The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  River told me how beautiful I was until he took my virginity in the backseat of his 1991 Lumina and asked for pictures of my tits. Then I became an object, and the comments about my beautiful big eyes changed into comments about my big breasts and ass, and I never heard the word beautiful again. I didn’t miss it at the time, though, honestly, I lived for the sexual power I had over him. It’s that feeling that I loved so much.

  River didn’t care about me, not really. Not as much as he cared about being the cool guy with the naked pictures of Meg Spring. There was even a rumor that he was making guys in our school pay him ten bucks for them. The girls got them for free, to pick me apart, to call me names and criticize every part of my body from my “pepperoni nipples” to the stretch marks on the tops of my thighs. The girls at my old school were worse even than the guys. At least the guys’ comments weren’t negative.

  River was careless and thoughtless, and John was supposed to be the opposite of that. I was in control, holding the better cards, and if Shia knew I was happy with John Brooke, maybe it would make me feel better about him and Bell. Such was my illogical logic at nineteen.

  With every week out of high school, I felt like I was getting to know myself more and more. I found out things about myself every day. Like new foods, different ways I could appreciate my life. Jo said I always took power too far, and that power can be silent, but I liked to shout and scream. I had been quiet my entire life, and after being tormented for being quiet, I wasn’t going to shut up. Jo always told me that with my confidence, I could be a CEO of a big company in Chicago or New York, but I didn’t feed off the crowd or thrive under bright lights like she did. I wanted to hear the sounds of children laughing and playing, and I wanted a yard.

  I didn’t have New York City–sized dreams like Jo, but mine seemed like much more fun. Jo wanted to be a little fish in an ocean, and I wanted to be an expensive, exotic fish in a beautiful clean tank. She didn’t care about being admired the way I did. Not everyone could be like Jo, or Shia even—and I didn’t want to be.

  The second that my thoughts went back to Shia, he asked a woman passing by us what time it was. I knew there were big clocks on the wall and a phone in his pocket, but I assumed he was trying to make things less awkward by speaking to someone, anyone. I wondered which one of us would leave first. I started to think I was being paranoid about how awkward it actually was, since neither of them were making a move to leave or strike up a conversation. John was still eating, and Shia was playing with a yarn bracelet on his wrist.

  I grew more uncomfortable with each second that ticked on. It was weird that they weren’t talking when they were supposed to be “friends.” The awkwardness ate at me until I started to think that maybe they were both conspiring against me? What would Jo make of this? She would definitely have a theory on the strange behavior of these two young men. John wasn’t acting like we had just been reunited the night before.

  When it came down to it, I just wanted to spend uninterrupted time with John. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even though we were “dating,” we hadn’t spent much time together. Was Jo right about us when she said that we had no foundation?

  But what does Jo know about dating? I thought. Well . . . at that point Jo had spent more time with Laurie than I had John, and she had only been friends with him since around Christmastime.

  Hell, I’d spent more time with Mrs. King than anyone else in my life lately, aside from my family. I didn’t have much of a social life between working and driving my sisters around. Shia was my friend, at least when I first moved to Fort Cyprus. Thinking about it, I couldn’t remember when we became more than friends, or less, but I knew that if Shia wanted me, he would have said it. He never told me he wanted me, not the way John did. He asked me to leave the country with him, sure, but he used the word “friend” more times than I could count. Kissing friends, that’s what we were.

  Meg Spring was for kissing; Bell Gardiner was for marriage.

  It made me nauseous to think about.

  So much gossip surrounded me everywhere I went, how did I not hear about Shia and Bell? I spent at least fifteen hours a week at his family’s house, and I had no idea he was dating her. I knew nothing about their whirlwind relationship. I looked at Shia across from me and remembered the mysterious emails from “John” that weren’t actually from John.

  Still, I didn’t think Shia would do that. He would just text me or come to my house and tell me to break up with John if he had a problem with us. I couldn’t think of a single reason why he would care, but I was still nursing the Bell Gardiner engagement wound, so I wanted him to care just a little. But Shia was better than that; even if he cared, he wouldn’t take his time to make a fake email address and send me fake emails from John to purposely fuck with me.

  Who had time for that? Nobody. Nobody with anything real in their life.

  Shia sat across from us with his eyes dancing the line between bored and focused on the TV above our table. A basketball game was playing, and knowing Shia had less than zero interest in sports, I knew he was avoiding conversation, or maybe didn’t have anything to say. On a bookshelf behind John’s back was a collection of encyclopedias, so I pulled a Shia and looked them over. They seemed so ancient sitting there. There must have been some wasteland full of encyclopedias and dictionaries whose existence was devalued when the internet took over the world.

  Staring at the encyclopedias only granted me a minute or two, and the silence ticked on. Shia leaned his elbow on the table and began to look around the room. John was still looking down at his phone in his lap, and my water cup was already empty again.

  What in the world could be so interesting? More interesting than me?

  Shia stood up slowly from his chair. His fingers pulled at the bottom of his T-shirt. “Want some more water, Meg?” He looked straight into my eyes, and I knew he wanted to say something, but I couldn’t tell what.

  I shook my head no, even though I wanted more. My throat was still burning a little. Now it felt tight, like I was being pulled with such force that when I snapped, the tearing sound would, like a shriek, rip the awkward silence among the three of us. Shia grabbed my glass, and I had a feeling that John was in his own little world, not aware of anything.

  And, boy, was he not. The tension and hyperawareness of our secret was boiling between Shia and me. And there sat John, too distracted by his phone to even notice that the stove was on.

  I knew I was being slightly petty, and John probably had so many friends and family members to catch up with now that he was graduated from West Point, but I wanted more attention than the stupid device in his hand. John didn’t say much of anything before Shia came back with a cup of water and a bottled water. I didn’t think that John would have noticed that my cup was empty in the first place, let alone know to fill it up even if I said no. But should he have? Should John Brooke have to play these games I couldn’t seem to help but play?

  “Well, I’m gonna go. I have to run by my dad’s office, pick up Bell from Spirits, and then go home. It was good to see you, man,” Shia said.

  John squeezed my hand and stood up to hug Shia. Shia was taller than John, who stood about five foot eight and had a stocky build. My mind flipped through a picture book from the first time I saw him to the last, here today.

  His and John’s exchange was a few seconds long, and they promised to call each other. I didn’t think they would, but I couldn’t decide which of them would be the least likely to call. John seemed withdrawn, and Shia seemed like he didn’t know what to say or do—which was a first. I didn’t know if I should have been standing up and I waited too long, so Shia stuck out his hand and shook my hand. Like we had just done a business deal or met for the first time.

  Not like he waited for me at the airport to leave the country with him and I didn’t show.

  When he was done shaking my hand, he walked out of the room so fast that for a second I thought I’d made him up being there at
all. John grabbed ahold of the arm of my chair and yanked it closer to him. I yelped and he laughed, and all felt right in the world. Well, at least my tiny bubble of a world inside the Club Room of the Ritz in the French Quarter. I felt a little like Carrie Bradshaw in Paris with her artist, Alexander. Then again, Alexander ends up being a complete dick and the trip goes down the drain and ends with Big coming to take her home from Paris. Hmm. Worst analogy ever. Okay, so I couldn’t come up with anything else, but I’m sure there was a Chris Klein character from a few years back that would serve better.

  John felt like the type of man who knew exactly what he wanted, and in that moment he wanted my mouth. His mouth was rough and I licked his lips to wet them before my tongue met his. He tasted like Pepsi and salt, but his face was so smooth. I remember thinking that he must have shaved after his workout and shower. I lifted my hand to rub his skin, and I almost wanted to open my eyes to make sure Shia wasn’t in the Club Room anymore. John’s hands went to my hips, and my dress felt so thin when his hands rubbed the cotton into my sensitive skin. I leaned into him and put my hands on his thighs.

  His pants were stiff and ironed to purposely have a crease down the front of his leg. I kissed him for the way I acted when I got those stupid emails, I sucked a little at his tongue for not planning anything for us this weekend, and my hands traveled seductively up his thighs for bringing Shia back, though John didn’t seem to care at all.

  Someone on the other side of the room coughed, and I never found out if it was on purpose, but I broke away from our kiss and John smiled at me. His hair was cut so short that the redness of his forehead shined through, and his lips were blushed from our kissing.

  “I missed you this morning.” He kissed my hair. “I was so worked up after my workout, God, I missed you.”

  “I missed you, too.”

  I hugged around his neck and had turned his cheek to kiss him again when Shia came bursting back into the room. He rushed toward us and I broke away from John, pushing at his shoulders in my surprise.

  “Meg. Call your mom,” Shia said urgently.

  Before I could ask him why, he shoved his phone toward my face. My skin tingled all over like hundreds of little thorns were poking me all over my body. I took his phone and called my mom’s number, hoping the sinking feeling inside me was only hollowing me out because of the look on Shia’s face.

  “What’s going on?” John asked Shia.

  Shia didn’t respond. I knew something had happened the moment my mom picked up the phone.

  “Meg, Meg, please come home. It’s your dad, please get here.” She wasn’t hysterical or sobbing; she wasn’t herself, but was still calm and clear.

  “Is he—”

  “No, he’s alive. But in Germany”—there was a long pause—“at Landstuhl.”

  I could feel my face heating up with each thought that ran through my head. What happened? How bad is he? How are my sisters? How is Meredith? Is my dad going to die? “How bad is it?”

  John’s brows were drawn together and he stared at me. Shia’s hand touched my shoulder, and my throat burned until I gave in and let the sob break through my lips.

  “He’s going to be okay . . . that’s all we know right now. But I have to leave and Aunt Hannah is going to need you to help around the house. I’m flying out in two hours, so I have to leave the house now.”

  “I won’t make it for at least an hour.” I had to pack my suitcase, my makeup from the bathroom sink. There was no way I would make it home in anything less than an hour.

  “I know, we’ve been trying to get ahold of you. I’m sorry, Meg. But I have to go now.”

  “No, it’s okay. I know, I know.”

  We hung up the phone as I looked from Shia to John Brooke. Their faces looked different to me, so I looked around the room. Nothing in the Club Room looked familiar anymore. More people were filling the space, it seemed. A space that was losing its luster by the second.

  My dad.

  His face flashed through my mind. Him walking in the house in his ACU, taking his combat boots off at the door.

  “My dad,” I managed to say.

  Shia squeezed my shoulder a little harder, and I tried to control my tears when his thumb rubbed in comforting circles.

  “What happened?” John asked.

  “My dad was injured. We need to go. Now. Oh my God.” My heart pounded so hard in my chest that it hurt. I pushed my palm against it, hoping to stop the pain. “Oh my God.”

  “John, call the car up and go upstairs and pack the bags,” Shia said, lifting his hand from my shoulder. I immediately began to shake.

  “Uh, okay. Meg, I need help with your stuff.”

  I tried to nod.

  “Help? Just pack the bags!” Shia’s tone was impatient and demanding.

  John looked at Shia and stood up. His green eyes were on me, and the inside of my brain felt like a hamster wheel.

  I grabbed my phone from my purse, and the screen was full of texts and missed calls from every one of my sisters, Jo more than the rest, but Amy’s and Beth’s names were there, too, along with Meredith’s and Aunt Hannah’s. They had been calling for almost an hour. Why hadn’t I checked my phone? And how did Jo know to call Shia?

  “I need to go.” I stood up. “I have to get home. Now.”

  I don’t know how the minutes passed from the lobby of the hotel to the thirty-minute car ride back to Fort Cyprus. The entire chain of events was all a blur, except for Shia sitting in the back, humming every song on the radio and softly rubbing my shoulder where my skin was touching the cold glass of the window.



  Once Meredith stepped out of the house and Aunt Hannah stepped in, my sisters began to lose their minds. Amy wouldn’t stop sobbing in my dad’s chair. Beth was just staring at the wall as if it were alive and fascinating. It wasn’t. It had been over two hours since we learned that my dad had been blown up.

  Blown up.

  How morbid did that sound? In reality, that’s exactly what happened. Two hours since things started shuffling and shifting inside our government-owned home. It started to click instantly that our house wasn’t ours. Just like the Fort Hood house, even though I’d spent most of my life in that house. I had a scrapbook of memories in my brain. From Meg’s first kiss to when my mom lost a baby and Meg read Oh, the Places You’ll Go! to me every single night for the few weeks that Meredith spent crying at night. Amy learned to walk in that house, and I learned to read. I wrote my first essay in that house. Meredith still had it; I planned to hang it on the fridge in my first apartment in Manhattan.

  When Frank got orders to Fort Cyprus, we packed up our memories in a big government-issued moving truck and followed it from the heart of Texas to the bottom leg of Louisiana. It only took us a day, including our stop in the middle of nowhere outside of Houston, where we stayed in an Americas Best Value Inn that Meg swore was haunted. We slept maybe two hours that night because of Meg’s tossing and turning and Amy’s complaining that she was afraid of whatever ghost Meg thought was fucking with us. Frank ended up doing a “ghost check,” which included his special light—aka a little flashlight key chain he carried hooked to his keys around a belt loop. He searched under the beds and in the closets. All of the rest of us would have stayed fast asleep on one of the queen beds in the double room. Two hours felt so short then, and as I stood against the wall in our Fort Cyprus living room now trying to process what was happening, two hours felt so long.

  Two hours later and Meg still wasn’t here, Meredith was at the airport getting ready to board a flight to Germany, and Aunt Hannah had already found Frank’s bottle of Captain Morgan under the sink in the kitchen, right behind the trash bags and next to the Windex.

  Beth was sitting on the couch, closest to the wall covered in square frames with pictures of our family. I was on my dad’s shoulders in one. I was wearing a ball cap and overalls, and we were standing in front of a bronze Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue. My da
d’s eyes were tightly squinting, making his face crinkle up like it does when he laughs hard. Beth was wearing acid-wash jean shorts, like she still does at fifteen. Her dark hair was almost always pulled back then in a loose ponytail just above her neckline. Meg was wearing cutoff shorts and a Tweety Bird T-shirt tied just above her belly button. We all looked so young in that picture.

  The Frank that took us to Disney World and kept me up-to-date on news and jokes and music, and even corny dance moves, most likely wasn’t going to be the Frank that came home to us. I didn’t know how to process that. I knew what PTSD was, and I feared it for my dad’s sake. But I didn’t know what it would feel like to be around. I just wanted Dad to be okay.

  “When will Meg be here?” Amy asked, sniffling with red-ringed eyes and pouty, chapped lips.

  Beth responded in a low voice. “Soon, Amy. She’s on her way.”

  Amy let out a sob and curled her knees to her chest. I wondered if it was that my dad was injured that made her cry, or the shock of it all: Meredith’s leaving; Beth’s silence; Meg’s not being here at all.

  I was starting to get angrier and angrier at Meg in her absence. I didn’t think far enough to consider it unfair for me to be pissed at her. We needed her. Well, I didn’t, but Amy wouldn’t stop asking for her. My phone kept vibrating in my pocket, and Laurie’s name kept flashing. I tossed my phone onto the couch and sulked into the kitchen. I didn’t like that Amy’s little mind was probably in shock. I’d read an article online that said the brain of a young adult can literally lose a small percentage of function during the shock of losing a loved one. I knew this wasn’t as bad as losing a loved one, but I also wasn’t naïve enough to think that part of our dad wouldn’t be gone.

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