The Spring Girls by Anna Todd


  Jo was definitely going to leave this town the moment she turned eighteen. She reminded us of that every day. A man with red hair stared at the top of Jo’s dress, and I reached over and lifted the strap up her shoulder.

  My feet were killing me; I had barely let the blisters from yesterday heal before I put my feet through torture again. Twelve chairs were spread around the long oval table, and I walked around slowly to find the seat with my name written on the little place cards. When I found my name, my seat was directly across from Shia and Bell, and four seats down from Jo. I thought about asking them to move my seat, but I didn’t want to be difficult.

  Throughout the dinner, course after course of delectable food was served. The entire six-course meal was a lot like a typical creole réveillon dinner, which was a staple of a New Orleans–style Christmas, but the Kings were having it on New Year’s Day. Somehow that seemed fitting. This family could change the date of Christmas itself, and many people would follow.

  During the meal, Jo talked to Laurie and Shia King about the food, although I also watched her gag at the foie gras on the little plate in front of her. She picked around half of the courses, and Shia ate a bite of soufflé from Bell Gardiner’s fork. The waitstaff were quick and efficient. When Jo spilled a spoonful of leek soup on the table, they quickly covered the spot with a new napkin, and they used little hand-sized brooms to sweep the crème tablecloths between every course.

  I made it through dessert, the cocktails, and the coffees that came after, and even the awkward speech by Mrs. King. She thanked her husband for his warm heart and thanked her son for spending the holidays with them, and I looked at Jo, who was looking at Laurie. I dared to be rude and pulled my cell phone out of my bag. On the home screen was a notification of a text from Amy: How is it, lucky girl? You don’t even know how lucky you are!

  I didn’t reply to her, but I texted Meredith to tell her we made it just fine, even though it was late, then I tucked my phone back into my purse and hung it on the back of my chair. I followed most of the conversation around the table. Everyone was talking about theater and galas and their own accomplishments. I nodded along to the pissing contest around me. Honestly, it made me feel a little bitter to sit there and not have anything to say besides that I was working for Mrs. King and used to work at Sephora. Even Bell had more to say than me, and she was a freaking bartender. Shia traveled the world, his family was loaded from Mr. King’s success, and Mrs. King raised three functioning members of society. I couldn’t even say I was an actual makeup artist; I was just good at it. The matriarch of the house did try to help keep me afloat in the conversation and complimented my talent for makeup, telling them how I managed to make her look ten years younger. As I went to reply, Bell and her mom took control of the conversation, so I just kept my head nodding and my lips closed while the servers cleaned around us.

  I needed some fresh air; I was going to lose my mind if I didn’t go outside for a minute. I noticed a few seats at the table were empty, so I grabbed my glass of water and stood up. I tried to get Jo’s attention, but she was waving her hands around and looking back and forth between Laurie and an older man I’d never seen before.

  I figured she was fine; her cheeks were flushed and her shoulders were relaxed. Since she looked like she was lecturing them, I left.

  I took my time walking down the hallway and out to the back patio. I could only hear faint voices coming from the dining room when I got outside. The patio was empty, and I sat down on a black iron chair and leaned my elbows onto the matching table.

  I looked around at the perfect landscaping, and it intimidated me. So many things went into keeping a property like this. I’d always dreamed of a big house and a gorgeous yard. Yet I didn’t know if I was capable of remembering to have the bushes trimmed. The twinkling lights from last night were still up, and it was a beautiful Louisiana night, about seventy degrees with a slight breeze that picked up the loose bits of my hair and pushed them back down. I was oddly at peace before my bubble was popped.

  Shia’s voice was the thumbtack. “Find anything interesting out here?”

  I shook my head, not ready to give up my peaceful serenity outside and definitely not ready to talk to Shia.

  “No. You should go back inside. Nothing out here to see.”

  I tried to be funny, but it just didn’t land, and Shia walked toward me and sat down across from me. The chair creaked when he sat down, and I tried to imagine how it felt growing up in a fairy-tale land where even old outdoor tables are enchanting. But I knew enough to know it wasn’t fair to say his life was a fairy tale.

  “So, despite your having been here last night and tonight, my mom says you’ve been sick. Are you feeling okay, Margaret?”

  He was already so close to me and he leaned in farther. The crickets were even silent; I held my breath. I could smell the honey on his lips. He was so sly in that way. He made you crave him, but then he would vanish and leave you thinking you imagined the whole thing.

  “I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” I turned the other way and unpinned my hair. I wondered if my makeup was still in place. I hadn’t thought about it since dinner.

  Did I smell like shrimp gumbo? Shia King didn’t smell like gumbo, or even the garlic-soaked artichokes I’d watched him devour. He smelled like his earthy self, like rain and lumber with a hint of cologne. His outfit surprised me the more I stared at it. I hadn’t allowed myself the liberty of taking him in fully, but now it was just us, and he was staring hard at the ground.

  His shirt and his jacket were almost the same color olive, and his dressy undershirt was buttoned all the way to his neck. Little black designs were printed on it, and he was wearing dark gray boots. He looked like he stepped out of New York City or Milan. I suddenly worried if he could see the outline of my strapless bra. I couldn’t wear clothes like Bell Gardiner could, but I knew I looked good in that maroon dress. I just had more to cover.

  “I didn’t realize you and my mom were so close.” He eyed me and brought a glass to his lips. “Until I heard you talking about me last night. I always knew you were more like her than me, but I didn’t realize just how similar the two of you are.”

  “She just wants the best for you, Shia. You’re her only son. They want the best for you—”

  “Oh my God, Meg! Do you hear yourself? You’re sitting here . . .” He paused and his eyes focused in on me. He tapped his fingers on the center of the vinelike design on the table. “You’re a clone of her. Last night when I looked in the pantry, it was eerie how alike you looked. You were holding your glasses the same way.”

  His shoulders shuddered and I recoiled.

  Part of me couldn’t hide that I was flattered that Shia thought his mother and I were similar, but maybe that was why he liked me sometimes and hated me others.

  . . . and he had called me Meg again, finally.

  “You’re lucky your parents care so much,” I said.

  Shia rolled his eyes and dropped his head back, looking up at the starry sky. “I used to think you got it, Meg. But you just don’t get it. It is what it is.”

  The way he shook his head made me feel like he was judging me immensely.

  I jutted my arms out and stood from the table. “You don’t know anything about who I am or what I get.”

  If I had had any water left in my drink, I might have sucked it down or thrown it at him, I wasn’t sure. I wanted drama; it was how we were.

  “I did at one point. And you know it.” His eyes were unwavering as they stuck to mine.

  I stepped around my chair and past him to storm across the yard. If my shoes had been less murderous, it would have been much easier to make a classy, sassy getaway. Instead, I ended up on the ground, struggling to yank my foot from a dirt hole. Shia was standing over me, a flat look on his face as he pulled my shoe out.

  The heel snapped and he pointed to my ankle. “That looks bad.”

  I shifted my eyes to where he was looking.

  My ankle
was throbbing in an unnatural way. I hadn’t noticed the burning pain until he mentioned it. Which was weird. Jo would have a theory about that; she had theories for everything. I wanted to ask her.

  “Here, let me help you up.” Shia reached for my hands.

  I jerked away and shifted my weight, shaking my head. “Get Jo. I don’t need your help.”

  He threw his hands up in the air, but didn’t say a word as he walked inside to get my sister.

  I was humiliated in the worst way, and I could feel the tears stinging the backs of my eyes. I needed to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. I couldn’t believe I had gone there anyway—what the hell was I thinking? I didn’t know. I sat on the soft grass and waited for someone to come back. I should have stayed in my seat at the table and I wouldn’t have looked like such an idiot.

  Jo ran out the back door, moving so quickly in her flat boots. I should have been smart like Jo.

  My skin felt clammy. “I’ve sprained my ankle. It was those stupid shoes, I tell you.” I moved my body a little and my foot throbbed. “I don’t think I can stand up.”

  “I told you those shoes were awful for your feet. They weren’t worth it, were they?” Jo rubbed my ankle.

  “I need to get home. Call a car or something.” I didn’t know how I would get through or around the house, let alone into the car, but I would find a way.

  “Laurie!” Jo called loudly.

  I scowled at her and swiped my hand through the air. “No way. Don’t have him take me. I’m sure he wants to stay. Jo, I don’t—”

  I stopped midsentence. Laurie came strolling out of the house, Shia behind him. I was completely mortified. I bit down on my cheek and tried to lift myself up, but the second that I put all my weight on my knee, I fell back over and yelped in pain.

  “Meg. Stop moving,” Shia told me.

  I huffed and would have told him off if Mrs. King hadn’t been swirling in behind him. She looked concerned but a touch bored. It was strange; I didn’t want to be the center of attention in this crowd the way I usually did.

  “It’s fine. I just need to get to the car,” I told the gathering crowd.

  “I’ll take her home. It’s fine,” Laurie said, pulling his phone from his pockets. He grumbled a few words, hung up the phone, and shoved it back into his jeans.

  I liked the way he watched Jo everywhere she went. She disappeared and came back with a big brown stain on the stomach of the dress she was wearing. She was truly a mess. Mrs. King didn’t even look at Jo. It was like she wasn’t even there.

  “It’s so early, Laurie. You’re sure it’s okay?” I asked.

  Jo looked at him.

  Laurie shook his head. “I always go early. I do, really. Let’s get you to the car, it’ll be pulling up any second. I’ll help Jo get you home.”

  Laurie lifted me up in his arms before I could protest, and I watched Shia’s eyes burn into his back until we disappeared into the house.

  16

  beth

  Laurie came barreling through the house, Meg stuck to one of his sides. His T-shirt was bunched into her fist as she hobbled. Jo was holding her up from the other side, and I checked for blood. I didn’t know why, but I guess living in an Army town will give you different instincts from your average person.

  I didn’t see any blood and Meg wasn’t crying or screaming, so I rushed over to help. Meg’s face was gray and she was wearing a beautiful maroon dress that now had green grass tracks down the side of it. I dropped to my knees and gently lifted the bottom of her dress up to check her ankle before I moved it.

  “It’s broken, Beth. Isn’t it?” Meg cried.

  Laurie stood awkwardly over Meg with his hands stuffed in his pockets, bending at his knees.

  “No, Meg. It’s just sprained. Let me get some ice. Don’t move,” I told her, and climbed to my feet.

  When I got to the doorway of the kitchen, I called back to Jo, “Don’t let her move!”

  Meredith walked into the kitchen, her hair in pins and her dress dragging on the floor. “What’s going on?”

  I pulled open the cabinet drawer closest to her and grabbed the plastic bags. “Meg sprained her ankle at the Kings’. Looks pretty bad.”

  My mom pulled the freezer door open and helped me fill a bag. “Is that the Laurence boy?”

  I nodded. “He seems nice.”

  She closed the freezer door and leaned against the counter. “I think so, too.”

  Meredith followed me back into the living room and thanked Laurie for helping Meg. Jo said the same to him and disappeared upstairs. She never came back. Laurie kept looking up at the staircase over and over for the next hour before he finally gave up and left. I didn’t think Jo knew how to handle boys, especially tall ones with long hair like Laurie. It probably never occurred to her to even say goodbye to him.

  That was Jo; she was always in her own world. It was one of her best qualities, but she had to learn when to check back in.

  The next morning, I woke up before everyone else and started the coffeepot, fed the fish, and watered the plants. It was only eight, but I figured I should make breakfast. I didn’t know if we had everything I would need, so I searched the cupboards and the pantry for ingredients.

  Eggs—check.

  Milk—check

  Toast . . . I moved a bag of tortillas and found a loaf of wheat bread behind it. I thought a pack of bacon was somewhere in the freezer so I investigated. Underneath a bag of frozen chicken breasts, I found a pound of bacon. I turned the hot water on and let it run over the meat to thaw it. I missed my dad and how he always woke up early with me and helped make breakfast. We would talk about music while we folded laundry, and it felt so deserved, that time with my dad. Looking back, I realize I thought those hours would never end. They seemed so infinite during the year he was here, even though they shouldn’t have. I should have been used to him going; we all should have eventually gotten used to it. But it was the opposite.

  As I waited for the oven to heat up, I flipped the bacon over. My dad used to tell me about the concerts he and my mom would go to. They were Bob Dylan fans in the nineties, and I remember one year I heard them stumble into the old house in Texas, and my mom was laughing so hard that I thought she was crying. I hid by the doorway and watched my dad lift her off her feet after he chased her around the kitchen. I remember how tightly he hugged her to his chest when he finally caught her. The parents in my memory are so different from the ones I know now, but that’s life. I was lucky to even have both of my parents under one roof.

  Amy strolled into the kitchen when the bacon had begun to smell up the whole house.

  “Yum.” She took a seat at the table. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and didn’t say another word. Mentally, I kept coming back to the fact that Amy’s pajamas were too small; the pant legs stopped at least two inches above her ankles.

  After a while, Meg hopped into the room and poured herself a cup of steaming coffee as I pulled the pan of bacon out of the oven. She hopped over to the table on one foot and sat down.

  “I think I spilled some,” she whined when her butt hit the chair.

  I told her I would wipe it up, and she smiled at me and told me thanks, that her ankle was killing her.

  Jo and Meredith were the last to join us, and by the time everyone was sitting down, Meg’s face was turned into a grimace and Amy’s finger was still scrolling.

  “Man, isn’t it weird how now we are supposed to just go on with our lives after the holidays? Everything will go back to normal when you guys all go back to school,” Meg said through the eggs in her mouth.

  “I wish it was Christmas and New Year’s all the time. Everyone would be even more stressed and have even less money,” Jo sniped.

  “Jo. Stop it,” Meredith said, but smiled when she turned away.

  We all ate breakfast, and Amy talked about some food trading thing she was doing at school when they returned from break. I offered her whatever I could, and she ble
w me a lip-gloss kiss from where she sat. Meredith said she had sent Dad an email last night and hoped he would be able to Skype today. I felt like the calls were coming less and less lately, and I had read the emails between him and my mom about his upcoming mission. I knew that his platoon was being sent on a mission because he said that he would be gone for over a week.

  I liked it much more when he stayed on the FOB. I wasn’t like Jo, who read every hashtag, or like Amy, who was blissfully unaware of most current events. I was in my own lane right between, and when you added taking care of my mom and sisters on top of that, I would say I had a toll road or two on the three of them. I was worried sick over Dad, and I hoped that he would call Mom soon.

  “Meg, I need a ride to work tomorrow. I can’t take any more days off this month. My manager will kill me,” said Jo.

  She was picking at her plate. Her veggie omelet had to be cold by now. I made it before I made the French toast. Jo was the only one in the house who didn’t fight over my French toast, except when Dad was home. My dad’s mom taught me how to make it, using wheat bread and a little extra nutmeg and a dash of sass—I heard the last part in her voice. She had a Midwestern accent, even though she said there was no such thing. There was that voice again.

  Jo and my dad were the only people who could be trusted around a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies. Yet the two of them would eat an entire bag of chips in one sitting. Jo and her Bugles were best friends forever. The omelet I made sure as hell wasn’t. Something seemed to be wrong with her.

  “I can barely walk, Jo. How can I drive you anywhere?” Meg pointed to her propped ankle.

  It was definitely much less swollen than last night.

  “I can’t miss work again, and the bus takes so long to get anywhere.”

  Meredith left the room, and I was going to follow her soon. Jo and Meg needed to figure this out on their own, and my mom seemed to be a little spaced out, anyway. She was probably exhausted with worry.

  “Meredith!” Jo said in a calm voice. “Are you busy Tuesday? I can get a ride there but not home.”

 
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