The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

  In reality, most of the families I knew from our old housing neighborhood only had excess money during paydays, deployments, and tax season. The idea of that drove me nuts; that was the type of story I wanted to be writing. Now that Dad was an officer, we should have had more money and been better off, but somehow it seemed that we had less.

  “Why are you up?” I asked Amy.

  She shut the fridge door and sat bread, a cup of yogurt, and a carton of orange juice on the counter. She looked like she had been up for a while; her hair was even brushed, and that was not a normal thing at this time of day. I always woke up before the rest of my sisters. It was time I got with Meredith, uninterrupted by the voices arguing over what to watch before school.

  “Because it’s Christmas.” She shrugged her shoulders, and the neckline of the pajama top slid down her shoulder.

  She looked so slight in the oversized clothes, it was like I was looking at her for the first time in a long time. I was sure there was some sort of metaphor for my clothes being so big on her little body, but I still hadn’t had coffee and my brain wasn’t ready to be metaphorical just yet.

  Amy opened the drawer in front of her and grabbed a butter knife. “Want some?”

  I looked at the counter. Toast with yogurt spread on it?

  “It’s good. Trust me,” she said, like she was much older than twelve.

  I decided to go against my usual instincts and trust her. It was only toast.

  She made us breakfast and I made coffee. After we ate the toast, which was surprisingly not awful, Amy picked up Beth’s cookbook.

  “What did you get?” I asked.

  From the front pocket of my old pajamas, she pulled out her phone. It now had a sparkling gold phone case on it. It wasn’t my style, but it was cute. Amy loved sparkles and shine, but I was more of a denim-and-cotton kind of girl.

  “That’s so cute,” I told her, touching the gold glitter. It was rough to the touch and flaked a little under my thumb.

  “It is, right?” She smiled. I was happy that she was happy about it. “Do you think this will be the only present we get?”

  Amy’s hair was so blond in our dark kitchen. I remembered when she was born and how white her hair and skin were. The rest of us were dark like our dad. We were all dark hair, dark eyes, except Meredith and Amy.

  Amy and Meredith both looked like something out of a Disney movie. Amy was the more fair, but irony decided to make her insides the darkest of us all. I remember Meg’s jealousy over Amy’s blond hair when we were younger, but personally I liked my dark hair. Meg wanted to be Cinderella, but I was more than fine being more like Belle. Belle had a library and got to talk to candlesticks and clocks. With or without the prince, I would be fine.

  “It might be, but that’s okay. Christmas isn’t supposed to be only about gifts, remember?” I tried to look into the living room, but couldn’t see the tree.

  Amy sighed and took a drink of her orange juice, pulled out her phone, and didn’t speak until Meredith shouted our names from the living room.



  “Mom’s up!” Amy exclaimed, as if I hadn’t heard her. Amy shoved her sparkly gold iPhone into her pocket and rushed to the living room.

  I grabbed my coffee mug from the counter and refilled it. I started a new pot for Meredith and plodded into the living room. When I entered, everyone was on the couch, save Amy, who sat on the floor at Meg’s feet. Beth’s soft voice was reading the password to Meredith’s laptop for the tenth time this week.

  “We got a letter,” Meredith started to tell us. Her hands were wrapped around a coffee mug, and her face turned to mine. Her light eyes were swollen and tired. Another holiday without my dad. I thought it would get easier as the years went by, but Meredith seemed to be taking this one harder than the three before.

  “An email? From Dad?” Amy bounced around before landing on Beth’s lap.

  “Yes. Your dad. Who else?” Meredith told us. She sat her mug down on the side table and I peeped inside of it, but it was empty. It wasn’t stained with coffee, and it smelled a little sour. Weird.

  I felt bad for not being surprised or excited to hear from my dad. It always seemed like the longer he was gone, the tighter I had to hold on to the memories I had of him, and if I read too many impersonal emails from the online version of him, I would forget the life of him.

  My dad was always bright, his energy consuming. He lit up and took command of a room with his laughter and his witty commentary on all things. I loved to just listen to him talk; his views on the world were so passionate and fascinating, and I loved it. Meredith said I got my bleeding heart from him. And I was fine with that.

  But his bleeding heart couldn’t be felt through the coldness of the screen.

  I tried to smile for my family’s sake.

  “Let us read it! Where is it?” Amy tugged impatiently on the sleeve of Meredith’s shirt.

  “It’s an email, she has to open it. Be patient, Amy.” Beth petted Amy’s hair, and the little one instantly calmed down.

  I tried to hide the void expression covering my face, but I was never good at hiding anything, especially from my family. Everyone around me always knew what I was thinking before I ever had the chance to say a word. It drove me insane. I couldn’t lie; I couldn’t hide my frustrations from my sisters or my parents, no matter how hard I tried. My dad always said I was as open as my favorite book. When I got dropped from the journalism program at my high school and demoted to ad manager of the yearbook, I came rushing through the door. I tried to keep my expression flat, not to draw attention to my failure. But the moment the door opened, every single face in my house turned to me, and my family started clucking around me like crazed chickens. All I said to my mom was “I’m fine,” but in that moment I felt like my entire career had ended before it even began. I hated being a young senior in high school. I wasn’t even seventeen.

  To make it worse, my senior year was to be spent in the sticky-sweet Louisiana sun, where my skin burned while Meg’s tanned, and my hair turned to ash while Amy’s bleachy blond was kissed by the sun. I’d always hated the sunshine. Really. I knew it was a stereotypical wannabe-edgy teen thing to say, but I didn’t care about being cool and dark. I just hated the way I looked when my face was set in a constant squinty scowl and my legs stayed pale year-round no matter how many summer rays beamed down on them. I hated the way the constant sunshine made everyone float around and have an excuse to wear too much suntan lotion and too-bright smiles. It was weird, like walking around in a land of zombies. Sure, not the Walking Dead kind of flesh eaters; these were less brutal, just Army wives and brats with big smiles and too many dangly bracelets and sadness behind their eyes. I couldn’t hate that part, though. I was carrying the same sadness. Our post deployed more soldiers than any across the country, and a huge part of family was gone, a dad or mom or husband or wife.

  Christmas felt especially brutal this year without Dad. On top of how the glue of my family was sitting in a tent across the globe, we somehow had no money. I didn’t get it. I thought about how many times I had heard my parents’ hushed, angry voices talk about money. Everyone always said money was the root of all evil, but Meg told me, “It’s sure as hell easier to be happy when you are rich,” and that made more sense to me. I thought that money must only be evil if you didn’t have any.

  I missed my friends in Texas almost as much as I missed my dad. Well, one of my friends; I had finally made a best friend right before we got orders to move to Louisiana. We had been in New Orleans for a year, and I hadn’t tried to make any friends yet.

  That’s not true; I made eye contact with the old man next door. Twice. A week later I waved.

  I stayed lost in my own jagged trail of thoughts throughout Beth’s reading of my dad’s email. I did smile once, when she read my name. He missed me, it said. I missed him, too. I figured that I would never miss him that much again, but I had no idea what was going to come into my life, or
leave it.

  My mom and sisters sighed and cried over the laptop, and Meredith said that she would try to schedule a Skype call with our dad that week. I thought about how his camp in Mosul was probably decorated a little, and it made me feel a bit better. When he was at Bagram or Kandahar, they decorated for almost every holiday. On the Christmas that he spent in Afghanistan he had lobster and steak for dinner. It was the least they could do for those troops who were away from their families for the holidays. This time he was at one of the most dangerous bases in Iraq, so I hoped they at least had a tree. We’d sent him a care package full of candy and cookies from Beth, Bugles from me, toiletries from Meg, and a painting from Amy.

  “Don’t forget we have the battalion Christmas party today. One of you better get in the shower,” Meredith said, and sat back as Amy and Meg fought over who would shower first.

  While my sisters showered and attended to their appearance, I lay on my bed and typed a few sentences into my notes. I had been working on the same essay for over a month, which was long for me. I looked at my new book, The Bell Jar, and opened it to the first page.


  When Meg pushed out through the front door, we all followed. Meg had that thing about her that made everyone want to follow her. She would have made a good politician or actress. It was something in her brown eyes or the certainty evident in the set of her feminine shoulders.

  I wasn’t sure what it was, but people flocked to her like bees to honey. Meg made friends with boys easier than girls, which she told me was because girls were threatened by her. I didn’t understand that; personally, I was intrigued by her sexuality and fascinated by the way experience danced around her and shone like a spotlight on her. She loved being the center of attention. I was the opposite, but could still appreciate the way she was.

  “Let’s go, girls!” Meg called to us as she sped up.

  The toe of my boot got caught on the doorframe, and I stumbled forward. I would have fallen on my face if not for Beth’s sturdy grip on my elbow, steadying me until I could catch my footing. I caught my bag on my shoulder before it fell, but the same couldn’t be said for my new copy of The Bell Jar and my cell phone. My phone slid down the small hill that was our driveway, and I cursed after it.

  “Watch your step,” Amy said with a braggy sort of smile on her face and laughter in her voice. Sometimes she drove me crazy.

  I reached out my hand to slap her arm, but she dodged out of the way and ran down the driveway. I ran after her and grabbed the long sleeve of her sweatshirt and jerked her to me. Just as she squealed, I looked up and saw a boy standing in the driveway next door. He looked my age, maybe Meg’s. His blond hair was grown past his ears, and he was wearing a tan sweatshirt. The same color as Meg’s. They would be matching if he weren’t wearing black jeans instead of light denim. His most noticeable accessory was his smirk. He was trying not to laugh at me, and that would have pissed me off if I’d had time to process it.

  “Jo!” Amy screamed as she jerked my hand, pulling me to the ground.

  My knee hit the cement hard, and I heard Meg yell my name. I hadn’t realized Amy had hit the ground already. But there I was, lying next to her with my arm across her chest. My knee throbbed under my torn jeans, and I could see red seeping through the tear in the black fabric.

  Amy was laughing and Meg stood over me, reaching for my hand. Beth was already helping Amy to her feet. When I looked across the yard, the boy was still staring at us. He was covering his mouth, trying to hide his laughter.

  I wanted to flip him off, so I did.

  He laughed harder and didn’t look away; he just waved at me. He waved with a big smile on his face as I climbed up to my feet and dusted off my jeans. He just kept that awkward shaking hand in the air until I waved back, with my finger still up. My hand was burning too from where the cement had torn the skin of my palm.

  “Who’s that?” Meg whispered, and pulled my jacket down to cover my back.

  I looked to my sister. She had on this red lipstick and looked so put together. The exact opposite of me with my scraped-up skin and ripped jeans.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Ask him,” Amy said.

  He was walking down the driveway of Old Mr. Laurence’s house.

  “No,” Meg and I both quickly said.

  “Hey!” Amy yelled to the boy. She was like that.

  I started moving my feet, ignoring the pain in my knee. My sisters followed me down the driveway and to the sidewalk.

  “What’s your name?” Amy yelled at the stranger.

  We were passing him, and I couldn’t get my feet to move fast enough.

  “What’s yours?” He tilted his chin like he was saying “Hey” or “ ’Sup.”

  “He just gave you the chin tilt,” I said to my sisters. I was sure he heard me, but I didn’t care.

  “He’s—” Meg said, probably checking his fingers for a wedding ring.

  To me, he looked too young to be married. Older than me for sure, but too young to be someone’s husband.

  How different he was from anyone Meg had ever dated. His hair was long, so he wasn’t a soldier, and Meg didn’t date anyone who wasn’t a soldier. She was like that.

  The boy was walking fast, following us. I wanted to speed up and put some distance between us, but I also didn’t want to bust my ass again.

  “I bet that’s the grandson that Denise was telling Mom about,” Beth told us. She always knew everything that was going on in the adult world around us.

  “Probably,” Amy agreed.

  “Stop staring at him,” I hissed at my sisters. They all looked like drooling puppies.

  “He looks like the type of guy who makes out with his long-term girlfriend over torn sheets of poetry he wrote for her,” Meg said, still gawking.

  I knew she only said “makes out” for the sake of our twelve-year-old sister bobbing beside her. I knew what she meant, and I knew what boys that looked like him did with their girlfriends, plural.

  “He does, doesn’t he?” Meg asked us again. Beth and Amy both nodded.

  My sisters burst into laughter, and Amy bounced in front of me and turned on the heel of her boots.

  The boy was only a few feet away from us. When he reached us, he walked next to Amy like he knew her. He kept pace with us. “I live next door now.”

  “Good for you,” I said to him.

  He turned back to me and smiled at me with bright, straight teeth. A rich kid, no doubt. “Oh”—he cocked his head to the side, and his light hair touched the top of his shoulder—“it’ll be good for you, too. We’ll be friends, I’m sure.”

  His voice had a hint of an accent, but I couldn’t tell you what kind.

  His cocky smirk mixed with his black eyes reminded me of the villain in a Saturday-morning cartoon.

  “Doubtful,” Amy said. “Jo doesn’t have any friends.”

  He laughed again. Amy turned and walked sideways, looking straight into his face. I pinched her arm and she swatted at me. I wanted to slap her.

  “We’ll see,” he said, and separated from us.

  The four of us turned toward him, walking backward. Our black boots were a line in the sand, an omen for this new neighbor boy.

  “Don’t hold your breath!” Amy yelled, and Meg told her to shush.

  He was back in the driveway where he came from just as a town car pulled up in front of Old Mr. Laurence’s house. He didn’t say a word as he climbed into the shiny car. He did smile toward us, but something about the way his eyes clouded made me think he was a little afraid of us.


  Sometimes I felt like we were a force of nature. In that moment we were a powerful blowing wind, coming together to destroy a town.

  Okay, maybe a little dramatic. But we were a force of nature, the four of us Spring Girls.


  The community center was packed with volunteers and children running around like chickens. Meg took off her jacket as soon as we walked through the
door and hung it up on one of the hooks on the wall. The walls were covered in construction-paper crafts. Long banquet-style tables were lined up across the entire span of the room. Each table had something different on it—crafts for sale on one, crafts to make on another. An old man in a Santa suit was in the corner, and the scratchy, familiar voice of Denise Hunchberg came over the speaker, calling out the names of the winners of the raffle.

  “Leslie Martin, Jennifer Beats, Shia King,” her smoker’s voice croaked. I walked with my sisters and looked for the food. If I was going to be here and be expected to smile, I needed food.

  I walked behind Meg, but in front of the others, as we did a lap around the room. I found my spot: two long tables were covered with food, next to another with a face-painting station. Next to that sat a man drawing caricatures. The Christmas party felt like a fair, and I loved fairs. I watched the artist for a few seconds while he drew the Sullys’ family portrait. In front of him sat two kids and a mother, but the artist added Mr. Sully, who was in Iraq with my dad, to the drawing, using a small picture of him.

  The battalion’s holiday party always brought out so many families. Last year, even though Dad was home, we came by and spent our day with the other families who had a mom or dad deployed. We had just moved to Fort Cyprus, and my parents wanted us to make friends with the neighborhood. To start over. Dad led the dance circle, and I spent the entire afternoon watching him teach little kids how to do the electric slide and the Macarena.

  “Hey, girls, where’s your mom?” Denise Hunchberg asked the moment she spotted the four of us hovering by the tables of food.

  “She’ll be here soon,” I assured the nosy FRG leader. Her husband and youngest child were so nice, but she and her oldest daughter, Shelly, reminded me of weasels. Shelly was awful. She looked nice and innocent, but I’d witnessed too many bitchy popular-girl fits to believe she was anything but a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and I did my best to stay away from her.

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