My name is Akiko. This is the story of the adventure I had a few months ago when I went to the planet Smoo. I know it's kind of hard to believe, but it really did happen. I swear.
I'd better go back to the beginning: the day I got the letter.
It was a warm, sunny day. There were only about five weeks left before summer vacation, and kids at school were already itching to get out. Everybody was talking about how they'd be going to camp, or some really cool amusement park, or whatever. Me, I knew I'd be staying right here in Middleton all summer, which was just fine by me. My dad works at a company where they hardly ever get long vacations, so my mom and I have kind of gotten used to it.
Anyway, it was after school and my best friend, Melissa, and I had just walked home together as always. Most of the other kids get picked up by their parents or take the bus, but Melissa and I live close enough to walk to school every day. We both live just a few blocks away in this big apartment building that must have been built about a hundred years ago. Actually I think it used to be an office building or something, but then somebody cleaned it up and turned it into this fancy new apartment building. It's all red bricks and tall windows, with a big black fire escape in the back. My parents say they'd rather live somewhere out in the suburbs, but my dad has to be near his office downtown.
Melissa lives on the sixth floor but she usually comes up with me to the seventeenth floor after school. She's got three younger brothers and has to share her bedroom with one of them, so she doesn't get a whole lot of privacy. I'm an only child and I've got a pretty big bedroom all to myself, so that's where Melissa and I spend a lot of our time.
On that day we were in my room as usual, listening to the radio and trying our best to make some decent card houses. Melissa was telling me how cool it would be if I became the new captain of the fourth-grade safety patrol.
"Come on, Akiko, it'll be good for you," she said. "I practically promised Mrs. Miller that you'd do it."
"Melissa, why can't somebody else be in charge of the safety patrol?" I replied. "I'm no good at that kind of stuff. Remember what happened when Mrs. Antwerp gave me the lead role in the Christmas show?"
Melissa usually knows how to make me feel better about things, but even she had to admit last year's Christmas show was a big disaster.
"That was different, Akiko," she insisted. "Mrs. Antwerp had no idea you were going to get stage fright like that."
"It was worse than stage fright, Melissa," I said. "I can't believe I actually forgot the words to 'Jingle Bells.'"
"This isn't the Christmas show," she said. "You don't have to memorize any words to be in charge of the
safety patrol." She was carefully beginning the third floor of a very ambitious card house she'd been working on for about half an hour.
"Why can't I just be a member of the safety patrol?" I asked her.
"Because Mrs. Miller needs a leader," she said. "I'd do it, but I'm already in charge of the softball team."
And I knew Melissa meant it, too. She'd be in charge of everything at school if she could. Me, I prefer to let someone else be the boss. Sure, there are times when I wish I could be the one who makes all the decisions and tells everybody else what to do. I just don't want to be the one who gets in trouble when everything goes wrong.
"Besides," Melissa continued, "it would be a great way for you to meet Brendan Fitzpatrick. He's in charge of the boys' safety patrol." One thing about Melissa: No matter what kind of conversation you have with her, one way or another you end up talking about boys.
"What makes you so sure I want to meet Brendan Fitzpatrick?" The card house I'd been working on had completely collapsed, and I was trying to decide whether it was worth the trouble to start a new one.
"Trust me, Akiko," she said with a big grin, "everyone wants to meet Brendan Fitzpatrick."
"I don't even like him," I said, becoming even more anxious to change the subject.
"How can you not like him?" she asked, genuinely puzzled. "He's one of the top five cute guys in the fourth grade."
"I can't believe you actually have a list of who's cute and who isn't."
Excerpted from Akiko on the Planet Smoo by Mark Crilley. Copyright © 2001 by Mark Crilley. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.