Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sleigh Bells Ring: LHOP Inspired Fan Fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos

Sleigh Bells Ring

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.

"Bye Ma! Bye Pa!" Laura turned around in her place next to Almanzo, a large smile curling the corners of her lips. She waved at her parents who were still standing next to Reverend Alden on the church steps.

Almanzo prompted his Morgan's into a slow trot.

"Make sure you're home by supper," Charles called after them.

"Yes, Sir." Almanzo's voice sounded over the tinkling of bells. He waved without looking back as his horses pulled the cutter out of town behind the others.

Laura and Almanzo, Nellie and Percival Dalton, and Willie Oleson glided over the snow covered road toward the blind school. With Mary and Adam's help they had planned a little surprise sleigh ride party for the children before their parents came tomorrow to pick them up for the long holiday vacation.

The crisp air stung Laura's cheeks as she snuggled underneath the bear skins. Almanzo had tucked her in tightly, but the cold still seemed to seep through any gap and chilled her legs. Luckily the sun shone brightly and the wind had calmed down since they made their way into town for Sunday services.

Within seconds of Almanzo's horses stopping in front of the blind school, Hester Sue came out to greet them. Dressed in a heavy shawl with a wrap wounded tightly around her head, the corner of her eyes crinkled as she squinted from the sun reflecting off the snow.

"Halleluiah!" I don't think I coulda kept this secret another minute."

Almanzo's and Percival hearty laughs filled the air. They each held up a hand to help their ladies out of the sleighs. Willie jumped out of his father's sleigh and dug underneath the bear skins to find a basket of goodies he and his father had baked yesterday.

"You look more excited than Laura," Almanzo teased. He glanced over at Laura whose raised eyebrows feigned displeasure. He bent down and placed a quick kiss on her check. "Aw Beth, ya know I'm just jokin'."

"Oh, those young'uns. You can't pass nothin' by them. They could smell Mary fryin' up those donuts and they was sure she was up to some kind of mischief."

Hester Sue shook her head as she laughed. Some of the children saw more with their other senses then many sighted people saw with their eyes. "And Almanzo, after we finished pressin' the apple cider, Mary had enough to make ya a good helpin' of fried onions 'n apples. It's waitin' for you on the stove."

Almanzo took the steps two at a time. "Well then, let's get in there. I'm starvin'."

"You're always starving." Laura said with a smirk.

The group laughed as they filed into the hallway. Hester Sue took Laura's and Nellie's coats and hats. Laura spied Adam with the children in the classroom off to the left.

"See, I told you something was going on." The melodic voice of Susan Goodspeed tickled their ears.

Adam stood in front of the classroom. Dressed in the brown suit Laura had seen him wear so often while teaching, Adam commanded attention in any room he occupied. I wonder what he would have been if he hadn't lost his sight.

One hand on his hip, Adam smiled at the children. "We're going to end classes early today."

The room erupted with shouts and cheers.

Adam put his hand out to silence them, a motion Laura found curious since none of the children, nor Adam could see. "Settle down now. Some of your good friends from town have offered to take you on rides in their cutters this afternoon."

Again the room erupted with cheers and shouts. Adam immediately refocused their attention. "But we still have chores to do."

"Awwww." The children sighed.

Adam walked to the doorway leading out to the hallway where Laura and the rest of the group stood. "Susan, Christy, and Melissa, you're going to the kitchen to help Mrs. Kendall."

"Yes, Sir," they sang out, excusing themselves as they passed by the people in the hallway.

"Matthew, Robert, and Timothy," I need you to bring in some more firewood. Bundle up, the temperature is dropping."

"Yes, Sir," said Matthew.

The other two boys followed him out of the room. Looks like Matthew will be a leader when he gets older, thought Laura.

Chairs scrapped along the wooden floor as the rest of the children stood up. Adam smiled as the small group of children waiting anxiously to find out what they got to do. "The rest of you can get ready for a sleigh ride."

"Yeah!" they hollered as they raced toward the coat room to get dressed.

Adam turned toward the adults standing in the hallway. Percival lifted his head to look up at him. "Good to see you again, Adam."

The men shook hands. "It's good to see you too, Percival. I'm so glad you came up with this idea."

Percival shook his head. "I can't take the credit." Percival touched Willie's shoulder. "It was Willie's idea."

Adam extended his hand. "Well then, thank you, Willie. I know the children will have a wonderful time."

"It weren't nothin'." He shrugged.

Nellie nudged her little brother with her elbow. "Now, don't be modest. It's wonderful that you thought of doing this."

Everyone expressed their agreement. Laura noticed how much Willie had changed recently. His boyish features and mannerisms were quickly fading. It amazed her that a child who had been such a brat could grow up into a caring young man worthy of her admiration. It wouldn't be long before Willie began courting. When did he grow up?

Laura grabbed Nellie's arm. "C'mon, Nellie. Let's go help Mary in the kitchen."

The two women strolled arm in arm, chatting about food and how to plan out the day.

Willie slapped Almanzo's arm. "Bet ya never thought you would see that."

Almanzo chuckled. "Nope."

"See what?" Percival squinted at the two women as they turned the corner into the kitchen.

"Oh nothin'," said Willie as the group turned around and headed toward the door.

Mary stood at the stove frying donuts while Laura, Nellie, and Hester Sue piled plates high with chicken, slices of ham, and corn bread. A pot of beans simmered on the cook stove. Having sent the girls into the dining room to set the tables, the women settled into conversations of Christmases past.

Hester Sue told them of her first Christmas after the Civil War ended. Her Papa and Mama sitting around the fireplace of the first home they had ever owned. It was a tough Christmas, she said, as they had little money to put food on the table, but their freedom and the many dreams they held for the future were presents enough.

Nellie spoke of her first Christmas as Percival's wife and how they celebrated Hanukah together and Christmas with her family. Nellie had begun to learn the Jewish prayers and spoke of how fascinating it was to learn about a faith so different from her own.

As she spoke, Laura noticed the change that had come over her face ever since she had gotten married. As a child, Nellie wore a scowl or evil grin most of the time. How can this be the same person?

A chuckle unconsciously escaped Laura's lips and Nellie looked up from her work.

"What's so funny?"

Laura looked upon her former archenemy. Her eyes widened. "This. Us!" Laura's hands traveled to her hips. "Did you ever imagine that one day we could be in the same room without fighting?"

Nellie shrugged. "Well, I didn't think we would fight forever, but I didn't expect to like you as much as I do."

Sudden discomfort forced Nellie to lower her eyes, but Laura loved her candor. At least that part of Nellie hadn't changed. The strangeness of the situation left Laura a bit nervous, as if she expected immediate darkness to come and the old Nellie to slither out of it. But it also felt good to be together, forging a new relationship where a friendship once seemed impossible.

Hester Sue glanced from Laura to Nellie. Even Mary stopped her work to listen to the unfolding conversation.

A genuine smile parted Laura's lips. "I'm glad we decided to spend the day together."

"Me too." Nellie focused on putting the last few slices of ham on the plate. "Laura, whatever happened to your pony?"

Laura stopped rolling out the dough for the pie crust she was making. The lump that formed in her throat seemed impossible to swallow. She hadn't thought of Bunny in years.

Mary placed a plate of warm donuts down on the table and squeezed Laura's arm. Appreciative of the support, Laura squeezed back with her free hand. Clearing her throat, she looked at Nellie with moist eyes.

"Grandpa Ingalls and I were racing Bunny in the field. She got tangled in a barbed wire fence. Pa couldn't save her."

Nellie's face dropped into a sympathetic frown. "I'm sorry. She was a beautiful animal. Not that I ever appreciated her when I had her."

Hester Sue wagged a finger at Nellie. "Wait a second. I thought Bunny was Laura's horse."

"She was." Laura sprinkled the rolling pin with more flour. "I traded her to Mr. Oleson so that I could buy a cook stove for Ma for Christmas."

Nellie shook her head. "Father knew how much I wanted that horse. Laura really had him over a barrel."

Mary sat down at the table. "It sure messed up Pa's Christmas plans though."

"You're right," said Laura. "Pa was repairing and painting a set of wheels for Mr. Oleson so that he could buy Ma the cook stove." Laura placed the rolled out dough inside the greased pan and spooned in the apple filling. "Pa couldn't believe it when Mr. Oleson wouldn't sell him the stove...but he never told our secret."

"That was the year Pa made you a saddle for Bunny." Laura could tell by Mary's intense expression that she was remebering back to that Christmas on Plum Creek. "I will never forget the look on your face when Nellie and Mr. Oleson showed up at the door to take Bunny."

Nellie dabbed at the tears forming at the corners of her eyes. "Stop. You're making me feel even more guilty for what I did."

"Whatdya do?" Hester Sue's fists were planted firmly on her hips.

"I…uh..." Nellie slammed a spoon down on the table. "Well, if you really must know, I fell off Bunny and I pretended to be paralyzed."

"Good Lord, child. Why would you do such a thing?"

"To make Laura feel bad." Nellie's blond ringlets bounced as she shook her head. "And she did too. I made her wait on me hand and foot."

Laura's eyebrows lifted. "Yeah, until I figured out she wasn't paralyzed."

Nellie's eyes flew open. "Well, you got your revenge when you tossed me down the hill into the mill pond."

Hester Sue roared with laughter. "Now, that's somethin' I woulda loved to have seen."

Nellie plopped down into a chair and wiped her hands on a towel. "I guess I was rotten back then, wasn't I?"

"Yes, you were." Laura flung a pinch of flour across the table.

The flour landed on the bridge of Nellie's nose. Coughing and gasping for breath, Nellie threw the towel she had wiped her hands on and hit Laura in the face. Staring at each other with stunned faces, the kitchen grew deadly silent. But Laura couldn't hide the smile creeping across her face as she and Nellie burst into girlish giggles.

The sound of feet stamping into the hallway meant playtime was over.

"We best get this food out to the table," said Hester Sue. "We sure wouldn't want those young'uns starvin' to death."

Laura picked up the plate closest to her and followed behind Hester Sue. "Are you kidding? Almanzo will put away more food than all the children combined."

The women laughed as they marched down the hallway to the dining room to join the men and children.

The excited chatter in the dining room echoed through the first floor of the blind school. After filling their bellies with an abundance of good food, the men and children huddled together on blankets in front of the fireplace, snacking on donuts and sipping coffee or milk.

The women had left to wash the dishes and put away the food, but now rejoined the group.

"We can hear that ruckus all the way in the kitchen." Hester Sue pulled out a chair and sat down.

Adam stood up and brushed off his pants. "All done putting everything away?"

Hester Sue nodded. "Ya never woulda known we just had a big party by the looks of that kitchen."

"Good," he said, leaning on the table. "Get your coat on."

"What on earth for?"

A sly smile curled the corner of Adam's lips. "You are going on a sleigh ride."

"Oh, no, no, no." Hester Sue waved her hands in front of her chest. "Sleigh rides are for young folk."

"You've worked hard for days. It's time for some fun."

"I agree," said Laura. She stood in the doorway with Mary and Nellie by her side. "Why should the men have all the fun?" Laura clasped Mary's hand. "C'mon, let's go get dressed." They headed toward the coat room where they could hear the men chuckling over their behavior.

Hester Sue shook her head. "Well, there ain't no talkin' sense into you folks, so I best go along to make sure no one gets hurt."

"That's awful kind of you, Hester Sue," teased Willie.

From the hallway Laura saw Hester Sue shoot Willie a look that could kill. When Hester Sue turned around, Laura shoved a shawl and wrap in her direction.

"Hurry up, Hester Sue. I don't want to take a dangerous sleigh ride without you." Laura's devilish grin got her the same look that Hester Sue had given Willie.

Hester Sue turned back toward the children who were beside themselves with laughter. "You hush now or I won't be savin' you any cookies for snack time tonight. I'll just eat 'em myself, that's what I'll do."

They all laughed. Everyone knew that Hester Sue loved spoiling the children around Christmas.

Nestled into Mr. Oleson's sleigh, Mary and Adam smiled and chatted while the children sat on the front porch cheering the riders on. Hester Sue had hopped in alongside Nellie and Percival, leaving Almanzo and Laura to enjoy this sleigh ride by themselves.

"Thank you so much for doing this." Laura's face beamed with love for the man she had often dreamed about. "You made the children very happy."

Almanzo leaned in close enough that Laura could have felt his warm breath on her face if it had not been covered by his muffler. "Ya know I would do anythin' for you." Red heat simmered on Laura's cold cheeks. "It's been fun. The kids are wonderful. Besides, it's nice to have my favorite girl by my side."

Even though Laura often cringed when Almanzo had called her a girl in the past, their ever growing love for each other allowed her to accept his words as the compliment they were meant to be. No longer did Almanzo tug her pigtails before running off to lunch with a beautiful young lady dangling on his arm. His "favorite girl" was the one who he willingly kept close to his side at socials, church picnics, and other town events.

Again Laura's cheeks felt warm. Almanzo pulled back his muffler and placed a quick kiss on her cheek before turning his Morgans around to take another ride by the front of the school. Like the others, they bounced up and down the snow covered hills, laughing all the way.

After a few more passes, Willie and Percival pulled up on opposite sides of Almanzo's cutter. Almanzo looked up at the sky that had just begun to darken.

"Guess we better head home. We gotta get back by suppertime."

Willie let the reins fall over the front of the sleigh. "Yeah, you're right."

Adam helped Mary step out onto the frozen ground. "Why don't you come in for a cup of coffee before you travel all the way home."

After finishing the rest of the donuts and filling up on hot coffee, Laura and Almanzo, Percival and Nellie and Willie headed out in their sleighs toward home. At the break in the road, Willie, Percival and Nellie waved goodbye to Laura and Almanzo, who turned down the road that would go by the Ingalls farm. The young couple traveled in silence, each captured by their own thoughts.

"Whoa." Almanzo tugged the reins and his team halted in front of Laura's house.

Darkness had fallen along the ride home and soft yellow light colored the snow outside the front room window. The door creaked open, startling Laura and Almanzo. They had hoped to spend a few moments alone.

"Hello, Almanzo." Charles stood in the doorway.

"Evenin', Mr. Ingalls." Almanzo tipped his hat. "I hope we're not late."

"No, no. Caroline is just about ready to put food on the table." Charles shivered as he walked outside a few steps. "You're welcome to join us if you like."

"Thank ya, Sir, but Eliza Jane is waitin' on me. She wants to put up the Christmas tree tonight."

Charles nodded, but he did not move. Laura knew he was waiting for her and she resigned herself to going inside. She began to pull the bear skins up when Caroline appeared in the doorway.

"Charles, can you come help me with something?"

He turned around. "Sure darling. What do you need?"

Caroline looked over Charles's head at her daughter. "Come inside and I'll show you."

Charles shrugged. "Give my regards to your sister, Almanzo."

"I will, Sir."

Caroline stepped out of the doorway so that Charles could pass. She looked up at Laura and smiled before shutting the door.

Laura and Almanzo laughed. "Thank goodness for Ma," she said. "I'm not sure Pa will ever be ready for me to grow up."

"My father was the same way with my sisters." Almanzo's shoulders moved up and down. "I'll probably be the same way with my daughters too."

Laura shifted under the bear skins. They had spoken of the future before, but more about getting married and building a home. Children seemed too intimate of a topic to enter into their conversations.

Almanzo clasped her hand. "You better go inside before your pa starts peekin' outta the window."

A nervous giggle escaped her lips. "Will I see you tomorrow?"

Almanzo's free hand slid out of the bear skins and caressed her cheek. "Probably not until everyone gets together at church. Eliza Jane has a special dinner planned and Hester Sue is comin' over."

He glanced up at the sky filled with puffy, gray clouds and breathed deeply. "Smells like snow." He pointed up. "From the look of those clouds we'll have about a foot of snow by mornin'."

Laura shivered. Almanzo brought his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. A crooked smile slid across his face as Laura's chocolate brown eyes gazed upon him. Feeling the warmth of his body so close and his breath upon her face, her heart raced inside her chest. She was certain his heart pounded in the same rhythm.

His lips parted and he leaned in closer, stopping just before their lips touched. "Merry Christmas, Beth."

She swallowed away the lump in her throat. "Merry Christmas, Manly."

Their lips touched and the distance between them diminished. Her insides performed somersaults as sparks of excitement tingled through her. Reluctantly, they pulled back and it was several moments before his raspy voice broke through the silence.

"I'll wait 'til you're inside."

Laura nodded and adjusted her hat. Pulling her coat closer to her chin, Almanzo helped her pull the bear skins back so she could step out. She tucked them around Almanzo's body to keep him warm on the ride home.

She walked to the doorway and turned around. A gloved hand waved at her. His face now almost totally covered by his muffler and the flaps of his hat, she could just make out the sparkle of his eyes. Something cold and wet tickled her nose. Looking up, light, tiny snowflakes fell onto her face. Laura raised a gloved hand and watched the white flakes as delicate and unique as tatted lace drop onto her glove and then disappear. She smiled at Almanzo, waved, and walked inside.

Leaning against the door, Laura never heard her mother ask how the day went. She was too busy thinking of sleigh rides, Almanzo, and the magic of Christmas snow.

Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.

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