The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  I stared into the crowd and heard one of the festival organizers telling people to sit down before the concert began. The group that had been close to us a few minutes ago was even closer now, and Beth was still lying there decompressing with her eyes closed, so I looked at my phone again.

  I was scrolling for a few seconds before I realized that I was on Shia’s Facebook page. I brushed it off as an impulse due to the months I racked up cyberwatching him. I would just have to break that habit. It would be hard, but I was only torturing myself, and now that we were Facebook friends, it felt even more intrusive for some reason. I could see even more of his life once I approved the friend request he sent me right after my dad came back from Germany. Now I could see his status and other posts he shared. I could also see pictures he was tagged in by Bell Gardiner, and I tried my best not to let them make me throw up the strawberry yogurt I had for breakfast basically every morning.

  “Shia’s there,” I thought I heard a voice say.

  Damn, I was getting to be a little on the paranoid side. I thought maybe I should have deleted him from my Facebook, but I told myself that would make things awkward since we were supposed to be keeping things civil. We wanted to be in each other’s life, though at a distance.

  “No way. Let me see,” a girl’s voice said right next to my ear.

  “Swear!” another girl replied. I looked over, and they both were staring at a cell phone. I couldn’t see what they were looking at, so I turned back to my phone. My skin was a little prickly as I continued to listen. It was like I had a sixth sense.

  “Damn, whose tits are those?” a man asked. I looked up at him and he wasn’t a man; he was a boy with scruffy brown hair so overgrown it almost covered his eyes, wearing khaki shorts rolled up just above his knee. His boat shoes made me think he was rich, probably from Lakeshore or Lake Vista. He smelled of privilege and Armani cologne.

  “Some chick from—”

  “Did we miss anything?” Jo’s voice drowned out the response, and I turned to her. Paranoia took hold of me. I felt like everyone knew something that I didn’t know. It made me itchy, and my heart was starting to pick up its beat.

  “Not really. The music is about to start.” I debated whether to mention something to Jo, but when I thought about it, I didn’t have anything to say. I would seem insane. Completely.

  Jo handed me a bottle of water, and it soaked my hand. Beth got hers, too, and I settled in my spot on the blanket and stretched my legs out in front of me. My hair was so frizzy, I could feel it when I touched it. The humidity was worse than in the morning, and my skin felt sticky and warm. I rubbed the beads of water from the outside of the sweating bottle over my legs spread out in front of me, and the group next to me was still talking about whatever was on that phone.

  “How desperate do you have to be?” a girl whose voice I thought I recognized said. I could barely see her because I was sitting down and most of her group were still standing—despite a festival worker’s request to sit the hell down.

  “Well, she is a Spring Girl, and that whole family is nuts.”

  The words hit me straight in the throat and ached all the way down to the pit that was eating away in my stomach. I felt like I was being picked away at with a chisel as the group got more and more rowdy and the comments kept flooding.

  “The one is like being held captive or something.”

  “Meg is a whore, and the little one is growing up to be just like her.”

  My body quickly turned to them, but not one of them even noticed. I was torn between knocking one to the ground and hoping for a domino effect, or leaving. A masochistic part of me wanted to sit there and just listen to the hateful shit they were saying about me and my sisters so I could obsess over it enough to start to think it was true.

  “My mom said they’re getting kicked out of their house because their dad’s getting kicked out of the Army.”

  Whose voice is that? I knew it for sure . . .

  It only took me a few seconds to find Shelly Hunchberg sitting on the grass a few bodies down from me. I felt the flame of rage flickering inside me.

  “Jo,” I said just as the crowd started to cheer over me with the first band coming onstage. Great timing.

  “Jo,” I said louder. Neither she nor Laurie heard me.

  “Josephine!” I half shouted. and Laurie and Jo both snapped their heads toward me.


  I scooted closer to her and explained what was happening. The best I could.

  Jo’s eyes went wild. “So, they were looking at those pictures? I’ll go over there right now—” She was half yelling, but the sound of trumpets was so loud that she might as well have been whispering.

  I hadn’t even thought about the cell phone and what they were looking at on the screen. I think a part of me knew before Jo stood up and it was why I was feeling paranoid, but the rest of my mind didn’t want to go there.

  “Don’t.” I reached for Jo’s arm and pulled her back down by her wrist. Laurie sat up more and was immediately alerted.

  “Why not? If they’re showing those pictures . . .” Jo’s cheeks were red and she was talking through her teeth.

  If they were, who was the source? How did those damn pictures travel from Texas to Louisiana?

  The internet, that was how. It had to be.

  My chest felt like it had caved in and smashed my heart as I tried to think clearly.

  Was it actually happening? Yes, it had to be. They said names. I stood up, not knowing what else to do. I should have just left, but of course I didn’t. Jo, Beth, and Laurie were on their feet, too. Before I could decide what to do, I heard an unmistakable voice from the group.

  “And even John Brooke can’t stand her. He’s trying to break up with her, but she’s so desperate.” She laughed. “I heard Shia’s mom talking about Meredith Spring being a drunk now.”

  Bell Gardiner. Her voice dripped honey and stung like a wasp.

  I thought about the time I was at the pool in sixth grade and saw a wasp cut a honeybee’s body in half and fly away with the lower half of its body, leaving its head just sitting there.

  I thought about how Bell Gardiner was a cruel insect of a woman.

  “What the fuck?” I said when I stepped into the little circle of bodies they had formed.

  Jo was at my side, with Laurie and Beth behind her.

  Bell’s eyes didn’t go wide; they turned into little slits like a serpent’s eyes, and she came floating toward me like a ghost. She moved so slowly, like even if she was surprised to see me there, she wasn’t about to show it. I could see a little hint of anxiety over me being there, but it wasn’t as obvious as I would have been if caught red-handed talking shit about someone.

  “Meg.” She smiled a slithery grin at me, her eyes going from me to Jo to Beth to Laurie and back to me. “Hey.”

  Bell nudged the girl next to her and someone shushed us.

  “What the fuck, Bell?” Jo’s voice barked next to me.

  “What? I didn’t start it. It’s not like everyone hasn’t seen your sister already.”

  The voices around us got quieter, but the band onstage seemed to be getting louder by the second.

  I didn’t exactly want Jo to start a fight with Bell, but the realization that a group of strangers were passing around a phone with my naked body on the screen and talking about it less than five feet away from me was sinking in fast. I started sweating, and the air felt a little too thick. Everyone was starting to home in on me and realize what was happening.

  Between the whispers of the crowd and Bell’s faux-innocent face, I wanted to scream.

  “What’s your problem, Bell? Who the fuck do you think you are digging that shit up and passing it around!” Jo waved her hands at the group of Bell’s friends.

  Bell didn’t seem to know what to say to that.

  “Oh my God,” I heard someone say from somewhere behind Bell, and then Shia was there. I felt immediate betrayal. Of course he was in
on it—how else would Bell even know there were pictures of me in the first place? “What’s going on?”

  Jo responded, “Your fucking girlfriend is passing this around.” Jo snatched the phone out of Shelly Hunchberg’s hands and shoved it into Shia’s face. He barely looked at the phone before he backed away from Bell.

  “The rest of you can go away now!” Jo shouted, waving her hand like she was swatting flies.

  Beth looped her arm through mine, and Laurie stood behind Jo with a pissed-off look on his face. I hoped he would punch Shia right in the damn throat.

  Sadly, he didn’t.

  “What are you doing?” Shia asked Bell.

  She fidgeted a little, pulling the thin strap of her tank top up her shoulder. She looked a little less put together and a lot more worried, and I was trying to fight the burn of tears in the back of my throat. I couldn’t cry in front of these assholes, especially not Shia and his bride-to-be.

  “We were just joking around.” Bell’s voice was soft.

  “It’s not a fucking joke!” Jo shouted. I knew I looked pathetic letting my little sister fight my battles, but I was frozen in place and stunned into silence.

  “Whose phone is this?” Shia held it in the air.

  Shelly Hunchberg raised her hand and stepped forward.

  “Really, Shelly?” Beth snapped. “Let’s go, Meg.” She pulled at my arm.

  When I thought about it, there wasn’t much I could do. I could either stand there and be humiliated as Bell acted like it wasn’t a big deal that an entire group of people were mocking me and looking at my body, or I could leave.

  I grabbed Beth’s jewelry bag from the ground and turned to leave. I didn’t even look at Shia. A woman with a baby strapped to her chest bumped into me, and her baby started to scream. It felt like a sign from the universe. A big, shiny Fuck you from the universe.

  I heard Jo still yelling, and I heard Shia’s voice calling my name as Beth dragged me through the crowd. All of the faces around me looked like River, like Bell, like Jessica Fox, who was supposed to be my best friend in Texas but taped a printed version of one of the pictures to my front door so that Amy found it when she came home on the bus. I remembered the look on my dad’s face when he got back from “talking” to River’s parents. My dad wanted to press charges for distributing child pornography, since I wasn’t eighteen and River was, but I didn’t want to deal with the humiliation and consequences at school.

  Everyone loved River, and I was just a whore who gave boys blow jobs in the backseats of their cars to make them like me more. I was the girl with the big tits and the horny mouth. I got it. I sent pictures to my boyfriend and was going to be shamed to the end of the halls of Killeen High School for it. Well, apparently, I was going to be shamed on the streets of New Orleans, too.

  When we neared the street, I remembered the fury that had radiated through Meredith when she stormed through the halls of my high school, demanding that every computer be wiped clean. I remembered the day I walked into the computer lab and Jessica Fox had set my boobs as the wallpaper on half of the monitors.

  The air in my lungs was burning and I was out of breath. I stopped for a second.

  Beth looked at my face and said, “Let’s stop for a minute.”

  “Hey!” a girl’s voice called to us from behind a booth.

  “Shia’s coming,” Beth told me, and waved to the girl behind the booth.

  “Get me out of here,” I begged Beth. I didn’t want to see Shia, and I only had about thirty seconds before the tears were going to be unstoppable. I was so mad, so fucking pissed at myself and the world for being so stupid. I should never have told Shia about those stupid pictures.

  “Are you okay?” the girl in the booth asked. Looking over, I saw she was like some manga Gypsy princess, rivaling Vanessa Hudgens for Coachella queen. Her body was dripping with jewelry, and I realized the booth was full of the rings that Beth had bought.

  Beth was talking to the girl, and I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Beth told me to come behind the booth and sit down. The moment my butt hit the chair, I let myself cry.

  Shia walked on by without seeing us.

  When we got home, Amy and my dad were sitting on the couch. Meredith was in the kitchen heating up a covered dish. We would never have to cook again, it seemed.

  “How was it?” Amy asked. “It looks so cool online, how was it?”

  I looked at Beth. “It was fine,” she lied for me.

  I loved her for it.

  She pulled open her bag from the jewelry booth and distracted Amy with shiny mood rings.

  “I’m going to take a shower,” I announced to a roomful of people who all said “Okay” to me like they didn’t know why I was telling them in the first place.

  I made it up to my room and collapsed onto my bed. I felt like a bucket of pig’s blood had been dumped on my prom dress. I felt so dirty.



  The morning after the festival, I woke to Jo’s and Meg’s loud voices down the hall. Ever since Jo was a kid, whenever she got angry, her tone went a few octaves deeper. Meg was the opposite; her usually soft voice became a screechy kind of noise, a lot like the sound of Mrs. King’s little dogs.

  “You could have told me!” Meg yelled at her. “Weeks have gone by—and nothing!”

  I threw my leg over the bed to get up. To go mediate whatever the hell was going on with my sisters. I was always the mediator. I was so tired, though; the festival noises, smells, chaos—it was exhausting. My entire body, mind included, throbbed when I lay in bed last night. Still, no matter how tired I was that morning, it wasn’t that important. Not as important as whatever was happening down the hall.

  “Don’t blame me! You’re always the victim!” Jo yelled back.

  I closed my eyes for a second and stared at the ceiling. Nothing would change in the next few seconds. The day before had started so differently than it had ended. When it started, I was anxious, sure, but it was nothing compared to the end of the night, walking Meg through a crowd, hiding her in the mood-ring girl’s booth . . .

  I couldn’t hear what Jo and Meg were yelling about anymore. I lifted my hand into the air, studying the stone on my finger, which had turned a light blue. The lighter shades of blue were supposed to indicate that I was relaxed. I wasn’t sure that I believed mood rings really worked.

  A door slammed, and Meg continued to yell. I got out of bed and followed the noise. In the kitchen, Meg was crying, leaning her shoulders against the fridge. Jo was gone, and the back screen door was swinging open.

  My dad wheeled himself into the kitchen. “What’s going on?” he asked Meg, who didn’t answer. She only cried out, covered her face, and ran off to her room.

  My dad and I both stared at the now-empty hallway for a few seconds before he said, “What is happening around here?”

  I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t know, either, and I didn’t know how much of last night my dad was even aware of. He had so much going on already himself, it was selfish to add another rock to his shoulders.

  “I don’t know,” I said. “I’m sure they’ll work it out, whatever it is.” I looked at him. “Want some breakfast?”

  My dad looked at me, at the door, and then down the hallway, slowly. He sighed, his thin shoulders visibly dredging up and right back down. He was wearing a gray T-shirt with a small hole in the collar. His outfits never varied much, just different-colored T-shirts and sweatshirts. Sometimes he would wear a button-up shirt, when we went to restaurants or my sisters’ school functions. And even more rarely, he would dress in his Class A’s when there was a military ball or ceremony of whatever sort.

  I always loved when there was a military ball for my parents to go to. Meg had done Mom’s hair and makeup for the last few years, and she would always take us to the mall and let us help her choose a dress to wear. That was one of the few times a year we got to shop at the mall. It was pretty fun helping my mom try on dresses;
somehow, the JCPenney’s dressing room would become the set of Say Yes to the Dress. Meg would have Mom twirl and turn and bend down and stretch up, showing off every inch of the dresses. We would always go to Friday’s for lunch, and sometimes even to Starbucks beforehand. My dad would get my mom a corsage, and Amy would make kissing noises when he slid it onto her wrist. Mom almost always poked his chest with the boutonniere pin due to his habit of making her laugh at the worst times. The memories I have of them are mostly fond, but sometimes it’s hard to square up the dad in my memories with the man sitting in the wheelchair before me.

  I checked the cabinets and fridge to see what I could make for him. His appetite had changed since coming home. He says the cocktail of medications the Army put him on made him too nauseous to eat.

  “What was all that noise?” my mom croaked, walking into the room. She slid behind my dad’s chair and sat down at the kitchen table. The table was the oldest thing in our house, given to us by my nana, before she and my mom stopped talking. I wondered if Aunt Hannah talked to her still . . . I couldn’t be sure, no matter how much intel I had on the adult stuff around us. The table was scratched, beat-up, and broken during our PCS from Fort Hood to Fort Cyprus, and my mom’s elbow was resting right in the deep splinter of the glossy dark wood. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days, even though she just woke up. She had been watching The Twilight Zone on the couch, a cup in her hand, when I got up to pee in the middle of the night.

  “Meg and Jo were fighting over something,” my dad answered.

  When Mom asked for specifics, I shrugged and popped open a can of biscuits and started making everyone’s meal.

  Several minutes later, Meg came back into the kitchen right as I handed my mom her plate. Meg was calmer now, if a bit disheveled.

  “Want some?” I asked.

  She nodded, and her puffy red eyes focused on my mom, who was swallowing the pile of biscuits and gravy on her plate and washing them down with milk. A faint white milk stain colored her bottom lip as she chewed. I wasn’t sure what she was looking at, but something on the wall behind me seemed to be entertaining to her.

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