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A Friend in Need

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A Friend in Need

"You should go and apologize to that boy," Caroline said, as she ushered Charles into the kitchen. It was the only place the two of them could talk quietly without the other children hearing.

Charles shook his head. "Come on, Caroline. How did it look to you? She was in his robe and he kissed her. What was I supposed to think?"

Caroline smiled and shook her head. "He only kissed her on her forehead, Charles."

"And you believe that?"

Caroline frowned. "Since when do you believe any of the Olesons, especially Nellie.

When he didn't answer, she continued.

"Charles, listen. I understand how it must have looked, but…"

He frowned. "Don't you think it's a little strange? A grown man and a…."

She crossed her arms and stared at him. "I guess it seems a little odd, even to me. But Laura was right. He was just being nice." She sighed and shook her head. "You lost your temper as usual, Charles. She tried to tell you happened, but of course..."

Charles nodded. "Yeah, I know. I acted in haste." He hung his head. "Where is she?"

Caroline smiled and shook her head. "In the loft, crying."

He smiled. "Maybe I should…"

Caroline shook her head. "No, I'll talk to her. You go outside and cool off. I'll send her out."

And so she did. Laura came out with a tackle box and a fishing rod and walked to the footbridge where they sat by the lake. Laura explained everything this time and everything straightened itself out.

At least for the rest of that afternoon, that is. There was still tomorrow.

XXXXXXXXXX

The next morning, Almanzo and Eliza Jane stopped by the Ingalls' place to deliver Laura's clothes and to pick up his robe. He had hoped that they would be able to drive her to school, but was disappointed to learn that she had already left with Albert.

As soon as he climbed back onto the buckboard, Eliza noticed how upset Almanzo was.

"How did it go?" she asked.

"Mr. Ingalls wasn't home," Almanzo told her. "Mrs. Ingalls explained that he's down by the mill. He's been keeping track of the accounts ever since he broke his arm. I'll go over to see him on my lunch break. "

But Almanzo was busy on his lunch break. A very pretty woman with dark brown hair and piercing blue eyes came by to introduce her cousin, one Clarence Brown, to him. Almanzo had never noticed Ginny Brown before, even if she was closer to his age than Laura. She was very pretty, but he had no feelings one way or another. He wasn't even sure they had anything in common.

Almanzo looked up at her, focusing on her big blue eyes. They caught his attention if nothing else. He listened as she droned on about how her cousin would be here for a while before he joined his parents in Minneapolis where he would begin his last year of school.

He smiled and nodded, all the while wondering if he should ask her out. Why not? She was pretty enough. There was no one else, was there? The only two women he had met so far were Beth and Nellie.

And Beth, well, Beth was young, too young and Nellie, well, although she was older than Beth, there were too many differences. She acted like a child. Now Beth was beautiful in her own way, she was a go getter, loved horses and loved her personality and confidence. Now Beth would make a…

He closed his eyes. He couldn't stop thinking about her, could he?

"Cal? You okay?"

Almanzo opened his eyes and looked at Ginny. She was looking at her cousin whose focus now was on someone walking up the road headed toward them.

He turned his gaze to that someone and discovered that someone that Clarence was looking at was Laura Ingalls.

XXXXXXXXXX

Laura almost stopped when she saw Ginny Brown talking with Almanzo Wilder. Miss Wilder explained to Laura that they had delivered her dress to her mother earlier that morning and she wanted to thank him for dropping it off at the house. She was a little afraid when she saw Ginny, but she decided to anyway. There was a new boy in town, a good looking boy that Ginny was introducing to everyone.

As she got closer, Laura noticed the new boy staring at her with a smile on his face. He didn't look much older than her. Yes, he was handsome, but she had no interest in him whatsoever. At least she didn't think so.

"Hello, pretty lady," Clarence said, watching her. He was making her nervous.

She smiled back. "You must be Ginny's cousin, then. I've heard so much about you."

"And you must be Laura Ingalls," Clarence said, smiling wider. "I didn't realize that you would be so pretty."

She looked over at Almanzo who had lifted his head. All of a sudden he was interested in the goings on.

Smiling, Laura turned to face Clarence.

"Thank you," she said, taking one last glance at Almanzo. "Well, I have to get back to school."

Ginny turned. "Do you mind if we follow you Laura? I was just about to take Cal there. I was going to introduce him to the new teacher. He'll need to go to school until his family is sends for him."

The two of them fell into line with Laura as she headed back toward the schoolhouse, all the while with the two of them talking her ear off.

Laura did turn around to take one last look at Almanzo who was still looking at her, wide eyed and frowning.

XXXXXXXXXX

Almanzo sat by the footbridge in the clearing, watching the water of Plum Creek swiftly move past him. It was late on a Sunday afternoon and dusk was fast approaching. Almanzo estimated three more hours and it would be completely dark. He couldn't believe how angry and hurt he was feeling. It was over between him and Ginny. Three dates and that was all. Oh, yeah, she was pretty and those big blue eyes were tempting, but that's all they were. There were no brains behind it. She was scared of everything, insects mostly, but horses?

Maybe she was right to feel the way she did. Skip was the quietest horse he had. He didn't understand why Ginny wouldn't want to see again. She had stormed out of the buggy proclaiming that he drove too fast and didn't want to get into accident. Ginny had had enough of his recklessness.

It was all over town that Almanzo loved to speed. He thought driving was a race, at least that's what the local gossip was. They said that about him back home too. But Almanzo loved to drive and drive fast. He loved to feel the wind in his hair as he drove his Morgan horses. He had trained Skip himself and he had done a great job. He had come as part of team; Barnum was the name of the other one and boy, was he a handful. No matter what Almanzo did or how hard he tried, Barnum just wouldn't listen or learn.

It wasn't that Barnum couldn't be tamed. Sometimes he was gentle, but more often than not, he was a stubborn and wild. He did what he wanted, when he wanted. And he couldn't get him to walk at all.

But Almanzo was confident that Barnum would be broken in. He was certain of it. It was only a matter of time.

And then there was Ginny. Well, forget about her, there were other girls in Walnut Grove. He had noticed Brenda Sue Longworth and she had visited the Feed and Seed a number of times. They had spoken about music and she could sing. Well, at least they had that much in common.

He heard something in the woods; there was a rustling in leaves. Someone was walking and he sat up straighter. A slow smile came to his lips. He recognized those footsteps. He had heard them before.

XXXXXXXXX

Laura was angry and hurt. Clarence wasn't who she thought he was. He didn't like anything that boys normally liked. He didn't want to go fishing, in fact, he was afraid of the worms. He didn't want to play baseball and he was afraid of bugs. Most of all, he wasn't an animal lover and he didn't like horses. All he wanted to do was sit by the footbridge and talk. And boy, could he talk and talk and talk. It was boring and it was getting on her nerves. She loved picnics and hiking in the woods. She loved fishing and collecting bugs and leaves. But, most of all, Laura loved horses. She longed to ride in a buggy at breakneck speed. She wanted to feel the wind in hair as she drove them across the prairie. That's all she dreamed of.

So she told Clarence off. She couldn't stand the talking anymore. There were other boys out there and the one she set her sights on was Almanzo Wilder. She would get him to notice her one way or another. He would see her as a grown woman one day. And she wouldn't give up until he did.

The last thing in the world she expected to see was Almanzo sitting on the footbridge looking as if he had lost his best friend.

XXXXXXXXX

Almanzo stood up to greet her.

"Hi Manly, what are you doing here? Clarence told me that you and Ginny…."

Almanzo lost his smile and shook his head. "Didn't work out, Beth. What about you and Clarence? The two of you were getting along great."

Laura shook her head. "All he wants to do is talk, Almanzo. We have nothing in common at all. He doesn't like fishing or walking in the woods and is afraid of bugs. And he doesn't like horses."'

Almanzo tried to suppress a smile. "I had the same problem with Ginny." He shook his head. "I even tried talking to her, but there was nothing to talk about. She just smiles, nods her head and agrees with whatever I say. She's afraid of everything." He wanted to continue, to say that Ginny was not as clever and confident as her, but he kept quiet.

Laura looked at him and smiled. "Guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Almanzo smiled. He found it easy to talk to Beth and felt so comfortable with her. He couldn't understand why. She was just a kid.

"Hey, do you need a ride home? It wouldn't be out of the way and we could…" He stopped.

Laura frowned. "Is there something wrong, Manly?"

"It's your father. I don't want to upset him again. I don't want another punch in the mouth. I've been trying to speak with him for over a week now and I haven't been able to."

Laura shook her head. "I think we might be able to fix that. Pa is reasonable if you get him at the right time. "She smiled. "Come on, Manly. It's getting later every minute. I've always wanted to ride behind Skip. I've heard you trained him well. And I heard about your new horse? What's his name again?"

And the two of them walked together toward Almanzo's buggy, both talking like two old friends, neither realizing the fate awaited them. But it felt comfortable now, just being with each other and knowing that they would always be friends no matter what happened.