Fan Fiction - Written by Doug Fowler - Book Universe

Full House Sisters: One Of These Days
Written by: Doug Fowler



Nine-year-old Michelle Tanner collected her papers. She brushed her strawberry blonde bangs out of her eyes, and studied the paper her teacher had just placed on her desk. This would be a fascinating assignment.

She raised her hand. "I already know what I'm writing on, Mrs. Yoshida," she told her teacher.

"You have until Monday to choose," the teacher announced. "But, I can imagine some of you already have ideas." The bell rang. She continued to speak as the fourth graders gathered their books. "Remember, class. You can do your interviews this weekend. And, it's not too much to write on your own, if you remember to quote people."

Michelle agreed silently as she walked to her cubby. She joined her best friends, Mandy Metz and Cassie Wilkins.

"So what's your idea," Mandy wondered. She had dark curly hair.

Michelle slung her backpack over her shoulder and addressed her friends. "My interview will be on the weirdest relation of all."

"Which one is that," Cassie wanted to know. Her blonde ponytail flopped as she turned. "Aunts who think art museums are the coolest vacations on Earth?"

"She'll never understand. She's an only child." "I want to start at the beginning. My paper will be on teenagers and their crushes. My sister will make a very good subject."

Mandy gave a nod of understanding. "They can be strange. My one sister likes Jeff's older brother. She's been bugging me to ask Jeff about him." Mandy picked up her backpack. Soon, the three friends were walking out to the bus.

"Hey, Michelle," Jeff Farrington, a brown haired boy, called. He ran toward Michelle and pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. "Tell me how this sounds."

Michelle took the note and read aloud. "Roses are red, violets are purple. But everyone says blue 'cause nothing rhymes with 'purple.'" She handed it back. "What about 'burple,'" she joked.

Jeff laughed. "Oh, yeah, that'd be cool. I always belch louder than my brothers, anyway," he admitted. "Which of the guys in your family is the best?"

Michelle inched closer to Jeff. She whispered in his ear. "You won't believe this. But, when I was in preschool, I sometimes burped louder than them." His mouth flung open. "It's true."

"Whoa, that's so cool. A girl who can burp!"

Michelle felt her cheeks getting warm. She didn't like admitting that to anyone. Jeff, on the other hand, was the class clown. He'd be proud of such a feat. "Jeff, I haven't tried to burp real loud in years." She shook her head and turned to her best friends. "Boys."

Cassie nodded as they boarded the bus. "My mom says boys are from Pluto - it's a Mickey Mouse planet."

Jeff handed the note to Mandy. "Hey, I bet it'd be a fun place. Anyway, my brother asked me to write a note for your sister. Tell her it's from Dave." Mandy nodded. "I'll have to write one with 'burple' next."

Michelle laughed. She couldn't believe how silly boys could be. "There's no way I'd be ready for a boyfriend. Is there?"

"I bet you'll get a good interview this weekend," Cassie remarked beside Michelle.

Michelle nodded. She and her sister Stephanie planned to spend Saturday together. They had seen so little of each other lately, it wasn't even funny.

Of course, Stephanie had been so busy, she probably hadn't had much time for boys, either. Still, Michelle could get some very interesting comments for her paper.

Mandy was writing on blended families like her own. "I think interviewing people will really help. This sounds like a fun Social Studies project."

Michelle thought that sounded interesting. Mandy's family was as large as Michelle's.

Of course, Michelle's had even more adults. Michelle's mother had died when she was a baby. Her dad, Danny Tanner, needed help raising his three girls. So, Danny's brother-in-law, Jesse Katsopolis, moved in to help. So did Danny's best college friend, Joey Gladstone.

Later, Jesse met Becky Donaldson. Becky and Danny co-hosted a local TV program. Jesse and Becky married, and had twin boys, four-year-olds Nicky and Alex.

Combined with Michelle's sisters, Stephanie, fourteen, and D.J., nineteen, she had lots of possible subjects. However, she still thought Stephanie and her crushes were the most interesting. And funny.

Jeff said "I'm writing about how people get back together after big fights. Remember how I said I was scared my mom and dad would get divorced? They're back together, and really happy. They say their problems from before seem so little now. I can't understand it." He suddenly turned to Michelle. He seemed a little nervous. "But, Dave says I'll like girls just like dad. He keeps saying 'just you wait, Jeff. One of these days, it'll happen.'"

Mandy and Michelle spoke at the same time. "My sisters say the same thing."

Michelle hummed. Jeff was nice and friendly. However, it was best not to say anything. It wasn't like she was ready for a boyfriend. And, she didn't think he wanted a girlfriend.

Then again, Jeff seemed to be writing awfully fast. When they got off the bus, her friend Lee Wagner handed her a scrap of paper. "Here, Jeff said this is for you. Read it when you get home."

Michelle walked into the door, got a hug and kiss from her dad, and ran up to her room. She read the note. "Roses are red, violets are purple. I wonder which of us makes the loudest burple."

Michelle began laughing. Jeff could be sweet, as well as crazy. He'd written a silly poem just for her.

Stephanie walked into their room. She pushed her long, blonde hair over her shoulders and noticed Michelle giggling. "What's that?" Stephanie asked.

"Oh, just a funny note Jeff wrote me," Michelle explained casually.

Stephanie clasped her hands merrily. "Ooooh, a boy wrote my sister a note. That sounds like looooove," she teased her. She pulled out a picture she'd been given and looked dreamily at it. "I wonder if it'll be that way with Josh and I."

Michelle laughed inside. Stephanie obviously had a new boyfriend. But, this note didn't mean Jeff was Michelle's boyfriend, right? Stephanie was just teasing, wasn't she?

Or, did Jeff really want to be Michelle's boyfriend. Michelle's head spun. She had to figure out how she could know for sure.


As Michelle left their room, Stephanie couldn't help but chuckle. She couldn't recall a true crush coming at Michelle's age. But, she'd liked boys then.

Her Aunt Becky walked in as Stephanie combed her hair. "You've got that dreamy look in your eyes. Thinking about boys?"

Stephanie grinned and turned toward her. "Hi, Aunt Becky. Oh, a boy wrote Michelle a note, and I was kidding her. But, it got me to thinking about the first boy...well, it wasn't a crush, but he was more than a friend. You know what I mean?"

Becky nodded. Stephanie enjoyed talking to her about girl things. She was the closest thing Stephanie had to a mother. "Mrs. Collins needs a sitter tomorrow night. Can you make it?"

Stephanie sighed. She just realized she'd made two dates at once. "Sorry, Aunt Becky. You'll have to ask Allie or Darcy. I'll probably be doing stuff with Michelle. Plus there's this great new boy. He's a missionary's kid, and his family's coming in late tonight. His cousin Ed said he was great. And..." She blushed slightly. "Well, I sort of have two sets of plans at once as it is." She held up a hand. "But, don't worry, I think I can solve that."

Becky grinned knowingly. "I understand. Thanks, anyway."

Stephanie hummed. Maybe Michelle could tag along on her date. In fact, the more she thought about it, Michelle would really enjoy the movie they planned to see.

Her thoughts drifted to Michelle and Jeff. She just had to write about that note in her diary. It was so cute. And, as she recalled who Jeff was, it was fitting.

After studying for a while, Stephanie helped make lasagna. It reminded her of the food they had on vacation the previous year.

Several others also thought of vacations. Ideas floated around the table.

Michelle spoke tiredly as Stephanie sat. "We've already been to Disney World."

Stephanie nodded. Things were always happening in her full house. Going to the same old place would seem boring.

Joey nodded. The comedian was a kid at heart. He even liked watching cartoons. "Hey, there's plenty of other good theme parks."

D.J. just wanted to slow down. "After my first year in college I am going to need to relax!"

"Like at the beach," Danny wondered. He reminded them of the fun they'd had in Hawaii.

"Josh is a missionary's kid. He and his family are flying in from another continent. Hawaii sure seems dull in comparison," Stephanie told herself.

"The beach is fun," Michelle told them. "So, what about Myrtle Beach? Mandy says they have great miniature golf courses. Some have fake animals all over them," Michelle concluded.

This prompted an outburst from Nicky. "I wanna see lots of animals," he shouted.

Alex asked "how about the zoo?" Becky told them they could go to a local zoo anytime.

"What about San Diego. Then we could hit the beach, too," D.J. suggested.

Jesse concurred. "They have a very good zoo. Of course, I would suggest Graceland." Elvis Presley's home was always the ideal spot for Jesse. He was such a huge fan of the singer, he'd wanted his wedding there.

Becky teased him. "You would spend all your time in Graceland. We'd never see you."

"You mean none of you would join me?" All chuckled and shook their heads. Stephanie pondered how she loved the rapid conversations of their dinner table. They got so silly sometimes.

Jesse turned to his boys. "Come on, you guys would join me in the ultimate Elvis Presley experience. Wouldn't you?" They refused.

"Face it, Uncle Jesse. Nobody else is going there," Stephanie remarked.

Jesse dropped his idea. "Okay, if Graceland's out, Stephanie, do you have any ideas? You've been awfully quiet."

"Oh, I can't think beyond tonight." She asked for the serving plate, and dished herself more lasagna. Michelle quickly did the same next to her. "I've got everything planned. My big project will be finished. Then it's just some final proofreading Sunday afternoon." She grinned at her younger sister and passed her a roll. "And I've got a special surprise for us Saturday." If she sold it this way, she figured Michelle would accept her plan.

Danny grinned. "I'm proud of how you're handling things with Michelle. You too, pumpkin," he told Michelle. "You've put up with your sister quite well the last few days."

Michelle shrugged. "It's cool. If she locks me out for too long, I'll just go up with Nicky and Alex and treat it like a sleepover." She turned expectantly to Stephanie.

Stephanie explained her idea. "Here's what I want to do. There's a really funny movie coming out called 'Guppy Love.' Let's see a matinee. Last time I saw one of this fellow's movies, I laughed like crazy."

Stephanie's excited look turned to dismay. Michelle stared at her. "Steph, you don't do things together in a movie. You sit and look at a screen for two hours."

"Oh, but Michelle," came Stephanie's voice, half pleading. "This is your type of movie. It has a little action, a sweet story, and most importantly, lots of laughs. I know you love that."

Michelle hummed. She normally liked this kind of film. However, she'd had other ideas.

She pulled a sheet of paper from her pocket. "Steph, you and I hardly saw each other the last couple weeks. I feel like I only room with your clothes."

Stephanie chuckled as she took the paper. She skimmed it while nodding slowly. She read some of the ideas aloud. "The petting zoo. A picnic and throwing a frisbee in the park. Swimming. Miniature golf. Sounds like you planned a fun week for Saturday." Michelle thanked her. "Now, could you please fit this movie into it? I really want to see it with you. I think we'd have lots of fun together." Michelle shook her head.

Stephanie turned to her dad. "Dad, don't you think Michelle should do one little thing I want to do? After all, I've given up most of this day for her. It just seems like she always gets her way sometimes."

She felt badly once she said that. She knew she shouldn't blame Michelle. Nor should she break a promise. But, this boy sounded so great.

Danny mulled it over. "Well, Steph, she's been putting up with a lot from you lately."

"We can see the movie next weekend," Michelle promised.

"Plus, are you being totally honest about why you want to go," Becky asked her.

Stephanie sighed. She felt Michelle's gaze, and looked down. She'd told Michelle that she would always forgive and love her. Even if she was mad. Maybe that was why she'd tried to lie to her. She just assumed Michelle would understand, and know Stephanie still cared about her.

Whatever the reason, it was still wrong. "You're right. Okay, Michelle," she reluctantly told her. Disappointment filled her voice. "There's this boy I wanted to see it with. But, I made a promise, and I should keep it. I won't ask you to go to a movie you don't want to see. I've just gotta make a phone call, Dad, and tell Josh the date's off. Then, I need to go work on my term paper."

"Thanks, Steph." Michelle looked and sounded sad. Stephanie hoped she didn't try to help her see him anyway, like she had with other boys. "Sorry you have to cancel a date for me."

Stephanie shook her head, slightly upset. "Hey, I agreed, didn't I, Michelle? Don't make me feel guilty about it."

She entered the living room and called one of her best friends, Darcy Powell. Michelle pretended to start up the steps. She then stopped and listened to Stephanie.

"Darcy," came Stephanie's frustrated voice, "do you have that Ed's phone number. I'm afraid I'm gonna have to cancel my date with Josh." Ed was Darcy's date. Josh and his older brother, Mark, would be staying with Ed's family.

"What's wrong, Steph?"

"Oh, I forgot I promised Michelle I'd spend the day with her. Which I really should," Stephanie muttered. "I don't like putting family ahead of boys sometimes. But, it'll be worth it in the long run." Stephanie's mood lightened as she spoke. "Michelle looks up to me. She loves spending time with me. That's the fun of being a big sister. And, Michelle offered to see the movie next weekend with me. So, she pays attention to how I help her. That's really rewarding. But, what if someone else gets Josh?"

Stephanie noticed Michelle frowning on the steps behind her. She hoped Michelle had heard her. She often got too busy to tell Michelle how much she liked doing things with her. But, hearing that might make Michelle more agreeable in the future.

"Does Michelle like to roller skate?"

"She's got lots of activities planned. But, that would be better than a movie," Stephanie said.

"Well, Josh and Mark are speaking at this youth rally," Darcy explained. "It's from five to seven Saturday evening. It's at the rink on Fremont Avenue."

Stephanie leaped a little, she was so elated. "Great, tell him I'll be there. Michelle's sure to like...oh, there you are, Michelle." Stephanie pretended she hadn't noticed her. "Hold on a second, Darce. Michelle, Darcy had a great idea for Saturday."

Michelle seemed unsure. Stephanie thought she was pretending, though. "Really? Boy, we've got a lot planned, I don't know. It better not be another movie."

"Oh, no. How would you like to go roller skating from five to seven?"

Michelle grinned. "Sounds like fun...uh, Steph, why are you bouncing?"

"Oh, sorry, it's just...we can still do stuff together then."

She smiled as Michelle agreed. "At least, we can do stuff until I see Josh."


Sunday afternoon, Michelle was playing in the park. She was teling Cassie and Mandy about all she did Saturday. "I almost wound up watching a movie. Or, rather, watching her and Josh."

"Who's Josh," Cassie wondered. "You mean the speaker at that roller skating rally?"

"Right. He's her newest boyfriend. Although, she pronounces it 'Jooooossshhhhh.'" Everyone laughed.

Mandy didn't see Jeff walking up behind them. "My sister's doing the same thing with David Farrington. Does Stephanie bounce, too," Mandy wondered.

"Yeah. Hey, Jeff," Michelle remarked. "Did Mandy's sister read that note?"

"Yeah, she showed Dave." He shrugged. "He chased me a while, like he was mad. Then, he tickled me like crazy."

Michelle decided he must not have liked the poem. "Not quite what he wanted, huh?"

Cassie rubbed her chin. "That poem did seem more humorous than romantic."

"Don't worry," Michelle said, giggling. "Stephanie does the same thing to me sometimes. But, you know, there are times when it's just fun to bug 'em. They get so crazy over this stuff."

Jeff agreed heartily. "Teens are the strangest creatures. They act so excited over someone. But, they can't talk to them."

Michelle's Aunt Becky showed up with Nicky and Alex. "I'm taking the boys home, Michelle. Want to come? Or should I have Joey come for you in a little bit?"

Michelle had to finish her homework. So, she left with Becky.

She glanced into her bedroom. Stephanie was groaning. She listened as Stephanie mumbled something about a rewrite. "I guess she didn't have that paper finished like she thought."

"Hi, Steph," Michelle said casually. "Anything I can help with?"

Stephanie glanced at her paper. She flung it onto her desk with a hint of frustration. "No, I just have to rewrite a few paragraphs," Stephanie remarked. "It won't take too long."

"That's good. Hey, thanks again for yesterday. I loved it, especially the picnic. We did so many cool things. I had so much fun," Michelle said warmly.

"Same here," Stephanie remarked. "I loved it, too." She mussed Michelle's hair a little.

"She really loved seeing Josh, I'm sure. I'm glad Darcy mentioned that skating party."

Michelle walked over to her desk. She wanted to finish her homework before dinner. "I'll have to put that in my paper, the part about the movie. You didn't want to stare at a screen for two hours. You wanted to stare at a boy," Michelle said.

Stephanie turned in her chair. "Let's just say my mind would have been on him. But, I think even kids in your grade would hate being stared at for two hours." Michelle chuckled. "You laugh now. But, just wait. One of these days...." Michelle shook her head. Stephanie rose to leave. "I know they don't seem like it now. But, one day they'll stop looking like snakes and snails and puppy dog tails."

"That part's not so bad. I love puppies," Michelle said seriously. Stephanie stifled a laugh as she exited their room.

Michelle completed her homework. Then, her mind drifted to their discussion yesterday. Stephanie had said some interesting things. She certainly knew a lot about relationships.

Michelle knew she would someday get excited over boys. But, she couldn't imagine that happening for a long time. Although, that note from Jeff made her think. "Could Jeff be ready already," she wondered aloud, turning to their Golden Retriever, Comet. "It didn't seem like it, but his note was secret. So, maybe he's just starting to think about it. I guess if he's not doing anything big, like asking me out, I won't bother with it. Right, Comet?" The dog cocked his head to one side and gtzed back at Michelle.

She shook her head. Why should it be a boy she already knew? Stephanie had gone bananas over a boy she'd just met. "She said you have to know a guy. But, she seemed crazy over Josh by the end of yesterday evening. How could that be?" The dog laid down and rolled onto his side at the query.

Michelle hummed. "Stephanie can't put some things into words. But, maybe there are answers somewhere else." She grinned mischievously. "Somewhere like her diary."

Michelle shook her head. Stephanie never let Michelle read her diary. That wouldn't be playfulness. It would just be wrong. "Just because I'd be forgiven doesn't give me the right to do wrong things. I shouldn't look at it."

Michelle thought about Stephanie's newest crush instead. "Stephanie must really like Josh, Comet. She says his name in such a silly way."

And yet, he'd only been in the country for a few days. What made Stephanie act like that?

Michelle gazed at Stephanie's dresser. Her diary laid under some old sweat pants. She knew she shouldn't read it. But, Michelle only wanted a little piece of information. It would be great for her social studies paper.

She felt badly as she walked to Stephanie's dresser and opened it. "Should I take it?" She pulled out the diary. Pangs of guilt crept across her. "I could just put it back. I really want to. But, I really want to read it, too. I wonder how much more she's written."

Michelle couldn't help but read. What could be in there that was so bad? "One page won't be a problem, will it, Comet? I'll read just one page." She opened it. The word "prediction" was at the bottom on the right. "What could that prediction be?"

She turned the page. "Just one peek," she promised herself. Once she turned the page, though, Michelle began laughing. "Jeff and I? At the senior prom? No way! He'd tell jokes and play tricks on people all evening. Even I know you don't do that at a dance."

Then, she started to think. Could it be? What kinds of things would they have in common?

Michelle realized there were quite a few. She and Jeff had great senses of humor. Jeff was a cool friend. He just wasn't a best friend. They liked the same TV shows and movies. They both liked baseball. Jeff was better than Michelle, but he didn't boast about that.

Michelle nodded slowly. Jeff and she were pretty close, after all.

She failed to hear the footsteps behind her. They turned from light steps to hard stomps as they grew closer.

"Michelle," cried Stephanie.

Michelle jumped, startled. Stephanie swiped the diary out of her hand. Her face was red. She gritted her teeth. Michelle wondered if smoke might come out of her ears next. "I can't believe you. After all I did with you yesterday. How rude!"

Michelle gulped. She felt her cheeks getting hot. "I'm sorry, Steph..." she said meekly. She hoped Stephanie wasn't too mad at her. She hadn't seen her this upset in a long while "Maybe she's mad, too, because she thinks I'm not thankful for yesterday."

Stephanie thrust her diary back into her dresser, slamming it shut. She put her hands on her hips and faced Michelle. "Dinner's almost ready, so I'll make this brief. You know you are not to look at my diary. I never want to see you in it again. Do you understand?"

Michelle nodded slowly. "I'm sorry," she repeated. Stephanie's face became less stern. "I hope she can tell I feel bad." "I knew it was wrong. But, I was just curious..."

"Michelle, let me explain something. Never means never. What does never mean?"

Michelle admitted defeat. Why hadn't she listened to her conscience? "Never."

"Good. I'm glad we got that straight." Michelle breathed a sigh of relief. Stephanie sounded calmer. "If you have something to ask, you come to me." Michelle started to speak. "But, not now. You blew your chance." She stormed out of the room.

Michelle frowned. Stephanie hadn't given her a long lecture like she thought she would. Her face had been quite red, though. And, she'd hollered "how rude." That was something she said when she was little, and couldn't express herself as well. "She must have been furious. I hope she doesn't tell Dad now. He really dislikes it when we get in each others' personal stuff."

Michelle plodded downstairs. The Tanners' kitchen was abuzz with activity. Everyone was involved in some part of the meal. Even Nicky and Alex helped a little. They carried paper napkins and set them at the table. Danny was pulling an interesting looking casserole from the oven. He liked to make unusual recipes. Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky organized the serving trays and other items. Joey and D.J. made salads.

As Michelle got out the silverware, she turned to Stephanie. Stephanie was sprinkling cheese onto the salads. "Hey, Steph," she whispered, "I'm sorry I..."

"Let's let it go, Michelle," Stephanie interrupted her. Her tone sounded a lttle chilly. But, she seemed to be coaching herself to let the matter drop. "I'm sure you won't do it any more."

"Is something wrong," Danny wanted to know.

Michelle and Stephanie looked at each other. It didn't look like Stephanie had any comments. If Stephanie wanted to forget the matter, she would, too. "Oh, nothing. We solved it," Michelle stammered. Stephanie agreed. There was no problem now.

Danny looked perplexed, but relented. He trusted them to treat each other with respect. As long as they seemed to be, he wouldn't interefere. "Well...okay."

Michelle was glad Stephanie was getting over her snooping. But, soon she began to ponder the prediction. Jeff had already written her that note. Should she be seeing something in Jeff? Shuld they be starting a relationship?

"So Stephanie stares at her diary with this goofy grin," Michelle remarked on the playground Monday. The three friends were throwing a frisbee. "I forgot how weird it could be when I picked this subject. She hasn't had a serious crush in a while."

"It sounds like that diary would be fun to read," Cassie said. She nearly had to dive to snare Mandy's throw.

Mandy shot Cassie a warning look. Michelle explained. "Older sisters don't like anyone looking at their diaries. Ever." "At least Stephanie seemed to forget about it last night."

Michelle continued. "The things they write are even crazier. 'Boy of my dreams'? Yeah, right. Like Stephanie has dreams about a boy all the time."

A voice rose behind Michelle. "Yeh, Ellehcim, s'tahw pu."

She turned to see Jeff leaning upside-down against a tree. His words were also upside-down. His best friend, Lucas Hamilton, stood beside him. "Lufitab...uh...ecin yad, huh?"

Michelle and her friends laughed hard. "Jeff," said Michelle, "you are so funny." "What a neat way to talk. That would make a fun code."

"I wish I had a camera," Cassie declared.

"Or a tape recorder. How did you learn to talk upside-down so well," Mandy wondered.

Jeff unfolded his arms and shrugged. "Ti t'nsi ysae."

Michelle thought about Jeff as she threw the frisbee. Jeff's clowning didn't matter that much to her. In a way, it made him a better friend. He was a lot like Joey.

Michelle thought about Stephanie's boyfriends. She didn't fall for class clowns. But, Michelle enjoyed a crazy sense of humor. "One like Jeff's. He makes me smile almost as much as Cassie and Mandy do."

She watched as Jeff turned a backward somersault. She applauded him, and pondered some more. She and Jeff were already friends. And, hadn't Stephanie said that a couple had to be great friends before they could feel true love? That part made the most sense of all. "Love must be something more than having a rapid heartbeat. Like Stephanie says, you can have a rapid heartbeat and be having a heart attack."

Michelle's eyes grew wide. "Whatever Steph sees in Jeff and I, maybe it's already there. What if we already are boyfriend and girlfriend?"


Stephanie pulled several books out of her locker on Monday. She was a little angry at Michelle. But, Michelle had been remoseful. So, she gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Still, she'd spent lots of time with her Saturday. Michelle couldn't be upset at her for anything. If she were, that was the time to discuss it. So, what could have caused her to take her diary like that?

She had little time to think. Josh occuped much of her mind. They were meeting for pizza after school. He'd spoken of a summer mission trip Ed's church group was taking. He might go there, too. It was to a place called Papua New Guinea. Wherever that was, it sounded really exotic. She wanted to learn about it before their date.

"How do you think you'll do on your paper," Darcy wondered as they walked from their lockers. Darcy looked a little like Whitney Houston with her olive skin and dark hair.

"Pretty good. I found some mistakes. But, I got it rewritten in an hour or so." She explained what she'd rewritten.

Allie Taylor, Stephanie's best friend since Kindergarten, caught up to them. She had dark brown, wavy hair. "My mom always says it's best to have free time before something is due. That way, you'll go back to it fresh. You can concentrate on proofreading better."

Stephanie agreed. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible sometimes. "I think I'll get an A. I just wish I was Michelle's age sometimes. Sure, she's at the library a little. She has papers to write, but they're not nearly as long. She even interviewed me for one Saturday." They stopped outside her home room.

"What about," Darcy wanted to know.

"Relationships. I gave her a bunch of pointers." She laughed inwardly. "It almost sounded like she thought she had a crush. That could explain her snooping."

Allie agreed. "She's still young. But, who knows? It could happen."

Stephanie suddenly dismissed that thought. "No, if that were the case, why didn't she say something Saturday?" Her friends were unsure. "Anyway, I'm going to the library after school," Stephanie said.

Darcy chuckled. "What, you think that's your home?"

Allie told Stephanie to relax. "I know you think you live there after the last couple weeks. But, you don't have any more papers due right now."

"I want to look stuff up for fun. Specifically, about Papua New Guinea." "Michelle was stunned at how much I thought about Josh yesterday as it was. If she knew about this, she'd think I'd flipped."

Before either girl could respond, Sarah Jones walked by. She was a member of the Flamingoes. They were a clique at school that acted really cool. They were mean and arrogant. However, most of the students didn't know this. Hence, quite a few boys went out with them. Stephanie, Darcy, and Allie were just about the only students who disliked the Falmingoes.

"Hey, 'Step On Me,'" teased Sarah. "There's a new ninth grade boy in John Muir. He's a major hunk with a gorgeous accent. Not that you'll ever get him. He's in Renee Salter's home room. He's as good as her boyfriend already." Renee was the Flamingoes' leader.

Stephanie held a hand to her mouth. She struggled to keep from bursting out laughing. "Mmmppfff," came the muffled sound as she walked into her home room. "I'd give anything to be a fly on that wall. That's got to be Josh. He'll mention our date. And, the look on Renee's face would be priceless!"

Stephanie nearly skipped to the library after school. She'd run into Renee at lucnh. Renee had glared at Stephanie, and whispered. "He came in Friday evening. How did you ever find him before me?" Renee had been startled beyond belief. This was turning into a perfect day.

Stephanie browsed several books on the country in question. However, she didn't take notes. If she'd done that, she would have felt like she was studying. Not only that, but she didn't want to appear too knowledgeable. Josh might suspect she'd read up on it just to impress him.

The country intrigued her as she read. Much of the land was jungle. There were also places where one could scuba dive. They'd had lots of earthquakes there several years ago. But, it still seemed like a nice place to visit. After all, living in San Francisco, one grew used to small tremors.

She closed the largest book. Stephanie glanced at her watch for the fifth time since arriving. She would be ten minutes early, but she still left quickly. She was too anxious to see Josh.

She'd called home to say she was meeting friends for pizza. It felt so ironic. She'd missed many things the last couple weeks. Family dinners were not one of them, though. Now that she was mostly free, she was skipping supper with them.

Josh entered just as she sat down next to Darcy and across from Ed. "Great, we'll have time to get to know each other."

Josh went up to place their order. Stephanie paid no attention to Darcy and Ed. She'd been too busy thinking about Papua New Guinea and Josh.

The girls quickly excused themselves to the restroom. "Sorry, Darcy, I'm a little excited."

"I'd say dreamy is a better word," teased Darcy. "They're both great, aren't they?"

Stephanie grinned broadly. "Why have I only focused on boys in our school? I can't imagine such a narrow range anymore. Ed's home schooled, yet you met him at the library. And, just last week, Josh was on another continent! Yet, in all my years, I never thought about such kids. A whole new world of boys has opened."

Darcy laughed. "Yeah, that's one way to look at it."

The order had come by the time they returned. Stephanie spoke abruptly. "So, Josh, would you and your brother be able to pray in English this summer if you go to Papua New Guinea?"

Josh nodded. "Yes. But, reading could be hard. Many who don't speak native languages speak something called 'pidgin English.'"

"What's that," Darcy inquired.

Stephanie turned to her friend. Josh had laughed hard at Michelle at the rally. She'd heard him talk about praying for Turkey, where his parents were missionaries. She said she'd rather pray for cake. So, perhaps he'd be impressed if she spoke of her sister's silliness. "I don't know, but can't you just hear Michelle? 'How do they teach the pigeons to talk?'"

Josh laughed. He shared his own funny story. "I saw my parents trying hard to get drivers' licenses renewed when we were in Turkey. So that's the only license I knew. Well, then we got a dog. I read a list of errands, and one of them said 'dog license.' So I said in this shocked voice: 'Mom, do dogs drive?'"

Giggles filled the table. Stephanie quickly forgot about the annoying part of having a little sister. Michelle had been so much fun Saturday. And now, here she was swapping funny stories about little kids. "That is so Michelle," came Stephanie's comment. "I can just hear her. What do you do in Turkey?"

"Plant churches. We try to groom nationals to be ministers, but it's very hard. It is almost easier with native tribes like in New Guinea."

"Is that why you came back?"

Josh explained that he needed a place to stay. "My parents are on furlough. They are travelling to churches to raise more support. So, they will be going around the country."

Stephanie nodded slowly. Travelling around the United States sounded interesting. However, she could understand why he'd wish to stay in one place. "I imagine it's quite exciting. What would you do in New Guinea?"

"I'd be performing in some plays...."

"That's great, I love plays!" She didn't care what kind he meant. She didn't like to brag. But, she enjoyed performing, as long as it was for fun. "I starred in Romeo and Juliet for Drama class last year. I had the talent to go to dance school one summer. But, I would have been dancing every day. I wouldn't have had a life."

Josh explained that "Commitment is essential for something like this. I may wish to dedicate my whole life to missions work."

"That's great, good for you." She paused a moment. Was it great? Then, she might not get to see him very much. Not even this summer.

Oh, well, what did it matter? He said he might. Perhaps he would decide against it.

Stephanie thought about Johs's parents. "It has to be hard being away from your family." Josh agreed. "My mother died when I was five. It was really hard at times. But, I made it, because there was always lots of love, with my big family. There were lots of people to talk to or just to hug me when I felt down."

"That's very important." He seemed to choose his next words carefully. "Do you know if you will see her again?"

Stephanie hoped she understood his question. As she'd told Michelle, understanding each other was one of the keys to a relationship. "You mean in Heaven? Oh, sure," she remarked speedily. "I mean, I don't think about it. We have to live in the present, not in the past or future. Still, I was so glad Michelle prayed Saturday, at the end of your devotional. It reminded me of how excited I'll be someday. Sometimes, I think of how I miss her. But, there's something about it that's different. It's like it's not forever, I guess," she spoke finally.

"We do not mourn like those who have no hope," Josh stated simply.

She gestured with a breadstick. "Exactly! That's just what I was trying to say. Where did you hear that? It's so profound." Her voice contained a hint of awe. Hearing the words from that fabulous accent seemed doubly great. He sounded like a great sage.

Ed explained. "It's from the Bible."

Stephanie grimaced. She felt like an idiot. "How could I not have thought of that," she scolded herself. "He is a missionary's kid." What good did it do to know all about New Guinea if Josh thought she was a complete dummy otherwise? And, that wasn't the worst part. Josh might think all her interest in him was phony. In fact, the exact opposite was true.

Josh rescued her. "If you learned that verse at her funeral, you might have wanted to forget it. Do you mind me asking how she died?"

Stephanie hoped his mind was off her gaffe. She couldn't help but wonder, though. "She was killed by a drunk driver. Luckily, she was the only one in the car." Stephanie couldn't imagine how sad she would have felt if anyone else had died.

"That's a shame," was all Josh would say. He leaned forward. "Hey, don't feel bad about not knowing that verse. There are lots of people like you."

Stephanie decided to admit it. This was a very understanding boy. She liked him more all the time. "Thanks. It almost seems like you're on such a different level. You can pray in I don't know how many languages. And me? I can't place one thing in English."

"None of us are perfect." He took a bite of pizza, then continued. "But, the imoprtant stuff isn't meant to be difficult. Anyone is only a single, sincere prayer away from eternal life. Like Michelle prayed Saturday, to make sure she understood her salvation decision from camp. And, the sad part is, so few know that. That's why I have such a desire to tell people. And why I am considering a life in missions."

Stephanie nodded slowly. She munched on her pizza. As she did, she pondered how distressing it would be if she had no hope of reuniting with her mom. She missed her a lot as it was. She wondered if she should tell others about it just like Josh did. After all, then the two could be together. She would truly be going to the ends of the earth with a boy.


After supper, Michelle read on the couch next to D.J.. Her mind drifted to Josh. She laughed at Stephanie's excitement. It seemed funnier when it happened so fast. It was as if a light bulb had suddenly turned on in her brain.

"When will I get excited over Jeff," she asked herself. "From what Stephanie wrote, it should be soon."

Stephanie walked in from the kitchen. "Is Josh here yet," she wondered.

D.J. smiled and looked up from her book. "You're serious about him, huh?"

"Yeah. Say, did they choose a vacation spot?"

Michelle spoke. "We narrowed it to one of 42 states."

Stephanie smiled at Michelle. "Good. I've found the perfect place. I want to go to Papua New Guinea!"

"What about Mama New Guinea," Nicky asked. He was walking past them to go upstairs for his bath.

"Do they have any baby New Guineas," Alex wondered as he followed his brother.

Stephanie shook her head. "Nope. Sorry, boys." They walked upstairs.

Michelle grinned. She wanted Stephanie to be proud of her again after that diary incident. Besides, Stephanie wouldn't choose a boring place. So, she would try to be excited about it, too.

Stephanie explained. "It's got beautiful jungles, scuba diving..."

"And Josh," Michelle said casually.

"Michelle," Stephanie said, a little annoyed.

Michelle disliked the tone. However, she couldn't resist poking a little fun at her sister. After all, Stephanie probably didn't know where that was before Saturday. She certainly didn't know it would be a good vacation site. "Sorry." Michelle took a deep breath, using her most dreamy voice possible. "I meant Jooooooooshhhhh."

Stephanie looked at Michelle as if she had grown two heads. D.J. burst out laughing. "Come on, Steph. You have to admit that was a great parody."

"I never acted like that with your boys, did I, Deej," Stephanie spoke defensively.

D.J. nodded slowly. She used a slightly higher voice. It sounded like Stephanie's had when she was nine. "Remember this? 'Rickmeister, Rick-atoni, Rick-ory-dicory-dock.'"

The young teen admitted defeat. "Okay, maybe I did. But still..."

The doorbell rang. Stephanie ran and opened it. "Josh, Mark, great to see you," she spoke happily. "Come on in. Michelle, go tell...wait. D.J., you tell Dad Josh is here. I don't want Michelle's mouth out of my sight."

Michelle rose and greeted the arrivals. "Hi, glad you could make it." And, she was. Watching Josh and Stephanie might give her a clue about how Jeff and she should be acting.

She winked at Josh. "And Stephanie's really glad." Stephanie glared, but held her tongue.

Josh snickered. "Hey, we came to see you, too," he told Michelle. They were visiting kids who had made decisions after his sermon.

D.J. and Danny walked into the room. "You must be Mr. Tanner," Mark remarked. They introduced themselves. Everyone shook hands. Michelle shook her dad's to be silly. Then, she shook Stephanie's hand. Stephanie shook hers tiredly. "Stephanie's playing along. Maybe she's doing it for him."

Mark continued to speak to Danny. "Did Michelle tell you what she did Saturday?"

"Yes. We're all very happy," Danny said proudly. "We have incredibly busy schedules. Sometimes, church isn't high on our list. But, I know making that decision is very important."

Michelle spoke. "Stephanie would have told lots of people, too. But she's been thinking about..." Stephanie anxiously waved her hands and held a finger to her lips. However, Michelle inhaled deeply and spoke. "Jooooooshhhhh." She shot Stephanie an ornery grin.

Stephanie stepped behind Michelle and squeezed her shoulders. "What would you do with this kid, Mark? What did you do when Josh would bug you around girls?"

Michelle gulped. She could tell she was getting on Stephanie's nerves. "Stephanie sounds irritated. Luckily, she sounds like she's being playful, too."

Mark chuckled. "Usually I'd tell stories of him as a baby."

"Oh, I could tell stories. Couldn't I, Michelle," Stephanie teased in a threatening way.

Michelle grinned and looked back. This was so much fun. Plus, it was better than being angry at each other. "Yeah, but I can get pictures. And you know how many Dad takes."

Stephanie let go of Michelle. "In that case, one more remark from you and you better not open your dresser for a while."

Michelle shot her sister a puzzled look. What could that mean? She wasn't sure. However, she knew one thing. Her sister was upset. Plus, she was definitely boy crazy. "Nobody in my class will have a paper this interesting."

The six sat and talked for a couple minutes. Stephanie then suggested that Mark and Michelle go downstairs. Joey was working on a skit for a birthday party down there.

Michelle couldn't understand why Stephanie was anxious for her to leave. "I want to stay up here with you,"the nine-year-old insisted. She was anxious to learn about Josh in any way she could. "I want to hear all about this great vacation Josh..."

"...more, Mt. Joshmore," shouted Stephanie. Speaking rapidly, she continued. "That's the mountain next to Mt. Rushmore. But, of course everyone knows the Presidents on Mt. Rushmore. But Mt. Joshmore is a really beautiful mountain."

Only later did Michelle guess Stephanie didn't want her talking about the vacation. Michelle whispered to Josh. "And I know whose face is on that mountain."

Stephanie glared at Michelle, but blushed at the same time. She stood. "You know, we've got some great ice cream in the freezer. Would anyone like any? No? Michelle, it's all yours. You can have what I would have eaten for dessert."

Michelle clapped. "Okay, I understand, Steph," Michelle blurted. "You want to get alone with Josh."

Stephanie was mortified. "I can't believe you," she shouted without thinking. "Just remember, you were warned!" Danny looked unsure of what to do. He finally chose not to interfere. Michelle and Mark went downstairs.

Michelle walked upstairs shortly after their guests left. Her dad and Stephanie were in the second floor hallway. She waited and listened.

"Steph, can we talk?" Stephanie turned toward their dad. "You know, I think Josh is a nice boy. You've made a good choice." She thanked him. "My hunch is you've heard him talk about exotic, foreign lands. And, that's what makes you want to go to some unknown place on the globe for vacation. Am I right?"

Danny was right. Stephanie dreamed of adventures with Josh. However, the way Stephanie had insisted on such a trek doomed it. As Danny spoke, Michelle realized Stephanie must have been really anxious to go. "You have never had an interest in scuba diving, for instance. I don't think you want to now. I'll let you start when you're 102."

Stephanie lowered her head for a second. "Yeah. I just want something new and exciting. I want to do something we've never done as a family."

Danny put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. "I understand. But, there are plenty of fun, new places in the Western Hemisphere. There are fun, new places in the United States, in fact. We'll stick to our country for now." Michelle knew by his tone that the decision was final.

Michelle entered her room, ready to change into her pajamas. She opened her dresser, forgetting about Stephanie's threat. "Yikes," she screamed. Three rubber snakes stared angrily at her.

She noticed Stephanie walking into the room. "Are these yours," she asked in an accusing voice. She held up the snakes.

Stephanie spoke in a loving, yet scolding tone. "Yes, they are. I told you not to tease my boyfriends. I also told you not to tell boys I have crushes on them or anything like that. And you did tonight, when you said I wanted to get alone with Josh."

"But it's true, isn't it? Just like you wanted to go to New Guinea," Michelle insisted.

Stephanie sighed. "You just don't understand yet, Michelle. At your age, it's just cute notes. But, it's a lot more at my age. I really can't explain it. But, sometimes we say and think things that would be fun. Like going to New Guinea together. But, we don't know ourselves if we really mean it or not. So, we don't want everyone to know. Not everything about how boys and girls think is meant to be public. Until you understand, I don't want you interfering with my relationships." She lectures a little like Dad, Michelle thought. "I mean it."

"No more rubber snakes?" Michelle muttered. Stephanie promised that was part of the deal. "Okay."

Stephanie hugged Michelle briefly. Michelle sensed that her sister was telling herself not to stay upset. "You really drove me crazy tonight. I know you just wanted to be playful. So, you got a joke played on you."

Michelle grinned meekly. "I have been bugging you pretty much, huh," Michelle confessed. "I'm sorry I got carried away."

"We'll talk about it some other time," Stephanie remarked before she left

As Michelle thought about them, the snakes were kind of funny. In fact, that trick seemed like one of Jeff's. "Maybe I like that stuff more than I thought."

She wasn't sure what more there was to it than cute noes. But, Stephanie had hinted that something might be starting. After all, there had been one cute note written.

Now, Michelle would try to make her relationship grow. She would try to copy Stephanie. Maybe then, she could have a real boyfriend. Just like her big sister.


Michelle and Cassie sat beside each other on the bus Tuesday. Mandy sat in front of them. Michelle was describing Josh's visit. "It's so weird. Stephanie says New Guinea would be a great vacation place. Then when I agree, she gets upset. Plus, she puts rubber snakes in my dresser." Michelle wasn't bothered by the snakes anymore. But, she still didn't want that to happen again. They had looked way too real.

"Are you sure that wasn't for looking at her diary," Mandy wanted to know.

"I don't think so. They would have appeared Sunday if they were." Still, she couldn't be sure. She was too busy thinking about Stephanie's prediction.

Cassie asked how Mandy's paper was going, then reported "I'm writing about my great-grandmother. She came from Germany right after the war. She fell in love with an American soldier and married him."

Michelle thought that sounded interesting. She wished she'd had a chance to meet her.

Michelle's attention quickly turned toward Jeff, though. She chuckled slightly. Jeff and Lucas were making popping noises with their fingers in their mouths. "It'd be hard to imagine having a crush on him right now. But, Stephanie hasn't fallen for all her boyfriends right away, either."

She couldn't resist kidding him. She tried to speak romantically. "Hey, Jeff," she called.

"What," Jeff wanted to know. "Don't tell me Stephanie likes Dave now."

Michelle tried to set a date to see how it felt. She suggested something she'd enjoy doing with anyone. "No. She just thinks you and I will be going steady. So, do you want to get some ice cream after school?" "I don't really feel anything when I talk to him. Am I supposed to?"

Lucas teased his friend. "Hey, can I be best man at your wedding?"

Mandy jumped in, too. "My sisters and I were in my mom's wedding. I hope you choose the same style dress. I can wear my older sister's."

Michelle laughed. Things were getting silly now. However, snobby Rachel Tilly spoke. Michelle knew Rachel would say something sarcastic and darken the mood.

Sure enough, she did. "Well, if you're going to talk like that, then you have to kiss each other. I bet you can't do that."

Michelle and Jeff looked at each other for a second. "Ewwwww," both said. Each leaned back and made a grossed out face.

Rachel gave a satisfied grin. "See. I knew you weren't ready."

Michelle grumbled. Rachel always spoiled peoples' fun. The others on the bus enjoyed the jokes about Michelle and Jeff. Why did Rachel have to ruin things?

"I'd rather kiss a frog," Jeff declared. His face lit up. "Hey, maybe that's why the princess did it in that fairy tale. She'd rather kiss a frog than one of us boys."

Michelle laughed. Usually, if she needed it, her best friends cheered her up after Rachel's stinging comments. Now, Jeff was doing it. "Yeah, right. Like anyone would kiss a frog."

As the day wore on, Michelle thought more about Stephanie and Josh. What drew them so close so fast? And, how did that tie in with her and Jeff? After all, Michelle and Jeff had known each other since Kindergarten.

Michelle joined Jeff on the kickball field at recess. She watched Jeff kick the ball really hard. It nearly went over the fence, into the parking lot. He slid into home plate to complete his home run. "Ow," he cried.

Michelle ran to him. She studied Jeff's bruise. He'd skinned his elbow rather badly. "Here, that's bleeding a little. Let's go get that washed."

He thanked her. "Say, who wrote that with the ketchup?"

Michelle pointed at herself. She'd traded sandwitches with Jeff on the bus that morning. Just before she left, she'd used ketchup to write on her sandwich. "It was me."

Jeff laughed uncomfortably. "That was funny. A sandwich with 'Help! Don't eat me!' written on it," he said as they got to the nurse.

The bell rang as they left the nurse's office. She and Jeff went to class. "So, was Jeff trying to impress you," Cassie teased before they sat.

Michelle raised her eyebrows. She hadn't had time to think about that. "Maybe. I mean, it's not like he wants me to ask him to the prom. We've got eight years. But, he looks kinda cute, I guess." She gasped. "Did I just say that? That sounded like Stephanie."

"What's going on here," she wondered as the day continued.

Danny was dusting the vacuum cleaner when Michelle got home. "Good afternoon, pumpkin." He hugged and kissed her. "How was school today?"

She placed her backpack beside the couch and sat. "Great. Dad, how did you know Mom was the right woman for you?"

Danny coughed. Michelle could tell he wasn't ready for that question. He often found it hard to see his girls grow up. "Well...uh...why do you want to know?"

"Don't worry, Dad. I don't like boys like Steph does yet," Michelle said. "At least, I don't like them as much as she does."

"What a relief." He sat down and gave all his attention to her. "It's really hard to explain how people fall in love. It just happens."

Michelle decided not to tell him about Stephanie's diary. Instead, she reminded him of her assignment. "We're supposed to write a few pages about family relationships."

"So, you'd like to hear about how Mom and I met," Danny guessed.

Michelle smiled. She loved that story. She'd heard it dozens of times. She could write on that topic from memory. However, she was more curious about Stephanie. And, she hoped that would help her with Jeff. "I'm writing about Stephanie and her boyfriends. She and Josh got together so fast, it's incredible."

"Sometimes that happens. But, true love means getting to know each other, too."

Michelle was puzzled now. "I thought you said Stephanie made a good choice."

"I did. She looks for good qualities when she looks for boys. Qualities like honesty, compassion, respect for others, and so forth. The kind that mean they would make for a good mate years down the road. That was her good choice. Josh is a very nice boy. After that, Stephanie becomes friends with them. Sometimes they go together for a couple weeks, sometimes a couple months."

Michelle nodded. Stephanie had said that during their picnic Saturday.

However, Stephanie had fallen for Josh awfully fast. She was as crazy over him as she had ever been over anyone. It reminded Michelle of the story about her parents. "Didn't you and Mom get married in your teens?"

"Yes, I proposed at the senior prom." A light bulb seemed to go on over his head. "But, honey, we were a very rare exception. Your mother and I met her first day of high school. We liked each other a lot right away, like you see with Stephanie and Josh. But, something very important happened between us. We became best friends right away. And, we remained best friends till the day your mom died."

Michelle grinned sadly. She thought about how her dad and mom had gone steady all the way through high school. Then, they'd been married for what, twelve years? So, they'd had a close friendship which had lasted longer than Michelle had been alive. "Dad must have been heartbroken when Mom died."

Still, Michelle said, scratching her head, "I thought Joey was your best friend."

Michelle's Aunt Becky walked in the door with the twins. Nicky and Alex ran toward their dad in the kitchen while Danny explained. "My best friend in college, yes. We did everything together.. And, I knew I could turn to him right away after that accident. I desparately needed friends like him and your Uncle Jesse," Danny remarked.

He added an important point. "But, your spouse should be your best friend in life. A person you can confide in and have fun with and trust no matter what."

"Your Uncle Jesse and I are the same," Becky noted. "We're best friends, as well as husband and wife. After you've known a guy for a while, if there's no strong friendship forming, that's when you should stop."

Michelle's eyes widened. "Whoa. Does Dad see whatever Stephanie sees?" "So you think Jeff and I..."

Becky's eyes widened. "Jeff? Jeff Farrington? The one who cheated off you?"

Michelle defended her friend. "He wouldn't do that anymore. He knows better now. Besides, he told the truth in the end. Plus, he'd be too afraid I'd tell on him."

Becky leaned against the couch. "Way to go, girl. You should never take advantage of a boy. But, you don't want to be with any boy who would take advantage of you, either."

"Aunt Becky, do you think Jeff and I might be married someday?"

Becky chuckled.

Danny explained. "It's way too early to know now. You might wind up marrying a boy from grade school. But, you might meet your husband in middle school, high school or college."

"Or, you could be like me," Becky said. "The man of your dreams might be halfway across the country disguised as Elvis."

The three laughed. Becky enjoyed kidding Jesse about his love of Elvis Presley. But, both knew it was all in fun. Maybe that was part of what her dad meant about being best friends. They could laugh with each other - and at themselves - and not be hurt. Best friends weren't bothered by each others' quirks. "I'll bet Mom and you used to have so much fun laughing about how you're always cleaning things, Dad." Danny nodded and smiled wistfully. Michelle hugged him.

"It doesn't always happen right away," Becky remarked. "It took your Uncle Jesse and I a few years to get really close. Only really close friendships surrvive tough tests. Any man and woman have to have lots of committment to survive those tests."

Michelle thanked her dad and Aunt Becky, and went upstairs. She reminded herself to include the part about committment in her paper. It explained why Stephanie had never grown really close to any boys.

Then, Michelle thought about her and Jeff. Their friendship had also survived major trials. There was the cheating incident. But, he also drove her crazy when they were to perform a school play. He hung around her all the time wanting to rehearse because he was so poor at memorizing lines. He even did that when she and her friends planned to spend their weekend together. Despite those problems, they were still good friends.

She reflected further. Jeff could make her laugh. He didn't mind making fun of himself. She didn't mind jokes at her expense, either. As long as they weren't sarcastic, like Rachel's.

She sighed dreamily as she entered her room. Comet was stretched out on Michelle's rug. She gazed at him and asked "Comet, how does the name 'Michelle Farrington' sound?"


Stephanie jogged over to the phone booths at John Muir Middle School Tuesday. She, Darcy, and Allie had met there since the first day of sixth grade.

She was incredibly excited about her world-travelling boyfriend. She spoke so fast, she sounded like an auctioneer. Allie and Darcy almost couldn't understand her.

"Did Josh talk to you with or without everyone else there," Darcy asked anxiously.

"With, but that's a plus. You know my dad, right?" Both nodded and chuckled. "Okay, that was a silly question." "Anyway, he's really impressed. He thinks I made a great choice!"

Allie looked puzzled as Stephanie clasped her hands with glee. "Wait a minute. I'm a little confused. I thought your dad usually grilled every boy with questions for a long while."

Stephanie grinned sheepishly. "Caught in my own excitement." Her very broad smile slowly disappeared. "Well, that was after Dad asked most of the questiosn when Josh was there. And, he actually said a good choice, not a great choice." Her smile left almost completely. "And it was at the start of a mini-lecture about not going to New Guinea on vacation."

Allie put a hand to her mouth. "You actually suggested...wait a minute." She smiled knowingly. Allie had been around Michelle enough to know certain things. "Michelle blurted it out, didn't she?"

"I've asked guys out on dates. But, even I wouldn't be that bold," Darcy acknowledged.

Stephanie laughed and pointed a thumb at her chest. "No, it was old blabbermouth Stephanie." She chuckled. "Let's face it, guys, this is the most totally cool thing to happen to any of us. Ever. We talk about such deep subjects. Things I never thought about discussing with a boy."

Allie looked visibly stunned. "You actually told him about that time you wouldn't forgive Michelle?" she whispered.

"Okay, not like that yet," Stephanie admitted. She lowered her head momentarily. "That's the stuff you tell really close family and best friends. I can't imagine ever telling a boy that. And, it's worse with Josh. He takes such pride in how nice his brother's always been. In fact, I've tried extra hard to laugh at Michelle because of him."

She shook her head and said "That's for way later, anyway. Right now I just wnt to have fun being with him." She placed a hand on Darcy's shoulder as the warning bell rang. "Sorry, Darce. I haven't even said thank you yet, much less asked about Ed. So, before I forget, thanks for letting me know about Josh," she said with gratitude.

"You're welcome. And you know, maybe that's the key to whether you can have a real relationship. Can Josh accept you, even with that dark secret," Darcy remarked as they walked toward their lockers.

"And you're going to have to find out soon. Face it, girl. You are smitten," Allie kidded her

"Yeah, you can say that again." She sighed dreamily. Even if she didn't go to New Guinea, she could still go somewhere. Plus, what if she could star in a play with him? What if they even kissed? Doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet was exciting enough. This would go beyond fantastic.

She and Josh had the same English class. Once there, Josh admitted that he'd need some help. "I can speak English well. But some of my pronunciation is poor."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Stephanie reassured him. To her, mispronunciation was just part of the fun of having him around.

Josh smiled at her. "I really would like to do better, though. Maybe we could meet for pizza again this afternoon."

Stephanie couldn't believe it! She'd been asked out again! It was only for pizza. And, he was reallly asking for help, not a date. Still, a "yes" flew from her mouth before she knew it.

She laughed inside. "D.J. didn't feel anything this great at my age, did she? She couldn't have." Stephanie thought for a second that it could develop into love. She knew it would happen someday. It had for D.J.. It only lasted about eighteen months. But, D.J. and a boy named Steve had been very serious for a while, starting when D.J. was fifteen.

Stephanie practicaly ran to Anthony's after school. She breathlessly placed an order. "Hey, Stephanie," a boy called out to her. It was Frank Lyman, a boy she liked a little last year. He was now in high school. "Looks like you've been doing some serious running. Trying out for the track team," he asked hopefully.

Stephanie turned and looked at him. "Last year, that would have sounded great. Last week, it would have sounded great, in fact."

But now? Frank just didn't seem very interesting. "I don't...think so," came the friendly remark as she caught her breath.

"Too bad. I would have enjoyed running with you."

Stephanie shrugged. "Well, things could change." Indeed, a week before, she hadn't known Josh existed. Plus, Josh had said he might want to spend his life overseas. But, that wouldn't happen, would it? She couldn't imagine it.

She saw Josh enter, and recognized that she hadn't even sat. They grabbed a small booth. "Stephanie," he sopke in his Middle Eastern accent. The name sounded like "stayfnie" the way he pronounced it. "Am I saying it right? I know you would like to be polite, but I'd like to know the truth."

She giggled. "Stop it, Stephanie. You sound like you're still twelve," she chided herself. "Josh, if you want me to be honest, I did say your name in that long, funny way Michelle did last night. Compared to that, you're fine the way you're saying it."

Josh fiddled with a napkin. "It's great to see how patient you are. Kids her age can be rough. I remember once my brother really liked a girl. She was one of the first converts in our work there. Her name was Humiraa. Whenever she would come over or he would go to see her, he would sort of sing her name. Well, I would sing that name in front of him to the tune of every childrens' song you could think of."

Stephanie roared with laughter. At the same time, she considered how mortified she'd be if Michelle ever did that to her. She didn't know if she could stand it. "Oh no, what did your brother do!"

"He convinced me I had laryngitis and couldn't sing," explained Josh. "That worked until Mark and I were asked to sing with the childrens' choir. He told me the doctors said I was cured. I didn't know why I was cured, I just figured he was right."

Stephanie tried to envision what she'd do to Michelle. She imagined herself doing the same thing. It was nice to know Josh's family was so down to earth. They did amazing things. But, they weren't super spiritual like she'd thought missionaries were.

"I imagine Michelle does many of the same things I did. You put up with her well. Just like my brother did with me," Josh remarked.

Stephanie nodded. "Oh, yes," she blurted. "And, D.J. suffered from me before that. That's just part of the fun of being siblings," she said cheerfully.

However, as she spoke, she felt incredibly phony. She knew she hadn't always been as patient as Mark. But, she didn't think she could admit that. Not after getting this far with Josh. Yes, it was a different Stephanie now. She had become much more patient. But, that didn't matter to her. If she told him about that, she feared he would think all her interest was fake. "I guess we all have a deep, dark secret we can't tell anyone."

Josh relieved Stephanie by changing the subject. "Have you always lived here? We lived in San Francisco until I was two. Then, we went to Turkey. We've been to several other nations, too.".

Stephanie eyes grew wide. "It's amazing hearing about all this. We've always lived right here. Not only that, but my dad doesn't even want to leave the country on vacation." She supposed she could understand his point. Some places seemed rather dangreous. However, nothing had happened to Josh and his family.

Stephanie worried that he sensed she was hiding something. So, she jumped into another subject. "Josh, I love acting. Do you think I could be in a play with you," she asked excitedly.

"Oh, no, he looks really shocked. I must be blowing it big time! I don't even know any of the parts. Why can't I be subtle right now?"

"Uh, that is, if you need someone. After all, I'm very talented. I... Well, I told you this stuff before, didn't I," she babbled. "Boy, do I sound like a flake right now." She wondered what she could think of to regain control. "I never realized I could sound so loony. I guess having a boyfriend like Josh will do that."

"Hmmm, I suppose," he said very slowly. He held a finger to his chin for a moment. She could tell he was still quite shaken. "Tell you what. Our youth group is rehearsing tomorrow before church. We will be performing Saturday evening. I'm going over there right after school." He offered to let Mark pick her up then. "I imagine we could find you something."

They gazed lovingly into each others' eyes for a moment. "That'd be great," Stephanie replied. She ordered herself to remain calm. "Let him speak next. Right now, your mouth is a runaway train."

Josh explained. "We often use drama in New Guinea to present what the natives call 'God's Talk.' We go to villages to see if we would be welcome. We learn about the natives, then study the language and culture. We need to live with them and blend in culturally so they will accept us."

"Wow. You must be really talented to change cultures like that, Josh."

Josh seemed to notice her increased attention. "I'm glad you have such an interest in this. Now, I am curious about you. Tell me about your spiritual life."

Stephanie was embarrassed. Had she even prayed since Michelle recovered from her concussion? She wasn't sure. Was he going to reject her right away for that?

No, that didn't seem logical. He wouldn't have said "yes" a minute ago.

Still, she felt foolish. Whatever she said, it would sound lame compared to what he'd done in his life. She spoke very hesitantly. "Uh, Josh, I'm the girl who didn't know a simple verse was from the Bible." She wasn't sure what else he could mean.

"I mean your testimony." She looked at him as if he'd started speaking a foreign language. "Your relationship with the Lord. You have to play like you mean it," he said as if she was certain to know what he meant.

Stephanie paused for several moments. Finally tired of waiting, Josh spoke bluntly. She didn't think she detected any frustration. But, she feared it was there, anyway. "Was there a time you prayed like Michelle did Saturday?"

She perked up instantly. At least she knew about that. "Oh, that, of course. I'd rammed Joey's car into the kitchen when I was eight. I thought the 'R' button meant 'radio.' I didn't know how my dad could forgive me. I thought I deserved to be punished a lot worse. But, he forgave me, and I accepted it. Later D.J. and I were talking before bedtime about that blind faith. Just like Michelle used Saturday. She showed me how Jesus took my punishment for my sins. And, I received Christ's forgiveness that night." She hoped he didn't think she was clueless. She felt like it, though.

"I'm sure you won't believe this. But, that's a great testimony."

"It is?" She was shocked that he could accept something so simple. She was even more startled that he called it great.

Josh nodded as their order arrived. He said grace. Stephanie couldn't remember ever doing that, other than at Thanksgiving. After he finished, he explained. "Stephanie, most don't have access to lots of knowledge. But, that doesn't matter. It is a childlike faith that is important. That is how we live best. When we just trust Him to work in our lives."

Stephanie nodded. "I guess that's how you're going to decide whether to stay here or go overseas your whole life." She felt discouraged. It wouldn't be up to her at all. Still, though, she could try to have faith that he would stay. He seemed almost as compassionate as she remembered her dad being that day she wrecked the car.

She wished she knew what he would do. But, at least Renee was out of the picture. He wouldn't have another girlfriend. Unless...

"No, don't be silly, Stephanie. Michelle doesn't have a crush on your boyfriend."

On the other hand, one could never tell. Maybe Michelle just thought she did. Stephanie started to think about boys a little at nine. "If Michelle doesn't understand crushes, what's to stop her from thinking that?"

She thought harder. That would explain why Michelle bugged her so much. Plus, what if she was looking in her diary to find out about Josh? Not only that, but she might have misunderstood Josh Monday night.

Stephanie laughed inwardly and grinned. "I always told her it would happen someday. I just never expected it to be with my boyfriend."



Michelle turned abruptly from her sister's dresser. She expected to see Stephanie's angry scowl. However, her sister's face quickly became one of incredible mirth.

"Michelle, look at you!" Stephanie grabbed a tissue while laughing. She dabbed it with makeup remover and wiped Michelle's face. Michelle tried unsuccessfully to squirm out of her sister's grip. "The way you've acted lately, I should let you go to school looking like that. It would serve you right."

"Hey, don't squeeze so hard," Michelle complained. Stephanie let up a little, so it didn't feel like she was pinching her. But, she continued to wipe. "Cut it out."

Stephanie pointed Michelle toward her mirror. "You want to look this way? Your cheeks are purple, for one thing."

Michelle gasped in horror. She'd known Stephanie would be done in the bathroom soon. So, she hurried. "Oh no! I got her stuff all mixed up! I would be a laughingstock"

"You used way too much makeup. The secret is to make it look like you're not wearing it. Plus, you have eye shadow on your cheeks. You have lip pencil marks where eye liner goes. I'm surprised you don't have lipstick all over your forehead," Stephanie continued. She was smothering Michelle's face in cream. "Oh, why do I have to be out of film today?"

Michelle breathed a sigh of relief. "I don't know, but I'm sure glad you are. You'd show that picture all the time."

Stephanie dropped her arms to her sides and glared. "What? No 'I'm sorry I used your makeup without asking?'"

"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "Can I have a dab of perfume? Please?"

"You know you're too young for makeup. Dad and Aunt Becky left to host their show. But, you know Uncle Jesse or Joey would notice," Stephanie said.

"Perfume's not like makeup."

"You think I'd let you use my perfume? After you tried to go to school looking like Bozo the Clown?" Stephanie was finally finished. She grabbed her bookbag and left. "Come on, let's go down and eat breakfast."

Michelle followed wearily. "But, I want to impress..." It still sounded a little silly to her. But, if Stephanie thought they should be boyfriend and girlfriend, they would be. "Well, a boy."

"Your time will come," Stephanie said. "Just leave him to me, okay?"

Michelle ate slowly. Was Stephanie going to talk to Jeff? Maybe she'd tell him how great Michelle was. She didn't think she needed help. But, he had seemed very ill at ease. Not only that, but Michelle had helped Stephanie the same way, even when Stephanie had said "no." Why shouldn't Stephanie help her?

Still, how would Stephanie know it was Jeff? Michelle hadn't told anyone for sure. She'd only hinted about it to Aunt Becky. And, Stephanie hadn't babysat Jeff's younger brothers for a couple weeks. So, she wouldn't have heard in a roundabout way, either.

Michelle picked up speed. She remembered one thing she could do. She hadn't put her hair clip in yet. "Steph, can you do my hair fast? So I have a small pony tail off to the side a little? But, the rest is left longer?"

Stephanie shook her head as a car horn honked. "That's Allie's mom. Bye, guys." She mussed Michelle's hair. "You won't look like Bozo if you do that yourself. See ya."

Michelle sighed. Jesse was cutting pancakes for the twins. "Uncle Jesse, I'm probbly gonna miss the bus. It's going to take a little longer to do my hair right. Can you please take me to school?"

"Sure. I'll take you when I take the twins to preschool."

"Thanks." Michelle could walk to or from school if someone was with her. But, she would have to walk about ten blocks. And, she'd have to keep watching for traffic, strangers, dogs, and other things. Riding was more relaxing.

She came downstairs with her bookbag a couple minutes later. She scurried into the car, wedging herself between the twins' seats.

Nicky noticed Michelle's hair. "What the matter? Couldn't you make up your mind?"

Alex asked what was next. "Tomorrow will you wear one ponytail and one braid?"

"Now that would be silly," Michelle reamrked, giggling. "Besides, I don't know when I last wore a braid. First grade, maybe second."

"Your cousin Stephanie wore a style like that at Michelle age," Jesse told his children.

"Why," Nicky wondered. He sounded stunned.

They were soon at Michelle's school. "I'll take the bus home, Uncle Jesse. I love you."

"I love you too. Thanks for letting us know." Jesse drove off as Michelle rushed inside.

Michelle walked over to Jeff. "Hey, Jeff, like my hairstyle?" Except for Michelle's hair color, she looked just like Stephanie had at that age.

Jeff looked up at her. "You must have been in a hurry."

"Kind of. Alex asked if I'd wear one braid and one ponytail next," Michelle answered.

Jeff laughed. "Now that would be funny. You should do that, I'd like to see it," Jeff remarked.

"Hmmm. Maybe he is interested. He's telling me what would impress him. Even though it sounds nutty, I'll try it." Michelle wanted to know about the one she wore now. "Do you like this style?"

"How should I know; we've got all boys in my family. Well, except my mom, but she wears hers in a curl at the end. Like D.J.."

Michelle went back to her seat. She tried to think of other ways to get Jeff's attention. She realized Jeff had carried his own lunch. So, as they sat in the lunchroom, Michelle grabbed a packet of ketchup. She drew a large heart on a piece of cheese.

Cassie and Mandy each peeked over at her sandwich. "What are you doing," Cassie asked.

"Making Jeff a little surprise." She chuckled and walked the sandwich over to Jeff. "How about a trade," she asked.

"Sure." Jeff shrugged. "Did you put ketchup on it already? I like lots of ketchup."

"Open it and see." Michelle was anxious to see Jeff's reaction when he saw the heart.

"Oh no," she thought to herself. "He's blushing like crazy. It looks like his face is covered in ketchup."

Jeff quickly handed Michelle the piece of cheese. "Come to think of it, you keep the cheese."

"Jeff, you have peanut butter and jelly." Jeff insisted, so Michelle wearily took it back to her seat. Jeff refused to look toward her. She was horrified. "Oh, no, what have I done?"

Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy were in Michelle's room that afternoon. "Jeff still couldn't look at you on the playground," Cassie said.

Michelle nodded. "I wish I could ask Steph about this. But, she's with Josh." She grabbed a piece of paper and wrote a name. She held it up. It said "Michelle Farrington." "So, guys, what do you think?"

Cassie and Mandy were stunned. "It would...take some getting used to," Cassie said.

"Are you serious," Mandy wondered.

Cassie said "That would explain why Jeff stayed away from you all afternoon. Maybe he's scared you'll ask him to marry you next week."

Michelle held the sign and spoke. "I figured you two would know best. I don't think I feel anything. But, Stephanie thinks we'll be a couple. And, we've already had lots of trials like Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky had. Plus, we're friends like Dad and Mom were."

She flopped the paper at her side. "I just don't think I'm ready for a boyfriend. I mean, I like Jeff as a friend, but I think I spooked him too much. I should just go up to him and tell him I'm sorry." The others nodded. "I just don't know what Steph said. I mean, she said to leave him to her." Unless Stephanie didn't want them talking to each other. No, she wouldn't do that, Michelle considered. Not Stephanie. Maybe she spooked Jeff herself, instead. But, wasn't Stephanie really good at talking with guys?

Uncle Jesse noticed the open door and stepped inside. "Did the boys leave a stuffed duck in here?" He noticed it on Michelle's bed.

Cassie saw it, too. She handed it to Jesse. "There you go. You quacked the case."

"Thanks." Jesse turned to Michelle. He saw the paper saying "Michelle Farrington." "Have mercy. Your Aunt Becky told me you were hinting about that."

"About what, Uncle Jesse," Michelle wondered.

"About your crush." Jesse knelt and put his hand on Michelle's shoulder. "Listen," he spoke lowly. "I know you're wondering about you and Jeff marrying someday. Becky made me feel different right away. I never felt the same way about any woman before I saw her. And, I know you feel different than you've ever felt. But, a person doesn't get that feeling I got at your age. I don't even think I'd call it a crush, but you might. Have fun while it lasts. Just remember, even if it is a crush, it'll take many years till you feel true love for any boy."

"Thanks, Uncle Jesse." Michelle grinned as he walked out the door. He usually had good advice. However, she wasn't sure if she needed it this time.

She turned to her friends. Maybe they noticed something she hadn't. "Guys, do you think I have a crush on Jeff?"

"I wasn't sure. But, maybe you do, after what he said," Mandy observed.

"I thought he said she didn't," Cassie said.

Michelle held a finger to her chin. "Actually, he said I thought I did. I think."

"Except, you think you're not ready. So, you can't have a crush," Cassie noted.

Mandy held up a hand. "Wait a minute. So, your Uncle Jesse thinks you have a crush you don't have. He's telling you the crush he thinks you think you have isn't a crush. Except he calls it a crush, in a way."

"What?!" Cassie stared blankly at Mandy. "Run that by me again."

Mandy had no time to reply. As Michelle gave a confused shake of her head, D.J. entered. "Oh, Michelle," she said excitedly. "Having some girl talk about boys, huh?"

"Not again," Michelle said, rolling her eyes. She walked impatiently toward D.J.. She held out her hands. "Look, D.J., I do not have a crush on Jeff Farrington."

"Even though the people in this house think she does," Cassie said very slowly. She was looking more confused all the time

D.J. nodded and grinned. "She understood that? I can barely make sense of it, and I'm living it." Michelle was getting flustered. "Why can't they see I don't want to have a crush on Jeff. I want him to feel comfortable so he'll talk to me again."

D.J. smiled sweetly at Michelle. "I know you don't feel anything toward Jeff."

"At least someone in this house is making sense," Michelle declared emphatically.

"Steph told me last night. You think Josh is your special someone."

Michelle's mouth flew open. Her eyes bulged. Cassie and Mandy gasped. "Now I know Stephanie's flipped." "D.J., what are you talking about?"

"Steph had a crush on a guy I liked once. She was a few months older than you. It wasn't really a huge crush, but she thought it was," D.J. said.

Mandy turned to Cassie. "I thought Michelle thought hers wasn't a crush, but it was."

"Something like that," Cassie answered doubtfully.

"Steph says you show all the signs she did. She just realized it last night." D.J. placed a hand on Michelle's shoulder. "Kind of feels neat, huh?"

Michelle walked away. She gestured firmly with her left hand. "How could you think I would have a crush on Stephanie's boyfriend." "I would never take one of her boyfriends."

"The important question is, do you," D.J. asked.

"No." She turned slowly toward D.J.. "At least, I didn't think I did," Michelle said. "I didn't think I had one on Jeff, either."

D.J. replied "The fact you don't know you have a crush could prove that you do."

Cassie threw up her hands. "That's it! Somehow, I got on the wrong bus; and instead of coming home from school, I wound up in Alice in Wonderland."

D.J. spoke with a chuckle. "What I mean is, you might think you're in love. When it's really just a mini-crush. You girls don't know what a crush is yet. You have no experience. So, when you feel soemthing you don't know is a crush, you might think it's love.."

D.J. looked up, trying to recall her first crush. "I'm pretty sure my first was with the paperboy. I got all excited. I kept thinking about him. It only lasted a little while. But, it sure was fun." She patted Michelle on the head. "Stephanie knows you would never take her boyfriend. But, she figured out that's why you were looking in her diary. And, why you acted like you did around Josh. Plus, he said he came to see you. You and Josh aren't in love. It's not even a really big crush. But, that feeling sure is fun. See ya later." D.J. left.

Michelle and her friends gazed out the door for a moment. "Okay. This complicates things," Mandy spoke pensively.

"You're telling me," Michelle said with a small frown. "I know one thing. I'm never going to want to look at Steph's diary again."

"Now what do you do," Cassie wondered.

"If Steph thinks I have a crush on Josh, I'll act like I do. Maybe then, she'll be happy." Cassie and Mandy looked strangely at each other. "Yes, it sounds nuts. But, this entire situation has been nuts."


Uncle Jesse and Michelle walked into Josh's church. "Stephanie should be done with rehearsals pretty soon," Stephanie heard Jesse telling Michelle.

"Hey, guys," Stephanie called excitedly from behind them. The rehearsal had gone well. And, the song Josh chose for her to sing seemed so fitting. It spoke to her about her mom's passing, in a way. As they turned around, she said "I only have a small part. Just a song, really, and a few other lines. I'm playing a sister of a fellow named Lazarus. But, it's still really fun."

Stephanie grinned. Josh's family was so nice about letting her perform. That clinched it for her. She had to learn if he could accept her with her secret. She'd promised herself to tell him about Michelle's horse riding accident tonight. Now felt like the perfect time to test whether this could turn into love.

Michelle jogged merrily over to Josh. "Hey, Josh," she said warmly. "I've been praying for Turkey - and for ice cream," she joked.

Josh laughed. Stephanie pretended not to mind Michelle's humor. "I don't think she's being serious. So it's not too embarrassing."

The next utterance was mortifying, though. Michelle pointed at Stephanie. "You're going to have to start calling her 'Tigger.'"


"Yeah, she was bouncing so much thinking about you, I thought I was rooming with Tigger last night," Michelle remarked.

Stephanie's mouth flew open. "Michelle, what did I tell you about that?"

"Come on, Steph." Michelle glanced at Josh and grinned. "This is a boy who loves to have fun, and be silly. Aren't you, Josh?"

Josh smiled lightly at the young girl. "A merry heart doeth good like medicine."

Stephanie suddenly figured out what was happening. "D.J. didn't get a chance to speak to you, did she, Michelle?"

"About what?"

"About the fact you and Josh aren't in love," Stephanie remarked. She hated to be that blunt. But, it would embarrass her sister, not her.

"Oh, that." Michelle rubbed her chin. "You know, Steph, this is one great guy."

Stephanie walked forward and took Michelle's hand. "Yes, and I'm lucky to know him. Now, run along," she insisted. She led her back to Uncle Jesse, then walked back toward Josh. "Sorry about that."

Josh nodded. "I have to be going, anyway. See you around eight?"

"Sure." She looked quite disappointed as Josh walked away. So, too did Michelle. But, Stephanie couldn't tell why Michelle was disappionted. Unless, of course, Michelle really liked him a lot.

"He's not your boyfriend," Stephanie exclaimed after they walked silently and got into the car.

"Maybe he is, and he doesn't know it," Michelle insisted, hands on her hips.

"You don't have a right to him, he's my boyfriend," Stephanie screamed.

Jesse refused to start the engine. "Whoa, wait a minute," he insisted. "You girls are too close to be arguing over a boy, okay. Now, Steph, if Michelle thinks she likes one of your boyfriends, that's okay. She'll grow out of it pretty fast at her age. Michelle, you should look at kids your own age. But, even if you like Josh, it's like I said about Becky. He might make you feel different. But, it's not love, like I felt with Becky."

Stephanie sighed. Her Uncle Jesse was right. There was no reason to fight. Michelle was too young to understand. "I'm sorry, Michelle. I'm just so used to the Flamingoes fighting me over boys..."

"How can you compare me to those mean girls," Michelle asked tearily. She started to get out of the car.

Stephanie grabbed her arm. She hadn't meant to do that. But, she knew Michelle could easily misunderstand. She'd told her sister lots of stories about the way the Flamingoes acted.

"I'm sorry, Michelle," Stephanie said speedily. Michelle kept looking away. "Michelle, I never meant to compare you to them. I was just thinking about how they fight me, that's all. I know you're not like that. But, that was mean, and I know it. Will you please forgive me?"

Michelle slowly turned in her seat. "Okay," she muttered, thinking of Jeff. "But from now on, you stay away from my boyfriends just like you say about yours."

"Okay. We'll let Josh decide," Stepahnie declared.

Jesse smiled. "Josh knows you're both wonderful young ladies," he said as they rode away.

Stephanie still was a little upset at Michelle that evening. But, she was more upset at herself for blurting things out without thinking, just like before. She also should have been ready for Michelle to act a little crazy around Josh. Michelle seemed to get over it pretty fast, though. She was glad Michelle forgave so easily.

Stephanie chuckled as Joey drove her to pick up Josh. "I should ask Joey to talk to Michelle about a practical joke they could pull on me. That might make Michelle feel better."

Joey told Stephanie and Josh he'd be back at 9:00. They went into Anothony's, and Stephanie thanked Josh for the part in the play. "You must need lots of help over there."

"Many missionaries have to do everything at first. Even when we have help, it can be tiring. There's often no stage crew for something like this, for instance." Josh grinned. "But, it's still very rewarding."

Stephanie whistled slightly as she pondered her order. "He's thinking of spending his life showing people something wonderful. Something timeless. God's love, forgiveness, and mercy. I wish I could do that with him. Or, that he'd just stay here."

Josh spoke appreciatively. "I wish we had more people like you on the field.." The voice sounded very warm and friendly. "You're not the only one who wishes we could be together."

They placed a quick order. Their food arrived as Josh spoke. "That's one thing Mark never tried, rubber snakes. Of course, I didn't mind snakes," admitted the boy. "So, it wouldn't have been much of a prank. I imagine you've always had the same type of warm, loving relationship as Mark and I."

Stephanie glanced down at her pizza. While Josh said "grace," she kept thinking. She and Josh had become very good friends. But, could she really tell him? In a way, it was worse that he might become a missionary. Now, he could more easily avoid Stephanie.

She chided herself. "D.J. was right. You're harder on yourself about that than everyone else put together. It's the same as when you backed the car into the kitchen."

Stephanie couldn't believe she was about to admit this, though. Not long ago, she'd been timid about even mentioning her frustration. She'd feared it would offend him.

But now? Somehow, she felt comfortable confessing her darkest secret. Maybe they could become close friends - even best friends. And, after that? Who could tell?

"We almost always have been that close. Since last year, I've even put up with a lot around other boys. It wasn't always like that, though."

She took a deep breath. A lump formed in her throat. Part of her still worried that he'd hate her. She pushed her pizza slice around with her hand, and bit her lip. "Come on, Stephanie, you're getting as shy as Allie."

"I've always been really excitable. I guess you can tell." He nodded. "I got so into this boy thing when I first started Middle School. I didn't know what to do. I'd blurt things out like crazy one minute. Then, I'd be totally speechless the next."

"Sounds familiar," Josh remarked.

Stephanie's throat was dry. She hoped he didn't interrupt again. She felt like once she began, she wouldn't be able to stop talking. "We started getting further apart because I forcused on that. Then, one day last year Michelle started teasing me. She was calling me 'dry lips' in front of this boy. We were supposed to practice a scene for Romeo and Juliet. He was too shy about kissing me, though. And I figured Michelle was making it worse." She took a sip of water.

"I'd almost never been kissed by a boy. I expected it would be so incredible. After all, I had a mega crush on him. But, she told him I really liked him. That scared him even more, and he left. I figured my life was ruined. My chance for the boy of my dreams, this fantastic kiss, everything. So, I told her I'd never forgive her. I hardly said a word to her after, I was so furious. But, I went to her horse jumping competition, anyway, with the family."

She shook her head. She still couldn't believe it. An even bigger lump formed in her throat. "She fell from her horse and hit her head. She was breathing, but she wasn't moving. I was terrified that that would be one of the last things I ever said to her. I ran up to the stretcher and told her I forgave her, and said 'I love you.' I guess I just knew somehow she'd hear."

Stephanie worried about his silence. "Does that mean he's listening patiently? Or does he think I'm a fraud? Does he realize I've changed?"

"There was no brain damage. But she had amnesia. I was scared it was because she thought I hated her." Stephanie sighed heavily. "I'd sit at the hospital telling her stories. I'd do my homework in her room, too. I thought maybe it would help her remember, since we shared a room. Other times, I'd just hold her hand. I promised that if I had to, I'd spend my whole summer helping her recover. Thankfully, after that week, she was back to normal."

She was too sad thinking about it to notice Josh's understanding smile. "It sounds like you had the most trouble forgiving yourself. I'm glad it all worked out," Josh told her.

"I vaguely remember the day our mom died. She always told us she loved us before she left." She was pleased she could say that without feeling bad. "So, now, I try extra hard not to speak in anger. I never want to face that terror again like I felt last year. I think I'm finally learning what forgiveness is. I'd accepted it. But, I never really understood it."

She glanced down at her plate. She hadn't eaten anything. She'd been chattering much more than usual. Luckily, Josh didn't seem to mind.

"It's loving someone no matter what they do. It's refusing to use what they do against them," Stephanie finished. She finally took a bite.

"It's a lot easier to forgive with family members, like when things have happened between my brother and I." Josh paused, looking very pensive. "It can be a lot harder with total strangers. Especially when they really hurt you. Like the driver who killed your mom must have."

Stephanie considered the accident as she ate. She'd never stopped to think about the person behind the wheel. To her, it had always been just "a drunk driver." She wasn't sure how she felt about him.

After several introspective minutes, her plate was cleared. She finally spoke softly. "If he's in Heaven, I won't mind. I'll know that means he changed, that he repented. He wouldn't be the same person. I don't know how I'd react if I met him now, though." She thought another moment. She finally wiped her mouth. "I don't know that I'd want to. But..." She spoke so lowly, she could barely hear herself. "I guess I forgive him." "Maybe that's something positive that came out of Michelle's accident. I've learned how to forgive anyone."

Josh grinned. He patted Stephanie's hand. "Stephanie, I am truly impressed. Nobody is perfect. But, you have something very important. You have a very good heart attitude. I count myself very fortunate to have found a great friend like you."

She nearly leaped for joy. He still accepted her. And, he considered her a great friend. Were they getting as close as her Dad and Mom had? Was this "one of these days" for her?


Michelle felt down as she left school Thursday. She'd worn one ponytail and one braid like Jeff suggested. But, he'd only chuckled. He hadn't spoken much at all. He certainly didn't react as positively as she thought he would Wednesday.

What was worse was, the whole class laughed at Michelle's weird hairstyle that morning. Only some hurried girls' room work at lunch elminiated the braid and ponytail. She didn't think she could have stood it that afternoon without Cassie and Mandy's help.

Michelle got off the bus tiredly. She'd tried to tell Jeff she wasn't ready for a boyfriend. But, Jeff had still avoided her. Even his friend Lucas acted a little strange.

Michelle saw Joey in the front yard with the twins. "Hey, Michelle," Joey called. "Nobody else is home yet. We were waiting for you. The twins want to go to the park. Want to come?"

Michelle went with them. She learned Josh and Stephanie would be home about 4:30. They were at the library. When they came home, they'd be studying together. So, Michelle said she wanted to get home then, too.

Stephanie had to have an answer for her. Not only about what to do with Jeff, but also about what Stephanie had said to Jeff. Unless her comment meant to leave Josh to her. Michelle shook her head. She was incredibly baffled.

Stephanie met her in the front yard when Michelle and the others got home. "You have a visitor," she said before Michelle could speak.

Michelle wasn't sure who that was. Did she mean Josh? No, she wouldn't be joking about that. She'f been too upset yesterday. She hoped Stephanie knew she didn't want to steal Josh.

It could also be Jeff coming to talk with her. She hoped it was.

Joey and the twins went around back, and into the kitchen. Michelle opened the front door. She noticed Lucas Hamilton. Lucas had on a white dress shirt and blue bow tie. He was kneeling and reading from a book. "Hark," he exclaimed, gesturing with his right hand. "What light through yon window breaks." He accidentally dropped the book. "'Tis the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and..." He paused for a second.

Michelle giggled. Lucas couldn't remember the line.

"Arise, fair sun, and do something," Lucas finally shouted.

Michelle smiled. "That was cute, Lucas. What brings you here?" She noticed Stephanie was recording the little drama. Josh stood behind Stephanie, chuckling.

Lucas leaped to his feet. "You're supposed to say 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo, and a catapult.'"

Stephanie laughed out loud. "Lucas, it's 'Capulet.' The family name is Capulet. Romeo wouldn't be a catapult unless he was one and throwing his food."

Lucas said in a fake British accent "Ah, what's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.". He returned to his normal voice and pulled a red rose out of his pocket. "This is for you, my love."

Michelle accepted the rose very slowly. She gawked strangely at Lucas, then made a face. "His love? What on earth does that mean?"

"Ooooh, Michelle," Stephanie cooed. "When a boy gives you a flower that doesn't have a squirter in it, that must mean looooove."

Michelle stared at Stephanie. "Did she put Lucas up to this? She had to."

Looking back at Lucas, Michelle spoke with little enthusiasm. "Gee...thanks, Lucas. I don't know what to say." "Except that now, I'm really bewildered."

Lucas gazed into Michelle eyes and said "I should have realized when you gave me that snake that you were the only girl for me."

Michelle watched as Stephanie and Josh tried in vain to avoid laughing. Her sister held a hand over her mouth, while desparately trying to hold the camera steady. Both children giggled at the somewhat gross sounds that resulted.

"Now, that's one thing my brother never did to a girl," Josh said. He looked curiously at Michelle. "You gave him a snake?"

Michelle nodded slowly. "Only because another kid gave it to me as a pet. But, when Dad gave me my guinea pig, I couldn't keep the snake." "Stephanie knows that. She must have organized this. I don't know whether it's to get my mind off Josh or just to embarrasss me."

"Look, Lucas, I don't know why you're here. But, Stephanie must have something to do with it." Michelle turned to her older sister. She felt very annoyed. She was not in the mood for teasing about boyfriends. Not after the way Jeff had avoided her. "Steph, I promise I won't even speak to Josh or about him if you don't want. I told D.J., I don't have a crush on him. Now tell Lucas to stop!"

"Michelle, I promise, I had nothing to do with this," Stephanie said, holding up her right hand.

"It was not her, but I," said Lucas. He stepped very close to her.

Michelle backed up. She grimanced a little. "He won't try to kiss me, will he?"

Lucas continued. He tried to sound romantic. "Since you started talking about Jeff and you, I realized that no girl could make me happier. Because unlike my mom, you would let me keep a snake. I couldn't let you get taken away by Jeff."

Michelle glanced back at Stephanie, visibly concerned. "Uh, Steph, are you sure this isn't your idea?" "If Stephanie didn't set this up, then I am in big trouble."

"Scout's honor. But, boy, do I wish I'd thought of it," Stephanie admitted.

Michelle's eyes bulged. "I was right that Stephanie might have done this. But, she wouldn't say she wished she'd thought of it if she had done it." "Oh, brother," Michelle mumbled, rolling her eyes.

Lucas extended his right hand. "Michelle, I would follow you to the ends of the earth. Or, if you want, we could just go to the zoo."

Michelle hummed. "Well..." She gazed at her flower. "Lucas is a nice boy. I don't want to hurt his feelings. But, I don't want to be his girlfriend, either."

Lucas suggested "We could go to a movie instead. How does 'Guppy Love' sound? My mom could take us."

Michelle quickly shook her head. "I'd rather go see that with Stephanie." "Though I don't know when she'll be over this thing with Josh."

She looked at Stephanie. The teen explained that she'd be busy. "Josh and I will be setting up the stage Saturday afternoon for the play."

Michelle frowned. There seemed to be no way out of it. "Okay, but let's go to the zoo instead. And, Cassie and Mandy are invited, too."

"But, I was sort of hoping we could..." Michelle could tell Lucas was getting tongue-tied. "Well, you know, like it would just be us two." He chuckled. "I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered.

Michelle couldn't believe it, either. Why did she suddenly have a boyfriend she didn't want? "You don't have to," she told Lucas.

"Oh, but I want to," he said quickly. Danny walked in the door with a grocery bag full of cleaning supplies and other items. "I want to go out with you, Michelle."

Danny quickly dropped the bag on the floor. The contents scattered everywhere. A bag of small cherry tomatoes broke open. Tiny tomatoes started bouncing and rolling all over the floor. Stephanie tried to record them, too. "Uh...did I...just hear..."

Michelle turned toward him. "Don't worry, Dad. Lucas' mom is just taking us two plus Cassie and Mandy to the zoo."

Danny wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "Phew. What a relief." Stephanie turned off the camera.

Michelle nodded slowly. She couldn't agree more.


Stephanie, Allie, and Darcy walked along their favorite shopping mall Friday after school. "It seems like forever since I was in here," Stephanie considered aloud. Between all her studies, then Josh, she'd had no time to shop. "I've hardly thought about it except for last Saturday. But, Michelle and I attended the roller skating rally instead of coming here."

"Yeah, some of the stores were close to going out of business," Darcy teased.

"Now you sound like my Dad, kidding me about shopping." Stephanie thought for a second. She couldn't resist cracking a joke. "Although the ice cream shop did send Michelle a 'get well soon' card when she got hurt."

Allie agreed. "I know Michelle. She was probably eating it right after she woke up. Even amnesia couldn't keep her from that." She noticed that Stephanie had a dreamy look in her eyes. She was looking at a bridal display. "Steph, wake up. You're still fourteen."

"Good one. Thanks. I needed that." Stephanie explained her talk with Josh. "Josh is just so accepting. Last night, somehow I got the courage to tell him about that time with Michelle. And he was okay with it. He could tell I'd changed. Normally, after a week with a boy our talks go like this. 'I really think Tom Mellon's movies are funny, too. What are your favorite parts? Here's mine.'" She breathed deeply. "Josh and I talk about such deep things. Like forgiveness. Who talks a lot about forgiveness on the third or fourth date?"

The others admitted that it was unusual.

"Now granted, we've still got a long way to go. A few years to make sure our friendship is rock solid. A few years to make sure we're getting more intimate, too. We don't want to be just good friends like D.J. and Steve are now. Still, this is the first time in my life I've dreamed of the big 'M' word," Stephanie concluded.

Darcy rubbed her chin at they sat at a table in the food court. "What about that story about Harry?"

Stephanie flailed her hand. "Oh, that." She chuckled. "That was just me wanting attention. D.J. and Michelle were getting all of it one day. But, I knew a husband would have to pay attention to me alone."

Allie remembered fondly. "I was maid of honor. It was such a lovely 'wedding' in Stephanie's back yard. She had the most beautiful veil of paper towels you would ever see," she said romantically.

"And our marriage lasted all the way up till Harry had to go home for dinner," Stephanie said. Darcy was laughing hard now.

"Who knows how long it would have lasted if Harry's mom didn't make such great meatloaf," Allie added. She and Stephanie joined in the giggles.

After a minute, Stephanie brought the subject back to Josh. "Those little first grade things are so funny. But, it's like I told Michelle. This is the start of the real thing. We should get at least as serious as D.J. and Steve did. And, who knows how long it'll last."

"And, you hope it'll be more than what they went through," Darcy finished for her.

"But even if it isn't, it's going to be fun to watch," Allie said. "So, have you thought about the 'L' word yet?"

Stephanie grinned sheepishly. "Okay, I'm nowhere near even saying 'I love you.' You're right, it's not quite as big as I'm dreaming it is." She felt very thankful to have such good friends at times like this. They could help her figure out where she was from the outside. From the inside, it looked really incredible.

"But it's definitely more than that little first grade fling," Allie remarked.

"Or even the fourth grade ones, like Michelle has right now. She's just starting to be a little interested in boys." Allie and Darcy leaned forward expectantly. "She messed up my makeup so badly a few days ago, she looked like Bozo the Clown. Not that she'd be allowed to wear it, she was just experimenting."

"Sounds like her, all right," Darcy said, laughing.

"I remember one time she..." Stephanie halted. Suddenly, she broke into a broad grin. Josh and Ed were walking toward them. "Hey, Josh."

Josh pulled a chair up and sat across from Stephanie. Ed sat across from Darcy. "Hi, Stephanie," Josh said amicably. "Allie, I saw your boyfriend, the one in the marching band." Allie blushed slightly. "I should ask him to come. Then you won't feel left out."

"Oh, that's quite all right," Allie said shyly.

Stephanie liked the fact Josh didn't push the issue. "He must be able to tell Allie's pretty timid about boys."

"Anyway, Stephanie, I've been putting a lot of prayer into it. And, I wanted to tell you right away," Josh announced.

"And?" She wasn't sure what this meant.

Josh ignored her cluelessness. "I've decided I truly want to be a missionary. I'm dedicating my life for full time service after our passion play Saturday night. And I'm going to be spending the whole summer in New Guinea."

"That's great." She held a phony smile for a second. What was she going to do now? "But, I just thought... Well, I thought you'd stay around here a while. You know, settle down. Get to know the place." "And be with me."

"Oh, I will be going to school here. I'll be at the high school this fall. And, as for right now, I will probably be freer than you would at..." He paused a moment. "Was it dance school you were going to attend?"

"Right," Stephanie said slowly, still totally shocked.

Josh noticed her hesitation. "Is this a surprise for some reason?"

What would Stephanie say now? She didn't want to come right out and say she was dreaming about marriage. Or even love. And yet, she wanted to be honest with him. Josh was the nicest boy she'd ever met. ", I mean, I really like you, and... Well, I guess I hoped, you know, maybe you could start a church here instead. You know, settle down and live...not half a world away, in the jungle."

Josh smiled warmly. "Stephanie," he began, leaning forward, "I know it's a big step for you to imagine. It has not been your life like it has mine. But, we are just normal people like you. As my dad says, we do not go around in a cape with a big 'M' on our chests." He folded his hands. "Consider whether you might be called to go."

Stephanie was awestruck. Could she really be called? They would certainly have lots of great adventures together. "Well, I don't know what to say. I just never thought that was possible," she declared.

"I can tell you are anxious. You were - how do you call it? You were rambling quite well." She blushed slightly. "I just ask that you pray about it, please."

"But, the only thing I know about the jungle is how to hide rubber snakes," she insisted.

"I don't know where I will be called for sure. This is only a short term experience this summer in New Guinea. Missionaries are needed all over, though. Even in this country." He pulled a brochure out of his pocket. "Here is a paper from the missions board which represents my parents. They can answer any questions you might have. But, the first thing to do is to pray."

After a while, Stephanie and her friends left the boys. Stephanie continued to gawk at the pamphlet. " you really think..."

"All I can say is, give it a shot," Darcy suggested.

Allie opened the door for her friends. They entered a department store. They planned to meet her mom there at 5:00. "You know, Steph, I think you could do it."

"I think I could, too. In fact, I know I could. But, still..."

She forced herself to remember that he'd be working. It wouldn't be like they'd go hiking every day, or anything like that. And, he'd be with a large youth group. Still, though, maybe she could join them, like he said. And then?

She was awakened out of her daydream by a crash. She'd strolled right into a rack of clothes, sending it toppling to the ground. "Oops." The teens picked up the rack and tried to put the clothes back on it.

Stephanie looked, embarrassed, at a sales clerk who'd come to help. "Sorry, just daydreaming about a boy."

"It might be safer if you saved your dreams till nighttime," quipped the clerk.

Darcy changed the subject once they left that scene. "Let's get your mind off that. How's Michelle? And, does she really like a boy now?"

"Oh, it's hard to say with her. Things are crazy, as usual. She's going with Lucas to the zoo, but asked Cassie and Mandy to go along. That way, she won't feel so alone." She chuckled. "In fact, you know what I'm tempted to do..."

"Oh, no. Now what," Allie wondered.

Stephanie smirked. "Just something to help a little. Make it seem more of a group thing." "Michelle told me to stay away from her relationships. But, my commands never stopped her."

When Stephanie returned home, she called the Farringtons. "Hey, Jeff, it's Stephanie. Michelle's sister."

"Aw, rats. I was hoping it'd be Mandy's sister, for Dave."

"Let me guess. You want to listen in."

Jeff smirked. "Just to see how long it is before Dave says 'get off the phone, Jeff!' Say, my mom was gonna call. If my folks make a quick date for tonight, can you babysit?"

Stephanie didn't think so. With the play, her homework, and her decision, she had a lot on her mind. "Sorry, I'd be too busy. Allie or Darcy should be free, though."

"Cool. I'll let my mom know"

"Anyway, here's the reason I called, Jeff. I know Michelle's been kind of nutty lately. Well, okay, extra nutty." Both laughed.

"I'm tellin' her you said that."

"Fine with me. Anyway, she and her friends are going with Lucas to the zoo, and I was thinking it might make her feel better..."

"Oh, I know about that," Jeff remarked. "There's a couple other boys going."

Stephanie grinned. Had someone else called? Oh, well, it didn't matter. Now, Michelle wouldn't feel like Lucas and she were on anything like a date. And, any problems between she and Jeff may have been ironed out. "Great. Well, I guess I didn't have to call, after all. Thanks. See you later."

"Michelle's life is back to normal. Now, if I just knew what would happen in mine."


Saturday morning, Michele, Cassie, and Mandy got together at Michelle's house. "Okay," Mandy said. "Let me see if I have this straight. Lucas wants you to be his girlfriend. And he's treating you to the zoo?"


"We don't have to have any boys tagging along with us, do we," Cassie asked worriedly.

Michelle thought a moment. "Nah." Suddenly, someone knocked at the door. She opened it to find Lucas Hamilton. He was holding a pizza coupon.

"Michelle, why don't we go out to Anthony's later," Lucas asked. He walked into the living room.

Mandy remembered what her oldest sister would do to boys she didn't care to see. "Tell him you'll go with him, but it'll be your treat."

"Good thinking, Mandy." Michelle walked into the kitchen and pulled the same coupon out of her dad's coupon box. "I never knew relationships could get this complex this fast."

Michelle entered to see two other boys in the room. She recognized her classmate, Lee Wagner, but not the other one. After a moment, she realized it was Willie Redding. "Hey, Willie. I thought I saw you Wednesday at Josh's church. In some uniform or something."

"Yeah, I go to the AWANA club there. It's really cool," he remarked.

"I remember you telling me about that Bible quiz tournament last month. Where you beat out some fifth and sixth graders. You'll have to help Lucas learn Shakespeare," Michelle teased. Of course, part of her wondered if she wanted Lucas to do it right.

Mrs. Wagner stepped in the doorway, too. "Is everyone ready," she asked.

Michelle agreed swiftly. Now, it seemed a little more like a class outing. She liked the fact all six of them were going.

Except, this wasn't supposed to be like a triple date, was it?

They piled into the Wagners' minivan. Mrs. Hamilton sat in front with Mrs. Wagner. Michelle could tell Cassie looked apprehensive. But, before she could say anything, Willie spoke. "Cassie, how about asking me some questions for next Saturday's tournament."

Cassie smiled politely. "I don't know that much, Willie. I'm like Michelle. I know I'm going to Heaven, becaue of where my faith is. But, otherwise..." She hummed. "I think I know John 3:16," she admitted doubtfully.

Willie pulled some flash cards out of his pocket. "That's okay. They give us a whole bunch of questions they might ask us. Just ask me some."

Michelle smiled as Cassie took the cards and began quizzing Willie. Cassie had been reluctant to think of this as a date. She just didn't think about that yet. Michelle imagined it would come less quickly for her, being an only child. Mandy and Michelle each had older sisters whom they wanted to copy.

Willie, however, seemed to be a perfect match for her. Cassie was comfortable just helping Willie. "Looks like they're having fun," Michelle spoke to nobody in particular.

"Yeah. You go to her church sometimes, don't you," Lucas wondered as the van parked. Michelle nodded.

As the group entered the zoo, Lucas pointed in front of them. "Michelle! Look at those hippos. Now that's what I want to ride. Willie says they'll be peaceful someday."

"Yep." Willie smirked and looked at Cassie. "I find lots of ways to share my faith so people will listen."

Michelle agreed. "You're really cool, Willie. Too bad you're in Mrs. Barnett's class and not ours." "Cassie enjoys him. And, he hasn't said one thing about having a girlfriend."

She turned aside to listen to Mandy and Lee. They discussed mysteries as the group walked into the African wildlife area.

"I heard you had a mystery birthday party a few months ago," Lee remarked.

Mandy nodded. "Michelle's uncle held it at his club."

"Uncle Jesse hired this guy to run the place after my accident, so he could spend more time with the family," Michelle interrupted. "He's had lots of great family friendly ideas."

"I wish you'd invited me, I would have loved to see that," Lee said candidly. Michelle raised her eyebrows. She thought she was being silly. But, after the way Lucas behaved, she wondered if Mandy and Lee might become friends in some small way.

Sure enough, as the group toured the zoo, Lee and Mandy were becoming quite close friends. "I never realized you two had so much in common," Michelle remarked.

"We didn't either," Lee admitted, shrugging.

"Really, I just hang out mostly with you and Cassie. But..." Mandy turned toward Lee. "You really like Nancy Drew as much as the Hardy Boys? You don't have to say that just to make me feel good."

Lee nodded and began telling Mandy some of hiis favorites. Lucas grinned warmly. "Michelle, looks like Mandy and Lee might make a cute couple."

Michelle turned abruptly toward Mandy. She had wanted to quiet Lucas, lest her friend be embarrassed. However, Mandy just shrugged. With a giant grin on her face, Mandy replied "I don't know. Maybe. What do you want to do, Lee?"

"I don't know, what do you want to do." They giggled. "I know, this is getting silly. But, well, you're neally nice. I like takling about myseries with you."

Mandy blushed slightly and thanked him. Michelle turned toward Cassie. She was thankful Willie refused to talk like that. Cassie would have been a lot more embarrassed than Mandy.

"So, what about us, Michelle," Lucas wondered aloud.

"What about us?" Michelle shook her head. "Look, I can see Mandy maybe being ready to think about boys. She turned ten late last fall. But...well..." She became tongue tied. Lucas looked quite disappointed, and she didn't want to hurt his feelings. But, she didn't want to make him think she didn't want him around her.

She finally gestured with both hands. "Look, I guess we can pretend. But, that's it, okay." She tried to recall what Stephanie would do in this situation. Hadn't she told a boy in second grade they had to keep things secret, so secret that they didn't even look at each other? She imagined if she had to, she would tell Lucas that.

Lucas smiled as they stopped by the Austrailian exhibit. A kangaroo hopped in the distance. "Hey, I understand. Cassie's close to your age, I can see she's not ready. But, well, if we're just pretending, why not pretend we're husband and wife?"

"Because," Michelle began, wracking her brain for a reason. "Well, I mean, then I'd have to be Michelle Hamilton. And, I'd rather be Michelle Tanner right now."

"Okay, maybe we can be engaged."

Michelle tried to add some humor to a very stressful situation. "What, so you can dream of being allowed to have a snake?"

"Yeah, that's it," he said. "So, what now?"

"I don't know." Scratching her head, Michelle turned to Cassie. She and Willie spoke about numerous things. But, going together was not one of them. She wished she had somehow gotten hooked up with Willie. However, now she was stuck with Lucas.

Michelle simply walked toward another exhibit. This was turning into a very weird day.

Once the mothers dropped Michelle off, she raced inside. She knew Stephanie would be gone. But, maybe D.J. would have some free time. "Hey, pumpkin," Danny said as he hugged and kssed her, "did you have a good time?"

"Sort of. Is D.J. around? There's something I've gotta ask her."

"She's down at the library. She has a big biology final Monday, and she needs to cram so she can go to Stephanie's play. Is there something I can help with," he wondered.

She dexcribed what had been happening between her and Jeff. "I'm just worried now Lucas might make things more difficult. I mean, if I go and tell Jeff I'm not ready for a boyfriend, that lets him feel good. But, then Lucas might be disappointed."

"All this from one little joke?" Michelle nodded slowly. "Well, I guess I can understand. But, the little playground flings like you're having are nothing like what Stephanie does. I wouldn't call it dating yet, much less say anyone's your boyfriend. When Stephanie first realized she liked boys, she just did something a boy would enjoy. That's when she started playing baseball."

Michelle rubbed her chin and said "That sounds like Mandy and Lee. They realized both like mysteries."

"Exactly. If you and Lucas like the same thing - animals, for instance - you can enjoy it together. Just like Stephanie and that boy named Bret did." He seemed to struggle to think. "As for Jeff, well, you just have to let him know you're sorry you went overboard. Lucas will understand."

"Are you sure? Lucas talked about pretending we were married."

"Maybe he's old enough to start to think about liking girls a lot. But, he's a nice boy. He understands that's a long way away. For now, just let Jeff know you'll share fun stuff with him just like you do with Lucas. They'll accept that because you're their friend," Danny explained.

Michelle smiled. She didn't mind saying she was sorry. It came a little more naturally to her than to some people. She loved making others proud, and her family had always let her know they were proud when she owned up to something she'd done and apologized. "Sure, Dad. So, what do you think about Steph and Josh?"

"I'm not sure. But I know one thing. Stephanie is crazy about him."


Stephanie stood on stage and glanced at Josh. He played the part of an apostle. She walked slowly across the stage as she sang. This portion of the play brought back some of the pain surrounding her mom's death. But, it also reminded her that out of something bad, good things had come. "When you can't understand. When you don't see His plan. When you can't trace His hand, trust His heart," she vocalized, singing the song's chorus.

She appreciated her gifts for singing, dancing, and other things. She realized that she must have been given them for a reason. And, the irony was, she didn't even mind that this wasn't Josh in front of her saying "I am the resurrection and the life." She was simply having fun performing.

"Take ye away the stone," said the youth playing Jesus.

Stephanie vaguely recalled this from Sunday School long ago. Her face held extreme bemusement. The audience snickered as she slightly overdramatized her shock. "Lord," she declared with a grin, "by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days."

After several more lines were spoken, Stephanie allowed her normal exuberance to flow. After the actor playing Lazarus was unbound, she picked him up and twirled around with joy. She glanced back at Josh, and grinned sheepishly. She hoped she wasn't overplaying her part. Luckly, despite a brief smirk, he didn't seem bothered by it.

She and Josh met backstage for a moment afterward. They removed the costumes covering their normal clothing. "Sorry, Josh. I know I didn't do that in the rehearsal. But, I reacted like that when Michelle recovered her memory. And, it seemed so natural."

Josh was in a hurry to get out to his family, but he paused long enough to respond. "Don't worry, you did very well. Your reaction did seem to fit the situation."

Stephanie beamed as she snuck back to her seat. "You did really well, hon. We're proud of you," Danny whispered, patting her on the shoulder. He held up his video camera and asked "Want me to record the sermon, too?"

"I don't think you'd be allowed to do that," Jesse commented.

Stephanie gazed at her uncle's cross necklace. Had that been her mom's? She coudln't recall. Little items like that drifted into the background as she considered the enormity of Josh's decision. And her own. "Dad, I just felt such...I don't know. It's just that there are so many families like ours. And I just feel like I want go with Josh and show them hope."

Danny gazed seriously into Stephanie's eyes. "Steph, there are many good reasons to be a missionary. But, wanting to be with a boy is not one of them."

He sighed, looking down for a moment. He solemnly laid a hand on her shouler. "Honey, no person can call anyone to be a missionary. If anything in this world is making you go, I have to say no. Of course, if you truly are called from a higher authority..." He blinked twice. "It would be terribly hard for me. But, I would have to let you go."

"Thanks, Dad," Stephanie muttered. She longed to march up to the altar and say she wished to go with Josh. But, something held her back. She knew, deep down, that Josh was the wrong reason. As exciting as it would be to be like him, it just wouldn't be rewarding. She'd be doing it for herself. A higher authority had to make that decision.

Oddly, as she considered that higher authority, she felt a tugging at her heart. Whereas before she felt like she was being held back, now she sensed that she had to go forward. As the choir sang, she knelt at the altar, and wept. "If You want me to go, I'll go wherever you send me," she prayed silently.

She remained there for a moment, thinking about how sad she'd be if she had no hope of seeing her mom again. She prayed thankfully that she had that hope. And, she prayed others would receive the same assurance.

But, while she was thankful, she was also disappointed. She wouldn't spend the summer with Josh. She sighed heavily. She coudln't imagine a nicer boy would ever come along.

A minister woke her out of her daydream. "Did you come to make a decision?"

"Oh...just to pray," she said absently. "And, well, I told the Lord I would go where He sends me. But, I'm not going to be a missionary right now," she finished mournfully.

"Well, that's still an important choice, to go where God leads you." She bit her lip as he wrote on a card. She was too disappointed to listen as the minister praised her for her committment.

Stephanie's family embraced her as she walked back to where they were standing. She groaned. "I wanted so badly to go with Josh. My bags were packed, in my mind. I mean, I wanted to do something good."

Jesse patted her on the shoulder and grinned. "Hey, don't worry if it can't happen now. I mean, look at Elvis. He couldn't play music for a while 'cause he was drafted. But, if he hadn't been drafted, he never would have met Priscilla."

Danny noticed Stephanie's strange look. "Honey, what he's trying to say is, you could still be meant to do that. But, maybe not with Josh. Maybe you'll be called to be one right here in San Francisco." He paused. "I sure hope so. It would be cleaner than the jungle." Grinning, he finished by saying that "You might also be meant to be the best person you can be, at whatever you do here."

Stephanie smiled. She thanked her dad. But inside, she really didn't see how that could be as good as going elsewhere. The group began to leave.

"Hey, Stephanie," Josh said. "Congratulations on your decision."

Stephanie indicated that she wanted to walk away from her family. She glanced back, to see if Michelle was tagging along. She wasn't. "Thanks, Josh. But, just promising that is so empty compared to all you do."

Josh turned to face her, and gazed lovingly into her eyes. "Stephanie, just by being here, and being my friend, you have done a great work."

"I have," she said, quite startled.

"Yes. I was scared that I would fall for a girl, that I would choose not to do what I was meant to do." He placed a hand on her shoulder. "And, you seem to be all I would want in a mate. Someone with faith who is warm, and loving. Who can learn from her mistakes. My family will kid me, as I'm only fifteen. But, one of these days, it could happen to me. And, were I not led to be a missionary, this might have been the day for me."

Stephanie bobbed excitedly and gave a toothy grin. "Wow, Josh. You really mean it?"

"Very much so. And who knows," he remarked hopefully, "we could meet again. We could be led to the same place someday. With God, all things are possible."

Stephanie smiled sadly. "We can't know for sure, though, can we?"

He seemed to be forcing himself to admit it. "No, we can't. But, you did the right thing. You just said you were willing. And that's what God wants. A willing heart." He held her hands in his silently for a moment. "So long, Stephanie. See you at scvhool Monday."

Stephanie managed a weak "bye" and a wave. She smiled proudly. She'd been accepted just the way she was. And yet, a tear inched down her cheeks, as she considered that the coolest boy she could imagine had just walked away from her.

"Well, she's grinning, so they didn't break up," Darcy's voice said. Stephanie was still half daydreaming. "Hey, Steph, what is it?"

"Oh, I'm just thinking." She turned toward Allie and Darcy. Her family was behind them. "I guess you could say the boy of my dreams just left me for something mroe eternal."

"What's that mean," Michelle wondered, not quite comprehending Josh's decision to be a missionary.

"I'll let you know when I figure it out, Michelle. Come on, guys. Let's go get some ice cream. Maybe the fun of watching Michelle try to put away a dozen scoops will make me feel better," she teased.

Stephanie sat sullenly on the couch later that evening. Aunt Becky walked up to her and sat beside her. "Hey, Steph. That was quite a night, huh? Do you need to talk?"

"Thanks, Aunt Becky." She leaned forward. "It just seems so weird. I thought when I started dreaming about true love, it would last a lot longer than this. I mean, the first time D.J. said 'I love you,' it lasted eighteen months."

Becky put an arm around her. "Yeah, but you know what? Your Uncle Jesse says everything happens for a reason. And, I think he's right. Like that song you sang says, even when you can't see the plan, you can trust the heart behind it."

"Thanks, Aunt Becky. But that still doesn't help me get over it." She stood and gestured sharply. "I really wanted to be a missionary, at least for a few seconds. I was all ready."

"Yeah, but you know what. Maybe you still have some things to go through first." Stephanie glared as Becky began snickering. "Sorry, it's just that I couldn't help but think. What if your battles with the Flamingoes are supposed to build your faith for something even bigger? You eventually win your conflicts with them. And, maybe you'll even be friends one day."

Stephanie nodded slowly. "I suppose. Still, what I am I supposed to do now? I mean, I feel like staying here is just meaningless, compared to what Josh will be doing."

Becky folded her arms. "Well, our faith isn't as strong as Josh's family's. But, you're more mature than Michelle. I'm sure you can think of something to help her. Encourage her with ways to be nice to that Rachel girl, for instance. Maybe Rachel will become nicer over time, then. Right now Michelle and her friends are your mission field."

Stephanie's eyes lit quickly. "By golly, you're right. I just thought of something. Thanks," she shouted as she raced up the steps. She hoped Michelle wasn't asleep yet. She recognized something even more appropriate, after this past week, than what Aunt Becky suggested.

Michelle was still sitting up reading in her bed. "Michelle, get up, there's something I want to show you."

Michelle followed Stephanie over to her dresser. To Michelle's surprise, Stephanie pulled out her diary. "Steph, what are you doing? You can't be showing me your diary, can you?"

"You'll see. Follow me." Stephanie led Michelle over to her bed. Michelle stood beside Stephanie as she sat. "See this?"

Michelle looked at Stephanie's diary cover. A slip of paper was stuck to it. She'd never paid attention to the paper. But, now she noticed Stephanie had signed it. "What's that?"

Stephanie smiled dreamily. Being with Josh had reminded her of this. But, so had Michelle's week. "It's just so amazing. My little sister thought seriously about boys for the first time."

Michelle laughed. "Well, only a little."

"Still, after this past week, I think you should add one thing. Before you turn in your report Monday." She asked Michelle to read the paper.

Michelle scrunched her nose. "True love waits - what's that mean?"

"Allie, Darcy, and I signed this pledge over Christmas break." She put an arm around Michelle as she sat. Michelle looked and felt confused. "You don't understand this yet. But, when you start to like boys for real, you're going to feel more excited than you can imagine. Just like my friends and I do."

"So, what's that got to do with this paper," Michelle asked.

Stephanie struggled to explain it on Michelle's level. "When boys and girls get together in Middle School and beyond, there's more than just friendship. But, too many put everything ahead of friendship. They treat love like it's just something physical, just to make them feel good for a moment. But, love is much more than that."

"Well, yeah. When you love someone...well..." Michelle couldn't explain it herself.

Stephanie recounted something her Aunt Becky told her. "It's when you care about the other person so much, you always put them before yourself. You don't think only about pleasing your own desires. That's the way your future spouse should love you." And, Stephanie considered, that was why she wanted someone who'd remain pure for her as she would for him.

"Michelle, one of these days, a guy and I will become so close, we'll know we want to spend the rest of our lives together. No matter what problems or other choices there are. And, after we have pledged our lives and ourselves to each other, in marriage... Well, you know. That stuff where Dad gets all nervous when he discusses it." Michelle finally nodded her understanding

"I've got a pledge card gift wrapped in a secret place for you. I'm going to give it to you when I think you're ready," she remarked. "Just like Aunt Becky did for me. I was really proud to make this pledge. And, this is something special I think we should share."

"I can tell." She grinned broadly. "Can I have one for Cassie and Mandy, too?"

"When it's time. It won't be for a few years. But, I hope you and whoever you go with always realize what true love really is."

Michelle grinned happily. "Thanks, Steph. I have almost no idea what you're saying. But, I want to be just like you when I figure it out."

"That's great." They hugged.

Michelle looked ahead and spoke sadly. "I just hope I can get Jeff to listen to me, so he knows I don't want a boyfriend yet."


Michelle looked over her paper after lunch Sunday. She added some points about the pledge card. While she didn't have much of an idea what Stephanie meant, that didn't matter. She would simply quote Stephanie entirely, with no words of her own.

As she was proofreading her paper, she looked up and noticed Jeff and Lucas in the doorway. Both were wearing helmets."I just want to be friends with Jeff, now. I'm glad he came over, so I could tell him that."

"Hey, Jeff," Stephanie spoke from her bed. "You guys must have been out riding your bikes, huh?"

"Yeah. Hey, Michelle. I just wanted to say..." Jeff remarked hesitantly.

Michelle rose and walked over to the boys. "I'm sorry," Michelle confessed.

"How'd you know?" Jeff asked.

Michelle grinned. "How'd I know what? I was sorry? I guess just 'cause I know I'm not ready for a boyfriend."

Jeff shook his head. "I'm not talking about that." He and Lucas stepped into the room.

"He means about me," Lucas explained.

Michelle was puzzled. "What about you?"

"Well, I'm sorry, too. Things got a little carried away before the zoo trip yesterday," Lucas remarked. "We tried to figure out how I should act. And, I wound up making you think I was totally wild about you. I mean, I like you as a friend and all. But I'm nowhere near ready to go steady with anyone."

Jeff grinned and said "I can tell you're confused, Michelle. See, I thought you were pushing me to be your boyfriend. So, I figured if you thought Lucas was crazy about you, you'd be crazy about him. Then, I'd be in the clear," Jeff stated simply.

Stephanie laughed out loud. "So, now my little sister's had her first boys fighting over her. I've got to get a picture." She pulled a camera out of her dresser and snapped a photo. "I'll leave you...whatevers alone. Oh, it's fun to be a big sister," she declared with glee as she left.

"I better go, too. I just came by to say I'm sorry. Thigns got pretty weird, huh," Lucas acknowledged.

"Well..." She hedged. It hadn't been that bad. There was only one problem. "Stephanie has the perfect tape to show her boyfriends if I embarrass her now. Your performance as Romeo might be all the talk at John Muir."

Lucas snickered. "Yeah, it'll probably show up in my wedding presents, too. But, don't worry.. I'm not gonna ask anyone to marry me. That's gotta be for a long time from now."

Michelle paused a moment. "Yeah, I certainly wasn't ready at the zoo. And with the other guys there. That was..." She struggled to describe it. "Well, it was really strange."

Jeff smiled as Lucas left. He folded his hands behind his back. "Oh, that. That's another place I tried too hard. I decided to have some fun and play matchmaker. I put Lee with Mandy since both like mysteries. And, I couldn't think of one for Cassie in our class. But, I knew Willie wouldn't take the idea of having a girlfriend seriously yet. Cassie seems a little shy. Plus, she didn't even turn nine till after school started; her birthday's later than yours. I thought if I picked someone who came on strong like Lucas, she'd be spooked way more than I was."

Michelle grinned broadly. She loved how Jeff thought of her friends. "Oh, Jeff, you can be so sweet sometimes," she said warmly

"The guys would make fun of me if I was always sweet. In fact, I'd make fun of me." They giggled. "But, there are times I like doing that. I just like joking around a lot more."

Michelle chided herself. "Jeff might make a great boyfriend someday. But, don't go thinking about that now. You've had enough problems."

She cleared her throat and admitted "I only started thinking about this because I peeked in Stephanie's diary. She thinks we'd make the perfect couple. In fact, she wrote that we'd go to the senior prom together." Jeff blushed slightly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you."

"No, it's not that. It's just..." He wasn't sure how to continue. "Well, see, my mom said the same thing one day."

Michelle's eyes bulged. "Really?" What did that mean, if an adult thought that? Were they going to be husband and wife someday, after all?

"Well, sort of. Actually, it was right after I confessed to cheating off you. What she said was like 'you're going to need a nice girl like Michelle to keep you honest.'" They laughed. "And..." He leaned very close to her. "Don't ever repeat this. I'll really make fun of myself if you do. But, I think you're really nice. And, I can easily imagine going with you - in two or three or ten years. I think it might be cool to be married someday."

Michelle gave a nod of understanding. She wished to wait, too. She just wanted to be a kid right now. But, later? "You know, I think it could happen, too. Well, till that time comes, let's play video games with Joey."

Jeff belched the words "let's go."

"You are silly, Jeff." She chuckled. Could she do it? Why not? "Actually, you're so..." She let out a very small belch. She blushed mightily. "Now don't you dare tell anyone I did that."

"Or else what," Jeff wanted to know.

"Or I'll never be..." Michelle's stern look turn into a mischievous grin. "No. If you tell, I will be your girlfriend. Right now!"

Jeff giggled and held up a hand. "My lips are sealed."

Michelle saw Stephanie writing in her diary as she entered their room later that day. Stephanie still looked a little blah. "Thinking about Josh?"

Stephanie nodded. She put away her diary, then returned to her bed. "Yeah. For a short time, I thought this might be it. I know Mom and Dad were an exception. It would have taken years to know for sure. But..." She smiled dreamily. "Well, I just wanted this so badly."

Michelle sat beside her. "It could happen. Like Dad says, maybe you'll go to the same college or feel led to the same place"

Stephanie agreed. "Or, the boy of my dreams could be just around the corner."

"Well, I promise I'll never take one of your boyfriends," Michelle told her. She looked seriously at Stephanie. "You know that, don't you? I could never hurt you like that."

Stephanie put an arm around her. Michelle could tell she understood. "Of course. But, we should always talk about who we like. It won't happen for years. But, if we're still single in our twenties or thirties, and I'm still here, who knows. We might like the same guy."

Michelle walked over to the computer while Stephanie read a book. She printed her paper. "Want to take a look?"

"Sure." Stephanie rolled out of her bed and walked over to the printer. "'One of These Days, This Will Be Us.' Clever title."

"Thanks. I wonder how many of the boys in my class I'll ever go with."

Stephanie reminded Michelle there were other classes. "Of the boys in my fourth grade class, I've dated two. We had two other fourth grade classes, like you do. There are other elementary schools who send their students to John Muir. Add kids who move in, your choices are huge."

Michelle recalled how Stephanie had limited her options before this. She had a much wider range to ponder now. "Not to mention home schooled kids, missionary kids..."

Stephanie put an arm around Michelle. "Well, no matter what happens to us sisters, I'm so glad we'll be able to share it."