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.
Charles saw Almanzo pulling away in his buggy as he came down the road. His perfect night out with Caroline was now marred with worry over why Almanzo would be at the house when he wasn't there. He hopped down from his wagon and marched over to Laura, who was standing outside the doorway. "What was Almanzo doing here, Half-pint?" The heat of anger burned the back of his neck.
"He stopped by so we could talk."
Her words sounded innocent enough, but she must have known he wouldn't want Almanzo there while they were away. "Did he know your ma and I were out?"
Laura straightened her back. He knew she was starting to get wound up too. He could see it in how she stood with arms across her chest. "No, but he offered to come back at another time as soon as he found out." She cocked her head. "I asked him to stay."
He exhaled through his nose. His lips tightened as he considered how she so easily disregarded his wishes. "What did he want?"
Laura looked so furious, he was expecting smoke to start billowing out of her ears. "I told you," she said through clenched teeth. "He wanted to talk."
"I asked you a question, Laura." He moved his hands to his hips. He wasn't about to let her get away with being so vague with him.
He felt the soft caress of Caroline's hand on his arm. "Charles, perhaps it's something just between Laura and Almanzo."
He turned his head to face her, careful to change his tone before answering. "What could he have to say to her that she can't tell us?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, but I doubt it's worth getting upset over."
"I don't like Almanzo stopping by when Laura is alone in the house."
She smiled. It was one of those smiles she gave when she was trying to be understanding, but she really wanted to tell you to reconsider your opinion. "She wasn't alone."
That was it. How could she defend a man who didn't care if he spoiled Laura's reputation. "Why do you always take his side?" He knew he sounded foolish, but couldn't she see how important it was that they stand firm with Laura when she had only been courting a short time? She had claimed to be in love with Almanzo Wilder for years. It would be too easy for her to be swept off her feet and forget she still had growing to do.
Caroline covered her mouth with her hand, obviously hiding a giggle. "I'm not taking anyone's side. I'm just saying I don't think you have any reason to worry. Almanzo's a fine man. He wouldn't do anything inappropriate."
Laura relaxed beside them. Maybe now she was ready to explain. "If you must know, we had a misunderstanding and he came to apologize. I said I was sorry too, and then he left."
"Oh," replied Charles meekly. He glanced over at Caroline and smiled in embarrassment.
"Can I go inside now?" asked Laura.
After the door clicked shut, he stood there with Caroline for a moment. What could he say? He made a big deal about nothing. She was right...like usual.
Caroline was not one to gloat. At least she would let him keep his dignity. She leaned her head on his shoulder. "It's not like we have a trellis. We're not going to come home to find Almanzo hanging off the side of the house kissing Laura goodnight."
Charles felt the warmth of his blush at the reminder of his own trick when he was courting her. That seemed so long ago now.
"I'll go put on a fresh pot of coffee, " she said. "Don't be too long." She winked at him before disappearing inside.
Laura, Albert, and Carrie walked over the bridge into town the next morning. She glanced towards the Feed and Seed and saw Almanzo hunched over a sack of grain.
"I'll be right back," she said to her siblings. "I want to say hi to Almanzo."
"Aren't you going to see him tonight at the literary meeting?" asked Albert.
She shrugged. Why should that matter? "Yes, but I like to say good morning to him when I walk into town."
Albert shook his head. "Come on Carrie. I'll race you to school."
"Hi, Manly," Laura said as she reached the platform.
"Mornin, Beth." Almanzo sat down, thankful for the rest. "How ya doin'?"
She loved these meaningless little conversations between them. For years she tried to engage him in conversation; get him to see her as something more than a friend. When it happened, she hardly believed it was true. "I'm fine. I forget to tell you last night that Ma says you can come over for dinner after church on Sunday."
He rubbed his stomach. His appetite was legendary. He could eat twice as much as her and still have room for a piece or two of pie. "Sounds good. Did I see your pa pulling in last night when I was leavin'?"
She was afraid this might come up. "Yes, and he wasn't too happy you were there."
"I was afraid of that."
"Well, once I explained, he wasn't angry." The school bell rang. "I'll see you tonight Manly," she said as she rushed off.
"Evening, Mr. Ingalls."
Suddenly this didn't seem like a good idea. If he could have, Almanzo would have retreated into the crowd and thought more about what he was going to say. Charles stood there, face expressionless. Better get it over with. "Can we step outside for a minute?" He pointed his thumb toward the door.
Charles nodded. "Sure, son."
They walked over in silence and stood by Charles's wagon so they could speak privately. "Laura told me ya weren't too happy with me stopping by last night," said Almanzo.
Charles planted both hands on his hips. "I was surprised to find you there."
Almanzo removed his hat and pushed back the waves of blond hair from his face. "I never woulda come by if I knew you were out."
"Laura said you had a misunderstanding." He wasn't going to make it easy on Almanzo, that was plain to see.
Almanzo shuffled nervously on his feet. "Ya know how it is Mr. Ingalls, sometimes folks say or do things they shouldn't and they have to make it right."
Charles raised his eyebrows. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
"I don't mean no disrespect, Mr. Ingalls, but some stuff needs to stay between Beth and me." He paused. If there was going to be an explosion, he wanted a moment to think about his reaction. When her pa didn't say anything, he continued. "I appreciate your concern for your daughter. I do. But she's a woman and she needs to make her own decisions."
Charles straightened and looked him directly in the eye. Almanzo knew he was pressing his luck. "What kind of decisions are you talking about?"
"About what she wants out of life."
"And you think a sixteen-year-old girl knows what she wants out of life?" He had raised his voice so that it was no longer a casual conversation. Charles Ingalls had brought up Beth to be independent and strong and to make smart choices. It didn't sound like he was okay with her making her own choices right now.
He had to help Laura's pa understand he had to let go. "More than her pa, yes." Instantly Charles's eyes flickered with anger. To his credit, he seemed to be working to control it. "Listen Mr. Ingalls, I'm not trying to pick a fight. It's just that when you see Laura, you see your little girl. I see the woman I love."
"You're a lot older than she is, son." His voice was softer, but remained stern. He had his opinion on this and Almanzo was going to hear it whether he liked it or not.
He had to make sure he controled his temper as well. Nothing would be gained if he stormed off over this. "I don't see why that should make a difference if we love each other."
"It makes a difference to me."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ingalls. As much as I want to gain your respect, it doesn't matter to me if my being ten years older than Laura bothers you." He swallowed away the lump in his throat. "I love her."
The door to the schoolhouse closed and Charles sighed. Almanzo was sure he wanted to continue their conversation, but their place was inside with their loved ones.
"We'll talk more about this later," said Charles. "I think they're just about ready to start."
Almanzo and Charles took seats on opposite sides of the room. Laura could tell by their tense faces that neither man was happy. Pa glanced over at Almanzo as Eliza Jane called the room to order. She wondered what he was thinking about. Had Almanzo told him that he didn't want to wait to get married? She hoped not. That was a conversation that she should be part of. It was her life they were talking about after all.
After the literary meeting, Almanzo drove Laura home. They drove in silence. Almanzo looking very much in thought. He pulled Barnum to a stop in front of the Ingalls' farm.
"Thanks for the ride, Manly," said Laura.
"My pleasure, Beth." He smiled, but it wasn't the kind of smile that melted her heart. It was more like a "don't worry, it will be all right" kind of smile that you give someone even though you don't know if that's true.
He leaned closer and whispered, "I love you."
"I love you too." She kissed his cheek and them hopped out of the buggy. She could have waited for him to help her out, but it was better this way. Let him have some time to think.
Laura had shared some family stories as they sat around the table together after dessert. Almanzo told a few stories of his own about growing up on the farm in Malone, New York. His eyes shone as he shared memories about the first colt his father let him break in and how they came to live in Spring Valley before Eliza Jane and he set out on their own for Walnut Grove. He spoke fondly of his older sister, and Charles found his devotion to her very encouraging. Would Almanzo be as devoted to Laura if she became his wife? Charles felt the answer was yes.
"What are you thinking about?" Caroline asked, placing a hand on his arm.
He released a breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Laura and Almanzo."
"Then why are you smiling?" she teased.
He glanced over at his wife and caressed her cheek. She was so beautiful, especially with her long hair unwound and flowing past her shoulders. "Maybe it's not such a big deal that he's ten years older than she is." He shrugged, "What do you think?"
She turned on her side. "Well, would you have felt any differently for me if I were ten years younger than you?"
The question was preposterous. He had loved her the moment he laid eyes on her. "Of course not. I would love you no matter what the difference in our ages." It took her a while to decide if she wanted to be a farmer's wife, but in the end his charms won her over. At least he hoped that was why she finally decide to follow him from place to place.
"I'm sure Laura and Almanzo feel the same way."
He sighed. "But what if he wants to marry her?"
"What's wrong with that?" It was a good question. Almanzo loved his daughter, just as sure as she loved him back. He had watched their relationship unfold as Laura struggled to catch his attention. Once she did, though, Almanzo wasn't the same. He had to chuckle to himself. She was definitely an Ingalls.
"Nothing, except that she's too young to get married." This was the reality he struggled with. Wasn't she just climbing trees and knocking down Nellie Oleson in the playground yesterday? He needed to help guide her to make the right decisions. "He's a man and he knows what he wants, but how can Laura know? She got thrown into teaching and then suddenly they are courting."
"I think what she wants is very clear — she wants to be with Almanzo." Caroline was so wise not to push him too much. He knew she understood how he felt. Being able to understand him better than he understood himself was one of the many reasons he loved her so much.
"But there's no guarantee they'll stay together. He's her first beau." He shook his head. "How many beaux did Mary have?"
"You're right; there are no guarantees in life." She raised her eyebrows. "They could break up tomorrow. But if they do it's not going to be because she's sixteen or because he's her first beau."
Charles laughed at himself. She was right. Why did he allow his fears to keep him from accepting Almanzo? Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her smiling at him. She knew she had won, but she didn't need to say it. Another reason to love her. "Isn't there some law that states a woman can't be smarter than her husband?"
Her smile stretched across her face to reveal all her teeth. "If there is, it should be revoked."
They laughed together before Caroline snuggled underneath his arm. The worry faded away as he embraced the woman he had been proud to call his wife for many years. She was always able to see through to what mattered the most--Laura's happiness was more important to Charles than the number of years between Almanzo and his daughter. He still knew he would say no to Almanzo if he asked to marry Laura before she was eighteen, but at least he knew in his heart that he finally accepted the boy for who he was.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.