The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  She was funny, and suddenly I felt incredibly plain standing outside this magical stall full of interesting jewelry and a Gypsy-like girl who made it by hand. I was wearing a green T-shirt that said NEW YORK on it, even though I had never been there, and jeans that were ripped at the knees when my mom brought them home from American Eagle. Looking at Nat’s sandals and the toe rings decorating her toes, I tucked my feet under the tablecloth so she couldn’t see my unpainted toenails.

  I decided to get my mom a midnight-blue ring with a black band. When I handed it to Nat, she smiled and picked up the calculator again.

  “Homeschooling didn’t help me with my math skills,” she said after two attempts at figuring out the tax. “Wait, do I even need to add tax?”

  “I have no idea.” I shrugged. She was homeschooled, too. It made her even cooler to me.

  “You know what?” She grabbed a little green bag from below the table and opened it. “You’re my first paying customer of the day, so no tax for you.”

  I thanked her as she tucked my pieces into the bottom of the bag and filled the empty space with white tissue paper.

  “I hope you like the jewelry, and if you don’t, just pretend you do?” Nat lifted the calculator to show me the price, $25.

  “I thought it was twenty-four? You were right about the homeschooling not helping your math.”

  I hoped that she would know I was joking, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made a joke to someone who wasn’t part of my family, or Laurie.

  Fortunately, she caught on just fine and smiled. I wondered how old she was. How did she already have a business and I didn’t even think I was going to know what I wanted to do with my life when I turned eighteen? Jo knew what she wanted to do right after graduation; so did Meg. Amy probably even knew at twelve. Nat knew and was out selling her jewelry at the festival.

  I glanced over at my sisters again to make sure they were still nearby and saw a group of girls my age approaching the booth.

  “Thanks again.” I handed Nat two twenties from my pocket and she pulled a five and a one out of a brown leather bag and waved bye to me.

  When I walked up to Meg, Jo, and Laurie, Jo was leaning against Laurie’s back, and he was taking a picture of the top of their heads? I didn’t ask why. They started doing that a few weeks ago. They even started taking pictures of all the food I made at home, and people on social media would comment that they wanted it or about how good it looked. Amy kept telling me that I should post videos of myself making food on some website she watches, but I didn’t see where the time or courage would come from. Between my dad being home and my aunt Hannah coming over every other day to eat, to ask for gas money, or to sit on the porch with my mom while she had a drink or two, it was a lot. I also had schoolwork to do; I was so close to finishing my credits for ninth grade. I couldn’t wait to be in eleventh, and I definitely couldn’t wait to turn sixteen.

  Jo said sixteen was transformative, and I saw something change in her when she turned sixteen. Meg, too. Just as I was thinking that eighteen and nineteen changed Meg so much, too, she wrapped her arm through mine.

  “What did you get, babe?” She looked down at the bag in my hand.

  As we walked, Meg tried on the jewelry. She held her hand up and spread her fingers. I remember the sun shining through each one.

  “These are fucking cool, Beth. How many did she have?” Meg reached past Laurie to Jo, who was just behind him.

  “Oooh!” Jo said admiringly.

  “We should go back there before we leave tonight,” Meg offered.

  I nodded, sort of wanting to go back to the jewelry stand, too. I should have gotten Aunt Hannah a necklace, maybe a black and amethyst layered one to wear to Spirits. The bar practically glowed moody dark colors that I associated with the Crescent City. My aunt Hannah seemed to almost never work anymore, but I thought maybe it just felt that way because she was coming over to the house so much more.

  “Okay, so what’s the plan? Do we want more music or more food, or what? We can grab a spot on the grass in front of Jackson Square where we came in and eat there. There’s going to be fireworks over the river tonight.” Laurie pointed behind me toward the Mississippi River, where rainbow colors would burst and bloom over our heads.

  “What time is it now?” Jo asked, and instead of waiting for anyone to answer, she raised Laurie’s wrist and checked his watch. “It’s seven now, so we have about an hour of sunlight left.”

  We agreed to find a place on the grass and took turns getting food. A band was going to be playing at eight anyway, then the fireworks were scheduled for nine. I hoped that the grass wouldn’t be too crowded by the time the show started, and when I looked around the festival, it seemed to have changed a little since we arrived. In just over an hour there were fewer kids, and more plastic cups full of alcohol in the hands of people swaying just a little more than before. The voices of said people were louder, too, and I suspected that the higher the moon rose, the rowdier the people would get.

  The moon made me think of the jewelry girl, and I wondered if the moon made her bloom, too.



  My ass hurt from sitting on the ground, even on top of the two blankets Laurie bought from a vendor. The ground was hard and the spot we chose to sit down on was more dirt than grass, but I was having a good time. Jo and Laurie had obviously agreed to date each other, and he was everywhere she was. When she was eating truffle fries with a fork, his eyes followed up and down, and when she dropped one, he caught it with a napkin.

  I thought maybe his obsession was with the fries, because, girl, were they good. But then he stuck the flake-covered fry between her lips, and she gave him a sheepish grin, and that grin widened as he moved a little closer to her. His legs were so long that they stuck out past hers, and his foot almost touched Beth’s flip-flops. She was lying on her back, staring at the sky. I didn’t want to bother her; I knew the crowd size had to be intimidating to her. She, unlike me, hadn’t been through the madness that was Sephora on a Black Friday near an Army post. I figured that she needed the break.

  “Is that Bell Gardiner?” Jo asked, her mouth full of potato chunks.

  She grabbed a napkin and wiped her chin and lips. I looked across the grass, scanning the crowd for Bell, and found her after only a few seconds. She was wearing cutoff shorts with rips in them, flip-flops, and a dark orange tank top with a shawl over her shoulders. A shawl, really.

  “Go say hi,” Beth teased from the grass. I leaned over her and she closed her eyes, smiling.

  “Should I?” I turned to Jo.

  “Hell, no. No way. She was a total dick the last time she saw you and never even apologized. Don’t even give her the satisfaction, Meg.”

  Beth added that I should only talk to Bell if she approached us. I wiped off my dress and straightened the ribbon choker around my neck. I tugged on one of the satin strings to even the two ends out. I ran my hands over the top of my hair. This heat hated my hair. The humidity in the New Orleans area was a good conversation starter for every week from April to August. When I first started working for Mrs. King, I complained about the frizz-causing humidity and she laughed and said, over a glass of pinot noir, “Oh, wait until August. This is nothing.”

  And, boy, was she right. But the weekend of the French Quarter Festival was only April, and my hair was already curling at the scalp. I had spent almost an hour pulling a flatiron through sections of my dark hair. Jo always hated the smell of heated hair, but I would burn candles of it.

  I pulled a little bit of my hair over both of my shoulders and unsnapped my bag to get out a gloss for my lips. Beth was back to staring at the sky, and Jo was looking at Laurie’s phone screen with him. I had the late realization that Amy would have been better to drag along to this type of festival than Beth was. Not only because Beth hated crowds, but also because Amy would have gone along with anything I wanted to do. I could have convinced her to do a lap around with me, and she would
have gone up to Bell and her friends right beside me. Granted, it would have been lame as hell to have my twelve-year-old sister on my back, but Beth would find a way to avoid the confrontation altogether. I would go ahead and say that Beth was the smartest, most thoughtful of us Spring Girls.

  The sun was starting to set and the grass area in the front of Jackson Square was getting more and more crowded as the light disappeared. Out of all the, I don’t know, thousand people on the grass, we got mushed up against a group who looked to be my age at first glance. I scanned over them but didn’t recognize anyone except one guy with white hair grown just a little past his ears. I couldn’t remember where I knew him from and wasn’t about to ask, so I just turned to Jo and made conversation.

  “What are you two talking about?” I asked Jo and Laurie.

  She laughed and shoved his cell phone to me. “Amy.”

  I read the messages on the screen and looked up at Jo and Laurie. Laurie looked a little uncomfortable, and Jo was smiling at me.

  “Bad timing,” she joked.

  “It’s not really funny, Jo.” I took the phone and erased the messages. I looked up at Laurie when Jo acted like she didn’t understand why it wasn’t comical to show Laurie what Amy had sent her.

  “What?” Jo’s heart-shaped face tilted sideways and her lips pouted out.

  Jo looked like a girl who would have been a model in the nineties, with full natural lips and thick eyebrows. Her legs were long and she walked like a pigeon on them, but had charm coming out of her ears. Understated beauty, a model for Calvin Klein or Guess.

  “Laurie, cover your ears,” I said.

  He looked at Jo and didn’t cover his ears.

  “He can listen. It’s just her period. It’s not that big of a deal.” Jo leaned forward and crossed her legs under her body. She stuck her flip-flops under the balls of her ankle bones so they wouldn’t touch the ground.

  “Just a period? Jo.” I lowered my voice when Beth turned her head to listen to us.

  “Meg. Seriously? You’re censoring Laurie from hearing about menstruation? Half of the world are women, and they have periods. Including his mom. Plus, the boys in Europe aren’t as sensitive to such a natural thing. Right, Laurie?” Jo looked over at him.

  He didn’t seem like this was a conversation that he minded having, but that wasn’t the point.

  “It’s fine,” Laurie assured me.

  “What’s fine?” Beth sat up and dusted the dry grass strands off her back.

  I filled Beth in on what was happening and saw Jo roll her eyes. “Amy started her period while out with Dad and she’s mortified.”

  “She didn’t say she was mortified,” Jo added.

  I held the phone up and tried to read the deleted messages again. I bitterly wondered why Amy would text Jo about starting her period over me or Beth. Jo and Amy could barely stand each other, and I was the one who taught Amy how to curl her hair and put on eyeliner. I gave Amy her first bra when Meredith thought she was too young for one. But Jo was the sister Amy shared that moment with.

  “She said”—I read off the screen—“ ‘I’m so embarrassed Jo. I bled through my pants had to tie dad’s shirt around my waist. Kill me please.’ ” I popped my eyes out at Jo.

  “It’s just a period, Meg,” Jo said.

  I groaned. I was all for Jo’s liberal, free-spirited mantras and everything, but sometimes she passed things off as too unimportant when they deserved more attention. I knew that Jo was writing off Amy getting her monthlies because Jo had that mind-set where if you ignore something or are careful not to overreact, society will join in your belief. But Jo was only sixteen, almost seventeen, and she had no idea how boys who weren’t like Laurie acted over a little blood. Not only the boys; the bitchy girls in school were much worse than the boys most of the time. Jo always sort of floated under the radar at school, whereas I was the beacon who couldn’t stay under the radar if I fucking tried. I always ended up in the middle of drama, always. Like in eighth grade, when I bled through my gray gym shorts and a group of girls in my class drew angry red scribbles on a pack of oversized pads and stuck them to my desk.

  “It’s not just a period, Jo,” I told her again, and hoped she would be able to go through her life always thinking periods weren’t a big deal.

  “Anyway, enough about periods.” Jo laughed, and Laurie still looked unfazed by our conversation.

  Beth lay back down on the grass despite the crowd surrounding us, and Jo started talking about her writing and that she’d almost finished a piece she was sending to Vice. I listened to her and Laurie bouncing back and forth in conversation, and I pulled out my phone and checked my notifications. I had stopped looking for John’s name on the screen a day or two ago. He was in the field, which meant I wouldn’t hear from him for days. I swiped up and cleared out a text from Meredith and one from Reeder, along with a text from Mrs. King. She needed me to come to her house early to do her hair before some kind of meeting being held there.

  Mrs. King lived in a world from a television show where she held meetings and events for things I had never heard of. Either way, I needed the hours and always wanted to be a part of her kind of life. I sent her my reply and pulled up Facebook. I scrolled through pictures of my cousins on my dad’s side’s newest kids and pictures of my old neighbor’s dog and her newly born puppies, while Jo talked to Laurie. I heard bits of it between my scrolling and got the gist of how much it pissed her off that the majority of people associated the French Quarter with booze, beads, and boobs, when the unique culture of the city was so much more than that. Laurie made a joke that I didn’t hear, and Jo’s chin turned up and she smiled at him so brightly that I almost said something to her. Instead, I turned back to my phone.

  How was I struggling to keep a relationship and Jo had a boyfriend? Even though Jo would never let me categorize Laurie as her boyfriend, that’s basically what he was. He was always sitting on the couch, and I always tripped over his long legs, stretched out all the way to the entertainment center. My dad started to get annoyed when he would try to roll his chair by. It was already a struggle to move the wheels over the rug, let alone with Laurie stretched out and asleep on the couch. The Laurence driver even took Jo to school most days.

  I wondered how the next year of Jo’s life would go. The animated look in her eyes when she talked to him with her hands, and the way Laurie stared at her lips—maybe reading them, maybe thinking about fucking them—when she spoke to him made the romantic in me weep but the realist in me prepare for heartbreak. I didn’t have the best dating résumé, but it was extensive, so I did have experience.

  I wondered if Jo would end up staying at Fort Cyprus if she and Laurie made it through the summer and her senior year. Long distance was hard; I knew that for sure. John and I jumped into a long-distance relationship, and look how that was ending up. It had only been a few months since I saw him last, but it felt much longer than that. I knew he was adjusting to his new duty station in North Carolina, but I had hoped my invitation to join him would have come by now. He was contacting me less and less, and I knew what was happening—I just wasn’t ready to admit it.

  Seriously, with every disappointment I felt from the guys around me, from River to even John, I felt my bones wear a little more, I felt a little more seasoned by the world. I knew plenty of women in my life who bounced from one disappointing man to the next, finding their identity in them and wasting away while catering to their husbands. It was especially common in military communities. Mrs. King wasn’t like that; she married a law student when she was too young to know what marriage was and stayed with him, supporting him, helping Mr. King become the mogul that he became.

  At nineteen, I would have been fine with that. I wanted that more than I wanted to become a makeup artist. I loved makeup, but I really wanted someone to go through life with me. Was that so bad? I knew Jo felt like I was abandoning my womanhood by dreaming of a family and a life full of family vacations, teaching little versi
ons of me and my husband to be decent humans, and spending my holidays in a warm house that would smell like cinnamon and honey and be packed wall to wall with laughter and conversation. I’d spent my life having awkward family events. Meredith and Aunt Hannah always fought, no matter if it was someone’s birthday party at a skating rink or Christmas dinner in my nana’s dining room.

  Once, after Amy pushed Jo into a pool at our aunt Hannah’s apartment building in Texas, Meredith told me that she and Aunt Hannah never got along until they were both in their twenties. But even then, Meredith was always having to bail Aunt Hannah out of the trouble she got herself into, and lately there was this weird tension between them.

  So, my sisters and I were different. Each of us was a completely different creature, and I couldn’t wait until the day my family would go visit Jo in New York City, and she could show me her big, fancy office with marble desks and the latest Apple computer. I was genuinely excited to see Jo grow up and try to conquer the world, and I would do the same, but my world would just be different from hers. I knew she would understand that someday and end her misjudgment of roles of women.

  “Meg?” Jo’s voice broke through my thoughts.

  I blinked at her as I came out of the little fog inside my head. “Huh?”

  “Do you want a water? We’re going to get one.”

  I lifted my hand to shade my eyes from the falling sun. “Yeah, please. Beth? Do you want a water?” I turned to my sister, who was possibly asleep on the dry grass.

  Jo answered instead. “I already asked her. Man, you were out of it.” Jo laughed softly. “What were you dreaming about?”

  I shook my head. Just about you and I being completely different people, you know? “Nothing.” I looked at Laurie. He was sitting behind her, running his fingers over the feathery tips of her long hair.

  “Mhmm,” Jo joked, and stood, brushing off her butt and legs. “We’ll be right back. Don’t move, please.”

  Laurie followed behind her and they disappeared into the crowd.

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