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.
Nellie had spied them as they came out of the kitchen. She had once thought Almanzo would make a perfect suitor for her, but she would never be a farmer's wife. She was much too dignified. She walked to the other side of the room and filled Mr. Marshall's coffee cup. Then she took Silas Moffet's payment before moseying over to Laura and Almanzo's table.
"Why Laura dear, how nice it is to see you again," she said, feigning politeness. Her teeth hurt from clenching them so tightly.
The tension was clear in Laura's voice. "Hello, Nellie."
"So how's that job in Curry going? Are you tired of teaching those dirty, little waifs yet?"
Laura pressed her lips together. It was so easy to rile her. "The children are doing very well," she said. "One of them is studying to become a doctor."
"Probably a horse doctor." Nellie scrunched up her nose.
"Well he'll be of good use to you then, since you're acting like a horse's…"
Almanzo cleared his throat. "Uh Nellie, why don't ya bring us a couple of coffees to start off with."
"Coming right up." Nellie danced off to the kitchen, her blonde curls bouncing as she went.
Once Nellie had disappeared behind the swinging door Almanzo allowed a chuckle to escape from his lips. Laura was as feisty as ever.
"And what's so funny?" said Laura.
"Every time I see the two of you together I think of that day I stumbled across you fighting in the mud." Laura's face turned almost as red as her hair. "Aw Beth, don't be embarrassed," he said, putting his hand over hers. "I like the way ya stand up for yourself."
"Thanks Manly, but I would have preferred if you never saw that. Nellie just…"
"Just what?" Nellie put two cups of coffee on the table.
"You're just so good at taking care of people." Almanzo felt certain Laura would explode if she had to be nice to Nellie too long. He had heard enough about the two of them in the years he lived in Walnut Grove to know they would never be friends. And there was that cinnamon chicken incident he would never forget.
"Thank you. Now what can I get for the two of you tonight?"
"I'll have the fried chicken please," said Laura.
"And I'll start with a bowl of beef stew, and then a nice big steak with a couple of eggs, sunny side up." Laura and Nellie gawked at him.
"Is that all?" Nellie asked sarcastically.
"Yeah, I wanna leave room for dessert."
After Nellie left, Laura shook her head at Almanzo. "Do you always eat that much?"
"I've always had a big appetite. Bein a farmer's hard work."
"Eliza Jane must spend all her free time in the kitchen."
They chatted about Laura's week in Curry. Out of the corner of her eye, Laura could see Nellie and her mother, Harriet whispering and looking over at the table she shared with Almanzo. She could just imagine what they were gossiping about. She knew Nellie had tried to get Manly to court her when he first moved into town. Maybe she was still interested.
Almanzo and Laura stepped outside and strolled hand in hand along the road that led behind the schoolhouse. It had been dark for an hour, and the clear sky seemed to hold a million stars. The full moon guided their steps. The temperature had dropped, but Laura didn't notice. Her eyes glanced back and forth between the starry sky and Almanzo's face. It was still so hard to believe he was her beau.
"What are ya thinkin?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Sometimes this all seems like a dream."
He gave her a crooked little smile. "Ya ain't dreamin, Beth. I'm here and you're here…" He embraced her. "It's real."
Laura trembled as she felt his lips. Was it the same for him when they kissed? Her mind spun. Her legs felt as if they could no longer hold her up. Her heart pounded hard enough to burst out of her chest. She had long stopped considering herself a little girl, but this was all so new.
When they pulled apart, Almanzo tucked her arm under his and they continued their walk in silence. Laura wondered if he was dreaming of the future like she was. She pulled up the collar on her coat.
"Are you cold?" he asked.
"I should be getting ya back home anyway. Your pa will be wonderin where ya are."
As he helped her into the buggy they caught sight of Nellie Oleson locking up the restaurant for the night.
Nellie planted her hands on her hips. "Out a bit late aren't you, Laura?"
"I don't see how it's any concern of yours."
"I can't imagine your father approves."
Laura could feel her temperature rising. There were so many things she wanted to say to nasty Nellie. Trying to remember she was too old to act so impulsively, she thought a moment before responding. "He knows where I am."
"Well, a respectable young lady wouldn't be out this late." Nellie lifted her nose in the air. Laura was sure she had done that the first day they met each other in the school yard. Some people never change.
"That's probably why you're still out."
Nellie growled. She stomped off towards her house. Laura covered her mouth with her hand to silence a giggle. It was too easy to anger her rival sometimes.
Almanzo chuckled. "Remind me not to get your dander up," he said as he chirruped to Barnum and headed back to the Ingalls farm.
When Charles heard Almanzo's buggy pull into the front yard, he wanted to run outside and scold him for keeping Laura out so late.
"I know what you're thinking," said Caroline. "Don't do it."
Charles glanced back at his wife. "I thought she wasn't going to be late."
"She's not a child anymore. Other young women her age stay out after dark with their beaus."
"I don't care what the others do. I don't want Laura to forget she still has school to finish and responsibilities here at home."
Caroline strolled across the kitchen and came to stand in front of him. "I don't think she's forgotten either of those things. They've just begun courting. She's excited about having a beau. I bet Almanzo is excited too. They're trying to get to know each other in a different way. They just want to spend time together and allow that to happen."
She put her arms around Charles's neck. "I know it's hard to watch her grow up, but we went through the same thing with Mary. Don't you remember how we felt when she told us she wanted to move to Winoka?" Charles nodded. "And she was a bit younger than Laura is now."
"I'd forgotten that," said Charles.
"After next week, Laura will be back in Walnut Grove for good. Her job in Curry will be over and you'll probably find Almanzo spending time getting to know us better, too, instead of wanting to be alone with her so much."
Charles sighed. "I hope you're right."
"One more week to go," said Laura. "Then I'll be home for good."
Almanzo wrapped the reins around the brake. "Can't wait."
"I should probably have you over for supper once I'm back. I think it will make Pa feel better."
"Sounds real nice. I should be gettin' to know your family."
Laura sighed. "Well, I don't think Pa really wanted me to go tonight. Not that he doesn't like you, it's just he thinks we spend too much time together."
Almanzo's eyebrows rose. "I don't feel like I see ya enough."
"Hopefully it will be better once I'm not in Curry. There's going to be a literary meeting at the school in two weeks. Your sister asked me to recite the Declaration of Independence. I hope you'll come."
"Only if I get to bring ya home."
She playfully punched his arm. "My feelings would be hurt if you didn't." Laura pointed at the front door. "I should go."
Almanzo gave her a tender kiss before helping her out of the buggy. "I'll see ya in church tomorrow."
Laura nodded from the breezeway. She greeted her parents once she was inside. She sensed they had been talking about her. Before her pa could say anything she mentioned, "Manly is going to come to supper once I'm back from Curry. He should get to know you better if we are going to be courting." Caroline flashed a smile filled with I told you so at her husband.
"I'm glad to hear it," said Charles. "I don't like it when he keeps you out so late."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Oh Pa, I'm not a little girl anymore."
"I know, but I'm not ready for you to be a woman just yet." Charles's eyes glistened.
Laura hugged him. "I love you, Pa."
"I love you too, Half-pint."
Laura kissed her mother before disappearing into the loft. She crawled into bed after saying her prayers. She couldn't get Pa's words out of her mind. He actually seemed sad at the thought of her growing up. Is that what it's like to be a parent? she wondered. Would she be the same with her own children? She hoped they would be Almanzo's children too. Their night out filled her with joy. She hated the thought of leaving him again. But it would be her last week away from home, and then she could stay in Walnut Grove and begin planning her future…a future she hoped Almanzo would play a big part in.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.