The Spring Girls by Anna Todd


  We each had our own itchy thick stocking with our name threaded across the top. My mom’s mom made one for each of us when we were born. Mine was the ugliest, with a Santa on the front who looked a little deranged and a lot drunk. His belly was lopsided, and his beard was a dark gray, like his teeth. His smile was just slightly sinister, and with the whole thing fraying over the years, it was like Bad Santa had rotted the fabric itself. It made me smile each year we unpacked it for use.

  Meg always complained that Target had cuter designs on their stockings. Instead of an exquisite piece of jewelry from a distant royal relative, the Spring Girls got old stockings from our grandma—who Meredith hadn’t spoken to in nearly two years. Even so, I had to pick a side, and only one of those women put food in my stomach. As much as I liked my grandma, I wanted to support Meredith.

  So this year, Meredith went through the trouble of hanging up the stockings (the day after Thanksgiving, for God’s sake). I cared less about the absence of Christmas gifts in the house than my sisters did. Even Beth, who didn’t care about clothes like Meg did, or books like me, or herself like Amy, got excited about presents. If Christmas were a person, it would be Beth. Beth was fresh-baked cookies, soft laughter, and giving.

  I would be Halloween, I thought, as I pulled open the top drawer of my dresser and gathered the little books I’d bought for my sisters. I’d spent half of my paycheck on them. I’d been making enough working as a barista in a book/coffee shop and I loved having my own money. I knew Beth would likely be the only one to read the book of poetry—and she’d be proud of me for using my money to give everyone gifts—but I hoped Amy and Meg would at least open theirs. If not, at least the author would make a few bucks from my purchase.

  I dreamed of the day I could write words that people would actually read. I would even be okay with only selling four copies. I would even be fine if one lonely person bought anything I wrote and felt somewhat connected with it—heck, if they just finished the thing I’d be thrilled. Beth always told me I was too hard on myself, too eager for the future and too quick to be offended, but I didn’t exactly agree with her. If the past and present both kind of sucked, and no one seemed to learn from their mistakes, why wouldn’t I be looking to the future? The future was sort of all I had to look forward to.

  Beth was the only one who actually read every single article I managed to get into the school paper, and she always told me how talented I was. She praised my silly stories about school dances and debate-club meets, but I couldn’t wait to write about the world outside the walls of White Rock High School. I didn’t want to write about Shelly Hunchberg winning some sparkling, shallow crown made of cheap plastic and fake diamonds that reflected the light of what could only be described as soon-to-be-failed dreams.

  I wanted to write about the madness happening in my nation, across the world. I wanted to use my voice for something more than stroking Mateo Hender’s ego with a page full of pictures of him on the football field in his uniform, thick pads puffing out his already-overbeefed body. I was tired of posting the ROTC stats, and since White Rock High was made up of 90 percent military brats, no way was that going to stop. I could deal with that—ROTC was pretty cool to watch—but I needed more freedom.

  I wanted to write about the things that would matter in two years, when Shelly is pregnant with Mateo’s baby and he’s enlisted or working at the local drive-thru. I should have been able to write about the number of troops who came home to their families last week—or the ones who didn’t. The twenty-car streak of paying it forward Meg and I saw at Starbucks would never make the White Rock High newspaper. It could easily have; it was a simple, cute story. Mr. Geckle was a fool.

  “Our readers are too young to read this,” Mr. Geckle told me while waving his wrinkly finger at my article about the blooming protesting across the country.

  “No, Mr. Geckle, they aren’t. They are teenagers, my age.” I waved frantically at my own body as if Mr. Geckle had any idea what it was like to be a teenager in the two thousands.

  “Too biased, too controversial,” he mumbled, dismissing me with a feeble wave of his hand.

  I wasn’t having that, and I was sure he was fully expecting my reaction to be less than dismissible. He had known me for two years at that point.

  “It’s true, it’s all true.” I picked up the page and followed him around his desk.

  The fake wood of his expansive desk was marked all over with pen and students’ initials. The school just gave up on replacing the tables after the second round. It was sort of a thing at my high school, to write initials on teachers’ desks. I always said that it was immature, pointless even, until now.

  It wasn’t until I was standing in front of him getting my best piece of writing shot down because he didn’t want to give enough credit to the mental capability of his student body that I saw the carvings as something different. A rebellion. I loved it. I wanted to reach across the graffiti-marked desk and grab Mr. Geckle’s monogrammed pen out of the pocket of his shirt and carve my name into the fake wood. I promised myself I would force the courage to come back later and carve my name right into his desk so he would never forget me—or how wrong he’d been about my ideas.

  But Mr. Geckle would just keep telling me no, over and over. He cemented my worry that real stories would never make it to the eyes of my peers. Not here in this tiny high school at the bottom of Louisiana. Lucky for them there’s the internet, so they aren’t completely unaware of the happenings of the world outside the Army post. I wasn’t going to give up completely, but I had to accept that my stories were never going to be cover stories. The Mateos and Shellys of the world make cover stories.

  My phone buzzed in my sweatpants, and I shoved the four black books into the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt to shut off the alarm I had set.

  I needed to call my work and tell them that I could pick up any empty shifts they had during my winter break from school. I didn’t want the time off like the rest of my coworkers. I loved the holidays at Pages. It was the stuff of a writer’s dreams. A postmodern coffee shop with black metal and wood tables, big murals of local art hanging on the walls, and pop-culture-reference tip jars. The day I had my interview, the choices on the two tip jars were VOLDEMORT or DUMBLEDORE. I tossed a dollar into VOLDEMORT, just because it was empty and I felt particularly rebellious that day. I smiled and thanked the hyper girl behind the bar. She must have taken a shot or two of espresso that morning.

  Between hyper Hayton and my boss, who encouraged my creative hand and always asked to read my writing, I mostly loved my job.

  I sent a quick text to my boss, then immediately remembered it was really early, and a holiday. Whatever, he’s done it to me before. I scooped up the books and quietly walked over to Meg’s twin bed on the other side of the room. She was asleep, softly snoring (though she swore she didn’t) with her legs curled up to her chest. Her arms moved a little as she slept, and her shirt slid over, exposing one of her breasts. Meg seemed to get all the best genes of the family. She got Meredith’s boobs and hips, our dad’s smile. I remembered when I was in junior high and would stare at myself in the mirror, feeling so undeveloped compared to the outrageous curves of my sister’s body. Now, I don’t wish I had bigger boobs so much, but big breasts weren’t all Meg had. She also had lacy panties in her top drawer and she had sex with River Barkley, and then a few more boys.

  On top of that she had a red Prius. I couldn’t wait to drive. I had just gotten my permit, and I knew Meg was counting down the days until I could help her chauffeur everyone around. I knew she hated when she had to take Aunt Hannah back to the French Quarter or Amy to Girl Scouts. Meg, for some reason, felt that her hours were more valuable than mine. Maybe that was true. She was a year out of high school, closer to being a full-on woman than me.

  She moved again, and I wondered if she was having a nightmare. Maybe Sephora had run out of eye-shadow palettes or Shia King had blocked her on Twitter. She’d had a meltdown when all of
her old friends from Texas had blocked her, though she refused to tell us exactly what happened with her circle there and why her friends all took River’s side. Or why she couldn’t stand Shia King anymore.

  Meg loved to stalk his whereabouts online. She followed him from Cambodia to Mexico, staring at (but not liking) all of his pictures. She would try to tell me how horrible he was, but that was hard to believe when I saw him posting pictures in small villages around the world. One was of him reading to a small girl in Uganda, her arms wrapped around his lean shoulders. Their skin was nearly the same color. The little girl’s skin was only slightly darker brown. She was so beautiful.

  Meg couldn’t stand Shia, but I was fascinated by him. A handsome, popular, rich kid who dropped out of college to travel the world and use the money from his trust fund to become an activist. I could see that Meg would be bothered by the idea of that, I suppose, but I thought it was a cool story and was impressed that he and both of his sisters moved away from here. I remember when Meg asked Meredith if anyone cared that Shia was black, and Meredith spent over an hour explaining to us that we could date anyone: boys or girls, black or Asian or interracial. Meg never asked again. Of course, Meg didn’t seem to have a type—every boy she brought home looked different from the last.

  My fingers carefully lifted the bottom corner of Meg’s pillow, and I slid the poetry book underneath her sleeping head. She didn’t stir, just snored and looked beautiful while doing it. I always thought she was gifted with her looks. Her soft hips and big chest used to make me a little jealous, but the older I got, the less I cared about boobs and things like that. Meg was proud of her body, even if she spent too much time complaining because she had to wear a heavy-duty bra and carry around extra weight strapped to her chest.

  As Beth’s own chest blossomed, Meg warned her about boys harassing her even more than they might me. Meredith said that wasn’t true, that boys can harass any type of girl. I didn’t know which was true, but hoped that I never had to find out.

  Meg used her looks to her advantage for sure. She always tried to give Beth advice on how to handle boys, but Beth always just blushed and shook her head, not soaking any of Meg’s words in. I figured Meg knew what she was talking about. Especially living in a town full of soldiers. Meg loved it. She always said that she loved a man in uniform. Like her boyfriend, John—

  “What the hell?” Meg jerked up from her bed and let out a little scream, startling me. She looked around, clearly confused, her dark hair stuck to her mouth. “What the hell are you doing, Jo? You scared the shit out of me.” Her hands swiped across her face and tucked her hair behind her ears.

  I covered my mouth with the books and tried to stifle a laugh. “I was playing Santa.”

  Meg smiled at me and shoved her hand under her pillow. Her expression grew into excitement, and I remember thinking how young she looked when she pulled the book out. Her eyes scanned my gift, and even though it wasn’t makeup, she beamed at me, even squealed a little when she pulled the book to her chest. “Thank you.” I covered my mouth when I smiled, but Meg saw it. “It’s no Naked palette, but I knew you would come through, Jo.”

  I liked the idea of that, that I would be expected to do something for my sisters. Beth was usually the one who would think of everyone before herself. Not this year; this year, it was me.

  Maybe we would all get along that holiday, I thought.

  “There, I did my good deed for the year.”

  Back to form, she rolled her eyes. “You could have just gotten your license so I wouldn’t have to be the only one chauffeuring Amy and Beth around. That would have been a better present.”

  “Beth never goes anywhere.”

  “You know what I mean.”

  “Not really.”

  I stared at Meg’s poster of an actor she liked. He was in nearly every movie that year. She followed him on Twitter and thought she was going to meet him when he came to a convention in New Orleans that past fall. When he got engaged the week before, Meg gave away her meet-and-greet tickets.

  “Just remind Meredith to take you to get your license. You’ve had your permit for seven months, dude.”

  “Seriously, Meg, it’s seven in the morning, chill. I’ve asked Meredith to take me three times this week. She’s too busy.”

  Meg’s eyes narrowed. “Doing what?”

  I shrugged, stepping toward the door. I didn’t have an answer, and I still had three books to deliver.

  “Meredith’s doing more than you, Princess,” I reminded her.

  Meg stuck her middle finger up at me.

  “You should read the book, really, this time.”

  When I turned back around to look at her, she was opening the book at a random page. I was hoping the words would attach themselves to her the way they did me. Lately I had begun to feel like I wanted to get closer to Meg; I wanted to grow up. I wanted all three of my sisters to find themselves in the words of the artist. Especially Meg. She could relate to more of the poems than the rest of us, I was sure of it. Some of the poems made me crave to fall in love with someone; I even craved the heartbreak after.

  Next, I went to Beth and Amy’s room across the hall. It was dark inside and the door creaked when I pulled it open. Amy had taped a SPRING GIRLS ONLY sign on her door last night when she got in a fight with her friend Tory. Amy never kept friends long, but when you have three sisters who love you unconditionally, it doesn’t matter as much. We had to put up with her bossiness, Tory didn’t. Neither did Sara, or Penelope, or Yulia . . .

  Amy’s half of the room was a cluttered mess. It was worse than Meg’s and my sides put together. Beth kept her side spotless, and Amy’s sloppiness drove Beth half-crazy, and she cleaned it once a week. Amy always waited it out.

  Amy’s bed was empty. I glanced over to Beth’s, expecting to see Beth snuggling our littlest sister in her slightly bigger bed, but, nope, Amy wasn’t anywhere.

  I slid my fingers across the soft black cover of the book, stopping on the illustration of a bee on the front. Even the cover of that book was perfect. I loved every single poem inside.

  When I lifted Beth’s pillow, she woke up. “What’s wrong?”

  I shook my head and pressed my finger to my mouth to silence her. “Nothing, go back to sleep. Sorry.”

  When I was done playing Santa, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. I was happy to find the four stockings were stuffed with candy and surprised to see three gifts on the counter. They had been laid down in a straight line next to the empty fruit basket that my mom had bought for decoration but refused to put fake fruit in because somehow that would be ridiculous.

  The three gifts were left unwrapped, so they were meant to be from Santa. None of us believed in Santa anymore, though Meredith refused to acknowledge that. She wanted her girls to stay as young as possible for as long as possible, which was hard when our world was so full of hate and war and injustice. But, I had to admit that when I was staring at the line of unopened gifts, my heart leaped a little when my eyes landed on the last gift, a book.

  The words The Bell Jar were clear on the front in purple. I had mentioned wanting this semi-autobiography written by one of my favorite writers, Sylvia Plath—one of the only things I hadn’t read by her. Meredith didn’t care for my dark obsession with the woman whose name carries such a black flag around, but I had been utterly fascinated by her ever since I stumbled upon a post about her on Tumblr, before my dad made me delete my account. I hugged the book to my chest. Meredith came through this year.

  She was doing the best she could with my dad in the Middle East for the fourth time in eight years. She had a lot on her shoulders, to be two parents instead of one. It was hard enough for her to be one, given that she had four teenage daughters. I grabbed the book and gently touched the woman’s silhouette on the cover. It was beautiful; my chest throbbed. Only books could make me feel this way. I wished I could write a great novel, even if I was more of a column writer. I wanted to work for Vice, or maybe e
ven the New York Times.

  Who knows? If I can get out of this Army town, I can do anything.

  Meg’s gift was a bag to hold more of her makeup, and Beth’s was a cookbook, which was really a gift for our mom, too, because this meant Beth was another step closer to being everyone’s servant. Beth literally did everything in our house and was hardly ever thanked for her servitude. Her quiet order just came and went so naturally around us—picking up Meg’s makeup, tossing my socks into the hamper, then washing all of our clothes. On the bright side, this book promised thirty-minute meals, so Beth would have more time to do everyone’s laundry.

  The sound of the fridge opening startled me, and I dropped Beth’s book on the counter. Amy stood there, searching the shelves in the fridge for breakfast. A glass jar of jelly fell to the floor, hitting my bare foot. It rolled past me and under the kitchen island.

  “Shh, you’re going to wake everyone up!” I scolded.

  Amy’s Christmas-themed pajamas draped over her small frame. They were covered in snowmen and pretzels. The pretzels didn’t make much sense, but I remember loving them five years ago when my parents got them for me for Christmas. Sometimes I felt bad for Amy, the youngest of us all, because she always got stuck wearing all of our hand-me-downs. With each daughter born, my parents had to make their dollars stretch that much further. When we were younger, it was the reason Meredith could never work; a sergeant in the Army didn’t make enough to feed six mouths, unless he’s deployed, of course, so there was no way they could have paid for child care for four kids. Now that we’re older, Meredith’s lack of a degree meant she could get few jobs around Fort Cyprus anyway. Only a few of my friends’ moms worked, so it wasn’t anything out of the norm. A few moms I knew sold those scented-wax cubes or leggings, to make a little extra money for the house, but it still wasn’t much.

 
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