Felix King stepped into the city's General store, the bell ringing as he pushed open the door.

"Morning Muriel" he said, greeting the store's manager. "Izzy around?"

"Right here!" Isolde Petitbone spun around, not giving her stepmother a chance to answer. "What can I get you?"

"Two pounds of sugar –brown if possible-, half a dozen eggs, and a kiss would be great."

Eyes twinkling, Felix dug a five dollar bill out of his pocket, plopped it on the counter and gazed up at his girlfriend expectantly.

Muriel Pettibone swiftly made her way to the storage room, throwing Izzy a wink.

Blushing furiously, Isolde grabbed eggs from the shelf above her head, set them on the counter and punched in the price on the cash register.

"That'll be ten cents please" she stammered, keeping her eyes on the register.

The young man suppressed a smile.

" What about the brown sugar I asked for?"

"Coming right up!" Muriel suddenly emerged from her hiding place, dropping a full white pouch next to the eggs. "That'll be a dollar more," she added.

Felix feigned surprise. "Only that? I've only got a five dollar bill, though. Guess that'll have to do!" He shot Izzy a meaningful look. "Unless…"

Izzy grinned.

"Oh, all right, you win. But this is the last time I give you change for such a ridiculous…

Halfway through her sentence, his lips were on hers, soft and hungry.

…thing", she finished, her face inches from his.

"I missed you", he murmured, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

" I missed you too, Felix." Isolde signed.

he shot Muriel a pleading look.

"Izzy dear, why don't you go fetch me some more eggs? We'll run out in no time with the cake festival coming up!"

Izzy frowned, perplexed. "Um, sure Muriel." She squeezed Felix's hand, "'be right back!"

After making sure the young woman had blended herself into the busy afternoon crowd, Felix let go of the curtain he was holding and turned his attention back to Miss Stacey.

"How on earth am I supposed to tell her this?" He exclaimed, cupping his hands in his face.

Muriel lay a soothing hand on his shoulder. "Now, now, Felix. I know she'll understand. Just break it to her gently that's all."

"like that's going to solve anything. " 'Hey Iz, by the way, I'm leaving Avonlea in a month and I won't be back until who knows when, so-

"Stop it", Muriel murmured. "Just stop."

"No but seriously. Let me finish. I have to practice before-

He paused. Izzy was standing in front of him, pale as a ghost, tears filling her eyes.

"Iz, I can explain…"

"No need", she said coolly, clenching her paper bag tighter in her hand. "It's cristal clear that you don't care about me enough to tell me the truth."

Turning her back to both of them, she pushed open the door and breezed out of the store.

"Why did this have to happen today?" Felix demanded to no one in particular, reaching for his coat and gloves.

"Better now than next month. Good luck!" Muriel called out, the door banging behind her.

A few minutes later, Felix was frantically ringing the Pettibones' doorbell, frozen to death by the autumn cold. Giving up after ten times, he turned the knob and barged into the house, Izzy's furious Beethoven concerto echoing everywhere.

Taking off his cap, Felix went to sit of the steps near the living room, knowing Izzy would most likely get tired in a few minutes.

Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, he heard her coming toward him.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, stiffly, not meeting his gaze.

"Competing against Beethoven", Felix replied.

"Excuse-me?"

"You heard me. You were expressing all your rage and hurt to him. More than you did with me."

"You wouldn't understand", she signed.

"Izzy, look at me", he said, his voice tender. "Since when do we not understand each other?

I've known you for years!"

Izzy finally gave in and sat beside him on the steps.

"I'm just angry you didn't have the honesty to tell me the truth."

"What if I told you that it was because I was afraid off things turning out this way that I didn't tell you before?" Felix replied, his voice barely a whisper.

"Oh, Felix." Izzy rested her head on his shoulder. "I just… I don't want you to leave", she said, her voice breaking.

He stroked her hair.

"If only I had a choice, Iz." His voice caught. "I'd-

"Don't. Let's just make the best of what's left."

Felix couldn't tell how long they'd stayed there, silently praying for a miracle.

He only knew he'd missed supper, which Janet and Felicity King where extremely pointy about.

"Come to supper." He hoisted Izzy to her feet.

"Can't. I promised Muriel I'd cook my famous lemon chicken tonight."

"Come on", Felix pleaded, giving her that irresistible look,"I'm sure Felicity and Mother would be less hard on me if you were there."

" Oh, that face!" Izzy laughed. "All right I'll go. Just let me write a note to say where I'll be."

"That's my girl!"

she spun around.

"Who says I'm your girl?"

***

"Iz, could you pass the butter, please?"

"Here you go". Mrs . King, this is delicious!" Izzy exclaimed, marvelling at the taste of the roasted pot.

Janet beamed. "Thank you my dear! But- how many times do I have to tell you- call me Janet!"

"She won't until we marry," Felix cut in boldly, causing Izzy to choke on a piece of meat.

Felicity chuckled softly, tapping her on the back.

"Marry? Well, son, I was under the impression you'd just begun courting,'" Alec grumbled.

"As a matter of fact, Mr. King, we-"

"Had, but when I told her about joining the Navy, things got somewhat… precipitated," Felix cut in,, throwing Izzy a glare that meant 'watch it…'

Alec tried to hide a smile.

"I see. And when was this wedding to take place?"

"As soon as possible. In fact – Felix got up from his chair and dropped to one knee in front of a speechless Izzy- I was going to settle this business right now."

He smiled and pulled a velvet box out of his shirt pocket.

"Isolde Jessica Pettibone, would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"

Everyone's eyes filled with tears as Izzy practically flew off her chair, straight into his arms.

"Yes, Felix, of course I will!" she whispered into his ear.

He stood up, still holding her against him as he slipped the ring on her finger.

"She said yes!" he shouted, a wide grin spreading across his face.

Janet laughed, her heart full of joy.

" All the best to you both!"

" Congratulations!" Cecily burst out, breaking them apart and giving Izzy a hug

"All the best, little brother!" felicity added happily.

"Thanks everybody. "Felix smiled and sat next to Izzy.

" But Mr. King, is this alright with you? "Izzy asked, suddenly worried. "You haven't said a word".

"What else is there to add other than…

Alec paused, enjoying the suspense.

"…how glad I am that my son found someone to keep him out of trouble!" he finished with a laugh, before pulling Felix into a tight bear hug.

The young lady breathed a sigh of relief. Phew, she thought, that was a close one!

***

During the following weeks, clients from the General Store were beginning to gossip and marvel at how 'radiant Isolde Pettibone looked!' And they were right. Izzy brought sunshine and laughter to everyplace she set foot in.

So did Felix. praised his good mood and efficiency towards clients and staff members at the White Sands. Everyone noticed how well he looked.

But even when tortured, the young couple refused to divulge the good news. "Let's wait until the day I leave" Felix had suggested. "That way,, it'll have more effect on people and I won't be there to hear all the gossip!"

Izzy had laughed: "oh yeah, that's just like you, Felix King. Leaving me all alone with mean snippy Eulalie Bugle and her circle of friends when I need you most."

"Oh, come on, I'm sure they're not that bad."

"Says the one who works at a hotel. Oh, and by the way, you've forgotten something," she'd objected. "What about the ring, what do I do, not wear it? Then what would our parents think?"

Felix had shrugged and given her one of his famous lopsided smiles.

"Easy. Just take it off while you're at the store and put it back on once you get home."

"Wrong answer. Muriel works there too, remember?"

"So? Just tell her what were up to in private. No big deal!"

Izzy had rolled her eyes.

"You and your crazy schemes! Why did I ever agree to marry you?"

But Felix knew he had won. He always did whenever she rolled her eyes.

And he was right.

***

"Isolde, would you be so kind as to get me ten pounds of brown sugar?" Eulalie Bugle 's best friend asked that Monday.

"Of course Mrs. Lynd"

"Be quick about it now. Can't spent all day jabbering."

Izzy was trying to fight the urge to get impatient, when Felix suddenly waltzed In to the store,

"Well good morning ladies!" he said, smiling coyly at Izzy.

She cleared her throat, not trusting her voice. "Good day Mr King! what may I do for you?"

"I'd take my usual order please", Felix said , his eyes twinkling mischievously.

Izzy fought back a giggle.

"Well, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until I'm finished with Mrs. Lynd here." She reached for her bags of sugar up on the shelf.

"I'm in no hurry. Take your time"

She hoisted them on the counter and punched in the price.

"About time", Rachel grumbled.

Izzy to a deep breath. Be patient, no use getting her in a fit, she told herself as she caught Felix winking at her for support.

"That'll be four dollars and thirty-six cents please", Izzy said out loud.

Rachel plopped the money on the counter and left without another word.

"Good day to you too, Rachel!" Felix called out mockingly.

Izzy punched him playfully on the arm.

"What? It's not my fault she's in a bad mood."

"I thought she'd grab the darn bags herself." Izzy mumbled. "She made it look like I was going turtle speed!"

"Enough of that nonsense." Felix gently took her by the shoulders and turned her to him.

"I'm here for business , remember?"

"Oh, yes! I almost forgot!" Isolde exclaimed , teasing. "Here you go." –she handed him the eggs and

sugar-. "That'll be-

"A dollar and ten cents, I know", Felix finished. "But you know I've only got-

"Oh, just get over here!" Izzy grabbed him by the collar and started kissing him before he could say another word.

" That was intense!" Felix grinned. "I wish you could be like that all the time…"

"Hey!" She smacked his arm. "Who says I won't be?" "And anyway –she blushed- I couldn't take it anymore: I hadn't seen you in days!"

"I know. We've had tons of clients with the annual fair coming up." He wiggled his eyebrows comically. But if I'd known I'd get such a warm welcoming, maybe I would have stayed longer!"

"Stop it", Isolde chuckled. Don't you intend to pay me"?( she pointed to the contents on the counter.)

"Yes, but like I was saying before I got attacked, I've only got a five dollar bill on me."

she signed.

"As usual!" All right, hand it over, but I've been out of change for awhile and it might very well stay that way for a few days still."

He shrugged, giving her the money " 'Doesn't matter. Think of it as an early wedding present!"

"You little weasel! Izzy exclaimed, laughing ."You are so cheap, Felix king!"

"And you are so crazy Isolde King –I mean, Pettibone-, pouncing on me like a fox on a hen!"

Feigning exasperation, Izzy shook her head and hung her apron on the coat rack near the door.

" I suggest we take this outside, in case "walls have ears!", she whispered, motioning at the window to a curtain waving slightly.

"Good Idea." Felix held the door open for her . "After you!"

Izzy smiled and was about to thank him, when she suddenly remembered something.

"Damn! I can't believe I almost forgot it –again!" she backed into the store and ran to the pantry,, grabbing a blue velvet box.

"All set" She slipped the ring on her finger. "Lucky Muriel was on her lunch break!"

Felix smiled, amused.

"You mean you haven't told her yet? Iz, you're going through useless trouble!"

"Nonsense." She slipped the box into her pocket, left a note for Muriel and headed out the door. "The important thing is, she knows about you-know-what. No need fretting on details!"

"If you say so." He held out his hand and she took it.

"You look like you know where you're going. Where are you taking me?" She grinned. "Pine Bend perhaps?

"How did ya know?"

Izzy shrugged.

"Easy. Each time you take me there you have this mysterious It's-a-surprise-so- I won't – tell- you look on your face." She smiled mischievously. "I guess that's what happens when you date your best friend!"

"What happens?" Felix demanded, curious.

"Well, you're bound to know him or her almost better than yourself, so all the fun is spoiled", Izzy replied, stifling a laugh.

Felix stopped waking abruptly. "Oh, is that so Mrs. know-it-all? Well I have a good one for you."

"Try me."

"If you're so clever, how did you manage to pull such a surprised face when I 'you-know-what' to you the other night at my house, huh? Or was that just one of your many comedian talents?" He asked, grinning , pleased with himself.

Izzy through her hands up.

"All right. You win. I surrender! It was impossible for me to guess what you were up to. You're face was expressionless and I don't read minds.", she admitted half-heartedly.

."Ah, the sweet scent of victory" he said, starting to walk again.

"Wait a minute, no but-I-admit you-know-me -really-well- Izzy-I -love –you answer?" she asked, hands on her hips.

"Oh no, missy, you'll have to beg for that one!" Felix replied.

"No need. I'll help myself, thanks" She slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

"Mmm , that was good!" She grinned wickedly.

Felix laughed whole-heartedly:

"I never knew my future wife (he whispered the word in her ear) to be so bold."

"You haven't seen anything yet! Now come on or lunch break will be over before you know it, and it'll be back to 'jabbering' with Mrs. Rachel Crabby and her poss." she yanked his hand and moved forward.

A couple minutes later, the familiar green lush appeared in front of them, the sweet scent of pines lingering in the air.

"What a wonderful smell", Izzy said, drawing out a huge breath. "Like every time."

Felix didn't answer and just kept on walking.

"Everything okay? It's not like you to be so quiet", she joked.

"I'm fine", Felix assured her. " 'Just wanting to let all this beauty sink in before I have to leave it". "It may be the last time I see it in a while."

Isolde fought back tears.

"Don't be ridiculous, we've still got two weeks! That's plenty of time to come back".

He signed.

"For you maybe but I'll be crazy busy those last few days; packing and at the hotel."

"I won't go back without you, silly! " Izzy's voice quivered.

Felix squeezed her hand.

"Thanks."

Izzy cleared her throat.

"Felix, there's something I've been meaning to ask you…"

"Shoot."

"Um, well, -I know it'll be really complicated since you're so busy- but do you think we could get married before you leave?"

"Before as in 'in a couples of weeks?' Felix asked, surprised.

"Sort of."

He took both her hands in his.

"As much I as I want to say , yes, Iz, it's going to have to be a no. I'm sorry."

."But why?" Izzy'eyes welled up with tears.

"Because", he said softly, running his thumb along her cheeks, "I want to remember this day as being one of the happiest in my life and not recall it as being ' a very rushed time before I left for war.'

Izzy was crying for good now, tears streaming down her pretty face.

Felix slipped his arms around her and lightly stroked her hair.

"I don't understand , Iz. What difference does it make if it's before or after?" he asked gently.

"It makes all the difference!" she screamed angrily. "Don't you see? If we married before you left, the Army would have no choice but to take you off the list; you'd be a married man, and-

"Iz, no, it doesn't work that way", Felix explained patiently. If we'd been married on the day I enlisted, then, like you said, the Army would not have taken me because of my status. But since I gave my name and I wasn't engaged to you yet, it'll be impossible for me not to go.

Do you understand?"

Izzy sniffed.

"I guess I do. But Felix – she bit her lip - what if you don't… come back?" Her voice broke.

"Shhh, don't think that way. I promise you to do everything in my power to come home as quick as possible."

"Yes, but-"

"No buts," Felix said firmly. "During my absence, I will make sure my mother and Muriel keep you busy with weddings plans." He grinned. "I'm sure they'll find you plenty to do: flower arrangements, guest list, ...."

"… meal planning, dress shopping, … The list is endless", Izzy signed, rolling her eyes.

"But at least it'll keep me from thinking too much" (she gazed longingly at him).

"I didn't want to say it not to upset you more, but it'll be so long without you, Izzy,"

Felix signed. " I'm gonna miss everything about you: your bright eyes, you're charming, smile, the curly hair I love running my hands through, your scent,…"

"Oh, what do I smell like?"

"Let's see." He leaned in close and smiled.

"Lilies of the valley. That's what you smell like".

"How poetic!" Isolde grinned.

"It's true! It drives me nuts!" Felix confessed, blushing.

She laughed.

"Really?"

"Yup!" "What about you? Got something that drives you nuts about me ? "

"Mmmm… Yes, definitely . Your eyes. They're so blue, each time I look in to them my knees go weak. "

" But wanna know a secret?" she added.

"Sure."

"Even before we started going out, I couldn't look you in the eye, so that's why you always saw me with a large hat, day or night."

"I'm beginning to like this confessing thing!" Felix said with a laugh. He lifted her chin up to his. "So I guess each time I have a favour to ask you, all I have to do is make you look at me and you'll melt like ice cream and say yes!"

"I guess you could put it that way. But I warn you, Felix King, even if you make me melt like a mud puddle, I would NOT jump a whoop of fire for you ", Izzy threatened, waving a finger in front of his nose.

"I had a rather simpler one on my mind."

"Go ahead then."

"Kiss me."

She laughed.

"That is a rather simple favour to grant."

She cupped his face between her small hands and gently laid her lips on his.

"That wasn't so hard now was it?" Felix demanded a couple seconds later.

"Not in the least. If you have more of those, bring them on!'" she teased while checking her watch. "Good lord! time flies by so quickly! I have to be back at the store in ten minutes!"

"No problem. Muriel can cover for you, her lunch break's long gone anyway," Felix assured her.

Sure enough, Muriel was bustling about when Izzy got back the General Store, folding quilts and reorganizing racks.

"Izzy , what kept you? It's after two, you know."

"I know, but I was-

"Oh, no need to answer, you've got Felix written all over you're face", Muriel smiled teasingly. "I was just testing you to see what excuse you'd come up with."

Izzy's face turned to a bright shade of pink.

"Is it really that obvious?" she asked.

"Just to those of us who aren't blind", Muriel joked.

"Ha ha very funny."

" I know what you're going through", her stepmother confessed. "It feels like you're floating on air, doesn't it? Life you were going to reach the stars?"

Isolde signed dreamily.

"That's exactly how I feel".

"About what?" Cecily king asked, stepping a foot in the store and startling them both.

"Your brother", Muriel informed her, causing Izzy's blush to deepen.

Cecily grinned.

"Ah, but you needn't be worried. He feels the same way about you!"

"Did he say so?"

"You know Felix. He never says anything to you directly, but I know my big brother well enough to know that he's "in lurve".

"I disagree with you Cess,"

"You do? you don't think he loves you?"

"No, I meant about him never saying anything directly; when he's hungry he says it pretty DIRECTLY", Izzy joked.

Cecily chuckled.

"Good one".

"So, what can we do for you?"

"Um, actually, I just wanted to have a look at some fabric for a new dress."

"Oh, okay then. Any thing in mind?" Izzy asked. " Is it for an everyday dress, or a more dressy occasion?"

"Dressy I guess", Cecily answered a bit shyly.

"Oooh, I'm liking this; you NEVER go out!" (Izzy raised her eyebrows comically)

"Anybody I know?"

"Let me see what we've got for you dear, I'll be right back, " Muriel excused herself as she went into the backroom.

Izzy grabbed her friend's hand excitedly.

"She's gone now, I want details! Who is this boy? Do I know him?"

"Maybe."

"Oookay, let's move on to the next question, but try to be a bit more PRECISE if you can", Izzy joked.

"Has he been around Avonlea for long?"

"Quite a while now. It's say about six years", Cecily responded.

"And how old is he?"

Cecily's cheeks flushed.

"Felix's age."

"Interesting. A good match for you".

"Does he have a job?" Isolde wanted to know.

"Yes."

"Remember what we just said about being more P-R-E-C-I-S-E ? Does he work for the bank?"

Cecily shook her head.

"The newspaper?"

"Guess again!"

Izzy snapped her fingers, an idea popping in her head . "The White Sands', right?"

"Bingo! But how did you figure that out? There are so many jobs on the market."

"Well, there aren't many jobs available for nineteen year olds this time around", Izzy shrugged. "So in what department is he?"

"Bell boy."

"Just like Felix!" Izzy exclaimed. "Are they friends? Do they work together a lot?"

"They're close friends and they're on the same shifts. Good Lord, Iz, this feel's like an interrogatory!" Cecily exclaimed .

"Oh. My. God! Cecily are you dating ELBERT by any chance?"

"It's possible", she answered carefully.

"You ARE, aren't you! Oh Cess, this is wonderful!" Izzy gushed. "We can have our wedding reception the same day, and-"

"Whoa, hold your horses!" Cecily laughed. "We've only been courting for about a month."

"So?"

"My dear Cecily, I've come to rescue you from Tornado Izzy, you've endured enough questioning for now!" Muriel said with a smile, a beautiful light blue fabric in her hands.

"Here, go and get me a gallon I'll take you're measurements", she added, shoving the fabric in her hands,

"Will do! Thanks Muriel!" Cecily stuck her tongue out at Izzy and disappeared in the back.

***

"I still can't believe it!" Izzy said to her family that night over supper, "I still can't believe she's been dating Elbert for almost a month and she didn't bother to to tell ME, her best friend!"

"Remember how you felt when you first started dating Felix? You wanted to keep it all to yourself too", Muriel pointed out. "Not to mention his (she pointed to her stepdaughter's engagement ring) you haven't exactly shouted the good news to everybody either".

Isolde was about to answer that Felix was responsible for her silence when there was a ring at the doorbell.

"I'll get it", Clive said, getting up from his chair.

"No, that's alright father, I'll go".

Izzy made her way to the living room and pulled open the door.

"Felix", she said, surprised. "What are you doing here?"

He smiled, sheepish.

"Well, I was on my way home and I sort of smelled something good coming from your house."

Izzy laughed.

"I knew it had something to do with food!"

"I didn't mean it that way!"

"I know, I was just kidding,, come on!" Izzy took him by the arm and dragged him into the house.

"Muriel , he's come to fetch some of your blueberry pie", she announced, making everybody laugh.

" We hear you, man, that pie's the devil's work!" Morgan said, grinning at his brother.

"I see you've come to your senses and decided to fulfill your duty to your country, boy" Clive said, nodding approvingly towards Felix's uniform as Muriel grabbed plates and forks.

"Yes sir".

."Good. Very good . You've made the right decision and I'm sure-

"That's enough!" Izzy cut in sharply. "I don't want to hear another word about this blessed war until he's back home safe. Now come and sit down Felix, you're pie is getting cold."

"Iz, I-

"Not another word! Sit!" she commanded

Felix did as he was told and pulled up a chair up to the table and ate his pie

"That was scrumptious, Muriel, thank you", he said a couple minutes later, breaking the odd silence.

"My pleasure, Felix, my pleasure. Now why don't you kids go for a walk while we do the dishes?' She suggested, motioning at Izzy to get up.

"All right. We won't be long". Isolde grabbed her coat and scarf and headed out the door, letting Felix trail behind her.

"Can we talk?" Felix asked after they'd walked several minutes in silence. "I have something to say".

"Go ahead, but I'm not angry at you."

"Oh, really!" Felix exclaimed ironically . "Well then, I can hardly wait to see what it's like when you TRULY are!.

Izzy rolled here eyes.

"Okay, so maybe I am. ", she confessed.

"Honesty's always better.

Look, I'm sorry if I upset you earlier talking about war with your father, but if " I'm sorry" weren't the words you where waiting for, what are they then?" Felix demanded, perplexed by the unsatisfied look on Izzy's face.

" I. Hate. This .Bloody. War! Those were the words I wanted you to fire back at my father when he told you how glad he was you were "fulfilling your duty to your country". But no ,."Yes, sir", that's all you got?" Isolde burst out, tears furiously running down her cheeks.

"Iz, what more could I say?" Felix objected gently , trying to hold her, but Izzy fighting against him. "As much as I wanted to, I couldn't. Not in front of Clive Pettibone, Avonlea's bravest soldier!"

."Wait- Izzy suddenly stopped fighting and crying all at once- you hate war too?" she asked, shocked.

He laughed softly.

"Of course I do. If I didn't I wouldn't have bothered to enlist in the first place! If I did so , it's to fight against it. And so did thousands of other men in this country. We want our world to be a better place ."

"Wow", she whispered. 'Then I owe you an apology too."

"What on earth for?"

"Only thinking of me", Izzy replied, ashamed. "I wanted to keep you all to myself. I realize now that lots of people out there are desperately going to need you're smile, you're wits, but most of all, you're courage and bravery, and that I if I keep you from doing what is important to you I'll end up being a bad wife".

Felix stroked her cheek tenderly.

"I highly doubt that, but thank you, I'm very touched. And besides, I should have known all along that if I explained it to you correctly, you'd stick by me. We've been friends for as long as I can remember and you always have, so no change in that!"

Isolde rested her head on his shoulder.

"Felix, me hating the war doesn't only have to do with you", she started quietly.

"I know that, Izzy. Seeing your father and Arthur leave must have been very hard for you"

"Yes ,out-of-this-world hard, and worst's to come with Morgan enlisting, too, but that's not where I'm getting at. My point is, I don't want to end up like my mother".

"In what way?"

"She spent her life and a part of mine waiting for Father , and then Arthur." Izzy explained calmly, not meeting his gaze. "I don't think I'll be able to handle it."

Felix lifted her chin up to his so she'd look at him.

"Okay, you're now staring into my mind-blowing blue eyes so that means you'll agree to everything I'm about to say", He teased, trying to lighten the mood.

Izzy laughed despite herself.

"We'll see. Now shoot".

"Remember when we first started dating? I practically had to talk you into holding my hand in public, because of you wanting things to 'start slow'.

Izzy smiled, memories of months back flowing to the surface.

"Yeah, I have vague reminiscence of those times". she joked. "But I'm not too sure where you're getting at"

"Be patient. So as I was saying, that first time we went out 'as a couple' you were a bit panicky. That's when I told you-

."That you'd waited such a long time for this to happen, you didn't see the need in rushing things at all, and that should I take all the time the world, you'd still be there waiting for me", Izzy finished , slowly starting to grasp Felix's point.

"Exactly."

"Felix, if this about the wedding, I don't want you to get the wrong idea, I-"

"Don't . Just listen," he said, putting a finger to her lips.

"I said this almost two years ago, and I will say it time and time again if need to.

"Izzy, I've waited so long for this to happen, that should you take all the time in the world, I wouldn't be going anywhere."

Hearing Felix himself say almost the exact same words she'd said a few seconds ago made Izzy's eyes fill up with tears.

"Again?" Felix teased. "I thought the tears had taken a break for the night." He tightened his grip around her and handed her his handkerchief.

"They won't until you come back", Izzy sniffed.

"Aw, now. Where did my brave little warrior go?"

"Hiking when you said I could take all the time in the world."

Felix grinned.

"Well, I hope she won't be gone too long. You'll need 'er."

Izzy hugged him harder

."Don't I know it! It'll take all my will power not to drive all the way there and tell them to stop what the – (H word) they're doing to us!"

"Wasn't your well-educated father supposed to do his homework and tell you to use the word "Halifax" instead of "H- word? He has a BAD , influence on you really Izzy, Felix joked.

"Ooh, I know. I spent my whole life dressing like a military up to now", she laughed.

"I must say pants did look pretty swell on ya ", (he winked),

Izzy's cheeks flushed.

"Why is it you always make me blush?"

"Because of my flabbergasting charisma, of course."

"Yeah, yeah." she punched him on the arm.

"Ow!" Felix exclaimed. "When is this violence going to stop?" We're not even married yet and you're already hurting me!"

Izzy smiled endearingly.

"I won't punch you unless you deserve it", she answered coyly.

"Oh, you! Now down to a more serious subject. The wedding, what-

"Now, it's your turn to shut your mouth and listen to me, Mister. I will NOT take this off (she pointed to her engagement ring) unless you ask me to yourself. Understood? All I meant about the not becoming like my mother thing, was that I don't intend to sit all day moping around like she did until father came back . I will busy myself with wedding plans as I if you were right there with me. Clear enough for ya?" Izzy demanded, eyes twinkling mischievously.

"Cristal clear!" Felix exclaimed. "I thought I'd lost you there for a minute."

"Gotcha, didn't I?" Izzy laughed.

"Ya sure did! why didn't you stop me when served you my "I'll still be there waiting for you speech?"

"I tried, but since you didn't let me I just couldn't resist pulling your leg all the way," Izzy said, grinning. "You were just so funny, stumbling across you words like I was about to run away from you!"

"You little goose! You're gonna pay!" Felix warned, letting go of her hand and tickling her all over.

"Haaaaaaaa, stooooooop! I beg of youuuuu!" Izzy screamed, giggling helplessly.

"And why should I do that?" Besides, when will I get another chance of tickling you – alone in the midst of the woods- before I leave, huh?"

"I'm…. Sure… we'll… find… time," Izzy said, out of breath. "Now release me this instant I've got horrible craaaaaaahhhmps comin'. she yelped.

Felix finally gave in and let a panting Isolde catch her breath.

"Thank you for your generosity", she said sarcastically a couple seconds later.

"Want me to keep on giving?" He threatened, holding his hands up to her.

"No, thanks; I've received enough donations for the night!" Izzy joked.

"Besides, I have far more important matters to discuss with you."

"Such as?" Felix asked, curious.

"Such as the fact that you're good friend Elbert happens to have been going out with you're baby sister for over a month."

"Is that all?" He shrugged. "I've known about that for a while now."

."Why you worm!" Izzy exclaimed. "Why for Heaven's sake didn't you tell me before?"

"For the simple reason Cecily asked me to keep my mouth shut."

"And since when do you, of all people, keep your mouth shut?" Izzy asked, surprised.

"I'll take that as a compliment. Ever since she threatened me to put a lock on the pantry if I didn't", Felix explained rather sheepishly.

Izzy laughed her eyes out.

"That is the most ridiculous… brilliant idea I ever heard of.! I wonder why I didn't think of it before! Oh, I know! why don't I just take a leap over to your house and tell Cess how you indirectly told me the news? That way, she can get the lock out!' Izzy grinned wickedly.

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Watch me! Oh, and while I'm there, I'll ask her where she keeps her spares; that way my house'll be anti-Felix too!"

Izzy started gallivanting towards King Farm but was caught by two strong arms.

"These aren't just made for farm work, ya know!" Felix winked. "I use 'em to keep pretty girls from running off!"

"Let me go, Felix King!' Izzy playfully tried to free herself, in vain. She gave in after a few minutes and just rested her head on his chest, enjoying the golden silence that had settled in between them, soft like the wings of an angel.

"I love you Felix", Isolde declared simply a few minutes later.

"Why?" Felix gazed up at her tenderly.

"Because even when we were just friends, there was this sort of magical silence that used to come up between us from time to time- just like this one, that told me you were the one".

"Wanna know something? Me too", Felix said, swallowing the lump that had risen in his throat. "I felt it too. The fact that we never needed words to understand each other's thoughts."

***

"We won't be long", Muriel mimicked Izzy's earlier statement as she and Felix set foot in the Pettibone home.

"Oh, well I guess I just beat him up longer than I thought I would", Isolde apologized, teasing.

"She sure as heck did!" Felix exclaimed, pulling his shirt sleeve up for all to see the 'bruises'.

"Glad to hear that!" Clive Pettibone laughed.

"Felix, man, say something! You're admitting being won over by no other than our sister here!" Arthur and Morgan joined in.

"Oh, he did pretty well for himself too boys, you needn't worry", Izzy said, ducking her head shyly.

"Lord, Isolde, you didn't-

"No Mr. Pettibone", Felix assured him with a quiet laugh . "We have done nothing you' d be ashamed of.

"Don't worry father. We're responsible adults, aren't we Felix?"

"That's right", he winked. "Talking about being 'responsible', I think I should call it a night."

He checked his watch.

"It's after eleven".

"Is it really? Gosh!". Izzy exclaimed. "I had no idea it had gotten so late. Want me to take you home?" she offered.

"No that's all right thanks. It would take me longer to cross the fence home with you that without you."

Izzy stuck her tongue out at him.

"Very funny! See you tomorrow then. 'Night everyone." She waived and slowly made her way up the stairs.

Clive shook his head and threw an amused glance at Muriel.

"They act like children but look like adults. Inconceivable!",

Felix smiled.

"Goodnight Mrs. and Mrs. Pettibone, 'night guys" (he nodded at Arthur and Morgan and stepped out the door.)

"I've never seen her so radiant", he said to his wife once felix was out of sight.

"Or so in love.", Arthur said, a knowing smile on his lips.

***

As days passed, red and gold leaves flew and people deserted Avonlea. Everyone was going to war. The men, the young men, and even the women, in a way. They were all slowly but surely leaving the quiet, peaceful life they had been used to living, and drifting into a horrible, hectic part of history. it was as if everyone sensed there was a wind of tragedy about to blow over them, because as much as people left, many arrived to comfort their loved ones in this hard period. Sarah Stanley, as well as many other King relatives came back in town, knowing Felix, Morgan and many other's departures were close.

*

Isolde was just about to put up the "closed" sign on the door of the General Store, Muriel locking the last of the shelves and cupboards, when the familiar clinging sound of the bell announcing someone's arrival startled them both.

Izzy gritted her teeth when she saw a large flower-covered hat poking it's way through the door.

Another one of those snippy city girls, she thought , slipping her apron back on and hastily preparing to serve what was sure to be a difficult customer.

"Welcome to the General Store", she recited mechanically, feeling Muriel's eyes on her.

"What may I do for you?"

"Well, provide an information perhaps", said the lady with the hat, using a different, more soft and polite tone voice Izzy would have expected coming from a city girl.

"Do you know of a girl by the name of Sara Stanley, by any chance?"

Izzy smiled, her bad mood disappearing in an instant as she thought of Felix's cousin, a true and dear friend of hers, blond hair blowing through the wind like gentle weed crops.

"Yes, I believe I do", she answered after a moment, snapping out of her reverie.

"Why?"

"Well, I'd at least think you'd recognize her!" Sara exclaimed, a wide grin spreading across her face as she slipped off her hat, a crown of gold hair spreading on her shoulders.

."Sara! " Izzy exclaimed, walking around the counter to embrace her old friend. "Sara Stanley, is it really you?"

"Looks like it!" Sara said with a bubbly, joyous laugh.

"But why didn't you just say so instead of going through all this interrogatory?" Isolde demanded, amused.

"Let's just say we wanted to pull you're leg a little. "she winked at Muriel.

"We? You knew all along?" Izzy whirled around to face a laughing Muriel.

"Sorry, Iz. I just had to play along! Now, you ladies run along, we were just closing anyway."

"If you say so!" Izzy hurriedly grabbed her coat and cloves, kissed Muriel 's cheek and out she went, her friend's arm linked through hers.

"So", Sarah said a couples minutes later, her long hair bouncing as she walked, hat in hand, "I want to hear all the Avonlea news".

Izzy blushed slightly.

"Well, Arthur is married now; with a missionary, Morgan decided to quit teaching and enlist (her face clouded for a second ) ,Father and Muriel married too, as you know , and Felicity's expecting -

"What!" Sara exclaimed.

Izzy laughed.

"I gather nobody informed you. If it's a girl, they'll call her Jane."

"Jane pike. I like it", Sara decided, smiling.

"When's she –I mean he or she - due for ?"

"May."

"Then I will most definitely stay until then."

"You will ? Oh, thank heavens!" Izzy drew a sign of relief. At least she'd have a part of Felix with her.

"And how's Cess doing?" Sarah asked, pretending not to notice her friend's expression.

"Well, I was just getting to that." Izzy grinned broadly. "She's dating Elbert."

"Elbert? As in, Elbert from the White Sands?" Her eyes widened.

"Precisely".

"And when did this occur?"

"Last month. But you know Cecily, she's very secretive about anything regarding herself!"

"A bit like ol' Felix", Sarah smiled. "How's the sport doin'? Haven't had news from him for quite a while!"

No wonder, Izzy thought, He's been too busy courting me!

"Oh, he's doing pretty good for himself I'd say", she said out loud.

"I'm sure he is. With you taking so good care of him", Sarah said casually, eyes twinkling.

Izzy almost tripped.

"W-what do you mean?"

"Oh, come on, Iz, you know he writes to me every week !" She exclaimed, laughing her eyes out. "that was just a little white lie to see how you'd react when I'd say his name".

"You weasel! Where did you learn how to lie so well?" Izzy demanded, shaking her head in astonishment.

"Art school." Sarah winked at her. "But don't you worry; I haven't lost my good old instincts. They've never failed me so far." (she grinned wickedly at her friend):

"So how long have you two been courting for?"

"I'm surprised he didn't tell you that too,", Izzy said sarcastically.

"Oh, don't be cross at him for blabbing, Iz ; he seemed to be bursting of happiness! "

"He did?" Izzy's voice softened.

"Of course, you gooseberry! Now, tell me, how long?" Sara insisted.

"almost a year and a half."

."Wow!"

"Yup, it seems just like yesterday to me." Izzy signed, a dreamy look on her face.

"No wonder you said 'thank heavens' earlier when I talked about staying 'till May. You're gonna need some company when the man leaves!" Sara deducted.

"You heard that? You looked like you weren't even paying attention!"

Sarah just smiled.

"It's so good to see you Sara! you're like a fresh ocean breeze (without the fish in it!)"

She laughed.

"I'll always remember that first compliment Felix tried to pay you! Now come on! " she said, slipping her hair into a loose bun and putting her hat on. "I intend to give that cousin of mine the shock of his life!"

Izzy grinned.

"I'm all for it. And maybe on the way there you can fil me in on that engagement ring I see shining on you're finger!" she added innocently.

"Peter." Was all she got out of her.

*

A couples minutes later, Izzy rang the King's doorbell, her friend's head ducking behind her.

Cecily came running , pushing open the door.

"Hey Iz! Felix's at the barn," she said before her friend had piped a word.

"Who?-

"Surprise!" Sara whispered cheerfully. "Good to see ya, cousin!"

"SARA! " Cecily shrieked, pulling her into a tight hug..

"Shhh! " Izzy scolded. We wanna surprise Felix!" She dragged her friend away.

"See ya later, Cess, " Sara shrugged, giving her cousin an apologetic smile before waving a finger in front of her face.

"You and I'll have lots of catching up to do, seeing as what Iz told me about."

Cecily nodded casually before throwing her friend a murderous look behind Sara's back.

*

"I'll go in first", Isolde whispered as they neared the barn. "Wait here."

She kicked in the door and took a deep breath, praying her giddy ways wouldn't spoil the surprise.

"Hey Felix! " She said, her voice clear. "Cess told me you'd be here."

"Hey." Felix let go of the fork he was holding and wiped his hands on his pants.

"Have you come for business again?" He asked, rising his eyebrows comically.

Izzy laughed, feeling herself relax.

"Actually, I have this time. Real business."

" Oh." Felix's face grew concerned. "Everything all right?"

"Oh, sure, don't worry. Everything's fine. It's just- she paused- that there's this client waiting for you outside the barn."

"Client?" he asked, perplexed. "A new one for the White Sands?" Izzy fluffed her dress to cover a laughing noise.

"Yes. I told her I could show her the way there, but she specifically asked for you, being the new assistant-manager".

"All right then". Felix wiped his pants, fluffed his hair and out he went

Izzy waited a few minutes before trailing after him.

"Hello miss, how can I be of use to you?" He asked.

"Well, I'll shortly be staying at your hotel, and I was wondering if someone named Sara Stanley had already booked our reservation?"

"Sara Stanley? Why she's my cousin!" Felix exclaimed "No, that can't possibly be correct, miss. The only Sara I know of lives in Montreal".

"Not anymore!" Sara let go of her hat and out went flying her blond hair, a mischievous smile on her lips.

Felix's eyes widened.

"SARA! Good lord, it's you!" he exclaimed, sweeping his cousin up in his arms and twirling her around. "You're back!"

Sara shrieked , laughing wildly.

"Yes, and I should stay until May- that is if I don't die of a heart attack first- let me go!" she pleaded.

Felix smiled and courteously set her down.

"When did you learn to change your voice and lie so well?" I'd have recognized you anywhere!"

."Your charming girlfriend asked me the exact same question. And the answer is Montreal's School of Art".

Felix spun around, facing Izzy.

"You knew about this?"

"You could say that". She gave him her most heart stopping smile.

"Why, you bunch of worms! You almost made me die of shock!"

Izzy and Sara high-fived.

"You were expecting this kind of reaction I gather?" He shook his head, amused. "You two haven't changed a bit".

He slipped his arm around Izzy's small shoulders and offered Sara his other arm.

"Come on. Wait 'till we tell Mother what you did!" He said, as the three of them made the way to the house.

Janet almost dropped the plate she was drying when she saw who was coming up the road.

***

After everyone's emotions were stable, Janet set a tea service on the veranda for Sara and the rest.

"Enjoy!" she called out before disappearing back inside the house.

"Well," Izzy declared a few minutes later, "I'd best be going." She rose from her chair and was about to pay everyone her respects, when Felix got to his feet .

"You're not leaving already are you?" he asked , as Sara gave her a pleading look.

"I'll leave you to your family reunion. You haven't seen each other for so long! And besides, she added, I visited with Sara earlier already".

"Hardly!" she protested.

"Yeah, Iz, stay!" Felicity and Cecily joined in. "You're part of the family now."

Izzy threw a murderous glance at them and Felix bit his lip to keep from laughing.

"What?" Cecily asked, confused, "What was that look for?"

"Oh, my God, you guys are engaged, aren't you?" Sara cut in, beaming. "I knew it!"

Felix gently let go of Izzy's hand and slipped off her glove, revealing a shimmering gold ring on her third finger.

"You see, it took me two years' worth of patience to get her

to go out with me so- Ow! he exclaimed, Izzy having slapped him with her glove- imagine asking her to marry me !"

"Don't you dare! I said yes in an instant!"

'I witnessed", Cecily agreed, raising a finger.

"Me too," Felicity added.

"Well, I didn't, but I'm sure she did. She' so smitten with him, she'd throw herself in a pig slot if he asked her to". Sara winked at Felix and Felicity, referring to the past trick they'd pulled on her when she'd first arrived in Avonlea.

"I certainly would NOT, and what does that wink mean?" Izzy demanded, throwing her fiancé a suspicious glance."

Felix laughed. "Just our juvenile exploits, nothing to do with you", he said, throwing a mischievous smile at his sister.

"I see. A" juvenile exploit" you don't intend to share with the rest of us?" Izzy enquired,

curious.

"If you insist, I might make the sacrifice", Sara joked, becoming what she was once famous for, "The Story Girl".

As usual, Sara's soft, entrancing voice charmed her audience.

"I see the Story Girl's back on duty, heh?" said a voice Felix knew only too well.

"Peter? Peter Craig?"

"Felix, man! Boy, has it ever been a while!" Peter exclaimed, coming out of the bushes to shake his hand.

"You've joined the forces I see." He nodded approvingly. "I was planning on that myself, but an old story-telling friend of mine seemed to have kept me from doing so." He smiled coyly at Sara, making her redden like an apple in September.

"I know, they're engaged", Isolde blurted out.

"How do you know that?" Peter demanded cautiously.

Felix laughed.

"Relax, Peter. This is Isolde Pettibone, my blabbing fiancée."

Izzy stuck out her tongue at Felix before turning to Peter.

"People call me Izzy."

"Nice to meet you, " he grumbled.

Sara laughed and rose from her chair.

"Be a gentleman, Peter".

"Alright ". He took her hand and cleared his throat. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet my fiancée, Sara Stanley".

"So it is true!" Felicity squealed like a schoolgirl, "Peter the Methodist is marrying a Presbyterian!"

"Oh, hush up, Felicity" Sara said between gritted teeth "We all know you've always had a grudge against Peter since he started working for Aunt Hetty."

Peter gently squeezed her shoulder.

"Calm down, I'm sure she didn't mean it, right Felicity?"

"You know I didn't. I was just teasing."

Sara signed.

" Sorry , Fel. Every since Aunt Hetty passed away, I haven't exactly… been myself" (she threw an apologetic glance at Peter).

"And with darn good reason!" He exclaimed, slipping his arms around her.

"She was like a mother to you."

"And an aunt to you.", Sara added, wiping a tear on the corner of her eye.

"Oh, come now, let's not start a tear jerking competition here", Felix chimed in, throwing Isolde a wink. "Let's focus on happy thoughts, like Sarah' s wedding for instance."

"I like that", Izzy agreed. "So, when are you guys planning this for?"

"Yeah," Cecily added , "we better be included in the planning!"

Sara laughed.

"Don't worry, we've got everything figured out. We thought about next Tuesday, right here in Avonlea, just before Felix leaves."

"Excellent idea!" Izzy exclaimed.

"Peter, I hope you though of inviting good old Peg?" Felix demanded, smiling mischievously at his friend.

Peter grinned.

" 'Said she wouldn't miss it for the world!"

"PEG? Peg Bowen?" Felicity exclaimed, wide-eyed.

"The one and only!" Sara confirmed.

"This I gotta see!" Cecily chimed in. "She hasn't been around for years!"

"Your 're right; at least not since we've been gone," Sara agreed.

"We?" Felix demanded, perplexed. "You mean Peter was at Montreal?"

Peter laughed.

"Where did ya think I was? Peg's house?" He smiled coyly at him and Izzy.

"But then again I guess you didn't get a chance to thinkthe last couples months, did you?"

Felix blushed.

"Not exactly", he admitted . "Let's just say my thoughts focused on one particular thing for a while."

Isolde pushed her hat closer to her face.

"This is what I love about this hat", she teased , "it's largeness."

Everybody laughed whole-heartedly.

***

About an hour later, she yawned, stretching her arms behind her head.

"I'd seriously have to get going", she said, getting up. "Muriel's been working alone long enough.."

"We're off then." Felix rose from his chair, taking her elbow.

"Oh no, you don't need to do that!" Izzy gestured to the others.

"I don't need to, I want to."

Sara whistled, rising her eyebrows suggestively.

Isolde laughed.

"Come on, Felix, I'm already late." she said, dragging him by the arm.

"Yeah, Felix, you'd better do what the woman says," Peter teased, winking at Sara. "I've had my lesson."

"Don't listen to a word he says " Sarah rolled her eyes.

*

"Don't you wish some moments could just go on endlessly?" Izzy asked her fiancé as they neared the General Store.

"I sure do!" Felix signed. "I sure do."

Izzy squeezed his hand.

"I didn't mean it heavily."

*

Before anybody could say "pee-ka-boo", Tuesday night came.

"I can't believe this day's already over", Sara exclaimed. . "It went by so fast!"

"You were the bride of my dreams", Peter signed as he stroked her hair. "I'll never forget this day as long as I live!"

"Neither will Felix and Izzy", Sara pointed out "he leaves for France tomorrow." She gently rested her head on his shoulder. "Thank goodness I managed to talk you out of it, I don't know what I would have done…"

"Speaking of which," Peter began hesitantly, "Sara, there something I-"

"Don't!" she cut in, tears welling up in her eyes. "Please don't say it!"

He drew her close.

"I have to. Sara, I've enlisted."

Sara's body shacked as she cried, Peter softly rocking her back and forth.

"Why didn't you wear your uniform at the wedding, then?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

"Because I didn't want my wife to be like this on the happiest day of her life."

"No wonder Peg gave in so quickly when we invited her : she knew she might never see you again!" Sara choked, fresh tears streaming down her face as she freed herself from Peter's embrace.

"Sara, wait, let me-"

"You lied to me! You promised me you'd never leave me!"

She stormed out of the church, her veil swishing on the floor as she ran towards Pettibone Farm.

"Sara, dear, what-

"Peter enlisted!" she burst out at Muriel, "he enlisted on our wedding day!"

"Oh, you poor darling!" Muriel hugged her briefly. "I'll go get Iz."

*

"I can't believe it", Sara told her friend as she sipped her hot tea, "I can't believe he lied to me., Iz! "

Isolde squeezed her friend's hand, at loss for words.

"All I can say is I understand how depressed you must feel. I thought I might die when I saw Felix standing in my doorway in uniform just a few months ago."

"But that's just it! You SAW him, he didn't LIE to you!" Sara exploded.

"What's going on here?" Felix asked as he arrived in the parlour, cookie in hand.

"She knows about Peter."

Felix winced.

"What? Are you meaning to tell me you two knew all along?" Sara enunciated slowly.

"Sara, come down", Felix started

"CALM DOWN? You want me to CALM DOWN when my good friend and my favourite cousin betrayed me on the most important day of my life?"

"I think 'betrayed' is a bit strong. We just wanted to spare you the news so a cloud wouldn't hang from your blue sky", Izzy explained, "nothing more."

"I'd be curious to know how you'd react if the same thing happened to you on your wedding day and I told you that as an excuse", Sara retorted sourly.

"Come on, you guys, let's not start a fight. It's already hard enough, don't you agree? I suggest you go back and find Peter. After all, he's the one who asked us to keep quiet in the first place."Felix pointed out.

"He's right. And Sara, don't think that because I'm acting all reasonable and a bit cold I don't share your pain about Peter leaving for war. If you only knew how much self-discipline it takes for me to get up and "be brave" everyday! But I do it. I do it for him. (she nodded at Felix.)

Felix squeezed Izzy's hand discreetly under the table.

"You'll take care of each other. You're both very strong", he assured them. Sara ruffled her cousin's hair affectionately and rose.

"Thanks for the advice Felix. "She gave Isolde's shoulder a pat. "And thank YOU for the support."

Izzy smiled.

"Anytime."

***

Wednesday morning arrived without a warning as Felix King sat up straighter to watch a beautiful gold-struck sun come up.

How can there be such a magnificent start to a day like this? The young man wondered, reaching for his neatly folded military clothes.

He thought back on the evening with Izzy after Sara had left. Carefree and joyful, they had talked for hours until Felix had discreetly checked his watch and declared it was time for him to leave.

"Already!?" Isolde had protested

"It's after one o' clock," he'd explained, gently kissing the top of her head.

She'd looked at him as though she was scared to let him go.

"Don't worry," he'd said, laughing ,with forced lightness . "We've still got morning."

Now, though, he think didn't morning was long enough at all.

With a sigh, he showered, dressed, and combed, and went down to the kitchen, quiet as a mouse, for his early breakfast.

"There you are!" Alec exclaimed, smiling mockingly at his son, "always the last one up!"

Grinning, Felix took a look.

yup, they were all there: Felicity and her usual grumpy morning expression, Cecily all cheery and bright like a fresh rose, and Daniel, still sleeping in Janet's comforting arms.

"Morning big brother! Sleep much?"

"To tell you the truth, sis, not much. But thanks anyway."

Felix winked at Cecily.

"Felicity, on the other hand, seems to have overslept if you ask me!"

"Very funny." Felicity yawned and lay a hand on her tummy. "I just don't know how you can all keep pretending everything's normal", she added quietly. "I sure can't."

Janet signed.

"Our family's always been a comedian bunch."

"I don't agree." Felix interjected. "I for one, was NOT pretending! Felicity DOES look like she overslept; this isn't acting, it's plain FACTS!"

Felicity laughed and pulled her little brother into a tight hug.

"I'll sure miss your sharp tongue and crazy schemes."

she signed.

"Promise me you won't let them take those away from you…" she swallowed, feeling a small lump rising her throat.

Felix returned the hug and smiled.

"Only if YOU promise ME to talk to little Jane or whoever it is in there. (he pointed to Felicity's belly), "about their Godfather. He or she needs to know I exist."

"Don't worry about that, Felix. I'm sure Gus will be GLAD to do that for you", she said with a laugh, referring to her husband, an old Navy Captain.

"We is he anyway?" Cecily asked, suddenly aware of a missing presence in the house.

"At home. He said he wanted to leave us "between Kings. "Don't worry, little brother," Felicity added, seeing sadness in Felix's eyes, "he promised he would be at the airport first thing at 5:00."

***

"Has anyone seen Iz?" Felix demanded, throwing nervous glances around the small gathering in front of him as he prepared to board the train.

"I'm sure she just slept straight", Alec assured his son. "She'll write to you as soon as you get to France, I'm positive. Now go on and get into that train, you're going to miss it".

"Yes father." The young man bravely fought tears as he pulled all his family into a last hug and smiled encouragingly at his cousin, seeing tears brimming her eyes.

"Don't you worry Sara, we'll take good care of each other", he said, giving Peter an affectionate pat on the back, "I won't keep him outta my sight, I promise."

"Thank you Felix", Sara murmured gratefully. "Be careful, you", she added,holding a finger at her husband.

"Your stories'll make their way to me all the way across the Ocean, so they'll keep me from drowning", Peter teased, blowing a kiss in her direction before disappearing inside the train.

Felix was just about to set foot on the platform a few seconds later when a voice he knew too well called out his name.

"I thought I wouldn't make it!" Izzy exclaimed, panting, as Felix hopped off the train to greet her.

"I sure thought so too!" Felix drew a sign of relief. "Thank God."

"I guess I'd better let you go, shouldn't I?" Izzy murmured, wrapping her arms around his neck as she caught the train conductor's irritated expression.

"I guess you should", Felix agreed, kissing her nevertheless boldly on the lips in front of everyone. "Even if I definitely don't want you too."

Isolde laughed through her tears.

"Me neither. But remember,"-she touched her ring- "golden silence. It'll bring us together no matter where we are."

Felix tightened his grip around her.

"I'll miss you", he said. "I'll miss my girl."

Izzy let herself cry on his shoulder for a second, and then lifted her head high.

"I'll be right here waiting," she declared as firmly as she could.

"There's my warrior." Felix smiled and stroked her cheek lightly.

"She didn't go hiking after all!"

"All aboard!" The conductor's loud clear voice broke the spell and someone blew the whistle for departure, "all aboard!"

"I'm glad she didn't. " Felix whispered as he squeezed his fiancée's hand one last time before hopping on the train, "because I want you AND her to know I love you both. Very much."

As the train went out of sight, Sara, Felicity, Gus, Cecily, Daniel and Izzy wept In each others arms, causing an already tearful Janet to burst.

"There's at least one positive thing to get out of this: Felix told the girl he loved her. The WHOLE of her", Alec pointed out, rocking his wife back and forth soothingly.

"We already knew he did".

"Yes, but now HE knows it too, love," Alec said with a gentle smile.

***

The following weeks were harder than Isolde could ever have imagined they would be.

Getting up and facing a day without Felix reminded her of when she was barely twelve years old, not having met yet who was sure to become her best friend. The fact she was in now in love with him only made things worse. Not to mention the great emptiness her brother Morgan's absence caused in the house.. Whenever she felt that way, the young woman trotted over to Rose Cottage, where Olivia Dale and Sara bunked in together. The fact that they were sharing the same distress brought great comfort to Izzy. But on the other hand, when she ached to see Felix or her sibling too badly, she would make her way to King Farm, where a larger number of people surrounded her. Despite the promise she' made to herself of not moping around waiting for him, Izzy couldn't bring herself to stay home, even for a day.

"I'm sorry for barging in like I did, Mr. and Mrs. King. I had no right to intrude on your privacy."

"Nonsense, dear", Janet said with a warm tone of voice. "You stay here as long as you like. We all find this whole situation atrocious, believe me."

"Felix would have wanted you to stay here if it eased your pain, Izzy", Alec added. "Besides, Cecily needs a companion right now; especially with Elbert gone to war too."

"Well alright, then, I'll stay for a while," Izzy said, feeling herself relax in this familiar environment.

"Why don't you go up to Felix's room?" Alec suggested. "Felicity went home to Gus, Daniel's at school, and Cecily's out riding Prince, so you won't disturb anyone if that's what's worrying you."

"Good. I'll go right up then. " She smiled, hoisting her duffel bag on her shoulder, "Thank you both for everything!"

"Anytime dear."

Isolde swiftly made her way up the staircase and into the hallway and turned the knob of a closed door she knew to be her fiancé's room.

Like a mirror reflection of the young man's personality, Felix's room was crammed with books and scattered clothes on every surface inch.

Izzy smiled, glad Janet had left the place to it's "chaotic organisation", as Felix liked to call it.

She lifted her bag onto the already un-maid bed and accidently lifted the pillow propped on it. The young woman was about to put it back where it was, when she noticed a wrinkled white envelope with her name written on it, block-print style, lying right where the pillow used to be. Recognizing Felix's writing, Izzy grinned as she hastily ripped it open.

October 8, 1914

So, ya thought I wouldn't know where you were hiding, didn't ya? You can't fool me, Izzy Pettibone; I've known you for too long to not guess EXACTLY what went through your mind when that train of mine left. I also know you think you're not keeping that promise you made –to you only, by the way-, because you've moved into my home, which you consider as "moping around waiting around for me." But I can't tell you how happy I am that a rare island rose –because that's what you are- will be guarding my things for me till I return… That way, when I move back in here, a scent of lilies of the valley 'll linger all over…

Isolde smiled faintly through her tears.

I know, I know, my poetic side's getting the better of me – again. I better end this before anybody finds me writing it! Just think how Felicity would looove to torture me all YEAR LONG if she found out I was "composing a love letter!"

Izzy laughed.

Good old Felix! Always seeking drama!

So this is where I leave, you, my dear Izzy.

Be the brave little warrior I know you are and if you don't do it for me, do it for Cess and Sara. They're sure going to need all your sunny thoughts!

Remember that I love you and am constantly watching over you, no matter where in the world I am.

Yours always,

Felix.

Izzy carefully folded the letter in half and slipped it back in it's envelope, cradling it on her chest. Signing, she laid down on the bed and closed her eyes.

A few hours later, Janet softly raped on the door . Not receiving any answer, she gently pushed it opened and what she saw brought a smile on her sad face.

There stood Izzy, laying diagonally across her son's messy bed, brown curls spilling all over the pillow, the letter tightly settled between her hands.

"Good", The woman told herself peacefully , "she found it."

***

Over at rose cottage, Sara twisted and turned in bed, trying to find a position.

Signing, she decided to give up for now, and she climbed out of bed, reaching for her bathrobe and slippers. She crept down the stairs as quietly as she possibly could, not wanting to wake her Uncle, Aunt or nephew, Montgomery.

She was about to turn on the kettle to make herself a cup of tea, when she noticed it already was on, heating and ready. Smiling, she grabbed a cup on the top shelve and poured herself some of the hot beverage.

"God bless Aunt Olivia", she thought. "She always seems to know what I need, even when I don't pipe a word."

Making a mental note to thank her in the morning, Sara took the hot beverage in her hands and walked over to the parlour to sit in her favourite arm-chair close to the window.

Dozing off slightly, she set her cup on the table next to her, and put her hand to her head, trying to reminiscence happy times.

When Olivia finally found her, having frantically searched every room, the young woman was sleeping soundly, a smile lighting on her face.

"I searched the house from TOP TO BOTTOM last night when I went up to check on and you weren't there", Olivia said reproachfully to her niece the next morning over breakfast.

Sara sunk further in her seat.

"Sorry if I caused a fuss Aunt Olivia, I just wanted to have my tea somewhere where I wouldn't disturb anybody that's all."

"You n-n-never disturb us Sara, you know that", Jasper exclaimed tenderly.

Sara smiled fondly at her shy-natured uncle.

"Thanks Uncle Jasper, but I just thought you deserved a good night's sleep for once."

"What were you dreaming about when I found you in the parlour, anyway?" Olivia interjected, changing the subject. "I hadn't seen a smile on your face like that for weeks!"

Sara's eyes twinkled.

"I was dreaming about the time I switched places with snarly Joe Pitts," she laughed,

"I'd never had such a ball in my LIFE".

"Speak for yourself", her aunt grumbled. "You weren't the one who had to take that child by FORCE and lock her into your sister's shed so she wouldn't BITE you!"

Jasper giggled.

"I remember that. Olivia was literally COVERED in dirt when she rescued poor Hetty from drowning in the lake!"

Sara signed wistfully.

"I miss Aunt Hetty."

"We all do", Olivia lay a comforting hand on her niece's arm. "We all do".

"Even me", Montgomery squeaked, looking up at Sara from his bowl of cereal.

The young woman shook her head at the little seven year-old, amused.

"You practically didn't have to time to know her, Monty. You were too young when she died." She patted her nephew's head affectionately. "But thanks anyway."

The boy pouted, crossing his small arms on his chest, "Peter said that even if you didn't know somebody, you could still miss he or she. Like if they'd left a small hole (he pointed to his heart) right here."

Sara's heart swelled . Peter had been referring to his father, a man he had never lived to know, but had always claimed to miss.

"Well if Peter said it then it must be true", she declared, her voice shaky.

"That's right!" Montgomery agreed triumphantly.

"Jasper, why don't you take Monty here for a stroll while we do the dishes?" Olivia suggested, sensing her niece might want to have a chat.

"Sure. Come on, you." Jasper hoisted his son up on his shoulders and out they went.

Aunt and niece went quietly about the kitchen for a while, scrubbing, drying, and slipping dishes back into their coverts.

The kitchen having then been cleaned from top to bottom, Olivia cleared her throat and broke the uneasy silence.

"Sara, honey, was there something you wished to talk about? You seemed rather disturbed earlier when Monty mentioned Peter. Is that what's bothering you? Because if it is, I could just-

"No, Aunt Olivia. On the contrary, " Sara started calmly. "Hearing Monty talk about him made me realize how much I needed it. You see, these past few weeks I've been trying to avoid just about everything that reminded me of him. Even putting my hair up!"

The young woman smiled, twirling a gold lock around her baby finger.

"I thought that by doing that it would ease my pain and ache, maybe even make it go away. But it hasn't."

She paused, taking a deep breath .

"What I really needed all along was to have a good cry".

"Then why don't you?" Olivia whispered, opening up her arms, "I'm right here."

Sara had only laid so much as a hair on her Aunt's chest before tears started streaming uncontrollably down her rosy cheeks, falling as though they'd never seem to have and end.

*

Once she'd regained her composure, Sara lightly sauntered up the stairs.

"I'm going to write him a letter", she announced. "Sorry for earlier, Aunt Olivia, I just couldn't take it anymore…"

"There's no "sorry" to be said, missy!" Olivia put her hands on her hips. "You needed a break and that's that. Go on now."

"Yes ma'am, 'will be done as you say, ma'am!" Sara teased in a military tone of voice.

Setting food in her room, she pulled the drapes, made the bed and propped her pillow on it. She then hopped on it, pen and paper in hand.

October 22nd 1912, Sergeant Peter Craig. Paris, France.

Dearest Peter, she wrote,

Sorry I took so dreadfully long to write.

It's just that I missed you so badly I pretended you didn't exist and tried to push you out of my thoughts. Rather unholy thing to do for a wife, isn't it? But you have little Monty to thank though, because HE- unlike other people in the house, seemed to sense something was up with me.

For one thing, fully immersed in trying to forget you, I stopped talking altogether for a while, which, as you know, for a story girl, is utterly uncommon. Not to mention for Sara Stanley!

Secondly, I started getting up in the middle of the night to get the kettle boiling for tea! Seeing as I hate tea, this was also a pretty strange thing for me to be doing. But what can I say? I couldn't get some shut eye! Whose fault is that, I ask, Ô supposedly forgotten one?

And last, but not least, I stopped pulling my hair up in loose, curly buns like I used to do when you were there! I just let it down and barely managed to tie one of my old bows in it! A real twelve year old, that's what I looked like.

Dear Montgomery thankfully snapped me out of it before I stretched it as far as taking my engagement ring off. (Just kidding Peter!) I guess you're now wondering how on earth a seven year-old lad could pull me out of my misery, right? Well, since he seemed to have grasped even the fact of saying your NAME made my ears perk up, Monty just dropped in a "Peter said that, bla, bla, bla" to contradict me when I said that he couldn't possibly be missing Aunt Hetty since he practically did know her because he was too young when she died. And, In case you haven't realized it yet, the champ worships the ground you walk on, so I knew better then to argue with him.

To make it short and sweet (I don't know about sweet but this DEFINETLY doesn't look like a SHORT story), Olivia, seeing my rather "troubled" facial expression to say the least, shooed him and Jasper outside and forced the whole story out of me. I then came to realize a good cry was all that could "cure me".

And that's where I'm at right now, M. Craig .My hair is once again safely tucked under a handful of bob pins and I'm back to talking my heart out and wrinkling my nose at the smell of tea. Thank Providence for that!

Just joking! Hope you and that silly cousin of mine ( speaking of Felix, Izzy's been worried because he isn't writing back anymore?)are talking care of each other like you said you would –or else!- On my account, my visits to Peg are but short and regular –just as you asked.

I love you and , needless to say, miss you and want you back home with me.

Yours truly,

Sara Craig.

P.S. I like the sound –I mean- looks of it, don't you?

Satisfied of having, once again successfully thrown her feelings on paper, the young woman took an envelope in her stationery, labelled it, stamped it and slipped the folded letter inside. Restless, she rose from her bed, flew down the stairs to grab her coat and gloves and marched out the door to the Avonlea post office.

***

About a week later , Izzy marched to and from the post office numerous times a day, each time praying that a letter from Felix would be there waiting for her. "a month" she thought anxiously. "I haven't had any news in a month's time."

"I wouldn't fret over Felix no more!" Sara's cheery voice bounced up to Izzy's ears.

"That's easy for you to say!" Isolde sniffed, hastily greeting her friend. "Peter's been writing to you even and on for weeks!"

"Will you just Listen?" Sara smiled indulgently. "I just received a note from Peter dated out to exactly a month ago, saying poor Felix has broken his arm, and-

"Alleluia!" Izzy exclaimed, delighted. "Thank Providence nothing more serious happened, I've been worried SICK!"

Her friend laughed.

"That's quite an unholy reaction! So as I was saying", she continued, "your fiancé broke his arm on a hidden mine. It was so deeply under his skin, he couldn't move because the hurt was so bad."

"Poor Felix", Izzy signed.

"But", Sara retorted, "Peter enclosed a letter Felix asked him to write out to you saying he was getting better, so-

"Hand it over, please "

"Hold your horses darling!" Mrs. Craig smiled, slipping her hand in her coat pocket.

"Here you go."

Isolde grabbed it, ripping it open with trembling hands.

October 30th1912, Miss Isolde Pettibone. P.E.I., Canada.

Iz,

As you can see, this impossibly neat writing isn't mine! I've asked my friend Peter Craig, Sara's husband, to write this letter out to you, because I unfortunately broke my good arm when stepping on a hidden mine… Needless to say it hurt like h- Halifax the first few weeks. But when it was too unbearable I thought of you, probably worried sick over in good old Avonlea, not receiving any news from me. That made me pick up the pieces and get back up again.

Izzy smiled. As brave as he always was!

So here I am, sitting on an old birch tree trunk beside Peter, (yes Izzy, even in polluted Paris birch trees grow!), wondering what you must be thinking. No, correction: HOPING that you must be thinking of me just a little…

Isolde laughed.

"As if I could possibly be fretting over something else!" she thought.

(…)You, for one, are always in my thoughts. Always. I can still picture every freckle very clearly… Thank goodness for memory, for I would certainly be lost without it.

Sometimes I'm so lonely without all of you folks I just make up stories in my head, creating dialogues with everybody in it. 'Sounds crazy, I know, but isn't that what I am anyway? Ha, ha.

But on a more serious base,

Sara's told me- written to me rather - about the fact that you're constantly going to and from my home up to Aunt Olivia's without stopping by your own! Iz, I know this is hard for you and I kidded a lot about this moping around thing, but I'm serious- you HAVE to busy yourself and go home. Sara tells me you're looking pale as a ghost, going about places. This HAS to change. I don't even know when I'll be coming back home, so until then, I ask you –no, ORDER you- to go shopping, to go eat out at the White Sands, to teach , for God's sake (even if you hate it!), to cook, ANYTHING for you to get back to the way you were.

I've put Cess and Sara in charge of making sure you do JUST that!

I must now go, for the General is asking to see me.

Take care of yourself –and only yourself, not anyone else, okay?

Promise me that.

Izzy shook her head.

Promise me.

She laughed.

"Oh, all right, I promise you", she said.

"What?" Sara demanded, confused.

"Nothing", Izzy smiled.

(…)That's my girl!

Remember that I think the world of you, no matter what.

I won't miss up on my promise to YOU either.

I'm coming home… as quick as I can. Home to my dear Avonlea.

Felix.

Izzy sniffed, folding the letter in half and slipping it in her own coat pocket.

"He didn't say a word about how HE was", she pointed out. "Not one blessed word."

"He probably didn't want you to worry even more, seeing as you already make yourself sick", Sara poised slyly. "I'm sure Peter's sparing me stuff too."

"Yeah, right. As if anybody could possibly hide anything from you."

"Very funny. I just happen to have a persuasive manner, that's all. And I intend to use it at it's FULLEST , if you see what I mean."

Sara buttoned her coat up further and smiled encouragingly at her friend.

"Anyway, enough about this war." The young woman took a deep breath, drinking in the freshness of the autumn air.

"It's such a pretty day! " She pointed at the blue sky. "Let's not spoil it."

"You're right", Izzy agreed, springing up from the bench she'd sat on with a sudden regain of energy. "We have to enjoy all this peace and quiet while we still can!"

***

December 1914.

Christmas Eve.

France was being taken over by the Germans, and soldiers from all over were being captured and imprisoned. Needless to say, not everyone was having "a merry Christmas."

But the King and Dale families, even without their brother, son, and nephew, Felix, were determined to spread some Holiday cheer about King farm.

"Cecily dear, watch out for those cookies now, or they'll burn to crisps like last time,"

Abigail Ward warned her niece.

Cecily rolled her eyes when she had her back turned to the oven.

"For goodness' sake!" she thought to herself. "Last time I baked cookies was when I was six! You'd think she'd have more faith in me ten years later!"

Janet, sensing her daughter had had just about her toll of "thoughtfulness " for the evening, shooed her out to fetch the mail

"While I 'watch out for the cookies'" , she'd whispered.

Cecily gladly set out to the post office, not knowing what she'd find there would take out all merriment …

*

"Felicity, really! You'd think a household woman like yourself could roast a turkey correctly!" Abigail criticised again, eyeing the oven with a frown. "It'll toast if you're not careful."

"I'm doing my best Aunt Abigail", Felicity muttered through gritted teeth, turning the oven down for the fifth time in a minute.

She saw Gus wink at her from the dinning table.

Tempted to join him and let her Aunt "crabbygail" do the cooking her own way, Felicity caught Janet's encouraging gaze just on time. "Keep it up", it read. "Show her what you can do!"

Pulling up her sleeves, the young woman was about to check how the pies and fruitcakes were coming along, when she heard the front door swing open and slam shut.

"How many times do I have to tell you, Cecily?" she heard her mother's voice rise in the parlour , "don't SLAM the door."

"Oh, something horrible's happened!", Cecily murmured as if she hadn't heard.

A bad gut-feeling settling into her stomach, Felicity hastily crossed the kitchen.

"What? What's happened?" she asked her sister.

"F-f-Felix's gone M.I.A." the young woman replied, her voice shaking and tears streaming down her face. "I-I just got the telegram."

"It's NOT POSSIBLE!" Janet cried, wringing her hands. "Not my baby, not my SON missing !"

Her knees weakened at the very thought and she fell to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.

"Mother!" Felicity exclaimed, her heart frozen with terror. "Gus, father, come quick!"

*

A "merry Christmas" indeed. Sitting numbly on a chair by the fire after a cheerless supper, Janet King absently knit the third row of a wool sweater she was making for seven-year old Daniel while Alec worked ceaselessly to ease his pain.

"This can't be happening", she thought. "It just can't."

Alone in her little room, Cecily cried herself to sleep, praying God her big brother hadn't been killed.

*

"This is a nightmare!" Felicity sobbed, rocking herself back and forth in an armchair.

"He's going to be all right, love", Gus soothed his wife. "I just know it."

*

"Bring him back to us Lord," Alec King murmured, stroking his sister's hand.

Sara went to and from the kitchen, serving cups of tea to everyone including Izzy, white as snow and seemingly turned to stone since she'd heard the news.

"Iz, talk to me", Sara coaxed, softly shaking her friend's shoulder. "Tell me what's going through you're head right now."

"What's going through my head?" Isolde enunciated slowly. "My closest friend, not to mention fiancé, is missing in action somewhere in chaotic France, that's what's going through my head."

" I didn't mean it that way. I just wanted you to exteriorize your feelings a little that's all; you haven't said a word since Cecily told you."

"Talking about exteriorizing, how CAN you stay so calm? He is your cousin!"

"Izzy, believe me, inside, I'm frozen of fear just like the rest of you; but somebody has to stay strong, otherwise the world would crumble into pieces."

"You sure wouldn't say that if Peter was reported missing", Isolde pointed out bitterly.

"How can you say such a thing?" Sara cried. "I shared more with Felix than anybody else! How dare you!"

"Sara, honey, calm down." Olivia gently stroked her niece's hair. "We're all shaken. It won't do any good to argue over it."

She nodded obediently and slumped into the nearest chair.

"I'm sorry Sara", Izzy murmured confusedly a few minutes later. "I don't know what's come over me."

"No harm done." Sara squeezed Isolde's hand.

***

A couple days later, Isolde mechanically slipped her apron on.

"Another day", she signed gloomily to herself. "When will this bad dream ever end?"

"Izzy, darling, try to pick up the pieces…" Muriel coaxed , quietly coming up behind her. "I know it's hard, and you think this will never end, but believe me it will. It's been over a week now, and Arthur and your Father and I are very worried about you. What would Felix say if he saw you like this?" she pointed to her stepdaughter's messy bun and wrinkled dress.

"Not to mention those dark circles under your pretty eyes. Felix would say you're not getting half enough sleep and force you into bed", she added, answering her own question.

"Well he maybe won't live to see me like this, will he?" Isolde snapped, unlocking the shelves and cupboards of the General Store for the day."

"I absolutely forbid you to-

" 'Morning Iz!" Cecily's falsely cheery voice interrupted, drifting into the store.

"Mother asked me to pick up some eggs and milk."

"How do you do it, Cecily?" Izzy asked, her voice barely a hoarse as she grabbed her friend's purchases and punched in the price.

"Do what? Get up at 4:00 a.m. to go milk the cows and be here at 5:30?" she joked, handing over the money.

"You know perfectly well what I mean."

"I don't", Cecily protested. "If by 'doing it' you mean coping with Felix's disappearance, I don't. I just go day by day. "

"And I", the young woman added," think you should do the same."

"What makes you think I don't ?" Isolde retorted sharply.

"I'm not deaf you know. I heard you when you said you thought maybe Felix wouldn't live to see you again."

Izzy's gaze drifted towards her shoes.

"Izzy don't poison yourself with 'what ifs' and 'maybes'. They just hurt needlessly.

Why don't you try digging in the soil of Hope instead? You'll see; it's much richer than any other kind."

Without giving her friend so much as a chance to answer, Cecily King silently grabbed her groceries and drifted out the door.

Right then, the wind had changed. Muriel Pettibone could tell by the way Isolde now held her shoulders back straight and her chin up. Not to mention the look of fierce determination that had flickered it's way in her gaze again.

"Our Izzy's slowly coming back!" Muriel's heart sang. "Thank Providence for Cecily…"

And she was right.

Ever since that day, although Isolde Pettibone's sorrow still trailed behind her like a glistening shadow, people in Avonlea seemed to think it was turning paler .

Whenever asked, Izzy would offer a polite smile and say:

"My soil and I are getting well, thank you."

"Your soil?" people would ask, positive the poor girl had gone mad, "what soil, child?"

"My soil of Hope."

Soil of Hope indeed. Just as she did with her garden, Izzy would "trim it and water it" everyday, by –to her family's delight- baking cookies, cakes and pies galore , practicing her Beethoven concertos at nights like she used to, and, last but not least, planning her wedding.

Finally.

***

"White or beige?" Cecily asked her friend one rainy Wednesday morning, holding out two pieces of fabric in front of her.

"Definitely beige!" Felicity interjected. "White is too classy nowadays."

"What? What do you mean 'too classy"! White is the bride's TRADITIONAL color!" Sara enunciated, undignified.

"Hell-o? I'm talking to Izzy here! So, Iz, which do you like best?"

Isolde glanced furtively at the two choices.

"Neither", she declared after a few seconds. "They both look the same to me."

"Well said, lass!" Gus Pike agreed from his spot on the Kings' couch. "Why fuss so much over a simple wedding dress when there are so much more important - Ow!" he exclaimed, his wife having aimed her pin cushion at him, "Falicity, what was THAT for?"

"Telling me white suited me better than beige when WE got married and I couldn't decide which of the two to pick from!" she huffed. "Now I know you were just hurrying me to decide so the minister could proceed!"

"You know you look good in absolutely anything , darling!" Gus cooed , easing a hand around her waist.

"You better have say that!" Felicity threatened teasingly, softening up much faster than she would have five or six years before.

Isolde laughed wistfully.

Oh, how she wished for things to work out so splendidly for her and Felix!

That is if…

"No!" she coaxed herself. " Don't even go there! Soil of Hope, soil of hope, soil of H-

"You okay ,Iz?" Cecily asked, concerned. "we sort o' lost you there for a minute."

" I'm fine, Cess", Izzy assured her. "Just fine."

The rest of the morning was spent discussing- fighting rather- what color to make the dress, the veil, what flowers to get for the bouquet… Basically, everything regarding the ceremony from top to bottom.

"I think the ceremony should take place next to an orchard", Sara declared poetically.

"An orchard!" Felicity exclaimed. "Really, Sara, what if it rains that day?"

"A nice church would be 'perfectly sensible'", Olivia said, quoting her sister.

"But I don't care for 'perfectly sensible'!" Isolde blurted out. "What about what I want? What Felix would want if he were here? What about what WE think?"

"Alright, Izzy. What do YOU want then?" Cecily demanded gently, realizing a storm was stirring .

Izzy took a deep breath.

"A very simple, but out of the ordinary ceremony.

Felix told me before he left for France that hosting the wedding at the White Sands would be his pride and joy. He even said Mr. Tremayne would be happy to cater for us… And if it's what Felix wants, then I want it too", she added firmly.

"The White Sands! I never heard such a ridiculous idea in my life!"

"Falicity, this isn't your wedding", Gus pointed out in his strong trademark accent, "It's theirs. Let them decide."

"Fine!" the latter sniffed. "But don't blame me if it turns out to be a total fiasco."

"You know, Felicity, you're beginning to sound more and more like Aunt Hetty", Mrs. Peter Craig remarked, a twinkle in her eye. "It's frankly alarming!"

Cecily, Izzy, Gus and Sara laughed like they hadn't done in weeks, leaving a scarlet red Felicity Pike mute with fury.

*

"Alec, do you really think this a good idea?" Janet King asked her husband that evening, rocking herself back and forth in her chair.

" What?"

"Letting Izzy plan her wedding along with everybody as if Felix were here with her."

"Janet, the boy asked her to do just that. I heard him."

"But-", the maiden attempted to protest.

"We can't go against our son's wishes, dear. Especially this one. Felix knew if Isolde busied herself doing this, she wouldn't worry over him so. He knew what he was asking," Alec declared firmly, putting his foot down.

Janet threw her hands up.

"Very well, have it your way. Let's just pray that girl doesn't get her hopes up thinking she'll have any wedding at all", she choked, suddenly falling apart.

"Don't speak that way." Alec wrapped his arms around his wife and squeezed tight.

"Izzy has a mind too, you know. Quite strong, I might add. Janet, don't you see what she's trying to do here?"

"Fool herself?"

"No. She's maintaining hope by carrying on with her life, that's what she's doing."

Janet sniffed, pondering this.

"Maybe you're right, Alec."

"Of course I'm right", he smiled. "You want to know why?"

"Why?"

"Because I see our Cecily doing the same. Our daughter taught her this, love. She taught her never to give up hope."

***

January1rst, 1915 Miss Sara Elizabeth Stanley

Avonlea, P.E.I.

Happy New Year!

I know it must be at least a month late (you're in February, then!), but better safe than sorry!

Gracious Providence, Sara, it's our first year as husband and wife and I can't even be there with you to celebrate!

How poorly you must think o' ya old Peter, not even providin' for ya! I'm just teasin' 'cause I know I needn't worry for my Story Girl. I've learned early enough she can very well provide for herself without folks having to check on her all the time… Just look at how amazingly well you managed out there without a care in the world in big ol' Montreal (…)

The young woman laughed.

"Dearest Peter", she thought "always exaggerating!"

(…)'s school of Arts! But oh, Sara, how I wish I could see you smile at me right now! Maybe you don't need me, but I MOST DEFINETELY need you! I would be the happiest fellow on earth this minute if you could just materialize yourself in front of me and appease me like only you can do…(…)

"I wish I could too!" Sara murmured fervently, a tear rolling down her cheek and glistening on the letter.

(…)Okay so tell you what. Since you can't possibly do that and I fear a tear might be rolling down your rosy cheek at this moment because of my sentimental "weakness", why don't we try another way to look out for each other, huh? I mean, we continue writing to each other of course (I couldn't SURVIVE out here in this dry land without my water, ha,ha), but what we could do is pick out a star in the sky (I personally have a thing for the North Star; because you can see it no matter where in the world you are), and set a time to look at it at the exact same time everyday. What do you think?(…)

"Good idea!" the young woman exclaimed out loud. "The only problem is that we can't time each other to look at the star at same time- the times changes'll keep us from doing it right."

"Sara Stanley, WHO ON EARTH are you talking to up there? Is Izzy with you?" Olivia's voice rose from the kitchen downstairs.

"Yes Aunt Olivia!" Sara lied. "she's with me".

(…)I know what you're thinking, lass. The time changes, right? Well, you're lucky; your so-very-organized husband thought of everything! The hour difference here is exactly 6 hours. So let's say you look up at the star at six o' clock every night (since it's winter season over in Avonlea, I figure it gets dark by four, right?) at the same time I look at it

at midnight in France, our timing should be perfect. So, in order to waste no time and paper uselessly, what do you say we start tonight? I know, I know what you're thinking; I won't be able to tell if you're there or not. Well believe me, Sara Stanley, Peg Bowen will know and you're around her a lot, so she won't forget to remind you if you didn't go…

I have to go now, Story Girl, time for training…

See you by the North Star (how poetic!)-6:00 for you, 12:00 for me.

Love always,

Peter.

Sara smiled broadly as she folded the letter, flopped it on her bed and checked her clock:

almost 5:30!

"Perfect!" she thought. "That leaves me just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat and head up to Gus' old lighthouse. I'll have a much better view up there. Cloud-free, I hope."

*

A fresh salt-sea smell greeted Isolde Pettibone as she sat on the nearest chair in the old Avonlea lighthouse.

"How refreshing!" Izzy thought as she drank in the air. "This a great spot to just sit and reminiscence. Just what you need when you're soil of Hope starts to dry up a bit."

She signed wistfully and snuck out Felix's last two letters just a few days before he went missing, starting with the most recent one.

December 18th,1914 Miss Isolde Jessica Pettibone

Avonlea, P.E.I., Canada

Hey you!

Merry Christmas! Probably late, I know. but…

As you can see, my arm's back to normal, I can write again! Finally! I won't be forced to mentally censure myself like I had to when Peter wrote your letters for me (you see, you probably noticed my last few letters were somewhat more… concise? Well, that's because, wanting to keep my manly pride and all, I didn't want to embarrass myself by having Peter write mushy-gushy love notes, even if I was DYING to shower you with nicknames!)(…)

Isolde laughed her eyes out- for the third time.

"He's precious!" she thought.

Izzy, I miss you! I wish I could just bestow heaps of gifts at your feet like jewellery, clothes and baseball bats ( your tomboy spirit can't desert you completely!), instead of a good ol' letter. Unfortunately, that's all you'll get from me on our first official year as a couple (already, goodness!).(…)

"And that's all I want", she murmured, quoting herself in the last letter she'd written to him (had he even received it?) almost two weeks earlier.

(…)I can't believe it, can you? I'll say it for the hundredth time at least I'm sure, but Izzy, that day you and your father both gave me permission to court you, I thought I was floating on thin air. You looked so radiant that afternoon; all pampered up in that lovely lilac-shaded dress you wore at Felicity's wedding… An angel! I thought I might burst when you took my hand and, refusing to look at me, you'd said:

"It took me a long time to realize my feelings for you were ones of love, not just friendship. I hope I haven't made you wait too long!"

"Just two years!", I'd replied mockingly before letting go of your hand and pulling you against me for the first time, not realizing your father was right there at the window, taking it all in!(…)

Isolde laughed, remembering.

"When I went back home that night I was sure father was going to be furious with me, having agreed to let him court me before he gave us his permission." she recalled.

(…) And oh, Iz, do you remember the first time you agreed to hold hands with me on the street? You were so funny, always looking behind to make sure no one saw us. I actually used to think you were ashamed of being seen with me! I know now it had nothing to do with me: correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you were just nervous thinking people would finally start considering you as more than a tomboy now that you had a boyfriend.

"Of course, he was right", Izzy murmured.

(…)You sure didn't know how to act around me the first few weeks, that's for sure! I clearly remember you coming to meet me one morning at the barn and letting me kiss you.

"So", I'd asked you, "was it really that bad?"

"Bad?! It was wonderful!" you'd exclaimed, much to my delight. "Only"… (you bit you're lip before saying this) "only I feel like I've got two left feet. I-I-I'm not good at this."

"Neither am I", I'd laughed. "But you'll see; we'll get better. Let's just give it some time, okay?"

"Okay." You'd squeezed my hand tight and led me out the barn.

But enough memories. I can't wait to create new ones! I should be home in just a few weeks, Izzy, and when I am, and the first thing I do(after stopping by my house, of course) is wrap my arms around you and stick to you like glue! Maybe I'll even make it on time for New Year's! Who knows…?(…)

"Yes", Izzy sobbed sourly on that last sentence, "who knows if you'll ever make it!" she yelled, glad to finally let some weight off her chest without Cecily telling her she wasn't "making good use of her Soil of Hope"!

"But if I don't, I want you to promise me to have happy holidays without me", finished a voice behind her .

Isolde froze. "No", she thought, shaking her tired head. " It's impossible. I must have fallen asleep. I'll wake up now, I know it."

"You didn't keep your promise I see." The voice was amused. "Turn around so I can have a good look at you."

Shaking profusely, Izzy slowly obeyed, unconsciously holding in her breath. What she saw left her mute with emotion.

"Happy New Year, Izzy", a very tired, but enraptured Sergeant King whispered. "I came back, just like I promised. Aren't you happy to see me?" He added worrisomely, seeing his fiancée hadn't said a word.

Bolting from her chair and accidently knocking it down, Isolde suddenly seemed to realize the truth of it all.

"FELIX! FELIX ALEXANDER KING!" she screamed, throwing her arms around him with the force of those magically brought back to life. "YOU'RE back!" her voice caught and tears started streaming down her cheeks before she had a chance to stop them, "you're safe!"

Felix stroked Izzy's hair with unfailing gentleness and tightened his grip around her.

"Yes, I'm safe, Isolde", he murmured, tears filling his soulful blue eyes.

Izzy was shaken.

He never called her by her full name unless he was overcoming a flow of emotions.

"F-f-felix", she stammered, running her hand across his cheek. "You're crying."

"I-I-I thought I'd never see anyone again", he choked, his voice breaking.

"Oh, Felix", Izzy sobbed "I thought you were dead!" She suddenly felt her knees go weak and fell to the floor, a wave of relief mixed with sadness washing over her.

"Hey, hey", the young man got on his knees too and scooped her up in his arms. "I'm not, I'm here now", he said with gentle firmness, wiping his tears with his shirt sleeve, "and I'm not going anywhere. Unless you tell me to, that is", he added with forced lightness.

"Oh no", Isolde assured him. " That won't be happening anytime soon! I don't want you to leave me – ever again!" she hugged him tighter.

"I won't. ", Felix promised, lifting up her chin with one finger. " But I'm up here", he added softly, seeing she kept her eyes on the floor. "Remember these?" (he pointed to his eyes).

"Lifting her face up after what seemed like an eternity, Izzy stared straight into those two blues skies, the soulful ones she'd fallen for.

"How could I not remember those eyes?" she whispered. "I'm just afraid if I stare into them too long, I'll wake up and this wonderful spell will be broken."

"I know a way to make sure you're not dreaming", Felix said, wriggling his eyebrows up and down in that comical way only he could master.

"What's that?" Isolde wanted to know. "Pinch me? Because if that's it, too late"(she pointed to her already bruise-covered arms.) "I've done it at least a dozen times on each."

The young sergeant tossed his head to the side laughing. "No, I'm afraid that's not it ". He cupped her face tenderly between his hands. "Come closer and I'll show you."

A soft smile flickering on her lips, the latter did as she was told, and when the kiss was over, she broke apart from her fiancé, tears running freely down her already damp cheeks.

"Now why are crying, Iz?" Felix asked, feigning exasperation. "You haven't woken up, right? So what's the deal?"

"That's just it! I haven't! So that means it really is you!"

"Of course it's really me! Who did you think it was ?"

"Oh, I just had to be sure, that's all." She smiled. "Now that I am, I'll-

"Stick to me like glue?" Felix asked mockingly.

"Yes", Isolde agreed, laughing, "that too. But I'll just do some more of this first…"

After a few minutes, the young couple heard loud banging on the lighthouse door.

Felix scrambled to his feet and yanked it open.

"Felix King!", a furious blue-lipped Sara Stanley exclaimed. " Patience has ceased to be a virtue! You told me 'just a few minutes and I'll let you in', not an HOUR! Because of you, I've missed my star-gazing with Peter!"

"Sorry, cousin!" Felix grinned impishly. "Let's just say time, uh, slipped through my fingers for a while." (he pointed at a radiant Izzy.) "But come in, come in. You must be frozen to death!"

"You mean you knew he was back?" Isolde asked her friend, incredulous, after she'd settled with them on the rough old rug, a cup of hot cocoa in hand.

"We all did.", the young woman grinned. "Even your Father and Muriel. We thought it a better idea to wait until you were alone here tonight so we could give you two a little privacy", she admitted.

"I can assure you it took all that military discipline they taught me over in France not to barge into your house and knock on your room door yesterday!"

"YESTERDAY?!" Izzy exclaimed, facing him. "You came back yesterday? How come I didn't see you over at your home when I went to pay your sisters a visit then, huh?", she demanded, crossing her arms over her chest angrily as if all attempt to explain was useless.

Felix smiled indulgently before handing his mug of cocoa to Sara and wrapping his arms around his fiancée.

"Because they hid me in the cellar just before they let you in", he supplied with a giggle. "Cecily was set on letting the two of us be alone on your birthday, and Felicity, Gus, and Sara added to the chorus by saying they thought you'd went through so much pain thinking I might be dead, you deserved to have me to yourself for a while", he added, falsely narrowing his eyes at his cousin.

"Well I certainly won't argue with that!" Isolde laughed . "All right, you're forgiven."

"Wait- today's your birthday, Iz ?" Sara interjected, eyes wide.

"Yes", she signed. " My nineteenth. It sure didn't look like it! Until an hour ago, that is,", she added, smiling at Felix.

"But why didn't you tell us about it?" Sara insisted, not able to believe that, unlike herself, Izzy wasn't one for celebrations.

"Oh, because the only thing I truly wished for couldn't be brought just by blowing a handful of candles. But now I know you don't need candles for a wish to come true", she signed happily and lay her head on Felix's shoulder before concluding, "you just need a Soil of Hope."

" A Soil of Hope?" Felix asked curiously from atop her head, "what's that?"

Eyes twinkling mysteriously, the young latter put a finger to her lips. "That's another story", she said, scrambling to her feet and clutching his hand in hers, "Ask your little sister."

"Yeah", Sara agreed, "ask Cess. But for now, I don't now about you two love birds, but I'm starting to get pretty hungry, and, If I'm not mistaking , a nice warm late-Christmas feast's waiting for us over at Aunt Janet's,"she added, getting up too.

"Oooh, that's right!" Felix exclaimed. "Sorry for my lack of romance, Iz, but I'm getting quite famished myself!"

Isolde simply let out a laugh before kissing his cheek.

"Gee, what was that for?"

"Coming back to me. Just as you are."

*

"Checkers, anyone?" Clive Pettibone enquired, an ancient-looking checker board in hand, pipe in the other.

"Oh, father, please", his daughter rolled her eyes. "Spare us. Just this once."

"What do you mean , 'spare us?' What's wrong with checkers?" Felix wondered from his spot next to her on the King's couch. "I demand to know."

Izzy threw her hands up.

"Never mind. I give up!"

Muriel laughed her eyes out, leaving the rest of King clan remotely puzzled.

"What's this all about?" Janet King wanted to know from her place in the kitchen.

"Nothing, Mrs. K- Janet", Isolde assured her, getting to her feet. "I'll go help while Muriel relates my juvenile exploits to the rest of you", she laughed.

"You will do nothing of the sort," Felix declared, firmly pulling her back down next to him.

"And why is that, Mr. King?"

"For the simple reason you've been going about this house without stopping for breath, and I haven't seen you all evening."

Izzy grinned, flattered.

"You really meant what you said about sticking to me like glue when you got back, didn't you?"

"I most certainly did!"

"Well don't you worry, Felix, you can stick to me all you like for the next few years!" She said, getting up again.

"Pretty please…", the young man pleaded, giving her that look no one could resist to. "I haven't seen you in practically five months." He finished off with one of his famous loop-sided smiles, "I promise I won't spend the evening playing checkers, if that's what's worrying ya!"

Isolde signed, pretending to be distraught.

"Oh, all right, you win!" she conceded. "Sorry, Mrs. King!" she yelled as she sat back down, making everybody around her laugh including herself.

"Nothin' to be sorry about, dear!" Janet assured her, an indulgent smile on her face. "I know how irresistible my son can get when he wants something!"

"Mother!" Felix hissed, pretending to be humiliated, "I wasn't going to tell her that until after the wedding! Now my plan's ruined!"

"Completely ruined", Izzy agreed mockingly, running her hands through his messy hair and kissing one of his eyebrows, a scar having appeared on it.

Eyes shinning with joy, Felix slipped his arm around her shoulder and bent his tall fame towards her.

"I missed you," he whispered in her ear.

"Oh, all right children, that's enough cooing for one night!" Alec teased, causing Isolde's blush to deepen.

"Father!" Cecily scolded, much to everyone's surprise, "can't you see you're making her uneasy?"

"Yes, father", Felicity interjected. "You didn't tease Gus and me like that when he first got back!" she protested.

Alec King smiled over at his son-in-law, sitting on the armchair next to him.

"I didn't because you two where older than them", he said, nodding towards Felix and Izzy.

"They're just children yet."

"Hey!" eight year-old Daniel protested.

Felix cleared his throat.

"ahem, excuse me? I'll be twenty in a few months!"

Izzy laughed.

"Sorry to break it to you, but that doesn't make you of age for another year yet!"

Felix socked her playfully on the arm like he used to do all the time when they were younger, "aren't you supposed to, like, support me here?"(he pointed to her engagement ring and nodded towards Alec.)

Isolde shrugged.

"It's a free country," she joked, ducking her head as the young man threw a cushion at her. "Mr. King- Alec", she stammered, "won't you do anything to stop this violence? - Aaah!" she shrieked, Felix having aimed her head with another.

Alec shook his head, amused.

"Sorry, Izzy. Men outstand women!" he teased.

"He's right", Gus approved, eyes twinkling mischievously

"Oh, is that so?" Janet exclaimed, slipping off her apron and skittering over to the parlour, shortly joined by Muriel, Cecily and Felicity. "We'll just see about that!" they threatened, grabbing hold of the nearest cushions.

"Ready, set, FIRE!" Janet cried, as cushions flew everywhere.

"Hurray!" Isolde cheered, hopping off the couch to help, but soon pulled back down by a strong grip on her wrist.

"And where do you think you're going, miss Pettibone?"

"To defend my wounded pride of course! See if you can keep me from doing it!" she defied gamely, springing to her feet and running off like a deer, having no consideration whatsoever for her pretty laced dress, and becoming what she once was: a tomboy.

Overjoyed to see her act like her old self again, Felix had to admit she ran pretty darn fast- for a girl…

"…But I run pretty darn fast- for a sergeant", he finished out loud, slipping both arms under her to keep her from escaping.

"Yeah, not bad. Hey", she lightly squeezed Felix's arm, "You've gotten stronger over there, haven't you?"

The young man buffed his chest, proud as peacock.

"Yep", he wriggled his eyebrows and grinned broadly, "like it?"

"I do", Izzy answered, utterly serious. " I'm so glad you're back… It makes me feel safe", she added softly.

"Hey," Felix's facial expression grew concerned . "what are you afraid of, mmm?"

"Oh, nothing, really. It's just a nice feeling to have somebody strong around you to protect you in case something happens, that's all", Isolde assured him.

"Hel-lo!" Clive and Arthur Pettibone exclaimed in unison.

Izzy laughed.

"Don't take it the wrong way, boys. I know you're strong too; it's just that-"

"Oh, no need to explain, Iz!" Arthur smiled. "Love is love."

The latter flushed for the tenth time in one evening

-Well, no, it's- it's not just that", she stammered.

"Iz, it's okay, they were just teasing you", Felix soothed.

"But let me explain!" she blurted out, "I've felt this way around Felix ever since I met him- way before I fell in love with him. It's this kind of- I don't know- aura he has. Even when he's kidding, you feel it. This 'don't-mess-with me-or-them' thing."

"I know what you mean!" Cecily exclaimed, seemingly enlightened by something. "I've felt it too- even when we were just children."

"I wonder why I never felt it!", Felicity wondered.

"Logical: you're older than the rest of us."

"Besides", Gus Pike interjected, "my wife's never needed any protection whatsoever; I needed it more than she did!" he joked.

"I agree!" Felix laughed. "Fel was quite a pill when she was younger! Even now (he pretended to look at her from head to toe) not much difference. Except maybe for little Jane", he nodded at his sister's belly.

"Not funny", Felicity huffed.

"Oh, come on, Fel", Sara said, not having spoken for quite a while, lost in her thoughts. "Grow up!"

"Well said, Sara.

"Besides", Isolde interjected from the circle of Felix's arms, "I admire you, Felicity?"

"You do?" Felix joked, pretending to shudder in horror.

Izzy gave him a good smack on the arm.

"Ow!" the martyr whined, "what was THAT for?"

"You know very well! Now hush, you immature child!"

"Oooooh, she talked to YOU, man, I hear ya!" Gus teased.

"Will everybody please ? Thank you", the young woman cleared her throat. "So as I was saying, FELICITY", she continued, insisting on the word, "I admire you for having such boldness and being so fearless-"

"Um, forgive me, Iz, for interrupting your beautiful tribute", the young man joked, "but you have those qualities as well", he protested. "Who was the first girl –in military clothes- I might add, to beat up a twelve year old boy?"

"…"

"You!" he exclaimed, answering his own question.

" Thanks Felix, that's very gracious of you", Izzy stammered, doing her best not to blush.

"My pleasure."

"Can I carry on now?"

"Be my guest."

"… For being so fearless and firm in your opinions. I seem to have trouble doing that in front of certain people (she narrowed her eyes at he fiancé), whereas you never seemed to have in front of him", (she pointed to Gus).

Felicity smiled.

"First of all, thank you for those compliments, Iz, I'm flattered. Secondly, might I add that since you'd been simply friends with Felix for much longer than I had with Gus before he started courting me, that gave my little brother time to find you're weaknesses. On the other hand , Gus had to find mine on the spot." She grinned triumphantly at her husband.

"Do you HAVE any?"

"Oh, yes, I do", Felicity ducked shyly. "Ask him."

Gus winked at Izzy.

"I'll have some storytellin' in store for ya some day, lass!" he assured her. "And little lessons on weakness-seeking for you, lad!" he nodded at a grinning Felix.

"He's already got plenty of that, Gus, thank you for your generosity!" Izzy stuck her tongue out at him.

"Anytime!"

"Okay, kids, enough bickering!" Olivia Dale interjected. "Why don't we open presents, hmm?" she suggested, pointing at her half-asleep husband and zombie- looking son. "Before we lose those two."

"Excellent idea!" Alec agreed, pretending to rub his hands in anticipation, "Who wants to go first? Sara?"

"Oh, no thanks, Uncle Alec", the young woman faked a yawn and lazily stretched her arms behind her head. "Count me out this time." Sara got to her feet and hastily slipped her wool coat and gloves on, before stepping awkwardly out the door. "Night everyone!"

"Sara, wait!" Izzy yelled, breaking the odd silence and freeing herself from her fiancé's embrace to run after her friend.

"Iz, for Pete's sake, at least wear a coat!" Muriel called out, only to be answered by a slamming door.

*

"Sara, what's going on, what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Sara, I thought I was you're friend."

Sara suddenly looked up from her shoes, surprised.

"You are! Why would you say otherwise?"

Isolde slid a comforting arm around her elder.

"Because true friends confide themselves and often find comfort in each other's presence", she answered sagely.

" Thank you for your kindness; I appreciate it, really I do, but I assure you I'm perfectly fine. Didn't you see me yawn? I'm just tired that's all."

"All right then. Let's just keep quiet and do some star-gazing together for a while ."

"Sounds good", Sara agreed.

After a few breathtakingly silent minutes in the night, she said:

"There's the North Star". She pointed to a big, bright one, shinning twice as much as it's neighbours.

"It's beautiful."

"I know. It's just like Peter described it to me in his letters," she said quietly.

"Oh? Peter knows about stars?" Isolde demanded innocently, secretly hoping the conversation would head where she wanted it to.

"Like heck he does. The lad reads whole BOOKS on the subject!"

"Wow."

"Yup. He didn't have much education schoolwise, so he decided to "learn with The Best Teacher." Sara laughed softly into the velvet night. "That's what he calls Mother Nature."

"He seems like a very bright fellow", Izzy observed.

"He sure is. So smart in fact, he's the one whom suggested star-gazing in the first place." she paused. "He said if we gazed at the North Star, which is the brightest one of all, at exactly six hours difference from one country to another, we'd be able to do so at the same time, and look out for each other that way". Sara signed. "I wish I could have a real way to know whether he's looking at it right now or not."

"Did you set a time?"

"Yeah. Six o' clock for me, midnight for him. I thought it too late for him, but we realized it was the only time of day that wouldn't interfere with meals for me or training for him", the latter explained.

"I see." Isolde glanced furtively at her watch. "Shoot!" she thought.

"No need to hide, Iz, I know I missed it."

"Yeah, right during the time Felix showed up," she murmured, slowly realizing. "At the lighthouse."

"Uh, huh, that's right."

Izzy suddenly covered her mouth with her hand.

"Oh, Sara!" she exclaimed. "I was at the lighthouse alone before that. Why didn't you leave Felix outside – just for a minute or two – and knock? If I'd known, I'd-"

"No, Izzy, it,s not your fault." Sara vainly tried to hold back her tears - "just for a few minutes more", she thought, "then I'll be alone"- , but she couldn't.

"Oh, Sara, I'm sorry." Isolde gently took her shaking friend in her warm embrace. "I promise I'll make it up to you somehow."

"Just- just go. Leave me alone- please!"

Shocked by her anguished tone, the young woman let go of Sara's hands and took a few steps back, not realizing Felix was standing behind her, and bumped straight into him.

"Felix!" Izzy gasped softly. "I-I didn't know you were-

"How is she?" he interrupted, calmly draping a shawl on her frozen shoulders and clutching another in his left hand. "It's getting real cold out here and I don't want you guys to catch your death." Izzy silently motioned at Sara, folded in half with sorrow and pain.

"I'll take care of her", Felix murmured soothingly. "You go on inside now."

"But..-

"Iz, please." His blue eyes were more serious than she'd ever seen them before. "I'm her cousin".

"And I'm her friend."

"Yes, an amazing one." He stroked her cheek tenderly. "But I'm the only one besides Peter who can help her out when she's like this. I need to be alone with her now," he added, not wanting Izzy to note the shaking in his voice.

"Alright, I'm going. Don't take it all on your shoulders, though." She squeezed his hand.

"I won't, I promise." Felix smiled, marvelling at how well she knew.

Izzy's slender, graceful form slowly turned around and drifted away in a cloud of snowflakes.

After making sure she was safely back in the house, the young man swiftly made his way up to Sara, wrapping both the warm shawl and his arms around her fragile frame.

"It's me", he whispered into her ear.

"Thank Goodness," Sara signed through her sobs, "I love Iz dearly, but she wasn't who I needed right now. I need a big brother figure."

"I thought so, that's why I came out when I did." He gently stroked her golden hair. "But Sara, you have to realize Iz was only trying to be a good friend to you. Just like you were to her."

"I know, Felix. Believe me, I know. You can't begin to imagine how much that girl suffered over you and her brother", she added a few seconds later. "It was almost too unbearable to watch. the worst part was how quietly she sort of "grieved". Not a word, ever, practically. Just loosing appetite, strength, and that famous humour you love so much, and also-"

"Stop", Felix abruptly cut his favourite cousin off. "Just stop, Sara. I can see the pain I caused Izzy just by LOOKING at her. She lost a considerable amount o' weight, her appetite still isn't quite back to normal, she hunches a little now, and, despite her loyal efforts, she's lost that spark of mischief I would always see in her eyes whenever I saw her. Replaced by a sort of "(he shuddered)" resignation look. But I vow," he paused for breath, "I vow to bring her back to what she was."

"It'll take a lot of patience, you know. And Morgan's return."

"I can't make Morgan come back, but I can definitely help her out a little."

"At least", Sara added, calmer than she was a couple minutes earlier, "thanks to Cecily she found some peace."

"You haven't, though", Felix pointed out tenderly, snapping out of his momentary selfishness to get back to Sara.

"I haven't what?" his cousin demanded, trying to look innocent.

"Don't you play that game with me, Story Girl", he threatened, "I know you better than myself. YOU have yet to find your inner peace."

"His dead, isn't he?"

"I don't know. But in any case, you must fight that depressive wave that's surfing through you right now."

"How? I've already snapped at your fiancée, cried all the tears in my body, and most definitely caught us both a merciless cold. What's left?"

Felix laughed lightly.

"Well, you seem to be on the right track, but let me give you a hint: keep trying to catch that positive spirited humour that just flew on your shoulder like a butterfly. It's this close to you ."(he shaped his two first fingers into a thin line.)

Sara smiled and pulled her cousin into a tight bear hug.

"I'll keep trying," she promised. "Thanks Felix."

"My pleasure. Let us go in, now, I'm nearly frozen to the tips, and I REALLY need to talk to my baby sister." Felix gently pushed her cousin towards his family's warm, loving home.

"Home", he thought, a smile flickering on his lips, "what a wonderful word."

***

"There you are!" Isolde exclaimed, when she saw the two freezing snowmen enter the warm brick house. "We were beginning to worry!"

"Speak for yourself!" Arthur joked, teasing his sister.

Izzy stuck her tongue out at her older sibling and, without further a dew, hastily slipped Felix's wet coat off and hung it in the wardrobe. She then took care of putting Sara's shawl on a pin cushion next to hers, close to the fireplace. Those tasks accomplished, the young girl dragged her fiancé by the hand and sat him on the nearest sofa.

"You must be frozen as an icicle right now.", she told Felix.

"You're hands are purple!" Janet exclaimed, getting up instantly, but firmly pulled back down by Muriel Pettibone.

"Let her take care of him, Janet", the woman said softly. "She's already acting like the perfect little house wife", she added in a whisper.

"Stay close to the fireplace for a while, that'll warm ya up in no time, Felix. I'll go fix you guys some tea in the meantime." (she nodded at Sara and him as she got to her feat.)

"No, Iz, stay with Felix, I'll get the kettle boiling", Sara offered. "Besides, I owe ya for my sharpness earlier and I need to move."

"You don't owe me a thing, but if it can make you feel better, then I'll gladly accept."

"Thanks for being such a good friend for me Iz", Sara caught Felix's happy expression as the words crossed her lips. "It means a lot to me."

"I like being you're friend, Sara Stanley. You're an easy person to love."

Izzy turned to the smiling young man beside her just as a silent tear rolled down his cousin's rosy cheek.

"You said the right thing, Izzy", Felix murmured. "Just as you always do."

"Oh, for Pity's sake don't exaggerate!" Isolde turned her head to the side so he wouldn't see her flush- again!

"But I'm not!" He turned her chin his way. "So you don't need to blush."

"Whatever", the young woman waved the thought off with her hand. "Why!" she exclaimed, alarmed, "you're lips are blue, your trembling!" she realized.

Felix nodded silently, falsely shaking like a leaf.

"Yes, and in desperate need of warming up."

Her motherly ears perking up, Janet King got to her feet for the second time in five minutes.

"Janet,", Alec whispered, "relax. I know my son. He's pulling Izzy's leg right now." Alec grinned. "Watch." Signing, Janet gave in and sagely sat back down next to her husband.

…"closer to the fireplace," Isolde was saying.

"Izzy, I don't thing that'll be enough", Felix said in a soft, wailing tone of voice, making his teeth chatter to add to the effect.

"Not enough? Janet, come help!"

By now, Janet was fully aware of her son's little comedy, so she simply laughed before soothing her future daughter-in-law.

"I'm sorry, honey, but I think only you can give him what he needs to "warm up" (Janet quoted the words with her fingers, a smile on her lips.) "If you see what I mean."

A slow grin of comprehension crept on Isolde's red lips and she grabbed the nearest pin cushion.

"You little weasel! You're going to pay!"

"Hey!" Felix laughed ceaselessly as he vainly attempted to protect himself with his hands.

"You're not going to offer a poor cold man shelter?"

"Alright then." Isolde let go of her cushion and smacked him good on his right arm."Here's your shelter!" she smiled, content with herself as Sara set the tea trey on the coffee table.

"Maybe your hospitality politics will change after you've seen this."

Felix pulled a small brightly wrapped square parcel from out his shirt pocket.

"Merry late Christmas and Happy birthday, miss Pettibone."

"Felix- You're my late Christmas gift!"

"Hush up and open it already! I think you'll like it."

Trying not to appear too excited, but failing mercifully, Isolde giddily tore open the small package, unaware of Felix's eager gaze and the Pettibone and King clans' amused expressions.

"I know I said I didn't want to talk to much about past memories, but I thought this picture spoke for itself."

Izzy stayed silent for a minute, mute with surprise and joy. In front of her were two faces, frozen in time, two years younger than now. "Felix and Izzy, 1913", read an inscription Isolde instantly recognized as being written by Felix's clumsy hand. Her shy, hat -covered face smiled back at her, as did Felix's, an arm casually wrapped around her shoulder. "Just before we started courting, before you changed my life forever. Merry Christmas, Iz. Love Always, Felix.", the rest of the inscription read.

"Do you like it?" Felix risked, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer. "it's not much, I know, but…"

"Not much?" Isolde interrupted as she flung her arms around his neck, "what are you, crazy? Felix, this is worth a million times more than anything you could have ever given me! When was this taken?"

" Jasper took it that day after the Christmas ball , remember ? So, you like it?' Felix's cheeks were flushed with pleasure by now.

"I love it", Izzy certified. "Almost as much as I love a certain boy beside me." she whispered.

The whole bunch "ooed and awed" as Isolde boldly gave Felix a short kiss.

"Thank you", she murmured a few seconds later.

"You're very welcome", he answered, tucking a light strand of hair behind her ear.

"Bravo!" Sara exclaimed, in a desperate effort to ease her returning sorrow. "To Felix and Izzy!" she added, standing up, wine glass in hand.

"To Felix and Izzy!' the two families echoed.

"Is she alright?" Isolde whispered to Felix after having had a sip of her drink. "I'm afraid she's had a bit too much of your mother's current wine."

"She's fine, don't worry", Felix absent-mindedly assured her, a thought he'd managed to push away from his mind for a few minutes having popped back into his already tired head.

"Are you?" Izzy softly ran her fingers along her fiancé's creased forehead. "You look worried about something."

"And you're way to perspicacious for your own good", the young man smiled sadly and hauled her onto his outstretched legs. Understanding he was in need of physical more than mental support, Isolde rested her head on his chest and soothingly stroked his open palm with her thumb, unaware that seven pair of eyes were staring at the suddenly sad couple she and Felix had become.

***

"Oh, Muriel", Clive Pettibone signed heavily a couple days later. "How am I supposed to tell them this? Especially Izzy. She's been so radiant since Felix came home, I don't want to chatter her pretty dream."

Muriel gently squeezed her husband's hand.

"You'll find a way, dear. You have to", she added firmly, "for your children's sake."

"I just wish Felix could do the telling on Isolde's part. He's the one who saw him go down after all…"

"Clive! Goodness Gracious, it's your son we're talking about here, not a war comrade!"

"Hush!" the man exclaimed, "Arthur's coming!" Just as the words crossed his lips, Clive Pettibone realized it was too late. His eldest son set foot in the door, his dark brown eyes shinning with unshed tears.

"You'd better tell my sister", he warned, his voice horse with sorrow and anger, "and fast. Or I will."

*

Felix King set foot in his family's barn, slightly after dawn, worry still creasing his usually smooth forehead.

"How am I supposed to tell her this?" the young lad wondered. "I don't want to be the one to cast a shadow on her happiness", he decided a few thoughtful seconds later, "her father should tell her."

Attempting to shake off his worries, Felix slipped on his working clothes (an old worn-out wool cap and a large blue jumpsuit that used to belong to Gus Pike.) Whistling a familiar tune to keep his mind busy, he started stacking the day's hay for the horses and getting things out to clean the horses' stalls. Having finished the hay piles, the sergeant got to his feet and went over to Prince and Wildberrie's boxes. What he saw left him mute with surprise.

The animals' stall were spotless from roof to bottom, harnesses, food and, most importantly, "gifts" were safely stowed away.

"Who?-"

"Surprise!" voices he knew all too well exclaimed, laughing bubbily . "Like it?"

Felix spun around, facing a smiling Cecily and a mud-covered Isolde.

"Like it!? I'll say! When did you?-"

"An hour ago," Izzy supplied, giggling. "While somebody was still snoring away."

"It was her idea!" Cecily groaned, pointing accusingly at her accomplice, "she MADE me get up at 3:30 a.m, for Heaven's Sake!"

"Oh, stop complaining! And anyway, take that back, Cecily King; I didn't make you; I ASKED you; so if you didn't want to, you just had to say so when I came knocking at your door!"

"Wait- you barged on my house door at 3:30 in the morning?" Felix enunciated, eyes round. "What on earth must mother have thought? She's such a light sleeper she hears anything!"

"Don't worry, Felix, I'm not stupid! I asked your folks permission first of course!"

"Good thing. Now that that's settled, there's only one thing left to do!" Felix exclaimed, lifting Izzy from off the ground and twirling her in the air, "say thanks!"

"Put me down this instant!" Isolde ordered, nevertheless shrieking with laughter as her thick dark braid flew wildly in the air, "I'm seeping with mud and dirt!"

"Nonsense! You've never looked prettier.", Felix declared softly, a sad smile flickering on his lips, "especially with that blue jumpsuit on; very Izzy-like."

"I agree! You really can look ravishing in those pretty colourful things you wear now, Iz, but nothings suits you better than boys' clothes!"

"Really?" Isolde demanded, utterly pleased inside, but cool as a cucumber outside, "I kind of thought so too, but then I thought I better not wear those kinds of clothes too much; 'wouldn't want to be Felix to be ashamed of me when we go places."

"Iz, really, I'd think you'd know me better than that!" the young lad protested, slightly hurt as he set her down, "I've never cared the slightest bit about appearances, and I don't intend to start now. Besides, remember what I told you three and a half years ago? 'I don't need a 'new you'; I think you're perfect just the way you are'."

Isolde smiled. "You DO have the answer to everything, don't you, Mr. King!"

"No", Felix thought sadly, his thoughts drifting towards his friend Elbert and Clive Pettibone's youngest son, "No, Iz, I don't…"

"You okay?" Cecily asked, confusedly waving a hand in front of Felix's dreamy face.

"Yeah, I, uh, I'm fine, Cess. I, uh, I'll catch you gals later, all right? There's something I forgot to do." He distractedly kissed Izzy's cheek and squeezed his sister's shoulder, "thanks again for the stalls, I owe you a buggy driving lesson." And with that, he turned around, and out he went, leaving the two young ladies slightly perplexed as to what to think of this peculiar behaviour.

***

"I'll help!" Sara Stanley declared determinately the following day after supper, hastily getting to her feet to help her youngest cousin to do the dishes at King Farm.

"Since when are you so eager to do the dishes?" Felicity and Gus wanted to know, amused.

"I just need to move a bit, that's all."

"Certainly don't feel obligated, Sara darling, you're a guest!" Janet King protested, narrowing her eyes at her eldest son, "right Felix?"

"Mother, let him be!" Cecily exclaimed when she realized her brother wasn't going to answer back tartly the way he always did , "he's not been acting like himself for a while, and I think he deserves a break."

"I agree", Felicity began,"I"-

"Oh, will all of you just zip it?!" Felix cut of abruptly. "My friend Elbert just perished at my face without me having been able to do ANYTHING at all, and my fiancée's brother went down before my very eyes!" Felix's eyes were brimming with tears, "I know, I KNOW what you're going to say: why didn't I tell you before, right?" He added, seeing everyone's mouths drop open in pure shock, "You were all so ecstatic to see me alive, I-I just didn't have the heart to!' he exclaimed, sobbing whole-heartedly now.

"Oh, darling, I wasn't aware that… I'm so sorry…" , Janet murmured first, going around the table to rock her son in her arms like she used to, "So sorry…"

"Felix, honey," Felicity choked, her eyes filling with tears as they always did whenever the strongest of them broke down, as she embraced her younger brother "If I'd known, I'd-

"No, Fel, it's okay, you didn't know."

"I hate you!" Cecily exclaimed lowly , "I hate you for not having the honesty to tell us all the truth- especially me- ELBERT!" She yelled, angry tears burning her pretty eyes.

"Cess… please!" Felix murmured hoarsely, trying to get a hold of his sister's hand, "I never meant to hurt you-

"Well, you have! And for good!" she stood up and climbed the stairs, a slamming noise preceding her into her room.

"Don't worry about her, son, she's just in anguish right now, she'll cool off. It's not your fault; you only wanted to protect her."

"I'll go see her", Sara declared from the kitchen were she and Daniel were putting away the last of the dishes.

"Is Felix going to be okay, Mama?" the young boy asked Janet timidly, surprised to see his big brother cry so hard.

"Of course, sweetie. Felix's just real sad right now, that's all."

*

"I just don't think I can bring myself to tell her, Felicity", Felix explained to his eldest sibling after everyone had gone to bed (the young latter had insisted she'd stay, "he needs somebody to keep an eye on him", she'd said to shoo Gus off to their house), "after what happened tonight, I just don't feel able to."

"Did you tell Mr. Pettibone that?"

"Yes- sort of."

"And?"

"He said he'd try to do it himself, but that if he 'failed to', I'd have to take over. anyway."

"Ridiculous!" Felicity Pike sniffed. "Why doesn't Muriel do the telling? Woman usually have a knack for those kinds of things."

"He says she would 'break it to her too softly'".

"Men! What about Arthur?"

"Arthur seems too furious at his father for hiding the truth right now", Felix retorted.

"For Goodness' sake, brother!" Felicity exploded, her headless temper getting the best of her again, "if you can't find a solution, why don't you not tell her at all! That should settle matters!"

"Gee, Felicity, I really hadn't thought of that!"

She made a face at him.

She knitted for a few minutes quietly while her sibling meditated.

"I'll tell her,", Felix decided seconds later. "I just have to find the right moment."

"I knew you'd say that."

"You did?"

"We ain't Kings for nothin', are we?" She squeezed his shoulder affectionately. "Night Felix."

"Thanks."

"For what?"

"Just staying with me."

*

That moment came, or so the young man thought, the following Sunday at a church town gathering.

"Hey, Mr. Pettibone, Arthur. Hey, Izzy."

"Hi Felix!" Isolde's cheery voice sliced through him like a knife. "You came here for the food I bet."

"Not exactly, no."

"I was just teasing." Izzy's brow furrowed. "Are you alright?"

"Can I bring her home with me, Mr. Pettibone?" Felix demanded, avoiding the question. "I need to discuss things with her", he insisted on the word as he caught the middle-aged man's sorrowful brown gaze.

"Sure. You kids go along."

"Felix-" Arthur Pettibone began hesitantly. "Nothing.. Just take care of her."

"I will," he promised, gently taking Isolde' elbow and guiding the utterly confused latter out of the church.

"What did Arthur mean by 'take care of her'?" Izzy asked a couple minutes later as they neared King Farm.

"I'm about to tell you something that's going to break your heart to pieces, and it's killing me", Felix whispered, his voice raw with emotion.

Isolde stopped in her tracks, an insidious doubt creeping into her head.

"You're not leaving again, are you? Please tell me you're not..."

"No, no" –Felix squeezed her hand- "it's not that."

"Thank God! It can't be so bad then."

"I wish it weren't… Izzy, it's-

"Morgan!" Clive Pettibone's low voice came up from behind them.

"Father? What are you doing here?" the young woman demanded as Clive caught Felix's shocked expression.

"Babe, I came to tell you", he murmured, pulling his daughter against him, "… Morgan… he perished a few days before Felix came home, he-

"Nooooo, you're lying! It's not TRUE! NOT HIM!" Isolde gagged, freeing herself from his embrace, "your lying…"

"Izzy, darling, Felix saw him go down."

Isolde turned her pained face his way.

"Is it true?"

"I'm afraid it is", Felix whispered, his soulful blue eyes going out to her, "I'm so sorry, Iz.. I couldn't tell you."

Isolde sobbed wholeheartedly, choked up with sorrow , every cry hitting the young man and Clive like a ton of bricks.

"I hate this life! I hate you all!" she screamed through her tears, running of like a deer back to the road that let to her home before either men could stop her.

Hate, Felix's heart thought, in two days, two of the people I love the most spat that word at me.. .

***

"I'm sick of seeing you float around her house like a ghost! Knock for Heaven's sake!" Sara Stanley coaxed her younger cousin for the hundredth time Friday afternoon.

Ever since the news of Izzy's youngest brother's dead, the fair maiden had finally dug in her own Soil of Hope and pulled up her flannel sleeves, if she can get through a sibling's death, I can very well get through not having news from a boy who's probably alive, she'd reasoned, referring to Peter recently gone M.I.A.

"Oh, okay, I'm going!" Felix finally climbed the brick porch stairs that led to the Pettibone's house and lightly wrapped at the door, heavy-hearted at the perspective of what might lay ahead.

"Good luck!" she squeezed his arm and flitted down the stairs. "Catch ya later!"

"Wait! You're not staying? I might need you!"

"I'm sure you'll do just fine without me, Felix!" Sara winked , "hug her for me and don't forget the Soil of Hope!"

Soil of Hope! What on earth IS that blessed thing?

"Hello, Felix dear!" Muriel Pettibone's soft, warm voice snapped him out of his reverie, "what may I do for you?"

" 'Good day, Muriel. I –uh- I was just wondering if it might be possible for me to-

"See Iz? Okay, come in, but I warn you, she ain't a pretty sight!" the middle-aged lady signed heavily as she let him in, "poor thing! 'Hasn't eaten a thing for days! 'Hasn't even so much as TOUCHED her piano and it's already been three weeks!"

Help me God! the young lad though, if she won't even play a Beethoven Sonata, who says she'll even let me SET FOOT in her room?!

But to Muriel he said:

"Death's a feisty beast. I've had proof of that myself a short while ago when I saw my good friend Elbert get killed by a bomb… Nothing a touch of love and care from many souls won't help cure, ma'am."

"Thank you, Felix."

He courteously lifted his cap and followed his future mother-in-law up the creaking wooden staircase.

"Hey there, warrior." Felix softly startled Isolde. He caught his breath when she turned to face him: how different, how ravaged she looked compared to the usually light-spirited damsel he saw everyday! With horror, the young sergeant realized how utterly thin she had become (the size of his babe finger), how dark the growing circles under her pretty hazel eyes were, but worst of all, how messy and dirty the rich chestnut hair she once had taken such pride in styling had gotten.

"How are you?"

"As well as an almost brother less sister can be, thank you."

Felix shuddered. Such monotony in her tone!

"Izzy, is there something – anything- I can do for you?" the young lad desperately asked again.

"Yes."

"Name it."

"Leave. Me. Alone!" she practically screamed. "I thought I'd been clear the other day when Gus and Felicity came to visit me- I don't want to see anyone!"

Felix backed up, his face pained to see her so unrecognizable.

"All right, Iz," he whispered almost inaudibly, "If that's what you really want…"

"Yes."

"But before I go, I have two things to do."

"Be quick about it, then."

Nodding, Felix swiftly sat close to her on the bed, and, without further a dew, he slipped his arms around her and hauled her into a deep hug before she could stop him.

"That," he murmured, after having released her, "is from my cousin. Sara sends you her love."

"Thank her," she said, her eyes brimming with grateful tears, "I needed that."

"And the second thing, is – I've been meaning to ask you this over a month ago, since I never got a chance to ask Cecily- what IS this Soil of Hope business I've been hearing you chatter on about for days?"

Isolde laughed despite herself. Music to my ears, thought the young man.

"It's this positive-thinking vibe Cecily taught me when she saw me looking like I do right now (she pointed to herself) when you'd just gone M.I.A.", she began, her voice growing stronger with every word. "You have to 'trim it and water it', she said, 'just like a garden.' By doing things that unleash your imagination or that make you feel good about yourself."

"Will you teach it to me?" Felix eagerly wanted to know after Isolde had finished her story.

"I don't know how I could, and besides, why would you need it?"

"As a form of Prayer for you, Morgan, and Elbert."

"Elbert!" Izzy exclaimed. "Did something happen to him too?"

Felix took a deep breath, trying not to let her see his sorrow.

"He- he was standing right in front of a bomb, and before I could do anything he-", Felix's voice broke, "he got shot", he murmured.

"Selfish me," she whispered after a few moments, "I should have guessed your weirdness these last few weeks had something to do with him…"

The young sergeant simply drew close and closed his eyes, drinking in her light fragrance. The last bit of her that hadn't changed.

"Not just him, Iz. Cecily. She's real angry at me."

"Why would she be angry?"

"I couldn't tell her the truth right away about Elbert. I was fretting over how to tell you about Morgan so much, I didn't want another problem. But then", he signed, "Everybody was bugging me on how bizarre I looked and it just slipped out before I could think."

"Now she refuses to even look at me!"

"I'm sure it'll cool off in time", Isolde soothed in that serene way that once characterized her. " You just need patience." she then looked down at her shoes before concluding, "healing takes a lot of it."

"You're right, Izzy." Felix lifted up her chin gently. "So what do you say we be patient together, hmm? "

The latter chose the path of silence, slowly crawling back into her shell.

"That is, if you don't hate the whole world including you're best bud anymore… "

Those last words seemed to have the desired effect, for Izzy sat up straighter, a glimpse of good old pride gleaming in her brown eyes.

"I do not hate the whole world, Felix King!"

A smile of victory lit up the young lad's face and reached his eyes.

"Prove it then."

"Fine." Isolde sprung up from her bed and fluffed her wrinkled black taffeta skirt, "Invite Sara, Cess, Felicity and Gus over this minute!"

"Whoa, are you sure there loner? I was thinking a slightly smaller kind of proof."

"Well you didn't mention that when you provoked me, did you?"

"No," Felix admitted.

"Go along then."

"Yes, ma'am", Felix beamed, practically skittering out of her room.

"And Felix?"

"Yes?" he spun around.

"Thank you."

"For what?"

Isolde smirked.

"shaking me a little."

"Anytime!" he joked, darting off before she'd get back to her old self completely, and throw another pin cushion at him.

*

"The wind's changed", Felicity Pike declared to her spouse at Pettibone Farm. "I can feel it."

"Me, too: the air's gettin' warmer", Gus joked, knowing perfectly well what she meant.

She nudged him playfully, almost knocking his punch out off his arm.

"I meant Iz, stupid! How come out of the blue she sends Felix out to get us if she didn't want us over yesterday, huh?"

"Guess." Gus motioned over at his brother-in-law. "That lad has more to him than meets the eye."

"What do you mean?" Felicity asked, somewhat puzzled.

"Persuasion, my dear." Gus took a sip of his drink. "The art of persuasion."

*

"Thanks again for, um, earlier. I really needed that."

"At your service", Felix curtsied teasingly.

"Felix?"

"Mmmm?"

"I have something to ask…"

"Out with it."

"Why did you not just say 'fiancé' or 'best bud and fiancé' earlier when you talked about me hating the whole world including you?"

Felix hid a smile. Even in times of trial, she never ceases to amaze me, noticing little details!

"I wasn't sure you'd heard that, Iz. Well, you see, since there is a tragic event going on in your life right now, I wanted to give you the freedom to consider me only as your good friend again for a time, just so you'd feel less obligated towards me."

"Wow." Izzy looked up at him, her eyes shinning with gratitude. "That's sweet of you, I'm very touched and I greatly appreciate it."

"I feel a 'but' coming…"

"… But", she laughed softly, "I'm afraid I can't accept your generous offer."

"Why not?" Felix demanded, secretly relieved.

"Let's put it this way; not courting you is like trying to stop Beethoven Sonatas for good once I've started: simply impossible."

"My turn to say 'wow'!" He grinned. "So what do you suggest?"

"A combination of both, friend and fiancé, just like we used to do, except maybe more defined from one side to another depending on how I or you feel emotionally speaking. How does that sound?"

"Can I hug you?" was the answer to her question. "One from me, this time."

she chuckled.

"I'd like that."

In an instant, his strong, reassuring arms enveloped the young woman in a tight embrace.

"How's that?"

"Great", Isolde signed. "Just what I needed."

"Good."

"But, hey? Whose hugging me: the friend or the fiancé?"

"Who do you want it to be?"

"Felix."

The lad laughed.

"You're quite a nut-case, do you know that?"

"Yep! Now hush up and listen."

"To what?"

" Duh! The Golden Silence."

***

Someone once said emotions were like ridding a roller-coaster: really high sometimes, really low at others times.

"That quote would deserve a prize for sure, but I'd give away my grand piano to know how to dose that roller coaster!" Izzy pondered one rainy day, chin in her hand. Ever since Morgan Pettibone's death, everyone had found their own way of carrying on: Clive had tried to shield himself between the walls of silence, Arthur had tried to run away from his grief by going on short trips, and Muriel had attempted to make herself as 'discreet as possible'. But Isolde's method was, by far, the most healthy one:patience. With the support and motivation of her friends, Dora, Cecily, Sara, but mostly 'good ol' Felix', the young lady bravely greeted each day, stimulating herself with reading, work, and of course, prayer.

"So you come here, too, huh?" Felix had asked a couple days earlier when he had recognized her delicate frame kneeling on an empty church bench next to his.

She'd looked up, her expression peaceful.

"Yes", she had replied, "everyday."

"Me too", Felix had laughed softly.

"Why don't we pray together, then? Two heads are always better than one!"

"Well said". He'd slid over to her bench and squeezed her shoulder. "Well said."

"Iz?" Muriel poked her head into the doorway and snapped the young lady out of her reverie, "what are you doing?"

"That's just it!" she exclaimed, exasperated. "Nothing!"

"I'm sure you're father would be happy to play a game of checkers with you!" her stepmother teased.

"Hmfff", was the response. "I'd almost prefer THAT then hitting a wall each time I try to talk to him… He's been so quiet since the funeral."

"Don't I know it!" Muriel signed. "I've been trying to get him angry for days; just so he'd talk to me."

Isolde laughed.

"Good luck! He could never by angry at you! You're way too angelic!"

"I don't know about angelic, but thanks anyway."

"In any event, that still doesn't cure my case of boredom!".

"It just might!" Muriel' eyes light up, an idea popping into her head.

"Oh, no.." the young woman enunciated slowly, grasping her concept. "N-O. Don't even THINK about it."

"Please!" Muriel pleaded, "you're the only one besides- well, Arthur,- that can really get him furious!"

"I'll take that as a compliment!"

"Oh, come on! You wanted me to find you something to do, didn't you? Well, there you go!"

"Muriel, a few weeks ago, I would've jumped right in! But after what happened he- I don't know- he seems to have gotten… fragile. " Izzy laughed, surprised at her own words. "It feels weird using such a word to describe my father! He's usually anything but that! what I want to say is, we shouldn't push it too far."

"Aha!" her stepmother exclaimed triumphantly, startling her, 'we shouldn't push it too far'. You've just said yes, my dear!"

"What? No!"

"Oh que si!"

"No!"

"Yes!"

"Oh, brother!" Isolde rolled her eyes, "You're worse than Felix!"

"You won't regret it!" she promised.

*

"Forget it", Felix declared flatly later that afternoon at the White Sands, "I won't do it."

"Please! Not even for me?"

He laughed, polishing silverware.

"Especially not for you! Iz, do you realize your father almost cut my head off when I asked him for your hand in marriage?! What do you think he'd do if you told him you were pregnant when we're not married yet? I' d be dead for sure!"

"Not when we tell him it was just a joke! Felix, Muriel's right; we've got to get him out of this weird state his in! He never reacts to anything we tell him now!"

"Oh, he'll react all right! Too much, if you ask me!"

"Come on! I'm dying of boredom here!"

"Well if you're that desperate, why don't you help me clean these?" Felix teased, pointing at the pile of utensils set on a table in front of him. "It's sure to keep ya busy and it's a completely harmless gesture!"

Isolde punched him playfully.

"I'm serious."

"So am I", he retorted. "I really don't think this is a good idea."

"I can't believe this!"

"What?"

"Just five or six years ago you'd have been pushing me into something like this!"

"Seems I've matured!"

"Yeah, right. Anybody who didn't know you would have believed that."

"It's true!" Felix protested, smiling inwardly. "I swear!"

"It's not right to swear, Mr. King. Especially when you're telling falsehoods…"

"Okay, then, smarty-pants. What makes you think I haven't matured?"

"Easy: you still argue like a schoolboy!"

"That doesn't make me immature!"

"Prove it!"

Felix signed. "If I do it, what do I-

"I knew you would!" Izzy jumped into his arms, careful not to knock down the silverware. "Thanks bell-boy!"

"Hey! You didn't let me finish: what do I get in exchange for my services?"

Isolde smiled softly.

"A brother-and-sister counsellor meeting; you really need to have a chat with Cecily!"

"She won't let me get near her!"

"Trust me: women have a knack for those kinds of things."

"I've heard that one before." ,Felix grumbled.

"Um, excuse-me!" a woman's voice interjected, gauging Izzy from head to toe, "is it possible to have some assistance in this hotel or are we to fend for ourselves!"

"Oh, pardon me, ma'am", Felix apologized, letting go of a scarlet red Isolde, "I'll be right with you!"

"Gotta go, Iz. It better be worth it!" he warned.

"It will, I promise! My house, five o' clock tomorrow!" she said with a wave as she caught the impatient lady's murderous glance.

***

Sara Stanley walked slowly along the beach, shoes in hand, a soft-pinkish sun setting in the background. She let her toes go deep in the sand, waves gently licking the soles of her feet.

Still no news, she thought, staring straight into the horizon, it's been over a month! She'd come to the beach in an attempt to brighten her mood, Olivia having hushed her out of the house.

"Get some fresh air", she'd coaxed. "It'll do you good."

Restless, the fair maiden started to run. Hard. The golden sunlight casting a shadow in her hair, Sara ran like she had never done before. Away from her troubles. Away from Peter. Away from everything. Except the sea.

*

"Cake anyone?" Muriel asked, trying to tempt an absent-minded Clive.

"It's just out of the oven!" Isolde insisted. "And it's fruit cake", she added, "your favorite."

"No, thank, you, Izzy. You go on and enjoy yourselves, though. I'll go and have a nap."

A nap! I don't think so! Isolde checked the kitchen clock. Almost five!

"Father I insist! Just a sliver!"

"Really, I assure you, I'm-

There was distinct knock on the front door.

"I'll get it!" the young lady sprang from her chair, throwing Muriel a look that meant, here goes!

"Felix, hello!" Isolde exclaimed, opening the door, "What brings you hear?"

"A crazy girl with harebrained ideas!" the young man muttered through gritted teeth.

"Hush! he'll hear you!"

Felix rolled his eyes.

"Come on!" she dragged him into the house. "Just act natural", she whispered.

"Father! Muriel! Look who's here!"

"Good day, Mr. King", Clive grumbled.

"Sir!"

"Hello, Felix!" Muriel through Isolde a puzzled glance. "What can we do for you?"

"Actually, Felix and I have rather… shocking news." Izzy nudged his elbow. "Tell them, Felix."

I can't believe I'm doing this.

"She's pregnant, sir," the young sergeant squeaked, ready to run off any second.

Muriel Pettibone's eyes grew round as saucers. No, I didn't mean THAT furious!

"Oh, good, very g-WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" Clive suddenly snapped out of his reverie, his hair perking up.

"I'm pregnant, father, " Isolde declared calmly, stubbornly avoiding to look Muriel in the eyes for fear of laughing.

"But-but, this a DISGRACE!" he roared, startling poor Felix to death, "You're not even married yet!"

"It just happened", the maiden shrugged, trying to stop her shoulders from bouncing up and down at the sigh of a vein popping out on her father's forehead. He's ready to burst now!

"Happened?! Both of you, out!"

"Clive, dear, calm down, let me explain…." Muriel began.

"Explain! There's nothing to explain! My daughter has just dishonoured me! And you," he pointed accusingly at a terrorized Felix, "YOU! I always KNEW you weren't right for Izzy!"

Uh-oh! This is going a touch too far!

"Father, please! It's not his fault! It's me; I-"

"Didn't you hear me? I said out!"

"Mr. Pettibone, sir,-

"Don't you 'Mr. Pettibone' me! I banish you from this house, for life!"

"Clive-

"Father!"

"Enough! Obey me at once!"

Knowing there was no need to argue whenever he got that way, Isolde hastily went to grab her coat and gloves in the parlour, only to return to an empty living room.

"Felix went out", Muriel informed her from her spot in the kitchen. " They both did .You'd better go after him."

*

"Felix!" Izzy yelled, seeing the young man's tall frame a bit farther up the road, "Wait up!"

"I won't say 'I told you so'", Felix huffed when she'd caught up to him, "but I'm dying to! Izzy, how could you ask me to do something like that! I've got your father in a grudge against me for life now!"

"Oh, don't be ridiculous! He'll cool off when we'll tell him it was just a joke!"

"When YOU tell him."

"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't know it would go that far."

"Yeah, well, you should have listened to me in the first place", Felix snapped, pulling his scarf tighter around his neck, "For once I was right about something."

"Felix, I-

"Forget it, Iz." He picked up his pace, making it harder for the young woman to catch up. "I'll see you around."

Great. Just Great, Izzy. Frustrated, she stomped her foot, not bothering to go after him. So much for wanting to have a little fun!

***

"It's the girl, ain't it, boy?"

"How did you know?"

"Aw, all men are the same", Alec declared sagely. "You know", he added mockingly "You may have rubbed off on her!"

"What do you mean?" Felix demanded, narrowing his eyes at his father.

"All your crazy ideas, schemes over the years. Izzy had a good model!"

"I don't see anything funny."

"For Heaven's Sake, Felix, lighten up!"

"Nothing a good cup of cocoa won't fix!" Janet declared, a brewing mug in hand.

*

"Clive: It was just a JOKE!"

"Some joke!" the man grumbled. "giving me a heart attack ain't exactly what I'd call a joke! "

"Shhh! Here she comes!"

Clive Pettibone pushed his glasses farther up his noise and flipped open his evening paper.

"' Evening, Izzy" he greeted his youngest child curtly.

"Good evening both of you", the young woman replied, nervously fidgeting with her coat buttons.

"Well, make yourself at home!"

Isolde slipped her coat off and sat opposite her father.

"Sir, I uh…"

"Yes, Isolde what is it? No use excusing yourself over your pregnancy, the deed's been done."

Izzy breathed deeply.

"Father, I lied to you. I was just joking. Muriel and I were tired of seeing you so… Well, so lifeless all the time since Morgan died." (she paused, trying to regain her composure.) "So she thought I should, uh, shake you up a little", she murmured, looking down at her shoes.

"Mmmm. I see."

"I'm really sorry, father."

"I hope you are. Lying is dreadful sin, young lady…

"I know!"

"…Even for me! Clive finished, letting out a laugh.

Isolde' eyes widened.

"You KNEW?"

"I just told him," Muriel giggled.

"We thought we'd let you confess for yourself anyway!"

Izzy drew out a sign.

"Okay, but about Felix-

"I know I went too hard on him, banishing him and all, but God, I was angry!" Clive shook his head in amazement, "you children never cease to cause trouble."

"Does that mean he can come back?"

"Yes, but-" Izzy pulled him into a tight hug, "…NO MORE mischief, Isolde, I mean it."

"You too, Muriel." he winked at his wife. "Goodly intentioned or not!"

"Aye, aye, captain!" the women joked.

***

"Gus, have you seen the pickles?"

"Pickles? Falicity why on earth would you bring pickles at the Foundling Home?"

"Not for the foundling home, silly! For me! I'm hungry!" Felicity explained. "Now, where did you put them?"

"Down in the cellar." Gus shook his head, amused. "You pregnant women have the weirdest tastes!"

"I heard that!"

A couples minutes later she emerged, triumphantly rattling a closed jar in her hand.

"Voilà!" Plopping it on the counter, she busted the tightly screwed lid open with one hand.

"Bon appétit!"

*

The wind brushed softly through the frozen poplar trees , a fresh breath of mint lingering in the air.. The sun was already high up on this bright March day, flickering it's golden rays on the people of Avonlea.

"So it's true, isn't it?" Velma Bugle's snotty tone snapped Izzy out of her reverie.

"What ?" Isolde asked, somewhat irritated already by miss 'skim milk trying to be cream.'

"What we heard you say to Clive and Muriel the other day…"

"I don't know what you mean, Miss Bugle, but I do not have the time for charades right now" (the young woman pointed to the soda machine and gestured to the long line of customers waiting to be served) " Muriel and Nat Lester have taken the day off, and I'm awfully busy."

"Very well. I shall be brief." Velma promised, dropping the bomb. "The fact that you're pregnant."

Not paying attention to what she was doing, Isolde filled the soda she was making too full, and soon, to all the clients' dismay, strawberry flavoured liquor dripped all over the counter.

"W-what did you say?" she sputtered, eyes wide with shock.

"I knew it! This is a scandal!" Velma exclaimed giddily. "wait 'till I tell the others!"

Feeling something wet and sticky on her hand, Izzy looked down at the soda machine and saw the mess. Grateful for something to keep her mind busy, she hastily grabbed an old cloth and cleared it out.

"You must be so ashamed of yourselves", Velma was saying, taking little notice of line of people behind her

"We have no reason to be", Izzy declared, calmer now.

"And why is that?"

"Because I am NOT – I repeat- NOT pregnant."

"That's not what I heard you say to…

"Oh, no matter what I said! It was just a joke!"

"Some joke!"

"Velma, I if can't assist you in any way, I would be grateful if you left", Isolde hissed, exasperated. "these people don't have all day!"

"The newspaper either! Wait 'till miss Dale hears this!" Velma squealed, slipping out the door.

*

"PREGNANT?!" Merciful Providence, Felix, is this true?" Felicity almost fell off her chair, pointing to the day's edition of 'The Avonlea Chronicle.'

"News sure spreads fast in this retched town", the young man grumbled, having stopped by his sister's house, "I can't believe Aunt Olivia publicised this!"

"She didn't, the head reporter did", Gus supplied. "So it's really true then, boy? What did your folks say?"

"They didn't say anything, Gus, because it's NOT true!" Felix exclaimed, irritated.

"So why did the newspaper bother with it then?"

*

"Two words", Izzy started, answering the exact same question at the same time over at the dinner table, "Velma. Bugle."

"But how did she-

" 'Over heard me 'telling the news' a few days ago and spread it around", Isolde retorted hollowly, "even when I specifically told her it wasn't true!"

"Sharp tongue", Muriel grumbled.

"Now Felix'll never speak to me again!" she wailed.

"Nonsense, Izzy. Just tell him what happened; I'm sure he'll understand", Clive soothed, going for second helpings.

"Even better: make him a cake!" Muriel suggested,wriggling her eyebrows , " Or a pie! Men are always more forgiving with pastries under there noses."

"What are you insinuating, woman?" Clive scoffed, "Us men are built to resist. Even to the strongest of temptations."

"Whatever you say, dear!"

The young woman laughed, feeling herself relax.

"Good idea, Muriel." She sprang from her chair, "I'll get right to it!"

"I didn't mean right now!" her stepmother protested, eyeing the kitchen clock, "It's after seven!"

"The sooner I get this trash out of my mind, the better!" (Izzy pointed to the newspaper.)

***

"Aunt Hetty must be turning in her grave right now!" Sara Stanley giggled from her spot next to her cousin on the sofa, "Izzy pregnant! This is the most fun I've had in a long time!"

"Good." Cecily smiled, "it's great to see you all lively again…"

"If only it could last!" the latter signed, "some days I feel so depressed I just feel like curling up and dying…"

"Peter would hate to hear you talk that way", the young woman coaxed softly.

"So would Elbert", Sara added gently, "you told me the exact same thing days ago!"

"That's different!" Cecily stiffened up immediately, "Elbert's dead and gone; Peter isn't."

"Cecily, honey…"

"Never mind."

"… You're going to have to talk about him someday, you know. You can't keep your feelings bottled in like this forever."

"Oh yes I can."

"Cess: it's been almost two and a half months already! And when are going to stop avoiding Felix?" Sara's tone had become authoritarian . "This ridiculous grudge you hold against him has to end!"

"He should have told me as soon as he got home!" Cecily practically shouted, stubbornly crossing her arms over chest.

"He- " A rap on the front door cut Sara off.

"I'll go", she said, "don't move a muscle young lady, this conversation is far from over!"

Sara leaped off the couch and ran to the door, leaving an obstinate mule to her sombre thoughts.

"Izzy!" she exclaimed, surprised, "what brings you hear?"

"I could ask you the same question", Isolde remarked with a smile, "I thought you were staying at Olivia's?"

"Oh I am! Just needed out, that' all!" Sara brushed this away with her hand, "but tell me" (she raised her eyebrows comically) "what's with today's column? Aunt Olivia was shocked when she read it!"

"She wasn't the only one!" Izzy signed, "I never thought she'd go that far!"

"Who? Olivia?"

"No, no. Velma. But never mind", she added, seeing her friend's puzzled expression, "I'm not pregnant. I'll explain everything later."

"Ooookay…."

"Where's Felix?" Isolde cut off , "I need to see him. Now."

"Out in the barn", Sara shook her head, amused, "I'll never understand today's youth!"

"I'm only two years younger than you, just so you know." Isolde stuck her tongue out at her before running off, the silver tray she was carrying bouncing gaily on her chest.

"True!" Sara laughed. "Well," she added, seeing she wouldn't get a pipe out of her youngest cousin, "suit yourself then, missy. I'm off!" she waived.

***

"There you are." the young woman picked up her skirts with one hand, careful not to step in the mud and drop her platter. "Sara told me you'd be here", she added.

"So she did." Felix stared stubbornly at the ground.

"Look, Felix, I came to say I'm sorry and-

"Too late for sorry. It's in block print already!" Felix exclaimed sarcastically.

"But it wasn't me!" Izzy protested. "I didn't tell Olivia or Mr. Taylor ANYTHING!"

"Then who was it? "

"Velma Bugle."

"Very funny."

"Do you honestly think I'd joke about something like this?" Isolde unwrapped the foil that covered the pie and took out the silverware she'd brought with her. "Sit down a while , will you?" she set the tray down and tapped on the ground beside her. "I've got some explaining to do."

And so does this lemon pie, she thought to herself with a smile.

*

"I guess I forgive you for your harebrained ideas", the young man conceded mockingly, after he'd heard Izzy's side of the story.

"You guess?"

"Not much choice really." (Felix pointed at the empty tray in front of them) "No more pie left!"

. "Hey!" she slapped him playfully on the arm,

…"But I will only if you admit I was totally correct about everything!

" Yeah, Yeah! Muriel was SO right!" she added lowly.

"Huh? About what?"

"Oh, nothing." Isolde giggled. "Girl stuff."

She hoisted him to his feet.

"But enough talking. We've got work to do."

"Work?"

"Yup. Family counselling!"

Felix rolled his eyes.

"Iz, please, I beg of you, not tonight! Cecily's probably already sound asleep at this hour!"

"Nonsense."

"Haven't you done enough?"

"Trust me. This I know about." she kissed his cheek. "Remember father and Morgan fighting like cats and dogs!"

As suspected, Cecily was fully awake and crocheting when they got back to King farm.

"Hey Cess!" Isolde greeted her friend cheerfully.

"Hi Cess."

"Hey Iz", Cecily responded, clearly ignoring her sibling. "You're still here?"

"Me and your beloved brother had some business to settle."

"Let me guess: today's paper?"

"Bingo," Isolde replied with a laugh. "but it's not what you think."

"I know, I heard you tell Sara."

"I'll finish the whole story later", her friend promised. "But for now, I've got a much more important matter left to tackle", (Izzy pointed to Felix and gestured for him to sit on the nearest armchair), "Elbert."

"No. N-O. Forget it. I am not getting in to this right now", Cecily exclaimed. "I thought I'd been clear with Sara!"

"See, I told you she'd react this way, Iz."

"You guys!" the young woman heaved a sign, exasperated. "If you don't do this now you never will!"

"So be it", Cecily grumbled obstinately.

"Okay, that's it. Felix, out of the room."

"What?! " the lad protested. "What happened to 'family counselling?'"

"Plans can change!"

Once he was out of sight, Isolde eased herself closer to her friend on the Kings' couch.

"He's gone now. You can talk to me." She took Cecily's hands in hers and forced her to look at her. "The quicker you do this, the better you'll feel. Trust me."

*

"Feeling a bit better, Cess?" Izzy asked softly an hour later (her friend had eventually burst into tears, seeing Isolde wouldn't leave her side until she'd eased it out of her chest.)

"Much better." Cecily retorted gratefully, "thanks, Iz, I'd forgotten what good crying could do!"

"Especially when you've had your sorrow bottled up inside you for almost two whole months…" The latter hauled her into a deep hug. "Your poor darling!"

Felix quietly leaned his head against the door frame, eyes closed.

How awful it had been to hear his little sister sob so! He never heard her, much less seen her cry before , and he vowed to try his best not to let it happen again.

"Was all your pain due to Elbert?" Isolde was asking on the other side of the door, "or was it mostly Felix's fault?"

"Both."

"How so?" Izzy insisted, even if she knew the answer.

"Well, hearing about Elbert's death caused me an awful lot of sorrow", (Cecily paused, taking a deep breath to fight the tears) "but I think what hurt the most was not being told right away. I think if Felix had told me as soon as he got home, Id felt like I had some control over what happened to Elbert", she added gently.

"Cess, no!" Felix suddenly barged in the room before Izzy could get a word in edgewise, "even if I'd told you as soon as I came back, he-he was already dead", he stammered, "there was nothing you could have done…"

"You don't KNOW that!" his sister bellowed, finally letting her frustration come out, "you don't KNOW if I could have done something, Felix! Maybe Elbert was just in a profound coma when you left, and maybe I could have caught the first train to France, and"… (her voice broke ) "saved him!" she choked.

"Oh, Cecily", the young sergeant murmured, crossing the living room and attempting to take her in his arms, "If you only KNEW how much I tried to!"

"I'm… Sorry, " Cecily sobbed, "I shouldn't have reacted so harshly towards you. I was just so… devastated!"

"I know, sis. I know." Felix rubbed her back in slow circles. " Me too! But if there's anyone who deserves an apology, it's you. If I had told you sooner, maybe we could have grieved together properly and…

"But that's what you're doing right now!" Isolde interrupted, a smile reaching her pretty eyes, "you're grieving over Elbert this very minute just by TALKING about it!"

They both turned to Izzy.

"She right!" Felix smiled , slipping an arm around Cecily, "we are!"

"We can take care of each other now…" Cecily added, wiping a tear out of the corner of her eye. "I was beginning to feel pretty heavy carrying this weight all by myself."

"But you weren't all by yourself, Cess", Isolde pointed out again, "God was with you. He always is no matter what… That counts for something."

"And you had you're good friend by your side also!" Felix exclaimed, motioning at Izzy.

"All of that is true, except maybe the fact that nobody cared for Elbert quite as much as we did", ( the young woman pointed to herself and her older brother.) "besides his parents of course…."

"Whom live in Boston!" Felix finished sadly.

"Bottom line, it's a good thing you two made up!"

"Thanks to you!"

Isolde blushed.

"Oh, don't exaggerate. YOU did all the solving! All I did was the guiding!"

"Hey", Felix interjected. "What did we say 'bout blushing, Miss Pettibone? No need for it unless it necessary !"

"Whatever!" she said, shrugging in a typically-Izzy fashion, "Now that my mission is completed, I'd better get going!" She checked her pocket watch, "It's almost midnight and Father and Muriel'll be wondering where on Earth I was!"

"Very well then!" Felix squeezed his sibling's shoulder, "we're on our way!"

"What? Don't be ridiculous, Mr. King! It's way to late for you to drive me home! Besides, I am perfectly capable of walking."

"And I am 'perfectly capable' of being a gentleman! Now get you're coat!", the young man ordered, winking at Cecily.

"I don't suggest you argue when him when he gets that look in his eyes!" Cecily warned teasingly "you don't know what you're in for if you do!"

"Oh, all right!" Isolde pretended to complain. "Say hi to your parents for me!"

"Will do."

" 'Hope they're not too light sleepers!" she laughed.

"I wouldn't worry over that ! After a day's work on the farm, Father sleeps like a log and Mother puts a pillow over her head to cover noise!"

"All right then! I'll see ya tomorrow, Cess!" Izzy waived, linking her arm through Felix's as they went out the door.

*

"Did I ever tell you how amazing you were?" Felix asked his fiancée as few minutes later as he stopped the buggy to gaze up at the star-sprinkled sky.

"Don't start!" she warned mockingly, covering her cheeks with her frozen hands, "or I'll blush again!"

"I don't care…" Felix gently removed Isolde's hands from her face. "I need to say it and I will." He stared directly into her hazel eyes.

You're amazing, Izzy."

He'd said it in such a kind, soft way, the young woman felt her knees turn to jelly.

"Y-you think so?" she stammered.

"I know so."

"But-but why?"

"It's not like you to stutter so much, Miss Pettibone!" the lad teased. "Well," he added seriously, answering her question, "if you must know, I think you're amazing for plenty of reasons, but especially because of this gift you posses to understand others like you've known them you're whole life…" He paused, letting his words sink in for a few seconds. "Take Cecily for example. Sara and Felicity tried countless times to get her to open up, to 'exteriorize', like they call it, but you! You seemed to know right away she just needed a good cry before she could talk about how she felt."

"Oh, but I didn't really!" Isolde protested shyly. "I just", (she shrugged, at loss for words), "felt it I guess."

"My point exactly!" Felix exclaimed triumphantly. "You felt what my sister needed; that's even stronger than knowing, Izzy. It's called intuition. "

"I care for Cecily, Felix. That's all, honest", the young woman insisted. "She's a really good friend of mine. Nothing to do with 'intuition.' "

"Whatever you say…" Felix smiled quietly before sliding his warm palm against her frozen one and grabbing the rains with his other. "Whatever you say, Iz…"

***

Isolde Pettibone sat quietly on the front porch about a week later, humming a familiar tone and enjoying the delicious brush of the wind on her face. March was coming to it's end, and before long, April would be here. A soft, beautiful April filled with lilies, daffodils, and rosebuds, lush greens and bright yellows. Filled with the joys and gifts of spring.

"Lazy are we, Izzy Pettibone?" The young damsel jumped at the sound of a teasing voice she knew better than her own.

"ARTHUR!" she cried, wiping her head around,"ARTHUR YOU'RE BACK!!" Light as a feather, Isolde leaped off her seat and threw herself in her brother's arms.

"Surprise…", he whispered in her hair, touched by such a warm welcome. "Muriel said I might find you here on such a pretty day."

"Well she was right!" Izzy replied cheerfully. "How long have you been back for?"

"Oh, not long. A couple hours maybe."

"Hours?! Why in Creation didn't you come by earlier? We were here all day!"

"I-I just wasn't sure whether you guys would want to see me or not", the young man confessed shyly. "Especially," (he took a quick look 'round before continuing to make sure they were alone) "especially Father."

"But why?" Isolde demanded, slightly perplexed, "why would Father not be overjoyed to see you again when you've been gone for months?"

"Oh, I don't know, " he shrugged, "just this gut-feeling I have."

"Feeling shmeeling!" his sister declared gaily, linking her arm through his and steering him toward the porch steps, "follow the yellow brick road!" she teased.

*

"Faaaather!" Izzy called in a signing voice, "look who's heeeeerre!"

"You found her I see!" Muriel came into the parlour to greet them and winked at her step-son. "I'll go get Clive, Iz. He's in his office door-closed right now, so he can't hear you."

"I didn't want to tell you just yet, Clive, but Izzy's so happy, and… Well..

"Arthur's home!" Isolde cut off excitedly when she saw Clive and Muriel come in.

"So he is", her father confirmed rather coolly after spotting his eldest child. "How are you, son?"

Arthur unconsciously straightened his posture,

"Fine, Father. Good to see again."

Clive nodded curtly and, without another word for anyone, left the room.

"I thought he might react this way". Muriel signed heavily, "God knows why."

"So did I", Arthur agreed.

"Well I didn't!" Izzy practically shouted, "What is wrong with this family?" She furiously started re-buttoning up her coat and slipping on her feathered brown hat, "no, wait", she hissed , seeing her stepmother open her mouth to answer, "don't tell me, Muriel; I already know what's wrong. Everything! Nothing's ever been right!"

Before anybody could stop her, she stormed out of kitchen and out of the house, making sure to slam the door. Hard.

***

"Iz, what-

"I just need to talk", she cut Felix off abruptly.

"Alright", he said softly, never keeping his eyes off her, "just let me get this hay stacked up, and-

"I meant to Cecily," Isolde explained more precisely, "Is she here?"

"No ,I'm sorry. She took the first train to Carmody early this morning and won't be back 'till late tonight."

"Oh", she swallowed hard, "Okay then. I guess I'll come by tomorrow." She started to make her way out of the barn, when she felt a gentle tug on her right arm.

"Izzy", Felix whispered her nickname softly, "can't you tell me what's wrong?"

"I-I don't want to disturb", she protested weakly, pointing at the piles of hay, "you've got work to do."

"Izzy, listen to me. You could never disturb me. Even if you tried to. Ever. Now come sit." Felix tapped on the earth, "And I'll make you a deal. If you tell me what's going on and I can't help you, we'll wait for Cess. What do you say?"

"Okay."

"Good." Felix smiled. "I'm all ears."

"And so," she signed a few minutes later, "I just don't know what to think anymore."

Felix cradled her silently against his chest, sensing there was more to come.

"Are we a real family? Do family members act like strangers towards one another for no good reason?" A silent tear rolled down Izzy's cheek. "I know I've asked myself these questions plenty of times in the past, but for some reason, they seem to slice through me even sharper than before…"

"I don't really know what else to say besides the fact that your brother's death affected everyone greatly, as you know. Maybe even in ways you didn't suspect", Felix mused quietly.

"What do mean?"

"Well, I don't know, Iz. Maybe your father's just so caught up in his own pool of grief right now, he can't think straight, and doesn't realize how distant he is with Arthur now that he's back", he finished unsurely. "Does that make some sense?"

Isolde meditated on that for a few seconds .

"Yes", she decided finally, much to the young man's relief. "Absolutely. I hadn't looked at it that way before."

"And that's a good thing, right?"

"It sure is. Thanks, Felix." (Izzy cleared her throat, feeling rotten now), "I'm sorry I asked to see Cecily first", she said, her voice barely a horse whisper, "It's not that I didn't think you could help me, it's just that-

"Say no more", the sergeant cut in kindly, "I understand completely."

"You do?"

He laughed.

"Izzy, of course I do! I wouldn't go around telling you 'bout things concerning us boys, would I?"

"I guess not!" Isolde admitted. "But my issue wasn't exactly classified as being 'girls only', though."

"No, your right; but it's clear as a bell that stuff going on between your brother and father ain't exactly 'boyfriend/girlfriend talk' either, am I right?"

"Totally!" Izzy exclaimed, relieved.

"Good", Felix smiled, amused. "Now that that's settled, what do you say we go in my warm, cozy house, sit by the fireplace and munch on some freshly backed cookies while we wait for Cecily?" He suggested. "If you still want my little sis's opinion on the question, that is…"

"I think I'll say 'yes'", she declared, "nothing like a good girl talk! But, um, Felix?"

"Mmmmm?"

"Who made those freshly baked goods?"

Felix giggled.

"Not Cess, if that's what worrying ya. Felicity dropped 'em off this morning!"

"Phew!" Izzy muttered despite herself. Cecily King was an outstanding comrade, but a terrible cook!

"Come on." The young man grinned as he hoisted her delicately to her feet. "Daniel's waiting for me. I promised I'd play a game of checkers". (he emphasized on the word, winking slyly at her.)

*

"Gus, where did you put that blessed cake?" A very pregnant Felicity asked her spouse a couple days later. "It's almost twelve, you know."

"I know, dear, you've told me three times already", Gus Pike retorted, rolling his eyes, "Your nut cake's on the counter", he added, "you put it there this morning yourself, don't you remember?"

"No", she snapped, wincing as the same sharp, anguish pain she'd been harbouring all night and early morning in her lower back shot up again, "I didn't remember, Gus, thank you for reminding me."

"Falicity", Gus's tone suddenly grew concerned as he came in the kitchen and saw his wife's pale face grasping for air, "are ya alright, love?"

"Fine", she hissed, her voice horse. "I'm fine."

His brow furrowed, the young man slowly began to remove his wool coat and gloves, hanging them back on the crochets in the hall.

"Funny", he retorted, "I don't think you're fine at all."

Ignoring her protests, he picked up the recently installed telephone in the parlour, and brought it in the kitchen so he could keep a close eye on "Falicity."

"Hallo? Dr. Snow? Yes, this is Gus Pike speakin'. You remember my wife? Falicity King? Yes, yes. I was, um, just wonderin' if you could um, come check on her for a minute…? Yes, that's right, Dr., in the lower back, by the looks o' it. She seems to have trouble breathin, too", he added, turning his head towards her. "Quite a bit, actually. Yes. Alright, I will. Thank you doctor. Goodbye." Trying not to appear worried, Gus, hung the phone back on it's suckle.

"He said he'll be over in no time!" he said, falsely cheerful.

Felicity nodded obediently, hurting too much to even think of protesting.

"What do you say I try to massage it while we wait?" (he pointed to her back) "Doc says it might help!"

Another nod.

Gus softly eased his way up and down his wife's arched muscles.

"Am I hurting you more?" he asked gently.

The latter tried to shake her head, but tears of pain blurred her vision.

"I know it's real painful, Falicity. Hold tight, honey, he's comin'…" Gus squeezed his wife's hand tightly in his own free one.

A couple (endless) minutes later, the young newlyweds heard a distinctive rap on the front door.

"I'll go", Gus declared, doing his best to stay calm, gently removing his hand from Felicity's back and freeing his other, "don't move a muscle."

"Doctor Snow, good to see you, sir!" the young man opened the door as he hastily greeted the Dr, already starting to remove the elder man's coat and boots.

"Likewise!" he retorted. "I just wish it would be in better circumstances, though", he added grimly, eyeing a deadly pale Felicity.

"Same here." Gus'eyes were filled with concern.

"Don't you worry, Mr. Pike! I'll get 'er back on 'er feet in no time!" Doctor Snow promised, making his way to the kitchen.

"How are we doing, Mrs. King? Oh pardon me" (he smiled at Gus)"I mean, Pike?"

Felicity tried to speak, but she just shook her head and slumped back in her chair, eyes closed.

"Not too good", Gus guessed. "she can't even TALK…"

"Let's see here", Doctor Snow quickly took out his first-aid kit, slipping on his stethoscope over his white uniform. He took the end of it and gently untied Felicity's dress. He then laid the cold metal of the instrument on the young woman's frozen back.

"Does this hurt ?" he asked.

She shook her head. No, it was fine.

"Good. Take several deep breaths, Miss Felicity."

Wincing, the latter did as she was told, punctuating each inhale with a tight squeeze on Gus's now purple palm.

"How we doin'?" he asked again.

Nod.

"Okay, I think." Gus caught his wife's gaze. "I'm doing okay", it read, "don't worry."

"Ah, eye-communicating", the doctor laughed. "I like it. You're lucky to be a good reader, Mr. Pike."

"Oh, what her eyes say is crystal clear, doc. Two shinnin' ponds, really."

Felicity tried to smile, but failed mercifully.

"Save those for Felix later!" Gus laughed. "Speaking of which, I think I should give Mrs. King a call and tell her not to wait for us."

"N-o", his wife croaked. "P-p-please."

"Falicity, darlin," (Gus forced her to look at him)"Be reasonable. You're in no condition for celebratin'. Maybe later, alright?" he briefly squeezed her hand and, without further a dew, reached for the telephone.

"It's her little brother's twentieth birthday today and she was supposed to bring desert", he explained, seeing the doctor's confused expression as he dialled the number.

***

"Hello, King Farm?" Janet's cheery voice echoed in the telephone. "Oh, Gus" (she lowered her tone) "will you two be over soon? Everyone's waiting for you, you know!"

Isolde Pettibone saw her future mother-in-law's face get darker by the minute.

"Mrs King, what is it?" she whispered, alarmed, "what's happened?"

Janet shooed Izzy away with her left hand, "yes", she was saying into the phone, "yes, Gus dear, don't worry, we understand completely. Yes. But Gus, are you sure you don't want me to come over? I'm her mother after all, and if she's not well, I- Yes, alright I will,okay, goodbye.

"Felicity's not well." Janet whispered to Isolde. "It's her back. Gus telephoned to say they won't make it 'till quite late tonight, if she's feeling better that is."

"Oh, dear!" The latter covered her mouth with her hand, " Poor her !No Felicity, no Gus, no cake! Felix'll be real disappointed."

Janet heaved a sign.

"Don't I know it! He wasn't seen much of them these past few weeks; crazy busy as he was at the White Sands and all!"

"What's going on here?" Cecily King waltzed into the living room, wearing a ravishing gray muslin dress that brought out her starry eyes, "Is this a private party?" She joked.

"I wish!" Isolde exclaimed sourly. "It was Gus on the phone. Fel's up against a terrible back ache and they probably won't make it!"

"No way! Not on his twentieth!"

"Well", Olivia' Dale's voice rose from the kitchen, "You know what they say! If the mountain doesn't come to you, you must come to the mountain!" she quoted philosophically.

"Aunt Olivia, you're a genius!" Cecily exclaimed, eyes twinkling at the thought of a plot, "what are we waiting for? Let's go!"

"Whoa, wait a minute, Cess. How are we supposed to get Felix to go to Felicity and Gus's without it looking suspicious?" practical Izzy wanted to know.

"Oh, don't worry!" Olivia waved the thought off with her hand, "I'm sure you'll figure out something, dear."

"Me?" Isolde's hazel eyes grew wide, "why me?"

Cecily rolled her eyes.

"Duh", she said. "It's obvious."

*

Here goes nothin', thought the young damsel as she set foot in the town's most luxurious hotel. As she approached the reception, Isolde thought of Felicity very hard, and managed to plaster a very worried expression on her face.

"Hey, Joe", she said, her voice thick, "could you find Felix for me?"

"Hello, Miss Izzy", Joe smiled up at her, "I'm afraid Felix's in an awful rush right now. Every possible bell-boy wanted off today by the looks o' it, so he is the only one available."

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to insist. It's urgent." Isolde's tone was so rarely serious, Joe Barley took off to find his friend at once.

"She says it's really urgent", Joe murmured once more to Felix, having run in to the young man in a flight of stairs.

"Tell her I'll be right down", Felix responded, his face sombre with concern. He knew Isolde well enough to be certain she'd never come by during one of his shifts unless she was in real trouble. Please God, don't let be Arthur enlisting too! That'd kill her!

"He'll be right down, Miss."

"Hope it ain't anything too serious". he added.

"Don't worry, Joe, thank you."

A few seconds later, Felix came panting down the stairs. "Iz, I'm here!" he exclaimed as soon as he'd spotted her, "what's wrong?" he added, staring straight into her eyes. "Joe here told me it was an emergency. Is it Arthur?"

"No, but oh, Felix, It's… Felicity. She-she isn't well at all. Your mother saw me walking home and asked me to run out and get you."

"Is it the baby?" Felix's blood went cold.

"I don't know", Isolde answered honestly, "Janet got Gus on the phone before she talked to me, and he said it seemed to be an extremely sharp pain in the lower back."

The young sergeant simply closed his eyes for a few seconds to collect his thoughts.

When he opened them again, his fiancée had his coat, scarf, and gloves in hand.

"Come", she murmured as she took his arm, feeling suddenly rotten.

"Joe," Felix called back before they set foot outside. "Please tell Mr. Treymayne I had to leave early… for family reasons."

"Will do, man! Good luck!"

"I'll need it…" he whispered to no one in particular.

*

"How is she?" Janet demanded as soon as she and Alec had set food in the doorway.

"Better", Dr. Snow retorted, arriving in the parlour at the sound of a knock on the door. "I think we've managed to get her breathing better. She seems less pale", he added.

"And the baby? The pain?"

"The baby's fine, Mr. King, I've checked on him twice already. As for the pain," (he made a face), it doesn't seem to want to wind down. Probably just the little one kicking hard, though", he assured them, seeing their worried expressions, "I wouldn't fret."

A couple seconds later, Janet and Alec King saw their son-in-law coming to greet them.

"Mr. King, Mrs. King", Gus gave them a small, tired smile. "She's laying in bed right now, if you want to see her before everyone comes", he suggested, knowing Felix, Izzy, Cecily, Daniel, Sara, and several others would be over shortly for the "party."

"Good idea, son." Alec said. "We'd like that."

"Well then, since there doesn't seem to be any changes concerning the pain, Mr. Pike, I must be on my way. I suggest you give your wife that pain-killer medication we talked about every four hours; I left it on her night table", Doctor Snow said, reaching for his winter clothes.

"Will do, doc. Thanks so much for your trouble!" Gus gushed. "I'll pay you just as soon as I…"

"No hurry at all!" the elder assured him, a soothing smile on his lips. "Seeing Miss Felicity back on 'er feet again 'll be worth all the money in the world! I'll come by in the morning", he added before going out the front door.

"Come with me", Gus whispered to the elder couple after he'd closed the door behind him,

"Falicity, honey", he raped softly on the door. "you've got company!"

"Come in", Felicity said weakly.

"Surprise!" Janet exclaimed warmly, enfolding her daughter in her welcoming arms.

"Hey, princess…" Alec murmured, calling her what he once used to when she was about ten years old.

"Mother, Father!" Felicity's eyes brimmed with fresh tears, "I didn't think you'd come 'till later tonight!"

"We couldn't wait that long", Janet smiled. "And besides, I don't know if Gus told you, but since you're tied up in bed, we've decided to host you're brother's party right here in your room!"

"How splendid-

the latter started to say, pain suddenly making her stop talking.

"Take it easy there, missy", Gus ordered, "Not too much excitement." He propped up her pillows and gently slipped his strong arms under her so he could sit her up properly, "How's that?"

"Good." Felicity smiled tiredly.

"Why don't you rest awhile?" he suggested. "Just 'till Felix comes."

"We'll stay with you", Alec offered.

"Good idea", Janet agreed.

"Oh, okay", Felicity gave in grudgingly.

"That's a good girl!" Gus teased his wife. "I'll see ya a bit later.", he added, kissing her forehead.

"Gus?"

he spun around.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for being so angelically patient with me. You're wonderful!"

"Anytime, Falicity", he smiled softly. "You know I'd do anything for ya!"

He closed the door behind him and Felicity turned to face her mother, feeling her tender gaze on her.

"What is it?"

"You're lucky, dear, you know that?"

"Startin' to", she teased.

"I never thought I'd say this at the time, Felicity, but I'm so glad you didn't marry Stewart… He was a nice boy and all…

"… Nothing like Gus!" Alec finished loyally. "Or his violin…"

The young latter simply smiled… and drifted peacefully into the limbs of Sleep.

*

"Slow down, Felix. Running won't make her get better faster, you know." Isolde hastily picked up her skirts and tried to keep up with the young sergeant's energetic pace.

"I know, but I want to see her now", was the response. "I have a bad feeling about this."

"I wouldn't worry so much". Izzy took his hand and squeezed tight.

"I know."Felix signed. "But I can't help it. Even if she IS my pesky sister", he joked sadly. They walked the rest of the way in silence, each one caught up in their own thoughts.

"I'll let you go in fist", Isolde declared a couple minutes later as they climbed the steps that led to the front door of Felicity and Gus Pike's modest home. "It's your sister after all, not mine."

Felix nodded silently. He knocked softly on the door. Intrigued by muffled sounds he heard on the other side, he slipped his hands in his pockets and prepared to wait a while, not noticing his fiancée furiously biting her lip to keep from exploding with laughter.

Probably just Doctor Snow. He must of spent the day there, he mused. Little did he know, the door suddenly flew open, revealing not one… but about ten people in front of him; all yelling "Surprise! Happy twentieth, Felix!"

"W-what's all this?" The young man stammered, eyes wide. "Where's Felicity?"

Isolde giggled from behind him.

"That's the thing; I didn't even technically lie to you! She really is in pain in bed right now, except for the fact that she new all along we were planning this for you in her home BECAUSE she was hurting."

"I see!" The birthday boy gave them his famous loop-sided grin as he stepped inside his sister,s house. "Well, you got me! You got me real good!"

"Glad to here it!" Sara Stanley piped up, her blue eyes sparkling with mischief, " 'cause there's more to come!" Going into the dark living room, she dragged a tall-looking 'stranger' into the bright light of day.

"ANDREW!!!" Felix exclaimed, almost losing his balance at the sight of his eldest cousin, "When did you?-

" Around noon. Carmody train station. Happy Birthday 'ol Felix!" Andrew King cut off with a laugh, "it's really me, so you can stop gawking!" he teased.

"But how did you-

"Sara sent him a telegram last Monday to make SURE he'd be there", Cecily supplied, grinning.

"You really didn't suspect it, right Felix?" Daniel King asked his older sibling, "We really gotcha, didn't we?"

"You sure did, little man!" Felix smiled as he ruffled his brother's chestnut hair.

"Hey!" the little boy protested, "Don't do that! You know I hate it!"

"What's all the noise about?" Janet suddenly appeared in the doorway, hands on her hips, "Your beloved sister- and cousin" (she smiled at her nephew) is trying to rest in peace!" she hissed, "so turn the volume down a little!"

"Please do", Gus added from the kitchen, with more of a pleading than demanding tone, "she barely slept a wink last night."

"You heard Gus", Alec added, standing behind his wife.

"Yes, father", Cecily signed, "we did. We'll be careful I promise."

"But this is a party after all!" Sara interjected, "there has to be at least a little action otherwise it'll look like a funeral gathering!"

"I second that!" birthday boy exclaimed with a laugh.

"Me too!" Isolde added

"Me three!" Andrew chimed in.

"Very well, children. Tell you what. Why don't you all gather round quietly in the living room and have a chat while me and Janet serve sandwiches and refreshments, hmmm?" Olivia Dale suggested cheerfully.

"Good idea, Olivia!" Jasper agreed, already feeling a headache coming his way, "and why don't you bring Monty with you? I'm sure he'd like someone to play with, Daniel."

"But-

Alec threw his youngest child a hard look that meant, "don't even TRY to negotiate".

"Sure, Uncle Jasper," , Daniel obediently faked enthusiasm as he took his cousin by the hand and led him into the sitting room, shoulders slumped.

***

"Can I go now?"

Janet checked the clock for the tenth time in five minutes and signed, exasperated.

"Yes, Felix, you may go up and see her now. But be gentle", she coaxed her son, knowing he had a tendency to get overly excited when he was worried.

"Yes, mother", he laughed, bending over to kiss her cheek. "Felicity won't even notice I'm THERE!"

"I can keep an eye on him for you if you wish!" Isolde Pettibone offered teasingly.

"Please do!"

Felix stuck his tongue out at Izzy playfully.

"What is this?" the young man pretended to be utterly vexed, "A women's solidarity club?"

"Exactly." she retorted. "And anyway, we outnumber, you boys, don't we not?" (Isolde turned to face the four feminine figures sitting next to her.) "Four- not counting Felicity and you're DEAR aunt Abigail, that's six girls- against three boys!" she smiled triumphantly.

"That doesn't make you more powerful!" Andrew had a mischievous smile on his lips, "it just show you're way stronger than I thought in arithmetic, that's all!"

"Way to go!" Felix high-fived his cousin, "I like the cockiness!" he joked, munching on a chicken sandwich.

"Well I most certainly do not!" Sara Stanley exclaimed, springing off her chair like the old Sara used to do all the time, "take that back, Andrew King, or I promise you on Aunt Hetty's dead body, (may she rest in peace), that I will NEVER AGAIN tell you any stories as LONG as you live!" she threatened, pointing a finger a him to add to the "dramatic effect."

"Oooh, I'm sooo sad, Sara!" Andrew pretended to dissolve in sobs.

"You'll see when something juicy happens in this town- and you, of all people know just how often that happens!- you will be BEGGING for my forgiveness!"

"We'll just see about that, won't we?"

"Enough!" Felix laughed, throwing his hands up, "If we want to get this party going I suggest you stop biting each other's ears off, and let me go see my sister so she can join us!"

"Yeah", Cecily agreed, "she's been snoozin' long enough now, don't you think?"

"Absolutely." Izzy nodded approvingly, "comin', birthday boy?" she glanced Felix's way.

"Right behind you, feminist damsel!" he sauced back, rising from his armchair to go up the wooden staircase that led to his sibling's room.

*

Isolde knocked gently on the closed cream-colored door.

"Felicity?" she whispered softly.

"Izzy!" Felicity's voice was much stronger than she would have expected it to be, "please come in!"

"Hey, sis," Felix flipped open the door and waived from behind his girlfriend, "how 'ya feelin'?" he added, concern thickening his usually light tone.

"Oh, okay, I guess." She waived this off with her hand, "but that's not important." She flung her arms open. "Happy Birthday, brother!"

The young sergeant smiled softly as he went to sit on the edge of the bed and hugged her hard.

"I've been worried sick over you!" he murmured reproachfully, pecking Felicity's pale cheek soundly.

"I witnessed!" Isolde raised a finger and laughed gently, "I've known your brother for seven whole years, Felicity, and I don't think I've ever seen him run so fast out of the White Sands. Even if his own HOUSE was on FIRE, I don't think he'd scurry so much!"

The latter giggled weakly.

"I've no trouble believin' you! Remember the time Cess was sick with tuberculosis?" she asked.

"How could I not?"

"Felix here was fretting so much on her account he actually SKIP days at work every now and then, and not even notice when any of us said something!"

"Yes, I remember very well." Isolde gazed up at Felix tenderly, "he was so caught up in his thoughts he wouldn't even talk to me…"

"Never intentionally, thought", the lad felt the need to add. "I just needed…" he trailed off, at loss for the right word.

"Space", the young damsel finished. "Believe me, I know what that's like."

"I know you do." Felix slid a comforting arm around her.

"Um", Felicity cleared her throat, "so…"

"Oh" , Felix shook his head to clear his thoughts, "sorry, Fel. You were sayin'?"

"Nothing", she signed, pretending to be exasperated.

"Maybe I should leave", Isolde offered. "Let you guys chatter between yourselves a little. Anyway", she added, "I think I'm distracting you more than anything else instead of 'keeping an eye on ya", she added, grinning wickedly at the young man.

" 'Keeping an eye on him?"' Felicity questioned, intrigued, "now what's all this 'bout?"

"Woman's Solidarity Tea Room", her brother retorted solemnly, making Izzy laugh.

"What?"

"Never mind, Felicity. He's just foolin' round."

"As usual!" The elder rolled her eyes. "No change in that!"

"Hey!" he protested.

"She's right." the young woman freed herself from his embrace and smiled, "I'll see you guys a bit later, alright?"

"But-" Felicity attempted to object.

"Please, it'll do you good." And with that Isolde slipped slowly out of the room, light as a feather and skittered down the stairs to see the rest of the family.

"She always seems to know precisely what I'm thinking!" Felix shook his head in amazement.

"You wanted to be alone with me?" His sibling feigned to narrow her chocolate-coloured eyes at him. "What do you want? Or should I say, how much?"

Felix laughed a silvery laugh. "Nothin', honest, pest." She stuck her tongue out at him playfully. "But now that it's just the two o' us, you can tell me how you REALLY feel." He squeezed Felicity's small hand lightly. "I saw you wince a few minutes ago." he added, seeing her innocent face.

"Busted!" she squirmed, trying to laugh.

"Maybe I should just tell everybody to go home." he motioned to get up, but she grabbed his arm, her grip surprisingly strong.

"You will do NOTHING of the kind, Felix Alexander King." Her tone was soft, but deadly serious. "This is your celebration, and I will not ruin it because of a stupid little back ache. Clear?"

"Felicity, I could care less, really, I swear. People turn twenty everyday and the world never stopped turning for that. Furthermore, my big sister and her child's health are far more important to me than a little gathering", Felix declared firmly.

"You're right." The future mother dipped her chestnut curls to the side and smiled softly. "You almost convinced me." She pulled her brother into a tight bear hug and pointed to the stack of small blue pills scattered on her dresser.

"Could you please hand me on of the those with my glass of water, please, giant?" she teased, marvelling at Felix's incredibly tall and lean frame. "I'm to take one every four hours and" (she double checked the clock on the wall) "it's time."

"Here ya go!" he said cheerfully, handing her the medication and the glass.

"For the pain, right." It was more of a statement than a question.

She nodded, swallowing.

"Right. Now go" (she lifted her chin towards the door), " I've seen enough o' you, and they'll be waiting, birthday boy!"

"I'm certainly not leaving my sick sibling in her bed all alone on my birthday", Felix declared in a don't- even- think- of- negotiating -with –me tone of voice.

"You're coming downstairs with me whether it suits you or not." Without further a dew, and before Felicity could pipe a single sound, he lifted her almost effortlessly in his arms and eased her onto his shoulder.

"Am I hurtin' anything?"

She shook her head no, mesmerized at his strength.

"Good. Let's go then."

*

"He was always one to make 'grand entrées!'" Janet King laughed, seeing her son carry her eldest daughter onto the living room sofa.

"Hey everyone!" Felix offered the group a lopsided grin as he slug himself breathlessly next to Felicity. "Sorry it took so long", he teased, "I sort o' got caught up."

"He's lying! He's the one who wanted to stay with me in the first place!" Felicity complained for the fun of it.

"You're kidding!" Cecily King put in, eyes wide, "how much did you pay him to do it?" she joked.

"You guys are so mean!" Isolde Pettibone interjected with a laugh, "Felix can be real caring when he puts his mind to it!"

"I second that!" Sara Stanley agreed.

"Thanks, girls!" Felix grinned broadly. "I appreciate it."

"It is your B-day after all", Andrew pointed out solemnly, "we have to make an effort to say something nice!"

"Hey!" the young sergeant grabbed the pin cushion nearest him and threw it at his cousin, "take that!"

"Now, now, children, don't start a fight", Alec summoned, a playful gleam in his dark brown eyes, "be careful of your sister, Felix."

"Yes, Falix", Gus Pike interjected warily, "watch it!"

'Falicity' heaved a sign as she rolled her eyes.

"Gus. Father. I'm not on my death bed for Heaven's Sake!"

"We know", Gus retorted. "You're far from dead, hon! Almost too lively, in fact!" he winked at her, making her cheeks colour to a more normal tint.

"Good for you, Gus!" Olivia giggled from her spot next to her husband and son. "You got some pink back on those chalk-white cheeks of hers!"

"Why did Gus make your face all red, Felicity?" little Daniel King asked innocently.

"I'll explain some day, Dany", she promised with a small smile.

"Why not now?"

"You're too young", Felix retorted, knowing pertinently how much Daniel hated that answer.

"I'm always too young!" the boy pouted, crossing his skinny arms over his chest angrily.

"Not for some baseball you're not!" Isolde rose from her chair, feeling her old boyish spirit resurfacing as well as the need to move in her restless legs, "you up for a game, Mr. King?"

"You bet!" Daniel's childish face broke into a grin, revealing missing teeth on the front. "You're the best, Iz!"

"I try!" she joked, going to get her coat and gloves, not bothering with her hat.

"Hey!" Felix suddenly got up too, jealously catching up with his manly nature, "Can't I come along?"

"What do you say, Daniel?" Izzy looked up at the young lad.

He stuck his tongue out at Felix.

"I think you just got your answer, man!" Andrew laughed. "Serve's ya right for teasin' the lad!"

"Not fair!" Felix grumbled moodily. For once Isolde was completely back to her old boyish self and he couldn't even make the most of it!

"Don't worry, Felix", Izzy squeezed the sergeant's shoulder laughingly, buttoning up her jacket, "I've got something in store for you too, later! Boyishness included!" she winked.

Sara whistled comically.

"Looks like you're in for quite a ride, cousin!" she joked.

"Oh, shove off!" he grumbled, a lopsided smile having nevertheless returned on his features.

"Comin' Dan?"

"Right behind ya!" the child skittered happily behind the young girl, ecstatic at the idea of going back on the grass fields again.

***

The gold and pinkish struck sunshine was setting against the young birch trees as a young lad and his elder friend were running freely on freshly trimmed fields, a baseball bat and worn-out ball in their hands.

"Home run!" Isolde Pettibone exclaimed triumphantly for the second time in five minutes, her soft auburn braid bouncing gaily on her small shoulders.

"Not again!" her opponent grumbled. "that's twice in a period! How did you get so good?!"

"She had a good teacher!" Clive Pettibone's happy voice came up from behind his daughter, "that's how!"

"Father!" Izzy spun around, startled. "When did you get here?"

"I was just sitting back home on the porch with Muriel watchin' this beautiful sunset" (he pointed at the soft pink sky)

"when I heard this loud noise comin' from Gus and Felicity's and I decided I'd come check it out, Felicity bein' slightly ill and all…"

"That was nice of you!" she smiled fondly at her parent, glad to see his generous nature make it's way back to his soul again.

"… But I see I didn't need to!" the man finished, eyes lighting up at the sight of Izzy playing baseball like she used to when she was younger.

"You haven't lost your knack for it I see", Clive nodded approvingly at his daughter's upright batting position.

"So it seems!" Isolde laughed, pink colouring her already rosy cheeks, "but like you told Dany: I had a good coach!"

"Too good if you ask me!" the lad muttered. "She beat me six to one twice, sir!"

"Good for her!"

"Father!"

"What?" he shrugged, boxing Daniel's shoulder playfully. "It's not my fault if young lads these days are as flabby as rubber!"

"Flabby!" he cried, shocked, "I am not flabby!"

"Prove it then!" mischief flickered in Clive Pettibone's dark eyes, "right now. You and me. First one to five. What do ya say, younger?"

The soon-to- be nine year-old rubbed his hands together in anticipation, "I say 'bring it on', old man!"

"Who are you callin' old man?!"

Izzy simply shook her head, amused.

"I can't believe you two!" she wrapped her wool coat tighter around herself to keep the frosty march air from cutting through her, "I'll go on inside now and watch you in front of a nice, cozy fireplace", she declared. "Holler when it's over and I'll play with the winner!"

"Iz, don't leave yet!" Daniel attempted to protest, "don't you want to see your Father lose live?" he buffed his little chest comically.

Isolde giggled.

"You sound pretty sure o' yourself, Mr. King!" she planted a small kiss on his cheek. "Unfortunately, you'll have to count me out! I had a ball, but your beloved big brother's patience has a limit! It is HIS party, after all!"

"What's Felix got than I haven't got?" the boy demanded to know, pouting slightly, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly.

"Respect towards his elders, for one", Clive teased, pretending to praise his future son-in-law.

"Seriously. Iz?"

"Well…" (Isolde bit her lip not to giggle, or worse, say 'age') "I certainly won't compare the two of ya, Daniel, you're far too different from one another." she paused. "But if you must know…" (Daniel dipped his little head forward in eagerness.) "… I just love him, that's all", she finished, satisfied with the truthfulness of her reply.

"You don't love me?" the lad's wide eyes, as soulful and blue as his brother's were, clouded.

"Sure she does", Mr. Pettibone soothed, feeling he had to intervene before this went too far, "she just loves Felix in a different kind of way."

The clouds were passing by, but a interrogation remained.

"Different KINDS of love?" he pondered sceptically, "is that even possible?"

"Sure it is! Your mother doesn't love you and… Let's say Felicity the same way, does she?"

" 'Course not! Felicity's the oldest and I'm the youngest. She loves us both as much, just for different REASONS," Daniel said, putting emphasis on the word.

"That's exactly what I mean!" the young woman exclaimed, triumphant. "You're smart!" She pushed Daniel's tiny gray cap further on his face. "Catch ya later you guys!" And in a cloud of purple, Isolde was up and into the house, her long braided hair still bouncing.

"Mister Petibone, sir?"

"Yeeeees Daniel?"

"My brother's very fortunate." the lad's tone was real solemn.

"He sure is!" Clive agreed laughingly, giving him an affectionate tap on the back, "I just hope he realizes just how much…"

" Oh, I know he does!" Daniel assured him, sighing sadly.

"Some young damsel will, too, when you're time comes, mister! You'll see…"

"And when will THAT be?"

"Aw… Time and patience will tell."

*

"About time!" Felix King grumbled for the pleasure of complaining as Isolde flopped on the couch next to him and Felicity and removed her winter clothes, "How many matches did you play for Heaven's Sake? A hundred?"

"Oh, stop complaining!" Izzy kissed his cheek to settle him, "not that much, actually", she replied, answering his question, "maybe three or so. Father came up to see what all the commotion was about and he saw us playing, so he went to join us. I'll explain the rest later," she added, "but Felix, why do you ask?" she smiled coyly at the young sergeant, "did you miss me THAT much?"

"There you go!" Felicity high-fived her, grinning, "That's the attitude! He'll melt like ice cream now, just watch!"

Felix signed and threw his hands up, feigning to be finally won over, "you know I always miss you, Iz!" he admitted.

"See!" Felicity exclaimed, "I told y-" she stopped short, pain having caught up with her. Not again, just when I was startin' to get better!

"Falicity?" Gus was out of his chair and beside his wife in an instant, "your back again?"

She nodded wordlessly, hurt growing stronger by the minute and her face growing paler by the second.

"I'll take'er upstairs, Gus", Alec interjected next to a worried Janet.

"No, father", Felix shook his head, "I don't want you to hurt yourself." Silently, in front of a mesmerized Isolde, he lifted his sister's limp form in his arms and headed for the stairs.

"Falix, I can do this! She's my wife!" Gus protested vainly, going after his brother-in-law.

"We can't risk you dropping her because of your eyesight. Besides, you could both get badly hurt", Felix explained as gently as possible, Felicity sadly nodding her approval with her eyes.

"But me eyes are almost all better!" Gus's tone was close to angry now.

"Gus, calm down. Please." Sara Stanley soothingly lay a hand on his arm, "you're not helping Felicity by arguing."

"Very well!" The lad gruesomely freed his left arm from her hand. "Have it your way, then." he grumbled, preceding the siblings up the staircase.

"When you told me there'd be a 'family gathering for Felix's twentieth', you didn't mention it would be so, um… lively", Andrew stammered at Sara.

His cousin giggled sadly. "Guess it just… slipped through my mind!" she attempted to make humour.

"All of the stories in this family have a happy ending, Andrew, remember?" Jasper Dale patted his nephew's arm understandingly, "It'll all come 'round, son, you'll see."

"He's right!" Isolde agreed, her cheerful nature getting the better of her, "it always does."

Cecily King looked her parents' way, as if wanting a confirmation of this.

"Listen to Jasper and Izzy, Cecily dear", Olivia Dale retorted instead, "their sunny spirits know best."

*

"How is she?" Izzy pressured her fiancé as soon as she saw him coming down the stairs, Gus trailing slowly behind him.

"Yes, honey, how is she?" Janet echoed, concern thickening her maternal tone.

"Not good, I'm afraid." Felix slid beside Isolde, worry creasing his forehead.

"She hasn't piped a single word since we brought her to our room", Gus added, his features tight.

"Did you telephone Dr. Snow?" practical Alec wanted to know.

"Of course I did", the young man almost snapped.

"And?" Cecily piped up shyly, "What'd he say?"

"He's on his way", Olivia replied, "I had him on the phone, too."

"I'll go and keep her company in the mean time", Sara decided, rising from her armchair, "she must feel awful lonely up there."

"I'll go." Gus started to get up, but Isolde pulled him firmly back down.

"No. Stay and rest. You're plain worn out , Gus."

"So is she!"

"Gus, brother, listen to her, please!" Felix pleaded. "It'll do you good."

"Tell you what. Chat with Felix awhile and I'll go and make us all some nice hot tea", the young latter declared, getting up to go to the kitchen.

"That' s very gracious of you, dear", Janet interjected, grateful, "it'll be very welcome."

"My pleasure, Mrs. King."

Thank you, Felix mouthed the words with his lips.

Isolde simply smiled tenderly at him and went about preparing the hot beverage.

*

"Careful", Sara Stanley warned her eldest cousin as she handed her a freshly brewed cup of tea, "it's pretty hot."

"Thanks", Felicity said weakly, bringing up to her lips, "did you make it?"

"Nope." Sara smiled, "Iz did."

"That girl's so sweet", she croaked, "I hope my pesky brother knows how lucky he is."

"I can assure you he does. You should have seen the look he gave 'er when she said she was going to make tea. Pure love, that's what it was."

Felicity nodded, another cramp having reduced her to silence.

"Hope that doctor o' yours comes soon!" Sara stared straight into her eyes, "hold on there, soldier." She squeezed her hand. "Try to sleep some more, Fel. Pain can be real exhaustin' ya know." She stretched her legs farther onto the "lounge chair" Gus had placed beside their bed. "I'm staying right here", she added reassuringly.

***

"Here's your refill, Felix." Isolde Pettibone handed her fiancé a full cup of tea. "Watch it, it's fuming."

"Thanks, Iz." Felix took a sip of the hot beverage and smiled at her. "I don't know what we would o' done without ya!"

"Yeah!" Cecily Kind added, "you've been a real help!"

"She even played checkers with me!" Daniel put in triumphantly, "and Felix told me she hates it, so that's pretty nice of her too!"

"It sure is!" he agreed.

"Okay, all of you, stop it!" Izzy laughed despite herself, throwing her hands up, "enough already!"

"What?" Felix set his tea on the table beside him and slipped his arms around her as he often did whenever she felt embarrassed about something , "don't you like being complimented?"

"Especially when you're fully entitled to be?" Janet King interjected kindly.

"Sure, but I'm not, in this case", the young woman protested, "it's just normal I help out when someone's sick."

"I know I'm real thankful, lass!" declared a tired Gus Pike, "If ya hadn't been there to stop me, I could have just exploded in Falicity's face 'cause I was angry about the eye-sight thing!"

"See?" the young sergeant peered at her from under him.

"Oh, I give up. I love you all!" she laughed, resonantly resting her head on Felix's chest.

"We do too, Iz!" Cecily echoed with a beam.

The group heard a rap on the door.

"I'll go!" Gus smiled faintly at Felix and Izzy, "don't disturb yourselves."

Isolde signed and…

"I know, I know, Felix. I'm as red as a cherry. I'm starting to get used to it."

The lad laughed.

"I didn't say anything!"

"But you were going to!"

"Not true!"

"Er-" a voice interrupted their little bickering, "Sorry to disturb you but-"

" Right this way, doc." Gus hastily greeted doctor Snow and promptly led him to his wife's room.

"You mind If I go see how she's feelin'?" Felix looked down at Isolde once more.

"Not in the least. Go right ahead!"

"Thanks. I won't be long!" he promised to the rest of his family. "Sorry it had to turn out this way, Andrew", he added, smiling sadly at his cousin, "I wish we could have had more time together."

"Aw, no matter, cousin!" Andrew retorted, his eyes understanding, "Sara insisted I stay for a week at the least, so we've plenty of time!" he assured him.

"Good." He briefly pulled him into a manly hug.

"Be right back!"

*

"How is she, Gus?"

"Worse." the young husband's voice was raw with emotion, "she's havin' so much trouble breathin', Falix", he choked, "she's tryin' to convince me she's fine, but it ain't workin'!" his dark raven eyes filled with tears.

At loss for words for one of the first times in his life as to how to comfort the one he considered as his older brother, Felix silently took him in his arms and tapped his back awkwardly.

"Don't lose faith yet!" he murmured finally, "you were always the one tellin' me never to lose mine, remember?"

"Who says I've lost faith?" was the answer Felix was hoping to hear from his old friend, "You, of all people boy, should know I NEVER, EVER lose hope. Especially not where your sister's concerned", he managed a half smile, reminiscing past difficulties with Felicity.

"Come", he added, talking Felix by the arm, "she's asked for you and Cecily twice already.

*

"Hey, Cess." Felix shook his little sister's shoulder to wake her. "I'm here now; you can go if you want", he whispered, careful not to wake a sleeping Felicity.

"Okay, I will." Cecily's voice was rasp and tired, her eyes swollen and red from crying.

"I hope she'll be alright, Felix… She didn't stop turning and moaning 'till a few minutes ago."

She rose from the sitting chair slowly.

"Hey, come here." Felix drew her close to him. "She's gonna be fine. Have faith." He smiled softly before adding, "pray to Elbert."

Wordlessly, Cecily nodded, clinging to her big brother tightly for a few more seconds before leaving the room and closing the door behind him and Gus.

Felix quietly crept next to his sister and sat on the wooden chair.

"You can go downstairs if you wish to, Gus, tell Dr. Snow I'll keep an eye out for her."

"Alright". Gus squeezed his friend's shoulder affectionately and slipped out the door.

Once alone, Felix King took his head in his hands and closed his eyes, praying silently.

A few minutes later, his eyes shot open (he'd heard a noise).

"Hey Felix." Felicity's voice sounded like a shadow of her own, usually so lively and firm. "I hadn't heard Cecily leave earlier."

"Hi there, sleepin' beauty!" he joked. White as snow, the young woman seemed frail and easily breakable to him, almost too little for her nightgown.

"Very funny." Felicity's sentence was cut off by a series of deep coughs. Wincing, she put a hand on her sore back and lay the other one on her tummy, as if to protect the little one living inside her.

"I hope she's alright in there. The little devil's been kickin' me real hard…"

"How do you know it's a she, Fel?" Felix demanded, in a desperate effort to mask his growing concern, "it could very well be a boy."

"Call it intuition." She smiled faintly, "woman are known to have heaps of it."

"So it seems." The young sergeant was about to add something, when he saw his sister's face contortion with pain. Again.

"That's it!" he exclaimed, "I can't stand to see you like this a minute longer!" With that, he stormed out of the room, practically flying down the stairs… Running face to face with Doctor Snow.

"You", he threatened angrily, his blue eyes dark, "had better get my sister on her feet this instant, or I swear I'll-

"Felix", a voice warned softly, "take it easy." Isolde Pettibone had come up behind him in a swirl of purple skirts.

"He's trying his best." she lay a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder. Feeling his muscles relax slightly at her touch, she steered him towards the couch.

"Come sit while the doctor goes to check on her", she insisted on the words, staring straight into the elder man's eyes so he'd get the message.

"Yes, I – was g- going to do that", he stammered, slightly frightened by this feisty young man's anger.

As he padded away, Janet King kept her eyes on her oldest son. Poor sugar, it's been a hard day for him, she thought, here he was, waking up on his twentieth birthday, thinking he'd have some nice, pleasant family time. So much for that!

As if thinking this too, Izzy rubbed the lad's back in slow, circular circles.

"It's okay to be disappointed as well as worried, you know." She smiled softly. "We're only human."

Felix tried to speak, but not sound came out, silent tears telling it all.

"Shhhh…" Isolde rocked him back and forth in her arms, "it's alright. Let it out."

Andrew, Cecily, Sara, Olivia, Janet, Daniel and Alec King watched, shocked, as they saw one of the most solid members of their clan dissolve in tears.

"It had to come out some day", Gus mused sagely, "I had my share o' it earlier."

*

"Sorry, everyone", Felix King apologized to his family, cheeks flushed, "I didn't mean to burst out like a little boy in front of you." He smiled sheepishly at Isolde Pettibone, "Especially you, Iz. I must have seemed pretty weak to you…"

"Weak?" Isolde shook her head in amazement, "Normal's more like it! Besides," she added with a smile, "Felix King ain't weak. He's anything but that."

"True!" Alex King agreed promptly, "Never was I better supported with the farm when your sister got ill, son."

"He's right", Cecily put in softly, "even at Aunt Hetty's funeral, Felix. You were solid as a rock!"

Felix smiled.

"That's nice of you."

"Furthermore", Sara Stanley chimed in, "You took three people's grief's on your shoulders without blinking! Yours, Izzy's and Cecily's! That's a huge weight to carry, cousin…"

"Um, pardon me…" Richard Snow's hesitant voice interjected from the top of the staircase.

"I'm afraid I've got some bad news…", he started, his eyes weary at the thought of what he must say to these dear folks.

Gus Pike braced himself, Janet and Alec King silently held on to each other, and the rest caught their breaths.

"Is it… Felicity?" Felix barely spat out the words, squeezing Isolde's palm so hard he almost crushed it.

"No… She's fine. But the baby." (he paused)

"What about him?" Gus almost yelled, "just say it!"

"He died. The cramps, the pain in the lower back, the breathing trouble… It was the baby trying to come out." he finished, wringing his hands nervously.

"But you told us- me he was fine!" Gus roared, angry tears blinding him…

"Mr. Pike… I'm so sorry…"

"You call yourselves doctors!" He threw himself at him, grabbing him by the collar. "You said he was fine!"

"Gus. Let it go." Sara went up behind him, gently removing his hand from Doctor Snow.

"I won't! It was our child!" the young man broke down, falling to his knees.

"It,s okay son", Alec went to hug him.

Too shocked and pained to say a word, Cecily and Felix King stayed deathly silent, Janet King rocking herself back and forth absent-mindedly.

"What's wrong?" little Daniel King asked to no one in particular, "what does he mean by 'dead?' The thing's inside my sister's body; it can't be dead."

Filling in for Cecily or his mother, Isolde went over to him and sat him on her knee. "Why don't you tell me who won the baseball game after all, hmm?"

***

"Are you sure you're ready to do this, Gus?" Felix King asked his brother-in-law the day after a well-deserved night's sleep.

"It's now or never, Falix. If I wait a moment longer I won't be able to tell her.

Silent as mice, the two young men crept into a sleeping Mrs. Pike's room.

"I'll leave you two alone", the lad whispered. "Good luck, man. God be with you." He hugged him briefly and left the room.

"Falicity?" Gus ventured softly. "Falicity, dumplin' wake up." He heard a rousing sound and, sure enough, a few seconds later, a chestnut head came out from under the covers and two brown eyes popped open.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, wanting to buy time.

"Much better." If Gus would have been less nervous he would have probably noticed the unusual lifelessness in his wife's voice. "In fact, I can't feel a thing anymore…"

"That's good!" he replied, trying not to let his voice catch.

"Gus, no. No it's not." Felicity Pike set her gaze and on the window frame.

"Let's stop lying to ourselves!" she suddenly burst out, causing an anxious Gus to jump, angry tears flooding down her white cheeks, "the baby's DEAD, Gus, MOTHERS CAN SENSE THOSE THINGS! Our child's GONE!" Desperate, Felicity cried and yelled, wrapping her arms around her knees and rocking herself back and forth. "How could he be taken AWAY FROM ME?!"

For once in his life, the young man felt totally helpless as to how to console Felicity.

"Squeeze", he said simply, never keeping his eyes off her and pointing to his hand, "Squeeze as hard as it hurts, love. "

Putting all her strength and sorrow into it, the maiden crushed her husband's hand tighter every time a new wave of pain hit her tired body.

Without even realizing it, Gus's eyes too filled with bright tears, his mouth forming the words of a prayer to God.

"Help us if you truly exist, Lord. Help us overcome this horrifying tragedy", he whispered, sobbing for good now as Felicity absently wrapped and arm around him and continued to squeeze his palm.

***

Days had passed. Ones of grief, pain and utmost lifelessness for the members of the King family. Little Jane Pike created a deadly emptiness in her young mother and father's souls; not to mention in Felicity's body.

"They look like ghosts", mean gossips in Avonlea would whisper scornfully whenever they encountered the young couple. "They only talk when spoken to."

"I think you would look and act that way too, if ever you'd come to have one of your loved ones taken away from you!" Muriel Pettibone's cold tone had hissed when she'd heard them.

*

"All that fuss over someone they didn't even know or see", twenty-two year-old Sally Potts snickered one Sunday afternoon to Maybel Pritchard at the town's General Store, "I think it's ridiculous, don't you?"

"You poisonous snake", Cecily King's livid tone startled the two women including Muriel, "You just love to throw prickles and stings on bleeding wounds, don't you, Sally Potts?!"

"I-"

"You really have no heart!" Cecily went on angrily, "You have no idea what my sister and her husband went through! No idea how much pain they're harbouring through right now and how I spent my days nursing them both back to health over that baby's loss!" Without catching her breath and wanting to release her fury, she slapped her soundly across the cheek.

Mute with shock, Sally Potts just fluttered her eyelids for a few seconds before grabbing her companion by the arm and literally flying out the door.

"Good for you, honey!" Muriel Pettibone snapped the young damsel back to reality as she let out a happy laugh. "That sharp tongue needed a taste of her own medicine!"

"I've been meaning to do it for quite some time!"

"So did I!"

"It was really very liberating", Cecily's lips twisted into a half smile, "especially the slapping part… I'm sure Maybel Pritchards never thought she'd see the day quiet, goody-goody Cecily King would burst out!"

*

Isolde Pettibone's mind drifted up to the white fluffy clouds sailing through the deep blue afternoon sky, her hands busying themselves with the kneading of dough for that evening's bread loaf.

"What do you like most about summer vacation?"

"You mean besides no school?"

I nodded.

"Aw, I don't know. The waves crashing against the shore, talking walks along the beach, looking at sunsets and the old lighthouse", he replied, that dreamy smile I liked so much floating on his lips. "What about you, Iz? What do you like best about summer?"

"Summer clouds", I answered without the least bit of hesitation,"Their so full and white. And they're long and lazy, too. Like they wanted to stretch endlessly through the sky. Like that one",( I pointed to a particularly long one coming towards us.) Look. It looks like a tower."

Suddenly stepping out of her reverie, Izzy felt an unexplainable need to look out the window again. There it was. She smiled. Spring wasn't even here yet and already the tower-shaped cloud winked at her, as it had done every year since that magically peaceful June day.

Signing melancholically, she went back to her baking, digging her already white-covered hands into a sack of flour.

***

Felicity Pike rubbed her tired eyelids with the back of her hand and went back to her quilt. Little Jane's quilt. It was pink and white, soon to be embroidered with small roses and tulips.

Gus slowly came up behind her and slipped his arms round her.

"Hey there", he whispered softly. "It's gettin' kinda late don't you think?" he massaged her shoulders soothingly. "Why don't you come to bed?"

"No, no", Felicity shook her head obstinately. "I have to finish it."

"Dumplin' it'll still be there to-morrow…."

"Gus, please…" she threw him her most pitiful look.

He sighed.

"Tell ya what. Why don't I get a fire cracklin'" (he pointed to the lifeless fireplace) and tell ya a nice story for a while before we settle in for the night, mmmm?" (He gently took the quilt from her hands and set it on the sofa beside her) "it'll give Jane some rest too."

"Oh, all right", the latter grumbled, sitting up straighter, "what about?"

The young man's eyes filled with tenderness and a smile Felicity had not seen for years flickered on his face as he bent over the fireplace and cleared his throat.

"A thirteen and three-quarter girl and a young fiddler. It's called "How kissing was discovered."

Much to the young man's delight, Felicity's sweet silvery laugh soon filled the room. Just like old times

"Go ahead then. Though I think I know how this one ends up…"

The latter's face seemed to rejuvenate with every word, eyes gleaming and roses of vanished summers coloring her cheeks.

"... and then I kissed ya right on the mouth and ran off laughin' before you'd beat the heck outta me", he finished, awe struck at the change in her.

"And I told Sara Stanley I had a feeling we hadn't seen the last of you!"

"I guess you were right, weren't you?" Winking at her, Gus lit got up and lit his pipe.

"Guess so." Felicity kept silent for a few seconds, venturing to ask something she was sure she'd never ask again.

"Your violin-" she paused.

"Yes…?" His tone was as innocent as a lamb's . "What 'bout me fiddle?"

"Where…" she took as deep breath, "where did you put it?"

"At the ol' light house."

"What?"

"Ya heard me. I put it there when Jane – when it happened," he stammered. "'Figured it'be waitin' for me when I was ready."

"And when would that be?"

"Anytime you want, Falicity." he said carefully, not wanting to unsettle her.

"Oh, Gus!" she sprang from her armchair, tears blurring her vision.

"I take it now's the time?" the young man murmured as he gathered her up in his arms.

"Yes!" she laughed merrily through her tears, chestnut curls flying, "yes it is!"

***

"I must be dreaming!" Felix King shook his head in wonderment the next day at the sound of a soft, Irish gig lingering in the air.

"What is it, Felix?" Cecily King poked her blond head into her sibling's room. "Why's your big mouth hangin' open?"

"Don't you hear it? It sounds like- like Gus stringin' on his fiddle," the young sergeant stammered.

Perching herself on her brother's bed, the young girl pulled a strand of hair behind her ear and listened closely. Sure enough, along with a soft breeze, she heard the distinct and peaceful vibrato of a violin.

"It's a fiddler alright," she agreed, "but how do you know it's Gus for sure?"

"Oh, come on Cecily; no one on P-E Island can play quite like that."

"Felix, get real! Gus hasn't touched it for weeks now! Ever since the baby passed away, he wouldn't even look at it, let alone touch it!"

He shrugged.

"Miracles can happen."

"Whatever." The latter pulled up the sleeves of her cotton dress and rolled her eyes , "I'm off to the barn." Turning her back to him, she breezed out the door.

Fine, Felix thought, have it your way. Slipping out of his room, he flew downstairs and grabbed his coat and jacket.

*

As he neared the Pikes' household, the sound grew louder and his heart pulse quickened.

I knew it! He rapped at the door, all jittery with excitement.

"We wondered when you'd show up!" A gleaming-eyed Story Girl exclaimed smilingly a few seconds later as she let her cousin in, "you won't believe it!" In a cloud of blue muslin she dragged Felix into the parlour.

It was as thought time had stopped, was the quote that came to Felix King's mind when he saw what stood before him.

His dark curls almost reverently bent over his timeless friend, Gus Pike's eyes were filled with tears as his bow gracefully swept the strings of his fiddle and his body swayed to the melody of an old folkloric song.

Alongside him stood Felicity, mute with emotion and eyes closed, a happy smile floating on her features.

"What'd I tell ya?" Sara's hushed tone of voice nevertheless startled an intensely immersed listener out of his trance. "Quite something, ain't it?"

"He- he came back to life", the lad murmured, almost scared to speak. "I knew it was him as soon as I heard it. I just had to see for myself."

The piece ended ,the last peaceful notes still lingering in the air, and the breathless musician caught his eye.

"Welcome back, brother!" Felix crossed the room and hauled Gus into a warm embrace before he could utter a single word. "Welcome back!"

***

A couples weeks later, Muriel Pettibone heard her stepdaughter rummage frantically through her dresser.

"Looking for this?" Eyes twinkling mischievously , the elder woman poked her head in the young damsel's small bedroom, a faded blue gown in hand.

"How did you- where did you find it?" Isolde stammered disbelievingly.

"It was in the washing. 'Been there since the last time you've worn it," she chuckled softly.

The latter sighed.

"I know I ought to wear black even on dressier occasions, but Morgan-

"Will forgive you just this once", Muriel finished, a warm smile on her kind face. "Iz, you have to cut yourself some slack! The world won't stop turning even if you go out and enjoy yourself at a dance in a perfectly nice dress for a change!"

"I second that", Clive Pettibone came up behind his wife "as you clearly showed me a few weeks ago, life is too short to be spent moping 'round grieving all the time." He winked at his daughter, "even it means causing your old man a heart attack! Besides", he added seriously, "this is what Morgan would have wanted you to do."

"You're right." Lifting her chin up defiantly, Isolde took the gown from her stepmother's hands and smiled at her father. "I'll do it."

"Good girl!" Clive kissed the top of her head, took his wife by the hand and closed the door behind her.

*

About an hour later, the young woman slowly made her way down the staircase, running her hand along the banister.

"Pshaw!" Arthur Pettibone let out a loud whistle at the sight of his younger sibling's attire , "Felix King 'll be mighty proud!"

Indeed, Isolde looked positively radiant. Her thick auburn hair was loosely pulled back into a French twist , and glossy curls framed her face. Discreet pearls danced at her ears, and her mother's old dress suited her perfectly, floating airily about her like a cloud of bluebells.

"Oh, Izzy! You look absolutely breathtaking!" Muriel agreed, hands clasped.

"Thank you, but you needn't exaggerate!" she blushed. "It's only an Easter ball you know, not an encounter with the King of England!"

"In any case, you look just as dazzling as Jessica did whenever she'd pamper herself." Clive whispered. "So alike."

Isolde's hazel eyes instantly filled with tears as they often did every time her late mother's name was mentioned .

"Do you really think so?"

"Definitely." He squeezed her shoulder affectionately. Just as he was about to add more, the sound of wheels nearing the house kept him.

"That must be the King boy ."

"Oh, that'd most likely be Davey and Dora." Isolde carefully put on her feathered hat and gloves, "Felix couldn't drive me tonight. He had an evening shift ."

Buttoning up her coat, she offered her father an apologetic smile. "Sorry to cut you short. I'll catch you guys later, all right?" she added to Arthur and Muriel, "try to survive without me!"

"We'll try!" Arthur kidded.

"Have a splendid time dear! "

"But not too splendid", Clive warned, "keep your wits about you whatever you do!"

"Yes father!" the young woman laughed merrily as she flew out the front door.

*

"Pshaw!" Was Davey Keith's original comment as he helped his friend onto the buggy, "You really outdid yourself! If you weren't so much older then me I'd-

"David Keith!" Fifteen year-old Dora Keith scolded her twin sibling, "where are your manners?"

"Hey you guys!" Isolde greeted her old chums with a giggle, "good to see you haven't changed!"

"Sorry." Dora grinned sheepishly, "old habit!"

"Pff, yeah! Way old!" her brother agreed gruesomely, "I'm too much o' a man now to be scold at!"

"Speaking of becoming a man 'mister', what's to be said 'bout you and that Lester girl?" Isolde asked curiously. She'd always liked little Becky and since she'd last seen her three years ago at Dominion Day, she'd had a feeling something had gone on between her and the lad.

"Not much!" David's cheeks turned a deep shade of red and he kept his gaze on the road.

"Not much! Fiddlesticks!" his sibling exclaimed, a twinkle in her usually meek brown eyes, "he's been callin' on 'er almost every Friday, and-

"Why goodness me, we're here!" the young man cut his sister off abruptly a few minutes later and eased the two damsels out of the 'cab', letting them chuckle away as he parked the horses near the White Sands.

*

"How beautiful!" Dora Keith whispered almost reverently at the sight of the spacious, wide-open ballroom of the Island's best hotel.

"You mean you'd never came here before?" Isolde was astonished. "All those years you lived with Marilla, and Hetty, and Mrs. Lynd?"

"Oh, we came here once", Davey retorted evasively. "She just doesn't remember it, being pea-brained and all!"

"Hey!"

"Don't start!" Izzy warned teasingly, switching off her clothes. "I'll go get us some punch", she added, spotting Cecily and some others.

Not realizing many young boys' gazes were on her, Isolde made her way to the refreshment table, grabbing hold of three cups.

"Hey Cess!" she greeted her friend as she poured some punch into the glasses, "you look great!"

"Think so?" the young lady dubiously cast a glance at her white laced outfit, "not too shabby?"

"Absolutely not!" Isolde retorted firmly. "And I forbid you to think otherwise, clear?"

"Yes, ma'am!" Cecily laughed, won over. " You look pretty good yourself! Not too lonely without my brother around.?"

"Barely surviving I bet", Velma Bugle's snotty voice startled them, " Siamese cats, that's what they remind me of."

"Witches, that's what you and Maybel remind me of." Sara Stanley fired back from behind her.

"What are you doing here?" Velma spun around, narrowing her eyes at the fair maiden,"

"'Same as everyone else here." the Story Girl shrugged innocently

"Aren't a you little too, say" (the latter pretended to rub her chin in search of the right word), "old, for these gatherings?"

"Anyone can come to balls, and you know it." Her tone was as cool as a cucumber. "Now if you could just move so much as a hair Miss Bugle, I'd like to get myself a drink."

Furious the bait wasn't catching on, Velma huffed and puffed as she disdainfully stepped aside, making Cecily and Isolde giggle wholeheartedly.

*

"So, did you ask her yet?"

"AHH!" Davey Keith shrieked, snapping out of his reverie, "I told you a thousand times- STOP popping up in front of me like that! "

"Sorry." Dora chuckled softly, inwardly pleased with herself. "I didn't mean it. So. she added, nodding towards a solitary Becky Lester, all pampered up in a crimson toilette. "did you ask her to dance yet?"

He sighed, exasperated.

"No, and I don't now how in Creation' I'll come around to it if you keep buggin' me!"

"Okay, okay!" she threw her hands up. "no need to get irritated!" Winking slyly at Rachel Lynd, who was 'lounging' on a chair next to Clara Potts, she fleeted away, leaving her brother to his heart's desires.

Finally. The lad let out a breath of relief. Squaring his thin shoulders, David discreetly sleeked his tousled hair and held his head high. Help me God, he thought. Calling on 'er when she's alone 's darn hard enough, asking her to dance in front of practically the whole town'll be the end o' me!

Walking without even realizing it, the young man soon found himself to be standing right in front of her.

"Well hello there Davey!" Becky's high pitched voice squeaked, "I didn't even know you were coming!" She shyly hid under her lashes.

"Why yes, I- I drove my sister and her friend over."

"Oh." she tried not to let her disappointment show. "That's all?"

"Yes! I mean no!" David stammered, seeing Becky's face fall. "I came for another reason too."

"And what might that be?"

"I- I wanted to… Ask you for dance lessons!" he blurted out, "Everyone says I'm plain terrible at it."

***

"Aren't they adorable?" Sara gazed affectionately at the young couple Becky and Davy formed on the dance floor, the young girl clumsily trying to lead an already perfectly good dancer .

"Totally." Isolde Pettibone agreed smilingly, "a bit like Jasper Dale and Olivia in their old days."

"True!" The Story girl laughed. "Except it was the other way around. Jasper really did need some help, whereas Davey's just pretending."

"Good old Davey! Always finding ways to avoid telling the truth!"

"I wish I could have someone to pretend with." Cecily King piped up, "at least I wouldn't be bored to death!"

"We aren't that bad, are we?" Izzy pretended to be vexed.

"Oh, no, that's not what I meant, I-

"She's kidding, Cecily! I'm the first one to wish I wasn't just sitting here on my own waiting for the evening to end…"

"Well we don't have to!" Isolde suddenly got to her feet in a flash of spirit, "so what if we don't got any partners! It's no use feeling sorry for ourselves when we've still got our two feet!"

"She's right!" Sara got up too, "let's go for it."

Giggling ceaselessly the whole time, the three damsels took turns signing each others' dance cards and wrapped their arms around each others' waists for waltzes.

"My, my, aren't you graceful miss King!" Isolde chuckled as she twirled her friend in the air.

"As are you, mademoiselle!"

"Really ladies! What a scandalous example to set for the younger ones!" Rachel Lynd's outraged tone blasted in the background.

*

Coming down the stairs to get a fresh change of sheets for a guest in one of the hotel rooms, Felix King laid eyes on the strange pair and smiled. He quickly grabbed a hold of what he needed in at the front desk, dropped it off, and stopped by Mr. Treymayne's office.

"Would you mind if I took a short break? I think my legs are slowly turning to jelly."

"Go, Go." Simon Treymayne shooed him off impatiently, "I haven't the time for this right now, Felix."

"Thank you sir!" he grinned. "I should be back in a half hour or so!"

He nodded wordlessly, massaging his sore temples with his hands. Bills, bills, bills! Would they ever stop flowing?

*

"Were you really that desperate?" Felix kidded his sister as he got back to the ball room. "I mean, waltzing with her?" (he pointed to Isolde) "you really must have had nothing better to do!"

"Hey!" Izzy defended herself weakly , so happy he'd come "Need I remind you that time at the Dominion Day pic-nic? You seemed pretty content with my dancing skills then, thank you very much!"

"Oh, really?" Felix shrugged, blue eyes innocent. "'Seems I've forgotten. I might need a reminder."

"Right." Cecily tossed her blond curls to the side, amused, "I think that's my cue."

"I agree." her brother retorted tartly.

"Thank you for the waltz and fox-trot, Miss Pettibone." she gave Isolde a curt bow before letting Felix take her place. "Most enjoyable!"

"My pleasure!" her partner chuckled. "Thank Sara too!" she added.

"Ahem." The young sergeant cleared his throat.

"Bye Cess!"

"Have a good one!" Cecily waived back, sauntering away.

"So", Isolde circled her arms around her boyfriend's neck as the first notes of a piece began, "how did you convince the big boss to let you steal a dance?"

"Oh, not much convincing to do." He laughed. "He had paperwork over his head and just shushed me off."

"Good." the young girl peacefully rested her head on his shoulder, "then maybe he won't notice if you stay here the rest of the evening?"

Felix winced.

"I'm afraid half an hour's all I can muster, Iz."

"Oh, well! You're here now, that's what matters."

"Exactly."

"But are you starting to have vague reminiscences of my waltzing abilities?" she asked again.

"Definitely." Felix grinned. "It's all coming back to me. Except…

"What'?" Isolde's eyebrows shot up.

" The fact that you look even more radiant tonight that you did three years ago", he replied tenderly.

"That's sweet of you to say." She ducked her head shyly to the side.

"And it's true. That dress you're wearing looks simply stunning."

Izzy smiled softly. "It was my mother's", she whispered.

"Ah, now I get it!"

"Get what?"

"Each time you're mother's concerned, you have that special glow that floats all around you."

"Well, I don't know about 'glow', but…"

"Yes, 'glow''", Felix persisted. "don't put yourself down, Miss Pettibone."

"Whatever. "She rolled her eyes. "But what about you?" she added, swiftly changing the subject."how are Gus and Felicity?" I haven't seen anything of them since…-

"… Little Jane", the young sergeant finished. "I know. Well it's been real painful on both of 'em, Felicity's lost about twenty pounds or so 'cause she'd stopped eatin'…

"Goodness!" Izzy murmured, eyes round. "That's quite a bit!"

"Yes, but, something happened to Gus, too…"

"What?! He didn't…

"No, oh no, nothing like that, Iz." Felix assured his fiancée. "Something positively miraculous, though, believe me!"

"Don't keep me in suspense!" Isolde pleaded as he twirled her into the air, "I can see by the gleam in your eyes it's a big thing!"

"Well.. If you must know… He paused. "My brother-in-law started playing the fiddle again!" He beamed, checking his pocket watch."

"Oh. My. God!" Isolde squealed happily. "That's amazing!"

" My thought exactly! But I'd have to get going!" he added regretfully, "It's after eight and Mr. Treymayne'll be expectin' me on duty."

"Not already!"

"I'm afraid so." He gently removed Izzy's hands from around him and kissed her forehead lightly. "What can I say? Time flies by too quickly when I'm with you…"

"Yeah, yeah." She stuck her tongue out at Felix playfully, "that one's gettin' old , Mr. King!"

"Oh, is that so?" (he pointed to Isolde's third gloved finger and bent his head towards her ear), "how's about this one then: in just a couples of months, it'll all change, Mrs soon-to-be King…"

A couple of months till we're married. The young damsel's heart started to race wildly, I didn't realize he wanted it so soon…

"So?" Felix grinned, loop-sided fashion, "You like that version better?"

"I-Sure." Isolde stammered. "But you should be getting back."

"Oh." the young man's brow knitted perplexedly, "Right."

"See you later!"

"Hey, hey, wait a minute," he stopped short at the unusual high pitch of Izzy's tone. "Did I say something wrong?" He searched her brown eyes.

"'Course not! Go, go!"

"Okay…" He squeezed her shoulder briefly "catch you later!"

"Bye."

But as Felix picked his way through the crowd and out of the room, Isolde felt doubt creeping it's way insidiously through her head: Do I still want to get married?

*

"Missing him already, huh?" Davey's mocking voice startled her, "I saw the two o' you earlier." He raised his dark eyes skyward, "two love-sick puppies."

"Mmm." Isolde nodded distractedly, "that's nice."

"Whoa, what's the matter with you?" the lad pretended to check for fever. "I just teased you and you just agreed with me. What have you done with her?"

"Who?"

"Izzy Pettibone!"

"What?" The latter shook her head, puzzled. "What are you talking about, I'm right here!"

"Oh, never mind!"

***

Felicity Pike got her freshly baked apple-pie out of the oven, carefully setting it on the counter.

"Mmm, somethin' smells good in here!" Gus exclaimed as he entered the kitchen.

"Dessert?" he asked hopefully

"Don't even think about it!" his wife retorted with a laugh, "Belle-Marie and the others are getting this one. Besides," she added with a coy smile, "You've gotten fat enough already with all those jams tarts and blueberry muffins I made for you last week!"

Gus shrugged.

"A lad can never get too full o' his wife's cookin'!" Grinning, the young man made his way to the pantry and snuck out the cookie jar.

"You'll spoil your dinner!" The latter was just about to snatch the jar from her spouse's hands and hide it in a sure spot when she heard a knock at the door.

"Who could this be just before supper?" she grumbled.

" Why Izzy!" she exclaimed as she pulled the door open and the young woman's frail silhouette stood on her doorstep.

"Hello, Felicity." Isolde Pettibone smiled timedly up at her elder, "I don't mean to intrude; I know it's almost suppertime, but…"

"Oh, pish-posh! Supper can wait! Come in, come in!"

Somewhat comforted by the kindness of her friend's tone, the dark-haired damsel did as she was told and wiped her feet off on the carpet before following Felicity into her toasty-warm household.

" 'Evenin' Izzy!" Gus greeted her, "what brings you here to-night, lass?"

"Well I was just wondering if…" Isolde hesitated, biting her lower lip.

"You can tell us, Iz."

"I need advice!" she blurted out.

"Well, for Mercy's sake child, why didn't you say so in the first place?" Felicity hastily slipped her friend's coat off and led her to the parlour . "Gus if you could please…"

" I can take a hint. Wood-choppin' time ." Winking at the two ladies, the young fiddler slipped out of the kitchen and out the door.

"Now." The fair maiden eased herself onto her blue stripped-couch and invited Isolde to join her. "Down to business, young lady."

Nervously fidgeting with her skirt, Izzy forced herself to look up and Felix's sister.

"What is it my brother's done now?"

"How did you know that-

"Oh, come on! I'm not that old!"

Smirking, Isolde cupped her hands in her chin and sighed.

"It's not so much about Felix this time, Felicity." She paused, "it's about me."

"Do you not love him anymore?" Felicity asked gently, slightly leaning forward."Because if that's it-

"No!" the young woman cut her of abruptly, "That's not it at all! Quite the contrary!"

"Okay, no need to bite!" her companion threw her hands up with a smile, "It was just a question…"

"I know. Sorry." Taking a deep breath, Izzy got to the point. "Have you ever had… second thoughts?"

"About what? Marriage?"

Isolde nodded almost imperceptibly.

"Oh, honey, a million!" Felicity laughed bubbly.

"Really?!"

"Iz, don't you remember? I think I turned down poor Gus at least ten times before I said yes…"

"Eleven!" The young man suddenly poked his head through an open window in the room, a wicked grin on his face, "that's eleven, Falicity!"

"Aren't you supposed to be wood-chopping?" Felicity rolled her eyes for the fun of it.

"Just takin' a break!"

"Well, break's over!" she retorted, her mouth twisting into a smile despite herself.

"Yes, ma'am!"

Giggling whole-heartedly once the window was shut, the latter resumed her spot next to her friend. "I'm pretty lucky he was so patient!" she whispered cautiously.

"I'll say!" Isolde agreed. "Knowing Felix I don't think he would have gone past two!"

"Yes, well, men are not all built the same way. But back to our main subject." Felicity steered the conversation firmly back where she wanted it "Having seconds thoughts after a proposal is absolutely normal, and-

"Even if you've already accepted it?"

"Of course!"

Izzy breathed a sign of relief. "Thank Goodness! Here I was thinking I was the first gooseberry who'd gotten the jitters!"

"Ask anyone in this town and they'll all cackle." Felicity assured her friend. "Just take Muriel for example…"

"That's totally different." Isolde interrupted. "I'm the one who made her have second thoughts, not her."

"Whatever." The damsel waved this off with her hand. "what I mean to say is, as long as you still love my brother, go on with it and don't listen to that stupid little voice inside of you." She laughed and lay a hand on her shoulder, "Don't do like I did and trust me. It's plain anxiousness."

"But what if I just don't feel ready, still loving him and all?"

"If by 'ready' you mean to be his wife, and to run a household confidently-

The old tomboy in Izzy nodded vigorously.

"…Then you must tell him and ask him to wait for you."

"I was hoping you wouldn't say that!" The young latter took her head in her hands and moaned. "Don't you have some book I can pour over instead?"

Felicity scooted closer to her brother's fiancée and wrapped her arms around her shoulders comfortingly.

"I do, Izzy. Just ask Gus and he'll tell you I've got a whole bookshelf on the subject…"

"Great! Pass them on, sister!"

"…But", Felicity continued softly, "All the guides in the world about How to be a successful housewife won't help you as much as a heartfelt discussion with Felix would…"

"What's the point of even looking at the books then?" Isolde groaned.

"You tell me."

"…"

"Tell you what", she added indulgently when she saw her friend's grim expression, "why don't I lend you one, mark you some pages I find useful, and when you've finished leafing through them you go and have a chat with my little brother. How's that sound?"

"Good." Isolde admitted with a small smile. "Thanks Felicity."

She gave her future sister-in-law a brief hug.

"My pleasure." Felicity returned the embrace and flitted towards her library. "Aw, here we go." She handed Izzy a small white paperback.

"The guide to being the perfect housewife", she read.

"I'll mark a few pages for you right now if you'd like."

"Sure, but you're supper most be frozen by now. I could just read and-

"No, no", Felicity waived her finger at her friend threateningly . "If you go through the whole thing, I know it'll take forever for you to speak with Felix."

"No it won't, I'll-

"Nonsense!" Felicity cut Isolde off again and went to get some paper scraps.

"Voilà!" she declared triumphantly a couple minutes later, closing the book. "Done!"

"You are a nutcase, do you know that?" Izzy laughed, impressed.

"I know." Her friend took a short bow and grinned. "Now get cracking, Miss Pettibone!"

*

"What did you say to her that took an hour?" Gus wanted to know after Isolde had left.

"Oh, nothing, darling. Just not to do the same mistakes I did."

"What mistakes?" He teased.

"You weasel!" Felicity punched him playfully on the arm.

***

Rocking herself back and forth on her father's old fireside chair, Isolde Pettibone set her reading aside to watch a beautiful sunset. Gold, pink, and amethyst shades streaked the soft evening sky and sailed through the peaceful clouds.

"Beautiful", she murmured to no one in particular.

"It sure is", a voice behind her agreed.

"Sara!" Izzy spun around at the sound of her old chum's voice, "I didn't hear you come in."

"Probably too immersed in your reading", she giggled teasingly, pointing at her friend's marriage guide. "What on earth made you stuff your pretty nose in such foolishness?"

"Doubt." Izzy sighed as embarrassment flushed her cheeks, "Merciless doubt."

"Also known as Felicity."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"No use in lying!" Sara Stanley's blue eyes darted into her companion's , "I can tell just by looking at the thing my dear cousin talked you into reading it.

"Absolutely not!" Isolde exclaimed fiercely, "I'm the one who asked her for it. Honest.", she added when she saw the Story Girl's eyebrow raised. "Ask her if you don't believe me."

"Fair enough." she gave in, "If you weren't so sure of yourself you wouldn't risk me telephoning her."

"Exactly.

"But how come you're hesitating all of a sudden? If you don't mine my asking, that is…" Sara added with her typical delicate manner.

"No, that's okay. It's just…" Izzy raised her eyes heavenward, at search for the right words.

"A lack of confidence perhaps? Your ground shaking a little when he was reported M.I.A?"

"W- How did you know?"

"Experience, ma chérie. Experience." The Story Girl smiled knowingly.

"You? A lack of confidence?" Isolde couldn't believe her ears. "Since when do you, of all people, have confidence problems?"

"You can never judge a book by it's cover now, can you?"

"No, seriously."

"Aw, well. Let's just say weaving tales of joy and woe for people all these years was my mere comfort for quite some time after I came to Avonlea…"

Izzy squeezed Sara Stanley's shoulder kindly.

"But back to you, Iz. Felicity probably told you this, but feeling uncertain a few months before your wedding is…

"'Perfectly normal', I know!" Isolde's tone was a touch exasperated. "She didn't tell me how to ask Felix to wait for me, though, and that's what I'd like some advice for, frankly!"

"I see." The Story Girl grew serious all of a sudden, "So you want to postpone it?"

"'Afraid so."

"Are you sure you won't regret it a few months, or should I say in June?"

Izzy chewed her bottom lip. "I don't think so." she declared finally,

"It's your decision, Izzy. Just don't forget life's short", Sara added gently.

"Don't I know it!" Isolde's thoughts drifted towards her brother Morgan. "If I had been able to see the future and predict my sibling was going to get shot, you can't imagine how many things I would have tried to do differently…"

"Oh, yes I can!" her friend heaved a sigh, "I know exactly what you mean because I used to feel the same way over my mother and father when I was younger. Wish someone or something would've warned me they were going to die so I could've done and talked about everything with them…"

The two young women shared a tight hug and held onto each other for a while until the waves of sorrow that washed over their souls calmed down.

"Don't worry, Sara, I won't make him wait too long, I promise."

"Good." The blonde latter smiled. "As for how to break it to Felix, I suggest you tell him precisely what you told me and Felicity about not feeling ready or sure of yourself at the moment, insisting on the fact that you still care a great deal for him. Then add to matters by perhaps expressing how devastated you were when you were told he'd gone missing in action, and how utterly shocked you were when he actually came home safe, ready to marry you as if nothing had happened…" The Story Girl stopped for breath. "Finally, you give him a pleading stare and humbly ask him to wait for you," she finished. "How's that?"

"Amazing!" the latter squealed, "It's a great way to resume everything I wanted to say!"

"Glad to hear it! Now that that's settled, why don't you show me that book o'yours? I'm dying to know what rubbish they put into this stuff!" Sara grinned.

"All right, but on two conditions," Isolde conceded. "Number one, you have to promise not to laugh, whatever's written; I'm already embarrassed enough as it is my girlish side took the better of me! And number two: You must swear not to tell your cousin about this! I don't want Felix teasing me mercilessly over this whole thing for years to come!"

"I promise," Sara Stanley giggled. "scouts' honour."

"Okay then." She handed her companion the thin paperback. "All yours!"

*

"I thought you were just stopping by for a minute", Olivia Dale greeted her niece as she set foot in the door about an hour later.

"Sorry." Sara smiled sheepishly, "It's just… Well, we got caught up in our conversation, and…

"… You didn't see the time go by", Olivia finished indulgently. "No problem. I find it terrific, in fact."

"What do you mean?"

"Just that it's good to see you start to find pleasure in simple things the way you used to."

"It does feel good," the Story Girl admitted. "To stop feeling guilty each time I have some fun somewhere, I mean."

"Of ccccourse it does, dear!" Jasper finished kindly, "No use worrying yourself sssick over someone who's on the other side of the planet! It spoils the great things life has in store for you untt-til Peter returns."

Lord I'm glad Aunt Olivia married this man, Sara thought to herself smilingly.

"Mother, Father!" Little Montgomery's high pitched tone of voice suddenly floated from the parlour.

"In the kitchen, honey."

"I can't understand this assignment Teacher gave us."

"Why don't you ask your cousin for help?" Jasper suggested. "She just got back from Izzy's."

"What's the question, Monty?"

"If I have ten dollars in my pockets at the beginning of the day, spend half of it, drop two coins accidently and find three more on the sidewalk, how much money do I have left at the end of the day?" Montgomery read faithfully from his exercise book.

"Hum. Let me think here."

"Not that easy for seven year-olds, right? I had to give it some thought myself", his mother said, slightly triumphant.

Sara Stanley ignored this and reasoned the problem silently on a sheet of paper for a few seconds.

"There we go," she declared finally, dropping her pencil, "Got it." Slipping off her coat and hat, she gestured for the little lad to sit down. "Okay, Monty. Tell me, what's half of ten?"

Montgomery scratched his chin thoughtfully.

"Five", he declared proudly after a minute, "right?"

"Right." The Story Girl smiled encouragingly at her cousin, "now what if we take two coins away? What's left?"

"Huh, seven?"

"Not quite. You've just ADDED two. We want to SUBTRACT two."

"Oh, oh, I know!" He exclaimed, catching his parents' amused looks, "Three?"

"Very good! Here's for the last part. You now posses five dollars, and you find three MORE. How much money does that make?" The blond latter asked again.

"Six!" He tone was as proud as peacock.

"Great job, chap!" Jasper Dale congratulated his son.

"Thanks! Can I go play now?"

Olivia laughed wholeheartedly. "Yes, you can!"

"Want to come, Sara?"

"Sorry, little man, I have something I want to talk to your mother about. Maybe later, alright?" she added, seeing his disappointed expression.

"Felix was right. He told me you were way more fun when you were younger", he mumbled, marching out of the room.

The threesome chuckled softly.

"Poor lad, I hope I haven't crossed him too much."

"Don't worry, dear, he almost told the exact same thing to Andrew the other day when he came over but couldn't stay to play with him."

"Oh, I see." The Story Girl grinned. "He wants to make each one of us feel guilty! The little fox!"

"He's pretty smart, I agree. Too smart if you ask me." Jasper grumbled.

"One can never be too smart, Uncle Jasper."

"She's right. So, what did you what to talk to me about?"

Sara's eyes flickered with mischief.

"You'll never guess what Iz's up too!"

*

"Hey, guys!" Isolde Pettibone looked up from her basket full of flowers and books and greeted the Keith twins as they met her across the red earth road close to her house. "What are you up to?"

"Not much." Davey shrugged "We ain't got anything especial to do today, so we thought we'd go pay Anne a visit. We haven't seen her in about three years!"

"Remind me who she is again?"

"Dr. Blythe's wife", Felix King's low informed her from behind , his bicycle rolling alongside him.

"Felix!" Isolde jumped. "You scared me."

"Sorry." The young man smiled. "You aren't usually nervous."

"And I'm not!" Izzy snapped, frantically stuffing Felicity's book deeper in her basket.

"She's been actin' a little weird these days", Dora chimed in teasingly.

"Oh, shove off! " (the latter inhaled deeply, attempting to settle down), "so, this Anne's Gilbert Blythe's wife you were saying?"

"Yes." Felix arched his right eyebrow David Keith's way, but got a puzzled shrug in return, "I think she used to take of the twins, am I right you guys?"

Dora nodded enthusiastically, her plain brown eyes lightening up.

"Yup. She and Miss Marilla took care of us 'till we was about ten, and then Anne went off to teach in Kingsport."

"She was the best!" Davey interjected warmly, "Always forgiving me whenever I was naughty and always putting extra butter on me bread. She told great stories and laughed merrily all the time…"

"Good ol' days…" his sister sighed wistfully.

"You sound like you're at least sixty", Felix joked.

"I agree," Isolde chimed in, momentarily forgetting her troubles, "how's that supposed to make us elders feel?"

"Oh, you know what I meant!" Dora laughed. "I was just saying it seems like it was so long ago, that's all…"

"I really miss her."

"Then what are you waiting for? Go call on her!"

"We were just plannin' to, as a matter o' fact."

"Good." The latter smiled. "'Mind if I tag along? I'm rather curious to meet this Mrs. Blythe."

"Anne", the young lad corrected her, "Anne spelled with an e."

"He's never called her 'Mrs. Blythe'." Felix supplied.

"Why not?"

"'Cause she's just Anne!"

***

"Whoa, boy." David Keith pulled firmly on the reins so Prince would come to a stop. "We're here."

And they were.

Before the threesome stood a starched white household, crackling slightly with age but unmistakably charming, surrounded by tall birch trees and lean spruces.

"Green Gables," Dora announced proudly. "This is what used to be our home, Iz."

"Wow", Isolde murmured, somewhat dazzled by the rare essence of peace that seem to linger all around it.

"Quite somethin', ain't it?" Davey smiled, pleased with his comrade's reaction.

*

"Gil, could you get the door?" Anne Blythe hollered. "I'm literally snowed under in flour."

Smiling faintly at his wife's slight tendency to exaggerate (simple blobs stained her apron), the doctor did as he was asked.

"Of all people!" Gilbert exclaimed in surprise, "Anne, come see who's here!"

Wiping her hands on her already dirty apron, the red-headed damsel set her mixing bowl on the kitchen counter, slipped into the parlour and gasped in delight.

"Davey! Dora!" Suddenly, no amount of flour stains in the world seemed to matter. "It's been so long," she murmured, hugging them tightly.

David briefly closed his eyes, drinking in his old's faded vanilla scent.

"Hello, Anne." He said, relishing the sound of that name like a sweet candy. "It's good to see you!"

"We've missed you terribly!" Dora hugged her tighter, "The last time we'd seen you, you weren't even married yet" She smiled up at Gilbert.

"That's right," Anne acquiesced, a dreamy look on her face, "I'd barely just returned from Kingsport Ladies College."

As their hostess released the twins from her embrace, Isolde discreetly took her in.

She wasn't what one would call "pretty", or even "attractive" for that matter. But her eyes. They were definitely luminous. A deep shade of gray, speckled with green. Filled with life.

"And who might that be?" Anne's voice snapped Izzy out of her reverie, having spotted her close to the door.

"Oh." Dora's lips twisted into an sheepish smile, "So sorry. Mrs Blythe , meet Isolde, Felix King's fiancée. Iz, meet Mrs. Blythe, one of our dearest friends."

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am."

"The pleasure is all mine!" the young woman exclaimed with a trill of laughter. "It's so good to finally encounter the famous Izzy!"

Famous? The latter thought to herself, cheeks flaming. What exactly did people tell her about me?

"Yes," Anne's husband chimed in before she had a chance to ask, "I remember the last time I saw the King lad, he was just a wee thing, and already he was praising what a great comrade you were. Playing all those boy games and all…"

"Obviously she's changed, Gil!"

Isolde's blush deepened. Not that much! she wanted to scream. I haven't changed that much except for the fact I fell in love with my comrade!

"Yes, well, might you folks stay for tea?" the doctor asked with a clear of his throat, seeing he'd caused the lady some discomfort.

"Sure!" Davey answered gaily for all of them, "we'd love to!"

A few minutes later they were all sitting around Anne's wooden table, sipping freshly brewed English tea in the couple's finest silverware.

"So, Anne," David began, in an attempt to keep the subject off a still uneasy damsel."You didn't tell us Gil here was enlisting…" He pointed to Gilbert's crisp blue uniform.

"Davey!" his sister hissed, giving him a good solid kick under the table. "Don't you have any sense of delicacy?"

Despite herself, Izzy chuckled softly in her napkin. Poor Davey! Always trying to get himself out of scrapes, and getting straight back into them when he did!

"It's all right, Dora." Dr. Blythe smiled stiffly when his spouse kept quiet. "It only happened a few days ago."

"Gilbert." Anne's tone was as sharp as a knife, "could we please change the subject? I don't care to discuss sad matters with company."

The future sergeant knew better than to insist whenever Anne-girl called him by his full name, let alone when she spoke so curtly.

"Right, err. What have you been up to these past years, David?"

"Well, uh…" The chap threw his old friend a look filled with remorse. "Not much, actually. I just quit school to help Mrs. Lynde out with our house, and Dora just started taking after-school classes to prepare for the entry exams at Queens'…"

"Queens''? Isolde perked up, suddenly feeling more included in the conversation, "You're planning on studying there?" she asked her friend with a touch of envy in her tone.

"Er, yes." Dora's cheeks coloured faintly.

"What's it to be like?"

"Well, it's a school where you're expected to take a teacher's course in one year instead of two, and where you can win scholarships to go on to study at Redmond College."

" 'Sounds great!"

"I thought you hated teaching?" Davey questioned.

"Correction. I hate most teaching methods,- especially father's- not teaching itself. Quite the contrary actually; but who told you that?"

"Um…" The lad squirmed slightly in his chair. "I sort o' read one of Felix's letters to you on time when he was in France and it said teach, for God's sake (even if I know you hate it!)," he quoted quickly.

." Well, he was wrong! David Keith! How dare you read my mail!" Izzy scolded.

"I-I didn't mean to, Iz, honest I didn't! It was just laying on the table once, and I couldn't help but have a look-see." Davey's voice grew as small and impish as it once was when he was about seven.

Much to everyone's surprise, a well-known silvery laugh soon echoed beside Dora.

"That tone brings back so many memories!" Anne smiled, suddenly emerging from her stoned silence.

"Like what?"

"Like… Well… Oh! Davey-boy, do you remember the time you hid your sister from us and we got sick with worry wondering where she was?"

Davey-boy... Aw, how nice it was to hear that pet name again!

"I sure do." A wicked grin spread across his face. "What fun!

"Hey!" Dora stuck her tongue out at her sibling. "that's mean!"

Isolde laughed merrily.

"Children, please." Anne' eyes twinkled like in her golden days. "No quarrelling under my roof!"

."Yes ma'am!"

"Wow." Her husband shook his head, amused. "You really got those two wrapped around your finger!"

"Oh, you'd be surprised if I told you how much time it took to get it that way! Even for Dora!" The old school ma'am gazed tenderly up at the young woman beside her. "She used to be so quiet! It was almost frightening…"

Dora? Frightening? That's impossible! Izzy thought.

"She's right. 'Made me jump a couple o' times 'cause she tip-toed everywhere like a mouse…"

"What's wrong with that?" The latter protested. "I was just being calm, that's all…"

"That's all right, Dora. Though it's a good thing you're a little less quiet now!" Isolde giggled softly.

"I'm sorry I ever said anything!" Anne threw her hands up. "I didn't mean for them to pounce on you, dear…"

"S' okay. I'm used to it."

Gilbert cackled. "I see. The silent victim." Getting to his feet, the tall fellow took empty the tea cups on the table and into the kitchen.

"Would you mind bringing in the plum pudding while you're there?"

"Not a tad. So long as a mouse didn't drown in the sauce this time!" He teased, giving her a bold wink.

"A mouse?" Isolde, David and Dora chorused, wide-eyed.

"Gilbert Blythe!" the spirited redhead hissed as expected, half-jokingly. "That was over ten years ago! And you promised not to tell anyone if I told you…"

"Oooh, this is getting more interestin' by the minute!"

"Sorry, Anne-girl. I just couldn't resist! Besides, who knows when I'll get to nag you again, hmm?" Gil's smile was mocking, but his dark blue eyes were serious and filled with tenderness.

"Please tell us, Anne!" David pleaded. "Pretty please!"

"Yes, do!" the girls echoed.

"Very well." Though she would have never admitted this to a single living soul, Anne thoroughly enjoyed being the center of attention. Not to mention telling stories from her past. Dr. Blythe knew this, too, nevertheless, so as he watched his wife weave her tale, a small smile played on his lips.

"Excuse me, Marilla, there's something I have to check outside for a moment," I muttered.

"What do you have to ch-"

But I was already out the door, dead mouse in hand, cheeks coloured with mortification.

"Marilla," I ventured, as I flew back into the house a few seconds later, "perhaps we could have the plum pudding without the sauce…"

"Whatever for? I've never made a plum pudding without the sauce!"

Just as I was about to add something, we heard a rap on the door… The young woman paused, eyes sparkling, letting her 'audience' sink in her words as her husband set the dessert in front of them along with plates and forks.

"Thank you, Gil. Let us eat, shall we?" she kidded, gamely taking a hold of a plate and starting to serve out the pudding.

"Oh, do continue, Anne. I'll do that." Davey hurriedly pursued the task under Gilbert's amused eye.

It was Miss Stacey.

"Muriel!" Isolde gasped despite herself. "You knew her?"

"Knew her! Oh, better than that, dear child. She used to be my teacher!" Anne exclaimed.

"Really? I had no idea…"

"Yeah, well, you know now. So could ya please get on with the story now, Anne?"

"Davey, be polite…"

The maiden tossed her now auburn braid across her shoulder and grinned. "If you insist… Ahem," she cleared her throat theatrically. "So, I was saying…"

Miss Stacey was at the door and Marilla couldn't have been more pleased to see here when she opened it.

"Why Miss Stacey!" she exclaimed. "What brings you here?"

"Hello, Miss Cuthbert."

(…) A few minutes later, to my utter shame, all three of us (me, Mathew, and Miss Stacey) were seated at the dinner table, waiting for Marilla to bring in the dessert.

"Anne actually made this plum pudding herself!" she announced proudly, setting the tray in the center.

"Well, I can hardly wait to taste it!" our guest declared.

I briefly closed my eyes, letting a few horrendous seconds go by as Miss Stacey took a forkful in her hand.

"Don't eat it, Miss Stacey!" I shrieked, opening them up just as my favourite teacher was about to pop it into her mouth.

"Anne, what is wrong with you?" Marilla demanded, taking her head in her hands.

"A mouse… Drowned in the sauce, Marilla," I retorted, crestfallen and cheeks burning. "I didn't mean to, honestly…"

The young storyteller finished her tale with a flourish, seeing as her guests were laughing their heads off…

"Anne," David Keith spoke up after having caught his break and wiped the tears from his eyes, "This is the best story you told us since Averil's atonement!"

"And the voices were so real I could just picture the people!" Dora chimed in, stifling a giggle.

"Especially poor Muriel!" Isolde added. "I can just see her face from here- plain disgust!" she chuckled.

"She does have a knack for those kinds of theatrical things, doesn't she? But to think I have to live with this every day…" Gilbert feigned to be a martyr. "Can't you just imagine my pain?"

"Might I remind you, you're the one who proposed in the first place, Mr. Blythe." Anne nudged him playfully. "you made this horrible choice."

Izzy smiled at this couple bickering. How they reminded her of she and Felix! I do hope he'll agree to wait for me, she thought silently.

"Okay that's it!" Davey suddenly sprang up from his chair, plate and fork in hand and pretending to cover his ear, "I can't bear another word of this love foolishness!" With that he marched determinedly out of the parlour.

The rest of the group exchanged mischievous smiles.

"I told you about Becky Lester, Anne, didn't I?" Dora grinned wickedly as she spoke louder than normal.

"No, what about her?" Mrs. Blythe narrowed her eyes at David from the dining table.

"Nothin', nothin' t'all!" Davey exclaimed hastily, hurriedly resuming his spot and clasping a strong hand over his sister's mouth. "Say anything you like to each other, Anne and Gil, I don't care, honest!"

"I thought so!" Dora Keith crossed her thin arms on her chest, a smile of satisfaction flickering on her features.

***

"I'll help you with the plates, ma'am." Isolde Pettibone got to her feet shortly after her hostess. "It's the least I can do."

"Oh no, no, It's fine, dear. Sit with the others I'll get it done in a jiffy! "Anne Blythe assured her.

"Well I insist." Isolde persisted as she resolutely followed her into the kitchen. As she helped Anne wash the afternoon's dishes, the young person finally ventured to say what had been on her mind for over two hours.

"Mrs. Blythe?"

"Yes, Isolde?"

"Please call me Izzy. I, uh, I just wanted to tell you now that it's just the two of us." She cleared her throat. "That if you ever need to talk…"

"About what ,dear?" Anne was frankly curious now, as she had her face turned towards Izzy's.

"Well, you know, Gilbert… His enlistment…" Isolde saw the woman's frank face close up and turn gray before she had the time to finish her sentence.

"I would appreciate if you'd stop there, Miss Pettibone."

Isolde gulped. How quickly her tone could change from warm and soft to cold and stern!

"Please hear me out. I-I just wanted to say that I went through the same thing with Felix went he enlisted, too. It was extremely hard, but I had people around me I could confide in…" She paused for breath, and, to her relief, saw Anne Blythe's face start to relax.

"So if ever you need someone… -Even if you hardly know my name, ma'am- I'd be pleased to listen to you."

So young! So young to be saying such words to me! Barely twenty I bet. Poor thing… But so genuine… and friendly… Anne's conscience spoke to her, telling her she could let down the walls she'd so patiently built around herself for protection if she wished to.

"I- Thank you…" Anne's voice shook slightly and unwanted tears started to blur her vision.

"You're most welcome." Isolde's voice was gentle and ever so kind. It was all too much… Without being able to stop herself, the redheaded damsel's body started to tremble, and unshed tears from days back spilled uncontrollably down her rosy cheeks, causing her to choke a little.

With the awkwardness of a stranger but the warmth of understanding, Izzy slowly pulled Anne into a hug.

*

"What do you think's going on in there? It's been forty minutes…" Gilbert's forehead was getting creased.

"Oh, I'm sure it's fine, G-" David was cut off by a stifled sob.

"Is that Anne crying?" Dora asked, shocked at the mere thought.

The doctor listened in more closely. Those heaved signs. Those soft cries. That was his girl all right.

Wordlessly, he stood up and tiptoed into the other room. Sure enough, there she was, 'Queen Anne", as Philippa Gordon used to call her, her pretty face streaked with tears, apron soaked wet. And this Isolde Pettibone! She was holding her!

"Ahem." He cleared his throat to be heard. "What's going on here, Miss Pettibone?"

Izzy jumped, startled.

"Oh, um , well…" She looked up at Anne, unsure of what to say.

"It's okay. You can tell him."

"You're wife just been trying to… put up a brave front for you in the last few days, and…-

"…And I just can't anymore!" The latter cut off suddenly, her tone desperate.

"Oh, Anne…" Gilbert crossed the room, and as Isolde released her and quietly padded away, he took his wife in his arms.

"You don't ever need to pretend with me, you know that!" the doctor murmured into her hair…

"Yes, I do, but…" More tears prickled Anne's lively eyes.

"But what?"

"I just… didn't want to make things any harder than they already are for you by being emotional…"

"Anne Shirley, you listen to me."

She perked up. He rarely called her by her maiden name.

He lifted her chin up with a finger.

"…You can cry, and be angry at me and at this horrific situation as much as you want! In fact, I'm relieved I heard you sob."

"Why?"

"Because except for Davey and Dora's visit today, I couldn't recognize my own wife anymore! The old Anne used to let her temper get the better of her often, and get mad at me, and tell me exactly how I made her feel. The Anne I saw during the last five days was only a shadow of herself. Never saying a single word, never having that dreamy look I love so much on her face that made her burn her meals…" He paused to gauge his spouse's expression. She was smiling.

"…But most of all she never marvelled at pretty things she saw during the day anymore like she used to.."

" Please Gil… Don't go!" She buried herself in his chest, "I'll get the old me back, I'll do anything you want, just don't leave me!"

"I'm here now, Anne-girl." He whispered, stroking her hair, "And I promise you that when I do leave –because I'll have to- I'll make sure you've got all your loved ones around you. If you like, I could ask Diana to let you stay with her…"

Anne closed her eyes against him.

"Would you like that?"

She nodded silently.

"Let me guess. You don't want to talk about it now, right?"

Another nod.

"Right then. We're in business!" Gilbert teased. "We don't we go and join the others now, mmm? We can finish this talk later."

"Alright…" His wife heaved a sigh.

"That's the way! You're breathing it out!" He rubbed her back in slow circles. "Come on, carrots."

***

David Keith handed Isolde and Dora theirs coats. Although emotional for some, the visit had been most enjoyable.

"Thank you M. and Mrs. Blythe for a very pleasant afternoon It was a pleasure to meet both of you." Izzy smiled up and them.

"Likewise, Miss Pettibone," Gilbert returned the smile.

"Goodbye, Isolde." Anne's soft voice came up from beside him. "And thank you."

"You're most welcome, ma'am." The young woman briefly squeezed the woman's shoulder.

"Bye, Anne." David hauled his friend into a deep embrace. "Until the next time." he winked slyly at her. "Gil." he nodded curtly at the young officer.

"See you soon, Davey-boy." Anne kissed the crown of this little rebel's head she'd come to love.

"You too, Dora," she added, softly stroking the damsel's cheek.

"Green Gables will be waiting for you…"

*

"You never told me how special she was." Isolde whispered to her friends, the buggy rumbling softly behind a flaming orange and pink sunset.

"Who? Anne?"

Izzy nodded.

"I didn't need to", David pointed out . "You found out on your own…"

"Everybody does, one day or another." his sister added.

The three companions rode silently the rest of the way back, peace at heart.

"First stop," the lad announced cheerfully a few minutes later as Prince pulled up in front of the Pettibone household.

"Thanks, guys". The dark-haired latter hopped out of the buggy."I had a great time."

"I'm glad you did… Especially seeing as things got a bit sad at the end."

" S' all right Dora. She's in good hands, now…"

"Thanks to you…" David declared seriously, much to his sibling's surprise. "You're the one who saw she needed a shoulder."

Isolde blushed furiously.

"No," Davey lifted a hand to stop her. "don't say anything, Izzy. It's a fact, not a statement. See you around!" he added.

"Bye!"

She waived back at the twins and sauntered up to her home, suddenly aching to have a chat with her stepmother.

"Hi there!" Clive's severe voice greeted her as she set foot in the door. "'Haven't seen much of you today, kiddo."

"I know, I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you where I'd be…"

"Yes, well, don't make a habit of it, alright? We've been worried." Her father scolded.

"Sorry." Izzy kept her eyes on the floor. "Um, is Muriel home yet?"

"Yes, she just got back…"

"Thanks, I'll see you later!" the young woman hurriedly slipped off her jacket and made her way up the stairs.

"'Afternoon, Muriel!" Isolde greeted her father's wife in a tourbillion of yellow poplin.

"Hello." The elder woman couldn't help but smile at Izzy's liveliness. "Someone's in high spirits!"

"You'll never guess who I met today!" she continued, ignoring her remark.

"'Don't know, but I've got the feeling you'll tell me anyway…"

"Anne Blythe!"

Muriel's features softened and her deep brown eyes lit up at the mention of her favourite pupil's name.

"How is she?" she practically whispered.

"'Seems fine in body but not so well in soul, if you ask me," Isolde retorted.

"Oh? How is that?"

"Well, her husband just enlisted, so-

"Gilbert enlisted?" Muriel caught her off. "You're not serious…"

" 'Afraid so."

"Poor, poor dear…"

"You can say that again…" Izzy's tone was gentle as she reminisced her own time of trial when Felix left.

"Especially considering how long it took her to realize her true feelings for Gilbert… He had to be on the verge of dying from scarlet fever before she came to her senses!"

"Pshaw!" The latter let out a long shrill. "That was a close one all right!"

"It's not proper for a girl to whistle, Iz." Arthur Pettibone's eyes twinkled as he poked his head into the doorway, interrupting the conversation.

"Says who? "

"Common sense.".

"Sorry, never heard of it," Izzy joked.

"Ha, ha, very funny. Even father would be on my side for this, I'm sure…"

"Yeah, right."

"On who's side would I be, and for what?" Clive startled all of them, halfway up the staircase.

"Oh nothing, dear." His wife raised her eyes heavenward. "Friendly brother and sister bickering."

Isolde playfully stuck her tongue out at Arthur.

"She's right. Nothing worth it."

"Very well then. If any of you need me, I'll be …-

"In your office," his daughter finished. "We know."

The old military general's mouth arched into a half smile as he climbed the rest of the set of steps and padded towards the end of the corridor.

"I'll leave you ladies to your chattering I guess." Arthur winked at Izzy. "We can pursue this later, sis."

"It would be my great pleasure!"

Once her stepson was out of sight, Muriel resolutely closed the door behind them.

*

"… And then when I heard Dora prattle on about Queens', It just reinforced my need to ask Felix to wait for me." Isolde concluded, having told Mrs. Pettibone about her 'matrimonial doubts' and visit to Dr Blythe's. "It made me realize I wanted to study, and do more with my life before I settled down. More than what Felicity, Sara, and that ridiculous guide advised."

"You know what to do, darling," was her simple response.

Izzy's eyes moistened.

"I just hope he'll understand."

"If he loves you like I think he does, then he will." Muriel slipped her arms around the young girl and squeezed tight. "Have faith."

"Thank you..." She returned the hug. "…For everything."

"Don't mention it." Her stepmother smiled. "But I must be on my way now.."

"Where to?'

"A certain redhead's desperately in need of maternal affection I hear…"

Isolde just shook her head, bewildered by this woman's goodness and kissed her on the cheek.

"Tell the boys to wait for me for supper, too…"

"I will, Izzy. Good luck, dear."

"Thanks, I'll need it…"

*

Later that day, as Anne Blythe hollowly set the dinner table, another rap was heard at the door. She rushed towards the parlour this time, her husband tending to a sick patient at the town's clinic.

"Miss Stacey!" she murmured, momentarily forgetting to call the woman by her married name as she spotted her beloved frame standing in the doorway.

Muriel simply opened her arms as a greeting.

Anne practically flew into them, as a flood of relief coursed through her. Motherly arms. Finally.

*

"Iz!" Felicity Pike smiled up at her friend as she opened the door.

"Hey, Felicity. What are you doing here?" Isolde asked.

"Oh, just stopping by for a visit," she retorted, hoping she wouldn't see how red and swollen her eyes were.

"I see." Izzy imperceptibly squeezed the latter's hand. "So, um, I was wondering where I might find Felix?" She added as nonchalantly as possible.

"Felix? Well he's…" Gus Pike's wife interrupted her thought, light suddenly dawning on her. "Oh, Iz, you're going to tell him, aren't you?"

She blushed.

"I knew it!"

"Shh! Not so loud! And here," she added even lower, handing her friend her matrimonial book. I won't need it anymore. So where is he?"

"The hotel." The latter pulled a sympatric face as she retrieved the guide. " needed him exceptionally to-day for a 'spring cleansing' before the health inspector arrives tomorrow."

"Felicity King Pike!" Janet King's booming voice came up from behind before the young woman could reply."do you intend to let this poor girl freeze to death?!"

"Mother, we're in April."

"All the more reason to not catch a chill. Come on in, dear, have a cup of tea!" she ushered Isolde inside.

Izzy had to admit she felt much better as she stepped into the Kings' warm household, a crackling fire greeting her.

"Here." Janet smiled up at Isolde and handed her a fainted blue cup, "Nice and comforting."

"' Guess you don't really have much o' a chance, lass." Gus Pike grinned mischievously at her when his mother-in-law was out of earshot. "You'll have to wait 'till Falix comes back…"

"Gus! Be nice ! It's hard enough already…" Felicity darted her eyes at her spouse.

"What's hard?" Cecily King caught the last words as she entered the living room.

"Er… Choosing a fabric for the wedding dress," Her sister improvised, as her friend discreetly put a hand to her head in discouragement.

"Why yes, that be very… challenging?" the latter ventured, slightly perplexed by the fact that Izzy usually took so little interest in clothes.

"How was your day, Cess?" Isolde desperately attempted to change the subject.

"Pretty good, thanks. Cramming for exams, the usual stuff."

"What subject?" Gus asked.

"Latin," she grimaced. "English lit., arithmetic…"

"Ouch. I feel your pain…"

"Oh children!" Janet came in from the kitchen. "You should be ashamed to use such expressions concerning school. Learning is an essential part of your life!"

The dark-haired damsel watched the two siblings exchange an exasperated glance, as if they'd heard this little sermon a thousand times over and couldn't help but stifle a giggle.

"Did I say something funny, dear?"

Just as a flustered Isolde was about to answer, the sound of the door knob turning saved her.

"Sorry I'm late! The big boss was over his head to-day with cleansing and…" Felix King stopped mid-sentence when he laid eyes on Izzy.

"Iz!" He exclaimed, his eyes dancing at her sight. "What are you doing here?'

"Hello to you, too…" Janet sniffed.

"Sorry, Mother." He took his eyes off her and obligingly went over to kiss her on the cheek. "Hello."

"I just, um, wondering if you'd like to… go for a walk?" The latter answered his question rather weekly.

"Oh." Felix's brow knitted. "Sure! But at this hour?" He checked his pocket watch. "It's almost suppertime…"

"Just a short one," Felicity insisted, coming to the rescue. "You two haven't spent some time alone in a while, anyway…"

"That's true…" The young lad's mouth twisted into a lopsided grin. "Alright, you win. Let us go."

Slipping her scarf and coat on, Isolde silently mouthed the words thank you, to which her elder friend retorted good luck.

"Don't stay out too late!" Alec called out at the couple as the door closed behind them.

***

"Feeling better, Anne?" Muriel's eyes searched her old pupil's an hour later.

"Very much so. Thank you, Mrs -Pettibone," Anne gushed gratefully. "You don't know how good it feels to have a motherly figure around me for a change."

"But I do know, dear girl. Remember that in times of trial Marilla used to stand by your side…"

"And I do miss her so!" the doctor's wife sighed wistfully. "What help she would have been to me…"

"She still can be of help, Anne. Just ask." (Mrs. Pettibone raised a finger towards the ceiling.)

The redheaded woman's gray eyes sparkled in recognition.

"Your right… It's just…-

"…Not the same as flesh and blood," she finished. "I know."

Anne Blythe was suddenly aware of steps getting closer.

"That must be Gil."

Muriel stood to her feet.

"Then I'd best be on my way… I wouldn't want to intrude on your privacy." Just as Anne was about to protest, the young doctor's head poked into the kitchen.

"Mrs Pettibone!" he greeted her with a tired, but nevertheless warm smile. "How good to see you!"

"Hello, dear. I was just on my way out.."

"Oh no no. Please stay and talk awhile." Gilbert hastily slipped off his coat and gloves and gently put his hand on his old teacher's shoulder… "For me…"

His wife smiled. Gillest of Gils! It was clear as a bell he was worn out, yet he insisted that company stay.

"Well then, if you take me by the ways of heart…" The elder woman conceded and gracefully sat back down. "I guess I could manage a few more minutes…"

As the doctor sat on a chair, he casually wrapped an arm 'round Anne and searched her face. It was pale and drawn as it had been earlier, no doubt. But she appeared to be more peaceful.

*

"So," Felix King cleared his throat, seeing as Isolde had remained silent for several minutes. "Are you going to tell me why you've been avoiding me like the measles for the last couple of days or will I have to guess?"

Izzy practically choked.

"W-what do you mean?" she stammered, cheeks flaming already. "I haven't been avoiding you."

"Yeah, right."

" I saw you earlier this morning on the rode," she pointed out rather weakly.

"Pure coincidence!"

The young lad stopped in his tracks to face her. "Izzy, what's going on?"

"Nothing." I can't do this!

"Oooh, I think I know what it is…"

"You do?" she squeaked.

"Yes. You're angry with me because I've been working like a mad man these last few weeks, especially at the Easter ball, is that it?"

She shook her head.

"Then what is it ?"

Help me, Lord. Aren't you supposed to show up right about now and whisper me what to say?

"Iz." Felix gently laid his hands on her small shoulders. "Tell me."

"I- can't."

He sighed.

"Okay, let's try this. Remember when you socked me on the nose seven years ago?"

Isolde mastered a small smile.

" Thought so… Try to imagine I'm that thirteen year-old again. Maybe that'll give you some power." He suggested.

The young woman took several deep breaths and closed her eyes. She forced herself to envision a younger Felix. Same twinkling blue eyes, wavy brown hair, and mischievous smile. Only a little shorter and less imposing. Easy to talk to.

There we go. Counting to three, she opened her eyes again. It worked.

"There's no easy way to say this… Felix , you know how hard it's been for me when you left for war… So hard in fact that when you did come back, I was so shocked that I sort of… had some doubts about the wedding." She gulped, not daring to look at him. "I didn't realize I had them in the first place, even when I was planning it with your sisters, and they just increased that night at the Easter ball when you talked about the date coming up… I don't know, Felix… I'm just so unsure of myself, so uncertain I'd make good housekeeper and wife for you because I'm still such a tomboy underneath …-

"Izzy…" The young man's tender pitch almost made her melt.

"Please, don't interrupt," she pleaded. "It's only making it worse."

"…And then to top things off, I went to pay the Blythes a visit this afternoon …" She took another breath. This was the hardest part. "When Dora started to talk about Queens', I realized that…

"…You wanted to study there." Felix's voice sounded rather thick as he finished her sentence.

"Yes. I-I want to see some of the world before I settle down," Isolde stammered, keeping her eyes on the ground.

"Go."

"What?"

"Go, Iz. If this is what you want, then go and get it…"

"Oh, Felix." Isolde raised her head up and the lad saw the stars shinning in her hazel eyes. "Are you sure?"

"I'm only sure of one thing." He stared directly at her as he fought back a slight shaking in his voice. "I want you to be happy."

Silently, Isolde got closer to him and hugged him. Deeply.

"I can sense from here how disappointed and rightfully frustrated you are over this," she started. "However know that when the times comes I'll finally have the feeling I made something of myself."

Felix returned the hug, tears prickling his eyes.

"If that's the way you see it… But can you just try not to take too long to make something of yourself?"

Izzy laughed despite herself at his humour.

"I promise." She wiped a tear off his cheek with her thumb and clutched his hand.

"Come on. Your mother and father will be wondering where we are!"

He nodded, resigned. They padded along quietly for a few minutes, the peacefulness of the evening lingering in the air and the golden moon hanging over the velvet sky.

*

"Thanks for the visit, Muriel." Gilbert helped the elder woman into her coat a few minutes later after his wife had gone upstairs, "You did Anne more good than you could ever imagine…"

"I love her," was Mrs. Pettibone's simple answer. "Love is a wonderful doctor, Mr. Blythe. Just you mind that."

"Yes, ma'am." He smiled. "I will."

A couples seconds later, after Gilbert had escorted his old teacher to her motor car, he wiped up the kitchen counter and cleared the table before slowly going up the flight of stairs.

"Is she gone?"

"Yes, Anne."

"Was she cross I didn't say goodbye?"

"Not at all. In fact, she told me she loved you."

"She did?" Anne's eyes watered.

"Absolutely. And you know what else she said?" He came up behind her and circled his arms around her thin waist.

"What?"

"'Love is the best doctor'," he retorted gently.

*

"I hope things are going okay…" Felicity Pike's forehead wrinkled slightly. "It's been over an hour."

"If Izzy's got so much as half of your art to convince people, Falicity, then all's right in the world." Gus replied philosophically, pipe in hand and eyes on the fire crackling.

The latter smiled; appeased, as usual, by her husband's quiet certainty.

"What are you talking about, son?" Alec King demanded as he entered the room.

"The art of convincing." Gus winked at his wife with his right eye.

Alec was about to enquire what this art consisted of, when the front door suddenly swung open.

"Hey, everyone."

"Nice walk?" Cecily and Daniel chirped.

"Very." Isolde's whole person seem to irradiate as she said this.

"Glad to hear it. Will you stay for supper, dear?"

"No, thank you, Mrs. King. I'd best be going. Bye Felix, thank you for… the walk."

"You're welcome. You'll come back soon… won't you?" his throat was rather tight.

"You'll get sick of me," she assured him with a smile as she squeezed his hand and went out the house.

As the door closed shut, Felicity turned to look at her sibling.

"Are you okay?"

"Fine," he snapped, irritate. "Just fine…"

"Felix." she attempted to put a hand on his shoulder, but he brushed her off.

"Leave me alone."

"Is everything all right, honey? Did you and Isolde quarrel?"

"Janet, let the boy be," Alec coaxed his wife as his son furiously bolted up the stairs.

*

The following days were utterly difficult for Anne Blythe because of the fact she noticed, imperceptibly at first, some of her husband's things end up in suitcases. She knew he tried to do everything as discreetly and normal as possible, as though he packed everyday, but the look of deep sorrow on his features gave him away.

On the day of his departure, Gilbert was still trying to be light-hearted, but this time Anne put a stop to it.

"Darling, remember when you told me I never had to pretend when I was around you. The opposite is also true." she said softly as they were rising from the breakfast table.

Gilbert simply nodded and started colleting the dishes.

"Gil, please," she insisted. "I know it's harder for a man, but we must make the most of the last couples of hours we have by being honest with each other."

Something in the young doctor seem to break, as he suddenly took his head in his hands and heaved a deep sigh.

"Talk to me." Anne lay a hand on his arm. "Tell what's on your mind."

"I-I I'm afraid to see horrors," he whispered almost inaudibly. "I'm afraid I won't be able to cope with them and be a good doctor."

"Gilbert. You're the best and most caring practitioner I know. Any patient of yours in Avonlea would tell you . Nothing of that'll change because of the war. Nothing. As for the horrors, of course you can never be prepared for tragedies, but I think when you do witness some you'll know you're exactly where you should be. Helping."

Much to his wife's surprise, the doctor's body started to shake like a leaf.

"Thanks, Anne… But I can't help it…" A sob escaped from his throat.

"There, there…" she put her arms around him and held on silently, glad Gilbert had lost some of his rigidity to admit things. "I know."

***

When Felix King returned to work on Monday morning, his employer couldn't help but take note how morose and sad he looked, accomplishing all of his usual task heavy-heartedly.

"Is something the matter, Master King?" he enquired gently, having summed him in his office . "You seem… perturbed."

"'Couldn't be better, sir," Felix himself was aware of how fake his tone sounded. " 'Don't know where you got that idea."

"Right. Well, I'm glad to hear it. Nevertheless, Felix, my door's always open if ever…" Simon Treymayne punctuated his sentence with a kind smile.

"Thank you, sir. I appreciate it."

Good old Simon. As perceptive as he always was…

"Good day, sir." He retreated quickly, before the urge to spill out the beans became too strong.

"Good day to you."

A few hours ticked by, each of them seeming more eternal than the next. Greetings, registers, baggage-carrying, serving. And endless circle. And to think you had to keep smiling all the way through!

Felix inwardly pulled a face at the thought of a particularly difficult client he'd had to tend to that morning.

"Good, day, Sir. What can I get for you today?"

The elder man had squinted at the menu, as though even his barnacle couldn't help him see it.

"Would you happen to have any freshly squeezed juice in this menu?" his nose was slightly wrinkled. "Because I don't see any of the offered choices presented as such."

Felix breathed in deeply. Curt and professional, no matter what.

"Unfortunately, it seems to be the case. However, perhaps I could offer you some freshly grounded coffee, especially made by-

"I'm afraid I haven't made myself clear." the man cut in icily. "I don't care for coffee, no matter how freshly grounded it is or by whom it is done. Freshly squeezed juice is what I asked for and if you can't satisfy that request, I will simply have to go elsewhere."

"Please, sir, at least try some. And if it doesn't meet your expectations, then it shall be given to you by the house."

God. I hope Mr. Treymayne is satisfied. I'm literally begging a rude grouch here, for the mere reputation of this building!

The gray-haired man's cold stare remained, but his mouth slightly stretched into what a truly fine observer would have called a smirk.

"Very well, young man. I can see your lack of experience in this hotel leads you to pleading," (he had a mean twinkle to his blue eyes) "I shall therefore try some of that concoction you call freshly made coffee."

Boiling inwardly, Felix did as he was told. This had better be an important business man! he thought to himself.

A few minutes later he watched the client take the porcelain in his hand, almost repulsive to take a sip out of the cup.

"I guess that is not bad," he admitted with much reluctance. "I would now like a blue berry muffin to go along with it."

"Right away, sir," Felix replied through gritted teeth.

As he made his way to the kitchen, he spotted the chef, Pierre Lapierre, an old friend of his.

"Oh, Pierre! You'll never guess what a rude, snotty person I've landed on…" he started to complain, unable to contain himself any longer.

"Oui, Monsieur King!" the chef nodded understandingly. "I have seen de person. No appreciation for fine cuisine!" he sniffed.

"I know. I personally would kill for one of your coffees right now!"

"Merci, Felix. I'll make sure to save one especially for you later. But did de 'client' want anything else?"

"Yes." The young grimaced. "A blueberry muffin!"

"Aw, those américains! No pies or cakes! Muffins!"

Felix smiled again, hearing Pierre's scandalized tone in his head. Come think of it, him and Rachel Lynd would make a fine pair! Social critically speaking.

"Felix?" Another bell-boy named Joe snapped him out of his thoughts. "There's someone to see you at the reception."

"Can't you tell them I'm busy scrubbing silverware or something?" he grumbled, not caring for another prima donna customer.

"I tried. The person says it's really important."

If Felix had looked more closely at his partner, he would have noticed a faint smile playing on his features.

"All right, I'll go," he conceded with an exasperated sigh. He slowly made his way to the reception and the vision he saw made him stop short.

" 'Thought I was some snob business man, didn't ya?" Isolde Pettibone let out a bubbly laugh, her frosty curls dancing.

"Iz. Hi." he stammered.

"Aren't you glad to see me?"

"I- I'm on shift right now. And aren't you supposed to be studying for the entrance exam at Queens?" he said the word with more irony than he'd meant to.

"I've finished for to-day." she smiled as if she hadn't heard anything. "As for your shift, I am officially a client, Mr. King, therefore I demand to be seated at a table!"

Felix couldn't suppress a grin. He had to admit she knew how to reel him in pretty well.

"Very well then, miss. Follow me."

After he'd gallantly removed her coat and carefully placed it on a hanger (usually people just took off their own coats, even women, but for some reason, Felix wanted to make an exception…) the young bell-boy grabbed a menu on the shelf above the front desk and let his customer to a table.

"I see you've chosen the one with the best view," Isolde pointed out innocently.

"Yes, well, it was the only one left for a single person." he winked at her.

"It's not proper for waiters to wink at their clients…"

"Even pretty girls who cancel their wedding?" He asked casually.

Izzy choked on the sip of water she'd just taken.

"You! Yes, even girls who did not cancel their wedding but postpone it. Big difference."

"If you say so," he feigned to shrug.

"Erm, excuse-me?" Simon Treymayne's voice came up from behind the couple. "Aren't you supposed to be working, Master King?" he insisted on the word, staring directly at Isolde.

"I am." Felix spoke quickly before the young woman turned as red as a cherry. He brought up a chair for her, pointed to the glass of water she was holding, and handed her a menu. "She's come to have lunch here."

."Aw." The big boss nodded slowly. "I see. Well then, you just make sure you don't treat her differently than any other customers. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, sir." Felix declared gravely, struggling to keep a straight face. "Cristal clear."

"Very well." Simon Treymayne maid his way up the stairs and, after making sure he was out of earshot, the lad let out a hoop of laughter.

"He is priceless when it comes to the Whites Sands' reputation," he whispered to a chuckling Izzy.

"So then we must not disappoint him," she said solemnly after she'd regained her composure. "And it's not like we've done anything wrong…"

"…Yet."

"And I really did come here to eat."

"Right." he cleared his throat, attempting to retrieve his professional tone. "So let's get down to business" (he pointed to the menu) "what shall I get you?"

He jumped as she jerked him towards her.

"Before we get professional," she whispered, suddenly remembering the crucial part of Sara's advice as she pretended to leaf through the lunch selections. "I just want to make sure we're clear on the fact that I will absolutely walk down the aisle with you. It's not because I'm postponing the wedding that my feelings have changed. Quite the opposite, actually…"

"We're clear," he shushed back with a beam, secretly relieved. "Oh, um, well for the meat choices, we have pork, beef, lamb…" he began loudly, seeing as people were beginning to stare confusedly at them.

"Oh, I'll have the lamb with a side order of mushroom please," Izzy caught on as she gave back the menu. "Thank you."

"My pleasure." Felix's eyes were somewhat brighter that earlier as he went to order "the best lamb and mushroom side-topping for the belle demoiselle" to Pierre.

*

"Ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be." Gilbert Blythe declared bravely to his spouse around the time he was on the platform.

"That's the Gilbert I know…" Anne smiled encouragingly at him at dropped a kiss on his shoulder.

"How'll miss you, Anne-girl…" the young doctor tenderly tucked a strand of flaming hair behind her hear.

"I'll miss you more." Tears welled up in Anne's eyes as she clung to her husband for the last time before the train left.

" I love you."

"Take care of yourself, Gil."

"You, too. Promise me you won't worry too much."

"I'll try!" she laughed.

He tried to capture this image of his wife in his memory so he could play it over and over in his mind whenever he needed it. Her eyes shinning like morning stars, her auburn hair flowing in the wind and her musical laugh lingering in the air.

It took all of the young redhead's will power not to stay on the platform. Determinedly , she hopped off, refusing to turn around and see him again. Practically running, she frantically looked around the street for a buggy. " Orchard Slope, please driver," she panted once she'd laid eyes on a chauffeur. "As quick as possible."

A couple minutes later, a wave of relief coursed through her as Diana Wright's property appeared on the next corner. She closed her eyes and took in a breath. Her husband was right. She'd be far better off there.

"Stop here. I don't mind walking up the lane."

I'm dying to, she thought as she drunk in the wonderful scents of white and red roses, jasmines, and lilies of the valley blooming on the side of the path.

"As you like, ma'am." The dark-haired man nodded courteously at Anne, extending out his hand. "That'll be three dollars and fifty scents."

Hastily she paid the driver and scurried up the pathway.

"Fred, she's hear!" Anne could hear her friend's bouncy voice a mile away as she skittered down the stairs with her family. " she was speaking to the driver!"

"Oh Anne," Diana's tone softened right quick when she opened the door. "Are you all right, darling?"

The words she wanted to say seemed caught in her throat but the tears told it all.

"Come," Fred slipped an arm around his old comrade, "you're at home here now."

*

"Is everything at your heart's desire, madam?" Felix King asked his client for the –oh, fifth time – in ten minutes. "Can I get you anything else?"

And every time her waiter asked her this, Isolde couldn't keep herself from offering him a flirtatious smile –Just to get the big boss a touch irritated.

"No, thank you It was delicious." she said again, this time adding she would like the bill, if possible.

"Already?" Felix lowered his voice as he said this. "we was having fun, weren't we?"

Izzy chuckled softly.

"Indeed. A lot. But I better let you get back to work", she pointed out. "I think if Mr. Treymayne's eyes were in shape of a shot-gun, I'd be killed by now (discreetly, she nodded at Simon, sitting behind the reception desk, arms crossed over his chest and staring straight at her.)

"But I am at work, Iz…"

"Yeah, you call prattling with me employment."

Felix grinned.

"Totally. Sometimes I really like what I do…"

"Stop it!" she laughed despite herself. "Now go and get me that bill before you get fired!"

"Yes, ma'am."

As Felix made his way to the back of the restaurant, several disapproving glares were shot at him.

"This lady shouldn't be allowed in here on your shifts, young man, some people are hungry…"

How do you even know who she is!

Refraining himself from rolling his eyes, Felix fetched Joe on the way and sent him to the rescue.

"So, how did de mademoiselle like my lamb?"

"Splendid, Pierre. She still prefers your cooking to mine!"

"Aw, experience will come with time, mon ami. But if Izzy is an egg-lover, why don't you whip up and omelette for her? You're pretty unbeatable at dat."

"Hum. I never thought of that! Good idea! Now could I have a nice piece of fruitcake please?"

"She ordered dat?"

"Not exactly." He smiled. "I just thought it would be a nice little something to accompany the bill, don't you agree?"

"Certainement! It is your lucky day, Monsieur King, for I just happen to have a freshly baked one… Voilà!" Pierre cut a nicely-shaped piece and swirled some raspberry jam on top. On de house! And here's de bill." He handed Felix a slit of paper.

"Terrific, I owe you, chef."

"Mais pas du tout! It was my pleasure! Allez, go on, before you get fired!.

"That's what she said!" The lad laughed before slipping out the door.

"What's this?" Isolde demanded, wide-eyed, as Felix set the plate and bill in front of her a few seconds later.

"It's called a bill. I'll show you how it works, you just-"

"Not that, silly! I meant the cake!"

"Pierre knew you were having lunch here, so he cut a slice for you."

"Really? How did he know it was my favourite?" Izzy was delighted.

"Oh, I put that in!" He peered at her innocently.

"You little devil! I should have known!" The young man shook her head and smiled as she signed the tab.

Three. Two. One…

"Felix?"

"Mmm?"

"The desert, I checked twice and it doesn't seem to appear on it… There must be a mistake."

"No, future schoolmarm, there isn't. The chef says it's on the house!"

"What? No, I can't-

"Alright, I have had it!" Simon Treymayne hastily strode towards Isolde's table, snatched the slip from her hands and grabbed Felix by the shoulder. "Thank you for coming, Miss Pettibone! We hope to see you again… in a very far future. Goodbye!"

Felix cast his fiancée an amused glance.

"Sorry, Iz, no can-do about the fruitcake! See you later…"

"Good day, Mr. King. And thank you for the meal…"

The dark-haired damsel left some change on the table and went to get her coat at the reception, leaving the deliciously mellow-looking desert untouched.

I might just make a good arithmetic teacher…

*

"You're more than welcome to stay, Anne. Gilbert already told us you were going to!" Diana Wright protested when her friend said she'd only come for 'a short and comforting visit.'

"Yes!" Little Anne-Cordelia piped up. "Please stay, auntie Anne!"

"Do us all a favour." Fred chimed in, looking at her with his kind brown eyes.

"Oh, all right… I just… don't feel right intruding on your family, that's all…"

"Intruding?" Diana narrowed her eyes at the doctor's wife. "Did I really hear that word? You're family Anne! After all those years I'd think you'd know!"

"Okay, okay!" the woman raised her hands up and laughed, like each time Diana gave her "the evil eye". "I'll move in for a while…"

"…Until Gil comes back."

"That could be months, Diana."

"So be it."

"You do beat all, girl."

"If I were you, I wouldn't even try to argue."

"Father's right, Auntie Anne. When mommy gets that look on her face, it means don't say another word."

"I'll take it from you, Fred Jr." Anne winked at Fred.

"Why don't we go and have our tea in the garden? I'm dying to show it to you…"

"I'd be delighted," the flower-lover declared.

As the two friends stepped under an arch of roses, Anne let out a gasp, practically dropping her cup.

"Esther Gray's garden!" she murmured enraptured, remembering a past tale she'd told a circle of girls several years back. "You've brought it back to life!"

And she was right. Heaps of white narcissisms, red and white roses, blooming pink May flowers, and bright yellow tulips gently cascaded along a tranquil fountain surrounded by pine trees.

"Do you really like it?"

"Like it? Diana, I could live in such a wonderland…"

Trying not appear too giddy, Diana's features lit up as she smiled. She'd done it. Anne's tone was back to the way it once was because of a simple floral arrangement: dreamy and authentic. Just as Gilbert had requested she'd do –If only for a moment- in his letter to her.

"Just imagine what fabulous stories you'd come up with in a place like this…"

"…"

"Wouldn't hurt to try," the raven-haired woman insisted when she got no reply.

"Maybe." Anne shrugged, perching herself on a vine-twined wooden bench and sipping her tea.

Wordlessly, Diana sat next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

*

"Alright, class. Five minutes to complete your Latin verbs and Geometry exercises," Mr. Elton Brown informed his students one Friday afternoon in May. Pulling a little face, Isolde Pettibone bent her head over her still practically blank test. She'd spent hours studying these last week! And last night! How could her memory be so merciless! As if sensing her distress, Dora Keith nudged her elbow. Jumping slightly, Izzy slowly turned to look at her friend.

Keep it up, she mouthed, an encouraging smile on her lips. You can do it. Izzy smiled back. She turned attention back to her test.

"Prattling are we, ladies?" her teacher's voice froze her to the tips. "Stay after class if you please. I would like a word with you."

Izzy put a hand to her head.

Great. Just great. From the corner of her eye, she saw Dora giving her a sheepish glance. Time seem to have wings after that, seeming as though only minutes had ticked by on the clock when class was dismissed. Eyes on the ground, both young ladies stacked up their pens and books and waited.

"I hope you are proud of yourselves: cheating at a group examination! What will it be at Queens I ask you. Expulsion perhaps?"

"Mr. Brown, let me explain," Dora began as firmly as she could, "we were not-

"Stop." Elton held a hand out. "I don't want to hear it, Miss Keith. Cheating is cheating."

"But we didn't!" Isolde burst out. "Honestly. I was just feeling a little discouraged during the test and Dora just smiled at me to cheer me up; that's all!"

"Oh, really? Then what was that whispering I heard?"

"Keep. It. Up. Those we the words you heard, sir."

"Do you confirm that, Miss Keith?"

"Absolutely!"

The elder man peered at his too pupils from under his tortoise-shelled barnacle.

"Don't let it happen again!" he conceded finally.

Inwardly breathings sighs of relief, the two girls were almost out of the school house when the teacher called out, "Isolde?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Have confidence in what you can do for future tests. Study good, but leave the rest to yourself."

"Okay, Iz. I think that's enough for to-day." Felix King firmly pulled Isolde's hand to get her up. "The weather's glorious outside and for once I don't have work to do, so I think we should make the most of it and go for a stroll…"

"But… The teacher told me to study good!" she protested weakly.

"And to trust your instincts, if I'm not mistaken. Geometry, English, and Latin verbs won't disappear into thin air if you leave them where they are for a couple of hours." he declared firmly.

"I wish they would!" Izzy wailed. "Nothing seems to get into my head! I will be a miserable failure!

"Stop that nonsense. And anyway, what does it matter if you do make a few mistakes, Iz?"

She signed.

" You're Isolde Pettibone. And I have faith in you." As if to prove this, Felix dropped a kiss on her cheek.

"I wish I could be as confident as you were…"

"Listen to him, honey." Muriel poked her head in her stepdaughter's room. "Not your father." she added lowly with a small smile.

"Why? What did he say to you?"

"Oh, just that nobody in this family ever failed." She pretended to shrug carelessly. "No pressure at all."

The lad chuckled.

"Anyways, just trust your own instincts, including for tests, at you'll do fine."

"I like you more with every passing day, Mr. King." Muriel winked at him.

."I do my best." he joked.

" Oh, brother! Can we go now?"

"Now you want to, do you? I had to practically drag her away from her study."

The young woman stuck her tongue out at him.

"He has a tendency to exaggerate."

"Go along, youth. Have fun." Mrs. Pettibone laughed.

***

"Are you ladies planning to stay here all night?" Fred Wight startled the two friends out of their reverie.

.Oh, golly! I hadn't realized it was so late." Diana dazedly gazed up at the night sky and first glimmering stars.

"Me neither…" Anne's tone seemed far, as if she'd just gotten back from a long journey.

"Well If you don't want to catch your death, I suggest you come inside and warm up."

"What were you talking about all this time, Mommy?" Little Fred sleepily asked as the trio stepped into the vast household.

"Oh, nothing, actually." his mother laughed as light-heartedly as possible. "We were actually just thinking quietly, sugar plum." She kissed his forehead. "But isn't it high past your bedtime?"

"I told you she'd say that if you let her in now," Anne-Cordelia shushed accusingly at her father.

Anne laughed.

"She's a smart one, Di! Listen, missy, I'll make you a deal. Why don't you and your brother go upstairs, get in to your pyjamas, and I'll be up in a few minutes for a bed-time story. How's that sound?"

"Anne, you don't have to-"

"Yay!" the kids squealed, interrupting their father as they hurriedly crossed the parlour and bolted up the staircase.

"I don't mind, Fred. Quite the contrary, actually: it'll keep me from stirring some stuff up too much."

"As you like."

"They didn't even give me a kiss goodnight!"

"Cheer up!" the redhead cracked a nostalgic smile. "Just as soon as they get used to me they'll miss you again, you'll see."

"Oh that's unlikely, Anne. People don't get 'used to you' they adopt you! I'll just be a victim of this injustice once again," her friend pretended to pout.

"Sweet Diana, you have always underestimated yourself!" And your luck, Anne thought as she went up the stairs, gazing enviously at the pair lounging by the fire along with all the children's toys.

After she'd put her godson and goddaughter to bed a half an hour later, having crafted a rather exhausting tale about a slumbering Queen, the red-headed damsel made her way to the softly-lit room Diana had prepared for her. "The sparest of spares rooms," she'd joked when she first mentioned it to her, making a reference to a past scrape she and Anne had gotten themselves into with Great Aunt Josephine .

And spare it was. All lush and yellow, a large bed covered in a soft feather quilt stood in the center, next to a discreet wooden table. Slipping into the lilac scented sheets, Anne let out a sigh of ease. Finally. Sleep. Dreams of Gilbert soon swept her away. His smiling, mischievous expression when they'd first met all those years ago. His joy and happiness glimmering in his brown eyes when'd she'd finally come to her senses and agreed to marry him…

*

"I can hear you thinking a mile away, Iz." Felix King kidded the dark-haired latter walking by his side.

"Sorry." Isolde Pettibone gave a rather sheepish smile. "I can't help it."

"Yes you can! Just look at that shimmering blue sea in front of us! Take it all in and everything else 'll just fade away…"

Izzy had to admit the scenery was pretty breathtaking: waves crashed softly against smooth gray rocks, seagulls gawking away and no other sound to be heard than the soft swoosh of their bare feet on the white sand. Oh, and the gentle whispering of the weed crops in the breeze, of course.

"That's the way." Felix murmured with a smile.

"It does feel good," she admitted.

"See? I told ya!"

"Thanks for taking me here." Isolde took his hand in her free one and held her skirts and shoes in the other.

"You're most welcome. I didn't think it a healthy thing for ya to pour over your books on such a day."

"And? What else?"

"…And I wanted to spend some time with you outside of the White Sands," he finished with a laugh.

"Though so. You boys are so rueful when it comes to admitting your true feelings!"

"We are not!"

"Are, too! It's like a disease with you…"

"Not all men are like your father, Iz."

"If you think my only masculine role model is my dad!" Isolde playfully slugged him on the arm. "I'll have you know I've lived with two bashful, but-let's-cover it-up-with-humour brothers for nearly twenty years. Remember?"

"That doesn't mean we're all made of the same fabric." the lad objected.

"You don't need to prove a point, Felix." Izzy said softly. "I'm not saying men aren't sensitive, especially you. I was just saying you're rather reluctant to admit how you really feel about things. Just like any other guy!

"Got it." Felix smiled his lopsided grin. "I do love it when you go into one of your explanations… It's quite adorable!"

"Ha-ha. Very funny!"

"I'm serious!" the young man protested when she ran off playfully, dipping her toes in the cool water.

"Come get me if you can!"

In a few effortless strokes, Felix swam over to her and slipped his arms under her firmly to keep her from moving.

"Easy-peesy! " He shook his head and drops of water splashed Izzy's face.

"What am I? A towel?"

"Precisely. A deliciously fragrant one."

"You are a real pill!" Isolde couldn't help but smile under her severe tone as they made their way out of the water and onto the shore. "Did you know that?"

"Figured it. I mean, if Felicity's a pill too then I must be one. Genetically speaking…"

"Okay, then, mister smarty pants. No pound cake for you!"

"What? Don't torture me!"

Felix relished Isolde's vanilla cake more than any other and she knew it.

"Next time, bite your tongue!" she grinned.

"Izzy, come on! I'll do anything…"

"Anything?"

Oh, great. I hate when she gets that look on her face! What have I gotten myself into?

"Like, helping me study for instance?"

"If it's English Lit., forget me. you know I'd be a nuisance to you more than anything else in that subject…"

"Geometry?"

He signed.

"Man, I'd do anything for a slice of that pound cake!"

"And for me!" Isolde added happily as she stood on her tiptoe and kissed his nose. "Did I ever tell you I loved you?"

"When you were manipulating me deliberately? Sure, plenty of times…"

"You kill-joy! When can we start the lessons?"

"After I've had at least one slice…"

"Fair's fair, I guess. Come on…" the young woman jerked his arm.

"Where we goin'?"

She rolled her eyes.

"Guess."

"This is going to be a long year of patience." Felix smiled.

"Not so long; trust me. You'll have plenty to keep you busy…"

"Such as?..."

"Oh, you know, the hotel, new feminine clients, stuff like that…"

"Puh-leeze! I'm not even commenting!"

"Why?" Isolde shot him an innocent glance. "It was just a statement…"

"You thrive on provoking people, don't you, miss?"

"Yes. Especially when it works." she let out a silvery laugh. ICI.

*

As faint rays of light flickered through the curtains of her bedroom, Anne Blythe stretched voluptuously and reached a hand under her pillow. Sure enough, she hadn't dreamed it. Last night, she'd gone to the city's post-office, a little lass and frustrated of never receiving letters from Gilbert, when the man behind the counter had produced a small, crisp-white envelope, addressed to her! Giddy and light-headed, almost like a little girl, she'd dashed out the door, braid bouncing over her shoulder, under the mesmerized expressions of other clients waiting in line. She'd come in with such a heavy, tired step! How could she suddenly fly like the wind? The wings of anticipation, no doubt.

April 23thrd, 1915 Mrs. Anne Blythe

Dusseldorf, Germany

Dearest Anne-girl.

I know, I know, I promised I'd write sooner. But the post is so slow here! You must practically be in the middle of May reading this! How is my favourite authoress doing? Have you been coming up with a sequel to "Averil's atonement" yet? Just teasing… You know, I was wrong the other day when I said I didn't know when was the last time I'd get to kid around with you. Seems all I can do to keep my mind a bit more at peace IS joke! Isn't that something? That in such a horrific place as this town, all dark and where you have to run for cover ceaselessly, my mind would have the power to shift away from it all and have a laugh? But then again I guess that's the way you function, too, dreamer of my heart. You let your imagination just sweep you away and shelter you from all your troubles. Like an umbrella. I must say that's the thing I worship most about you –aside from your freckles and hair, of course- that force you have to picture yourself as being anyone or anywhere in the world.

Oh, how I wish I could see Germany through your eyes right now! I bet you could see a silver lining above any hurt soldier's sky, or a kindred spirit in the soul of a harsh, heartless General.

Truth is, I do my best, Anne. I get up every morning, brush off the red and brown stains on my uniform the best I can, then run like a mad-man to my patients' worn out tent and start my day. The worst part is when I'm sent upfront to collect the freshly wounded ones. The look in their eyes! So resigned, almost emotionless! And then, at the end of day, when the only sounds I hear are those of troubled sleepers, I get back to my own hut and, just before my sore eyelids shut tight, I reach into my pocket and skim through your letters, vainly trying to picture your numerous expressions as I course through each word…

How I miss our dear town! Almost as much you…

Say hi to everyone for me over there and please, don't fret over me. I'm all right were I am

I love you and really don't know how to make time go faster.

Gil.

"Someone looks like she's in a good mood to-day!" Diana Wright's voice brought the redhead back to reality.

"Yes, I am. Ever since I went to the post office yesterday, I can't seem to stop smiling!" Anne beamed as if to prove this, waving her husband's letter in the air.

"You're certainly a good one for secrets, Anne Blythe!" her friend exclaimed reproachfully as she made her way to the bed, her eyes lightening up. "May I just have a look? I know you've been dying to get news!"

"Be my guest!" the young woman handed the slip to Diana and hopped off the bed.

"I'll go downstairs and get some breakfast in the mean time." she added, slipping on her pink velvet robe. "I intend to spend my entire day drinking in the warm sunshine if it's the last thing I do!"

"Tag the brood along with you, won't you? They have so much energy this morning you'd reckon they were going to burst!"

"It would be my pride and joy! Children are such precious gems and I rarely get to spend some time with them anymore now that I'm no longer a teacher…" Anne trailed off nostalgically as she made her bed and propped the pillows up on it before exiting quietly.

*

"Shall we begin?"

Isolde Pettibone had dressed rather smartly that day. A long, frilly white dress with short sleeves and a navy blue jacket. Her "straight-A student attire" as she liked to call it. She held a stack of books to her chest and gazed expectantly up at her "teacher."

"Is that your 'I'm trying to seduce the teacher look'?" Felix asked as he met her eye, not bothering to answer the first question.

Isolde's cheeks flushed.

"No, actually, it's my 'straight-A student look.' "

"Because if you'd said yes, it might just have worked…"

"Don't start!" she warned. "I'm here to study for Queens and nothing else."

"If you say so…"

Something in his tone made her insides go weak but she pushed it off.

"So," she said instead. "You didn't answer my first question: are you ready to begin?"

"I'm ready when you are."

"Great. Let's go for it."

"Sit here." Felix pointed to a patch of shady sand beside him.

"Nice try." she smirked. "Actually, I'll sit in front of you."

He shrugged.

"Suit yourself."

Plopping her books on the grass next to her, Isolde flipped one open and mapped a problem she had trouble with.

"This number. I have some difficulty finding the right equation to resolve it." As Felix peered over, Isold's stomach gave a flip flop.

Lord he's good-looking when his face is serious.

"Okay," he declared a few minutes later after he'd studied it, "I think I know where the catchy part is. See, over here instead of talking the total equation the three triangles summed up to, you only took one of them, that's why it didn't fit in with the rest of the figure. Do you understand?" Felix was looking up at her.

"Huh? Oh, yeah."

"You don't sound so convinced." He smiled lopsidedly. "Are we distracted, Miss Pettibone?"

"No!" she exclaimed a bit too defensively. "I was just pondering on what you'd said that's all."

The young man crossed his arms over his chest triumphantly.

"Are you sure it was such a good idea for me to help you?"

"Don't be ridiculous, of course it was! I already comprehend much better when you do the explaining."

"Because I wouldn't want to be a nuisance to you like in English Lit…"

"Felix, it's fine, truly."

"Very well. Let's take it from here then…"

A couple of hours later, Isolde was intently concentrated on a problem similar to the one Felix had explained to her, her head bend and brown curls falling over the nape of her neck.

Unable to contain himself, The young man edged closer to her and placed a small kiss there. Her whole body prickling, Izzy whirled around.

"What was that for?"

"I just… couldn't help it." Felix smiled, rather sheepish. "I know you were really concentred, but…"

"Nothing to be sorry about."Isolde's eyes twinkled. "I was in need for an encouragement, anyway."

"Why? It isn't going well?" the lad cast a glance over to the sheet of paper by her side. It was full of scribbles and crossed out calculations. Very unlike Isolde's usually impeccably neat writing.
"Not exactly. As soon as we change context, even a single word in a sentence, everything gets twisted in my head and I'm at total loss as to what to do…"

"How about a lunch break? We've been at it for nearly two hours."

"Two hours!" The young damsel groaned. "I practically got none of those brain-aching exercises right…"

"What did you do with her!?" Felix exclaimed unwrapping the sandwiches and hot cider out of their plastic.

"What did I do with whom?"

"The fiercely determined Iz I know?"

She cracked a smile. "I sent her hiking I expect. Just like I did with Brave Izzy when you left for France, actually."

"Point taken. But I reckon Brave Izzy changed her hiking plans when I saw her come up to meet me at the train-station, remember?"

"Oh, right…"

"So I believe Strong-Minded Izzy can change hers, too, don't you?"

"I guess." Isolde shrugged. "To tell you the truth I'm not sure she wants to change her plans right now. She's rather sick of Geometry."

"I figured as much." Felix chuckled. "Which is why I proposed we stop for a break 'till she made up her mind, but you didn't listen…"

"Well, I'm listening now and I'm starved! What did you bring?"

"Egg and chicken sandwiches, along with some garden salad and apple cider."

"Sounds yummy. Did Felicity-"

"No, I did." he cut off.

"You?"

"What? Don't you trust my cooking skills?" the lad feigned to be offended.

"Sure… That's really sweet of you. You just cook rarely, that's all…"

"That's because I save it for special occasions. And people."

The way he gazed at her, so warmly and gently as he said it, made her look away.

"We should drink. The cider'll cool off soon if we don't."

Felix just shook his head, amused.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. Let us warm up." He poured Isolde a fuming cup and served himself the rest of it.

*

"Drink it in," Anne Blythe coaxed her friend's children. "Drink in that fresh air."

Little Fred Jr. did as he was told, wrinkling his nose. "I'm trying to, Auntie Anne, but it doesn't seem to want to go down."

"What do you mean, honey?"

"I mean, I can't seem to swallow the air," the little boy exclaimed patiently. "That's what you're supposed to do when you drink. Swallow."

The latter's laughter rung like a silver bell on the street.

"What's so funny?" Anne-Cordelia enquired, puzzled. She'd thought her big brother to have a point.

"Fred, dear you can't drink air!"

"But that's what you just told us to do!"

"I said 'drink it in.' That's just a figure of speech. A way of saying to take deep breaths." Anne explained.

"Then why didn't you say it that way?" Little Fred was frustrated. "you adults are so complicated for nothing!"

"Yeah!" Anne-Cordelia agreed, although she didn't have any idea what the word complicated meant.

"Okay, then. forget the breathing," the redhead conceded with an amused smile. "How about some berry- picking instead?"

She'd had an inexplicable crave for those fruits all week.

"Mother doesn't want us spoiling our lunch."

Aw, dearest Diana! So much like your own mother sometimes: forbidding your children the simplest of pleasures!

"Who says you'd spoil it?" Anne had a mischievous glance on her face Marilla would have called "trouble-making."

"A couple wild berries won't keep you two energy balls from being hungry!"

"Yipee!" Diana's youngest cheered. "Let's go!" she tucked impatiently at her aunt's arm.

"I'm not sure this is such a good idea… Mother would be furious."

"Well, I won't tell if you don't. Scouts' honour." Anne promised.

"Well…" Fred seemed to balance this. "Okay then," he decided gaily.

For once something exciting to do! The small chap truly worshiped his parents, but his Aunt could be such fun! Full of adventure… Unlike his dear mother, who thrived on calm and peace. Diana had told her children numerous stories about how she and Anne used to have glorious times together, but somehow Fred Jr. couldn't picture two utterly different people like those two being the great friends they claimed to be.

Skittering happily next to his sister, he chased away these thoughts and followed the redheaded damsel farther up the road, over to seldom trimmed bushes.

"Here we are!" Anne announced a few minutes later. "Make sure you check their colour before you pick them."

"But we don't have a basket!"

"I always carry one with me." She produced a wooden hamper from behind her back and winked at the kids. "Just in case!"

*

"Well, I must say, Mr. King, that was absolutely scrumptious." Isolde Pettibone declared, delicately dabbing the corners of her mouth with a table cloth.

"Glad you liked it." Felix smiled. "Not as good as Pierre's cooking, but…"

"Aw, but Mr. Lapierre is a chef. Besides…" Izzy's eyes twinkled. "You outdo him on several angles."

"I would be curious to know which ones …"

"I think you know exactly which ones." Colour crept up Isolde's neck. "But stop this nonsense. I shouldn't have said anything. Time to get back to studying."

"As you wish, my dear." the lad winked at her as he started to pack up their dishes into the picnic basket he'd brought.

"You're incorrigible," Izzy couldn't help but giggle.

"So are you! Flirting with your arithmetic teacher, really, young lady!"

"Point made," she conceded, reluctantly flipping open her book.

"So," he asked his student a few hours later. "That wasn't so bad now, was it? You got eight problems out of ten right!"

"I guess I did pretty good," Izzy admitted. "But pretty good won't bring me to Queens."

"Stop being so demanding with yourself, Iz. Remember what we discussed earlier."

She sighed.

"One step at a time." Felix started massaging her shoulders soothingly. "How does that feel?"

"Great." the latter closed her eyes. "How'd you know I was tense?"

"You kept rolling your shoulder blades up and down all the time."

"Isolde Jessica Pettibone!" A loud, shrill voice interrupted their conversation, making the young couple jump.

"For mercy's sake, Cecily, no need to give us heart attacks!" Felix grumbled at his sister.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me!" she continued obliviously, staring straight at Izzy. "Me, your best friend!"

"Cess, I don't have a clue what your talking about." Izzy's brow knitted perplexedly.

"Oh, is that so? Well, let me refresh your memory!" the young girl retorted angrily, producing a small, white paperback from inside her basket.

Isolde froze. No. Please, no. Not the marriage guide!

"My beloved sister gave this to me. I had to practically beg her to tell me what was going on."

"What is going on?" Felix interjected, suddenly stopping to kneed Izzy's muscles.

"You already know, apparently. She's postponing the wedding!"

"Is that all? Well, we've discussed it over, Cecily, and everything's fine. I really don't see why your making such a fuss over this…"

"Fuss?" his sister practically shouted. "Here's why." She thrust the white book at Felix. "Izzy asked Felicity for advice on how to break the news to you, and she gave her this." Cecily shook her blond curls furiously. "I could have provided much more help than this piece of junk ever could!"

"The guide to being the perfect housewife." Felix read slowly, letting the title sink in.

"Iz, why in blazes would you've needed that?" he asked his fiancée a couples seconds later, facing her blanch face.

"I-"

"That's precisely what I thought!" Cecily cut in. "Turns out she needed our cousin's advice on top of it".

"Sara?"

"Now, everybody calm down." Isolde cleared her throat. "Felix, I didn't tell you about the book in the first place because I didn't care to be laughed at." She paused. "And Cecily. My dear Cess. I didn't ask for your advice because I though you wouldn't quite know how to help me.".

"What do you mean?" the latter narrowed her eyes at her friend. "And anyway. That's not point. The point is I feel really left out on this whole thing. Seems everybody knew except me. Felicity, Sara, my own parents, yours… But me, no. Why should I bother to be told anyway, right?"

"Cess…" Felix put an arm on his sibling's shoulder. "I'm sure she didn't mean to keep you out on purpose. And she got so caught up studying for her entrance exam at Queens…"

Izzy slapped her forehead, cursing herself. How could I have forgotten to let her in on that ?

"Another thing!" the blond damsel bellowed. "I went to the General store to have a word and I saw Muriel at the cash register. She said you were out on the beach pouring over geometry books!"

"Cess, please. I never meant to hurt you…" Isolde murmured. "I –

"Oh, forget it. I'll leave you two to your "studying." she quoted the words with her fingers, eyes shinning with unshed tears as she picked up her skirts and turned on her heels.

"Cecily! Wait!" Izzy got to her feet and was about to go after her when Felix took her elbow.

"Let her blow off some steam, Iz, I know my sister."

Slumping back on the sand, the dark-haired damsel took her head in her hands.

"If it's any consolation I kind of like my sister' marriage guide," he joked . "I never thought it to be your kind of reading, I might add, but people change I guess."

"See?' Isolde wailed. "That's why I kept it a secret from you. I knew you'd mock me!"

"Come here, you little martyr," Felix pulled her close to him. "I'm not laughing at you. I find it rather cute."

"Cute?"

"Yes. I can just imagine you leafing through all those tips, searching for the right one."

"But I never did find it." she nestled into his chest. "I realized it was far better to talk to a real person than pour over some book."

"There you have it."

"What?"

"That's what you have to tell Cess."

"It won't make up for me not telling her anything about the wedding and Queens from the start!"

"Maybe not, but at least it'll reconcile her with the fact you asked Felicity for advice and she gave you a guide instead of prodding you to talk to me."

"Well…" Isolde made a face. "Actually, she did say I should tell you first. I was the one who asked her for a book."

"Oh, well," Felix shrugged. "Just leave that tiny detail out then."

Izzy gave a laugh.

"Okay, what about you cousin?"

"What about Sara?"

"How will I explain that I went to see her also without even thinking of how Cecily would feel if she found out?"

"Perhaps you could gently put in that Sara had a lot of experience with boys. Booth, now Peter…"

"That's good." Isolde nodded. "then what?"

"The rest's up to you, missy."

"Come on!"

"Uh-uh." Felix shook his head. "I ain't meddlin' with you girls' stuff no more, as Gus would put it."

"But-"

"No buts," the young man retorted firmly. "You have to settle this between the two of you."

"All right." Isolde mumbled.

"That's my girl!" Felix pecked her cheek and scrambled them to their feet.

"Go on now. Geometry's over for to-day!"

"What happened to 'let her blow off some steam , Iz, I know my sister'"?

"That was a half hour ago already!" he laughed at her imitation, checking his pocket watch. "Coast's clear now."

She signed.

"Here goes nothing."

"Good luck!" The lad called out as she ran down the shore and farther up the road in a cloud of white muslin.

***

Anne Blythe wordlessly took her head in her hands, moaning. What have I done? When will I stop being so headless Lord?

" Think Mother'll notice anything, Auntie?" Anne Cordelia asked, dubiously eyeing her lace blue dress spluttered with wild berry nectar.

"You know she will!" her brother wailed, motioning to his now purple trousers. "I knew this was a bad idea!"

"Well, maybe if we sneak through the back-door…"

"Aunt Anne!" the kids chorused.

"Just kidding!" Anne attempted to make light humour. "Blame it on me if Diana scolds you. I talked you into this whole mess."

Firmly grasping their tiny hands in her own, the shameful damsel led them back to Orchard Slope.

"Anne!" Fred Wright exclaimed as he pulled open the door and let the threesome in. "You're filthy! And the children!" he clasped his hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh. "Their a mess! Where've you been all this time?"

"The bush in the Haunted Woods, daddy."

"I took them there," Anne added hastily. "I didn't intend for berry-picking to turn out this way…"

"Well tell that to Diana!"

"Tell me wh-" The plumb, dark-haired woman stopped dead in her tracks as her gaze settled on her infants.

"What in the world…?"

"Auntie took us berry-picking!" Little Fred piped up.

"I thought I'd made it clear to you and your sister I didn't want you in those bushes!" Diana put her hands on her hips. "And look what you've done to my clean floor!"

Blue blobs trailed all the way through the parlour.

"Sorry, Mommy."

"I'm afraid 'sorry' won't do it, young man. Now up to yours rooms, both of you. Shoes," she added quickly, extending her hand.

"Diana, don't be too hard on them, I was the one who-"

"I know, Anne, they said that already. What went through your head?"

"I-I just wanted them to have a little fun", the latter protested weakly under Fred's amused glance.

"Fun? You call getting messy fun? And look at you!" Diana pointed to her friend's stained clothes. "I'd be ashamed of looking that way."

"Diana…" Fred warned.

"Well, maybe you should start paying less attention to appearance. And more to your children's lives," Anne suggested quietly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I'm just saying. And I give you my word of honour I won't have them berry-picking anymore."

With that, she exited the room and went into the kitchen, leaving an astonished lady to her thoughts.

*

"Cecily?" Isolde Pettibone hollered as she stepped into the Kings' household.

"Oh, she's in the kitchen, dear."

"Thank you."

Izzy stepped into the room and spotted the young woman furiously kneading cookie dough.

"What kind are you making?"

"Shortbread," Daniel King supplied when his sister failed to answer. "Good for playing catch with, I expect…"

Izzy stifled a laugh.

"Daniel King, you better hush up or I'll…"

"What? Make me do the dishes? Ooh, I'm so scared, Cecily!" the small chap giggled and fled with the speed of light before she got a hold of him.

Leaning against the counter, Isolde stared straight at her friend until she looked up.

"I thought you were still busy 'studying'." Cecily's tone was cold when she spoke.

"Oh, Cess… At least give me a chance to explain."

"Explain? What is there to explain? You left me out of everything and there's nothing more to it!"

"Yes, there is!" The latter insisted, just as Felix set foot in the door. "Hear me out and if you still want nothing to do with me then, you can kick me out."

"…"

"I'll take that as a yes."

"Wipe your shoes off, Felix, I don't want any dirt in this kitchen." Cecily called out obliviously to her brother.

"So, um, first of all, let me tell you why I didn't talk to you about postponing the wedding in the first place: I thought your platter to be full enough already with war and Elbert, and I didn't want to upset you even more by prodding on about marriage."

"You let me help with the planning at first while Felix was away, though," she retorted without missing a beat.

"Yes, well, that was something joyous, whereas having doubts is a sad thing."

"But we're friends for pity's sake! Best friends! We're supposed to help each other through the good and the bad!"

"I realize that now," Isolde gulped, feeling a lump rise in her throat. "I'm sorry…"

"For what? Having consulted my sister and cousin before me or for hiding your entrance at Queens?"

"Both. But Cecily, know that if I asked for Felicity's opinion first is because she's married, and well, you know about her and Gus's ups and downs, so…"

" And what about Sara?" The blond latter crossed her arms over her chest defiantly.

" Well, she's had lots of experience with boys, too, and-"

"And I haven't?" she cut in angrily. "Is that what you mean to say?"

"Cecily…" Felix padded quietly over to the two women, sensing now was the time for him to intervene. "You know that's not what Izzy said at all."

"I'm sure she thought it, though…"

"Not for a moment!" Isolde exclaimed, shooting Felix a desperate glance. "Like I said, I didn't want to cause you any discomfort by talking about guys and marriage precisely because of what happened to Elbert. That's all! Honestly."

Her hazel eyes were so pleading and glimmering with sincerity, Cecily King felt her anger melt slowly away.

"You promise?"

"Cross my heart." Isolde's whole body subsided in relief as she heard her friend's tone change.

"But why didn't you tell me about Queens at least?"

"It all went together, really. My doubts about being a good wife, mixed with my desire to have a career and study…"

Cecily just signed.

"Very well, you've made your point. But next time, Iz, instead of wondering how I'll feel about something, just come and ask me straight away, alright?"

"Deal." Isolde's features relaxed into a smile. "From now on, I vow to be completely and totally honest with you."

"Good idea." Cecily slipped on her oven gloves and pulled out a fresh batch of shortbreads.

"Cookie, anyone?"

"Thanks, Cess, I think I'll pass. I'm rather full." Felix threw Izzy the tiniest of winks behind his sibling's back.

"How bout you, Iz?"

"Sure." The young damsel grimaced inwardly. I guess I do owe her this! she thought.

"Here ya go! Watch it, it's hot."

"Oh, are those Cecily's?" Much to everyone's surprise, Abigail Ward's condescend tone filled the room.

" Yes. Aunt Abigail," Felix grudgingly greeted her as his sister raised her eyes heavenward. "We weren't expecting you."

"What a way to speak to your elders, young man! Actually, I was just paying a friend of mine a visit in Carmody and decided to stop by on my way back."

"Wonderful," the lad muttered. Stopping by on her way back could mean at least a week!

"Sorry?"

"Abby!" Janet King interrupted, spotting her elder sister as she came in the kitchen. "How good to see you! I didn't hear you come in." she gave her children an empathic look as she led her to the parlour.

Isolde, shortbread in hand, shushed mockingly, "I gather you aren't pleased with this surprise visit?"

"That's a high understatement!"

"Felix, hush, she'll hear you! Tell me what you think of my shortbread, Iz."

Help me God!

She took a bite of the hard mixture. Salt! She'd put salt instead of sugar!

"So?"

"They're, er… Delicious!" she managed. "simply delicious."

"Really?" Cecily glowed all over. "Thanks! I can't wait to tell Aunt Abigail!"

"You shouldn't!"

"Why not?"

"Erm…" Izzy caught Felix glancing amusedly at her. "Because you know you're Aunt'll criticise you no matter how scrumptious they are. No use putting yourself down!"

Unable to contain himself any longer, the young sergeant let out a hoop of laughter, which he quickly stifled into a cough when he saw his sister staring.

"I suppose you're right."

"Of course I'm right! Now if you'll excuse-me, I need to use your, um, facilities."

"I'll show you the way, Iz," the lad declared, as though Isolde had never been there in seven years.

Once they were out of earshot, Isolde spit the horrible mixture into the sink.

"Salt. She put salt in her cookies!"

"You should've see your face!" Felix chuckled freely. " Vowing to always tell the truth, are we?"

"Oh, shove off! I had to make it up to her somehow. Besides, I know she probably exhausted herself baking those!"

"What can I say? Not everyone has my natural knack…-

"…for eating them!" Izzy finished as she playfully slapped Felix's belly.

"I was going to say cooking."

"Felix- you've never baked cookies in your life."

"Cookies, omelettes… Same thing!"

"Come on," she tugged on his arm. "We'd better get out of here before she gets suspicious!"

"And visit with Aunt Crabbygail? What are you, nuts?"

"I don't know about you, but I'm not staying."

"What? You can't leave me in the hands of the enemy like that; I have no choice but to 'stay and chat' as Mother puts it when she's in a charitable mood."

"Sorry, buster, you're on your own. Give my love to everybody and I'll see you in Geometry!"

*

.