Leave a window open
Anne awoke as the first rays of dawn light lit upon Gilbert's face. As she lay by his side she couldn't help remember the many nights she had spent lying just across from him. A powerful joy, as pure and golden as the rising sun, spread throughout her limbs. Gilbert loved her – he never stopped! – and she was going to be his wife. It was this last thought that finally spurred her to remove herself from his bed.
Gilbert noticed her absence immediately, his hazel eyes opening slowly as he watched his beloved girl slip into her raincoat. A gentle smile curved his lips, then quickly sank into a frown.
"The sun's up!"
He threw back his blankets and leaped out of bed. A pair of trousers were folded over the chair and he shuffled into them, tucking the ends of his nightshirt into the waist.
Anne watched him with a frown of her own. "I think it might be wiser if you stayed in bed."
"I said I would walk you home and I meant it."
"Gilbert," Anne said with a laugh, "it must be five in the morning."
"Uh huh," said Gilbert, wrestling with his suspenders, "would Miss Cuthbert be up by now?"
Anne wasn't laughing anymore. "You want to see Marilla?"
"Of course," Gilbert replied. He inspected his face in a little looking glass and rubbed at his teeth. "How else can I ask for your hand?"
"But you already have my hand… and everything else," Anne added shyly.
At this, Gilbert put the mirror aside and strode up to Anne, circling her waist and drawing her close. He breathed in the faint smell of rosemary, not quite believing that Anne herself was the source of this fragrance; that her slender form was in his arms – and his bedroom.
"Not everything," he said huskily. "I want to do this right, Anne, we've had so many false starts. I want to show your family that I'm worthy of you, that I am a man of my word."
His voice took on a resoluteness as he spoke, Anne's chest swelled to hear it. She knew what Gilbert was referring to, or rather who. Christine Stuart had been a guest at Green Gables, and would have left Marilla in no doubt as to why she was in Avonlea. Of course, Gilbert would want to dispel this notion as promptly as possible, though Anne couldn't help think it might seem more believable if he turned up at a more sociable hour with a shaven chin and a neatly pressed suit. Again it struck her that when it came to matters of the heart she really was the sensible one. A foolish smile spread over her lips, to think this driven, rational, Cooper Prize winner could come over all giddy when it came to her.
It did not take Anne long to convince him to wait a few hours, and she left him at the round window with a tender kiss. Keeping herself to the long shadows of the hedges and trees that lined the road she half floated, half skipped back to Green Gables, her feet moving in time to the beats of her heart.
Swapping her raincoat for the kimono she had left on the bannister, she went to the kitchen and prodded the fire awake. She was staring at the flames and sighing softly to herself when Marilla appeared, demanding to know why Anne hadn't drawn fresh water for the tea.
Gilbert arrived half an hour before she expected him to, the plum puffs she was making with Marilla hadn't even made it to the oven. She flew to the front door at the sound of his knock, a delicious tingle going through her as he brushed a smudge of flour from her face.
"I'm early, I know…" Gilbert faltered, shuffling in his shining boots. "Ah… Mother and Father are here, too."
Anne peered over Gilbert's broad shoulder and saw Emma smiling wildly, a more sheepish looking John closing the garden gate.
"They guessed," said Gilbert, wearing an expression very much like his father. "I didn't have the heart to keep them wondering."
"I brought cake and cream and strawberries!" Emma exclaimed, bustling into the hall. She reached up to remove her hat before realising she had forgotten to put one on. "I know what it's like to receive unexpected guests and I don't want to put out your folks, would you believe I found these beauties," she said, nodding at the dish of plump berries in her basket, "under the old Comice pears? Now I call that positively Providential!"
Gilbert looked uncomfortable at his mother's babbling, though he softened when he saw tears gleaming in her eyes as she beamed at Anne. While it had been a welcome surprise to discover his folks were not only thrilled by the news that Anne had accepted him, they had fervently wished for it. This made the upcoming interview with Miss Cuthbert even more intimidating. If she found Gilbert wanting, if she thought him unsteady, if she had questions he couldn't give answers to… Gilbert clutched at the door handle and his throat went dry, then he felt the firm weight of his father's hand pressing upon his shoulder.
Mrs Blythe bustled Anne into the kitchen, as John straightened his son's tie.
"Marilla Cuthbert's a difficult woman," John said wryly, "I won't deny that, and I'm sure she has her views on the matter. Whatever she says, just remember, Gil, you won Anne's heart, you don't have to win Marilla's too –"
John cut his words short as he heard the unmistakeable sound of Marilla's brisk footfall coming down the hall. Not wanting to prolong his son's anxiety, he ducked out to the porch to avoid any drawn-out greetings.
"Good morning Gilbert, you are looking well. Emma tells me John is here, too?"
"He's – he's coming along. I –" Gilbert swallowed and slipped his cap from his head. "Miss Cuthbert, I've… That is I'm here because…"
Marilla put her hands to her hips and studied the young man squarely, wondering if Gilbert was looking quite so well after all. The colour had drained from his face, and his felt cap was in the process of being mangled. She took it from him without a word and asked if he would come in.
"Yes – I mean I will, that is…"
"Gilbert, whatever it is, speak plainly. Your mother is all of a dither, and Anne's gone as red as a turkey wattle. Now your father has disappeared. If something is the matter I would have you tell me now, my boy."
It was the word boy, that did it. The trembling left Gilbert and he lifted his head.
"Miss Cuthbert, would you care to take a brief stroll with me?"
"No, I would not."
"No, of course…" Gilbert floundered and looked longingly at the door. He never imagined having this conversation here in this dimly lit hall. He looked up the stair well and caught sight of two dirty knees dangling through the bannisters, Mrs Lynde's wide shadow on the stairs. He heard Dora giggle, his father struggling to hide a cough, while Marilla Cuthbert eyed him as though he planned to steal her silver.
Anne burst into the hall then, his mother's hand on her arm.
"No, Anne," said Gilbert faintly, shaking his head. "Let me do this." Taking a steadying breath, he strode up to Marilla and returned her steady gaze. "Miss Cuthbert, I came here today because I wanted to… I want… I want to marry Anne… I love her."
Marilla's breath hitched in her chest and she stole at look at Anne, who was wide eyed and trembling, her hands clasped beneath her chin.
"You love Anne... still?" she said at last.
"I have always loved Anne," he said, more sure of himself now. "Whatever you may have believed before you were mistaken. I have never loved anyone but your girl."
Mrs Lynde cried out, "I knew it!"
Davy started whooping and kicking his legs. Dora raced down the stairs in a most un-Dora like fashion and tugged on Anne's apron.
"Oh Anne, may I be your bridesmaid?"
Anne bent down and kissed Dora's blonde head. "Wait a moment, darling," she said softly, and glanced up at Marilla.
"When... when did this happen?" Marilla did not know whether to laugh or cry. "Anne, I take it you said yes?"
Anne left Dora and went to Marilla's side. "At the Lake of Shining Waters," she said, leaving Dora to explain to Mrs Blythe what on earth the strange girl meant.
"But you came home muddy and soaked to the bone. Davy said you two were hunting out your hairpiece."
Anne's hand flew to her head and she blushed self-consciously. Dora took it upon herself to explain this to Mrs Blythe too, while Gilbert grinned with sudden comprehension.
"I know this must surprise you, Marilla," Anne said slowly, "believe me, it surprised me too –"
"Not me," Mrs Lynde cut in, waddling down the stairs. She stood between Anne and Gilbert and made a satisfied huff. "It's about time, is all I can say."
Marilla could only nod in agreement, a tiny tear trickling down her cheek. This was all Gilbert needed. He slipped his arms around Anne's waist and spun her around with a reckless joy.
Emma and Rachel tactfully drew the children into the kitchen, while Gilbert and Anne stared raptly at each other. Though the pang Marilla felt was a joyful one, she too felt the need to retreat and quickly shifted out to the porch.
She was halfway down the steps, going she did knew not where, when she felt something brush her arm.
Marilla's voice was faint as she stared at his outstretched hand. It looked like the scrubbing brush had been at it for quite some time. The deep stains of grease and dirt that usually stained his rough, cracked hands were gone, and his fingernails were pink. It was a small sign, but all Marilla needed to know that this news mattered to him as much as it did to her.
"I reckon those two have done what we could not, and forgiven past hurts," John said gently. "What say we forgive each other too?"
Marilla took John's hand gratefully, and gave it a brief squeeze.
"Yes," she said, and grinned at him. "You and I were always meant to be friends."
Though the Redmond clock tower had just chimed five Gilbert found himself checking his watch. After assuring himself he had the hour right, he tucked the worn gold timepiece back into the pocket of his waistcoat and smiled absently at the fellow beside him.
He was a year or two older than Gilbert, and was patting down a neatly waxed moustache. He bounced on his toes in an effort to appear taller than Gilbert, who for some strange reason was not gazing impatiently at the doors of the Lecture Hall, but at the lone maple in the centre of the quad, sending crimson leaves into the rising wind.
"Stick with me, Freshman," he said, giving Gilbert a nudge. "I'll show you how it's done. You young ones never get a sniff of the nurses, not till second year at least. My word, but there are some beauties in this year's intake. One fine filly has already caught my eye. Real spirited and smart as a whip. I like my girls like that!"
As he said this the Hall doors opened and two rows of women dressed in starched white aprons and nurse's caps marched primly down the wide stone steps.
Gilbert's friend chuckled smugly as he caught sight of his prize, a curl of coppery hair peeping out from her nurse's cap.
"Good Lord, I do believe she's seen me," he muttered, as that same girl broke ranks and began to run. "Make yourself scarce, Blythe, there's a good chap," he said excitedly, "I'll be sure to ask if she has a friend."
"Sorry, I have to go," Gilbert said, neither hearing nor caring what the fellow beside him was saying, as he ran towards the stairs.
"Miss Shirley!" Gilbert called out.
"Mr Blythe!" Anne cried too.
Grabbing his hand, they raced toward the maple, its wide trunk and tangled branches obscuring them from view.
Cupping her face, Gilbert drew Anne in for a slow and lingering kiss.
"So," he breathed, "how did you find your first week?"
"Exciting and fascinating and torturous all at the same time."
Anne's grey eyes danced as she said this. Gilbert couldn't help think how her answer came so close to defining how he felt about her.
"The torturous I understand," he said ruefully. "I had no idea medical students and nurses would be forbidden from doing anything more than walk the college grounds. I don't know how I am going to survive the whole year."
"I don't know how I am going to survive this next minute, especially when you touch my neck like that."
"Your skin is so soft and you smell so good," he murmured, his lips following where his fingers had been. The merest length of gold chain was visible above her collar. Anne smiled inwardly as she felt the familiar tug of his hand. She knew what he was seeking, the delicate gold band studded with creamy pearls that Anne wore around her neck. "Your ring…" he muttered, hotly, "it's warm..."
"That's because I've been running, I couldn't wait to talk to you, Gilbert, you won't believe what I learned."
At this Gilbert pulled back, if only a little; he may have been head over heels in love, but he was also a dedicated scholar and enjoyed talking with Anne about their studies almost as much as he adored having her back in his arms.
"Oh yes, and what's that?" He sounded curious, as though impatient to add her knowledge to his own.
"It was a lecture on fevers," Anne continued, regarding him with an expression he could not quite place.
"I would have thought we both had enough experience of those to never need another lecture again."
Anne shrugged slightly and tilted her head.
"What is it?" Gilbert urged. "You look as though there was something about me you were trying to figure out."
"It was something Professor Foley mentioned," Anne went on. "He said that nurses should be scrupulous in their care and kindness towards patients even when they appeared unconscious. There is a new paper that claims people are still aware of everything that is happening to them even when they seemed asleep." Her eyes grew wide and she took a step back, her bottom lip pinned by her teeth.
"Interesting hypothesis," said Gilbert, who was trying not to laugh.
"But is it true?" Anne said, undeterred, "did you know – all those times I cared for you – cleaned you – listened to your body – did you know it was me?"
Before Gilbert could answer he was interrupted by the same fellow who had stood with him outside the Lecture Hall. Quickly the two pulled away from each other, Anne nodding as he tipped his smart black hat.
"Blythe, you sly fox, I wondered where you'd got to, aren't you going to introduce me?"
"Ronald Stuart," said Gilbert, proudly, "this is Miss Shirley."
"Ah," said Ronald, looking relieved, "your old school chum from the Island. How do you do, Miss Shirley, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. You would have seen me in the bandaging tutorials." He rocked on his feet in a confident manner, expecting Anne to agree. When she looked at him blankly he quickly rushed on. "Well – you must remember my sister then, she summered on the Island. Christine was quite frantic about this lad here," he said, nudging Gilbert once again.
"Miss Stuart proved a dedicated friend," Anne said, evenly. "I understand she is engaged."
"Was engaged," said Ronald shaking his head. "Say Gil, what do you say to taking her out on the town again? I might even tag along myself. Perhaps Miss Shirley…"
Gilbert was about to explain that Anne was rather more than a chum. Instead he bit back a laugh at the sight of Anne shooting Ronald such a look the poor man sucked in a breath.
"I couldn't possibly, Mr Stuart," Anne said, coolly. "You know the rules."
"Speaking of rules, Stuart," said Gilbert, linking his arm with Anne to show they were about to leave. "Can you let Mrs Kiernan know I won't be back for dinner tonight?"
"Oh right," said Ronald, "will do."
As they walked away Ronald noted the way Anne hugged Gilbert's arm, the way Gilbert bent in close as she spoke, as if he did not want to miss one word. It struck him that perhaps Miss Shirley was rather more than an old school chum.
"Hey Blythe," he called out after helpfully, "don't forget the boarding house bolts the doors at nine!"
Anne and Gilbert stole a look at each other, then Anne turned back with a smile
"Then be sure to leave a window open!" she called back to him.
Thank you so much for reading, and for staying with this story even when my chapters were a little late. I'm not sure if this was the ending you were hoping for, but I always think the best place to end a story is the place where the loose end are properly tied, yet you wish it would still go on.
As ever I would LOVE to know your ideas, or if you would like to give this sequel a go.
THANK YOU for reading, you Anne-girls are the BEST!
love you lots, kwak