Saturday, March 12, 2011
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.
Max's mother had said Annika's father was hardly home because he was a great explorer and archeologist. Max's father added that it was merely fancy words for a treasure hunter. Max thought that was tremendous and could hardly wait for Mr. Britanika's monthly postcards to arrive and for Annika to read aloud from them the tales of her father's adventures.
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.
"You know," Max's older brother, Dagwood, plopped down on Max's bed. "If I were you, I'd bring flowers. It isn't proper to kiss a girl if you don't bring a gift. You shouldn't touch any part of her during the kiss, and don't kiss and jabber to everyone about it."
Max drew his eyes away from the boots he was busy shining. "What do you know about kissing girls, anyhow?"
"I know plenty." Dagwood frowned at Max. "I've smooched Fallon behind the tree house. Brought her daisies, I did." Max doubted that he'd kissed Annika's sister. All the boys in Springfield fancied her. She was like an angel that had come from heaven, and just like those stories at Sunday school, a forbidden fruit that would tempt a boy to sin.
"Heck, I just want to kiss her without all the ceremony."
"Well, go easy, little brother." Dagwood stood and reached down to tie his undone lace. "You don't want to frighten her." He picked up the ball resting under the bed. Before he left, he added," tell Fallon I said hello." Before Max could even answer, he was gone.
Annika was turning thirteen today, and Max had turned the same months together now. He figured they were old enough to kiss. The whole thing seemed complicated by what you should do, and what you shouldn't do. He hoped her mood was better today as he sprinkled tooth powder on his brush. For it was the day she 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.
Max greased his hair back just like Dagwood's golden locks. 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 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 know he was feeling romantic toward Annika.
"Miss Britanika is in the sitting room with a guest." 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. 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 everyone about it. Heck, he just wanted to kiss her without all the ceremony.
He dragged his feet the entire length of the hall. At entering the sitting room, his breath hitched against his throat the moment, he saw Annika in a white flouncy dress and a big white satin bow flopped on top of her head. She looked better than any angel could. For she was the earth covered in fresh fallen snow.
The tattered brown package wrapped tightly with twine sat like a small ball in the palm of Annika's hand. In ink, her father had written OPEN ALONE all over the bruised package.
"That's unusual," Annika said. "Surely, Ayah wouldn't mind if I opened this with you." She had learned to call her father Ayah from when they lived in Bali.
"Hurry up already, and open it," Max said all jittery and anxious as he sat on the edge of Annika's white frilly bed beside her. "We're gonna miss the cake."
She frowned at him. "They can't have cake until all twelve candles is blown out. And since I'm the birthday girl, that's not going to happen until . . . well . . . I open this." With nervous hands, she removed the twine, tore away the brown paper, and pulled aside the wadded up newspaper.
Max leaned over Annika's arm to get a better look. "Well, what is it?
Annika held up the 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 for the globe, and Annika yanked it away from his reach.
"Max, my nana says you have the bad luck curse. Everything you touch either dies or breaks. So I forbid you from touching anything of mine that is alive or important, and this sure does look important to me."
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