The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  I walked over to the cabinet and grabbed a cup to get her some milk. Amy said she wanted to go to bed, and Meredith kissed her forehead before she wrapped her arms around Amy’s waist and squeezed.

  “Ten minutes on your phone, then put it down. I’m going to come up in thirty minutes. That gives you enough time to shower and wash your washables, brush all your brushables”—Amy was suddenly five again, smiling at the saying my mom used on all of us growing up—“put your pajamas on, play on your phone, and be in bed, blankets covering your coverables”—another smile from Amy, and me, too, this time—“and lights off. Okay?”

  Amy nodded, and my mom told her she loved her.

  After my sister left, my mom settled into drinking warm milk and waiting on an edible batch of cookies to finish in the oven. It was a little after nine, but it was a Saturday, so it was okay for Amy to be up and Jo and Meg to be gone. With my being homeschooled, every day sort of felt the same after a while. I stayed up later than everyone else in my house on most nights, and sometimes my mom would stay up late with me watching horror movies or talking over infomercials. Other nights she would make Jo and the rest go to bed and I would be lying on the couch listening to music and all she would do was kiss me on the forehead and tell me she loved me.

  More than a few times Jo threw an absolute fit over me being “the favorite” child, but it was because I was the one who helped our mom run the house while Dad was gone.

  “Have you heard from Dad?” I asked.

  My drained mom stared at me for a few seconds. She even took a drink of her milk, swished it around in her mouth and all, before she responded. A slow shake of her head was enough for me to know she hadn’t.

  Something between an earthquake and a sigh came out of me, and I put my elbows up on the table and rested my head. “How many days has it been?” I asked, even though I knew good and well.


  “Fo-our,” I repeated. Four days had felt like four hundred. “Did you ask the FRG?”

  My mom nodded. “Two more days and I’m going to reach out to the Red Cross like I did when my dad”—she paused and corrected herself—“your grandpa died. They’ve helped me get ahold of your dad.”

  “What if Jo or Meg, or even Amy, asks?” But I wanted to know what was up, too.

  Meredith’s robe was falling off her shoulder, and I saw that she was wearing my dad’s clothes. She did that a lot, but during blackouts it was worse. Since my dad was an artillery officer, he would go on missions for days at a time without being able to speak with us. Unfortunately, this felt the same as when someone was injured or killed, when the Army would block out all communication until the family was notified. Those days usually felt like holding your breath while someone repeatedly kicks you in the gut.

  Jo and Meg hadn’t asked about Dad, but I wasn’t judging them over it. They had to handle things in their own way, and they both had busy lives. I was the one who spent 90 percent of her time inside the house. The other 10 percent was split up between the grocery store, sometimes to the PX, and random walks to the Shoppette down the street.

  “I don’t know, Beth. We’ll just have to tell them. I don’t want to hide anything from them. I just hoped we wouldn’t need to mention it.” Mom’s lip quivered, but she sucked it right back in. “I hoped he would message me by now.”

  There was a knock at the door, and my mom’s face curled into something that looked like a creature from the stories Jo used to write. My brain flew to exactly what Mom was thinking.

  We both sat perfectly still.

  “It’s not possible.” My mom’s breath was ragged, and waves of tears were just on the brink of spilling over.

  I moved toward the door and my mom grabbed my arm. Her fingers were tight and I saw only panic on her face.

  “No, it’s not possible,” I told her, and gently unhooked her from me.

  I looked at her again to tell her it would be fine. She usually believed me, but swirled up in that moment, I didn’t know if I could be trusted.

  My heart was violent inside my chest as I crossed from the kitchen tile to the soft carpet of the living room, and my throat was closing, my chest a tick away from heaving as I pulled back the blinds. A car was parked in the driveway, but our porch light was out and all of us kept forgetting to replace it, so I couldn’t make out what type of car it was.

  Another knock.

  Just before my head started swimming along with my insides, I wrapped my hand around the door handle and yanked it open.

  And instead of a destructive landslide, I found Shia King walking backward away from the porch, muttering something to himself.

  He raised his hands in the air when I stepped onto the porch—if you could call our series of cement blocks a porch. “Sorry, Beth. Were you sleeping?”

  I shook my head.

  “Oh, okay, good. Is Meg here?”

  His T-shirt had a lion’s face on it and looked like it had been worn a lot.

  I shook my head.

  He nodded, and his tongue slowly skated across his lips. “Okay,” he said, sounding defeated.

  I always liked Shia, even though I didn’t talk to him much. By the time he’d started coming around, hanging out with Meg, I had begun distancing myself from people.

  “Well, I’m going”—he drew out the words—“to go.”

  The street was so quiet and even more lights were on inside the Laurence house.

  “Wait,” I managed.

  Shia whipped back around and waited for me to speak.

  “She will be back Monday.”

  “Where is she?” I must have worn my apprehension on my face because before I could respond he said, “I’m sorry for asking. If you don’t want to tell me, it’s okay.”

  I wasn’t as transparent as Jo, but I was close. “No, it’s fine. She’s with John Brooke.” I felt a jab of guilt right below my ribs.

  He nodded like he already knew, and I thought he was going to say something besides “How are you, Beth?”—but he didn’t.

  I told him I was good, and after ten more seconds passed, my mom came out onto the porch and barreled past me. She was crying and her sobs were slicing through the still Louisiana air as she rushed toward Shia with her robe flowing behind her.

  He stepped back and nearly tripped. His face was twisted into something I could only describe as pure panic. He had to be confused by her rabid behavior. I was, and I knew that she assumed he was a messenger delivering earth-shattering news and she was so tired.

  “Why are you here?” Her fists were crunched into balls kept still at her side.

  “I came to talk to Meg.”

  My mom let out a little sound like something between a sigh and a scoff. I thought she was going to push Shia, and I guess Shia thought so, too, because he moved out of her way, backing slowly to his car.

  “Why would you think Meg wants to talk to you?” my mom practically yelled, no longer crying. It went away that fast.

  I shut the front door behind me and took a few steps toward where they were on the grass.

  “I don’t know. I’m not sure she does,” he told my mom in a tone that made me wonder what Shia did to Meg.

  I knew all about Meg and Shia’s drama while it was going down. I held my sister’s hair back while she threw up into our kitchen sink after one particular fight with him. She never could handle stress and, just like our mom, vomited easily. It was one of those Friday nights where she told my mom she was “going out,” which meant she was parking the car in the back of the gym parking lot on post and waiting for Shia. Meg told me about their make-out sessions once, but I let the secret slip in front of Meredith, and Meg never forgave me. She called me “Ophelia” for months. I hated being called my ex–best friend’s name as an insult, but I had betrayed her the way Ophelia had betrayed me.

  The last time Meg cyberstalked my old best friend, she was dating River. It wasn’t that I expected Ophelia to return even a speck of what I felt for her, but I never
could have expected her to date someone as disgusting as River, even if she didn’t know firsthand how slimy and slithery he was. But she did know, some of the story at least.

  Ophelia helped us tear down the demeaning sheets of betrayal. Then she dated him. More than once. But when we first moved here and Meg met Shia, we spent a few nights a week at “my piano lessons.”

  “She’s with John Brooke, Shia. That’s where she is!” my mom exclaimed, sounding slightly deranged and more like my oldest sister than herself. “He took her down to the French Quarter for a couple of nights. John Brooke just graduated from West Point, Shia!”

  Shia didn’t say a word.

  “John Brooke is a nice man who makes my daughter very happy.”

  Shia remained stone-faced.

  Mom kept going. “He came tonight to get her after a little email mess. Would you happen to know anything about that?”

  Shia’s dark eyebrows pulled together. He shook his head. “What email mess?”

  I didn’t know Shia well enough to know when he was lying, but in general I was pretty good at telling stuff like that, and he seemed honestly confused. Jo said this trait would get me far in a journalism career, but in reality, it hadn’t even helped me make it out the front door.

  “Someone sent Meg an email that they shouldn’t have sent, pretending to be someone they weren’t, and caused her unnecessary pain. Since she doesn’t have a big group of friends here, I’m sure it will be easy to narrow down the already small list of suspects and figure it out. Who else would want to hurt her for no apparent reason?”

  “Not me.” Shia lifted his hands to his chest and touched his fingers to his worn T-shirt. “What kind of emails?”

  My mom shook her head. “I’m not going to share her business with you. What are you doing here? What did you come to talk about?”

  Shia looked at me. I looked away. He seemed to be struggling with what to say to her. I didn’t blame him.

  “Well?” she pushed.

  The normally outspoken Shia hesitated to take my mom’s bait; he seemed to know better than to be too vocal to my mom when she was like this.

  “I just wanted to talk to her. I don’t know if she would want me to—”

  “She’s my daughter and you’ve hurt her. You’re either going to tell me what you wanted to talk to her about, and I’ll tell you where she is, or you’re going to get in your fancy little car over there and drive on back across town and try again next time.”

  Shia was a few inches taller than my mom, but right then he looked so much smaller.

  He sighed and turned his body toward the Laurence house. I wondered if Jo and Laurie would hear the drama outside and come out. I didn’t know if Shia would live to see his wedding if Jo came out and found Meredith like this and Shia backing away with that guilty look painted on his face; she would rip him from the ground. Meg never wanted anyone to know about her and Shia’s meet-ups, and I was sworn to secrecy. I was really, really good at keeping secrets, except from Ophelia.

  My mom stepped to one side and leaned against my dad’s Jeep.

  Shia dipped his chin and pulled his head back. “Mrs. Spring, you know I have always liked you”—his pink tongue darted over his lips—“and I would never disrespect you, but I have no flipping idea what you’re talking about.”

  The front door opened behind me and a light danced across the grass. “Who’s here?” Amy asked from behind my back. I felt her hands touch my back as she passed me.

  “Hey, Amy. How’s it going?” Shia said. He seemed so uncomfortable, but was trying to be polite.

  “Go inside, Amy,” Meredith warned.

  “Mom . . .”

  When Mom snapped her eyes back at Amy, my little sister wrapped her arm around mine.

  “Let’s go inside, Amy. Mom and Shia are talking,” I nudged. I had a feeling she would put up a fight.

  But my sister had, like, this flare in her eyes . . .

  I didn’t know what was coming, but as I turned to pull her inside she wouldn’t budge.

  Shia looked from my mom, to me, to Amy. “Look, Mrs. Spring, I was only trying to find Meg and talk to her—”

  My mom got so close to him that I wasn’t sure if she was going to kiss him or push him. “Talk about what? The emails you sent to her to try to ruin her relationship with John?”

  Shia shook his head. “I would never do whatever you’re talking about, Mrs. Spring. I wouldn’t hurt Meg.”

  Amy sank back a little, and her face was flushed.

  “You’ve already hurt her! You think you’re soooo much better than us, don’t you, Shia King?” Meredith taunted him. I wondered how much liquor my mom had snuck into her mug tonight.

  “What?” He rubbed his shaved head. “No. I—”

  “Just leave, Shia! Get the hell away from us and go back to your fancy mansion in—”

  “Mom!” I finally stepped in to stop her rant. She liked Shia; she was just taking her anger out on him because he frightened her.

  She glared at me, and I shook my head. Her eyes were murderous, and for a second I didn’t recognize her.

  Without a word to Shia, or to me or Amy, my mom stalked inside the house and slammed the front door.

  “Sorry about that. She’s—”

  “It’s fine. I get it.” Shia’s voice was sad.

  “Let’s go.” I tugged at Amy to follow me into the house.

  Just before we got inside, she turned back to Shia and yelled, “She’s at the Ritz in the Quarter with John Brooke!”

  When we got inside, and Shia’s fancy foreign-styled headlights shone through the window before disappearing down the street, my mom asked, “Why did you do that, Beth?”

  Her voice wasn’t loud, but that was the worst part for me. She was mad, but she was never the type of mom to yell at us all the time. Ophelia’s mom was like that. Ophelia would run down to my house when her dad came home with whiskey on his breath.

  “You were yelling at him, Mom. He didn’t do anything wrong that we know of,” I said, explaining myself.

  My mom sighed and rested her arms on the back of the recliner. “Well, at least he doesn’t know where she is.”

  I looked at Amy and then at my mom.

  Amy sauntered past both of us. “I told him. I’m sorry, but neither of you were going to help him.”

  “He didn’t need to know where she was. Your sister is fine without him, and she’s with John.”

  I didn’t agree that Meg was fine without Shia, but I still had to scold Amy for her loud mouth. “It wasn’t your place, Amy.”

  “I just think he loves her,” my little sister said.

  Mom laughed. It wasn’t real. “What makes you think that?”

  Mom sat down in Dad’s recliner, and Amy sat down on the red beanbag chair, swishing as she sank into it.

  “Because he’s here,” Amy said, like Mom knew less than Amy did at twelve.

  I sat on the couch and put my feet up. The blankets on the back of the couch always smelled like our house in Texas. My mom used even more scented wax-cube things then, and the smell would never leave the fabric. I grabbed Dad’s eagle blanket, the one that smelled like cinnamon toast, and pulled it over my legs.

  “And that means love, how?” Mom asked. She seemed to be less angry now. More of the mother I knew and loved, and less like Aunt Hannah when she drank too much and got angry over the smallest things.

  “He lives far! And he’s engaged to Bell Gardiner! But he still came all this way. Of course he loves Meg.”

  I laughed at Amy’s seventh-grade explanation of love.

  Mom did, too. “It doesn’t work like that, darling. If boys like you, or love you, they will show it. You will know. If we have to debate it or question it, he doesn’t love you—and even if he did, if he doesn’t show it in any way beside showing up to your house at ten at night while engaged, he isn’t worth your love anyway.”

  I wondered if the same rules applied with girls, too.

“Not anymore. Maybe when you were young.”

  Meredith scoffed and looked at Amy with a soft disbelief. “Shia King hurt your sister, and after everything that she’s been through, she doesn’t need any more of that. No emails, no rich kids who think they’re too good for my daughter.” Mom turned back to me. “You both should know better. I’ve told you what to put up with, and what not to. Meg doesn’t need to be putting up with Shia’s bullcrap, and, Amy”—Mom looked right at her—“you don’t need to be helping Shia mess with your sister’s life. She’s happy with John Brooke.”

  “What did Shia even do to Meg? Why don’t we like him again? Because I’m pretty sure he’s the richest, hottest guy around here. His jawline—”

  Amy was practically salivating when Mom interrupted her. “Amy, is that what you want to do in life? To be loved by cute rich boys?”

  “Yes!” Amy squeaked. “Yes, of course it is!”

  “And then what? What happens when you’re in your thirties and your cute rich boy grows into a not-so-handsome, rich, spoiled man and, God forbid, something happens and you’re left alone to raise children alone, with no job experience at all.”

  Amy sighed. “Mom, seriously. That isn’t going to happen. I’ll make sure my husband will always be hot.” Amy giggled.

  Mom’s face was hard. “I’m serious, Amy. You need to make sure you have a job and your own skill set. And you can’t go around judging boys only by the way they look. It’s not fair when boys do that to girls, so we shouldn’t do it either.”

  “I’m going to marry someone like Dad, and he’ll stay around forever and help me raise my daughters.” We knew this tactic of Amy’s—to say something you couldn’t disagree or argue with and thereby hopefully end your absurd argument with her.

  It made Mom smile despite herself. “I hope you do. And I hope you have three or four daughters just like you. You know what they say?”

  I did, because Mom had said the same thing to Meg so many times. Meg talked about having kids more than any sane nineteen-year-old. I was sure she would be a good mom someday, but I thought she could listen to Jo and wait until she was older to worry about such things.

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