Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Sam Series

02 * Stephanie Tames the Shrew
Written by: Paul Austin

Author's Note: Second in the Sam series. By the way, in the book "Here Comes the Brand New Me," which would take place 6-8 weeks after the end of this story, Stephanie has the privilege mentioned at the end. This is a good way to explain how she got such a privilege at only twelve. Another reason why the more mature Stephanie (and Michelle) of the books are the ones helping Sam. Adjusted a little, but not much, after a small rewrite because of the consideration of Sam being in the Honeybees and having a few more friends making things a tad better.

Stephanie Tanner, twelve, got out of the car she'd been dropped off in, in front of her home. "Hey, Darce, can you come in a minute?" she said excitedly through a back window. "I can't wait for my dad to see your new outfit."

"It is okay, Mom?"

"Sure, honey. Just remember, we're going out to eat in an hour." Darcy got out of the car, and Mrs. Powell drove the several blocks to their house.

Once Stephanie and Darcy ran inside, they met Stephanie's father, Danny Tanner. He was dusting the living room table. "Dad," Stephanie said excitedly as Darcy ran upstairs to change into her new outfit, "You have got to see the cool new outfit Darcy got!"

"Oh, wonderful, my home has become a fashion boutique. I wondered what that blur was as you came in the door."

"Sorry, Dad. Can Darcy change into her new outfit for a minute so we can show you?"

"Why not let her change into it at home?"

"Because, this outfit is so me!"

Danny looked askance at her for a second. Finally, he said, "Ah, I get it. This is the 'Dad, I need you to buy me this outfit because my friend or friends have one and I want one just like them' speech. Which leads to the 'You don't have to have everything just the same as your friends do' lecture."

"Don't worry, Dad. This is different. I'm twelve years old now. I can earn the money for it," Stephanie explained as her sisters D.J., seventeen, and Michelle, seven, walked downstairs. "Darcy's parents just came into some extra money, and promised Darcy she could get one special thing. And, since Allie's away till tomorrow, we figured this would be the perfect time for just her and I to go shopping, so Allie didn't have to feel bad," Stephanie finished, a little out of breath. She was always very excitable.

At this moment, Darcy walked downstairs in a very nice, multicolored outfit that would cost about $120, counting shoes, at the regular price. Danny presumed it was on sale. It still had the price tag attached on the sleeve, though, so Danny motioned to Darcy that he wished to see the price tag.

Danny read it as he spoke. "Wow, this is a very nice...Whoa, Steph, did you see the price tag?"

"I did, Dad. Doesn't that outfit just say 'Stephanie'?"

"It says 'expensive' to me," Danny remarked.

"There's a sale in a couple weeks," Darcy explained. "Steph asked the clerk. And, they'll have more of these in by then."

"Steph, I'm glad you thought to see when there would be a sale. But, you shouldn't want an outfit just because your friend has one."

"Oh, I don't, Dad. She bought it because it looked perfect on me," Stephanie explained.

Michelle looked oddly at Stephanie. "But, it's not on you."

"Maybe she plans to borrow it a lot. Which means at least you won't be borrowing my stuff all the time," D.J. teased.

"I'm going to earn the money babysitting," Stephanie explained.

Danny grinned proudly, walked over to her, and lovingly put a hand on her shoulder. "Honey, I'm proud of you for trying to plan this. But, even given normal babysitting rates, you won't earn money that fast. You're only twelve, so you don't have lots of experience. While Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky can try to get you some referrals from Nicky and Alex's play group, a lot of those parents will want more experienced sitters. And there aren't that many chances to watch Michelle or your cousins." Nicky and Alex were the girls' two-year-old cousins. They, their Uncle Jesse, and their Aunt Becky lived in the Tanners' third floor apartment, where Jesse had moved when the girls' mother died seven years ago.

Stephanie sighed. Darcy smiled apologetically. "We figured your dad would be a tough sell."

"I'm not saying it can't happen. Maybe if you save up from babysitting the whole summer, you might have enough money for that outfit, if it's still in stock, and if it's on sale then. You're not buying that at full price," Danny emphasized. "And, if you save all summer, and you're five dollars short or less, I'll chip in the extra five." He sounded tough, but he could also be quite lenient at times. And, he wanted to encourage Stephanie to save for things she wanted.

"Don't worry, Steph. They usually have Labor Day sales on summer outfits like this," D.J. said.

"Yeah, but it won't be summer by then, Deej," Stephanie said lowly, walking around as the phone rang. D.J. went into the kitchen to answer it. "By then if I buy it, I'll have a chance to wear it one or two times, and then I'll grow out of it and it'll become a showpiece for Michelle's big panda to model." Michelle enjoyed having fashion shows with her stuffed animals.

"Well, it's up to you. Do you want it?"

"Well, yeah. I guess I'll just have to scrounge for any jobs I can get," she said, determined.

At that moment, D.J. walked in and said that Stephanie had a babysitting call.

Michelle's eyes grew wide. "Whoa, baby! Now I know what that man meant when he talked about blind faith last Sunday," Michelle spouted. The family didn't go to church regularly, but some of them attended more than others. Joey Gladstone had taken Michelle last Sunday. Joey lived in the Tanner's basement and was Danny's best friend from college. A professional comedian, he'd moved in to help raise the girls at the same time as Jesse.

Stephanie bounced excitedly. "Oh, boy!" She skipped up to the bedroom she shared with Michelle, cleared her throat, and even brushed back her long, blonde hair. She grabbed a pen and paper at her desk, trying to seem as businesslike as possible. Only then did she pick up the phone.

"Well, how does it sound? Did you get the job?" Darcy asked excitedly as Stephanie walked downstairs.

"Oh, yeah. For two weeks. Ten dollars an hour. By the time I'm done, I'll have enough to buy five outfits like that on sale," Stephanie said. She held little enthusiasm.

Michelle stated bluntly, "Then you've got the wrong face, Steph. You're supposed to have a smile."

"Yeah, what's wrong?" Darcy wanted to know.

"It's Sam," she said, as if she was speaking about an arch-nemesis.

"Oh brother," Darcy remarked. "I thought $10 an hour was pretty high, unless you had like four kids."

"It is. They asked what I'd charge, and I knew I got $5 an hour for Nicky and Alex. But, she's like having four two-year-olds, so I suggested ten. And, they agreed. It seems their daycare center will be closed down for two weeks. They're doing renovations on most of the building; new sprinkler system and electrical wires, that sort of thing. Plus, some staff members will be out of town on vacation, anyway," Stephanie explained, still a little shocked.

"Oh, yeah. They talked about that at the last Honeybees meeting," Michelle said. The community center not only hosted a day care and preschool, but also the small clubhouse-type area where the Honeybees, a Brownies-type club, met. Michelle was a Honeybee, as was Sam.

"She has calmed down some since joining the Honeybees over a year ago..." D.J. said, uncertain if she wanted to encourage Stephanie or not. It would be a tough job for her alone - at Stephanie's age, if she had kids outside the family, it would usually be very easy ones. D.J. had handled her first difficult charge when twelve, a boy named Brian Kagan - but she'd gotten in over her head quickly because of that, even with her best friend Kimmy Gibbler along. "And, if you babysit her at home, she's never had rules there, has she?" D.J. finished.

"You didn't have to accept this job..." Danny noticed Stephanie's face as it became more and more determined. "But, you want to, don't you?"

Stephanie nodded. Sam didn't have involved parents, and she had no rules at home. Her parents worked all the time, and just tried to keep her out of their hair when home. "They got several sitters lined up during the days, but I get the time from four to seven. I'm supposed to fix a small supper, too. I've never done a huge meal, but I can cook something simple, like pasta, for two. I've done it for Michelle and I."

"Yeah, except she might have to eat in the corner," Michelle remarked. Sam was pretty well-behaved in the Honeybees and at school, but still wild at home.

"That's the part I'm dreading. I hate punishing her. I didn't even like it when I had to take Michelle's dessert away once a few months ago, let alone sending anyone to their room. But, at least Michelle listens very well. And, if she messes up, being sent to her room or losing some privilege works really well." She gave Michelle a little squeeze and smiled broadly at her, to re-enforce the good behaviour. It was something their dad and the others had taught her was very important. Michelle leaned against her a little and smiled gratefully at the encouragement; any amount of misbehavior embarrassed Michelle by this age, and had for a long while.

"Ask them to bring Sam here," Danny offered.

"Sorry, Dad. It wouldn't feel like I was doing it then. It would just be inviting her for dinner a few times, like when we took her with us to Aunt Becky's family's in Nebraska for Easter."

"But, you've heard what she's like at home," Darcy finished for her. "From what she's told you and Michelle, she just does whatever she wants. Her parents ignore it if she breaks something and they pay for it, so they don't have to correct anything."

"Exactly. And, I guess in a way, I feel like I have to teach her how to obey the rules there, too." Stephanie shook her head. "It sounds like at home, all she needs is a stuffed tiger and it'd be perfect."

"Between her and Aaron, you really had your hands full," Darcy reminisced.

"Yeah. Even though Aaron was just your garden-variety bully, just keeping them apart when I was Principal's Assistant was as tough at first. I had these nightmares of them getting together, marrying, and combining to overthrow the government of some small, Latin American country and becoming its dictators."

D.J. walked over to her and put an arm around her. "Want me to help your first time? If Sam's never had any rules at home, I doubt her other sitters have been very successful at getting her to listen. I know my good friend Hannah is almost her only babysitter those rare times she has one. She's better for her, but it sounds like she's only good because Hannah's sister Courtney is one of her good friends. She's a little afraid of losing that friendship if she's really bad with Hannah."

"True. She had lots of trouble opening up and making friends till last fall. Even then..."

"She knows you love her. And, she knows Michelle does, too. She's more confident of that. That's why she tests you more," Danny noted. He thought for a minute. "Wait, that didn't sound as encouraging as I wanted it to be." He knew Stephanie might take that to mean Stephanie would have problems.

Stephanie understood what he really meant." You're right, though, Dad. We're the family she's always needed. She must know I really care about her," Stephanie said with a smirk, yet a dose of frustration, too, over what she feared Sam might be like. She obeyed Stephanie well otherwise, but to go into a place where Sam had never had any rules? "Yeah, maybe you should come with me. Thanks, Deej."


Later that evening, Stephanie walked into D.J.'s room. D.J. wasn't as much of a mother figure to her as she was to Michelle, but this was one of those times when she really was. Stephanie was thankful their dad had an office/den on that floor where a fourth bedroom would be, in a way. She and D.J. had grown very close after their mom died, and even now that Michelle and she shared a room, it was still so easy to see D.J. as an authority on things.

"Hey, thanks again, Deej, for offering to help Monday." D.J. smiled, and they sat on her bed. "Sam really is a challenge. Remember that time her parents called me to one of those fancy parties last Christmas?"

"I sure do. I think Sam was a little surprised you didn't spank her, after all she'd been doing." D.J. put an arm around Stephanie, who looked downcast. Sam had improved, and it seemed like she listened to Stephanie pretty well, but D.J. knew Stephanie still worried about that. "I know y you've hated doing that, even the few times you did."

"You're right, Deej. Nobody's ever done it or even considered it in our family. I think she was more shocked than anything last Christmas; that's why she sat in the corner and I didn't have to give even those light fwaps like you suggested doing earlier, like I did that time before." D.J. agreed. "But, a few times it just felt like I had no other choice."

D.J. tried to cheer her up by saying, "And, maybe you didn't. She's been a real rebel, and had a really rough exterior. She's becoming a little more like Michelle now, though, with their close friendship."

Stephanie agreed. "Just light slaps have worked since the one time in Kindergarten..." She'd given Sam a series of light slaps that didn't hurt, at D.J. suggestion, after repeated warnings about not vandalizing the daycare's stiff a year ago last winter. "Of course, then I had to warn her my hand could be at a much higher level."

"Right, see, even then she was becoming more sensitive. She cried a bit even with that tough exterior. You might not have to do it at all, even with her never having rules at her house otherwise," D.J. proclaimed.

"Maybe not." Stephanie sighed. "I sure hope I don't, anyway. Because I know, and she knows I know, that I'll do anything to get her to stop being so rebellious like our Uncle Jesse was. I mean, at first, she was way worse than he ever was."

"You care about her, don't you?"

"Like she was my own sister; heck, like she was my own daughter," Stephanie said glibly as she rose and threw up her hands. "Which sounds crazy at my age, but she practically is; nobody else is caring enough to raise her!"

D.J. stepped behind her and said, "I know, Steph. It's hard to understand how to deal with someone who's had no attention at home and no consistency even at daycare. If it makes you feel any better, I don't have much more of a clue than you do. The concept's just so foreign to our family; both the rebellion and, well, even light spankings."

"I know...but thanks for trying," Stephanie said, managing a grin.

"Sure. Steph, call me crazy, but I think she'll listen. It's hard to understand someone like that. But, when you talk about feeling like you're the mom, you might not be far off."

"You mean she thinks of me..." Stephanie laughed as she said, "Great. As if I didn't already feel enough pressure."

"Well, as our Uncle Jesse would say, hang in there. It's going to get better."

Stephanie met Allie and Darcy for a late Sunday lunch at Anthony's Pizza the next day. Allie had just gotten into town after traveling with her parents to Los Angeles for a week of vacation after school. Her parents weren't upper middle class like the Tanners or Powells, but they still tried to splurge when they could. Rare vacations, some ballet, and the piano lessons Allie had taken since she was five were among the few ways they did.

After Allie finished telling all about her trip, Stephanie sprang the news. She noticed Allie's stunned face right away. "Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Can I handle her myself? Sometimes I wonder. I mean, sure, she's improved a fair amount. But, even when I was Principal's Assistant in fifth grade and she was in Kindergarten, it took every last nerve at times."

"Oh, I wasn't thinking about that," Allie said quickly. "I know you can do it. I was thinking about the Giants game your dad had tickets for. He was taking you, Michelle, and me Tuesday night." Allie had been given D.J.'s ticket. D.J. still liked to visit the nursing home on rare occasions and do things for the elderly patients there, though she'd never had the time to do a lot with them like she'd planned when she started volunteering. Darcy would be helping her elderly aunt move from her house into a condo.

Stephanie slapped her forehead gently. "Oh, of course! How could I have forgotten?"

Darcy passed an understanding smile. It had slipped her mind, too. "Probably thinking about that outfit."

"Yeah. I won't say exactly how much I'm getting paid. But, let's just say I can get this one thing I saw in the store, plus a lot more. D.J.'s coimng to help me Monday, so that's good. She can just fly solo Tuesday and get paid instead of me. Or, she could take Kimmy." The girls laughed at the thought of D.J.'s weird, simple-minded friend babysitting someone like Sam. "Yeah, sure. Deej'd be better off with Michelle."

"Well, why not? She'll be at the game Tuesday, but some night, maybe," Darcy wondered. "Didn't Michelle get her to promise not to act up so much in school anymore?"

Stephanie nodded slowly. "Yeah, Jen had replaced me as the student in charge of comforting and disciplining kids. A few weeks into the school year, Sam started a food fight. Only, she got way out of control, dumping whole trays on kids. Luckily, Sam was sensitive enough by then she just sat in the corner for a good while, after a loud lecture. Once she walked back to the cafeteria, Michelle sat down next to her, and gave Sam this classic puppy dog face. She said, 'Promise you won't get in such big trouble like that again.' And, it did have a big impact - at school."

"But not always away from school," Allie pointed out.

Back to the subject of how tough Stephanie had been a few times, Darcy spoke candidly. "I'm going to have to think hard about whether I want to tell parents I'm willing to spank or not if they say it's an option when I babysit." Allie shared her feelings.

"It's very hard to do it." Stephanie thought for a second as she scooted her pizza around in the plate. "It's something that only stops bad behaviour. Our job is to teach good behaviour, though the main people to teach good behavior should be parents. It should be a very last resort, I feel."

"But, some kids just blatantly refuse to stop their bad behaviour for long enough that you can teach them that good behaviour," Allie finished.

Stephanie adjusted her napkin and said, "Exactly. Normally timeout, even if it's a long time, or revoked privileges work. They're logical consequences, as D.J. calls them. But, with Sam, she might defy any consequences you put out there. She's gotten a lot better now; I think sometimes she's been better at daycare just because she knows Michelle and her friend Courtney will be there at Honbeybees. I think she worries I can remove the Honeybees privileges from her. Which I could, I suppose."

"Except that's the only time she gets along with everyone really well, or at least it was at first."

"Right, Darce. The daycare actually called me a few times, since in my official role I was setting more limits than her parents ever had. It's easier than calling the parents, who they know will never answer. I wound up spanking Sam a couple times there, as Sam was getting a little more destructive. Thankfully, being in the Honeybees has really helped her. I'm the only one who's done it, and last time I only had to hurt her feelings, so that should work again, if I have to." She closed her eyes, a little frustrated. "I just wish I didn't have to even think about it; I can't believe I'm so concerned about how she'll be at home that I automatically think like this."

"I bet Michelle's puppy-dog look had as much if not more of an impact," Allie suggested.

"Thanks, Allie. You're right; maybe I won't have to. I'm glad Michelle's gotten so close to her. You can tell this is bugging me, I'm rambling more than usual. Sorry for taking up the conversation so much, guys."

"Hey, no problem," Darcy assured her. She knew sometimes, friends just needed to talk.

"Jen wasn't as tough as she could have been as my successor. Thankfully, Sam had improved enough after joining the Honeybees, that she always listened. But, the problem was, Jen wasn't as approachable. I think her progress was stunted with Jen not taking the time to talk calmly with her near as much as I would have. I mean, I was tough, but we cuddled a lot and talked and stuff, too, when she was in Kindergarten and I was in fifth."

Stephanie took a sip of soda, and then continued, grateful to have friends who put up with her Dannyesque rambling at times like this. She wanted so badly to get through to Sam, and felt it important to teach her rules were always to be obeyed, even if nobody made her listen.

"Part of it is that Sam had never had rules consistently enforced at daycare, or at home," Stephanie explained. "I'm the only one who has ever enforced anything consistently. The newest girl is really nice, her name is Missy. She's only going into fourth grade, but she's very mature for her age, and caring. So, Sam will do well with her. But, that doesn't erase the fact that she doesn't think she should have rules at home."

"Hard to believe she doesn't just break everything," Allie said while taking a bite of pizza.

"I know. Her parents might yell a little or just shoo her away when they're busy, it sounds like sometimes they just give her stuff to occupy her. But, it also sounds like they've had some things damaged, but haven't taken the time to make Sam learn there are consequences to her damaging stuff. They're just too rich, and probably figure that having Sam is just like having a dog; sometimes the furniture gets messed up."

"Yeah, but at least you take dogs to obedience school!" Darcy proclaimed.

"Or have a spray bottle to squirt them when they get on things, if that works." Allie remembered when the Tanners' dog was a puppy, and they used that to keep him from getting into things he shouldn't, after he'd gotten after one of Stephanie's prized stuffed animals. "But, don't worry, Steph. We know you can do it."

"Yeah, maybe we'll come help you one day later this week."

"Thanks, guys. It'd be tough for any one of you to babysit her alone, but with all three of us, maybe we could do it. We'll let D.J. have first duty, though," Stephanie teased.

Michelle's influence had caused her to grow her hair long by the start of first grade, and now, at the end of that school year, she was dressing in more flowery, patterned shirts and pants, though not yet skirts and dresses with braided hair or anything really fancy. However, she still had some of her old attitude when it came to rules, mostly at home, where she'd always done whatever she wanted.

This was because Sam had never had rules at home. Her other sitters had tried to set some, but after a while enforcement just got so tough they stopped trying. However, she knew that Stephanie would be coming to watch her at four. This presented a problem. Not only was she certain Stephanie would enforce rules, but she'd mouthed off to her first sitter when she tried to make her eat a good breakfast, and gobbled down a half dozen cookies and some chocolate milk instead.

That wouldn't bring a timeout or lost privileges, but the mouthing off would lead to Steph taking away her dessert that night. After a couple times of Jen coming to daycare when things weren't too bad, Sam had seen Stephanie come back to help and enforce her good behaviour there when called once more. And, she knew while Stephanie cared about her, she was also quite tough. So, Sam decided that she needed to leave before Stephanie got there.

The sitter, Hannah, had gone to the bathroom, figuring Sam was happy colouring. She knew Sam could be wild, but she'd tried, as Stephanie had suggested when calling her, to spend time and talk with Sam. Sam had been a little wild, but she'd run off a lot of energy in the backyard, it seemed. That was typical of times when Hannah had babysat before; Hannah had been Sam's regular sitter for weekend dinners when Sam's parents had left the house entirely for quite a while. She was Courtney's older sister, and in D.J.'s class at school.

However, she had a lot more energy than Hannah realized. She started looking all over for Sam, and finally reached the conclusion that Sam had just...left!

Stephanie and D.J. had been discussing camp when the phone rang. "Maybe you're right," Stephanie said as D.J. went to pick it up. "If Sam goes to day camp, and sticks with Michelle at that camp some of the Honeybees go to, like Michelle did last year at day camp, she might be able to handle it. It's a long way away for her..." Stephanie hedged, remembering her own anxiety at that age, even at day camp.

"It's for you," D.J. said with a sigh. "I'll get my keys."

Stephanie wondered why D.J. would get the keys to their dad's car so soon - they were planning to get there early, but not to leave for another ten minutes. Then, she said "hello," and learned that Sam had run off. She suspected that Sam was at the park, and prayed it was true. "All right, hold tight there, in case she turns up; we'll go by the park and check."

D.J. returned with the keys. "Well...maybe Sam's not ready for camp, huh?" she said, to bring an end to the previous discussion. She had to admit she'd been wrong.

"She's not ready to be allowed out of a timeout chair!" Stephanie quipped angrily as they went to the car.

Meanwhile, several blocks away Sam was walking with one destination in mind; the local park. She figured that she could have more fun playing then facing Stephanie; she would be in deep trouble once Stephanie found out what had happened at breakfast this morning. Of course, it wasn't nearly as deep as she would be for leaving her house before Stephanie got there. And, she was far from confident it would work. But, it seemed to be Sam's only option.

Sam wondered why everything seemed so much different when there were no grown ups to help find the entrance. "Drats, I have to find it myself!" She began to walk around the hedge wall of the park to find the entrance. Not far away, unknown to Sam, D.J. pulled up in the car carrying a very livid Stephanie. D.J. wasn't much less angry, in fact.

D.J. held a finger to her mouth and whispered, "Maintain radio silence till we intercept." D.J. knew Stephanie was ready to roll the car window down and start lecturing right then and there. But, the important thing here was the element of surprise. The sisters got out of the car, but left the doors open - they'd be going right back, after all.

They rushed up to Sam, not giving her any time to run away. She glanced back, and then Stephanie's mischievous charge appeared to be in a cartoon, one of those characters that spun its legs really fast, but never went anywhere, as D.J. and Stephanie snatched her from the pavement.

"Hey, no fair," Sam shouted. "You can't take me because...uh...Hannah's not done babysitting me till four!"

"You left her rules when you left home, and that automatically put you under my rules!" Stephanie spouted. Sam gulped.

"Do you realize how dangerous it was to leave like that?" D.J. shouted. Stephanie did likewise. They could both tell, though, that Sam was very reluctant to enter the car. Though she did so, it was with a dirty look that normally should have no place on a seven-year-old.

Sam sighed and then quickly silenced under one of Stephanie's withering glares. She knew leaving was dangerous, but she didn't care. She felt like she had lived alone forever, anyway. Her parents had never paid attention to her, never answered her cries when she had nightmares, never seemed interested in anything about her. Sure, Stephanie did, but while Stephanie knew of the problems, she didn't understand...what was it? It was hard even for seven-year-old Sam to get straight in her mind, and would have been hard even for an older child to articulate.

In a strange way, though, it showed a slight maturing - she'd tested Hannah, too, here, and it showed she felt comfortable doing so this once. However, as with most children, she was saving her main testing for the one she knew really loved her; Stepahnie.

Hannah Larkin smiled thankfully as she saw D.J. and Stephanie pulling into the family's drive. The seventeen-year-old placed her hands on her hips and shouted, "Do you know how frantic I was looking for you, Sam!" She lectured a little more, then said, "I'll leave you to the care of these two - I'm sure they'll make sure you listen. And when I come back tomorrow at noon you'd better be on your best behaviour!"

She didn't know what she would do if Sam wasn't, but calling Stephanie seemed like a good idea. She knew from talking to her that Sam would respect that threat.

Sam wanted to listen, in a way, but at the same time, she didn't want Stephanie imposing on the one place where she was totally free. It was actually the typical battle fought by a two-year-old, now that she'd bonded so much to Stephanie and her rules. This was unusual in most cases, but it made sense here, as that's the "stage" she'd left off at when she became too mobile for the maid at home and workers at daycare to simply redirect and keep tabs on. She'd needed someone to bond with since then. It wasn't any kind of attachment disorder, but it was a case where she was making up for lost time. While Sam didn't like being alone, she did like being able to do whatever she wanted. She was starting to get self-control. But, it was still a big battle in her mind even at home.

Once Hannah left, Steph picked Sam up and held her in a tight cuddle while D.J. fetched a small chair from upstairs. "Now listen young lady!" Stephanie scolded mightily, looking directly into Sam's eyes, "I care very much about you, and I do not want to see you get hurt! That was very dangerous," she told the girl, who was about the size of one about a year younger. "You not only left to where nobody knew where you were, you wouldn't come when we caught you."

"But, I didn't want your rules," Sam murmured, sad now but also upset - at her self and at Stephanie.

"Well, the rules are going to be much more severe now! We will have lots of fun later, but right now, you are to sit in the corner, and because what you did was so dangerous, I am going to have to take away your TV privileges and dessert for today and tomorrow, and no playing outside! Do you understand?" Sam sniffled and nodded quickly. Stephanie spoke for several more minutes about how dangerous running away had been. "You may get your TV or dessert privileges back, or both, for good behavior tomorrow, but not today." She'd rather see Sam having fun outside tomorrow, anyway, not watching TV. There were plenty of more constructive things to do.

Stephanie let her up once it was over - Sam had sat quietly in timeout. Stephanie reminded her she was grounded - with a hug and a much softer, though still firm, voice. She really wanted Sam to both enjoy the time with her and learn how good it could be to listen. However, it was tough. Tough for both of them. Stephanie prayed that she not have to do it at all, or - if she did - that just being gentle worked; Sam was already out of most privileges Stephanie planned to use since she didn't have time to set up a rewards system at home.

Stephanie considered that she had part of a parents' instinct down pat. She knew just what Sam needed as far as discipline; in fact, as Principal's Assistant, she'd grown to understand pretty well what many of the kids needed. Missy would be learning that too, bit by bit.

Some kids needed very little correction - perhaps that was why her dad was so lenient with Michelle. He'd been like that. D.J. and Stephanie had been like that. But, Michelle was a little wilder, more of a "Try it and see what happens" type. D.J. had known right away how to handle her - immediate timeouts, consistently calm efforts to get Michelle to be polite, and so on. Michelle had stopped testing limits quickly, for the most part, because she saw she'd get nowhere but a boring place, and that she might not get to eat dessert, which she loved.

If D.J. hadn't dedicated herself so early to working with Michelle, she'd have still reacted when Michelle got too wild. She wouldn't have had the instinct developed quite as much. Michelle would have become bolder, more of a "Let me see what you'll do" type, as there probably would have been a lot more Uncle Jesse influence; he wasn't bad, but his attitude was sometimes still a bit wild. But, D.J. would still have avoided spanking by directly explaining exactly what would happen. Michelle would have backed down then or at a later age if she did test D.J. later. That was because she would still be the same Michelle, just bolder. But, certain threats would make her back down. And, D.J. would have learned by doing.

Stephanie's instincts were like the latter D.J. example. She hadn't been too sure at first about Sam, and had tried many things. She'd quickly learned, though, that Sam needed not only very firm limits, but at times, sadly, very dire threats. So, depressing as it was, she had to at least threaten to spank her sometimes. That's just the way Sam was. Maybe it would have been different if Sam's parents were there mentally for her. But, though it saddened Stephanie, she knew instinctively that Sam sometimes needed spanked to behave.

Michelle being D.J.'s "Strawberry Shortcake" was fine; D.J. was just a part of the team of Dad, Uncle Jesse, and Joey when it came to raising Michelle as a toddler and preschooler; probably team captain early on when it came to discipline. But, the sad part was, Stephanie wasn't part of a team. She was the team. She was the only mom Sam had.

After a short time playing one of Sam's games, Sam excused herself to get a toy out of the garage. As long as it wasn't something that should be outside, Stephanie said, she could play with it.

As Sam went into the garage, Stephanie and D.J. began to start supper. D.J. put an arm around her, sensing her concern over what might have to happen.

Stephanie asked her older sister, "You never had to spank any of your charges when babysitting, did you?"

"Nope. And, Kimmy could always make them smell her feet." Kimmy not only had poor hygiene, but likely a major fungus problem. "She might threaten something weird, but she'd never do it. I had to bail her out of things a couple times, because the kids kind of sensed she wouldn't follow through with sending them to Siberia or something."

"Yeah, she's not too bright. Although, she is very good with good kids. I remember a time or two she babysat Michelle and I, and she was really good. Though I had to change all the diapers when it was us two plus Nicky and Alex."

"I remember hearing about that."

Stephanie hoped that that one timeout and lecture had convinced Sam how bad what she'd done was. She'd lectured her a little after the timeout, too, and Sam seemed pretty reasonable. But, she also fretted, because this was supposed to be a time to get to know her even more. She really wanted to build a good, loving relationship.

Instead, she'd had to punish Sam for something dangerous half an hour before her first shift was supposed to begin!

Soon, it would be for something dangerous and really bad. The sisters heard the sound of a bicycle being dragged into the kitchen. "Samantha Lynne Burke, get off of that now! What are you doing?" Stephanie yelled

"Riding my bicycle, what does it look like?" she hollered as she sped around the kitchen table, evading their grasp. She gave Stephanie a look - a look that said, "I know I'm being bad, but I can't help myself, and I want to see what you'll do." The kind a two-year-old might give when walking on the kitchen table.

"You're not allowed to ride your bicycle inside!" D.J. explained with a shout as they followed Sam into the fancy living room. Sam grazed a lamp, which D.J. dove and caught to keep it from crashing.

"Sam, get off of there now, and go sit in your timeout chair!" Stephanie ordered. When she got in front of Sam, though, Sam just kept on riding. She plowed into Stephanie in a vain attempt to totally get away.

She knocked her down, but Stephanie pulled her off the bike, too. In a huff, she dragged her toward her timeout chair. Sam tried to struggle with the ferocity of a lion but it was no use with D.J. holding her legs and Stephanie holding her arms firmly. They carried her back to the timeout chair and sat her down. Sam shrank back in the chair at the obvious look of anger in their eyes.

After Stephanie lectured her for a moment, she turned to D.J., trying to calm herself. "Her parents just distract her - what do you think Sam would do if they actually tried to set limits and she acted like this?"

"They wouldn't, she knows it. Steph, it's obvious you're the first person who ever tried, especially back then; anyone else saw they'd get too much of a battle and said they didn't have the time."

"Well, I will take the time!" Stephanie asserted to both of them. "I will not lose my temper. I will be consistent with Sam. Even if it means that she spends so much time in timeout that she may as well move her bed into this corner."

D.J. grinned proudly at Stephanie. "Way to go. That's just what children need is some level of consistency. She disobeys, she goes to timeout for a good while. To think about what she's done. She gets up, and you put her back and hold her down, or...if you have to, well...with this particular child, spank her," D.J. said slowly. "You can tell I don't like it, either. But, you don't exactly have time to set up a rewards system with stickers and stuff like you did in Kindergarten, or at daycare."

Sam had noticed them praising her a little, just for the fact she was sitting there so nicely, But, while she loved the praise, and had thrived on the praise Stephanie gave her, she also wanted out of that corner. So, when Sam noticed that they seemed to be totally absorbed in their conversation, she decided that it was now or never to make a run for it. She wasn't breaking her promise to Michelle as this wasn't school, she reasoned.

Unfortunately for Sam, she hadn't learned that in making an escape you have to be quiet. The noise she made as she left the chair and made for the loungeroom door was more than enough to get the attention of both Stephanie and D.J.. What followed was a flying tackle that would have made the 49'ers proud if they had been there to see it. None of them could have understood this, but psychologically, she was also testing a limit - one she knew, deep down, was set because she had to be good; set by someone who really loved her.

"All right, young lady," Stephanie said with a sigh, feeling a little choked up. "You've shown that you do not want to obey any rules. I am going to make you behave, though." She told Sam if she got out of timeout again, she'd get a spanking.

It was never easy. In a way, Stephanie wanted D.J. to do it if it had to be done, but she knew she was the official babysitter. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, she was Sam's parents. That made it all the harder to punish her sometimes, though.

"We had fun after your first timeout, before this happened, didn't we, Sam?" She nodded and sniffled. "All right, think about how you need to be good, and how we can have a good time. I love you." Stephanie closed her eyes for second. Why did Sam have to make it so hard? Sam went back and sat on the outside, but kept standing on the inside.

"You're doing your best, Steph. I think she knows you don't like to do it, and that you won't hurt her except in her feelings," D.J. muttered, so Sam wouldn't hear. "She knows you care. She doesn't know some of the stuff, like how you said once you would make sure you were even gentler if she ever wore something thinner, back when she used to wear those ripped jeans that made her look like a real rebel, But, she still senses that you care about helping her."

"Thanks, Deej. I'm glad you're here for me."

"Anytime, Steph. Anytime."

Sam was at it again. She knew how much Stephanie cared, but a part of her still wanted freedom. Maybe she could trick D.J.. She made sure Stephanie was working on supper when she went upstairs and turned on the TV in her room. D.J. spotted her quickly. "Sam, what did Stephanie tell you the rules were because you ran away?"

"I don't care! I want to do whatever I want. Like I usually do here!"

D.J. didn't want to remind her those were rules from people who didn't care. Instead, she turned the TV off and called Stephanie Sam ran downstairs complaining, and then turned the TV downstairs on as D.J. and Stephanie followed her.

"Sam, you were told that was taken away as punishment," Stephanie shouted, turning off the TV. "You go sit in the corner!"

"No!" When Stephanie started to remind her what had been threatened before when she wouldn't sit in the corner, Sam got too emotional and blurted, "You let me do what I want, or I'll...I'll...I'll fill a balloon with paint and I'll get it all over the house!'

The shouting stopped suddenly; the silence was deafening. Sam realized, as she studied the hurt, disappointed, and tearful look on Stephanie's face, that she'd crossed the line. In that instant, she seemed to know what was going to happen, even before Stephanie grabbed her by the arm.

Stephanie walked her over to a couch while lecturing. "That is very mean to threaten people like that! Especially when you know we are trying to set rules to teach you self control, and you were told to sit in the corner as punishment and you didn't!" Stephanie scolded as she put Sam over her knees and raised her hand only slightly, to give the first of a series of light slaps that would only hurt Sam's feelings.

"I'm sorry, Stephanie," she said almost before the first light slap came. Sam wept at the thought of how mean she'd been, especially to Stephanie, who had always cared about her. She was wailing by the time Stephanie concluded the spanking. Finally, Stephanie picked her up, and let her bury her head in Stephanie's chest while sobbing and muttering, "I'm a bad girl!"

Stephanie was extremely thankful at times like this, she had a special gift of knowing just what kind of tears were being cried. It had been shown, among other times, when D.J. was in trouble once, and she knew D.J. was crying "I didn't do it" tears, not "I'm in big trouble" tears.

Here, she could tell Sam never cried tears of hurt. She only cried tears of frustration and then of remorse. She didn't want Sam to feel overly ashamed and not think about the love she had for Sam. So, she spoke lightly as Sam cried. "Sam, I love you very much. There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you. As bad as you were just now, I know you can be good."

Sam was grateful for the embrace. She was angry at the parents who didn't show her any love. Her focus was off the rules now, and firmly on the love other kids had so much of from their families. Stephanie and D.J. had shown her love, especially Stephanie.

She sensed something important as Stephanie finished comforting her after she was done crying, then as she helped with dinner after getting out of timeout; they wanted to spend time with her, be friendly, and so on. Sam just hadn't been letting them. And, perhaps more importantly, she'd had it confirmed that Stephanie's love would always be there, regardless of what happened. Assurance that she needed, with how her life had gone so far.

Once dinner was over, they went back to playing one of Sam's board games. However, after a while she admitted, "I'm getting kind of bored." She was also starting to look very tired. She hadn't gotten to bed till after midnight the previous night.

Stephanie sensed that Sam probably had no real bedtime, as she praised her for something that sounded eerily like her mom would say - she was proud Sam had "used her words." Of course, it had always been easy for the Tanner girls to use their words. But, at least they were on the road to turning her into a good, caring, and upstanding member of society

"I can understand," Stephanie said as she looked at her watch. "We didn't do anything really major today for fun, just sort of played around and stuff, but we'd love to do some big fun things with you. I know you got your sewing badge in the Honeybees, Mrs. Larkin taught you how to sew, and I helped. But, maybe we could try something more advanced," Stephanie suggested.

"Or, how are you in reading? Maybe if Steph reads to you you'll get better," D.J. offered.

"I'd rather do that with Michelle."

"Okay. I think we can arrange to have her come one day. I've got a prior engagement tomorrow, but D.J. and one of her best friends will be coming to watch you. You'll have lots of fun with them."

"Yeah, I'll bring my sewing kit, and maybe I'll come up with some other neat stuff, too," D.J. said excitedly.

"The Honeybees meeting is next Tuesday, right?" Sam asked. It was one event she always looked forward to; their meetings were only biweekly in the summer, but weekly during the school year. When Stephanie agreed, Sam said, "I'd like to earn a cooking badge. Everyone my age has them," she said, putting lots of emphasis on "everyone." She wanted to be like all the other kids.

Stephanie understood. If not a mother, than a dad, aunt, or big sister or even brother would have worked with all the other kids - she'd helped Michelle with hers. "Sure. We'll work on that sometime this week. Maybe when my friends come Thursday."

She put an arm around Sam. "I love it when you tell us things you want to do; we can have so much fun together if we try."

Sam smiled. But, at the same time, she felt miserable. Here was this sitter, showing so much kindness, when her own parents wouldn't even give her the time of day. And then, there was the fact that she had to obey rules under one of the few older people - she had to give the hive mother, Mrs. Larkin, some credit, too, along with others - who cared. And yet, she could do whatever she wanted under the people who didn't care.

The mess that occurred when Sam tore up her pillows and bedding after Stephanie left that night looked a lot like the battle raging in Sam's mind. Going to Stephanie's Aunt Becky's place over Easter had been lots of fun. She hadn't had time to really feel bad, she was doing so much new. But, Stephanie coming there and making her behave was bringing up those feelings. She could sense Stephanie was trying to help her not have them, but it was still a major battle for Sam.

Kimmy listened as D.J. explained the situation Tuesday afternoon. "Say no more, Deej. I can handle her. You can take most of the afternoon off, I imagine."

"Kimmy..." D.J. tried to think of how to phrase this as they cleared the dishes from the lunch they'd eaten. Michelle pulled a cookie out of a box that was on the table and ate it. "Kimmy, you're great at handling good kids. Even those who are a little wild, you can handle. But, certain kids, when you were younger, took advantage of you," D.J. finally reminded her.

"Really? How?"

"Well, remember that one boy that held your purse hostage, and threatened to flush it down the toilet?' Michelle stifled a laugh with her hand.

"Hey, don't laugh, squirt. I was only fourteen then. I'm seventeen now. I'm a lot older and wiser."

"True, but this girl...wait there." She walked back to the eating area of the kitchen, and whispered instructions in Michelle's ear. Michelle once again had to stifle a giggle as they whispered back and forth for a moment, getting things straight.

"Hey, what are you doing, planning a surprise party?"

"Okay, come on over," D.J. said, motioning Kimmy to the table where Michelle had sat out seven cookies overlapping on a napkin. "Count these cookies."

"Okay...there's seven. Is that supposed to be some kind of code?" she asked, looking up again.

D.J. explained as she tapped Michelle on the shoulder that, "Sam can be sneaky. She's not always really direct like some kids. Count the cookies again."

"Deej, I already counted. There should be seven cookies. Let's see..." Kimmy did a double take as she looked down and saw six cookies. "Oh, I get it. Michelle ate one. Wait a minute - that was pretty fast," Kimmy considered. "Don't choke," she warned Michelle, who giggled.

"I didn't eat it," Michelle said, holding out her hands.

"Now look at me," D.J. informed Kimmy. "I want to tell you something very important. Brad Pitt is coming over right now." Kimmy really liked the handsome Hollywood performer.

"Right now? How did that happen? Deej, I need to have warning about these things. I need to get my hair done, do lip exercises, that sort of thing."

"April Fool in June. Count the cookies again."

"All right, Deej, I see what you're doing. You're trying to distract me, so I don't remember there were six cookies. No, wait, it was seven; no, six. Because Michelle put one down her shirt or something."

"Count them."

"Okay. 1, 2, 3...wait a minute. There's eight! I didn't hear the bag rustle. But," she asked pensively, looking back at D.J., "how can that be? Michelle couldn't have put one back together, and then...I don't know what."

"Count again, maybe you miscounted. It can happen," D.J. suggested.

"Good idea. Anyone can be one off..." Her eyes widened. There were six again. "Whoa. Only six? Could I have been two numbers off? That should be easy to count. I sure didn't see any aliens abducting cookies or anything like that."

After a couple more number changes, Kimmy relented. "Okay, Deej. If you say this girl's as tricky as the two of you put together, fine. I just hope she doesn't have any of those weird disappearing and reappearing cookies with her."

"She won't, but she'll have her own tricks up her sleeve. Thanks, Michelle," D.J. said, giving her a single, loving pat on the head.

"You're welcome. And, for being such a good sport, I'll give you a few cookies," she said, handing them to Kimmy.

"Gee, thanks. Can I have some to take home to my mom? Maybe they'll make some of the pounds disappear that she's been trying to lose."

Sam, meanwhile, was behaving well that morning and early afternoon, all things considered. She kept pondering ways to try and circumvent the rules.

D.J. was the same as Stephanie. It figured; Michelle was so nice. Even when she made her blunt comments she didn't do it all the time. She hadn't done it at the first Honeybees meeting, or the first couple months there, really, when Sam was getting used to try to be friendly. And yet, when Sam had been misbehaving, Michelle could really be brutally honest with her.

"Sam," Michelle had said once when Stephanie had had to report to the daycare to correct Sam in the late witner of her Kindergarten year, "you were tearing the upholdstery in the daycare van again?" Sam had nodded slowly; she'd tried to stay away till her parents came at about seven, and Stephanie had shown up after warning her before and spanked her. Michelle had then said, "I hope you get your sewing badge soon; then you can sew a pillow to sit on." Michelle had known that Stephanie hadn't hurt Sam's bottom by that time, but Michelle always said what was on her mind.

Back in the present, Sam longed to be away from that life of doing destructive things. But, , Stephanie wouldn't be there. She could get away with a lot more then. And, she'd heard some stories about her when with the Tanners at other times that made her seem...well, really dumb. Part of why Stephanie had spanked her - and hurt her feelings with it - was because it was so mean to take advantage of others, she said. But, she wouldn't do it a lot, she told herself. She'd just think about doing it a little. She knew she was loved, so she was safe in doing so.

Hannah greened D.J. and Kimmy, with Kimmy immediately walking over to Sam. "Hey, did you know your other sitters' name is the same upside-down. Of course, when I heard you could do that with Hannah, I wondered, 'Why would you want to talk to her upside-down?'"

I was right, Sam told herself. "Oh, that's really interesting, Dimmy Kimmy."

"Hey, I'll have you know I can make you smell my feet," Kimmy asserted.


Kimmy smiled warmly at Sam. "Never mind. Stephanie promised me you'd be good, 'cause...D.J. nudged her a little, to remind her not to embarrass Sam. Some of the lines Kimmy might have said a year ago were too harsh now, as Sam had improved quite a bit, though most of that was outside the home, she realized. "Well, anyway, squirt, why don't you take me up to your room, and we can play with some of your dolls or whatever," Kimmy suggested.

Sam led Kimmy upstairs. "I don't like dolls. I like loud stuff and video games."

"Cool! Maybe we can play some video games together." Kimmy did a double take as she noticed the huge mass of feathers from Sam's pillows. "Whoa, what do you do, raise geese in here?"

Sam grinned. "That sounds like Michelle. 'cept, I pictured her talking about a one-person pillow fight."

"I could see that, too. Of course, it also must have been pretty uncomfortable to sleep if this happened last night."

"It was. I got really mad after Stephanie and D.J. left, and after that I slept on that," Sam said as she pointed to a large stuffed elephant.

"Wow. So, you tore all your pillows up? Sounds like a cool scene from a WWF marathon." Kimmy started to feel a little...funny. Then, she remembered. "Wait, before we do anything, we need to get these pillows cleaned up. I'm allergic to feather pillows." She started to pick a bunch of up instinctively, till she sneezed once. "Oh, yeah, I guess that would happen if I touched them," she said, backing away instinctively and sneezing again.

"Then why did you do it?"

"Well...I didn't know. Maybe you were allergic, too," she alibied, trying to sound smarter than she was. She added something she'd heard D.J. say a few times. "I prefer to err on the side of caution."

"Sounds more like you err on the side of dumb," Sam cracked. "Even I know if you're allergic to something you don't go touching it." D.J. entered, having heard the loud sneezes, and quickly helped Sam pick the pillows up while Kimmy went downstairs.

Once the mess was cleaned up and Kimmy felt better, she returned to Sam's room. "You like the WWF? I like wrestling, too," she said. For several minutes, Sam and Kimmy sat on her bed and discussed wrestlers.

Sam was glad to have let D.J. do most of the work; D.J. hadn't wanted the hassle, she knew how to pick her battles. But, she didn't really understand the real reason Sam was refusing to help much in picking up the mess. To her, her parents had caused the mess by never being there to listen to her.

Besides, even if they didn't clean it up, the maid could clean it up easily. Sam merely helped D.J. the amount she did because of Michelle's influence; she knew Kimmy was allergic to father pillows now, and that Michelle would want to help so that wasn't a problem for her.

Sam decided that Kimmy was dumb enough, it might be fun to play a trick on her.

"Hey, Sam, what are you doing?" Kimmy asked as she followed Sam into the bathroom.

"Getting some water, you wanted things clean." Sam handed a wet washcloth to Kimmy, took one herself, and turned off the water most of the way; however, she was so intent on having fun that she forgot about the water needing to be turned all the way off. A small amount was still trickling into the sink, and would soon be overflowing.

"I still don't see the purpose of the water," Kimmy considered aloud as Sam walked back into her room with the washcloth. "I mean, it's not that dirty. I just want you to pick up your mess; all these feathers."

"Well, we should clean under the bed, too," Sam suggested.

After Kimmy and Sam moved the bed, Sam pretended to wipe down one wall and the floor. Then, she told Kimmy to help move the bed back.

"I don't get this," Kimmy remarked.

Sam was reminded of the "Star Trek" episode where a robot or something was caused to malfunction by being given ridiculous or simply weird dilemmas. It appeared that one or two more of her little tricks might cause Kimmy's brain to freeze altogether.

"It's simple. A couple kids I know shove things under the bed and say it's clean."


"Well, I cleaned under the bed, too. Have a look."

She looked under the bed, and Sam messed her hair up with her washcloth before she could get it out. "Hey, you done scuffed my hair!"

Kimmy's face went from puzzlement to total bewilderment, as Sam pondered that a better comparison for Kimmy would be the dimwitted sheriff or one of his deputies on that "Dukes" show. It was on in the afternoon sometimes, and she enjoyed the car chases. She sometimes preferred the more vulgar, sensual, and violent shows that came on after supper. Still, even though the Dukes were boring, it was better than nothing, and it did seem quite funny sometimes.

Kimmy finally spoke. "That makes sense, in a way. If your messes are normally swept under the bed, and then you cleaned under the bed, it would be clean. But, yet - how can that be? It was way too fast," She decided to go downstairs and ask D.J. to help her with the supposed paradox. Sam followed, anxious to hear Kimmy sounding more and more confused.

She grinned. She knew Stephanie might not approve of some of the cable shows she watched, but she wasn't sure. Soon, these two teens would be so distracted, it woudn't matter; hearing Kimmy sound confused would be entertaining enough, she wouldn't need a TV show to watch. What was it that was said on another show she had watched at times? Oh, yes, Hogan's Heroes. One of the heroes had said that the bumbling Colonel Klink and the blustery General Burkhalter were his favorite comedy team..

"Do you hear something?" D.J. said once they were in the living room and quiet. "I think it almost sounds like a leaky faucet."

"Maybe it's your friend's brain," Sam cracked.

D.J. smiled. Stephanie and Kimmy had traded wisecracks for several years when little; not as much as Sam was right now, but they might have if it hadn't been for D.J.'s work at helping even Steph be nicer at times. She knew Stephanie would work on that some. So, if Sam didn't get to like Kimmy yet, at least she wouldn't be totally mad at her; she realized some of her comments could still be because of Kimmy's earlier rude remarks.

D.J., however, was totally mad when she saw the result of several minutes of water trickling down the sink onto the carpet. "Kimmy, Sam, get up here!" she screamed as she shut off the water and waded out of the plush pond that had been a carpet.

Sam followed very slowly. She would be made to help clean it up - but first she would be in timeout, she knew. "I'm sorry...I guess I forgot to turn it off," she said meekly. She had been so intent on having fun with Kimmy, she hadn't turned the water off completely.

Sam thought about making a break for it since Stephanie wasn't there. However, while Stephanie wouldn't be too upset at an accident, she knew Stephanie would be upset if Sam didn't take responsibility for what she had done. And, while Stephanie might not spank right away, she didn't like even thinking about times like last night; she was growing to hate hurting others' feelings by avoiding taking responsibility for things. Another battle that brewed in her mind as her conscience continued to form.

"Not all children need to be threatened like that," Stephanie had told her once during one of their long talks after a timeout in Kindergarten. "But, you just won't be talked into staying there or even let me hold you down there like a two-year-old. I hate the fact you have to feel threatened like that, but you haven't shown me you want to change."

Sam sighed as she D.J. walked her over to a chair in her room and sat her down against the wall, so that all she had to look at was that bare corner. She was starting to change now, but it was a slow process as she struggled to let go of this one place where she had complete freedom, with no rules. She pondered how Stephanie had said Michelle was so well behaved, and how she'd never had to be threatened even by D.J. or Stephanie. And, their dad and the adults would never think of doing it, and hadn't with the others, either. Just a loud voice had always worked to keep even Michelle in timeout - or the threat of no dessert, at the most. Sam knew she was getting there slowly, but longed to be even more like Michelle.

To pass the time, Sam had developed her own private game of pretending the cracks and lines in the wall formed shapes and thinking of an animal to fit that shape. But, the desire to be good did keep creeping in, as the love Stephanie and D.J. showed worked on her conscience.

When D.J. let her up from her timeout, she gave her a big hug, like Steph would do. "I'm so proud that you stayed there and thought about what you'd done that was bad."

"Thanks. You're just like Stephanie, you know that?"

D.J. smiled, and wondered why hearing that felt the same as the times when she'd cuddle Michelle after punishing her, and Michelle had said she imagined having a mom would be just the same.

After dinner D.J. and Kimmy went up the stairs to Sam's second floor room and opened her closet. "I was going to let you choose what you wanted to wear tonight but after the way you acted earlier with Kimmy, I'm not sure you deserve to pick..." D.J. scolded lightly. She would, of course, eventually let Sam choose, but she wanted to continue to ingrain in her that when she did let her choose, it was a favor, done out of love. Just like she would when Michelle was three and she'd done something bad, and they talked about whether she deserved a privilege.

Sam looked on sullenly as D.J. and Kimmy went looking through her clothes. She gave the response D.J. expected. "I know; I'm sorry. I should have been nicer."

"Hey Deej, what do ya think of this?" Kimmy asked as she pulled out a wire clothes hanger. On it was a pink frilled nightgown. "We could really make her clash like crazy - give her some old army boots. You noticed when the kids would say 'Your mother wears Army boots' when I was little, I just agreed? Well, she used to. It was the only way to hide the smell." And, as Kimmy said this, she made a grossed-out face; a pink nightie and Army boots clashed too much even for the bizarre Kimmy fashion sense to take.

Sam was shocked by that, but much more thankful when D.J. knelt down to her level and spoke warmly. "Sam, that's just what we want you to see. That sometimes we give you rewards that you don't deserve. It's called mercy, and it's a special part of how we love you. It's a privilege that can be taken away very quickly if I have to, but I'm going to let you choose because I sense you are going to be nicer next time." Just like I'd do with Michelle, she thought as she embraced Sam.

D.J. had no idea of the extent of Sam's problems. Sam was becoming a bit more like Michelle as far as forgiving things. But, the big problems, she didn't know how to handle; indeed, nobody did.

Sam smiled, greatly relieved. There was an outfit with fuzzy bunny slippers that her parents had bought that she didn't want to be caught dead in. She had accepted that D.J. might make her wear them, though she'd have been mortified by that. But, she realized that D.J. showed mercy just like Stephanie did.

And, as she did with Stephanie, Sam realized she needed to accept it gladly and not take it for granted. "I'll be a much better girl next time," she said as she picked out her outfit.

"That's good. I certainly don't want to have to use this," she said, patting the cell phone in her purse. She had borrowed her Uncle Jesse's, while Stephanie had their dad's.

After they went back downstairs to the living room, Sam said hesitantly, "Can I watch the TV now? I've been pretty good today." D.J. hesitated; dessert, she could see, but she wasn't so sure about putting the TV privilege back. Maybe if Sam showed she was going to be nicer. "Please, D.J.; I was good and I didn't watch any when I woke up in the middle of the night last night."

In the last few months, Sam had grown a fair amount. Before, the Tanners had gotten her into so many activities, it had worn her out fast, with soccer, dance, and all her friends. However, now she didn't need quite as much sleep. Not only that, but the previous winter, when it was darker earlier, she'd naturally not been outside as much, so with less exertion had gotten tired, but then got up in the middle of the night a few times. And, she'd have the run of the house if she did.

That raised more questions in D.J.'s mind, as she tried to formulate an action plan. "That's good; I'm very proud of you for obeying Stephanie's rule. I guess you watch on that TV in your room?" She nodded. "What do you watch at that time, anyway? I don't even know what's on at 2 AM." D.J. didn't ask if Kimmy knew; with how weird Kimmy could be, it was best not to ask at times.

"Just some stuff I started watching when I was bored." She felt bad, in a way. She admitted there was some stuff that made her scared, or just seemed gross. But, she'd gotten into some bad habits of wanting to see what it was like. "And, a few times, I've watched some of those channels earlier, too."

As Sam started reeling off some of the movie networks and such, D.J.'s mouth dropped open. From the look on Kimmy's face, even her weird best friend was shocked - these shows should certainly not be on the viewing list of any seven year old child; much less one with little or no parental supervision like Sam! She would have to talk with Steph about this later.

For now, she simply gave the "I mean it!" look to Sam and said with special emphasis, "I'm sorry but no you can't! Michelle wouldn't be allowed to watch stuff like that, and I don't think she will be happy to hear that you do ... but you can watch this." She selected a channel on the remote and placed the remote firmly in her pocket. The television screen showed the Cartoon Network, which had only good, wholesome cartoons on yet, though it would get worse at times in later years.

"Yeah; even I was never that weird at seven. Of course, I could stand some scarier stuff, like the Wolfman, but that's tame compared to some of those movies," Kimmy said.

Sam sat down and sighed. Joey loved cartoons, even at his age. And, Sam had grown to enjoy the Honeybees, even with those costumes she once thought were...well, just dumb. But, it was a little frustrating to have such restrictions placed on her. Sam still wanted to be free from rules at times, especially in this, her one safe haven from rules.

And yet, there was part of her that really liked the comfort of having someone tell her not to watch that stuff, too. As someone would later say, it was like Sam was experiencing the Terrible Twos with what she was going through. Sam had been trying to find weak links all evening - and probably could have gotten away with more if Kimmy were her full-time sitter. However, Stephanie was coming back late tomorrow afternoon.

Stephanie had heard good reports about last night. But, there were a few "however"s. Stephanie didn't want the whole two weeks to be this type of battle. She wanted to make serious progress on the front, not establish a beachhead and still be fighting her way out of it two weeks later. Therefore, when Michelle asked again if she could go, Stephanie gladly accepted the offer.

"You won't have to spank her, will you?" Michelle asked sadly.

Stephanie sighed. "I don't like it either, Michelle. But, she's never had any rules at home." Michelle brightened as Stephanie reached over in the back seat of their Aunt Becky's car and lovingly stroked her hair. "I'm glad you've always tried to be good."

"She knows you both care," Becky offered while pulling into the family's long drive.

"That's right, Michelle. She's just the kind of kid you just have to be really firm with."

Michelle thought for a moment as they pulled into the drive. "I hate to say it," Michelle whispered lowly, "but if she'd pulled that paint trick like she threatened Monday, I might have given her a few fwaps."

Stephanie snickered at the thought of her younger sister trying to spank Sam.

"What are you talking about?" Sam greeted them warmly at the door; she'd seen Michelle whispering in Stephanie's ear.

"Michelle was just saying she hopes you won't pull any tricks like what you said Monday with the balloon,' Stephanie said gently.

"But, I wasn't really gonna do it," Sam uttered, her head down. Stephanie knelt and said she knew Sam wouldn't, as Becky drove off. "I just wanted it to be like when my parents are here," Sam explained.

"But, they don't pay attention to you," Michelle noted. She still thought that they were just too busy, and would if they knew how, but she'd come to accept since that first Christmas that Sam's parents had no time for her.

"I know." Sam sniffled. "I'm so glad you do." Even though you have so many rules, she said to herself, though she didn't want to admit that yet. She even blushed slightly as she told Stephanie "I can't believe I said that; I know that sounded mean. You felt bad, too, didn't you?"

Stephanie gave her a big hug. "You could tell I was a little choked up, huh?" Sam relaxed in the cuddle for a moment. "I may have to get tough sometimes, but I will always love you." Sam cherished the warm, tender embrace; she knew Stephanie meant it. Sam didn't' want to act out - but at least she knew she was safe if she did. "Now, let's talk about some nice stuff we can do," Stephanie suggested.

Sam had some books in her library upstairs; gifts for birthdays or Christmas. The school had mentioned in Kindergarten the need to encourage reading, and one suggestion was that holidays be used for book giving. It was one suggestion that didn't involve the parents taking much time from their own busy lives, so they did buy her some.

Stephanie had asked her to pick one from up in her room, and she grabbed 'The Cat in the Hat.' After wiping a little dust off of it, for the maid didn't clean in the bookcase every day, they went back downstairs. Stephanie sat Sam between she and Michelle, and they began to read together.

"Why don't you keep reading with her, Michelle, while I make dinner," Stephanie suggested after a while. Inside, she was beaming. Sam was getting caught up not only in Stephanie's natural enthusiasm, but in Michelle's youthful encouragement.

Sam read at a beginning first grade level, about a year behind for her age. She'd gotten the attitude at first that, "You can make me behave, but you can't make me learn." Sam had tended to daydream a fair amount in class that year.

Stephanie was glad they had gotten her mind off of bad stuff. How long that would last, who knew? She was calmer now, and not as focused on just keeping things under control. To be sure there were no more temptations; she made a note to place paint and other things where they would not be temptations for Sam. It was very hard for her, at twelve, to grasp that simply talking about the paint filled balloon really represented the conflict in Sam's mind. A conflict between wanting to do right, and yet wanting to be free. So, Sam would never really fill one with paint as she'd said.

In the living room, Sam was having fun. Michelle was such a great friend. "This guy writes funny. He reminds me of Joey. I use that line you told me he made up sometimes - 'I would not eat them in the dirt, I do not want them down my shirt.'" The reference was to something Joey had told Michelle, who had told Sam. Kids sometimes joked about her name, connecting it to "Sam I Am" from "Green Eggs and Ham."

"That's good. Yeah, Joey borrowed the rhyme idea from Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss wrote 'Green Egg and Ham,' too."

"Is he a real doctor?"

"I don't know. It would be kind of weird to have a doctor tell you you need your tonsils out by rhyming it."

Stephanie chuckled as she listened in on the conversation. They were becoming the best of friends - more like sisters, really. Indeed, when Michelle stated matter-of-factly that she and her friends felt too nervous to go on real sleepovers yet at her age, Stephanie had noted that Sam slept over at their hosue a fair amount. And, Michelle had commented that it didn't feel like a sleepover like it used to with her, because she'd grown to see Sam as like a sister, not just a friend; they were around each other enough that she didn't' see it as the same as when Stephanie and her friends had sleepovers when Sam came. Stephanie could see why Sam had wanted to read with Michelle.

"You know, camp's coming up in a few weeks," Michelle mentioned. "I went last year with a group of Honeybees. I was in the chickadee cabin. We had so much fun! You should come for a week this summer."

"Uh, Michelle..." Stephanie said tentatively. Sam was good with the Honeybees, but still...

'"Can I, Stephanie?" Sam blurted happily. She then realized that she'd actually asked Stephanie's permission for something. It felt kind of weird - what she'd done was like she'd been taught to do at school or with the Honeybees. But, also, it was like she'd heard other kids ask their parents.

"You better say 'please,'" Michelle reminded her.

When Sam did as told, Stephanie smiled and walked over to her. "I'm glad you said please. Tell you what - we'll see how your behaviour is at home. You're probably not ready for overnight camp yet." A swift shake of Sam's head told Stephanie she was right. "Michelle could have done it - could have stayed all three weeks if D.J. thought she needed her to enforce tougher rules to get her used to them; D.J. was a cabin mom there. As it was, she didn't have to, since Michelle's so good, and Michelle just went to day camp. Michelle's going again this year, so you would have her with you. It is an hour away."

"But don't worry, Sam. We can have lots of fun in the bus; Mrs. Larkin will be coming with us. You like Courtney. Hannah will be there as a day camp volunteer, too. And, you can meet even more friends. You can sign up for one week of day camp or all three."

"Whoa, hold on," Stephanie said, holding up her hand. "Your mouth is running as fast as mine usually does. Look, I think it's great to encourage Sam. But, Sam, your being able to go will hinge on one thing. What do you think that thing is?" She was hopeful Sam could guess right.

"How good I am?"

"Bingo!" And, in Stephanie's mind, two important hurdles had been leaped. First, Sam was learning that not only were there negative consequences out there for bad behaviour, there could be positive ones for good behaviour. Second, Sam had just found something which - hopefully - could inspire her with more of a reason to be good, even without the parental support she should have.

It was still a long road to Berlin, she considered, using the analogy she'd come up with recently after studying World War Two extensively in school. However, she was starting to see the breakout from the Normandy beachhead.

That evening, once Danny had tucked Michelle into bed, Stephanie walked into their bedroom and sat beside her, praising her for her help.

"Thanks. Do I get some of that babysitting money now?"

"Well..." Stephanie wasn't sure what to say. Michelle had helped a lot that one time, but she didn't want her seven-year-old sister to get too cocky about babysitting. Besides, Michelle might think she was entitled to half the entire thing. She was entitled to maybe $15 for that day, but that's about it. And, that was stretching it - there's no way she was even a sitters' assistant at her age. She'd really just been along as a playmate.

Finally, she said, "Admit it, you'd spend your share on ice cream, anyway." Michelle chuckled and nodded. "How about I take you out for a big burger and an even bigger hot fudge sundae Saturday!"

"You read my mind."

Allie's weekly piano lessons were moved up the following day, to allow her, Darcy, and Stephanie to arrive at Sam's house together. Stephanie was a lot less apprehensive about this afternoon's babysitting duties. Still, it was taking everything in her power to get through this first week and make progress, though it was coming, thankfully.

As usual, her friends tried to place a positive spin on things. "Look at it this way, Steph. She hasn't burned down the house," Allie joked as they rode in Mrs. Taylor's car.

"That's right." Darcy held up a bag. "And tonight, she is going to learn how to cook."

"Wow, where did you get such faith!" Stephanie exclaimed.

"Simple. It's one Honeybee badge that most kids her age have already. She'll feel she has to be like them" The girls laughed. Darcy's parents were great cooks.

The car pulled up at the Burke home. Mrs. Taylor wished the girls good luck. "Thanks, we'll need it," Stephanie quipped.

Sam sat on a chair colouring. She grew a little apprehensive as Stephanie walked through the door, then reminded herself of what Michelle always said. "You just have to be good, that's all. I know it's hard for you for some reason. But, that doesn't mean it's impossible."

Ah, Michelle. She told it like it was. Sam had fun with the Honeybees, and was so thankful the Tanners had made sure she'd get in. And, she knew Michelle was right. It wasn't impossible to behave. In fact, it could be kind of fun.

She just wished she could do some fun things by herself, instead of being told what to do.

Stephanie greeted her with a warm hug. Sam remembered her friends somewhat once Stephanie introduced them; Allie more than Darcy. Sam was too busy thinking, though. She'd been on the offensive, trying to control the situation. Maybe it would be okay if she just let things happen for a change. She was learning to trust Stephanie for everything.

"Sam, I hear you don't have your cooking badge yet for the Honeybees," Darcy said enthusiastically. "I got some great stuff here. How about I teach you?"

"Sure," Sam said to the olive-skinned Darcy. "Can I ask a question? How come your skin looks like that?" Sam had hardly ever seen black people - just a few, like Denise Fraser, at school, and Stephanie's friend a few times. Her parents never saw them in the high society in which they traveled, it seemed. And, Sam was feeling comfortable enough that she knew if she did something wrong, Stephanie would love her - and correct her nicely.

"Well, I'm glad you asked nice," Stephanie said as she bent down. She spoke firmly, yet lovingly. "It's a little rude to just come out and say something like that, but...I guess you don't have much choice in your life." She sighed. "Just ask someone in private next time instead of just blurting it out in front of everyone, okay?" She agreed.

"All of us look a little different; just like you've been trying to let your hair grow a little, but it's still rather short and black, while Steph's is blonde," Darcy noted. "It's the person on the inside that counts."

Stephanie continued. "I didn't get to church a whole lot when I was little. But, I still remember a comment my Sunday School teacher made when I asked something similar at your age. She said, 'God made her that way because He knew she'd be the most beautiful she could be that way.'" Darcy beamed.

"Did God really make her?" Sam asked, understanding what Stephanie meant. Darcy was a normal person, just the same as her; it's just that she looked different.

Stephanie nodded. "God made all of us, including you. He made each of us special," she explained simply.

Sam understood that Darcy hadn't been hurt, but the Michelle influence caused her to want to apologize anyway. She turned to Darcy and said a simple "I'm sorry," adding that "people just don't tell me about things like that around here." Then, she added, "Thanks for bringing that stuff. I'd like to learn how," she said truthfully.

Stephanie smiled, and gave Sam a bigger hug. It was a lot easier to teach Michelle manners. Still they were starting to turn her into a wonderful little lady.

For now, though, just getting the basics down was hard. But, at least Sam was enjoying herself.

Darcy had allowed Sam to help her make supper for the four of them. As she did so, Stephanie continued to think. She really hated hurting Sam. It didn't totally depress her any more, but it still saddened her a fair amount. She'd accepted that Sam needed to be spanked on occasion because nothing else worked at times. But, she still disliked it.

Thus, she took Allie aside in Sam's bedroom. "Al, tonight, when they get home, I'm going to ask for permission to punish Sam by removing privileges, grounding her, and so on, at home, even though I'm not there to enforce the punishment personally. I need to be able to do something more than make her sit in a corner."

"I thought you already had permission to do that this week and next."

"I'm not talking about that, Allie. I'm talking about anytime I feel it's needed. You've heard me telling you before."

The older girls walked to the stairwell. "Yeah, Steph, I guess you're right. Still, though, won't that be hard? I mean, that's a parent's job. I know your dad actively supported D.J. not letting Michelle have dessert when she was 2 and 3, orwhen d. send her to her room, before he was punishing her. But, they're not willing to be active in anything involving Sam. Wouldn't that put a crimp in their plans sometimes?"

Stephanie figured she'd have to do a lot of convincing. However, she didnt' have time to tell Allie this. Sam announced that dinner was ready, and as she ran up to Stephanie, she shouted, "I helped Darcy make it."

"Wow, that's awesome," Stephanie declared. "Mmm, boy, it smells good."

"I'll say," Allie agreed.

Sam beamed. "You've got great friends, Stephanie," she told her. Inside, she was amazed how fast it had come to her. It was just like when a couple of the Honeybees girls had started dancing, and she tried a little ballet herself when they were bored before club one day. Or, when they'd been singing songs. Between Michelle and Stephanie, they'd encouraged her to do lots of things. Things she never would have known she was good at.

Maybe God had made her special after all, she decided. She was proud to have several things which would make her stand out in a crowd, to compensate for her small size and, most importantly, for her lack of what most of the other girls had that she knew. A warm, loving home life.

Stephanie smiled. As they spoke about Sam's other talents during dinner, it had brought up ballet. And, though they had to be with her every minute - she could see little, ornery glances at times - they had kept her busy enought hat she didn't even had to give a timeout. Of course, with three sitters, that was pretty easy.

She recalled the feeling of finishing a hard day of ballet practice or baseball. "Well, guys," she told Allie and Darcy, "I bet you feel like I feel. Tired, but a good tired." She watched as Sam's parents got out of the car. She met them at the front door. They had expected - hoped, anyway - that their daughter would be in bed. However, they really didn't have an established bedtime, so they understood when she wasn't.

Stephanie quickly addressed that fact. "Sam was much better today, Mr. and Mrs. Burke. These are my best friends Allie and Darcy, they came to help out." She said they'd tried to get Sam to bed, but that they'd only been partly successful. "I'd really like, with your permission, to be able to set limits in ways. You know, be able to remove privileges and things like that. It's hard only using timeout and things I can control while I'm here."

"Say no more, it's all yours," Mrs. Burke remarked.

Stephanie raised her eyebrows, though she supposed she shouldn't have been that stunned. "Really?"

"Oh, sure. We don't really have time to enforce any discipline. We really feel it's important to give her space to live," Samantha's dad explained. "But, you're welcome to try."

Allie was generally rather quiet, but Darcy couldn't help but blurt what was on both girls' minds. "You mean you don't punish her at all! You never grounded her, never even sent her to her room..." They had heard the Burkes spent almost no time with Sam, but it was still quite hard for her to grasp the concept that these parents were totally uninvolved.

"She needs to realise, even though she's sorry, that every action has consequences. And, the consequences need to be more than just timeout and, if she's too unruly, well, you know. I really hate spanking her, I always have. But, I need the power to do more." Stephanie explained as politely as she could. "And...well, I had this speech all ready, but, I guess I don't need it." She was still stunned at how quickly they had agreed to allow her to control Sam's privileges beyond when she was there.

Samantha's mother assured her it was okay as she looked at her watch, already thinking of a phone call she had to make. "If you feel you can get her to accept some revocation of privileges, feel free to try. She does have a great respect for you. And, from all we've heard, you have always shown her respect, too." The mother breathed deeply. "Even those few times when you spanked her, she seemed to know you cared about her. As you've said, you tried every other way. It was either that, or let her make everyone miserable, while you were Principal Stephanie," the mother said.

The parents both looked at Sam and spoke somewhat firmly, while Stephanie considered that they must have spent at least some time talking to Sam about her behaviour. Or, more likely, Sam had told them because she had to tell someone, and nobody else had been around, save for perhaps the maid.

Or, maybe it was the maid who heard how Sam felt, and then she told the Burkes. Either way, Sam felt that Stephanie cared. That made Stephanie feel really good; at least she was getting something across. Indeed, Sam probably felt Stephanie cared more than her own parents.

Stephanie tried not to think about that right now. She was elated she would have more control. She turned to Sam, who had been trying to make herself seem invisible during the conversation, and tried to sound reassuring. "I hope you understand that what your mom and dad have just given me is very important. I promise you I will be fair in using these powers - but I hope that you will not force me to have to use the ultimate power. I think we both hope that." She bent down and gave the little girl a squeeze, as Allie called for her mom to pick them up. The only thing good about that ultimate was that if it ever did have to be used again - and it would once, months later - she could be quite mild with it, and she would be the one other time, too.

Stephanie then looked up at the Burkes. "Thanks again. You've made my job a lot easier."

And, for the first time, Stephanie heard a very hurried "thank you" as they rushed upstairs. She inhaled deeply and grinned. It might be the only thanks she ever got, and she might be thanked mostly for relieving them of any responsibility. Still, it was a "thank you," and she would definitely cherish the moment.

Stephanie was dropped off by Jesse and Joey Friday on the way to the radio show they hosted. When she entered, Sam looked around behind her, thinking someone else would be coming. "You're alone?" she asked.

"That's right. No backups today. You could tie me up and run wild and I'd be defenseless," she quipped.

Sam looked downcast. "No. You'd find a way to escape. Then I'd be in big trouble."

Stephanie nodded slowly, and put an arm around Sam as Hannah departed. "You know, you're probably right. And, I'm glad to see you don't want to try."

"Trust me, Stephanie, I'm afraid to."

"You're not scared of me, are you?"


Stephanie knelt down and gave Sam a big hug. "It's okay to be good because you think about what I'll do. But, I don't ever want you to be scared of me. That's the bad kind of feaar. The good kind is really like what you feel when you think about sticking your hand in a fire. You wouldn't do that, right?"

Sam chuckled. "Of course not."

Stephanie walked Sam to the living room couch and sat down with her. "Let me tell you something I did about a year and a half ago. You probably think I've always been this perfect angel, right?"

"Yeah. It's kind of maddening. I want to be good, but, it's tough," she said, not wanting to get into the battles in her mind.

"Good. I'm really glad you want to. Well, I've always tried to, and I've gotten mad at myself when I messed up just a little. But, I fell for something you might feel like falling for one day, and you have to be very careful. I wanted to be like a couple popular girls in my class. So, I got my ears pierced even after my dad said not to." Sam gasped. "And here's the worst part - I had Kimmy do them!"

Sam felt around Stephanie's head. "Did she find your ears?" Sam could tell from Tuesday that Kimmy might have had trouble doing it right.

Stephanie giggled. "Yep; but she did a poor enough job that they got very infected. I was grounded for a month; my only times out other than school was when I came to see you at daycare."

"Wow. So..." Sam wasn't sure how to phrase the next question. She didn't like to talk about getting in trouble with anyone but Michelle and, sometimes, Stephnie. Although, Missy seemed nice ennough that she might confide in her, too, sometimes.

Stephanie came close enough to guessing Sam's thoughts that it answered her question. "My dad's never hit any of us. Neither has anyone else in our family. The adults could never stand to do it. But, our mom set limits right away with us, and mostly D.J. did with Michelle. We knew right away if we crossed those boundaries we'd get a timeout, or lose a privilege like dessert, or get grounded. Our parents then, and dad, Uncle Jesse, Aunt Becky, and Joey now, all make sure we learn how to behave. They teach us what's right, we talk about stuff, and we generally listen when told to do something or not do it. I know it's harder for you," she said, stroking Sam's hair. "But, you can learn right from wrong, too."

"And if I don't, you'll punish me." It was more a statement than a question.

"Yes, because I care about you. Dad always says that we're each responsible for our actions. When you get old enough to get your ears pierced, I expect you to talk it over with me, if your parents don't want to."

"You mean when they don't want to," Sam said sullenly. She'd been thinking it over, and wondered if her parents had just given complete control to Stephanie.

Of course, maybe Stephanie would do a better job. She seemed to be so far. In fact, especially after the trip they let her take with the Tannes over Easter, she suspected they had given Stephanie complete control long ago.

Stephanie had to admit that was true. "Anyway, I'll try to always be there for you - me, or one of our family members or friends, anyway. And, you're right, if you do something really bad, you will be punished. I will enforce limits. For instance, I'll take you to get your ears pierced in a couple years. But, you sure as heck aren't getting anything else pierced!" she declared firmly. Stephanie was thankful when Sam made a face and said she wouldn't want anything else pierced.

"It's fun sitting and talking to you, Stephanie."

"Thanks. Now, let's talk a little about television. We kind of got busy with other stuff, but D.J. told me about some of the shows you watched..." she trailed off, clearly disappointed, as they began to discuss television, and the many cable channels Stephanie planned to block out on their television. "When you wake up in the middle of the night, you should make up your own stories. Since you're starting to read better, you can do that, too, as long as you try to get back to sleep, too. Shows like Hogan's Heroes, the Dukes, ones like that are fine. But unfortunately, the cable channels you watch them on also have some very bad things. And, I'm going to need to limit you to certain channels. If you start to behave better, you might get some of the good, wholesome sitcoms back that you like, or you can come over to our house or Courtney's and watch them there. But here, you are limited to only a few channels, like Discovery or the Cartoon Network."

Sam sighed, realizing that Stephanie was right, yet really disliking the limits. Then again, she had little desire to disobey, either. Sam recognized that Stephanie really cared. And, truthfully, some things on her unapproved list, Sam was glad Stephanie had told her not to watch, as they were scary, but she had little idea what else to do. Only now, with Stephanie's help, had she learned really good self control.

That trend toward wanting to have standards in her life would grow as vulgarity, violence, and sexual stuff increased on television - even on seemingly innocent channels like the Cartoon Network. As Sam matured, by fourth and fifth grade, she'd notice things, and realize what things were not on the approved list. She and Stephanie would then be able to sit down together and Sam would be making good choices herself about what to watch. This made Stephanie extremely proud.

For now, Stephanie had to restrict Sam quite a bit, but Sam was still starting to show progress in a number of areas. "I'm also going to establish a firmer bedtime; though we'd talked before about when you should be getting to bed, I guess we wore you out with activity enough that usually wasn't a problem," she joked. It was true, too. Stephanie told her what her bedtime would be for school and non-school nights, and that she'd enforce it as well as she could. Which, Sam knew, Stephanie would do quite well, knowing how she handled everything else.

Stephanie showed up the following Tuesday at about 4:30, just as the Honeybees meeting was wrapping up. Their Aunt Becky had picked up Sam and taken her and Michelle to the meeting.

Courtney came running out with Sam. Though she was several months younger, with a June birthday, she was bigger than Sam. She'd been timid enough to be in the half-day Kindergarten program, and thus was not privy to many of Sam's earliest problems except through rumours. Being a little slower in getting into the full-day school program made her one of the first good friends Sam had made in the Honeybees.

"Look what Sam got," she said excitedly.

Sam proudly showed off her cooking badge to Stephanie. She was excited to see Stephanie's reaction. She always made such a big deal of things Sam did. Maybe it was bigger than normal parents would make, but Sam suspected she knew why. Stephanie wanted to make up for the fact Sam's parents probably forgot she was even in the Honeybees.

Stephanie exuded excitement in lots of things. That was probably part of it, too.

"Some of the kids were asking me, 'How did you ever learn to make cajun food?'" Sam told Stephanie. Darcy's family like somewhat spicy, more ethnic foods at times. And, Darcy had decided, after Stephanie mentioned Sam wanting to stand out, to show her how to make soemthing really unique for the San Francisco area. Especially something unique to anyone int he upper crust circles in which her parents travelled.

So it was that Sam had made a fancy rice dish for the meeting Tuesday. And, she'd earned a really neat badge. Though Stephanie's record number of badges was way ahead of her - Stephanie had had to have two sashes full of badges to fit them all - Sam decided that she wanted to try and break Stephanie's record.

"This is awesome," Michelle cried. "All the kids loved what you made, Sam. Except it was too spicy for some."

"Well, not everyone can handle lots of spices," Stephanie said.

"I'm really glad Darcy helped me."

She wished she could be even more like Michelle and Stephanie. As Stephanie walked the girls to Sam's house for another day of babysitting, Sam was even more eager to start reading better, as they'd promised to read with her more that day. She'd been doing so many fun things with Stephanie - Sam was truly finding it fun to listen and be good.

She supposed that made sense, though she wouldn't have understood before now. Misbehaving brought plenty of negative consequences, things like having to sit in a corner and look at a wall. And, it also hurt others' feelings and did other damage. But, it had been attention, at least. However, now she was beginning to be glad, that there were negative consequences, as she was developing a good conscience. She didn't want to hurt people. She certainly couldn't stand to think of hurting Michelle.

Of course, she didn't like being punished, but she could accept that sometimes, she lost privileges when she did wrong things.

The mail from the last few days was laying on the kitchen table when Stephanie arrived home with the girls; Sam's parents didn't bother to open it every day, unless it seemed really important. Often, things just got thrown into the trash after a while. This made Sam sad, as she thought of how little they cared about people. The Tanners were teaching her to care about others really well. But, Michelle was right, Sam told herself. She could try to talk to Jesus. It was just so hard sometimes, to understand about Jesus having taken her place and all; indeed, it was hard for Michelle, not quite eight, to explain really well. Plus, Sam had trouble accepting that love a little at times yet. Still, Sam would ask Him into her heart within a couple years.

For now, Sam reminded herself to try to have fun. She thought it would be interesting to read some of the things - she was really beginning to enjoy reading. She had begun to open some of the mail, when a picture fell out of one envelope. A letter was inside. "Let's read it," Sam said excitedly. She liked reading with Michelle - and with Stephanie. Her reading had really begun to improve, as she was encouraged to read anything she could.

They went over to the living room couch with the letter and picture. Nobody glanced at the picture - all eyes were fixed on the letter as the others helped Sam read. Some words, even Michelle couldn't read well. Seeing her try to read further encouraged Sam.

"Sounds like your dad's cousin - well, second cousin - lost his wife."

"Awww. Did they have any children?" Michelle asked, visibly saddened.

"Two girls; twins. He's sending letters and copies of a photo to lots of relatives; I can see why. Writing like this is really a good way of coping with his feelings, I imagine." She made a note to ask if Sam kept a diary later. If not, it might be a good idea to buy her one.

"We should make a card for them, maybe you can write something too, Sam," Michelle encourged her as she looked at the picture.

"Good idea, I'll put something quick on the stove and we can get to work on that."

"Let's order pizza." Sam hadn't had any all week. While she liked getting meals actually cooked at home for her, she still enjoyed pizza.

Stephanie chuckled. "I have a feeling Michelle will vote for that, too. Okay, we'll do that, and it'll give me more time..." She looked at Michelle, who was studying the photo. It was a picture of the family taken the previous month, the last time she'd been healthy enough to do much with them before the cancer took her too far downhill.

Michelle scrunched her face - the girls looked a lot like her. "Weird."

"What, Michelle? Oh, the girls in the picture. Well, they say everyone has a twin."

"Yeah, except there's two of them. So, which one of them is the twin everyone says I have?"

"Does that mean Kimmy has a twin?" Sam asked.

"Yes, but hopefully her twin is more intelligent," Stephanie remarked. She asked Sam if they had construction paper and other craft-making supplies.

As they created a card Stephanie took the opportunity to provide what D.J. and their dad called "teaching moments," when someone imparted wisdom just in how they did things, but also in commenting about it. The fact Sam was becoming much more teachable was a great sign.

"You know, Sam," Stephanie began, "it's really important to think of others, and to make things like this. Your dad and mom probably don't even know this person exists, or if they did, they forgot it a long time ago. It sounds like this fellow expects that; he sent letters to a number of more distant relatives last month when she started getting really bad, and never got a reply from your dad. But, whenever someone's in trouble, we should try and help them. It not only makes them feel better, but us. I feel good knowing I'm doing something nice for someone that's hurt. Michelle does, too, I imagine." The younger sister nodded.

Sam thought for a moment. A smile was forming, but she wasn't sure if it was appropriate or not, since someone had died. She wasn't sure what to think anymore; not only had she never been through anything like his, but her parents had never even left a hint of how to behave. They'd take her to fancy parties to show her off, but that was all, they did there, just pretend everything was perfect because they were rich.

Still, she knew Stephanie knew what was right and wrong. It seemed like she knew everything. Sam looked at her with a look she'd really never used before, a look that said she really admired and respected Stephanie. "Yeah, it does," she remarked. Parts of her heart were opening that she had forgotten were there, that had become so unused that they'd been forgotten.

Stephanie caught the look - it made her think of how she looked up to her dad and the other adults in her family, how even with their faults, like her dad's over protectiveness, they were still the greatest people on earth to her. Some of it was thinking of the children who had just lost a mom, part of it was thinking about her own mom, but part of why she began to tear up was because she was sensing that maybe, just maybe, they'd passed a major milestone themselves with Sam.

Indeed, while Sam would fall for temptations quite a bit in the next few years, that part of her that wished to listen to Stephanie because she wanted to, not because she had to, was starting to grow very rapidly.

Sam had been buzzing about camp ever since they'd arrived home from her final day of day camp. Even after having been at the Tanners' before, and even spending Easter at Becky's parents' in Nebrska, she couldn't believe how many people were at the table! Counting her, there were ten - she'd never seen so many gathered together otherwise. As Michelle's friend Cassie had said once, "Every day is like Thanksgiving dinner there."

All were laughing and talking as they ate. But, her camp experiences were the highlight of the evening's discussion.

"Sounds like you had a really great time," Becky remarked. "I'm glad you weren't scared."

"Having Michelle around helped," Sam stated simply.

"Your behaviour was really good, too," Michelle said excitedly. The others weren't sure what to say, as they'd praised Sam for her good attitude and behaviour tonight, but tried hard to steer clear of her past mischievousness.

Sam remarked, "It had to be. I wasn't planning on doing anything bad, though." And if she had, she figured Stephanie - who had attended a week of overnight camp there - would have dealt with her personally.

Danny took Stephanie aside in his office upstairs after dinner. "I'm really proud of you, hon. You've made some great strides with Sam."

"Thanks, Dad. I've had a great team behind me."

"Tell you what...I've seen you mature quite a bit in the last few months. The way you looked for that outfit you wanted on sale, the effort you put forth with so much babysitting, and especially the strides you've made with Sam. I'm taking you to the mall tomorrow afternoon, and giving you a special treat." He handed her a piece of plastic.

Stephanie's jaw dropped. "Dad...your credit card!"

"Now, Steph," he said warningly, "I expect you to only buy something you like that's on sale. There's a firm limit on the amount you can buy this time with the card, that limit is half the money you've made this summer. When you make more, that will mean more that you can spend."

"Dad...this is incredible!" Less than a year ago, she'd been tempted to steal his phone card to join a clique of popular girls, but finally refused after D.J. had caught her and she'd confessed everything to her. And now, this?

"Also, I know you will have to reveal it to your friends eventually, because you'll be shopping with them, and if you need it, such as for gong back to school, I'll let you have it if I see you're using it wisely. But, for now, I don't want you telling anyone you have this privilege. I know Allie and Darcy would never bug you to buy something for them, but this is a rule I'm setting just in case."

"Oh, don't worry, Dad. I..I mean, this is...this is incredible!" She threw her arms around Danny, who hugged back. "Thanks, Dad, you're the greatest."

"I am, aren't I?" he quipped.

He began to get misty-eyed as he thought of his girls growing up so fast. "Honey, I really am amazed at how you're maturing. When I see you not only babysitting, but dealing with someone like Sam, I know it's made you grow up a little faster than maybe you should, definitely faster than I'd like to see. But, you're doing it so well. And, Mom would be so proud." They embraced again.

Sam and Michelle were playing a video game with Joey in the living room as Stephanie and Danny came down from Danny's office. "What did your dad want?" Sam asked.

"Oh, he just told me about a special privilege he was giving me because I did so well with you." She smiled as she sat in a chair. "And, I'm going to keep working. Because, I really feel that you can be a wonderful, warm, and caring young lady someday, Sam."

"Sure she can, Steph," Michelle echoed.

Sam smiled. Part of her still relished freedom and independence. There were times when she really disliked rules. But, a growing part of her wanted to be good now. Because, she no longer had to feel upset at being alone, being so small, and feeling unloved.

Sam knew that she had something wonderful now, thanks to Stephanie. She had people around her who cared, like Stephanie, and Michelle, and her Honeybees friends. And Stephanie and Michelle's friends and family. It wasn't a close-knit, warm, and loving household. But, all those people combined felt like a family. And, that was the most important thing.