Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Sam Series

Sam Series What If - Ripples on the Water
Written by: Paul Austin

As with many school districts in the early-mid 1990s, the one where the Tanners live changed from K-6 to K-5 grade schools, and Junior Highs to Middle Schools grades 6-8 or 6-9, because 6th graders were maturing faster and facing many pressures only faced in 7-8th. Several 7th season episodes bear this out, as does "Phone Call From A Flamingo," the first book, where Steph is tempted to join a clique, when they just want to steal her dad's phone card so Kathy Santoni and others can call their boyfriends. 1994 was just as likely to start this rite of passage, though. So, what if the redistricting plan calls for no changeover till the '94-'95 school year? It impacts Gia on TV - no Stephanie to help her be nicer, etc., but with a good volunteer helper in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program (which she'd be in) that's not a huge problem, though Steph wouldn't be doing the stuff she does w/Gia in season 8. The Book Universe is changed even more - Steph being in grade school in 6th sends ripples through the Flamingoes, her PA position, her babysitting, and her relationship with Sam/Samantha. It grows closer faster, allowing Sam to mature quicker. The others will also be mentioned, too, in this series of snippets.

Stephanie Tanner shook her head. Her third day of sixth grade, and she - as Principal's Assistant of Fraser Street Elementary - had just settled her second playground dispute surrounding boys and girls.

Principal's Assistant was a foreign position to many Americans, but as a fourth grader, her then-Kindergarten sister Michelle had referred all kinds of problems to her after she'd helped Michelle feel better her first day of school. Finally, they just gave her an office. It was more complex than that, but that's how her Uncle Jesse and Joey described it. Because her mother had died when Stephanie was five, Jesse and Joey lived in the family's attic and basement, respectively. In fact, Jesse now lived there with his wife Becky and twin boys, Nicky and Alex.

She saw her two best friends, Allie Taylor and Darcy Powell, as the sixth graders were going in from recess. "I don't believe this. If all of sixth grade is going to be like this, forget separate playgrounds for us older kids, we're going to need separate playgrounds for boys and girls. Maybe even separate recess periods," she rambled, a gift she got from her dad, Danny Tanner.

"Whoa, Steph, separate periods? How would that work?" Darcy asked.

"Simple," Stephanie elaborated, with a hint of complaining, "boys go to lunch while girls go to recess, then you flip 'em around."

"It's not as weird as it sounds," Allie admitted. She was just as excited about nearing her teen years as her friends, but was shier around boys, so that part was a little daunting to her.

Darcy had to agree as the girls sat in their seats. "They do that with lunch and study hall in Junior High, but not with boys and girls separated."

Stephaie held up a finger. "Correction; 'Middle School.' Which is where we'd be if they hadn't decided to put off moving sixth graders up to Middle Schools till the 1994-'95 school year." She fretted. "We're mature; other school districts have kids like us moving up. Obviously we're starting to notice boys and vice versa. There were big popularity struggles here last year that I wouldn't have had to deal with if the sixth graders had left. I'm telling you, there's only one reason that I'm very happy I could stay."

"And there she is," Darcy said. A first grader with long hair made into a braid stood at the door requesting a hug.

Stephanie went out and the two embraced. She talked to the girl, named Sam, for a moment before Sam went down to recess. "You heard me, didn't you?" She had. "I'm so glad I could be here to help you. Michelle and Courtney will be out on the playground; I'm sure you'll make some other friends soon," she encouraged her, speaking in a soothing voice and stroking the girl's hair.

Sam would make more friends within a couple weeks. However, Sam was very neglected at home by her very rich parents. They only liked her for showing her off to friends, and never took any time for her. A year ago, Sam had been in need of lots of discipline, some quite tough, and even more love and tenderness. That had been Stephanie's job as PA, and even outside the PA's position. She'd reported to Sam's daycare a number of times to solve problems.

It wasn't bad enough for the police to get involved, but it was bad enough that Stephanie was Sam's emotional mother. Michelle could handle herself really well there; she was very compassionate and loving, because their oldest sister, D.J., had been the primary influence on her since Michelle was a baby. Michelle was in second grade, and performed very well as an "emotional sister' for Sam.

Sam also had a number of friends in the Honeybees, a Brownies-like club she belonged to, especially Courtney. Still, the Tanners - Stephanie in particular - were her "family."

Stephanie plopped her book bag down on the couch after arriving home that day, a little later than Michelle. "Hey, Dad." She and Danny hugged. "You know something, Dad? If the teenage years are anything like this, I don't know how anyone stands them. I think the only smart thing to do would be to go right past the teen years into your twenties," she said, making a sweeping motion with her hand. "You'd have to be crazy to be a teenager."

D.J. looked up from a book she was reading for school. "Steph, I'm a teenager, remember?"

"True. But, you handle it a lot better than some of these kids. You were probably as mature at Michelle's age as most of the sixth graders."

D.J. laughed. "Dream on." She had been more mature than most kids her age, but always wanted to be the best - that caused her to see consistent room for improvement in herself. Still, she had done a superb job in filling in for their mother, Pam, after her death. She had become very dedicated to that role.

"You make a great PA," Danny encouraged Stephanie. "I'm sure lots of the kids look up to you - and, the ones your age probably try to imitate you in how they behave. You're really a great role model for them."

"Figures you'd expect all the kids to want to copy Stephanie," Jesse said as he walked by, "you probably bragged about being hall monitor all the time at that age."

Stephanie recognized that Jesse was a rebel as a kid, which caused him to talk like that. Some kids did look up to her. Still, she felt she had to tell her dad, "It's not that simple. Kids are trying to act so popular and full of it in sixth. I'm glad sixth graders will be going to middle school next year." She thought a second. "One thing, though - it would have been hard for Sam to bond with someone other than me. The school had begun to figure a person who was really tough on the worst kids would help the most. I'm really starting to think that wouldn't have helped Sam." Indeed, the consistency would be such a key facet of having a PA that the school would name a fourth grader next year so the girl, Missy, would serve two years. Fifth graders were named the following two years, though the need for consistency and longevity was considered a little more than it might have been.

"You're probably right," Danny acknowledged. He always tried to put the best positive spin on things, but he knew things were hard for Stephanie. Pent up frustration over the viciousness of a couple sixth graders she'd had to deal with would send her running up to her room crying when she got home once or twice this year.

Still, if it wasn't that, it would have been some middle school crisis. These years were just really tough; and, he wished he knew how to help his girls handle them. The small crises - like the ones just mentioned that led to tears of frustration for a very short time - were hard for Danny to distinguish from ones that signaled real distress. Thankfully, neither Stephanie nor his other girls would ever face anything really distressing as teens; they were too confident and emotionally steady for that to happen.

He was glad Becky was around, as well as the very mature D.J.. Sometimes, they were just better at keeping Stephanie steady emotionally, better at understanding. Stephanie was by no means overemotional, but she could get extremely excited and probably a little more worried than most, too. She got that from her mom.

Michelle and Sam raced downstairs - Sam had been picked up by Joey from her daycare and brought to the Tanner home - and each gave Stephanie a hug.

"I know we worked on a lot last year. But, I'm glad to be able to help Sam more this year." Sam felt great, too, as she considered how lucky she was to have someone like Stephanie helping her to behave, talking to her about many things, and so on.

"Come on, let's get the Christmas decorations out," Danny said after dinner one night in early December.

D.J. was impressed. "You usually don't think about this till the middle of the month. Why so early?"

"Why not?" He jogged out of the kitchen and up to the second attic, above Jesse and Becky's attic apartment. The others followed, and Danny quickly began to pull boxes down. He sang several Christmas songs terribly off key as he did so.

"Whoa, Danny, go easy on our ears," Jesse requested. "Does this have something to do with Vicki?"

Danny wouldn't say. Vicki was his long-distance girlfriend, to whom he'd been engaged for many months. However, they hadn't even begun to discuss a date for their marriage. As it would turn out, they would break up next weekend, when Vicki took a job anchoring the news with CNN in New York, on the other side of the country from the Tannres.

Danny always tried to pour himself into cleaning or work when nervous, though. And, this was doubly fun because it was work that required that things be cleaned. "Look at the dust in these bags and boxes, I'll be right back," Danny said as he began to descend.

"Dad, this is why we put the boxes of Christmas decorations and the tree in boxes and bags," Stephanie emphasized.

"Yeah, so they don't get dirty themselves," Michelle added. Danny wouldn't listen.

"Give him credit, he's never been quite as crazy about cleaning like he could have been," D.J. said. "After Mom died it was really hard."

Stephanie agreed. "You've said dedicating yourself and being like a team captain really helped him."

"Sure, he was able to make a transition to life without Pam. If you'll excuse us, I better give Nicky and Alex their baths," Becky said. Michelle offered to help, and went with them into the small bathroom in the attic apartment.

"Danny can still be wild about cleaning, though," Joey remarked as Danny came upstairs with several cleaning supplies. "I think you're getting a little like him with your protectiveness, Steph."

"You mean with Sam?" Stephanie thought for a moment, and finally agreed as they carried the parts for the Christmas tree down to the living room and started to assemble it. "I've helped a lot. She can get a little carried away yet, but not too much. She escalated a food fight at one point a few weeks into the school year, but nothing like she might have. She knew I was the PA though, so she probably controlled herself a bit more."

"Well, she trusts you. You've done well enough she knows just what the rules are," Danny said as he wiped off some of the ornaments. He quickly got a very sentimental look in his eyes and tinge to his voice. "Look, remember this snowflake, Deej? You made that when you were in sixth." It was a little Styrofoam ball with long needles stuck into it, the needles having very large tips, not eyes like most. Before the needles were stuck into it, they were stuck through little silvery white beads. "There's a special story behind every ornaments; I could go on all night about each one."

"You have, too," Jesse teased.

Joey asked, "How's Kathy Santoni doing with her baby? Will she put a tree up?"

"Maybe with one little ornament with her baby's name or the year on it; not a big one." D.J. sighed. Kathy was a classmate in eleventh grade who'd gotten herself pregnant almost a year ago, and had given birth in early October. "It's really rough, with her boyfriend being in Boston."

Stephanie looked at the angel, and thought of her mom, before adding to what D.J. said. "D.J. still doesn't want Kathy over here, she worries Kathy would be a bad influence on us. Kathy understands, with D.J. being like a mom, now that she's one. I'm sure she understands really well!" She said this in a tone that said if Kathy were there right then, Stephanie would say, "We told you so. Why didn't you listen to D.J. when she'd warn you about such boys?" Then, she continued. "I can't blame D.J. for calling her some names. I wouldn't blame her if she didn't want to talk to Kathy again."

"And if her sister had managed to pull off what she was thinking about, I wouldn't have talked to Kathy for quite a while," D.J. averred.

When D.J.'s boyfriend, Steve, came over to help decorate, she explained for his sake, as she didn't know if he knew the whole story of what had happened in late October.

"Kathy's sister was trying to contact Stephanie to get her to join this clique, but she wouldn't promise full membership because Steph isn't in Middle School yet. Some group called the Flamingoes."

Stephanie ashamedly said, "I might have fallen for it, too. It seemed like a big deal for an eighth grader to be calling me on the phone and wanting to hang out and all that."

"I would have found out. Womens' intuition," D.J. assured her, putting an arm around her. "Anyway, Kathy didn't approve the specifics, but when her sister said she wanted to help Kathy to be able to call her boyfriend in Boston, Kathy gave her some ideas, then told her sister, 'Don't tell me any details.'" It wouldn't have been a problem at all had Kathy and the baby's father gotten married. But, they were glad, for Kathy's and the baby's sake, that the couple hadn't married. Marriage, they felt, was a lifelong commitment, not something one did lightly.

D.J. pondered that if the other plan had passed, Kathy and her family would not have been in their elementary or middle school district, though she'd still be in the same high school as D.J.. Each middle school held kids from a few grade schools, and their high school held kids from three middle schools.

"Kathy's sister planned to try to steal phone card numbers for Kathy and some other girls," D.J. continued. "That's why she was trying to get Steph to complete some dares - the dares were going to lead up to Stephanie taking Dad's phone card to her. I found out when Steph came to me complaining about the first dare, a prank phone call, and saying that if she was going to do that, she should be given full membership."

Becky and Michelle had come down after putting the twins to bed. "Well, now you don't have to worry about becoming big rivals." Becky didn't want to add that it could have gotten worse later had Stephanie failed to go along with the Flamingoes.

Stephanie knew about such rivalries, though. "It's been really rough dealing with some of these girls. I see cliques forming, and as much as we try to encourage togetherness, it's hard to stop. I have to work to keep them from influencing younger kids, too. Especially ones like Sam."

"Where is she tonight," Steve asked.

"Some rich person's party that her parents dragged her to. She's made more friends on the playground, but she'll still fall into mischief if she's not watched," Stephanie said, completing her former thought.

Michelle asserted that, "Little kids can get big ones to do stuff, too. Emily did."

"That wasn't that simple." Stephanie turned to Steve and explained. "In October, soon before this Flamingo thing happened, this girl named Emily tried to frame Sam for something. She overheard a couple sixth grade girls who already planned to spray paint graffiti in the girls' restrooms. Emily convinced them to try and frame Sam while they were at it. Of course, word got back to me about what they planned to do, as some other kids heard about the spray painting, though not about the framing. Some teachers and I went and caught them as they were about to start."

"Wow; I'll bet you really got loud then," Steve said, knowing how Stephanie could ramble.

Stephanie nodded. "And then some. I gave those girls so many chores, the janitor got a free weeks' vacation," she joked. "Sam had thrown Emily's goldfish around and killed it during show and tell in Kindergarten, before we really got her settled down, and Emily was still miffed about that. There might have been some other things too, but luckily, this was only early first grade." Stephanie had worked with the parents - who had never realized just how bad Emily could be till confronted with teachers who offered proof. They had ensured a change in Emily's attitude, and even that had taken a while.

It would have been a lot tougher had Emily's anger at Sam been allowed to fester. And, it might have. If those rebellious kids hadn't been planning something, Emily would have just tried little, clumsy things here and there where she tried to blame Sam, and nothing would have worked. Then, however, her parents wouldn't have been shown how sneaky she could get. This would have caused her to get even more frustrated with Sam.

Now, not only was Emily being watched, Sam was being watched closer, too. And, Stephanie was more concerned about her, and more protective.

Danny explained that the party was one of those Sam's parents would drag her to, especially around this time of the year. In his typical rambling style, he continued. "It's Friday night, and I think this is the start of what they would consider the social season. I mean, they have these parties all the time, but I guess this is where those rich people like to show off a lot, more than others, because..." The phone rang. "Oh, wait, hold that thought." He went to get it.

Joey couldn't resist cracking a joke about Danny's rambling. He impersonated Popeye and said, "Holding them thoughts is like holding a whale on your fishing line. Whoa!" he finished with the signature Popeye laugh.

"Sure, here she is..." Danny told Stephanie it was for her. "You might want to pick it up in the kitchen; it's Sam's mother."

Stephanie was only mildly surprised - even with Sam under better control, she realized Sam might get too wild at such a party, requiring Stephanie to be called to settle her down. Stephanie knew Sam hated these gatherings. They were so dull, and Sam livened them up in quite inappropriate ways at times.

However, she was totally unprepared to hear that Sam was missing. She gasped noticeably. "What?! searched everywhere in the house?...Okay, okay; and you called me because you told them I was her nanny...I see; she broke one of those, too?! Oh boy!...Well, don't worry, I'll find her and bring her back here," Stephanie said, getting choked up, much more so than the mother seemed. "We'll find her."

She set the phone down gingerly, feeling intense worry over what could have happened to Sam. She'd warned her about wandering off, and all the dangers out there. And now?

She refused to let the alternative, that someone had taken Sam, enter her mind. It seeped in, though - Stephanie could get very excited at times.

"What's wrong?" several people asked at once as Stephanie walked back in from the kitchen.

"Sam's missing. She just ran wild in that big mansion after dinner...the mom gave me the directions. And, then she just vanished," Stephanie said, deliberately not looking at Michelle. She was having a hard enough time holding back her own tears, but Michelle was already weeping a little out of fear. Danny and D.J. each hugged her.

Stephanie might have been concerned over what to wear to such a fancy ball, but she simply said she was going in what she had on. She actually had some notion of what Sam might do, but wanted to go and find her herself.

Danny offered to take them, but D.J. had pulled out her car keys and dashed toward the front door, anyway. It was dark, but still early in the evening - it was December, after all. So, Danny reluctantly gave Stephanie his cell phone. "Call if you need us to go out looking, too." Stephanie took it and raced out the door.

"Let me go with you," Michelle begged, running after her. "I want to help find her."

Stepahnie sighed. "Come on." She didn't want to make Michelle more scared by saying someone might have taken Sam - Michelle figured Sam just wandered off and got lost, so she just left it at that.

Her stomach churned as she examined the pitch dark landscape dotted by streetlights. When Michelle had wanted to sneak out to see Danny on a date, she'd been smart enough to know she needed a buddy, and asked Stephanie to go along. They asked Joey, and he took them on a 'date" of sorts. However, even a wilder Michelle - which would have been brought on by D.J. not being as proactive a mother figure - would have known to have a buddy, and would always have stayed within easy reach of an adult when sneaking around.

Indeed, even Stephanie, when she ran away once, only did so in broad daylight, and went to Becky's apartment - this was before Becky and Jesse married. Stephanie had hoped someone would offer to take her in, though she spoke of starting a new life in Mexico. She wasn't sure where she'd heard the idea - probably on a Western or something. She just hoped, almost planned, for someone to go with her. Allie and her family lived in a small house near Becky's, and Stephanie could have easily walked from Becky's, it was only a couple blocks across very quiet streets. And, that was only because she'd thought that what she'd done was so bad, she couldn't be loved again. Boy, was she wrong!

Danny had told her that it didn't matter what she did - even backing Joey's car through the kitchen. She would always be loved, always be part of the family.

Sam didn't have the love from her biological parents, but she did from Stephanie and her family. Sam knew Stephanie would always love her. As Stephanie wiped away a tear, she couldn't help but think that the lecture she would give had to be something special. This was far more dangerous than anything she could imagine.

"Look, isn't that her?" D.J. said, pointing to a figure walking ahead. The girl looked to be no more than five, rather than the six that Sam was, but Sam was always shorter compared to most kids her age.

Stephanie sighed. "We're a block away from the mansion yet!" Stephanie continued, more to herself. "You're right, it is, phew!" She uttered a small prayer of thanks, and jumped out of the car.

She ran up to Sam, and gave her a great big bear hug, with Michelle close behind. Michelle ran so hard, she plowed into them, knocking them over. D.J. turned the car off, then followed them onto the sidewalk.

" scared me!" Sam said, startled at Stephanie's sudden appearance.

"I scared you; do you know what you put us through! We were all as scared as I can imagine! Michelle was close to bursting out in tears all the way here!" Stephanie gave D.J. the cell phone, and asked them to return to the car. "I'll be there in a minute," Stephanie said, breathing a sigh of relief as the hug ended. "Call and tell them Sam's found and not hurt. But her pride is going to be very hurt in a minute," Stephanie finished, her voice became very foreboding. "You will never do this again, young lady!"

"But it was fun," Sam said defensively. "That party was boring."

Stephanie always prided herself on being in control with Sam, and she would be here, just as D.J. always had been with them.

Still, though nobody ever spanked in their family, Sam was so out of control a few times last year Stephanie had given her a smack. That saddened her even more; the thought of doing it again. Still a little teary, Stephanie exclaimed, "It is never fun to scare people out of their wits and disappear. It's is never fun to sneak off alone, at night, where nobody is around, and get yourself lost," she scolded.

"Who cares what they thought...eep!" Sam complained as Stephanie sat on the ground and dragged her across her knees. "Stephanie," Sam wailed as Stephanie spanked her very lightly, "you're hurting my feelings!" The fwaps didn't hurt, but the shock was still enough to make her very sad, the tears only those of emotional hurt, not physical.

"You're lucky some stranger isn't hurting you a lot more." She could tell she wouldn't have to hurt Sam's bottom; as D.J. had suggested once, light fwaps would still be very memorable. Sam was bawling by the end as Stephanie picked her up and embraced her.

Stephanie was thankful Sam's tears were not the "it hurts" kind, only the "I'm a bad girl" kind - just as she was saying while crying in Stephanie's arms. She'd known she wouldn't have to hurt her bottom.

Stephanie wept anxiously, too. "We were so scared we might lose you," she said tearfully. She continued lecturing as they got into the car, with Michelle getting into the back seat. She felt badly that she'd scared Sam, but she confirmed to herself that this was farm worse than any of them would ever have done. And, to top it off, Sam's attitude when being scolded had been quite bad - if she'd been sorry right away, Stephanie might not have given any fwaps, or maybe only a few.

"I hope her bottom's not sore. She's going to have to sit for the ride home," Michelle said in a mix of tenderness and bluntness that was uniquely Michelle.

Stephanie smiled as Sam sat between Michelle and Stephanie, and the girls put on their seatbelts. "Don't worry, I knew your stinging comments would have even more of an effect than I could." She let Sam bury her head into her side and weep for a moment more, then tenderly wiped her tears and gazed at her as Michelle helped with her seatbelt. "Sam, we are going to have a long talk about this; we are all going to help in this lecture, and by the time I'm finished, we may well have enough words to fill a book!"

D.J. reported that she'd called home and the party. "I volunteered us to babysit the next time there's a party, since I'm actually of babysitting age. They said once word about this got out, they'd probably have trouble bringing Sam to a party because the hosts would be afraid they'd have to provide people to watch all the time." She put the cell phone in her pocket as Sam cried leaning against Stephanie. Michelle and Stephanie hugged Sam with relief some more, and D.J. started the car. "Now, they can say their nanny will be watching."

They talked about how dangerous Sam leaving had been - crossing the street, even, and when it was totally dark out - and how she needed to think of how scared they were, if not thinking about those at the party. And, Stephanie was going to help Sam write a note of apology for worrying the hosts of the party like that.

"She'd been missing for half an hour. Half an hour in which anything could have happened," Stephanie moaned as they entered the Tanner home. She considered that if she hadn't been working with Sam so much, ironically, Sam might have just been very destructive at that party itself. Or, more likely, Sam wouldn't have even been invited, and thus neither would her parents. After all, if Steph hadn't been there, Sam would have taken a small step backwards, and therefore she might have been deemed too wild for the childless couple hosting the gathering.

Now, Sam was her responsibility - well, hers and D.J.'s when they babysat. She was only eleven, yet she was practically raising Sam. She hugged her again, realizing that - while it might have come in time - the last few months, and especially the scare she gave her tonight, had made her think of Sam as her baby. And, she would do whatever she needed to do to protect her.

"Sam, wandering off like that was very dangerous; don't ever do it again!" Danny began.

"Wait a minute, Dad, please. I have quite a few more things to say myself." Stephanie continued talking, as did D.J., as they walked upstairs, where Stephanie was prepared to make her sit in the corner to think about what she'd done.

Danny finally threw up his hands. "I guess I should be proud - at least it's one of my own daughters who's talking so much I can't get a word in edgewise," he told Jesse.

Jesse looked oddly at him. "I'm still stunned anyone can do that," he teased, referring to how Danny rambled sometimes.

"Steph, do you have to sit her in the corner, I'm sure she'll listen if you just put her in our room for timeout," Michelle pleaded. She hated seeing anyone get in trouble; she knew Stephanie didn't like it. And, given the severity of the lecture, not to mention the fwaps, Michelle figured Sam had been through enough. She knew Sam would think about it during timeout without having to be in the corner.

Stephanie thought for a moment. "You promise you won't leave?!"

"Y-yes, Stephanie," Sam muttered sadly. As Stephanie had lectured, she'd begun to think about how dangerous it had been to leave like that. She couldn't believe herself she'd done it, nor could she really understand why she had. However, she knew she would never leave the Tanners like that! She was beginning to realize they had felt just as scared as her real family should have felt. And, maybe Stephanie was right; maybe her family did feel that badly.

Stephanie placed her hands on her hips and glared. "All right, we'll just let you stay in our room for ten minutes, but I promise that you are going to lose plenty of privileges, and if you even think about leaving your punishment you will lose even more, and you will be sitting in the corner!" Sam sniffled and walked into the bedroom, laying down on Stephanie's bed and weeping a little more.

"Steph..." Joey began, unsure of how to say it.

"I know, I might have been a little too hard on the Beaver," she managed to joke. "Isn't that what you were going to say?"

"Well, it might have been if I did a June Cleaver voice."

Stephanie wandered around the upstairs hall as she spoke. "It just makes me so upset, she just wandered off on her own, while we're trying to give her everything she needs. I know she doesn't live with us, I know it's not bad enough for the police to have to intervene, but I thought we were bonding, I thought she'd come to me. I mean, she knows my phone number; we haven't really worked on her own because it's not really important for her, but I know she knows mine. Why couldn't she just call me?" she continued to rant. Danny put an arm around her, and Stephanie began weeping a little as he hugged her. "I just want so badly for Sam to feel loved and protected so she doesn't have to wander off like that."

"It's going to be okay, Steph. Maybe this is the start of her doing that," Danny said.

Becky suggested, 'You know, back when you first met her, it was almost like the Terrible Twos you were fighting. Maybe this is another step, maybe she did this figuring you would help, almost like when some kids at four or five push the envelope to see just where the boundaries are." She thought for a second. "I'm no psychologist, but...Danny, who was that doctor you took Steph to that time she was bothered by the earthquake?"

"Dr. Steiner."

" really think she needs a psychologist? You mean there could be something really wrong?" Stephanie asked worriedly.

"No, honey," Danny reassured her, lovingly stroking her hair, "I think what she means is, maybe we can have Dr. Steiner talk to her just to sort of set the foundation for things a little better, to help us understand Sam a little more so we can find out what she needs. Maybe she'll have some ideas for why Sam did this."

"It's not necessary any time a kid runs away," Joey remarked. "But, this is a very unique case. I know she needs to be part of something as a family - like maybe putting up our decorations with us..."

"Or swimming lessons. Dad, what if we start her in swimming classes once the new year starts, in a few weeks. I could take Stephanie and Michelle and we could all go with Sam. I'm not an adult, but I think they'll let me sort of be in charge," D.J. offered.

"That's a great idea, Deej. Sure, I think the swimming instructor would be fine, although they would probably prefer one of us to drop you off and get you, but that shouldn't be a problem," Becky said happily. "I'm thinking of taking a six-week course in something, it would be once a week, as a break from the routine. Which reminds me, Steph, do you think you could babysit on Tuesdays for six weeks starting in January?" She told Stephanie it wasn't final yet, but she was leaning toward it.

"Will you bring Nicky and Alex here?" Sam asked as they finished donning their bathing suits and put their clothes into lockers.

Stephanie couldn't help but chuckle. "I have a hard enough time keeping track of them at home," she explained.

As usual, it had taken a while to get hold of Sam's parents to get them to sign any consent forms. Then, the first classes didn't start till almost the last day of January. By that time, Stephanie had had some good experiences with Jesse and Becky's two-year-old twins, but one really wild one last Tuesday.

"I wish I could help you, but..." D.J. began.

Stephanie held up her hands. "It's no problem, Deej. Really. What I meant was, I had a hard time, but I did it," she completed.

Michelle looked at her. "You used the word 'exhausted' that night."

"Okay, okay, but it's not like I have anything pressing. If I was in Middle School, I'd probably be on some committee of Student Council, or maybe setting up the carnivals I hear some of the classes do. But, I only have to focus on two kids who go a mile a minute. But today we're here, Dad's dropped us off and paid the fee, and now it's time to swim," Stephanie finished excitedly. Sam clung to her as they left the locker room in their bathing suits. "What is it?"

"Michelle said it's real dangerous." Michelle had warned her about the dangers of going into the pool without anyone nearby, or without her inner tube, or anything like that. And, Sam recalled what had happened the last time Stephanie caught her doing something really dangerous.

Stephanie smiled. "It's okay, just follow the rules and you'll be just fine."

The swimming instructor introduced herself. As she got to know Sam and talked with Michelle - who came here sometimes with Danny - D.J. and Stephanie spoke off to the side. "She's really started to listen well, Steph. I guess the time babysitting at her house really helped."

"You're right, Deej," Stephanie whispered. "It was rough, with her never having rules enforced there, but we did it."

"I think it helped that you've been with her as a PA these last few months. She was still wild, but at least she went to the corner when told and sat for timeout." Stephanie nodded. "You know, you can always call Allie and Darcy for help with Nicky and Alex."

"Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky hired me, Deej; not a group." D.J. frowned. "Besides, Darcy's not going to be twelve for another month."

D.J. conceded the point. "You watched Michelle at eleven last December. I know what you're going through, though."

"You do?"

"Remember, I was watching you and Michelle at twelve, but it was easy. She wasn't into as much as the boys get into, and you were old enough to help a little, just like when you and Michelle watched them that one time for a little over an hour, the night Dad and Vicki broke up. Second, you guys executed a simple bedtime ritual - it was easy."

"Yeah, except we got their pajamas mixed up," Stephanie deadpanned.

D.J. didn't point out that that showed a lack of preparation. She merely said, "I've been there, Steph, wanting to do it all myself. Maybe you can. But, keeping twin two-year-olds entertained for one hour in the middle of the day is way harder than putting them to bed, which you did right after we left that night." Stephanie reluctantly agreed. "All I'm saying is, if it gets to be too much, as least consider calling them. I'm sure they'll understand."

Stephanie finally accepted the advice. As it turned out, she would call her friends to come over next Tuesday - but ironically, Becky's class was cancelled, and she showed up back home at the same time as Allie and Darcy did. Becky let them take the boys to the park anyway, as Stephanie had planned to get them out of the house. She was certainly glad she hadn't had any responsibilities at school that day.

Today, she stepped forward and watched as Sam toed the water while sitting on the side of the pool. The instructor had spoken all about water safety as D.J. and Stephanie talked, and now, Sam was ready to try a little. She wore water wings like Michelle used to wear.

She timidly got into the water with the other kids in the class. She was glad to see several others were also a little nervous about it, though some had jumped in rather quickly, and one four-year-old had been in timeout for running out and jumping in right away, though thankfully with her water wings on.

"Come on, Sammie," Michelle said excitedly as she walked down the steps into the pool and began treading some distance away from the class, in a part of the shallow end where a couple older sisters of the class members were swimming. "Blow some bubbles."

The four-year-old turned to Michelle from the group and said, "We don't have any bubble stuff." Michelle and the other older girls giggled.

"Is Sam your sister?" one asked Michelle.

"Pretty much." The girl who asked thought it an odd response, but another older girl whispered that that might mean she was being adopted, so she let it go.

Michelle was really excited. She'd grown to love Sam as a sister even faster than she would have. She was always so excited to see Samantha accomplish things - they'd begun to call her Samantha at times now, and she would officially start going by that by her birthday next month.

Michelle hoped that Sam could continue to grow and experience all the fun things she had. She was even starting to get into soccer and baseball or softball now, and she knew Sam would enjoy that. Sam's main focus was still dance, but she would still enjoy other pursuits. And, with her bond with Stephanie growing faster, it was easier for her to consider doing other things. If it hadn't grown as fast, with Stephanie in Middle School this year, she'd have remained more focused on dance, just because that would have become what she surrounded herself with to feel secure.

Sam and the others held onto the side and practiced kicking for a while, then blew bubbles in the water. It seemed strange to try to hold her breath as she did so for the first time, but having Michelle around helped immensely. She was really good at swimming, and Sam longed to be like her. Stephanie was watching her very closely in the pool, while D.J. and one of the moms struck up a conversation on the sidelines.

"Look at me, I'm a whale," the four-year-old said, squirting water out of her mouth as she floated on her back. Her mother gently corrected her while Stephanie helped support Sam as she tried to float for the first time.

Sam smiled, glad she had something like dance that was so much fun - something that would see her become a professional one day - but also excited to have so many other fun activities. The honeybees, swimming, maybe soon soccer and softball like Michelle, they were all great activities. She might not have the physical connection. But, as Stephanie supported her as she floated, Sam recognized that Stephanie really was like a mother should be.

Several years later, Samantha and Michele were swimming. "It sure was nice of your dad to bring us," Samantha said.

"Well, you are practically family."

"True." She splashed a little, and then asked, "Can you believe my parents are actually letting me move in with you?"

Michelle's best friends, Cassie and Mandy, had heard that she might. However, they were amazed, too. "You've been spending the night all the time the last couple years, but actually letting you move in?"

Mandy added to Cassie's comment. "Even if for no other reason than to claim you as a dependent, I'd think they'd say you have to actually live there," she said. "If they're that focused on jobs, they have to be thinking about money, too." Mandy had listened in when her parents discussed taxes with their CPA last spring, since there was nothing else to do. She'd asked plenty of questions, and learned a lot about dependents, such as the fact one had to live in the home a certain amount of time - the situation in her family was confusing because of her grandmother also living in the home with her, her mom and stedad, and five siblings.

"Actually, they said if she was just staying over at a few different places it would be different. But, since she's not there most nights, it could be argued she's not a dependent anyway," Danny explained as he got into the pool, too. "Still, it took a bit of convincing by Samantha to let her do it."

"Glad you decided to come in for a swim, Dad," Michelle said excitedly, knowing it was rare that he would do so.

"Actually, I just wanted to see what the filtration system is like." At that moment, someone dove in with a cannonball dive right near them, and Danny got all wet. "Although, since my hair is wet now, maybe I'll swim for a bit, too." He swam away as the girls talked.

Samantha was very excited. Had she not grown so much closer to the Tanners, she certainly wouldn't have had the self-confidence to push her parents to let her move in. Even if she'd mentioned it once, she probably would have just let it go the first time they said "no." After all, it was so much easier on her parents to just ignore things and leave them the way they were - it wasn't like her parents were moving, too, which would have made it easier for them to agree. And, technically, she was still their child. Finally, she might have grown closer to her good friend Courtney, and spent lots of time at her place, too. Samantha might have felt bad having to choose one over the other in that case.

Once Cassie and Mandy were dropped off, and Michelle and Samantha had returned home, Samantha started looking at the bedroom. "You and Stephanie just got your own bedroom suites for Christmas," she noted, considering that Michelle might like the idea of having a single; the second floor had three bedrooms and an office. D.J. now lived in the attic, with Jesse and Becky's family down the street.

"Yeah, but my room's big enough for two. Besides, I picked it out figuring you might come," Michelle said sweetly. She loved being able to share things with Samantha. "Have you decided where you're going to put your soccer trophies and other stuff?" Michelle chuckled. "I guess we've both done a lot; maybe we should just use this far wall for all awards, yours and mine." Samantha agreed. "Although your dance stuff is going to take up way more after a while."

"I hope so."

Michelle was excited to see how much more confident Samantha seemed about that. Of course, she'd been boosting Samantha's confidence for years. At times, some thought she was doing it too much. Of course, she might have had to do it even more without the certainty of having Stephanie there her first two years.

Samantha's emotional mother - and now official nanny - walked into the room. "Hey, how's the planning coming?" Stephanie asked as she put an arm around Samantha.

"Great," Samantha exclaimed.

"I'm so excited that you get to stay here," Michelle affirmed.

"I'm glad I'll have someone to talk about school with all the time, too."

Stephanie put an arm around her. "How does it feel, moving up to Middle School next month?"

"Well..." Samantha thought for a second. "it's not as hard as it could be, I suppose - but still, having you and then Missy as PA for two years each, and just the whole environment there at Fraser Street, it was so nice."

Michelle sensed the concern in Samantha's voice. "It's going to be great, Sammie."

"maybe.' She thought for a second. "All that stuff about the first kiss, the first time boys are going to notice me, and all the other stuff is going to be so strange. I mean, what's it going to be like to actually have a real live boy come up to me and ask me something other than if I'd like to hold a snake."

Stephanie said glibly, "Yeah, and those were always fake ones the boys had. The dates will be real."

"Tell me about it."

"It didn't get much easier just because I didn't go to John Muir till seventh," Stephanie advised. "Those firsts are always filled with expectation and anxiety - for parents as much as the kids." She had to laugh. She'd said before that if she could, she'd let Samantha stay in elementary school till she became an adult, while emphasizing that Samantha didn't have anything to worry about. She really longed to protect her from the myriad problems that could come.

"I guess it is good to be getting those first days out of the way now, in sixth," Samantha responded.

Weeks later, that first day came. She didn't feel as many jitters as she might have felt - she didn't consider bringing her favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Sniggle Bunny, with her or anything. However, she did grow wide-eyed seeing girls with makeup, as well as with more skin showing than she ever cared to show, as she, Courtney, and Michelle checked their schedules. The three would have lunch together, at least.

"Here's a map of the school building," Michelle said. "Don't worry, I can show you pretty much everything. You would need."

"I wish we could bring walkie-talkies with us so I could just ask you a question any time I wanted," Samantha joked nervously.

The girls laughed. "That would be interesting. The way cell phones are getting smaller and smaller, maybe one day we'll all have them." She recalled hearing that it was just nine years ago that Danny had bought a cell phone in the wake of the World Series Earthquake - and he'd had one of the first in the area. In fact, he'd probably been the first to have one who wasn't a doctor or lawyer.

Michelle recalled this, too. "It's amazing how bulky the old ones were; of course Grandpa Nick and Grandma Irene remember computers the size of rooms." Smiling broadly, she assured Samantha she would be fine. "It's always a little weird to go to middle school, but you've got some great friends here, and I'm sure you'll meet some more."

After school, Samantha and Michelle arrived home at about the same time as Stephanie. "Hey, how did it go?" Stephanie asked as she ate a snack in the kitchen. She hugged Samantha and Michelle.

"Great," Michelle said. They deposited their book bags by the kitchen table and peeked intot he refrigerator; the family didn't usually eat till after six, once Jesse and Joey got home from their radio show. "Samantha didn't even try to eat lunch in a phone booth," she finished as each pulled out a cup of yogurt.

"Not that I wasn't tempted," Samantha replied.

Stephanie understood. "Did you make any new friends?" She'd made one, named Olivia; they'd invited Olivia to sit at their table. "Great. It's just so amazing, your dancing has taken off so well, you'll be starring in Annie soon, and pretty soon you'll be going to sporting events and all sorts of things." She turned to Danny who had just entered the kitchen. "But, Dad, let's not talk about how soon she'll be getting married and moving out, okay?"

"Seems like it goes way too fast, huh?" he asked Stephanie.

"Yeah, it does." She smiled wistfully as she looked at Samantha. "Way too fast. I'm just glad we get to have sp much great time together now."

Samantha grinned broadly at Stephanie. She was extremely happy to be with such a great family; including someone who really was like a mother in all but title. Stephanie had been there for her with everything, for practically as long as she could remember, for without any steps back in first grade, it was harder and harder to recall the really lonely times before they'd met. Certainly some little things were still there, but they weren't nearly what they might have been. She'd never felt like leaving school, for instance, or anything else. She rarely saw Dr. Steiner anymore, though she still went occasionally.

"Well, no more class presidency, but maybe you'll be Homecoming Queen someday, too; just like Cassie joked about that one time," Michelle remarked, only half joking. She loved showering affection on Samantha, too, just as Stephanie did.

Samantha glided across the dance floor in her long, flowing pink dress. This year's prom was incredible, even more so than when Colin had come from his high school to take her to her Junior Prom last year. That one had been in the gym, after all, but this one was in a lavish hotel in downtown San Francisco.

She couldn't believe how wonderful the last twelve years had been. As she and her boyfriend, Colin Douglass, sat at a table with several other couples, she considered that statement. Everyone said "twelve years," when in reality, it was thirteen years counting Kindergarten.

And yet, she liked to think of it as twelve. People had learned things in Kindergarten; it wasn't only a play time, though to those who were in the half-day program it might not have seemed as much like later school. However, she liked to start at first grade for a different reason.

Sure, she'd met Stephanie in Kindergarten, but her Kindergarten year had been filled with turmoil. She hated to think of where she'd be without Stephanie; she'd truly been a mother to Samantha.

She'd have been Homecoming Queen and even Prom Queen without that extra year of having Stephanie there as a PA; Samantha knew Stephanie and Michelle were great at encouraging people. However, that extra year had allowed it to be cemented in Samantha's mind that she was worthy of love, that she was in fact very lovable, and that she deserved such accolades. There would simply be some doubt in her mind without Stephanie having been there to encourage her that first grade year.

Still, she had to ask, "So, what do we do now?" She was too much in awe of the situation to really think; being Homecoming Queen had been incredible enough.

"I think you're supposed to share a dance by yourself," her friend Courtney gathered.

"Yeah, kind of like at a wedding," Amy added, a comment which made Samantha blush.

"Hey, it might happen sometime," Colin remarked. The dance floor was cleared, with the prom court having just been announced, and Colin and Samantha strolled onto the floor. "We haven't slowed any in our relationship since last year."

"True." She was excited to be out there, but could take her mind off the glory long enough to comment, "I'm glad D.J.'s friend Kimmy's not here. I can just here her, 'Three times a lady, what was she the other times.'"

"Same here."

Samantha thought back to her first major crush, someone she met on the beach the summer after seventh grade; she wished it would have been Paris or somewhere else romantic, but she'd been confident enough to do more than dancing that she didn't need such a long break from it.

Then, there was Stephanie helping her to find a boyfriend after a few questionable guys she'd brought home in eighth; Samantha hadn't really known how to find the right one very well, so Stephanie had gone out of her way to look for the perfect boyfriend. And, she'd found him, right here.

"I'm sure glad you could get time off from the Stanford team," Samantha said once the song ended, and they were walking back to their table.

"Well, it helps to be a starter, I pitched yesterday. Although, the coach thinks I'll probably be better out of the bullpen over the long haul," he explained.

It had been almost seven years since Samantha moved into the Tanner home. Still, she never ceased to be amazed how Stephanie and Michelle - and usually Danny - waited up to hear how things had gone. Danny still had his morning show, of course, so he wasn't always up if it was a weeknight. Of course, he was up for prom night, since it was Saturday.

Colin and she kissed on the front porch, and she opened the door to a very warm welcome. "How did it go?" everyone asked.

"It was fabulous. You guys should have seen it." She began describing it in such a way as to make it sound like a story book.

Stephanie couldn't help but chuckle. "That sounds even more amazing than my prom. Of course, I guess it should be that memorable to the person having it."

"Right. Except for Pam and I, we were too nervous about our plans to elope to really have as awesome a time as we could have had."

Expecting Stephanie to get a little anxious at that comment, Samantha said, "Well, don't worry, Colin and I have talked about where we could be in another five years, but fright now we're just happy to be going together." She sat between Stephanie and Michelle on the couch and gazed ahead happily. "Our long distance apart made it even more special tonight."

"You'll be fine, Samantha," Michelle encouraged her. "Dad and Vicki had half a continent, Stanford's not that far." She'd been telling Samantha that for a long time, but always liked to keep encouraging her that it could work out - the whole family loved the idea of Colin being Samantha's future husband.

Accustomed to turning in earlier, Danny yawned, and excused himself to go upstairs.

One just the three of them were there, Samantha said, "It must seem strange for you to have it so empty, with D.J. moved out and married, and of course your Uncle Jesse and Joey and their families have had their own homes for years."

"Yeah. I'm sure glad you moved in when you did." Stephanie now lived in the attic bachelorette pad, with Samantha and Michelle sharing a room. Michelle considered that it was almost like having a twin sister, in a way - they would eventually have a double wedding in 2008, in fact.

"Yeah, moving in was so much fun." She pondered how awesome it was that God had brought them together. She'd been provided with love far above what she ever could have dreamed herself. "It's amazing. I was so used to being alone the first part of my life, and now, I'm so used to you guys, and a big family."

"I know, even when you're on the road, the other dancers are like a family," Michelle noted.

Samantha supposed that it would be nice to get married before her career was over. "Sure, I'll be busy, but it'll be great to always having someone to come home to."

"Especially someone like Colin, huh?" Michelle kidded her. Samantha nodded.

Stephanie put an arm around her. "Well, don't worry. No matter what happens, you can always live with one of us." Michelle concurred. "Because we are always going to stay close, and we'll always love each other. That's what families are for."