Apologies

LHOP inspired 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 paused at the top of the schoolhouse stairs. Her fingers wrapped around the doorknob, but she couldn't seem to force her body to push the door open. Her behavior this afternoon had been despicable. Attacking Brenda Sue in the middle of town. What was I thinking?

She knew what she was thinking—Almanzo was having a love affair with a beautiful, talented woman. How could she have been so foolish? Would her rash decision cost her the job she loved?

As soon as Mrs. Oleson had heard about the incident, she called an emergency meeting of the school board. Laura knew they were waiting on the other side of the door—if she could only gather the courage to enter. She wasn't sure if it was worse to face the people who had trusted her to teach the children of Walnut Grove, or her Pa, who already knew how silly she had been because he had driven her home to confront Almanzo after her fight with Brenda Sue.

Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, Laura lifted her chin and stepped into the one room schoolhouse.

Mrs. Oleson stood at the front of the room, one arm leaning on Laura's desk. She pursed her lips as Laura approached. "Well, it's about time."

Laura swallowed hard. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting." She slid behind her desk and sat down.

Mrs. Oleson straightened as she prepared to address the school board. "In case you haven't heard what happened, Mrs. Wilder," Mrs. Oleson waved an arm in Laura's direction, "attacked a woman in town today. Poor Brenda Sue Longworth was about to enter the restaurant when Laura shoved her to the ground and began beating on her."

"I think that's a bit harsh, Mrs. Oleson," said Pa.

Hands on her hips, Mrs. Oleson glared at him. "Is that so, Mr. Ingalls? Just be thankful your children didn't see their teacher rolling around in the dirt, wrestling with a defenseless woman."

"Harriet, that's enough," Mr. Oleson said sharply. He stood and stepped into the aisle between the two rows of benches. "Laura made a mistake. She thought that woman was…" Mr. Oleson suddenly looked uncomfortable. He shrugged his shoulders and tugged at his tie before sitting back down.

Laura's chair scraped the floor as she stood. "It's all right, Mr. Oleson. Thank you for sticking up for me, but my behavior today was less than exemplary. I'm ready to accept whatever the school board decides." She risked a glance at Pa before letting her gaze fall to the floor.

The feathers on Mrs. Oleson's hat fluttered as she shook her head. "Well, I don't feel it is in our children's best interest to have a teacher who brawls in the middle of the street. How can she keep the children from fighting amongst themselves if she can't even control her own actions?"

"Discipline has never been an issue before," said Doctor Baker from his seat in front of Mr. Oleson on the right hand side of the room.

"We've never had a school teacher pick a fight either, Doctor Baker." Mrs. Oleson flung her hands in the air. "It seems there's a first time for everything. Do you think all the children didn't run home to tell their parents about it? What happens if word spreads outside of Walnut Grove?"

"It could affect our businesses," said Mr. Caulder, who sat behind Pa. "Who will want to move here if they think we don't have a good school?"

Laura had never realized how her actions might impact anyone else. Mrs. Oleson was right. This was about more than Laura being jealous over Brenda Sue's attraction to Almanzo. It was about more than apologizing to Almanzo for her lack of trust. Never mind how embarrassed she felt over the whole thing now, fighting with Brenda Sue could keep people from sending their kids to school or even keep them out of town. What have I done?

"Exactly, Mr. Caulder." Mrs. Oleson turned to look at Laura before clasping her hands in front of her waist. "I hate to be the one to say this, but perhaps it's time we found a new teacher. Someone a bit older, more experienced."

Laura's heart skipped a beat. This was what she feared all along. She knew Mrs. Oleson was less than thrilled about hiring her when Miss Wilder left. While she hadn't been privy to their conversations, she heard Mrs. Oleson had put up a stink when the school board overruled her concerns about Laura's age and lack of experience. After all her hard work, it seemed she had proven Mrs. Oleson right. She wanted to beg them for another chance, but she knew she deserved whatever they decided.

"Do you know how long it could take to find a new teacher?" asked Mr. Oleson. "And who would teach school in the interim?"

"Might I remind you, and everyone else, that I have a teaching certificate," said Mrs. Oleson.

Mr. Oleson's eyebrows rose. "That's very good, dear, but who would help take care of customers at the mercantile if you were here? With planting season upon us, it's been busier than ever."

"Why can't Laura just apologize to the class?" asked Doc Baker.

Mrs. Oleson's eyes rose to the top of her eyelids. "That's what you suggest as a reprimand? An apology?"

Laura had a bad history with apologizing. If only Mrs. Oleson had remembered how hard and embarrassing it was for Laura to apologize, she would realize there was no worse punishment short of losing her job.

Doc Baker slid his hefty frame off the bench. A tall man, he created an imposing presence. His eyebrows rose, crinkling his ample forehead. "Yes, Mrs. Oleson. What better lesson could there be for the children than to hear an adult admit she made a mistake? Their respect for Laura will only grow."

"I agree," said Mr. Oleson. "She's a good teacher. Look at how much she's helped Willie in the past few months."

"The children sure do like her," said Mr. Caulder.

Laura looked at each person as they spoke. Her gaze finally landed on her father's face. He had allowed the conversation to continue without his input. When everyone turned toward him, Pa straightened.

"Laura knows what she did was wrong, and she already said she would accept whatever the school board decides," said Pa. "She didn't try to make excuses for what she did. I'm sure she feels badly that she lost her temper in front of the class."

Mr. Oleson tugged the sides of his light brown suit jacket. "It's time for a vote." Mrs. Oleson opened her mouth, a finger pointing in the air, but Mr. Oleson silenced her with a stern shake of his head. "All those in favor of Laura apologizing to the children, say aye."

Four ayes rang out as Doc Baker, Mr. Caulder, Mr. Oleson, and Pa raised their hands.

"Those opposed," said Mr. Oleson. Mrs. Oleson raised her hand. "You're overruled, Harriet. Let's go."

Mr. Oleson shook the hands of the other men and marched out the door. Mrs. Oleson grabbed her bag off Laura's desk. She clutched it tightly as she leaned close to Laura's ear. "I'm sure this won't happen again. Will it, Mrs. Wilder?"

Laura gulped. "No, Mrs. Oleson. You have my word on it."

"Good." Mrs. Oleson spun on her heel and stomped out the door, slamming it shut.

Pa met Laura in the front of the room. He placed an arm around her shoulders. "Are you all right, Halfpint?"

"I got lucky. If Mrs. Oleson had her way, I would be out of a job."

Laura and Pa walked together down the aisle and out the door. Laura stopped on the top stair. She brushed away a strand of hair that blew into her face. The sun was close to setting, and it had gotten colder. She should have brought her coat, but in her frenzied haste to arrive at school, she had forgotten it.

"Why don't you let me drive you home?" said Pa.

Laura nodded. "That would be nice." She was sure she wouldn't get much sleep tonight.

After school the next day, Laura walked to the Ingalls farm with her brother, Albert and sister, Carrie. Almanzo had left town early so he could plow the upper field. He wanted to start planting the next day. Laura had time before she had to head home to make supper. She found Ma at the kitchen table, pressing butter into molds.

"Hi Ma." Laura's wide smile stretched across her face.

Caroline wiped her hands on her apron. "You're in a good mood today." Ma pulled out a chair and slunk down, indicating Laura should do the same. "It must have gone well then."

"It did. The children were wonderful about it. But I hope I never have to do it again."

"You never did like to apologize," joked Ma.

Laura folded her arms in front of her on the table. "Ma, can I ask you something?"

"Certainly."

"Have you ever been jealous of other women? I mean—"Laura lowered her gaze, the heat of a blush warming her cheeks.

Ma clasped Laura's arm. "Did I ever think your Pa was interested in another woman after we were married?"

Laura didn't lift her eyes, but she managed a nod. I can't believe I'm talking about this. Ma will probably think it's foolish.

"A couple of times. I think it's easy to be afraid of your husband's head being turned by a pretty face."

Ma's admission shocked her. "But you're so beautiful. How could Pa ever look at anyone else?"

A soft giggle escaped Ma's lips. "If we saw ourselves as our loved ones do, it wouldn't happen. But we don't. We think about faults or how we don't measure up to other people."

Ma tapped Laura's hand. "You're young yet." Laura's heart ached. Why would Ma say such a thing? She knew how important it was that people see her as an adult. Maybe she would always be a little girl to Ma.

"Being newly married, you're still getting used to what is expected of you. As a girl, you could get away with being impulsive. Now, you're expected to think before you act. You need to control your temper."

"Like Pa did when he punched Almanzo for kissing me on the forehead."

"Your Pa has always been more of a boy than a man. It's one of the things I love about him. It also makes him a wonderful father. But every time he acts in haste, he regrets it—just like you did."

Laura sighed. "Does it ever get any easier?"

"It takes time to trust another person with your heart." Ma shifted in her chair. "Do you remember the ?"

Laura had to think a moment. "Oh, the nice lady Pa made the china cabinet for?"

Ma nodded, but she hesitated. She put a finger to her lip and chewed on her nail. Ma always did that when she was thinking. It made Laura wonder what she could have to say.

"Mrs. Thurman was a nice lady. She was also very beautiful. Your pa was spending a lot of time at her place and there was talk in town that maybe he was doing more than just working for her."

Now that Ma shared some of the details, Laura remembered how worried Mary and she were back then about Pa spending so much time with Mrs. Thurman. Her husband had died suddenly. Pa was making her a cabinet to house the new china her husband had ordered for her before he passed away. Mrs. Thurman had offered Pa the old china as payment for his work, but being the practical person Pa was he decided to take the money. That didn't keep him from plotting how he could buy the old china for Ma. It had taken him some time, and he had to tell several white lies in order to keep his secret, but he always said the look on Ma's face when she unwrapped the china was worth it.

"It was foolish, I know," said Ma, "but for a few moments I began to wonder if what people were saying about your pa was true. I trusted him, but I knew he wasn't being honest with me about where he was going each day. He was so tired working at the mill, taking care of the farm, and working at Mrs. Thurman's that he didn't talk much before going to bed each night. I missed our time together."

Laura cocked her head to the side. "Anyone can tell by the way Pa looks at you that he loves you."

"You don't always notice those things…especially when you have young children to take care of. You'll see what I mean when you and Almanzo have children of your own."

The subject of children was a tense one between Manly and her. He wanted children right away, but Laura wished to teach for two more years. She had worked hard for her teaching certificate and wanted to put it to good use.

"When it's just the two of you, it's easier to remember to say I love you or to catch the other's eye across a crowded room." Ma gazed over Laura's head for a few seconds, as if she were remembering a time long ago. "Once you have a family to take care of you're tired a lot of the time. You don't feel any differently about each other. You just seem to forget to say it."

"Oh Ma, I don't want things to change between Almanzo and me. Even though my teaching is very important, being Manly's wife is the best thing that has ever happened to me."

"You always knew the two of you were meant to be together."

Laura's shoulders rose and fell. "I had a few doubts along the way."

"I didn't." Ma smiled. "You always accomplish what you put your mind to."

Laura was glad she had come to see Ma. She wasn't sure she would understand how she felt, but it was obvious she did. The sting of embarrassment began to fall away. Now, Laura wanted to focus on smoothing things over with Manly. She loved him and wanted him to know she trusted him.

"Manly said there wasn't anything to forgive," said Laura. "But I feel like I let him down by thinking he was being dishonest with me."

Ma shrugged. "If Almanzo is willing to let it go, then you should too. It can be harder to forgive ourselves than it is for others to forgive us. The best thing to do is to try not to make any assumptions about Almanzo in the future. And, if you're unsure of something, talk to him about it."

"Thanks Ma." Laura reached over and hugged her. She stood and pushed in her chair. "I really should be getting home. I need to start supper."

Ma straightened her skirt after standing. "Why don't you and Almanzo come over for dinner after church on Sunday. Soon all of us will be too busy in the fields to visit very often."

"That should be fine. I'll talk to Almanzo and let you know tomorrow on my way home from school. Will you be at the restaurant?"

Ma followed Laura to the door. "Yes. Mrs. Oleson is taking Nellie to see her niece, Kate, in Chicago. I'm sure Percival and I will be busy this week."

"Is it safe for Nellie to travel now that she's pregnant?"

"Doc Baker said it was okay, as long as she took care of herself."

"Good." Laura hugged Ma again. "I have to go. I'll see you tomorrow."

Laura was practically skipping on the way home. She was eager to see Almanzo. Perhaps she would make a pie for dessert tonight. She had a few apples left over from the fall harvest, and apple pie was his favorite. Visiting with Ma had made Laura feel better. If Almanzo was ready to forgive and forget, she needed to let it go and look to the future. Laura stopped as the farm came into view. She wondered for a moment what their future would look like.

Almanzo strolled out of the barn. He waved. "Howdy, Beth."

"Hi Manly." Laura raced over to meet him, then folded into his embrace. "I'll start supper right away."

"Good. I'm starving." He leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

Almanzo's blue eyes sparked with love. How could she ever think he would be unfaithful to her? They walked arm in arm toward the house. Once they were on the porch Almanzo opened the front door. As Laura took a step to go inside he told her to wait a minute and scooped her into his arms.

"Almanzo Wilder, what are you doing?"

Chuckling, he carried her into the house. Almanzo kicked the door shut. Tossing his hat on the parlor table, he planted a gentle kiss on Laura's lips. He gazed at her with a crooked smile on his face. "We're still newlyweds. I thought you needed a reminder."

Laura's heart swelled. "I love you, Manly.

"I love you, too," he said, as Laura melted into his kiss.