The Spring Girls by Anna Todd


  “Iced mocha for here!” Sam yelled to Hayton. Or me? I wasn’t sure, but it about made my bones jump out of my skin.

  “Oh, fuck. Fuck us. There’s a line over there!” Hayton whisper-yelled at me, jabbing her little finger into the air to point at the bookstore area. She was right. Fuck us.

  Pretty much the only shitty thing about working at Pages was when both sides were swamped with customers. Since I was one of only two switch employees, I could ring out customers on the bookstore side of the store, then pop over to tell a customer why they should devour my favorite poetry books, to make drinks, or to pop a bagel in the toaster oven when needed. Today was one of those days. I had been going back and forth since noon. I knew that after this line died down, I would be going over to sell books and have to remember authors’ names and genres, the order their books go in a series, and maybe, just maybe, if I was lucky enough, my head would explode into book-page-themed confetti.

  “Sorry,” I heard Sam say.

  “It’s fine!” Hayton shot him her perkiest smile, looking a little like she was planning to skin him alive in front of the crowd. The image was vomit-worthy to say the least, and I momentarily cursed Meredith and her love of horror for its impact on my mind.

  Pages kept getting busier and busier each week that I worked there. I hated the long drive to the Quarter, but I could totally see why people—both hipsters and non—flocked in to take pictures for their social-media posts. The funky blue floral wallpaper clashed with the rows and rows of books. In the back of the store there was a buy-here, resell-here section that was always busy, and where most of the actual bookworms bought their stock. But the aesthetic collectors wanted the shiny hardback that matched with their designer coffee cup and the pattern on their nails.

  Pages was everything you wanted in a local hangout (tourist trap) of a bookstore. When word kept traveling about this place, and blogs kept posting pictures of it, and some chick with a million Instagram followers posted a fancy latte with a penguin drawn with foam here, it got busier and busier. Almost every person took a picture of their coffee, and I could always tell when they were going straight to Instagram. It’s just so chic to drink a $6 white-chocolate coconut mocha! And what says designer coffee like a little design drawn on top?

  But seriously, it is. And I not-so-secretly loved those pictures. Laurie’s Instagram was full of pictures of us.

  Laurie. My stomach flipped again.

  The boom in business at Pages would have been cool before, but since my dad came home, I just didn’t have time to work my ass off at school, then work, then home. I had become so busy driving back and forth to doctors, and Amy’s Girl Scouts, and work, that by the time I tied the apron around my waist, I barely had enough energy to make an iced coffee, let alone keep a line going with pep in my voice and a smile on my face.

  I was sweaty and had lost count of how many bagels I had toasted or how many vanilla lattes I had made. My tan T-shirt was clinging to the sweat beading on my back.

  When I was thinking that nothing else could be added to my list, my phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out to see my dad’s name flashing on the screen. I ignored the call and shouted to Hayton that I would be back in a second. I didn’t wait for her to answer before I dipped into the break room to call my dad back.

  He answered on the first ring. “Jo, hey. Can you pick me up from Howard?”

  He must have been at one of his appointments at the hospital on post. It felt like they were piling up. I didn’t even know about this one.

  “I’m at work. I can’t. I get off at four, so like an hour. You had an appointment on a Sunday?”

  I heard the blender turn on and prayed to God that it wasn’t Sam making a blended drink.

  “No, I went to the woodshop on post to see if I knew anyone, but it was full of new privates. Your sister dropped me off on the way to something.” He paused. “I forget, but Meg dropped me off. Can you get me?”

  “I get off in an hour.”

  “That’s fine. I can sit and wait here.”

  A metal cup fell to the floor, and I cringed. The blender, the metal cup, Sam . . . bad collection there. I had like ten seconds, tops, before I had to go back out there and pull my weight, or I’d be here all day. I wanted to go back to Laurie’s house . . . or just see Laurie . . . and I wanted to find out if Meg was still pissed at me over the Shia ordeal. My back was so tense, it felt like a hundred little needles were stabbing into the meat between my neck and my shoulder.

  “No fucking—” I stopped and corrected myself. “No way. Let me see if Laurie can come get you. I’ll text you as soon as I know.”

  “Thanks, Jo. Love you.”

  “Love you, Dad.”

  I hung up and rolled my shoulders back, trying to relieve the throbbing. I wanted to lean against the wall, but I didn’t want to get too comfortable. My body was exhausted all the way down to the tips of my toes. I glanced at the huge schedule board tacked to the wall in the break room. My name was on there four times for the week. That was about three too many. Was life supposed to be so heavy at this age? I should have been prepared for this. TV, film, and media in general prepared me for this. Gossip Girl, Boy Meets World, the imperfectly perfect dictation of what teenage life was like in my era.

  Laurie answered the phone after the second ring.

  “Hey, I have a favor to ask,” I greeted him.

  There was a noise in the background like a soft buzzing or swishing. “Hi. Okay?”

  “Can you pick my dad up from the woodshop across from Magnolia hospital?”

  “Now?”

  “Yeah. If you can? Don’t you have a driver sitting around waiting for you to call him?”

  Laurie laughed into the phone. “Ha-ha. I do, but I’ll go get your dad. I can actually drive. Can you believe that?” Playful sarcasm dripped from his accented voice. His “ha-ha” was almost missing the h completely.

  “Gasp,” I teased.

  He was an awful driver. I limited his driving when we went out together. Since meeting Laurie, I found myself loving being chauffeured around. I would still ride a public bus or metro any day, but sitting on black leather seats that were always the perfect degree of cold for the Louisiana spring while being driven by a driver who stays in his own lane, unlike Laurie, was pretty freaking nice.

  “I’ll leave now. I just need to finish my shower.”

  So that’s what the swishing sound was . . .

  “Thanks, Laurie,” I breathed into the phone.

  “No problem, Jo.”

  He hung up first, and I tried to think of anything besides him in the shower. Whatever he puts in his kisses should be bottled and sold to virginal girls around the freaking globe.

  The bell on the wall rang right next to my ear, letting me know the lobby door had opened and scaring the crap out of me. I wiped my hands across my dirty apron and went back out to the storm in the store. Only there wasn’t a storm at all. It was like the little bit of sunshine after a bad storm. The line was completely clear on the café side, and Sam was clearing the dirty tables. Hayton was putting her busy body to work by sweeping the floor behind the bar. Even the bookstore side was mostly cleared out: only two people were at the register. A blond girl and tattooed guy were checking out with a pretty big stack of used books. The noise had also died down, so that I could actually hear the music. The door opened again and Vanessa, our newest coworker, walked in. It couldn’t get any better. I loved working with Vanessa. She carried her own weight, and she was funny, witty, and so good at her job that it made the shift sooo much better.

  The chaos had cleared out. Laurie seemed to bring peace in the wake of him.

  When I dragged my body through the front door of my house after work, Laurie was on the couch with his long legs across the worn-out rug from Mosul. He was wearing light jeans with rips in the knees, and the bottom of his white socks were dirty. Amy was perched next to him. The laptop was in her lap.

  “And then she yelled at
Jo, and Jo stormed off to your house. Meredith and my dad were pissed because of this creep at my school named Jacob Weber, who kissed me.” Amy made a sour face.

  I leaned against the wall to take my shoes off. I needed a shower. Immediately. “Amy, seriously?”

  All I got was an eye roll from Amy before she turned back to Laurie. “Anyway, so yeah. It’s so messed up.”

  I walked over to the couch and sat at Laurie’s knees. If Amy weren’t here, I would have sat between his legs like I could when we binged Netflix shows at his house.

  “And none of my friends are in any of my classes this year.” Amy sighed like she wasn’t lucky to even have friends to begin with. Speaking of, Beth walked into the living room and handed Amy a plate of food. Little butter-cracker sandwiches with ham and cheese layered between them.

  “Thank youuu.” Amy air-kissed Beth, kicking her sock-covered feet against the couch. She had makeup on—little pink lips and cheeks.

  “Damn.” Laurie shook his head. His hair was tucked behind his ears, but he retucked both sides and kept talking to my twelve-year-old sister about her junior high crisis. “That’s pretty brutal. Guys can be di—” He cleared his throat. “Guys can behave really poorly sometimes. Especially to girls. I wish I could say we get better when we get older, but I don’t know if that’s true.”

  “Some of you do,” I told him.

  I leaned back against his leg, and his hand began to rub my shoulder, the one farthest from Amy. His touch was harsh against the muscle, but the pressure felt so good. I was immediately relaxed. I reached up and pulled my hair down to help hide the affection from my sister.

  “Yes.” Laurie laughed. “Some.”

  Amy took a bite of her crumbly snack, and Beth stood over me. Her eyes were on Laurie’s hand on my shoulder, rubbing the strain away. I wasn’t embarrassed, which was kind of weird because I was around Amy. Not with Beth, though.

  “I’m going to take Mom to the PX,” she told us.

  “I’m coming!” Amy announced, spitting little flakes of crackers on her white shirt.

  Beth shook her head. “You should stay with Jo and Laurie. We are just grabbing a couple things and picking up Aunt Hannah’s birthday cake.”

  “I don’t want to stay with Jo and Laurie,” Amy protested.

  Since she had started curling her hair and wearing little diamonds in her earlobes, she looked older than Beth. It was strange. I swore that since she’d started her period, she aged two years. She seemed too immature for her body, with a thin black choker around her neck, and her jeans squeezing her little blossoming hips. She was going to have Meredith and Meg’s type of body. I knew it. She already had bigger boobs than me and she was twelve. I wondered how she would handle it and if she would need me to remind her that she held the power of her body and to never let another person use it as a weapon against her.

  “Look,” Beth started whispering. “You can’t get anything at the store, okay?”

  “Okay. Fine?”

  “I’m serious, Amy. You can’t wait till we get there and beg for stuff because Mom and Dad have a lot of bills and that fund-raiser is coming up.”

  I knew Amy always pulled that. She once had a midlevel meltdown in the middle of the PX over some body spray she wanted. My parents didn’t spank us often, but that day, Meredith swatted her four or five times on the way to the car.

  “Fine. Oh my God.” Amy rolled her eyes.

  Laurie squeezed my shoulder a little tighter and I turned around to Amy.

  “Amy, chill,” I told her.

  “Mind your business, Jo,” she sassed. She was giving me such a grown-up look that it was slightly terrifying, but mostly pissed me off. I hated when girls showed off in front of boys, and that was exactly what Amy was doing.

  “Amy,” I warned her again.

  Laurie slowly moved his hand away from me.

  “I’ll just go ask Mom.” Amy jerked her body off the couch so fast that the laptop fell on the ground. I freaked.

  “Be careful!” I yelled, reaching for the laptop.

  Laurie moved his legs out of the way.

  “Guys,” Beth cooed, trying to break the tension.

  “Amy, seriously! Go, go to the kitchen or something. Get out of here,” I seethed. The screen was frozen when I tried to log on to the home screen. “It’s frozen! It’s broken now because you—”

  “Girls!” Meredith came into the room. “Cut it out.”

  “She broke the laptop!” I yelled. I didn’t look at Laurie.

  “Josephine! Stop it. Now!” Meredith was awash with anger. It was the most emotion I had seen on my mom’s face in a while. It looked good on her.

  Amy told my mom that she wanted to go to the PX, and when Meredith told her she couldn’t, she grabbed the computer from my hands.

  My sister was glaring at me, standing like a little lioness, with her lip curled up like she was ready to pounce, claws out.

  “Drop it! Give it to me!” I screamed.

  She lifted the laptop higher.

  “Amy!” I yelled, trying to process what she was doing. Would she really trash our only computer knowing that if our parents couldn’t afford to get her a glittery skirt or new pair of sandals, they sure as heck couldn’t afford a new laptop?

  I was full of rage and all I could think about was shoving her onto the floor, climbing on top of her, and shaking some sense into her. I could barely see straight when I started yelling back at her. Meredith moved toward her, but wasn’t fast enough.

  Amy started yelling, too, saying that I was a liar and she hated me. What did I lie about? Who knew? I didn’t, but I told her I hated her, too. When Beth moved toward Amy, I pushed at her shoulders and she slammed the laptop to the floor. She screamed and dug her sharp little nails into my skin. Laurie reached down and grabbed the computer, carrying it away from further harm.

  “Stop it!” Beth yelled, yanking Amy right off me.

  Meredith wasn’t even close to happy with us.

  My dad sped into the room. “What the hell is going on?” his voice boomed.

  Laurie looked away, just a little terrified of my dad’s Army voice.

  “The girls are fighting,” Meredith explained.

  “About what now?

  “I want to go to the PX,” Amy said at the same time that I said, “She broke the laptop!”

  “You broke the laptop? You’re not going to the PX. Get to your room.” My dad pointed his finger toward the hallway.

  Amy sulked, glaring at everyone, Laurie included, and stomped back to her room.

  “Let’s go, Beth.” Meredith sounded so exhausted. “They close early on Sundays.”

  Laurie waited for my dad to leave the room before he sat back down on the couch.

  “Tell me the worst,” I said when I sat down next to him.

  The laptop was open on his lap, but I couldn’t see the screen. He licked his lips and played around with the keyboard and the mouse some. “Okay, so it’s unfrozen. I think it has some damage, though, and is loading slow. But . . .” He stopped and looked past me to the hallway.

  The house was quiet except for the news on the TV and the ticking of the clock on the wall. Amy and my dad hadn’t come out of her room yet, and I knew she was probably crying tears of guilt during the lecture Dad was surely giving her.

  “But what?” I asked Laurie, moving closer.

  He hesitated. “I don’t know . . . I think I found something kind of . . . weird.” He turned the screen toward me.

  “Show me.” I leaned in.

  On the screen was an email inbox with Meg’s name on it. Laurie clicked on the outbox, and I stared blankly at the screen while my brain processed what I was seeing. Only a few emails were in the sent box, and they were all to one person. Meg Spring.

  “Open it,” I told Laurie.

  I read the email as soon as it covered the screen.

  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

  41

  beth

&nbs
p; The PX tended not to be too crowded on Sunday evenings. The rest of the weekend was the worst time to go because all the soldiers were off work, but Sundays were sort of a family day around military bases. Mom and I came to the PX to get batteries and a few pair of jeans for my dad right after Amy broke the laptop in front of everyone, including Laurie.

  Meredith was quiet most of the drive, and driving much slower than usual. I figured maybe she was tired. We all had so much going on, I didn’t blame her. It used to take me over an hour to fall asleep every night. Not anymore; I fall asleep ten minutes after my head hits the pillow.

  “Do they have thirty-six, thirty-six of the dark ones?” my mom asked me.

  We were searching through stacks of folded jeans for my dad’s size. She had just told me the latest drama. Denise Hunchberg was being accused of taking some of the money from the fund-raiser. No one seemed to have proof, but Mateo Hender’s mom claimed she did and posted on the FRG Facebook page that she was going to expose her. Since the women’s children were dating, that would surely cause drama at Jo’s school.

  “Got them.” I grabbed a pair of dark wash jeans and dropped them into the cart.

  We were almost done with our small list, and I was getting so hungry. I had a Language Arts assignment that I had to finish by the time I went to bed, and I was pretty sure nobody else was doing anything about dinner. I would need to make something, and quick. It wasn’t going to be hard, just time-consuming, and I had been hoping I could get some quiet time when I got home before Amy came into the room for bed.

  “What’s for dinner?” I asked.

  My mom picked up a dark gray shirt and held it up in the air. A Nike check was on the little pocket. “They want forty dollars for this?” She gawked at the price tag in her hand and slid the hanger back onto the metal rack and grabbed a similar T-shirt from another rack. “I thought we could get Little Caesars when we stop by Kmart. I’m going to get the batteries there. I have a coupon.” She pushed the cart toward the checkout line.

 
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