The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  “How many times are you going to say that?” Amy whined, dragging her arms in front of her little body as she walked across the living room.

  “As many times as it takes,” Beth said. “You have to finish your work tomorrow before we go to the park.”

  I wasn’t paying attention to their entire conversation because I was taking my version of an adventure across the room, sitting cross-legged on the floor. I put Amy’s old step stool in front of me and rested my laptop and tea on top of it. It was the closest thing to a useful desk I had; the desk in my room blanks out my brain every time I sit behind it. I’ve never written more than one hundred words sitting at it, and Meg and I have had it in our bedroom since we moved to Texas. I didn’t even know how many years ago that was. The desk was cursed.

  I was reading a Teen Vogue article, a piece by an at-the-time freelancer named Haley Benson. She wrote about taking a trip alone and how it changed her life. She took herself to breakfast, lunch, and dinner and went on walks across the white sandy shore of an island somewhere far from Louisiana.

  When I googled her, I found that she was born in Georgia and recently got a promotion at the magazine. Her brown hair was medium length, twisted into a loose braid in her Facebook profile picture. Imagining what I was doing in reverse, the idea of a random, somewhat nosy, but mostly admiring teenager looking me up online and hoping to have a little bite of what I had didn’t seem possible.

  I hated times like this, when I started wondering what in the world I was thinking when I had set my mind on moving to New York City someday.

  I wasn’t like the other girls in my school or online who binged on too many Gossip Girl episodes and thought they belonged in the Big Apple. I was more like the wishful, somewhat sad, but mostly hopeful want-to-be journalist with zero experience, but tons of knowledge, who stayed up late every night staring at a screen and consuming every bit of the world that I possibly could. In school they never tell you that most of the arts- or media-related jobs are on the two coasts. I wasn’t into the California sun, so NYC it had to be.

  Plus, living in a big city would afford me invisibility among the sea of floating souls. I couldn’t wait.

  I should have been working on my piece instead of fantasizing and worrying about my escape, but I was ready to move on. I hoped that people weren’t lying when they said that high school will only make up a tiny part of your life. According to my teachers, my performance in high school would shape who I became as an adult, what kind of job I would have, how accepted I would be in the world. They preached about how important SAT scores were and brainwashed me to believe that I would actually use long division in my life after White Rock High.

  Meredith confirmed that I wouldn’t.

  Then there’s Roy Gentry, one of my favorite poets, who was severely bullied in high school and practically screams that high school doesn’t fucking matter once you leave it. He says that half of his graduating class didn’t even remember his name or why they made four years of his life hell; it’s always the popular ones who fall the hardest in the real world. Reading his social-media posts made me happy that I didn’t peak in high school, and I really, really hoped for Meg’s sake that high school never mattered in the real world. Her experience was much worse than mine.

  I started thinking about the vast numbers of people who move to big cities and have crappy, strange roommates and make minimum wage folding T-shirts while waiting to get hired at their dream company. This was on my mind because another thing the internet taught me was that a huge percentage of the articles making it online and into print were written by seasoned journalists, not by high school students who share a room with their older sister. I had to make my voice stand out from the veterans’, and in my piece I needed people to know about what was happening in Cambodia.

  I closed out Haley Benson’s Facebook page and her piece and opened my browser. I was almost finished with my article, and afterward I would get sucked down the rabbit hole that were internet forums. I could spend hours reading the insanity in the forum comments and was mildly obsessed with seeing what the people in the deepest, darkest corners of the internet had to say. I opened a private tab and closed out whatever Amy had opened. I hoped Amy wasn’t seeing things she shouldn’t be seeing on my computer, and a quick look at the history seemed to indicate all was safe. I closed another tab, a Google page.

  Last week Amy was on LiveJournal reading my old entries that I posted in junior high. They were full of drama and essays about school lunches, and they made me laugh now, but I still didn’t want my little sister reading them and harassing me over them for the next month. It was my fault because I left the site open, but still.

  It pissed me off that I never had any privacy. I hated that my parents wouldn’t let me put a password on my computer. Even though I should have known better, I defied them once, and my dad randomly checked it, found the password-prompt screen, and took away my laptop for two weeks.

  I guess I should be grateful that Amy uses her phone for most of her internet usage, and Meg only uses my laptop when she wants to watch makeup tutorials on YouTube. She says her screen is too small to see the contour, whatever the hell that means.

  I opened my Word doc and scanned through the paragraph I stopped my last round of editing on. Just as I finished reading, the screen went black, and I panicked immediately. My throat tightened. I yelled for my mom—what else could I do? My finger repeatedly tapped against the power button, and I let out a little burst of breath when the low-battery warning flashed on the screen before it all went black again.

  “Can you hand me the power cord?” I said to nobody in particular. I shared my parents’ charger ever since Meg randomly brought a mutt puppy with skin tags hanging from his cheeks home last summer and it chewed through mine. I should use some of my next check to buy another one. I always meant to. Less than a year later, the dog ended up being part pit bull, and Fort Cyprus animal control took him from our yard and euthanized him within forty-eight hours because we couldn’t find him a new home. My dad had to carry me out of the shelter office and cover my mouth when I wouldn’t stop screaming at the asshole behind the desk.

  My mom stepped in and, seeing the situation, replaced her alarm with the usual gentle look on her face, a velvet smile, and cloud-soft blue eyes. “Jo, you’ve been online for a while now. Why don’t you go do something? Go to the movies, ask one of your friends if you can come over. Something.”

  “What friends?” Amy said, and laughed until Meredith shushed her. “Take me to the movies!” Amy righteously demanded, reminding me just how great her company was.

  Meredith shrugged and looked me flat in the eyes. “Or you can help me organize the garage.”

  I closed my laptop and stood up immediately. “Actually, I think I’ll go for a walk.”

  I stretched my arms out with somewhat of a flourish and slid my feet into my dirty Vans. Meredith kept promising to take us to the outlet mall right after Christmas, but now we were at the end of January, and Christmas itself barely came last year. So, for now I hoped the small hole over my big toe didn’t expand.

  Right before I closed the door, I heard Amy ask Meredith if she could go with me. I hoped my mom would say no, but I held the door open a little just so I could know whether I needed to run.

  “Amy, let’s make something cool, like zebra-striped cake or sugar cookies shaped like flowers,” Beth began, her voice full-on sweetness, convincing and easy to cave in to.

  Amy’s excitement rang out and I closed the door. I was glad I dodged that one, honestly.

  On my way down the driveway, I texted Meg to make sure everything was going okay with John. What happened tonight made no damn sense. From the breakup emails to her smearing makeup everywhere, to him pulling up like a white knight with a rental car instead of a horse, and, finally, to her riding—well, driving—off into the New Orleans sunset with him.

  Honestly, I didn’t know if he was lying, or if she was confused, or what the heck
was going on with them. All I know is that I wouldn’t be so quick to run off with him without an explanation of the emails—or any proof that he hadn’t sent them.

  I hoped that it was miscommunication. I didn’t think Meg could handle rejection like that. Especially not after waiting months and months for him to finish at West Point.

  The sound of a stick snapping jolted me back into my surroundings. Looking around, I didn’t see anyone, but I crossed the street anyway. Likely it was an animal, hopefully not a skunk. I had been sprayed three times in my life already, and that just wasn’t normal. Skunks obviously had it out for me, and I wasn’t in the mood to scrub my body with cans of tomato juice again.

  As I finished my loop around the block and walked past the Laurence house, I couldn’t help but look at its giant illuminated window. I could see so much of the overcrowded living room, all of the furniture so aristocratic and overdone. I was starting to get used to the place, but I still felt a little weird going over there. I wondered if Laurie was around. It was somewhat early; I stopped walking, debating whether to knock on the door. I hadn’t realized that I didn’t have Laurie’s phone number, and it seemed a little weird, but everything with Laurie felt that way. He lived in his own world, one I liked visiting.

  The front door of the house opened and a woman walked out.

  No, not a woman, I realized. A girl, a teenage girl.

  No, not a teenage girl, it was a snake with long blond hair and a prickly voice . . .

  I stared like a deer in the middle of the road that didn’t move as a car barreled toward it.

  Shelly Hunchberg crossed the lawn and clicked the key fob to her little green Volkswagen. I couldn’t believe I didn’t notice it earlier, that unmistakable little booger of a car.

  Why was she at Laurie’s house?

  Then the silhouette of Laurie himself filled the doorway, and he stood watching her until she pulled out of the driveway. Gravel crunched under her tires, and I hated the noise.

  Shelly Hunchberg, out of everyone? How did she even know Laurie? I knew the town was small, mostly Army families, but Laurie didn’t even go to our school.

  “Jo?” Laurie called out suddenly.

  I thought about bolting, but that would have been even more awkward than my sort-of spying.

  “Jo? Is that you over there?”

  “Yep!” I squeaked out. My voice sounded weird.

  The light around Laurie disappeared as he closed the door behind him and stepped off the porch. We met in the middle of the road. He was wearing a black long-sleeved T-shirt and dark jeans at least a size too big, and his hair was wet and hung just below his shoulders.

  “Hey.” He sounded a little out of breath.

  “Hi,” I said, even though what I wanted to say was Why did you have Shelly evil wench Hunchberg in your house? Don’t you know she’s awful and the biggest bitch at my school and she’ll suck your soul . . . and probably other parts of you . . . dry?

  “What are you doing out here? Just roaming around?”

  I shrugged. Why did everything feel so weird all of the sudden? “Pretty much. Meg is with John Brooke, Amy’s being annoying, and my laptop died while I was editing. So the night air it is.”

  Laurie laughed and tucked his hair behind his left ear. “Why do you guys call him John Brooke? Like he’s some superimportant agent or president or something?”

  I told him I didn’t know why, exactly, but I thought Meg started the trend.

  “What’s he like? Is he as enthralling as your sister thinks he is?”

  “Not exactly.” I laughed. “I mean, he’s nice and everything, though.”

  “ ‘Nice’?”

  I didn’t say anything else because I didn’t want to be an asshole and laugh at John Brooke’s expense. He was upright, maybe uptight, but he wasn’t bad.

  To change the subject, I asked Laurie how his day was. He told me that he went on post with his grandpa to get his ID card renewed and then went to dinner at a restaurant that served only crawfish. Crawfish pie, crawfish soup, crawfish everything.

  Laurie changed his slight Italian accent to a Southern one. “ ‘Panfried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich . . .’ ”

  I was laughing at the end. “Did you seriously memorize Forrest Gump?”

  He nodded. “Not the whole movie, but a lot of it. It’s one of the best.”

  I agreed with him, though it was a strange talent to be able to recite so much of it.

  Laurie glanced back at his house. “Do you want to come inside? Or go for a walk? I’m kinda hungry.”

  “Sure,” I said, even though I wanted to say, Didn’t Shelly evil spawn Hunchberg just feed you the fruit of her loom or loins, or whatever the saying is?

  Instead, we walked across the street in silence until Laurie threw out another Bubba quote and I laughed despite myself.



  The food was delicious, particularly a decadent arrangement of strong cheeses that came with something called a Hurricane Po’ Boy, which was topped with barbecue sauce and crispy shrimp. John overordered and we had so much food left, including a completely untouched crème brûlée.

  I totally planned to pick at the burnt-sugar topping sometime before bed. Or maybe we could even have some fun with it.

  But John looked like he was half-asleep on the chair, and I was so full that I could barely move. Still, being alone with him, at last, I either needed a bath or to run a marathon. Since I didn’t want to hack up my lunch like a model from the nineties, I crawled out of the feather fluff bed and wandered past John and into the suite bathroom.

  The bathroom area was largely covered in dark tiles, the sink and a sizable mirror separate from everything else. The shower was huge, as was the Jacuzzi; it was even bigger than it looked in pictures.

  I ran the perfect bath, and soon bubbles were piling up a foot or so above the tub’s edge. John undressed while I called my mom and managed to sneak into the water before I could even steal a glance of his body. We hadn’t been together since he had had a two-week break back in October. I was more nervous than I had anticipated, and my bloated cheese-stuffed stomach was no reassurance.

  When I got into the bathroom, John was neck deep in bubbles and his eyes both calmed and enticed me.

  “Come in, I’m a little lonely in here.” He smiled.

  He was a man of few words, but he knew what words to use, and when. I pulled my sweater over my head and let it fall to the floor. His eyes were on me, taking me in, devouring me, which made me excited enough to almost forget about the food baby pushing on my stomach.

  I took my pants off, and John’s eyes ate my body up like Sunday brunch at a Southern country club. I pushed my arms against the sides of my chest and got a little wet when water splashed up over the sides as he shifted. I loved what a woman’s body could do to a man. Not what it could do for them, but to them. The boys at my high school always called me a tease, and I was. I loved it. They wanted me—and couldn’t have me—so they pretended they were too good for me and called me names and passed around pictures of my body, which they would never be able to touch themselves.

  When my panties slid down my smooth, pampered legs, John’s mouth went slack and his eyes barely blinked. I stood up, adrenaline flowing through me, licking at the tension I felt from him. I stepped out of my panties fully and eased into the tub. The water burned my skin as I submerged myself into the soft bubble bath. I sat opposite John in the big tub, a sea of bubbles floating between us. I felt like I had so much to say to him, but at the same time didn’t know what to talk about.

  Then it was quiet, the only noises in the room being the soft sounds of the bubbles popping between us. John’s short hair was still dry on his head, looking lighter than his wet chest hair. I wanted to touch him, so I slid over to his naked body, and he parted his legs, letting me sett
le my back against his chest.

  “I missed your body,” he said, his hands exploring my neck, my chest. John Brooke’s hands were never rough; they always carried in them some sort of timidity that made me feel like he was a little bit of a challenge.

  I pushed my ass against his front and felt him hard against me. “I missed yours.”

  His hands grabbed mine and he turned me around. He moved my hands between his legs, making me take his length. I felt powerful as I manipulated his body with light strokes. I felt like a goddess when his head tipped back, and my hands felt like they were connected to the earth. Meredith always told us that a woman’s body is the most divine, most powerful entity in the universe, that it creates life—and can end it, too. She taught me to never be ashamed of my body or my sexuality.

  Though I would guess that she didn’t exactly mean for me to take it as far as I invariably did.

  There I was, a sexual predator, practically the graceful version of a porn star, using my hands and body to bring my prey to ecstasy. I watched my man’s eyes and made sure he knew I was thinking dirty, dirty things about him and couldn’t wait for him to be inside me. I even said as much and took pleasure in watching his face change. Blinking eyes, open mouth panting my name, and he was getting closer, so I pumped faster and asked him if he wanted me to fuck him, and he could barely nod because he was so captivated by my body and the way my hips moved as I straddled him and put him inside me. He stuttered a line of words and spilled out my name as he came so quickly. As flattered as I was that I had accomplished what I intended to even faster than I had planned, I knew from our history that once he came, he was down for the count for a while.

  He kissed my neck and gently pushed me off him, cradling me at his side. I moved back in front of him and laid my head back on his chest. Then there was more silence.

  We sat that way for what felt like hours, and when I heard John’s light snoring behind my ear, I turned to find his eyes closed.

  I was exhausted and I knew he had to be, but here I was completely naked in a bathtub with him and we had barely touched before he came. He was asleep. Eyes closed, breathing hard, mouth slack. Sleeping.

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