LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Eliza Jane watched the two of them. Their relaxed body language showed how comfortable they were with each other. A smile crossed his lips, his wavy blond hair lifting and then falling as he removed his hat. She couldn't really blame Laura for being enamored with her brother. He truly was a handsome young man. And with his kind, gentle nature any woman who became his wife would certainly be lucky.
Mannie did have his fits of temper though. Eliza Jane had seen a lot of his temper since the Slaters came to town. While it broke her heart to think of leaving Walnut Grove, at least Almanzo wouldn't pace the floor at night filled with bottled up fury.
Laura walked towards the schoolhouse, head hung low and shoulders drooped. Her dinner pail rocked in her hand as she kicked up clouds of dust with her shuffling feet.
"Good morning, Laura," Eliza Jane said in a voice chipper than she felt.
"Morning, Miss Wilder." The words fell out of Laura's mouth without emotion.
"Is something wrong?"
"Are you really leaving Walnut Grove?"
"I'm afraid so." Eliza Jane hated the thought of leaving, but the school board left her no choice. "Bart Slater has made it impossible to teach and he's too big for me to force him to listen."
Laura sighed. "Can't the School Board do anything?"
Eliza Jane's expression turned sour as she recalled the last board meeting. "Mr. Slater is a very wealthy and influential man. The School Board can't risk losing his generous contribution."
"They can't afford to lose you either," said Laura.
Eliza Jane smiled. If only all the members of the Board saw it that way. "Thank you Laura, but I'm much easier to replace than Mr. Slater's money." The admission stung Eliza Jane like a hundred bee stingers injected into soft flesh.
"We don't need Mr. Slater's mone." Laura clenched her fists by her side, her face turning red. "A good teacher is worth more than the best text books."
Weary of the conversation, Eliza Jane's thoughts turned to Almanzo and how her inability to discipline Bart Slater would cost him the hard work he put into the farm. She sat down on the top step of the schoolhouse stairs and slapped the platform for Laura to join her.
"I saw you talking to Almanzo earlier."
The words caused a blush to splash across Laura's freckled cheeks. "Well, I wanted to find out if the rumor about your leaving was true."
"You're going to miss him, aren't you?"
Laura averted her eyes, pretending to be interested in the bottom stair. "I wish you didn't have to go."
A sly smile curled the corners of Eliza Jane's lips. "That's not exactly an answer."
Laura fidgeted with the hem of her apron, keeping her eyes turned away from her teacher's constant scrutiny.
Eliza Jane rested her hand on Laura's arm. "There's nothing wrong in having a crush on Almanzo."
Laura's face went from scared, to horrified, to downright furious in the span of a few seconds. "I don't have a crush on him," she said flatly.
"I'm sorry if I misunderstood." Eliza Jane didn't want to risk having Laura stomp off before she had her say.
She peered at Laura over the rim of her glasses. Laura's left leg bounced nervously. "You do like him though, don't you?"
The crimson stain across the girl's face told her all she needed to know.
"It's all right Laura. It's not obvious to people."
"Then how did you know?"
"A pointy-nosed, red-headed clown told me."
Laura's eyes popped open as her stomach churned with horror. "You knew that was me?"
"Who else in town would be bold enough to leave Christie Norton standing in her drenched bloomers?" Eliza Jane laughed at the picture flashing through her mind. "I don't think Almanzo will ever look at clowns the same way again."
Eliza Jane rubbed Laura's back. The fast pace of Laura's nervous breathing could be felt in the quick rising and falling of Laura's upper body.
"Don't worry, I doubt Almanzo has any idea it was you."
The other children played in the schoolyard, oblivious to the serious conversation going on at the schoolhouse steps. Eliza Jane's eyes fell upon Laura's brother, Albert. She felt he also knew of Laura's attraction to Almanzo.
"I don't know a lot about men," said Eliza Jane. "But I do know my brother...though I don't always understand him. Why he courts young ladies from town is beyond me. None of them would make a good farmer's wife. But a young lady like you knows a lot about farming. I'm sure that's one of the reasons Almanzo finds it so easy to talk to you."
A glimmer of hope shone on Laura's face. The usual smile curled her lips as she listened.
"The problem is that Almanzo sees you as a friend…a young friend." Laura frowned. Eliza Jane tapped her hand. "But you can change that."
Laura scrunched up her nose. "How?"
"The ladies that Almanzo courts are a few years older than you. They've grown up. They've matured. Pranks like the one you played at the circus make you seem younger, not as mature." Laura's cheeks flushed. "I'm going to give you a private homework assignment. I want you to think about how some of these young ladies act. Pay attention to how they present themselves when they're in town or at church. Try to copy that behavior."
Laura sighed. "I don't know if I can. My temper always gets the better of me. Ma says I'm a lot like Pa—I act in haste."
Eliza Jane wagged a finger at her. "You'll be able to control that as time goes on. But first you need to really concentrate on how these ladies act in public."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because I think Almanzo has found the right woman for him…he just hasn't noticed yet." Eliza Jane smirked. "There's nothing wrong with helping him along."
"Thanks Miss Wilder."
"You know, Laura, I never understood why you were in such a hurry to take your teaching exam until that stunt you pulled at the circus. But being a teacher is only half the equation. So work on that homework assignment as much as you can."
"Don't worry, I will." Laura flashed a determined smile.
"Why don't you ring the bell today. I'm going to write down the assignment on the board."
Eliza Jane marched into the schoolhouse. Was it wrong to interfere? It would be cruel to get Laura's hopes up if Almanzo was leaving town in a few days. She chuckled over how excited Laura was with her new assignment. Eliza Jane opened up her lesson plan and wrote down the assignment for the younger grades. Her talk with Laura had made her feel better than she had in weeks. Even if just for a moment, Eliza Jane allowed herself to dream that Bart Slater would have a change of heart so she could stay in Walnut Grove and watch Almanzo and Laura's courtship unfold.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.