"Is that Grandfather?" Jo asked. Laurie sighed.
"Yes, I believe it is, and John."
"Over here!" Jo exclaimed, wanting to escape her thoughts for a few moments.
"John, they're here." They heard Grandfather say.
"We should," Laurie began, reluctantly stepping away from the girl. The lantern light neared than flooded about the bundled Mr. Brooke and Grandfather.
"Why ever were you thinking it a wise idea to come out here this late!" Grandfather said in a scolding tone.
"It wasn't on purpose. We got lost." Laurie said earnestly. Grandfather sighed and took Jo's hand.
"She's frozen, are you all right dear?"
"I'm just fine thank you. We just got lost while berry hunting. Is Marmee upset?"
"She's just glad you were together, alone and you would freeze to death. Come along." The foursome headed out of the woods, Mr. Brooke leading the way out. "For goodness sakes boy, give her your coat." Grandfather exclaimed when he noticed Jo was shivering again.
"No Teddy I'm-"
"He's right, I insist." Laurie stripped off his coat and held it out for her. She nestled into the toasty jacket and they continued walking, wanting to pinch herself when she had the thought of wishing Laurie was still in it.
"Thank you, Teddy." She pulled it tight around her nose, the scent was so familiar. Woodsmoke and peppermint. Comforting smells that always latched onto to the boy's clothes during this time of year. After nearly half an hour they made their way back to the meadow and onto the road. The foursome's footsteps being the only noise on the silent black street. As they rounded the corner, they were greeted by the warm glowing windows of the Laurence and the March's homes. Once at the gate, Jo handed Laurie the berry basket with a smirk and Grandfather ushered her to the door.
"You must get hot drink immediately, your mother will be-" The door flung open.
"They found her!" Amy exclaimed. Meg and Marmee bustled to the door.
"Oh Jo, I was getting worried." Marmee said as she pulled her inside. "And Laurie, are you safe and-"
"Sound as I ever was." He bowed in Mr. Brooke's lamplight.
"Why don't you all join us. Hannah's got a fresh pot on the stove and we can reheat the bread from supper. Its the least I can do for you two." Grandfather smiled and gestured to Mr. Brooke and Laurie. The two followed in after the older man and huddled around the fire. The heat of the house made Laurie whip off his beanie, his hair curling in all directions. Amy gasped when she spotted the berry basket on a table.
"You went berry picking, without me!"
"Amy, please." Meg said, hushing her. Amy crossed her arms and stomped out of the room.
"Fresh tea for each of you." Hannah said through a smile as she placed the tray on an end table.
"Thank you, kindly." Mr. Brooke said with a nod as he handed Meg a mug then took his own. Laurie and Jo sat on a sofa beside the fire, sipping their hot drinks and laughing about who was more wrong in their directions they had believed home was in. They shared their story of getting lost and Jo didn't forget to bring up Laurie's lounging and berry eating while she picked.
"He's got the purple mouth to prove all his hard work." Teddy blew a kiss to the group to show off the color on his lips, Marmee ruffled Laurie's hair from behind. Hannah soon brought out a loaf of bread and the two families warmed their stomachs and their spirits late into the night. When the clock tolled 10, Grandfather hurriedly rose.
"My goodness how time flies! I apologize for staying so late."
"Oh you're welcome here at all hours." Marmee said as she hugged the man. "Thank you both again for finding our Laurie and Jo."
"Whatever will be made with those berries will be worth it." He smiled. "Evening, Jo and Meg. Tell Beth and Amy good night will you?" Marmee nodded as she followed he and Mr. Brooke to the door. Laurie rose and he and Jo embraced, but said nothing as Grandfather shouted for him at the door.
"Goodnight!" Jo called as the door shut behind them.
"My goodness I'm exhausted. I'm so pleased you're home safe." Marmee kissed her forehead then followed Hannah into the kitchen, leaving the two sisters alone in the dim lit hall.
"Jo, it looks like you have some berry juice on your forehead." Meg smirked, but Jo was unaware that her sister was amused by the lip shaped mark the stain had made.
"Oh," she wiped at it. "That juice gets everywhere. All over my clothes and-" She gasped, looking down at Teddy's coat still on her shoulders. "Teddy!" She barged past Meg and out the door, back into the frigid air. "Teddy!" She called as the boy was about to step inside his doorway. He smiled and closed the door behind Grandfather. Jo hurried out past the gate and the two met in the middle, secluded by the hedge. "I believe this belongs to you." She tugged off his coat and handed it to him.
"I wouldn't mind if you kept it longer." He smiled, holding it against his chest while it still held her warmth. Jo fidgeted with her scarf, she wanted to say something. Or do something. This was what she hated about this kind of thing. She never knew what to do besides run away from it. "Did you want to finish what you were saying earlier, before Grandfather found us...when I asked you if you meant it." He fiddled with a button on his coat, avoiding her gaze.
"Teddy, I." She bit her lip, looking out to the darkness beyond before looking up to him, the candlelight that pierced through the hedge reflecting in his eyes. "I just. I wanted you to know that...Oh." She groaned, violently plucking a leaf from the hedge. A concerned look grew on the boy's face.
"Did I do something to upset you?"
"Oh no Teddy! Not at all. I just. You know me and I'm not normal about these things. I get all worked up and then, you're always right." She sighed. "Its just that with all this talk about Meg possibly getting engaged...I just don't want us to end up, like that. Married."
"My dear Jo." He stepped closer to her, holding back a chuckle. "Who said anything about us having to get married?"
"Well they will! You know it." She tossed the leaf aside. "I would love to tell you yes, but..."
"Jo," he smirked. "This isn't marriage. My goodness, Jo. Its just a," he let his coat fall to the ground and stepped closer to her. "Its just a this." He wrapped his arms around her, and after a moment she tightly returned the embrace, laying her head above his heart to listen to its beat once again. He rubbed her back and rested his cheek atop her head.
"Then yes, Teddy. I do like this. Very much so." The couple stood silent for a few moments, lost in each other's embraces. Laurie knew her. He understood the way she felt about marriage. And as long as he never let that slip his mind, Jo no longer wanted to run from his open heart. "Now what do we do, Teddy? You know the way I am. You might as well run away while you still can." She tilted her head to look at him and was greeted by his smile.
"The only running away I'd do is with you." She smirked as he gently brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. "And if you would permit it Ms. March, I'd love to do this as often as I can." Laurie kissed the berry stain on her forehead before kissing each cheek. Jo felt her whole body swell. She tried not to panic at the way she was feeling for the boy and smiled up at him.
"Oh Teddy, if it was anyone but you." He grinned than kissed her nose.
"I like it being me." She smiled, looking into Laurie's eyes that no matter how black they appeared, they were always brighter and warmer than any she'd ever seen. As the following words left Jo's mouth, she was surprised that they were her own. But at this moment, alone with her lovely Teddy, his wavy dark hair wild, white shirt speckled with mud, lips stained purple, she felt like she couldn't say anything else. Jo took his warm hand in hers and kissed his palm before holding it to her chest.
"I think it always will be."
Thank you to everyone who read this story! But since it has come to an end, please give feedback! It is the only way I know you have enjoyed it. I am considering a sequel, but I need to know what you all thought first. So please review! And thank you to, literaryfreak for reviewing!