Samantha McKenna knew the moment she looked at her best friend's face that something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong.
"Lori," Samantha began, reaching up to touch her own hair. It felt like straw. "Please, give me the mirror."
Lori's eyes remained wide and fixed as she hid the hand mirror behind her back. "But it said to leave the highlighter on for forty-five minutes, didn't it?"
Panic began to rise in Samantha's throat.
"I don't know. You told me that's how long you left it on, and your hair looks great. The mirror, Lori. I need to know."
"Maybe we shouldn't have done it right after the perm. Maybe that's the problem. It just seemed logical, to perm and highlight together. A real step saver. Didn't it seem logical to you?"
The front door slammed downstairs. "Anyone home?" It was Jason, Sam's ten-year-old brother.
"We're upstairs in my room," Sam shouted. "Please, Lori." The unmistakable clumping thud of Jason's roller blades on the steps seemed to rattle the entire house. Then came the sliding hum of the skates on the carpet after he reached the landing.
"Hey, Sam, is there anything to eat. I'm..." Jason stopped midsentence as he glided past her door. Then he pulled up short, gripped the doorknob, and pulled himself back.
"Don't you dare say anything," Lori warned.
He didn't have to. The expression on his face said it all. It was the same expression as Lori's, one of shocked disbelief. The dirty bandage cupped on his chin, dangling on one end, exaggerated his open mouth.
"What happened?" He did not laugh, did not make a joke. That's when Samantha realized it was even worse than she had feared.
"We gave her a home perm and a few highlights." Lori was unable to pull her gaze from Sam's frizzled head. "We were going for that rumpled look that's in all the magazines. You know, casual curls. Like that girl in the TV show about troubled teens."
Jason's traitorous eyes crinkled, and then he grinned, exposing the multicolored rubber bands on the braces on his teeth. "Troubled teens? Sam, with hair like yours..."
"That's enough." Samantha mustered all the dignity she could and walked to her dresser mirror. "Oh," she whispered.
"I'll bet if we put on a ton of conditioner, it'll be fine," Lori offered in a tone that indicated she didn't believe a word of it.
Samantha simply stared at the bleached nightmare in the reflection. Less than two hours earlier she had been a sleek-haired brunette, eagerly anticipating her sixteenth birthday party in a couple of days, dreaming of getting her driver's license. Now all she could see was a mass of frizzy hair streaked with shocks of white. "Oh," she repeated.
"Hey, clown head," Jason chuckled. "I'd stay away from matches if I were you. Your head'll go up like a torch."
"Don't you have someplace else to go?" Lori snapped.
"Nah. Hey, Sam, is there anything for me to eat around here?"
Sam was still incapable of coherent speech, so Lori replied.
"We've got some doughnuts downstairs. Why don't you go and stuff your mouth with them? Then you won't be able to talk."
rd"I can't, brainiac. I'm allergic to wheat. Come on, Sam. I'm starving here."
"I'll have to cancel my party." Sam touched the remains of what had been her hair. "There's no way anyone can see me like this, especially not..." She stopped and shot her brother a warning look.
"What. You mean Kevin the Hunk?" Jason teased. He had fully recovered from the horror of Sam's hair.
"It's not so bad, really." Lori stood behind her friend, unable to keep the grimace from her face. "Hey, I have an idea."
"Snacks?" Jason offered helpfully.
"No. Remember that ad in last month's Seventeen?"
"For snacks?" Jason asked.
Ignoring him, Lori continued. "It was for some new product, a deep conditioner. Said it repaired dried and damaged hair. I saw it at Farley's Drug the other day."
"Really?" Sam said, just a flicker of hope beginning to emerge.
"They have snacks there, too," Jason added.
"Yeah!" Lori's enthusiasm was rising. "Okay," she checked her watch. "It's ten till five. They close at five, but we can still make it if we get a move on."
Sam smiled. "Great! I'll get a scarf for my head and..." The smile faded.
"What's wrong?" Lori had already grabbed her purse.
"How will we get there? It's more than a mile away."
All three paused, then Lori brightened. "Your dad's car!"
"No way!" Sam exclaimed. Her father's new metallic blue BMW was in the garage, tucked under a protective cloth. It had been a family joke that her dad had been sleeping in the garage to be closer to his car. When he left on a business trip two days earlier, her mom had presented him with wallet-size photos of the car, and he had immediately slipped them into his wallet. Sam knew the one thing she could not possibly do was drive the new car. "I only have my learner's permit anyway."
"But this is an emergency," Lori reasoned. "It will only take a few seconds. I'll even run into the store -- you don't even have to park, which I know is an issue with you."
"Only parallel parking."
"Right. Come on, Sam. Do you want to go another day like this? Maybe the conditioner will work better the sooner we get it on your head. We've got to hurry!"
She shouldn't, she knew she really shouldn't. One more glance at her disastrous hair and she realized it was, indeed, an emergency. Her mom wasn't due back from work for another hour. No one would know. Except...
"Jason, you have to swear you won't tell anyone."
"No problem. As long as you let me have a few snacks."
There was no time to negotiate. "Fine. Let's go."
They tore down the steps, Jason clunking, insisting that he come along. A sense of high adventure gripped them all.
Sam was oh-so careful, just like the cautious drivers in the driver's ed videos. She adjusted the rearview mirror, moved the seat up, and with great deliberation turned the key to the ignition.
The motor started, a great, powerful rumbling sound that delighted her father and made Sam want to cringe.
"Seat belts, everyone?"
"Seat belts?" Jason said from the backseat. "You kidding? I have a parachute and a crash helmet back here."
She backed out of the garage and driveway slowly, biting her lip. Lori leaned over and hunted for the radio buttons.
"No radio!" Sam all but shouted.
"I was just..."
"She needs to hear the police sirens when they pull her over," Jason said, grinning.
Sam didn't bother to answer. By the second block, it wasn't so bad. There was barely any traffic on the suburban streets, and the wooden steering wheel seemed comforting and secure. Her death grip on the wheel relaxed a little. She stopped smoothly and completely at each stop sign, looked both ways, and even smiled at another driver.
In a few moments they were at the drugstore. As if the trip was destined to be, the entire curb in front of the store was clear of cars and people. Even the expanse fronting the supermarket next door was empty. It was all wide open, a welcoming bastion of space to beckon beginning drivers.
"Just pull up here," Lori instructed. "I'll run in."
"Me, too," Jason began to push the front seat forward. "Snacks."
Lori started to protest, but Sam waved her on. "Let him go. I'll be right here."
Sam eased the car into park and began her wait. They should be back home in less than ten minutes. The hum of the engine made her smile, and she leaned her left arm casually on the door.
What was taking them so long?
Then she glanced at the radio. A few tunes would be great right about now. She flicked the on button, and her dad's oldies station came on. Smiling, she leaned forward to switch to her station, then fiddled with the fine tuning buttons. She couldn't get it right, though, there was static just as her favorite song began to play.
Then she glanced up at the rearview mirror. Another car had pulled up right behind her. "Darn," she mumbled. Couldn't he have gone someplace else? With all the space, he really didn't need to get so close.
She was thinking of inching forward when she saw Lori and Jason emerge from the store. Lori held up a brown paper bag in triumph, Jason was busy chewing something. Just then a young woman with a stroller walked right in front of the car, a harried, distracted expression on her face. The toddler in the stroller tossed something on the pavement, and the mother stopped to pick it up, resting a hand on the hood of the BMW.
Sam made a mental note to remove her handprints from the hood when they got home.
Still smiling, she looked over at Lori and Jason, but they had stopped walking. A strange look was on their faces, and Jason was no longer chewing. Instead his mouth was half open. Sam was about to ask them what was wrong when it became all too apparent.
A fully loaded shopping cart was careening straight for the passenger side of her car.
Behind the cart was a blur of someone in a red apron yelling and running, but unable to catch the runaway cart. Groceries tumbled as it picked up speed going down the ramp from the supermarket toward the drugstore curb.
It all happened in a split second. The young mother with the stroller was still in front of her, the other car right behind. There was no place for Sam to move. She was trapped.
There was absolutely nothing for her to do but close her eyes and wince.
Sam swallowed hard as she replaced the drop cloth on the BMW.
"When does your dad get back from his trip?" Lori asked, clutching the now-forgotten bag with two boxes of conditioner.
Jason skated a small circle in the garage, a handful of popcorn in his mouth. "Well, Sam, it's been nice having you as a sister."
"Be quiet," Sam snapped. Then she stared at Lori. "How could this have happened?"
"A runaway shopping cart crashed into the side of the car," Jason explained. "Funny. The cart wasn't even dented. I never knew a little shopping cart could mess up a new BMW so easily."
"Maybe your dad won't look at the car for a couple of days."
"That will be the first thing he does," Sam moaned. "Before he kisses my mom or asks how my math test was, he'll check on the car."
"Well," Lori handed Sam the conditioner. "I've got to get home now."
"Hey, Lori" -- Jason grinned -- "need a ride?"
Then they heard the sound of Sam's mother's car pulling into the driveway, and even Jason looked nervous.
"I've gotta go," Lori began to leave, then stopped. "It will be fine, really. Remember what Mr. Novack said in history class? 'No ten-year significance.' That's how you know if something you did is important, if it still makes a difference in ten years. And this little dent or two has absolutely no ten-year significance, right?"
"Right," Sam said quietly. But it wasn't a dent. The whole side of the car looked as if it had collapsed. Lori smiled with a quiver and left through the side door of the garage.
For a few moments Jason and Sam simply stared at each other.
"Anyone home?" Their mother called from the kitchen.
Before Sam could answer, Jason called, "We're in the garage, Mom. Guess what Sam did!"
It was the beginning of a very long night.
Her mother had been great.
After the initial shock of seeing Sam's hair, followed by the second shock of seeing the BMW resembling a folded accordion, her mom said at least no one had been hurt. That was the important thing.
But the way she kept repeating it made Sam suspect her mother was trying to convince herself. She checked her watch every few minutes, as if preparing herself for the moment Sam's dad found out what had happened to his car.
Sam sat on her bed, her hair still damp from the conditioner. It had helped a little, especially the second application. Instead of frizzy white hair, she had intensely curly, somewhat lightened hair. Her mother said it brought out her eyes. Jason said that was a good thing -- with her eyes out, she wouldn't have to see their dad go ballistic.
She was flopped on her stomach, elbows propped up, her chin supported in her hands, a thick history book open to the middle Tudors. All of the words ran together as she tried to concentrate, to think about her test the next day. The last thing she needed was to compound the dented BMW with a failing history grade.
"Middle Tudors," she said aloud. The pictures were lovely, full color and lush, of stiff-faced people in uncomfortable-looking velvet clothes. Some of the women wore hoods, some triangular like little houses, others rounded. At least they covered their hair, lucky things.
Her focus kept returning to the crumpled car in the garage, not to the Tudors.
There was a gentle knock on her door, and her mother entered.
"How are you doing?"
"Fine. Just studying for my history test." She stared intently at the book, hoping her mother would go away and leave her alone.
Her mom nodded. "Your hair looks much better, Sam."
"Yeah, thanks. My hair looks better, but the car's a mess."
"Honey, you know it was wrong to have taken Dad's car. You don't have your license yet. You could have been hurt, or hurt someone else."
Sam tugged on the sleeve of her white cotton nightgown, her neck still bent toward the book. Why was her mom just hanging out in the doorway?
Finally her mother cleared her throat. "This is a little early, but I thought you could use some cheering up." She handed her an oblong box.
Sam sat up. "What is it?"
"An almost-sixteen birthday present. Go ahead, open it."
Sam hesitated for a moment, then opened the box. Inside was a beautiful silver chain with a single strange-looking charm. It was round, with ornate piercings and a hollow center, as if it should be filled with something. It looked a little like a small Christmas ornament, or one of those painted eggs people put on display shelves.
"Oh, Mom," Sam said. "I love it!"
"Here, let me help you." Her mother lifted her hair and fastened the clasp around her neck. "I found it at an antique shop in town. I don't know why, but it reminded me of you. I've had it for months."
"It's wonderful." Sam sighed, looking down at the silver necklace against her nightgown. "Mom, thank you," she reached up and hugged her mother.
"You're welcome, Sam, and don't worry. Everything will be fine with your dad."
Then her mother left the room, and Sam returned to her studying, fingering the necklace as she read. It was beautiful, the necklace. It even felt beautiful, strangely warm and smooth.
The Middle Tudors.
After the great King Henry VIII died in 1547, his young son Edward became king. King Henry, the big bearded guy with all the wives, was actually a dad. What would he do to punish his kid?
Lucky Edward, she thought. He didn't have to worry about fender benders or frizzy hair or history tests. The portrait of the young King Edward showed a sort of cute guy in a way-too fancy outfit. There were jewels and feathers and furs all over his hat and doublet, and his fingers were stacked with rings like those of a hostess on the Home Shopping Network.
Was that lace collar his idea? she wondered.
She began to read about him, this lucky Edward. Actually, she sort of got into his story, the tale of a young English king hundreds of years ago. He was almost exactly her age when he died.
What had it been like to live back then? To be a king at fifteen?
And then she heard the front door open.
Her father was home.
Although she couldn't hear the words, she could hear the sounds of the conversation. Her mother's voice, calm, friendly. Then Jason went down the steps.
"Hey, Dad. Guess what Sam did!"
Sam held her breath, staring at the painting of Edward, wishing she could just take the entire afternoon away and start over. Lucky Edward. No wonder he looked so calm in the picture. The guy didn't have a problem in the world.
"She did WHAT to the car?" her father yelled.
Clutching her necklace, she closed her eyes and braced herself for her father's wrath.
How she longed to be someplace else, anyplace else!
"Oh, please," she heard herself murmur. "Please, please take me away."
With all of her might, caught in a frenzy of irrational longing, she focused her entire being on that one simple thought. To be away. To be gone, right now.
Then she began to feel peculiar, slightly dizzy, almost queasy, as if the world had suddenly been tipped on its side. She reached out to steady herself, and a strange, loud whoosh seemed to envelop her.
Then everything was quiet.
She opened her eyes, but the room was dark. It was cold and damp, strange smells assailed her nostrils, pungent and rich, of spices and food and the scent of wet dogs.
As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she heard the crackling of a fire.
Then someone coughed.
Immediately she whirled around. Across a vast room she saw a boy about her own age, wrapped in what appeared to be a very thick bathrobe with fur on the collar. On his head was an embroidered cap tied under his chin. He coughed again, a wracking hack that was painful to hear, as if it consumed his entire body.
Then he looked at her, raising his pale eyebrows. "I have been awaiting your visit." His voice was startlingly deep, his accent unusual.
Sam was about to ask him who he was, how she got there, when she recognized the boy.
He was Edward VI, the boy king of England. And he had been dead for almost five hundred years.
Text copyright © 2002 by Judith O'Brien