Here's the deal -- I'm in the process of writing an AU from Beth's point of view, about what her life would be like if she never got scarlet fever, and was able to grow up an experience life. I gave the fever to Jo instead, and I meant for her struggles to be somewhat of a side plot. Alas, they've more or less taken over the most recent chapter, as has her relationship with Laurie. Thus I'm posting that chapter here, as a one shot. I've you'd like to read the other two, more truly Beth-centric chapters, you can go here: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6106982/1/Five_Unlived_Stories_for_Beth_March
And if you just want to read about Laurie and Jo, as seen through Beth's eyes, click on the cut! And let me know what you think.
“You really should take a break from your writing once and awhile, or have you forgotten your boy?”
Beth stood just outside the garret door, holding the cup of tea that she had made especially to bring up to Jo, for she had been prone to coughing as of late, and Beth wanted desperately to believe that there was something she could do to help.
Laurie’s voice was strained, and Beth was not sure whether or not she ought to open the door. On one hand, she knew that it was wrong to listen in on others’ conversations. On the other, it sounded to her as if Laurie might soon tell Jo some things which she very much needed to hear, and she was eager to know if Jo would take his advice.
“I’d be hard pressed to forget you,” Jo snapped back. “Since you don’t leave me a moment’s peace.”
“I suppose your right,” Laurie replied. “With the exception of the twenty-two hours a day or so that I’m not over at your house, that is.”
“You don’t absolutely have to come here every day, you know.”
Beth frowned, feeling bad for Laurie. Jo had not even been speaking much to her lately, though she’d never gone so far as to try and send her away.
Silence, and then footsteps and a weary sigh from Jo.
“Don’t look at me like that, Teddy.”
“How exactly would you like me to look at you, then? I don’t know what to think when you’re like this. Only a month ago…”
Beth thought she heard a note of warning in Jo’s voice, but from the way she went on afterwards, Beth was not sure.
“Look, I’m working on a new novel. I’ve finished forty pages today. Forty! And that’s not counting the ones that I had to throw away and rewrite.”
“I shouldn’t wonder. The candles were burning in this room all night if I’m not mistaken. Did you get any sleep at all?”
“I slept at my desk.”
Beth waited, wishing that Laurie would tell Jo about the dark circles under her eyes, or warn her against burning herself out.
“That can’t be comfortable,” Laurie said, all too cheerfully. “Bent on suffering for your art, Jo?”
“Might as well get used to it. Far as I can tell, about half of all writers have a notoriously difficult time of it.”
“I hope you plan on belonging to the half that cheerful and content as well as prolific.”
“You know I do.”
Jo laughed at something, and though Beth could not tell what, she thought it as good a time as any to open the door and find out.
Laurie’s lips were on Jo’s temple in a way that was far from proper, and from the way Laurie’s arms circled around her, Beth wondered if he might have already kissed her cheek, or her neck, or even her lips as well. Laurie straightened up at once, and Jo spilled her ink in her haste to pick up her pen and look busy.
“Oh!” Said Beth, putting down her tea, and rushing over to help clean up, lest the mess somehow get all over the precious pages of Jo’s story.
“It’s fine now, Bethy,” Jo said. Her eyes searched Beth’s as if wondering how much she had seen, and what she meant to do about it.
Without thinking, Beth smiled. Now that she was getting over her surprise at it, a little kiss did not seem like such a terrible thing, especially between Laurie and Jo, who had always been so dear to each other. In fact, Beth was surprised by just how much she liked it.
… … … …
Beth could not sleep that night. Jo’s bed was empty again. If Jo had been snoring loudly besides her (as she sometimes did, much to her embarrassment), Beth would not have been disturbed by it. The absolute silence of the room, however, was difficult to deal with.
Softly, so as not to disturb Meg or Amy, Beth made her way up to the garret. Jo was not writing, but sitting with her chin resting against the desk, her grey eyes wide. Wordlessly, Beth pulled up a stool and sat besides Jo. Things were often like this between the two of them -- there was a closeness and communion in their shared silences that even the rest of the family could not be a part of. The problem, this time, was that Jo was not entirely silent; there was a slight rattle each time she took a breath which Beth would not have heard if all else had not been still, but which she could not ignore now. Beth touched Jo’s cheek, noting with dismay how hot it was.
“Jo…” She started.
“I know. It’s just… I can’t do this again right now.”
Beth swallowed, not knowing what to say. She never did, and though she knew she was with the one person who understood that better than anyone else, she still wished she could find the words to make things better, as Jo so often did for her.
She tugged on Jo’s sleeve, and they went downstairs together.
“Do you want some water?” Beth whispered. “Should I wake Marmee?”
“No, don’t do that.” Jo whispered back. Much to Beth’s relief, she already sounded more like herself, and not despondent as she had only minutes before. “It’s only because I’m up so late. A good night’s rest will set everything right.”
Beth still had a habit of believing everything that Jo told her, for her sister had a way of speaking as if she could make anything happen through sheer will. Nonetheless, Beth did not lay down in her own bed, but slid under the covers besides Jo, some instinct telling her that she should stay close to her this night.
“You must think I was carrying on terribly with Laurie today,” Jo said, close to Beth’s ear, just when Beth had thought her asleep.
“He was the one who kissed you,” Beth said, as if that made all the difference. Unwittingly, she wondered what it must have felt like to be kissed by Laurie, but told herself that she had no right to ask anything more on the topic than Jo freely told her. Especially not tonight, with Jo ill.
“Today,” Jo pointed out wryly. “But I’m the one who started it the first time.”
“What?” Beth asked, not very cleverly. ‘Why’ would have been a better question, and at any rate, it was the one that Jo chose to answer.
“It was a month ago, and very stupid of me. I’ve been feeling lately as if I must do everything I could possibly want very quickly, and all at once. And I don’t suppose it and some of the things I told him are something I can go back on. Only, I wish I’d thought it through. It’s not like a story, where I can go back and rewrite anything that doesn’t come out exactly right.”
“Do you wish life was? Like a story I mean.”
“So do I,” Beth said, thinking of how she became taller and rosier each day though she’d done nothing to deserve it, while Jo loved, planned, and wrote page after page even as she seemed to be fading away.
Beth blinked hard, scolding herself inwardly for this sudden fit of melancholy. Of course Jo would never allow herself to fade.
“Is something wrong?” Jo asked.
“No. I was only thinking about the novel you’re writing. Do you think it will be finished soon?”
“It should be, yes.”
…. …… …
Beth awoke some hours later, to find a very concerned Marmee leaning over her and Jo, whose fever had risen in the night.
It was not so bad as her first illness had been. The doctor said that she had a lung infection, and would surely recover after some rest. Many warnings were given over the state of Jo’s health, and about what she must do if she hoped to maintain it. Beth overheard one doctor call Jo “delicate” which struck her as very strange, for it was the last word she would ever think of to describe Jo.
Jo’s fever was intermittent for several weeks, and her cough was constant, though it never got very bad. It was a strange sort of illness, which refused to fully overtake her, but which would not go away either. The worst of it was that Jo was constantly tired. It seemed most everything she enjoyed overtaxed her, and though the doctor advised nothing but perfect peace for her, Beth thought she would go crazy if she was not allowed to become overtaxed.
“Why don’t you let Laurie over to amuse you, when you are unwell?” Beth asked one day, for Jo was always quite happy to have Laurie over on her best days, but would not let him near on her worst.
“Really Beth, he’s more exhausting than anything else that could come my way,” was Jo’s irritable reply. Beth knew that Laurie had been over every day when Jo had had scarlet fever, but perhaps kissing was the kind of thing that wrought all kinds of other significant changes.
Beth endeavored to amuse Jo herself, but she could not debate literature or make Jo laugh as Laurie did. She wanted to do something extraordinary that would make Jo happy, but what?
One day, the idea came to Beth, and though it terrified her, she resolved to give it a try.
She spent the morning locked up in the garret, reading and going through Jo’s old stories and the unfinished novel, which had only been growing by a few pages a day as of late. After some rummaging, she found three short stories and a poem that she particularly liked, and set off.
That afternoon she went to the newspaper publishing house, stories in hand. It took her several tries to make herself walk into the building, and even more minutes of standing outside the door of the editors office, but she finally managed a soft knock on the door.
“Come in,” Somebody barked from inside, causing Beth of all but jump out of her skin. Of course, it would have to be a frightening man inside.
Well, thought Beth, Laurie’s Grandfather sounds gruff as well, and there isn’t a kinder man in all the world.
This was enough to give her courage, and Beth opened the door.
“They aren’t mine,” She stammered, completely forgetting her greeting. “They are my sister’s, and we’d both be much obliged if you read them.” She handed the man the stories, and was out before he could ask her any questions, never seeing the perplexed look he cast her.
She collided with Laurie on the way out the door. What was he doing there?
“You look as if you’re being chased by a hungry lion Beth,” he said. She saw him glance over at the dentist’s sign that hung above the building, then back at her, worried. “What’s gotten into you, coming here by yourself? If you have a bad time in there, you’ll want someone to look after you when it’s through.”
“I’m not having any teeth out,” Beth said.
“What are you doing then, if I may ask?”
Beth looked down at her feet.
“By Jove, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were up to something!” Laurie said, with such kind amusement that Beth had to smile.
“I am,” said Beth, with a sudden burst of pride. “Or at least I was. I daresay I’ve finished my part of it, and the rest is up to luck.”
“Let’s walk home together, and you can tell me everything on the way.”
Beth did, surprised by how much Laurie seemed to appreciate the story. By the end of the walk, she thought she could understand why Jo shared all of her plots with him.