Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Sam Series

03.5 * Samantha & Friends
Written by: Paul Austin

This takes place around the time of the Full House Stephanie Book "Winning Is Everything," where Steph runs for class President. It alludes to events in "Welcome To My Zoo," a turtle that never appears again in the Stephanie book "Ten Ways To Wreck a Date" (Michelle is said to own a turtle that isn't mentioned anywhere else) and the Michelle book, "If I Were President." A couple books are a year off on age difference (we can assume it's typos), so that part isn't as vital as what grade they're in. Michelle has her guinea pig by the time Rachel comes, in late October, so that book and the book where she gets her guinea pig have to come here.

With 50+ books taking place in Samantha's third grade year then - w/Michelle in 4th and Stephanie in 8th - places must be found to fit her. (Over half a dozen of these books are in the TV Universe in the Chronology, since they fit characters better there.) Where she spends the night if she clearly can't be in a book is also explained. However, as SGE showed (Michelle calling her and inviting her over to Mandy's for a sleepover after we see), it's easy, at times, to have her there but not mentioned.

Here Samantha can be fit in, & in the really funny "Welcome To My Zoo" it's easy to see why Stephanie forgets about Michelle wanting to take Comet to a parade, and why Samantha wouldn't want a pet. It also allows a look at Samantha's other best friend, Courtney Larkin, and the rest of her friends.

"Hey, guess what?" nine-year-old Michelle Tanner shrieked over the phone. "Steph won! She's gonna be eighth grade class president!"

"Super. She deserves it," Samantha Burke said happily, trying to hide her sore throat. She'd had sore throats before - and quite a few ear infections and such - in her life. But, the third grader didn't like to reveal how she felt too much. It wasn't too bad yet, anyway.

Michelle was too excited for her sister - who was like a mom to Samantha - being elected class president to notice any problem. "Yeah, knowing Steph, her next job will be mayor! So, are you riding over to our house?" Michelle asked, now that both of them were home from school and Stephanie had heard the news.

She shook her head. "I'm over at Courtney's. I think I'll spend the night there. We have our Honeybee meeting Saturday because of Mrs. Larkin's schedule," Samantha said, Saturday being the next day. Courtney Larkin was Samantha's best third grade friend; they were a grade below Michelle. The girls were in a Brownies-type club called the Honeybees together. The different "hives" didn't always meet at the same time, but they often did. Courtney's mom was "hive mother" for Samantha's. Michelle had brought Samantha to her first meeting a few months before her sixth birthday, which is where she got to know Courtney - her hive and Michelle's had met together.

"Okay. I don't know if we'll eat out to celebrate tonight. But, knowing my dad, we will real soon," Michelle said with a laugh. "Our Honeybee club's having a special thing at my house today, we're learning about dog grooming and training. I'll call if we do go out." Michelle's family dog, Comet, was a very friendly Golden Retriever who would work well with other dogs the girls would bring. It wasn't uncommon for a family to host a meeting, especially if the mother was the "hive mother."

Samantha thanked her. She'd been a latchkey kid since she grew too old for the daycare her parents put her in, last March when she turned eight. Her parents had no time for her. In fact, they barely seemed to acknowledge she existed. It was so bad, the first person to ever show her true love and compassion was the one she really considered her mother - that was Michelle's older sister Stephanie, thirteen, the middle of three sisters. D.J., eighteen, was the oldest. And, that had been in Kindergarten, when Stephanie was only ten. Samantha felt confident enough around the big, empty house to get dropped off there if she took the school bus and to put a game or some toys in a bag before riding her bike to a friend's house. She loved the freedom of riding her bike with friends, and would often go with them to good parts of town and try to meet more friends. However, just as often, she would ride with one of her friends on another route and stay at their place.

Michelle called Courtney's later and revealed that the Tanners had planned their celebration dinner for Saturday, after Samantha's Honeybee meeting. As Samantha awoke Saturday morning, though, she pondered asking if Courtney wanted to go somewhere after the Honeybee meeting, so she wouldn't have to eat with the Tanners - she really didn't feel like eating. She knew the Tanners were wonderful people. But, they might make her go to the doctor. And, he might give her a shot. She hated that!

Not only that, but a small part of her didn't feel like she deserved to feel good at times. Her friends were always so encouraging, though! "Hey, Samantha," Courtney shouted as she peeked outside her sleeping bag to see Samantha putting on her clothes. "You know that big aquarium my aunt has? I dreamed we were all walking around the house, and the fish were swimming through the house like the air was water. Weird, huh?"

Samantha managed to chuckle as she agreed. She thought about doing some homework with Courtney this morning, after watching a few cartoons but before their meeting. However, her books were back at her house. And, truthfully, if her throat didn't get any better, she'd probably be staying home from school Monday, anyway.

And, worrying about going to the doctor's.

"Morning, Courtney," Samantha finally said tiredly. When Courtney asked what was wrong, she said, "Oh, just a sore throat. I don't want to go to the doctor's, though."

"It won't be that bad. Maybe you won't get a shot. It could be like when you had strep a couple years ago. He just gave you medicine."

"True." And, it did feel like it had when she'd had that, she thought to herself. Though Stephanie was no longer the Principal's Assistant when Samantha was in first, she'd begged for Stephanie to be allowed off school to go with Mr. Tanner to take her to the doctor's then. Stephanie, after all, was a mother figure to her, and had been even back then. Since they'd made the appointment after school, though, it hadn't mattered.

She knew it was harder with Stephanie in eighth grade now. And, she felt close enough to the others that she could go to the doctor's office with just one of the adults, or perhaps D.J., though D.J. hadn't had to take her to any yet. D.J. had been like a mom to Michelle and, to a lesser extent, Stephanie since their mom died when Michelle was a baby.

Still there was nothing like having that mother figure there for Samantha.

As the girls donned their Honeybee outfits - yellow and black striped with yellow pollen sacs and wings - in Courtney's bedroom later that morning, Samantha said weakly, "I started to write a story yesterday. I don't know if it's any good, though."

"How much have you written?"

"Once upon a time."

"Maybe it'll get more interesting." Seeing her joke was lost on Samantha, given how she was feeling, Courtney asked, "What's your story about?"

"You know that girl, Eloise, who lives in the Plaza Hotel?" Courtney nodded, she'd heard of the books. "I want to try and find her a dad. So, I'm trying to have her and Annie get her mom and Daddy Warbucks together."

Courtney grinned as they adjusted their wings, and Samantha positioned her braids outside the outfit; one was stuck inside. "Cool. Rich young widow - we never do hear about a dad - meets rich young bachelor. The girls work together, and they live happily ever after." Both girls smiled broadly. "Didn't Daddy Warbucks kind of like Miss Grace?"

"Miss...Grace. Yeah, I sort of forgot about her," Samantha said dejectedly.

"Well, don't feel bad. Maybe it'll work out anyway for your characters."

Mrs. Larkin took Courtney and Samantha to the building that housed a daycare, preschool, and some community functions such as the Honeybee meetings. Samantha wished she could host meetings sometimes. When her mother figure was only thirteen and unrelated, though, it was tough.

"Hey, what's got you down?" her friend Jenny Mai said.

"Oh, just thinking about the mother-daughter slumber party," Samantha fibbed, not wanting to think about her sore throat.

Amy, another close friend, assured her, "I know Stephanie will be excited to take you. She could probably help you host it, in fact."

"Well...the Tanners' house is pretty busy."

"I mean at your house!"

"At my house?!" Samantha perked up. The thought totally stunned her - she'd never considered that she might be able to do anything like that. She felt so discouraged, worse than Stephanie probably ever felt not having a mother. But, "I guess Stephanie's dad hosted meetings a few times when she was little. Like when she told me they started that drive to raise money by selling honey."

"Sure they did! And, you can help not just host a meeting, you can host a party real easy!" Courtney exclaimed.

Mrs. Larkin got everyone attention and remarked that they needed to pick a site for the party, normally for third grade girls. "It's over a month away, but these things take a lot of time to plan. Now, I know you girls all think your mothers would be able to do it, but they're not all Superman. It takes someone who will have the time and energy to put it together."

"They might not all be. But Stephanie is," Samantha declared proudly, forgetting her sore throat. She coughed several times after that exclamation.

Vanessa joked, "Superman is a guy, though. No mom could be Superman."

"She has a point," Courtney agreed. She knew her mother would talk to the mothers who were volunteered and do the choosing herself, to avoid any of the girls having hurt feelings. They wanted to stress co-operation and fun, not cliques. Still, she thought they might have a shot at having it at Samantha's. She hoped they did.

Mrs. Larkin took the roll - everyone from their hive was there. Samantha, Courtney, Andrea, Amy, Jenny Mai, Vanessa, Sarah, Belinda, Katherine, Sally, Sariya, and Madeline. "We've picked up two since this time last year. Andrea, is your dad going to stay in the area once the baseball season is over?" He was. "Samantha, you've really been good at bringing visitors."

Andrea and Sariya were both friends Samantha had invited. Samantha loved to make friends. Part of that was because of her loneliness, of course. She filled her life with a large circle of friends to rid herself of the empty feeling she had because her parents were so uninvolved and uncaring. However, thankfully, she was good at making sure she made the right kind of friend.

"Thanks, Mrs. Larkin. I love bringing people."

"I'm amazed at how late you're out riding some nights," Vanessa commented.

"It'd be even later except Stephanie or Mrs. Larkin make sure I'm home by a certain hour," she explained, happy to have people to watch over her. Indeed, her friends were always checked out by Stephanie, or at least by one of the Tanners.

"There's some kids in our neighborhood who are out when everyone should be in bed," Sariya claimed. "My mom says they're a bit older, but still, they're the type your Stephanie should be watching." Sariya remembered Stephanie calling her mom to say "hello" after Samantha had seen Sariya while out riding and invited her. Her mom had figured Stephanie was an older sister. It still amazed her to know that Stephanie had done so much. She hoped she could help her little sister as much; she'd already been helping her onto the church bus since she herself was only six, and her sister three. Their mother wasn't able physically to take them many places, so she understood a little of what Samantha went through.

"If they ever caused any problem, she'd probably do it," Samantha said with a chuckle.

Once the girls discussed the slumber party and what would occur, they did some crafts and then went home. There were some interesting ideas - including a fun discussion of what Jenny Mai's mother might have in store if she hosted the party. Her mother was originally from the Little Saigon area of San Francisco, and the girls figured there would be lots of interesting foods and things. But, the main focus was on Samantha - she'd become such a good friend that many hoped she could host the party.

Samantha had gotten excited about the possibility of hosting the party, too, but it was still hard for her to get her hopes way up. Still, Mrs. Larkin promised to see if she could.

She'd forgotten how she dreaded Michelle's phone call until Courtney said Michelle wanted to talk to her. "Hey, Samantha, hope you didn't eat lunch yet." She hadn't. "Will you be ready to go in about fifteen minutes?" Michelle inquired.

"Yeah, I guess." Samantha sighed as she hung up the phone. She knew somehow, Michelle would see through her and ask what was wrong now. So, she decided she might as well tell them.

After being picked up in one of two cars, Samantha admitted, "I got a sore throat. I don't think I'll eat too much."

"I thought you sounded sick on the phone. But, that's okay; just have ice cream," Michelle suggested.

"Come on, Michelle," D.J. said with a laugh, "you know everyone needs a well balanced meal."

"She could have it served with lettuce on the bottom like some places serve meals."

"This is getting weird. Next thing you'll say the ice cream could be meat-flavored, to cover even more food groups," Samantha said, feeling more chipper as the banter continued.

As they got out of the car, the other members of the Tanner household met them near the front entrance. They had arrived earlier since the Tanners had gone to pick up Samantha. These included Michelle's Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky - who lived in their attic with their children, four-year-old Nicky and Alex - and Danny's best friend Joey Gladstone - who lived in the Tanner basement. Jesse and Joey had moved in to help raise the girls when their mom died.

While waiting for a big enough table to open, Danny knelt down and said, "Let me have a look."

"What's wrong?" Nicky asked.

"She has a sore throat," Michelle explained.

Alex told Samantha, "Open your mouth and say 'cheese.'"

Samantha couldn't help but join the others in laughing now. "That's 'ah' - cheese is for when you get your picture taken."

"Oh, yeah. I knew that," Alex said.

D.J.'s best friend, Kimmy Gibbler, who had come along, told Alex, "Hey, it's okay, squirt. I got them mixed up once, too." She thought for a moment. "Of course, I was your cousin Stephanie's age when I did it."

Samantha didn't know what to say. Kimmy, also eighteen, had recently been diagnosed with a slight learning disorder. But, for someone to get those mixed up, at that age, was unthinkable - she totally understood a four-year-old doing it.

Finally, Samantha turned to Kimmy and begged, "Please be joking." She couldn't imagine anyone being that dumb at thirteen. Stephanie smiled and patted her on the head, showing she liked how Samantha had handled that - not teasing, but yet also signifying that even if it was true, it wasn't the type of thing Kimmy would want to say if she knew better.

Joey knew Kimmy might easily be telling the truth. So, he got everyone's mind off of that by bending down with Danny to look inside Samantha's throat. "Ooooh, boy, Samantha, you must be one big San Francisco 49ers fan. You've got a nice yellowish-gold play skirt on, and your throat looks really scarlet." Scarlet and gold were the football team's colors. "It's a good thing you're not a Dodger fan. If you were all blue like the baseball team down in L.A., people would think you weren't getting enough oxygen."

"Joey, people don't turn royal blue when they don't get enough oxygen, they turn light blue," Danny corrected him.

Joey whistled. "Then it's really a good thing you're not all blue down there, people would think you were turning into a Smurf."

Samantha giggled hard. She loved Joey's sense of humor. While Stephanie was like a mom, she had to pick from among the adult Tanners for a father figure. Luckily, Danny, Jesse, and Joey were all very nice and loving. However, because of his childlike nature, simplicity, and sense of humor, Joey appealed to her the most, as he was very non-threatening. Because of serious neglect problems before Stephanie took charge - and her feelings after, to some degree - Samantha saw a doctor who had helped Stephanie in one visit after a major earthquake back in 1989. And, Danny took her there as often as Joey did. But, Joey was still the one she liked most as a father figure.

Danny tried to sound understanding as he said, "Well, honey, I'm afraid we're going to have to take you to the doctor's."

"But, I don't want a shot," Samantha whined.

"Well, you probably won't have to get one. My guess is you might need your tonsils out. They look really big in there."

Samantha gasped. "You mean in a hospital?"

"Well, we're certainly not letting Kimmy take them out," Stephanie said glibly. She'd disobeyed Danny a few years ago and gotten her ears pierced - by Kimmy! They'd become quite infected afterward.

Kimmy not only could take the joke, she didn't totally grasp it. "How could I? You can't use a hole punching gun to take tonsils out."

Thankfully, as the others searched for an answer, the waiter announced their table was ready.

Samantha had had another doctor who almost never saw her for checkups or anything, because her parents were so inattentive to things. So, once the Tanners began helping, when Stephanie was Principal's Assistant in fifth grade, and Samantha in Kindergarten, they'd decided to get Samantha in with Dr. Landress, Michelle's pediatrician. He saw her for this appointment since it was an emergency, but, ironically, when they first met Samantha, they wanted to get her in quickly to have her checked out, and he'd been busy, so she saw his partner, Dr. Beth Fuller. She saw her most of the time, but Samantha was equally comfortable with each.

The appointment was made for after school Monday. Once Dr. Landress examined her, he declared that Danny's hunch was right - her tonsils needed to come out.

"I want you there with me," Samantha whimpered, looking at Stephanie.

"I'll try..." She looked at Danny, unsure of whether he'd let her get off school, or whether it would even be possible. "Do you think they'd let me? I mean, it's a pretty unusual situation..."

Danny wasn't sure. "I'll talk to the school and see. We got you out for her first appointment with Dr. Steiner, but it's been Joey or I taking her otherwise, if the appointment's not really late in the afternoon. On the other hand, you don't let helping her interfere with your schoolwork, which is good." Thankfully, Dr. Steiner had been able to schedule most her earliest sessions with Samantha in the afternoon, after school, till Samantha was comfortable going without Stephanie. That hadn't taken very long, of course. But, this would be drastically different than merely talking with a therapist.

Samantha squeezed Stephanie's hand. "Will I be in there a long time?" She was very scared of hospitals; she really wanted to go home as soon as possible. All the big, fancy machines were foreboding, and the massive numbers of sick people reminded her of how blah she felt - and how having nobody to care for her before she met Stephanie had made her feel so much worse.

"No, honey, just long enough to get them out and rest a couple hours."

"I know it's rough," Dr. Landress said, expounding on Stephanie's thoughts. "However, even without one physical home, every study shows people recover better when they're around people they love, who care about them. And, you're fortunate in that you have two places you could go!"

"Yeah, doctor, but how do I choose?"

"Well...I guess that is a hard one. But, Michelle was telling me at one of her checkups how she helped another girl feel better when she moved here, and now she has two best friends. I imagine the Tanners and the Larkins both know you love them very much."

Samantha leaned against Stephanie's arm while Danny discussed with the doctor what a good time and date would be. "If you stay with me, can I go stay with Courtney then?"

"Of course." Stephanie sat on the examination table and cuddled Samantha. "Kind of funny to think about it, but a family with four kids is still going to be less hectic than our house. And, her brothers can help you easier with your next ad."

"Am I gonna be able to do it?" Samantha said tiredly, not imagining being able to, in a way.

Stephanie knew from what Dr. Steiner had told Danny that that was just a lack of confidence in herself talking, as much as Samantha feeling too sick. Her throat wasn't helping matters, though. "I'm sure you can, Samantha. Because, you've got a great desire to succeed. I know you'll do a good job."

Samantha sighed. She hoped so, but really wasn't sure. This would be the first time she'd done a commercial without Michelle or Courtney.

Stephanie called and left a message on the Burkes' cell phones concerning the tonsillectomy - they knew they had to co-operate with the Tanners, and were good at getting back to them quickly to okay things, if nothing else. Meanwhile, Danny and the doctor got a confirmation on the time.

Danny told Samantha, "They can get you in at 10:00 Wednesday morning. It's not an emergency so it's not something they can schedule for tomorrow, I'm afraid."

"Can I stay with you tonight?" Stephanie assured her she could.

Samantha kept thinking about the hospital. They tried to talk at dinner about how well the schedule would work - Mrs. Larkin stayed home during the day, and their oldest daughter, Hannah, would be home from college on the weekends. Hannah promised to try and drive home a time or two during the week, as well. Mr. Larkin could always do some shopping for the family before he came home. This was a sharp contrast to Danny and Becky leaving in the morning, Jesse taking the twins to preschool and picking them up, Danny and Becky coming home, before or after D.J. depending on when her courses at nearby San Francisco State were over, and Jesse and Joey leaving for their radio show soon before the younger girls came home from school. When all the normal errands and things were factored in, Samantha wondered how the Tanners kept track of everything.

It was nothing compared to her worries about the hospital, though.

Stephanie noticed Samantha feeling and looking blah as she rested on the couch. She sat and cradled Samantha on her lap. "You'll have a different pediatric surgeon. But, the doctor there is going to be really nice."

"I know," Samantha wept. "I just don't wanna go to the hospital."

"Well, Dad's doing everything he can to make sure I can be there with you. If I can't, you know he'll be there, and so will Aunt Becky or Joey."

"But they're not you."

Stephanie was awestruck at how much like a mom Samantha saw her. At least, as what she could recall of a mother. It did stir up vague memories of her mom, Pam. She remembered Pam coming home with Michelle, but she hadn't yet been five. She recalled a few other small things, but most of them were generalities, as her mom had died a few months before Stephanie started Kindergarten.

Samantha, for her part, kept recalling what it was like before she'd met Stephanie. Anytime she was sick, it seemed her parents would just keep her home with the maid and let her be miserable, or send her to daycare anyway and let her infect everyone else. She dreaded the thought of what would have happened had she had to go into the hospital back then.

Of course, even though she hadn't had to go to the hospital before now, she was scared. She'd been to visit her "emotional sister," Michelle, once when Michelle was in the hospital with a concussion. Even having her "emotional mother," Stephanie, there, it had still been scary. Michelle had recovered completely, and gotten out the next day, but just seeing how Michelle's memory could be blurry after just a small concussion, even though she didn't have amnesia, freaked her out; it could have been worse if she'd gone out on the trail, though real amnesia would have been too freak an accident, she'd been told. Still, given how close they were, she worried at times what could have been.

Courtney walked in the door with some papers, once Danny opened it for her. "Hey, Samantha, how's it going?"

Time had been standing still for a while, it seemed. Courtney's presence made things only a little better. "I hafta have my tonsils out," she moaned.

"I'm sorry. Do you want your homework?"

"Just lay it on the table."

Courtney thought about what to say as she sat the papers on the table and sat beside Samantha and Stephanie. She knew Samantha saw Stephanie as a mom, but until now, she hadn't often considered how much. Yet, seeing her friend curled up on Stephanie's lap, it just reminded her so much of how she might look on her own mother's lap.

"How's your story idea coming?"

"Bad. The play's set in 1933. Unless I write about time travel."

"Wait, wasn't there a comic strip, too?" Courtney asked. She repeated the query for Joey, who had just entered.

"Annie? Yeah, but it wasn't your type of thing, Samantha," Joey said as he sat on the couch next to Stephanie and Samantha. He wanted to keep Samantha from thinking about a child with little attention from anyone, forced to wander around alone on adventures, like the comic strip had been. It sounded too much like her own lonely life before meeting Stephanie.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Samantha," Danny tried to explain, "the comic strip was sort of like another Iliad. You know what I mean?"

"No. I don't know what the first Iliad was."

Danny blushed slightly. "Oh, right. I guess they don't teach ancient Greek epics in third grade. Well, let's just say that she's a lot closer to Daddy Warbucks in the play. And, you might be able to be in the play someday."

"Didn't he adopt all the orphans? Or was that the movie?" Courtney inquired. "Or, maybe neither."

Samantha's eyes grew wide. "If he adopted all of them, that's way too many characters for my story."

"Yeah, I guess so." Courtney looked at Joey, who she knew was famous for his Popeye impressions. "I was going to suggest Popeye, but I guess he'd be too close to Olive Oyl."

"Yeah, he would. Something will come to you," Joey assured her.

"And, you'll have time to think. You won't be in school for a while, huh?" Courtney asked.

"I'm staying at your place afterward."

Courtney raised her eyebrows. She told Samantha she figured she'd want to stay with Stephanie.

"No. Just the first night home, maybe not then." Samantha confided, "I don't want you to think I don't like you."

Her friend was horrified. "Samantha, I could never think that. If you have to stay here, do it," Courtney insisted, feeling terribly sad for Samantha. She knew her friendships were far more important to her than they might be to normal kids. It was important to be encouraging her all the time, now probably more than ever.

Stephanie explained, "My family thinks it'll be easier for her there, anyway. I'll have my duties as class president, and your house is a lot less hectic than ours."

"Cool. Then you can work on the commercial."

Samantha wasn't sure if she'd be healed in time. "You might have to do it."

"They wanted you, not me." She promised to bring all Samantha's homework home for her, and then suggested they talk about happier things as Joey left the room. "It's so cool they want you to do your own."

"Mr. Tanner makes sure they're good ones. So do Uncle Jesse and Joey; they used to be in advertising."

"It's one place where Dad's overprotectiveness is a major benefit," Stephanie said glibly. "Although I have quite a bit of say in things, too. Like modeling - I can't bear to think of letting you anywhere near those temptations, Samantha. If D.J.'s so self-confident and she was tempted to crash diet just to fit into a bathing suit at thirteen, there's no way I'm letting you anywhere near that stuff." She would soften her stance later, but Stephanie could get very excited sometimes. That stance would only soften when a girl moved in at the start of next semester who did modeling. Stephanie had tried, but lost a modeling contest to the new girl. Samantha never showed any interest, though; not with all the other things she was doing.

Samantha smiled gratefully. Sometimes Stephanie's overprotectiveness bugged her, but the Tanners had talked about that situation enough with her, she knew modeling was a bad idea for her. "I wouldn't want to look like that, anyway. I'd rather look like me."

"It makes me feel so good to hear you say that," Becky said as she came downstairs and walked to the door after having helped start the boys' bathwater. Jesse was bathing them. "You're very special just the way you are, Samantha." She opened the door to reveal Amy, who had rung the bell. "Hey, come on in."

"Hey, Samantha. I just wanted to come over and say 'hi.' Did you talk about the party yet?" Samantha shook her head.

Stephanie said Mrs. Larkin had called. "We were focused on Samantha's tonsils - she needs them out." Thinking out loud, Stephanie muttered, "It's a big challenge, but it's not the kid that puts it all together, it's the mom. Of course, the kid helps, because that's how they learn, but I guess I could; I mean, with everyone else's help, because I don't know if anyone can do it all themselves."

Samantha looked ready to fall asleep. "I can tell you're tired," Amy said with compassion. She considered the still unique concept of Stephanie as Samantha's main caregiver. D.J., she could have understood, but she didn't recall ever having a sitter who was only five years older. If she hadn't been in Kindergarten when Stephanie was PA in fifth, she wouldn't have thought it possible.

"I think staying over at your place will be best, too, Courtney, if we're going to host that party. She'll need more rest to recuperate in time."

"You're right, Steph," Danny said. "Does she really want to host it?"

Stephanie asked. Samantha muttered a weary, "I guess so."

A lump formed in Stephanie's throat. Just as with Michelle and her horse-riding accident a few months ago, Stephanie felt so helpless. "I love you, Samantha. I wish I could just kiss it all better," she said tenderly to Samantha. "Well, if you want to have that party, we will."

"Thank you, Stephanie. I love you, too." Stephanie kissed her, and Danny suggested they carry Samantha upstairs. They did, with Courtney and Amy saying they hoped she felt better and then leaving. Samantha didn't know if she deserved such love and kindness, but she knew the Tanners loved to shower it on her. And, she would keep receiving it, because it was so much better than what she was used to. They would somehow manage to fill her dull, dreary house with that same kind of fun.

"She wasn't in school today, I figured she was probably sick," Courtney said as she and Amy prepared to ride home. "I had the flu real bad a couple years ago and felt like that."

"I broke my arm when I was two but don't really remember that. I've just seen pictures," Amy replied as she snapped her bike helmet in place. As they secured their helmets and rode, she added, "I have some construction paper at home. Should we make a few get well cards now?"

"It might be a good idea to wait till after her tonsils come out," Courtney said with a laugh.

"Okay." They looked both ways, then rode onto the street. "I just know you say she needs lots of encouragement. I remember when I first went up to her and made friends with her. I was just doing it because I like being nice, and showing what love is to others. But, maybe I should do more."

Courtney agreed. "Maybe." It was hard for her to understand herself. All she knew was, Samantha needed lots of help. She'd had a major meltdown on a sleepover at Courtney's place just after the first of this year, after all. And, Courtney really wanted to make sure she never felt that bad about herself again.

Samantha didn't have much chance to think about her past life until they got ready to go to the hospital that Wednesday morning. She'd already begun getting neat new books and puzzles from the Tanners, and she wasn't even in yet. She couldn't imagine how much they'd shower on her when she came out.

"Okay, I got Mr. Snuggle Bunny," Samantha said that morning. "Are you sure he'll be able to stay with me?"

Joey smiled warmly and said, "Well, he'll be there when they put you to sleep, and he'll be there when you wake up in the recovery room. Other than that, hey, he might have some other kids to go visit or something, right?"

Samantha smiled. Joey was so funny. And, he enjoyed fantasizing about things just like she did. Samantha liked to think of her stuffed animals as real friends, but Mr. Snuggle Bunny was special. A gift from Michelle for her sixth birthday, he rapidly achieved a special place in her heart. They'd figured she'd want him by her side; it wasn't uncommon for children even this age to bring such comfort objects.

She was glad they'd gone the day before to meet some of the people. Despite having been there to visit before; they'd still figured it would be a good idea to familiarize her with the staff. But, she was still a little nervous. "Is it gonna hurt?"

"No, the doctors who do the anesthesia are really good, you won't feel a thing. Your throat will be pretty sore when you wake up, but like Michelle says, the first few days you get to eat all ice cream and Jell-O." Stephanie looked at Danny. "Thanks for getting me a day off from school for her."

"That's okay. I was taking off anyway for it, so why not. Besides, you've never had to take a full day off for her before, and the first time we took her to Dr. Steiner was the only time you missed even a couple classes. They understood and accepted one time." He wouldn't say it, but the mere fact Samantha had wandered into the school once, and that Stephanie had helped her, had probably alerted the John Muir staff there was a real need there.

"Will all of you be in the operating room?"

Stephanie couldn't help but chuckle as she looked at the clock and rose from the couch. "You don't need to worry. We'll be right there in recovery waiting. Even I'm not that protective, and Dad keeps telling me I'm getting more so than he is."

"Which reminds me, honey, I really liked how you made sure the doctors were going to wash their hands right after you shook hands yesterday."

Stephanie smiled at her dad. She'd just put a life saver in her mouth a moment before, so she'd figured she might have accidentally put a little saliva on her hand; but she wouldn't be surprised if Danny would have thought of the hand washing even without that. He wasn't as bad as he had been, but he was still quite crazy about cleaning.

Jesse had overheard the last part as he came downstairs to take Nicky and Alex to preschool. "Well, you know what they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

"Good thing, too," Joey said, "or Isaac Newton never would have had one hit him in the head. Then he might not have discovered gravity." He said it was time to go, and Danny, Joey, Stephanie, and Samantha all left out the front door.

The wait seemed quite long as Samantha clutched Mr. Snuggle Bunny with one hand and Stephanie's hand with another. Danny and Joey had come back in one last time after she'd changed into her hospital gown. "I know you're scared, but we just have to find your courage." Joey took a toothpick from Danny's pocket - he always had one in case he got food stuck in his teeth - and said, "This is a courage detector."

"I thought it was a toothpick," Samantha said.

Stephanie grinned as she recalled Joey doing the same thing with her at the dentist when she was scared. "It only looks like one - it's just like how the professor on Gilligan's Island can make anything out of coconuts."

"Let's see...doot, doot, doot..." Joey kept scanning until he acted like the "detector" had gone wild as it got near Samantha's throat. Stephanie opened a compact she carried and let Samantha look in the mirror. "See, it's right there, in the back of your throat. That's your courage hangy ball."

"They won't take it out by mistake, will they?"

"Oh, they know what tonsils are. You'll have just as much courage when you wake up," Joey said as the doctor came in.

Samantha recalled meeting the doctor the day before when they visited. As they chatted, and the doctor explained what was going to happen, she pleaded, "Can't you use something else to put me to sleep besides a needle?"

As the doctor prepared the oxygen mask, Joey quipped, "Well, there was pre-Calculus in high school, but it doesn't work on everyone. Danny always stayed awake when we were seniors there." Danny decided it probably wasn't a good idea to say the only reason it didn't put him to sleep some days was because Pam and he shared that class.

"Okay, guys," Stephanie said, trying to keep calm. She knew the doctors would do a great job, but as they put the mask over Samantha, and the girl squeezed Stephanie's hand tighter, she couldn't stand the thought of them having to operate. She kept thinking of Michelle's accident - she'd been okay without any operation, she told herself.

"It's okay, Samantha. I'm right here. I'm right here for you." She lightly stroked Samantha's hand, thankful that Danny was rubbing her own back at the same time. She felt like she'd need as much comforting as Samantha did once they wheeled her into the operating room.

After a final "I love you," Stephanie felt helpless as they wheeled the now sleeping girl into the OR. She leaned on Danny's chest, holding Samantha's bunny for her, and sniffled. "I wish I could be in there."

"I know, honey. I've had the same feeling whenever any of you girls have been hurt, or sick." Danny sighed as he embraced her. After a moment, he said, "So, do you want to be a doctor when you grow up?"

"I don't know. I've heard it's too hard for them to ever operate on their own kids, anyway." She managed to chuckle. "I guess they'll be done taking her tonsils out by then, though."

"They will be. But, you could always help reassure other parents..." Danny was stunned at how easily that had slipped out. Stephanie did seem to have some incredible maternal instincts when it came to Samantha. More than three years of helping her did that. "Anyway, I wouldn't mind helping to pay to have a doctor in the family."

"Thanks, Dad. I think I'll let someone else, though. Actually, Cassie might think about it. She came over to see Michelle yesterday evening for a minute, after we put Samantha to bed. And, she's been thinking about the medical field, partly because of how important Michelle and I feel it is, with what Samantha's been through. It's just a little seed right now, but who knows."

"Well, give things time, Steph." Joey recalled Cassie was rather timid about many things at times. "She's kind of like Allie, your best friend. She won't jump into anything big like that till she's sure. After all, she might still really dislike the thought of blood."

Stephanie sat up. "True. I know Michelle likes Mrs. Yoshida so much she thinks she wants to be a teacher, but girls that age will still change their minds many times before they grow up." She laughed at herself. "I should know, with all the things I try, huh? Like when I thought I wanted to be a ballerina, or when I said, 'I've made an important decision. I've decided baseball is my life.'" She neither had time to dance nor to play sports anymore. A month earlier, she'd tried her own catering service, too, though that hadn't worked out.

Danny was happy to see Stephanie cheerful once more. The girl who had a full helping and then some of his late wife's excitement did dive headfirst into many projects at different times. "That's right. And, I've always supported your dreams."

Danny, Stephanie, and Joey waited in the recovery room for Samantha to awaken, once the operation was successfully completed. After a while, Samantha slowly came to, squeezing Stephanie's hand while complaining that her throat still hurt. She opened her eyes and smiled broadly at Stephanie. She was so glad she didn't have to feel lonesome. "Did they take them out?" she asked after a moment.

"Yep. It still hurts, huh?" Stephanie asked tenderly.

"Like a bunch of elephants ran across it."

"Well, maybe they did," Joey suggested.

Danny shook his head at Joey's silliness. "The scar tissue has to heal. That's why you need to eat really soothing things. But, look on the bright side; you get to eat ice cream for supper."

"I know." Samantha rested for a moment, then said, "When Michelle hurt her head she needed quiet and the lights dim for a few hours. Stephanie told me," Samantha muttered. It had actually been overnight she'd needed that, with the lights slowly getting brighter, but they hadn't wanted to scare Samantha too much.

"Yeah. We went to the gift shop and bought you something," Stephanie said.

She handed the small gift bag to Samantha, who opened it tenderly, still a little tired and not moving around a lot. "Oh, wow, thanks," she said happily as she pulled out a stuffed lion.

Once they were able to leave, Samantha still felt a little wobbly and weak. Stephanie and Joey each tried to help her, but Danny's overprotectiveness extended here, too. He picked her up and said, "Come on, you're probably a little too tired yet."

Stephanie chuckled inwardly. Normally, she'd say that was too embarrassing even for someone who had just had surgery. She guessed correctly that Samantha really didn't mind at all, though.

Jesse was just getting ready to go do the radio show when they got home. Becky was there with the twins. "How did it go?" Becky asked.

"Oh, great. Except they don't give you your tonsils to take home in a jar anymore. I wonder why stopped doing that," Danny quizzed the others.

"Simple," Jesse teased. "Guys like you get so sentimental you'd probably put them in a baby book for Samantha." They had put together a "baby book" of sorts for Samantha, even though her parents never had.

"I would not put tonsils in a baby book," Danny insisted, joking more lowly, "I might have them bronzed..."

Samantha laughed as hard as she could at that moment, glad to be near such a warm and loving family. Danny laid her in a small rollaway bed which had been set up in the living room so she wouldn't feel so lonely; it was normally upstairs, nearly against the wall and next to Michelle's, when she spent the night at the Tanners'; there had been enough room for a small one without making the room more crowded. As Samantha considered the strange notion of bronzed tonsils, she said, "Thanks, but...never mind. I don't want to see my tonsils bronzed."

"I think he's just teasing. At least I hope," Becky said more seriously.

"Now, do you feel like any ice cream yet?" Joey asked as Michelle came in and ran up to her on the cot. She gave Samantha a new book she'd gotten for her.

"Thanks, Michelle. Maybe later on the ice cream."

"Uncle Joey, she can't have ice cream. It's too close to dinner," Nicky insisted.

"Her throat's still really sore, honey, so that's all she can eat right now, since she had her tonsils out," Becky explained.

"Mommy, can we have our tonsils out next?" Alex asked. For the second time since she'd arrived, Samantha erupted in giggles, laughter now shared by the whole room.

"Trust me," Michelle said, "you don't want to have to have them out. They have to get all swollen and scratchy and gross first." She made a face as she finished.

Samantha wanted to change the subject. "This is Hairy," she said, holding up the lion.

"He sure is," Nicky agreed.

"So what did you name him?"

"Alex, I think Hairy is the lion's name," Michelle surmised. It was. "Cool. You look tired."

"Yeah, get some sleep, I'm sure Hairy's anxious to look around, have some briefings with Mr. Bear and Mr. Snuggle Bunny, that kind of thing," Joey suggested. Mr. Bear was a gift from Pam to Stephanie when Michelle was born. He still occupied a very special place in Stephan's and Michelle's bedroom.

Samantha smiled wearily. And, as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep, she thought about the discussions the animals might have.

When everyone was gone, Hairy crept upstairs, along with Mr. Snuggle Bunny. A number of animals were sitting around as if it were a conference room. "You got my briefing in the hospital?" Mr. Bear asked.

"Yeah. So, am I going to become real to her really fast or something?"

"Well, Hairy, the chances are quite good," Mr. Snuggle Bunny reported. "As I told you on the way home, she needs to be surrounded with friends. And yet, she has problems with self-confidence. She would stay at home most nights if they hadn't been told to make sure she isn't alone for long periods of time; well, that is, they make sure people are around her who she knows will care for her," he corrected himself. "She's so used to being alone. It's hard for her to fathom such a close family yet, though she's getting there. And, when she does grasp it, it's sometimes a little hard for her to accept she belongs there."

"I guess this Courtney and her family are just as close?"

Mr. Bear didn't think so - not quite, anyway. "She's close to her, but Stephanie and Michelle befriended her first. When Michelle first invited her on a sleepover, she accepted right away. When Courtney did so, it took her a couple months to feel confident enough to accept."

"Right, so it's important to assure her that people will like her and want to stay friends with her. I guess that's where hosting this Honeybee party will be important," Hairy gathered. "It'll help her see people really will be nice to her, right?"

The rabbit agreed. "I'm thinking it'll be tough without Michelle and a couple other close fourth grade friends there, as well. If Michelle comes, though, I think she'll feel pretty good."

Mr. Bear said her story idea would be another interesting area to watch. "If she has real potential as a writer, this is the type of situation that can really help her develop," he pointed out. "And, I have a good idea for you two to suggest to her. We'll go over it later, looks like you better get down there., I just heard in my headphones from one of Stephanie's dogs that she's close to awakening." The other animals returned to their places, and the dog shimmied up a rope and hustled back into Stephanie's room.

While Stephanie wasn't worried about Samantha as much anymore - since she felt like going to the Larkins', that showed she must feel okay - her mind was still on her quite a bit. In fact, that next day, they'd moved Samantha over to the Larkins' while the girls were in school. Stephanie had called to talk to her, then taken Comet out for a walk with her friends. She'd totally forgotten about the pet parade that Michelle had wanted to march in with Comet.

That had, of course, led to a humorous call from Michelle a day later. "Hey, Sammie. How are you feeling?"

"Okay. I was talking with Mr. Snuggle Bunny and Hairy. You know that story?" Michelle recalled it. "I might match Eloise's mom up with Uncle Bill from the show 'Family Affair.'"

"Cool, that's a great idea! Did you eat much for lunch?"

"I ate a little rice today, but no sauce on it. I'm not sure what I'll feel like for dinner."

"Cool. How about a pet?"

"I hope you don't mean for supper," Samantha chided.

The girls laughed. "Glad to see you're feeling better. See, I got these pets from kids at school - well, one's a snake, you wouldn't want that - that the other kids couldn't have. But, Dad just got me a guinea pig. So, now I have to give these pets away to other kids."

"Wow, a guinea pig. That's great." Samantha's eyes lit up at the thought. "Sure better than a snake."

"You can see why the one who gave that to me got rid of it."

"Yeah. Sorry, Michelle. I just don't think I'll feel like one even after I'm better. Besides, I can share Comet and your guinea pig with you."

"True." Michelle hadn't thought Samantha would feel like one, but she'd wanted to check, anyway. "I figured I'd ask you first. I should be able to get rid of them, though. You know Lucas, Jeff's friend? He likes snakes."

"Good." They talked for a few more minutes, and then Samantha hung up. "I knew it'd be busy over there. But, this is downright nuts," she told Mrs. Larkin. She explained the pet situation. "Michelle doesn't want her dad to know about the other pets, though, till she gets rid of them."

"That's fine, Dear."

The following Monday, Samantha was feeling discouraged. She didn't like thinking of rehearsing for the ad with her sore throat. She still felt a little blah, and she couldn't even go out much at all yet. She hated having to recover from anything.

Thankfully, Michelle called to cheer her up. "Guess what. I got rid of those pets - but then I got them back again!"

"All of them? That's nuts," Samantha said with a shake of her head.

"Dad knows now, though," Michelle said with relief. "He was glad to see I at least tried on my own, and was willing to tell the truth. He's going to help me get rid of them this time." She explained what had happened.

"That would have been wild; in more ways than one," Samantha joked.

"Did you start on your story?" Michelle figured that would be a good way for Samantha to pass the time, especially with school today.

"Well, I was going to, but then I learned 'Family Affair' ran for about six years. It's not the same when the youngest kids are twelve," Samantha mourned. "Eloise wouldn't be able to work with a girl that age to set them up as easily as she could with a girl who's eight or nine."

"Like Annie in the play, huh?" Samantha nodded glumly. Annie's age in the play was perfect, as she was about nine or so, a couple years younger than in the comic strip. Eloise was only six. "Well, listen, hang in there, I'm sure you'll find someone. Maybe you can pair her with my dad."

Samantha snickered. "Yeah, right. How would your dad end up meeting a rich world traveler, anyway?" Michelle didn't know.

Once she hung up after several more minutes of talking, she filled Mrs. Larkin in on things.

"After hearing about all those pets, Dear, I'm never going to complain about shuttling my kids back and forth to lots of activities again," the mother said firmly.

A week later, on Monday, Samantha put down a book she was reading on the couch as the youngest three Larkin children arrived home from school. "Hey, Courtney, hey, Mike, hey, Gabe," she said, waving and greeting Courntey and Hannah's brothers, aged eleven and fifteen. The three younger Larkin children were coming home from school. Hannah was studying at the college library with D.J..

Courtney quickly told her that Michelle now had a turtle. "Some kid heard a little late about her wanting a pet, and dropped it off for her. She's taking care of it for a few weeks, but with her guinea pig now, she doesn't want it."

Samantha nodded. Even if she felt better, she might not want a turtle. It would take so much time, and wouldn't be as friendly as some other type of pet.

"I was thinking maybe he could be given away at your Honeybee party, as a door prize," Courtney said, trying to be helpful. Samantha agreed that that would be a good idea. Courtney was always trying to encourage Samantha, knowing how difficult things had been for her.

"Hey, Samantha," Mike said warmly. The teenager inquired politely as to whether Samantha had any ideas for her story. She didn't.

"Well, I've got one. Bruce Wayne!" Gabe, eleven, declared triumphantly.

Samantha looked oddly at him. "Batman?"

"You want Eloise's mom to marry...Batman?" Courntey asked, equally dumbfounded.

"Why not. Eloise can be another Caped Crusader if she wants," Gabe declared.

"Oh, right. Like her new dad's going to let her just throw on a cape and be Batgirl? I don't think so," Courtney said. She and her brothers were in full-blown "comical sibling debate" mode, partly to try and entertain Samantha.

Trying to get a handle on things, Samantha offered, "That's a little dangerous, anyway. I don't think Eloise's mom would want to risk being a widow again. She's probably one already, since there's no dad mentioned."

Mike looked shocked. "Are you insinuating that Batman could die?" he asked melodramatically, hoping to make Samantha laugh. It worked. "Marvel Comics forbid! There would be no danger. Even Adam West's Batman always survived! And, Dad said he lost track of how many times that announcer asked, 'Is this the end for our heroes?'"

"Maybe she doesn't even know he's Batman," Gabe suggested as an alternative.

Samantha was barely holding in her giggles now, and the others were awash in them. "Now, wait a minute," Samantha corrected him while laughing. "Before I get married, there are certain things I need to know about my husband. Including if he's dressing as a bat in the middle of the night to fight crime."

"She's right. There are certain things you have to tell a woman. You should tell her she's pretty, tell her she's nice, tell her if you might have guys like the Joker or Riddler after you on a date," Courtney counted on her fingers.

"Batman could protect them."

"Mike, I don't think Eloise's mom would want to place herself or Eloise in that kind of danger." Samantha shook her head. "Oh, brother. Batman?" she said to herself, the idea seeming increasingly bizarre.

"Come on, Samantha, don't you want some adventure in your story? You know Eloise will be okay." Gabe was quieted by Courtney's whispered instructions. She felt Samantha wouldn't want a lot of danger in her story; it was why she'd said what she did in sticking up for Samantha before, about how a woman would worry if the Joker or Riddler might come after them. "Okay," Gabe continued, "if not him, then how about a time travel story. Match her up with the Lone Ranger. Eloise can have fun out on the prairie and play with the girls in those Little House books you like."

"A Lone Ranger/Little House crossover." Samantha looked at the Little House book she had been reading, intrigued. "Hmmm, yeah. Maybe I'll write one like that someday. But, not Batman and Eloise. I mean, that's just ridiculous." As she was giggling, Mrs. Larkin came into the living room and asked if Samantha was ready to do some rehearsing for the commercial.

Samantha grinned. She had been way too tired before, but thanks to Michelle and the Larkins, she was feeling much better.

Courtney wanted to go with Samantha, even though she wasn't in it.

Joey was there, and to Samantha's surprise, Stephanie was also at the studio. "I thought you'd have some presidential stuff to do," Samantha remarked.

Stephanie smiled, and put an arm around Samantha. "Well, I realized I really wasn't enjoying it like I thought I would. I got the most thrill out of winning, so I could have some attention." Michelle would have much more fun weeks later when the grade school started having class presidents, and she won the election.

The boy Samantha was to do her ad with entered. Courtney and her mom were discussing with the director what they'd likely want on their pizza when they ordered in a couple hours. Samantha was feeling good enough she could have one with just cheese, but didn't feel like many ingredients.

"Actually, my friend Allie had more good ideas than I ever did; she was my Vice President, so now she's in charge," Stephanie concluded.

"Too bad. Well, now you can spend more time planning my party."

"You bet! We're going to have the best mother-daughter slumber party ever!" Stephanie grinned. Working with Samantha those first few years had been quite taxing, but perhaps something like this was the best reward there could be. Hearing Samantha say "I love you" to her, and getting hugs from her, was really special.

The boy in the ad, named Matthew, came up to her and asked if she was ready. They had met during tryouts over a month earlier. "This is going to be fun. I wonder how they write ads like this."

"I don't know. It must be tough. I'm writing a short story myself, just for fun. And, it's hard to figure out how to make things work."

"Just use time travel. That makes anything work."

"This is a story about Eloise, not Star Trek," Samantha said simply.

Stephanie recognized that Matthew might not know the name. She explained who Eloise was. "Samantha wants to have Eloise's mom meet someone and get married."

""I thought about using Annie, but...time travel is just weird," Samantha said. "I mean, why would they do it? How would they do it?"

Matthew, about the same age as Samantha, said it was easy. "Just talk about vortexes and time warps and words nobody understands. All comic strips are in those, anyway. It's why nobody gets older," he said with an air of authority.

"Well, I was going to use Annie, but Mr. Tanner said something about ancient Greek. That's way too far back in time," Samantha said, trying to recall the conversation.

"Nah, the comic strip was in this century. She did a lot of crime fighting and stuff on her own," Matthew said. "My dad has some old collections," he said, pointing to a gentleman about Joey's size with black hair.

Joey knew Samantha wouldn't want to think about a girl with no real family, it would sound too much like her own life. So, he quickly interceded with some information. "I'll bet your didn't know she was originally named Otto," Joey said. The boy looked strangely at Joey, then at his dad.

Samantha, too, was stunned. "Little Orphan Otto?"

Joey grinned, anxious to show off his knowledge of cartoons and comics. "Yep. The idea was to come up with a way for young teens to be able to go around helping people; sort of like the Lone Ranger did later, except in the big city. Then it was decided that to make it different, they'd make him a girl."

Matthew's dad was impressed. "Wow, you really know your stuff," he told Joey.

"Thanks. I love comics and cartoons." Sensing Samantha was distracted enough from thinking about her own lonesome past, Joey told the fellow, "My favorite is Popeye. I like the cartoons best, but enjoy the old comics, too. What's your favorite?"

As the adults talked, and the director got people into position on the set, Samantha contemplated Matthew's comments about time travel. "If that can happen to the character, maybe they can be in a time warp or vortex or whatever," she told the boy. "But, how do they get out of it?"

Matthew sat in front of one of two large Lego houses - Samantha's, of course, was supposed to be "just the doghouse in the backyard of the real one," according to the script, thus capturing the audience's attention at the end.

"I don't know, I guess they just figure out some secret passage or something. That connects it to the real world."

Samantha focused her mind as the director said they were about ready to begin. However, over the next few weeks, she'd find the idea quite workable within her original story.

Soon before Samantha was to leave the Larkin home to host her mother-daughter Honeybee slumber party, she was in the Larkins' kitchen writing things on a piece of paper. She was excitedly thinking about Michelle, who was running for fourth grade class president - her victory would be announced early next week. However, she also thought about her story.

"I reached a decision," she told the Larkin family.

"On what?" Mrs. Larkin asked.

"On my story. See, the comic strip lasted till 1968. That's well after Eloise was created. So, they meet in the 1950s. I make it like the orphanage and everything was from the 1950s, and Annie had just come from there. None of the last 30 years happened to her."

"You can't do that," Gabe complained. "Can she?" he asked his older brother and sister.

"Well, if you go by the theory Annie's still twelve..." Hannah said.

"But, by then she'd be about nine or ten." As the others gave Samantha confused looks, she continued. "I made it like everything that happened to her was in a time vortex."

"A time what?" Mike asked, baffled.

"See, she was originally nine or so, and had just been adopted by Daddy Warbucks in the year Eloise meets her, say, 1953."

Mike's eyes grew wide. "But, doesn't it have to start in 1924 or 1933?"

Samantha showed off one of the big words she'd learned from hanging around the older kids. "If you wanted to be legalistic about this, Mike, I'd have to name her Otto and make him a boy," she said triumphantly. The other kids were stunned. "Joey told me the creator had a boy in that role first. It was just like Oliver Twist."

Mrs. Larkin pulled out her keys and picked up the turtle, which had been transported to the Larkins' and would be taken to Samantha's for the party. Courtney picked up her overnight bag and Samantha's. The boys were still shaking their heads in amazement.

"Okay, then what happens?" Mr. Larkin asked.

"Then, she meets Eloise, who has her own adventure. Eloise wanders into this vortex that had changed Annie into Otto and sent her to 1924, and then changed her back to Annie. Eloise figures out a way to get her mom and nanny in there to meet Daddy Warbucks together. They can do that because Miss Grace was more of a secretary than a nanny in the comic strip."

"So...I'm confused now," Gabe said. "Are the comic strip and the play two different worlds?" They were. "And...she was first thought up as a boy in the comic strip?"

"Right. We can change anything, and make it like the play in other ways. So, Daddy Warbucks adopts the other kids at the orphanage, too - if there are any. Things are so confused because she's trapped in a time-space vortex."

Mike shook his head. "That's giving me a time-space headache." Gabe was much more into science fiction than he was.

"Once the two marry," Samantha continued, "the deep love they all have for each other miraculously breaks the time warp that turned Annie into a 12-year-old boy for a while, then into a twelve-year-old girl, and kept her from aging. She's back to being nine, closer to Eloise in age. Then, everyone can start aging again, and they live happily ever after," Samantha finished excitedly.

"What?!" Gabe was confused. He liked time travel stories, but that was just...he wasn't sure how to describe it. It was like smushing time travel and a fairy tale to him. "How can you just miraculously end a time warp vortex thingy because they love each other? That is so much a girl's story."

"Oh, and this from the boy who wanted Eloise's mom to marry Batman." Samantha shook her head, leaned toward Courtney, and said, "Boys." Courtney nodded emphatically. Samantha loved the banter between the siblings. She dreamed of someday having her own children, boys and girls being silly with each other, laughing at each other and themselves, and just having fun. It was one reason she felt so at home over at Courtney's. She didn't mind spending weeks over there, in fact, instead of having to be at the Tanners all the time.

"Just wait, Gabe, in a few years you're going to love thinking about girls," Mrs. Larkin reminded him before suggesting that they needed to get going.

Stephanie and several others met Samantha at her house, and they began decorating.

Samantha looked at Stephanie. "Feels weird, huh?"

"Well, no, I would have done it for Michelle if she'd needed," Stephanie said, trying to forget the irony of the moment as she and Samantha hung black and yellow balloons and streamers around the Burke house.

"Yeah, but still, wasn't it just five years ago that D.J. took you to yours?"

Stephanie nodded. She'd been a 'Bee till just a few years ago. And, now, here she was just a few years later and she was acting as more than a mother. She could fathom that, seeing as how D.J. had taken Stephanie to her party. However, she was acting as the host mother.

Michelle came in from the living room to the parlor - it marked the furthest boundary that the girls were allowed in. "Uncle Jesse and Joey will be here to move furniture in a couple minutes." They would be closing the doors that connected the present living quarters with the rarely used parts of the house. "I still don't see why we have to close doors and move furniture in front. Some would be grossed out just knowing boys were playing with spiders and other gross stuff, let alone that the place had all sorts of cobwebs and looked spooky."

"True, but there's a Kimmy in every crowd who might try to sneak over because of that."

Stephanie's other best friend, Darcy, laughed as she came in from checking that the sign was visible from the street. "A Kimmy in every crowd? Maybe there's one of your Uncle Jesse in every crowd, Steph. And, maybe that one could be a girl. But, I don't think there's many Kimmys around."

"You've got a point, Darce. Kimmy is unique. I asked D.J. and her for advice on that boy I liked, Kyle, a little over a week ago, and she went around calling her and D.J. 'doctor babes.' Her way of looking at the world is quite unique," Stephanie said with a chuckle.

"What will it be like when Kimmy has kids?" Allie wondered pragmatically.

"If she hosted this? Chaos," Darcy responded. She turned to Stephanie and murmured, "You're sure you don't need our help?"

"I don't think so, Aunt Becky should stop by to help a little as a chaperone, and we don't have any parents who will try to run up tabs by just ordering stuff and saying charge it to the owners. The girls might feel a little tempted, some of them, but they'll be good. Sam's parents realize they have to at least co-operated pretty well, since they all but let me be in charge of her years ago." The Burkes had explained what areas would be off limits to guests and expressed concern that none of the adults would try such a thing.

Michelle recalled Stephanie getting the message as they went out to hang up the "Welcome Honeybees" sign that Sam had colored on the porch. "Yeah, I remember Steph getting the phone call. Steph stared at the phone for a minute afterward and said, 'I don't believe it. They are capable of initiating conversation!' Like they were a strange species from another planet she was studying."

"It wasn't quite that bad," Stephanie said, trying to defend herself. Before she could continue, however, she saw Samantha, who had been lagging behind the others. She walked back inside, sensing Samantha needed a hug.

Sitting in a chair in the small foyer, Stephanie cuddled Samantha on her lap. "It sure looked nice, huh? You've got so many nice friends."

Samantha nodded. The difficulty with being as neglected as she had been early was that - while she could bond with Stephane easily, and was now able to accomplish quite a bit - it was still very easy for her to get discouraged or worried at times. "Yeah. Do you think they'll have fun?"

"Sure they will; I'm the host mother, after all, and I'm not worried," Stephanie joked. She was glad to see Samantha smiling after that. "I might get teary thinking of my own mom sometime during the night, but I will not be worried."

"I'll bet you miss her, huh?"

"Yeah, I do. Especially seeing D.J. take on a role like this," she mused aloud as D.J. came out and announced that several sleeping bags and movies were set up in the living room. Becky had offered to take Stephanie to hers, but D.J. had insisted on taking Stephanie herself - which turned out to be just as well since Becky might not have made it there in time. D.J. had wanted to, though, because helping Michelle as the oldest besides Danny on the second floor had given her much sharper maternal instincts.

"Were you sad when you took Stephanie to hers, D.J.?"

D.J. had felt it a little before the party, but added it was so much fun she hadn't had time to think much about Pam being gone when they got there. "It hit a little after, when we were going through the pictures and stuff. But, once you get into it, you don't think about that as much. Maybe if it had happened just a year before the party, I would have more, but there's a difference between planning something and when you actually do it."

"Yeah, we'll have so much fun. Come on back and see what D.J. did in the living room and with the snacks and everything. Then, you won't have to worry," Michelle said enthusiastically, taking Samantha by the hand. The three went back to where the vast majority of games and other events would take place.

"I hope you're right. We've got a lot of girls coming."

"And they're all your friends!" Michelle exclaimed. "That's so awesome!"

D.J. whispered so Samantha wouldn't hear, "I know we've said she needs lots of encouragement, but, I think you can tone it down a touch."

"I'm sure Samantha doesn't mind. And, Steph says she needs all the help she can get."

D.J. wasn't sure whether Michelle was just saying that or Stephanie really did think she needed to be that overly exuberant. She'd learned to choose her battles, though, in the time she'd spent helping with Michelle. And, since Michelle had been polite about the comment to D.J., and Samantha didn't seem to mind, she chose to let it drop. Her goal had always been to teach Michelle compassion and politeness - if she went overboard with the former she supposed that was just youthful exuberance. Of course, there were times Samantha really did need that much encouragement; D.J. just hadn't been in on any of the meetings Samantha had had with her doctor.

Instead, she turned to Samantha. "How many are coming?"

"Fourteen - well, actually, I'm already here. And, so is Michelle. So, twelve more are coming." Michelle's best friends, Cassie and Mandy, would be there, with the ten other girls from Samantha's hive.

Samantha raced out of the room as she heard the doorbell. "Oh, boy, is that a guest?"

Courtney and Samantha embraced as Mrs. Larkin and her youngest daughter walked in. "This is so awesome! You've done a great job."

"Well, Steph and her friends helped."

Allie and Darcy excused themselves, as it was dinnertime. "The guests will be coming in a little bit, and we both need to get home," Darcy said.

"Okay, thanks for coming, guys!" Samantha repeated Stephanie's thanks.

"It was our pleasure. You'll have so much fun," Allie said.

Samantha knew they would. Michelle, Cassie, Mandy, and Samantha's friends in third grade all enjoyed pizza, played games, and had fun with their mothers, one with an aunt, one with a grandmother, and, in Samantha and Michelle's case, with Stephanie and D.J., respectively. They had shown up in moderately dressy play clothes - nicely colored slacks instead of jeans for the most part, though some wore fancier dresses. As the host 'Bee, Samantha wore a pretty dress with roses on it that was stylish, but not too elegant. She still didn't like to think of the parties her parents would force her to attend that were too lavish.

Cassie's mom, Mrs. Wilkins, considered the fancy surroundings and remarked, "I think I'm going to feel weird in my bathrobe and pajamas. This looks like the type of place where you should be in something really formal."

"Trust me," Samantha said, thinking of those parties, "This is just right."

As they engaged in many fun activities, Samantha kept thinking of the parties she'd have with her stuffed animals. Once encouraged to think about happier things, and imaginative play, by Stephanie and Michelle, Mr. Snuggle Bunny and others had been part of some elaborate things here, back when she'd sleep here, which she didn't do anymore. These were closer to play dates than really elaborate things, though.

One problem which hadn't been considered before was Samantha's size. After all, she was with the same size kids all the time during Honeybee meetings and in class at school, and she didn't really think about it. However, being in that huge house made her think of it a little more. Which caused the other girls to guess that she was just thinking about the fact she didn't have the caring parents they did.

Michelle and her friends encouraged Samantha by talking about how everyone loved her no matter what. Soon, the others were chiming in, and in fact, starting to invite her to spend the night at their houses. Stephanie had to laugh - by the time everyone was getting sleepy, they'd begun to work out a rotation so Samantha could stay at each of their houses if she wanted. Stephanie knew the others well enough, she culd trust them to do that. Given these friends, plus a few from soccer and ballet, Samantha probably wouldn't even be at the Tanner home all that much, till the novelty of all these new homes to sleep over at wore off.

She'd still be at the Tanners a fair number of nights, of course, but it was a tad crowded in her and Michelle's room with the extra rollaway there, even though it was a small one. Danny's doting on his daughters had really paid off; when they moved in there, D.J. was still the only Tanner girl, and he'd given her a slightly larger room, though his could have been that large if it didn't have the small anteroom with a mirror attached.

Stephanie was learning to be very thankful for large, Victorian homes - just as long as they weren't mansions like the Burkes'. There had been just enough space to put the rollaway next to Michelle's and almost against the wall. It had been very good for storage. They'd even squeezed the play table and chairs they used there, if they need a big space in the middle of the room for a project, or Stephanie just wanted it for dancing. Now, their closets and bookshelves were just a bit more crowded. Unless they folded up the day bed - which they would do if Samantha was going to be gone with another friend for a few days - the play table and chairs couldn't be stored that well.

However, more importantly, it meant Samantha felt more comfortable, and confident she could make and keep friends. As she told Stephanie the next morning, "This has been so much more fun than I could have ever imagined."

"I'm sure it has been."

Her friends all thanked her for hosting it. Xyz thanked Samantha as she took home her new turtle, one of various little things the girls got to take home. As the slumber party prepared to break up, and people began to file out of the house, Samantha considered how many pictures had been taken. They would have such fond memories!

Michelle, Stephanie, D.J., and Samantha were standing around at the end, after having taken down all the decorations. "We should blow up one of the pictures we took of all of us at our party here, and hang it up right here," Michelle exclaimed, pointing to a spot in the foyer. Samantha's family had never taken any pictures of her, and the only ones that were ever hung were done so at the Tanners' or Larkins'.

"With the caption, 'Poetic Justice,'" D.J. declared. She and Michelle carried some items out to the car.

Samantha smiled as she gazed up at Stephanie. "Thanks, Stephanie. I felt so special."

"You are always special to me," she said, kneeling and giving her a big hug.

I know. I have so many great friends. Even not feeling like doing anything, we did it."

"We sure did. You're going to do lots of great stuff in your life, I know it."

"Thanks. Stephanie." Awash in excitement over the previous night's fun, Samantha leaned against Stephanie, and pondered the large, barren house - her parents had decided to take business trips this weekend. The maid would be coming in a short while to make sure everything was okay and to help clean up. Most importantly, Samantha had the satisfaction of knowing that with the love the Tanners and her friends provided, she could always feel plenty of love inside.