Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Alternative Universe

And Isabelle Makes Four
Written by: Paul Austin

This story takes place around the middle of the 2nd season, and considers the pre-series Jesse people forget about, the Fonz-like womanizer who came around once a year, was softened by the love of his three nieces, and who fell in love with Becky, who made him feel different than any woman ever did. (Vanessa, whom Jesse's telling about in the first episode, likely didn't want "food" like Danny interrupts with.) The story occurs around the time of the charity auction where Becky bids on a date with Jesse. It also includes parts we don't see of "Middle Age Crazy," and refers to the soccer team Jesse coaches in "I'm There For You, Babe." (In the regular TV & Book Universes, he likely just drives D.J. there, sees how bad the team is, and offers to coach then.)

BTW, I'll have no net or e-mail access for an undetermined length of time (likely at least till July) while I move, till everything gets packed & unpacked, access set up in the new place (I'll have a temporary apartment till then), etc.; on a couple stories a friend is putting them up in fact. So, please put off any e-mail comments till at least August as I'm likely to just purge my e-mail when I do make it back.

Danny Tanner grinned as he strolled into his home. His daughters D.J., 11 and a half, Stephanie, almost 7, and Michelle, 2, ran up to him and they hugged warmly. "Hey, girls, how did things go today?"

"Fine. I wrote down a name and phone number for you in the kitchen. You're supposed to call the person back." As Danny walked toward the kitchen to get the message, Stephanie continued. "If you'd like to know how to pay me for being your secretary, just make note of my Christmas list, and don't worry if you and Santa get me the same thing. You can never have enough toys."

"I'll be sure to double check it," Danny said to humor Stephanie. "Are Uncle Jesse and Joey gone, Deej?" Danny's brother-in-law Jesse and best friend Joey watched the girls, and had ever since a couple months after Danny's wife, Pam, died.

"Yeah. They left about fifteen minutes ago to film that commercial spot in Oakland; they figured you'd be home soon, and I could watch Steph and Michelle for a little bit. I was about to start some macaroni and cheese in case Michelle wanted to eat early."

"Great, thanks," Danny said as he hugged D.J., then looked at the message and made the call.

He was so happy that Jesse and Joey were so helpful and responsible. They'd known almost nothing about raising kids when they moved in - Joey was such a comedian and cartoon lover he was practically a kid himself at times. But, they were great friends, and very responsible. They enforced limits fairly well with the older girls, though not very well with Michelle yet; that was okay, though, because D.J. did such a great job of that. Indeed, Danny couldn't fault the guys, because he had never punished Michelle either, and didn't think he could for a long time yet. That smile just reminded him so much of Pam.

He was especially impressed with Jesse, considering how far he'd come. Even the first day Jesse had come to live with them, a woman had come by to see him...Vanessa, he thought it had been. Jesse had invited her the previous evening to spend the night with him whenever she wanted. That was something Danny would not allow with three impressionable young girls living there, so he'd insisted she sleep on the couch, and Vanessa had left. Jesse had had a lot to learn, from his days as a wild, rebellious youth. But, he was a quick study, at least, and had already improved greatly by the time he moved in with the Tanners.

In fact, Danny knew Jesse - who had seemed like the Fonz at times years ago - had his heart set on one woman right now, though she didn't really seem to care for him yet. That woman was Danny's co-host for a local talk show, Rebecca Donaldson.

"Yes, Attorney Hoskins, this is Danny Tanner. Why, thank you, she's been reading since she was four, and she's great with messages. Yes. What?" His curiosity now turned to concern, as he leaned forward and raised his eyebrows. "They what? So, you mean...Yes. Yes, of course. Oh, it's no problem, I mean, even with Pam gone, I'm sure we can manage. I've got two wonderful friends helping me to raise the girls. Okay, I can be there this evening. Fine." He hung up the phone very tenderly.

Stephanie noticed the sad face, and asked in a worried voice, "What's wrong?"

Danny asked them to come into the living room, trying hard to stay strong. Once there, they sat on the couch, with Stephanie and Michelle both fitting on his lap, with Danny being six foot four. D.J. sat next to him. "Girls, do you remember your friend Isabelle?"

"Sure. Her grandparents talk funny," Stephanie said, remembering the Texas drawl they'd had when she met them once.

"Well, they have a thick accent, Steph," D.J. corrected lightly. "Isabelle's mom's from Texas originally, isn't she?"

Danny said she was. "The couple moved into the area maybe twelve years ago. They adopted Isabelle as a baby after they couldn't have any children of their own; and, she and your mom were good friends for a number of years. In fact, they named your mom and guardians of Isabelle, if something should happen to them..." He blinked back a tear. Even though it was much less painful than Pam's death - indeed, it would mean an addition to their family - he couldn't help but be reminded of the day his beloved wife died.

"Dad, what happened?" D.J. wanted to know.

He decided he'd better say it now; it wasn't going to get any easier. "Well, yesterday evening, her parents were out on a boat, and there was an accident. Her mom couldn't swim well, and her dad tried to rescue her, and...well, I'm afraid Isabelle's parents are gone." As expected, D.J. and Stephanie burst into tears, Stephanie quite a bit more than D.J., as she began thinking of her own mother. Michelle wasn't sure what was wrong; the two-year-old was simply happy to be in the group hug.

After a few moments, Danny said, "The sitter from last night had taken her home for a while with her family, and they could keep her for a day or two more, but I felt, with Christmas coming and everything, it was best if I went down and got her tonight."

"Can we come, too?"

"Well, Steph, it's a bit of a drive, they live in San Jose, remember?"

"And besides, the last time we drove down there, you wanted to stop every half mile," D.J. reminded her.

"That's because it was summer. In the middle of August, nobody should sit still for anything."

Danny chuckled. His middle daughter's energy was boundless, it seemed; and, much was often spent in talking. But, he knew he needed time to think. "Listen, Steph, I'm sure you'd like to help when we pick her up. And, I suppose a little help would be good. But, I think you'll enjoy it a lot more if I called Grandma and Grandpa Katsopolis, or your friend Allie's mom, Mrs. Taylor, and have one of them come watch you and Michelle, since Jesse and Joey will be working for a while. Deej, if you don't mind, I could probably use you, though."

"Sure, Dad."

Danny had thought and rambled for a while as they drove, then went through a fast food place's drive through window and gotten their dinners. Continuing, so as to keep from thinking about Pam's death, he said, "I called the sitter's home, and told her we were coming. I also think beforehand, we should stop and pick up some stuffed animals, like Steph always had Mr. Bear with her when Mom died...or maybe we should take Isabelle to her house to get a few. Or would that be too hard on her? Phew!"

"I knew you couldn't stay that organized the whole trip, Dad," D.J. remarked. Danny had rambled consistently about plans to help Isabelle with the transition, about the funeral which would be the day after next, two days before Christmas, and so on. He was always very organized. In fact, he cleaned incessantly at times. But, he was also very protective, and tended to be a little forgetful at times.

"You're right, Deej, I've been talking a lot. I even talked about the bedroom situation; Jesse's going to stay up in the attic apartment, with Joey in the basement, and I think Steph's probably going to be best off rooming with Michelle, while you take Isabelle in in your room. I mean, I know I just speculated earlier tonight, but that office in the fourth bedroom, I think it makes more sense for now for Isabelle to stay with you, just like we said with Steph when Mom died."

"I know, Dad. It's going to be really rough. I mean, they'd come up and see us a few times a year, or we'd go to see them, but even before Mom died, we saw each other what, maybe half a dozen times a year? Does she even remember us?"

Danny assured her that Isabelle would remember them. Since the couple had been older, all their other close friends had either had much older children and were worried about college, unready to take on another, younger child, or were just not similar enough to them in the way they'd have raised Isabelle. In the end, after months of internal debate, they'd picked Danny and Pam as guardians. They saw each other enough that Isabelle would know them, as Pam and Isabelle's mom had been close friends.

"I talked to the sitter and her parents, and they said they'd talked with Isabelle about the accident and who would take care of her. In fact, they might have gotten her stuff already, at least some of it. We should go there first," he finally determined.

As they drove on, and Danny contemplated the new addition, he considered the irony of the situation. And wondered how everyone would take the news about the natural father.

Several hours later, a very tired Stephanie - up past her bedtime - greeted the sleepy Isabelle and the others. She raced toward Isabelle and gave her a big bear hug, slightly lifting her off the ground for a second, as if squeezing her hard enough would provide much needed courage to her. "It's all right, Isabelle," she said tenderly, partly trying to reassure herself, as she was still reminded a little of when Pam died.

She sniffled. "No, it's not."

"You're right. It's terrible. It's horrible. But, it's going to be all right," Stephanie emphasized. "Right, Daddy?"

"Sure, honey. Isabelle, you are going to be surrounded by so much love," Danny said before turning to Nick.

D.J. and Jesse's mom tended to the younger girls, while Jesse's dad offered to help Danny with the bags. "I told Jesse and Joey there would be a newcomer and why, Danny. They're upstairs setting up a day bed in the girls' room for tonight. I figured we'd stay a few minutes and help a bit, too, at least to help you unload."

"Thanks, Nick, yeah, there's some more out in the car. I called off work tomorrow, you can help cart some more of her things up here the next couple days. I imagine there are quite a few Christmas presents, too."

Jesse, meanwhile, finished getting the covers on the bed as D.J. finally brought Stephanie and Isabelle upstairs. "Hey," he said before looking at Isabelle with a start.

"Hey, Uncle Jesse. You know, it's amazing, I was in the back seat talking with her the whole way home, and crying with her, and remarkably, her hair is not at all messed up. She definitely has your hair," D.J. kidded him. Jesse prided himself on having perfect hair; it almost looked to be painted on, it was so perfect.

Jesse agreed and greeted Isabelle before jogging out of the room, leaving Joey to make sure Isabelle knew where everything was, to help get her toothbrush and such unpacked, and so on. "She's got a lot of me," Jesse mumbled under his breath as he went downstairs. His parents had left once the girls went upstairs; Michelle was already asleep.

"Oh, hey, Jess," Danny said lowly, "I was just about to go up and say good night to Steph and Isabelle, and talk with them a bit if they need."

"Yeah, but...what's she doin' here? I mean, I know what she's doing here, but, well, when Dad told me there was a couple that died and they'd left you and Pam in their will as guardians, I never thought it'd be her parents. I mean, you have quite a few friends you volunteered to do that for," Jesse stammered. "Even after Pam died; the Taylors have said Steph's so close to their girl Allie they might name you guardian in their will."

Danny placed a caring hand on Jesse's shoulder. "Jess, I know it's tough."

"But, that was so long ago. Heck, back then I was ridin' motorcycles on the roofs of buildings and all sorts of daredevil stuff. And, I thought once the adoption was taken care of, that would be it. And, so did the mother. About three years ago Pam told me the mother had moved out of state for college some time earlier and was getting on with her life."

"Jess, you and her mother were seventeen. I know you're a different person now," Danny said. He knew Jesse had been a wild, rebellious youth who spent lots of time in the principal's office, and womanized quite a bit when young. But, he really had settled down. And, both Jesse and he knew the dangers of letting the girls date "boys like him."

Jesse turned back toward Danny and held out a hand. "Yeah, but we gotta tell them sometime soon, don't we? I mean, at least the older kids; you know, D.J. and Joey." Jesse often joked that Joey was really a child himself, because Joey's comical attitude toward everything was the exact opposite of Jesse's.

"Joey would understand. D.J., well...that's up to you. But, after a few weeks, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea. Now that Isabelle's going to be my, that seems so weird to say - you're going to help raise her. And, if she ever wants to know her birth parents, we'll have to tell her sometime. D.J. doesn't know you, well, you did it with anyone. She knows it's possible before marriage, but that's one part of you I think she figures was just like me, always clean and wholesome. And, after a while, I think she'll accept that you're not the guy you were at seventeen. You might have gone out with lots of different ones, but you wouldn't have chanced doing that after you got Isabelle's mom pregnant."

"Yeah, but will she believe me?" Jesse sighed and moped around. "Here I am, tryin' my best to be this great role model. Instead of Uncle Jesse, the guy who rides in on a motorcycle and gives the kids gifts once a year, and goes around with different women, I've tried to live a decent life, change my ways, and become Uncle Jesse, the guy who takes them to dance practice and karate class and all that other stuff. I haven't always liked what's happened to my life. But, I put up with it because...well, 'cause I've tried to be like Pam, as much as I can be," he said with a tear in his voice, thinking of his departed older sister. A very macho man, he hated to show that sensitive side, but he had grown much more willing in front of the girls and even Danny since he moved in. "I figure I have to be what Pam always tried to be, that great role model who showed me the right way to live, even if I didn't believe it, maybe didn't totally till after she died." Jesse shook his head and sighed. "And now I've gotta face the fact my nieces will look at me and say, 'Why should I listen to that hypocrite?' Or worse, 'I'm gonna be just like Uncle Jesse was when he was a teen, and risk throwing my life away?'"

"Jess, you're overreacting."

"I'm overreacting? In just a few short years, D.J.'s gonna be old enough to date boys; boys like me!"

That comment made Danny's hair stand on end. "Oh boy!" the very protective father said.

He quickly realized, however, that Jesse really did mean well; he was a changed person. Danny figured Jesse might have considered it since then - when Jesse moved in, he'd told a story about a woman named Vanessa that Danny interrupted by saying, "food; she was hungry, Jess," because he was concerned about what Jesse might have been ready to say.

Still, Jesse would never expose his nieces to anything bad, and Danny knew it. He might slip a little - like when he'd let Stephanie watch a scary movie a short time later - but he would never slip too far. And, whether or not D.J. recognized that right away, he figured that she would be able to avoid doing what some girls and later women had done with Jesse.

The next morning, the first of Christmas vacation for schoolkids, D.J. was telling her best friend, Kimmy Gibbler, about Isabelle. "We're going to have four kids in the family now; and we thought it was crowded before on the second floor sometimes."

Stephanie, listening in in the kitchen, asked, "What's Isabelle's middle name?"

"Well, squirt," Kimmy responded, "in my family, it would be Ringing." Kimmy had a very strange family in several ways.

"Isabelle Ringing, ha ha ha," Stephanie said sarcastically. "It figures you would name someone after a knock-knock joke; when I see you, I wonder if anyone's home."

Isabelle came into the kitchen with a jump rope. "Anyone want to play?" she asked in a very slight Southern twang picked up from her mom and, especially, grandparents

"Sure, squirt. Let me show you how to try to lasso a raccoon," Kimmy said.

Stephanie pointed at Kimmy, who seemed not only very strange, but quite dumb to Stephanie. "Isabelle, I'd like you to meet Kimmy. You'll have to sometime. You may as well get it over with." Stephanie didn't like Kimmy, partly because Kimmy teased back sometimes, partly because Kimmy was so dumb, and partly because as D.J.'s best friend, she took time away from time Stephanie could be playing with D.J..

"You can lasso a raccoon?" Isabelle asked. "My grandpa can lasso a cow."

"Her grandparents live in Texas. Dad says they'll be here for tomorrow, so they'll just stay here and visit on Christmas instead of us taking her down to Texas," D.J. explained.

"Cool. And, actually, my brother Garth is the one who did it. Although, I wouldn't recommend it unless you've had your rabies shots."

"Kimmy, you don't get shots before you're bitten to prevent rabies like you do measles and stuff. You can only get them after you've been bitten to prevent getting rabies," D.J. explained.

Kimmy was amazed. "Thanks, Deej. I can go tell my mom she doesn't have to feel bad about not getting me immunized." Kimmy said it was nice to meet Isabelle, and said, "I was a great help listening to D.J. talk about her mom after she died. I'll be here to listen to you anytime, too," she said sincerely. Isabelle suddenly looked a lot sadder than she had when she entered. "Oops, I guess now wasn't a good time to say that, huh? Sorry."

"She means well; sometimes her mouth just moves while her brain's stuck in neutral," D.J. explained as she and Stephanie hugged Isabelle.

Stephanie spoke as Kimmy left. "It would help if Isabelle had someone like Mr. Bear. But, she doesn't. We need to help her."

"How would we do that?" D.J. inquired.

"We have to start holding auditions Once we get all her stuffed animals here, we'll start the tryouts. I figure by the middle of next month, we'll have a winner."

Isabelle was amazed that Stephanie had spoken with such certainty. She had several very nice stuffed animals, but there was a time last night when Stephanie talked with Mr. Bear, and he had seemed to understand her. She supposed it was a little like that story she'd read a few times - "The Velveteen Rabbit," she thought it was. Somehow, Mr. Bear had become real to Stephanie. And, Stephanie seemed to know how an animal could become real to Isabelle.

"Thanks, Stephanie," Isabelle said happily, now thinking again of happy things. "How will we know?"

"Trust me, you'll know," Stephanie said with the confidence of someone who knew a special trade secret, one that couldn't be disclosed to just anyone.

Early Christmas morning, D.J. awoke with a seven-year-old snoring peacefully by her side. She sighed. Stephanie had moved into Michelle's room the previous evening. But, that had just made Isabelle - or Belle, as she was becoming known - more lonely.

She looked at her clock - 6:20 - then got up gingerly and stepped into the hallway. "Morning, Dad," she whispered as he was returning from the 2nd floor bathroom. "We must be the only ones up."

"Yippeeeee, it's Christmas Day!" came the jubilant shout from Stephanie and Michelle's room.

D.J. looked tiredly toward that room and said, "I should have known I'd jinx things if I said that," as Stephanie bolted out the door and said hello so fast as she ran downstairs that the words seemed to trail behind her by several yards.

Danny followed Stephanie downstairs as D.J. walked into the room. Michelle had obviously awakened Stephanie, as the 2-year-old sat in Stephanie's bed with a "what just happened??" look on her face. "Hey, is this my Strawberry Shortcake?" D.J. asked, using the pet name she'd give Michelle. "Come on, it's Christmas!" She picked her up and cuddled her for a moment, but Michelle insisted on walking downstairs herself when D.J. tried to carry her.

Once D.J. and Michelle had come downstairs, Danny asked how Belle had been the previous night. "She crawled in bed with me but I don't really remember it."

"I'm sure she'll need lots of extra company, extra mothering for a while."

Yeah. It's funny," D.J. said as she watched Stephanie distribute presents from under the tree. "I feel like I'm helping both her and Michelle a whole lot right now, Michelle with behavior, though that's actually getting pretty good now, and Belle with everything. Uncle Jesse seems...I don't know how to put this. He's been nice to her and all, but it seems like he's a little afraid or something."

Danny knew it was hard for Jesse to accept Belle being there; Jesse felt a little like his past sins were chasing him. But, he didn't think this would be the right time to mention it. Instead he simply said, "Well, after your mom died, it was really hard for him. He tried hard not to show it, but it hurt him a lot more than he let on."

"So you're saying it's Mom's death coming back?" Danny nodded. "That makes sense; Steph and I have been talking about it a little more, too. But, I don't feel any of the huge sadness over it coming back, and I don't think she does, either."

"Same here, yesterday evening she asked me if Santa could give Belle any extra presents her parents wouldn't be able to buy. And, I could tell she was thinking about Mom a little, too, and we talked about that. She really wants to make everything perfect for Belle, because she remembers how sad she felt back then." He was grateful that Stephanie had such a warm heart. Indeed, all of them did; it was one of the best gifts Pam had given them. "But, I agree, she's not going to start grieving all over again. I can tell you're taking it pretty well. And, hopefully, Belle will start to come around pretty fast, just like the two of you did. She does seem to be opening up more, talking about her feelings, and she's willing to have fun here."

D.J. concurred. "I just wonder what will happen when she sees this," D.J. said, holding a box that said "To Isabelle, Love Mom and Dad." She didn't like to think about such things - might not have had that thought come to her at her age normally - but Pam's death had made her grow up a bit faster than they would have liked.

"I thought about that last night, as I was getting all the presents out."

Stephanie glanced up, having completed distributing presents. "You didn't get them al out, Daddy. Santa probably brought half!"

"Oh, right. Of course. What was I thinking?" Danny said, grinning goofily at his blunder. In way, he was glad it had occurred; it had gotten their mind off the tragedy.

"What were you thinking, Daddy?"

The query was interrupted by Joey coming in through the kitchen in his Batman pajamas. He shouted, "Well, blow me down" like Popeye as he observed the gifts.

"Joey, you're just in time. Say, it's a good thing we didn't try to go to Tahoe for the family gettogether. We'd been planning it for months before we stayed home because of this, but I heard on the radio everything's snowed in out there. We wouldn't have gotten there anyway."

"Too bad. Well, let's see what Santa brought me." Danny looked oddly at Joey, wondering if he was serious.

After a few minutes, Isabelle raced downstairs, with Jesse following close behind her. Jesse was happy once more. Though at first he'd felt mad at himself for not taking responsibility with Isabelle back when she was born, after a few days he'd come to accept that at least he had the chance to be with Isabelle and help her now. And, he wanted to make the most of it.

"Hey, wow, look at that," Jesse proclaimed beside Isabelle, who had just pulled out a brand new doll. "Boy, you're really getting some cool gifts."

"I know," Isabelle said as she opened the box D.J. had picked up. Thankfully, in the excitement of Christmas morning, she wasn't even looking at the tags. "I can't wait to see what that big box is, Uncle Jesse."

"Did you hear that; she called me Uncle Jesse. You've got such a great family here," Jesse said as he put an arm around her. She smiled broadly as she looked up at him. "When I moved in to help raise the girls, it was the most wonderful thing, Danny. And now, I got one more wonderful young lady to help raise."

"Just wait till he helps with a class party, or takes you on a field trip somewhere. And, he's the best person ever at baking cookies," Stephanie proclaimed proudly.

Isabelle looked a little sad. "Mommy loved to bake cookies. I helped her all the time."

"Well, tell you what, when we're done with the presents, how about you and me go into the kitchen and bake up the best batch of chocolate chip cookies there ever was!"

"I'd love that, Uncle Jesse. Thanks," Isabelle proclaimed, wrapping her arms around him. Jesse hugged back; he hadn't been big on hugging when he first moved in a year and a half before, but he'd gotten used to this kind of warm embrace by now.

All had been watching Isabelle so intently for a few minutes, hoping she wouldn't start to feel sad about losing her parents on Christmas morning, that they'd ignored the brand new dust buster sitting in the middle of the room. Michelle, before being distracted by a toy early in the gift-opening, had torn through the package and then left the dust buster laying in its box in the middle of the living room floor.

"You sure are great at helping, Jess."

"Thanks, Danny, I...Whoa, how'd this dust buster get here?" he asked, looking at it with shock.

"Simple. When it comes to cleaning, he's the Pied Piper," Joey kidded. Standing up, he began an impromptu comedy routine, doing numerous different voices as well as his own, totally causing Isabelle to forget her sadness, just as he'd hoped would happen. "'Hark!' that dust buster said. 'I hear the melodious voice of Danny Tanner.'" Putting his hands to his mouth, Joey imitated a man playing a flute, complete with flute sounds. "To the ear of that dust buster, and many like it, it was merely a piper, drawing them onward. In a hypnotic trance, the dust busters all began to walk." He began speaking slowly and walking slowly. "'I must go to the Tanners and clean. I must go to the Tanners.'"

Joey turned quickly toward Isabelle and Jesse. "'Soon, the home was covered. Mops bowed their handles at his feet. 'Oh, great cleaner,' they said. Bars of soap slipped down the road as if in a parade, joyously celebrating their arrival at the home of the master of cleaning, and leaving miles of suds in their wake," he shouted triumphantly.

"Finally, as if picking the winner in a fabulous beauty pageant, Danny walked around the hushed gathering of cleaning items. Each of them giggled with excitement under their breath. 'Will it be me? Will it be me?' And then, that fateful moment. Danny looked at this dust buster, and said, 'This is the one. This one will be crowned Miss Clean America,'" Joey said as he picked up the dust buster and set it down again, and momentarily sang "Here she comes, Miss Clean America!" sounding like the emcee of the Miss America pageant.

"The crowd roared with excitement." He did the sound of a raucous crowd cheering. "The dust buster broke down and cried. 'Oh, this is the happiest day of my life! I just want to thank my family and my friends and all the other dustbusters out there who have supported me through all of this,'" Joey said, pretending to wipe away tears. "There was a big celebration, as this dust buster took its place among the many honored products in the home of that great King of Clean, Danny Tanner."

Amid numerous giggles, chuckles, and smiles of admiration at the sudden comedy, D.J. whispered to Stephanie, trying to make a point about why STephanie shouldn't talk all the time like she did at times. "It would so spoil the moment if I said Michelle opened it."

"I think you're right."

"That was funny! Do some more," Isabelle requested joyously. This was one of the things she loved most since coming here, hearing the funny voices and jokes that Joey could do.

"Maybe later. Let's open some more presents," Joey said.

Isabelle agreed quickly, and began opening more gifts. Her new family was so much fun. She'd liked being an only child, but here, she was surrounded by so many people who cared. Joey's entertainment, Jesse's sweetness, Danny's kindness and concern for her - even though he talked a lot, her new dad seemed to be someone very special.

Then, there were her sisters. It was fun having Michelle around; the silly things the two-year-old did helped take her mind off her sadness sometimes. D.J. was so warm and caring, and was so motherly, doing her hair just the way she liked it, letting her crawl in bed and snuggle the first few nights when she'd felt so lonely, and so on. And, Stephanie was such a fun sister, and knew so much! They'd talked for quite a while to each of her stuffed animals, and soon, after all the gifts were open, Stephanie said they would begin to find her one that could understand her and be a best friend. She didn't know how anyone could do that, but it sounded like Stephanie knew all about such things.

Hours later, Jesse and Isabelle were waiting for the last batch of cookies to be ready. Isabelle fiddled with the ribbons that tied together the ponytails on either side of her head, as she went from staring at the oven timer to licking her lips at the aroma of freshly baked Christmas cookies. They had made several dozen of four different types.

Jesse picked up a soft, warm chocolate chip cookie and handed it to her. "Come on,, have another one; I know that look; you'd like to eat all of 'em right now," Jesse kidded her.

"Thanks, Uncle Jesse." She bit into it, rubbed her tummy, and turned to several stuffed animals that were seated at a few of the kitchen chairs. "It's just like I remember Mommy and I making them," she said.

"Yeah, your mom was a very special woman. I know the feeling, 'cause your new dad's wife, the girls' mom, she was my big sister." Jesse knelt down to her level as he said this; he could see so much of himself in her. He was so thankful to be able to share a moment like this. At least he could help ease the pain of losing her parents.

Isabelle even made him laugh, too, just like Danny's girls could. "Shhhh," she said holding a finger to her lips. "I was seeing if any of them talked back."

"Who, the animals?" Jesse grinned toothily and chuckled. "Haven't found one yet, huh?"

"No, but I will," she said with confidence.

The timer dinged, and Jesse put on his oven mitts. "Okay, the last batch of cookies is ready to roll out of the oven," he said with excitement. Isabelle anxiously followed the baking sheet from the oven over to the cooling rack. "Twelve dozen cookies. So many even that guy on Sesame Street would have trouble counting them."

"Of course," Isabelle joked as she removed her apron. "The cookie monster would eat them all before he got to ten."

"You got that right. Hope I was able to make this special for you," Jesse said tenderly as he removed the oven mitts and sat down.

Isabelle climbed into his lap and proclaimed, "You did! You're the best uncle in the whole world. I'm so glad I got to come here." She threw her arms around him, and they embraced tenderly.

Jesse was torn between thinking of the loss Isabelle was probably feeling, and the loss of years that he could have spent raising her. A day like this felt extra bittersweet, as he thought of what he'd missed, but yet also of the fabulous joy that came from having her there now. "Right back at ya, kid," Jesse said, a small tear forming in his eye.

As the final batch of cookies cooled, Stephanie opened the door to greet a couple in their seventies. Even before Stephanie could say hello, Isabelle ran to them, shouting, "Gramma, Grampa!"

As the couple hugged Isabelle, Stephanie said, "Welcome to our home. You'll really like it here. Uncle Jesse's parents will be coming, too. Our Grandma Tanner and some other people can't make it because the airport had snow where they were having their family reunion. But at least we didn't have to go there; Santa knew right where I was. Can I take your coats? Joey's mom will be here, too. His parents are divorced, he never sees his dad."

"She talks a lot," Isabelle said simply.

As the couple hung up their coats, the rest of the family greeted them. Isabelle explained, "Stephanie's helping me find a friend."

"She means a stuffed animal friend. None of hers come alive the way Mr. Bear does for me."

With a large drawl, Isabelle's grandfather, Mr. Rollins, said, "Well, keep workin' at that, 'cause I'll tell you what. When y'all get done with that, she's gonna not only have a stuffed friend, she's likely to think that stuffed friend's just like her great new sister!" He could sense the love and excitement in Stephanie, and knew that with Stephanie encouraging her, it would make things great for Isabelle, too.

"Uncle Jesse and I baked lots of cookies," Isabelle said as she led them into the kitchen.

As Isabelle showed off the many cookies she'd helped bake, her grandparents' presence reminded her of one odd thing about her new home. Turning to Stephanie, she inquired, "Are you sure it's okay to call Joey Joey, and not Uncle Joey?"

"Sure, he doesn't mind."

"It still does seem impolite, Dear," Isabelle's grandmother said.

"But, he talks to puppets; and they talk back. Plus, he likes cartoons," Isabelle said, trying to convince herself and also wanting to stick up for Stephanie.

"Well, I don't know..." her grandfather drawled.

Suddenly, Joey came up from his basement apartment laughing like Popeye. "Whoa. Oh, hey, it's almost time for the Bullwinkle marathon," he exclaimed excitedly. Then, he turned to Isabelle as Danny also came upstairs. "By the way, never try to stick a piece of Christmas candy up your nose; Danny almost had to take me to the emergency room just now."

With a hearty laugh, her grandfather said, "Well, y'all, if that don't convince me, nothin' would. I reckon this is one adult y'all can call by his first name."

"Actually, D.J. had talked about maybe all of us calling him Uncle Joey, just because it would get Michelle in the habit while she's still young. But, anyway, I'm really glad you could come. And, from the size of the gifts, Isabelle will be, too," Danny joked. He figured that now, with the new addition, there was enough stress he'd tell D.J. to forget it for a while, but maybe in a few months they could try.

Later, the families were gathered in the living room opening presents. "Oh boy," Isabelle shrieked as she opened a box to reveal a doll. "Stephanie, do you think this doll can join in the auditions?"

"I don't know. I never thought of a doll as a friend. To me, they're for pretending you're the Mom. What do you think, Joey?"

"Well, Steph, I think you're right. Only stuffed animals can be true friends. They come in all sizes, all colors, in a way they're kind of like Muppets. And, that means each child will have a unique friendship with one in particular, just like some kids might find Big Bird to be their favorite, while others prefer Kermit the frog."

Jesse teased Joey. "Can you believe this guy? He sounds like he's doing a paper for school on it."

Isabelle didn't want to fight, but she really liked this doll. It was one of those made to look somewhat like the recipient. "Go ask Mr. Bear."

"Okay," Stephanie said, joyfully playing along. As she skipped upstairs, she was simply glad to be extending the play. The adults, however, were more happy to see that Isabelle was having fun and not thinking about her parents not being there.

Once in her room, Stephanie pulled Mr. Bear off her bed. "Mr. Bear, can Isabelle's new doll be part of the auditions?"

"Hmmmm," Mr. Bear said, mumbling lowly, as if thinking out loud, something Stephanie often seemed to do. "Well, I suppose. But, I'm still the final judge, and it is very hard for a doll to be a close friend."

"It is one that looks kind of like her."

"Well, that will be a plus. But, it's not the looks, it's the friendliness. That means the animal...or, I guess doll...has to make you feel good when you cuddle it. Like D.J.'s pillow person."

"I forgot about her pillow person. That's kind of in between, huh?" In the still vivid imagination of the young schoolgirl, Mr. Bear agreed.

"Your doll's going to be able to enter the contest," Stephanie reported as she ran down to the living room. "But, Mr. Bear says it's going to be tough. D.J. does have a pillow person, though, that I forgot about."

D.J. tried to defend herself while looking at a new sweatshirt Jesse's parents had gotten her. "Well, that was a long time ago; when I was about her age. I mean, I talked to Kimmy more when...well, you know."

"Same difference; their heads are both full of stuffing," Stephanie joked.

Wanting to deflect that comment, especially since Kimmy wasn't here to defend herself, D.J. said, "Well, your stomach's going to be full of stuffing pretty soon, along with every other kind of food. I think that doll has potential, Isabelle."

"What does that mean?" Isabelle wanted to know. She looked expectantly at Joey, as if he would do a long comedy routine again.

Instead, he simply said, "That means she's got as good a chance as anyone, once you name her. But, that's all these six bears, three horses, three dogs, two rabbits, one doll, and one lion have right now. They will all go through an exhaustive series of tests over the next few weeks, for the right to become what every stuffed animal dreams of; yes, once of these will become, to you, totally real!"

Isabelle grinned broadly. She'd heard Stephanie talk to Mr. Bear. Even if it was all in fun, it was going to provide her with an incredible amount of delight.

"She sure is cute, huh?" Isabelle's grandfather murmured to Mr. Tanner. "Oh, you got an office or something? We're guardians of the estate, I don't know if you heard, but she's got a small trust that we all are supposed to handle till she turns eighteen; I'll tell ya 'about it in there." Danny led him upstairs to his office in what was the fourth bedroom.

Meanwhile, Isabelle was speaking to the animals and doll gathered. "This sure is a nice place. I wish Mommy and Daddy were here to see it. They sure would enjoy it."

She felt confident that at least a few seemed to understand her, in her mind, more than the others.

Stephanie and Isabelle talked with numerous stuffed animals over the next couple weeks, as they tried to see which seemed the most like friends. The doll, as expected, had dropped out of the running rather quickly, as had several others. By the time school had resumed after Christmas vacation ended, they'd narrowed the field to four finalists.

The four animals were seated around a small table with Isabelle after school that day, with a tea set on the table. Isabelle was having an imaginary tea party with them. "Stephanie did over a hundred hulas with a hula hoop at recess today," she said as she poured the invisible tea. "It sure is fun having her around. I'm glad we can have the same recess period. My new teacher is really nice, too."

Once she sat, she glanced at the two bears, one dog, and one lion. She was very comfortable talking with stuffed animals, and this quartet made her feel very comfortable, as well as being quite cuddly. But, Stephanie had implied there would be one special one - and Joey had seconded the notion.

Danny poked his head in the door. "Hey, 'Belle, how's it going?"

"Fine." She didn't really feel right calling Danny "Dad" yet, but she was getting there. It was still quite hard for her to think of him that way. "I'm just having a little tea party."

"Great; listen, I'm going to film Michelle for my show's new promo if you need anything."

"Okay. Say, can I go to the Honeybees meeting next week with Stephanie?"

"Sure. Sorry we don't have a Brownie troop near us like you belonged to, but hey, the Honeybees just prefer yellow and black stripes to those brown uniforms. It's sort of Disco Meets the Brownies." The Honeybees, of course, had been around for much longer than disco music, but Danny had always thought that to be a very clever description for those who weren't familiar with them.

Isabelle laughed out loud. Her new dad could be corny at times, but he was quite funny then. "Yeah, like those uniforms the Athletics used to wear. I saw them once; all green and gold."

"You think that's something," Danny said, "look at the Astros' old ones once. Yellow, orange, and red alternating. First time I saw them as a sports reporter I thought one of their players would swing from the Astrodome like a disco ball."

After mentioning that they'd probably fit her for a Honeybee uniform that evening, he left, and Isabelle went back to conversing with the animals. Stephanie was supposedly downstairs showing everyone her hula hoop record.

However, unbeknownst to Isabelle, Stephanie had gone into the room she and Michelle now shared, and been talking to Mr. Bear about feeling ignored. Suddenly, she burst into the room. "Isabelle, grab a jacket," Stephanie said. "I told Dad, we're going over to Allie's. If he was listening."

"Sure, but why?"

Stephanie told him the whole story. "I told Harry to call some of our friends. I'm getting married." Isabelle gasped. "A husband will pay attention me."

"B-but, you can't leave me! I just lost my parents, I don't want to lose my new sister. Besides, we still don't know which of these animals will be my friend," she complained nervously.

Stephanie put an arm around her, holding Mr. Bear with the other one. "Don't worry, I'll make sure Harry stays here. And, if it's really that rough for you, we can just pretend for a little while."

"Oh. Well...okay, I guess. You're sure you won't leave?"

"I promise. If he's going to be my husband and pay attention to me, he'll have to stay where I want to stay," she said matter-of-factly.

Allie's mom picked them up a moment later. She assumed the wedding was a play one; she was going to do Stephanie's hair. Mr. Bear went along, too.

"Now, I have a tough decision to make," Stephanie said to Mr. Bear. She was holding him while in the flower girl dress she had worn to a wedding the previous summer. Allie's mom was fixing her hair so she'd look extra fancy. "I mean, Allie's my best friend. And yet, I really like Isabelle, too. I can't have two maids of honor, can I?"

"Why not?"

"Well, that's true, Mr. Bear. But, still, I can't stand to hurt either one's feelings."

Mrs. Taylor finished doing Stephanie's hair, and offered her own advice. "Honey, my Allie remembers so well the first few months she knew you, so soon after losing your mother. Why don't you explain it to her. I bet she'd be more than happy to let Isabelle be the maid of honor instead, so she can feel wanted and accepted." She would be sure to talk to Allie herself if need be.

Thankfully, Mrs. Taylor had been right. Stephanie learned that as long as Allie could be a bridesmaid at the wedding, she didn't mind not being Maid of Honor. In hindsight, that made sense; Allie was quiet and shy, so she wouldn't feel slighted not getting the top billing at this play wedding, though if asked to be she would have. Both would stand with Stephanie up front in the Tanners' backyard; it's just that Isabelle would get to hold the paper towel box that would form Stephanie's train.

Isabelle greatly enjoyed the play wedding, even though Stephanie wanted it to be real. Thankfully, Danny and the others then realized how Stephanie was feeling, and they all made her feel welcome. That made Isabelle happy, too; she saw she wasn't the only one who ever felt like she wasn't a part of things. She imagined everyone felt like that at times.

Later that evening, Stephanie's Honeybee hive mother arrived with a tape measure to fit Isabelle for her uniform. She had a number of them in the car, and she said they might be able to find her one tonight.

"So, I get to be a disco Brownie, then?" Isabelle asked.

Danny laughed. "She's only know the Brownies all her life; I told her the Honeybees were like Brownies with disco uniforms," Danny explain with a laugh. "Come on up to the girls' room, Linda. Well, that is, the older girls' room, now there are two rooms that can be called the girls' room...well, just follow me."

Linda laughed at Danny's rambling. "I guess that's a good way to put it. They really broke off from the Brownies when they wanted to integrate in the early '50s and the Brownies and Girl Scouts didn't - by the late '50s there were a number of hives that joined nationwide in integrating. But, nowadays nobody really pays attention to that history," she said thankfully, glad that the dark era of segregation in America was gone.

Danny, too, was glad each group was integrated. "I know, I can just imagine the clamor of those meetings before they broke off. The black and yellow of a honeybee sure is cuter than black and white, though. I mean, what girl would want to be a Zebra? How do you attract girls into a Zebra club?" Linda laughed at the corny comments. Danny wouldn't say, but he was babbling to keep from thinking of Pam's death right now. "The costumes wouldn't be near as cute, and what would you sell in place of honey?"

Linda wasn't sure, but as she measured around Isabelle's waist, she commented that by now, the organizations functioned peacefully, and had for some time. They were just two separate clubs to everyone involved.

Isabelle peeked in the bag. "You really do have fancy uniforms," she told Stephanie, who was watching along with D.J..

"Yeah, we do."

Isabelle noticed a small bit of sadness in her voice. "Did your Mommy help pick out your uniform?" Stephanie nodded, and Isabelle gave her a brief hug.

"It was just like this," D.J. said. "Except, I don't remember you telling as many bee puns back then, Dad."

"Oh, you're right, but I can't help it, this girl looks simply beeee-utiful. I can tell she's just buzz-ing with excitement." Danny loved to lavish praise upon the girls, and talk about how proud and happy he was for them. He was doing it a little more this evening, of course, because this was reminding him a little of Pam, too, just as it did Stephanie.

Joey poked his head in the room while caring a sleepy Michelle. "I'm gonna put the baby to bed."

"Okay, thanks, Joey," Danny said before answering D.J.'s query about where Jesse was. "Oh, he and Becky just, well, he invited her to spend some time with him, just the two of them." The girls went "oooh" in an excited way. "Guys, there is nothing to 'ooooh' about. Well, yet. Maybe there will be, I don't know."

"Fine, Dad. When he gets home, we'll be sure to congratulate him on his 'not quite a date.'"

Danny laughed; Jesse would probably be home after the girls went to bed, anyway. "Fine, if you're up you can do that. Now, 'Belle, not only will you be getting your very own fabulous uniform, you also get your very own pollen sac."

"And, I'll just bet there's a joke with 'honey' in it waiting to come out of his mouth," Linda said as she finished taking the measurements. Isabelle nodded happily; she was used to such comments by now.

After a short while, Linda found a combination that Isabelle could try on. She went into the bathroom and changed into her Honeybee outfit, then came back out. She turned around with outstretched arms in the bedroom as Danny videotaped her. "Aw, look at you. Hold this," he said, handing the camera to Linda. Linda, had never used this type of camera and had to find the viewfinder for a moment while Danny hugged Isabelle and gushed over how cute she was.

"That looks so adorable on you," he continued. "Isn't she the cutest girl you've ever seen, Linda?"

"I think Linda's own daughter would rank up there pretty high," D.J. noted.

Danny chuckled softly. "You're right. I'm just glad we're here to share this. Look at those antenna, they're so adorable. And, just think, she probably gets good cable reception with them, too. And who can resist those darling wings, and the pollen sac?"

"So, do you like your new uniform?" Joey asked as he centered the room.

"Not as much as he does," Isabelle answered, looking at Danny.

Danny grinned broadly. "Sorry. I guess I get a little carried away." Not just thinking about Pam, he mused, but wanting to keep her feeling happy and excited after having lost two parents.

"It's normal around here. You get used to it," Stephanie explained.

"Yeah. He really is a great dad. You've come into a great family," D.J. emphasized.

Danny agreed silently. He just hoped that D.J. continued to remember that; Jesse was telling Becky about Isabelle tonight, and they'd decided that if all went well, they would tell her in a couple days, after having told Joey a couple weeks ago. The younger girls seemed a bit too young to understand yet; he hadn't even told Stephanie all about the birds and the bees. He would need D.J.'s and Becky's help for that, he was certain.

Joey came home from driving Stephanie and Isabelle over to Allie's after lunch that Saturday. "I took Steph and Isabelle over to Allie's for a play date. They were actually quite anxious to take a few of Isabelle's animals for a road test."

"Great, thanks Joey," Danny said with a slight grin. "Becky, I really appreciate you being here to help us. You're sure we're doing the right thing?"

"Oh, it's no problem. And, yes, I think so." Becky folded her arms. "It was kind of a shock to me when Jesse told me about it last night; but, I guess it shows he likes me, if he's willing to be that open and honest," she said nervously, still trying to convince herself of that. In the back of her mind, she considered how this knowledge would affect her handling - and Danny's handling - of the auction of dates with area bachelors for charity that was coming up in about a week. She decided it wouldn't matter. Jesse had been fascinating to her before, and she felt attracted to him, in a way. She'd disliked that wild image at first, and would have had even more reason to dislike it now. But, his honesty and forthrightness about what he'd done, how he felt, and how he'd changed in the last couple years, let alone since he was seventeen, had made her even more certain she'd be bidding on him.

D.J. jogged downstairs in her soccer uniform. "Okay, it's almost time for someone to take me to practice. Who's the lucky driver?" D.J. joked, referring to her bevy of choices.

"Whoa, whoa, wait. First, I want you to sit down," Jesse said. "'Cause, there's something we think you ought to know about Isabelle's birth parents."

"Sure, what is it?" D.J. asked. She looked curiously at him as she sat between Jesse and Danny, with a sweatshirt folded on her lap. Becky and Joey sat in opposite chairs next to the couch

"Honey..." Danny struggled for the right words to say. He was glad Pam had been the one to talk about the birds and the bees with D.J. a couple years earlier. "You know how, sometimes, teenagers do dumb things?"

"Yeah, like for instance, I knew this one kid in school, all he ever listened to was Barry Manilow and stuff like that. Can you imagine wasting your high school years listening to elevator music?" Jesse asked nervously.

D.J. giggled and grinned broadly. "I know you, Uncle Jesse; something tells me this isn't about Barry Manilow."

"Deej, sometimes, teenagers do things that change their lives forever," Danny said. "It's like, well, you know, sometimes, they get to feeling...and should I put this?"

"Now I know why Mom had that talk with me, instead of you," D.J. said with a laugh. "Why don't you just come right out and say it?"

"Say what?" Danny said, raising his eyebrows.

"Yeah, you mean you know...?" Jesse began, motioning with his hand to encourage her.

"Guys, I'm not a little girl," D.J. said, half laughing and half scolding them for their protectiveness. "I know there's teens who get pregnant in school. And, I know it messes up their lives. Sometimes protection breaks; and the only real protection is to not do it till you're married. I remember Mom emphasizing that a couple times when we talked about that, a few months before she died. So, Isabelle's birth parents were a couple of young teens. You don't have to protect me from hearing that," D.J. said as she rose.

"Oh, thank goodness," Jesse said as he got up to leave.

"Jess..." Becky said warningly. She could sense he thought he was off the hook, so she stood and grabbed his arm. "Let's tell her the truth."

"Okay, I guess you're right, Becky." Jesse shuffled his feet a moment, and remained silent.

D.J. continued, knowing just how her dad and the others operated - with much overprotectiveness at times. She knew they needed to hear her admit what she'd thought for a long while. "It's okay. I'm not going to be like one of those wild kids when I get into junior high and high school. I promise. I want to be pure. Like Mom was."

"That's good to know, Deej. I'm really proud of you. But, unfortunately..." Jesse sighed heavily. "Well, I used to do it in my younger days."

"You did?!" D.J. was stunned. She knew he rode a motorcycle and led a fast lifestyle when he was younger, but had never realized this part about him.

"Yeah, I did. And I just wanted to admit that; boy, I feel better..." He saw Becky's face as he turned, so he turned back to face D.J.. Even now, he was starting to feel like he'd do anything for Becky. She really made feel different than any women ever had.

Jesse finally continued. "Oh, yeah, there's something else. Well, see, when I was seventeen, Isabelle's mother and I, we'd been goin' out for a while, and we wanted to have one last big night before school started, 'cause we went to different high schools. And, well, that's when it happened."


"Yeah. I'm Isabelle's father."

"What?!?! Uncle Jesse, I can't believe this! I was ready for just about anything but this!"

"Hey, I know the feeling, when Darth Vader said he was Luke Skywalker's father it really threw me," Joey joked to try and lighten the mood.

It didn't help. "Uncle Jesse, I could you just abandon her like that?"

"Now, Deej, let him explain," Becky cautioned.

"We didn't abandon her; Isabelle's mom came to me when she was about five months along, and I ran to your mom right away. I figured she could help."

Danny explained. "Pam knew this really nice couple that couldn't have children. We were young enough, we wanted one of our own again in a while, and that's when we had Steph. We'd planned on at least 3 of our own around four to five years apart, and then, if Pam hadn't had any more after Michelle, we might have thought about adopting in a few years. But, we'd been friends with them for about five years at the time. And, it was the perfect situation to put Isabelle into, they were a great couple, the best parents..." He trailed off, sad to think of them being gone.

"Yeah, Deej, it's not as bad as you think," Jesse said.

"Not as bad as I think?! I don't believe this! Stephanie and Harry understood more about commitment in their little 'wedding' yesterday than you seemed to!" D.J. exclaimed.

"At least Harry did till he remembered his mom's meatloaf," Joey noted.

"And the fact you went around with other girls, too? Didn't Grandma or Grandpa or Mom ever tell you about any diseases and things you could get? I know Mom mentioned those to me. And, what about when you get married?" She got a little misty-eyed, thinking of her mom, and the loving example she'd set. It hurt so much to hear that Jesse had acted the way he had. "Around my tenth birthday, when Mom and I had this long talk, we talked about purity, and saving yourself for the one you love. And yet, you acted more like a wild animal, from the sounds of it!"

"Aw, Deej, I know what you're saying. When I hear that from you, I could swear it was your mom trying to get me to see a point. It sounds like the exact kind of thing she said back then."

"Well, why didn't you listen to her?" D.J. inquired forcefully.

Danny could tell D.J. was quite upset. "Deej, you have to think of the good things your Uncle Jesse's done in the last few years."

"Yeah, kid, I mean, I've given you guitar lessons, helped you with homework and science projects and stuff, I've caught ferrets and other varmints around here."

"And, Jesse's loved it, too," Joey mentioned.

"That's right, bein' here, it's opened up parts of my heart I never knew were there. Now I know why your mom was always braggin' on you girls when we'd talk, and why she was so happy with her decisions in life. 'Cause she really did have fun, and I do, too."

Danny could tell D.J.'s demeanor had softened some, and put an arm around her, hoping that the men had helped her realize how wonderful Jesse was now. "So, see, Uncle Jesse really is a great uncle now."

"Sure. That stuff's way back in the past, right?" Joey asked.

"Well, you're right..." she hedged. "But, I'm still mad!" She stormed up to her room.

Becky held up a hand as Danny began to follow. "Let me try to talk to her. I think this is one of those times for a woman to woman talk."

She strode up the stairs and knocked lightly on D.J.'s door, which she hadn't closed. "Can I come in?"

"Sure, Becky." D.J. was grateful for someone to talk to, even though she'd run off. For her, her pillow person just wasn't the same as Mr. Bear was for Stephanie. "Did he tell you?" she asked as Becky sat up beside her on the bed.

"Yeah, last night. I couldn't believe it, either. I mean, my dad lived kind of a wild life before he got married; he was actually on the rodeo circuit."

"Wow, you mean he roped cattle and tried to ride bulls and everything?"

"Yep. Just like you see on TV."

"So, did he ever do anything like Uncle Jesse before or after?"

"Well, certainly not after. Mom probably would have put him in the past tense if he did," Becky joked. "But, while he never did before he met my mom, if he had, it would have been tough, knowing that he didn't save himself for her. But, she would have forgiven him. Because when you love, you forgive."

"I know. And, I'd like to forgive Uncle Jesse, but...I don't know what it is that's really bothering me..." She sighed. She couldn't really understand what was on her mind.

Becky said she thought she understood. "Deej, I think your problem is that you're at the age when young people start forming their first moral outlooks. It's the first time they clearly say in their minds they think this is right, or this is wrong, independent of what their parents think. Sure, you follow your peers sometimes. And, especially with your situation, you probably feel an extra desire to be like your mom. But, in the back of your mind, it's you making those choices as to what to follow, what to believe, and so on."

"So you're saying I'm in a moral dilemma?" Becky nodded. "Boy, I'd heard about those, but I never thought I'd have my first one before I left elementary school."

"Well, welcome to the adult world, Deej." D.J. grinned broadly at Becky's comment. "And just remember, it's okay to have an internal moral code. In fact it's vital. I think you've got a great one, from how we've talked and from all your dad's told me. But, even when someone you love goes against that moral code, you still have to love that person."

"You're right, Becky. How did you feel when Uncle Jesse told you?"

Becky thought about how to put this. "Well, it surprised me, but I guess my own internal code said it was possible for a motorcycle loving guy like him to do that, just because of how I was raised, not liking that type of person growing up. But, I could tell your Uncle Jesse was a really nice guy who'd changed his ways, too. And, while I don't like his attitude at times, and all that Elvis talk is just crazy..." She giggled, and leaned closer while whispering, "Don't tell anyone. But, I really kind of like him."

D.J. smiled knowingly. "I promise, Becky." She thought about it a second. "I guess I just think about how Isabelle wouldn't have had to suffer through losing both parents like this if Uncle Jesse had just taken charge then like he did now, and been her dad from the start. She's already crawled into my bed with a nightmare once that I think came from losing her parents. And, I'm sure Mom and Dad would have even let him and Isabelle move in here, if the mom didn't want anything to do with her...." After a pregnant pause, she asked, "What happened to the mom?"

"She just moved away and got on with life, I guess. Though she'll probably always wonder about what might have been, about whether maybe she could have taken care of her after all."

"Yeah. In a way, Uncle Jesse at least heard about Isabelle from time to time. And, I guess, too, it's like I tell Michelle, when I have to time her out, since Dad doesn't. I may not like what she does at the time, but I do still love her." She sighed and rose. "It's so confusing sometimes."

"Growing up is confusing. Come on, why don't I take you to soccer practice, you can think about it a little there. It's on my way to where I'm going, anyway." D.J. and Becky left.

D.J. was trying to assist Kimmy in a soccer drill a short time later. "Kimmy, I've told you before, you can't let that opponent distract you. You have to keep focused on the ball, even if they mention a sale or boys or something," she explained. "We're going to have to work on this, I can tell."

"Hey, fine by me. Oh, there's an open net." Kimmy kicked the ball, and shanked it out of bounds. "I get to do that again, because that's a foul ball, right? No, wait, that's baseball, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is," D.J. said.

Suddenly, she heard a guitar playing, and soft, gentle singing. "Hold on," D.J. said as she walked across the field toward the music.

"...I've got a wondrous new heart, that I wish you could see. 'Cause it tears me apart. When the past blinds your eyes to how I really care...."

D.J. was amazed at the music. She listened as Jesse sang about being sorry, about being different from the man he had been so long ago, and about how he wanted to have a clean slate.

"Wow, that's amazing," D.J. sat on the bench next to Jesse. Several other girls had also gathered to hear him, and D.J. asked them to go back and play so she could talk with Jesse for a moment.

Once the girls left, she asked, "How long did it take you to write that?"

"Few minutes. Bit longer for the melody." He put the guitar beside him. "Deej, I-I just don't know what to say. I know you're upset, and you have a right to be, about how I went around with women, how I just let the mom give Isabelle up for adoption. But, Deej, that song, those words, they're really what's in my heart. It's like I told your grandpa when I left the family business, my heart's in music. And, when I feel something really touching my heart, I really can whip out a song about it in no time. 'Cause, I really do care. It's hard for me to say sometimes; but it's easy for me to sing it."

"Thanks, Uncle Jesse. I know, I may have overreacted a little, too. I'm sorry if I did. But, I just want to be able to see you as this great, upstanding person who wants to live the right way, the way I want to be when I grow up. And, it hurt to find out that my uncle, who I want to respect, used to go around with different women all the time."

"I know it hurts; Deej. I meant what I said earlier, when we were arguing. The things you were saying, I coulda sworn you were your mom, tryin' to get me to straighten up and fly right. Even the comment about commitment - yours, not Joey's meatloaf one," he made sure to say. "I think she might have said something about little kids and play weddings back then, too. And, I did listen to her, though it took a long time." He looked to make sure nobody else could hear; he hated baring his soul, but he felt it was necessary after what had happened. "And, one of the things that hurts most is that your mom's not here to see those good things we've done, the stuff we talked about earlier today. Maybe she looks down from Heaven and watches, I don't know. But, I know it's tough, just like it's gotta be tough for you to not have her watching you on this team of..." Jesse glanced and suddenly noticed the blank sidelines. "Whoa, your team's so bad the coach walked out?"

D.J. managed to chuckle. "Actually, he got moved to the afternoon shift where he works. But, he had threatened to," she joked. As they laughed together for a moment, D.J. explained. "The league said I could, since it was short notice, so, I figured I'd try to be Charlie Brown for a while."

"Yeah, but which one of them's Lucy?"

"Actually, we've got a few of those."

"Looks like it. Do you want a coach? 'Cause I'd be willing to coach your team."

"Really? Do you know much about soccer?" D.J. asked expectantly.

"Well, yeah, you can't use your hands, and you run up and down the field and try to get it in the goal with your feet." A ball bounced off his head. "Ow. Or your head." He turned to the girl who had kicked the ball as she retrieved it and said, "Watch the hair, huh?" Turning back to D.J., he asked, "So, do you forgive me?"

"Sure, Uncle Jesse." They hugged. "You really are a whole lot different than the Uncle Jesse who used to go around like the Fonz. I remember you'd just ride in once a year or so on your motorcycle and give us gifts. But, this Uncle Jesse's much more fun."

"Thanks. And, to tell you the truth, if it had been a few years later, or there wasn't such a nice family available to adopt right away, well...we mighta moved in with your mom and dad."

As he started to rise, D.J. said, "Freeze. Before you get up and leave, are there any others?"

"Any other kids? Nope, her mom's the only one I ever got pregnant. And, well...if this hadn't happened, I guess I was hoping by the time she was 18, if she ever wanted to come look me up, well, by that time I'd have moved out and you'd never have to know; you'd only know they were friends of yours. But, now you know. And, hopefully you can help me when it comes time to telling her. 'Cause, she'll have to know, now that she's family, that's why we told you."

"I'll help, Uncle Jesse. By then, she'll know how great you are at helping out. Any other secrets you're hiding?"

"You'll accept I've changed if I tell you?" She promised. "Well, the week of my graduation, I faked being sick for a whole week, same way I told you last year I used to," he said. He felt much better about revealing this after having told Becky; since it had come out in this way. Had he and Becky gone for a while and then he'd revealed the truth about Isabelle, he would have kept this last revelation a secret. But, now, it was coming out in the same way it had with Becky.

Hanging his head for a second, Jesse continued. "Truth is, I didn't try to go to my graduation even though I was sick. And, I didn't drive down and pick up my diploma. I just went to my fifth year reunion because those were my buddies in the high school band and stuff." D.J. seemed to sense what was coming next; she'd heard about other people like this. "I never graduated. I'm a credit shy; I just walked out of school one day in English and never went back."

"Even more like the Fonz, huh?"

"Yeah. You gonna make me go back now?" Jesse asked, only half joking. "I'm really too busy right now with my music and this advertising gig, trying to make a career out of that. But, I almost wouldn't mind it if you did. 'Cause I know she'd want me to. And yet, this is something I can never tell your mom."

"Trust me, she probably found out, but kept it to herself. And then, if you were really in a bind, she'd make you promise to go back to school in return for helping you. After all, she seemed to know everything I was going to do before I did it."

They laughed together. "Yeah, she was like that, wasn't she? Fact is, I wonder if she did know. 'Cause, there was this time the summer after you'd turned four, when she and your dad wanted to take their first real honeymoon, and stay in some really fancy place overnight. Your mom was just a couple months pregnant with Steph at the time, and they wanted to go before she got too far along and another baby meant less money. And, she seemed to know that I would babysit. She had that look in her eye that said she knew I was hiding something." They laughed again for a moment. "Then you made me play my guitar and sing Sesame Street songs all evening and the next morning."

"I did?" D.J. shook her head and chuckled. "I'll bet you sang them like Elvis," she teased lovingly.

Jesse grinned. "Well, I couldn't quite do Elvis with ones like 'Rubber Duckie,' but let's just say they did have a real rock and roll flavor."

"I bet. I've heard your 'I'm A Little Teapot' you do for Michelle. I've put you through a lot, huh? Tell you what, Uncle Jesse. You have been a great uncle the last couple years. As long as you promise to tell the others about not graduating, I'll understand if you don't go back right away. I need to, anyway; one moral dilemma a day is enough at my age. Maybe you can try to do it after things get less hectic, like before you have your own kids." D.J. made sure to add, "But, even if you don't, I'll still love you. You'll still be special to me."

"Thanks, Deej." They rose and walked toward the field, only to see several girls walking the ball upfield and holding their compacts. "What's goin' on here?"

One of the girls explained. "Kimmy thought if we just walked slowly enough while dribbling the ball with our feet, the sun would flash off our mirrors in the other team's eyes and we could get by them. She's having us try to see if it works."

"You really do need help with this team, don't you?"

"Truth is, I'm going to be forever grateful you're taking over," D.J. said with the same warm, caring smile Jesse was used to seeing from her. She clapped her hands and said, "Attention players, I want you to meet our new coach, my Uncle Jesse."

A week later, as the middle girls were preparing for bed, a blue Care Bear with a moon and stars on it spoke with Mr. Bear in the younger girls' bedroom. The bear, which Isabelle's parents had bought for her sixth birthday and which was named Sky, turned to Mr. Bear and spoke in a slightly astonished voice. "It's amazing; the last few weeks, I've become more awake, alert, all the things I usually am at night."

"I know," Mr. Bear said proudly. "When you start to adapt, when you adopt the personality your owner needs you to have, when you can respond to any concerns, at any time, that is when you go from being a comfort object to being a treasured friend."

"Did you do that when Stephaine's mother died?"

"Oh, yes. It was a rough road. I didn't think I'd ever be capable the first day or two. But, quickly, I achieved that magical state that is at the same time the most incredible aspiration and the most forboding challenge that any stuffed animal could ever have."

The animals were given the signal to freeze by one of Michelle's animals. A moment later, Danny carried a sleepy Michelle into the room and put her to bed. Stephanie and Isabelle collected their animals, and joined Danny in singing a couple short songs to Michelle. They hadn't been sure how to include Michelle in this "ceremony," but they decided this was the easiest way.

Then, Joey walked with them over to the room Isabelle shared with D.J. while Danny read to Michelle; Jesse and Becky were still on the date Becky had won in the celebrity auction.

Joey made a horn noise before announcing, "This is the moment you have all been waiting for. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, we present to you the valedictorian of Mr. Bear's Institute for Advanced Comfort Objects, Sky!"

D.J. smiled as Joey imitated Sky making a short speech to the gathered people and animals. "You sure do have a way with kids."

"And now, we have the swearing in ceremony," Stephanie said. She took one of the books from her own bookshelf - a Peanuts one, considering how alive Snoopy always seemed - and sat Mr. Bear next to Sky on Isabelle's bed. Each had a hand on the book. "Do you, Sky, promise to uphold all the duties of a stuffed friend, to boldly go with Isabelle wherever she may need, to always be alive and able to help with any problem, and to continue learning so you can help Isabelle through whatever problems she might have forever?"

Isabelle giggled and impersonated Sky. "I do."

"In that case, by the power given to me by God and by the governor of California, I now say you are real."

"And now, the ceremonial milk and cookie. Also known as a bedtime snack," Joey said.

Jesse entered as the household members minus Michelle were downstairs munching on cookies and drinking milk. "Uncle Jesse, you're just in time for the milk and cookie ceremony for Sky."

"Uh, Steph, you know, if might be a nice idea to ask how his date went."

"Okay, Daddy. How was your date? You're just in time for the milk and cookie ceremony."

"Oh, it was fabulous. Becky really is a wonderful woman. And, I guess there's part of me that thinks, maybe she's the one." Jesse pulled up a chair sat, wishing Pam could be there to hear him say that. "There's just something about her that's different than I've ever felt about a woman."

Danny seemed to sense what he was feeling. "I'm sure Pam's watching from up there, Jess."

"Everyone who comes to the ceremonial table gets a glass of milk and two cookies," Joey said as he got up, poured Jesse a glass of milk, and sat it and two cookies in front of Jesse. "One for you, and one for a special friend to eat."

"Where does he get this stuff?" Jesse wondered aloud toward Danny.

"I don't know, Uncle Jesse. He just says it's in the rules somewhere," Isabelle explained.

Jesse grinned as he remembered his own favorite animal when little, Doggie Katsopolis. He'd once told Joey that he'd been just like him - and then he turned four. But, silly as they sounded, he knew such things were very important to small children. He just wished he could have had the chance to share them with Isabelle before now. Just as with the other girls - especially Michelle - he was realizing there were parts of him that needed that.

"Hey, Danny, why don't you put Steph to bed, I'll put Isabelle to bed."

"Sure, Jess."

After another few minutes, Jesse gave Isabelle a horsey ride upstairs, and tucked her into bed in the spot where Stephanie had slept till a few weeks before. While Danny tucked Steph in in Michelle's room, Jesse gently stroked Isabelle's hair and lovingly said, "You sure got a great family here."

"Yeah. I love it here."

"I do too, kid. You know, sometimes people just live their lives, thinking if they make a mistake they'll just be more careful next time, and as long as someone's there to bail them out, they never realize maybe part of it really was supposed to work out for their own good," he rambled, considering that while what he did with the mother was a mistake, the baby that resulted could have been meant to help him learn to settle down and enjoy family life. Instead, it had taken Pam's death to push him into what he was now.

Isabelle merely scrunched up her face and asked, "What does that mean?"

"Well, I guess it's something you'll understand later. Truth is, when I get with Michelle, alone, sometimes I spill my guts to her. And, maybe I'm doing that a little now, too."


"I don't know. Look, I don't know if you ever thought about your birth parents; you know, the ones who had you before you were adopted." She shrugged; she had never really given that much thought. "Well, I just want you to know, you don't ever have to think of yourself as an accident. You may not have been planned by them. But, God had a plan. And, that plan was for you to be a very special part of lots of peoples' lives now. And, if they didn't want to be part of that plan, well, I think He has a way of making things work out anyway. I always say everything happens for a reason. And, sometimes we just have to wait a long time to see what that reason is. Capiche?"

"Okay, but...what does 'capiche' mean?"

Jesse laughed softly. "That's kind of a tough guy way of saying 'okay.' It comes from a movie. I just like saying that instead of 'okay' sometimes."

"Oh. Capiche, then," she said. She hadn't really understood him that much, except to know that she was planned in God's eyes, something her parents had already taught her. And, that was what was important to her.

After they hugged and he gave her a kiss on the forehead, he tiptoed out of the room. He turned and gazed back, amazed at how that plan had worked. He now had the chance to be a part of his daughter's life. Indeed, maybe this was the original plan - had the right parents not been available, and had he been just a little more willing, what he'd said was probably true. He and Isabelle could well have moved in with Danny and Pam. He knew they'd have been cool about it; though Pam might have blown a gasket on him if he'd pulled some of his Dr. Dare stunts while living there and trying to support his daughter.

But now? Now that he was starting to see how good a family life could be, still doing his music, but behaving responsibly, the opportunity he thought he'd surrendered had returned. Amazingly, now that he was learning what he was probably supposed to learn way back then, he didn't just have a chance to become a great family man for Danny's girls. Even though Isabelle now was really just his niece - and he had no right to challenge Danny and confuse things, he'd had his chance and he knew it - he really did have a second chance.

"Good night, sweetheart," he whispered as he turned off the light.