The Spring Girls by Anna Todd


  I didn’t know which room was Laurie’s because when I came yesterday, I met them in the library. Now, I passed a bathroom with a big claw-foot tub and a walk-in shower. The hallway was dark, even though the sun wasn’t fully gone for the night.

  When I got to the next-to-last door, I could see a sliver of light cast onto the hardwood floor in the room. Walking slowly by it, I realized this was Laurie’s room. My sister was lying on his floor with a book in her hand, her usual relaxed face was wreathed in a smile, and she didn’t notice me standing in the doorway. Laurie was on the bed, his eyes on his cell phone, and the speaker on his desk was playing soft electronic music. I knocked on the door and said my sister’s name. Laurie called me inside.

  “You’re late for dinner, so Meredith sent me over here to get you.”

  Laurie didn’t say anything, just lifted his head up, waved at me with his free hand, his phone in the other. I noticed that he had on loose-wearing bracelets made of strings and beads.

  Jo checked her phone and nodded. “We were just talking about the library here. You should see it. There’s a huge piano in there, it’s so dope.” Jo sounded like a teenager from a Karen McCullah movie.

  “I’m the only one who plays it, and seriously, I barely touch it. My grandpa’s had it for-fucking-ever,” Laurie commented from the bed. “Come in, Beth, you can sit down.”

  I walked to the chair in the corner of the room. A stack of magazines was atop it, which Laurie indicated I should move so I could sit down. I sank into it, and the black leather was warm and smelled like cedar and tobacco. A long, body-length pillow was on the floor next to the wallpapered wall. The Laurence house had more of a New Orleans feel to it than ours, likely because it was much older than ours. We were only the second family to live in our house, even though Fort Cyprus was so very, very old. Meredith said there had been a fire in the original house, started by the youngest daughter of the last family to live there. The house burned to the ground and the father was severely burned, but everyone survived.

  Our house was a newer build with gray siding and a deep porch. The Laurence house was in the Greek Revival style, on the corner of Nightshade and Iris, and it had more books and tchotchkes than I’d ever before seen in my fifteen years. There was an old feel in the air of the place. It tasted like cinnamon and clove. There were shadows in every corner, and I immediately saw what Jo saw in it. Jo craved danger, and here it was, in the safest way possible. The creepy house didn’t have a personality like that of our house. In the Laurence house, darkness crept around the walls and lingered through the thick air.

  Laurie’s room was full of things. Everywhere I looked there were posters, records, books, barely a foot of uncovered space anywhere.

  “Beth, what kind of music do you like? Your sister was just telling me you love Bastille.”

  Jo didn’t say anything and I didn’t look at her. Laurie was nice, but I hated talking to people I didn’t know. It made my skin itch.

  With a burning breath in my lungs, I responded, “I do. I play the piano and keyboard. A little on guitar, but I’m awful at it.”

  “Shut the hell up—you are not!” Jo said from the floor. She clicked her feet together. Her black bootees were missing a buckle on one foot. I meant to fix it, but had forgotten. She broke it the same night Meg and Shia got into their last big fight a few months ago. Until this week, Jo had gone back to wearing sneakers and lace-up boots.

  I felt my entire face burn. “I’m not that good.”

  “I’m sure you’re great.” Laurie smiled at me and set his phone down.

  My cell phone started ringing from my bag, and Jo sat up. The ringtone was an Ed Sheeran song that my mom had listened to every single day since my dad left.

  “She’s calling.” I stood up quickly. I gave Laurie a little wave and waited for Jo by the door.

  She told me and Laurie that she had to run to the bathroom for a moment. Well, technically she said, “I’m gonna pee. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

  So I walked downstairs alone. I passed the room that I could see from the window in our kitchen. Even before I went inside, I had known about the piano from seeing Jo watch Laurie play it through the window, and I saw it up close and personal when I came into the house the first time. I looked behind me, hoping no one would be around. It was clear. There were always housekeepers or someone coming to the house, or worse, I didn’t want to run into Old Mr. Laurence again.

  I walked over to the piano. The sleek Seiler was positioned just in front of a wide, oak-paned bay window. It was the window I’d often watch Laurie play through. I slid my pointer finger over a sharp black key, and a thin layer of dust coated the tip when I pulled it away. I blew it off and sat down on the bench. The typically quick beat of my heart slowed slightly as I rolled my shoulders and lifted my hands in the air, my thumbs hovering over middle C. I didn’t know how loud the instrument was going to be, but I tapped my thumb on the key to gauge it. It was pretty low, and I cared slightly less if someone caught me now that I was sitting here, touching the keys. It had been so long since I had played on anything but a cheap keyboard, and since Meredith let me start homeschool, I had been using the old keyboard my parents got me for Christmas four years before.

  After playing for a few seconds I realized I wasn’t playing a song I knew; my fingers were playing the familiar keys of a song I was working on before I left school. I gave myself a few more seconds to play before I pulled my hands away and left the room.

  Seeing a shadow in the hallway on my way out, I hoped it was Jo or Laurie.

  19

  meg

  John was coming home today.

  I couldn’t believe he was finally coming home.

  I had been counting down the days and the hours and now the minutes until he was back at Fort Cyprus. I was dressed in a long black shirt with a heart neckline and cutout shoulders. I wore a peekaboo shirt once before with John and he couldn’t keep his hands off me. I hoped it would be the same this time. I had been playing over so many scenarios in my head regarding how it would go when John got back to me.

  I sat down at my vanity and checked my email on my cell phone.

  I had one, from John. My heart sped up and I clicked it immediately.

  The message was from only a few minutes ago. The subject line read Tell me.

  Hey Meg,

  What’s up? I’ve been thinking a lot about when I get home and I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m confused.

  I’m sorry.

  2nd Lieutenant Brooke

  I read the message again and felt the blood drain from my face.

  After the fourth read, I tossed my phone onto the vanity like it was on fire. My makeup-brush canister went flying and scattered brushes all over the floor. They rolled past my feet, and a thick kabuki brush stopped at the cutout toes of my Steve Maddens. I had gotten a bloodred pedicure because John liked my toes painted. He told me that once.

  I remembered every compliment he had ever given me.

  John Brooke didn’t say much. His words came less often, but that made me appreciate them more.

  I was trying to be rational, to think before I made any moves, but it was hard. I didn’t know if I should respond, delete it, or forward it to someone for a second opinion.

  Where was this coming from? John would be home that night, in just two hours! What could have happened in the last day and a half that would make him so confused? The last time we talked, he teased me about my dislike of superhero movies, and I promised to watch at least one with him. He talked about his mother up in Maine and his sister who had just had her third baby. There were no signs of anything being off.

  I told him I couldn’t wait to touch him again. I went into a little detail on what I had planned for him. The line was silent for a beat, then he sucked in a breath and told me I was killing him. It made me melt from the inside out, and I couldn’t wait to touch him. I thought we would be in a warm hotel bed by ten tonight. I thought he would be ins
ide me, telling me how much he missed me as he made love to me. How much he needed me and felt lost without me. In the morning, we would have fancy hotel pancakes with things like purees and powdered sugar on the side. I was supposed to feed him fancy pancakes and tease him until he rolled me over onto my back and made love to me on high-thread-count sheets.

  What would I tell people?

  What was I supposed to tell Mrs. King? Oh, you know, John Brooke broke up with me instead of proposing, and now I’m single and Shia and Bell Gardiner are still engaged, and I’m single, working for you. Did I mention I’m single again?

  How could John do this to me? And through fucking email? It shook me to the bone, all of my muscles aching at the same time. This feeling was insanity itself. The burning anxiety of the social failure alone was enough to put me in an early grave—add to that being single again and dealing with everyone hearing that he ended things through email.

  I should have known it was all too good to be true. This was a typical move made by the ever-predictable men in my life. My ex-boyfriend River had done the same thing, only through text message, and after sending private pictures of me to half the school.

  To walk into a computer lab and have my picture blinding me from every screen . . .

  I still didn’t know who did that, but it was probably one of my group of old “friends.” From River, to them, to John. I shouldn’t have even been surprised that this pattern continued in my life.

  “What’s going on?” Jo’s voice came to my ears as if through a tunnel.

  I didn’t know what to say to Jo about what was happening in my world. I didn’t know if she was old enough to handle it, or if my ego was durable enough to take a hit like this. Looking back, I cared way too much about what people thought of me, but at the end of the day, my reputation was more important than anything. I had worked hard to build it back up when we PCS’ed to Fort Cyprus. Though I could feel my image slipping between my fingers, I fought against it. I wasn’t ready to let the veil slip away from my life. I straightened my back.

  “Nothing.” I swallowed. I could feel the sting of tears.

  My eyes moved to Jo but she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking at the mess I’d made on the floor. She picked up my phone from where it was lying on the vanity, facedown and covered in white powder.

  She looked down at the screen, and I just let her. I changed my mind so quickly—wasn’t that part of going crazy?

  “Read the screen.” I sighed in defeat.

  If John was confused, I needed to try to clear his head. But if there was no chance, then I might as well start the breakup narrative before he could.

  Jo’s eyes widened as she read the email. “What the hell does this mean?”

  “I don’t know, Jo.” My eyes burned hotter with the threatening tears.

  “Isn’t he supposed to be here in a few hours?” Jo stepped over the mess I’d made and sat down on the edge of my bed. “Did you write him back?”

  “No!” I shook my head. “Should I?” I was reluctant to admit that I didn’t know what the hell to do.

  “I would. He’s your boyfriend. You should be able to call him.”

  Like it was super-obvious that I should be able to call John and just talk it out simply because he was my boyfriend and that was that. Oh, Jo. She had so much to learn about boys and relationships and how to navigate the minefield.

  “You don’t get it,” I told her.

  “How don’t I?”

  “You’ve never had a boyfriend until Laurie—”

  Her eyes went wide and a flush touched down her neck and up to her cheeks. “Laurie isn’t my boyfriend.”

  “I can’t just call him. It doesn’t work like that. If I call him, he’s going to do one of two things. He’s going to really break up with me, or not answer. Both are horrible options. Right now he’s just confused.”

  Now Jo was confused, and I thought it was fascinating and a little simple of her. “So . . . you just wait until . . .” She made it seem so black-and-white, but nothing about this was anything but gray.

  My phone made a noise in Jo’s hand and she almost dropped it to the floor.

  “Email,” she said, so gently, “it’s an email. From John Brooke.”

  I turned back around and looked at her through the vanity mirror. She was holding the phone up so I could see the screen. I felt wild. And hunted. And scrambling for solid ground. With a deep breath I told her to read it to me.

  Without hesitation, she started reading. “ ‘Hey Meg, I’m sorry for what I said earlier. I didn’t mean it. I’ll see you tonight. I can’t wait. Second Lieutenant Brooke.’ ”

  I stared at Jo and waited for the blood to start pumping through my body. “See, he was just having a little cold feet. Everything is fine. If I would have called him, it just would have ruined everyth—”

  Another email alert.

  “John again.” Jo’s eyes were on the screen.

  My heart pounded. What is going on? “Read it!” I yelled at her.

  “ ‘Meg, I really can’t do this. Don’t call me or text me again. I’m sorry. Second Lieu—’ ”

  John’s words coming out of Jo’s mouth were so heavy on my chest, I didn’t want to hear any more. “I got it!” I yelled.

  I wanted to grab my phone from her hands before it dinged again, but I couldn’t move. My head was spinning and I was running my hands over my jeans. I hooked my fingers in the rips and tugged.

  “I’m sorry, Meg.” Jo was next to me. She raised her hand into the air like she was going to touch me, but she couldn’t do it. My sister was never affectionate, and that was okay.

  “It’s fine.”

  I looked at myself in my mirror and tried to find what John Brooke no longer wanted about me. Immediately I thought about River and Texas and wondered if someone told John that he was dating the whore of Fort Hood. That had to be it. It couldn’t have been my styled hair, the curve of my boobs. It had to be that he found out about my past there.

  I stared at the thick eyelashes glued to my eyelids. The box said Minx, and the eyelashes had a sexy curve to them. Were they too much?

  My cheekbones were shimmering and my lips were plumped and painted a deep red. I took so long getting ready that day, wanting to look perfect for our reunion. I felt like an idiot, all dolled up for a man who thinks email is an appropriate form of relationship communication.

  It had been months since I had last seen John. Our reunion was supposed to be special and reaffirming. I had painted my nails, buffed my heels, and was wearing sexy red lace panties and a matching push-up bra. I made sure my skin smelled like coconut, and I used my last paycheck from Mrs. King to buy a new pair of Steve Maddens. I had managed to look French Quarter Ritz-Carlton appropriate.

  I couldn’t imagine what people inside that posh hotel wore. I remember hearing the Kings had their anniversary party in one of the ballrooms there. Shia had complained about the old-fashioned, Southern-money feel of the hotel, that they hadn’t redecorated in one hundred years.

  Now I would never see it. I wouldn’t know.

  I scraped my fingers through my hair, yanking out the bobby pins holding the unmanageable small fringe behind my ears. I grabbed my makeup wipes and pulled back the sticker so quickly that it ripped.

  Jo was silent as I wiped the dark lipstick from my lips. I’m sure she could feel the shame rolling off me in sticky, sinful waves, crashing at my feet. I wore my best lipstick for him, and that meant something, especially since I couldn’t even use my discount on it.

  I tried to make myself laugh about caring about my smeared lipstick over my shredded life. I wished that I didn’t care as much as I did, but that just wasn’t real—and I wanted something, anything, in my life to feel real. Even if it was a horrible sensation.

  My fake eyelashes were stuck to the glass on my vanity counter, and I searched for something between my smudged lipstick to the tips of my polished toes and saw Jo, bright eyed and natural and brilliant
behind me.

  “Why don’t you want to get married, Jo?” I hoped she could bear the weight of my question.

  “Shit like this,” she said, with half a smile.

  “Seriously.”

  She shrugged and sat down on the corner of her bed. “I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t think it’s something that I need to be focusing on right now”—she paused—“or anytime soon. I want to be a journalist, a writer, more than a wife. I’m fucking sixteen, dude.”

  Her answer sounded so simple. So juvenile but so knowing all at once. Only Jo could do that.

  “It’s not that I just want to be someone’s wife, Jo. I want to have a job and stuff, I just want someone to enjoy my life with. You were too young to remember when Mom and Dad actually acted like they loved each other; maybe that’s why you don’t care as much.”

  Jo sucked in air through her lips; the sound almost seemed like a laugh. “I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”

  I wasn’t sure if it did, but it made a little more sense than me just being desperate for male attention and affection. I wanted what I saw my parents had had at one point. I still remembered when my dad came home from Afghanistan two deployments ago and the look on his face when he saw my mom running to him. So many people were on that field during the welcome-home ceremony, but she found him before we did, and she let go of Amy’s hand, shoved it into Beth’s, and took off for him.

  I didn’t think I would ever be able to forget the way he held her and the tears in his eyes when he picked Amy up and held her to his chest. She was about eight at the time and we all wore T-shirts with our last name on the back and whatever randomness we decided to paint on them with the sticky paint tubes. Amy’s said WELCOME HOME DAD with the stick figure version of our family. My dad asked my mom to keep those shirts for him, to make them into a quilt someday.

  My dad was a good man, and John Brooke was, too. What was so bad about wanting to spend my life with a good man?

 
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