LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Disclaimer: I do not own the Little House on the Prairie television series, book series, or any of the characters.
Author's note: I've used some of the dialogue from the episode Wilder and Wilder for this story.
Almanzo glanced at Laura as she smiled and then carried the empty coffee pot back to the house.
"That sure is one grown up young lady ya got there," said Almanzo, sitting down on a bale of hay.
"Not so grown up," replied Charles. He sipped the hot liquid from his cup before continuing. "You know, I like what you did today—forfeiting the arm wrestling competition to save your horse."
Almanzo shrugged. "Well, you were gonna take me anyway."
"Probably…but I still like what you did."
"Thank you, Sir."
Charles's face reminded Almanzo of their earlier conversation and Charles's request to not be called, "Sir." But the wariness slowly disappeared from his eyes. "You're welcome, Son."
Almanzo spotted the smirk Charles tried to hide behind his coffee cup. He somehow knew he was there on approval.
He never understood why Charles was suspicious of his friendship with Laura. She liked horses, he liked horses. She knew about farming, he knew about farming. What was the big mystery? But after their first misunderstanding, which landed Almanzo in a heap on the floor with a bloody lip, he certainly wasn't about to get Charles angry again.
"Something on your mind?" asked Charles.
"I was just thinkin' about how easily Laura handled Barnum. I was tryin' to break him in for days, but within seconds she had him trotting."
"She's always had a way with animals. When she was younger, she had her own horse. She took care of Bunny just as well as I could have. Laura loved that animal."
"What happened to Bunny?"
"Laura was racing her out in a field one day and Bunny got caught up in a barbed wire fence. I had to put her down."
Almanzo's heart squeezed. "That's tough. I still remember the first colt my father gave me. It's somethin' special when you're caring for your first animal." Almanzo knelt down next to Barnum and patted his injured leg. Picking up the ladle, he doused the wrap with cold water. He exhaled deeply. How much longer before they knew if the cold packs would work?
"Where did you grow up, Almanzo?"
"Upstate New York. There was my older brother Royal, my sisters—Laura, Eliza Jane, and Alice, and then me. Perley Day came along after a while." Almanzo slurped down the last few drops of cool coffee. "Mother and Father were strict, but fair. When Eliza Jane and I struck out on our own, Father let us borrow against our share of the estate."
"Why did you settle out here?"
"That was Eliza Jane's choice. Our folks live in Spring Valley now. I figure she wanted to be far enough away to have her freedom, but close enough to get home quick if things didn't work out. Course it helped that you were lookin' for a teacher. She replied right away when she saw the ad."
"And she was the best choice too—pleasant, well-qualified. It's plain to see the children like her."
"Children have always flocked to Eliza. She knows how to handle them, I guess."
A sliver of light brightened the doorway of the house. It widened and out stepped a tiny figure in a white dress. Beth with more coffee. The fire from the lantern reflected off the reddish tint of her hair, making it glow in the cool, dark night. Laura snuck a handful of carrots under Barnum's nose.
"There you go, boy." She patted Barnum and he whinnied. "How is he?"
"No change," said Almanzo.
Charles planted a firm hand on Almanzo's shoulder. "Give the cold packs time to work. It will probably be dawn before we know for sure."
Almanzo nodded and held his empty cup out to Laura. "Thanks, Beth. That's just what I needed."
"Are you sure I can't get you something to eat?"
"Naw, I can't eat while I watch Barnum hurtin."
"No thanks, Half-pint. Just keep the coffee hot and bring it out every hour or so. It's going to be a long night."
Almanzo watched Laura walk away, trying to figure out how he missed all the changes in her. He felt the heat of Charles's steady glare and knelt down to tend to Barnum.
"Tell me about Perley Day," said Charles.
"Not much worth tellin'." Almanzo drizzled cold water over Barnum's swollen joint. "He never liked rules. He always had to do everything his own way. So, one day he packed up and left. The coward took off while we were sleepin'. All Mother found was a note." Almanzo felt the angry heat rising in his chest. "It broke her heart."
"How does he survive?"
"Cheating, lying, gambling...whatever gets him by. He shows up when he runs outta money. I figure that's why he came here."
"I can't believe I ever thought he would be suitable for Laura."
Almanzo guffawed, garnering a frown from Charles. "Perley Day wouldn't be good for any young woman, and especially not for someone like Laura."
A familiar look of suspicion lingered in Charles's overprotective eyes. Almanzo scrambled to explain. "I don't mean anythin' by it, Mr. Ingalls. It's just, Beth…a…Laura and I are friends. I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to her, and believe me, everythin' about Perley Day is bad." Almanzo chuckled. "Though I sure would like to see what would happen if Laura unleashed that fiery temper on him. Perley Day wouldn't know what hit him."
Charles laughed too. "Laura certainly has a temper."
"I wonder where she gets it from," joked Almanzo.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, the last time ya got angry at me, my jaw hurt for at least a week." He rubbed his chin, hoping he could lighten the mood.
Scarlet tinged Charles's brown cheeks. "I seem to remember you being ready to teach Bart Slater a lesson when he hassled your sister."
"Yeah, but…" The two men laughed at themselves. "Okay, we both have a temper." Almanzo had lost the wrestling match, he couldn't lose twice in one day to the same man. "But yours is worse," he whispered just loud enough for Charles to hear.
Charles shook his head. "Why don't you try to get some sleep. I'll wake you in a couple hours.
"Yeah. Laura will be out with more coffee soon enough."
The night continued on that way—each man taking a turn tending to Barnum while the other caught a few winks. Laura kept their coffee cups full into the wee hours of the morning.
A little after dawn, Almanzo heard his name and opened his tired eyes.
"Take a look," said Charles. Almanzo crawled over to Barnum and felt his leg. "I say with a bit of rest, he'll be just fine," said Charles.
"How's Barnum?" asked Laura entering the barn with Caroline.
Almanzo jumped up and embraced her. "We did it, Beth. We did it." Laura giggled.
"How's breakfast sound?" asked Caroline.
"Sounds great," replied Almanzo.
"Can I do it, Ma?" asked Laura. "I'm going to do it all." Laura raced away towards the house.
Almanzo screamed after her. "Make plenty, I'm starved,"
"You can go wash up in the kitchen," said Charles.
Almanzo nodded and left the barn. He stopped a few feet from the kitchen door. Had he actually hugged Laura? And those kisses he placed on the top of her head without even thinking about Charles watching them—was it just the thrill of knowing Barnum would mend? One hand on the door knob, Almanzo hesitated, a strange uneasiness washing over him. He swallowed away the lump in his throat. A heavy breeze danced through his hair, bringing him out of his uncertain thoughts. This is silly.
Almanzo stepped into the kitchen and smiled at Laura busy at the cook stove. He had never eaten at the Ingallses' home. Beth's conversation and Charles's unspoken acceptance of him would make it a great meal.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.