The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  I wondered if boys were taught the same. Once, Meg told me that girls who were prettier had easier lives. I didn’t believe her then, and I didn’t think I could ever agree with that. I wondered if the pretty girls Laurie could date were ever interesting. It wasn’t fair to assume they weren’t, but since I didn’t have much social experience, I only had the basic stereotypes to base my ideas on.

  After a few minutes, Laurie changed the subject. “What about high school?”

  I groaned. “I hate it. I can’t wait to be a journalist. Or a businesswoman. Or a writer, or all three.”

  Laurie’s expression changed and I thought he wanted to say something, but he kept tapping his lips with his fingers and pulling at the corners of them. I used to do that when I was younger, and I constantly had the worst red rash around my mouth. Meg called it my “ring around the rosie,” and Amy told me it was a disease. There were two types of people, I supposed. Well, three, including sweet Beth, who helped rub cream on my lips before bed.

  I started telling him about high school and how I felt about my teachers. Mostly Mr. Geckle, and how he kicked me off the newspaper and demoted me to yearbook. Laurie laughed a lot and looked pissed a lot, especially about Mr. Geckle and his red cheeks and hairy fingers.

  “You have such a funny way of explaining things and telling stories. It’s so . . . so . . . true, but told in a way I wouldn’t have thought of,” Laurie said. “When I was younger, my dad had this girlfriend who talked like you. She lived in New England somewhere, and she was like a Gypsy or something.”

  I laughed like it was a silly thing to say, but I loved the comparison.

  “Do you want a tour of the house?” Laurie asked me the third time his phone rang.

  But by the time we reached the big staircase, Meredith had texted me and told me that my dad would be calling in twenty minutes. I told Laurie I had to go, and he showed me to the door.

  Old Mr. Laurence was watching me and opened his mouth like he wanted to say something before I left, but he turned away and disappeared behind another door.



  “Jo? Jo? Where are you?” I cried, standing at the bottom of our staircase.

  I heard a small “Here!” from upstairs. It sounded like it was coming from our bedroom, and sure enough, when I got there, I found Jo reading The Bell Jar and covered shoulder to toes in our dad’s plaid blanket that usually rests on the back of his armchair.

  This was Jo’s utopia: a bowl of Bugles on her lap and her fingers gripping the binding of a novel. It gave her some sort of refuge; we all knew that. Meredith reminded us of our strengths and our weaknesses. Jo was smart—education would come easy to her. And me, well, I was beautiful and charming. I may not be as book-smart, but I’m street-smart, and sometimes that gets you further in life. We would see.

  Jo would be fine, and Amy would be, too. Beth was the only one I worried about.

  “What can I help you with?” Jo’s eyes regretfully pulled away from her book. She held the edges tightly in her hand, careful not to lose her place.

  “Look.” I held up the screen of my phone, showing the Facebook invite with Bell Gardiner’s smug face on it.

  Ugh, why would she even invite me? Just to rub it in my face that she’s part of that family now?

  “Miss Gardiner, soon to be Mrs. King, invited us to the King family’s New Year’s Day dinner. Isn’t that nice?” I stomped in a line. I was trying to be calm, but I didn’t have much patience at that moment.

  Jo sighed and closed her book. Her eyes were full of maturity and wisdom when she spoke. She was changing and evolving every day, it felt like.

  “Do you really want to go, Meg? Or is this some weird social sabotage that we shouldn’t get ourselves involved in? It feels like a setup to me. I’ve read stories that started like this,” Jo finished, full of skepticism and fire.

  “Jo,” I sighed. She just didn’t get it. I didn’t want to go per se, but I sort of had to. I had to pretend that I wasn’t bothered by Bell Gardiner’s new fiancé, new thoroughbred family that I longed for, dramatically. I didn’t care about her advancement into a part of society that a woman who works at a bar has no business being in.

  I could work my way up to that same level; I just needed time. Bell Gardiner was older than me and had a head start anyway. When John got back, I would make up for it. I would be with a man who adored me, and that was all I ever wanted in life. Well, that and beautiful, sweet, happy children, a nice house, and a good marriage. I knew that Jo didn’t share the same values, but I hoped she would have my back on this.

  “Yes, I want to go. What are we going to wear?” I asked her, changing the direction of the conversation. I only had two hours to get ready. It was obvious that whatever reason Bell had for inviting me in the first place came as a late thought, which annoyed me more than the randomness of the invite did.

  Jo pulled the blue-and-gray-plaid blanket away from her body and looked down. “What I’m wearing is fine?” She revealed a gray T-shirt and dark blue jeans with rips up the legs.

  “You have to wear a dress, Jo. You have to. Look at this invitation! There’s going to be matching silverware and people serving us dinner—you can’t wear jeans.”

  I usually loved Jo’s chill Los Angeles style, but not for something like this. Mrs. King would be offended as hell if I brought my sister to her annual New Year’s Day dinner wearing jeans.

  “I don’t own a dress.” Jo shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal at all. And fair enough, to her it wasn’t; but for me, this was monumental. There had to be a reason that Bell Gardiner was inviting me. The invite hadn’t come from Mrs. King, as I would have hoped. I didn’t expect to be invited at all, but it would have been a totally different story if Mrs. King herself had invited me, especially since we had had some QT last night.

  So I had to be on my best behavior with Mrs. King, and Jo’s wearing jeans wouldn’t cut it.

  “Josephine. You have to wear or a dress or I can’t go.” I tried not to let my voice crack.

  I hated that I was so worked up over this. I couldn’t help it. When I thought of Bell Gardiner dazzling in that green dress the other night, it made me panic and imagine how dressed up everyone would be in such a formal setting. I couldn’t stand to be the one person who looked like they didn’t belong.

  “Jo, please. Can’t you wear one of Beth’s or mine? Just find something to wear! But it has to be a dress.” I was anxious.

  Jo sat up and set her book on the desk at the end of her bed. “Then I won’t go. I don’t like these snotty, negative-energy social hurdles. They’re pointless, and I don’t care who likes me and who doesn’t.”

  She was being ridiculous. I didn’t know how two sisters could be so different. It didn’t seem possible that this long-haired, long-legged firecracker was my blood. She couldn’t care less about her reputation or what boys, or girls, in her grade thought of her. Honestly, I cared more what the women thought; they were the ones judging. Sometimes I thought I wanted to be more like Jo, but when I imagined the lonely realities, I quickly broke with the ludicrous idea.

  “Come on, Jo.”

  She closed her eyes and held them shut, the way she always did, and I let my mind wander for a moment. I thought about Shia. What he would wear, how he would act around Mr. King after their fight yesterday. My stomach felt like I’d drank rotten milk. I hoped this feeling would let up before the dinner. When I would worry like this, my dad had a way of talking me down. My dad, Shia, Jo . . . they were all so different, yet somehow tied to me and my life.

  “You can wear something of mine, Jo. Anything you want.”

  I was being so helpful.

  The moment she nodded her reluctant assent, I ran off to shower and shave and pluck and plump.

  Two hours later, we were standing by our front door, Jo wearing a denim dress of mine. One of the straps was hanging a little off her shoulder, and her long hair was toppled over to one side, the part in the middle nonexi
stent and messy. It fit her so well. Jo had that type of face and thick hair that could pull off the messy look. When I tried that, I looked more bedhead than beach waves.

  She looked like she was in California, not Louisiana, but she looked completely striking. She always did. Women in Sephora would pay forty bucks a pop for the natural blush on her cheeks.

  “We’re doing this,” I said to her, and she nodded her defiant head at me and I somehow knew she would be down for anything I asked her to do. It made me love her more, and I felt our bond grow. It had been happening a lot lately. Jo was finally at that age where we could relate again. At a few ages it always fades a little, like twelve and fourteen through sixteen. But now she was almost seventeen, and I finally felt like she was cool to hang out with again.

  “We’re doing this.” She smiled back at me.

  I always loved her, but sisterly love is different from friend, complete-comfort love. There were things I’d told my friends in Texas that I would be absolutely humiliated about if Jo or sweet Beth knew. Lately Jo had been blurring the line between sister and friend.

  It made me feel good, having another person to trust. Of course I trusted my mom and all of my sisters, but trust and ease don’t always go hand in hand. It was hard to find those people, and I tended to trust the wrong people again and again.

  Just as I was going to call the Uber, Jo pushed my hand down, shaking her head. A random limousine pulled from the Laurence driveway into ours. When the door opened, I tried to tell the driver he had the wrong house, but Laurie popped out of the roof of the car. It was an older limo and looked sort of tacky, but Jo’s face lit up like the Fourth of July when she saw him bow his head and raise his hand like an usher to guide her into the car. I didn’t like the way he turned away after helping her in, like I wasn’t even there. It wasn’t the attention I was jealous of; it was that I didn’t think he was good enough for Jo.

  Jo needed an old soul with a steady hand and durable ego. Her suitor needed to be reliable enough to guide her and keep her emotional whims grounded. Laurie, the European-raised grandson who wore Chelsea boots and a man bun—Jo wasn’t ready for that type of maddening teenage dream.

  “Your chariot awaits, Spring Girls!” Laurie yelled to me as I struggled to get past a big box on the seat.

  “I’m not Mr. Laurence, I’m Laurie,” he was telling Jo as I sat in the seat directly across from them. A three-foot gap was between the two of them. His hands were twisting off the top of a glass Coke bottle in his shirt, and Jo smiled when he handed it to her.

  “Laurie Laurence, what an odd name,” Jo said, and lifted the bottle to her lips.

  “No”—he laughed—“my first name is Theodore, but I don’t like it. If you must know, when I was young the guys in my class would call me Dora, so I changed it to Laurie when I started high school. We moved to South Italy from North; it was easy to start over.”

  Jo’s shoulders shifted in excitement, and she tapped her Coke bottle to his. They looked like they were going to prom, but Jo refused to go to prom or homecoming, or even football games. I was at every one, cheering in the student section. We couldn’t have been more different. When they took another drink, a thin rope of soda spilled over Jo’s lips, down her chin, and onto the light denim dress.

  “Tell me about Italy, I need to hear everything,” Jo said, wiping at the stain with her hand. She was giving me a migraine.

  Laurie handed her a napkin and told her it wasn’t that bad. She laughed and sat back against the leather seat. I noticed a sense of familiarity with him that I thought was off, but the most I could do was talk to my sister about it later. Maybe every girl, even Jo, needed a Laurie to waltz into her life and right back out, leaving her deflowered and ripened. Maybe that’s what Jo needed, to fully develop. She was sort of stuck at that shy homebody-girl stage, and that was great for her, but it made it harder to make friends in school.

  Then Laurie started speaking about his school in Vevey, where the guys all have the same haircuts and they try to sleep with their tutors. When they went on their spring breaks in Switzerland, they told the other boys about their attempts, and Laurie didn’t say it, but Jo and I both knew it must have made them feel more like men.

  I felt weird witnessing Jo’s first ongoing flirtation with a boy. We had no brothers and very few male cousins, and those cousins we had we didn’t even know, so boys were like a different species to us. I got past that in seventh grade when I got my period and my chest and hips grew. Boys started to notice me, and girls started to be mean to me.

  I never wanted to run the school like Shelly Hunchberg, but I wanted to have friends. I settled for a group of semi-awful girls who mostly just obsessed over YouTube and matte lipsticks. They became more awful the older we got, and they took someone else’s side over mine, and from then on we hadn’t spoken to one another. I didn’t want Jo to go through those social trials. No matter how teachers or parents wanted to deny it, the years between sixteen and twenty were hard. Jo was at the beginning of the trial.

  I zoned out whatever Laurie was feeding to Jo and stared out the window. It wasn’t a far drive. I was already walking into a wasps’ nest; I needed to stop worrying so much about Jo, too. I wanted to keep my sister sheltered, but I didn’t think it would help her in the long run. To feel anything, you have to know the highs and the lows, I thought. If I kept Jo away from making her own mistakes, she would never learn how to navigate. I saw it all the time with my friends. Their parents coddled them and they learned nothing about how the real world worked, and the moment they were fired from Forever 21, they hysterically called home, their iPhones clutched in their shaking hands, and begged to come back. I saw it time and time again.

  I still lived with Meredith and planned to until John and I were engaged. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I knew it would be somewhat soon. In the military, it was even better for your reputation if you were married. I was completely ready to be the perfect officer’s wife. I still had some learning to do before I mastered the domestic parts of my role, but I had the social cues down. Even though Jo didn’t see it, there was more to being a military wife than baking and chauffeuring a van full of kids around. It was about being strong, being capable of running an entire household, and supporting your husband and country in the best way you could.

  We passed a row of big houses, so I knew we were close to the Kings’ place. Jo and Laurie were still babbling about Europe.

  John Brooke would give me the best of everything. He was stable and handsome. He was the whole package. I had lusted after security my entire life. That’s something Shia would never have been willing to give me—despite his family’s money, he was ready to throw everything away, adventure after adventure. John could give me stability. John Brooke was a nice guy who didn’t talk much, but when he did, he always had the wisest things to say.

  “Meg said my dress is too big. She made me wear it,” I heard Jo tell Laurie when he helped her out of the car. “You can laugh, too,” she said to him while looking at me with a smile on her face.

  Laurie didn’t laugh.

  He only looked down for a second and whispered something to her that sounded like “You don’t have to wear a dress,” and she stuck her tongue out at me.

  I couldn’t help but laugh at the tiny fleck of innocence left in her. I knew it was going to evaporate soon; I had noticed her body beginning to bloom over the past summer.

  Jo grabbed my hand when we got out of the car and squeezed it tightly as we walked through the gate of the King house again. Shia was standing in the doorway, and he saw me before I could dodge him.

  I tightened my grip on Jo’s fingers and leaned in for Shia to kiss my cheek. I didn’t want to be formal with him, but I had a role to play. So did he, which is why he kept his lips pressed to my cheek only just as long as he needed to.

  I pulled away and stepped back. My maroon dress was already clinging to me in the time between leaving the limo and walking to the front door. Th
e estate looked entirely different from the night before. It had been less than twenty-four hours since I had been here, but it was completely transformed.

  The first difference was that there was no crowd. The Kings were all lined up on the stairs, waving like true diplomats, and then there was Bell Gardiner, her hair slicked back into a tight bun. Little hairpins were sticking out of the sides, and I could smell the hair spray on her from feet away.

  Without looking at me, Shia smiled at Jo. “Thank you for joining us. It’ll be fun, I promise.” He squeezed her shoulder, and I watched her relax. He was good at that.

  I looked over to the side to find Laurie staring at me. Jo looked at him and then at me, and her shoulders slouched a little. Laurie waved at me, maybe it was mockingly, but I shooed him away and gave my jacket to a man at the front who looked an awful lot like Christopher Walken.

  First, I headed toward the hallway bathroom. Unfortunately, Bell and her mother stood exactly in my path. Avoiding them, I crossed through the kitchen instead, and spotted Mrs. King. She was standing next to the marble island in the center of the open kitchen. Jagged gray swirls cut through white marble, and the paint on the archways and crown moulding was the exact same shade of gray. The room looked like an old parlor.

  “Meg,” she said when she noticed me.

  Her elegant hand held up her wineglass, and she gave me an imperial smile and waved me over. Jo and Laurie followed, and I shamelessly hoped that Mrs. King wouldn’t see the stain on my sister’s dress.

  Mrs. King set her glass down and hugged me. Laurie kissed both of her cheeks in that way that they could do correctly, because they both had traveled to Europe. I saw Jo studying the gesture of faire la bise, and I heard Laurie explaining it to her as we all walked toward the dining room, and I just knew she would soon start air-kissing everyone she saw.

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