"No, but you startled us," a normal-looking, lightly freckled girl defended her friend. She had blonde-brown hair and an almost permanently startled expression.

"Any news?" the other girl inquired.

"Yes; we're at war with Vienna," Carla announced triumphantly.

"Even though you're related to her?"

"Of course," Carla replied cheerfully. "Always going on about everything. She's awful. She puts on such airs."

"She's not that bad," Jessica Cryer protested.

"Are you saying you like her? Vienna, our enemy?"

"No, but..."

"I call it personality clash," the last girl interrupted. "Somewhere along the line both you and Vienna have inherited your traits from the same person."

"Rubbish! I'm much nicer!" cried Carla with no degree of modesty. "I'm not mean to anyone, am I?"

"Is she mean to anyone that we know of? And besides, I can't vouch for your niceness after what you've been saying of Vienna just now," she retorted dryly.

"Well, we're at war with her, we agreed, and now it's official. You can't go back now," Carla warned.

"I wasn't going to..." Jessica began.

"Well, it's done now, but I wish you hadn't, Carla," the final girl said from the darkest corner of the shed. "You're way too impulsive. It's not really quite the way to express your feelings."

"Well, it's my way," Carla assured her darkly.

"What else did you expect her to do?" cried Jessie, always spoiling for a fight. "In the circumstances..."

"When's your mum's new baby due?" the last girl intervened again with more composure and wisdom than either of the other two gave her credit for.

"In about a month and a half: mid-July," Carla supplied willingly. "We're hoping for a girl so I'm not the only daughter in the family. A boy would be nice to keep David company, though. He's getting into the worst mischief imaginable at the moment."

"Going for twins?" teased Jessica.

Carla frowned haughtily. "We've already got twins in the family. There's me and Carl, and Vienna's grandma is a twin, and they had triplet cousins, not that I care for Vienna's ancestors, even if they are my own. Besides, you only get two pairs of twins in one family in books."

"It's possible," Jessie put in loftily. "And quite likely, I'd say."

"One in a million chances," interfered the last girl from her dark corner. "Now, we must work out another timetable for our meetings here. I've drawn it up, I just need to fill it in."

"What's wrong with the last one?" Jessie wondered.

"Carla and I have started private tennis lessons - or private for the two of us - on Fridays, when our main meeting was."

"We can edit..."

"No, we can't. It's not neat or business-like," the last girl said firmly, ignoring a snide grumble regarding her efficiency. "Besides, we must have extra meetings to organise our sale. If we impress people we'll get more funds," she said, rattling a small biscuit tin where two small pennies rolled about, "and therefore another key to the shed. At the moment, as you know, I have the only one, which is not useful to you if you need to come here for any reason. We also have our new mission of overthrowing Vienna, although I'm not sure what from, if Carla's sure about that. No, Jess; we must be professional."

Jessica sighed. She could argue easily with Carla, who rose for any bait, but her other friend was different. She did not allow you to argue. She simply concluded the dispute and moved on.

"Now," said the girl in the corner, "are we all free on Mondays straight after school?"

"No, I have ballet," Jessica said, rejoicing in being able to contradict something validly.

"We'll have to make is Wednesday because I have music on Tuesday," Carla said.

"Right, Wednesday 3.30PM. We need meetings on Saturday and Sunday too. When are we not free on those days?"

"Music all Saturday morning, hockey on Sunday morning, more music Sunday evening," Carla listed.

"Is your life dominated by music?" began Jessie.

"No, I just do music a lot."

"That's the same thing. That's three days you're not free because of music."

"You're forgetting that I must practice all three of my instruments daily," Carla said with a grin.

"Not that you do," Jessica said. "You hardly ever practice."

"Want a bet?"

"You are your stupid instruments!"

"It's not important, is it? How much valuable time have we got to waste? If we're busy and must have fewer meetings we mustn't waste time now. It's called common sense," scolded the last girl. "Now, Jessie, are you busy at the weekends?"

Jessie sighed. "No."

The last girl could be seen vaguely chewing her pencil in the half-light coming through cracks in the walls and the clouded plastic windows. "The Wednesday meeting must be short, a half-way through the week thing. Saturday 1.00PM must be to do with the sale, and our long meeting is Sunday, also 1.00PM, where we'll make plans for everything. First meeting Wednesday, in two days. Don't be late. Any more questions?"

"I can bring my lunch to the meetings, can't I?" pleaded Carla. "I'm always really hungry after music or sport, and I don't get home till half twelve on both weekend days."

"You could have a snack at home," Jessica said, always ready to counteract a statement.

"We'll all bring our lunch," the last girl said sternly.

Carla moved on. "What will we call ourselves? We've always been the Secret Triangle, but we have a real mission this Summer. We need to call ourselves the Society for the Suppression of Intolerable Characters, or something to that effect."

"We'll talk about it on Wednesday," yawned the last girl. "We haven't even got a plan yet. And it's getting late."

Carla nodded. "Just a bit. I told my mum I'd just gone down the road to buy some sweets for David. I've got the sweets in my pocket, but I should be back by now."

"I need to help with my brother and sister too," Jessica agreed, for once. "Olivia is just getting over chicken pox. I haven't seen her since she got it, but you know what it's like..."

"Thank goodness I'm an only child," the last girl said.

They emerged from the shed and she locked the door with a rusty key from her pocket. She lifted her head and Carla saw her properly for the first time that day.

The End

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