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The Only Air Worth Breathing

Chapter Text

Amy March awoke to the sound of birdsong.

She blinked, focusing her gaze outside the sheer curtains at a blue sky already so familiar again, and smiled. Summer had indeed come to Concord with all its languor and heat and honeysuckle.

A month had passed quickly since her return from Paris.

She lived still with Aunt March at Plumfield as her companion, which suited her fine. And how funny that this should be so, considering her initial despair at being relegated to the cold house away from her family!

But the independence that she had enjoyed in Paris had agreed with her, and Amy was glad of the opportunity to continue it here at home. Aunt March had taken a turn for the worse after their return from Paris, and Amy was happy that she could approach Aunt March’s more concentrated need for care with not only duty, but also affection.

Sweet Beth was, as Marmee had described, quite weak from her most recent bout of fever. It was likely that she would never regain that robust quality which separated the healthy from the sick, and that the wheeled chair she now used would likely be a constant companion until the end of her life. The chair could not be wheeled by her alone - Amy had seen prototypes of such new, fantastic devices dreamed up by doctors after the end of the Civil war, but they were mostly one of a kind and not yet available to the general public. The chair they had for Amy was the best that could be bought however, with new hollow rubber wheels like one might have seen on a bicycle. It made it much easier and lighter for the second person to push, and even had a collapsible canopy on the back, which could be extended so the sitter could stay outside, even in the rain.

Mr. Laurence - that gentleman who in her youth had seemed so cold and cantankerous, but in reality was the sweetest, most genial man - had purchased it for Beth without telling a single soul. He had even travelled to Boston himself to procure it! Amy became used to the sight of him and Beth circling the grounds of his great estate Belmont in the early mornings, or of him in their small, cozy sitting room at Orchard House, listening - on good days -  while Beth played the piano.

After he had brought the chair for Beth, Amy - who had not been moved by artistic inspiration since they left Paris - drew a quick sketch of her for Mr. Laurence as a thank you. A little piece, done only in charcoal, it nevertheless possessed an immediacy and sensitivity that rendered Beth with a true sense of her character.

She’d brought it by the house and watched as Mr. Laurence had opened it, almost speechless.

“This is….” he managed, his voice tight with unshed tears, “Very fine, Miss March. Very fine indeed.”

“I’m glad you like it,” she responded, her hand on his arm. “We are all so grateful to you for your concern over Beth and your sweet way with her.” He blushed, which made the white of his hair very white indeed! Amy felt an irrepressible fondness for the older man.

“In any case I am glad to have an Amy March original to call my own,” he said, brightening. “Laurie wrote often of your talent while he was in Paris, and I must say I agree wholeheartedly with his estimation.”

The now familiar flock of birds that took up residence in her stomach at any mention of Laurie threatened to force a stammer, but Amy was glad of the way she resisted.

“That was…very good of Laurie to say so,” she said, digging the sharp of her thumb nail into the soft flesh of her index finger. “But my work was hardly worthy of such praise, I’m afraid. I don’t…have any real plan to continue my artistic education now that I’m home.”

Mr. Laurence held the sketch tenderly as he considered her words. “Well - if it is to be one of your only pieces, I shall have it framed then, to commemorate the occasion. Will the artist do me the honour of signing her work?” he said, holding it out to her.

“I - well…yes, I suppose I would be glad to,” Amy had answered, more pleased than she would admit at his reaction and praise. After signing the bottom corner she stood to take her leave. “You must come by the house more often,” Mr. Laurence said, walking her to the door. “I would like to hear more about your time in Paris, if you are willing to entertain an old man with such tales.”

“I promise I will come as often as I can manage,” she said, and fought a happy smile all the way back to Plumfield.

 

*

 

All along the journey home, Amy had worried over what she would do, now that she was home as a still unmarried woman. How would she make money? Of course she would continue acting as Aunt March’s companion, but there was hardly a future in that.

She’d once said to Laurie that she would dedicate herself to becoming an ornament to society, and while she’d been speaking somewhat facetiously, this was, in truth, her greatest asset.

Amy found there was a growing appetite amongst their own little society for her stories about Paris, and for information on the art, fashion, politics, and philosophy of the second republic  and other European capitals.

She’d been invited to dozens of dinner parties upon their arrival home (which, not for nothing, greatly pleased Aunt March) and was happy to realize that her ability to tell stories and play the role of charming hostess was not confined only to the ballrooms of Paris; that perhaps it could play a role in her life even here, a continent away. Maybe Aunt March had been right - maybe Paris hadn’t been a complete waste of time after all.

“I have an idea,” she said one day to Jo, who’d been working furiously on a secret project these last weeks, spending most of her time up in their attic sanctuary alone.

Jo hmmed her response without looking up, her mouth settling into a frown as she noisily scratched out a line she’d just written.

Amy rolled her eyes. “Jo!”

At the outburst, Jo blinked, startled. “There’s no need to shout Amy, I’m sitting right here,” she said indignantly, brushing off a stray drop of ink that had settled on the corner of her paper.

“Jo, I’m being serious,” she said. “I have an idea and I want you to tell me whether it has any merit or not, and please be honest.” It wasn’t like Amy to be so unsure, especially not in front of Jo, and this made Jo put her mass of papers and pen aside.

“What is it?”

And so Amy explained her plan - to start a kind of literary society of arts and letters - a salon - right here in Concord. They’d solicit donations and use the money to pay for the travel and attendance of visiting luminaries and artists, and it could be hosted at Plumfield.

“It is a good idea, Amy - and you’re the perfect sort of person to host it. But what do you think Aunt March would say?” Jo asked, skeptical that the older woman would give her approval.

“I think I can manage her,” Amy said confidently. “After all, I’m still an unmarried young woman with exceptional talents, ready to find a good husband  - why shouldn’t he be right here in New England, waiting to come to one of our parties?

More pressing than that though,” Amy went on, “Is we’d need to invite people to come and speak. We’re lucky to have such an abundance of intellectuals and artists right here in New England, but we’d need new members - scholars, artists - to keep things interesting. You didn’t happen to meet anyone, did you? In New York? I thought you’d said the boarding house there was full of people like that.”

Jo reacted somewhat unusually to this comment, which Amy noticed right away.

“What is it?” She asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Well - it’s nothing,” Jo answered, fidgety and downcast. “I - that is to say, yes, I did meet people like that and would be happy to send some letters to that effect. There was one in particular, um - he…well, he was a Professor, very learned and talented, but…” she trailed off, playing with the edge of her papers.

“…But what?” Amy prompted.

Jo sat silently before tssking in aggravation, throwing her papers to the side with a sigh. “Oh, but - nothing! We were friends of a sort before I ruined it all with my disastrous temper and I’ll probably never speak to him again and that’s that.”

Amy couldn’t help the smile that began to creep up her face. She was all too familiar with reactions of this sort - but never before from Jo!

“What happened?” She asked, not unkindly, and Jo looked at her with a doleful and sheepish expression.

“I…became cross with him after he told me he didn’t like my work-”

“Oh!”

“No, he was right, he was - it was utter tripe that I’d been writing, just to sell to the gossip magazines and make some money off of it. But I…I wanted to think it was good, and I was very sore about it when he brought me down to reality with his criticism.”

Amy watched Jo, so aggrieved by the telling of the tale and in distress about it, and chanced something.

“Well - he sounds downright mean, to me,” She said slyly, waiting for what Jo would say.

The older girl sighed. “I know it must seem like that, but really he - he isn’t like that at all. It was a kindness of him to say so - to take me seriously. And I behaved terribly badly over it, I’m afraid. In any case - I’ve no idea where he is now. He probably left New York.”

“You never know,” Amy said carefully, not wanting to appear overly interested in case Jo shut down about it. “What was his name?”

Jo, who’d begun to gather her papers once again and return to her work, stopped to answer Amy.

“Friedrich,” she said. “Friedrich Bhaer.”

Amy hmmed. “A fine, German name,” she teased, and was happy to see a little smile appear on Jo’s face. “Well, perhaps he - or another one of those visionaries you broke bread with every day - might be worth writing to sometime,” she finished breezily, and took her leave of Jo.

As she left Orchard House on her way back to Plumfield, Amy pondered Jo’s distress over the mysterious German professor. What sort of man was he, she wondered, who had so obviously captured her sisters’ heart? It wasn’t your every day sort of person who could go toe-to-toe with Josephine March, that was for certain. Amy had the feeling he might have been older - or perhaps that was just the German in him. She was reminded of the sort of comments Aunt March used to make about Laurie’s indolence and the Italian in him that was apparently to blame.

Laurie.

Had her feelings for him been as plain as Jo’s were for her German professor? She’d done an excellent job she thought, at keeping the whole debacle under wraps once she’d gotten home.

But still.

Some things, no matter how hard one tried, couldn’t be hidden.

Sitting with them at all their old, familiar table the night she’d returned home, Amy had explained what had happened with Fred. He had asked her, she’d told them - going down properly on one knee - and she had wanted to say yes, but in the end she had known that it wouldn’t have been right. Fred deserved someone who would love him well and truly, she’d said.

They’d all been so accommodating and kind about it - especially Marmee, who, in her infinite gentleness, commended her on making the right, moral decision.

And then, of course, they’d asked about Laurie.

“He wrote about you all the time,” Jo had said, munching inelegantly on a piece of bread. “It was honestly a relief to hear it because at least it seemed to cheer him up! The poor boy - he was so upset after…well - you know” she’d said pointedly, “And I felt so guilty about it! He didn’t even speak to me before he left. He’d already been in Europe for some time before we got his first letter, and to our surprise it was all about you! From your letters Amy we might not have known the two of you had even seen each other!”

This was true, as Amy had studiously avoided any mention of Laurie in her letters, not wanting to give anything away accidentally or cause suspicion.

“Well, I suppose it makes sense that he’d write about me since the only other things he did were drink and gamble and flirt with every pretty french creature who walked by!” she’d laughed, the collar of her dress feeling suddenly very tight. “I was - preoccupied with Fred, you understand,” she’d said, begging off in what she’d hoped was a believable lie.

“We were proud to hear that he’d gone to London to start working with Mr. Laurence there,” Meg had added, and the whole table had nodded.

“Yes, I - he had come to the hotel to tell us he was leaving, but I had just missed him, I’m afraid. I’m sure he’ll do well there,” she’d said, glad of the slightly safer direction the conversation had taken.

“I’m sure he heard from Fred about what happened between you two,” Jo had said, prompting Amy to think she had spoken too soon. She'd swallowed hard before adopting a placid expression.

“Oh, well - I don’t know, really - Fred went back to London on business so I suppose so-”

“-Fred’s been one of his closest friends for years,” Jo cut in mulishly, “Of course he’d know! And good thing too, since we know Laurie wouldn’t let any sort of gossip spread.”

“Fred wouldn’t do that,” Amy had said softly, not having to lie. “He’s a true gentleman, and he’ll make some sweet girl very happy one day.”

“Laurie told us all about your paintings and drawings, Amy,” Beth had said smiling, her hands holding a cup of tea. “Of course we already knew how talented you were, but with all your lessons you must be just wonderful now. Didn’t you bring any back with you?”

The truth was she hadn’t, which was an irony; she’d been excited beyond belief for those lessons, and by the time she was set to leave, they - and the work she’d created - were the absolute last things on her mind.

Perhaps the thing she’d been most sad about, although it pained her to admit it, was the loss of the old, yellowed sketch of Laurie on the beach that day, done so many years ago. She’d kept it for so long, after all, and it really had been a good likeness of him. She hadn’t realized in her distress over their conversation that she’d left it when she’d thrown her palette down, and by the time she’d returned the next morning, it had been gone. Thrown away, she’d supposed, or blown off by the wind.

“I’m so sorry, Beth, I didn’t even think to pack them! When I got Marmee’s letter I was in such a rush to get home I would have jumped on the ship with only the clothes I was wearing, if I could have,” she’d apologized, reaching out to take Beth’s hand.

“I’m afraid Laurie has endorsed my skills too highly and I’m set to disappoint you all - I’ve abandoned my artistic dreams due to mediocrity,” she’d said with panache to a rousing chorus of disappointment, which did make her laugh.

“See! What did I tell you. He’s set me up for failure, that boy, and I shall never forgive him for it,” she’d finished imperiously, channeling all her gumption to end on a bright note.

“Now - what’s all this I hear about Jo’s furious scribbling at all hours of the night?” She’d deflected, turning the tables’ attention to Jo, who was now already fighting off comments from the group demanding to see what she’d been writing.

That evening before Amy was set to return to Plumfield, she’d walked Beth back to her room and busied herself by turning down the bed for her. After seeing her tucked safely in, Beth had bade her to come sit on the bed for a moment.

“You seem so sad, Amy,” Beth had said quietly, holding Amy’s hands in her own. Trust Beth to see right through all her bravado and find the truth..

She’d sighed, and squeezed her older sisters’ cold hands. “I’m….I’m not really, Beth,” she’d said, not wanting to worry her too much. “Just a little. But I’ll be alright.”

Beth beheld her with those clear eyes that seemed to stare right down into Amy’s soul. “I don’t think…it’s Fred, that’s made you so sad,” she said softly, and Amy huffed out a watery smile.

“You’re the cleverest of us all, I’d wager,” she’d said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “I was upset about Fred - if only because I felt so guilty - but…no. That isn’t it.”

“Every woman must have some secrets,” Beth had said wisely, “And I think you must keep this one for now. but I’m here, when you want to talk about it.”

How silly it was that Beth should be the one comforting her - But oh! How much Amy had needed it in that moment.

“Thank you, Beth,” Amy had whispered, and had let her sister hold her for a long while.

 

*

 

Amy continued to be consumed by thoughts of her Literary Society. She knew it could be a success, if only she was given the opportunity!

And so.

One blindingly hot August afternoon, she went to see Aunt March about the use of Plumfield.

Amy was so nervous that her palms actually sweat - she didn’t think she’d ever been quite so nervous asking for anything in her life! The prospect of the crushing disappointment of failure did mean there was rather a lot on the line. 

In a particularly clever turn of preparation, she even dusted some pork rind from the larder on her skirt so that Popper, the horrendously spoiled little dog beloved by Aunt March and hated by all others, would come and sit on her lap in a charming display as she explained the concept.

Aunt March looked at her through narrow eyes. “Sounds like a room full of Bohemians to me,” she murmured, her tone as imperious as ever despite her declining health.

Amy rolled her eyes good naturedly, and laughed. “It will be a room full of well to do members of New England high society, all interested in the art of fine conversation and the refinement of taste. People like the Moffats, and the Gardiners.”

The older woman interjected with an indelicate hmph! “And what about these visiting…intellectuals?”

“Aunt March, Ralph Waldo Emerson is hardly a bohemian!”

Aunt March sniffled, seemingly unimpressed, and Amy drove ahead with one more tactic.

“In any case, it will be a fabulous opportunity to meet eligible bachelors right here in New England, and impress them with my wit and charm. And how impressed they will all be with you, Aunt March, the esteemed patroness of such stimulating events!”

“Don’t think I can’t see through that in a minute, Amy March,” her Aunt began, eyes as thin as slits. “You’ve been spending all together too much time with Jo now that you’ve been home and that girls deviousness will rub off on you if you aren’t more careful. But I suppose…” she trailed off, making a show of it as she played with the hassled edge of her bedspread, “I suppose you may have your little parties.”

It took all her good manners not to break out in a squeal right then and there, but in deference to her Aunt who abhorred such displays, she simply smiled widely. “You will be glad of it, Aunt March, I promise,” she said, rising to take her leave.

Hmph! Promises. ‘All promise outruns performance’,” the older woman muttered from the bed. “I expect results from these gatherings Amy March - of the matrimonial variety.”

Holding onto a smile, Amy turned back to her. “You none more so than I, Aunt March,” she affirmed, before adding, “And I will be sure to ask Emerson for his continued thoughts on the nature of promises if he attends one of our little parties - that is him you’ve quoted just now, is it not?”

 

*

 

Amy started small.

She hosted a number of gatherings at Plumfield on subjects like transcendentalism, the abolitionist movement, and Women’s Suffrage.

Members of the wealthiest class in Concord and Boston, like the Moffats and the Gardiners, made up some of the group - so too did poets, artists, writers, philosophers, and even some political hopefuls. These smaller meetings not only raised funds for both future meetings and for charitable  donations, but which also affirmed Amy’s confidence in her role as Salonnière.

The role was not merely ornamental, but one of considerable influence - she selected the guests and decided the subjects of the meetings, acted as mediator and regulator, and helped to direct discussion. Her ability to soothe tempers and inject humour into those moments of tension or hiatus were regularly commented on by attendees.

Somewhat surprising to Amy however, was Jo’s triumph at the meetings. She had initially expected that Jo’s tendency towards brusqueness in conversation might ruffle feathers, especially considering her usual castigation of (and discomfort in) high society. However, as the meetings provided an opportunity for more spirited debate than was generally acceptable at society gatherings, Jo’s witty and cutting brand of political discourse found a home and admirers. It did not hurt either that during one meeting, Jo revealed herself as the author of those particularly sensational articles published in Atlantic Monthly, which had found a popular (if somewhat sheepish) audience among the New England elite!

Her first major success came in September, when Plumfield was visited by the artist Winslow Homer, whom Amy had met and come to know during her time in Paris. Born in Boston and mostly self-taught, Homer had found major success working as an illustrator for the popular periodical Harper’s Weekly. His work with Harper’s had sent him to the front lines of the civil war, and his experiences there had inspired a number of war-related paintings, including Prisoners From the Front, which had been exhibited in Paris at the Exposition Universelle shortly before Amy’s arrival there. Amy had formed something of a kinship with Homer, as they both preferred a realist style over the impressionism that was rapidly sweeping the French art world.

She had sent a letter to him earlier in the summer hardly daring for a response, and had been ecstatic to receive his letter back affirming his participation. In it he wrote,

 

My dear Miss March,

A lovely surprise to hear from you indeed!

I recall our conversations in Paris on Millet and the benefit of  'en plein air' with fondness

a nd am not at all surprised to learn of this literary society you have wrought in Concord.

I would be happy to attend a meeting in September late, as I will be on my way to Philadelphia

with a number of works to be exhibited there. I would be happy for them to be displayed at

Pl umfield during my stay.

I have tended towards reclusively of late and seldom find myself a part of urban social life,

but perhaps you will lend me some of the refinement you seem to possess in spades and

in order so that I may not be found so boorish by your companions…

With great regard etc etc,

 

Winslow Homer

 

But any fears of boorishness on the artists’ part were unfounded - he retained an excellent sense of humour despite any tendency towards hermitry, and the group found excellent discussion on his experiences at the front during the civil war, his time in Paris, his association with the other American artists enjoying popularity at the current moment, and his upcoming exhibition in Philadelphia.

There were many visitors to Plumfield over those few days to view the works on display, and the group received a mention in The Boston Globe as ‘The Concord Society of Arts and Letters’ for the impromptu exhibition.

Meg had been the one to spot the mention and had screamed so loud in her kittle kitchen that poor Daisy and Demi had both immediately starting crying.

Amy clipped the mention from the paper and sat for a long time that night, simply holding it, hardly imagining that such a thing was possible.

 

*

 

A week or so later the March family received a letter.

She and Beth were sat in the garden, attempting to adorn the wheels of Beth’s chair with a pile of white wildflowers Daisy had picked for them, when Marmee appeared on the path from town.

“How goes the flower garlanding?” She asked them with a smile, wiping the back of her hand across her forehead as she caught her breath from the heat.

Amy frowned. “Slowly,” she said. “We underestimated how many we’d need, I think. We’ve used almost all of what we have just on one wheel!”

“But it does look beautiful, Amy,” Beth said kindly, a pile of the flowers in her lap as she helped the ready the stems. “Even one wheel is a triumph.”

Marmee smiled at them. “Well, could I persuade you both to abandon your task for a moment and come inside? Look what I’ve brought back from the post office,” she said, brandishing a letter from her satchel.

If Amy hadn’t already been sitting, she might have wobbled precariously, she thought. She’d recognize that loping script anywhere.

“Oh,” Beth cried excitedly. “It’s from Laurie!”

“Here Beth, you can come in with me,” Marmee said, helping Beth out of her chair and slinging her arm around her back as they walked slowly to the door. She called out behind her. “Amy will you be along?”

If Amy had been a slightly more inelegant person, she might have thrown her head back and loudly groaned. No Marmee, actually I’m just going to stay here and dig a pit in this garden and throw myself in if that’s alright with-

“Amy?”

“Yes, I’m coming!” she called back instead, busying herself with arranging her shawl over the pile of wildflowers on Beth’s chair so they would not blow away while they were inside.

What would he say? Would he ask how she was settling back into life at Plumfield and if she was enjoying Concord high society, as if they were only good friends as ever before and nothing had changed or passed between them? How mortifying that would be! It would only confirm of course that whatever feelings he’d played at having towards her were no more than a lightly passing fancy, as she’d suspected.

Had he met someone? Some daughter of a duke, or a viscount? Was he writing with the happy news of an engagement?  It was hard for Amy not to let her mind run circles around itself at the possibilities - especially as all of them were unpleasant.

But a letter was bound to happen, she thought, as she made her way to the house. It was no use standing outside and stewing in self pity. She was made of sterner stuff than that, surely!

Marmee was sitting by the window, letter opener in hand, with Beth arranged on the couch. Jo, who’d galloped her way down the stairs, came up behind Amy. “Whatever will he talk about now that he does not have you and all your fancy manners and perfect talents to describe to us!” she teased, completely unaware of her younger sisters’ inner turmoil.

Amy huffed a laugh, only a little nervously. “I’m sure it couldn’t have been that bad,” she said, resisting every urge to start wringing her hands.

“Not that bad!” Jo exclaimed, rolling her eyes dramatically. “Every letter - Amy this and Amy that, and what lovely pictures she paints and what a success she was at so and so’s party - it was absolutely ghastly the way he went on about it!”

“Well, you were always so overly focused on my faults that I can see why that would have been hard for you, Jo,” she shot back, rather pleased at the steadiness of her voice and of how Jo laughed, not noticing that anything was amiss as Marmee began to read.

 

My Dear Marches,

 

Fondest greetings to you all from London! It is Summertime here although you’d hardly know it -

sometimes the weather is so cold and wet that one might think Easter had not even arrived! I must

admit though, that it does seem to suit these serious, reserved folk with their fog, and gas-lights,

and fine, grey homes.

Grandfather sent word via telegram of Beth’s recovery, but even in this age of instant correspondence

there is no replacement for a jubilant letter penned by one so full of happiness and tenderness.

I received Jo’s letter of it and am unashamed to say that I came to tears right at my desk and

keep it in my breast pocket.

Dear Beth, how loved you are by all of us and how well and truly good it is that we will have many

more mornings and afternoons and evenings with you! You must promise me that you will make

some scandalously outrageous demands of Grandfather, for I know he thinks of you as if you

were his own, and would deny you nothing.

I have been doing well and behaving well too, although I know you will scarcely believe it. I’ve come

to work as a clerk in grandfather’s counting house here, and enjoy it more than I thought I would.

My musical education has proved useful after all, as the reading of music and counting of notes is

not so very different from the type of arithmetic done day in and day out in this great building on

Whitehall street.

Meg, you must instruct John not to denigrate the composing of Operas in the education of

Demi and Daisy - for look where it has led me!

I will say that I experienced some reserve from the other fellows when I first arrived, expecting some

loudmouth American no doubt - I’m sure they imagined the young master Laurence would loaf around,

content to give orders while not lifting a finger. In truth I could have come in higher up, but I found it

a point of personal pride to earn their approval, and I have learned much by it and made many honest friends.

 

What else can I write other than I miss you all, in quite a simple, desperate human way, and that I hope

to be home soon to give you my love in person.

 

With all my affection,

 

Laurie.

 

 

It took everything in Amy to keep the placid expression on her face as her stomach dropped to her feet. She’d been so stupidly concerned over what he might write that she hadn’t even considered he might not mention her at all.

And how much worse it was!!

It really was all over, then.

Somehow she’d still thought - well, she wasn’t sure what exactly, but there might have been, at the very back of her mind, some tiny kernel of moonstruck foolish hoping that he would…

But it didn’t matter now.

He’d written and in doing so had made it clear that whatever he’d thought between them was, just as she’d expected, already forgotten.

He might have at least said hello, she thought rather sullenly, just to be polite - but she forced both that thought and her own self-pity away in the next second, determined to feel glad and happy for him and not bitter or resentful. At least their meeting in Paris had engendered one positive thing - it was clear that her reproachfulness of him had spurred him onto purpose and enterprise, which was at least something she could feel proud of.

But Amy was not the only one surprised by the letter.

“May I see the letter?” Jo asked, a puzzled expression on her face.

Marmee handed it over to her. “What is it, Jo?”

Jo scanned the page. “It’s just strange that he didn’t ask about Amy at all.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t even know I’m home, Jo,” Amy said, a hot blush threatening. She did not want to spend the rest of her afternoon in a flurry over him .

“He does know, I wrote to him about it!” Jo insisted, indignant on Amy’s behalf. “I just think it a bit rude that he spent all the past months prattling on about you every chance he got and now won’t even deign to mention-”

But she stopped, suddenly, and stared at Amy. 

Then looked back at the letter.

Then back at Amy.

Then back at the letter.

And then - a knowing look dawned across her face. 

Amy swallowed.

I feel caught Laurie had said that night at Fred’s party as she’d stared down at him on the sofa, and how eerily it seemed to match her exact feeling at this moment! That particularly uncomfortable sensation of being found out came over her as she waited for Jo to force the whole thing to the surface or make some crack.

But instead of asking her about it in front of Beth and Marmee, Jo handed their mother the letter back. “I suppose we can’t fault the poor boy for forgetting, what with all the hard work he’s doing in London,” she said definitively. “He must be desperately tired every night after doing an honest days work!” she teased.

Amy could tell nothing by Marmee’s face which was calm but inscrutable after witnessing the little scene between her and Jo. “I’m sure that’s it, Amy,” she said carefully. “I hope you won’t be upset or take it as a slight.”

“Not at all,” she answered, altogether more brightly than she felt. “I’m happy that he’s found his way into the fullness of maturity at last. I’m sure it suits him.”

“I hope he will come back and visit us soon,” Beth said. “I have missed him while he’s been away  - there’s always such a lightness to things when we’re all together again.”

“I’m sure we’ll see him again before too long,” Marmee mused, looking at Amy thoughtfully. .

Amy, who’d been thoroughly investigating a worn patch on the apron she wore over her dress, rose from the sofa. “Well,” she said, “I think I’ll see if Daisy has any more flowers for us, Beth.”

But Jo moved to intercept her.

“Actually Amy, do you think you could help me with something?” she asked, her tone cheery on the surface but with a steel underneath that Amy understood all too well.

“I really should get to Meg’s-”

“-It really would be helpful though,” Jo interrupted with a deliberate look, “if you could spare just a few minutes.”  Seeing Amy about to protest again, she stepped close to her face. “If you don’t come upstairs with me this minute Amy March I will say it right here in this room!”

Not knowing what Jo thought she did - or didn’t - know, Amy considered her options. On the one hand, talking it out with Jo would be mortifying. On the other hand, Amy would have rather cut off her own arm than have the whole family know how much of a fool she’d made of herself with Laurie.

She rose her chin in that particular way she was wont to do when aggravated. “Fine Jo, I suppose a few minutes couldn’t hurt. Beth, I’ll be down soon,” she said, sending a clear message to Jo - the clock is ticking so talk fast!

The two sisters walked through the house and up the stairs to the attic in a tense facsimile of normalcy.

“Jo, you are being ridiculous!” Amy hissed as they made their way up the stairs.

I’m being ridiculous? I can’t believe you wouldn’t tell me!” Jo scoffed loudly.

“Tell you what?

Jo snorted loudly. “Oh please Amy, it’s so obvious.”

Amy raised her chin and adopted a regal air as she paced the familiar attic room. “I don’t know what you’re implying, Jo-”

“I’m talking about THIS you absolute goose!!” Jo shouted, holding the letter up. “You and Teddy - I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! All of his letters, going on and on about how talented you are and what a success you are in fine society, and about all of your adventures - that’s very like a boy in love. And I should have known from your notes, when you didn’t mention him at all, that something was obviously going on! Were you - is that why you turned down Fred Vaughn? But I don’t understand what happened - now Teddy won’t mention you at all and you act like you’re barely aware of his existence. Did you quarrel?”

Amy stared at her, guilt and anxiousness and disappointment all churning in her stomach. “It’s not why I turned down Fred,” she said quietly. “And I don’t know what - I don’t know what you think was happening between us but there was nothing. There was - there was-” Amy’s voice hitched, in a wobble. “There was ab-absolutely…nothing!” she finished, and promptly broke into tears.

Sensing Amy’s true distress, Jo calmed at once. “Oh, Amy - you poor thing - here, come here,” she said, and gathered her into her arms.  “There there, try and calm down- you’ll give yourself an apoplexy-”

“Oh - don’t joke about that Jo!” Amy cried, her hands over her face.

Jo rolled her eyes. “Alright, I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to make you upset, I just - well, not for nothing but I know you’ve always felt for him, Amy -”

Amy’s head snapped up, ready to deny it-

“And don’t deny it! I used to find your scribbles of him all around the house, you know. Remember when you tried to make a mold of your foot for him?” she asked, and Amy sniffled.

“Yes, and I got stuck,” she said dejectedly, which broke Jo out in a laugh.

“You poor creature! I can’t imagine it was easy for you watching the two of us muck about everywhere, and I’m sorry for that. But really - you’re perfect for Teddy. I’ve always thought you two would suit, and I’ve even told Beth as much before. I told him once that what he needed was some lovely, accomplished girl to help rule his life for him, and why shouldn’t it be you?” she asked kindly, smoothing the hair off Amy’s now red and blotchy forehead.

“It shouldn’t be me because he’s not in love with me, Jo,” Amy said quietly.

“Why do you say that?” Jo asked. “What happened between you before you left Paris? Was there some sort of misunderstanding?”

Amy laughed bitterly, wiping her face with her hands. “Yes, there was a misunderstanding. The misunderstanding was that I’m in love with him and he’s in love with you, but he still thought I might make a nice consolation prize.”

“Oh, Amy…” Jo trailed off. “Surely he didn’t say that?”

Amy sniffled, composing herself. “No, not in so many words, but…the meaning was implied.”

“I don’t think that could possibly be true, Amy,” Jo said with conviction. “As soon as he met you in Paris, the letters started coming. After I hadn’t heard from him in months! And not a single one of them seemed anything like they were written by a heartbroken boy trying desperately to move on from an unrequited affection.”

Amy looked down at her dress, fiddling with the button hole on her bodice which needed mending thanks to the calamity of Jo’s hair. “That’s sweet of you to say, Jo,” she said, “but I was obviously right - he’s gone to London and forgotten all about me and any affection he thought he might have had for me. But I was just a - a stand in, of sorts, for how upset he was over you turning him down. He could have at least written a hello, just out of politeness,” she sniffed, her sense of good manners affected on principle by the slight.

“Honestly, I just…I just want to put it behind me. And I’m happy for him, I really am - I can say that truthfully and with good feeling. I just - I have to focus on here, and now. I must learn to sail my ship,” she finished.

Jo smiled, and slung an arm around her shoulders. “Oh Amy. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine it’s true what you’re saying  - that he’s forgotten you or any of those things - but I don’t want you to be upset about it. And you’re doing so much good work here, with or without Teddy.” she said, rubbing her hands on Amy’s arms soothingly, before pulling her into a hug.

“It might be rough seas now, but you’ll get through. Just say the word and I’ll be your first mate, Captain,” Jo whispered, and Amy laughed.

Yes, she thought. She would get through.

 

*

 

It was a brisk day in mid-October, and Amy had much to do.

She had received exciting confirmation from the artist John Singer-Sargent, currently completing his first solo exhibition at the St. Botolph club in Boston, that he would be attending  a meeting of the Concord society as a guest later that month. As the confirmation had come rather late, she had a number of decisions that now had to be made regarding the guest list so that invitations could be sent out today.

Some type of blight had affected most of the floral arrangements at Plumfield, and needed to be replaced.

She had a fitting for a new gown which had already been rescheduled three times, and would not be rescheduled again if Amy had anything to say about it. 

She had also promised Meg that she would fish out her old watercolour supplies and bring them over to the house for Daisy, who had taken something of an interest in the practice.

She took her break-fast with Aunt March, who was in a particularly fine mood thanks to a bouquet of beautiful Asiatic Lillies that had been delivered for Amy. They’d been courtesy of a wealthy Boston sea merchant named John Perkins Cushing, a guest at their most recent Concord society meeting on classical liberalism, and old enough to be her father.

“You’ll write that gentleman a thank you, won’t you Amy?” the older woman said pointedly, cracking the skin off her soft boiled egg.

“I certainly will,” Amy replied, having absolutely no intention of doing so. She wiped her mouth with her napkin. “In fact, I’ll do so right after I return from my errands.”

Aunt March nodded, pleased. “Very good my girl - an esteemed gentleman like that is not anything to turn up one’s nose at. Take care to hurry along then,” she continued, as rose to leave, and even offered her cheek for a quick kiss.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can!” she called over her shoulder.

If Amy had not been so rushed, she might have noticed through the window the familiar stately horse and carriage from Belmont house making an unusual mid-morning trip into town.

 

*

 

Amy made her way to the post office, where there had been an incredibly long line and she waited almost three quarters of an hour before making it to the front to send her letters special delivery.

She then made her way to the florist, where the blooms she was meant to pick up were the entirely wrong colour thanks to a spilled cup of tea on the note she’d left in the florists shop.

Afterwards, and already running late, she ran to the seamstress where Amy wasted another hour having a polite disagreement with the seamstress who had interpreted Amy’s ideas for her new evening dress in completely the wrong way.

By the time she made it back to Plumfield she was completely exhausted and ready to just beg off Meg’s request for the watercolour supplies for another day, but the thought of sweet Daisy’s disappointed face forced her to her feet once more, and over to Orchard House where she would rummage through the attic.

If she’d been a little less tired and not so distracted, Amy might have noticed the commotion and excited voices coming from the house before she walked in.

As she did not, she walked in completely unprepared for what greeted her.

Sitting there in their parlour room, surrounded by her mother and father and all her sisters, was Laurie.

He stood suddenly upon seeing her, and as he did the whole feeling in the room changed, the way it happens when a glass is unexpectedly shattered on the floor. 

“Hello Amy,” he said rigidly.

He did look very well she thought, in an elegant oxblood coloured suit and vest with his meticulously starched collar and matching bow tie. He looked like some young fine young Lord, grown into himself somehow. A moment ago he must have been totally at ease within the circle of her family, but he appeared stiff and uncomfortable now that she’d arrived.

She felt all the eyes of the room on her as she kept her voice steady and attempted an air of nonchalance.

“Hello Laurie,” she replied.

Neither of them made any effort to approach or embrace the other, and if it hadn’t been clear to the rest of the March clan the day they’d received Laurie's letter that something unusual was going on, the strange tenseness of the current moment could hardly be mistaken.

“I - How are you?” he asked, his speech cut off and halting.

She blinked. “Yes, I’m - well I’m fine, thank you.”

“Oh? Well that’s - that’s wonderful,” he breathed out in a rush, nodding his head quickly.

“Yes,” she answered, before realizing she ought to say something else. “And how’ve you been?”

“Me?” he asked stupidly, and if Amy had been looking away from Laurie she would have seen Jo roll her eyes as she failed to hold in an audible groan.

“Yes,” she answered.

“Yes, I’m - well I’m fine also.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes,” he said, seemingly at a loss for how to keep the conversation going. 

"How wonderful that you're home so soon after we received your letter," she went on, trying to salvage the unmitigated disaster that was this interaction. "You must have been glad to get away, with all the work you've been putting in." 

"Yes, it's - it's good to be home, to...see all of you," he managed out, before seemingly buoying himself back up to go on. "Actually, I was hoping, Amy-" he began, but feeling like she might be overtaken by a panic, Amy interrupted him.

“I’ve - I’ve just come over to find my old paints, actually - for Daisy,” she said loudly, looking to Meg.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that now,” Meg said, looking between her and Laurie whose gaze was still fixed on Amy. “Why don’t you sit with us and-”

“-No it’s alright,” Amy cut in. “I’ve been meaning to get them to her for ages and I know how much she’s been wanting them.”

She swallowed. “So I suppose I’ll - I’ll just go do that, then,” she finished, and made her way upstairs as the rest of the group stared after her.

When she reached the first landing out of sight from the rest of the house, Amy stopped and clutched at the bannister. She could hear hushed voices in the room she’d just left. Her heart was beating so hard she could feel it in the palms of her hands.

That’s good she’d said to him, but everything was not good, it was terrible and awkward and just awful! They could barely exist in the same room together without all of the mess of the whole thing rearing up for all to see! She had hoped that moving forward they might at least regain some semblance of civility, but that was apparently not to be the case as he seemed almost incapable of even speaking to her.

It really was terribly rude, she thought, that he would act in such a way and leave the whole thing up to her to be salvaged so as to prevent gossip and chattering.

She was not going to allow herself to be made a fool of, she resolved. She’d been startled in seeing him at first, but she would not make that same mistake again. She would go downstairs and be all things gracious and sociable, even if he could not bring himself to the task. 

So up to the attic she went, rummaging around in old boxes and bins and cabinets, until the little watercolour painting set she’d put away so many years ago appeared. It was dusty and a bit dirty, and the paints of course were dry and the colour violet had cracked in half, but all was easily fixed with a bit of water. Yes, she thought. Still good.

Some more rummaging found a bundle of scrap paper that, in contrast, did look like it had seen better days, but would still be suitable enough for Daisy to practice on.

Bundling it all up, she took a deep breath and went downstairs.

On the way down she head the loud smack of a hand meeting fabric, and an accompanying “Ow, Jo!!” from Laurie. She rolled her eyes. Would some things never change?

In rejoining the group the hushed conversation that had been taking place suddenly stopped as they all turned to look at her.

Well.

“I’ll just…” Amy began, well aware that they’d all been talking about her, “take this over to Daisy, Meg-”

“Why don’t you let Meg take that, Amy?” Marmee suggested gently.

Amy protested. “Oh, no, that’s alright-”

But Meg stepped forward, nodding her head. “Yes, I’ll bring it home with me - I’ve got wash on the line anyway that needs taking down, so I really should go.”

Calm, Gracious, sociable; Calm, gracious sociable.

“Yes, alright Meg,” she said, handing the watercolour box and paper over and seeing red. “Tell Daisy I’ll be there to help her soon.”

“Of course I will,” Meg said, stepping forward to hug her. She turned then to Laurie. “So good to see you home!” she said, giving his cheek a kiss and hugging him briefly, before leaving.

Now without a buffer, Amy steeled herself and turned to Laurie.

“What are your plans for the evening?” she asked brightly. “You must be exhausted from the journey, I know I was,” she finished.

“Well I - I was hoping, Amy-”

“I’ll go then and let you catch up with Jo,” she interrupted with a smile. “I’m sure you two have plenty to get caught up on! I’ve got so much to do at Plumfield anyhow that I really ought to get going,” she said, the excuse of the next meeting of the Literary Society a welcome one.

“Oh, but - won’t you stay, Amy?” Jo asked, urging her with her eyes in a way that Amy was all too happy to ignore.

“I really can’t Jo,” she said, trying for an apologetic tone. “Next week’s meeting is coming up so quickly and I’m terribly behind.”

“Well I’ll walk with you then,” Laurie broke in, which was not at all what she’d been hoping for. There wasn’t any good reason for her to refuse him, which meant she’d now have to be in his company all the way back to Plumfield.

“That’s a wonderful idea, Laurie,” Marmee interjected, and Amy resisted the urge to throw back her head and groan loudly.

“Yes, wonderful,” she said instead, pasting a smile on her face. “Shall we go?”

And so they began the walk from Orchard House to Plumfield, Laurie beside her.

“Your family said you don’t paint much anymore,” he said, his hands in his pockets as they walked.

Amy looked out across the green. “No, not at all, really,” she answered, playing with one of the buttons on her sleeve.

“You did a piece for Grandfather, though,” he pointed out. “It’s wonderful - you captured Beth perfectly. I saw he has it framed in his study.”

I forgot about that she thought with a furrowed brow. “Oh…yes - well…that was just a little drawing. And it was a gift - a thank you for Beth’s chair,” she explained. “But otherwise, no - I haven’t kept it up.”

Laurie hmmed disappointedly. “Well, I was sad to hear it,” he said. “You have a real gift. It seems a pity to waste it.”

Amy bit back a sigh, a little annoyed at his needling. “Well, I have many other things on my plate to keep me busy at the moment - it’s hardly as if I’ve got all the time in the world to dedicate to my art as I did in Paris.”

“Yes, I heard about your Literary Society,” he said, looking at her. “Grandfather and Jo both sent word that it’d been mentioned in the paper! That’s quite a feat.”

She chanced a glance at him and smiled a little. “Yes - it’s quite a lot of work but very rewarding. We’ll have John Singer Sargent joining us in a few weeks - It’s very exciting,” she finished, pleased for herself and pleased that she’d done something of note - something that even he took notice of and respected.

“I’m glad for you,” he said. “I knew you’d be a success. You’ll be our very own Madame Recamier in no time, I know it,” he teased lightly.

“Well..I don’t know about that,” she answered, and they were silent again.

He slowed his walk beside her, and looked apprehensive before speaking. “I…heard about you and Fred,” he said.

She stopped, in front of him, turning back to face him.

“Yes, I…I supposed you would,” she said. “Did Fred tell you?”

“Yes,” he nodded.

She breathed deeply and let it out, feeling weary and tired. “Well - you certainly don’t have to say anything, or…do anything. I just…I didn’t love him as I should and Fred deserved better than that.”

“And you?” he asked.

She furrowed her brow at him. “And me…what?”

“Didn’t you deserve better?

“Better than what?”

“Better than being with someone you didn’t love?"

How dare he! She thought, in an absolutely irate mood now thanks to his censure. She turned the tables back on him.

“Marmee read out your letter from London,” she said tensely, changing the subject. “It sounds as if you’ve been doing well there.”

To his credit, a red stain appeared high on his cheeks. “Yes,” he answered, sheepishly. “Who would have thought, hmm? And I have you to thank entirely for it.” He shot her an apprehensive look before continuing. “Amy, I…I wanted to write to you, but-”

“When do you go back?” She interrupted, more loudly than was needed for their close conversation.

“Oh - uh…In two weeks,” he said, a bit startled. “It’s not much time but it was my first chance to get away and…I needed to come, you see.”

“Is something wrong? Not your grandfather I hope.”

“No - nothing like that. I -”

“Hopefully your work is not in jeopardy.”

“Hm? Oh, no - no, nothing like that. Amy-”

“We must have all have a family dinner, while you’re home,” she went on shrilly, aware of how she was rambling and not letting him speak, but not willing to spend another minute on this path with him. “Perhaps at Belmont, or - I’m sure we’d be happy to host it at Plumfield-”

He began to look a bit flustered. “Yes, that - I’m sure that would be lovely, but-”

“I’ll take care of all the details, then,” she said, starting to walk away from him. “And we can - i'll be in touch with your Grandfather.”

He took a step forward. “Amy, please - will you just-  will you listen to me?”

She kept moving.

“It’ll be a lovely evening before you go back to London-”

“Amy,” he said again, more firmly, reaching out for her.

“No, Laurie-” she started, not at all wanting to hear what he had to say because the whole thing was entirely too painful and just desperately, desperately sad-

“Amy - Amy, stop,” Laurie said rather sternly - but let him be stern with her, she thought, who was she to care- 

“Amy!!”

- until she found herself abruptly jerked around to face him.

They were both breathing heavily she noted somewhat belatedly, her own heart beating like a painted drum. She hadn’t even noticed. She was confronted by the steely expression on his face, and of course - oh - all of the freckles on his fine nose, which more than anything threatened to do her in.

“You are going to stand there and listen to me, Amy March,” he began in exasperation, his hands holding her tightly around her arms, “if I have to hold you there myself to do it!”

Well! she thought, one eyebrow raising archly. They stared at each other heatedly for a moment more, until, like a balloon losing its air, he became the chagrined Laurie she knew so well once again. 

“I came back here to tell you that you were right. You were right about me,” he said, rather more softly this time.

“You were right that I had become a moody dissolute, happy to waste any god given talents I might possess, few as they might be, on liquor, and gambling, and boredom,” he finished, an air of contriteness and embarrassment about it. “But you were wrong about something too.”

He took a breath.

“I ran off to Europe thinking that I’d…lost the great love of my life, after Jo refused to have me,” he said, and Amy felt the most curious sensation of being both unwilling to stay and also somehow totally unable to leave. 

“But it took my leaving- and my meeting you again - for me to realize that loving someone and being in love with them are two very different things.” One of his hands came down to her forearm and held it, his thumb rubbing the patterned cotton there.

“Jo…is dear to me,” he said slowly, as if not to spook her. “And I do love her- and always will -”

The flock of birds in Amy’s stomach all suddenly died, creating a great, heavy mass in her stomach -

“- but as a brother loves a sister, Amy.”

As…

As a brother….loves…?

“And I, being a fool,” he went on, “took all my self-pity and injured pride along with me and wore it like so much armour, until you managed to cut it down in one fell swoop at Fred’s party that night,” he said.

 

I feel sorry for you, I really do. I just wish you bore it better.

I’d be respected if I couldn’t be loved.

 

“But the truth is,” he said, looking down, and then back up at her with so much earnestness, “that whatever ache I’d felt from Jo’s refusal had already healed -  I just hadn’t admitted it to myself. And then…there you were. And I couldn’t look away from you.”

She was vaguely aware that she had begun to cry.

“It isn’t thoughts of Jo that fill my mind all day. It’s memories of  - that day we spent at Notre Dame, do you remember? Or all those times we walked through Montparnasse and you laughed at my poetry -  or the look on your face when you bit into that chocolate, with the champagne. Or the way you laughed that day on the lake when I dropped the oar and how you drenched your sleeve up to the elbow to help me get it out-” Amy laughed, in spite of the tears that were already flowing freely.

“I think about how beautiful you looked that day in the studio and how much I wished I’d kissed you then, instead of letting you go to Fred,” he said quietly, his gaze dropping heavily to her lips before searching out her eyes once more.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t see you for so long, and I’m sorry that I hurt you, because I know that I did,” he said, being terribly, heartbreakingly kind. “I’m sorry that I didn’t mention you in my letter but everything I wrote was so hopelessly inadequate and I couldn’t find any of the words I needed to tell you anything of value. And I know that I wasn’t worthy of you then. But - I am now, I think - worthy enough at least to hope that - that you might have me, because I am desperately in love with you, Amy March,” he finished tremulously.  “Tell me… tell me I’m not too late.”

 

What are you doing?

I’m looking at you.

Don’t marry him.

What - why?

Why? You know why.

You know why.

You know why.

 

“Will you - will you say something - please?” Laurie asked, sounding on the verge of desperation.

“Well I’m - I’m sure you expect me to just - cry hysterically,” she began, her words hiccuping out around her tears like stones skipping across a lake, “and fall into your arms and - and - that we’ll just live some happy life together, is that it?” she asked, some of her old petulance creeping into her tone - and hadn’t she deserved it?

The most beautiful smile she’d ever seen dawned across his face. “Yes,” he nodded, bringing up his hands to cup her cheeks and wipe away the tears there. “Yes, to everything. Except you don’t have to cry hysterically,” he said.

“Oh, yes I do-” she began but could not finish, because Laurie was kissing her.

In some way, Amy supposed, a kiss from one ought to be the same as a kiss from another. After all, one pair of lips was not so drastically different from another pair. Fred’s kisses had perfectly serviceable things - technically proficient in every way - and yet always, somehow, lacking.

Kissing Laurie though…kissing him was the same as seeing Orchard House again for the first time - like coming home. 

Kissing him was like all the birds and bees and butterflies in the world were in her stomach again, flying around at speeds hitherto unknown to man.

Kissing him was the feel of his hands on her face, and then her waist, pulling her closer to him.

Kissing him was the way he poured his whole self into it, the way one kiss had barely ended before another was beginning, and beginning again, and beginning again.

Kissing him was the way each meeting of their lips was tinged with desperation - as if they were each speaking a silent language. Yes, I love you. Yes, I’ve missed you. Yes, I refuse to be without you.

Kissing him was the sound he made when she bit down entirely by accident on the soft flesh of his lower lip.

It shot a bolt of heat straight through Amy accompanied by an urgent need to get closer closer more there yes that she’d absolutely not ever experienced with Fred.

If Fred had ever responded to such a sound the way that Laurie did, which was to move the hand at her waist ever just lower to bring her closer into his own body, she probably would have slapped him or called him a cad. As it was Laurie however, she did neither of those things and was instead supremely disappointed when a moment later he drew back, breathless, his forehead against hers.

“Amy, I - we have to stop,” he panted.

She nodded against his forehead. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right,” she said sensibly, before reaching up on her tiptoes to bring him down for another kiss.

He kissed her soundly for another moment before pulling back, this time separating himself bodily from her. He breathed heavily.

“I’m not - I’m…” he began, unsure of his words. “I’m in a very delicate state, Amy,” he went on, looking entirely awestruck and overwhelmed, “and I can’t possibly kiss you again until I know that you’ll marry me.”

“Yes,” she said at once, but he continued on as if he’d not heard her.

“Because the thing is, I know I’m an absolute fool and I don’t deserve you at all, but I’ll be damned if I let you go and marry someone else-”

“Laurie, I said yes,” she repeated, but still he seemed not to hear.

“-because I do not intend to give you up so easily, Amy March, and if it takes me spending the next seven years wooing you with every-…what?” he asked, blinking at her.

What an outrageous amount of affection she felt for this boy! She thought, laughing. “I said yes I’ll marry you, you goose.”

That same smile began to break over his face again. “You - you will?” he said, laughing himself with the incredulity of it.

“Yes I will, of course I wi-hmmph!

As she was interrupted by another bruising kiss, Amy realized she was signing up for a life of interruptions via kissing.

She found this to be utterly, perfectly, acceptable.

 

*