The first time Nellie Oleson saw Laura Ingalls, she didn't know what to think. Despite her ragged and too short dress, despite her obvious poverty, Laura had such pretty dark hair and sparkling blue eyes and she looked so full of fun and laughter and life. How could she do that? Instantly, Nellie realized that she would be outshone, she, with perfect golden curls and a lovely dress. That kind of loveliness does not compare to the sheer exuberance of joy, and in a flash of insight, Nellie saw that her outside beauty was useless in the face of that indomitable spirit. So, she used her only defense: being stuck-up. She wrinkled up her nose and said, "Hm! Country girls!" Unfortunately, that dismissal didn't work, and Laura went on shining, taking over the playground with her stupid games and her stupid laughter and her stupid charm, and Nellie hated her.
The next time Nellie Oleson saw Laura Ingalls, Laura was in her store, buying school supplies. Nellie was in the back room and heard the unmistakable laughter of Laura. Her father was helping out Laura and her goody-goody sister, and it was unbearable. She grabbed Willie and ran out into the store to stuff her face with candy and laugh back at Laura, to try to drown out her incessant laughter, to try to make her feel as small as Nellie felt in her presence. She and Willie stood there next to the candy barrel, cramming sweets into their mouths, daring Laura to say something, something to make Nellie feel better, something petty and small in return, but she didn't say anything at all. Even worse, her father, in ultimate betrayal, took their side and told Willie to shut up. He ignored them, and that made Nellie feel even more powerless.
So, Nellie decided to take action. She threw a party, which was sure to make Laura commit some kind of embarrassment, something to stem the widening gulf of pettiness that was consuming Nellie. But, of course, Laura managed to charm everyone again. It was horrible. Laura didn't bat an eyelash at anything Nellie said. Laura's eyes grew wider and wider with wonder every time she noticed something new, and somehow, even her ignorance was charming.
Naturally, it seemed like Laura had to get back at her. Laura threw a party. Nellie didn't even know what she was supposed to do. So, she showed up in some of her prettiest clothing. All the other girls laughed and splashed through the creek barefoot, but Nellie refused to take off her shoes. Her shoes and stockings set her apart, and she had to have something to cling to.
And then, it happened. First, Nellie made fun of Laura's dog. It was a disgusting, slobbery dog, stupidly happy, which made Nellie cringe: she was sure it was going to get icky stuff on her dress. Laura narrowed her eyebrows and told Nellie that Laura's dog wouldn't even care about her dress anyway. And then, Laura's mother was there, all earnest eyes and warm smiles, and she looked so much like Laura that it made Nellie sick. When Mrs. Ingalls complimented her dress, she bit back the "Thank you" that wanted to come out and instead thought of the meanest thing she could. She said, "Of course I didn't wear my best dress to just a country party." If Mrs. Ingalls was insulted, she didn't show it. However, Mrs. Ingalls was not the target. Laura was, and finally, finally, she got something. A flash of anger crossed Laura's face, and Nellie tasted victory for the first time.
Of course, it didn't last. They had to go back to that stupid creek, and Nellie had to take off her shoes and play in the creek. She didn't really want to, but all the other girls were, and she wanted to have some fun after all. But then, there was that horrid old crab, and Nellie was scared, and then Laura got her revenge, in the form of bloodsuckers, disgusting bugs that clung to her legs and feet and ankles and it was so disgusting, and Laura laughed at her. All the other girls came over, and Nellie was flaming-red and covered in leeches and they wouldn't come off. Finally, Laura's sister made Laura pull them off, and Laura took her time with it, stretching them out until they threatened to burst, and Nellie wanted to throw up, or leave the party, or something. They finally went back inside Laura's house, and Nellie sat there eating the strange cakes that Mrs. Ingalls had made, and she was so upset she refused to say "Thank you" at the end of the party. As she left, she turned around, and Laura's eyes were gleaming with laughter. It was even more infuriating.
She was glad when the Ingalls finally left Plum Creek. At least she wouldn't have to see Laura ever again, and she could go back to being the queen bee. But somehow, it wasn't the same as it had been before, and when Nellie dreamed, she dreamed of big blue eyes and a laughing mouth.
Several years had passed, and the Olesons were not doing so well. Thanks to a stream of bad luck and grasshoppers eating up the money that folks would have spent at the store, they were clear out of money and had to do something, so they moved West. As much as it pained them to beg, they were getting by with some help from back East in New York State, but it wasn't much. Nellie used her share of the money to buy dresses, pretty dresses, to cling to some semblance of dignity and pride. They moved to a homestead claim, which Nellie bitterly resented.
It was the first day of school, and she walked into town slowly, trudging along. She knew she was going to be late, but she didn't care. It wasn't as though anyone there was even going to be worth her time. She flung the door open - and a shocked set of eyes met hers. Well, well. Laura. She pursed her lips, held her head high, and flounced in. As the weeks passed, Nellie became friends with Eliza, the school's teacher. Eliza was from New York State as well, and she held the same priorities and understood, somehow, what Nellie was thinking. Eliza needed a friend as well, and even though the other girls talked about teacher's pet, Nellie didn't care. Not since those scornful blue eyes glared at her openly. Not since she lorded it over Nellie that their fortunes had reversed. So now Laura was too good for her! School board! Hmph. Her father was going to make it again, and then she would show Laura. She would show her!
And then, Almanzo came to town. Eliza's brother. And, of course, he only had eyes for Laura. She tried to shoehorn her way in, and she succeeded sometimes, but his eyes held only pity for her. And, as she watched the carriage pull away, those laughing blue eyes watching her, taunting her, she wanted to cry. Laura had everything, and she had nothing, and it wasn't fair. It never was fair. She packed up her bags and headed back East, vowing to never think about those blue eyes again.