The Spring Girls by Anna Todd


  When Meg was in high school, she worked at Kmart for like two weeks before she quit. In that short time we became obsessed with the pizza at the Little Caesars inside the store. I smiled at my mom and my stomach ached. The checkout line took a few minutes longer than usual, even though not many people were shopping. I zoned out while my mom was making conversation with the thickly mustached clerk who scanned our stuff.

  I started thinking about how fast this weekend had gone downhill. Between the festival, with Meg and Bell Gardiner, and Meg and Jo, and Jo and Amy at each other’s—

  “Uhm, it didn’t go through. Try to swipe it again,” the cashier told my mom.

  My mom was startled, instantly panicking. “Okay.” She swiped the card again.

  A few seconds later there was an awful beeping noise and he shook his head. “Do you have another card?”

  My mom lifted her purse onto the counter and dug for her wallet. She looked mortified, but I could tell she was trying hard not to. “I think I have my Star card.”

  She found it and it worked, so she bought a few Visa gift cards with it in case the other card continued not to work until payday, she said.

  Wait . . . I realized. It was just payday.

  The Star card, even though it could only be used on post, was a lifesaver back when my dad was enlisted and Meg and Jo didn’t have jobs.

  Neither of us talked until we got to the car. My mom started the engine, turned down the radio, and sat behind the wheel for a few seconds. She looked so much like Amy and Meg with their heart-shaped faces and the set of their mouths.

  Over the soft purring of the car coming alive, my mom calmly asked, “Can I ask you a favor that I really shouldn’t be asking of you?”

  I nodded but she didn’t turn her head. “Yeah,” I spoke.

  “Please don’t mention this to your dad. I’m figuring it out.” She sighed, dragging her hand over her mouth like she was wiping off the truth.

  “Mom, you know I will try to help you any way that I—”

  She held her hand up, “This isn’t something you should be worrying about, and I’m sorry for putting you in the middle of it. Sometimes I forget you’re a child.”

  I wouldn’t say I was a child. I helped manage the household, but it wasn’t the time to bring that up. “If you asked Meg and Jo for help, they would.”

  “Beth . . .” She smiled. “That’s not their job. I’m the parent. I know it doesn’t seem like it lately.” She looked down at the steering column.

  “It’s fine, there’s so much going on. I get it.”

  She grabbed my hand on my lap. “Your generosity scares me sometimes, if I’m honest.”

  “Why?”

  She shifted her legs and turned the headlights off. Not many cars were in the lot, and the store was about to close. The gas station next door looked like a ghost town.

  “Because the world is just so big, Bug.” My mom would sometimes call us bugs when we were young, but hadn’t in years. “I worry about what will happen to you when your sisters all move out.”

  I half laughed, unsure how to take what she was saying. “What?”

  “What do you plan to do after graduation? Or even for graduation—are you going to stay home until then?”

  I nodded. “Yeah. If you guys will let me.” I was honest, even though it made me feel like what I imagined a hangover would feel like.

  She puffed out her cheeks and blew a mouthful of air into the car. “Of course, we will let you. I would never force you to go to school if you hate it so much. I just need to make sure you’re okay. Even staying home, are you okay? Am I doing what I should be doing as your mom for you?”

  My mom’s guilt was evident. And honestly, the Spring household wasn’t perfect. But I believed that she was doing everything she could. Her nerves seemed to be getting the best of her lately. I’d seen her this sad before so it didn’t shock me, but it was a different feeling to be the center of it. Part of me felt guilty that she was so upset over me, but a small part of me was desperate for the attention.

  “I’m fine. I just learn differently than my sisters. Everyone’s different, you know?”

  She laughed. “Oh, I know. I’m serious, Bethany. If you need to talk to someone or maybe feel like seeing a doctor or something, that’s okay. There’s nothing, nothing, nothing, wrong with it. I will do what I can to get you whatever you—”

  “Mom”—I squeezed her hand—“I’m okay. Thank you.”

  I looked at her. She looked more like the Meredith Spring I knew before this spring. The one with the sharp tongue and dark humor. The warrior with a whole world already on her shoulders who would still dance in the living room to old Luther Vandross songs.

  “I love you and I’m fine. I just really need you and Dad to be okay with me not being at school.”

  “And you know if you like someone, whether they’re purple, black, white, tan, or blue, or we call them a she, a he, or a who . . .”

  “I know. I know.” I smiled. She had been singing that little jingle since I was a kid. She always came up with little songs for random stuff. “I’m not dating anyone, I barely leave the—”

  “My point exactly.” She tilted her head down, giving me the look.

  “Seriously, I’m fine for now, and if that changes, I’ll tell you.”

  She linked her pinkie into mine. “Pinkie promise?”

  “Deal.” I nodded and she smiled at me.

  “Deal.”

  42

  meg

  Mrs. King was almost done with her monthly dinner for the board of her cancer foundation. She had me come over at noon to do her hair and makeup, direct the caterers, walk her dogs, prepare labels for her mail for the week. I didn’t mind the personal-assistant duties, but would much rather only be handling her glam.

  The meeting should be over any minute. The dessert was served fifteen minutes ago. I took the few minutes of downtime to touch up my makeup in the hallway mirror. My eyes were still a little puffy from the night before, and the redness in my skin had started peeking through my foundation. That festival wrecked me. It was like a time machine, and I was right back in Texas with a target on my back. I hated feeling like the two worlds were mixing. I had been thinking the past would never catch up with me. What a fucking idiot I was. I glossed my lips and fluffed my hair and tried to cover up the drama in my life one mascara stroke at a time. I caught my reflection in the mirror on the wall and put the wand back into the mascara tube.

  Shia was standing there, his shirt covered in big patches of sweat. He wasn’t moving. He just stared at me in the mirror. I looked away and quickly gathered my makeup into my bag and zipped it shut.

  “Wait,” he called after me, but I kept moving. “Meg!”

  I turned the corner and walked down the hallway. Mr. King’s study was right in the middle of this hallway, and even though he wasn’t home, I knew better than to snoop around this part of the house.

  I turned around to face Shia. “No! Get away.”

  “Meg, come on. Hear me out.”

  I shook my head. “No. No, Shia. You and Bell Gardiner can go fuck yourselves.”

  Shia laughed a little.

  “This isn’t funny. You told her, didn’t you?” I lowered my voice. “I can’t believe you. I know she’s your fiancée and till death do you part and all, but I thought we were friends.”

  He popped his eyes out. “Friends, huh?”

  “Shia.”

  “Margaret.”

  I looked up and down the hallway. The last thing I needed was for Mrs. King to walk out into the hallway with a group of board members dressed in their Sunday-dinner best.

  “I didn’t tell anyone anything about you. You know damn well I wouldn’t. Bell said Shelly sent them to her, and she didn’t know who sent them to Shelly. She knows she was wrong being a part of that shit, but it was Shelly at the center, for real, Meg.”

  I shook my head in disbelief. “You think I care who’s in the middle of it? I’m
mortified. I was humiliated in front of all of your friends and my sisters.” I turned away from him when the tears pricked at the backs of my eyes.

  “I know. I know you were.” His voice echoed in the quiet hallway. Of course, this was one of the only areas of the house that didn’t have a clock hanging on the wall or perfectly accenting a buffet table.

  “I’m not talking about this with you. There’s nothing to say. Now, I need to get back to work.”

  “Stop being stubborn. Aren’t we past that?”

  I turned around and raised my voice. “You and your fiancée went too far, and I have every right to be angry and hurt.” I made sure he was looking straight in my eyes. “I hate you, both of you.”

  “She’s not my fiancée,” I thought I heard him say.

  “Huh?” I looked down the hall again, checking to make sure it was only the two of us.

  He licked his lips. “We aren’t engaged anymore. I ended it on the way home from the festival. I’m sorry she was a part of that.”

  “Why?” My throat felt like I’d swallowed dirt and it needed to be watered.

  He sighed, stepping closer to me. “So many reasons. I’m too young. She’s too young. We don’t know each other well enough. We don’t have anything in common. She starts drama; she was shitty to you. The usual reasons.” He smiled.

  I caught my own smile just before it broke on my lips. “Are you being serious?” I couldn’t tell for sure, but I thought maybe he was. “Why were you with her in the first place?”

  He shrugged. “She’s cool.” He paused. “Well, sometimes she is. And she’s funny and I haven’t had a girlfriend in a long time, and I knew it would get my parents off my back about leaving. It would give my mom something else to obsess over.”

  “She worries about you.”

  “Yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. The sleeves of his shirt were cut off, and like me, he looked tired.

  “So now what?” I asked. Our conversation was moving so fast.

  “I’m leaving Tuesday.”

  Whoa. “This Tuesday?”

  He nodded.

  “Okay.” I swallowed my words and my shock. I knew he was leaving, and more than that, his absence from New Orleans wasn’t going to change my life in any way. I had gotten used to his being gone in the short time I’ve known him.

  “ ‘Okay’? That’s it?”

  “What else do you expect from me?” I leaned my shoulder against the beige wall. The massive family painting on the wall hung at my eye level, and I looked at Shia’s young face and that dang teddy bear in his hands, all captured in front of me.

  “I don’t know. Something more than okay.”

  “Why don’t you say something to me? You’re the one who obviously has something to say.”

  His eyes closed for a second and he came closer to me, backing me against the wall. “I’m sorry about Bell. I am. I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I’m sorry still.” He placed his hand at the base of my neck, just over the thin fabric of my T-shirt.

  I was dressed too casually, a white pocketed T tucked into ripped black jeans that were tucked into black bootees. If I’d have known I’d be going up against Shia, I would have worn more comfortable shoes and a sexier shirt.

  “What else can I say to you, Meg? That you drive me up a freaking wall half the time? Or that I think you’re a brat, or that I wish I could be what you want?” He inched closer.

  Huh? He was going to kiss me. Oh my God.

  This had to be a horrible idea. Jo would think this was a horrible idea.

  “Don’t even think about it,” I said through a smile, turning my head when he moved his lips toward mine. “What is it that I want exactly?” I asked breathlessly. His palm was still at the base of my neck.

  He grinned. “You want the officer’s-wife life. You want to be like that, or like my mom.”

  “What’s so bad about that?”

  His body was only a few inches away from mine, nearly pinning me to the wall.

  Shia gripped the torso of my T-shirt and pulled me to him. The moment our lips touched, heels clicked against the floor down the hall. I jerked away from him, and he gently wrapped his hand around my wrist. His mom was coming toward us, and I was trying not to panic.

  “Don’t run,” he begged. “We need to talk.”

  “Meg?” Mrs. King was looking for me.

  “Shit. Shit. Your mom’s going to kill me,” I groaned, stepping out into the light. “Coming!” I said as she laid eyes on me.

  Her tan dress fit her body perfectly, and her laced-up heels went past her ankle. Her hair was sleek, a black river down her shoulders. “We’re finished. If you want to come into the dining room while I clean up, we can go over next week and you can go.”

  She didn’t seem to suspect anything, but then Shia stepped out of the corner and stood behind me. Mrs. King didn’t even blink when she saw him. “You’re back,” she said to her son as he walked toward her. She was almost his height in her four-inch heels.

  “Yeah, I only went to work out. I told you that.”

  “Your sister said your flight out is Tuesday.”

  I shouldn’t have been there while they were talking about family things, but the only way out was past the two of them. I remembered the fight I’d witnessed from the hallway and prayed that history didn’t repeat itself.

  “Mom, I always come back.” He reached out to hug her, and she pointed at his sweaty clothes. “Come on.” He laughed, tilting his head, charming her instantly.

  “You’re going to put me in an early grave coming and going like this. Your sister is settling down, when are you going to?” She hugged him with one arm. The question was from a concerned mother, not the Mrs. King who cut my checks. She was always nice to me, but she was so, so soft with her son.

  “I’m coming back at the end of summer.”

  The three of us began to walk toward the staircase.

  “September is so long from now.”

  Shia was leaving in two days until the end of summer. That did seem so long from now.

  “You’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll get lucky and one of the girls will get pregnant.” Shia jokingly pulled away from his mom. My heart was finally slowing from our “talk” upstairs.

  She rolled her eyes at him. “Very funny. They may as well, since you won’t give me grandchildren. Okay, now go bother someone else in this house so we can get some work done.” She shooed him away.

  I bit back a smile, relieved the conversation had been light.

  Shia kissed his mom on the cheek, waved to me without making eye contact, and disappeared from the entryway. I followed Mrs. King into the dining room, where the dinner had been held. She always reminded me I could sit in on the dinners, but I don’t have the attention span for them. Two housekeepers were working around us to clean up, and Mrs. King grabbed a trash bag and started clearing off the table herself.

  “It went extremely well. We’re giving another scholarship, and we have some ideas for a new website. We need a designer. Do you know one?” She tossed plate after plate of mostly eaten food into the bag.

  I started collecting the cups. “I think my sister’s boyfriend is one?” Laurie seemed like the type. “I’ll find out and tell you.”

  “Thanks, Meg. How was your evening? You ate, right? I hope you did.”

  I nodded and we moved from seat to seat. Mrs. King always made sure I ate whatever I wanted while she had her meetings, and I always picked places I loved to cater the dinners because of this. Most of the time I brought leftovers to my sisters.

  “How was your time?” she asked again.

  Oh my God, she’s grilling me.

  My throat was so dry.

  “Good. I was just walking around and ran into Shia.” I squeezed a tiny smile out like the last bit of toothpaste.

  “I saw. How’s John Brooke?”

  My stomach dropped. I croaked, “Good. I mean . . .” She was cleaning so fast, I could barely keep up. Again, I
wished I had worn more comfortable shoes. “He’s visiting his family for a few days before he has to report to his first duty station.”

  “How many years does he owe the Army again?”

  “Five.”

  “That’s a long time,” she told me, like I didn’t know that already. The table was cleared off, and I was so, so ready to go home and get away from anyone with the last name King.

  Maybe not Shia . . .

  Hell, I was so confused.

  “Yeah,” I managed.

  Mrs. King stood next to me, towering over me. “Let’s go to the kitchen?”

  She walked past me so I followed behind her and checked the time on my phone. I had been in this house all day. No one had texted me. Jo was probably still mad at me, and I could barely remember what we even fought over. Mrs. King walked to the sleek commercial fridge and pulled out a half gallon of milk.

  “Can you grab two cups? And the green plate.” She pointed to the plate of cookies in front of me.

  I met her at the island and she handed me a glass of milk and a spoon. I slid the cookies between us, hoping that she already knew my schedule for the next week.

  I took a bite of a chocolate-chip cookie right as Mrs. King asked, “Should I be worried about the way my son feels about you?”

  I nearly choked. “Uhm, what?” my big mouth said.

  Mrs. King was so calm and so well-spoken when she asked again, “Should I be worried about you and my son?”

  I was careful with my response. “In which way?”

  “In the romantic way.”

  “Why would you be worried?” I took a drink of the milk.

  Mrs. King leaned on her elbows on the marble island. “The things that would worry me are cheating, patience, and the way our family name is carried on.”

  My chest tightened. “I’m not cheating on anyone. John and I barely . . .” I didn’t want to give her an excuse. “I would end things with John before I made a commitment to your son.”

 
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