What Should I Do?

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 sat in Houston's chair at the blind school watching Almanzo sleep. She pulled her white knitted shawl tighter around her shoulders. Her eyes shone with deep love and concern for the man she dreamed would be her husband since they had met.

Almanzo's chest rose and fell with great effort and a snore of congestion sounded with each intake of breath. His life still hovered over death's door, but speaking to him earlier and gazing into his eyes filled with recognition and love brought Laura some relief. Please Manly, don't leave me!

*

Days passed with only minor improvements in Almanzo's condition, but the doctor no longer frowned each time he listened to his chest and that brought Laura some hope. Today Almanzo felt strong enough to take some broth. Laura plumped his pillows while Adam and Houston helped him into a sitting position.

"Comfortable?" she asked once Houston and Adam left them.

Almanzo's fingers reached out for the tendril of hair that had fallen over her face. "How about you? Ya look tired."

"I'm not the one battling pneumonia." Laura blew onto the spoonful of broth and lifted it to his lips. "Open up."

Almanzo exhaled as deeply as he could after the warm liquid slid down his throat. If the raspy sound of his voice were any indication, his throat must be raw from coughing.

"Really Beth, how are you?"

She sighed and rolled her eyes at him. "Ma says that we Ingalls women are bred just as strong as our husbands."

A crooked smile crept across his face. "So I can expect to see you plowin' the field next spring?"

She glared at him, but she couldn't keep the smile from curling the corners of her lips. "Manly."

His body shook as Almanzo struggled to catch his breath. Laura's eyes widened as his face turned red. The spoon trembled in her hand. Almanzo clutched his chest once the coughing stopped and a long wheeze escaped his lips as he exhaled.

Laura placed the bowl of broth down on the nightstand and wiped his sweaty brow with a cool cloth. His eyes twinkled with thanks. Laura was pleased when the color of his face calmed to a healthy shade of pink.

Almanzo clasped her hand and drew it up to his lips. "Why did ya come?"

Laura's forehead crinkled over her chocolate brown eyes. "What?"

"Why did you come when ya found out I was sick?"

Her hand traveled up to caress his cheek. "How could I not come?"

He shrugged. "Ya didn't seem too happy to see me that day you were cleanin' up this place."

A sigh escaped Laura's lips. He can't be serious. It was a good thing she didn't have the bowl of broth in her hands. She might have dumped it in his lap and stomped out.

"You left town when I refused to run off with you and then you insulted my Pa. What was I supposed to do, jump down from the platform and hug you?"

Laura's back straightened and her nostrils flared. His furrowed brow and squinted eyes staring back at her, he pushed himself up so he sat straight against the pillow and folded his arms across his chest.

"So you expect me to be happy that you chose your Pa over me?"

She shot out of the chair and the front two legs lifted before slamming back down on the floor again. "I never chose Pa over you." She slapped her hands against her legs.

"A wife should go where her husband goes."

She was sure he would have shouted if he could, but his labored breathing made it impossible. "And a respectable man never would have asked a woman to run off like two thieves in the night just because his pride got hurt."

Laura gasped and her hands flew up to cover her mouth. She had gone too far and now she couldn't take it back. "Oh Manly, I'm sorry. I-I-I didn't mean that."

He grunted under his breath and turned his head away, his white knuckles tightening. "You meant it," he said through clenched teeth.

"Please don't assume you know what I mean to say." Her voice had lowered to almost a whisper.

She grabbed her skirt and sat down on the bed. Laura's hand traveled through his hair, the edges still wet from the fever and cold compresses. His muscles tensed under the covers. "Will you look at me?" The sound of labored breathing was his only response. "Please."

Slowly Almanzo's face turned toward her. His blue eyes sparked with anger and pain. She wasn't sure she could say anything to make up for her cruel words. The heat of his glare forced Laura to look down at the trembling fingers in her lap. He has to know I didn't reject him.

She raised her eyes and smiled. Wishing she could calm the nervous tumbles inside her stomach, she risked touching his crossed arms. He didn't tense up, but his expression never softened.

"I love you." He said nothing. "I never saw it as choosing Pa over you. I could never make that kind of choice. Don't you know by now that each of you owns my heart?" Her voice cracked, making the last few words ragged.

Tears formed in the corners of Laura's eyes and she had to swallow away the lump in her throat before she could continue. "I would rather rip my heart out than hurt either of you."

"I fell in love with you the day we met." She gripped his arm. "From the first moment I saw you and stumbled over my words, nothing was ever the same."

He chuckled at her recollection and his arms fell back down to his sides.

"I used to be so sure of myself and what I wanted, but meeting you…I had all these strange feelings I never felt before and suddenly I couldn't be sure of anything."

Almanzo caressed her cheek. "You seemed pretty sure of what ya wanted that day at the bridge."

"But I wasn't." She sighed. How can I make him understand?

She grabbed his right hand in both of hers. "After you had that argument with Pa about waiting to get married—" He nodded. "I told him that if waiting meant I was going to lose you, I wouldn't wait."

Lines crinkled his scrunched forehead. "Really?"

"Yes. I spent two years trying to get you to notice me. I certainly wasn't going to toss it all away. Hearing you say you loved me and asking me to marry you was a dream come true."

Laura exhaled deeply and her left hand rubbed her forehead, as if she could wipe away the tension. "But you didn't see my Pa's face when I said it. I might as well have punched him in the stomach with all my might. After I ran up to the loft, I could hear Ma and Pa talking. I couldn't hear what they were saying but I knew it was about us."

Laura slid up closer. She had to be careful how to word this. "Do you know what my Ma said when she came up to the loft that night?" He shook his head. "She asked me to think of how Pa was feeling? And how can I not Almanzo? All Pa wants is what's best for me…and for you too."

Almanzo's large hand entirely covered her tiny one. "Beth, don't you think you're old enough to know what that is by now?"

"I can't disregard Pa's feelings Almanzo. And just because I've reached a certain age doesn't mean I'm going to stop asking Ma's and Pa's opinions on things, especially things that are this important."

Her gaze fell upon their hands. If only they could go back to that day at the lake where he had asked her to marry him. Things were so much easier then.

"If I thought Pa was being unreasonable, I would have stood up to him." She shook her head, still amazed that she had considered running away for even a second. "I might even have gone off to Sleepy Eye with you."

The bedroom suddenly felt warm. Laura slid her finger under the collar of her dress. Beads of sweat formed on her back and she shivered. She stood up and wandered over to the window, needing to put some distance between them. The heat of his stare burned on her back.

The tears welled up and she tried to blink them away. Even though she loved him and still wanted to be his wife, she couldn't deny the pain. It gnawed away at her like a moth chews a hole in a piece of clothing. Her warm breath frosted the window pane and quickly evaporated just as a new gust of breath frosted the pane white again. How could he do it?

"I think Pa is right," she said flatly. Again she began to fiddle with the collar of her dress that suddenly seemed to be choking her.

"What?" His confusion and anger lingered in the air.

Laura turned to face him, her fingers still running along the edge of her collar. "I think Pa is right."

His head cocked to one side, his brows were knitted closely together over his squinting eyes. She walked toward him slowly, hoping that he would think about every word she said.

"We're not ready for marriage." Her voice cracked as she struggled to hold back the tears.

His lips parted then shut again. Almanzo turned away to look at the barren wall next to his bed before returning his gaze to her face. "I-I-I didn't think you wanted to wait."

Laura's fingers instinctively traveled up to dab at the tears starting to slide down her face. "You left Walnut Grove because you didn't get your way."

She wanted to feel angry, but the pain blocked out ever other emotion. Her chest heaved up and down as she fought to compose herself. "We were planning a life together but you were willing to throw it away because you had to wait two years."

Laura glanced up at the ceiling, the tears now a constant stream down her face. How could he do this to me?

When her eyes met his again, his face appeared as a mixture of sadness and confusion similar to what she imagined he saw in her face.

"You said it yourself—you tried to forget me. Why would you want to forget someone you love rather than work things out?"

As she spoke, she walked closer to his bed. Her skirt now grazed the blankets. She stood over him with pleading eyes, begging for him to help her understand how he could have left her and their plans behind.

"Night after night I cried myself to sleep wondering what I did wrong…wondering how the man I love, the man who said he loved me, could just pick up and leave."

"You're angry at me". He grabbed for her hand but she snatched it away.

Her right boot stamped the ground. "I'm not angry." Fresh tears tumbled down her cheeks. "I'm hurt. You hurt me Almanzo."

Laura's legs wobbled underneath her and the emotions swirling inside her head left her dizzy. She sat on the bed and leaned against his chest. His arms immediately held her close. Laura's tears fell upon Almanzo's shirt and her warm breath heated her face.

"I thought you loved me."

His arms pulled her closer and she felt him swallow away the lump in his throat. "I do love ya, Beth. I do."

Almanzo stroked her hair. As if that could take away the weeks of anguish she had gone through. Her emotions confused her again. It felt good to be in his arms. How could that be after he had deserted her?

He lifted her chin and stared into her tear streaked face. "I never wanted to hurt ya. Honest truth is, I never thought about it. I'm sorry Beth."

Laura dried her face and stood up. She wasn't quite sure how to feel about his utter disregard for her feelings that day. How can someone say he loves you and not even consider how much he would hurt you?

She nodded, having nothing else to offer him. "It's late and I'm tired." She could hear Mary and Adam walking down the hallway saying goodnight to the children. "I'm going to eat a bit of supper and then go to bed."

Laura straightened his covers and plumped his pillow. "Are you comfortable?"

Almanzo slid a bit deeper into the covers and clasped the edge of the blankets with both hands. He nodded. Laura had a vision of a young Almanzo laying in bed looking up at his mother after she had scolded him.

She leaned down and pecked his cheek. "Goodnight Almanzo."

Laura walked to the door and opened it. She turned to look at him one last time, her eyes dropping with exhaustion.

"Goodnight Laura." He didn't smile. In fact, his face held no emotion at all, as if he wasn't sure what to express.

Pulling the door shut, her hand lingered on the knob for a moment. He hadn't called her Beth…and she wondered why.

*

The next day Laura began packing for home. When the doctor had come earlier that morning, she stopped him on the way out of Almanzo's room. Almanzo was out of danger and he could head home whenever he felt ready. She thanked the doctor and then returned to her room to silently thank God for answering her prayers.

Mary had come up to check on her a few minutes later. Laura hadn't come down to breakfast. She told Mary that she was just tired and wanted to relax a bit. But that wasn't the whole truth. Her emotions still raw from yesterday, she couldn't face Almanzo. Now that she was sure he wouldn't die, she wanted to return to Walnut Grove as soon as possible. Perhaps Ma or Pa would have some advice on how to heal her wounded heart.

Laura thought back to the day Pa told her Almanzo was sick. He had said Almanzo was special and must have a great deal of love for her. How could Pa feel that way after Almanzo left her? Ma had told her that Pa had left the Big Woods once. How did she forgive him?

Two sets of feet walked down the hallway, but there were no voices. One set of feet sounded lighter than usual and a bit unsteady, but she recognized Almanzo's gait along the wooden floor. A knock rattled the door.

Laura picked up a mirror from the nightstand to make sure her hair looked okay. "Come in."

She held her breath as the door clicked and swung open. Almanzo's tall form filled the doorway. "Can I talk to ya a minute?"

Someone must have brought him a change of clothes from his room over at the boarding house. Still a bit thin, Almanzo appeared washed and freshly shaven.

"Sure," she said, standing up from the bed.

Almanzo walked inside, his legs a bit wobbly. "Do you mind if I sit down?"

Laura rushed to carry the chair from her desk to the middle of the room. "Of course not." She patted the seat.

As Almanzo walked further into the room, Adam appeared in the doorway. "I have to go teach a class. Let me know when Almanzo's ready to go back to his room."

Laura smiled. "I will. Thanks."

Adam smiled back before closing the door, leaving Laura shaking her head. His sense of perception never ceased to amaze her. There was no way he could have known she was smiling at him.

Laura felt Almanzo's eyes on her. Rather than add to the discomfort between them, she sat on the bed so that she didn't stand over him.

Almanzo's gaze landed on her open, half-packed bag. "Goin' home?"

"Yes. I need to get back. I have school and chores to take care of."

He nodded and then stared down at his hands. She waited for him to say something, but he didn't. She watched him staring intently at his fingers as if they held something of great value. It reminded her of the day at the lake when he proposed to her.

"You said you wanted to talk." Her eyebrows rose and she shrugged.

Almanzo leaned over so that his arms rested on his knees, his hands clasped in front of him. "Laura." Again he did not call her Beth and it began to gnaw at her. "When I met you at the bridge that mornin', I was so sure of your answer, I….I never thought ya would turn me down."

She slid to the edge of the bed, suddenly needing to be close to him. "But why did you decide to leave town?"

He shrugged and shook his head. "Well, runnin' into your Pa in town all the time and havin' to pretend everythin' was fine between us wasn't too appealin'. And, I didn't wanna listen to Harriet Oleson waggin' her tongue about it neither."

Laura touched a hand to his knee. "But you love the farm."

"I know." Almanzo raked his hand through his hair. "I guess I just wanted to see if I could make it without my Father or Eliza Jane."

What could that possibly mean? Almanzo hadn't spoken much of his life before coming to Walnut Grove. He had told her some stories, but they were mostly about his older brother, Royal.

The skin in the corners of her eyes crinkled. "What do you mean?"

Almanzo exhaled a deeper breath than she had heard in weeks. "Growing up on the farm in New York, I always had to listen to my Father. I was older when we moved to Spring Valley, but as long as I lived with my Father I had to obey him, even if it was just out of respect."

His mouth pursued into a thin line and he rubbed is eyes. "That's why Perley Day left. He thought he was a man and men don't havta pay any mind to their parents."

They hadn't spoken of Perley Day after he left Walnut Grove. She had seen the youngest Wilder boy walk away after Almanzo had caught up with him on the road, but Almanzo never shared what had transpired between them and somehow Laura always felt she shouldn't ask.

Almanzo chuckled and a crooked smile slid across his face. "Ya probably can't imagine this, but Eliza Jane is a bossy older sister. Livin' with her is just like livin' with my Father."

Laura sat in wide-eyed amazement. Miss Wilder bossy? She was as quiet as a church mouse. Though she saw how Almanzo differed to her judgment at times, she chalked it up to Eliza Jane being older. He had, after all, offered to leave Walnut Grove with her when all that trouble arose with Bart Slater.

His shoulders rose along with his eyebrows. "So, I figured it was time to see what I could do on my own." His gaze fell to the floor and he shook his head. "Ya see how well that turned out."

Laura slid off the bed and squatted in front of his chair. She placed her hands over his and gazed into his eyes that were now tinged with disappointment.

"The only reason you were working that second job was to do something nice for my family…and me. I'll never forget it," she whispered, then stood up and placed a tender kiss on his cheek.

Laura looked at his face, relieved that most of the signs of illness had faded. His skin was no longer cold and clammy or flushed with fever, and while thinner than when he left home, she saw his face had a slight pink to it instead of the pale whiteness it held before.

"I didn't like the way that man talked to ya," he said. "Besides, that buildin' had been empty for months. He coulda waited for the rest of the money."

"My hero." Her eyes beamed with love and pride.

"Not feelin' too heroic right now. Actually, I'm kinda tired."

She ran her fingers through his hair. "I'll go get Adam and he can help you back to your room."

Almanzo reached for her hand. "I think I can make it back if ya let me lean on ya a bit."

They strolled down the hallway, Almanzo using the railing on the wall to support most of his weight. It felt good to walk together like this and Laura couldn't help feeling that they might be okay. She watched his face as they walked along. He winced from time to time, but it seemed he was determined to be strong for her.

When they entered his room, Almanzo plopped down on the bed. His forehead dotted with sweat, his breaths came in short pants. Laura listened for a wheeze, but thankfully didn't hear one. She pulled off his boots—not that he wanted her to, but she had insisted—and covered him with the blankets after he swung his legs up onto the bed.

A smile curled the corner of her lips and his crooked smile looked back at her. A glimmer of a spark danced in his eyes.

"Now, get some rest." She pointed her thumb toward the door. "I'm a bit hungry, so I'm going to see what I can find in the kitchen."

He nodded and she turned to walk away.

"Hey Beth?" he called as her hand touched the door knob.

"Yes?"

"How ya gettin' home?"

She shrugged. "I'll probably call Ma at the restaurant and have her ask Pa to come get me."

Almanzo lowered his gaze and picked at an invisible piece of lint on the blanket. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down. "I should be ready to head home the day after tomorrow if ya wanna join me. I sure would appreciate the company."

A wide smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "I'd love to."

He closed his eyes and instantly fell asleep. His breathing still sounded a bit labored as she tiptoed over to the bed and placed a tender kiss on his forehead. He smiled and snuggled deeper under the covers.

Laura snuck quietly out of the room and pulled the door carefully so it didn't make a sound. As she wandered down the hallway toward the stairs, she felt good for the first time in weeks. Almanzo was out of danger and on the mend, and with a bit of work their relationship would mend too. She couldn't wait to head home and talk to her parents. She was sure they could help her heal her heart. But for now she just wanted to look forward to the ride home with Almanzo by her side.