Fan Fiction - Written by Doug Fowler - Book Universe



Quite A Catch
Written by: Doug Fowler

The Stephanie baseball story was a book I tried to publish. I got no takers, and the owners of "Full House" said they'd rather use their own writers if any other books come out anyway. So, I added more to the Michelle bit. And, Kimmy's even a help here, something hard to do in books, as it's hard to figure out how to utilize her. RKORadio's Samantha also added with his permission.

Kathy Santoni would be a good mom, as others have said & I've found with research. Her sister's wild, she tried to steal Danny's phone card # by getting Stephanie to bring it as a dare, so Kathy and others could call boyfriends long distance (book "Phone Call From A Flamingo"). But, Kathy may not have known her sister's plans in starting the Flamingoes, anyway, in that first book. (Read to find out.) So, I think we can figure Kathy settles down. D.J. calls Kathy a skank in that book, but D.J. - protective like a mom - was likely just protecting her sisters then.

So, Kathy's a good mom, but has an emergency appendectomy. Her sitter's not reliable, and the father is just as bad - he leaves in books, that's why they want the phone card numbers to can call him long distance. Still, there's a happy ending for the Chows, too. The Chronology calls the baseball part canon, though not the other - yes, there's room, and "Tanner All-Stars" has the TV Universe version of this. This has actual games.

Finally, if you read earlier, it's changed some in the last few years. But, please don't spoil it for new readers. :-)


CHAPTER ONE -STEPHANIE

Stephanie Tanner gazed at her lunch as she walked to her table. Her best friends, Allie Taylor and Darcy Powell, were already seated. "This looks...interesting," she murmured as she sat.

Darcy looked up at Stephanie. "Yeah, I wonder whose science experiment this is, anyway."

Stephanie and her friends laughed. She and Allie had been best friends since Kindergarten. They'd met Darcy in fifth grade, when she moved from Chicago with her family. She'd come up to their table and said something similar when introducing herself.

"Steph, did you see the baseball players' tables?" Allie wanted to know.

"No." Stephanie craned her neck. The John Muir Middle School baseball team sat together at a couple tables in one corner of the lunchroom. Both tables were about half empty. "Whoa, where is everyone?"

"I heard in science class this morning," Allie said. "They had a big flu outbreak."

"Oh, no. And just when they're going into the-" She stopped herself. She suddenly noticed a large boy. With the tables thinned out, she could see him much better. He was perhaps three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier then Stephanie. He had cute freckles and wavy blonde hair.

Darcy finished Stephanie's thought. "Yeah, I guess the pitching is especially thin now. Coach Miller's really worried about the playoffs." She suddenly noticed Stephanie's mind had wandered. "Hey, Steph. Earth to Stephanie, come in."

"Oh. Who's the big kid with all those freckles? He sure is cute."

Allie explained he was their starting catcher. "He just hits so badly you never pay attention when he's up."

Darcy nodded. "I hear others say the same thing. 'Time for a bathroom break - sponsored by our catcher, Zack Browning.'"

"People shouldn't trash John Muir's own catcher like that. How rude," Stephanie said casually. Of course, she didn't pay much attention when the catcher batted, either. But, she wouldn't tease like that.

Allie said it didn't matter to Zack. "He has a great sense of humor about his lousy hitting. I talked to him the other day."

"You mean he talked to you, I'm sure," Stephanie remarked. Allie almost never spoke to boys without them speaking first. Even then, she sometimes needed a little prodding.

"Yeah. He rolled up a sheet of paper to swat a mosquito. He smacked it on my desk. He leaned over and said it was the first hit he'd gotten in a month," Allie remarked. "He told me not to tell his coach. He said if word got out, Coach Miller would make him take a rolled up newspaper up to bat next time."

Stephanie and Darcy laughed. At least Zack could joke about his hitting. "Well, I guess he can handle teasing, then," Stephanie said.

"His family moved from Oakland a few months ago," Darcy told them. "I talked to his dad one day in the stands."

"I don't see Charlie Ryker there," Allie commented as she studied the tables. "He must be out with the flu, too. I bet you're disappointed, huh, Steph."

"For the team, but not for me that much." Charlie Ryker was their star pitcher.

Darcy was surprised. "You liked Charlie for a while."

Stephanie smiled. "Yeah, we were. But, you know how it is. Our dads are right. It doesn't lead to anything serious at this age. But it sure is fun to daydream," Stephanie remarked, smiling broadly. "And besides, Michelle fixed me up with a nice boy at her horse jumping competition a month ago. He and I hit it off well, although he's in a different school, so..." She smiled. "I guess what I'm saying it, we both agreed it wasn't going too fast, and wouldn't till the summer."

Darcy agreed. "You never know when you'll meet someone, go for years, then suddenly you've got a real friendship and you're in love. My parents say that's the magical combination for a marriage. Love and being best friends."

"Yeah. Mine were the same way, from what I hear," Stephanie spoke wistfully.

Stephanie's mother had died when she was just five years old. Her older sister, D.J., had been ten. Her younger sister, Michelle, was just a baby.

Their dad, Danny Tanner, had needed help raising his girls. So, his best friend from college, Joey Gladstone, moved in to help. So did Danny's brother-in-law, Jesse Katsopolis.

Later, Jesse met and married Becky Donaldson. Becky was Danny's co-host on a local television program. Jesse and Becky had two boys, four-year-olds Nicky and Alex.

Nine people lived in the Tanner household. But, Stephanie still missed her mom sometimes.

Allie understood. She'd met Stephanie only a couple months after her mom died. "It's still hard sometimes, huh?"

Stephanie grinned. "I don't usually think about it. But, Mother's Day was yesterday. And, just when Darcy said that, about meeting that perfect someone, I got to thinking. Mom and Dad were just a year older when they met. Who knows. One of us could be married in four years, like my mom was." She knew her parents were a very rare exception. But, if it happened once, it could happen again.

Darcy smiled sweetly. "Sorry, Steph. I didn't mean to make you think about that."

"It's no problem. When it hits now, it's just for an instant." Stephanie rose from her seat. "And since this lunch is making me want to call Anthony's and order a pizza, I'm going to impersonate you, Darcy." Stephanie walked toward the baseball team's tables.

Darcy was much more outgoing than even Stephanie. Darcy had actually asked boys on dates. Stephanie wasn't quite that bold. But, she enjoyed baseball. She'd even pitched for a local team with she was Michelle's age. So, she would have something to talk about with Zack.

She grumbled as she walked past the Flamingoes' table. They had been against her since she refused to join their elite, snobby clique. "We can't even trust her with this," she heard Renee Salter saying. Renee was the Flamingoes' leader.

"But she's such a goody goody, I'm sure she'd help..." another started to say.

"No! And that's final!" Renee shouted. "Kathy's sister started us without Kathy knowing the full story. We're Flamingoes. We'll figure this out without her help."

Stephanie took her mind off that argument. She didn't care who or what the subject was. She strolled up beside Zack. "Hi, I'm Stephanie Tanner. Sorry to hear about the flu outbreak on the Raccoons."

Zack smiled at her. "Yeah. It especially hit the pitchers hard. Which will make it much more of a challenge. I'm Zack Browning - but you probably know me by the breeze my bat makes when I swing."

Stephanie giggled. "Well, I'm ashamed to admit, I don't notice you at bat." "And I certainly never saw how cute you looked. Not with all that catchers' gear."

"I'm usually not up there too long. Coach likes my defense a lot, though. And how I handle pitchers." He took a sip of milk. "I guess it shows you don't have to be real flashy to be a starter."

Stephanie nodded. "Blocking pitches is crucial. So is throwing out runners. People don't realize how much is involved with catching."

"I know. On the playground they just stuff the biggest guy behind the plate, like they're bouncing the ball off the side of the house. I'm more than a brick wall, though." "You sure are," Stephanie considered. He asked if Stephanie liked baseball. "I think I've seen you at a few games."

Stephanie nodded. "Yeah. I played for a youth league team when I was younger. My dad used to be a sportscaster. He's gotten us tickets to see the Giants And A's a few times."

"I'm more of an A's fan myself. But, you've got a cool ballpark here." He paused for a moment. He seemed to guess that Stephanie was done talking. "Well, we've gotta discuss how to arrange the pitching for the playoffs. So...I'll see you around." He grinned as he said that.

"Yeah, good luck." Stephanie walked back to her seat beaming.

"Well?" Allie looked anxiously at Stephanie. "How did it go?"

"He's nice. Easy to talk to. A real prospect." She grinned. "I just hope our baseball team's chances are this good

CHAPTER TWO - MICHELLE

"All right everyone, calm down," declared Mrs. Yoshida. She hollered above an excited din of students. "If you're not quiet, you can't hear the names."

Nine-year-old Michelle Tanner looked expectantly at her fourth grade teacher. She hoped she'd done well enough on her aptitude test. If she did, she could go to school with her big sister for a week.

"I wonder who will go with me," Rachel Tilly asked beside her. Michelle rolled her eyes. Rachel was always bragging. In her mind, she had to go. To not go wouldn't just be a major disappointment to Rachel. It would violate fundamental laws of physics. "She's probably already got a John Muir Middle School bumper sticker on her bike."

Michelle didn't mind if she couldn't go. But, she was really excited, anyway. It would only be for a couple hours in the afternoon. And, her classmates would only be sixth graders. But, it would still be great fun.

"The two highest scores on our class's fourth grade achievement tests are..." Mrs. Yoshida waited until Rachel stopped clearing her throat. "They are Michelle Tanner and Denise Chow."

Rachel stood quickly. "What?" She blushed and sat. "Sorry, Mrs. Yoshida. I just tried so hard."

Michelle couldn't stand Rachel's attitude. But, she tried to be nice, anyway. "Better luck next time," she said. Rachel met the comment with a scowl, as expected.

"I'm sorry, Rachel. But, Denise beat you out by three correct answers, and Michelle by one. It was a tight race, in which we considered many things." Mrs. Yoshida handed back the class's papers.

Michelle grinned. She wondered if attitude was one of those things. Rachel did many things very well. But, being kind was not one of them. And, as Mrs. Yoshida had said, the top students in fourth and fifth grade would be representing all of Fraser Street Elementary School.

As Rachel sank in her seat, Michelle looked at Denise across the room. She seemed excited. Denise's uncle owned the stables where Michelle and her friends sometimes rode horses. She wasn't Michelle's best friend. But, she was a pretty good friend.

"Lucas, you did a good job, too," Mrs. Yoshida was telling Lucas Hamilton. "You can't attend the English and History classes. But, you may be able to go with a few fifth graders. You had the best science score of anyone in our school. And, a few fifth graders are taking biology for a week, and dissecting frogs."

Michelle wasn't surprised at this. Lucas loved animals, especially snakes. So, he enjoyed reading about biology and other sciences. The part about dissecting frogs made her a little queasy, though. She could tell several others felt the same way.

"Thank you, Mrs. Yoshida," Lucas said happily.

"I can't promise anything, but I'll see what I can do." Mrs. Yoshida praised everyone for their hard work. "This will be a very rich learning experience."

Denise raised her hand. "I wonder if I could get a class with Rico Ramirez. He rides at my uncle's stables."

Michelle grinned. Denise had turned ten last fall. Now, six months later, she had recently revealed that she had her first crush on a boy. He was a sixth grader in John Muir Middle School.

Denise had asked Michelle for help. She wanted Michelle's older sister, Stephanie, to find out all she could about Rico. Stephanie had refused, though. She felt she'd look foolish asking about a boy two grades lower.

Now, however, Denise could talk to him herself.

Mrs. Yoshida guessed that Denise had a crush. They weren't common in fourth grade. But, some girls began to talk about boys and vice versa toward the end of the school year. "Denise, I'm glad you said that. It leads into my next point."

Rachel looked at Michelle. "Okay, you always say look at the bright side. I found one. I won't have to listen to Goody Two Shoes Tanner in the afternoon next week."

"Rachel, please be quiet." Mrs. Yoshida pulled a TV and a VCR from the corner of the room. "Your afternoon classes will be with sixth graders only. But, you will have contact with much older children. Some of you might hear about boys and girls going out together. Heaven forbid, you might hear about drinking or drugs. So, we're showing this tape to all of you. Even if you're not going, you should watch and listen. It deals with many of the temptations you'll face in just a couple years. There's a younger brother in this tape, too. I think he's in the fourth grade. So, you'll easily identify with him."

Michelle listened casually. The tape featured several girls. They had just gotten into Junior High. And, they were feeling pressure to be popular. Each one was tempted to do something like smoking, drinking, or something that drew grossed out cries from the class - kissing boys on the lips. Even Denise was repulsed by this. She had a crush, but not that big of a crush.

Michelle had heard most of the messages on peer pressure. Stephanie had told her before about a clique called the Flamingoes. Stephanie didn't think they drank or smoked. But, they were incredibly popular. They wee the kind of group young girls would be tempted to join. The Flamingoes acted quite snobby and arrogant, though. They didn't mind cheating to win. And, they had tried to get Stephanie to join them. Stephanie had been dared to do some very bad things - the worst being stealing their dad's phone card.

Michelle wasn't sure if Denise knew about these girls. So, she walked up to her after class. Michelle's best friends, Cassie Wilkins and Mandy Metz, waited by the cubbies. "Hey, Denise, great work."

"Thanks," she mumbled. They walked toward the cubbies and grabbed their backpacks.

Michelle was too anxious to notice Denise's sour face. "One thing I need to warn you about. Stephanie says there's a group of girls at John Muir called the Flamingoes. They do some of the stuff that gang did in the video. Not the drinking or drugs. But, some of the other stuff," Michelle said as they walked out to the bus.

"Thanks. How do I know who's a Flamingo?"

Michelle tried to think. "Oh, I remember. They wear something pink every day. And, they paint the pinky nail with the same shade of pink nail polish."

Michelle looked at Denise. She noticed that the girl looked depressed. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing," she said loudly. She then whispered in Michelle's ear. "It's...a little personal. Can we talk later?" Michelle smiled and nodded.

"You won't worry about the Flamingoes. I bet you'll just be thinking about Rico," Cassie said.

Denise seemed glad to have something to take her mind off her problem. "Well, sort of. Okay, pretty much. Well, maybe all the time." Denise asked what Michelle was most excited about next week.

"I don't know. Just being in the same building with Stephanie again, I guess. Even though we won't share any classes. Maybe we can have the same lunch," she said.

Mandy asked what would happen during the last half hour. "John Muir starts early. So, they get out earlier."

"We can come back here. Or just hang around there," Michelle said. "Oh, yeah, Denise. You can come to the baseball diamond. Stephanie and that boy who worked at the stables broke it off, but she still likes the star pitcher, I think. And, she'll probably try to hang out at the practice field with him."

"We'll miss you Middle Schoolers," Mandy teased. She pretended to pout. "We'll get lonely."

"Promise you'll write every afternoon, Michelle," Cassie whined playfully.

Denise actually chuckled at the last joke. Michelle laughed hard. "Come on, guys," Michelle said. "We'll be here in the morning. And, it's a few blocks away from Fraser Street, that's all. I'll call when I get home every day. Hey, maybe you can join me at the ball field. We like horse riding more. But, maybe we can form a cheerleading squad."

"Sounds great. Count me in," Cassie declared.

"Me too," echoed Mandy.

"This will be so cool," Michelle said dreamily.

She invited Denise to her house. She got her dad's permission to go to the ball field while Denise called her mom. Then, they met in the room Michelle shared with Stephanie. Michelle knew Stephanie wouldn't mind. She'd probably be watching the baseball team practice.

Michelle shut the door. "Now, tell me what's wrong," she said with compassion.

Denise sighed. "My mom has to have an operation. She has cancer."

Michelle hugged her. "I bet you're scared, huh?"

Denise nodded, wiping away a tear. "It's tomorrow. I've been trying not to think about it. That's one reason I did so well on the test. I could use it as an excuse to block everything out of my mind. Now I'm starting to worry again. Although, I can think about Rico, and that helps a little."

She put her head in her hands. "They'll get all the cancer out with this operation. They caught it real early. But, it's still scary. Plus, Mom and Dad always wanted more kids. I always wanted a baby brother. But, Mom says after this, she won't be able to have any more children."

Michelle sighed. She simply let Denise weep on her shoulder for a moment. She loved doing nice things for people. But, she was afraid this would be impossible for her to fix.

CHAPTER THREE - STEPHANIE

Stephanie called home and said she'd be late. She, Allie, and Darcy walked over to the baseball diamond where the Raccoons played their home games.

It looked more like early spring workouts. Because of the flu, the coach had announced around lunch time there would be open tryouts. Several John Muir boys had accepted the invitation. Sadly, as the friends watched, none of them looked very good.

With the team a day away from the playoffs, though, they would need all the help they could get. Especially in the pitching department.

"Duck," Darcy shouted. Soon after the girls did this, a loud quacking was heard above them.

"What was that?" Allie wondered, glancing up at the flock of ducks.

Stephanie whistled. "I don't know, but Darcy must really have a way with birds to pull off that joke."

Darcy laughed. "Actually, someone hit a foul ball our way." She pointed up. "And, since it almost hit those birds, I guess you could call it a fowl ball." The girls chuckled.

"Oooh, look." Stephanie grinned. Now that she knew Zack Browning, it was more fun to watch the catcher. "Look at how he moves to block those pitches."

"Only problem is, we don't want pitchers who throw the ball in the dirt all the time," Darcy said mournfully.

Stephanie nodded. Her long blonde hair blew in the gentle breeze. "Yeah, but he's really good. He'll be able to handle anything." They watched as Zack walked out to talk to the young boy who was throwing. The catcher lifted his mask, and seemed to be consoling the sixth grader. "He's good at taking charge. If we get some of these guys, we'll need his leadership."

Allie was impressed. "Gee, Steph, you must be getting serious about going out with him. Usually we just talk about how cute they are."

Darcy laughed. "Yeah, what's it gonna be like if you actually do go out with him?"

"Well, I don't know. I am going to wait till he asks me, though," Stephanie remarked.

Allie snickered. "Unless word leaks out you want him to ask you."

Stephanie wasn't sure what Allie meant by her little joke. Then, she noticed the bikes. Michelle and another girl - Denise Chow - had ridden up to the field. They tried to stop their bikes short of a chain link fence separating the fans from the players. However, Michelle couldn't stop in time. Her bike rammed into the fence, causing it to rattle.

"Michelle," Stephanie scolded her lightly. "This is not a drive through."

"Sorry, Steph. Hey, guess what."

Stephanie glanced at Michelle, then continued to gaze at the players. "Not right now. We're watching the tryouts for the playoffs."

"I thought the team already had all their players," Michelle said, quite confused.

"Hey, that's Rico," Denise spoke lowly, pointing to the boy trying to pitch. She turned to Stephanie and whispered. "I like him."

Stephanie remembered when Michelle tried to get her to find out all about Rico Ramirez. She hadn't even known who he was, and wasn't going to bother learning. For Michelle, she would. But, not just for one of Michelle's friends.

Now, it would be simple. "Great, Denise. Why don't you go up and tell him."

Denise blushed. "I couldn't do that!"

Allie looked at Stephanie. "First crush?"

Stephanie nodded. She introduced Denise to Allie and Darcy. "She's ten and a half. I had little ones then, anyway. My first big one wasn't till eleven, unless you count the one on a big singer like some girls get."

"Why is he pitching?" Michelle wondered aloud.

Darcy explained the flu problems. "They announced tryouts today. Rosters don't have to be in to the state office till tomorrow morning."

"Cool." Michelle's eyes brightened. "Steph, you used to pitch."

"That was a looong time ago."

Michelle remembered. "You have a knuckleball, right?"

Stephanie grinned. She loved how Michelle looked up to her. "She must think this would help Denise with her crush." As she spoke, she watched Zack. "I'm sure you think I could teach it to Rico. But, it's very hard to master. And, I don't know if his hands are big enough. My hands were bigger in fifth grade." She turned to Allie and Darcy. "Rico's like Michelle. He got in with a summer birthday. So, he's not even twelve, and won't be till just before seventh grade."

She looked over. While she'd been rambling, Michelle and Denise had wandered onto the field. "Maybe Michelle's taking Denise over to see Rico. Even when I didn't want her to, she's talked to boys for me. So, maybe she's doing the same thing for Denise."

"Imagine her thinking Stephanie could teach the knuckleball," Allie said, giggling.

"Yeah, that pitch floats all over the place," Darcy said. She moved her hand like an airplane going out of control. "It goes along with the tiniest wind currents when thrown right. And the catcher gets as baffled by it as the batter."

Allie turned to Stephanie. "If you taught the new pitchers that, it would bug him so much, Zack would never speak to you again." All three laughed.

They watched the players practice for a couple more minutes. Finally, Michelle and Denise came jogging back to them. "Hey, we didn't tell you the big news," Michelle exclaimed.

"Yeah, we're going to school here next week," Denise remarked.

Stephanie grinned. She didn't mind that very much. Eighth graders hardly ever hung around with sixth graders. Michelle wouldn't have any of the same classes. So, her sister wouldn't be in her hair. "Congratulations." She mussed Michelle's hair a little. "Did you get to talk to Rico?'

"I did the talking. Denise just giggled," Michelle explained.

"Well, I was nervous," Denise said, trying to defend herself.

Allie gave a nod of understanding. She bent down to Denise's level. "Sounds like you'll be more like I am with boys. That's okay. You'll get your share. Just stick with Michelle. As Stephanie can attest, she's great at talking to them."

"She's great at talking to anyone. About anything." Stephanie couldn't believe that she still held the title of family blabbermouth. To her, it was obvious that Michelle was better than she had ever been at spilling secrets.

That thought hit home a second later when she noticed Coach Miller walking up to her. "Oh, no!" "Michelle, you didn't tell him I could coach kids in throwing the knuckleball, did you," she asked, half scolding her.

"I didn't say a word about you coaching," Michelle declared adamantly.

She sounded sincere. But then, why was the coach standing in front of her?

Stephanie's mouth flung open when she heard him speak. "Miss Tanner, your little sister tells me you might be able to pitch for us in the playoffs."

As Stephanie's gaze went from Michelle to the coach and back to Michelle again, the younger Tanner sister spoke. "Sure. Steph used to have a great knuckleball. She hasn't pitched for about three years. But, I know she could get anyone out."

Stephanie could sense the admiration in Michelle's voice. It caused her to go from wanting to scream to only mildly raising her voice. "Michelle, I have enough to do with studies, the school paper, babysitting with Allie and Darcy, and everything else. That's if I even thought about playing baseball."

"We'd handle the babysitting for you," Allie promised. The girls ran a babysitting business, and shared the profits.

"Plus, you could write a players' eye view of the playoffs for the paper," Darcy suggested.

"And I know you could do it, Steph. Give it a try," Michelle insisted.

Stephanie sighed, then finally relented. She looked back at Zack for an instant. He was smiling at her. She grinned slightly. Maybe it would be fun.

And, if she totally embarrassed herself in front of a really cute boy? Well, at least this one had a sense of humor about his hitting. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. He wouldn't think any worse of her. She might, but he wouldn't.

Stephanie walked out onto the field. The others followed her. "Okay. I may as well try. Toss me a glove and a ball." Each was found for her. She stood in front of Zack, on a pitcher's mound on the sidelines. "Don't be surprised if this goes nowhere. I haven't thrown a pitch in years."

Zack smiled, then lowered his mask over his face. "Hey, it can't be any worse than my hitting. In fact, I bet Michelle could get me out."

Stephanie held the ball with her thumb and fingertips. She wound up and let it go very gently. She needed to ensure it didn't spin at all. If it went around more than once, that would be enough to foil the wind sheer that made it float like a butterfly.

The ball danced as it floated toward home plate. It suddenly veered to the left. Zack had to dive to his right to snare it.

Stephanie was disappointed. But, Zack encouraged her to give it another try. "That's good. You're not Phil Niekro. But, that might have gotten Middle School hitters to swing." Phil Niekro was a Hall of Fame pitcher. He won over 300 games using the knuckleball almost all the time.

Stephanie noticed Michelle watching her proudly. "Okay, Michelle, I'll keep trying. But don't you dare invite any Giants' scouts to watch!" She threw several more pitches. She felt quite rusty. But, she got a little better each time. A couple rotated several times, and were quite straight. However, she felt her arm loosening bit by bit as she threw the ball..

After watching her throw for about five minutes, Coach Miller told Stephanie to stop. "Save your arm. I've seen enough. And, I think you could help our team in the playoffs."

CHAPTER FOUR - MICHELLE

Michelle parked her bike and skipped merrily into her house. She thought her dad looked a trifle worried. "Steph's right behind me. She's walking with Allie and Darcy."

Danny grinned as he hugged and kissed his youngest girl. "Thanks, pumpkin. You read my mind."

"Baseball practice went a little longer than expected," Michelle explained.

"Let me guess. She met a boy." Danny chuckled. "Ah, I remember that age."

Michelle could tell her dad was about to start a very long story. "Dad, what's for supper?" she asked. "Whatever it is, Steph's gonna hope it's yellow and green."

Danny raised his eyebrows. "John Muir colors, huh? Now I'm sure it's a boy."

Michelle gave him an "I know something you don't know" look. "You'll never guess."

At that moment, Stephanie walked in the door. "Hi, Dad." She hugged and kissed him. "Guess what?"

"Guess what? Don't you mean guess who?"

"Dad, you know the who," Michelle said.

"What?" Stephanie responded.

Michelle shook her head. "Not the what, the who!"

Danny shrugged. "I don't know."

"Third base," Joey said. The comedian had walked in with a third grader, Samantha, whom the Tanners often watched. They all looked strangely at him. "What, I thought we were doing 'Who's On First?'"

"Joey," Danny announced proudly. "Michelle got second highest on her test. She gets to take classes at John Muir for a week."

"That's super!" Joey hugged Michelle.

Samantha followed; she was thrilled. She'd been befriended by Stephanie when she was in Kindergarten, as Samantha's parents never paid attention to her. Now, Stephanie was like a mother to Samantha, and Michelle a big sister.

Stephanie waited till Samantha had gone out to help set the table, and remarked, "I'm going to play baseball for them."

"That's great, too...uh, for who?" Joey wondered.

"For John Muir in the playoffs. I tried out this afternoon, thanks to Michelle," she remarked.

Michelle noticed that Stephanie didn't seem as thrilled as the others. They were congratulating her, even though they didn't quite understand how it happened. But, Stephanie was just grinning. Usually, she got really excited. "Steph, what's wrong?"

Stephanie wasn't sure. "I guess it's just so unexpected. I mean, I thought of sports as something for little girls...Hi, Aunt Becky." Becky walked in the door with Nicky and Alex. They'd been at the mall.

"It's supper time," Nicky shouted as he ran toward the kitchen.

"Time for cookies," Alex shouted, running after him.

Becky held up a hand. "Whoa, not till you eat what's on your plates - which probably are just now getting on the table," Becky finished after they disappeared. "Oh, well, I'll let Jesse and D.J. handle them. Shopping for shoes for two four-year-olds is not a one person job." She dropped a couple bags onto the floor. Becky looked hopefully at Stephanie. "They need some new bathing suits and shorts for the summer, too."

Stephanie shook her head. "Sorry, Aunt Becky. I won't have time to watch them. John Muir needs pitchers for the playoffs. And I'm on the team now."

"That's great." Becky threw her arms around Stephanie, who hugged wearily back. "Well, aren't you happy?"

Michelle wondered if she'd done the right thing. Stephanie didn't seem enthusiastic at all. But, why wouldn't she want to play? She used to love baseball.

Michelle still remembered Stephanie dreaming of the World Series. Once when she was five, Michelle woke up hearing Stephanie mumble answers to postgame interviews. Listening to the intense quiet in the pre-dawn dark was so eerie back then. But, even stranger was hearing that silence broken by her sister saying "it was a fastball."

"I don't know, Aunt Becky. I just joined because Michelle pushed me to do it." Michelle laughed. She didn't know too many kids who said their little brothers or sisters pushed them into things. "And, now I'm kind of glad I did. But, at my age I like just hanging around at the mall and stuff. Not playing sports."

"But, Darcy plays lacrosse and field hockey," Michelle noted.

"That's Darcy, though. She loves sports." Stephanie thought for a moment as the group walked into the kitchen and sat at the table. She tried to sound confident, for Samantha's sake; the neglect meant Samantha could get quite down on herself if they weren't careful, though she was doing a lot better than she had been. In fact, Samantha dreamed of being a profession ballerina. And, she had the talent, too. But, that wasn't like sports. "Maybe it'll be different when we play someone else. But, practicing baseball just wasn't as fun as it was when I was nine or ten," Stephanie said.

Joey told the others what Stephanie was doing. "My advice would be, stick it out for the playoffs. You don't have to play next year."

D.J. twirled spaghetti with her fork. "Right, and maybe you'll meet a boy there."

Danny began coughing. He took a sip of milk. "Oh, er, that's right. Uh, Steph, you won't...that is, when you put your uniform on...well, you know."

Stephanie laughed. "Don't worry, Dad. They'll let me change in the girls' locker room. Just like when the girls' and boys' basketball teams play the same night. The girls are usually getting dressed while the boys are getting ready for their game."

"Still, I'd like someone there with you," Danny said.

"They have team moms who do the laundry." Stephanie said a couple of them had been at practice. And, they'd offered to be with Stepahnie in the locker room.

Michelle grinned as she cut her pasta. She looked up and spoke. "Actually, I think there is a cute boy. She kept winking at the catcher."

"Michelle," Stephanie said as her fork clattered.

D.J. grinned. "Come on, Steph. I think we all know you well enough."

Stephanie nodded. "Okay. But, I want to help the team, too. And it looks like I'll have to prove it to you."

Michelle glanced sideways at Stephanie. Prove it? What did she mean?

"I'm still pretty rusty. I want you to grab the old catcher's mask in Joey's room. Plus a big glove." Michelle gulped at Stephanie finished with a grin. "I need to make sure I have this down pat. So, I want you to catch me in the back yard after dinner."

"Catch her? Those pitches will be coming like crazy. I hope Joey has his old pads, too."

Michelle's face felt hot as she slid on the big helmet and mask after supper. She also found a catchers' mitt. Joey had used it once when he couldn't find a goalie's mitt. Joey helped Michelle put some of his hockey gear on, though it was way too big for her.

She squatted in front of Stephanie. Her sister stood on a little hill in back of their yard. "Now, be very careful," Danny said. "I don't want any broken windows."

Michelle watched ball come toward her. It darted to the right. She stabbed at it, then fell on her bottom. How could a ball move like that?

Stephanie grumbled as Samantha ran for the ball and tossed it to Michelle. "Michelle, you have to keep your eye on the ball. Follow it into your glove," she ordered.

Michelle threw the ball back to Stephanie. "Sorry, Steph. Boy, this is tough. Don't you have any straighter pitches?"

"Sorry, Michelle, I'm all out."

Joey stood out back, watching the game of catch. "Besides, they could hit your straight ones. Nice going, Steph." A ball dropped into the grass by Michelle. She partly blocked it as it bounced. "You too, Michelle."

Stephanie threw again. Michelle watched the ball rotate several times. "Hey, good spin on that ball." She saw her sister look up and shake her head. "Well, don't you want spin?"

"Not on a knuckleball, Michelle," she said, exasperated. "Here, throw it back." She got the ball again. Stephanie wound up, and threw.

Michelle watched the ball. It veered a little to the right. She moved her glove with it. Suddenly, it scooted upward. She ticked it with her glove, but it bounced off of it. Comet, their golden retriever, had come outside. He leaped and caught it in mid-air. Everyone laughed.

"Oh, great. I don't want to throw a slobberball." After a moment, Joey retrieved the ball from Comet and wiped it on his shirt. "No, that's no good, Joey. I need a clean one." He ran in and grabbed another baseball.

Michelle had been trying to figure out how a knuckleball moved while this occurred. "Steph...baseballs can't move up like that," she finally said.

"Well, this one did. I guess you could I say I expect my baseballs to defy physics," she explained as Joey tossed her a new baseball.

Joey impersonated the Scottish engineer on Star Trek. "But I can't do it, Captain. I can't defy the laws of physics."

Stephanie laughed. "Don't worry, Joey. We won't ask you to." She turned to Michelle. "The ball moves with the wind currents. Every little thing - even Comet swishing his tail around - causes little currents. These work on the ball's stitching. But, if the ball's spinning even a little, wind can't put enough pressure on it. That's why it's so hard to throw a knuckleball."

Michelle's eyes widened. She'd been proud of her sister before this. Now, she was extra proud. Not only could she pitch, but she understood how to do something Michelle thought was impossible. "Wow, Steph, you really can defy the laws of physical!"

Stephanie laughed out loud. "Michelle, it's just aerodynamics." She looked lovingly at Michelle. "I'm glad you have such faith in me, though."

"Maybe I can ask one of the fifth graders," Michelle said as she crouched down again.

Michelle got onto the balls of her feet. She glared at the baseball. It seemed unsure of whether to go left or right. It remained level. Then, it swerved a little to the right. At the last instant, it dropped to the left. Michelle let it come smoothly into her glove.

"Wahoo. Great work, Michelle. I'll have you catching knuckleballs like a pro in no time," Stephanie shouted proudly.

A/N: A bit more background on the Flamingoes. As noted, D.J.'s more protective in the Book Universe, so likely wouldn't keep in contact with Kathy like on TV.

CHAPTER FIVE - STEPHANIE

Stephanie walked to the practice field with Allie and Darcy. It was 2:30. The rest of the team was already out there. "Well, I guess I'd better get ready."

"Yeah." Darcy looked at Stephanie's hands. "Why are a couple of your fingernails shorter than the others?"

"Well, as you know my dad used to be a sportscaster. He remembered how some knuckleball pitchers kept their fingernails trimmed just right. Otherwise, it was harder to throw the knuckler. Our cousin Steve, who's a pitcher in the pros, showed him how to have me do it once" Stephanie grinned proudly. Darcy's parents were both good athletes. They'd given her many good bits of advice on training. She was glad to get at least a little help from someone in her own family.

"Wow, you're really getting into this," Allie remarked.

Stephanie grinned. "I'm glad I'm doing it. It's starting to sound fun. That's something I love about Michelle. She has fun so easily. I wish I could be more like that. Like here - I just wanted to impress Zack at first. I stopped over at his lunch table again today. He asked how I was throwing." Stephanie bobbed slightly as she whispered. "I think - at least I hope - he's getting up the nerve to ask me out. I love being on the team so I can be with him."

"Super," Darcy proclaimed.

Allie smiled. "Here comes your sister."

Stephanie looked to her right. "How did Michelle get here?"

"Hey, Steph. Denise's uncle dropped her, Lucas, and I off. We were allowed out a little early in case we wanted to see our classrooms and meet our teachers," Michelle said.

"Well, you guys keep out of our hair. I've got to get dressed for our first playoff game at four," Stephanie said. "Samantha had dance, right?" As the only mother figure Samantha had, Stephanie wanted to keep track of her. She knew Samantha would usually be at friends' houses, but also wanted her to see the games if she could.

"Yeah. She's gonna be able to make the other ball games, though. Since she won't be here, maybe I'll hang around the pitchers. And Lucas can tell me more about aero-whatever that was," Michelle remarked.

"Aerodynamics," she heard Lucas say as she left. She imagined Michelle's mind would get filled with information about different pitches. That was excellent. At least she wouldn't interfere with her relationships, then. Sometimes Michelle tried way too hard to help Stephanie find a boyfriend.

She grabbed her bag in the locker room, and changed into her uniform. She looked down, and felt rather strange. In a way, she felt like she was becoming Darcy. Darcy was the athlete of the trio. Stephanie had been at one point. But, when she entered Middle School, her interests changed. She started to think about boys a lot more. Other things became more important than having fun.

Stephanie pulled her hair out of her green sweatshirt and white uniform top. She fixed it in front of a mirror. Wanting to be popular had almost been a disaster. She thought joining the Flamingoes would be the ultimate experience. The Flamingoes had tried to use her and Darcy to steal their dads' phone cards. They had told her it was a harmless dare. But, they planned to use them to call boyfriends. Especially Kathy Santoni's.

Kathy's younger sister - then in eighth grade - had been a Flamingo back when Stephanie was in sixth grade. Kathy had been in eleventh. And, her boyfriend had just moved to Boston. Kathy was going to use the cards to run up huge bills calling him.

Kathy had been a friend of D.J.'s who fell in with the wrong crowd. The last time D.J. had been to her place was for a baby shower. Stephanie sighed and shook her head. "I know one thing. I never want to be like her. I plan to go with someone for a long time. Then, we'll get married. Once we're happily married for a while, then I'll have children. Kathy did it all wrong." D.J. hadn't talked to Kathy since the birth.

Stephanie looked in the mirror. The team name - Raccoons - was in a green block letters - a bit darker than Kelly green, though not quite forest green - with yellow trim. She placed a green cap on her head. It had a yellow "R" on it. "I kind of look like a ballplayer. And, I even feel like Stephanie Tanner, not Darcy Powell."

She grinned. Michelle could be a bit too excited at times. But, she knew one important thing. It was necessary to have fun in life. Sure, Michelle slipped a little and tried to be popular at times. That was human nature. But, she tended to avoid the mistakes Stephanie made. Michelle usually didn't try to act like someone she wasn't. That was one of Stephanie's biggest failings. She was usually best when she was being her own, funny self, like when Michelle was in a school play earlier this week that the family had attended.

Stephanie brushed her hair. She hoped Michelle would continue to be herself - well, aside from maturing a little - when she got to Middle School. "That's another reason to be good. I want to be a good example for her."

Mrs. Lansing, the third baseman's mother, walked up to her. "You look nice, Stephanie."

"Thanks." She fluffed her long, blonde hair once more, then walked toward the girls' locker room entrance. She didn't think she would last night. But now, putting on a uniform felt like fun again. "Put me in Coach, I'm ready to play," she said, grinning excitedly.

The pitchers were all sitting around in the bullpen. A couple catchers and Michelle were there, too. The pitchers were talking with Michelle and Lucas all about curves and sliders. Only Denise had gone inside to talk with her teachers. Rico had also made the team. And, Denise was too embarrassed to talk to him.

Stephanie could understand that. She felt pretty weird being the only girl on the ball club. She wished Darcy had tried out, too.

The pitching coach looked up from a book he was reading. "Hey, I'm proud of how clean you kids are keeping your talk in front of the young ones."

Stan Simon, the starting pitcher, looked up from his lesson. He'd been showing Lucas the proper grip for a forkball. "Of course. Coach Miller'd find a way to take our allowance if one of us was cussin'."

Stephanie nodded. Her dad knew the team's manager from college. Adrian Miller had been the team's best pitcher. He was very strict about player behavior. So, Danny knew it would be safe to allow Michelle onto the field before the rest of the family got there.

Suddenly, Zack came walking up to her. "Hey, uh, Steph. Can we talk?"

"Sure." They walked out toward the mound. "He looks uncomfortable. But, he certainly wouldn't be the first boy to feel that way. This must be it. He's going to ask me out!"

"Stephanie...I was wondering; are you sure you want to play?" he asked her.

Stephanie was confused. This certainly seemed like an odd way to start a conversation. Especially if it was leading to a date. "Oh, sure. I've been so excited about this."

"Really?" They stopped out by second base. "Because Michelle was saying you weren't that thrilled last night."

"She told you..." Stephanie breathed deeply. She wished Michelle hadn't interfered again. But, it was the truth.

Oh, well, what did it matter? She could tell him that putting the uniform on made a world of difference. And, it had.

"Actually, she told the whole pitching staff. It's okay if you don't really want to play. Or, even if you joined because you like someone on the team," he guessed, offering it as an idea for why she would join.

"Stephanie rolled her eyes as she marched over to the bullpen. "Michelle," she said in a slightly exasperated voice. Her sister looked up warily. "I can't believe you told the pitching staff I wasn't that interested in playing. Now our catcher is guessing I might have joined because I liked someone on the team." "What kind of girl would they think I was, if I joined because I liked someone? And, what kind of teammate? They'll probably kick me off the team now."

Michelle looked confused. "Didn't I hear you tell Allie and Darcy you like him?"

Stephanie groaned. She'd done things to impress boys that she wouldn't have done otherwise. But, for Michelle to tell half the team that Stephanie liked a boy was too much. And, what if the story spread to the whole school? They might think that was the reason she joined the team.

She spoke lowly, so she wouldn't hear, "I forgive you for saying that. The point is that even if I do like him, that is not what guys on a team want to think. They want to think that a teammate wants to give their all to help them win. Michelle, I may have thought a lot more about boys when I was less mature. But right now, I am here to help our team go all the way to state. I don't care if there's a boy I like or not here. We'll talk about this when we get home, and maybe I'll manage not to pull out some embarrassing pictures to show the team," she said, mostly teasing. Michelle gulped - that was what she'd done to Michelle last year when she really embarrassed her in front of a boy. "But, right now, I want to repair the damage you did."

Stephanie told Michelle and Lucas to go play catch. Lucas' mom came to get him while she spoke to the players. Michelle then joined their Dad and D.J. in the stands. He'd picked D.J. up at the library after work, then come straight there.

Stephanie stood in front of the hurlers and catchers. She decided that they needed something to take their minds off of things. Something like a pep rally. "Look, guys, I know what my sister said sounded bad. But, I promise you, that it doesn't matter whether or not I like a boy. Once I put this uniform on, I realized something she thought I'd forgotten. And maybe I had for a while. The importance of having fun. And that's what I'm here for."

She began prancing. "When I was her age, I had fun playing ball. She's seen me go from a sister who loved playing sports to one who thought a lot about boys. And in her mind, boys replaced sports in my life. But, that's not true." It was only mostly true. But, she didn't want them to know that.

She began shouting again. "My friends, it's more complex than her nine-year-old mind can understand. I want to win for our school, John Muir Middle School. I want us to be state champions. And, I feel like we can be state champs. Not because of me, I'm only one small piece in a big puzzle. But because we have teamwork and the best group of hustlers in this state. My friends, when I put on this uniform..." She tugged at her shirt. "I'm just like you. I become different. I become a champion!" She pumped her fist in the air for emphasis. "Let's hear you guys now. Come on, let's get fired up!"

She was thrilled. Most of the pitchers were following. So was Zack. Pretty soon, the position players joined their mini-pep rally. They took it inside once the other team arrived for batting practice, all dressed in their uniforms.

As the cheering died down, Stephanie knew she'd gotten them really excited. After a few minutes, she even began to believe it herself. It didn't matter how few pitchers they had. They could be state champs.

A/N: Flamingoes' lying & sneakiness here is normal for books, but other signs, as will be seen later, point to them being a garden variety clique that can be kind of mean - like Gia in "Is It True About Stephanie" - but they're nowhere near the really mean girls they could be. Although, D.J. would be worried they could become that. They're mostly a problem in 6-8th for Stephanie, and not mentioned much in the few books that have her in 9th. Also, book "Hip Hop Till You Drop" referenced with talent show.

CHAPTER SIX - MICHELLE

Michelle felt dejected as she sat with her dad and D.J.. She couldn't figure out what upset Stephanie so much. Wasn't it always important to tell the truth?

She glanced over at the school building. Denise and a couple teachers were just leaving it. Maybe that would take her mind off of troubles. "Hey, Dad, can I go talk to those teachers? Denise is there."

Danny nodded. "Okay, but you two stick together. If you get separated, you come right back here," he said firmly.

"Okay." Michelle dashed off toward Denise. She was excited. Here she was, alone in a Middle School campus. What a thrill!

One of the teachers noticed her. "Say, you're Michelle Tanner, aren't you," she said.

Michelle nodded. Did she look that much like Stephanie? "Yes, Sir."

"I'm Mrs. Anderson. I remember you from that talent show. Where your sister and her friends did that dance number. And you did a dance for the intro." Michelle grinned proudly. That was way back when she was in second grade. She must have done a great job if he remembered that. "I'll be teaching you English. I was just telling Denise that we'll be reading several short stories."

Mr. Vrsan was the sixth grade history teacher. "We're covering the reuniting of Germany right now," he explained.

This really thrilled Michelle. "Mrs. Yoshida's a great teacher. But, we cover lots of early American history. We've hardly made it past the Civil War. I think we'll be in the Great Depression while Denise and I are over here. And we'll probably spend the last weeks of school in World War Two."

Denise was waiting for her uncle to come get her. She said there was a book Michelle could read. "Then you'll be all ready for her class. Can you get us back in?" she asked the teacher.

Mrs. Anderson led the students back into the building, while Mr. Vrsan left. Michelle and Denise waited outside the classroom door. Then, Denise had to use the restroom. So, Michelle waited alone.

She gazed around in awe. The halls were so big! She just had to explore a little. "I won't go far. Dad said to stay with Denise. But, I really can't. I don't have to use the restroom."

She peeked into a classroom. A couple girls with pink bows and shirts were talking. "Flamingoes!" Michelle jerked her head back. Then, she sidled up close to the door. She wanted to hear what they were saying.

"Okay," she heard, "I think we got our science project done. Now, what about that baby project?"

"Sorry, Renee. It's..."

"Silence!" Renee snapped. "Kathy Santoni said it's an emergency." Michelle gulped. What could be the problem? "Doesn't that name mean anything to you?"

"Look, I know she's in the hospital after an emergency appendectomy. But, the girl she hired to take him is slacking off, and Kathy's younger sister can't because..."

"Listen," Renee hissed. "You are going to find me a babysitter. And if you mention that goody-goody Stephanie again, you're out of the Flamingoes! We don't want any do-gooder Tanner helping us."

Michelle was torn. She wanted to help. But, this Renee sounded awfully mean.

But, what if this child were really in trouble? What if the alternative was Renee watching him? She had to do something.

Michelle stepped gingerly into the classroom. "Uh, hi."

"Who are you?" Renee demanded.

"Oh, one of the kids from Bay Street Elementary." She thought they could recognize her, if that teacher did. So, she became someone different. "I scored tops in my school on the tests. So, I get to come here next week."

"Well, la dee dah," Renee said, sneering.

"Say...uh...I couldn't help but overhear. Something about needing a babysitter for someone?"

Renee and the other girl stared at each other. Rene grimaced. "Thanks to you, we're about out of options." She then turned toward Michelle. "Listen, we're part of an...academic club here at John Muir."

The other girl nodded. "One of our founders, Kathy Santoni, needs someone to watch her little boy while she's in the hospital."

Michelle nodded eagerly. Her family could take really good care of him. "We can do it. We've got lots of people there because..." She tried to think fast. Renee's look was saying she might be suspicious. "Because...it's a home daycare. You might have seen my mom being interviewed on TV or something." If they glance at Allie's mom they won't connect her with Allie - and thus with Stephanie, Michelle thought. They'll think maybe they recognize her because they saw her on TV.

"A home daycare; that would be perfect. Can you get your parents to take him home with you?" Renee wondered.

"Sure. Listen, I better get back before they miss me." Michelle suddenly realized she'd better hook back up with Denise. "We're at the baseball game."

"Fine. I've gotta make a phone call. Meet us in the parking lot at 4:30," Renee commanded.

Michelle gulped as she left. What if something happened to the mother? Could the baby be left all alone?

"Hey, Denise." She caught up with her friend and the teacher. "I just, uh, had to look around. My dad likes me to make sure I know where all the fire escapes are." It sounded like a corny excuse. But, it was true. Her dad was incredibly safety-conscious. That just wasn't her reason for wandering now.

Denise understood. "How come you look a little nervous?"

"Oh..." What should she say? Or, should she do anything? She could just skip the meeting. No, if someone was in trouble, she should help. "Oh, I just thought I might be lost for a second. I didn't want to go out the wrong door, we might not be able to get back in."

The teacher was puzzled. "You could have just gone around the building." She said nothing more, though.

Michelle talked with her family a while after getting back. She learned that Aunt Becky had a dinner at the station. She was representing their show, "Wake Up San Francisco," since her dad couldn't be there.

Stephanie had been asked to watch Nicky and Alex. But, now she couldn't. Allie's mom was going to take Allie to the Tanner house at 4:30 to babysit. Uncle Jesse and Joey would be doing their radio show till six o'clock.

Michelle grinned. This worked out perfectly. She could get Kathy Santoni's baby to her house - if she could just find an excuse for going home.

"You know what, Dad," she began as she turned to Danny. "I promised Cassie and Mandy I'd spend some time with them after school. I won't see them as much next week. I'll have a little more homework."

Danny grinned. "I'm proud of you for being so thoughtful. You sure you don't want to stay here, though? Your sister might get to pitch."

Michelle wished she could do that. But, she knew this might not be the last game. "Well...really, Dad. I think she's got the team pretty excited with that pep talk."

D.J. agreed. "They looked ready to score lots of runs."

"You can only do so much on adrenaline. But, with one game, you might be right," Danny said. He turned to Allie. "Would it be a problem if Michelle went with you?"

"Oh, no problem at all, Mr. Tanner. She's a great kid."

Danny smiled. "Okay," he said, patting Michelle on the back. "You'll see a couple innings. And, it's not that likely she'll pitch right away. Go spend time with your friends."

Michelle was ecstatic. Now, how could she get away from Allie for a moment? She remembered that the Flamingoes didn't like Stephanie or her friends. So, if she was going to help, she needed to get the baby into the family car without them seeing Allie. It was certainly better than letting him stay with those mean kids as sitters.

She watched as the Raccoons jumped out to a 4-0 lead. They were really pumped up after that rally! It was almost 4:30, and only one inning had been played.

Michelle looked at Allie as she talked with Darcy about homework. "I'm reading 'The Diary of Anne Frank,'" she heard Allie say.

"Boy, are you gonna be in trouble if she finds out." Allie and Darcy looked at her strangely. "Steph says you never go reading someone else's diary..." She trailed off, shaking her head.

Allie laughed hard. "Michelle, that's the name of a book. It's the story of a young girl hiding from the Nazis during World War Two," she explained.

"Ohhhhh. Did she let people read her diary after she got free?"

The girls looked blankly at each other. Danny was the first to speak. "Actually, they found her diary when they captured her."

"I read a happier book about those times you might like," Darcy told her. "It's more on your grade level, too," she said. "It's called 'Number the Stars.' It's about a girl who helps her best friend. I have it if you'd like to borrow it sometime."

"Cool, thanks." She saw Mrs. Taylor walking up to the stands. "Anyway, I better go to the bathroom." She got up and started toward the building.

"Wait, let someone go with you," Danny called out. He started to go after her.

"I'll go," said Mrs. Taylor. "It's probably locked anyway, but I'll watch for her if it isn't."

Michelle saw Renee as she slipped out of Allie and Mrs. Taylor's view. There was also a very pregnant girl - but, who could that be? Could that be...? No, Kathy was in the hospital. Michelle could only see she was carrying a toddler of around two and a half.

"How come she looks familiar?" the new girl asked.

"I don't know. What's your name?" Renee inquired hastily to Michelle.

Michelle tried to think fast. The first name that wasn't a family or friend's name was a female comedian Joey and she had watched recently with Samantha. "Uh...Gracie Allen." Michelle quickly realized they could know that name. "I was named after the one you're thinking of."

"Right now the only one I'm thinking of is you," Kathy's sister told her. "What's your address?"

Michelle knew that would be a dead giveaway, but thankfully, with several people there, they had a few different numbers. "I'll give you our phone number." She gave Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky's in the third floor attic apartment. "Kathy can call later tonight and check on him." She told them what Mrs. Taylor car looked like, and where it was. "Don't you think that's safer, since you said to keep it secret?"

They hadn't said it had to be a secret, but Michelle wondered if that might be a good thing to say. She could always say she misunderstood if they corrected her.

Kathy's sister turned to Renee. "I gotta give you credit. The girl's good." She explained that, "It's not that keeping Scott here is secret. I just don't want anyone to know I'm not taking care of her since the sitter she hired isn't. My sister Kathy would be really upset if I told her, though. Us Flamingoes stick together, though, and we support each other."

"So you're..." Michelle's mouth dropped as she realized that this girl was pregnant, and in her middle teens. Let's see, she was in eighth when Steph was in sixth, so she's just in tenth, Michelle calculated. She knew it was possible, of course, she'd had that talk with Danny. But, still, to see Kathy's sister was pregnant shocked her.

She quickly closed her mouth, though. If she acted too shocked, Kathy might not let her watch him.

"Maybe she wouldn't be. You can always try."

"Don't try to hide it, kid. I was the same way once." She sighed; Michelle wondered if she was talking about learning Kathy was pregnant. "If you're shocked, you know how she'll be. But, she can't know this," Kathy's sister insisted. "Understand?"

Michelle nodded. She didn't understand it. But, it sounded like what they were doing was kind of sneaky. Then again, why should she be surprised? Stephanie had told her many stories about the Flamingoes.

Still, Michelle felt it was best for everyone if she pretended to go along. "Sure. No problem. I hope your sister's gonna be okay."

Kathy's sister left Renee and started walking toward Allie's mom. Allie was already at the car, thankfully, so she wouldn't be seen; and, Allie's mother was less likely to be recognized. "Hi, I understand you'll be watching my nephew?"

"Yeah, this is Scott." Michelle glanced Allie's way - she could tell Allie was confused as she watched, but also that Allie couldn't hear anything. "We'll be babysitting him, too. Well, that is, I'll be helping." She knew Mrs. Taylor had heard about how she'd helped Stephanie a few times when babysitting, so she figured that would sound right.

"My sister's appendix almost ruptured." Kathy's sister held genuine concern for her. "I was only supposed to come up here from L.A. and help, but Kathy told me if there were problems to take care of Scott myself." Kathy's sister had dropped out of school and was taking night courses. "As you can tell, I've got some problems of my own, that Kathy can't know about. She should be able to take care of Scott again soon."

After Allie's mom got information on Scott, and told Kathy's sister that she'd be okay herself, they walked to the car. All Michelle could determine was, this Scott was in trouble. She knew a ruptured appendix could be life-threatening, because when her Uncle Jesse's appendix was only inflamed, he had to have it out right away before it got any worse. She gulped. If Kathy didn't recover, Michelle didn't know who, if anyone, could take care of him. All she knew was, she couldn't let it be the Flamingoes.

CHAPTER SEVEN - MICHELLE

Michelle and Mrs. Taylor met Allie at the car. Michelle had had a plan - pretend to drop her house key, and then while they looked for it, she would rush over to the other car to get Scott. Now, things were easier. She wouldn't have to keep Scott down and pretend to be acting silly or anything.

However, she did have one real concern. Allie was one of Stephanie's friends. And, she was sure to have quite a few questions about why Michelle was even talking to the Flamingoes. She was already gawking out the window. She must recognize Kathys' sister, Michelle realized. Thankfully, the girl was talking to Allie's mom. Allie kept quiet as Michelle held a finger to her mouth, though part was likely out of shock, too.

Allie and Michelle helped Scott into his car seat that the Flamingoes had brought. The ride home was uneventful, but Allie's face held lots of questions. In a way, Michelle realized, it was probably good this wasn't Stephanie or Darcy. As the quiet one of the three, Allie would be more likely to wait till a more convenient time to ask questions, and also be nervous about incurring the wrath of the other girls if she let herself be known.

Once they got home, Michelle walked Scott to the door and opened it with her key. Allie talked to her mom in the driveway. "Oh, no!" Nicky and Alex came rushing in from the kitchen.

"Michelle, who's your friend," Nicky hollered.

Michelle held a finger to her lips, thinking it would keep the twins from asking questions. "Shhh, I'm hiding him."

Alex covered his eyes and began to count. "One, two, three..."

Nicky ran to the coffee table. He started to crawl under it, then looked out as Allie came in the door. "Why aren't you hiding, Michelle?"

Allie was quite puzzled. "Hiding?"

Alex opened his eyes. "Maybe she's the one counting."

"Then how can she hide him?" Nicky wanted to know.

"What is going on?" Allie shook her head. "I thought I'd have five seconds of peace in here before things went haywire, and they started going crazy before we even got in the car." Michelle knew that meant Allie recognized Kathy's sister as the one who had started the Flamingoes.

"Potty," Scott said.

Michelle spoke as nicely as she could, considering the confusion. "Uh...Nicky, Alex. This is your friend Scott, you know. Take him downstairs to the bathroom."

Allie was baffled as they met Becky in the kitchen. "Who's that?"

"Scott; it's another boy we're babysitting," Allie said. To Becky's confused look, she said, "Ask Michelle," and walked toward the door to Joey's basement apartment.

"You leaving, Aunt Becky?" Michelle asked quickly.

Aunt Becky hugged Michelle. "Yep. Emergency numbers on the fridge, Allie, along with where I'll be. The boys like to eat a little snack around five, we eat dinner at 6:30. If they're really hungry you can give them supper. Michelle will show you where the macaroni is. Jesse and Joey get back around 6:15. Danny and the others should be here around then. I presume you have the information for...Scott, was it?"

"Y'eah, they're down in Joey's room," Michelle explained. "Uh...going to the bathroom. You said goodbye, I'm sure you've got to get going."

Becky smiled sadly. She couldn't wait. "Yeah. I gotta run. Just make sure they're not flushing anything they shouldn't. So long." She left quickly.

Michelle began to breathe a sigh of relief. Allie quickly took her hand, though. They walked downstairs to make sure the boys were okay. "Okay, now that we have some time, Michelle, who is Scott?" Allie asked as she sat.

Michelle frowned. She needed to tell the truth, even though it would be easier to make something up. What harm could those girls do? They already hated Stephanie. And, nothing bad had happened to her. She really didn't want them watching Scott, though. "Uh...well, I sort of promised we'd babysit." Michelle explained what she'd overheard. "Promise you won't tell Stephanie, please?" She hoped she could count on one of Stephanie's friends as well as she could her sister.

Allie laid a compassionate hand on Michelle's shoulder. "Sit down." Michelle sat. "I thought I recognized the girl ou were talking to. But, it can't be her baby, can it?"

"Some girl named Kathy Santoni. She had to go to the hospital because her appendix almost ruptured. And, her sister says she can't watch him," Michelle muttered lowly. Allie gave a nod of understanding. "You see why I said 'yes?' I was worried it was either me, or one of those other Flamingoes would take care of him. And Steph says they can be nasty. I couldn't even tell them I was her sister, or let them see you, or they wouldn't have let us take care of him."

Allie smiled, seemingly thinking of what to say as she looked around. Joey loved cartoons. He had lots of puppets and toys that he used as a comedian. So, there was plenty to entertain the tots. So, she didn't have to worry about that. While the tots played on the floor, she took Michelle's hands in hers, and asked her to sit. Michelle liked Allie's calm demeanor. Stephanie could get way too excited at certain times.

Normally, she loved Stephanie's attitude. It matched her incredibly outgoing personality. But, there were times when she needed to hear someone calm and reasonable. And, while Stephanie was often that way, sometimes she went overboard. Michelle could see why Stephanie and Allie were best friends. She imagined Stephanie needed the same thing at times.

"That makes sense. That girl I said I thought I recognized; that was Kathy's sister, just like I thought." She nit her lip. "Michelle, the Flamingoes are lazy. They like to let others do all the work. Then, they get all the credit. Or, they just use people in a mean way," Allie said. "That's what they're doing to you." She sighed. "You know about teen pregnancies, right?"

Michelle nodded slowly. "I know she's got it rough. But, she seems like she cares, too. She said she found some problems with the sitter. So, she needed help. She just couldn't do it herself with a baby due."

"Well, maybe she did find something wrong with the one Kathy found; I know it would have been very short notice, so Kathy may not have been able to find someone really good. But, I think her sister's trying to slack off, too. My guess is, she won't even say 'thank you.' She'll just come by, say 'I want the kid,' and that'll be it," she told her. "And, she'll take the credit with Kathy for having watched him. That's how sneaky they can be. Renee, the Flamingoes' leader now, is the same way."

"Kathy should know when she looks at her belly," Michelle said bluntly. "Oh, she said not to tell anyone she was pregnant."

Allie understood. A sudden look of worry hit Allie's face. "I don't know if they promised you membership. Did they? They didn't tell you to do anything mean like they told Stephanie, right?"

Michelle shook her head. "No. I just overheard and offered to take him."

"You make sure Stephanie knows that. Because that's the first thing she'll be worried about," Allie informed her.

Michelle sighed. She supposed she would have to tell Stephanie eventually. "You're right. She worries a lot. And, she gets cranky sometimes. Even if I try to help her."

The sitter picked Scott up and cuddled him. "She's growing. She'll get better, just like you. And me. Guess what I did my first day of Kindergarten," she said with a laugh.

"You met Stephanie," Alex suggested.

Allie comforted Scott for a moment. "Before that," she said, turning to Alex for a second. "My first day, I was really shy. I refused to go. I stalled for a really long time. My mom says I was a dead weight while she dressed me. Then, I insisted I had to have another bath. Even though I had one the night before. When that didn't work, I kept dropping everything. I slipped my shoes off on purpose and kicked them under the car before we left." Michelle laughed.

"Finally, I couldn't delay any longer. My mom dragged me into class. We were already too late for the story circle. So, the teacher just sat me next to Stephanie. Which was okay, because Stephanie had been scared for a few minutes. But, by the time I got there, she was talking up a storm. I could stick with her and never have to speak. And, I stuck to Stephanie like glue the first week. But I got over my shyness."

Michelle grinned. She could see why Allie understood Denise so well.

"I still wish I could be bolder around boys. But, Stephanie wishes she could change things about herself. She's twice as hard on herself when she gets upset at someone. That's why she'd like to be a little more like you, in a way."

Michelle was stunned. She was the one who looked up to Stephanie. How could Stephanie want to be like her? "She would?"

Allie nodded. "She's said before how she'd forgotten how to have fun. That's why I was glad to see her join the baseball team. She's really trying to get back to where she was. And not worry about popularity."

Michelle felt a lump in her throat. She'd guessed that Stephanie just wanted to see a boy. But, she really wanted to play to have fun.

She laid her head on Allie's arm. At least Stephanie forgave her. "I'm sorry, Allie. I didn't know she felt like that."

"You can tell her you're sorry tonight," Allie said, consoling her.

Michelle nodded slowly. Allie was right. She needed to tell Stephanie that evening. She would even encourage her to try out for the team next year. From now on, she would be her sister's biggest baseball booster.

She just wished she could figure out a way to help Scott. She hadn't thought before how scared the toddler would be. And, Allie was right. She hadn't thought about it before. But, this was an emergency. Kathy's life was in danger, and she really needed someone to help Scott.

A/N: See RKORadio's "Just Like family" for the Book Universe version of Michelle's accident, which is *much* milder, as gleaned from what would have happened given a few book clues. Also, as noted, D.J. wasn't as close to Kathy int he books, out of protectiveness. that'll be more improtant in the next chapter.

CHAPTER EIGHT - STEPHANIE

It was the fourth inning. And, the Raccoons were already up 9-1.

The starter would need much more rest than usual. He'd be relied upon to pitch a lot. They might even need him to get a couple batters out the next day. They would certainly think of using him in next Tuesday's game. That was in addition to the state tournament games Saturday and Sunday, if they went that far.

Coach Miller decided to take him out after four innings with such a huge lead. The bullpen coach signaled to Stephanie. "Tanner. Let's see what you've got. You're going in in the fifth."

Stephanie bounced nervously as she pranced up to the practice mouth - without the ball. She walked back to get it, then wound up.

"I know you'll probably never throw anything but a knuckler," the coach said. "But, you could still use a glove."

Stephanie blushed again. "Okay, ball, glove, hat. Do I have my shoes on?" She looked down and nodded. "Yep, shoes are on. Let's go." She took her first practice pitch. It rose, and the catcher leaped to catch it.

As she took more warmup pitches, she gazed at the field. Who was she trying to fool? She was the only girl on either side. The only one in the state, perhaps, who played baseball at the level. She was more suited to playing softball.

Also, she was pitching in a mop-up role. She determined she wouldn't have been called to pitch unless her team was up by eight runs.

She was right in what she told Michelle. It wasn't about boys. But, what she'd told the team wasn't the truth, either. She just wasn't a baseball player anymore. It had been fun for a moment. Putting on that uniform did feel great. The idea of competition excited her a little.. But, once she got back onto the field, she realized how different she was. Being the only girl on the team was far stranger in Middle School ball than in Little League.

Oh, well, she would pitch in one game. She would get them to Saturday. Maybe some of their hurlers would even return by next weekend. The flu really sapped one's strength. But, someone should be back, right?

She grinned sadly as she walked in from the bullpen. "This is it. My last appearance. I'm grateful. I got up to Middle School baseball. I had enough natural talent to come this far, anyway. I'll leave it to another girl to become the majors' first female ballplayer." She chuckled as she fondly remembered those dreams.

She walked her first batter. Playing in a game felt strange. It came naturally when she was younger. But, after not playing in three years, she found herself having to think much more.

After that, she controlled her pitches better - as well as one could control a knuckleball, anyway. She threw a couple fastballs and curves, just to keep everyone from guessing "knuckleball." She allowed two runs, but got the last two batters out with runners on base. "That wasn't too bad. I'd forgotten how much there was to think about when pitching."

She reminded herself to try to get to first base faster. That had been her biggest problem.

She needed good fielding, too. She walked one hitter in the sixth. With two outs, the next batter hit a slow, rolling ball to first base. The first baseman came running in to grab it, but he couldn't tag the runner.

Stephanie raced over to first base. She planted her foot on the base just as the ball arrived.

And, just as the runner plowed into her.

She slammed hard into the ground, landing on her left shoulder and hitting her head a little. She felt a little woozy and sore. Her dad and D.J. came with the trainers and leaned over her, extremely worried. "Steph..." Danny said anxiously.

She winced. Her shoulder felt a little better. "Don't move," she heard D.J. say.

"Dad, I'm okay," she muttered as she turned on her back.

"Don't move," she heard again. "Do your hands or feet feel tingly?"

She told the doctor she was fine. "Just dazed, that's all." Danny looked incredibly relieved.

She turned to face her dad while the trainer examined her. "I think I got hurt worse sliding into home one day when I was nine."

That comment reassured her dad even more. "I'm glad you remember that." He asked her name, the team's name, and her opponent. She answered all correctly. She figured Michelle's fall last year, where she was woozy for a few minutes, was making their dad a little anxious here. Michelle had recovered very quickly, though she didn't remember the actual fall now, but had had a very mild concussion.

The trainer checked her vision. He held up two fingers, then three, then two again.

"That's the single for a slider," she joked. Her shoulder felt okay after that initial shock. Her head hurt just a little from hitting the ground.

"Steph, we're going to get you to the hospital." Danny forced her to stay down. "Don't move unless you're perfectly sure you're okay. There's no numbness, no funny feeling?"

Stephanie was tempted to crack a joke about all fifteen fingers feeling fine. She knew it was important to be serious at a time like this, though. "I'm okay, Dad. I was never out."

D.J. smiled. "I know. We'll help you walk. In case you feel dizzy."

Stephanie hated having them do this. But, she'd grown used to her dad's protectiveness. And, it was a rather jarring collision. "How's the batter?" she wondered as the crowd cheered.

"Fine. A little sore," D.J. said.

Stephanie was soon thankful for their help. Her speech was normal. But, she felt a little dizzy. They helped her to the car, as did another young girl who Stephanie watched and who was there today with the Tanners.

"I'm glad Michelle didn't see that. She'd have been scared," Stephanie remarked. That reminded her of one good thing about that day's fight. If something had happened, she would have forgiven Michelle. Michelle knew she loved her.

Danny hung up his cell phone as he started the car. "I told Allie. She's watching Michelle and the twins. Samantha just got there, too."

Stephanie grinned. Allie could handle things until Uncle Jesse and Joey got home. She would be there to comfort Michelle. And, even better, Stephanie wouldn't have to pitch Saturday. Her dad would make sure she rested for at least one day. Then, Monday she could go into the office and tell Coach Miller to replace her for their next game. She wouldn't need to play anymore.

"It's like that line from 'The Natural,'" she said wearily to no one in particular. "Except for me, it's 'A girl doesn't think about starting a career at my age. She thinks about cheerleading.'"

"That was quite a hit," D.J. said from the front seat. "It looked like a football game."

"Yeah. Just when I got used to things again." When facing the last batter, playing finally felt natural to her again. Just like when she was in grade school.

Stephanie relaxed while a CAT scan was taken. She could already feel a goose egg on her head. Luckily, everything was okay. The doctor told the family to have Stephanie take Saturday easy. If she was a football player, in fact, they probably would have let her play Saturday. She could go back to school Monday, and play Tuesday. They merely had to watch for warning signs.

Stephanie felt much better by the time they arrived home. She grinned as Michelle ran to see her. They embraced warmly. "Oh, Steph, I'm so glad you're okay!" she shrieked.

"Same here. Although one more scream like that, and I might get a headache anyway." She, Danny, and D.J. walked into the living room, while Samantha started playing with the younger boys. Joey and Jesse greeted Stephanie warmly, too.

"Steph, I bet you're hungry," Michelle remarked as they walked into the kitchen. "You'll never guess my surprise."

"Right on both counts. Do we have any chocolate butter almond ice cream," she wondered.

"Now I can tell you're back," D.J. said. "You ate a pretty big supper before we came home."

As Stephanie pulled out the ice cream, Michelle spoke. "I got Kathy Santoni's little boy."

Stephanie dropped the ice cream on her foot. "Ow!" She hopped several times. "Well, if I had a headache, I sure would have forgotten about it."

"Er, uh...what did you get him," Danny wondered.

Stephanie continued her thought a moment later by asking pointedly, "Michelle, you know I've told you all about the Flamingoes? Why were you even talking to her?"

A/N: Kimmy is almost never used in books, mostly due to them not wanting to have her too dumb or try to explain it. She's in a few, though, and the way she's used here fits well, especially given the episode where she's made gosspip columnist; still weird, but put up with a lot more. Again, if DJ. seems a little harsh on Kathy here, chalk it up to protectiveness after what she knows Kathys' sister might be doing, and concern Kathy's sister's group could turn into real "mean girls," though they don't by the end of Club Stephanie books; majority consensus is they make up and become friends.

As to why Kathy wasn't married like on TV ("The Apartment"), there are a number of possibilities. Since Kathy's boyfriend, not ex, is referred to in that book, though, he didn't marry her, then leave.

CHAPTER NINE - MICHELLE

Michelle looked at Stephanie; she could tell D.J. looked upset, too, though she was hiding it well; Stephanie was just more excitable. "One of the Flamingoes was looking for someone to keep Scott - that's Kathy's boy - because she's in the hospital. Her appendix almost blew up."

D.J. leaned back in her chair, her demeanor suddenly changing. "I see." She sighed. "I hope she's okay."

Michelle knew D.J. and Kathy used to be friends, until the Flamingo thing happened. "I don't know; that's what I'm worried about." She quickly turned to Stephanie. She recalled what Allie had said. "Don't worry, Steph. They didn't promise me I could be a member. I volunteered to help. Allie said you'd have a cow anyway; though it looks more like an elephant," she quipped."

"You...volunteered?" Stephanie was beside herself. She looked dazed as she dished her ice cream.

"I promise, Steph, I'll never do anything they tell me to do." She hoped that satisfied her sister. She'd known Stephanie would be quite upset.

"Okay, but I'll be checking." She absently scooped ice cream as she spoke. "I can't believe my little sister is mixed up with those Flamingoes," she moaned. "It's going to be a long night." She had six huge scoops of ice cream in her bowl.

Joey came into the kitchen. D.J. looked at him. "Joey, have you seen Scott Santoni?"

"Scottsantoni? Sounds like a pasta dish. Maybe. What's it got in it?"

Michelle rolled her eyes. Everyone was making a big deal out of everything but the most important part. Scott missed his mother. "Joey, that's Scott's full name. The one in Nicky's old crib upstairs."

"Oh, okay. I only knew he was Scott." He told D.J. what Michelle had told him. "Her sister said there were problems with the sitter Kathy found, but her sister didn't want to bother with taking care of him. He looked fine to me."

As D.J. started talking, Kimmy Gibbler entered through the back door. Kimmy was D.J.'s best friend, and had been for many years. "Hey, everyone."

"Kimmy, you're just in time," D.J. said excitedly, pulling up a chair for her. Kimmy was still friends with Kathy.

"Why, are your cousins going to throw candy and catch it in their mouths again?" Kimmy had thought that was quite entertaining when they did that last week.

"No, we were talking about Kathy Santoni. Did you know Kathy was in the hospital?" D.J. asked.

"No, but I won't let you down. You made me gossip columnist back in eighth grade for a reason. I'll find out everything about it."

"We know that; that's not what we're worried about." D.J. explained the situation with Scott. "So, if you've heard anything through the grape vine, we need to know." D.J. didn't like to gossip or talk behind peoples' backs. However, she knew Kimmy heard stories about some of their old schoolmates. Kimmy was planning on a career as a beautician, and heard things at the salon where she worked.

"I never thought of hiding in a grape vine. Why didn't you say that in eighth grade?"

Michelle laughed. Kimmy had a strange sense of humor sometimes. Even weirder, sometimes she was being serious when she said such things.

"Anyway," Kimmy began, "Kathy didn't say, but she might be having trouble finding good sitters. I haven't talked to her for a month. She was probably so busy she didn't have time to think about her own health." D.J. said she'd send Kathy a get-well card once she found an address. Michelle felt like she had Stephanie's ice cream headache. And yet, she hadn't eaten any ice cream yet. "But, I did hear something about her sister."

"That sister of hers is the one who started the Flamingoes, not Kathy. Maybe I shouldn't have been so harsh on Kathy when she had her baby," D.J. spoke regretfully. "She needed friends to help her. I was being protective, because of what those Flamingoes did in trying to steal our dad's phone card. Maybe Kathy didn't know what her sister was doing."

"Well, Deej, I think it was sort of 'don't ask, don't tell," Kimmy said, referring to how Kathy's sister went about finding a way to get Kathy and her friends the money to call their boyfriends long distance. "Anyway, Kathy's boyfriend is in L.A.. But, if she's been in the hospital, then Kathy doesn't know it since he just moved there."

"What if the boyfriend takes care of Scott?" Joey asked.

"He moved by himself in the beginning, because he didn't want the responsibility of being a father. Kathy found him and started getting child support from him. But, Kathy doesn't want the ex-boyfriend to see him," Kimmy said. "I heard that from a friend of the sister's. And now, are you ready for the bombshell?" Kimmy looked at Michelle for a moment. "I know your sisters have told you about Kathy. Kathy hasn't seen her sister since Christmas, though they'd talked on the phone. Her sister was down in L.A. with their aunt - she and her mom had a big fight because she dropped out of school. That was about five months ago, and she was barely able to hide the fact she was pregnant herself." D.J. gasped.

Stephanie said, "No wonder she didn't want to watch Scott; she wouldn't have time by herself, with a newborn."

"Right," D.J. said, speaking like a detective just solving a mystery. "Her sister came up here to help Kathy, and figured she could do a little babysitting. But, when she realized the friend Kathy found wasn't taking good care of Scott, Kathy's sister knew she'd be expected to watch Scott herself."

"But she couldn't," Stephanie said, "so she had the current Flamingoes help her out. Michelle happened by, luckily Allie's mom wasn't recognized, and now Scott's here."

Kimmy noticed Michelle didn't look shocked. "Michelle seems like she knew I was going to say that. Do you have ESPN, Michelle?' Kimmy asked her.

"It's ESP," Michelle reminded her. "And, no, I saw her sister today. She looked very pregnant.'

"She is; from what I'd heard, she could have given birth already. I guess it's close, though. One more thing," Kimmy added. "I heard someone say she just can't see herself handling a child, knowing what Kathy's been through. She's debating placing the child for adoption. She knows what Kathy went through, and part of her wants to go back to school and give the baby a better home."

Michelle began to weep. She couldn't stand all this talk about Kathy and her boyfriend. To her, there was only one important person. "But, what about Scott?"

Danny and D.J. hugged her. Danny spoke warmly. "I know, honey. I know you want what's best for Scott." Michelle sniffled. She was glad he knew that. "It's a rough situation right now," Danny said. "This goes beyond any rift in friendship that might have come because of the Flamingoes." He sighed. "Okay, Kimmy...I guess we'll have to trust your findings on this one. Do you think there's any harm in us keeping Scott?" She didn't. "Then, we should keep him. But, I know this is going to be tough," he said to Stephanie and D.J.. "I know the Flamingoes don't like you and vice versa. But, I want you to try to get through to Kathy Santoni, and tell her what's going on, anyway. I know she sort of pulled away from you, too, Deej. But, maybe this is something that can bring you two back together. Maybe that's something Kathy needs."

Jesse came downstairs. "Hey, that boy's askin' for his Momma. It's taking Becky and I three times as long to get Nicky and Alex to bed, even with Samantha's help." He thought a second. "And, how'd his mom get our number while she's in the hospital, when we haven't even met her?"

"Well, I sort of gave it because her sister wanted Kathy to be able to call. I hope you're not upset," Michelle said, hoping Kathy didn't suspect who they were.

"Ah, it's no problem. She said she'd tried before but nobody answered, since we were all downstairs. She just asked how Scott was, told us she was still in some pain from her appendectomy, talked to him a minute, and that was it." Jesse thought for a minute. "Hey, Deej, wasn't Kathy Santoni the friend you had who we talked about adopting her baby if we had to back in high school?"

"Yep. Do you want the whole story?" D.J. asked.

"I'll go help put Scott to bed." Michelle felt like she had to do everything herself. It didn't sound like these Flamingoes were going to be any help. If only Scott - or, at least, his cousin, she figured Scott probably had one - could get a good home. It was such a shame that Denise's mom couldn't have any more while...

She stopped halfway up to the third floor. She snapped her fingers. "That's it!"

She ran back down to her and Stephanie's room and called Denise's house. Mr. Chow answered. Denise was at her uncle's for the weekend. It was the one who owned the stables where Michelle rode.

"Oh. Say, I'm sorry to hear about your wife. How is she?" Michelle asked. She tried to figure out a way to ask if they wanted to adopt Scott's cousin.

Mr. Chow spoke sadly. "Thanks. She's all right. You caught me just as I was going out the door. I came home to get some clothes." He would stay with his wife until she got home early next week.

Michelle grinned. She and Denise would have a real surprise for them. "We'll pray for you." She said a small prayer right after she hung up. Then, she wouldn't forget. The family didn't attend church consistently. So, she didn't often think about that. She knew she might easily forget to pray. Now, if she did forget, at least she'd kept her promise.

Michelle called Denise next. She was just about to get a snack. "Hey, Michelle. Coming out to ride tomorrow?"

"Maybe, if Cassie and Mandy want to." She explained the reason for her call. "How would you like to surprise your parents when they get home?"

"They could use some cheering up. What did you have in mind," Denise wondered.

"I know where there's a baby you might be able to adopt."

"A...what?" Denise was stunned. "Michelle, I'm not allowed to call long distance unless I have my parents' permission. I certainly can't adopt a baby without their permission!"

"At least come and see the baby's cousin," Michelle suggested, figuring Scott had a good home, but that his cousin would be similar and need a good home if he was adopted out. And, she was still a bit worried about Kathy's condition.

Denise wasn't sure. "Well...okay. I guess there's no harm. I can't this weekend. But, maybe Monday after school."

"That would be fine," Michelle said. Jesse and Becky would try to do things with Scott, anyway. He was closer to Nicky and Alex's age. And, it would be easier for Michelle to tell Denise about him first, anyway.

Monday afternoon, a van took the top fourth and fifth grade students to John Muir Middle School. Michelle recalled how excited she'd been at that talent show. It seemed a lot bigger to her in second grade. But, entering the school still seemed awesome.

Denise had been telling Michelle about her mother. They'd also heard about what to do at John Muir. Denise finally asked about Scott before English class. "So, who are these babies?"

Michelle whispered. "Someone named Kathy Santoni and her sister are the moms..." She paused. "Denise, are you all right," she asked. Denise began shaking and giggling.

She soon noticed what Denise was looking at - Rico Ramirez sat right behind her!

"Talk to him, Denise. Ask him for a pencil."

Denise turned around and blushed as the bell rang. "Uh...p-p-p...uh..."

Mrs. Anderson, the English teacher, stood in front of Denise. "Is there something you'd like to share with the class?"

"Pencil!" Michelle held her head in her hands. "Michelle told me to ask that cute boy... I mean..." Denise's and Rico's faces turned several shades of red. Michelle rolled her eyes.

Mrs. Anderson calmly suggested a change in seats. "Perhaps we should let you girls sit by the window. Jacob, William, would you mind exchanging seats with our guests for this week, please?" They did.

Michelle tried hard to forget Denise's flub during class. However, she couldn't shake it. And, Denise seemed even worse. "Michelle," she asked as they left the classroom, "I can't do it."

"Look, talking to boys is easy. Pretend it's one of our friends, like Jeff or Lucas."

"I mean I can't go to the next class." She gazed around. "What if Rico's in there, too? What if any boys are in there? What if any people are in there? Did you hear them laughing? You've got to help me, Michelle, I'm begging you." She grabbed Michelle's collar.

"Okay." Michelle smiled. She'd do anything for a friend. "I know who we can go see. Stephanie told me once what her classes were." She led Denise down the hall.

They passed the coach's office. Coach Miller was just entering. "Hi, Coach Miller. I hear Stephanie did well Friday."

"For her first time in three years, very well," the coach said.

"We can't wait for her to pitch Tuesday, we'll beat them for sure," Michelle announced.

The coach shook his head. "Actually, Stephanie told me she didn't want to travel with the team."

Michelle was stunned. Allie had said she was having fun. It must be true - why would one of Stephanie's friends lie?

But, then again, why would Stephanie say she didn't want to play? Was it the injury? She hadn't been hurt that badly, had she? "Look, Sir, I know she's probably a little scared with the injury. Is that why she said she didn't want to?"

He wasn't sure. All he knew was she wasn't comfortable.

"Look, Sir, keep her on the team. She's having lots of fun. She said so herself. She might be taking after our Dad. He's really protective. He might be a little worried. But, the doctors said she was okay," Michelle stressed.

The coach gazed at her a moment. "Well, I don't know."

"Come on, I'm her sister. I've known her since I was born," Michelle said. "And, now I'm sure she wants to have fun and bring John Muir a championship."

The coach smiled. "Okay. It's really hard to just drop players this late. I told her that at lunch when she stopped in to see me. We'll look for her tomorrow."

"Thanks, Sir." Michelle and Denise asked for a hall pass. He wrote them one.

Michelle patted Denise on the shoulder. "Okay, we got one problem solved. Stephanie's class won't be starting right away. We'll stop in and see her for a second now."

CHAPTER TEN - STEPHANIE

Stephanie Tanner relaxed in her English class. She wouldn't have to worry about the baseball team anymore. She hadn't wanted to tell the coach about being the only girl on the team. Or about how she just wasn't interested in sports anymore. So, she just told him she wasn't comfortable. And, he'd been nice about it.

She opened her notebook. No more worries.

Except for the faces staring at her from the hall. "Miss Tanner," the teacher said, "you have two visitors."

Stephanie groaned as she stepped into the hall. "Michelle, when you came to see me your first day of Kindergarten, I understood. It was actually really cute, even when you kept sending me more kids to help. This, however, is just annoying."

"But Steph, Denise has a boy problem." Stephanie gave her a "don't we all" look. "She doesn't think she can go to History class after what happened in English."

Stephanie could swear she heard people snickering inside the classroom. "Michelle, listen. Class time is not the time for these things. When I let guys borrow my erasers, they usually never gave them back. So, Denise, whatever happened, put it behind you. Sit as far from that boy as possible. And think about anything but him."

"Steph, the only other thing on her mind is her mom being sick," Michelle complained.

Stephanie couldn't believe this. It was turning into a counseling session. She wasn't sure what these girls were doing. But, she was trying to learn English. "Michelle, you've talked to lots of guys for me. Usually when I didn't want you to. You're better than you think. Now, get to your class. Do you need a hall pass?"

"No, Coach Miller gave us one," Denise told her.

Stephanie shook her head as she walked back to her seat. Why would the coach give them a hall pass? She wasn't sure. Things were just too crazy right now.

"Was there a problem, Miss Tanner?"

Stephanie shook her head. "No. They just mistook me for a teen advice columnist."

Stephanie's last class of the day went well. She met with Allie and Darcy near the exit. "Well, Michelle managed to be here an hour before embarrassing me," she told her friends.

"Why, what happened?" Stephanie told Darcy about Michelle's query.

"Whoops." Allie snickered. "I wonder what happened in that class."

"I don't know." She saw the baseball coach walking out to the practice field. She wished him luck.

"Thanks. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow." Stephanie's mouth flew open. "I understand you being worried about being hurt. But, hey, this is the playoffs. Doctors said you're all clear, so let's make it a good one."

Stephanie was dumbfounded as he left. "But, I just told him..." Suddenly, the realization hit her. Of course, the hall pass! "Michelle. Who else?" she said, frustrated.

Allie put a hand on Stephanie's shoulder. She looked guilty. "I'm sorry, Steph. I think this is partly my fault."

"Huh? What?"

"Well, I told Michelle you were having fun - which you said you were." Stephanie was shocked. "It was last Friday, and she seemed down about your fight. I sort of wanted to help her see you still liked having fun. Then, she wouldn't think you were on the team just because you liked a boy."

Stephanie was upset for a moment, then relented. She could understand that Michelle was getting mixed signals. "Okay. It's all right, Allie. I just wish you'd told me. I would have known to tell her I wasn't playing anymore."

Darcy recalled that Stephanie's Aunt Becky had a doctors' appointment. "I guess I'm watching the twins tomorrow then, right?"

Stephanie nodded. "Yeah, may as well let you take turns. Although, don't be surprised if Michelle and Denise are there, too. And Cassie and Mandy." She threw up her hands and looked at Allie. "In fact, you better go there as backup. Who knows what Michelle will pull next!"

Stephanie rested on the team bus. She'd brought a book to read. She just wished Allie or Darcy were here. She'd hoped at least Zack would sit by her. Even though she didn't know if she'd feel comfortable sitting with him for the entire trip.

Instead, Mrs. Lansing sat with her. Stephanie sighed. She didn't want to talk to a mother. She wanted to talk to her friends. So, she buried herself in her book instead.

"Hey, do these girls belong to you," she heard Zack say. He was standing beside her in the aisle.

Stephanie looked up. "What gir-" She gawked at Michelle and Denise. "What are you doing here?" she said in a very shocked tone.

"Okay, Denise, talk to him when he gets on," Michelle whispered. Denise blushed, and Michelle sighed. "Sorry, Steph, but I asked which bus was yours, and we just went where he said. I wanted to come tell you where we were right away."

"Michelle..." Stephanie moaned as the bus driver announced it was time to go. A player in front of them gave up his seat, told the younger girls to sit where he had been sitting, and sat somewhere else. Zack also took his seat. "All right, it's time to go - get off now!" She started walking. "Don't make me have to hold your hand,' she muttered to Michelle, knowing that would cause her to shape up right away. Michelle hated to seem like a baby. Stephanie might not have been quite this proactive without D.J. being that way herself when they were younger.

However, paying more attention to her caused her to lose track of Denise. She saw her as Michelle got off and the buss began moving, and asked what she was doing.

"Where are we going," Denise wondered, a little nervous as Stephanie got back.

"I asked first," Stephanie said.

"And my question is more important," Denise insisted. "If we're not going to Michelle's house, I have to call my dad and let him know where I am."

One of the players said Coach Miller had a cell phone. While they retrieved it, Stephanie agreed with Denise. "Okay, that's fair. You are on the team bus to Oakland. Now, for the last time, what are you doing here?"

"Well...I dropped my bookbag and everything spilled right in front of Rico today. So, I was embarrassed to be seen near him. But, then I saw him get on here just now, and I was trying to get up the nerve...."

"Listen, we're on a tight schedule, we had to leave quickly. I appreciate the fact that you let a responsible person know where you were, or at least Michelle did, but next time, just wait till the next chance, and leave this stuff to the pros," Stephanie said adamantly. After a moment on the phone, Denise turned to face her. "What did your dad say?"

"He was kind of upset. He said I'm to come right home when the game's over. And, as long as I stay with your family he wouldn't ground me for more than a couple days," she spoke mournfully.

Stephanie nodded her understanding. "Well, as long as you're here, what has your dad said about Scott or his cousin, Denise?"

"They'd like a chance to see them. But, they won't be able to till the weekend." They were just too busy with her mom's health problems.

Stephanie grinned. "Yes! If we win today, we'll be in Los Angeles, at the state tournament. If Michelle's home, she won't be in my hair when I try to hang around with Zack."

Of course, she wanted Michelle to be in the stands rooting for her, too. But, Michelle and one of the other family members could fly out just for the games. Michelle certainly wouldn't be hanging around the team.

Rico weaved while walking as the bus turned. "Hey, did one of the boys leave his headphones up here?" he asked.

Stephanie pointed to the headphones and whispered to Denise. "There, in the corner of the seat. Give them to Rico. Say 'hi' to him."

Denise's face looked like a tomato, it was so red. She gingerly picked up the headphones. Stephanie finally grabbed them from her. "They're not that fragile." She handed them to Rico. "Here, Denise found them for you."

"Now, will Denise say anything? Or will she keep looking away?"

"Thanks, uh..." Rico seemed a little nervous, too. "I've seen you riding. But, I can't place your name."

"Rico," Denise blurted. "Wait, sorry, that's you. Uh...I'm Denise."

Stephanie tried to prompt Denise. "You both like horses, that's great." She wished it was Michelle doing this. She figured Michelle would do and say the same things; she'd helped Stephanie enough with boys at times.

Denise merely nodded her head as the bus stopped. They were at their opponents' high school. Stephanie patted Denise on the head. "We knew you could talk to him," she said as Rico went back to grab his stuff. Stephanie grabbed her bag. Denise was really shy. Of course, Allie had been the same way in fourth, she recalled.

Now, if she could just find time to talk to Zack on this trip.

CHAPTER ELEVEN - STEPHANIE

Stephanie ordered Denise to hold her stuff. "Now, this is how to talk to a boy," she said casually.

She waited for Zack. He finally came off the bus. "Thanks for finding them."

"No problem. I recognized Michelle," he said. "I guess she got home safe?"

"Yeah, she was going to play with her friends today, and..." She saw Michelle coming up behind her with their dad and Uncle Jesse. What is she doing here?

"Steph," Michelle interrupted. "I told Dad I changed my mind and wanted to come. I had to make sure Denise was here." She rubbed her chin. "I guess I have to tell him she was trying to see Rico, huh?" She turned to Denise. "Did you talk to him?"

Stephanie rolled her eyes. Even when she tried to show Michelle's friend how to talk to boys, Michelle still got in the way. "Michelle, instead of getting all excited like you do trying to help Samantha, let me handle things! Denise, watch me," Stephanie mumbled under her breath.

She turned toward Zack, hoping Michelle and Denise saw how easily they talked.

"Any younger brothers or sisters?"

"Nope. Just a sister a year older."

"It's an experience. Believe me."

Stephanie waved to Danny in the high school parking lot. She turned to Michelle and Denise. She glared at her. "There's your wave of mercy. But, before we drop Denise off, we are all are going to have a talk."

"Gotta be kind of parental, huh," Zack said as he Stephanie walked into the locker room.

"Yeah. Our mom died when I was five. And, there are times when I feel like I have to teach her. I remember this time when she was two. D.J. and I showed her what would happen if she didn't hold our hands crossing the street. We dropped a brick on a banana. To show her what would happen if a car hit her. Boy, was it squished. She always held on really tight after that."

"It must have been hard to lose your mom so young. Sounds like you do a good job with Michelle."

She nodded. "Normally, we're not just sisters. We're great friends. But, there are times when you have to tell your friends, with love, that they're messing up."

Their faces moved closer. "You've got quite a nice family."

"Thanks. I'd love to meet yours." She looked lovingly into his eyes. She enjoyed hanging around him so much. Maybe it was a blessing that Michelle got her back on the team.

Zack's teammates beckoned him to get her out of there so they could start getting dressed. He lovingly touched her cheek. "Well, guess you better get to your locker room."

Stephanie sighed contentedly. She didn't want this moment to end. Michelle couldn't understand it. But, there was something special about times like this. "Right," she finally muttered. She dreamed about him as she walked into the girls' locker room.

"It's a good thing he wears that mask when he plays," she muttered to herself. "Or I'd be so starry-eyed looking at him I couldn't pitch."

John Muir led 8-4, in the bottom of the sixth. Coach Miller wanted to get to the seventh before using his bullpen. But, Jake Middleton was having problems. He'd pitched longer than he had all year. "He has to be getting tired," Stephanie told herself.

The bullpen phone rang just as she thought this. "Message for Stephanie Tanner," the pitching coach joked. "You're going in to finish this inning."

Stephanie warmed up as several players got hits. When she entered the game, a run had scored. It was now 8-5.

She wouldn't have felt nervous this time. Except Zack Browning stood on the mound. And, he mask was raised. "Ready to get 'em, Stephanie?"

"Uh...yeah," she stammered. Zack patted her on the shoulder and walked back to home plate. When he got there, she just kept staring at him. She blushed slightly. "I usually don't gaze at a boy for this long. Not in front of all these people. I hope I'm not too red."

She tried to force herself to think about the game. But, unlike Friday, there wasn't as much to ponder. What Darcy had called "muscle memory" had returned. She didn't have to think about how to field, where to throw if the ball was hit to her, or even how to pitch. With her mind clear, she could focus on other things. Like that great guy behind the catchers' mask.

"Oh, no, Zack must think I turned to stone. Here he comes." "Uh...hi, Zack."

The catcher dutifully went over the signs. She was grateful she didn't have to tell him why she really froze. Although, part of her though she should. If only for the good of the team.

Finally, she pitched. The batter hit a ball that bounced over her head. She leaped, but it was too high. "Good thing, too. I never could have thrown home thinking about Zack."

The shortstop charged in and threw to first base. A run scored, but now, there were two outs.

Stephanie took the ball again. Suddenly, she lost her control. This wasn't too bad. A walk brought the lead run to the plate. But, it was a smart play. First base had been open.

Now, could she concentrate? She wasn't sure. She threw another pitch, and the ball was lined right at her. She instinctively stuck out her glove and caught it.

Oh, no, what do I do?" She threw to third base, then put her hands over her eyes. The third baseman was running into the dugout. "Oh, no, at least one run will score. What a stupid error. I should have been watching him."

Zack smiled as he ran to the mound. "Stephanie, it's okay." He patted her on the back. "That was the third out that you caught. You didn't have to throw." He winked at her as they walked off the field. The Raccoons wound up winning the game.

Stephanie couldn't stop thinking about Zack on the way home. What would it be like it she had to pitch again? She didn't know if she could stand it without saying something.

And yet, she couldn't bring herself to say she liked him. It might feel weird for him to hear it from a teammate. And, it would seem strange to her, too. Why couldn't he play in the outfield? Then, she wouldn't have to look at him whenever she pitched.

She forced that out of her mind as they got ready to go home. "Great game, hon," he dad remarked as they embraced. "I was proud of you out there."

Jesse nodded. "Yeah, and don't worry about trying to get more outs. You know, your dad says you can never be too careful. Sometimes it's good to try to get four or five, just in case. Right, Danny?" He looked at Danny.

"Jess, there are always three outs in an inning. You can't save outs for later."

Jesse looked smug. "I knew that."

"Don't worry, Uncle Jesse." Stephanie chuckled. "We know music's your life, not sports." She shook her head. She figured he was just joking. But, one could never tell. She recalled how little he and Joey had known about babies at first.

That reminded her of something important. "Say, before we drop Denise off, can I have a moment with her and Michelle?"

Danny sensed that maybe Stephanie wanted to talk to them about the bus. "Okay, come on, Jess." They left, and Stephanie put on her most serious face.

"I know. We shouldn't have even gotten on that bus," Denise spoke sadly.

"You're right. It's a good thing you figured out which was ours, and tried to find me right away."

"You can say that again," Michelle agreed.

"Denise, you could have been stranded somewhere without a phone, or been around a bunch of kids who would have been mean., or who knows what else!"

Denise lowered her head. "I'm sorry, Stephanie."

She bit her lip. Stephanie could tell she was remorseful. "I know you want to help your friend, Michelle." She made herself lower her voice before continuing; she often got too excited, it seemed. "You're great at helping your friends." Still, she really wanted to get this point across to her. "And, this is mostly for Denise's benefit, because at least you got off when it was time to go."

"You know I would, Steph," Michelle protested.

"I know. But, I'm just saying this because of my experience with the Flamingoes, and I'm a little concerned because of your having contact with Kathy Santoni's younger sister. It's not just younger kids, especially Smantha, you have to look out for. Sometimes, kids in your grade will mess up, too. And, you need to be willing to try to lovingly guide them away from danger. Just like when Denise thought about getting on the bus, you should have just told her 'no.'" She turned back to Denise. "Whatever it is, you think about whether it's right, and whether it's safe. And even if it is right, unless you're the only hope for saving someone's life, you never go doing something dangerous."

She realized she was being really loud again. A lump formed in her throat. Michelle was sniffling a little. She never cried. And, she was staring at the floor.

She sat beside Michelle and put an arm around her. "I'm sorry, Michelle. It's just that if I can keep someone from getting hurt, I will. I love you very much, and I never want to see you hurt." They talked a little more about the need to keep safe and think about the consequences of what she was doing.

Denise promised to think better next time. Michelle asked, "Can you go back to being my sister again now?"

She hugged Michelle. "Sure. I sounded like a mother, huh?"

"You'll make a good one."

Stephanie beamed as they, and Denise, continued to talk about what happened. She felt badly about hollering. But, hearing a compliment like that made it worthwhile.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Michelle gazed proudly at the banner. So what if it wasn't her school? "John Muir Middle School. Going to the state Final Four," she said merrily.

Denise stood next to her. "Cassie and Mandy sounded a little jealous this morning."

"Yeah. And I really wish I'd stayed home with them yesterday," she spoke sadly as they walked to English. "Especially after last night."

"Stephanie said she was mostly lecturing me. You were just there to hear so you'd try to help friends avoid that more," Denise told her.

"I know." She inhaled deeply. She knew Stephanie meant well. She was just looking out for Michelle. But, Stephanie could be as protective as their dad. She often got very excited about things. "But, I take after D.J.; I always try to be the best. If I took after Uncle Jesse, it'd be different. But, I can't stand to see anyone get in trouble. And, I guess I feel a little responsible for you."

"Don't worry, I deserved it," Denise said sadly. "I'll never sneak on board a strange vehicle, even if it looks okay." As she thought about it, Stephanie was right. It had been very dumb. She could have been hurt. Many bad things could have happened.

Michelle just wished things were better for Scott. Cassie and Mandy had reported he was doing well yesterday. But, it seemed like Denise's chances were slipping away.

As they walked to History class, Renee stopped them in the halls. "Hey, Gracie."

Michelle forgot for a minute who she was. "I think she's talking to you, Michelle," Denise told her.

Renee seemed to notice Michelle's startled look. "Why is she calling you Michelle?"

"Oh, uh...that's the name my friends call me. My real first name is Gracie, though."

"Did D.J. talk to Kathy? Michelle...uh, Gracie said she would try to."

As Renee's face turned purple, Michelle groaned.

"Sorry, Michelle," Denise said, adding with a great deal of uncertainty. "Should I have called you Allen?"

"You're Michelle Tanner!" Renee shouted.

"Denise, Allen was my last name?" Michelle said wearily.

"Ooooh!" Renee clenched her fists. Michelle and Denise backed away from her. "Well, it doesn't matter now. You goody goodies won't be involved any more. Kathy's boyfriend convinced her to let him watch Scott for a few days! And, now I'm glad." Renee stormed off toward her class.

"What now?" Denise said worriedly as they rushed toward History class.

"I wish I knew."

Michelle had hoped to go back to Fraser Street Elementary and ride home with Cassie and Mandy. Instead, she felt dejected. Once classes at John Muir ended, she called D.J.. She asked her to come get them. "You want a ride home, too, Denise?"

Denise shook her head. "Can't. Dad says I have to go back, then take the bus home. I'll tell Cassie and Mandy the news."

"Thanks, Denise. Tell them to come to my house." Michelle sighed heavily. She would probably need to talk to them. She just wished D.J. had been able to convince Kathy to let them watch Scott instead.

Michelle ran into D.J.'s arms as her oldest sister got out of her car. "Oh, Michelle, you've done such a good job. Kathy's really proud of you." She smiled sweetly and looked Michelle in the eye. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to talk to her in her hospital room, but I've had finals for college, too, and then it was busy the couple times I did try, or she was sleeping."

"It's okay, I guess."

"Kimmy told me Kathy's sister got hold of Kathy and told her where the child's father was. She'll be out of the hospital in a few days. Till then, they decided to let him try to watch him, though her sister's supposed to keep an eye on him. Kathy still feels he's pretty lazy. You've done a great job," D.J. reiterated. "Now, I want you to promise you won't talk to those Flamingoes again, okay?"

"Don't worry, I won't." Michelle got into D.J.'s car and leaned back. "I'm just glad Cassie and Mandy are putting up with me."

"They understand. It's hard when your best friend goes to a different school," D.J. teased.

"Don't you start now. This morning on the playground, Cassie gave me a postcard with the Golden Gate Bridge on it. She wrote on the back 'the weather is beautiful, wish you were here.'"

D.J. laughed hard. "They're just having fun, Michelle."

Michelle nodded. She knew her friends were just being silly. But, sometimes it hurt to think of how much they might miss her. She didn't want them growing too far apart. "Maybe they can come with us to Los Angeles."

"You'll have to ask. But, I bet they'd be delighted." D.J. pulled the car into the driveway. Kathy's sister and another fellow were out front with Scott; it looked like the boy's father.

Michelle ran up to see him one more time. "Michelle," Scott shouted.

"Scott and I here are taking Scott Junior to his place in L.A.." She caught D.J.'s questioning look as the oldest Tanner sister looked at Kathy's stomach. "Don't tell Kathy yet, okay? Our mom hasn't even told her. Listen, thanks." Michelle could tell she seemed remorseful. "I know Renee's still against your sister because of them being in the same grade and the Flamingo thing and all, but… I told Kathy how your family has helped, with her in the hospital. She really appreciates it, and the get well card you sent." Michelle decided she didn't know quite how to express thoughts about how the Flamingoes started bothering Stephanie in the first place.

D.J. smiled. The ball was in Kathy's court now, it seemed, as far as renewing he friendship. They'd done their part.

Michelle gave Scott a hug, and then helped get him into his car seat. After a few minutes, Michelle and D.J. waved goodbye. Michelle stood there getting teary as Cassie and Mandy walked up to her house. "Michelle, what's wrong," Cassie asked as they embraced her.

"Scott just left. Kathy's sister's taking him down to L.A.." Michelle sniffled. She'd loved having Scott around the last few days. She wouldn't have minded keeping him as a little brother herself. "Thanks for coming, guys. You timed that really well."

Mandy agreed. "We had fun with him yesterday, even though you weren't here. But, you don't want to hear about that now."

"You're right. We have to catch up on some serious play time. Let's go." Michelle and her friends rushed into the house and up to her room. She was glad to have this to take her mind off Scott.

Michelle and Denise walked toward English class Friday. "It sounds like we're letting out half an hour early at Fraser, too, huh, Michelle."

Michelle grinned. She'd had a great time at John Muir. She just hoped the Flamingoes weren't a problem when she and her friends came in two years. Renee would be battling Stephanie for dates in high school by then. But, maybe things would be a little calmer for Michelle. After all, she'd really helped one of the first Flamingoes.

"Steph got off a whole day early to go down with the team." The team bus had left early that morning. "Oh, well, between you and your parents, Samantha, Cassie, Mandy, and my family, I'll have plenty of company for the ride down."

Michelle grinned. It was so nice of the principal to let her classmates off half an hour early. Many had friends or siblings at John Muir. And, the city was really excited about the chance to bring home a state title. More banners than Michelle had ever seen lined the school's walls. Green and yellow balloons decorated the classrooms. And, everywhere one walked, the school's anthem was being sung. She felt like she was going to school in a parade.

Denise was excited, too. "No more embarrassment, Michelle. I've gotten better and better. Tomorrow, I intend to talk to Rico without giggling. I might even say I like him."

They stepped into the classroom. Michelle didn't want to tell Denise what Stephanie had told her. She'd said Denise's mini-crush might be wearing off a little. That could explain why Denise had actually gotten a "hello" out the day before - a "hello" surrounded with giggles, of course. But, it was still better than she'd been doing.

"Oh." One of the other sixth graders walked up to them. "You're looking for Rico?"

"Yes." Denise pumped her fist. "I'm ready to go. I'm going to speak. 'Hi, Rico, how are you. You know, I kind of like you. I hope you don't mind how silly I've acted.' Well, actually, I should wait until I see him."

"You'll have a long wait. He came down with the flu last night. He didn't travel with the team. And, he might not even be there Saturday."

Denise looked crestfallen. Michelle patted her on the back. "Don't worry. There's lots of other boys out there. Steph says you'd have found someone even better really fast." Michelle hoped that made her feel better.

However, she knew that wasn't the real problem. Now, Denise didn't have anything to take her mind off her mother. True, she would probably be okay. But, cancer was a very scary word. Denise had needed lots of things to keep her from thinking about it. Now, Michelle didn't even know if the trip to L.A. would help. She wished there was something she could do for her friend.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN - STEPHANIE

Stephanie dreamed of pitching in Dodger Stadium. It was the first time in years she'd had such a dream. She was hurling in the deciding game of the World Series. She caught the ball for the final out, and threw it up in the air.

A second later, she was awakened - by her own pillow hitting her in the face.

Stephanie chuckled as she got up. It was seven in the morning. She quickly realized her dream's problem. "The Giants and Dodgers are in the same league. They can't play in the World Series."

That didn't matter. As she woke her roommate, D.J., she remembered the catcher. It was Zack. She blushed slightly.

"Thanking of the game today, or Zack," D.J. wondered.

"Both. I hope Allie and Darcy made it last night." She put in an earring, then realized the glare could distract the batters. So, she removed it. "There was a little question about earrings when I pitched to a couple batters Tuesday."

"Everyone made it fine...oh, there's the door." D.J. opened the door for Michelle. "You're up bright and early."

"I slept in the car a little. Come on, Deej, let's go see Scott. Maybe we can see Kathy's sister's baby, too," Michelle insisted, pulling D.J. by the arm.

Stephanie looked at her sister and laughed. "Michelle, relax. You can go after our game." She was glad it took place at noon. The shadows wouldn't make it harder to follow the pitches. She found them hard enough as it was. Zack normally batted last, but he would actually bat ahead of her if there was no designated hitter. That's how weak her hitting was.

D.J. explained that his place was close to the U.S.C. campus. "It's an okay neighborhood. Not the run down place Dad fears."

Stephanie understood. She asked Michelle to shut the door while they dressed. After a while, they went down to eat with the team. Michelle stuck with them instead of going to the table where Cassie, Mandy, Danny, and Joey sat. "Michelle, join your friends."

"I want to hang around you. I want to watch you throw that knuckleball up close," Michelle said. "It's fun to watch that thing flutter."

Zack overheard her and walked toward her. "It might be a good idea to throw just a little, so you're not rusty. But, I want to rest my legs. I've been catching the whole playoffs, you know." He wondered if Michelle could catch Stephanie.

Stephanie shrugged. "Why not? Come on, Michelle." She grabbed a ball from their coach, and led Michelle outside. Cassie and Mandy went out to watch.

"So this is what you've been doing all this time," Mandy chided her.

"Yep. She's a real pro now." Stephanie wound up and pushed a perfect knuckleball out of her grip. It looked just like a butterfly sailing in the air. "They call them flutter balls, too," Stephanie explained.

"Or paper airplanes," Cassie said. "Wait, you know where paper airplanes go, though."

It was Michelle's turn to tease. She looked back. "Not the way you make them, Cassie."

The girl relented. "Okay, so I don't make good paper airplanes." She watched as Michelle moved with another one. "Had you ever caught a knuckleball before," she asked Zack.

"My dad can kind of throw one. But it doesn't always work," he told the gathering.

Stephanie yawned. "Well, we'd better eat big now. Where are Nicky and Alex, still asleep," she asked as they walked back inside. Joey said Becky and Jesse had taken them to the swimming pool; Samantha had joined them. "Great. Well, I'll be with the team, if anyone needs me." She saw her dad look at D.J. "Okay, come on, Deej."

"Will you have to be with her all day," Michelle wondered.

D.J. looked a little weary. "I said I'd take you. Aunt Becky's got team mother duties when Steph's game is over. I'm just glad my finals are over now."

Stephanie grinned. Michelle would still be out of her hair. D.J. could take her to all sorts of fun places after the game. Now, all she had to do was sit around and watch - and hope she wouldn't get asked to pitch.

Of course, it would be fun if she did. Sort of. But, the more she traveled with the team, the more she found herself thinking about Zack. She would much rather hang over the fence and watch him than think about trying to get batters out.

This was especially true as Saturday's game began. Zack may not have been a great hitter. But, he did squeeze a run home in the third. He also threw two more runners out trying to steal bases. Nobody had stolen on him in the playoffs. And, he was hitting about twice his normal average. Stephanie gazed up at her family and friends in the first couple rows. She thought she saw Darcy mouth the letters "MVP." She got excited. Zack Browning - her boyfriend - could be MVP of the playoffs. What a thrill that would be.

Now, if he would only ask her to go with him.

He blocked the plate superbly in the top of the 6th. That prevented a big inning. Instead, only one run scored. However, the teams remained tied after nine innings. They were tied after twelve. They were even tied at one after fourteen innings!

Stephanie began to sweat. Not only was it quite hot, but Coach Miller was walking directly toward her.

She knew they were running out of pitchers. But, she didn't know if she could throw. There was a really great guy hidden under all that hot, stuffy catcher's gear. And, she couldn't stop thinking about him long enough to focus on the batters. Even when almost all her pitches were knuckleballs, there still was a lot of concentration involved.

"Coach, I can't...uh...I mean today it just..." Stephanie wasn't sure what she was trying to say. "Well, Sir, I mean..."

Coach Miller held up a hand. "Miss Tanner, I agree."

"You do?" "How could he agree with me? I was babbling incoherently."

"The guys I've used are mostly relievers. Jake's the only other one left, and he went five innings Tuesday. I hesitate to start him tomorrow. He can't pitch the whole game; five is his limit even without Tuesday's game. And, our starter would almost have to pitch the whole game."

Stephanie wasn't sure where this was leading. She only knew that they'd won a good game, 9-6, on Tuesday.

"He also threw a bit last Saturday. So, he's not the best choice to start tomorrow. You are."

"Me," Stephanie squeaked. She pointed at herself.

He nodded. "If we had to, we could use you tonight and tomorrow, with your knuckleball, but I don't want to. I'd rather you be fresh for Sunday. So, keep cheering for us, and take it easy." He smiled, patted her on the shoulder, and walked away.

Stephanie's eyes grew wide. She would be starting tomorrow? For John Muir? In the state final? How could this be?

As she stared blankly ahead, her school scored a couple runs off a weary starter. He was working his third inning. He'd pitched six innings Tuesday to get his team to the finals. But, he was the only pitcher their team had left. John Muir's newest pitcher got the last three outs, and Stephanie's team was going to the finals!

"What a game," she heard her dad say. He put an arm around her shoulder. "This is the Tanner tradition, eh, Steph?"

"Yeah." Her family - at least some of them - had come onto the field. "Dad...we used so many pitchers..."

Joey agreed. "I think they used everyone but you." He tried to read his scorecard. He turned it many different ways. "I wish I could know for sure, but too much happened. I can't make heads or tails of this thing."

Stephanie needed a moment to find her voice. "They did use everyone but me. Guys...I'm starting. I'm...starting tomorrow!" She was stunned. Just over a week ago, she couldn't have fathomed ever pitching again.

"What have I gotten into now?"

A/N: With numerous adoptees among my family and friends, I know there are often times when young teens can't handle it on their own. But, for those who prefer the happy ending of Kathy's sister being able to raise the child herself, I left the door open a little. Sometimes it is nice to write your own ending. Like the book "My Fourth Grade Mess," where it's said Jeff's parents are divorcing…but there's always that chance they'll reconcile, like I figure happened, since we know nothing about it in future ones.

I tried to create a level of danger that wasn't way out there; considering that Kathy's boyfriend did abandon her (presuming she's pregent in books, which we hve no reason to doubt - anything not said to be different (friends, school, etc.) or implied (D.J. as proactive mother figure becuse of office in 4th bedroom, etc.) should be said to be the same. His personality, too (and whether it's even the same one in books), is up to your imagintion.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN " MICHELLE

Michelle shook her head. She walked to D.J.'s car with Cassie and Mandy. "Phew. I thought they'd never stop playing."

"That makes two of us," D.J. said. "Aunt Becky's down in the locker room with Stephanie. Samantha wanted to go down there, too. Should we wait for Dad?"

Michelle shook her head. She'd been patient for long enough. "I want to see Scott now. Besides, it took so long, if we wait too much longer it'll be his bedtime."

D.J. agreed. "Okay. I counted sixteen hotdogs, 14 ice cream sandwiches, and I don't know how many fries between you girls, counting Samantha. You'll probably be full till Tuesday. So, I won't worry about getting you fed."

"Can we stop and get a burger, please?" Michelle teased her sister. D.J. gave her a look. "Just kidding."

"Steve doesn't even eat that much." Steve was D.J.'s steady boyfriend. They were still good friends now.

"I remember the day they broke up," Cassie remarked as they drove away. "I came over, and there was suddenly extra food in the house. Michelle offered me some, and I couldn't understand how or why," she quipped, obviously exaggerating.

"Steve was an emergency date for D.J.'s prom. But, at least they're together now. Someday they might date again, but D.J.'s just too busy now," Michelle explained.

Mandy asked what Steve did for a living. "He took over my grandpa's pest control business," Michelle explained.

D.J. said he was a natural. "Roaches go wherever there's food. Steve goes wherever there's food. They fight it out, and Steve always wins."

Michelle watched as they drove past the University of Southern California. Her eyes bulged. "Wow! And I thought D.J.'s college was big. This place is like a major city." "D.J., I'm glad you didn't go here. You'd never find your way out of it."

"Pretty big, huh? Scott's apartment is down this street a little; her sister gave me the address." She turned the car to the right. She parked it after about two blocks.

Michelle liked the area. It wasn't the quiet, tree lined neighborhood where she lived. The apartment buildings were closer together. They were also pretty close to the street. But, it was still pleasant.

She looked up at a window. The incredibly loud music caught her attention. But, she quickly noticed a big problem. "Hey, that's dangerous," Michelle declared. "The kid's playing near an open window!" It was a first floor one, but one D.J. couldn't quite reach. "Hey," Michelle shouted. "Get away from there!"

D.J. tapped Michelle's shoulder. "Remember that big treehouse and jungle gym at camp? Where they always want a few kids on the ground in case someone falls? You girls stay here. That's his apartment. Hopefully someone's watching him, but just in case..."

Cassie watched as D.J. ran into the building. She sounded nervous. "What are we supposed to do?"

Michelle shrugged. She stood under the window facing it, gazed up. She wondered if anyone would hear D.J. knock with the music blaring. "Guys, get in front of me."

Mandy gawked while Michelle shouted at Scott to stop. She couldn't tell if he could even hear her. "You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you?"

"Just help me catch him," Michelle said casually. She didn't feel scared. She simply knew they could do it. "It should be just like catching a knuckleball."

"And feel like I'm catching a bowling ball," Cassie complained. She got on one side of Michelle, holding out her hands, like Mandy did.

Michelle told her friends to bend their knees a little. "What's taking her so long?"

"Heads up," Michelle shouted after a moment. The toddler had been playing around, trying to look out the window, but suddenly tumbled. She stood on the balls of her feet, moving with and following him with her hands and eyes. When he landed in her arms, the impact sent her falling into her friends, who had also managed to catch him. Soon, all four were sprawled on the ground. After a moment of shock, Scott began crying. It appeared the toddler was mostly scared, though.

Michelle looked stunned for a second. "Did we do that," she shouted.

"You sure did!" Stephanie exclaimed as she, Danny, and Becky came running up to them. Danny told them not to move the boy. He quickly got on his cell phone and called for an ambulance.

After another minute, D.J. came out of the building, and Scott's dad appeared at the window. The music was finally turned down; the dad looked shocked. "I finally got a call through on the security system and woke someone up," D.J. exclaimed. "Is everyone all right?"

"We're fine," Becky remarked. "Michelle, how did you do that? He had to be moving pretty fast."

Michelle hugged Stephanie. "Thanks to Stephanie, I had lots of practice."

The doctor walked up to the Tanners in the hospital waiting room as someone else ran in. It was Kathy Santoni. She still appeared weak from the operation, and in some pain, but she'd gotten her mom to drive her down after being released from the hospital Friday. Although, had the father been in that room, she would have had enough energy to scream for hours at him.

"Doctor," Kathy said speedily, "I'm the child's mother; I came as fast as I could. What in the world has been happening?"

The doctor explained about the father falling asleep. "There don't appear to be any problems; you can go back and see your boy. However, we would like to keep him overnight, just to watch him." He said the impact may have jarred his head a little. "It was nowhere near what it could have been, though."

Kathy's sister said she was glad to hear it from out of their view.

Kathy turned and shouted, "Well, where were…?" Suddenly, she saw her sister holding a newborn. "Oh my…were you…?"

Her sister nodded. "I went into labor as we were coming down here a few days ago."

There was a very awkward silence. Finally, D.J. decided it best to step forward. "I know this might be a strange time to talk," she muttered. "But, if you won't tell Kathy, I will." She tilted her head toward D.J.. "Your sister didn't just move out and come down here to live to get some freedom last December. She was pregnant, too." D.J. sighed. "She didn't want you to find out, because she knew how bad a decision she'd made."

Kathy looked to be in total shock as her sister said, "I know just what you went through, Kathy. I knew I couldn't take care of Scott, too. So, I just thought…"

Kathy didn't know what to say. Finally, Danny suggested, "Why don't you go back and see your little boy. I think your sister knows just how much of a mess things are."

'You're right." She hugged Michelle and D.J., and thanked them for saving Scott, and promised D.J., "I'll be in touch."

"You've got Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky's number now. Call them; they'll be able to find some good sitters for you. I'll help, too, if you need, when I'm not busy with college. I know you've had it rough." Kathy thanked her, promised to do that, and then rushed back to see Scott.

Kathy's sister, on the other hand, mourned, "I can't even take care of one. I want my little one to have a better home."

"It's a very stressful thing. I imagine it's taken a huge toll on Kathy, too," Danny said. "Even with both of us, it was rough on Pam at first."

"Are you saying you don't want your baby?" Michelle asked sorrowfully.

The younger Santoni sister sighed. "That sounds so harsh, the way you say it. I'm just so overwhelmed. I want to go back to school in the fall. I want the life I know Kathy's always said she missed. I want him. But…I just think he could have a much better life…" She sniffled. "It's just so hard right now. I'm so confused."

Michelle knew enough about adoption to know that this was the kind of case where it made a lot of sense. A young girl who had made a big mistake in not remaining pure, who wanted to give her baby to a warm, loving home. "If you really can't do it," she said, trying hard to mask her sadness, "I know someone who'll adopt him."

"I can't promise they'll say yes. And, it would take a while to make everything final," Danny said. "But, okay. Let's go see your friend."

Michelle, D.J., and their dad found Denise and her parents lounging by the motel's pool. She could tell Mrs. Chow was wearing a wig. Instinctively, Michelle ran up and hugged the lady. "I'm sorry you have to have that," she said to her.

"Thank you, dear," Mrs. Chow said weakly.

Danny breathed deeply. He looked at the Chows, unsure of what to say. "I know this is going to sound strange. But...Michelle has something she'd like to ask you."

Michelle felt a little funny now. She'd spoken to Denise about Scott and mentioned his cousin. But, she knew her dad was right. It would be hard for adults to say "yes" right away. She wished Denise would go first.

Luckily, she did. "You've tried to help me all week with Rico, Michelle, wen I was so nervous. I should help you, too." Michelle looked relieved. Denise turned to her parents. "Mom, Dad, there's a child Michelle knows who needs a good home."

"I was sort of hoping...well..." Michelle couldn't believe how she hesitated. She supposed she was just thinking about what a big thing it really was to ask someone. "Do you think you'd mind adopting him?"

Michelle looked alarmed. The notion hit the Chows like a lightning bolt.

Mr. Chow gazed strangely at his daughter. "Couldn't you...be like most kids, and just bring home a puppy?"

"Mr. Chow, Mrs. Chow, I know this would be a big step." Michelle folded her hands. "All I can say it, this child needs a good home. And, I know yours would be a great one."

D.J. told them the story. "It's even possible she'll decide she can't give her newborn up. In which case, you might just be helping her to be a good parent. Butr, either way, it can be a simple, private thing with a teen mother who knows she can't handle a newborn on her own, right now. To a mature, loving couple who not only have experience, but who can give this child all he needs."

Michelle could tell Mrs. Chow was getting teary. "Denise told me...about the cancer. I know it's hard. But my Uncle Jesse always says, everything happens for a reason. I don't understand why things like this happen. But, I thought of you right away. I don't know why I didn't think of us, or Cassie, or Mandy. But, I knew you'd be perfect."

"Thank you, Michelle." She looked at her husband. "Well?"

Mr. Chow was quite pensive. Michelle wished she could tell what he was thinking. Finally, he squirmed in his seat a little. "This isn't the kind of decision one makes right away. But, something inside just tells me we have to try."

Michelle and Denise each jumped and let out a "whoop."

"Young lady," Mr. Chow spoke authoritatively to Denise. "If we do this, you will become a big sister. We'll expect you to take on lots more responsibility. Especially lots more than what you showed Tuesday."

"Don't worry, Dad. You can count on me," Denise said proudly.

Mr. Chow rose. "I don't know if my wife's up to it. But, I suppose I should get over there. Mr. Tanner, do you have the younger Ms. Santoni's number?" D.J. gave it to him. "Thanks. You know, I don't know how we are going to do this. But something just feels so good inside right now, I can't believe it."

Michelle looked at Denise. "I know how he feels."

"Me, too. Thanks, Michelle." They embraced. "Let's go find your cousins and play with them a while. I'm going to have to get used to this big sister business."

"I think Jesse and Becky were giving them their baths. Maybe Michelle can show you how she helps put them to bed," Danny suggested.

Michelle and Denise raced to the elevators. Once they found the right room, Jesse and Becky were more than happy to let Michelle and Denise help.

Each girl sat a twin on her lap. They picked out two books, and began reading. "Isn't this great?" Michelle asked.

"I know we're only getting a three-day old. But, even if it's just helping the mom, I can't wait to teach Scott to ride a horse, and to swim, and so many other neat things." She chuckled. "I still can't believe this is happening."

Michelle grinned. "That's one thing being around little kids reminds you. Anything is possible."

Including, she said to herself, Stephanie winning tomorrow's game.

I wrote "Sweet & Sour Sixteen" to have D.J. & Kathy making up, and it might be more likely then, but as will be noted in the Epilogue, something like this could help, if ithappened. The main part, though, would be Stephanie and the Flamingoes becoming friends after nine, as noted. Although, Kathy's appendix problem, once Kimmy learns and tells D.J., may well help, though the time a year later is mentioned in the Chronology.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN - STEPHANIE

Stephanie, Allie, and Darcy sat at a table in the cafeteria restaurant. They were eating an early lunch before the game. "I still can't believe it," Darcy declared. "Michelle just believed her friend could adopt a baby, and it happened."

"It's just like Stephanie's pitching," Allie responded.

"Yeah. She's still got some of that same faith I see in Nicky and Alex. When she was their age, she'd have sworn I could pitch for the big league Giants," Stephanie remarked.

"And when they're a little younger, they think you hung the stars in the sky," Darcy said, thinking of her own babysitting with toddlers.

Zack walked past their table. He waved. Stephanie suppressed a giggle and waved back. She wasn't sure what would be more thrilling - and nerve-wracking. Starting for John Muir in this game, or being out there with Zack the whole time.

"So when are you gonna tell him?" Darcy wanted to know.

"Tell him what? That I really like him? Oh, sometime."

Allie put her on the spot. "When is sometime? When we go to college?"

"No." Stephanie thought for a second. She knew she should do it. Her knees would be knocking too much on the mound of she didn't. "Before the game. We'll get alone in the dugout."

"All right, Steph." Darcy grinned. "We'll remember that."

"Thanks a lot," she kidded them.

Stephanie thought back to her dream last night. Michelle had called on her to send their mother a souvenir. And, she'd hit it way, way up in the air. It was like in the movie "The Natural." The ball had finally come down in a little girl's glove. It was her daughter. Stephanie had been an adult, playing catch with the girl. "Boy, am I excited about this game, or what?"

Or, what she mostly excited about Zack? It was a dream about playing catch, too.

"Nervous, Steph?" D.J. asked her. She shrugged.

A reporter for the school paper stopped her as she left the bus. "Will you be trying out for the team next year?"

Stephanie grinned. "I hadn't really pondered that." After a thoughtful pause, she admitted that she probably wouldn't. "I just joined to help in the playoffs. I'm probably not good enough, though I have enough talent maybe I could pitch in the bullpen. I'd be tempted to come back if we lost. So I could help us win next year. But, even if we lose, this is almost certainly my last game. Besides, who wouldn't want to go out with a start in the state final?" It wasn't often they did that; usually Middle Schools just played in their county, but they had tried an experiment this year.

Zack patted her on the back. "Good job. You handle interviews well."

"Thanks. It helps that I'm on the paper myself." She pressed herself to speak more. Maybe she could even ask him out. The words wouldn't come, though. "So...uh...see you out on the field." She waved goodbye, and carried her bag into the girls' locker room.

"You like him, huh?" D.J. said.

Stephanie tried to change the subject. She knew if she thought too much about him, she'd never be able to concentrate on the championship game.

She put on her yellow sweatshirt and pants. They were warm, but she wanted her arm to be extra warm, so it didn't tighten. She thought about her road jersey as she buttoned it; this one was green with a small raccoon dotting the I in the gold "John Muir." "These are nice, stylish uniforms. The green, yellow, and white ones are really interchangeable with each other. Darcy always tells me how much she likes her field hockey one." She fluffed her hair, turned around in front of the mirror, and looked at D.J.. "Well, here I am. My farewell performance."

"Do you wish you were coming back next year?"

She hummed. There would always be part of her that enjoyed sports. Other interests just took over when she entered Middle School. She'd never had a chance to really say goodbye to baseball. Now, she did. That was what made her sentimental, she decided.

"I'll always love playing in the backyard," she told D.J.. "I plan to stay at home. Be the mom ours was before she died. I'll be one of those moms who throws batting practice. Who always coaches her sons or daughters. But, today is special. It's hard to describe. It's like the last recess. You look back at those times. And, you wish you'd made more of them. I'm glad I'm retiring today. So I have a chance to do that." She laughed. "Listen to me. I sound like I'm forty years old and pitching for the Giants." "But it keeps me from talking about Zack."

As Stephanie walked out to the bullpen, she noticed Michelle watching. "Hey, Michelle," she called. "Next year, make the most of recess. You'll want to treasure those memories."

She peeked behind her as she warmed up. Michelle had a very puzzled look on her face. "She has one more year of elementary school. She probably can't imagine it ending yet."

After warming up, Stephanie watched from behind the chain-link fence in the bullpen. She heard Allie and Darcy calling for her as John Muir batted. "The last game," she kept thinking, as she tried to keep her mind off Zack.

She walked over to them. "What's up, guys?"

"What did he say?" Darcy wanted to know.

Stephanie pounded the ball into her glove. "I've been daydreaming too much. I forgot to tell him." She gulped. "I just don't know how. I mean, I don't want to break his concentration."

Darcy glared. "We don't want you to break yours. Stephanie, if you start thinking about him you won't be able to pitch. You need to be totally focused once you start pitching. You can't let anything bug you, or pretty soon you've given up three, four runs."

"But it just feels weird. I mean, we're teammates."

Allie turned to Darcy. She had an ornery smirk. "Then I guess we have to bring in the secret weapon." Darcy nodded back.

"What secret weapon," Stephanie asked as the crowd cheered. A John Muir runner had stolen second base.

"Michelle," Allie and Darcy called together. Darcy motioned her over

Stephanie cringed. "You...you wouldn't!"

Allie placed a loving hand on Stephanie's shoulder. "It's for your own good, Steph."

"That's right," Darcy said compassionately. "You've got to get this over with so your whole focus can be on the game."

Stephanie held up a hand as Michelle jogged merrily over to them. "Don't. Michelle, I promise, before my first pitch..."

Michelle looked seriously at her sister. "Now, Steph."

Stephanie realized Zack was signaling her to throw. He planned to catch a few pitches from Stephanie before she hurled in the bottom of the first inning. He needed to get used to the knuckleball.

Michelle walked as close Zack as she could. Stephanie was afraid she would say something crazy. Of course, Allie and Darcy had probably coached her. But, that didn't mean she wouldn't do something on her own. "Hey, Zack," Michelle called.

"Zack," Stephanie said, almost in self-defense, "can we talk." As the catcher jogged out carrying his mask, she almost asked him to put it on his face. He was as cute as ever.

She stammered a little. "Zack, you know...I really did come just to bring our school a title. But, well...I'm really starting to like you a lot. And..." She was a little scared when he began blushing. Still, she continued. "Well, it feels funny, being teammates. But yet, I thought I had to tell you now. For the team. So I can just focus on the game today."

"Stephanie, I'm kind of glad you said that. I guess I can say now...you've noticed I've been playing way above my head." Stephanie agreed. "I think, in a way, I'm inspired by you. You see, I like you too. And, I didn't want to ask you out or anything while we played together. But, maybe when we get back, say Tuesday night, would you like to go for pizza?"

Stephanie nearly threw her glove into the air. "Yes," she shouted. She felt such incredible relief. Maybe now, she could concentrate on winning.

Zack's defense and timely hitting once again paved the way for John Muir. Stephanie pitched well, too. She only allowed five hits in eight innings. Of course, she'd walked five batters, but one of those had tried to steal and been thrown out. She still led 5-2 entering the bottom of the ninth.

As she stepped onto the mound, she thought about what she'd told D.J.. She rambled about that last game to keep from thinking about the catcher. But, in a way, she'd been right. It was special. And, it was a moment worth savoring.

She stepped off the mound, and turned around very slowly. She tried to record every sight, every sound, and every smell. Stephanie read the billboards along the minor league park's fence. She gazed at the many fans in the stands. Then, she tried to understand the words to Michelle's crazy cheers. Her sister and her friends had half the crowd dancing, waving, and singing something.

She studied the uniforms. Her mouth watered as the scent hit her nose from a former player's barbeque stand. She examined some of the banners. Stephanie finally gazed at the ball as she stepped onto the pitching rubber. "Let's make this a special one."

Two outs were sandwiched around a double. San Jose Middle School's best hitter stepped up to the plate with that runner now on third base. His run meant nothing, though. Ted Holland, the batter, was Stepahnie's worry.

Zack walked out for a conference. "He's been tough on you," he said.

Stephanie put on her game face. "I'm ready for him."

"Okay, don't be afraid to walk him, though. Coach'll probably only take you out if the next guy gets on," Zack remarked. He grinned. "Don't mind me having my mask up?"

"I'm all business right now. But..." She grinned sheepishly. "What do you say we try to get him with a fastball."

"Maybe a really high one. If you get ahead of him. Just remember, your knuckler is your best pitch," he reminded her.

Stephanie nodded. With the count one ball and two strikes, she watched the catcher's signals. Zack wanted a knuckleball. Twice, she shook her head. Finally, he flashed one finger, then four, then two, then one. Fastball. She nodded.

Stephanie stepped back with her right foot. She kicked her left leg. Pouring all her might into the pitch, she fired it over the plate at Ted's nose level, so he would only pop it up if he did hit it, or at worst get a bloop hit.

The batter expected it to do something it didn't, and he swung mightily, missing the ball completely.

"Strike three," hollered the umpire. Stephanie leaped a foot into the air. She ran and jumped into Zack's arms. She couldn't believe it. She had just pitched John Muir Middle School to the state championship! What a way to finish eighth grade!

Quickly, after the players shook hands, her family ran out to congratulate her. Samantha and a couple other girls asked her to sign scorecards, and handed her a pen. As she signed, Joey placed a microphone in front of her. He'd been broadcasting the game. "Stephanie, great job. What was that final pitch?"

"It was a fastball. Just like in my dreams, years ago."

Joey turned to Zack. "Zack Browning, you played like a Hall of Famer these last five games. What made the difference?"

Stephanie blushed slightly as Zack looked at her. "I guess I just had a great inspiration."

Stephanie and her family were at the team's awards banquet. She knew Michelle was probably just happy things were going so well with the Chows, and that Kathy and her boy were okay again. But, her mind was entirely on the team.

Indeed, Kathy had joined D.J.. It was still a little awkwrd, and D.J. was obviously still concerned about how the other Flamingoes would treat Stephanie. But, Stephaie could tell they were having fun again, like she sort of recalled from when D.J. and her friends were in grade school and, somewhat, Junior High, though that was when Kathy had really begun to go boy crazy. Though Kimmy would joke about it, she was actually pretty shy, and only limited her jokes to kissing. The first day, on the other hand, Kathy had found out where kids "made out."

Now, Stephanie could tell Kathy was a wonderful, responsible mother, who had totally shed that wildness.

Stephanie gazed at Zack as he walked up to accept the Playoff MVP trophy. "Way to go," she cheered, pumping her fist as he went back to his seat. He winked at her.

She gazed at Zack as he walked up to accept the Playoff MVP trophy. "Way to go," she cheered, pumping her fist as he went back to his seat. He winked at her.

Coach Miller stood at the podium once more. "You know, a friend of mine from college, Danny Tanner, is in the audience. And his youngest girl, Michelle, asked me something. She said 'where are the rings?' She figured since major league players got rings for winning the World Series, our team would, too."

Stephanie couldn't believe that question. Wasn't it enough that their team had won?

"Well, I told her no rings. They're too expensive. But, I did make sure each of the team's members got a small plaque. Especially the pitchers that took over when we had that flu outbreak. These were some of the gutsiest performers I've seen in my dozen years of coaching baseball at this level. Especially Danny's daughter, Stephanie. Stand up, Stephanie." She stood and bowed slightly. "You know, we were desperate. And, I was kind of down when I thought she might not play beyond that first game. But, I knew Danny Tanner wouldn't raise any quitters. And, boy, did she pitch one fantastic title game." Everyone cheered. "Come on, Stephanie. Let's get a picture of you with that trophy, for next year's yearbook."

Stephanie jogged over to the two-foot trophy. "Michelle, come here. I want you in the picture, too." Stephanie and Michelle held the trophy.

"Thanks, Steph. I always knew you could do it," she said confidently.

Stephanie was elated as the photo was taken. As she walked back to her table, she was incredibly thankful Michelle had pushed to her to join the team. She'd treasure these memories forever.

"Here's to the State Champion John Muir Raccoons," one player said, raising a glass of soda in a toast.

Stephanie raised her glass and looked lovingly at Michelle. "And to the sisters who made it possible."

A/N: The end of the last Club Stephanie series show them making peace and becoming friends. The start of the epilogue is based on something like that, though it might not be exact. All Club Stephanie trilogies wouldn't be canon, but closure like that, at least, makes the most sense. (Also, there one book were someone said Stephanie had to choose whether to help an injured Renee or win a race. Not knowing how it ended or when it took place, and knowing choosing to "help Renee with something" could mean anything at any time, from spring of 8th grade through 9th, I just used those words. You can decide whether that book is what I'm saying or not.) The point is, they do make up in the end, and become friends, for reasons Stephanie states. Plus, they don't bother her in a few books that take place with Stephanie in 9th grade.

Indeed, everything about the Flamingoes here is accurate from what I've heard. Any really bad stuff was toned down for the Chronology to be consistent; as noted, they really seem like a bunch of kids like snobby Rachel Tilly of the Michelle and Friends series, rather than really mean kids. So, the reasoning used here, coupled with them making up at the end, is likely. The Michelle bit adds to the ability to make peace in the long run.

The following fics are referenced: Mine: "Joint he Club" and "My New Friend"; RKORadio's Sam series, especially "Principal Mandy and Nanny Stephanie," where Michelle encourages Samantha to help Rachel and her friend Sidney.

Epilogue - Flamingoes Make Peace

A little over a year later, Stephanie was getting off of a plane from Europe. She'd been so excited! The ninth grade class trip had been everything she'd dreamed, and then some.

Michelle was excited to go to New York in a couple weeks for the conclusion of Samantha's dance camp. The future professional dancers there would put on a great performance. For now, though, she was stunned that Stephanie and her friends were happily talking and laughing with Renee and hers.

"Uh, Steph, those are Flamingoes," Michelle remarked candidly.

"I know. Not really close friends yet, but some things changed on the trip, and we really got to know each other," Stephanie said. Of course, they'd been in the process for a year, as there wasn't quite the rivalry there had been when she and her friends were in 8th and earlier. She introduced the others. "So, how's Samantha? I've been e-mailing with her some while I was gone."

Michelle answered quickly. "Great; her recital's in two weeks, and she is so excited! She's really going to be a star."

Joey walked up to one of Steph's new friends. "Pleased to meet you. Want to watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat," he said in a Bullwinkle voice, with his hands held like antlers. When everyone looked at him strangely, Joey said, "Well, Steve said he thought I was strange for doing the Godfather. So, I figured this would be more normal."

"Yeah, but at least the Godfather was a person, not a moose," Jesse declared.

"It's nice to meet all you people...and mooses," Renee, the girl in question, joked a little uncomfortably after introductions were made.

Allie returned from having been greeted by her parents. "Can you believe we'll all be in high school next year?"

"I sure can't," Darcy proclaimed. "It seems like yesterday I moved here from Chicago."

"So, does this mean there won't be any problems with Flamingoes when I go to John Muir next year?" Michelle asked expectantly.

Renee looked a little guilty. She wasn't sure what to say about the last few years.

One of the other Flamingoes said, "Kathy's really grateful for your help. So is her sister."

"Even if that hadn't been, though...it doesn't mean there'd be any problems," Renee finally said. She sighed. "Look, let's just forget about that part."

Michelle wouldn't budge. She put her hands on her hips and adopted the very blunt demeanor she sometimes got. "I could probably handle it myself. But, when Samantha gets there next year, there better not be any problems!"

"I'm sure her situation can be explained, and the Flamingoes kept away," D.J. assured her calmly.

"You probably could handle yourself, too," Renee admitted, a bit of a sneer in her voice. "You got us to let you take care of Kathy's boy when we were dead set against it, after all." Remembering how thankful everyone had been that things were working well, she grinned, speaking in a more friendly manner this time. "Get your friends to keep your phony names straight, and you could be a pro."

"How are they doing?" Michelle asked.

Renee said they were doing well. "Kathy's felt embarrassed about how her sister treated Stephanie and her friends, but she's keeping in contact with D.J.. And, she's trying to work up the nerve to call Stephanie's babysitting club." She spoke so only Michelle and those right near her could hear, not wanting to lose any of her pride, but also wanting to set the record straight. "I don't like to admit we're wrong. But, I'm starting to accept that your family really can be good friends. And, as far as that girl you mentioned ...I don't know all the details, of course. But, you don't have to worry about it one bit. We wouldn't pick on kids like her. We've never been that kind of clique. We're just...well, like Stephanie tells me Rachel was for you because you beat her out for class president."

"Thanks." Michelle was relieved. She was also stunned. She'd never imagined a Flamingo would talk nicely like that to her. Renee had seemed so mean that time when she overheard her.

As the family was leaving, she told Stephanie what Renee had said. "It really seems weird to hear them talk like that. What happened?" Michelle wanted to know.

Stephanie pondered the answer as she got her luggage. " I think they're maturing, for one. But, also, what Renee said is true. I mean, they were a snobby group of popular girls before, but the only reason they held a grudge was that first incident, and a few other times we did what was right. Renee kept it up, as the new leader, but, well, even last year, it was mostly over boys," she pointed out. "I guess you could say the hatred died down. And, just because we were targets didn't mean you or Samantha would be." She'd made sure of that in talking with them on the trip, once they became friends.

"You helped, too, Michelle. It would have happened anyway for Steph, on this trip. But you just gave them one more reason to accept that our family wasn't the equivalent of the Hatfields to their McCoys," Becky told her.

"Also, it's true, what she said about never picking on helpless kids," D.J. noted. "They might ignore them, refuse to help, but that's different than being a real problem for someone like Samantha. Now, Steph has that assurance they won't bother you or her, and so do you."

Michelle agreed as they got into a large van. "I guess Steph never did tell us about them doing anything to less fortunate kids. Maybe I just remember what Steph said about making sure other kids are safe, like with Denise sneaking on that bus."

"Well, your sister probably did over-emphasize their battles with her," Danny said. He smiled at Stephanie. "I know you think I'm overprotective sometimes. But, with Mom's excitability that you inherited, I think you're just as protective as I am. Which means you made Michelle worry a little more than she had to. But, that's okay; when you're young, until you learn how to get along in the world, you have to have more limits. But, now you're going to Middle School next year, Michelle, and you'll be a small fish in a big pond, but it's easier for you to handle the big fish, because you know some of them are really small fish that act like big fish."

"I'm glad you know where you're goin', I don't think Danny know where he's goin' with that analogy," Jesse joked. Everyone laughed, including Danny.

"Probably like when Dad tried it with me." D.J. turned to her sisters. "I remember, Dad eventually decided he just wanted to take me to Sea World," she quipped.

Michelle and Stephanie were alone in their room later that evening. Stephanie had brought everyone souvenirs, and Michelle was looking at hers. "Thanks, Steph. Boy, that's still amazing. So, the Flamingoes really made peace with you and Allie and Darcy and everyone?" Stephanie nodded. "Do you think I really had that much to do with it?"

"I'm sure part of 9th grade was the fact I'd pitched them to victory in 8th. Part was a time when I chose to help Renee with something. And, a lot was just being together on the trip and getting to know each other." Stephanie smiled, walked over to Michelle's bed, and put an arm around her as she sat. "But, someone had to make that first attempt at showing how important it was to be nice. They wouldn't have listened to me. They probably would have listened to Kathy Santoni; more her sister. But, you were willing. You might not have understood what you were doing at the time," Stephanie said jovially. Michelle joined in chuckling at it. "But, that got the communication going. Then, it was up to them. But; there are some really mean kids out there who wouldn't have listened."

"I know. That's what I was afraid they were. But, now they'll even help if any of the really bad ones bother Samantha, right?" Michelle asked hopefully.

"Yeah, they will. Renee's definitely telling the younger Flamingoes that there's peace, and that when you and your friends go to John Muir this year, they're not to bother you. But, they probably wouldn't have anyway, because of you helping with Scott."

"I guess being nice like that really pays off," Michelle considered. "I wasn't trying to do it for myself, though. I just wanted to help someone."

Stephanie understood. "That's when people really notice. They would have accused me of doing it for myself, just like Rachel would with you back in fourth grade. But, they could tell with you; at least after a while if not right away. Just like you and Rachel are friends now, even if you're not that close."

"Yeah. I just wish some of the really mean kids I hear about would start to be nice."

Stephanie did, too. "With some, it might be almost impossible, or take something really tragic." She didn't like to think of what that might be for anyone. "Not everyone can be reached as easily as we've reached the Flamingoes, or you've helped Rachel; and, even those were tricky. But, we won't have any problems from the worst ones, and neither will Samantha. Because, we've got a great team behind us. And, we've got the most important thing of all. We've got love." They embraced.