The Buggy Ride
LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
The townspeople of Walnut Grove filed out the front door as soon as Reverend Alden dismissed them. The warm weather had made the church uncomfortable and the sermon short.
Laura stood next her pa's wagon waiting for her parents to finish chatting with Mrs. Foster. She gazed over at the buggies lined up on one side of the church. All summer long, young couples would venture out to the lake or on a long ride through the countryside, sometimes stopping to share a picnic lunch before returning home.
She saw Christie Kennedy join Jimmy Hill in his buggy. Even Bart Slater had found a young lady to take for a drive. She spotted Nellie Oleson climbing into a buggy with her new beau, Tom Murphy, who had just moved into town.
No one had asked Laura; and the one person she wished to go on a buggy ride with couldn't see her as anything but a child. Nellie turned up her nose as she gave Laura a haughty stare from her seat next to Tom. The self-satisfied grin made Laura's face hot with anger. Nellie smirked as Tom chirruped to his horses and they took off towards the lake.
Jealous and angry, Laura stomped over to the church steps where Almanzo and Eliza Jane were saying goodbye to Reverend Alden.
"Oh. Hello, Laura," said Miss Wilder.
"Hello, Miss Wilder. Hi, Manly."
"Howdy, Beth. Is there something I can do for ya?"
Suddenly nervous, Laura glanced down at her feet. "I…uh…"
"Are you all right?" Eliza Jane asked.
Laura spied the last young couple heading out of town in their buggy, bringing her confidence back. "Yes, I'm fine," she answered with determination. "Manly, would you take me on a buggy ride this afternoon?"
Caught off guard by her question, Almanzo wasn't sure how to respond. He took his hat off and pushed back his wavy blond hair. He knew Laura had a crush on him. He had done his best not to encourage it, but if he said no, she would be embarrassed and hurt.
"I don't know, Beth. I've got a lot to do."
Eliza Jane snickered. "What could you possibly have to do on a Sunday?"
Laura sighed. "It's okay. I understand." She turned to leave.
Almanzo grabbed her arm. "Beth, it ain't what ya think. I just…the buggy only sits two and I havta bring Eliza Jane home."
"I can bring her home if you like," interjected Reverend Alden.
"Why thank you," said Miss Wilder. "See, it all worked out. Now you're free to go if you like, Mannie."
A renewed hope filled Laura's eyes as she awaited Almanzo's answer. He shrugged, no longer having an excuse not to take her.
"Well, I guess we can go if your pa says it's all right."
Laura and Almanzo walked over to Charles's wagon. She could see the trepidation on her pa's face.
"Afternoon, Mr. Ingalls," said Almanzo. "Mrs. Ingalls. I was wonderin' if Laura could accompany me on a buggy ride this afternoon."
Charles turned to Caroline, then over to Laura. He saw the eagerness on his daughter's face. It scared him--almost as much as Almanzo's unspoken intentions.
"I don't know, Almanzo…"
"Well, Barnum could use the exercise now that he's fully recovered, and Beth sure does seem to have a way with him."
"Please, Pa." Laura hated to beg. It made her sound like a child. But for a chance to ride with Manly, she would swallow her pride.
"It's a beautiful day for a buggy ride, Charles." Caroline's wide smile revealed her straight white teeth. "Besides, it's for the horse."
Almanzo almost choked. It sounded ridiculous when Mrs. Ingalls said it that way. "We're just goin' down to the lake."
Charles glanced over at Caroline one last time and then turned to Laura who looked like she would burst at any moment.
"Have her back by supper time," said Charles.
Almanzo shook his hand. "I will, Sir. Ya ready to go, Beth?"
Laura looked up at her ma. Caroline's eyes told her to relax and play it smart.
"I think so, Manly," Laura replied in a calm voice. She took his hand when he offered it and strolled with him towards his buggy, reminding herself not to act like a giddy school girl.
"Did we ever figure out how old he is?" Charles asked his wife.
"No, we didn't."
Almanzo led Barnum down the road towards the lake. Laura intentionally didn't say too much, lest she prattle on like an immature child. He glanced over at her occasionally wondering why she wasn't her vibrant, talkative self.
"Somethin wrong, Beth?"
"Oh no, Manly, everything's fine. I'm just enjoying the ride." Enjoying the ride my foot, she thought. How can I enjoy the ride when I'm too scared to do the wrong thing and risk ruining it?
Laura caught sight of Nellie and Tom on the other side of the lake. When Nellie spotted her, she began to hang all over Tom, making in difficult for him to control his horse. Laura rolled her eyes.
"That Nellie Oleson," she said without thinking.
"What about Nellie Oleson?"
Embarrassed, she tried to dismiss the comment. "Oh, it's nothing."
"Aw c'mon, ya gotta tell me. You've been too quiet today. I'm beginnin' to think ya don't enjoy my company."
"It could never be that," she gushed. Laura's face warmed and she put her hand up to hide the red color she felt certain was staining her cheeks. "Do you mind if I take the reins for a little while?"
"Be my guest. Barnum likes you better anyway."
As she grabbed the reins, she felt Almanzo's strong hands tighten over hers. Her pulse quickened. She gazed up at him and, for a second, lost herself in his ocean blue eyes.
"Ya got um?" he asked.
Shaken, all she could do was nod. When he released his grip, she wished he had held onto her for a few moments longer. Then she spied Nellie staring at her and romance was forgotten. Laura slapped Barnum with the reins and called, "Ha, ha!" The horse sped into a gallop.
Almanzo saw her mischievous grin as Beth brought the horse around to the other side of the lake. She edged the buggy in so close to Tom's that it startled his horse and he had to shrug off Nellie to keep them from falling into the lake. Laura pulled away and slowed Barnum down to a trot, the glint in her eye still sparkling.
"You're a little devil," Almanzo said, trying to contain his laughter.
Immediately embarrassed and ashamed, she apologized. "I'm sorry. That wasn't very ladylike of me."
"No, but it was very Beth-like." He smiled at her.
"Nellie Oleson always seems to get my dander up. She has everything and she flaunts it in my face."
"She doesn't have everythin'." Almanzo glancing over at her. How could she be jealous of Nellie? "She doesn't know anything about horses or farmin'."
"She doesn't have to. She's never had to work for anything."
Almanzo grabbed the reins from her and pulled Barnum to a stop. "And she doesn't have that beautiful reddish-brown hair either. Ya should wear it down more often. It looks real nice."
Laura's face felt warm again. "Thanks, Manly." She was sure he would hear her heart pounding inside her chest.
"Let's go out a little farther before we head back to your place," he suggested.
"All right, just make sure we're not late getting home."
"Don't worry, I wouldn't want your pa hittin me again," said Almanzo as he rubbed his chin.
They laughed. The tension now broken, the light conversation continued until he stopped the buggy in front of the Ingallses' farm. Manly jumped down and walked around to the other side of the buggy. Laura slid her hand into his and stepped out.
"I hope ya had a nice time," he said to her.
"I did. Thank you for taking me."
On weak legs, Laura walked towards the front door. She didn't dare look back at him. She could almost feel his stare pointed at the back of her head.
Almanzo called to her. "Would ya come with me again some time?"
She turned slowly and struggled to keep her excitement at bay. In her most womanliest of voices she replied, "If my pa allows it, I would be happy to join you any time you wish to invite me."
"Good." He lowered his head to hide his delight. "Just one thing…"
"Don't try to be somethin' your not."
Laura's cheeks dimpled. "I'm sorry, Manly. I thought I would try to be a bit more cultured than I usually am."
"Don't ya know by now that I like ya just the way you are?" Gosh, that sounded forward. "I…uh…I should get goin'."
"Me too," she said, pointing her thumb towards the house.
"See ya, Beth."
"See ya, Manly." She flashed him one last smile before disappearing inside.
He stared at the closed door for a moment, flustered and confused. How could he say such a thing? Now she probably would think he was interested in more than just friendship.
Storm clouds had rolled in on the journey back to town, and a clap of thunder told Almanzo he should head back home. He jumped into the buggy and gazed up at the window to Laura's bedroom. I sure do enjoy her company. He chirruped to Barnum and headed towards his place.
Inside the house, Laura leaned against the front door. She gazed up at the roof, lost in her thoughts. She had ridden in a buggy with Almanzo. He had touched her hand. Had he actually told her that he liked her just the way she was?
"Hi, Half-pint. Did you have a nice time?" Charles asked.
Still staring at the ceiling she answered, "U-huh."
"Is everything okay?"
She sighed. "Everything is just fine."
Caroline struggled to hold back her laughter as she watched them. "Are you hungry, dear?"
"No, Ma. I think I'll just go up to bed."
"It's only supper time," said Carrie.
"That's okay." Laura shuffled to the ladder and climbed up to the loft.
A concerned Charles watched her disappear up into her room. "What do you make of that?"
"She must have had a good time." Caroline did her best not to smile, but she could feel the corners of her mouth lifting.
"That's what I'm worried about."
In her room, Laura sat on the bed with her Remembrance Book open. She wanted to write everything down while it was still fresh in her mind--as if she would ever forget it. She glanced over at what she had written, and her eyes focused on the last line:
I think there's hope that I'll be Mrs. Almanzo Wilder yet.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.