Chapter 1: part three
“My grief meets me when I come home, and the house is full of ghosts.”
- Louisa May Alcott on the death of her youngest sister, May
It was supposed to get better, Laurie thinks. He’s supposed to look at their daughter, hold her and cradle her and play with her, and it was supposed to get better. But little Bess, with naivety tangled in her pale blonde wisps (Amy’s blonde) and clouded innocence in her gray eyes (Laurie’s gray), is but two months old and her mother has been tugging at the stems of daisies through six feet of earth for nearly a week.
It’s only the two of them in this great big void of a house. Whenever he enters it, he sees the front doors as a yawning bear trap, lined with sharp teeth that contain a false promise just a bit further down its acidic throat, the vacant foyer and all the empty hallways beyond it. So Laurie stopped going outside, if only so he no longer has to eventually turn around and dive back in fresh among her laughing, smiling, golden ghosts.
Of course, Amy’s family comes to visit him and Bess often, because they’re his family too, and her blood. He doesn’t go to the March house anymore— though there is far less room for Amy to haunt him there, she always finds a way. She squeezes into the cracks in the ceiling and the gaps in the floorboards. Her essence is soaked into the home’s walls; she’s woven into the quilts; she’s projected through the smiles of the remaining March girls, a beloved group now halved. He’s sure that somewhere there must be fingerprints of hers, years old by now, preserved in dust and undisturbed on a windowsill in the attic. So he doesn’t interrupt her spirit there, but—
But at his home, their home, now his home and Elizabeth Amy Laurence’s home— she has portraits. Her own work, of course, navy oil lakes and snow-capped chapels splashed with tie-dye watercolors, all framed and shoved together on the walls until there was no longer any bare space, until there were more of her beautiful scenes to gaze into than windows. Laurie pauses now, standing in the hall, feet soft on the carpet with a cloth slung over his shoulder and their child in his arms. He burps her gently, fingers drumming a rhythmic pattern on her back like Beth’s fingers on piano keys.
He stands now and holds Bess and stares into one of Amy’s little worlds, stares into that rather than the window beside it, because that displays a snowy world he feels rather indignant towards right now.
When he questioned her about which painting should be hung above their bed, Amy insisted on a good, sound decision being made. So Laurie had the finest frames constructed for her decorated canvases, had the best ones made and shipped in so that, one by one, they could all be hung up on the walls and be fairly judged. They had to determine which of her pieces most deserved to be the last thing they viewed each night, and the first each morning; which was to be observed keenly in either bright or dim light when they made love (in case of the thin sliver of a chance that they might’ve tired of looking at each other).
Toward the end of the hall, wedged between two ever idle doorways, sits a finely detailed illustration of himself, one of the few sketches she’d made that was able to withstand its smudgy charcoal beginnings. It was one of her last, worked on fervently while waiting for Bess to make her eagerly anticipated appearance. “Seeing that I’m still uncertain about the appearance of my newest subject,” Amy explained to him, touching her middle with a pencil between index finger and thumb, “I might as well refine the features of my existing model.” Through those months, she traced over his jaw in graphite; filled in his jacket, trousers, and shoes with layers of grays and browns; and highlighted each individual key on the piano at his fingertips. When he complained about the lack of color, she huffed and said, “I’m about to have your child, Laurie Laurence, and you’re bemoaning the lack of vibrancy in a scene that I recall to be quite neutral?”
“We don’t live in black and white, my darling,” he said, kissing her cheek. “How could I, when I’m with you?”
But she groaned and sighed and shooed him away; then the following afternoon came, and when Laurie peeked into her studio, he found an array of colors splashed onto the wall behind his painted self.
Now Laurie moves back into the bedroom, removing the cloth from his shoulder and folding it over the dresser. Bess remains in his arms, soundly asleep. She’ll never know her mother who had been so over the moon to meet her. Laurie sits down on the edge of the bed, shifting his daughter until she’s curled alongside his chest, so he can gaze at her.
Amy hadn’t wanted to go, as she lay here ailing in this bed. She fretted and fretted— “They’ll have to break frozen ground for me— it’s so cold this winter,” “Make sure I look lovely, Laurie, but don’t let them bury all my favorite rings,” “I want Bess to know how I saw her as the most perfect little thing.”
Laurie remedied that last one by bringing in her favorite pencil and the best paper they owned, better paper than the sheets she used to steal off Jo’s desk. “Sketch her now,” he begged, “and she’ll have it forever.” And he sat there and held their baby while Amy tried to translate the smooth plumpness of her cheeks from life to paper. Her hand moved slower and slower until it stilled completely and the pencil dropped to the bedspread, and her fever spiked.
When he’d applied a cool cloth to her forehead and summoned someone from Orchard House via a light signal in the window, he picked up the paper. Little Bess only existed faintly in the sketch, for Amy had chosen to focus on carving out Laurie’s features first.
Now, just a few weeks later, the bed is cold and Amy March Laurence is no longer sprawled in it, not giggling and responding to his kisses in kind, nor flushed with her hair all undone. He loved her, she gave life, and death struck her— all in this bed.
Laurie looks up at the painting hanging above the headboard. The portrait that won the contest was their own family portrait, all of the Marches, including him and Hannah and the stray cat that wandered across their lawns infrequently. Jo told him once that he might as well have his surname changed to March since he was with them all the time and Marmee had taken him in as the son she never had. Laurie considers the change made, done long before he and Amy exchanged rings, confirmed in every which way except legally.
Laurie stares at the portrait. Only little Bess is missing, not yet born at the time it was painted. Amy fell ill too soon after her birth to add her in with two broad brush strokes as a mere bundle in someone’s arms.
Some time later, Jo lets herself into the house, as Jo does; no permission requested because none is needed. She finds him upstairs in that cavern of a bedroom, slouched down on the pillows with the baby snoozing on his chest.
She circles around the bed and sits next to them, kicking off her shoes and folding her legs. She strokes her niece’s head, and those soft fair curls are Amy’s indeed, so golden from holding the sunlight within it.
When Beth died, it was a dull throbbing, an ache, like they’d all been kicked in the stomach a while back and had some time to catch their breath again, until every now and then the feeling would spike again as a reminder, just a little stab to say don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget. But this— this is a pang.
Laurie wakes soon after. “This is a cursed world, Jo,” he tells her without looking up— he knows the familiar frizz snagging the edge of his vision, and the thumb, blackened by ink, smoothing over Bess’s scalp.
“Oh, Teddy,” she says.
“In here,” he says, lifting an arm gently so as to not disturb the baby, and gesturing around, “all through here, it’s all stained. Soiled. Her blood is everywhere.”
“There are better memories too, I should think,” Jo points out. “And you have Bess.”
A transparent smile tugs at his lips. He takes his daughter’s tiny hand between his thumb and index finger the way Amy would take a pencil. “We planned to have a house full of children, but... when she was born, Amy,” Laurie swallows thickly, “she looked up at me and said, ‘She’s all we’ll ever need. We’ve created happiness in this one tiny being.’” Then his face sours, a lemon slice shoved into his smile. “But— even if we had plans to the contrary— it wouldn’t have mattered, would it.”
Jo hums. “Life doesn’t much like heeding any set directions.”
“Well, I have plans,” Laurie says. “I’m taking Bess to France, once she’s matured another few months.”
Jo sits up abruptly, the bed jerking. “Teddy—”
“Nice for a short while, then to Paris, to settle along the Seine—”
“Teddy, no,” Jo says. Her brows are fully knit together, a deep crease between them. “Look at me— Teddy, you can’t.”
Bess stirs and fusses, so Laurie stands and takes her over to her bassinet in the corner of the room. For hours in the night she would cry, and Amy would cry too because she couldn’t nurse her.
Jo chokes on his name again and Laurie spins to face her. “Why not, Jo? I must. I’ll wither in this house if I don’t.”
“Think of your daughter,” Jo snaps. “She won’t know any of her family.”
He looks at the floor. “She’ll have me,” he grunts. Him, and her mother in snippets, in a million unfinished sketches.
Jo is silent. Then she says, “France took Amy. You brought her back, Teddy.”
Laurie stands there and looks at Jo March, Jo, his oldest companion, Jo March who’s written novels that have reached farther than she ever will physically, Jo March who lives at Plumfield and runs the school with her friend Bhaer, teaching music and philosophy and writing. Jo March is fine.
“You and Bess are our last pieces of Amy,” Jo tells him. “Please don’t, Teddy.”
He pushes a cluster of chestnut curls off his forehead. He knows that’s not true. So much of Amy lives on in her mother’s house, in the paintings Jo asked her to hang in Plumfield, in the illustrations she provided for Jo’s stories. They have their pieces, he has his.
He looks at Jo and shakes his head.
Her face crumples. “I have two little sisters cold in the ground, and now you’re telling me you’re leaving too.” The statement comes out in a mutter, but it’s dripping with thorny resentment that’s so unkind to his ears.
So he responds in kind. “My wife,” Laurie says, and his throat is already collapsing before the words are fully out, “is dead, my best friend, dead, and it may as well have been at my own hands. And it seems I’ve lost you— my first best friend— now, too.” His eyes are cubes of ice pressed into her skin. “The only thing keeping me from swallowing a pistol right now is Bess. She’s all I’ve got left. And she deserves more than the loneliness in this house.”
“I’m not lost, Teddy, I’m right here. We’re all right here.”
He goes back over to the bed and sits down heavily on it. Now she’s standing over him, arms sagging where they cross over her chest.
Jo finds his gaze and holds it steady. “Please reconsider. Before you do anything drastic. Won’t you?”
Laurie leans down and puts his face between his knees. The tears are silent acid on his face, streaming in neat little rivers. He thought he’d emptied his eyes enough already, thought that maybe if he planted seeds in the frozen ground and cried enough, he could get a bouquet to bloom over her grave in January.
Even in their adulthood, Jo still isn’t used to touching him in a manner that isn’t sparring or swapping jackets and vests. But she tries a gentle hand anyway, placing it between his heaving shoulder blades. He thinks of Amy’s fingers dancing over his skin, counting all the freckles on his back.
It was supposed to get better after a while. But it had already been better, he thinks. Before. There’s no bringing that back.
But the best— Bess is the best of Amy.
If only he could force back the hands on the clock, and bring Bess along with him, and have her live with them in the world they used to have. It was a fragile world, he thinks, corked in a glass bottle.
Chapter 2: part two
A moment shared during a summer night at the lake.
i honestly couldn't tell you what point in time this is supposed to take place in. for some (minimal) explanation, let's assume amy's trip with aunt march is delayed or doesn't happen, and laurie doesn't run off to europe post-rejection. i thought amy to be around 18 or 19 here, so it's still before beth's death and when she's on the cusp of freedom. i'm worried i might've stretched into ooc territory here, but oh well!
(and yes, i know book amy's eyes are blue, but... florence pugh...)
i appreciate the lovely comments on the first part! thanks to everyone who's reading.
“This is improper, Laurie,” Amy says. “This isn’t right.”
“But you’re enjoying yourself, are you not?” Laurie counters.
Her nose crinkles when he swims closer to the shore, where she’s sitting on a picnic blanket with her knees drawn to her chest and her long nightgown puddling onto the grass. To see her the way she is now, Amy March without all the makeup and the painstakingly-pinned hair and the thousand-layer dress— this must be a dream. Any moment Laurie half-expects the joy blurring the edges of his vision to completely swarm in and drag him back to reality.
But again he blinks, and here Amy still is, scowling at him like he’s the daftest fool who ever lived. If she were to voice such a thing— as if the glint in her eyes doesn’t say it enough— he would only reply that his stupidity is fed by her presence.
“Is that really all you care to know? If I’m enjoying myself?”
“— it is.”
“It seems you’ve already answered the question correctly, then,” she huffs, suddenly removing her gaze from his to look at the smattering of stars above. “And you feel likewise, I gather, regardless of the consequences.”
A laugh shakes his lungs. “Consequences? Oh, Amy March, what is a consequence? A reprimand might be possible, yes; but for me it would only serve to remind me of the time I’ve spent here with you now.”
Laurie already knows that a venomous scolding is in his future too, inevitably so, from both his grandfather and Jo, the latter of which is sure to deliver him a steady batch of complaints over the course of a week with a forked tongue. Jo can barely stand the thought of her best friend and her sister so much as looking at each other, let alone meeting in the night; the mere concept makes her itch and lament. One day he assumes her reaction will subside to teasing, but for now it is quite the opposite.
“All I’m saying is,” Amy says, adjusting her position so she’s farther from the lake’s lapping edge, “it’s not ladylike for me to leave my house in my nightclothes and sit here while you paddle about in your... undergarments.”
“Perhaps, but you did respond to my invitation.”
“But it was your invitation.”
He kicks his legs in the inky water. “So?”
“It was your invitation, Laurie, it was you. I—” She stops, takes a breath and straightens herself more, trying her utmost to perfect a disheveled appearance that in his mind doesn’t need any perfecting. “Naturally I was inclined to answer you.”
He smiles. “Of course.”
And Laurie continues to swim around, arms slicing through the lake’s water with sharp shoulder blades protruding like shark fins. She observes him all the while, something shrewd in her eyes which are on him like piping hot coals. He flips over to attempt a backstroke, and fumbles a bit. The lantern Amy brought with her flickers, casting dancing shadows over the water’s glassy surface wherever he isn’t disturbing it.
With the summer heat hitting him like a fever, he had summoned her at half past midnight with a light signal in the window. It was a system he was surprised he and Jo had never come up with, but now he was grateful for that. His house was far too easy to sneak out of, and hers was equally so with some cautious effort. By heart, they both knew to meet at the lake’s shores, which is where they have been settled for nearly a half-hour now.
Laurie dunks his head underwater, then peeks back up at her; she’s still staring at him with as much of a smile as she’ll allow on her face. If she were Jo, he thinks, she would snatch up his trousers from the sand and make a run for it. But this is Amy, so she stays sitting there, and she watches. He wishes she would sketch him, like that day at the beach.
“I wish you’d be more careful,” she tells him suddenly. “I don’t like how long you stay underwater.”
He pauses, toes skimming the sandy bottom. Then he treads water until he’s closer to her and can stand upright. “I do hold my breath,” he says. “I don’t have gills—”
“— and that’s exactly the problem! You’re not a man-fish hybrid, Laurie.”
Laurie knows he swims the same way he drinks— he tries to be careful, but it tends to be more of a disaster than he’d intended. He taught himself to swim over a few summers, out of boredom and as a way to relieve all the pent-up energy he harbored before he met the March girls and spent all his time with them. On his own with no one to mind him, he grew used to spending long periods below the surface until his lungs were screaming. But to have Amy now, perched at the water’s edge and fretting over him, it drags in a whole new perspective.
“You could watch over me better if you joined me for a dip,” he calls to her. She sighs at him, and Laurie knows her frustration. It’s often forced, and he relishes in the amusement it provides him, and he knows her frustration. He must have been acquainted with her in a past life.
“Thank you, but I’m content to sit here,” says Amy. To cement her point, she leans back on her elbows and crosses her legs at the ankles. Her feet are bare and lightly caked with dust— that’s one asset she doesn’t mind showing off because, she says, it makes up for what her nose lacks. Laurie fails to see a discrepancy between these features of hers. If it’s part of Amy March, it has more value than gold.
She catches his eye and lifts her brows, tips her head to the side. Golden waves, recently shaken out from twin braids, tumble past her shoulder. He loves skimming his fingers through her hair like it’s sand, all loose and undone. What he wouldn’t give to see her all undone beneath him.
“Come now, milady. It isn’t so bad. The water is a desirable temperature.” He lifts a dripping arm and beckons her with an outstretched hand. “Soothe your soul a little.”
He knows it’s the wrong choice of words. It’s been too soon since her family scattered— Meg married, Jo off to New York, Beth sick and sicker. Amy curls her lower lip and bites it. “I’m in no such mood,” she replies.
Laurie droops, but slides back into the water without any words of protest. Amy is rarely in any one mood— it’s difficult sometimes to believe she and Jo share the same blood. While Jo screams to the world what she wants, Amy can be a challenging read. Those months spent living at Plumfield must have had a significant influence on her. She wanted to be refined, to be a lady. And the respect she insists upon makes him bend far more than he’d ever expected.
After allowing a few minutes to cool the air, Laurie wades back to shore and flops down next to her on the blanket like a fresh catch. When he takes her wrist in a wet hand, she doesn’t flinch away.
“If you’re enjoying the view of me so much,” he teases, “you should have brought your easel and canvas down here and spent all night painting me.”
“Only to preserve this moment in time,” she answers. With her free hand, she reaches out to slick back his sodden curls. Her fingers trace lightly down his cheek and come to a rest cupping his jaw. “You’re so well-sculpted, Laurie, the picture of high society. It’s a wonder those features don’t simply melt off when you splash around like a little boy.”
He grins up at her, basking in her and her words. Jo is known for writing poetry, and Amy is known for sketching it; but Amy does have a way of twisting words so that he becomes putty in her hands. “You pay me such high compliments,” he says, then pauses, because he isn’t sure where he meant to go with that. She narrows those speckled green eyes at him and opens her mouth, but she doesn’t get a chance to speak because suddenly Laurie is yanking her into the lake.
Her shriek tears through the hot, still air, making it ripple around them like the water. He only pulls her in to where it’s about knee deep, and holds her steady so she doesn’t accidentally slip under. Right away she pounces to bunch up the hem of her nightgown in a fist, but it’s already soaked. She wrenches her shoulders free from his grip and stands there, bent over slightly, frozen and gasping with the lake lapping at her thighs.
Laurie grits his teeth, knowing he’s made yet another mistake. He looks at Amy, shivering, hair falling in her face, and is about to say the first of many apologies when one of her arms lashes out and he falls backward into the water.
He emerges quickly, sputtering and spitting as his face breaks the surface. His eyes pop open, blinking rapidly to get rid of the burning film that’s settled over them, and he finds a very livid Amy March.
“Laurie Laurence! You’re— you’re— so crass, and— and impolite, you’re— the opposite of a gentleman, a menace, you’re—” Her words slam to a halt as her chest heaves. Her cheeks are aflame, accentuated more than usual in the oppressive July heat.
Laurie props himself on his elbows in the shallow water, keeping himself out of striking range. “I’m deeply sorry, Amy,” he’s quick to swoop in when she hesitates, “I only meant it for a laugh, a- and to cool down because this heat is dreadful, and—” Then something else occurs to him: nearly seven years ago— running across the fresh snowfall with Jo— gliding over the ice on their skates— young Amy’s yells floating along behind them— yells quickly followed by Amy herself, clambering onto the ice on this very lake and— more screams, and splashing, frigid water injecting ice into her bones—
“You should be sorry,” Amy snaps. She’s managed to regain her composure now, but oddly doesn’t leave the water. In fact, instead of dashing out of the lake and far away from him, she does the last thing Laurie would expect of her now— she moves closer to him.
“Amy—” he tries, but she tramples over his words.
“You’re an awful boy, Laurie.” She steps even closer, and is now as near to him as she can possibly be without touching. This heart-thudding proximity brings a few new realizations for Laurie: the fact that he’s nearly naked save for a pair of boxer shorts; the fact that she’s in a thin nightgown, a white nightgown, that’s liberally drenched; and the fact that the look in Amy March’s eyes is hypnotizing him into an utterly love drunk man.
His throat seems to be clogged, so again he can only choke out her name—
But then her lips are on his. And her hands are on his hips, and by instinct, as if they’ve done this a million times before, he threads his fingers through her hair and he holds her face and they sigh into each other with the sweetest release.
Then she breaks it and turns her cheek to him, puffing hot breaths on his chest.
“Amy,” he says for the third time, stupidly stuck on this one magnificent word.
She continues on panting; meanwhile, he can’t remember how to breathe.
“Is— is my name the only word in your vocabulary now?” she asks, lifting her head to reveal the most devilish smirk.
Finally Laurie tears himself out of the spell and reverts (mostly) to the suavity he relies so much upon. With her, though, his charm is never forced, and flirts roll off his tongue like a verbal symphony. “Why would I ever need to know anything else?” he responds, and, realizing his fingers are still absently stroking her hair, he decides it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if he continued the motion.
“You’re ridiculous,” Amy snorts. Her nose scrunches up when she says this, and as a reflex his knees wobble. “Although... I wouldn’t mind hearing you say my name again—”
She wiggles in closer so their bodies are pressed together, breathing together. “And maybe throw in a kiss or two—”
He laughs and meets her halfway when she stands on her tiptoes. Amy March is a generous kisser, gifting him over and over again with her sweetness and her softness, mouth and tongue moving in rhythm with his like they were prophesied to come together. He sneaks in her name whenever possible, mumbling it and grunting it and groaning it. Her name has a full-bodied flavor on his tongue now that he’s tasted her— it’s like switching from a cheap riesling to a fine cabernet.
When they separate this time, she shakes her head in awe. “I knew I was correct when I thought you’d make sublime company.”
Laurie brushes their noses. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying, Amy March?”
“Think whatever you like, but don’t take that to mean I don’t still find you a great nuisance,” Amy tells him. With that, she takes his hand and drags him down into deeper water.
They both pop back up a moment later, hair freshly slicked back and eyelashes heavy with droplets. They break into a fit of childlike giggles, and despite a perfectly clear star-spangled sky above them, Laurie only finds beauty right in front of him— and she’s smiling, splashing water in his face.
Chapter 3: part one
Laurie hasn't been acquainted with the March girls for too long, but he knows they're something special.
yay, last one! as promised, this part takes place in their childhood, so i kept it sentimental and sweet. for this i again used a small detail about louisa's younger sister may (who amy is of course based on): may apparently drew on her bedroom walls, and some of the sketches are still visible in orchard house today! so yeah.
anyway this was a fun little fic to write and i hope you all enjoyed reading! i thank you endlessly for the love :) (p.s. florence and timmy, if you ever read this, i love you both for making these characters even more amazing!)
**also yes, i know colored pencils weren’t technically invented until the 1920s, but let’s just suspend disbelief here lol (the one thing i didn’t think i needed to research... figures!)
There is never a dull moment at the March household, which is always bustling like a train station at rush hour. Laurie thinks of all the fancy balls he’ll be forced to attend in the future, and he can’t imagine finding any of those more entertaining than what he finds in even the briefest of visits to Orchard House. He thinks of all the girls he’ll have to charm and dance with, girls from Boston to Rome, and he can’t help but prefer the company of the March sisters, who are endlessly more agreeable than any well-to-do wealthy maiden could dream of being.
Hell, the March girls are more delightful than Laurie himself, and he’ll be the first to admit it. All the respected adults his grandfather surrounds him with— intended as “esteemed company, to be a good influence on you, boy”— love to call Laurie a fine young lad who will make a fine young gentleman soon enough. But a future full of restrictive suits and priceless champagne swirling in crystal glasses doesn’t do it for Laurie— he much prefers the dusty old vests he and Jo found in her attic, and he quite likes the tall glasses of milk Marmee pours for him and Jo alongside a plate of Hannah’s freshly baked cookies. He really does adore regaling Jo with everything that’ll be expected of him in the future— the far-off distant future called “adulthood”— and he equally adores the way she makes a mockery of it, complete with a fake English accent and a grubby finger perched on her upper lip to serve as a makeshift mustache. And Marmee sweeping through the room, pausing just a moment to ruffle his hair and Jo’s hair despite her daughter’s protests— “Oh, Laurie, dear, what more could be expected of you? You have to live your childhood as long as you can.”
“Yes,” says Jo, “and that’s why we’ll stay children for eternity, right, Teddy?”
He smiles at her, warm cookie crumbling in his fingers as he raises it to his mouth, melted chocolate kissing his lips. “Of course. Forever.”
“Right!” Jo huffs, restless as always, setting her feet up on the chair next to her and ignoring her mother’s swats for her legs to go back down. “I don’t see any reason why it should be any other way.”
Oh yes, Laurie would trade all of that fancy nonsense for just this: giving Jo all his best bowties, drinking in all her writing and the way she acts out different voices for each character, standing awkwardly in the corner of the parlor while the girls twirl and sing in wire fairy wings and woven flower crowns, plunging headfirst into spirited dinner table discussions. For so long he had watched and longed from afar and now he is in the heart of it, of them, and each day is new.
They come stomping into the house a few hours later, fresh from a roam over the hills and a few chasing laps around the lake. At first Jo had her skirts bunched up in one fist so they wouldn’t impede her jogging speed, but eventually she decided to give up on that because pursuing Laurie with both hands outstretched was far less tedious. In doing so, she sacrificed the cleanliness of her dress; so when they tumble through the front door like a dust storm, they track in a considerable amount of dirt.
“Oh, Jo,” Marmee says, leaning in the room. “You’ll have to change—”
“It’s fine, we’re about to go back out anyway—”
“Honey, you must. This will have to be washed before it stains—” Marmee winces, lifting the mud-splattered hem of Jo’s skirts.
Jo heaves a giant sigh, sagging shoulders and all, but she gives in without much more fuss. As she trudges upstairs, she jabs an index finger at him. “Stay there. I’ll be right back.”
Laurie draws a cross symbol over his heart and dips his head in a show of solemnity. “I’ll be in this exact spot, Jo. Promise.”
And then he’s left alone in the Marches’ parlor, shuffling his feet and whistling with his hands shoved in his pockets. He circles around slowly, picking up books and flipping through them, running his hands over pillows and quilts neatly folded over the backs of chairs. He goes around and around until he’s sure he’s worn a circle into the rug. Then he hears the quietest sneeze.
“God bless you,” he mutters. It’s a reflex, and his own voice startles him into looking up in the direction of the staircase. Sitting about halfway up the steps with her face shoved between two bars in the banister is Amy March. When he notices her, her eyes balloon three sizes and her face momentarily disappears.
“Wait,” Laurie says, moving closer and gripping the highest step he can reach with curious fingers. “What are you—”
She squeezes her face back between the bars, gripping them with neat little fingers that look splattered with some kind of substance, maybe paint. For a silent couple of heartbeats, the two just stare at each other— her, scowling with an upturned nose, and him, struck by a fierceness in her green eyes that is unmatched by even Jo.
“Uh, hello,” Laurie stutters, plastering on a stiff smile because he’s unsure how else to react. He’s only been friends with Jo for the better part of a year, and he has yet to know all her sisters very well— little Amy, in fact, is the one he’s the least acquainted with. He knows Meg as the oldest sister who has a warm smile and a spectacular roll of her eyes saved for his and Jo’s “juvenile antics.” He knows Beth as the sweet, quiet one who thinks with her heart and plays an impressive Moonlight Sonata. As for Amy, he does recall she can put on a magnificent show akin to Jo’s written melodramas. He thinks of that time months ago when she cut her hand out in the snow just outside the window of his library, and a hand injury turned into a brief monologue about her lovely feet, the best in the family, and how she would never dare twist an ankle.
Amy hums and swats her bangs out of her face. “What were you and Jo up to, just now?” she asks. She serves him the question on a platter over ice, and he senses this could be the start of an interrogation.
He decides to flash her one of his fetching grins— it’s the Italian in him, his grandfather grumbles, that slipped a sense of audacity into his smirk and gave him that untameable mop of dark curls— and he replies, “What were you doing spying on me just now?”
Her eyes narrow to shards of glass. “You’re in my house, first of all,” she remarks, drawing herself up in a haughty manner that prompts him to puff his chest a bit, “and second, you cannot answer a question with another question. That’s not how it works.”
Laurie stiffens his jaw and says, “Alright, fair enough. Your sister and I were just outside running about, over the gardens by the lake. Nothing to be concerned about.”
“Now would you do me the honor of answering my question?” Laurie regrets the snarky words as soon as they leave his mouth, having forgotten that he isn’t dealing with Jo here. Amy is barely thirteen, he assumes, and as far as he knows she could still have a habit of running to her mother at the slightest resistance to her attitude.
But in a development that prods his curiosity, the dent in her brow smooths over and it’s her turn to stammer: “You— you wish to know about me?”
Tilting his head, he says, “Yes.”
She cups her cheeks with her small hands, likely to cover the blush ripening in her cheeks like two apples. Laurie pretends not to notice, keeping his gaze firmly set on her pretty eyes. “Well,” Amy says, “I was— I wanted to see what all the commotion was about, and if it was y— Jo, I mean, and— well, I’m awfully bored this afternoon, I’ve spent all day painting and sketching—”
Laurie feels his brows creep up to his hairline. “You paint?”
Amy nods quickly, pressing her forehead into the beams in a way that must hurt. “Yes, yes, I do. And I draw.” She lets the words hang for a second, then she ventures, “Would you like to see?”
Jo’s wagging finger and threat to stay put crosses Laurie’s mind, but he pays it no mind. Besides, he has been upstairs in the March house before, so it wouldn’t be impolite to accept this invitation, would it? So he nods and goes to follow Amy up the creaking steps, and refuses to remind himself that yes, he has been upstairs here, but he was in the attic, not in one of the girls’ bedchambers. Oh well, he supposes, he’ll just stand in the open doorway and not move in a step further— but then Amy beckons him rather impatiently, and he has no choice but to shuffle fully into the room.
His eyes skim over the space, snagging on the most minute of details and the contrast between the two halves of the room. One side— Beth’s, he thinks— has a neatly made bed, the quilt tucked in and folded over. A well-loved book with yellowed pages sits on the nightstand, an assortment of music sheets stuffed in the center. But mostly, his eyes are drawn to Amy’s share of the bedroom, which is currently basking in an angle of mellowed late day sunlight which highlights Amy’s workspace with remarkable precision. Her bed is also made, albeit a bit more haphazardly, and it’s covered in a vast assortment of artist’s tools. Most of them appear worse for wear, with pencils worn down to nubs and erasers reduced to flakes. On the windowsill, a leaf of cheap paper is set out to dry, but the painted scene on it is still wet and glittering in the sun.
At last, his gaze lands on Amy herself, who is crouched in the corner with her weapon of choice, a pencil that looks slightly newer than the ones scattered on the bedspread.
“What a collection you have,” Laurie tells her, bending down to examine some of the utensils and paintbrushes. Some are recognizable as recent purchases from the general store in town, while others seem like finer quality but are covered in what must be years’ worth of chipping paint smudges.
Amy keeps her back to him, and he wonders if there’s another blush she has to hide. “Thank you,” she says, keeping her voice even, “though I do wish I had more. Sometimes I—” She stops, shoulders slumping, but he prompts her to continue. “Well, it’s foolish, but— sometimes I take bits of coal from the fireplace. They make decent tools, although the marks aren’t as precise as well-made artist’s charcoals would be.”
“I don’t blame you,” Laurie says. “An artist should take advantage of every resource she is able to.” Though it’s difficult for him to fathom said resources being so minimal, and it makes his heart ache against his ribs a bit.
She hesitates, shifting her weight where she’s knelt down by the wall, but with a sigh she prevails in the battle against herself and blurts out, “And— I know this is very bad, but... sometimes— not all the time! Sometimes I take pencils and such from school. It’s— it’s not fair, they possess such fine tools but the students mistreat them.” She exhales in a huff, like this secret had been filling her lungs, and finally glances over her shoulder to meet his gaze. “I know, it’s a terrible and awful thing to do, and Marmee would be so disappointed in me, but—”
“Oh, Amy, no, it’s alright. I understand,” Laurie tells her, and he doesn’t understand in a traditional sense, not one bit, but he does understand because he’s noticed Jo slip five-cent taffies and lozenges into her pocket on their way out of the candy shop with the much pricier chocolate bar he’d bought for them to share. He remembers meeting her eyes and them nodding at the same time, an understanding. The following week, for Jo’s birthday, he had presented her with bags and bags of the same taffies and lozenges.
He looks at Amy now and smiles kindly. She stares at him as if to measure him up, her pupils darting back and forth, then she mumbles, “You— you won’t tell, will you?”
“Of course not,” he says. “My lips are sealed. I promise.” And for the second time today, he makes a cross motion over his heart. To shift the topic, he moves around the foot of the bed and tries to catch a glance at what she’s doing in the corner.
Amy is unfazed by him intruding in her space. Instead, she slides over and pats the floor for him to sit next to her. He clambers down rather awkwardly, bending his long legs while she gracefully tugs the hem of her pale blue dress over her bare feet. “This is my favorite place to draw. The texture of the wall makes it more difficult to use, but I like a challenge,” she says, and only now does he see the marked-up wall. It’s covered in all sorts of pencil and charcoal images that range from hasty doodles to full-fledged, well shaded objects. Laurie feels his jaw sag open as he reaches out towards a crisp lily blossom, which is full of life despite being in varying shades of gray.
A smaller hand reaches out to grab his wrist, however. “Don’t,” Amy scolds him. “You’ll smudge it.”
Laurie retracts his hand. “My apologies.” He swallows, looking to quell the tense quiet with a compliment. “These drawings are wonderful. I— I actually quite like that you’ve put them on the wall. Wallpaper everywhere should be envious.”
Amy seems to swell at his praise, filling her dress to its seams as a gleam flashes over her eyes. “I should think so,” she says, dropping her gaze before stuffing her mouth with different words. “I— I mean, thank you, Laurie.”
Now they fall into a comfortable, companionable silence. Under his admiring eye, she lifts her pencil to the wall and begins a new design. After a few minutes, though, she freezes and keeps her eyes on the wall when she asks him, “You like Jo very much, don’t you?”
“I do,” Laurie agrees. “She’s the best friend I’ve ever had.” He fails to mention that she’s also the only friend he’s ever had. Though as he sits here next to the youngest March sister, he feels like he may soon gain another companion.
Amy sighs and lets her hand fall to her lap. He still can’t figure what she was starting to shape out— it looks almost like a face, maybe— but apparently that’s the last thing on her mind now, because then she says, “How do you feel about love?”
Laurie balances his chin on one knee, studying her with an intent frown. “Why do you ask such a—” he says, but stops when she looks at him and he remembers her rule of no answering questions with questions. “Love is... alright, I suppose. I feel rather indifferent towards it. I- I think I have plenty of time until I’ll have to worry about it.”
Her expression mimics his, leaving the pair to stare seriously at each other. “Is that right,” Amy mutters, but she raises her voice to add, “I don’t think boys put much thought into love. They forget about it completely and leave it for girls to worry over.”
Laurie clears his throat. He knows two things: that Jo is a girl, and that Jo doesn’t care much for love, either.
When he doesn’t answer, Amy snags his gaze and keeps up a stern tone. “You’ll be a romantic, Laurie. And because Jo is your friend, you’ll woo her and you two will fall in love and get married.”
He suppresses a chuckle— it almost feels like she’s ordering him to do as she says. And anyway, friends don’t always fall in love. That’s why they’re only friends. “I don’t know if that’s true—”
“— it is, and that’s how it will be, because it only makes sense. You two will love each other,” Amy says.
“It’s...” Laurie pauses, thinking over his words like they’re stones he’s laying out in a path. “That’s a bold statement, Amy March. You speak as if you’re looking into a crystal ball.”
Amy glances up, looking at him but not actually looking at him. She brushes a golden strand behind one ear, and he observes the thoughtfulness behind this simple motion, the way her fingers hold and place then flutter back down into her lap with a delicate prettiness he hasn’t ever witnessed before, much less in Jo, the one girl in his life whom he has spent ample time around.
Then he blinks and she’s looking at him, really looking at him, and in place of words they only smile at each other. And Amy replies, “Or perhaps not. But I tend to be quite certain about what I say.”
Laurie smiles a genuine smile this time, because she deserves one. “It’s admirable to be certain. I’m afraid I’m the opposite.”
Then the moment comes screeching to a halt like a carriage tumbling into a ditch. Laurie looks over and there’s Jo in the doorway, her brow scrunched in a way that is very much Amy. In an instant her mouth is open and tongue forked: “Teddy! I hope my eyes deceive me.”
He grins at her and hops up from the floor, away from Amy. “They do not deceive you, but fear not. I was only treating your sister with a brief visit.”
Jo crosses her arms, but fortunately she doesn’t seem too peeved. “Oh yes, because being in your presence is definitely a treat,” she quips. Before he can clap back, she jerks her head toward the stairs. “Come on, let’s go. I’ve changed into marginally comfortable attire, and I bet it’ll give me the edge I need to beat you if we race to that mossy boulder.”
Laurie is across the room in two strides to stare challengingly at her. “I’ll take you up on that bet, Jo March. But... might I suggest we race into town instead?”
Jo frowns. “Why?”
“No matter. I just want to,” he insists. She shrugs in agreement, and they start to make their way downstairs after Laurie gives Amy a final wave goodbye. She’s still hunkered down on the floor with her neatly pinned hair and summer skirts spilling everywhere. She waves back with a trace of a smile, tucking her pencil behind one ear with that same light touch.
The shove Jo sends into Laurie’s back as they make their way down the stairs is a sharp contrast, but it makes a laugh explode out of him nonetheless. Over her shoulder, Jo yells, “Do leave Teddy alone, Amy! He doesn’t want to be bothered with your little scribbles.” The command dissolves into giggles, however, when Laurie jerks his elbow back into her gut.
Laurie doesn’t find himself back in the March abode until dusk is lengthening his and Jo’s shadows some hours later. They sprint over the fields, long grass tickling their ankles, and marvel over another lovely June day coming to an end. He moves a little more carefully than usual, however, what with the tin container bouncing in his pocket. Jo often jokes that Laurie should have the pockets in all his trousers enlarged so that his “ginormous” hands can fit in them, and he agrees— only for the purpose of cramming in more taffies, though. But now, Laurie finds, there is plenty more that can go in his pockets besides hands and candy.
The two of them come crashing into the house, together in a storm, and Laurie finds an extra place has been set for him at the dinner table along with Marmee’s assurance that she has already spoken to his grandfather and it’s alright for him to stay for supper if he wishes, which of course he does. He greets Meg and Beth with cordial smiles and chaste knuckle kisses, but it’s when Amy comes flouncing downstairs that he springs up and takes her aside before she can enter the dining room.
“What—” she starts, but then he deposits the long, thin metal container in her hands. She pops it open and gasps at the neatly arranged brand new colored pencils, a freshly sharpened rainbow at her fingertips.
Laurie can feel intrigued eyes on them, so he keeps the interaction short. “It’s summer now,” he tells her, keeping his voice low, “so since you can’t, ah— ‘borrow’ from school at the moment, I thought you might need these. Those wall flowers you draw deserve some color.”
Amy shakes her head slowly, running her fingers over the embossed “Made In France” on the back of the container. “I— I must owe you so much, these had to have cost a fortune—”
“Please. Don’t worry about it. Now quick, take them upstairs before anyone asks questions,” he urges. After allowing half a second to think it over, he gives her shoulder an affectionate squeeze.
He can’t get over the way Amy March looks up at him then, trembling on her tiptoes and eyes shining a green that makes him think of spring. She laughs and whispers, “You’re right, Jo would be jealous. Thank you, Laurie.” She doesn’t seem to give much thought either before pulling him into a fleeting hug out of sight of the murmuring dining room.
With the embrace still lingering on him, Laurie watches her race back upstairs. Then he turns to the dinner table, sitting down and swiping a green bean off Jo’s plate. When she grumbles, he’s quick to remind her that he won their race into town.
“Yes,” Jo says, her bright blue eyes the color of mischief as they follow Amy to her seat, “but you’re such a lovesick sap, Teddy, it’s a wonder that didn’t slow you down.”
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” he says, and smiles.