badly about other people." He burrowed into her side, and she thought miserably, But I must think badly of her, and believe she is lying. Otherwise…