The Spring Girls by Anna Todd


  “It’s just delightful.” I changed my voice to that of a Southern belle, and the woman clapped her hands.

  Like, actually clapped her hands.

  “It is! That Bell Gardiner is lucky to have the chance to marry into the Kings’. Can you imagine?”

  Her delight and sense of wonder surrounding this family made my stomach turn. To me, the Kings were wasteful, boring, and about as narcissistic as they come. This party showed that. Almost as much as the creepy paintings of the five of them, strategically placed in every single room I’d been in so far. Maybe it was true that having your portrait painted stole your soul. Or was it having your photograph taken? I couldn’t remember, but it would explain what had happened in this household. I didn’t know much about them, but with Meg’s hatred for Shia and her complaints about the coldness of Mrs. King, I needed to do little investigating of my own. This lavish party was enough.

  “I can’t imagine. I bet it’s, like, so much fun to be stuck in this big old house with nothing to do but drink champagne and complain about your life. Like, so much fun, right?” I moved my hips when I talked, and a smile crept across my face when the woman frowned down at me.

  “What is your problem?”

  Her outrage was ridiculous. She acted like I was talking about her own sister or mother; maybe that was the case, but I didn’t know.

  “Nothing. I’m just saying. I heard that if you move into the house, you slowly start to turn into a robot. It’s crazy. Bell Gardiner.” I nodded in the direction of the long table the woman of the evening and her friends sat at. Her groom was the only one missing from the group. The empty seat next to her stuck out like a sore thumb.

  “You are . . .” The woman huffed, and her beady eyes popped out from under her outrageous hat. I didn’t want to stick around long enough for her to find the words, so I dipped between a server and a group of tall men.

  I wanted to go back to the hidden bench, but I didn’t want to take the chance of Laurie coming in and trying to play his games with me.

  I pulled out my phone and texted Meg: Going home. Meet me there when you’re done. Can’t take it anymore.

  Meg was fine by herself. She stayed out almost every weekend and didn’t come home until hours after I fell asleep. I grabbed another tomato bread and smiled at the gigantic security guards at the front of the gate on my way out.

  I pulled out my phone to order a ride from Safr, but when I looked around the street, the quiet darkness of it called to me. I could walk for a few minutes and get some fresh Louisiana air into my lungs and some silence into my head, then call a car to take me the rest of the way home. Well, to the gate of the post. Drivers couldn’t get through the security gates without a sticker on their car. Sometimes I got lucky and got a driver with a sticker or a military ID to take me through, but not always.

  From here the gate was only a ten-minute drive, and from the gate it took me about five minutes to reach my front door. I could be home before long and put my pajamas on and hang out with my sisters. We had traditions that we followed every year. Beth and Meredith would fill the kitchen with food, and when Aunt Hannah came over, it was even better. Well, the food was. Not the awkward silence that rang hollow through the room between my mom and her sister. Amy always ran around asking everyone what their favorite memories were and told hers first. Meredith and Amy always fell asleep before midnight, and Beth always woke Meredith just before. We would hug and dance at midnight, and Dad would always light sparklers and we would always yell “Prost!” when we clinked our glasses together. My dad had learned it in Germany, and we loved saying it.

  I missed my dad. I was beginning to think about him every hour. When I was younger, it felt easier to distract myself from missing him. I was busy with school and with my writing and could pass the days faster. But now that I was paying attention to the world around me, it was not so easy.

  My teachers talked about the war, and my Twitter feed is full of politics, most of which conflict with what I’m learning in school.

  I felt so much younger just last year.

  Meredith always told me that being sixteen was unlike any other age. When you’re fifteen, you don’t drive yet, you’re most likely not dating yet. I had started my period later than all of my sisters, aside from Amy. I felt so young until somehow, without my noticing, last year I was thrust into early adulthood. Every day was something new, and I felt the world getting smaller with each sunrise. My sisters think I’m being dramatic, but times are different now, even since Meg was my age two years ago.

  Only a month more and my dad would be home. He would be back and life would lighten up just a little bit. I would have someone to debate with, someone to bounce my ideas off of. I was proud of my dad, but couldn’t help wishing he wouldn’t have signed up to be an officer. Guilt bloomed in my chest and I took back my thoughts, mentally apologized to Dad and the universe, and thought again. I was lucky he was coming home. I knew that. But no matter how much I knew that, it didn’t make it feel much better when he was gone.

  I walked past an empty field and thought about the privacy all this space afforded. I bet that the Kings owned this land, too, since there were no houses on it. Only cattle. Two eyes stared at me from the darkness, and I walked a little farther from the animal. I was fine with cats and birds, but large farm animals were not my thing. Just like on most days in southern Louisiana, the air got sticky at night. It was still cold, but tonight was warmer than the morning. I searched for more cows and tried to stay under the streetlights in case any cars drove past. Meg hadn’t texted me back yet, so I hoped that Meredith wouldn’t freak out if I came home without her.

  I didn’t think so, but I would see what happened. Maybe Meg would text me back or call me before I called a car. I texted her again: Meg, where are you?

  I thought I heard a branch snap behind me, but I also knew how my imagination worked. Anytime there was ever too much silence, my mind would create something to keep it occupied. It was why I wrote—to dump out some of my wild imagination.

  Another snap. Okay, so there is something behind me. A cow?

  Let it be a cow . . .

  I turned around, and Laurie was walking about ten feet back.

  He raised his arms in the air. “Don’t shoot!”

  He laughed and I glared at him. Was he following me?

  “Why are you following me?” I shouted. He was only about five feet away now; his long strides carried him quickly to my side. His shirt was untucked and his blond hair was pulled back away from his face.

  “I’m not. I just saw you walking and wanted to join you.” He smiled and slid his tongue over his lips.

  I looked up at his eyes. “That sounds a lot like following to me. What do you want?”

  His wet lips were glistening under the streetlight. “I’m heading home, too. Why not go together?”

  Hmm. “It’s a long walk from here. In case you didn’t know.” He probably didn’t know, since he’d just moved here, and I sort of loved that I knew more than he did about this.

  He chuckled and shook his head for a second. “You are just so pleasant, Jo Spring.”

  I didn’t smile. “Aren’t I?” I pointed to the paper cup in his hand. “Is that coffee? Where the hell did you find coffee?”

  I’d seen tables and tables of champagne and two full bars, but no coffee.

  “It is coffee. Do you want it?” He held it up.

  I nodded and grabbed it. It was still hot. “I’d take coffee over compliments right now.”

  I lifted the white plastic lid from the cup. I sniffed it to make sure it didn’t smell like alcohol. The champagne I pretended to like was more than enough for me. After that night, I really didn’t understand why people like to drink so much. Adults, maybe—they have more to worry about—but teenagers? I don’t get their love of alcohol.

  I snapped the lid back on. Was this safe? I hated that I had to question that.

  “You take a drink,” I told him, handing the cup
back to him.

  His eyes went from mine to the cup, and he grabbed it from me. Besides tilting his head to the side, he didn’t do anything before he took a drink. He gargled it like mouthwash and smiled after he swallowed it, sticking his tongue out to prove it was all gone.

  “The walk here is only ten minutes if we cut through the cemetery,” Laurie said a few moments later.

  “The cemetery?” We couldn’t just cut through the cemetery. It was closed and gated.

  And a little creepy. Honestly.

  “Yeah.” He kicked a rock with his boot. It slid across the dark street, and all we could hear was the chirping of crickets and the vibration of grasshoppers in the fields around us. Coming up was a cornfield that was always so dark that every time I walked past it, I couldn’t help but picture Amy’s pick for last Christmas’s horror film: Children of the Corn.

  “It’s faster. Trust me. I cut through the cemetery all the time.”

  It irritated me that he knew this and I didn’t. “It’s also closed.”

  “So? I can help you over the fence if you’re worried about it. Most girls can’t climb it. I’ll help you.” He offered a smile.

  I loved a challenge, and the way he said “most girls” annoyed me. “I’m sure I can handle it. I don’t need your help.” I smiled back at him and followed him down the road.

  “It shouldn’t be this hot outside. Summer is going to be brutal,” Laurie said.

  I looked over at him. “We’re talking about the weather?”

  He laughed through his response. “Guess not.”

  The cemetery was marked by a big red wooden gate.

  “Ready?” Laurie asked with a smirk that was a challenge wrapped in a big red bow.

  “Yep.” I began the climb a second before him, and I didn’t need his help over the steel fence. I made it over and down by myself and only ripped my pants in two places. The jeans were a worthy sacrifice to my cause of self-sufficiency.

  We were silent as we walked among the graves. Laurie told me that if we disturbed the dead, they would disturb us, too.

  I knew he was just talking shit to me, but I still shivered and walked a little closer to him, making sure my steps were as light as possible until we reached a paved road again. We were almost to the gate. I could see it in the distance, only a few minutes’ walk ahead.

  Laurie had only just moved here—how did he know more about my town than me?

  “So, Jo. What are you passionate about?”

  “What a random thing to ask.” I laughed, trying to keep up with his long strides.

  “Not really. I’m curious.”

  Laurie shoved his hands in his pockets and slowed to walk just a little behind me.

  “I want to know yours, Laurie.” I stretched my back as high as I could. “You tell me something about you. I’m not into games.”

  “Hmm, Jo. Somehow I don’t believe that.”

  He smiled and the moon shone brighter.

  13

  “I’m not going to let you walk with me if you’re going to be obnoxious,” I replied.

  I didn’t want to spend the entire walk home playing guessing games and having him make cryptic and not-even-close-to-productive comments about everything I said.

  “I won’t be. I promise only my best behavior from here on out.” He lifted his hand and drew a cross over his heart.

  It was cute. I laughed.

  “Let’s talk,” he said, and began firing question after question at me. By the time we reached the gate of the base, I had talked to him so much that the walk had flown by.

  Where did I get my name?

  Why did I like to be called Jo instead of Josephine?

  Which of my sisters was the oldest? Which was the youngest?

  I had learned little to nothing about him, besides that I thought I wanted to be his friend.

  When we approached the gate, I wasn’t sure which lane to go through. One of my nonmilitary friends once told me that the gate was like a toll gate. Laurie seemed to know which way to go, so I followed him to the far-left lane. The lights above us were so bright, and the military police guarding each lane were holding big guns strapped to their uniforms.

  Meg’s friend Coleman was the gate guard, whose job it was to check our identification and welcome us to the “great place” that was Fort Cyprus. He didn’t give us a hard time at all before he let us through. He didn’t even check our IDs. He probably wanted to sleep with my sister, like the rest of the soldiers we knew.

  “Tell me why you always scowl, Jo.”

  When I informed Laurie that I did not always scowl, he asked me again and I glared at him. I wondered if all boys were interesting like him. My dad was, but some of the boys in my school, and even older ones that Meg dated, seemed less stimulating than plain yogurt.

  “So, Jo, can I assume you have a temper to go with that glower?” Laurie asked when we passed the Shopette just beyond the gate.

  The Shopette was always crowded and had the best hot food and tastiest less-than-a-dollar cappuccinos, which came pouring out of the machine within thirty seconds. Whenever we checked out, I would look at the receipt as a big reminder of all the money we’d saved by not paying taxes on our cappuccinos, Tornados, and Krispy Kreme donuts. My dad would say that we should always use the resources the Army provides for us. During the school year, my dad would fill up his big jug of coffee there every morning. I loved the days when he could drive us to school. It was usually only once a week, but he talked the whole way.

  For a second, I forgot that I was standing with Laurie while my dad was seven thousand miles away. A line of cars pulled out of the parking lot, and we waited on the curb.

  Laurie looked like the type of boy who stayed out late.

  “My dad says I do have a temper. He says that my quick temper, sharp tongue, and restless spirit always get me in trouble.”

  Laurie laughed at that. “Your dad seems to know what he’s talking about.”

  Laurie sniffled and pulled a tissue from his pocket. He wiped his nose and waved for me to walk in front of him. I stepped down off the curb and made a joke about not falling that time, but I don’t think he got it.

  “So, Laurie. You’ve asked me all the questions. My turn.” I didn’t look back at him, and I made sure to keep my pace a few steps ahead.

  “What is there to do for fun around here?”

  “Nothing. I’m always trying to figure that out, too. But there’s nothing,” I told him, distracted from my turn to interrogate him.

  “You have to make your own adventures, Jo.”

  When I looked over at him, I felt like he could read my mind.

  He creates his own adventures, I thought.

  “Do you want me to come inside?” Laurie asked when we reached my driveway.

  The curtains were open and I could see Meredith sitting in Dad’s armchair and Aunt Hannah sitting on the couch. Amy was on the other end of the couch with her phone in her hand. I didn’t see Beth, but I was sure she was in the kitchen. I checked my phone, and it was only ten forty-five. Meg still hadn’t answered me.

  “Sure. My family can be . . .” I looked inside and wondered if my mom and aunt would yell at each other before or after midnight. “But you can come on inside. We have a lot of food and stuff.”

  I looked over at Old Mr. Laurence’s house, which was pitch-black. I gestured to the house. “Do you need to tell him or something?”

  “No.” Laurie laughed. “He’s in bed. He won’t even notice.”

  “Is he as awful as everyone says he is?” I blurted out.

  Laurie stopped walking for a moment, and we stood in the middle of my driveway.

  “Do you want to hear how our morning went today?”

  I nodded and tucked my long hair behind my ears on both sides.

  “This morning the driver took us down to the Quarter, to this little place where my grandpa likes to get his pies for the holidays. There was this little fish shop, and while we were waiting, a
homeless woman came in begging the owner to let her scrub some fish in exchange for some scraps for her family to eat. She had a little boy with her who looked like he hadn’t eaten in days.”

  My stomach turned.

  “So, the owner of the fish shop says no and shooed them out of there. So my grandpa tells the guy off, buys a whole bag of fish, and takes them outside. He handed her a wad of money, the fish, and a bottle of water.” Laurie looked down at me. “He even smiled at the toothless little kid, and that man hardly ever smiles. He’s tough, but he’s a good man. Don’t listen to rumors that bored women make up about him.”

  I was stunned . . .

  But I loved the plot twist. I loved the entire idea that people were never who we thought they were. It was silly to think that the first impression or even the tenth was enough to know an entire human being. I wasn’t buying it; besides, it made it more fun when Old Mr. Laurence turned out to be a Care Bear, not a grizzly.

  “Is that your mom?” Laurie pointed to the house.

  I saw Aunt Hannah standing in the window.

  “No, that’s my aunt. That one is my mom.” I pointed to Meredith, sitting on the chair. She had on an old cotton dress, and her hair was wrapped up in a floral cloth.

  “Let’s go.” I tugged on Laurie’s jacket and he followed me through the creaky door.

  Amy sat up when we walked in, and I saw her little hands fly up to her hair to fluff the blond strands.

  Meredith watched us quietly, but didn’t move from the chair.

  “Uh . . . Hi, everyone,” Laurie greeted the awkward room, and waved his hand in the air.

  “Laurie is going to spend New Year’s with us, okay?” I told everyone.

  I didn’t wait for anyone to respond before I led him into the kitchen. The lights were on the dimmest setting, so I turned the knob up. Laurie squinted a little, but I kept them on high.

  I pointed to the food. “Eat.”

  With a little smirk, Laurie grabbed a handful of chips from a bowl. Leaning over the counter to look inside the tops of the Crock-Pots, he lifted the lid on the barbecued sausages and scooped a ladleful onto a styrofoam plate. Those were my favorite before I stopped eating meat.

 
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