Saturday, July 25, 2020

Together Again: LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos



Together Again

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.


Laura strolled through the open door to the barn and found Pa pulling the harness off the wall.

“Thought you were heading over to Almanzo’s this morning, Half-pint.” Charles marched toward her, harness in hand. He smiled at Laura and motioned for her to follow him to the wagon. “I wish I could ride you over to Almanzo’s,” he said, adjusting the harness. “But I’m heading in the opposite direction.”

She shrugged, not feeling in any great hurry to get there. “That’s okay. I don’t mind walking.” She put down her books and dinner pail in the bed of the wagon.

Laura watched him work, staring as if she had never seen him hitch up the team before. Charles looked up at her a few times, but mostly his eyes focused on his work. When he came around to the other side of the wagon, he stopped and rested his hand against the front wheel.

“Something on your mind, Half-pint?”

Laura lowered her gaze to her fingers that nervously fumbled with the string of her bag. “I saw you talking to Almanzo last night.”

“U-huh.”

“Well…uh…” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “You seemed happy.”

Charles nodded. “I am. The boy just recovered from a serious illness.”

Laura’s hands traveled to her hips and she shifted all her weight onto her left leg. Doesn’t he remember what Almanzo did to me? Her mouth creased into a frown. “Aren’t you angry for what he did?”

Charles’s eyebrows rose and fell as he nodded. “Oh, that’s what this is all about.”

Laura’s eyes widened. “What?” She saw the smile coming before it appeared on his face.

“You think I should hold what he did against him.”

She titled her chin downward  “No,” she said, her voice barely louder than a whisper. Is it awful that I hoped Pa could understand?

Charles placed one hand on each of her shoulders and stared the kind of stare that only a father about to impart years of wisdom and life experience could give. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead and she was certain she wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

“Half-pint, Almanzo made a mistake. He let his anger get the best of him, and he allowed that anger to guide him in making a decision.” He shrugged. “He probably realized it almost as soon as he got to Sleepy Eye.”

Laura sighed. Why are men so difficult to understand? “Then why didn’t he come right home?”

Charles’s chuckle made Laura’s anger bubbled up inside her. There was nothing funny in all of this. How could he be so insensitive to her feelings?

“Why didn’t you go apologize to Almanzo after he ate that cinnamon chicken like your ma told you to?”

He just had to bring that up. As if apologizing to Almanzo wasn’t enough, it reminded her of how long it took her to convince Almanzo she wasn’t a little girl, and how he threw it right back in her face when she refused to run away with him.

Charles’s firm grip clasped both her arms. “Because you were embarrassed and not ready to admit your mistake. Right?”

His words pounded through her head as she tried to block them out. Almanzo had hurt her. Naturally, she felt angry. Laura nodded, but couldn’t meet her father’s gaze.

“Half-pint, I’m not saying I like what Almanzo did.” He lifted her chin so she was forced to look him in the eye. “I’m just saying that I understand why he did it.”

She nodded halfheartedly and then gazed out over the field behind the house. “I have to get over to Manly’s.” Her voice ragged from containing her emotions, she cleared her throat before picking her books and dinner pail.

Charles caressed her hair and smiled before Laura turned around and headed down the road to the Wilder farm.

*

Laura collapsed onto her bed in an exhausted heap as soon as she slid her nightgown over her head. She couldn’t remember the last time she worked so hard.

After cleaning out the stables and feeding the stock at Almanzo’s, she taught classes during the afternoon while Miss Wilder graded papers. Then she walked back to the Wilder farm for afternoon chores followed by homework after supper. Every muscle ached. How will I get up tomorrow morning?

It seemed like only moments had passed when the sun snuck in through the cracks in the shutters and teased her eyelids open. Stretching and yawning, Laura dressed and fixed her hair. She heard the clattering of Ma’s pans at the cook stove and raced down the ladder so she could talk to her for a few minutes before her siblings awoke.

“Good morning, Laura.” Caroline’s radiant smile already beamed on her face. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

Laura shook her head. “I needed to get up anyway.” She grabbed her apron from the peg next to where her Ma’s apron hung when not in use. Tying it around her waist, she walked to the cupboard to remove the plates.

“Where’s Pa?” she asked, entering the kitchen with the stack of plates and putting them down on the table next to the stove.

Caroline cracked one egg after the other on the rim of a glass bowl before pulling apart the shells with one hand and stirring a pot of oats with the other. “In the barn.”

Laura wandered into the other room and pulled the cups out of the cupboard and placed one in front of each seat at the table. “Ma?” she called with a sense of timidity. A “yes” floated through the doorway between the kitchen and the front room. “How did you feel when Pa left the Big Woods and you didn’t know where he was?”

For a few seconds, all Laura heard was a flurry of activity in the kitchen. She strolled to the doorway and leaned against the jamb. Laura watched the precision with which her mother worked. Caroline would have everything on the table together, steaming hot, by the time Pa came back from the barn, just like every morning.

“Hurt and angry.” Caroline answered. “Sometimes more one than the other.” Caroline poured the beaten eggs into a heated pan and waited for the edge to form along the sides of the pan before scraping the eggs together.

Laura moved to stir the pot of bubbling oats. Caroline glanced at her with a raised eyebrow that seemed to tell Laura to move out of the way. Laura stepped back to the front room and brought down the container of molasses to sweeten the oatmeal. Placing it in the middle of the table, she searched for something else to do. Peeking into the kitchen, she saw that Caroline, as always, had everything under control. So, she decided staying out of the way was probably her best plan of action…especially if she wanted Ma’s advice.

“Did you forgive Pa right away?” Laura hoped she knew the correct answer to this question. It would be horrible if no one understood how she felt about Almanzo abandoning her.

“Yes, I forgave him.” Laura’s heart fell. “But it wasn’t easy to forget what he did.”

Finally! Laura straightened as her confidence grew. “What did you do?”

Caroline moved the frying pan full of eggs away from the heat and covered it to keep the food warm. Then she did the same with the pot of oatmeal. Wiping her hands off on her apron, she sat down at the table and motioned for Laura to join her.

“By the time your pa came back, I already knew I wanted to spend my life with him. You see, unlike you, I wasn’t so sure about getting married. I knew your pa wanted to move west, and that meant no schools and no churches.”

Caroline folded her arms in front of her and leaned them on the table. Laura always enjoyed hearing stories of Ma’s and Pa’s younger days before they were married. The stories helped Laura imagine Ma and Pa as children, and when Ma spoke of their courtship, it allowed Laura to see that maybe they went through some of the same things she and Almanzo did.

“It also meant more of a risk to our safety, and I wasn’t ready for that. That caused most of our arguments.”

Caroline smiled and gazed wistfully around her. “But as soon as I realized how much I loved your pa, none of that mattered. What did trouble me,” she pointed a finger on the table’s surface, “was that he had left me, and I never knew if he planned to return. I wasn’t sure if I could put that aside.”

Tears formed in the corners of Laura’s eyes. She knew exactly how Ma must have felt. Why do men do such things? “Ma, I love Almanzo.”

Caroline slid her hand across the table and laid it over Laura’s. “I know you do.”

“But it seemed like I didn’t even matter to him when he took off for Sleepy Eye. He tossed away the plans we had made just because he didn’t get his way. I know he hurt, too, but how do I know he’ll never leave again?”

“There aren’t any guarantees in life, Laura.”

Tears slid down Laura’s cheeks and Caroline leaned over the table to embrace her. She tucked a tendril of hair that had escaped her bun behind Laura’s ear.

“Almanzo made a hasty decision and, because of that, you got hurt; but I think the fact that he helped Mary and Adam with the blind school shows how important you are to him.”

Laura heard rustling upstairs and knew Albert would be down soon. Caroline stood up and Laura followed her into the kitchen.

Caroline scooped eggs onto a plate and plunked a piece of the corn bread she had made yesterday next to them. “Now you’re going to have to decide which is greater—your love for Almanzo or your fear of getting hurt.”

“Oh, Ma. What should I do?” Desperation clung to her words as she gazed with pleading eyes at her mother.

Caroline handed her a plate of food to carry to the table. “That’s a decision only you can make.”

*

The Wilder farm came into view and Laura slowed her pace. The barn door hung open, and as she entered the yard she could see a tall, lean figure raking out a stall. His joyful whistling blended into the animal noises surrounding him.

“Trying to teach the animals to sing?” Laura teased from the doorway.

His head spun around and he smiled. “You wanna give it a try?”

A laughed escaped her lips and she shook her head. “I think I’ll leave that for you.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “What are you doing?”

He shrugged as if she had asked a ridiculous question. “Looked like you were running late, so I started without ya.”

“Almanzo Wilder.” Her tapping foot swirled dirt around her feet. “Your doctor ordered no farm work for a week, and I intend to see that you follow those orders.”

His crooked smile crept across his face. She always loved that smile. Sometimes it meant he was being mischievous and other times it hid his embarrassment. This time it definitely meant the former.

“And just how do you plan on doing that?”

The heat rose up her cheeks, turning them red. “I’m serious, Almanzo. I almost lost you. I won’t let that happen again.”

As she spoke, he slowly closed the gap between them. Pulling off his work gloves, he reached up and caressed her cheek. “That does sound serious.”

His sudden closeness left her senses reeling. Her chest tightened, breathing suddenly hard. She tried to moisten her lips, but her mouth was as dry as a shriveled plant left to burn in the sun.

Laura swallowed away the lump in her throat. “Manly, please.”

His blue eyes remained steady, staring deeply into hers. They seemed frozen there, standing in Almanzo’s barn, reading one another’s hearts. When at last he broke the silence, his voice sounded raspy and barely a whisper.

“Just for you.” He cupped her chin and leaned down to place a lingering kiss on her lips.

He leaned the rake against the barn wall and tossed his gloves down on the shelf. Without another word he walked out of the barn toward the house. Laura watched his long, thin body moving almost as smoothly as normal. If she hadn’t seen his left leg wobbling as he climbed the porch steps, she would have sworn he had never been sick. Is he being strong for me?

*

When Laura entered the dining room searching for Almanzo, she found a cup of steaming tea waiting for her on the table. Had he been watching from the window? Almanzo appeared in the doorway leading from the dining room into the kitchen.

“Why don’t you sit down and relax a minute before heading off to school?”

Laura pulled out the chair in front of the cup of tea and sat down.

“Mind if I join you?”

She motioned to the chair to her right as she sipped the hot liquid from the cup. She suddenly felt eyes behind her followed by the muffled sound of high-heeled boots across the carpeted parlor.

“Good morning, Laura,” Eliza Jane said as she entered.

Eliza Jane’s hands full of books, the bag she carried with her to school every day hung on her arm. “It’s such a lovely day,” she said. Her eyes focused on Laura’s face. “I think I’ll walk to school this morning.”

She placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder. “Now, don’t worry if you’re running a bit late. I’ve scheduled you to teach classes after lunch.”

Eliza Jane’s skirt twirled as she sashayed out of the room toward the front door. “Have a good day,” she sang before the door clicked shut.

Almanzo and Laura laughed.

“Well that was subtle,” he said. He reached across the table and grasped her hand in his. “Maybe it’s time we talk.”

Laura turned away, a feeling of dread filling her every thought. Her shoulders rose and fell. “I really don’t know what to say.”

The beginnings of a crooked smile appeared on his face. “Well, then, why don’t you let me give it a try.” He breathed deeply and leaned his elbows against the table. “I feel like something has changed between us.”

With her arms crossed and resting on the table’s surface, she nodded. “It has.”

Her words sounded harsh and she feared he might misunderstand her feelings.  Making a point to soften her tone, she blinked three or four times before being able to gaze up at him. “I still love you, and I still want to be your wife. I just don’t know if I can forget how much you hurt me.”

Almanzo straightened in his chair, defenses up. She placed a hand quickly over his.

“How much we hurt each other. How do we get by it, Manly?”

“One day at a time, like most folks.” His chair scrapped the floor as he moved closer. “Beth, I can’t promise I won’t ever hurt you again. I can’t make promises that are impossible to keep.” He lifted her chin and his eyes penetrated her with their sincerity. “All I can promise is that I’ll never try to hurt you.”

Laura remained silent for several seconds. Glancing around the room, she looked as if she might find the answer on the wall. “We’re still going to have to wait two years to get married. Are you all right with that?”

“Don’t have much of a choice, now, do I?”

A giggle escaped her lips. “No.”

His smile returned and he leaned closer. Laura felt the warmth of his breath on her face.

“I love you, Beth.”

Before she could respond, his lips captured hers with several soft, tender kisses. Their foreheads leaning against each other, Laura’s fears began to melt away.

“I love you, too, Manly.”

Her lips sought his. School, the farm, and the whole world momentarily forgotten as they lingered in their kiss.

“Almanzo?”

“U-huh?”

“I still can’t promise to obey.”

The laughter started deep inside him. She could hear him struggling to contain it, but it became louder and his face reddened until he finally inhaled deeply and the laughter filled the room until he had to grip his aching sides.

“I certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to expect you would.”

Laura’s arms folded over her chest. What does he mean by that?

“Aw, Beth,” he said. "Don’t you know by now that I love you just the way you are?" He smirked. "Houston says that you are plumb feisty.”

She could hear the harrumph in her voice. “Thanks a lot.”

Almanzo shrugged. “He’s right. Seems I’ve been on the receiving end of that myself a few times.” Laura’s face turned crimson. “All that means is that nothing is ever gonna keep you down, and you won't let anything stand in your way.”

He cupped her chin and leaned in closer. “Seems like good traits for a farmer’s wife.”

Laura laughed at herself. What’s wrong with being feisty anyway? It had certainly allowed her to keep up with Nellie Oleson all these years. A mischievous grin slid across her face. “What if I don’t want to be a farmer’s wife?”

“Well, then, you best be getting yourself a new man, because God made me to be a farmer.”

Her hand reached up and touched his cheek. “I guess I’m destined to be a farmer’s wife then, because there is no one in the whole world for me, but you, Manly.”

Their lips connected and sparks shot through her. Being this close to him always left her in a daze. It seemed like months since she felt that connection to him. Things will be just fine between us.

Laura stood up and planted a quick kiss on his cheek before refilling their tea cups. Then the conversation started—that easy kind of talk about anything and everything that had been missing since he went away. He told her about the plans he had for the farm before winter, and she shared the challenges of being a fellow student and a teacher to her classmates, many of whom she had known for years. Eventually they would have to drive into town but, for now, Laura settled in to spend time with Almanzo so that the healing could begin.


Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.

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