The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  My phone pinged and Laurie’s name popped up on the screen.

  “It’s just Laurie,” I told my dad when his eyes questioned me.

  He jutted his chin out. “Just Laurie. Hmph. So, this Laurie kid is your boyfriend?”

  I laughed. “No, Dad. He’s not.”

  The clock on the wall loudly ticked the seconds by. It was louder than a second ago.

  “I don’t think he knows that. He sure seems like your boyfriend. You wouldn’t hide that from me, would you?” My dad’s mouth was a little crooked, and he said it would be like that from then on, that even two surgeries couldn’t get his jaw quite back where it was before the blast.

  I shook my head. “Dad.”

  It wasn’t even that I was weirded out talking about boys with my dad; it was that I didn’t have much to say about Laurie and me.

  “Josephine. It’s not like I’m going to lock you in the house or keep you from seeing him. I just want to know what’s going on in your life.”

  I sighed. “Just because we hang out a lot doesn’t mean he’s my boyfriend.”

  “That boy is sprawled out on the floor of my living room every day. When he’s not, you’re over at his house. Seems like you’re dating to me. When I was dating your mom, she kept trying to tell me we were just friends. Friends don’t do the stuff—”

  “Dad! Seriously!” I yelped in horror.

  Not actual horror, of course; I knew that my parents were . . . romantic together, but I would be fine to never ever hear it come from my dad’s mouth.

  “What?” He smiled.

  I rolled my eyes and started laughing. His chin tilted upward, and I could see the jagged crimson scar from the curve of his chin down to his collarbone. I was already getting used to seeing the new additions to my dad’s body. Sometimes I noticed Meredith or my sisters staring at them mindlessly, like my dad couldn’t see them doing it. I knew they didn’t mean to, so I let them grieve and get used to the way it would be in this new version of our lives, after he came home.

  I thought when he returned, it would be like before. We would go to Disneyland in Los Angeles for our vacation this fall. Meredith kept saying it wasn’t nearly as magical as the one in Florida and was a third of the size, but Meg and Amy were dying to see the Hollywood sign and have a possible run-in with Robert Pattinson at the famous Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard. Family vacations weren’t exactly my favorite thing, but Meredith always told me that one day I would be glad that we had taken them.

  “What’s up with Meg and Brooke?” my dad asked.

  I looked at him for one second and then at the scuff on my Keds. Meredith had told me not to get white shoes, but I didn’t listen.

  “Are you writing a gossip blog about your daughters’ dating lives? What’s with all the questions?”

  “No, I just want to know what’s happening. Hunchberg said Meg’s trying to get married to Brooke. I laughed it off, but I actually don’t know if that’s true. And you know more than she would ever tell me.”

  “I mean, they’re dating still. I think.” I thought about how Brooke was coming over less, and Meg was spending more time at Mrs. King’s and that Shia was in town.

  “Not getting married, though? They’re too young.”

  “John’s what . . . twentysomething? And Meg is twenty.”

  “Yes, exactly.”

  “You and mom got married right after high school.”

  “Times were different then.”

  That was an understatement. Times were better now, for the most part. We were in another war, but weren’t we always? I felt like people still got married young, around Army bases at least. The restaurants surrounding the post were filled with young wives of soldiers working as servers and bartenders. A few girls from Meg’s graduating class were already married to soldiers stationed at Fort Cyprus. Women are more accepted into colleges and work places than when my parents got married, but the tough life of the Army made it hard for both.

  “How was it so different?” I asked.

  “Well, girls your guys’ age don’t have the same role as when your mom was marrying me. Especially in the military. It’s a rough job, being gone and fighting for your life every other year. And then you add children in there, there was no time for the woman to work. In some cases yeah, but mostly this was the way it was. But with the way the economy is, it’s nearly impossible to feed a family of four on the average soldier’s salary.”

  I scoffed at the truth of that. “Which is complete bullshit.”

  “Jo!” My dad raised his voice a little and narrowed his eyes.

  “Sorry. Anyway, it’s crazy how soldiers can barely feed their families most of the time, but the politicians are spending billions on jets and dinners and whatever they put on their expense accounts. It’s so fuc—” I stopped myself from cussing in front of my dad again.

  The door clicked open and a nurse in Hello Kitty scrubs came out into the waiting room.

  “Lieutenant Spring,” she said, clipboard in hand.

  “Do you want me to go back with you?” I asked my dad. Sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn’t.

  “Uh, yeah. Come on with me.”

  I pushed my dad’s wheelchair down the hall and almost ran into the wall. I would need to get better at steering, I knew, especially since no one could tell us if or when my dad would walk on his own again. The nurse had such a sweet face that my dad didn’t even complain to her about waiting so long. She told us her name was Sirine, and the tag on her ACU said ORLEN. She had her hair drawn back in tight strings, pulling at her scalp, and gelled or sprayed down. Not a single frizzy hair. I wondered if hair frizzies were against Army regulations.

  The room was stark white and smelled like latex and some kind of cleaning product. I sat in a chair next to the desk, and my dad’s chair was in front of me, next to the exam table. It was covered in thick white paper that always crunched when you sat on it.

  “Are you in any pain right now?” Sirine asked my dad.

  He widened his eyes at her. “You’re joking, right?”

  She smiled and faced the computer in front of her. “On a scale from one to ten, what level of pain are you feeling?” She pulled her military ID card out and pushed it into a slot in the keyboard of the computer. Her unpainted nails tapped away at the keys.

  “I would say a good . . . two thousand.”

  “Two thousand, got it.” She laughed. “So, Dr. Jenner will be in shortly. Let me just get your vitals the best I can.”

  When I checked my phone, I had a text from Hayton, the espresso-infused coworker who I worked the most shifts with, asking if I would cover her shift. No matter how long the doctor was going to take to come to the room, I wouldn’t be back in time to take her shift.

  My dad spent an hour getting lectured on different types of impact trauma and how he would continue to be monitored. My dad kept telling me that there was nothing to worry about, but as the doctor kept going and going, she made my bad feeling worse.

  I wasn’t sure if I trusted my dad the same way after that appointment.



  Spring came so fast that year. We were walking around the Quarter and the sun was beating down; it smelled like spices and spring flowers in the air. It was the second week in April, and we were strolling along the streets of the French Quarter Festival. I hadn’t realized there would be so many people there, but Meg had begged me to come with her since she was riding with Laurie and Jo and didn’t want to be the third wheel. So, we rode in Laurie’s driver’s black car, which smelled like new leather and Laurie. I still didn’t know how rich his family had to have been to afford a driver at an Army base. Jo and Laurie talked about taking a trip to Cambodia after she graduated. Meg said she would hate to be trapped on a flight that was so long, but wanted Jo to post a bunch of pictures on Facebook.

  I stared out the window mostly, and Meg was on her phone. The drive to the Quarter was easy—just a straight shot down Highway 90 and
we were there. The drive was so quiet compared to the streets of the festival; we were dropped off as close as we could get to Jackson Square. People were scattered on the patches of grass that dotted the square. Mostly everyone was eating. A couple were eating what looked like a crawfish platter out of an aluminum catering pan. My senses were on overload, from the different smells to the loud voices. I loved the aromas because I loved food, but not so much the ninety conversations that were going on around me.

  “How fucking awesome is this?” Jo shouted. She radiated excitement, and Laurie tried to keep up with her as she bounced around us. “God, I love this city!” She twirled around in circles, and the bottom of her swing dress bloomed around her thighs like a dew-dripping flower with its stem squeezed between someone’s fingers, twisting around and around.

  Laurie watched her like he was spellbound. I didn’t blame him. Jo had a confidence that most people would never have, and she had no fear. It didn’t bother her that some people were watching her in her excitement. Laurie’s cheeks were blushed, and his long blond hair was waving a little at the ends.

  “What should we do first?” Jo asked us. She couldn’t keep her eyes on one thing, but I couldn’t blame her.

  There were stalls and stalls of different types of traditional New Orleans cuisine, and booths selling everything from handmade soaps with local hibiscus to cone-shaped bags of kettle corn using, of course, sugarcane grown in the New Orleans area. I could hear a marching band close by.

  “I’m starving. Let’s get food,” Laurie offered.

  I didn’t care what we did.

  Meg had walked over to a booth selling what the little hand-painted sign said was ALL NATURAL COSMETICS. Jo followed her and Laurie trailed along. We waited for Meg to try on a deep purple shade of eye shadow before we moved along to find food. Laurie was like a kid in a candy store, naming all the options:

  “Blackened-catfish po’ boy! Crawfish étouffée!” Laurie’s Italian accent was stronger when he spoke words that were closer to other languages.

  He was reading all the signs to us as we stopped at every booth to gawk over handmade rings with big colorful stones and hand-sewn purses made from dyed cotton. I grabbed a pink–and-yellow one for Amy, who was at home with our parents for the afternoon. Our dad had become increasingly irritable since being home, and he still wasn’t able to move his legs. We only had a few more months, maybe a year, to find a place to live, since he was going to be medically retired, and that in itself made the house unsteady like a farmhouse table with a broken leg. Aunt Hannah’s friend owned a couple of houses somewhere that he needed tenants for, but Amy was pissed off that she would have to change schools. We could stay at Fort Cyprus; Meredith tried to convince my dad that we should, but he wanted to move away from the post, even though all of his doctors would be there.

  Jo became an adult overnight. She was always going: driving Amy somewhere, working, or taking my dad to appointments. Her free time was spent watching the news and bickering with our dad about who was the better night-show host, and Laurie was still a steady shadow behind her. She took my dad for walks, and they picked flowers for my mom to put in her hair like she used to every spring and summer in Texas. I didn’t know which one had that idea. I guessed my dad. Jo was also spending so much time sitting on the living-room floor with Laurie, her laptop resting on a stack of pillows.

  She had been writing so much more than before. Sometimes Laurie would write, too; otherwise he would listen to music or watch whatever Meredith had on the TV, or he would be sleeping.

  Jo was better served out in the wild. I was not. All of the conversations around me sounded like a ringing in my ears, and everywhere we walked seemed more crowded than the block before. The best way to describe it would be to say that I felt like I was standing on a stage, spinning in circles, while twenty people tried to hold a conversation. No one was actually looking at me, I knew that, but the logical reality didn’t change the way my body and mind reacted to the noise.

  I followed my sisters and Laurie to the back of the line for Antoine’s Restaurant so Laurie could try their famous Baked Alaska with chocolate sauce. He smiled when Jo asked if it was actually chocolate, and she nudged his shoulder with hers. Jo was tall, but Laurie’s legs seemed to take up half of his body, so even Jo looked short next to him. While we waited for his food, Jo pointed to a jazz band playing as they walked down the street. A small crowd was following them, and the music became louder and louder the closer they got to us.

  Jo seemed happiest when she was with Laurie—well, outside of when she was tapping away on the laptop. She said things around him that surprised me and helped even me get to know her better. She scrunched her nose at the fish in his hands, and he asked her if she wanted to smell it. She scowled. They were playful, and it was a nice thing to see in Jo. Her mood had been so up and down since Dad had come home. All of us were handling the adjustment differently, and Jo was trying so hard to keep it together.

  “Too many choices,” Jo said by the third street we walked down.

  Laurie was eating as we walked and somehow managed not to leave so much as a spot on his white shirt.

  I couldn’t decide either, and there were just so many people everywhere. Since I had left school, besides taking a trip to the grocery store, I was never around huge crowds like this. We got to a stall selling mood rings, and one of them caught my eye. The stone was yellow, sitting on a dark band that looked and felt like metal.

  “How much is this one?” I asked the girl behind the table.

  She looked to be about my age, maybe a little older, and had straight black-as-ink hair with steely-gray ends. It was cut to sit about an inch above her shoulders. Her dark eyes had glitter under them—like fairy dust sprinkled on her cheeks—and she was dripping in jewelry. When she stood up, I looked at her chest; it was covered in shimmering gold glitter. It looked like paint almost, and she was wearing layers of necklaces, all different, but somehow they all flowed together.

  “Hmm, that one is twelve. It’s a mood ring.” Her voice sounded familiar, but I was sure I had never seen her before. I would have remembered. She looked like a Gypsy from a movie. Her nails were black and sparkly, and she was wearing a long printed dress with no bra underneath. The sides of the dress were slits, so I could see her rib cage covered in what looked like henna tattoos. I couldn’t read the words on her left side and didn’t want to be all gawky and socially awkward.

  “I’ll take it,” I said, touching the ring. I looked back down at the rows and rows of mood jewelry. There were bracelets and other styles of rings, earrings, bangles.

  “Everything is ‘buy two, get one free,’ ” the girl offered. “Did you see these?”

  I looked to Meg at my side, assuming the jewelry girl was going to be looking at Meg. Usually that’s what happens when, like now, Meg wore a sundress with a plunging neckline.

  “These are glass.” The girl’s fingers waved over one of the rows of rings set in black-lined cases. “And these are quartz.” She pointed to a smaller display box with maybe a dozen rings.

  They were all pretty, and most of them were a deep blue while resting in the case. The one in her hand was yellow, and a dark green one was in the back row of the quartz box. The forest-green stone was set in a thin line of metal that looked like a vine. A little leaf was even set right at the bottom curve of the oval stone.

  “I’ll take the green one, too. Did you make these?” I asked.

  A jazz band full of elderly men danced and played on the street behind me. My sisters and Laurie were waiting a few feet away. Meg was licking at the pink-and-blue spun cotton-candy cone in her hand. She pulled off a big piece and popped it on her tongue.

  “I did. I’m Nat.” Her long nails pointed at the sign on the table. It said NAT’S LAIR in deep purple paint against a piece of black chalkboard.

  “I’m Beth. Nice to meet you.” I pushed my hand out between us and she looked down at it, her lips turning into a smile.

/>   “Nice to meet you, Beth.”

  “You can also call me Bethany,” I told her for no reason at all.

  She made eye contact with me. “You can call me Natsuki if you want to, but only my parents call me that.”

  “Natsuki,” I repeated, and it felt a little funny on my tongue.

  “It’s Japanese. It means ‘moon.’ ” Her name fit her well.

  “It’s cool. I don’t know what Bethany means, and no one actually calls me that.” I thought I saw something sparkle a little besides the glitter shining in her eyes.

  Nat seemed like a character from a book or a sweet creature from another world when she laughed. Her body moved with her laughter, and she cupped her mouth. Her fingers were covered in rings, all different metals and shapes and stones. Her entire ensemble was like a costume, and she was far prettier than any other girl I’d seen since we moved from Texas, at least. The bangles on her wrists sounded like a wind chime when she grabbed a calculator from the table and started punching in numbers.

  “You get to pick your free one now.”

  “Anything?” My eyes rested on a black-and-purple necklace. The gems were matte and not shiny at all, but it was beautiful.

  “Not that.” She laughed. “Something of equal or lesser price.” She paused and nodded. “See, my parents always say I’m a horrible business owner, but obviously, they’re wrong.”

  “Obviously.” I laughed with her and noticed the way she kept looking at my mouth.

  I knew better than to think she was staring at my mouth for any reason other than my having something stuck in my teeth, or maybe if I was like Meg and wore lipstick. But I hadn’t even eaten anything yet that could have been stuck, and I wasn’t wearing lipstick. When I looked at her long eyelashes and shimmering cheeks, I wished I had listened to Meg and let her put more on my face than BB cream and mascara.

  “Take your time. I mean, there’s a huuuge line behind you,” she said with an eye roll, and I actually looked behind my shoulder.

  No one else was there.

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