Annika Britanika: Around the World in 80:45:07
Maximillian Drayson didn't quite like girls, but he figured Annika Britanika was different. She could climb a tree faster than he was able and she could invent gadgets that actually worked. Heck, if he had to have a best friend, he couldn't think of a boy better than Annika. He felt bad for Annika because her father was gone--not dead gone--but gone all the same.
Today was Annika's birthday and usually she'd receive a spectacular gift from some part of the unknown world that her father had been to. As of yesterday, one hadn't arrived. Annika was in no mood to talk about it when Max asked if Mr. Britanika might have forgotten to send one. Her full lips were trembling and her enormous brown eyes filled with tears when she huffed off and wouldn't talk to him.
He hoped her mood was better today as he sprinkled tooth powder on his brush. For it was the day Annika was to make good on her promise to him. The promise she had made when they were eight years of age, sitting in the tree house that teetered on the limbs of a large oak tree in her backyard. She had said she'd kiss him on her thirteenth birthday, and he was determined to collect on it. He scrubbed his teeth with better attention than his usual quick swipe around the gums.
His brother's hand-me-down gray rugby suit just about fit him now. Well, that is, if he stretched his body upright and didn't slouch so the knickers wouldn't fall too far below his knees. He grabbed a bunch of Mrs. O'Hare's flowers that looked like puffy snowballs when he passed by on his way to Annika's house. Birds sang their singsongs and the grass smelled sweet as he whistled along, kicking a rock as he went up the street. With the flowers in hand, he bounded up the steps and knocked hard on the fancy glass door.
"G'day Master Drayson," Molly, one of the four servants, said when she opened the door. "Aren't you a splendid young lad to bring hydrangeas for Mrs. Smith, eh?"
Max simply nodded and let her take the flowers. He didn't want her to know whom the flowers were actually meant for, or she'd think he was feeling romantic toward Annika.
"Miss Britanika is in the sitting room with her guests." Molly stepped aside to let Max in. "You may go in and join them."
"Thank you, ma'am," Max muttered as he passed her, remembering what his older brother had told him. One couldn't kiss a girl without bringing flowers first. He decided the whole thing seemed complicated by what you should do, and what you shouldn't do. Such as, you should bring flowers, the first kiss should only be a quick one, you shouldn't touch any part of her during the kiss, and don't kiss and jabber to pals about it. Heck, he just wanted to kiss her without all the ceremony.
He dragged his feet the entire length of the hall and into the sitting room. The moment he saw Annika his breath hitched against his throat. She looked just like an angel topper on Christmas tree in her white flouncy dress and a big white satin bow flopped on top of her head. Only, she looked better than any angel could. For she was the earth covered in fresh fallen snow.
The moment Annika's eyes landed on Max, she rushed over and grabbed his elbow. "Excuse us, please, we'll be right back," she said, dragging him out of the room. She pulled him down the long hallway and into the library, easing the door shut behind them.
"Wh--what's going on?" Max's thoughts immediately went to the promised kiss. He straightened and readied himself for it.
"Hush your voice or someone might hear us."
Annika rushed over to one of the bookcases, reached behind the books perfectly lined on the shelf, and pulled out a tattered brown package. In the darkest ink Max had ever seen the words OPEN ALONE were written all over the bruised package.
She carried it over to where Max was concentrating on stretching his height. "It came this morning. It's from Ayah." That was the strange name she learned to call her father when her family lived in Bali for a time. She told Max all the children there called their fathers that.
"Hurry up and open it," Max said, all jittery and anxious that they'd get caught alone in the library.
With excited hands, she removed the twine, tore away the brown paper, and pulled aside the wadded up newspaper.
Max relaxed, realizing this had nothing to do with the promise. "Well, what is it?" he asked.
Annika held up a shiny golden globe--its stand balancing on her palm--for Max to see. "It's a globe of the world."
"Is it real gold?" Max reached a hand out for the globe, and Annika yanked it away from his reach. Ever since he'd broken one of the many contraptions she's always fiddling with, she wouldn't let him touch important things. And the globe sure did look valuable. That is, if it were gold, Max determined.
Annika tucked a strand of her long brown hair behind one of her slightly big ears and narrowed her eyes as she studied it. "It looks old and used."
"It looks like an antique," Max said. "Well, maybe a little spit shine would pretty it up."
"Yeah, he must've picked it up at an outdoor market." Annika spun the globe with her pointer finger and it hummed as it twirled. She tried to spin it the other way, but it would catch and stop.
"Hey, what's this?" Max asked, bending over and retrieving an envelope from the floor. "It must've fallen out from the package." He handed the crumpled envelope to her.
She opened it and pulled out the letter inside. After reading it, she looked up at Max.
"Gee whiz." Her shoulders crumpled. "He says it's a magical globe that can transport me to anywhere in the world that I ask it to. Doesn't he know I'm too old to believe in his hocus gifts? He could have sent me silks like he had for Fallon's birthday." Her bottom lip protruded. If Max had to pick a favorite thing about her, he'd say it was how her full lips expressed her feelings. At the moment, they were telling him she was clearly upset, but he wasn't sure for what reason. He thought the globe was magnificent.
"Let's try it out," Max said, hoping to change her mood.
Annika crinkled her eyebrows. "It won't work . . . never has."