Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Sam Series

04 * Principal Mandy and Nanny Stephanie
Written by: Paul Austin

Tanners' bond when Samantha grows; she tries to help Michelle & Mandy - who's in Steph's old Principal's Assistant position - when a classmate is drawn away by serious temptation. Fourth in Sam series, revised a bit, split when new doc wouldn't upload whole

A/N: First, if you've never read the Sam Series, welcome. I (with author "Me''s help) tried to make every story stand alone in this series, begun in late 2003 and updated a lot over the last year or so. But, if this is your first foray into it, or first in a long time (like, since 2004-5), I hope you enjoy the others, too. I replaced the stories when they were updated before, so the whole thing has had a fair number of updates in the last couple years. This was actually among my 1st Sam series ideas, but by the time the rest of the canon was fleshed out, it was too out of character for Samantha, but the Michelle & Friends characters fit quite nicely.

As the summary says, this had to be split in two since the whole thing wouldn't upload when the last update was done. (I just realized it's 10,000+ words longer than my next longest.) This may work out well, though, because thouse who hadn't noticed the series because it was so far back can red; and, I'm sure there have been a number of newcomers to this site since 2003/4. This is fourth in the Sam series, fifth if you count Samantha and Friends, which grew from a ficlet into a larger story.

Anyway, on to the story. One of their classmates is drawn away by some serious, dangerous temptations, while Samantha has a chance to do what Stephanie decided was too much for her - dedicate herself fully to dance in hopes of becoming a professional ballerina. And, she now tries to be like her "big sister" Michelle and help that classmate, too. BTW, thanks to the author "Me" for letting me allude to his stories, which if you read will shed light on Michelle helping Rachel. They are "Join the Club" and "My New Friend."

"All right, look at that," nine year old Michelle Tanner shrieked excitedly. Her best friend, Mandy Metz, had just opened a package with a pen inside. The name engraved was "Principal Mandy."

Michelle smiled excitedly. She was at a party at Mandy's house, to celebrate Mandy's position as an office aide next year. Of course, "aide" only scratched the surface.

"I'm glad Stephanie could come for a couple minutes," Michelle's other best friend, Cassie Wilkins, said. She spoke to Stephanie, Michelle's fourteen year old sister. "You'll have lots of advice, I'm sure. And, she'll really need it." Stephanie nodded, then turned her attention to Mandy's younger brothers for a moment. She joined Mandy's parents in trying to assist in settling a dispute between the boys over a toy.

"Come on, Mandy's not nervous. Are you, Mandy? Your next step is running for President of the United States, right?" Michelle teased. She knew her auburn, curly-haired friend was probably a little ill at ease. But, Mandy and the others loved to joke about it.

"I hope you don't feel too left out, Cassie. Michelle was fourth grade class president this past year, and I'm going to be an office aide. I'll be helping with counseling and even disciplining of other kids while we're in fifth grade," Mandy said. Cassie had known Michelle longer than Mandy had since Kindergarten, in fact. They had matching ponytails, though Michelle's was strawberry blonde while Cassie's was pure blonde. Cassie had been quite jealous when Mandy clung to Michelle so much the first few weeks after moving to San Francisco in third grade.

Cassie had matured quite a bit in the last eighteen months, though. "I'm not worried about lack of attention. I can still be Homecoming Queen; that would top both of you," she quipped. "Seriously, my brother and I get all the attention from our parents, unlike you two."

Mandy hailed from a "Brady Bunch" family of six children. Her grandmother also lived with them. Michelle lived with her dad, Danny Tanner, and two sisters, Stephanie and nineteen year old D.J. Since her mom died when she was a baby, Michelle also lived with her Uncle Jesse and her dad's best friend Joey, both of whom had moved in then to help. To top it off, Jesse had met and married Becky Donaldson, Danny's co host on a local TV program. They had twin boys, four year olds Nicky and Alex. So, Michelle's house also had nine people.

This made being in such a small family feel extra special to Cassie.

Stephanie had felt the lack of attention quite a bit herself once. She chided Cassie, "I'm glad you don't feel left out. I'd hate for you to run off and get married like I did when I was six."

"What's this?" Mr. Metz asked through giggles. Stephanie explained how she'd had a play wedding with a classmate/friend named Harry Takiyama in her backyard one day, thinking a husband would have to pay attention to her.

"I guess I haven't told you all the funny stories I've heard when I'm over there, Dad," Mandy replied. "It's hard when there are so many."

"They give you more experience for when you help solve problems, I'm sure," Mandy's grandma said.

Stephanie nodded. "That's right; you might have kids coming to you complaining of unique things; like wanting to legally change their names. I can remember when I was being called 'Step On Me' in third grade. Luckily, my dad convinced me 'Dawn,' the name I wanted, would produce just as many things that could be teased about."

"That's what my mom always says," Cassie noted. "Lassie rhymes, so I'd get Lassie Cassie a lot a few years ago. But, at least Lassie is Scottish for a young girl, not just a dog's name. I could have lots worse. Although I refuse to wear a kilt just because those boys think I'd look perfect in one." Several boys in particular had teased Cassie about that last year. "Calling a girl a dog means she's ugly," Cassie said with disdain.

"At least your name isn't Cassie Olivia Wilkins," Mandy said.

"Oh, yeah, 'cow.' That would be bad. But, you know, Cassie, the dog that played Lassie was a boy. You can always come back with that." Cassie smiled thankfully as Stephanie added, "If we were in New York, everyone would bug Michelle because her initials are M.E.T. the name of the baseball team."

"That's right. It could always be worse," Mandy summarized. She was glad they were having this discussion. The position was a great honor, which required very good grades, excellent behavior, and a proper mix of compassion and firmness that she'd demonstrated she would show with everyone as equally as she could. However, there were also many things she'd have to think about. There might be weeks when she hardly had anything to do in the office. But, she could be called upon several times a day on unusually busy occasions. She'd learned that from Missy, the outgoing fifth grader who with the principal had helped groom her as a successor.

The banter made Michelle quite happy. She was extremely proud of her friend, mostly because she knew she couldn't be a PA herself. Being President had been easy. She sometimes tried too hard to please everyone. But, at least she hadn't had to punish anyone. She'd learned from Stephanie that Mandy might have to almost be like a mom to some kids, with how she would nurture and discipline. She couldn't believe some parents wouldn't take any time for their own children.

Samantha Lynne Burke was one of those. Michelle was extremely proud of how far Samantha had come from the days when she was known as Sam. However, that had only been because of great effort on the part of Stephanie and others.

Oh, well, at least it hadn't been as bad as it could be. Samantha's parents must care a little, Michelle pondered. She just presumed they knew the best person to handle Samantha was Stephanie, because of a lack of any self-confidence whatsoever. Michelle's dad hadn't punished her till she was well past her third birthday, letting D.J. do all the timeouts and removing privileges, and had been inconsistent at times since then at times. That was because he really missed their mom, Pam, and having her to help, so much. So, Michelle assumed they were like her dad, instead of totally not wanting to help like the Burkes really were. They co-operated with what Stephanie did, but only paying lip service, endorsing whatever the Tanners decided for Samantha.

Mandy would also be learning some possibly painful things. Michelle prided herself on being nice. So, it would be hard for her to see some things that happened to kids. "You'll have lots of hard things to do. Didn't you have to watch a tape and your parents had to sign a paper afterward? It said you watched and talked about it with them," Michelle asked, trying to remember exactly what Mandy had told her about that. She only recalled that the subjects were quite difficult.

Mandy looked around. Worried that her younger siblings might be paying attention, and not wanting to scare them, she squirmed slightly and said, "Yeah. It was about what to do if kids tell you certain things. Things the police might need to know about."

"It takes a special personality to handle that. That's why it's important to have a good family like yours to help you and give advice," Stephanie said. She remembered telling her Uncle Jesse about such a kid in fifth grade. It wasn't necessarily as part of her position. Still, she wondered if the boy, Charles, had felt more comfortable telling her he was beaten because of how she helped kids. "When I first took the job, Mandy, it was sort of by accident. I gave this one kid, Aaron, who was being a bully and then really disrespectful to a teacher, a really harsh lecture on the playground before school when I was in fourth grade. It had a bunch of how rude's and things. And, he shaped up," Stephanie said. For the most part, she added to herself. Aaron had been a bully in preschool who'd enjoyed pinching. However, he hadn't tested limits near as much as he could have, and his bullying had ended almost completely by this time.

"So did the whole rest of all the Kindergarten classes," Michelle commented. "I heard Aaron suddenly gave back all this lunch money he'd taken. But, a lot of other Kindergarteners also shaped up real fast. Some of that was because I'd been telling them to come to you since that first day when you helped me feel better."

Stephanie simply nodded, disliking the "genius" tag Michelle had placed on her that day. Though very talented, she was really quite modest compared to how she could be.

She continued the thought. "More and more teachers started to send kids to me to comfort them, partly because they also remembered I helped you feel better your first day of Kindergarten, Michelle," she acknowledged. "But, a couple, then a few more, sent me small discipline problems, too. As winter went on, I got the job of principal's aide. But, till that time with Charles, a year later, they didn't really think about it being a full time position. That's when they set guidelines and the principal and school counselor helped me groom a successor." Stephanie smiled, and put a hand on Mandy's shoulder. "And now, one of Michelle's best friends has the grades, the attitude, the personality to take charge like I did. I know your family's really proud, but I'm all excited, too, just like Michelle," Stephanie said, reminiscing about her days in grade school.

She looked at her watch. "Oops, I better run. I promised Allie and Darcy I'd go to the mall with them. But, I had to come say 'hi.' Maybe after Michelle comes home from camp, when I'm not busy babysitting or...well, sometime this summer we'll have to get together and play school with Nicky and Alex. You get quite a lot of practice here, but you'll likely have questions, too."

"Okay, thanks," Mandy said as the girls waved goodbye. Stephanie smiled warmly and mussed Michelle's hair, then left.

"This is going to be so cool," Michelle said as she straightened her hair a little. "The words to your pledge were cool, too." She read the pledges off of Mandy's certificate. "I pledge to comfort those who need comforted, and to discipline those who need discipline, with fairness, kindness, and self control. To never let malice, hate, discrimination, or my own over reactions enter into my actions. To deal with the behavior of each child while keeping in mind the child's age, size, understanding, and temperament. To be above reproach, doing nothing that would cause the students to lose respect for me. And yet, knowing that I may fail in small areas, accepting my punishment, if it is needed, with all humility, and moving on. To always be prepared, physically, mentally, and morally, to do what is right for each student and for the school, so to make the world a better place.'" Michelle grinned. She always wanted to be nice. But, Mandy had accepted a role that went far beyond merely helping others. "Think you can do all that?"

"It'll be hard, but...come on, your Aunt Becky said that's how it worked back home in Nebraska. Older kids helped keep the younger ones in line; as well as the older ones who weren't being nice."

"That's right, Mandy. It really goes back to the days of the one room schoolhouse, in a way There were usually older siblings or cousins who helped comfort younger ones, or keep them in line. The last part, about being prepared in several ways to do what's right, sounds like it's from the Lone Ranger's creed," Mr. Metz pointed out. He had been a big fan of the Lone Ranger when young. "And the part about not being perfect is good, too. You don't have to be scared of losing the job if you mess up a little," he told Mandy.

"That's right. Steph got grounded while in office. She got her ears pierced after Dad said 'no' in fifth grade," Michelle recalled. "Dad says if I'm really good he'll let Stephanie take me to the salon for my tenth birthday and have them done. We're taking Samantha, too. Her parents would let her; they spend so little time with her, they even let Steph ground her and stuff," Michelle said, still in awe of the situation after a few years. "Steph doesn't want her to get it done like she did and have them get all infected."

"That's nice. You're a big sister to her, in a way. And, Steph's more of a mom than Samantha's mother, with all she's had to do, huh?" Michelle nodded sadly at Mandy's comment.

Mandy sighed. The discussion had helped a little, but it had also reminded Mandy of one very important thing.

"That's going to be hard, dealing with kids who don't have any other attention. I'm sure I'll lay awake over the next few weeks and have a ton of questions," Mandy said.

She had called a few times to ask questions. Finally, in early August, the girls managed to all have the same free time on their schedules. Stephanie's babysitting business flourished in the summer, and Michelle loved to help as an assistant at times. Finally, the children being babysat were Nicky and Alex, and Michelle wasn't busy with her friends. Danny and Becky were at the station that morning, Jesse was helping his parents - his dad had recently broken his leg - and Joey was performing comedy in Cleveland. D.J. had taken time off from minding the household in the morning to go shopping.

Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy were out riding their bikes when they spotted classmate Sidney Wainwriight. They were a little surprised Sidney wasn't with Rachel Tilly. Rachel had only started to be a little nicer, but was still somewhat mean and could be very arrogant and snobby. She had come to Fraser Street Elementary in fourth grade.

Sidney, on the other hand, had been there since Kindergarten, and had always been a little unfriendly. With Rachel leading her on, however, she'd become even more so; though Rachel wasn't even nice to her all the time. Sidney hadn't really tried to make any other friends, though.

Mandy remembered Sidney just riding around sometimes last summer, after a good friend of hers had moved away, before Rachel came. However, she didn't do it too often - she had lots of allergies, including ragweed and pollen. "Hey, Sidney," she cried. "Where's Rachel?"

Sidney pulled up on her bike a couple blocks from the Tanner home and explained. "Well, Rachel and I had a sort of fight." She didn't like to say it, because Rachel was the only girl she hung around at all.

"A sort of fight?" Michelle asked, raising her eyebrows.

Sidney inched her largish glasses up onto her nose. "Right. We're never speaking to each other again. For a while at least," she emphasized, showing that she was still at the age when friendships broke up and went back together somewhat quickly.

"I'd hate to see a really big fight," Mandy told her.

"Well, see, I'd resolved to be more assertive with her. I mean, my mom's right, I shouldn't just let myself get picked on by Rachel. And, I'm glad I'm away from her, in a way; it would be nice to make new friends. It's just so hard sometimes to be assertive," she complained. "I'm kind of like Samantha, I guess."

Sidney only knew that Samantha was very timid and shy, but assumed it was because of her size, just as Sidney's sickliness and allergies hampered her in her mind. Of course, Samantha's size did play a part in her docility, but Samantha's life to that point played much more of a part, with her parents neglecting her so much. Stephanie and Michelle, along with others, kept a close watch on Samantha; Stephanie was, after all, not just like a mother, but also Samantha's nanny in all but official title.

Sidney's parents were much more involved, of course, but Sidney didn't always find the right kind of friend. Sidney liked the "stars" like Rachel, who was so good at dance, skating, and other things, or her best friend who'd moved away a couple years ago, who was a very good soccer player for her age, like Samantha was now, too - but who was at least quite nice. Sidney had hung around and put up with Rachel's bad attitude for almost a year. She'd clung to Rachel when Rachel started at their school because Rachel paid attention to her, even if it wasn't the best kind of attention.

Michelle knew Samantha preferred that lots of her past, especially her emotions and her parents' neglect, stay confidential, except to close friends. So, she simply agreed that Sidney was right about Samantha's size. "So, are you trying to make new friends?"

"Actually, I have. I met some really cool boys yesterday."

"Why not do stuff with us?" Cassie invited. "We're going to have lots of fun with Michelle's cousins, getting Mandy used to being the PA. And you'd like Michelle's house, it's nice and clean."

Sidney shook her head, rather disinterested. "No, thanks. I never really felt like playing with you when I was hanging around Rachel, after all. Even though I know your dad's a neat freak, Michelle, so I wouldn't have any problems with allergies at your house."

"Don't take it too hard, Cass," Michelle joked. "From all my sisters have told me, I think the key word is 'boys.'" Sidney blushed slightly. "Told you."

"So, you've got a little crush, huh?"

"Just a little, Mandy. Nothing huge."

"Well, if you ever need to talk, I'll be here," Mandy offered. "Don't play too rough...listen to me, I sound like my grandma." The girls rode in opposite directions.

Nicky and Alex nearly bowled Mandy over when the girls came through the door. "Hey, be gentle, guys," Stephanie reminded them in a voice only slightly louder than normal.

"But Mandy's taller," Nicky said.

Alex added that, "You only said not to run Michelle over."

Stephanie took their hands and walked them toward the train set they had been playing with on the living room floor. "Well, Mandy doesn't need little sneaker prints all over her shirt, either."

"We just saw Sidney; she said she met a couple boys yesterday, and she's already got a crush," Michelle noted.

"Oh boy," Stephanie said with a bit of trepidation. "I sure hope we don't have that problem from Samantha for a while. Putting her in the middle of a bunch of boys would be like putting a knight in shining armor in the middle of a tank battle."

Michelle tried to insist Samantha wouldn't fall that badly for a boy, but Stephanie deftly conceded Michelle could have a point while quickly changing the subject, not wanting to think about it. Stephanie pointed at the girl with curly auburn hair and said, "Mandy, how about you being in charge for a little while."

"That's a lot of kids at once, Stephanie, if we all pretend to be sent," Cassie reminded her. "Even Samantha was only one kid back when she was Sam, even though she did the mischief of four in Kindergarten."

"Come on, I deal with it at home a lot. My brothers can drive me up the wall sometimes," Mandy explained. "Okay, what's first on the list?"

Michelle leaned forward expectantly. She knew Stephanie would have lots of great ideas.

"First, let's pretend one of them is one of your younger brothers," Stephanie said.

"Oh, come on, that's silly," Mandy asserted.

"Yeah, they don't have twins," Nicky exclaimed.

"That, too," Mandy said, holding up a finger. "But, what I mean is, they can get wild at home. But, I've talked to them a couple times about how I'm going to love them but treat them just like any other kid."

"They'll be just another kid?" Alex asked. Mandy nodded. "Then she has to treat them like us, right?"

"That's right," Stephanie agreed with a grin.

"Then, why can't we just be us?" Nicky wondered.

Stephanie chuckled. "Because, Mandy might have trouble remembering she has to lay down the law if one of her brothers gets sent to her."

"Come on, Stephanie. I'm sure you never expected Michelle to get sent to you," Mandy asserted.

"I had a bad attitude sometimes at their age," Michelle confessed lowly. She didn't like to admit it. But, among friends, it wasn't too bad. She just didn't like everyone to know.

Stephanie said that the first couple months, she thought it could happen. "Michelle still had a bit of a rude and bossy streak at home. But, she remembered D.J. and I teaching about being nice and polite and stuff. She was, if not a perfect little lady, certainly a very good one at school. That's why she's never been sent to the principal.

"Now, Nicky, Alex, let's say you did something bad in class. Let's say all the others are singing Skip to the Loo..."

"We keep singing Elvis!" Nicky shouted. Their dad, the girls' Uncle Jesse, was a huge Elvis Presley fan.

Michelle couldn't help but giggle. "Guys, that's if you're you. I don't think Mandy's brothers even know any Elvis songs. Do they?"

"They might know 'Hound Dog.' Okay, I'll play along. My one brother keeps singing 'Hound Dog'..."

"Maybe a rap song. One with really bad words," Cassie suggested.

"You mean like poo poo?" Alex asked. Michelle's belly shook almost uncontrollably, she giggled so hard at the thought of a rap song with the word "poo poo" in it. Anytime the twins got involved, it seemed that things got quite silly. And, Michelle's giggles always reminded the other Tanners of the girls' mom, Pam. Pam had had the same delightful smile and laugh.

"Thankfully, they don't know any rap songs," Mandy informed her.

"But, they could sing one of those songs with bad made up words," Cassie said. "I overheard a fourth grader on the playground singing 'Deck the halls with gasoline' before a teacher made him stop. You don't have any really bad kids in your family, but something little like that could happen if he gets wound up enough. And, if he refuses to listen, you'd get called."

Stephanie said that was exactly her point. "We don't have rebels like that in our family, either; nothing like what Uncle Jesse was like when he was young." And he was way better than Sam had been her first year, she considered. "I mean, even when I backed Joey's car into the kitchen, I was naturally remorseful. That is something very bad that I did. But, I wasn't trying to be a rebel. Turning the car on and assuming 'r' meant radio was just really dumb. I pressed one little button, and boom."

"That's why this is kind of a bad idea, Stephanie. I mean, I can see them singing 'Hound Dog' like crazy. But, they'd listen to the teacher when she yelled at them to stop. And, besides, even if they did something really terrible, they'd be sorry. With what my youngest brother calls 'bad behavior kids,' I could have problems. I might even have to hit, just like a principal would, like Missy says. But, hitting's just not even considered in our family. Nobody's had to do it because other things work well enough."

"I know. It's the same with us," Stephanie remarked. "Our dad couldn't think of hitting; none of the adults would." "Even D.J. would have only given light fwaps as a last resort," she told herself, "and thankfully we never had to consider that with Michelle, even though he'd waited a while to enforce any limits." Their dad had also been a bit lax afterward, till he really got used to sending her to her room or taking away privileges.

"Part of that's the kids, isn't it? My grandma says it is. I'm sure you would have never thought of hitting Michelle, even if she had been sent to you," Mandy said.

"Nope. We always got her to behave pretty easily, and at school she was great. Thankfully, except for Sam and Aaron, the kids who have given me the most trouble have been older, at least a grade ahead of Michelle. And, I'd only ever give a little pop as a reaction to their extreme rudeness, disrespect, and refusal to listen; not on purpose. That's even with the worst of the 10-15 worst kids where that happened once."

Cassie gasped. Giving a reaction pop was one thing. She couldn't believe Stephanie would think of doing it on purpose, though she wondered when Stephanie said that.

Stephanie felt she had to say something now, just to get it off her chest, since she'd brought up her toughest case. "Just deciding that it was okay to stop listening to that little voice saying not to hit was hard. Dealing with Sam...well, at least with her I tell myself if her parents had ever paid attention to her and set rules for her from the beginning, the problems never would have happened. So, when I have kids, I won't have near the problems. Because, I'll be involved, I'll show lots of love, give lots of positive attention, and set rules from the beginning."

Mandy looked relieved. "I've heard about a few ornery kids from Missy. If you didn't mean to hit, hopefully I won't have to worry, either."

Stephanie smiled proudly, wanting only to think about Samantha's growth. "That's right. Samantha went by Sam back then. You know how Miss Wormwood, Calvin's teacher in the comics, is always driven so crazy because he won't listen, he prefers to act wild and crazy in his own imaginary world, and so on? Well, Sam made me feel almost like Miss Wormwood." Her proud smile disappeared as she thought back to her days in fifth grade. "Although, unlike Calvin, she didn't spend her time in an imaginary world. She spent it being very rude and bossy, as well as quite mean toward other kids the first few months."

"Wow!" Mandy exclaimed, her eyes wide. "I hope I don't have anyone like that!"

"She's a lot better now; she even got a fair amount better by the end of Kindergarten, though there were problems elsewhere. I saw her a couple times a week in Kindergarten, sometimes just to help her when it wasn't a discipline problem. I was a mom to her even back then. But thankfully, I was usually able to get in some discussion time with her instead of just lecturing her and using timeout or taking recess away." Stephanie inhaled deeply, then chose to ignore the saddest part of her job. Mandy knew from Missy what principals or, here, their aides needed to do to at times when so called "bad behavior kids" got too bad.

"Sam was still a problem in first grade, but not nearly as much," Michelle said, hoping to further encourage her friend. At least Michelle had known from talking to him that her Uncle Jesse was something of a rebel when he was in school. But, Mandy had never known anyone who was that wild. "Having Steph and I to guide her really helped."

"Michelle's right, Mandy." Stephanie spoke solemnly, thinking of how sad it was that a child would be so ignored. She wanted Mandy to understand how some kids lived, though. "Sam never had any limits at home; that is, the few minutes a day her parents had time for her. They were always too busy with work. When the school sent letters home or called they just ignored them. Her daycare wasn't a lot better. She had a few there, but she didn't like those. So, the school had to be the one to teach her. And, she was really used to getting away with everything; she would at home on the weekends."

Stephanie leaned forward, her mood brightening a little, as she spoke of Sam's improvement, quickly bypassing the unpleasant parts. "I babysat her that summer after first grade, and I could tell a difference. It was one of my first babysitting jobs outside the family. Although I was thankful to have nicer kids to deal with before her," she said with enthusiasm. "I was only there three hours a day. And she was still wild, because I was the first one to really enforce any rules at home. But even there, those rough first couple days, she was getting better. A lot of work was paying off, and she didn't have 'go to timeout' as a middle name for very long." The girls laughed. "Luckily, the positive attention and love I showed her meant that Sam respected me enough that she wasn't totally defiant." For the most part, she said to herself. At first...well, she didn't like to think about that. She really cared about Samantha. She and Michelle both knew Samantha needed lots of love and comfort. She wanted to protect Samantha's privacy; she knew her past behavior was very embarrassing now. However, she'd also needed to explain things to Mandy. She worried that Samantha still needed to be watched, after all, because there were no limits other than Stephanie's. And, more importantly, as she said, there might be kids with major problems where something lay beneath that Mandy would need to get to the bottom of to help them.

Michelle instantly hugged Stephanie, which brought a smile back to her face.

Mandy could tell it was hard for Stephanie to think about Sam. "She must have really driven you up the wall. Let's talk about kids who aren't that rebellious."

Stephanie smiled. "Okay. Good idea. I bet you won't have any problems like I did. I just wanted to warn you, though. Michelle's told you Samantha needs lots of attention, but she kept a few things from you, so as not to embarrass Samantha. But, now you know the full story. I'm just glad the worst part is over."

She decided it was time for Nicky and Alex to be used as the examples, and asked them to give her their attention. They did. "Let's say Nicky and Alex are sent to you."

"What did WE do?" Alex exclaimed. He knew it was bad to be sent to the principal's. He couldn't understand why he would be sent.

"You know the bookmobile that comes every couple months, like a moving library? Let's say you back it into the school," Stephanie suggested, remembering her own worst misdeed.

"But we can't drive," Alex shouted.

"That didn't stop Stephanie," Nicky said.

Stephanie laughed. "Okay, now these kids somehow backed the bookmobile into the school. What's the first thing you think about?"

"Michelle might want to come with me..." Mandy began without thinking. She spoke her next sentences with more authority. "But, I'm the one in charge. And, I think she'll accept whatever I do."

"You're really nice with them, Mandy. You'd do a good job. And, I know you will with Samantha, too," Michelle said warmly. She was glad someone like Mandy would be in charge. And, she was really glad Mandy would think of her. But, truthfully, she didn't want anything to do with Mandy's job.

Stephanie's mind was on something different. "That's good, Mandy. You have to be honest with yourself. And, if you would think of that first, and then have to remind yourself you're the boss if they're in that office, that's fine."

"That's right, I'm the one who has to decide their punishment. They'd get no recess for at least a week, for one thing."

"Okay; it depends on if they're sorry, too," Stephanie said.

"We're sorry."

"We didn't even know we did it," Alex added to his brother's comment.

Cassie smirked. "I would think they'd be better at pretending than this."

"Yeah, you like playing with stuffed animals. And, you'll usually play house with me," Michelle told them. She wanted them to get involved in Stephanie's playing so they could help Mandy.

Alex shook his head. "Not when we're pretending to be this bad."

"Why can't we just sing Elvis songs? Stephanie's the one who drives cars into kitchens!"

"Ouch. Okay, boys, I give," Stephanie said, holding up her hands while trying to avoid chuckling. "And, Nicky, I only did it that once. Plus, it's okay to say that now because Cassie and Mandy know about it. But, please, don't go around telling people about it. It is embarrassing." The twins promised.

Stephanie then turned to another subject. "Mandy, speaking of friends, let's say Michelle was sent to your office."

"Come on, Steph. I would never get sent there," Michelle declared.

"You almost did by that one sub we had last year, and you copied some ideas from your Uncle Jesse and Joey. Luckily, he had the bright idea of making you teach and acting bratty to teach you a lesson," Mandy pointed out in as conversational a tone as she could. "I don't mean to lecture, but it's true."

Michelle passed Mandy a tired look, then relented. "Okay, okay. And, there was Field Day last year. I was too busy arguing with Denise about that sweater to pay attention." Michelle had given Denise Chow her lucky sweater, but demanded it back when she kept losing games. "You had to yell at me a little to make me realize I was about to cost our class a chance at victory over the others. I did deserve that," she admitted lowly.

"That's right, Michelle, nobody's perfect," Stephanie said warmly. "Now, Mandy, Michelle has been sent to your office. I want you to give her your best lecture."


"Michelle, she has to be ready in case one of her closest friends gets in trouble. She can't back down just because she likes someone and doesn't want to hurt their feelings."

Cassie reluctantly added, "Stephanie's right, in a way, Michelle. That's why neither of us wanted to be considered for the position. You said so yourself."

"Yeah, but a really loud lecture?"

"Michelle, you love being on stage," Stephanie pointed out.

"Yes, acting funny or nice. I could even be serious if I had to be. But, I won't be that naughty." Michelle turned to Mandy. "All right, let's say I get a little carried away with a sub, and you try to calm me down. And, tell me what I did was wrong."

"Michelle, you're missing the point. She has to learn to be tough. She already showed she could get in your face a little on Field Day," Stephanie insisted, holding out a hand.

"And what makes you think I'd be bad enough to do anything where I need a harsh lecture? I needed those from you before Kindergarten, not now," Michelle shot back.

Cassie stood between Stephanie and Michelle and held an open hand toward each. "Wait a minute. I can see this could be a problem. So, instead of letting you two fight, why don't I be the friend she has to grill. I always try to be nice, like Michelle. But, I'm willing to pretend I did something bad and got really sassy."

"Okay, fine." Stephanie inhaled deeply and tiredly, telling herself not to insist that Michelle should have been able to pretend the same thing. If Michelle took this much pride in being good, maybe that was for the best. In fact, the more she thought about it, she knew it was. She hoped Samantha held the same amount of pride. She had changed, but still kept things inside a bit at times.

The girls came up with a scenario, and Cassie acted it to the hilt. Mandy followed with a very firm lecture, even throwing in one of Stephanie's "how rude"s. That had become a somewhat common phrase at Fraser St. Elementary, though certainly not everyone said it.

"All right! Nice going, you two," Michelle said enthusiastically. "You could be on stage with that."

"Yeah, and I can just hear my mom after the play. ' I better never catch you acting like that in real life, young lady.'"

"Me, too. Your mom's just like D.J. and Steph when it comes to things like that."

A few weeks later it was Michelle's 10th birthday. As promised, Stephanie took Michelle and Samantha to get their ears pierced at the local mall's salon. Joey dropped the girls off at the mall entrance, then found a parking place. While he parked, Stephanie, Samantha, and Michelle stood in wait.

Samantha's hairstyle was similar to Michelle's, with bangs and a nice, though not too fancy, ponytail; the only difference was, it was glossy black rather than strawberry blonde, and a fair deal longer. She also shared similar taste in clothes, though preferring fancy dresses a bit more than Michelle did. While a couple of her more upper class relatives had commented on this, Samantha brushed it off - it just wasn't her and people should accept that. Sure, she could afford an expensive hairdo and outfits but she chose not to buy them.

"Can you believe we actually had a president named Pierce?" Michelle asked Samantha.

"No way!" The girls giggled. "I'll bet he got teased."

"They couldn't have done much worse than 'Step On Me.'" Stephanie opened the door for her younger sister, Joey, and Samantha, then went in herself. "Besides, from what I read, his term was so bad, he probably wished he'd gone into the ear piercing business."

"Who's this?"

"President Pierce. I guess he wasn't very good at being President," Michelle told Joey. She'd only heard the name. She was anxious to get more details, though. She'd always loved learning.

"Well, he could have handled fourth grade like you did, Michelle, it wasn't that. It's just that he served before the Civil War. And, the Presidents in the 1850s grow worse as you get closer to that war, because the problems kept growing and they couldn't do anything about them,' Stephanie explained.

Samantha grinned while listening to Stephanie's explanation. She'd hated school at first. All the rules were a real pain. She had always liked to do whatever she wanted, and not have to think of others. Now, however, she enjoyed many things about school. Learning was one of them. "One of my friends has a great-grandmother who memorized the Presidents in order at my age," she said as Joey got to the check in booth to sign permission for Michelle and Samantha to get their ears pierced. Stephanie held a note from Samantha's parents, as well, in case Joey's authorization wasn't enough.

"I guess I should put down guardian," Joey remarked. "Although I'm really like a dad to D.J., Stephanie and Michelle, but...well, you could almost call me a nanny. Or, rather, a manny." He then made a sound like a bat cracking against a baseball, followed by a crowd cheering. "Look at that ball go, awaaaay back, and gone!" He tripped over his feet as he turned, and fell down.

Getting up, he smiled. "Get it, like Manny Ramirez." The young, inexperienced slugger was noted for making base running blunders at times for Cleveland that season. He had greatly improved from a couple years before, though, and would one day be considered a potential Hall of Famer.

Samantha smiled, yet also looked a little tiredly at Joey. She really liked him, just like Michelle did. He was very good at talking and getting kids to understand things; especially using humor. Samantha loved how he made her feel better so quickly. He'd had a rough childhood with constant moves and his parents often fighting and finally divorcing before his teens, so he'd suffered some similar problems. And yet, he'd shown that it was possible, years later, to still enjoy life as a child would see it. Samantha hoped to always be the same way. However, Samantha was at the age where she started to feel a little embarrassed to have Joey doing comedy acts in public places like the mall.

She certainly didn't want to be totally like Joey. Her feelings were akin to Stephanie's feelings about her dad's protectiveness. She expressed them in small ways, but out of respect wouldn't let her frustration get out of control. "I sure hope you don't act like that if you start having to take me to dance rehearsal every day," Samantha said.

"Every day? I know you love dance, but Michelle loves chocolate, and even she doesn't eat it every day."

"Of course not, Joey, sometimes she eats cookies instead," Stephanie teased lightly, passing Michelle a loving smile, which was returned.

"Well, it's not for sure yet. But, my teacher might recommend me for dance school next summer."

"Wow, all right!" Joey excitedly hugged Samantha. "This is awesome. Isn't it, Steph?"

"Yeah, it is. Look..." How did she want to word this? She had been trying to think ever since yesterday when Danny and she had picked Samantha up at her regular rehearsal.

Samantha sensed the hesitation. "You're thinking about when you didn't want to go, huh?" Stephanie agreed. "Well, I want to go. And, I'm going to go. You had a life outside of dance. You had a family."

Michelle put an arm around her. "Sammie, you've got a family; in fact, you've got two families, counting Courtney's."

"Can I help if I want to make it three?" They laughed. "Look, you guys are great. But, well, when I'm on the dance floor, it's like, I don't have to think about what I went through, how my parents don't care. And, they're like a family, too."

"Well..." Stephanie sighed. Her dad had often told her that the hardest part of parenting was letting go; especially for him, probably because of Pam's death. "I guess you have to try to find out. It would mean lots of extra practice."

"I can do it!"

"Sure, and we'll all be there for you," Joey promised.

"If you do it, I'll help with your homework after supper," Michelle added.

Stephanie remarked that she wouldn't have as much time to play. "But, you'll be doing something you love. I guess that's the important part. I really liked it, I just didn't love it so much to give up everything else. But, if it's something you really want to do..." She could tell it was. "Well, that's great. You're right; I am really happy for you!" Stephanie and Samantha embraced as they were told it was their turn.

Michelle offered to go first, although she was a little timid. She squeezed Stephanie's hand tightly, with Stephanie squeezing back, as the ear piercer did her job. She gave Stephanie a warm, thankful look as it happened. "I'm glad Samantha was there," Michelle confessed to Stephanie later. "I really needed that squeeze, but I think without her there, I would have screamed anyway."

Next, it was Samantha's turn. She fidgeted a little, reminding herself that this was not Kimmy Gibbler, D.J.'s dumb friend. It was stunning that Stephanie had done something like that, getting them pierced at home by someone so inexperienced and so...well, dumb back then. At least I'm not the only one who does dumb things, she told herself.

Still, she squeezed extra tight to both Michelle's and Stephanie's hands. Each of them squeezed back, for which Samantha was very thankful. As the studs were placed in, and she and Michelle admired each others', Samantha considered that, despite her size, she probably looked quite grown up now. Samantha looked like a typical seven year old, not a child who had turned nine the previous March.

"Here's a mirror, girls," Joey said as he pointed them to it. "Wow, look at you. Those are fabulous head ornaments. Now, all you need are some really teeny fuzzy dice to hang on each ear."

"Happy birthday, Michelle," Stephanie said sweetly.

"Yes, Michelle Tanner, you're a double digit girl. What are you going to do now?" Joey joked, sounding like the announcer to a great player on a national championship team. Players on those ads, of course, always said, "I'm going to Disneyland."

"I'm going to the ice cream stand," Michelle responded. She led the others toward the stand.

Stephanie smirked as she looked at Samantha. "To her, that's just as good as Disneyland."

Samantha smiled wistfully. The love shown by the Tanners was so incredible. She felt very blessed to have such nice friends, as she felt the studs in her ears. But, at the same time, she wished she had companions like this all the time, instead of parents who didn't seem to care. She imagined the friendship between her and Michelle was like that between Michelle and Stephanie. And, while the relationship was a lot closer between the Tanners, it was still quite close between Michelle and Samantha.

But, that's one reason the prospect of being a professional dancer excited her so much. She'd heard that pro athletes often saw their team as a family; one of her friends had a dad who played part time for the Giants. Now, she could be in such a family, too.

Several weeks passed. Students gathered in the auditorium for the opening assembly of the school year. Third graders ate and had recess with second and first graders. So, Michelle and her friends had had little contact with the incoming fourth graders, except for seeing them in the halls and, if they rode the same bus, on the school bus.

A smiling girl with long, flowing black hair tied back in braids and wearing a floral dress shook Mandy's hand. "Good luck," she said to Mandy. "I bet you'll do a great job."

"Thanks, Samantha." Mandy was amazed at the change in Samantha from the stories she'd heard. She knew Michelle had done a lot of work with her, and Stephanie much more than that. But, still, she was stunned that this was the same girl who had decided to ditch school altogether in second grade; to say nothing of how Stephanie said she'd been in Kindergarten.

"Steph spent lots of time talking to her. So did Jen and Missy. Mr. Posey even did, when he could. But, Stephanie's the one she really looks up to, the one who's been the nicest. Shhh," Michelle said as the principal began to speak.

After some opening remarks, the principal invited Mandy to come up and say a few words. Mandy unfolded a paper with a prepared speech, and started out by saying, "Thank you, Principal Posey, for that warm introduction. I hope to be able to be helpful to everyone this year. However, as the principal says himself, beware. Just because I want to be nice doesn't mean I always can be. There are rules that must and will be enforced. This will be done because I care about each of you, just as he told you he did. And, in turn, you need to respect me. Not because I'm any better, but because I hold a position of very high honor. And, when we're nice to those in charge, it makes things run a lot smoother. When we do wrong, we need to accept it and move on. If you don't...well, you get in trouble, just like anywhere else in life...."

"That was a nice speech," Samantha told Mandy as they filed out of the auditorium. She had been cheering quite loudly for Mandy, glad to see one of Michelle's friends become a PA. She thought of Michelle as a big sister, in a way, because of how nice she'd been to her, and how much she'd encouraged her.

"Thank you." Mandy wondered whether to say anything else. Finally, she decided it would be a good idea to encourage her. "Maybe you can help me a little this year, too."

Michelle knew this was wishful thinking. Or, did she just think that? She reminded herself that she'd been amazed, too, by some of the changes in Samantha. And yet, she'd had lots of confidence, too, in what Samantha could do.

Back in their fifth grade classroom, Michelle told Mandy, "I know you'd like to see her be as good as you. But, Steph says Samantha still needs some help emotionally. She's over at friends' houses every night, but she's still technically a latchkey kid, and oshe usually just rides her bike to friends' houses or around the city."

"Yeah. One of those kids with no supervision. Nobody to really know she can talk to," Mandy said sadly.

"Steph wishes she could help every kid like that. She's talked about adopting so a child will feel wanted when she grows up. Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky have their names in with an agency, too."

Cassie asked, "Does Stephanie keep total track of her?"

"She can't run herself through a copier, Cassie," Michelle joked. "But, she has friends who look out for Samantha. And, a couple times when you were each away for a while, I tried to call and find out where she would be, if I knew she wasn't with us or Courtney." Courtney was in Samantha's grade, and Samantha's other best friend besides Michelle.

Michelle cared for Samantha like a younger sister. She waved to her on the playground - because of Michelle's work as class president, fourth graders now had access to the fancier playground the fifth graders were allowed to use. So, she knew Samantha would often be there for lunch recess.

"Hey, Michelle," Samantha said as she ran over to Michelle and her friends. "Guess what? I'm going to dance right after school. I'll be going a few times a week now!"

"Awesome. So you're going to try to get into that dance school?"

"Yep, my teacher said she'd recommend me. I've got a rehearsal coming up in early November!"

Snobby Rachel Tilly overheard. Her long, flowing black hair, which reached down to her waist, swished around as she turned and said, "Great, you and me can dance with the San Francisco ballet together some day."

Cassie rolled her eyes at the boasting. "Oh, good grief!" The San Francisco ballet, like the Bolshoi in Russia, was one of the most prestigious ballets in the world! Quite a few professional ballerinas couldn't dream of that! Rachel boasted a lot, though.

"Rachel, can't you feel happy for Samantha instead of boasting about yourself?" Michelle asked.

"Hey, I feel good for her. I think she can be just as good as I am. In fact, I'll do you one better; I'll even say she might be as good as I am now," Rachel said, doing a twirl as she said this. "See, I'm being nicer than I was when I moved into this school last year."

Samantha did a similar twirl - only she let her hair fly loose, and one of her long braids hit Rachel in the back of the head. "Yep, just as good as you." She wasn't saying that to be boastful, though, but to be funny. She continued by doing a cartwheel.

"I can do that, too," Rachel said, doing the same cartwheel.

"Well, what do you know," Michelle good friend Jeff Farrington joked from the basketball court. "I've seen boys play h-o-r-s-e with basketballs, but I never knew girls did it with gymnastics."

"That would be an interesting contest." Mandy swiftly jumped to another subject, hoping to get Rachel's mind off her own talents. "I saw you and Sidney talking earlier today; I guess you're over your fight?"

"Yeah, we made up. I guess it's like Michelle helped me realize bit by bit last year, it's important to have friends," Rachel said without a huge amount of enthusiasm, though she showed some. Her focus was still on her own skills quite a bit, but at least there was some improvement, the others considered.

Sidney dialed the correct combination and unchained her bike from the bike rack as Michelle and her friends walked out to the bus after school. "Hey, good to hear you and Rachel are back to being friends," Michelle hollered to her as she waved.

"We didn't see you on the bus this morning," Mandy noted as they met Sidney near the bike rack. "But, we saw Rachel and she said you guys were friends again." She liked to be able to encourage other kids at times like this.

"Yeah, well, I rode my bike today. She'll have practice this afternoon, so...I wanted to ride around with some friends."

Samantha mentioned a couple landmarks, and asked if they'd seen them. "I really love going past Mrs. White's. Can you imagine how many different flowers she has?"

"Oh, you go in a different direction. These friends are in another school," Sidney said with a little anxiety.

Mandy thought she noticed that, too. "That boy?"

"Come on, Mandy and I both have older sisters," Michelle said, trying to get Sidney to talk as Cassie motioned for them to hurry. "We've heard about these things."

"Does he ever use a log as a ramp? I tried once in the park near Michelle's house a couple years ago, like some boys were doing," Samantha said, trying to make conversation. "I wasn't on it a second before I fell. The boys said I needed more speed, but I didn't want to go that fast. One of Jeff's friends even did a wheelie on his bike."

"The boy's not too much older than you, is he?" Mandy wanted to know. She hoped it wasn't a teenager, but she could understand sixth grade.

", his friends are, b-...I mean, he's just in sixth. Look, I'm running late, my parents know where I'll be, so don't worry."

Michelle looked solemnly at her, sensing the evasiveness. "We understand. Just stay out of trouble."

"I will," Sidney promised tiredly as she rode off on her bike.

Michelle could sense a Rachel-like, superior manner in Sidney - she could see why the two got along. Of course, Sidney didn't boast about her own abilities like Rachel; but Sidney sometimes had an attitude that said she didn't need any help and was a bit better than Michelle and her friends; the latter was really Rachel's doing. That had disappeared slowly, like Rachel's, but could still be there a little at times.

She motioned for the others to follow. They watched until Sidney was out of view. "Hmmm, she is going toward another school, and Steph's always gets out after us."

Cassie remembered Michelle's look from the start of an incident with what turned out to be a renegade Flamingo - a member of a snobby, mean group of girls in Stephanie's middle school - had been hanging around their grade school. "You think there's a problem?"

"She was defensive; more than usual. And what about that boy's friends? Did she mean they're older or what?" Mandy wondered as they boarded the school bus just as it was about to leave. "I know we don't know her well, but it just seems unusual."

"I agree. Let's go that way on our bikes, just to make sure," Michelle said. "She was headed toward another middle school, not Steph's, but still..." She laughed at herself. "You know, I think Steph's getting to me. I'm starting to get this really protective feeling like she does with you, Samantha."

Cassie could understand. She said that at first, it would be fun to have Samantha's freedom. However, "After a while, it would get boring. You need someone to hang out with on a regular basis, too. Someone who is a really true friend, like you guys."

"Yeah, I'm glad I have you guys. It's nice to ride or come in a car. But, it's fun to ride the bus with you." Samantha thought for a second, glad to have met so many people in the Honeybees club Michelle helped get her into, and in dance. "Does Sidney have any friends besides Rachel?"

Michelle knew last year was Sidney's first in their class, and that Samantha likely didn't pay much attention to Michelle's group of friends a couple years ago. "She's had a few, but never very many. One good friend moved away in third grade. But, she's always been a little unfriendly. Nothing like Rachel, but more from being around her. So, we just don't know about Sidney. And, with the comment about that boy's friends..."

Mandy agreed as they got off the bus, thinking as a PA. "We did the right thing. We invited her to play with us when we heard she and Rachel had a fight. We just need to be more encouraging. If she's with the right group, fine. If not, we just steer her in the right direction." To her, it was just part of helping everyone and keeping kids safe in the little ways a child her age could do - one of the main parts of being a PA.

Once they got off and told their parents where they'd be, Michelle's Aunt Becky took Samantha to dance class, and the others gathered on their bikes at Cassie's. Michelle explained that, "There are lots of bad kids around. That's one reason I don't want to be class President this year like I was last year. I can spend more time helping you as well as helping Samantha."

"Even if we push you to run again?" Cassie asked as they rode.

"Yeah. Even with Samantha at dance more, since she's still playing soccer, too. If she starts struggling with homework, I'd like to help her in the evening. Steph and her friends could help in the summer, but she says it's easier for us fifth graders during the year. We don't have as much homework. Although, it sounds like it'll be a lot more than before, huh?" The others nodded.

"By us, you mean all three of us?" Cassie asked. Michelle confirmed it.

Mandy pledged to try. "I'll have a bit more homework than you guys now, though, since I might be out of class a fair amount of time some days. Although, I was lucky I didn't have anyone sent to see me today."

Michelle and Cassie laughed as they stopped at a traffic light. "Even Sam didn't get sent to Stephanie till her third day of Kindergarten."

"Oh. Well, then I have time to think about my hair."

"Your what?" Cassie asked as the light turned green.

They sped toward the middle school they assumed Sidney went toward as Mandy explained what she meant. "My hair. Michelle, it looks the same as it was after your horse riding accident over a year ago. And, when I visited you in the hospital, the nurses all said I looked like one of two girls Shirley Temple or Little Orphan Annie."

Cassie looked both ways with the others as she spoke. "Annie was a leader," she said.

"Yeah, but just the kind who comforted the other kids, not the kind who had to punish anyone. She took life as it came really well. But, I think she was a bit more like Michelle in how she led. A future class president, not a PA."

"Mandy, it doesn't matter what's on the outside," Michelle declared as they crossed the busy street. "It's what's in your heart. And, you've got the heart to take charge if you need. I don't think anyone's going to challenge you just because you have curly hair. The real question is, are you creative enough to solve problems?"

"I hope so. Schools are facing some real bullies, though. I mean, it's easy to talk to Kindergarteners. I know it was easy for D.J. and Stephanie," Mandy added.

"It will be with older kids, too. You just have to know how to reach them. And, that takes practice for everyone. Even Steph had to grow in her job, she says. She wasn't perfect right away," Michelle said. "You'll learn from your sisters the same way she learned from D.J.. But, Missy was an only child, and Jen just had a brother who was older. So, you'll use your grandma and your parents a little more, like they did."

"And my mom's always available, just like Stephanie will be," Cassie promised.

Mandy hummed. She was kind of amazed to think of Stephanie growing in her job. Of course, part of that was she hadn't known Stephanie till she moved there, and Stephanie was already turning thirteen then. Not only that, but from the way people talked, Stephanie was almost legendary.

Still, she decided she had to agree. "I guess I can make it without losing my curls. I wouldn't have been chosen if people didn't think I could do it, huh? And you think my name..." She laughed. "Well, Missy can be like 'Miss something,' but even so, I guess it's no different than Mandy." The girls shook their heads as they came upon a park.

It was near the school, and they spied Sidney with several older boys most all teenagers planning something. Michelle motioned for them to be quiet. What they heard shocked them. Sidney was chatting with the boys about some things that they'd brought.

The boys seemed to enjoy having Sidney along as a little sister type they'd helped her to get used to the spooky home, which she described as being really cool as long as she didn't get near the dust. But, these guys were obviously not the kind Sidney or any kid should be hanging around with! Even if they could tell Sidney was giving the youngest boy looks as if she really had a crush on him. At least that part of her story was true.

The three friends could tell that the boys didn't appear to have any weapons, and they weren't making any threatening moves. They would be able to get out in a hurry if they had to, but the young teens looked harmless - probably all from the other Middle School, which housed 6-9th graders.

"Freeze!" Michelle shouted. Sidney didn't know that Tanner house rule that one had to stop all movement but it had made her, and the others, turn around. Even if it came from a ten year old girl.

"Michelle...what are you doing here?" Sidney said nervously. A can of spray paint clattered on the sidewalk as she involuntarily dropped it.

Michelle ordered Sidney off of her bike. When the older boys protested, Mandy said, "Leave her alone!" in a firm voice.

"Oh, what are you, her sisters," one asked tauntingly.

When assuring her family they'd been safe, Michelle would later say the group seemed similar to the Sweathogs, a group of toughs who only did little things, but nothing really violent, on the TV Series "Welcome Back, Kotter." These kids likely weren't into much really bad stuff - yet.

Sidney cast Michelle a look requesting help, but at the same time wishing she wasn't there. She was quite torn about what to do, as she liked hanging around these boys. And yet, what they were doing was going beyond just talking tough. She knew she was in trouble, and didn't like that part.

Mandy was the first to speak. "We heard all about what you're planning to do. As the official principal's aide at Fraser St. Elementary, let me warn you you are all going to be in big trouble. I want nobody to leave, and if you do we will track you down. I am going to get your names..."

"And what, you'll tell our parents?" the oldest boy scoffed.

"We'll tell the police if we have to!" Mandy shouted.

"Don't think we won't." Cassie was a little shier, especially at times like this, but she was helping.

Michelle turned toward Sidney and added in a sweet, yet decisive voice, "And, don't try to get out of it. We may not have heard every word, but I can tell you weren't hired by Tom Sawyer to whitewash someone's fence." Mandy and Cassie stifled laughs.

"I I'm sorry. I just...thought it would be fun. It wouldn't have hurt anyone," Sidney complained, though in a low, muttering voice; in her mind she knew it was wrong. Her voice had gotten lower as she kept talking. She knew what she'd planned to do was bad. But, she tried to justify it even more. "They're just my friends," she muttered.

"We're your friends, too. And, you wouldn't want anyone to mess up your stuff, would you?" Mandy added helpfully. "I don't know what your parents would say. But, if we hear about anything getting vandalized like that I will tell the police who might have done it. Because, you may have only thought about that now. But, you need to learn to be nice before you do something a lot worse than spraying graffiti on some spooky looking old house," Mandy implored them.

"She's got a point. You don't know what the story is, either. The person might not even have any money to clean it up," Cassie declared.

Sidney sighed. She didn't want to admit that she'd been spray painting other things with these boys in the last couple weeks. It hadn't been a lot, but she knew she'd be grounded for a while if her parents found out. "Don't turn them into the police, though. I mean, especially not..."

"Your 'boyfriend'?" Michelle wondered. Sidney blushed slightly. "Come on, Mandy and I have older sisters."

"I know. You told me just half an hour ago."

"You don't need to be so defensive," Mandy said. "I want names, but I won't turn anyone in...this time!"

"Even you, if you did it, too," Michelle said, giving Sidney a pleading, puppy dog look. "Come on, Sidney. I know I'm not Rachel; but that should actually make it easier to admit it to me," she said, thinking out loud. As she hoped, Sidney chuckled a little. "She learning to be a friend, and so can you. But, friends tell each other these things."

"Yeah, right, so you can tell my parents."

"No, so you can. Then we won't have to," Mandy explained.

"We just want to help you not get in even bigger trouble," Michelle said with much compassion.

Sidney sighed as Michelle gave her her famous look. She didn't need to hear Cassie ask if her parents might figure it out anyway; she knew. "Okay, okay. I guess I was spray painting a few things with them the last few days."

"We kind of figured when we heard you talking. It's not something someone just hangs around without doing. If you don't like what someone's doing, you can always say no - and you should!" Mandy emphasized. "Because you'll be helping them realize something's wrong."

"Okay, I guess you're right," Sidney said resignedly. "I guess I'll tell my parents...if you'll help me."

"Sure, we will. We care about you," Michelle said. "These guys are turning you into something bad. Do you really want to hang around with them? Or do you want real friends?" Michelle challenged her.

Sidney sensed the disappointment in Michelle's voice, as she considered how she was tempted to follow this gang. She knew she shouldn't be hanging around these boys. She tried to mutter, "But Brad's so cute," but couldn't bring herself to say it. Yet, little stuff like what they'd been doing seemed fun.

Finally, she simply mumbled, "I guess you're right." She knew she shouldn't think of herself as being any better than Michelle and her friends. They really knew what they were talking about - Rachel had found that out when she was stopped from getting involved with the Flamingoes last spring.

The boys had been having fun laughing at the elementary school aged girls; they didn't think they were much of a threat. However, a couple had ridden off in the interim. Mandy didn't follow them, but she would get any information she could from Sidney.

In response to Sidney turned away from them, one of them - likely the oldest - spoke in a tone that reminded Michelle of John Travolta's character, Barbarino, on the sitcom. "Hey, girly, what's wrong, aren't we your pals anymore?" he asked.

"She doesn't need to be visiting friends in jail," Mandy announced. "I don't know if graffiti can send you there. But, you need to stop doing bad stuff before you wind up doing something that does."

Michelle and Cassie grinned. Mandy was becoming almost as blunt as Michelle, it seemed. She wasn't really trying to warn Sidney away from the boys as much as tell the boys where that path could lead. Michelle's Uncle Jesse hadn't gone that far, but she didn't know if these boys had the upbringing or desire necessary to stay away from the really bad stuff.

Once they were away from the boys, Sidney thanked Michelle. "I really didn't want to come back, they seemed real nice, like good friends. But, I sort of didn't want to stay there, either," she confessed.

"How did you meet them, anyway?" Mandy wanted to know as they rode to Sidney's.

"That oldest boy, he was my next door neighbor's boyfriend for a while. Her parents really didn't like him a lot. And, they broke up anyway. But, he'd seemed kind of nice. This one kid with him who rode around with him...well, he is kind of cute," Sidney said with an embarrassed grin.

"So is a lion cub, but when they grow up they can bite your head off," Michelle said bluntly.

Cassie agreed while chuckling. "Yeah, they're bad news. Don't go near them anymore."

"I won't." She looked at the others and said, "My parents will say not to anyway. I guess I better tell them myself, huh?"

And, she did. She told them Mandy had found her with them, and Mandy explained that she couldn't get the boys' addresses, but knew where they had been. She made sure Sidney told about the spray painting. Sidney was given a stern lecture once Mandy left, and not allowed to see the boys again, plus grounded for the painting and grounded from riding her bike for three weeks. Mandy hated to see anyone get in trouble, but felt like she'd nipped things in the bud quite nicely.

Meanwhile, Michelle had ridden home for dinner. Samantha had eaten at Crystal's, one of her best friends from dance class. Stephanie knew she'd be out playing for a while after that, but she often tried to check and make sure she was in by a certain time.

Especially with the story Michelle told about Sidney, Stephanie really worried when she called Crystal's home and Samantha wasn't there yet; she and Crystal were still out riding. The parents knew it was a bit late, but their daughter was half a year older than Samantha, and looked it, while Samantha looked a couple years younger than she was.

"Come on, Steph, it's only been a few minutes," Becky said in the living room as Stephanie stared at the phone.

"I know, but still, she was planning to spend the night here, and usually in by now. Tomorrow's a school day."

"Steph, today was the first day of school. I wouldn't even bat an eye until the non-school night curfew. It's harder for her to get adjusted to the new routine, just like for any kid."

"Yeah, maybe you're right, Aunt Becky," she said with a frown. But, was Samantha like any other kid? Well, emotionally, she had problems, but they weren't insurmountable. In fact, they'd done a pretty good job of helping her so they didn't surface much. She was small size-wise, too, though that generally wasn't a problem. And...

Stephanie chuckled at herself, then went upstairs to finish her homework. There were enough "usually's in her assessment of Samantha that she worried. She would force herself not to think of it for a half hour, though, because Becky was right. It was hard to get into a new routine. But, she still found herself concerned.

Finally, after calling two more times, including one thierty seconds after after the non-school night curfew passed, Stephanie decided maybe she'd better start calling people to look for Samantha. And, ask her dad to take her around to look herself.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. One of Michelle's friend's parents, Mr. Chow, had spotted Samantha outside and offered to take her to the Tanners'. She and Stephanie ran toward each other and embraced almost as soon as Danny opened the door. "Oh, Samantha, you had me so worried!" Becky called Crystal's parents to report they'd found Samantha - they reported Crystal had just come home, too.

"I'm sorry, Stephanie. I just forgot what time it was," Samantha said simply. Noticing the extremely relieved look on Stephanie's face, she raised her eyebrows. "Were you really that scared?" Stephanie nodded. "I'll never do it again, I promise!"

Stephanie grinned. Samantha was trying so hard to get away from her rebellious past, she'd become super-sensitive to Stephanie's looks. Samantha really had bonded with her and wanted to please her as she would a mother; Dr. Steiner had hinted at that, but how much was hard for anyone to really fathom. And, Samantha was worried about the lecture that might come.

Stephanie thanked Mr. Chow - a man Samantha knew well so it was okay for her to have gotten in his car. Then, she and Samantha cuddled on the couch for a minute, while Danny got Samantha's bike out of the trunk; her overnight stuff was already there at the Tanners'.

"Samantha, I was very, very scared," Stephanie said lovingly yet quite firmly as they snuggled. "I tried not to let it show. But, I really worry about you. You know how to tell time, it's okay to be running late, but you should call and let me know where you are, or let the Larkins or someone know."

"I know, Stephanie, I'm sorry." Samantha sniffled, partly feeling so badly because she was starting to get tired. "I'll call next time, I promise."

"I hope so. But, more importantly, I want you to learn how to watch the time. You can tell when it's getting darker and stuff...hey, Michelle." Stephanie explained what happened as Michelle sat next to them in her pajamas. Then, she continued to talk to Samantha. "What's most important is that you know I love you no matter what."

Michelle echoed the comment. "Sure. Just like I tell you about God, and how Jesus loves you no matter what. He wants to be able to help you. He wants you to turn to him whenever you need someone."

Stephanie concurred. "I might have sounded harsh just now, but one of Michelle's classmates got in some big trouble today because she got in with the wrong crowd. It scares me to think of what all could happen if you're not careful."

"You mean Sidney?" Samantha muttered, resting on Stephanie's lap; at nine, she was still the size of a seven year old. When Stephanie said "yes," Samantha said, "I wish I could have stopped her."

"Samantha, I'm glad you care. But, she's got to learn what friends to make and what not to. She's got parents who love her very much, just like we and the Larkins love you."

After they talked for a few minutes, Michelle went out into the kitchen to get something to snack on, and D.J. came downstairs. "Hey, Steph. Dad told me what happened. We're glad you're safe," D.J. told Samantha as she sat where Michelle had been.

"I can't believe I was so dumb."

D.J. knew this was not only Samantha's own frustration at herself, but possibly Stephanie over-emphasizing how scared she'd been just a little. "Well, we all do it - or at least most kids do - at some point. And, I guess it's good to know that you're turning into just a regular kid. One who messes up, just like every human, child or adult." D.J. recalled what Samantha had said about needing everyone to care like Stephanie and the others did. "You know, Samantha, when our Uncle Jesse first moved in, he was quite a rebel. Rode a motorcycle, liked to do daring stunts, hardly what you'd call a family man. But, as he grew to know us, and enjoy our family more and more, you know what he said once? He said being with us, he was finding out that there were empty spaces in his heart he hadn't realized were there. And, being with us, that filled those empty spots."

"Yeah?" Samantha could feel that same sort of tugging, an emptiness that Stephanie and Michelle and Courtney and so many others had filled. Yet, she kept needing more.

"That's why Michelle and Steph have told you about God's love a lot," D.J. said. "Samantha, it's great to have people around you. Good people, that is. But, like anything, we're not big enough to solve every problem. God is, though. I once heard a minister say there's a God sized hole in each of our hearts that only Jesus can fill."

"Michelle always says He's like a best friend," Samantha remarked.

D.J. grinned, careful not to tell what Stephanie had done, as it was so embarrassing. But, she couldn't help but tell what she'd talked with Stephanie about the night Stephanie had back Joey's car into the kitchen when she was eight, "I remember Steph did something once, and she couldn't imagine how anyone could forgive her. And I told her that evening, the wonderful thing was God is even more amazing that we were in our love and forgiveness for what she'd done. And, you can receive that same love and forgiveness she did right now, if you want. You wouldn't even have to go to church."

"I'd like to have that," Samantha said with confidence, finally starting to realize what Michelle had meant those times. Samantha didn't care what Stephanie had done. She knew some things were too embarrassing.

"I told Stephanie we all do bad things. Sometimes, like what Steph did then, it was something little that just caused a super sized big problem. But, no matter how little, we've all fallen short of God's perfect goodness. So, He sent His Son, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, to take our punishment. He died for you and rose from the dead. And, you just have to pray and receive his forgiveness. If you do that and believe with all your heart, He will not only forgive you but come to live in you. Then you can talk with Him and He'll help you with whatever you need."

Stephanie confirmed that it was that easy. As they prayed with Samantha, and Samantha received Christ's forgiveness, she knew Samantha would be excited, but she was almost more ecstatic herself. Just like when she'd backed that car into the kitchen, somehow, something good had come out of that terrible mess.

They - and Michelle, who had rejoined them - talked for a few more minutes about what happened with Sidney. "I'm sure she won't do it again," Michelle said confidently.

"I hope not. I hate seeing people get in trouble," Samantha said, the feeling reminding her of her past bad attitude.

"It hurts, doesn't it?" She told D.J. it did. "I guess you just have to think about the fact she knows someone loves her, and helped correct the problem."

"If someone loves her like that, then why did she do it?" The others wished they could answer that question.

Later that evening, Samantha couldn't sleep. She glanced at the clock - 2:43 AM - and at the Bible she'd been given a few months back by Mrs. Larkin. She'd had fun in church when she'd gone with the Tanners or Larkins a few times. And now, she really felt like she understood much of what had been said about having Jesus to talk to anytime.

"Authorized King James: 1611," the bible said in part on the inside. 1611. So far back in time, yet so current, Mrs. Larkin had said.

Just like Samantha felt. So distant. There was love out there. She felt cared for at last, especially when with the Tanners. But, in another way, things seemed so empty in her heart yet. She didn't want to wake anyone, so as she sometimes did, she got up and walked around in the Tanner home, testing that newly found relationship and faith that she'd discovered a few hours earlier.

"God," she spoke aloud as she wandered the dark hallways, "thanks for loving me and forgiving me. Stephanie says I can talk to you whenever I want. That's really neat. People say you can fill all the holes in my heart. I just have to have faith. Well, now's a good time to start, I guess."

Samantha had gotten up to go to the bathroom. Once it was certain she was out of the room, her favorite animal, Mr. Snuggle Bunny, stretched and hopped off the bed. Michelle had given him to Samantha for her sixth birthday. He walked over to where Stephanie's best stuffed friend, Mr. Bear, was on a shelf.

"Hey. Seems like Samantha's doing better than we thought," Mr. Bear said.

"Yeah. Don't know how much she'll wander around the house, but she seems more confident than she might have after the last few years. I think she's feeling a lot more so every day that Stephanie and the others will still care about her no matter what; she's really gotten to the point she's harder on herself than Stephanie is."

"Makes sense." Mr. Bear had been really stressed at first after Stephanie's mom had died. But, helping her had been nothing like advising Mr. Snuggle Bunny on how to assist Samantha. "She has a lot of friends around her. Especially you."

"Thanks. I try. She talks to me and tells me stuff like Stephanie probably did you. But, she is improving. At least she talks,' the bunny said. "And, her imagination is good; she imagines positive, healthy things now. And, has for a long time."

"So, she doesn't think Stephanie was too harsh back then?"

"What do you think, Mr. Bear? I don't know. She seems to think it was just right, how Stephanie treated her. She's become another Michelle in a lot of ways, but there's parts of Stephanie that rub off on her, too. Like mother, like daughter they say."

Mr. Bear laughed out loud. "Well, that could be true. I don't think she was too harsh. I'm glad she's so active and really wants to be good. Michelle still talks to some of her animals some, and I've heard Samantha might go to dance school. That's the kind of thing she needs to focus on, I think."

"Agreed; I'm glad to hear what you've said, that there's no way Stephanie would revoke that, even if she'd done whatever that classmate of Michelle's did earlier. She is a great ballerina, in her mind. That's what she focuses on to keep her mind off of problems. She has a lot of other great positive traits, too, and stuff like soccer she's good at, but dance is the biggest one. And, the only one she's able to think about sometimes," Mr. Snuggle Bunny concluded.

"Samantha's wandered into the kitchen. We have a few minutes to talk ourselves if we want," a unicorn of Samantha's said.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny brought up a point. "I'm still puzzled by what she asked me the other day. If the Velveteen Rabbit story is true, and stuffed animals become real ones before they can be destroyed, what would you become?"

"Good question; I guess people would wonder about a unicorn walking around. Although, I could just take off my horn and be a horse."

Mr. Snuggle Bunny was stunned. "You can do that?"

"Come on," the unicorn said. "We're in Samantha's imagination. I could become a ballerina, too, if I wanted."

The animals chuckled. "Maybe I'd become a baseball player," Mr. Bear joked.

Samantha made herself a small sandwich and a glass of warm milk. She ate it, then placed the dish and glass in the sink. She walked toward the picture window in the living room, and sighed as she peered outside.

"You know, God, I was so lonely back then. I just didn't think about others way back when I met Stephanie. I guess maybe I didn't care about myself since nobody else did. But, I know You care about me. You think I'm special. Just like Michelle and Stephanie and Courtney and all the Tanners and Larkins do. And, I believe what they say; that you loved me even back then. I'm glad you loved me so much. And, they did, too."

Samantha gazed at the deep blackness, with only streetlights providing illumination. It reminded her so much of her world. And yet, there was something special in her heart. She really did have a family. She had two, in fact.

"It's amazing. Just like that doctor said that picture meant that I drew," she remarked suddenly, her eyes brightening. She hadn't quite understood some of the things Dr. Steiner had said when the Tanners first took her to see the psychologist a couple years before. But, now she was starting to realize that that doctor had been quite accurate in understanding her.

"I guess I hadn't wanted to think about it," she remarked. "I mean, I've told Michelle she's like a sister, and stuff like that. But, it was really just because she said that's how I felt. I never really thought about whether it was true. But, it is." She grinned. "I told Michelle I wished my parents could give me a big sister like her. But, you know, she already is one. She might not live in the same house. But, in a way, I think she is one."

Samantha smiled, said a simple thanks, and did something unique for her in these moments. She skipped up to the bedroom, a warm, happy smile on her face. She was finally able to look inside some of those deep crevices of her soul, and surprisingly enough to her, some of those holes were being filled.

But, maybe she shouldn't have felt surprised, she considered. Stephanie had said it would happen, if she just had faith.

The following Saturday morning, Samantha was at the Larkins. Michelle walked downstairs, bleary-eyed, to find D.J. in front of a Cartoon Network show. "What's wrong with this picture?" she muttered as she sat next to D.J.. She leaned against her, looked up at her, and smiled.

"Good morning, Michelle. Oh, I need to let my brain rest for a few minutes. I was up late studying and got up early this morning." She put an arm around Michelle. "If you think this is weird, picture a bunch of college aged students in our Student Lounge watching Sesame Street. We'll take anything that lets our brains zone out."

"Wow, and this semester just started for you. Does that mean by the end of the semester you'll be having Dad read you 'Goodnight, Moon?'"

D.J. laughed out loud as Michelle stretched out on the couch, with her head on D.J.'s lap, soaking up the warm memories of her own childhood. She stroked Michelle's hair and said, "No, I don't need to go that far back. And, it's just that this is going to be a rougher semester, with my first nursing school course; just in case I decide I don't want Journalism. And, even if I do, it's a great minor. I just wanted to get a big head start." D.J., like their mom had, always wanted to be the best. "Just in case something comes up. But, these early mornings with you do help me remember all those times in the past, when we'd snuggle together."

Michelle still enjoyed the physical closeness from time to time, though she didn't need it near as much, being ten. There had, of course, been a stretch right after her accident when she had required it a little, but it was mostly Stephanie helping her then.

She sighed contentedly as D.J. rubbed her back a couple times. Turning over, she looked up and said, "I must have been a pretty good girl; your hair's still normal. When Cassie was doing this with her mom the other day, the morning after our sleepover, she noticed a couple gray hairs her mom said she gave her."

"Yep. Gray hairs are like badges of motherly courage. One of my professors told me that last year, when we talked about how I'd helped you. I'm so proud of how you've grown. You really do a great job with Samantha."


As Michelle sat up, D.J. said, "You know, you'll probably still mess up once or twice, just like Steph did a time or two after she became my partner. But, since you were five or six, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I or someone else has had to raise our voice or punish you after something you've done." She noticed Stephanie coming down the steps, and said, "We have the best little sister, don't we?"

Stephanie agreed as she sat on the other side of Michelle, and also put an arm around her.

"I'd say she's earned a spot alongside us; she really can handle things just like us," D.J. remarked.

"You're right, Deej. Even without Samantha being there, I think you've shown enough maturity otherwise that you deserve to be our equal. But, with her, you'll really had to put forth some effort, huh, Michelle?" Michelle nodded.

"You know, we ought to make this official. What do you say we get our clothes on, and go down to Declaration Rock," D.J. said.

"Declaration Rock" was a large rock in the park nearby that the girls would stand on when young and announce major accomplishments to the world. Pam would take the older ones there when young, and one of them or Danny would take Michelle or, for several things, Stephanie.

"Awesome," Michelle shrieked. She loved to climb up there. She had loved even more taking Samantha there several times. "It's even more special for her with her size, I bet," Michelle remarked as they began walking to the park after dressing.

Stephanie agreed. "It's great to see how you think of others. You're right, when she got all A's on her report card last year, or had her first ballet recital, the look on her face was really something. I think there's a lot of things that bother her that she doesn't tell people yet, just little insecurities. I think we take good enough care to help her overcome those, like with this. But, hearing that you notice that..."

"Steph, you're starting to sound like you did when you came out here to say you were D.J.'s equal in helping to raise me."

D.J. snickered. "She's right, Steph. I still remember that, you were nine, and just about to start fourth grade. You stood on that rock and launched into a five minute speech. Then at the end Michelle turned to me and said, 'All I did last time I was up here was say I could dress myself.'"

Michelle stood on top of the rock as D.J. and Stephanie smiled at that incident while holding her hands. It didn't seem nearly as high off the ground as it had way back then. D.J. and Stephanie had practically had to lift her up then. Now, it was just a tall step.

Michelle had done quite a few things to help Samantha. And so, with great excitement, Michelle stood has her sisters let go of her hands, and she declared excitedly that she was no longer just the baby sister D.J. and Stephanie had to help learn stuff. She was now their equal when it came to babysitting and helping others. All she needed now was to be old enough to baby-sit on her own.

That night, Samantha was spending the night at Crystal's. In fact, with Courtney's family, the Larkins, going to Vermont for Thanksgiving, and the Tanners to Nebraska, she'd been offered the chance to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with Crystal's family. She gladly accepted. She was so excited to have such a good friend on the dance team.

However, while Samantha enjoyed the company, it still seemed a bit odd, since her friends didn't have sleepovers on weeknights. Of course, the fact Stephanie made her stay somewhere every night - unless she was hosting friends at her house, with an older kid or adult present to help - was nice. Her dark, empty, enormous-looking place wasn't much fun to stay in, though it was still a very nice "home base." And yet, she didn't always feel like she deserved to stay at the Tanners or Larkins all the time yet. Besides, she considered, she didn't want her other friends to feel left out.

This Saturday evening, with Crystal already asleep now, Samantha she got up, turned a desk light on, and started writing. Her poetry and stories would eventually lead to her writing children's stories.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny rose, scratched his whiskers, and turned to Crystal's unicorn, which looked like Samantha's. "Hey, Pinky, what's up?" he asked it; it was called that since it was pink.

"'Up' is a word that describes something's position above something else," Pinky joked.

"Have you been sneaking around watching Leslie Nielsen movies?" Mr. Snuggle Bunny asked with a laugh. "At least those are pretty good; I'm glad she has someone like Joey to watch those with her."

Hairy, a lion who she'd also brought with her, agreed. "We've done a good job steering her in the right direction. What do you think about Sidney?"

Crystal's unicorn asked who that was.

Samantha's bunny explained. "You know, Michelle's classmate that got in trouble. Do you think she can help Sidney? Because, I think she'd really like to."

"It's a little confusing for her, why someone would choose to be bad if they don't have some underlying issues," a dog noted. When another asked if Sidney had any such problems, the first dog said, "I don't think so. But, maybe that's something for Samantha to find out."

Mr. Snuggle Bunny was pretty sure she didn't. "Samantha and I talked about that a bit; she says Sidney's just not all that friendly. She likes things her own way and that's it. That's how Samantha sees it, anyway. I think that's Rachel rubbing off a little, too, though, on Sidney. If she gets alone talking with Sidney, she might not be so bad."

"Sounds like a good plan," Hairy said. "What if it doesn't work, though?"

"You're starting to sound like Mr. Bear. Stephanie's all worried because if Samantha isn't good enough for dance school this year she thinks it could devastate her. It wouldn't do that; she'd feel bad, but she'd just try harder. Because, that girl is good, and she'd get in next year for sure. Plus, she might make a traveling soccer team, too." Mr. Snuggle Bunny said, "I'm sure she'll get in this year, though."

"Me, too," Pinky agreed. "But, Sidney's going to be a tougher one to deal with."

The first dog concurred. "If Sidney won't listen, but gets in more trouble, then we'll deal with it by helping her see that she doesn't have to blame all her bad behavior on her past. Some of it's just stuff she might have done even if she was raised perfect; some kids are like that. I think she was a bit tough on herself for missing curfew that one night, or for getting really mad at one of the playground bullies - even though she did manage to make herself go to the teacher and tell. But, either way, helping Sidney will help her, too."

At that moment, the animals froze and went back to their former positions. Samantha got into bed and cuddled Mr. Snuggle Bunny. "I think I'll take you and one of the dogs to dance school with me. If I can go. I wonder if Stephanie's as sure as she says she is that I can make it." She sighed. "Oh, well, I'll make it some year. I just hope it doesn't take too long to help Sidney. But, it'll probably be easier without Rachel there, huh?"

It appeared for weeks that Sidney was staying away from that gang. Meanwhile, Mandy found her time as PA going pretty smoothly.

Mandy was stopped by a 1st grade girl as she got off the bus with Cassie and Michelle. "I'm being a really good princess, even at home," she bragged.

Mandy lovingly put an arm around her. "That's great. Keep up the good work," she said lovingly.

"What was that about?" Cassie wanted to know as they walked toward the playground.

"It was an idea D.J. gave me," Mandy said as the girls sat on the swings with their lunch bags leaning against a post. "She had this idea that a girl like that might not believe princesses ever needed disciplined. So, D.J. told me how she might explain that the queen has to correct the princess when she's bad, it's just that you never see really young princesses. D.J.'s story told how the one bad princess who did all this girl did became really good. And, the other kept being really bad, and the queen had to give her a spanking. D.J. said the girl she told listened and became really good."

Cassie hummed. "Clever idea. It sounds like that girl's listening really well Kids can change." Mandy agreed. "Even Sidney seems to have gotten nicer, just like Rachel's trying to, with our help," Cassie said.

Mandy noted that, "It's great Stephanie has such a large group helping with Samantha. A couple times last year, my one older sister saw her out riding while she was going with a boy she likes to the Imaginarium. They invited her to come with them, and she said 'yes.' They paid for her ticket in, and everything."

"That's great. Tell them thanks," Michelle said, beaming.

"I did. Stephanie's right, she just needs to know someone cares. I still think she might be able to help me a little," Mandy repeated as Nicky and Alex were seen getting out of their dad's car, fuming as they walked into the school building. "Isn't that your cousins?"

"Yeah, you might have to settle a problem with them today. They got into a fight over a toy or something, and it really got huge. It's the first big fight they've had; they usually get along well, just some whining and complaining. Nothing major. Alex is a little more upset because, as Aunt Becky says, he needs Nicky around more. But, he's also the more ornery one, at times, so he really got after Nicky. You might have to find a way to help them become friends again."

"Thanks for the warning," Mandy said as the first bell rang and the girls followed the rest of the crowd into school. "I wish I'd had some about Aaron. Second time this year, he made a kid sit on a thumb tack." Mandy closed her eyes and sighed. "I didn't like it, but I thought I had to give him a couple smacks. And, with him being pretty big, in fifth grade, it was harsher than I ever wanted to be. I wish we could ground kids for a week or take away a bunch of privileges at home or something," she said mournfully. She was thankful she'd had older sisters herself, plus others, to discuss things with last night. Maybe it was easiest to see things in black and white, at times, like with her youngest brother and the term "bad behavior kids."

"That's why Steph was so thankful when Samantha's parents let her have control over privileges. She could do more than just sit her in a corner for timeout, take away school privileges, or, if she had to...well." She switched tracks to get away from that depressing thought. "Joey says there are lots of things you can do at home that you can never do in public. Like wear Batman pajamas," Michelle remarked. Joey Gladstone was not just a comedian, he was a real kid at heart.

"Everyone needs to be treated differently. Aaron needed that; he's always been a little nasty. He even said 'that didn't hurt' to Missy once when she did it. But, some others might not have needed it," Cassie assured her. "Trust me, you handle things just like Stephanie would. In fact, so does Michelle, with Samantha, at times."

Mandy passed her friends a grateful look. "It's nice to hear you think I'm doing things right. Although...reacting like Stephanie..." she finished, sounding quite dubious. "I mean, I've heard she could give some pretty long, stern, and very effective lectures."

Michelle chuckled. She could tell the others were amused at the thought of her giving one of Stephanie's really loud lectures the "Mount Stephanie" ones where Stephanie would really start screaming. "Okay, I was never as loud as Steph. But, Samantha's always known right where I stood, and she listened. She never pulled any jokes that actually hurt anyone, just a couple times she thought about little things because of Joey's influence - well, and maybe Jeff's, even."

"See, you could do my job," Mandy asserted.

"Maybe. But, telling a person or begging them to be nice is way different than punishing them for doing it." Michelle sat at her desk as she finished. "I guess I'd be willing if you and your backups were all absent. I did get her to listen back in first grade. And, now she doesn't even pull pranks. Maybe I'd be able to do it a little," she considered aloud.

Mandy sighed as she received a note from a runner via Mrs. Patterson. Michelle had been right Nicky and Alex were so fussy over their fight they had been sent to Mandy for an attempt at mediating the dispute.

Mandy instantly heard the squabbling as she entered the office. "He taped paper over my eyes," Nicky complained.

"You said you didn't want to see my face," Alex retorted.

Mandy stifled a laugh and decided there was only one course of action. "All right, if you boys are going to fight, you are going to neutral corners! Timeouts for the both of you!" She put two chairs in opposite corners of the room, and got the boys to sit in them.

"Good, then I won't have to look at him!" Nicky shouted.

"Now, hold on. While you are in there, you are to forget about your fight. You are to stay there until you can think of three nice things to say about the other one. Then you will say them to each other, and hug and make up."

The boys sat for several moments, still bothered by their fight. They hadn't argued like that before, and had needed help making up. But, Jesse and Becky were on a one week getaway by themselves for a little "honeymoon time," and even they would have had trouble with this. The others hadn't been able to get the twins to settle it, either.

Finally, Alex said, "I'm glad you're my brother, Nicky."

The nice comments started flowing, urged on by Mandy. Within a couple minutes they were walking back to class hand in hand, smiling again.

"How come we never did that when we were playing at being at Mandy's?" Alex asked.

"Maybe we were too busy driving bookmobiles through the kitchen," Nicky surmised.

Michelle had been proud of Mandy. In fact, that's the kind of solution she would have had that night, except she'd been too busy on her book report the previous night to really think about helping them. She would have to do something special for D.J. other than the occasional Mother's Day card when she was little and made them for family members while in school for helping out when the adults were too busy or scared when Michelle was a toddler. That must have been more draining than I can imagine, she told herself.

While they were discussing her solution that day, Samantha walked up to Sidney on the playground. "Hey, I hear you're not grounded anymore," she began excitedly.

Sidney caught the resemblance to Michelle at the same time Samantha did. "I thought only Michelle was that blunt."

"Sorry. I guess she just rubs off on me." She grabbed a Frisbee out of a box, and the girls went to throw it. "It's nice to have friends like her."

"Yeah, I guess it is."

"So, who are your other friends besides Rachel?"

Sidney sighed, thinking of Brad a little. She knew those boys were bad news, but it had been fun, too. "I guess I don't really have many."

"Why not? Michelle's a great friend. And, you wouldn't sneeze at her house."

Sidney laughed out loud as she threw the Frisbee over Samantha's head. "Come on, it's not just allergies that keep me from making friends. I guess I just like friends who are really good at stuff. You know, like Rachel is with dance or my friend Abby was at soccer. She moved away a couple years ago," Sidney elaborated.

"So, you liked how those boys made mischief?"

"No, no!" Sidney leaped to grab the Frisbee, then tried to throw in one motion. It landed right in front of her. She got it and threw again. "A couple of them played sports, they were good at being sneaky, and Brad, well, he was good at being cute."

"Michelle's cousins are cute. Or do you mean boy cute?" Samantha wondered how she'd act when she reached that stage. She knew it wouldn't be the way Sidney had.

"Boy cute. But, I like other cute stuff, too, like kittens. I'm just allergic to a lot of stuff."

"That doesn't stop you from making friends. Lots of people would understand. I know I would," Samantha assured her, giving her a warm, friendly smile.

"I know." Sidney closed her eyes for a second, and sighed. She knew Samantha was the right kind of friend, and that she probably felt the same way Sidney had about some things, with her size. But, "I guess I'd rather just hang around Rachel."

Samantha sighed, wishing she could think of some way to help Sidney. Michelle was so good at that sort of thing. But, Michelle didn't have any ideas, either; work with Rachel just getting her to be nicer went very slowly at times.

Michelle might be good at it, but she'd find it quite draining all the same a couple weeks later. Not only was Mandy absent, but a mild flu outbreak plus one vacation had led to the first instance of the PA and every single assistant being absent. Considering that was only about half a dozen kids, Principal Posey supposed that was about average. Still, it was troublesome, so when some problems started coming, he asked Michelle about filling in for Mandy and dealing with a couple cases.

"I know you don't like to think of disciplining someone. I don't either. I'd rather head things off before they're problems, and then just do administrative things, like the ones in Australia that inspired us to let Stephanie do more and more. That keeps me busy enough," Principal Posey remarked. "But, what other choice do we have with Mandy and her backups all absent?"

"Well, Sir, there's one girl who might help. She's had every type of lecture there is, according to Stephanie," Michelle stated bluntly.

Mr. Posey's eyebrows shot up. "If you mean Samantha...I know she's improved, but..." He shook his head almost unnoticeably. He was clearly stunned at this thought, yet didn't quite know what to say. Samantha still wasn't the ideal person to handle things; she seemed able to lead by example, but could she really handle all that Mandy did?

"Look, at least let her come down and talk. She might have some clue as to what Stephanie would do."

Mr. Posey grinned. "All right, I suppose. But, you should be the one to make any final decision. You're one of Mandy's best friends, after all. I'm sure you understand what she would do," Mr. Posey said.

Michelle thanked him, and took a signed slip with her to Mrs. Yoshida's class.

She went up to the teacher, then walked over to Samantha's desk. "Hey Samantha. Would you like to help give a lecture for a change?" she asked. "Mandy and her backups are all sick. I volunteered to help if need be, and it's nuts down there." Samantha rose and followed Michelle out the door. "Plus, I don't like yelling at people, or punishing. You know what Stephanie would do, you can help."

Samantha looked quite nice in her long black hair, blue skirt and golden top. She was a far cry from the girl who looked and acted so wild that Aunt Becky called her a "Kindergarten biker chick." Her actions seemed amazingly different, too.

They stood outside for a moment, and Samantha said, "I'll do what I can. I'd think you'd know just what she'd do, too." She spoke sadly. "I guess you probably didn't need all the stuff I needed, though." Stephanie's warmth and attempts to show compassion even if she had to discipline Sam had left a very favorable impression. And, even Michelle's sometimes brutal honesty had helped Samantha quite a bit.

"No. But, Steph's really proud of you. And, I am, too. You've really improved. I know you can do this. So, I thought you might like to make her even prouder."

"Thanks, Michelle." Samantha smiled warmly at the girl she thought of as a big sister. Especially with the size difference, she really felt most comfortable with Michelle around. She made Samantha want to behave, because she knew it would be rewarded with much closer friendship. And, Michelle told it like it was when Samantha had been really naughty, too, like after one food fight in first grade when she'd pleaded with her not to get in trouble. She could tell Michelle really cared. She hated to see Sam get hurt. She might be blunt about the fact it happened, but she still disliked it.

"Michelle, I could tell you were Stephanie's sister that time with the food fight. You stayed out of it and insisted I be good. But, when I was really bad, you cared about me, anyway." They started walking toward the principal's office, as she remembered Stephanie, Jen, and Missy. The daycare had given up trying to complain to Samantha's parents about their daughter's misbehavior. So, several times, such "principal's aides" - usually Stephanie, and always Stephanie with bad behavior, even once she graduated from fifth grade - had been asked to deal with Sam there, though by 2nd grade it was just a time or two of counseling, not discipline problems. "Stephanie spent lots of time with me. She said things that made lots of sense when I thought about them."

"You're way better than you were," Michelle admitted freely. She could tell Samantha was trying hard not to feel sad, coming down here. But, it was helping, too, for Samantha to be able to help others.

Samantha sighed heavily, and fought back the thoughts of being sent or coming on her own with big problems her first few years. She reminded herself that she could help others, and spoke lowly, so even Michelle had trouble hearing her talk. The boy had been sent was startled that the raised voice had dropped so dramatically.

"Look," Samantha began, "I know what it's like to not care about rules. When Michelle's sister was handling things, I made her very sad. She didn't like hurting people. But, I kept rebelling when she'd take recess or something away, or make me take timeout down here. It really really hurt when she did it; it wasn't fun at all," she murmured. Though what she recalled was that it mostly just hurt her feelings, the sad memories were enough to make her tell it like it was worse here, whereas elsewhere, she might not have made it sound as harsh.

Michelle smiled. "I've never been hit. But, I've been good just because being nice is easy. People will be a lot nicer to you then."

"We should be nice all the time. Stephanie was nice to me even though I was bad. She didn't like punishing me," Samantha said, suddenly lowering her voice to a whisper again. She continued in a normal voice. "And, nobody likes to punish anyone. So, if we don't have to, everyone will be happier."

Michelle agreed silently. Samantha was sounding like her Uncle Jesse might, talking about his wild streak. She'd figured Samantha could give the same kind of lecture.

Samantha's memories were mingling with her words, but it didn't matter. In fact, it might have helped the boy, as he could tell both these girls were really disappointed, and knew he could do better.

After the discussion, Michelle decided he should stay in from recess that day and also write a letter of apology for pushing someone and making them fall down and get hurt.

Michelle walked with Samantha back to Mrs. Yoshida's classroom. "Thanks for your help with the cases. Especially the one; I know it was hard."

"It's okay. Remembering how often I was there was hard, though. I couldn't do this full time."

Michelle could tell something was bothering Samantha. "I understand. Still, you should try to accomplish something. There's lots of chances for you to help people."

Samantha nodded slowly. Too many unpleasant memories of being on the other side had resurfaced. The dark reminders of how nasty she'd been to others, and how lonely she'd been, were starting to get to Samantha. Still, however, Michelle was having a positive impact. Samantha had changed. And, Michelle was always encouraging that to continue.

Samantha wanted it to, also. Talk about how she could help others helped her think of the future much more brightly than she did during these moments of sadness over her former, deprived life. And, they allowed her to focus on just what she could do. Which is why ballet was so much fun for her.

"You're right, Michelle. Maybe class president. I'd have to think about that. But, definitely not this."

"You still did great." She patted her on the back.

Samantha was thankful that Michelle had asked her to help. "Maybe, in a way, this was good for me today. It...well, it made me think a little," she told Courtney at lunch after a quite pensive rest of the morning. In a whisper, she said, "I always knew Stephanie never liked punishing me. I never realized how hard it was on her."

"She was glad to help, no matter what she had to do. That's just what mothers do," Courtney said, trying to make sure Samantha wasn't too down - she knew from what her mom said that making her feel positive was very important, especially recalling Samantha's emotional outburst.

Thankfully, Samantha felt quite happy. "I know. I just see how much she cares."

After she was done eating lunch that day, she went over to one of the fifth grade's tables and asked Michelle to give Stephanie a big hug for her when she got home. Michelle promised to do so.

"That was great Saturday, to have all Michelle's and Courtney's families there at your recital, huh?" Cassie asked, assuming Samantha was referring to the previous Saturday's dance recital.

"You bet!" Samantha was thankful for that, too, of course, and quite excited. She bounced as she said, "I'm so excited about dance school this summer!"

Michelle had told Rachel, who turned and said, "I had such a great time in New York while I was there. I'll have to get you a list of all the best restaurants. Did you know you can get Cajun pizza there?"

"You like Cajun?" Jeff turned to the rest of the table and spouted, "That stuff's so hot they serve your beverage in gallon jugs!" He didn't want to let on, as they were just in fifth, but as he peeked out of the corner of his eye, he got a special kick out of seeing Michelle giggle. He and she both liked each other a little more than as just friends, but at ten it was hard to even put into words.

"I wish you wouldn't brag so much," Cassie said.

Rachel could tell Sidney was distracted, too, and connected it to Cassie's comment. She protested, "I was nice. This time last year I would be saying there was no way she'd be as good as me, but now I don't talk like that, right?"

Sidney wasn't thinking about that, though. Though warned away from those boys - especially her crush, Brad - Sidney had enjoyed some of the adventure they'd had. She still wanted companionship, and had found them to be quite enjoyable. Besides, she'd seen Brad recently, and he'd told her she was always welcome back.

Rachel, on the other hand, was still a little rude. Sidney had always enjoyed having her as a friend, because Rachel was a star. She was good at so many things. And, so were the boys Brad hung with. One was a starter for John Muir Middle School's basketball team. Josh, the leader, who had reminded Michelle of a sitcom character, was an expert at fixing cars. And, they'd shown her once last week how to set off fireworks! That was so amazing! She was anxious to try that.

Samantha figured it was Cassie's comment that was distracting Sidney, too. She really wanted to be like Michelle now and help someone. She couldn't do it as a PA full time. But, Michelle had said the same thing. And, she was one today. So, Samantha invited Sidney to jump rope with her and Courtney at lunch recess.

"Hey, you know, I think Rachel's right," she encouraged Sidney once they began playing. "I think Rachel is nicer; I couldn't stand her last year."

"Some days it's tough for me to stand her, too," Sidney joked as she jumped. "I bet you're really good at this, being a ballerina."

"I'm pretty good," Samantha said modestly. "It helps me with soccer, too."

"You're more than pretty good." Courtney told Sidney Samantha's recital had been awesome. "Wish you'd been there. I know she invited you. Now that that's over, she won't have quite as many practices. So, we'll have time to play. You can come over, too."

Sidney didn't want to say she'd been with Brad and his friends again last Saturday. She was glad she was jumping rope and could use concentration as an excuse for not talking. Sidney had begun riding again with the boys, just to enjoy looking at Brad but also now to look at those fireworks. A strong, well groomed boy from a bad end of town, he'd liked the attention Sidney showered upon him. So did Josh, even - he was somewhat poorly dressed with a mustache that was "taking forever to grow in."

"So, where were you Saturday?" Courtney asked.

"Oh, places," Sidney said.

"What did you do there?" Samantha asked. When Sidney said "things," she replied, "You know, Court, I bet a billion dollars if I asked who she was with, she'd say 'people.'"

Sidney found herself laughing with the others in spite of herself. "You know, you're right, I probably would."

Samantha spoke close and softly to Sidney so others couldn't hear. "I know it's embarrassing to get in trouble. So, I just wanted to say, I hope it wasn't those boys you were riding around with."

"And what if it was?" Sidney wondered, a tad defiant.

"I wouldn't want Stephanie to catch me, that's for sure."

"Yeah, I know," Sidney said as they went to put the jump rope away, "she'd tell your parents real fast, like Michelle and Mandy."

Samantha didn't want to tell how her parents never paid any attention to her. It was too painful to talk about to someone she didn't know really well. Besides, Michelle told her Sidney figured Samantha's docility and temperament were because of her size, anyway.

So, she just gave Sidney her best pleading look, and said, "My parents let Stephanie handle things when I was really bad. And, you don't want to have to listen to her!"

"Really?" Sidney gulped. She hadn't even told her parents all she'd done earlier. She didn't know if that meant Samantha had gotten in really big trouble or just that the trouble in Kindergarten was so bad - she figured the latter, as she vaguely recalled stories of Samantha going to Stephanie a lot. It was probably the latter, but even so...the way Samantha said it really made her worry. "Well...what's the worst that can happen?" she asked, trying to sound like she didn't care, but concerned, too.

The bell rang, so she didn't have time to elaborate - and she was glad, in a way, as she didn't like to think about it. "Just make sure nobody else could get hurt by what you do, and don't talk back," she said as they went inside.

Sidney was glad she'd planned it so she didn't have to worry about her parents finding out; or anyone, since they would be going out of town - her dad was taking a business trip for a seminar, and they chose to spend some time together there, going out to dinner the previous evening and then her mom shopping while he attended his seminar.

Sidney enjoyed playing with Samantha and Courtney. Talking and laughing and having fun like this was something Rachel had done with Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy the weekend before Samantha's recital, and she told Sidney she'd enjoyed that, too. Sidney could grow to like it.

But, there was part of her that didn't want to, though. She wanted to be with Brad, and with those friends who had the fancy fireworks. But, she couldn't let on to Samantha that she'd done that. She might tell Michelle, who would tell someone that would make her tell her parents. And, besides she hadn't told her parents everything she'd done with the gang before.

However, later that day, Sidney overheard some plans unlike anything they'd ever done. They'd played with fireworks before - they looked soooo pretty, and hadn't hurt Sidney when she did it - but this time, they planned to do something far more dangerous.

"Now, hold it right there, Josh," Sidney shouted. "You are not burning anything down."

"Oh, is the poor little baby gonna cry if we do?" one of the kids said sarcastically.

"Hey, don't talk to Sidney that way," Brad said defensively, casting a caring smile at her.

Josh held up his hand. As they met in some tall brush he explained. "Look, you don't have to do this if you don't want, you can play with some sparklers we've got here. But, all we're gonna do is burn down this old abandoned warehouse. We'll be having fun and doing the city a favor."

"Well, what if there's some little kittens in it? Or even some homeless people? What if you can't control it, and it goes to someone else's house?" She was horrified by the thought - how could anyone do this? Not to mention the fact that given her allergies, that place looked so old and musty she'd start sneezing really badly just looking at it for very long. Finally, she stated bluntly, "If you do this, I will call the police, and I don't care if I like you," she said, looking fiercely at Brad.

She couldn't believe she'd said it for a moment. But, she knew Mandy - and Michelle - were right. She wished they would stick to "safe" things, though they weren't really safe.

Brad looked at her, very hurt, pleading with her not to tell. However, he was relieved, too, in a way; even he hadn't really wanted to burn anything. He knew the dangers, too, and having just turned twelve, he was more willing than the others to listen; especially to a girl he, too, sort of liked.

"She's right," he finally got the nerve to say. "We can't do that. It's too dangerous."

After a second, Josh relented. "Yeah, you're right, it probably would be.," he said. Then, he got tougher, sticking his face in Sidney's. "Okay. We won't burn anything down. But, you keep quiet about us, and stick with us so we know what you're doin'."

"Yeah, we don't want there to be any trouble if we think you might have told on us," another member said in a threatening voice.

Josh held up his hand again to quiet his fellow gang members. He - along with Brad, of course - had not only gotten this "sweet little girl" into a big predicament, he could use her to their advantage. "Stay cool, guys. Look, Sidney, you stick with us, you'll be able to watch and make sure we don't act up. And, we'll let you play with these fancy fireworks, too, not just sparklers and those other little things we had before. I know somebody who's got a really good batch, he just got 'em delivered. How would you like to do that instead Friday after school. Instead of doing something that could really hurt someone." The others silently marveled at their leaders' cleverness. He was drawing Sidney in with cunning; sounding just loud enough and getting just enough in her face that she wouldn't run, but enough to intimidate her.

"Ask her nicer, and I bet she'll do it; right?" Brad said sweetly.

Sidney nodded slowly. She'd have been willing to lie till she got away, then tell someone if they had planned to burn down the building. But, now she would remain quiet. What harm could it do? She'd be safe, and besides, those fireworks were really fancy. That new stash that friend of Josh's had must really be something, she decided.

The day that "great stash" of fireworks came, Samantha could tell Sidney looked a little excited as they waited for the bus. "Hey, Sidney; I hear you're going to Rachel's tonight."

"Huh? Oh, yeah," Sidney said as she glanced at Samantha.

"You must have something fun planned. I love sleepovers. I like to spend weeknights at Michelle's or Courtney's, too. I'm spending the night at Michelle's tonight."

"Cool," Rachel interrupted. "I've got a great night planned for us. Oh, you'll have to get your overnight bag."

"Yeah, well...I just left it at home. I'll get off there and go see some friends, then I'll be at your place, oh, around six, Rachel?"

"Fine; I'll go to the mall and hang out till then," Rachel announced as they got on the bus.

What strange sleepover party plans, Samantha said to herself as she got o her bicycle. She liked the bus a little, but it reminded her a little of the daycare van, so she didn't ride it a lot. But, she wished she'd ridden it so she could catch more of those unusual plans. She thought one only had sleepovers with best friends with whom one did everything.

Then again, she wasn't going over to Michelle's for a little while. She enjoyed the freedom of riding around and seeing everything. Sometimes she even felt inspired to write a little poetry. She'd written a few pretty poems about God, and love, and so on the last few months. But, she just had to scratch her head in confusion as she rode. Lots of things she liked, like flowers and such, Sidney might be allergic to; she didn't know what all there was, but Sidney had said there was a lot.

She stopped by Michelle's after a few minutes and asked her opinion. "Well, the Rachel part makes sense, she just thinks only of herself sometimes," Michelle said.

"That's right. And, Sidney would still have to get her overnight bag," Mandy remarked. "Plus, her parents aren't home, so she can't have someone drive her over. I'm a little surprised she didn't say Rachel's mom would take her back for it, though."

Samantha figured that solved part of the mystery, at least. She decided to ride out Sidney's way and say hello. She could invite her to one of her friends' sleepovers one night, too. Samantha knew she'd enjoy that. While she was out riding, Michelle and her friends were going over to Mandy's for a while.

Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy were at Mandy's house. "Hey, we should go in," Mandy announced suddenly. "It's four o'clock. 'Rush Hour Renegades' is about to start."

Michelle raised her eyebrows. "My Uncle Jesse and Joey's radio show?"

"Yeah. It's a great break from the stresses of being 'Principal Mandy' all week. That Casual Friday they started a little while back is perfect; not only does Joey try to be extra funny, but they even play some pretty out of the ordinary songs."

Michelle and Cassie laughed along with Mandy. "Are you going to request a song?" Cassie asked jokingly. "Like those chickens that cluck 'In The Mood?'"

"I might. For one of my little brothers," Mandy said defensively. Finally, sensing the looks as they walked into the house, she confessed, "Okay, for me, too. But, you know, I might do a dedication, too. To Samantha."

"That would be nice. She'll like it, too; she'll be back to hear it after 5:30. Courtney's family left last night for an early start to their Thanksgiving next week," Cassie explained.

"Yeah, it'll make her feel better, with one of her best friends gone for over a week. And, I can request something for..." Michelle chuckled, decided to admit it. From the looks on her friends' faces, she knew they knew, anyway. "Okay, for Jeff." Jeff Farrington was the class clown, and might be listening as he played video games or something else.

They nodded as Mandy turned on the radio in her room. "You said he was kind of cute the other day, and then got shocked and said, 'I sounded like Stephanie saying that,'" Mandy recalled. "Say, is it just me, or did Sidney seem a little uneasy around you today?"

"You think Sidney has a crush on Jeff?"

"She might, Cassie. I might ask her about it." Michelle agreed. "I know you guys can tell a little, and I think Sidney overheard me say that. If she thought she liked Jeff, too, that would explain it."

Mandy suggested that Michelle bring it up that way. "I've learned that something funny like that is a good icebreaker for kids who are bothered and won't talk. If it is the problem, she'll feel relieved when you say you don't mind. If not, you'll both start laughing at the thought and maybe it'll get her to tell what is on her mind."

"Cool. Thanks, Mandy. What song will you dedicate to Samantha?"

"I was thinking 'Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.' She likes that song. She's really got a good imagination; she tells me she talks to her stuffed animals quite a bit, and sometimes imagines them talking amongst themselves. It really helps ease the loneliness."

"Good point, Mandy. Especially Mr. Snuggle Bunny." Michelle added that Jesse and Joey would likely play that song anyway, though. "Uncle Jesse's so big into serious rock and roll, it was hard for him to even agree to do the show with Joey and his comedy, even though that's what got him the job and it's what helps the ratings. For him to play some funnier songs, that was really tough, until Joey convinced Nicky and Alex to pester their dad about doing a 'casual Friday' till he gave in. And, they always bug him to play that song once between four and six if he can."

"Your Uncle Jesse is so dedicated to those boys." Mandy wished that Samantha's parents could be even a tenth that dedicated to her.

Cassie mentioned that, "Since they play the non-Christmas version, the one Samantha likes, Nicky and Alex can learn to count by tens, too. 'Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more...,'" she sang.

"Well, what do you know," Mandy teased. "You can just keep singing, here she is coming up my drive now." With a little concern, she said, "Fast, too."

"That's funny. I wonder what happened."

Michelle's question was answered all too quickly when Samantha met them in the upstairs hall. "I just saw Sidney with a couple boys." She named the park they were headed for, and gave their descriptions. "I hope it's not the same ones."

"I'm afraid it is," Mandy said with a frown as they walked downstairs. "Would Stephanie be home - Sidney's parents are out of town, so I don't know who else to call."

"By the time Cassie and Samantha ride there, she will be. Tell Steph to meet us at that park we went to before, Cassie. Same general area."

"That's not the best part of town," Mandy observed as they began riding.

"It's not the worst, either. We'll just stick together."

Mandy agreed, feeling quite frustrated. She felt like she should have been watching more closely. But, she supposed that this was just what Stephanie felt every time something bad happened. She couldn't be watching everyone every minute of the day.

The girls were extremely watchful in these surroundings, sad that some people had to live in such dumps. It wasn't totally run down, but people just didn't keep up their houses very well.

It was close enough to almost be in their school district, though. In fact, Kimmy had lived only a few blocks closer, before her parents had inherited some money and bought the house next to the Tanners'. Michelle remembered D.J. saying that at first when she met the Gibblers, they would, "live in a place for five years and trash it, then move out."

Michelle wished she had her dad's cell phone; though at that time, they still weren't incredibly common. Danny and their Uncle Jesse each only had them because of being in the media. Oh, well, Stephanie will be home from shopping soon, she reassured herself. Hopefully Cassie and Samantha would be watching and think to stop Allie's or Darcy's mom's car before Stephanie gets out.

"It's neat to see Samantha able to help like this. Michelle, I'm amazed at all your sister's done to help her. But, she's not the only one Stephanie's helped." Mandy admitted she really looked up to Stephanie. It took a special someone to handle a position like hers. And, Stephanie hadn't just been a PA - she'd built the position.

Michelle listened and smiled. "I know, when she helped me that first day of Kindergarten, I came home calling her a genius. And, I just kept sending kids to her. I guess I pushed her the same way you guys pushed me to be class President last fall."

"This job's so much more demanding, though," Mandy professed. "I'm not saying it's too hard. But, this thing with Sidney just makes me wonder, am I handling things as well as Stephanie would have?"

"Take it from her sister. I think you're just like her," Michelle said sincerely. Nobody was exactly like Stephanie, of course - but she was quite close.

Samantha and Cassie, meanwhile, had ridden fast to Michelle's house. Cassie was ready to tell Mr. Tanner to come help, if he was around. But, Becky might be doing something with the twins, and it was early enough Danny was likely not cooking dinner yet, so finding him could take a while. Besides, Michelle said Stephanie had planned to come home pretty fast from shopping, from what Cassie remembered of going to the mall with her. That meant that the adults might be busy and Stephanie intended to be watching the twins, anyway.

Samantha's mind focused on other things, though. "I hope she's not in too much trouble," she muttered as they saw Mrs. Taylor coming down the street.

"Same here. Her parents are going to be so mad!"

"No, I mean just from Stephanie," Samantha said, shuddering a little at the eruption that might come if Stephanie caught anyone doing something really bad. She'd heard that Sidney's misdeeds had included spraying graffiti a little, after all. "I don't think I want to go out there. She'll really yell."

Cassie and Samantha stopped the car as it pulled in front of the Tanner home. They told what they'd seen. Samantha said it was the same ones Sidney was with before. "Okay, what are they doing, do you know?" Stephanie asked as she rose from the car.

"I don't know; the oldest boy had a couple little boxes on his bike, and they were gong to the park."

"Boxes...?" Stephanie thought for a second, then ordered Cassie to get in with a slightly alarmed voice. It was only a guess, but still.... "Samantha, I know it's tough for you..."

"I have to stay here.. I just have to." She sighed, able to sense the worry in Stephanie's voice but also knowing it was the same boys Sidney had been with earlier. "You're gonna be real mad at her, aren't you?"

Before Samantha could finish her sentence, Stephanie was back in the car with the door shut and the window rolled down. "Listen, go in the house, Dad should be there with Nicky and Alex. Aunt Becky had a hairdresser appointment and D.J. has an exam. If not, ride back to Mandy's and tell them where I'll be. Cassie, show us where to go," she instructed as she rolled up the window.

Samantha agreed, not wanting to think about what Sidney might be doing. She trudged slowly up the sidewalk and into the Tanner household, where Danny said, "Hey, Steph...oh, hi, Samantha. What's wrong?" while at the same time Nicky, Alex, and Comet all ran over to embrace her and knocked her down. "Whoa. Besides getting pounced on by two anxious kids and a big dog."

Samantha began laughing at the onslaught. She was glad to have some lightheartedness to take her mind off Sidney. She really wanted Sidney to be good, and it bothered her that she wouldn't. When Danny finally walked over and sat on the couch with her, Samantha explained. "It's Michelle's classmate, Sidney." She couldn't stop thinking of when Stephanie would be sent for when she was being really rebellious. "Michelle and Mandy said we had to call Stephanie about her. She must be in really big trouble!"

Meanwhile while Samantha was riding to alert the others, Sidney, Brad, and a couple other boys had met Josh In the park. "Hey, Sidney, look what we got!" Josh had motioned her over to a secluded part of the area's park a while earlier. "Bottle rockets, Roman candles, you name it! And, all the colors of the rainbow."

"Wow! These look like...they'll do a lot more than just sparkle." Sidney had never seen anything like it.

Josh could sense the shock. "We've used 'em before, once or twice, though not with you. They're easy to use, let me show you."

"Well...sure, I guess." She felt a little daunted; but, on the other hand, Brad seemed to care about her a lot, and so did his friends. They wouldn't expose her to anything too dangerous, right? Plus, what harm could they do; fireworks were so pretty. And, they weren't going near any people - they were exploding them over a stream. She looked around to make sure nobody was near.

Josh showed her how to light one quickly, and then back away even faster. She was amazed - it did seem pretty easy. As he and his friends did seem to be pretty good at what they were doing; they certainly had with the smaller ones. And, even Brad seemed to be watching to make sure nobody was in front of them or near the explosions, though Sidney didn't realize he did it to make sure they didn't get caught.

So, Sidney went to work. She lit one, and backed away fast. It went up in the air, and made a neat fizzling noise as it did so. The sound afterward reminded her of a snake.

"Nice job. We'll try a few of more colorful ones now, then fiddle around with the real noisemakers."

The sound of one that sounded like a bunch of firecrackers going off at once made her edgy, but she soon felt better when Brad set one off and nothing bad happened. All she had to do was back away at the right time.

She had been lighting them off for a short while when Michelle and Mandy finally found the right spot in the park, and parked a fair deal behind Sidney and the others. However, the girls didn't want to get too close, for fear of getting injured, and Sidney was not hearing their calls, she was having too much fun.

What happened next would remain with Sidney until the day the Lord took her home - a white flash followed by a loud bang and a wind that knocked her on her back. As she struggled to sit up, a hand reached down from above to assist - Sidney said "thanks" before realizing with a widening dread that the hand belonged to Stephanie. Sidney gulped and wished she was somewhere else - several somewhere elses. Stephanie's face had the look of Mount Rushmore as she got in Sidney's face and said softly in a voice as cool as the Arctic, "You're dead. In fact you're so dead, you've fossilized!"

Sidney had talked with Stephanie a time or two in Kindergarten and first grade, but had never gotten in real trouble in school then or later. However, she knew Stephanie's reputation. And, she'd rather have her parents catch her than Stephanie, from the way Samantha talked.

Even though Mrs. Taylor was there, Stephanie took charge like a drill instructor. She ordered everyone away from the fireworks, demanded that Cassie borrow Michelle's bike and that Michelle's friends go for help - she wanted the car there in case someone had to be rushed to the hospital right away. Stephanie did the best she could in getting Michelle's and Sidney's help in caring for any scrapes or burns that might have occurred. Allie, normally very shy, just looked on in amazement as her mom took over the small relief effort and Stephanie went to lecturing the gang members. She then started getting names, numbers, and addresses.

Cassie and Mandy returned a couple minutes later. "Someone at a house called 911, we made sure they called. There'll be an ambulance coming in a minute or two," Mandy reported.

"Good. It looks like nobody's seriously hurt, but all of you boys are going to need to be checked - especially for signs of common sense. Don't you know how dangerous this was? You could have lost fingers, hands, eyes, all sorts of things! You can see by that park bench that that one errant one hit!" Sidney gasped; it had been wrecked. If someone had been there...she gulped. She hoped Stephanie understand she had been watching to make sure nobody was around.

She noticed Michelle with an arm around Sidney, who still looked a little scared. Stephanie went over and hugged her herself. "Sidney, I am going to say what I always said to kids in trouble - I care about you. And, I mean that. But, there are going to be some very serious consequences here, including a lecture that would make an Egyptian mummy's hair stand on end! Allie's mom suggested something on the way over after Cassie commandeered her car," she said with a grin to lighten the mood. "I had the same idea. We are going on a tour of the hospital at some point tonight; Joey's girlfriend Suzie works there and should be able to get you in. They will take you around to show you what kinds of dangers can come from fireworks. And, I am going to recommend to each of these boys' parents that they do the same with them!"

"Are you gonna tell our parents?" Brad asked defensively and fearfully.

Stephanie was glad to see that this young boy, at least, was timid. The leader, who gave his name as Josh, seemed to have a rather cavalier attitude. One look from Stephanie told him that she would deal with him as much as she had to, also, to make him learn how wrong he was.

"We are going to track down your parents; Mrs. Taylor here is getting all your names and addresses, and there will be consequences for all of you. I only wish I had my older sister's biology textbook here so I could more easily describe what some of those could have been!" Stephanie then began a scolding that described the dangers of fireworks quite vividly anyway, as she used her skills with words that led her to be an excellent writer on her school newspaper to craft a speech in which she discussed possible injuries in graphic detail - "just in case any of you tries to get out of the hospital tour," she said

Brad - not knowing of Stephanie's reputation as PA - said, "I'm glad we didn't get the older sister." Sidney squirmed uneasily at that; she knew Stephanie was quite upset.

As the ambulance arrived, Sidney blurted out that she knew what she did was really dangerous and dumb. Then, she said, "Are you gonna lecture about the shoplifting, too?" Stephanie asked harshly if Sidney had stolen something. "Just once, some candy with Brad when we first started hanging out," she said meekly.

"Do you mean before your parents told you not to see him anymore?" Mandy asked. "You didn't tell your parents that part, right?" Sidney nodded sheepishly.

"It appears you have been getting in some very serious trouble, young lady. Brad, I would suggest you tell your parents everything - and I mean everything - or else! And another thing," Stephanie finished, "this is not the way to meet a girlfriend! A date should be treated with dignity and respect - and getting them involved in petty theft is not the way to do that!"

"We just wanted to try it," Sidney whimpered.

Michelle hated to see anyone get in trouble; she hadn't liked the lecture so far, and knew Stephanie might give more for the shoplifting, since Sidney's parents were gone. "Steph, she feels really bad."

"I can tell. Don't worry, I'm going to suggest some very logical consequences for this. For instance, when we all get back, I want you to call the Tillys and tell them they should give their maid a night off. Because if you don't have the money to pay that store back, Sidney, you are going to be working it off while you're spending the night at Rachel's."

Michelle was aghast now. "Steph, when Rachel finds out..." Rachel had trouble accepting faults in anyone, but this?

"Then you're just going to have to help her see how friends support each other when things go wrong," Stephanie said extra calmly to mask her frustration at Sidney. She knew Michelle was trying to help, but how Rachel handled things wasn't her problem. Michelle could deal with that somehow. "All right, Sidney, we're taking you back to your house. I assume you needed to get your overnight bag ready anyway." She nodded. "Fine. We're going to call your parents while we're there. Actually, there's not enough room for all these kids. Can you girls make it home on your bikes?" They could. "Good, okay, there's only two. Well, stick together, it's not a horrible neighborhood. We'll take Sidney home; Cassie, you can ride back with us, too. We'll drop you off at my house so you can get your bike."

As the other boys were leaving, Danny pulled up. "Dang, that girl's just like the cops, she's even got backup," Josh muttered as he looked behind him. Danny had dropped Samantha and the twins off at Mandy's before driving down to make sure Stephanie didn't need more help.

As Michelle and Mandy put their bikes in the trunk and got into the back seat, Mandy spouted, "Boy, another car showing, I'll bet those boys are really spooked now."

"I'll say. Where's Samantha?" She was at Mandy's. "Good. Drop us off there, please, Dad. We'll tell her Sidney's okay, and I can call Rachel from there."

Once the other left, Mrs. Taylor drove to Sidney's. Stephanie and Sidney walked into Sidney's home to pick up her overnight bag for Rachel's, and also to call her parents.

They had not yet left for their dinner, and Stephanie made sure Sidney confessed everything. Then, she took the receiver back. "I'm sorry to have to bother you like this," she said as they sat in the living room, "but I figured you'd want to know right away."

They did, and Mrs. Wainwright said they'd told Sidney to listen to Stephanie; she'd told them about the plan to pay back the store and also the hospital tour.

Sidney let Michelle and Mandy in as Stephanie spoke further with the Wainwrights. "I'm going to have a long talk with her about this, as I'm sure you will when you get home."

"Well, do whatever you feel is right," Mrs. Wainwright said. "We told Sidney we'll abide by whatever you decide. Even when you had to be your toughest, we know you were always really good with other kids who misbehaved."

Stephanie solemnly agreed. The decision was up to her as far as how to handle it; they trusted her. She was glad that most of the parents were involved in their kids' lives when they talked about discipline problems. Even the ones who didn't want her to spank, she gladly abided by their decisions because they would still work with her very hard to ensure their kids behaved; and a couple of those were ones who simply believed only the parents should spank, anyway.

Once she hung up, after a couple more minutes, Stephanie and Mandy stood in front of Sidney in the living room and ordered her upstairs almost in unison.

"What are you doing?" Sidney spouted to Mandy, not wanting to be in any more trouble than she was. "I didn't break any school rules!"

"No, you're right. I should let Stephanie handle this one. I'm just a P.A., she's the legend," Mandy admitted.

Stephanie looked oddly at Mandy, trying to hide her slight embarrassment at the honoring comment. "Legend? Willie Mays is a legend!" Mays was a superstar ballplayer for their home town Giants, and was considered one of the best ever.

"And, she's right," Stephanie said to Sidney. "She could lecture you, but I think I should talk to you. Now, go upstairs and wait for me!" Michelle took her up to her room.

She turned back to Mandy and said, "I know, we talked about how you had to be able to get in friends' faces..."

"Really, Stephanie, I would rather you handle this. I mean, she's right, it's not a school issue. But, well...I mean, there are so many things wrong here. I feel like she needs a friend, a comforter, a mother, a judge..." Mandy trailed off.

"Now you know how I used to feel when Samantha first showed up," Stephanie reminisced, laying a hand on Mandy's shoulder. "I just wanted to make sure you knew you're still doing a great job."

"Thanks." Mandy was especially glad to hear that from Stephanie. "I guess it's one of those things where I'd tell the parents like last time. And, since they're not here, I'd have to do what you're doing, anyway. I mean, my dad says in some neighborhoods, there's a woman who's known for watching out for all the kids. They make sure their own and the others are taken care of..."

Trying to do her best impression of Dr. McCoy on Star Trek - who often said "I'm a doctor, not a..." something, Stephanie smirked and said, "Stop trying to butter me up; I'm a nanny, not a slice of bread." As the girls laughed, she said, "I bet Dr. McCoy would never say 'I'm a doctor, not a slice of bread.'"

"That would take one weird Star Trek parody. Although Jeff could find a way."

"I'm sure he could." Stephanie sighed. "He does jokes just like I have to do lectures sometimes. But, I don't do legendary things. In fact, if those boys spread the word that the Fraser St. PA came after them with 2 cars with adults for backup, you might have your own legend on your hands." They managed to chuckle before Stephanie went upstairs.

In her room, Sidney fretted to Michelle, figuring Stephanie was furious.

"I can't believe how many wrong things you've been doing myself," Michelle confessed shaking her head while placing an affectionate hand on the girl's shoulder.

Her eyes grew wide. "Do you think she'll even spank me?" Sidney wondered worriedly.

"I don't know. " Michelle explained, "Steph's really good at seeing through people, so be very honest with her. And, be humble. Admit you did wrong. And, I hope you didn't hide anything."

"I didn't, Michelle, I promise! I even told my parents everything this time! Samantha told me Stephanie was really tough. I knew I had to; even about the abandoned house they were gonna burn down till I stopped them."

"Then there's a chance you'll get by with...well, only your feelings hurt." Michelle couldn't imagine being in as much trouble as Sidney was in.

"Will Rachel...does she...?"

"She'd just gotten home. I said you were in really big trouble, and Steph was dealing with you. I reminded her of some times she's done wrong stuff. We talked about how friends say what they have to say, even if the other doesn't like it, but that when a friend is remorseful, they don't keep bugging them. And, I said you were. I hope I'm right."

"You are, Michelle. I promise."

"Did you call the Tillys?" Michelle told Stephanie she had, and that she'd go over and talk with Rachel more if need be. "No, I sent Mandy to help with that. She's calling her house and just saying she's handling official business. Sidney might want you here after I get done. Just wait in the living room while I talk to her." Michelle left, and Stephanie shut the dolor before walking over to Sidney on her bed.

"The good news is, your parents talked to you a fair amount, but now , they're letting me handle this lecture." She placed her hands on her hips and said ominously, "The bad news for you is, they're letting me handle this lecture."

"I'm sorry, Stephanie."

"Your parents said they talked to you about how to make better friends. You were told not to hang around those boys, and yet you went back and were lying to them for a couple weeks. And we talked about this, and there were no threats, you just wanted to do it on your own, despite the warnings. Not only that, but you were playing with fireworks before, and you didn't even tell them about the shoplifting until just now!"

"I said I'd pay for it."

"You could have wound up in a hospital because of those fireworks, young lady! You're lucky you're not spending the time you'll be grounded in a hospital bed or worse! And, your parents say you've been acting the opposite of what they expected!" Stephanie was in full blown "Mount Stephanie" mode; her blood boiling and her eyes taking on a soul piercing look as her hands tightened on Sidney's shoulders. "Let me put it more clearly. Those kids are bad news, and if your parents ever unground you you will have no contact with them. If Brad should grow into a good young man you may date him when he's fifty! Understand?" She nodded. "Now, I'm glad you told about that building," Stephanie said, relaxing only slightly but keeping her hands on her hips. "I'm glad you stopped them from that, and if they haven't told their parents what they thought of doing I will!"


"But fireworks are very dangerous, too. There could have been people walking in the park, or children playing, and if one of those things had gone astray..."

Sidney held out her hands. "Stephanie, I promise, I was watching, we made sure it was an area nobody else was in. We would have stopped if there was any danger. I would have made them stop!" She sniffled. "You believe me, don't you?"

Stephanie inhaled deeply. "So far, I can tell you're being very honest with me."

"I know. Michelle and Samantha both said I had to be. 'Cause I don't want spanked."

Stephanie hadn't really thought about whether she would - most likely it would have been fwaps that only hurt her feelings if she'd done it, like when Samantha was throwing rocks at windshields when she ran away from the school almost two years ago. But, she was glad to be able to tell Sidney, "If you keep being humble, and truthful, and accepting what you did was wrong, and obeying your restrictions, you will not have to worry about that. It sounds like you at least cared about others' safety, even if not your own."

"Thanks, Stephanie," Sidney said, managing to smile. She wanted to pledge that she would have even without Samantha talking to her. She probably would have. But, she knew she making sure not to give any backtalk considering what she'd been told.

"However, we still have quite a bit to talk about, young lady..." Stephanie was calmer now, but still firm, as they continued to talk for several minutes about the choices Sidney had been making, and the consequences. She would not only be working off the candy at Rachel's, but the cost of the park bench, too. Finally, at the end, once Stephanie said the lecture was over, she asked Sidney to just stay in her room and think for a couple minutes. Michelle was told she could go up and see her, as she wanted to do.

Sidney felt Michelle rubbing her back as she sat beside her. After a minute of crying hard, Sidney turned her head and looked at Michelle. "Am I the baddest girl who ever lived?"

"That lecture made you sound like it."

"I just made such a mess of things," she said as she laid her head on Michelle's shoulder. "I'm glad you're so nice, even thought I wasn't always."

"Steph is, too. You just needed talked to a lot more firmly. I bet Rachel's gonna still be your friend, though. But, you know what's more important?" Sidney looked up at her. "We will be, too."

"Thanks. Samantha's so nice. Maybe we can play together, too; if I'm ever ungrounded."

"You will be sometime. And, knowing Steph, she'll probably have the same bunch of people who watch her watch you, too; I'm sure she's thinking of all the names and stuff to give your parents for when you are ungrounded."

Stephanie came up a short time later. She sat on Sidney's bed, and gazed at the girl who was looking sadly at the ground. "Hey, I'm glad you're okay."


"I really like you, okay? I still want us to be friends."

"Even after all I did, Stephanie?"

"That's right. I think you've really started to learn your lesson. Of course, you're punishment's just beginning," she said lowly. "But, there's a special kind of love that we have for others. And, even though we're not as close as Samantha is with our family, Sidney, we still care about you. And, we want you to learn to be good. Why don't you come to Sunday School with Samantha and Michelle this Sunday. Because, God's love is warm and forgiving just like what we try to show - actually, He loves us more than people ever could. If you're looking for friends, He's a great place to start."

Sidney smiled. She hadn't wanted to before; Rachel's family never went to church, her other friends had rarely done so, and she saw no need. But, the way Michelle was now, and the way Stephanie had been despite her punishing Sidney, showed her there was something special there. "Thanks, I think I'll do that."

"Great. Now, it's suppertime; why don't I call and order a pizza; my dad and I can pick it up on the way back from Josh's and drop it off at the Tillys. If you thought yours was loud, he's really going to get a tongue lashing."

Sidney was startled. " want us to have pizza together?"

"We may as well. It's just like Dad did when he found out my ears were so infected from that piercing he told me I couldn't get. He said we'd stop for a burger after we went to the doctors to get medicine for my infection. Because I wouldn't be going out again for a looong time," she said, trying to impersonate Danny.

"So he did that, even when you were grounded, huh?" Stephanie nodded. "I won't be having any pizza parties for a long time myself, from the way my parents talk."

"No, but you've got something more important. People who love you," Michelle responded.

Danny had driven Stephanie over to the house Josh had given as his address. She'd already visited Brad - and, sure enough, he'd confessed everything to his parents, fearful of hearing a worse lecture from Stephanie. Josh's house had certainly seen better days - the front gate was brown with rust, the paint on the panels of the garage door long since peeled away, and they saw many of the house's windows were either cracked or broken.

At this point Danny's protectiveness kicked in. "Honey, maybe I should take you home - this place doesn't look too safe."

Stephanie just looked at him and replied, "Dad, I have to talk to him, otherwise another kid could get into the same trouble Sidney did; I can't let that happen!" Especially if Samantha were to fall in with the wrong crowd, although she wouldn't. Or, if she did once, she'd tell Stephanie right away and they'd keep her away from the situation. With that, she started walking towards the front door and pounded on the door.

As the noise died away she could hear movement inside followed by a muffled curse word, then "comin'!" The door opened to reveal a medium sized boy a couple of years older than Stephanie, his dark brown hair tinted with blonde streaks, his t-shirt ragged and either torn or moth-eaten in spots, his dark biker pants the only item close to either new or well cared for. "What's up babe?" Josh said in a rough way with a leery look in his eyes. He wanted to sound tough, but he was still cautious from the way Stephanie had acted earlier.

Stephanie leaned towards him, her eyes pin-pricks of something next to hate. She continued the lecture she had somewhat begun when she'd come upon the scene, her voice making those even blocks away think that someone's mother was really scolding them. As she finished, she realized the end result was something that made her lecture to Sidney sound like a mild reprimand. She really was like one of those neighborhood moms Mandy mentioned, in a way, with her protectiveness. Although, much came from wanting to make sure Samantha wasn't bothered by these kids.

"...So even though you knew that what you and your 'friends' were doing was wrong, you also involved a little girl much younger then you were just so you'd look good to your friends by having a girl that thought you were 'cool' as a hanger-on?" She paused, trying to regain composure before saying with barely subdued fury, "If I ever hear that you have tried to meet Sidney or contact her or any other grade schooler to be in a gang ever again I will not only tell the police, I might just come after you myself!" At this point Josh was cowering in the face of Stephanie's sheer forcefulness and had backed up towards the wall.

After a moment, he uttered a term Stephanie thought he'd likely never used in his life. "Y-y-yes Ma'am...uh, I mean..."

"I think Ma'am is appropriate right now."

"You know, Steph," Danny interjected, "it might be a good idea to..." As Stephanie's glare hadn't left Josh, Danny realized that it might be best to simply support Stephanie at this point. "Young man, my brother-in-law used to be quite the rebel, too. He's really turned his life around, and I think he would have some good advice for you, so you can do the same. And for your folks. What time will they be home?"

Josh thankfully turned his attention to the clean-cut, kindly Danny Tanner. "Hey," he said in a nonchalant manner, "don't be botherin' my folks, they work long hours..."

"In that case tell them to expect a call at three in the morning so my uncle will know he can find them at home," Stephanie challenged him. "Unless you can give me a better time right now." When Josh fidgeted nervously and told them to call back about 10:00, Stephanie said, "Thank you. And, if they're not home, don't worry; he will call at some ridiculous hour every morning till he finds an authority figure at home." He promised there would be one there. Whatever this fellow had to say would be better heard at a time when most people were awake.

Stephanie breathed deeply and thanked him. As she and Danny left the doorstep, she could tell Josh had been cowed.

"Nice job, Steph. You really know how to talk to miscreants like that," Danny said, patting her on the shoulder as she opened the car door.

"You too, Dad. Uncle Jesse should be able to get through to him on his level pretty well. Thanks."

He got in on the other side, and as they buckled up, he said, "That's the maddest I've ever seen you."

"Thanks. Now, I hope you can see I can do this myself."

Danny understood. As they drove back home, he said, "I care a lot about you, honey. I just want to make sure you're safe."

Stephanie thought about the neighborhood they'd gone to it was very run down, much worse than that park area. She was thankful he was there, in a way but she'd also felt a little frustrated by having him by her side while she tried to exert her authority over situations Sam might find herself in.

She looked warmly at Danny and grinned broadly. "Dad, you're a wonderful, loving father. I am really thankful you walked up there with me that was the toughest neighborhood I've had to go into, by far. But please," she said equally warmly. "don't embarrass me again like that."

He didn't promise that. But, he placed a loving hand on Stephanie's shoulder before driving to the pizza place and said, "I understand. I'd never interfere with you and Samantha you know what she needs, it's you she respects. It's the same way with your other charges, or when you become a parent. I guess I figured that boy would stand more chance of respecting you if I was along."

"Maybe. And, you're right, Samantha does respect me. She's become a good girl. She just does little things now, like missing curfew, that we've all done." She paused a moment. "Even Sidney. I think she realizes what she did was really wrong, and we've stopped anything like it from ever happening again."

Michelle, Mandy, and Samantha stopped by Cassie's house on their bikes Saturday. "Care to come? Mandy's going to see how Sidney's doing, and we thought we'd ride along."

"Thanks, Michelle. We're going to visit some relatives in a few minutes," she said.

"And practice that speech for when you're named Homecoming Queen?" Mandy teased.

"Come on, that's seven years away," she said as the girls laughed. "Tell Sidney I said "hi', and I'm glad she wasn't hurt, so she didn't have to go to the hospital."

"We will." As they rode off, Michelle added to Mandy, "Let's hope this is the last time she tries anything this bad."

"It will be," Samantha said confidently. "Between Stephanie and you and everyone else, you've taken real good care of me. Her parents will do a good job, too." Michelle smiled, as the way she said that, Samantha was clearly putting Stephanie in the same class as another kid's parents. She didn't totally understand it - Michelle still felt Samantha's parents just didn't think they could do the job - but a real connection had been made the last few months wherein Stephanie truly occupied the position of "mom" to Samantha.

Mandy has seen more in her time as Principal Mandy than she could have imagined. Some parents just would not cooperate with the schools, so it stood to reason they would have trouble doing anything to help their kids. But, she knew the Wainwrights would handle things the right way; indeed, she would help them set up a system of friends to help Sidney, too, if need be.

Samantha warmly greeted Sidney, giving her a big hug as Sidney tiredly said hello. . "Hey, guys," she said tiredly. "I'm not even allowed to watch TV. Or anything."

"You've got plenty to do. Just use your imagination, like they would on the frontier," Michelle suggested.

Rachel entered and promised that they had plenty to do. "I've got enough games and things we can still do stuff till your parents get home late tonight."

"I'm glad you're still being her friend," Mandy said with a smile. "It'd be really boring for her to just sit and play solitaire all day - I think that's one of those things that belongs in a list of 'what to do when you're grounded.'"

"I do need to start working on the animals. Stephanie and your dad brought me some supplies last night after dinner, Michelle. And it's stuff I'm not even allergic too; they made sure of that." Sidney explained to the others. "I have to make some stuffed animals for the burn unit at the hospital. Stephanie and my parents are taking me to deliver them in a few weeks, so I want to have them ready." She smiled broadly. "Notice I didn't say have to. This part of my punishment will be fun."

Samantha looked oddly at her. "Is that allowed?"

"I think Stephanie means it for me, too, so I can help her," Rachel said glibly.

Samantha giggled. "We're gonna teach you to enjoy thinking about others yet, Rachel."

"The scary part is, I think you're right!" Rachel admitted.

Sidney motioned Samantha off to the side. "Look, I know I'm like Rachel, not too good at being humble yet. Although she is getting to be a little more friendly and less formal. She might actually start letting friends like me call her Rach for short," Sidney said in all seriousness, though it sounded like joke. Then again, with how snobby Rachel was a times, it made sense. "Anyway, I wanted to say thanks."

"For what?"

"Well, for helping make sure I wasn't hurt, but also for warning me about Stephanie." Sidney blushed and said, "My parents let her deal with me, too, last night. And, the way she looked, I think if I had as big a mouth as I do around Rachel, or as I was starting to get around those boys, she might have set a few fireworks off on my bottom." She could tell Samantha was a little embarrassed, too. "I won't ask if Steph ever spanked you."

"She would have been gentler than you think...though you are a lot bigger." Even more quietly, Samantha said, "Not that she ever did it to me."

Sidney winked and said, "Don't worry, I get ya. She makes it scarier than it really is, huh?" Samantha nodded slowly; she realized it had really just hurt her feelings when Stephanie did it. She was still leery of Stephanie, and couldn't imagine what would happen if she was as bad as Sidney had been, though. "I'm still really glad she didn't. And, it's because of you warning me. And, don't worry, I won't tell - I can tell you don't want anyone to know how Steph had to deal with you. Because I don't really want anyone to know how she had to lecture me, either," she finished with a nervous laugh.

Samantha was amazed. She hadn't been able to stop Sidney entirely - but at least she'd helped her earlier so she wouldn't show any attitude toward Stephanie and risk more than the lecture stinging. When she asked Stephanie about it that night, Stephanie said, "Well, it all would have depended on how rude and defiant she was. But, even if it wouldn't have hurt anywhere but her feelings, you still did a great job of helping, so I didn't have to do it. Because, you're right; it's a lot tougher for me than you can imagine."

After the girls visited for a few minutes, Michelle, Mandy, and Samantha left again. "It's so nice to see Sidney doing well. I think she realizes who her real friends are."

"Yeah, Mandy. And, she and Rachel really are starting to change." Michelle turned to Samantha, and felt she had to confess. "I think at first, lots of the Honeybees worried you'd be just as bad as you were at school. Really, it's a good thing you decided it could be fun when I mentioned it back when you were in Kindergarten, Samantha. Back then I figured, well, I'd straighten up if someone just yelled. I figured you had to start getting better. But, the way you behaved at daycare for a few months after yet, I wondered how much you could change. I'm sorry," she said, repeating an apology she'd made years before. She really was impressed by Samantha's growth, too.

"Thanks. It's okay. I was kind of bored the first time or two. But, I stayed in the Honeybees because of you. I didn't want to let you down. But it was always so sad, not having anyone but you or Steph or Courtney who cared. Stuff like the Honeybees and now dance have shown me people will care," she said, speaking words that touched the others' hearts.

Samantha was really excited to be able to tell her friends things like that. But, some stuff just seemed so hard to put into words, even after several years, she pondered a couple days before Christmas, as she slept as the Larkins'.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny squirmed neatly out of Samantha's grip as she lay sleeping, and motioned several other animals over to the side of the room. "Sound asleep. Okay, we got two new dogs and maybe something else coming. Any takers on names?"

"I'm guessing one might be named 'Double order of fries and a large soft drink,'" Pinky, the unicorn, suggested.

"Pinky...maybe it's Jeff you've been around too much. That made no sense."

"Well, Mr. Snuggle Bunny, if I'm right, I'd get about a billion to one odds on it." The unicorn knew Samantha would never name a stuffed dog that, but it was the type of joke Samantha was into lately, just like when she jokingly told Courtney she'd "bet a billion dollars" Sidney would say "people." She like using her imagination to come up with silly things; one more way Joey had taught her to avoid thinking negative thoughts.

The animals made more serious guesses about names, then they turned to other matters. "It's Michelle's she's going to Christmas Eve this year, right?"

"Right, Floppy," the rabbit told the dog who'd asked. "that's where the presents are. It's great to see she's becoming so much like Michelle. Though she doesn't feel like being away from here all the time yet, but someday she will. We still have some hurdles to climb," he told all of them. "But she's going to dance school now, and that's really big. Just think, if Mr. Bear's right, she'll cling to me for a long time. Which means I might be seeing the world someday."

The lion playfully shone a flashlight on a globe. "There it is now."

"The great part is she does take after Joey. I think sometimes she plays having us do jokes she'd like to do, except she's become so feminine, she doesn't want to be breaking everyone up like Jeff does." Pinky smiled. "But, it helps her focus on being happy, which is crucial."

"Right. At least she tries," Mr. Snuggle Bunny said, trying to restore some order to the meeting. "As I started to say, she's still really proud of how she helped Sidney. There was some concern Sidney thought Stephanie had to spank her more than she did, but I think Stephanie talked to Sidney and helped her understand she didn't have to much at all, from what Mr. Bear says. And, Sidney's kept that secret, so that's good. What's next on the agenda?"

"Well, she sees Stephanie as a mother figure for sure," Floppy remarked. "But, I'd say the time at Crystal's has really helped. She's getting close enough to Crystal's mom that she'll feel very comfortable going with her and confiding in her at dance camp."

The rabbit was quite glad. "She needs that encouragement, yes. The more people we can get her to trust in, the better. While she's still young. Once she gets older, she's going to have to have people she can trust a lot," he advised everyone.

"Yeah, like Stephanie's and Michelle's friends. And, whoever else comes into her life. What do you think about marriage?" the lion asked.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. The anger and bitterness are dying off, and that's what's important. We just have to help steer her in the right direction if they resurface a little. She's okay with some bullies, she'll try to make friends with them if they're willing, like Sidney, but it took her longer than Michelle to warm to Rachel."

"Which could lead to problems next year, with Michelle in middle school then, but hopefully won't. She'll still have Courtney," Floppy added.

"Right. It's a shame Sidney's not building up the friendship with Samantha, but at least they're casual friends now," the rabbit concluded. "And Sidney is getting more and more friends - Samantha's helping with that some. I guess this is one of those things that helped her see she can see a really tough task through."

"Which means she could make a great class president," Pinky emphasized.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny smiled as he looked at his charge snoring peacefully. "Yep, I think she could be."

"Hi, come on in," Stephanie said as Samantha appeared at the door the next day, having ridden over on her bike. She showed her to the living room, where Michelle and she had been watching a home movie. "The others are all out doing last minute shopping, with Christmas being tomorrow. Nicky and Alex are with their dad in the music store. I think he's trying to convince them to ditch Barney for Elvis," she joked.

"Cool." Once Samantha sat with her package in her lap, Stephanie sat between Michelle and Samantha and asked what the package was.

"Open it. I made at school. It's for you," Samantha declared.

Stephanie opened a pretty Christmas tree ornament a large white ball with blue stitching around the perimeter and little shiny things shaped like snowflakes all around it. It had a hook attached to the stitching, so it could be hung on the tree.

Michelle was puzzled. "Wait a minute did you make two? I heard the kids in your class were making those for their parents."

"No, just one." Samantha looked at Stephanie with great love in her eyes. "When I hear my friends talking, they say such nice things about their moms. How they take extra time for them. How they're always around to talk and to listen to them; or, at least they make sure someone is. How they're so loving, even when they've been bad. And, I could only think of one person who really does all that for me. You."

Stephanie suddenly began weeping. She'd known it for a while, but the thought still caused her to tear up, imagining her own dearly departed mother beaming with pride. She reached over and gave Samantha a big hug. She also gave Michelle a big squeeze. "You've done a great job with her, too, Michelle."

"Thanks." Even Michelle was getting a little misty eyed. She wished Samantha didn't have to see Stephanie as a mom. But, she also thought of her own mom, whom she'd never known. "I guess a lot of people are like moms to me. Even you sometimes, Steph."

"I'm sure they are. And, you've taught me a lot. About love, and how you have to give it to get it back. About mercy and grace. I didn't understand or even care about some of that before the last few years," Samantha said.

"That's the whole reason why Jesus' birthday is so important," Stephanie said.

"Yeah, that's so exciting! I trusted Him as Savior, too. It is so awesome to know I'm going to Heaven," Michelle declared. "Steph did that the night she drove the car into the kitchen. Right, Steph?"

Michelle put a hand to her mouth. "Oops, does Samantha know about that?"

"She does now," Stephanie said, rolling her eyes.

Samantha, thankfully, had not caught the comment, having been so focused on herself. "I tried to change my name, my appearance, everything. But, it's what's on the inside that counts. And, those shepherds that ran to see the baby Jesus wee the ones who received Him. Not the people who knew all about where he'd be born and when and acted good on the outside. They needed a change of heart."

"Exactly. Just like when I told Mandy she should keep her curls," Michelle declared. "It was the Mandy on the inside that was important."

"Yeah. You guys really care about me." Much more lowly, she said, "Even when I was my baddest."

"Sure, we do," Stephanie assured her.

"If I couldn't have a real little sister, it's okay, because you're just like one."

"Thanks, Michelle. I love you guys." Samantha hugged both of them, and soon all three were in a group hug. "Thanks for all you've done."

"You're welcome." And, as Stephanie embraced them, she felt like a real mother.

It was just over a year later, in late January, that Michelle, Cassie, and Mandy were chatting and enjoying a light after school snack at the Tanners' kitchen table. They had jumped, as sixth graders often did, from shopping to movies to that day at school in very rapid succession, sometimes jumping back and forth between the subjects as if they were back on the playground playing hopscotch.

Mandy mentioned that, "I heard a rumor today. Some ninth grader was busted for pot last week."

"That's nuts." Michelle shook her head. "When D.J. was in Junior High that was never a problem."

"I think they're talking about putting the ninth graders back in high school, but that won't solve the whole problem," Cassie added.

Michelle concurred. "In a way, it's good Samantha had her problems earlier. She won't fall for those temptations now, hopefully."

"Yeah. Thankfully this kid's getting treatment now, from what I heard," Mandy added. "And, you can be sure Stephanie would whisk Samantha to whatever treatment center she thought was needed. Thankfully, she's all but officially Samantha's authority figure."

"Right," Michelle said as their dog, Comet, barked and scratched at the front door. "Oh, there's the mail. Excuse me, guys." She jogged into the living room.

"Where would kids even get that stuff?" Cassie said, scrunching her nose.

"I have no idea. You think I'd want to know?" Mandy said with a laugh.

"Yeah, good point."

"Mail call," Michelle hollered.

D.J.'s friend/boyfriend, Steve, and she came in the back door while Stephanie came downstairs. Steve was munching on an apple as he watched Michelle bring the mail in to the kitchen and sort it. "Any good grocery coupons in there?" Steve inquired.

"No, but here, Steph, there's something from Samantha's parents. Maybe they remembered your birthday a little late."

Stephanie smiled at Michelle and spoke with a sigh. "If that's the case, it'll be a card wishing me happy eleventh, not a Happy Sweet Sixteen. And they're further behind on everything for their daughter," Stephanie said as she pulled out a letter.

She was quite curious, and began reading instantly. She held the slip of paper out that was inside it, not really paying attention to it. What was in the letter was probably more interesting, as she couldn't believe they'd taken the time to write anything.

Stephanie's jaw dropped as Steve glanced at the slip it was a check addressed to Stephanie.

"Wow, I haven't seen that many O's since my last trip to the doughnut shop. Hey, Mr. Tanner, do you have any doughnuts?" Steve asked as Danny walked into the kitchen.

"No, sorry...what is it, Steph?"

"I' this!" She glared at the check, then pinched herself.

"Whoa, Steph, you're a nanny now! Congratulations!" Danny gave her a big hug, then went back to reading the letter. "Whoa, baby! You're getting how much? Every week?"

Stephanie sat down slowly. Dozens of images swirled in her mind. Her first meeting with Samantha, back when the girl was known as Sam. The heartache of trying to get her to obey any rules. The love she tried to shower upon her. The talks they'd had even when Sam was in Kindergarten about how she needed someone who cared. The attempts to build a huge network of people to keep Sam in line, then to just watch out for her as Samantha; well, and keep her safe, too. The celebrations of her successes and consoling her on her failures when Steph, her family, and/or freinds of Stephanie and Michelle were the only ones around to do so. The only ones, because the parents just didn't care.

And then? The thought of having a job the babysitting business she and her friends Darcy and Allie had run was small potatoes compared to this. What had been her biggest paycheck before? Since they split the earnings, probably one Christmas break a year earlier, when she'd watched four children while the parents worked the second straight year she'd done so for that family. That year, Allie and Darcy had each had a couple bigger jobs. She'd made a little more that week than she'd made watching Sam alone once when she was seven, and Stephanie was bold enough to demand a huge wad of money for watching Sam.

She was less bold now, but she knew she'd earned her pay then. And, they obviously remembered, because the figure she'd seen on that letter why, that was what highly experienced nannies made! Wasn't it? Even if it was just a family choosing to spend a lot, this was still incredible.

She'd earned it, of course. As the letter had said, now that she was sixteen and able to hold a "steady job" of sorts, she could be officially considered to be their nanny. But...this much?

"Wow, I'll have to talk to my accountant, you might even have to file income taxes next year, Steph, I'm not sure. Boy, you're really going to be raking in some dough do you know how much this is a year?"

"Let me see." Michelle peeked at the check, then hugged Stephanie. "Congratulations, Steph. Wow, that looks like a lot." Cassie and Mandy also offered their congratulations.

"It is. It...represents so much hard work. It's the kind of reward for helping I only thought I'd see when I reached Heaven." She sighed again. "I guess if they don't know anything about non monetary rewards, though, it makes sense, huh?"

D.J. glanced at the letter, as Danny ran for his videocamera he had to tape this scene before they went to the bank. D.J. told Stephanie, "They might not know about the best things in life, the ones that are free. But, boy, they sure know how to pay people for things."

Stephanie nodded slowly. They knew how to repay hard work. Indeed, they promised to send something soon as payment for Stephanie's first years of work as an unofficial nanny. Whether that dated from when Samantha was 5, when she was seven and her parents gave Stephanie permission to revoke any privileges, when they first called her a nanny as a ruse, or some other time, it would still be a lot.

She wished they would spend time with people, rather than with their careers. But, at least now, she wouldn't have to worry about summer jobs so much though she'd still babysit other kids. She wasn't having much trouble with Samantha. But, it was still good to keep an eye on Samantha, herself or through others. The preteen years could provide plenty of problems, after all.

But, that's why Michelle and her friends were such big helps. As were Allie and Darcy she'd have to borrow her dad's cell phone and call them on the way to the bank, she was way too excited. She couldn't think about the pressure now pressure was when Sam was five and Stephanie had to keep her from destroying the school at times. Now, there was no pressure per se. It was just watching Samantha grow, and using that network to help Stephanie be the best Mom like figure she could be.

As her dad filmed her holding the check and spoke about it, Stephanie gazed up to Heaven through the kitchen window. She could just picture her mom smiling back as she kept saying, "I'm a nanny. I'm a nanny."

As the sun shone brightly through the windows, she could just imagine her mom's voice, echoing those around her as they declared how proud they were of her with Samantha.