They began the walk back, her arm around his and his hand intertwined with her own. As Orchard House came into view, Laurie stopped her.
“I want to speak with Marmee and your father first. Is that alright?”
“Yes, of course,” she nodded. He hadn’t kissed her in twenty three seconds and it was starting to feel like an unreasonably long amount of time to Amy. Laurie pulled her closer to him until their foreheads met, and she watched him worry his lip.
“You know I have to go back to London.”
She nodded again.
“It’ll be six months before I’m home again,” he said softly. His eyes are hazel but this close to him she can see how blindingly green they are in the clear light and she loves him so much she can hardly stand it. “I don’t want your family to think I take it lightly, asking you to wait for me.”
“I know,” she said.
He quirked out a smile. “I’d marry you tomorrow if I thought it was what you wanted,” he laughed, and she can’t stop the blush from forming on her cheeks, pleased and a bit embarrassed at his knowledge of her girlish hopes and fancies. “But I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t give you the proper wedding you deserve. And…” he started, his thumb rubbing along her cheekbone and his gaze heavy on her lips, “in total honesty I don’t know that I’d survive marrying you and then not being able to touch you for six months,” he said sheepishly, his natural boyishness on full display. She laughed, kissing him, and one kiss turned into another, which turned into another.
“You see-” he said against her lips, “this is - this is exactly what I mean,” he managed out, a smile stretching wide across his face, before putting some space between them. “At least now we- well, we aren’t…the possibility of-”
Amy interrupted his stammering. “The possibility of enjoying marital relations isn’t available yet,” she finished smoothly, and the look he gave her at her forthright language spread molten heat through her belly.
“I vaguely remember calling you ‘Saint Amy’ once but that might have been a misnomer,” he joked breathily, his eyelids fluttering at the feel of her hands which had come up to settle along his neck.
She pulled back. “Are you displeased?”
He did laugh then, bright and clear, before pulling her into him again. “No, I’m delighted,” he said boyishly. “More than I ought to be, probably. And definitely more than I should be before I go in to speak with your father,” he admitted sheepishly. “In any case,” he went on, chucking her nose for good measure, “You could never displease me.”
Amy raised her eyebrows, unable to resist teasing him despite how glad she was to hear him speak so openly of his affection for her. “Oh really?” she asked, moving away from him as he mm-hmmed in response, nodding his head. “I thought I was always being too hard on you?”
He laughed. “You are, but I like that.”
She rolled her eyes with a tsk, swatting at him playfully, and Laurie took hold of her arm to pull her back to him. “Maybe I’ll be the one to displease you,” he said, suddenly serious. Her face fell.
“Why should that be?”
“Well, you said it yourself,” he began, a gleam now in his eye, “I’m not even as rich as Fred Vaughan, so how ever will you be able to affor- ow, ow!” he broke off with a laugh, unable to go on as she swatted him again in mock outrage. “Okay, I surrender!”
Amy hmphed delicately as she crossed her arms and turned her back to him. “You are a lout, Theodore Laurence.”
“Not just a lout, but your lout,” he teased, bringing his arms all the way around her so that she was flush with him. “It seems to be my lot in life to always be apologizing to one March girl or another,” he murmured, nosing his way down the column of her neck with little kisses. “At least with you I can take my time and apologize properly.”
She rested her hands atop his on her waist and breathed in sharply as he flicked his tongue ever so gently over her pulse. “Oh?”
He hmmed in assent, continuing his ministrations on her neck.
“And what does apologizing properly look like?” she asked, her head dropping back against his shoulder.
“Well I’d make sure to be very, very thorough,” he explained, and Amy could feel her pulse like a drum in the palms of her hands. “It could take ages,” he went on, “But in pursuit of my lovely wife’s forgiveness I would gladly commit to the task.” He nipped his teeth slightly on the lobe of her ear, and was rewarded with her gasp before he spun her to face him.
“Well?” he asked wryly, his pupils blown wide even as he smiled at her. “Does that please you?”
“Yes,” she nodded, her throat and mouth completely dry. “Yes, it all sounds very proper,” she managed out, aware that she was pressing herself against him and not quite able to find the will or desire to stop.
“Very proper,” he agreed, as her arms stole once again around his neck. “I am a gentleman, after all,” he finished, before he was kissing her again.
His hand around the back of her neck kept her to him as he explored her mouth, the hidden meaning of their previous conversation bringing desire to the surface as Amy had never felt it before.
She wanted him to touch her everywhere.
“Laurie,” she gasped, clutching at his shoulders, but the sound of his name on her lips had the opposite effect as he shook himself loose from her, panting.
“Maybe we really should get married now,” he joked, all glassy-eyed and flushed and running a hand through his already decidedly rumpled hair.
Amy huffed out a laugh. “No you were right. It would be awful to be married and have such a short time together before you had to leave again.” She looked down for a moment, picking at a piece of skin around her thumb nail. “It wasn’t like this - with Fred,” she shared quietly. “It never felt like this.”
“It isn’t like this for a lot of people,” Laurie said before pausing, as if unsure whether or not he should continue. “It was never like this with me and Jo.”
Amy glanced at him and took stock of his earnest expression. What a conversation to be having! She’d known it hadn’t been like this for Jo, who had always seemed completely confused by any suggestion of her and Laurie being together in a romantic way, but always thought the opposite of him.
She wanted to ask him questions she probably had no right to. Didn’t you desire her? Didn’t you ever dream about kissing her? Or other things? Didn’t it ever thrill you when she wore her hair loose or when you play fought all tangled together or when her cheeks flushed bright red in excitement as she described the next scene of a play she was writing? Didn’t you ever imagine what it might be like to put your lips on her neck and the sound she might make? Didn’t you spend years wanting her the way I wanted you?
The answers to these questions were probably all yes, yes, and yes - and Amy knew rationally that there wasn’t anything wrong with that. Laurie loving her and wanting her had nothing to do with the feelings he’d previously had for Jo - she knew that. She didn’t want to be one of those women forever guilting him over a past love, but thinking about it somehow still brought up all those feelings of insecurity and disappointment and vulnerability that she’d tried so very hard for so very long to bury.
“Tell me,” he said, drawing her out of her thoughts.
“Tell you what?”
“Whatever you’re trying so hard not to,” he answered perceptively, his eyes soft on her.
“It’s nothing,” she said, clasping her hands in front of her. “It’s just…silliness, really.”
“It isn’t silly to me,” he insisted, the conversation somehow suddenly more serious despite her attempt to keep it light. “I want to know what you’re thinking,” he went on gently.
Inexplicably, Amy felt tears pricking behind her eyes and felt betrayed by her own body at this show of weakness. She dug the nails of one hand into her palm to stop them before she spoke. “It isn’t anything, Laurie,” she said, her voice steady. “I know you don’t - feel that way for Jo anymore, but it’s - it’s fine that you once did. I don’t hold it against you or anything like that. I would never do that.”
Amy felt a stab of annoyance when his response to her maturity and graciousness was to huff out a laugh. A laugh! “And what exactly is so funny?” she asked archly, her arms crossed in a huff.
“You are!” he said. “What I’m trying to tell you is that I never felt like this,” and he gestured between them with his hand, “about Jo. No, let me finish,” he pre-empted as she moved to speak. “Jo was the first friend I ever really made here, did you know that? After my parents died and I came here to live with Grandfather I hardly met any other young people - I’d lived next to you all for years before I even met you!” he said with an incredulous laugh.
“I was angry and bored and unbelievably lonely, and Grandfather had no idea what to do with me. And then I met Jo. I’d never met a girl like her before or even knew they existed - all the girls I knew were precious, quiet things that I’d had little to do with. But Jo - Jo was like - if I’d held up a mirror to myself, it might have reflected her back at me. That’s how similar we were. She even wore my clothes! Do you remember that?” he asked, smiling at the memory. “She ran off with one of my vests and a cravat one day and wore them all over, and she’d get the strangest looks which we thought was absolutely hilarious. I used to call her ‘my dear fellow’ and we’d pretend we were two fine gentleman walking into town. She wanted to do all the same things I wanted - she wanted to run around and get into trouble and play cards and steal sips of sherry. She was brash and smart and so completely unconcerned with what other people thought. She was the most interesting person I’d ever met. And of course I loved her, because - how could you not? I didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be like that forever - why we couldn’t go on making a ruckus everywhere and laughing all the time when it was so comfortable to be together. And then after she turned me down, I thought I’d be heartbroken forever and that I’d never marry anyone else and I’d take all my heartbreak and grief and write a great opera about it, which would definitely show her,” he laughed.
“I remember leaving for Europe I was so angry at her! I ignored all of her letters and didn’t even stop by the house to say goodbye before leaving,” he said. “I expected that even abroad I’d be struggling not to think of her every minute of the day for the pain of it, but almost despite myself I found that wasn’t the case and I was somehow not nearly as despondent as I’d anticipated. And I was aggravated that this wound, which in my own pride I’d expected to be able to wear like a badge of honour, like - look what I’ve survived, this great heartbreak! - was somehow barely even a cut. At first it made me feel like a cad that I could be so fickle in my emotions, but I think even by the time you yelled at me at Fred’s party I’d already begun to understand. I had…so much fondness and affection and love for Jo, but it was just that - familial love. And then you and I started spending so much time together and it just - it hit me like a ton of bricks, how different it all felt,” he said. “I never used to sit around trying to come up with ways to make Jo laugh. I kept trying to find reasons to make you look at me the way you did that first day you saw me in your carriage. I don’t know that anyone in my whole life has ever been as excited to see me as you were that day, and I used to think about it all the time. It reminded me of you as a little girl.”
“Yes, it was completely embarrassing!” Amy said, mortified. “I agonized over it for days afterward, thinking of how juvenile you must have thought me, and here I was, right all along!”
Laurie laughed. “No, I loved it! And it gave me hope because you’re not like that with other people. You were when you were younger, but you’d grown up to be quite the proper lady and quite serious. Fred certainly couldn’t make you smile like that but I could, and it made me terribly proud,” he admitted. "I’d spend hours thinking of places I could take you that I knew you’d love and that no one else would think of. That day at Notre Dame you seemed so carefree and happy and I was so pleased I’d managed that! I remember lying on the bench next to where you sat and thinking how much I wished I could rest my head in you lap so that you could play with my hair.
“I never worried about whether Jo thought I was ridiculous. With you I worried all the time - I used to think about what you might say in certain conversations and try and come up with witty little remarks in advance to impress you. And I was constantly distracted by you! Jo and I used to scramble all over each other all the time and never once did that make me feel the way I did whenever I could touch you - even just a hand on your back or on your arm. Weeks after Fred’s party I could have killed myself for being so stupid - not just because I’d upset you which I felt horrible about, but also because instead of fighting with you I could have spent the whole night dancing with you, which I was sure at that point I’d never get another chance to do. That day on the lake…you were lying across from me in the boat and you stretched your arm out behind your head to grab at a branch that had all these white blossoms on it. If someone had asked me my own name in that moment I couldn’t have answered it for staring at you,” he said. “I was so distracted by how you looked that I dropped the oar!”
Amy couldn’t help it and burst out laughing.
“Oh yes, I”m sure you think it’s hilarious,” Laurie said with a good-humoured roll of his eyes at his own misfortune. “Fred would never have dropped the oar and I was unbelievably embarrassed at my own ineptitude,” he went on. “You know, I never would have noticed anything about what Jo wore, except for when it was something she’d stolen from me, but I think I memorized every single piece of clothing you wore in Paris. That blue silk dress you have? There’s thirty three buttons down the back of it. Did you know that? I know because I used to imagine what you’d do if I suddenly reached over and started unbuttoning them. Sometimes if we’d had a really wonderful day together I’d get home and dream about getting to unbutton all thirty three without you stopping me.”
Amy was sure her face was the colour of a tomato, she felt so flushed. She knew that dress well as it had been a favourite, and now her memories of wearing it would always include the knowledge that Laurie had felt that way.
He continued. “You know your white fox collar?”
She nodded. “Yes, Fred gave it me.”
“I know,” Laurie said. “You used to wear it all the time and one day you didn’t, and I thought it must be some kind of sign that maybe you’d changed your mind about Fred. I even asked you, do you remember? I asked you-”
“-you asked me if there was ‘trouble in paradise’,” she answered, completing the memory.
Laurie nodded at her. “There I was hoping you’d say yes, and then you gave me the real reason, which was only because Popper had vomited on it and one of the hotel staff had taken it to have it cleaned!”
Amy couldn’t help the long groan that mixed in her with laugh, and covered her face with her hands. “I didn’t know!”
“Well I know that now!” he said, smiling exasperatedly. “In any case, other people saw what was happening between us before we each realized how the other felt. Even your sisters and and your Mother and they weren’t even there! I gave it away in my letters to Jo because I went on about you so much.” He paused for a moment. “I know Fred knew. He showed me the ring, you know.”
Amy’s head shot up - she hadn’t known that. “He did?”
Laurie nodded slowly. “I saw him, just after he got back from London.”
“So you…you knew he was going to…?”
He nodded again. “Yes. He asked me quite seriously if I thought you’d say yes.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him he was a wonderful fellow and any girl’d be lucky to have him.”
Amy’s heart twinged guiltily. “Well you weren’t wrong,” she said softly.
“No, he really is decent,” Laurie agreed.
“He…he asked me that too,” Amy admitted, not looking at him. “He asked me if it was because of you that I said no.”
Laurie looked at her very intently, his eyes so incredibly green. “What did you tell him?”
“I said no, because…as much as I loved you I had still been prepared to marry Fred. But after you told me not to I just…” she trailed off, not knowing what to say. “I was so angry at you. I was so angry because I thought you were only asking me as some kind of replacement for Jo, and it was the absolute worst feeling in the world. And I realized that Fred would feel like that every single day if I married him. And I just couldn’t go through with it.”
“I should never have asked you like that,” Laurie said quietly. “I just…I felt like if I didn’t say something right there and then I’d never get the chance to do it before Fred came back. And then you were so upset with me and I realized what you thought, about me and Jo. That I was in love with her. I was a fool, Amy.”
Amy smiled a little. “It’s alright,” she said. “If it hadn’t happened that way I really might have gone and married Fred, so I can’t be too angry about it. And I was proud that you’d gone to London finally, even though I was convinced that you’d come home to Concord with some fine daughter of a Lord as your fiancé which would have just destroyed me,” she went on, laughing a little at the fears which had plagued her so over the last months and which, until today, had still lain close to the surface.
“I couldn’t have,” he said, smiling softly. “I had no time for daughters of Dukes when all my thoughts were preoccupied with the American artist I’d fallen in love with in Paris. Once I’d heard that you’d refused Fred, I thought that if I could just make myself into the kind of man I knew you deserved then I’d come back the first chance I got and wouldn’t leave until I’d convinced you that I was the one for you,” he said.
Amy laughed. “Well it didn’t end up taking much convincing after all, did it!”
“Yes and I’m glad for it,” Laurie said, “because I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life seeing you standing there in the parlour. While you were upstairs Jo gave me absolute hell about the whole thing and told me that if I made a cock up of it she’d have my head!” he admitted.
“That sounds like Jo,” Amy laughed with a roll of her eyes, struck at the same time by Jo’s concern over her happiness.
Laurie moved to embrace her, and the tenderness of how gently he held her made her heart ache. “I was convinced you’d say no and send me back to London without any hope,” he said quietly, his mouth close to her ear as his head rested on her shoulder.
“Well I was convinced you’d forgotten all about me,” she replied.
He shook his head and she felt it through her body. “I couldn’t in a million years, Amy.” He pulled back to look at her. “Do you believe me?”
“Yes,” she nodded, but even so she felt some small doubt, some tiny, long buried insecurity at being overlooked for so long that still remained, despite his beautiful words which had made all those butterflies and birds and blimps soar into the air again.
Perhaps he saw it in her eyes or in the way she had said it, but he seemed to sense this hesitancy. “I think you’re trying very hard to be sure about it for my sake but you’re allowed to feel that way,” Laurie said very gently. “I have the next six months to prove to you how much you mean to me and I mean to take every opportunity to do so.”
“I feel like…I just can’t believe this is happening,” she said, drawing his face close to hers, and he kissed her on both cheeks before placing his lips softly on her forehead.
“Yes, I know what you mean,” he agreed.
“It’s a bit scary,” she admitted quietly.
He nodded against her. “I hope I don’t scare you,” he said, searching out her eyes.
“How would you?” she asked.
His cheeks coloured again slightly. “Well I…I think I’ve taken a few more liberties today than I really ought to have. I don’t want you to think that I…that I expect - or - or that that’s all I-”
“I don’t think that,” she interrupted him. “I never…so many of the girls in Paris used to talk about these things and all the wonderful feelings they described were never what I felt with Fred. Not that we…” she broke off, not wanting to insinuate anything. “It was all very innocent,” she affirmed. “But still, it was never like this. I hope you won’t think me wanton or-”
But it was Laurie’s turn to interrupt her, and he did so with a kiss. “I would never think that,” he assured her. “Like I told you, I’m delighted. It’s the most incredible thing in the world knowing you feel like that. It isn’t wrong to want each other that way,” he said. She nodded and he kissed her again, and it was slower this time, more settled and sure.
“We’ll have six months of wanting,” he murmured apologetically against her lips.
“It’ll have to be borne somehow,” Amy said, trying for a brave face, but it really was horrendous that they were being separated so soon and would have to wait so long.
“Will you write to me?” he asked.
“I’ll write every day if I can,” she said, hugging him to her.
“I want to know all the things you’d like for the wedding,” he said, and again that wonderful pleased feeling spread through her at his interest. “We have time still to talk about it yet but don’t leave anything out for fear of boring me or that I don’t want to know,” he said. “And I want to hear all about the Society and your meetings and what wonderful things you’re doing. And about your family and all the things you’re thinking about all day long.”
It was so terribly sweet and she really was overcome with it. “Yes, I’ll do my best,” she said. “And you’ll write to me?”
He kissed her. “I’ll write you as often as I can and bore you utterly with news about my work and the fellows and tell you everyday how terribly I miss you and how much I wish I was here with you. You’ll be sick of me before I even come home, I’m sure!” he said, half jokingly.
“Impossible,” she said, and he kissed her again.
“Come on then Raphaella,” he said, using that old nickname for her. “Shall we face your family?”
“I’m sure they’ve been peering out the windows for the better part of a half hour wondering what’s happening,” she predicted.
He smiled widely. “Let’s put them out of their misery then.”
They opened the front door of Orchard House to find her entire family peering out the windows, almost on top of each other in an anxious effort to see what had been going on outside. At the sound of the door they all turned around suddenly to stare at them wide-eyed.
She and Laurie both looked a mess - she was all tear stained and blotchy with her hair coming loose from its arrangement on one side, and Laurie’s finely starched collar was all askew under his vest and bow tie.
For a moment no one spoke, and then Laurie cleared his voice beside her.
“Mr. March, Marmee,” he said. “May I speak with you?”
Amy watched her parents throw each other a knowing look, before her father reached out with his arm. “Of course, my boy. Why don’t we sit for a moment in my study,” he offered, and Laurie gave her arm a quick surreptitious squeeze before following her parents back into the house.
Jo, Meg, and Beth stood unmoving and in total silence until they’d heard the click of the study door closing, at which point they launched themselves at her in hushed whispers.
“Amy, What happened?”
“Is everything alright?”
“Oh, tell us what’s going on!!
She clasped their arms and attempted to control the wide smile that was threatening on her face, and could hardly speak through all their questions.
Some minutes later when Laurie and her mother and father came out of the study, she had eyes only for his beaming face as he walked over to rejoin her, and did so with an arm around her waist.
“Well,” he began, the whole room waiting, her mother and father smiling in the corner. “I suppose you might suspect already, but Amy and I have something to tell you,” he said.