Sometimes, thought thirteen-year-old Malia Twiggs, it was easy to take stuff for granted. Like the sun, for example. It was so warm and bright, just shining in the sky. But it was always there, so it was easy to forget how lovely it was. Or free time. Or friends. Or snacks. Or crushes. When you had these things, you kind of expected they would always be there. Until something happened that made you put everything into perspective.
Indeed, the world was full of wonderful things everyone was too distracted to notice. Which was why Malia was trying to appreciate absolutely everything.
Just a few months ago, Malia had been an entirely different person. Back then, she had been a regular kid—with zero responsibilities and lots of free time to do things like stare at her crush’s Instagram feed while being very careful not to accidentally like anything.
Then, one fateful October day, she and her two best friends, Dot and Bree, founded Best Babysitters. From that point forward, Malia became CEO of their joint business, which meant she was responsible for the vision and direction of the company. Or, as she liked to think of it, it meant she was in charge. After figuring out how to successfully watch children and then how to maybe even have a good time doing it, Best Babysitters had brought on three employees. This turned out to be a terrible idea for approximately four gazillion reasons, including the part where their new hires tried to take over their jobs, their clients, their crushes, and their dignity. At the same time, Malia got roped into an internship by her evil big sister, Chelsea, working for Ramona Abernathy, a retired tech mogul who lived in their town.
Having multiple jobs was a lot like when your favorite teacher was out for a while and you got stuck with a mean substitute, or when you came down with a cold and thought longingly of all the nights when you had failed to notice how nice it was to be able to breathe through both nostrils as you were falling asleep. Malia had learned a lot at her internship—mostly corporate vocabulary words and how to juggle multiple jobs at a time—but was all too relieved to be free when it was over.
She was happy to go back to being just a CEO again. With all this newfound freedom, Malia was ready to take Best Babysitters to extraordinary new heights. She had plans to grow the company, win more clients, and offer extra services.
Today, though, there was just one new client to attend to. Baby steps.
“So how old is this kid?” asked Dot Marino, one of Malia’s best friends and fellow babysitters.
“The mother didn’t say.” Malia shrugged. “She was very withholding with details. All I know is that it’s an only child, and her mother seems to think this could become a regular gig.”
“Well, I hope this kid is nice,” said Bree Robinson, the third best friend rounding out Best Babysitters. “Or at least not trouble.”
Malia, Dot, and Bree were making their way to this latest job, following the directions on Malia’s phone. That was pretty much all the information they had, as the client had offered few other details about what they were getting themselves into.
Even after everything Malia had been through, the first day watching a new client was always a bit like the first day of school, a mix of excitement and uncertainty. It was a new beginning, filled with fears and possibilities.
They approached the home, a two-story house with pale yellow siding. Wind chimes tinkled in the breeze, while underfoot, a welcome mat read, Shut the front door!
Dot rang the doorbell. Malia glanced around, taking in the small front porch, the gray front door, and the matching mailbox.
“Why do I feel like I’ve been here before?” Malia asked.
Had one of her mom’s friends lived here or something? She knew she hadn’t been here recently, but there was something distinctly familiar about this place.
The door opened.
Malia’s heart dropped. Bree gasped. Dot’s mouth formed a surprised O.
All three babysitters stood blinking in disbelief.
None other than Zelda Hooper—the biggest bully in Playa del Mar—peered back at them from inside the front hallway. The meanest of the mean girls, Zelda was known for all kinds of pranks—spreading rumors, writing mean notes, leaving weird and unwelcome surprises in her victims’ lockers. Just last week, she had somehow gotten ahold of the boys’ soccer team’s giant jug of Gatorade and laced it with hot sauce. In fifth grade, she had swapped out the letters on the big sign in front of the school to announce that Max Featherson peed himself. On the regular. Back in elementary school, she was legendary for hiding bugs—huge, terrifying bugs—in people’s backpacks and storage cubbies.
Her face was always twisted into a constant look of anger, and today was no exception. Her auburn hair hung in shiny curtains that fell past her shoulders. Her wide-set green eyes sat atop her small, slightly upturned nose. Malia had seen that face all too often in the halls at school, and also in her nightmares. She certainly hadn’t expected to see it here, at her job.
Malia now realized why the house seemed so familiar. She had been here before, in what felt like another lifetime. Way back when they were classmates at Playa del Preschool, Malia and Zelda had been friends. At least, Malia had thought they were friends, until Zelda turned on her.
A full moment passed, and no one knew what to say.
“What are you weirdos doing here?” Zelda finally asked.
“Uh, your mom called us,” Malia supplied.
“For babysitting,” Dot added.
“Are we sure we’re at the right house?” Bree asked, glancing at the number on the house like perhaps it had changed. “Do you have a younger sibling or something?”
Zelda’s face twisted into a grimace. Just as she was about to respond, her mother—a mom-aged carbon copy of Zelda—appeared behind her. Her outfit seemed better suited for the pages of a fashion magazine, or maybe a red carpet event. She wore a silver blouse with billowy sleeves and simple black pants. But her silver platform sandals were what really stole the show. Malia remembered being mesmerized by Zelda’s mom’s clothing as a kid. No matter how many times she and Zelda had asked, they were never allowed to play dress-up with her mother’s precious things.
“Girls! How lovely to see you!&rdq...