The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  I didn’t even know if I wanted to do that. I knew he was telling the truth about not telling Bell, but that didn’t mean our relationship would ever make sense or last longer than one of his trips.

  “And patience?” She dipped her cookie into the glass of milk.

  “In what way?” I hated that I had to ask her to clarify, but if this was a test, I wanted to pass.

  “He goes on these trips and he will be in villages with zero internet, and he will come home with no money in the bank because he gave it all away. He’s a good man, and I’m proud of him, but there are limits to everything, and Shia needs to be with a woman with a lot of patience.”

  “Did you ask Bell Gardiner these things?” I just had to know.

  Mrs. King shook her head. “Didn’t need to.”

  “Because you already knew the answers?” I still just had to know.

  “No. I knew it wasn’t going to last long enough for the answers to matter.”

  Her response surprised me, but I didn’t have time to think before my mouth took over again. “I think I’m patient.”

  I wasn’t as patient as say . . . Beth, but I could wait for things that were worth my time.

  “And the family-legacy stuff?” I asked.

  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear it. The Kings were so out of my league.

  “Do you know what I care about more than the color of your skin or your last name?” she began.

  “No.” I sure didn’t.

  “I care about whether you’re a warrior. Are you going to be able to handle the pressure of being in a family like this? Shia and his dad may not talk for months, but our family is number one in my life.”

  I nodded.

  “And I don’t care about what college you went to, or even if you went to college. I know it’s not for everyone, and you millennials are so self-made nowadays, I get it. Are you going to be able to raise my grandkids to be strong and take on the world despite the color of their skin?”

  I nodded again.

  “I know this seems like a lot”—she smiled, lightening up the unexpected conversation—“and I sound like I’m hovering over him, but that’s not the case. If this doesn’t work out, it changes a lot of things. Your job could be compromised, the friendship you two have, the friendship we have. I don’t want to waste my time or my son’s time or your time, Meg, if you’re not ready for this.”

  It still seemed a little intense, but honestly, I had been planning my wedding and naming my stuffed animals since I could talk. I wasn’t like Jo. Being a mother was so important to me, and I had always known that no matter what race my children were, I would be their biggest advocate. I looked forward to my future as a wife and mother someday.

  I was so far from that. Shia too. “I understand. Shia and I are just so far from that.”

  “Well, I want you to be able to think about the big picture. I would really hate to lose the working relationship we have now if you guys end up calling it off.”

  We had to call it on first, but I didn’t tell her that.

  “Mrs. King, I promise that if we . . . if we go there, I’ll be ready for those things,” I assured her, and myself. “All of them.”

  Shia and I couldn’t just start dating. We would have to start as friends again, and that couldn’t happen because he was leaving until after summer and it was still spring.

  “That’s all I’m asking. And don’t tell him that I said any of this. That’s the last thing.” Her smile was warm enough to melt most of the awkwardness away. “Oh, and I need you to pass these cookies down to my grandchildren.”

  “Deal.” I raised a new cookie in the air.

  “Deal,” she echoed, cheersing me with her half-eaten cookie.

  For the next twenty minutes, we went over her schedule for the next week, including everything from dog-grooming appointments tomorrow morning to jury duty on Thursday. In between my adding things to her cell-phone calendar, I kept looking through the doorway, sort of hoping to see Shia again before I left. He only had two more days here, and I knew those days would come and go, and then, poof, he’d be on the other side of the world again.

  But he never came through the door. Right as I was leaving with a pan full of leftovers, Mrs. King’s phone went off on the counter where I’d placed it.

  She lifted it up and read it as she walked me to the door. “Have a good night, Meg. And let me know if you want to take Tuesday off.”

  I nodded, thanking her, and got to my car as fast as I could.

  What just happened?



  Little Caesars pizza was empty save for us and the pregnant girl behind the counter. Only two slices of pizza sat under the warmer. I had known they were about to close and felt like a jerk for coming in last minute, but it was worse now that I was making a pregnant girl help us. Her name tag said Tawny, and she had big brown eyes and really curly hair. She looked so young.

  “Hi.” My mom smiled at her. Mom was always a polite customer and taught us to be the same. She was a little less perky than she had been a few years ago, but everyone in the Spring house was just a little more tired now.

  “Hi, how can I help you?”

  My mom asked pregnant Tawny to please, please make fresh pizzas, promising her a tip worth her while, and apologized profusely. I didn’t know what was going to happen that night after the greasy pizza filled our happy stomachs, and the movie we choose to watch ended, and my mom and dad went to their room and we girls went to ours. I didn’t know which of my sisters would be around tonight, and I hoped at least one of them would be there for me to talk to when my parents closed their bedroom door and my mom had to tell my dad that, once again, we had no money.

  “Only jalapeño and onion on that side,” my mom said, ordering Jo’s favorite pizza. I hoped Jo had cooled down enough to be under the same roof as Amy. I hoped the next day my mom could tell my dad that I’m not going to public school ever again and that he would take it well and I could focus on my assignments.

  “At least we aren’t the only ones in here right before closing,” a girl’s voice said. It sounded familiar, and when I glanced behind me, I saw why.

  Wearing fitted sweatpants and an olive-green T-shirt, leaning against the railing, was Nat, the girl who made the mood jewelry from the festival. Ugh, that festival. If we could just erase it from Spring family history, that would be great. Being at her stall was the only good part of that whole thing. She was so nice and even helped us hide Meg. Nat looked so chill in her street clothes. Her ears were showing beneath her ponytail, and I could see they were decorated. She was standing next to a man I assumed was her dad and pointing at the menu on the wall above us.

  For a girl who I had only known for a weekend, I had sure run into her a lot. Well, the festival, she was working, so that was an easy explanation, but this? The chances of her and her dad being here . . . well, it was just weird. My cheeks were hot and I tried not to look in the mirrored wall behind the counter. Tried—and failed. I looked like I hadn’t slept in a week.

  “What did your mother want again?” Nat’s presumed dad asked her.

  With my fingers I tried to flatten the strays escaping from my ponytail, but it wasn’t working well.

  “Cheese and ham,” she told him. He asked about her homework, and I was watching her when she looked over at me, catching my eyes.

  She blinked three times quick and smiled. “Hey! I know you!”

  “Hey.” I waved back just as my mom turned around.

  “Hi! Who’s this?” She waved at Nat and her dad and introduced herself.

  “Hi, I’m Nat.” She smiled at my mom and thumb-pointed at her dad. “This is my dad.”

  “Shin. Nice to meet you.” He reached out his hand to shake my mom’s.

  Nat turned to me. “How are you? How random we’re the only people in town eating Little Caesars.” She laughed a little and tucked her dark hair behind her ear. Her ponytail was so soft looking, the true Tumblr de
finition of a messy bun. Mine never looked effortlessly cute-messy. Ever.

  “Good,” I told her. I felt overly anxious for some reason. There was no line behind us or voices chattering over one another. Only pop music from a decade ago and the buzzing of the cooler in front of us. It was only the four of us . . . well, six including Tawny and her baby, but my heart was racing like I was standing in the middle of a Black Friday (now starting on Thanksgiving) sale at Walmart.

  Nat was looking at me like I forgot to answer her, which I halfway did. “Right. We thought we were the only ones who still liked it.”

  Nat’s face broke into a smile and she laughed a little. “Same.”

  Our parents were talking about school districts or something. I didn’t know or care.

  “What are you guys doing out? Fort Cyprus is so quiet tonight,” Nat said, looking around the empty Kmart. I knew then that she was an Army brat because she called the entire town here Fort Cyprus. The few people around posts who weren’t Army related called their town by its actual name.

  “Running errands. We went to the PX.” The memory made my throat dry. “And now pizza for dinner, then nothing, just watching a scary movie. You?”

  “I love scary movies!” Her voice rose a little. She was so animated when she talked, it reminded me of Jo. She came closer to me, and Tawny came out to take Nat’s order. She ordered for her family, and her dad stepped up to pay for it. “We went to the craft store and to get a tire-pump thing for some floaty thing.”

  “For your sister or brother or something?” I asked.

  “No, my mom. It’s for the yard for spring. It’s kind of weird how much she decorates.” Nat laughed. If only she saw my mom’s house on Halloween or my grandma’s house on Christmas. “I’m an only child.”

  I almost choked. “An only child?”

  She started laughing. “Your eyes are like . . .” She popped her eyes out, laughing harder.

  “I have three sisters,” I told the pretty alien girl in front of me. An only child? What would that even be like?

  “Three?” It was her turn to gape. “Wow. That’s a lot.”

  “Yeah, it is.” I grinned.

  “My mom’s birthday is tomorrow, so we were blowing all these yard decorations up for her and getting her pizza.” Nat licked her lips and looked back to check on her dad. She looked so much younger without makeup and glitter and henna etched all over her creamy skin. I couldn’t tell if she was my age or older.

  “Cool. My aunt’s birthday is tomorrow at our house,” I said, for what reason I couldn’t tell you.

  Nat kept her smile. “Fun,” she said, like she meant it. “I was trying to give my parents some alone time, but then my dad volunteered to come with me.” She slapped her hand gently against her forehead. She made me laugh—it was refreshing. “That sounds so weird that I wanted to give my parents alone time.”

  My mom looked over at us, and I looked to Nat again, trying not to laugh. “A little. But I get it.” My parents never had alone time.

  “You could come to my house?” I said, but the moment I offered, I wondered if it was too much. Would my mom even be okay with that? Would my mom wait to bring up the money stuff to my dad until we were all in bed? I stammered a little. “I’ll have to ask. I mean, if you even want to? I don’t know—”

  “Yeah. Sure. If your mom doesn’t care. I mean it’s only, like, seven. I could go home at, like, nine thirty? It’s not like I have school tomorrow.”

  She turned to her dad and asked him.

  My mom said yes, looking at Nat, her dad, then me. “How do you know her?” she whispered to me.

  “She made the jewelry I brought home. The dark ring I bought for you.” My mom hadn’t worn it yet, but promised that she would when she went somewhere special.

  “Really? Wow. She’s only seventeen. Her dad said she wants to go to LSU next fall. But, yeah, she can come over, and you guys can stay in the living room and watch a movie.”

  “Mom . . .”

  “The same rules apply to you that were on your sisters, not until you’re sixteen.” Nat couldn’t hear her, thank goodness, but I wanted the conversation to end.

  “Okay. Okay,” I agreed, and Nat’s dad nodded.

  “I have this conversation with all my daughters. Meg and Jo, and now you.” My mom was still whispering.

  We’d never had to have this conversation because I’d never had any friends over, boy or girl.

  “Okay,” I said again.

  My mom nodded and turned to Nat. “What kind of pizza did you get? We . . .”

  It felt like everything around me was changing so fast since my dad got home, since Jo met Laurie, since Shia King came back, since Amy started her period, since me making my first friend in a really, really long time. I hoped that time would slow down in the coming summer—or was this what being a teenager was like? Everything came flying at you fast, and you just had to try to grab ahold of the good parts when you could?



  “I can’t believe this,” I said for the tenth time in the last five minutes.

  Laurie was sitting on his bed, his fingers typing and clicking away on my laptop. I was so pissed at Amy. How could she be such a coldhearted little bitch?

  “I’m telling Meg. I have to.” I sat down at the end of the bed and pulled my phone out of my pocket. What a long-ass day. I was so fucking over today.

  “That’s not my business. You know what’s best for your family. Look.” He sat up toward me, angling the screen so I could see it. “Your essay was backed up, so it’s here. I emailed it to my email just in case something goes wrong. You should really always send yourself your documents.”

  “That’s it? You’re done?” I raised a brow at him. He nodded. “Thank you, seriously. What a mess this is, Laurie. What a fucking mess of a family I have. Amy, man. I can’t believe she would send those emails to Meg—Meg is her favorite one of us. Imagine what she has planned for me!”

  I didn’t want to imagine that, actually.

  “Everyone’s family has their own shit. You know that. Look at mine.”

  I agreed with a sigh. “Yeah, but at least yours is distant. It helps a little, doesn’t it?”

  He reached for the thin strap of my tank top and gently pulled me toward him. My fight with Amy seemed too distant in my memory to be only an hour ago; it was like this fight had started years and years ago and was only now coming to a head. Who knows what would have happened if Laurie hadn’t have been there and I didn’t have his house right next door to cool down at. When I leave the state, I won’t have a sanctuary.

  “It only helps a little. If any.”

  “I wish I could just go far away from here. But I wonder if I’d feel guilty leaving my family behind.”

  Laurie had his arm around my shoulder, but he pulled it down and cupped his long fingers over mine. He had become my closest friend. Closest family, closest everything, in the last few weeks. I’d started saying things to Laurie that I normally wouldn’t say out loud—that’s how I knew.

  “A lot of people move away for college, you know? I’ve met Americans from all over the States walking the streets of Napoli, Paris, Berlin. You name it. People move away, it happens. It’s a part of growing up, no?”

  I nodded and leaned my head on his shoulder. He smelled like soap and rust. “Yeah. But Meg is working two jobs, and if she marries John Brooke, she’ll move away, leaving Amy with me and Beth. One less driver, one less car. If I leave, one less driver. You get it?”

  He moved the laptop off his lap and turned his body to me. He tugged at the unmade comforter rising up between us. “Yeah. I do, but that’s not your responsibility. I know it sounds harsh, but you’re responsible for yourself, and helping when you can, but that’s it. If you stayed around here, you would be miserable. Your family would want you to get out if you want to. No?”

  “I guess so. My dad was the first one who said I’d have to move because of my major.” I shook my hea
d. “You don’t get it because your family isn’t as close as mine. I literally share a room with my sister and live with both of my parents.”

  Laurie’s face dropped.

  “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “Sometimes I worry that if I leave, everything will fall apart. It’s not even like I’m doing a lot to stop it.”

  “Talk to Meg about it. See what she says.”

  I nodded, agreeing with him. He reached up to cup my face. “We’re all just tiny blips on your map, Jo. You don’t belong here and you know it. I’m just hoping I’m good enough to drag along for the ride.”

  My heart sank. “You are,” I whispered to him. “We’re going to make this work long distance, right? That’s if we make it through this year.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Really, Jo?”

  I laughed. “Just saying. Let’s get through this year.”

  “I have to go to my mom before that.”

  “I know. We will figure it out. It’s going to be good practice for when I’m in college if we are still together.”

  Laurie didn’t laugh that time or crack a smile. He looked at me. “Is that really what you think? It was funny at first, but you just say it over and over. What’s the point in even trying this if you’re not really going to try?”

  I pulled back from him. “I’m trying. I’m joking. I’ll back off . . . I just need to know for sure this is what I want and what you want.”

  “I thought we agreed that it was.”

  Laurie looked so exhausted.

  We all did.

  “We did.” I rubbed at my neck. “I’m just being realistic and honest.”


  We sat in silence for a few moments before Laurie finally broke it. “Jo, I need to know what this is. I’m not asking for a freaking lifelong commitment, but can we at least agree that we’re dating, or not? I’m going to be going back home to Italy, and some people will be asking if I’m single . . .”

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