The four girls were friends. In a small town, friends make the days long and the sadness short, though it is still there. The turtlenecked girl wore a cap and a ponytail. She sat in the beautiful girl’s room; the beautiful girl’s vices tucked in the nooks and the folds and the curves of the room. The beautiful girl offered another girl, the shy girl, a Snickers. The shy girl offered to break the thing in half and give half to yet another girl, the new girl. The new girl shook her permed hair no and sat on her hands. She thought of the needle in her bag.

The turtlenecked girl had an idea. The mother of the turtlenecked girl had many children. The night before, she had stood at the telephone trying to find care for the smallest boy. She had earned some peace, she told herself. But the girl down the street had homework, and the daughter of her colleague fell ill, and they were playing football down at the school that night so all the cheerleaders would be wrapped in the same colors as the men hurling themselves through the air into arms of love or hate. The turtlenecked girl watched her mother’s face fall and fall. At last, the phone went back in the cradle and they finished the green beans and the roast chicken. The turtlenecked girl’s mother sighed. One of the sons asked to be excused because he could eat no more. The turtlenecked girl took a pen and paper and scrawled her idea in the way that youth scrawls.

It would be a club. A club of baby-sitters. The mothers and fathers could call the beautiful girl’s room where all four girls would be, their feet tucked under them as they sat cross-legged on the floor, their backpacks piled in a corner like logs or shedded snakeskin. The girls would be available to baby-sit on the requested date or they would not. An available girl would take the job. This would happen three days a week. The next week, on the same days and at the same times, the mothers and fathers could call again. The turtlenecked girl told her idea to the others. They agreed. The meeting ended.

They crossed the barren street to their houses to tell their mothers and fathers. The shy girl’s father shook his head. She looked up at him with eyes that reminded him of his dead wife. He did not want to give permission. He was angry and confused. He told himself that she would not always be young. Maybe she already was not. The shy girl’s father said okay but warned that he would watch closely. The shy girl squealed the squeal of shy girls when they are happy. She ran up the stairs to talk to the turtlenecked girl with her flashlight through the window. They spoke the secret language of ripening women.

The beautiful girl with the eyes like almonds crept downstairs to avoid the genius. She wiped forbidden chocolate from her lips, careful not to soil her shirt, painted like a leopard pelt. The chocolate never made her fat, never erupted on her skin. The beautiful girl asked her mother and her father if they would open their doors to this new enterprise. Curtly, they nodded. And the beautiful girl returned to her den of sickly sweet contraband and literature concerning Nancy Drew.

The new girl brushed her chemical curls from her eyes. She could abide the quiet of Stonybrook, she thought, as the birds, those sirens of the suburbs, pierced the air without drawing blood. I am sick in secret, she thought to no one. Their new house was deep brick red because it was made of bricks. The fragile boxes and the boxes marked fragile still littered the floor. She did not ask her mother about the club because she did not need her permission.

As the sun set on the day of their next meeting, the girls sat in the room of the beautiful girl with the eyes shaped like nuts. The curtains rustled like new leaves. She fished Doritos from the fabric folds. The turtlenecked girl reached for a handful and dust stained her fingers like the blood of the desert. The shy girl ate one chip. The new girl remained the sick girl. She said no thank you. She would not die for Doritos. A death should be noble, not foolish.

The phone sat on a small red table. It rang for the first time at thirty-two past five.

The turtlenecked girl took it with a small hand and held it to her small ear. They readied their calendars and held their breath.

The turtlenecked girl spoke.

“Baby-Sitters Club,” she said. And it was.