Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Sam Series

05 * Samantha Strikes Back
Written by: Paul Austin


Joey Gladstone shouted excitedly as he burst in the door of the Tanner household. "I did it, guys, I did it!"

"All right, way to go," Stephanie Tanner, fifteen, exclaimed as she gave him a high five. They hugged briefly as she stopped to think for a second. "Wait a minute, what did you do?"

"I asked Suzie to marry me, and she said yes!"

"All right!" Danny shouted. He'd lost his wife in an accident ten and a half years ago. Joey had moved into the Tanner household to help raise Danny's girls, D.J., now twenty, Stephanie, and Michelle, now eleven. He still lived in the basement apartment.

After the three hugged for a few moments, Joey said, "It was such a spur of the moment thing. I mean, we've known each other since we met that time Michelle was in the hospital with her concussion. But, we've only been going seriously for about a year."

"Hey, man, I always we could get you and Jesse off and married someday." Danny referred to Jesse Katsopolis, Danny's brother-in-law. He'd married Danny's co-host on a local TV show several years after moving in along with Joey to help Danny. "Matter of fact, at first I thought Jesse would be the tougher one." Jesse had been a motorcycle-riding semi-tough guy when he moved in, but had mellowed quite a bit rather quickly. Joey was a warm, sweet, compassionate fellow with just one drawback - he loved cartoons and any childish things. Joey was a professional comedian.

"Yeah, I can see that."

"So, did you set a date?"

"We're not that far along, Steph. It's going to take her kids a little more time to get used to it; they took to me right away, but they still remember their dad pretty well, I think. He died of cancer only what, three years ago now? Maybe next summer, we'll tie the knot."

"Aw, that's great, Joey. You deserve it." Inside, Danny knew that a nurse like Suzie or a teacher would be the most likely type to marry a man like Joey. He functioned well as an adult, but it took a certain type to have the patience and love and understanding to put up with Joey's little eccentricities, like his love for doing cartoonish voices. He supposed that Jesse had been mellowed out by Joey as much as by the girls, in a way.

As he pondered this, Jesse came in the door. He was quite excited when told the news.

"Man, that's better than our news. Guess who's coming to our house to spend a weekend next Friday night?"

"Jess, you got approved for a weekend visit?" Danny asked quickly.

"Yep. Next step is permanent placement. Danny, Becky and I are so excited about adopting. I mean, four years ago, we wanted to do it just to help one of D.J.'s friends, only her friend decided to keep the baby and stay in school. But this time, man, it's so much more fun now. Nicky and Alex are old enough to appreciate it, and they're so thrilled to be getting a baby sister. And, we're talking about adopting again in a few years now, we love the thought so much," Jesse explained.

"It's been rough on them since you moved out a couple months ago. They were so used to having lots of people around," Joey remarked.

"Yeah, but they're over here a whole lot anyway. Now, they get to be big brothers."

"You look just as excited as you were when you learned Becky was pregnant the first time," Danny commented.

Jesse concurred, then turned to Stephanie. "This girl's three, and she's been in a few foster homes. It's going to take some time. But, I think we'll be able to give her plenty of love, security, encouragement, and things like that. It's sure not gonna be as rough as Samantha was when she got to Kindergarten."

"That's a relief." Samantha - who had gone by Sam back then - was a year younger than Michelle. She'd had no rules or parental involvement at home, and had been in a crowded daycare center her whole life up to that point. Stephanie had done a lot of work with her as Principal's Assistant that year. She'd continued to work with Sam until she became one of the nicest girls at Fraser St. Elementary, though still an emotional one at times.

Jesse paused to think a moment as he rested a hand on Stephanie's shoulder. "I'll tell you somethin', this girl needs a mom. And a dad. Samantha really needed those back then. And, while you couldn't be there all the time for her like she needed, you and your friends, and Michelle as kind of a big sister for her, you guys have really gone above and beyond the call of duty with her. You make me prouder than I can believe."

"Thanks, Uncle Jesse. Samantha's running for fifth grade class president this week. I told her, I don't care how you do, as long as you do your best, just like Dad and everyone else has always said. That really makes me proud. No matter how she does, there's been so much work done with her. I just hope nothing bad happens. It's been good so far, but a big part of her improvement was having her 'big sister' a grade ahead of her to help her. Michelle really has done some great work with her, too." It was a shame Samantha wasn't smart enough to skip fifth grade, Stephanie considered. Although then, there would have been some serious maturity issues if Samantha had gone into sixth grade with Michelle; as if her size wasn't tough enough, though she had started a growth spurt that had her looking like the younger fourth graders now. No, she decided, it's best that she's in fifth.

"Yeah, she has," Danny concurred. "And, Jess, I'm sure you're going to do just as great a work with your adoptive daughter."

"Thanks, man," Jesse said simply.

Samantha missed Michelle terribly. But, Michelle had had a great influence on Samantha, enough so that now, she wanted to follow in her "emotional sister's" footsteps. That included becoming class President in fifth grade, something Michelle had done in fourth. For, while she was an only child herself, with no parental support at all, Samantha still felt Michelle was like a big sister. And, Stephanie had become like a mother.

However, Michelle and Stephanie were both in other schools this year. And, while she loved being good, what she saw on the ground near her bike made her fume.

"Cigarette butts? How did those get there?" she muttered to herself. Then, she remembered the whispers. The strange question her best friend Courtney Larkin had asked her, if she had really snuck into that new movie everyone was talking about, the one that was PG-13. Courtney was a girl she'd known since Kindergarten and the Honeybees club that she'd joined late that year. Courtney had been very supportive of Samantha's desire to exert herself, to show how changed she was, by becoming 5th grade class president.

Courtney had believed Samantha's denial even though she knew her best friend's troubled past. She knew Samantha would never sneak into such a movie. However, other kids were wondering, as a number of rumors swirled about her.

Samantha grumbled. If she lost this election to Emily...

The results were announced the next day. And, sure enough, Emily had won in a landslide. No, that wasn't the word. Avalanche was a better description. Emily had gathered in around four out of every five voters. Samantha couldn't even look Emily in the eye - she could feel the sneer. The sneer that might not have been there to anyone else, but was there to her.

The sneer that said she'd gotten even with Samantha.

Samantha didn't waste time thinking. After the assembly that Tuesday afternoon, Emily had gone home for the day, gleefully celebrating her victory. Samantha stayed behind to work on some extra assignments in science. Her schoolwork had improved, but she still struggled in some areas.

Then, as she left her classroom, she went to the lockers. Lockers that had been worked for by a past sixth grade president and the committee formed to improve upper class life. D.J. had been on that committee in sixth grade. And, one of the things they'd done was gotten lockers for the highest class in the school. When the sixth graders were moved to the middle school, the lockers became possession of the fifth grade classes. Just one of several little things to get them ready for middle school life the next year.

Samantha, overcome by anger and frustration at the rumors Emily had spread, felt a plan forming. It was a prank Michelle's good friend and semi-boyfriend, Jeff Farrington, had pulled in third grade. And, as she rode her bike home, it developed into what she felt was a foolproof idea. She always stayed at other friends' houses, to minimize the amount of time she was alone, but at times like this, with how frustrated she felt, sometimes that part of her that didn't feel right opening up still came out.

She spoke to the stuffed bunny Michelle had given her early in their relationship, "Mr. Snuggle Bunny." She spoke about her plan as she clenched the bunny tightly upon arriving home. "Jeff was grounded. But, anyone would have known he did it. Triple anchovies? Talk about gross! Huh, Mr. Snuggle Bunny?"

Samantha smiled. Stephanie had had a similar comfort object, Mr. Bear, who Stephanie's mom had given to her soon before she died. But, Stephanie hadn't needed to think of him as a best friend very much by age ten, because she had a warm, loving family.

Samantha needed Mr. Snuggle Bunny much more, though. The rabbit normally used for comfort was like a best friend, too. She needed lots of friendship and support. And, right now, she also needed the number for Anthony's Pizza, so she went to the phone book.

"Hello," she said after finding and dialing the number. She disguised her voice as best she could; Joey had taught her how to do that. She then gave Emily's name and address, and said this was for delivery. "I'd like to order two large pizzas with pepperoni and double cheese. Lots of pepperoni...Yeah, we're celebrating...Yes, what's your largest container of Pepsi?...Okay, yes, one of those, too. And, finally, a dozen of your chewy chocolate chunk cookies." Emily loves those, Samantha thought to herself. "All right, thirty minutes? Wonderful. You can tell the driver to say a little congratulations when he gets here. Thank you."

Samantha rubbed her hands with glee. "That will teach her! Spreading rumors about me, when I've tried so hard to be good the last few years. Talk about rude." Samantha further added, "And, I won't have the presidency, and she'll still have pizza. She loves that. So, I'm not being too bad. My only regret is I can't be there to see the look on her face when that gets delivered, and her mother asks why she placed such a large order. It would be priceless, wouldn't it?"

With that out of her system, she quietly turned to her homework before going to Crystal's - her good friend from dance - to spend the night. Courtney wouldn't have to know when she recovered from being sick. Neither would Michelle. "Just a little tit for tat, that's all. I think my problems are over, Mr. Snuggle Bunny."

The problems would soon grow a lot worse, though.

Thursday, Tommy, Nicky and Alex's best friend in first grade, met them on the playground for recess. They ran over to the swings shouting gleefully, as did the twins' friend Cooper, who was in second grade..

"How's Melanie?" Tommy asked. Melanie was the girl Jesse and Becky were adopting.

"She's okay. She's not our sister right now," Nicky explained.

"We're still taking turns with those foster people," Alex said. He thought the term "foster" in "foster family" could be extended to everything about them. Indeed, he even said, "When she was with us, she really missed her foster dog."

"But, we still have Comet." Comet was the Tanners' Golden Retriever. The boys enjoyed going down the street to play with him even though they'd moved out of the house.

"Will she come back?" Cooper wanted to know.

The twins nodded their heads as they ran over to the teeter totter and began see-sawing back and forth. "This weekend," Nicky said finally.

"She liked it so much she gets to stay for goooood." Alex had gestured wildly with his hands as he teetered down, then had to swiftly grab the handle so he wouldn't fall off.

Nicky said more softly, "She was loud, though."

Alex agreed. "She cried a lot. Mommy says she's had lots of homes."

Nicky added that, "She yelled a lot, too. She got timeout twice last weekend. But she didn't fight like those fifth graders."

"What fifth graders?" Tommy wanted to know.

"That girl who got to be President and the other one." Alex added a juicy piece of gossip. "One of them took the other's homework when she wasn't looking and ripped it up."

"That's bad," Nicky said with a shake of his head. Tommy had stopped his swing to listen. "Even Melanie didn't tear any papers."

"I know. Sounds like they fought like the Hatfields and McCoys," Cooper concluded.

Nicky cocked his head a little and asked, "Who are those?"

Alex didn't know anything of the violent family feud between the Hatfields and McCoys; all he knew was that they'd fought a lot. "I don't know," he said with a shrug. "All I know is they all need a looong timeout."

Samantha seethed with anger. She couldn't believe the nerve of Emily yesterday - it had to be her. Who else would it have been? She was furious; the pizza should have been enough. So Emily was sent to her room for a while, and had to pay for the pizza; she had gotten her favorite food. Even the cookies.

But nooo, yesterday Samantha had had something taken from her backpack and ripped up. Searching her classroom, she'd found it in shreds in the wastebasket. Along with another paper that she'd gotten back recently.

Stern warnings from Stephanie, while they didn't materialize in the form of memories, still moved her conscience enough that she wouldn't do anything that could cause a wreck; she had improved many times over in that regard. Still, she felt helpless. She'd felt lonesome and unable to imagine anyone helping before, when the rumors were spreading. Now, she was starting to feel much worse. And, with Courtney still absent, Samantha felt like things were already out of control. She didn't think she could talk to her, let alone anyone else.

Instead, she grabbed a bucket, filled it with dirt, got another bucket of sand from the Kindergarten sandbox, and used a hose that was being used by the groundskeepers to fill both with water when they weren't looking.. Then, she covered Emily's bike with enough wet mud and sand to make a huge mess.

She smiled devilishly, that passion she'd tried to eliminate as she attempted to be so much like Michelle bubbling up again. At the same time, though, her fury over the way Emily was treating her gave way to concern and remorse. Why had she thought of that; indeed, why had the idea of anything that could hurt another person come to her? "What have I done?" she asked herself.

She gulped in fear. Stephanie might - might - be lenient on her if she went to her right now and confessed. But, even so, she was reminded of the fury she'd felt back in daycare once when destroying property and vandalizing the daycare's van by ripping the seats. By then, her parents, not wanting to lift a finger to help but also not wanting the embarrassment of the area's upper crust knowing they had an out of control child, had requested that Stephanie be called whenever the daycare had a problem with her; or anyone did for that matter.

She'd had Stephanie come to lecture her a few times before, for the same sort of thing. This time, she'd overheard one of the other kids saying, "You're nice. You give hugs and stuff at least." Stephanie had found and spanked Sam that day with light fwaps that had only hurt her feelings, in retrospect; Sam had felt little or no remorse at that point. But, at least Stephanie had taken the time before to try and teach Sam to start treating others' property with respect, and not letting those angry thoughts control her. Sam just hadn't listened back then, and kept damaging things. As after other spankings, Stephanie had given her, Stephanie had cuddled Sam after that one; Stephanie was the only one to ever punish her like that, though she almost always used timeout or removed privileges instead.

"Stephanie cares so much about me," Samantha said as she rode off on her own bike. "I hope she sees how bad I feel. I'd better call Michelle first, though, so she can help me talk to Stephanie."

As Samantha rode home, she became even more fearful, even a little teary. She'd gone from letting anger control her to being upset that she could even think an angry though. Stephanie had taught her well. But, now, she was scared she was reverting back, so she didn't go right over to Crystal's, where she was stying for a few days. She didn't know how Crystal would take it, since she hadn't known Samantha when she was her worst. And, Samantha didn't want anything to do with thoughts of those former days.

Michelle and Stephanie, meanwhile, were daydreaming as they rested in their bedroom after school.

"Day after tomorrow, I have everything picked out that I'm going to get," Stephanie said excitedly, as she gazed in a catalog at part of her dream bedroom. "How about you?"

Michelle skipped over to Stephanie's bed and sat beside her. "Over a couple pages, there's some stuff I love. I want to keep a few things, but..." The phone rang, and Michelle answered while Stephanie fantasized.

She'd been in the nursery with Michelle till she was five, shortly after their mom died. With the fourth bedroom being used as an office/den, their Uncle Jesse had moved into the attic, which had been quickly finished, and she'd moved in with D.J. to have someone to ease the loneliness of not having Mom if she woke up at night. Then, about four years later, D.J. had moved into Michelle's room and Michelle had moved in with Stephanie.

She'd loved being the big sister once more. For all the struggles, there were so many more great memories. But, Jesse and Becky had moved out of that attic apartment several months ago, and D.J. now occupied it as a bachelorette pad. Michelle had begged to be with Stephanie during those tough first few months of Middle School, and being a loving sister, Stephanie had agreed. But that Saturday, the two of them and their dad planned to go out and buy their dream bedroom suites, as an early Christmas gift. And, by mid-December, they planned to have moved into their new, separate bedrooms.

From the look on Michelle's face, Stephanie knew this could be one of those times Michelle needed her big sister to be right there. She looked kindly over to her as she hung up the phone and said, "What's wrong?"

"'s Courtney. She was really worried about..."

The phone rang again before Michelle had time to say which Courtney, she knew several. However, in the interim, while Michelle spoke, Stephanie became nervous, maybe even alarmed. It could be Courtney Larkin, Samantha's friend. Samantha said very little about her feelings sometimes, forcing Stephanie to guess. Had there been some disturbing trend since Samantha lost the election?

"Okay, I'll be right there." Michelle said, "That was weird" as she hung up the phone. "First, it was Courtney, saying she was worried about Samantha. She called her to say she'd be in school tomorrow and ask how things were, you know, say she's sorry Samantha lost the election. And, she said Samantha seemed more quiet and scared than usual. She couldn't say exactly what it was. Then, Samantha called, and she wants me to come over there so she can tell me something. She'd kind of like you, too, if you're not busy, but she sounded like she wasn't sure." She finally looked at Stephanie, and said, "I hope this makes sense to you, because it isn't making much to me."

"Well, it'll probably become clearer when you go over to Samantha's. And, yes, I'm coming with you. After all, this sounds like one of those reasons why it's so important to have a big sister to help you." She put an arm around Michelle, and the girls looked fondly at each other for a moment before leaving.

"Hey, Stephanie, hey, Michelle," came a voice as Stephanie and Michelle rode their bikes out of the tool shed and down the drive. "I guess we'll be like cousins or something."

Stephanie turned to look at Justin, a boy of about ten. He and his baby sister Wendy, almost five, were walking up the street. "Yeah, it's hard to tell what exactly to call Joey now that he's marrying your mom, huh?"

"He's like a dad to me," Michelle said.

"Did he change your diapers?" Wendy asked Michelle.

"Yeah, but let's not talk about that stuff, okay. I only really started calling him Uncle Joey some when Nicky and Alex were born. D.J. suggested it, plus Aunt Becky was going to have the boys call him that," Michelle finished.

"And, you listened to D.J. because she was sort of like a mom," Justin speculated.

When Michelle nodded, Wendy shook her head. "So many names and titles. How do you keep them straight?"

Thinking only of what Wendy might call Danny and Jesse as they prepared to ride off, Stephanie said, "Just call everyone 'Uncle,' that'll solve things."

"Okay, Uncle Stephanie."

Stephanie emitted a large laugh as the sisters rode to Samantha's house while Justin tried to explain to Wendy what Stephanie had meant. "Well, I've been a big sister to you, like a Mom to Samantha, I've had Nicky and Alex's friends call me 'Aunt' when they were little, but I never thought I'd be called an 'Uncle.'"

"Yeah, that's silly. I wonder what she wants, I hope everything's okay."

"Me, too." Stephanie wasn't sure what to think, either.

Justin was in fifth, but he was over at another elementary school. They would wind up in the same Junior High, especially if Suzie moved closer so Joey would be nearby once he moved out, but it was unlikely Justin had heard anything. And, Nicky and Alex only heard that the girls were upset at each other. What that meant, though, nobody knew, although Nicky could have told them about the homework rumor. Stephanie and Michelle had just figured it meant what first graders meant by that - that they weren't talking to each other.

Samantha paced nervously as she waited for Stephanie and Michelle. She hoped Stephanie came right away, in a way - best to get everything over with at once. Then again, if only Michelle came, she could soften the blow by telling Stephanie for, if anyone was a mother to Samantha it was Stephanie. Even now, at her worst. She knew Stephanie expected her to tell herself, so she could be more lenient.

When she saw both, she found an instinct that had developed in the last few years, given her increased confidence in Stephanie's love and support. She instantly ran to them and blubbered, "I'm sorry, I made such a mess of things!"

"Whoa, whoa," Stephanie said, "it's okay." They hugged for a moment, as Stephanie realized that she must have done something right in the way she'd handled things with her. She knew it was important to confess things to Stephanie right away.

Of course, it helped to be able to understand Samantha, which she couldn't right now. "Let's sit down in your living room," Stephanie suggested. Samantha sat with Michelle on the couch, and tried to calm herself as Michelle squeezed her hand tightly. Meanwhile, Stephanie sat in a nearby chair and gazed softly at Samantha.

"What happened?" Michelle wanted to know.

"Okay, there was the election. And, I know you said not to be frustrated if I lost, but Emily cheated."

"Cheated? How?"

"Michelle, let's let her talk," Stephanie said in a hushed voice.

"Emily started spreading all these rumors, then I had this big pizza order delivered to her house after she won so she'd have to pay for it, then she stole my homework papers and ripped them up, then I covered her bike with mud and wet sand, and then I called you guys because I don't know what to do. I mean, I know it was wrong, but I can't imagine why these thoughts are coming back." After all that she noticed Stephanie had practically turned to stone.

Stephanie had nodded slowly as she listened. After a few seconds, which stretched into an eternity for Samantha, she said, "Michelle, go call Mandy and Missy, we are going to have to have a long talk with both Emily and Samantha after school tomorrow."

"Sure you don't need me here?" She could tell Samantha wanted her there, too."

"Well, you can stay if you want call later. Samantha and I have to talk for a moment, but part of our family, too," she said lovingly.

Samantha felt happy. She looked like a deer caught in headlights ina way, stunned at what she'd done and what Stephanie might say, but on the other hand, at least she knew the people there loved her. Stephanie turned her gaze back to Samantha, causing even more tears to flow. "What are you gonna do to me?" she asked timidly, her voice filled with a mixture of genuine fear and remorse.

"Well, first of all, I sense that you are remorseful for this. That is going to save you from harsh punishment. But there will be consequences to your actions. Although I think Michelle's probably feeling a little protective, just like a good older sister. I mean, for one thing," she said hopefully, "I'm sure, after how you helped another kid in trouble last time, you wouldn't have thought of hurting her..." Stephanie let the thought hang, certain that Samantha hadn't, but yet wanting to make sure, too - sort of like when D.J. had been uncertain of going down the drain at age six, so she put Stephanie in the tub first. She'd known easily by that age she wouldn't go down the drain, but yet had done something she knew would prove it. Stephanie just didn't really realize yet how impossible that would be, given that she still didn't fully comprehend the kind of neglect Samantha had had when little, or how completely she'd escaped it.

Samantha nodded slowly. She knew exactly what would happen. Stephanie didn't need to tell her, and even thinking about it scared her. "I promise, I'll never do that!" She sniffled. "I can't stand to think of doing what I did, even, why did I?"

"You still need help in keeping some impulses under control, I guess," Stephanie said, trying to sound as tender as she could. She didn't want to sound too stern.

Michelle wished she could be there for Samantha, too - but if she was in her grade, she knew she might not have been able to help quite as much early on. "You're doing really well with a lot of them, though," she assured Samantha.

"But, there are problems yet. And that's why I have to deal with things the way I do. But, your impulses are much better than they were, and you are growing nicely, I was you to remember that. And, I will always be there to help, no matter what you need. And, I'll always try to be understanding, too."

"Y-yes, Stephanie." Samantha sniffled, her eyes stinging, her face blotchy and tear-stained as Stephanie hugged her briefly. She wished that it would never end. But, she knew she had brought upon herself a lecture of mammoth proportions. Thankfully Stephanie didn't holler near as much as Samantha had expected. When told how Stephanie had felt when she crashed Joey's car, once Stephanie revealed that to her, she would realize it was very similar, in a way. It's just that because of her problems growing up, it took much less for her to feel down about herself.

"...I know you've been very good normally, and that you're timid enough sometimes it's easy for things to influence you in the wrong direction. So, we're going to have to work on correcting those impulses quite a bit. I know you'll make me proud, though." As Stephanie finished talking, she put her arm lovingly around Samantha and pulled her close for another hug.

As they filed into the conference room the next day and took their seats, Samantha noticed that Emily had her usual confident, almost arrogant, smile on her face. As their eyes met Samantha's blood started to boil again, so she squeezed tight onto Michelle and Joey's hands. Joey looked at her with compassion, glad he could be here for her. He had become a great father figure for her. Jesse had dropped him off before going to the radio station where they worked.

With a great effort, she shifted her focus away from Emily to the other end of the table. Principal Posey, Kiersten O'Byrne, the current PA, and the girls that knew her better then anyone except Courtney and Michelle were seated there - Stephanie, of course, Michelle's friend Mandy, the PA last year, and Melissa "Missy" Andrews. Missy had been PA the two years before Mandy at Fraser St. Elementary.

"Mr. Posey," Kiersten whispered so Samantha and Emily couldn't hear, "I talked to a coulpe kids about what was in Samantha's shampoo that she'd brough to school for after gym class. I think we know who put it there, but we'll save that for a little later." He nodded.

Principal Posey began the conference by saying, "I understand there have been major problems in your election and afterward. These things just shouldn't be. Our country was founded on an idea that was...revolutionary at the time," he said, greatly emphasizing the word "revolutionary." "Girls, the idea that leadership could change without violence, and that opposing parties could treat each other with respect and dignity, was just unheard of at the time. And, we allow these class election because we want to help you to appreciate the incredible fortune you have to be able to live in such a free society..."

Samantha lowered her head in sadness. The voice and talk was calm, quiet, sort of like Stephanie at her normal calm moments, when she would try to get Samantha to be nice. She failed to notice that Emily wasn't really heeding the message.

She looked up, and glared at Emily again, though this time because Emily wasn't reacting. Samantha wanted to shout, "Stephanie probably feels like standing up and singing 'My Country 'Tis of Thee' right now, Emily, why aren't you affected by this."

Stephanie was more concerned with Samantha for the moment, making sure that she realized what was being said, which she did. Missy, however, noted Emily's look. Once the patriotic lecture was finished, she asked Emily how long she and Samantha had known each other.

"I first saw her in Kindergarten. You wouldn't believe the kinds of things she'd do! Why, just my third week of school, I brought a goldfish in a bag for show and tell, and she just started throwing the bag up in the air and playing with it like it was a football!"

As Emily rattled on about a couple of other things that Samantha had done back then, Samantha started getting teary. Michelle rubbed her back and said, "It's okay. We know you're not like that now."

"Yeah, look at how many people you got supporting you here," Joey muttered.

Stephanie could tell Emily needed to take a break, too. "Emily, so far all you've talked about is Kindergarten; what about later?"

Sensing the tension in the room, the principal tried to lighten the mood by noticing a note being scribbled and passed from Mandy to Missy. "I thought passing notes was only a problem in my school," he joked with a straight face.

"Sorry, Sir," Mandy said.

"Mandy hadn't moved here yet at that point, and she was wondering if Emily was one of the girls who tried to frame Samantha once or twice for stuff," Missy explained. "I know that happened a couple times in second grade, my first year as PA, though I think more often in first."

"It was more Aaron Bailey and his friends in first," Michelle recalled. The PA in charge at that time, Jennifer Stanley, wasn't there.

Missy nodded slowly and unintentionally rhymed. "Right, that rings a bell, thanks, Michelle." She wracked her brain, and finally said, "I think when they were in second she might have been..."

"Well, it was only a few times!" Emily shouted defensively. Only after she said that did the eyes she thought were staring at her actually start. She slunk back in her seat.

"Good thing I know the Heimlich," Stephanie quipped.

"Yeah, you seem like the kind who would put your foot so far into your mouth you'd choke on your knee," Michelle commented.

"It's apparent, then, from the goldfish incident and others you mentioned, that there is some major animosity between you two," Posey indicated, trying to guide the discussion.

"Maybe it would help if you told her you were sorry for what you did way back then."

"Michelle's right," Stephanie said in a warm, caring voice. "You don't have to mention everything."

Samantha sighed, thinking of how Emily had acted, then dismissed that and decided that she should just out of her own goodness. She wanted to be like Michelle, after all. "I'm sorry," she said sincerely.

"So? You're still nothing but a bad girl!"

"What's good about spreading nasty rumors?" Joey asked.

" I knew some girls who did that in middle school, and while they're getting nicer now, they were certainly not good girls," Stephanie rebuked her, thinking of the Flamingoes, a snobby group of girls where she'd gone to school. They weren't even the worst of the cliques - they only opposed Stephanie and her friends because they hadn't gone along with the Flamingoes' scheme to steal their dads' phone cards. They weren't like some of the mean girls there, who really paid little attention to Stephanie and the others.

As she waited for someone else to say something, Stephanie realized that she was really performing the role of a mother here - she was sticking up for Samantha. Not that what Samantha had done was right, but she had mentioned in private that she was making Samantha pay for cleaning the bike and for some of the pizza; not all of it, since Emily had eaten and liked the pizza. The rest Samantha would pay in food donated to charity. That didn't have to become public.

But, she did need to get to the bottom of just what Emily had done; she'd heard about some rumors after asking others, such as Courtney, what had been said.

"Well...well, what does it matter what I did. Just last week she tried"

As Emily was trying to think of something, Michelle said, "Are you going to try to swallow your shoe again?"

"Yes, you have to admit that you are not only avoiding the question, but the fact you have to think about it shows that you're really just going to make something up," Mandy analyzed.

"Well...I don't have to make anything up, do I?"

Principal Posey folded his hands and remarked that, "Emily, what she's done in the past is not relevant to whether she can be a good class president or anything else. I am sure that at some point in our past, we have had American presidents who swiped a candy bar from a local store, or did some other criminal act in their distant past; they weren't all Honest Abe."

Joey chided, "Of course not. I mean, who would call Richard Nixon 'Abe?' Although, if you tried to be 'Honest Em' instead, that might make you sound like a letter of the alphabet, not a President."

Samantha felt like crying at times, but managed to hold it in some. It was hard, because she knew it was important to let people know how she felt. Still, having the great support there that she did really aided things. And Joey's silliness.

Especially Stephanie. Stephanie knew she'd changed - she had changed in incredible ways since a few years ago. Samantha had been ready to accept paying to make up for what she'd done, for instance. She wished Emily could see that.

Kiersten noted that, "I've already spoken to Emily and Samantha about what needs to be done - I understand you've taken care of some things, too?" she asked Stephanie tactfully. Seeing a nod, she asked Emily, "Where are your parents?"

"They...uh...couldn't make it," she fibbed. Actually, Emily had lied and said that she had some Presidential duties to take care of.

"Well, that makes sense," Joey deadpanned, "the president is always quite busy. I imagine they're in some remote former Soviet republic helping negotiate a missile reduction treaty, right?"

Kiersten felt this was the perfect time to mention something else, as Emily was quite caught off guard and confused. "Very well, I'll call them. And perhaps Stephanie and I will both pay them a visit when discussing the shampoo."


"From what I understand, I believe you also put something, or were caught by a couple other girls beginning to put something, in Samantha's shampoo so it would turn her hair who knows what color when she used it after gym today."

"Oh, so it's a shampoo reduction treaty they're negotiating," Joey said. "Yeah, gotta get rid of all the excess shampoo, right?" he asked Emily. "So much now they could lather up the world a hundred times over."

Emily reacted angrily, as to her, Samantha had once more caused her grief - she wasn't yet willing to grasp that she had been responsible for her own actions. However, like Columbo whittling down a suspect, Joey had gotten to her - instead of lunging across the table, Emily stood, started across, then stopped as she glared at Joey. "They're not negotiating some dumb shampoo treaty, I just told them I had..."

"If you don't like that chair, there's one in the corner of my office instead," Kiersten said smugly. When Emily sat back down, Kiersten simply smiled victoriously.

Samantha hoped no one had noticed her shiver slightly at Kiersten's remark - bad memories of being in that chair had resurfaced and it was only with a mighty effort that she could keep her composure. The comment, however, did deter her from snapping back with an angry remark at Emily for hurting her the way she had.

"So you lied to them about today, didn't you?" Joey asked solemnly. "What else have you been lying about?"

Emily refused to say anything except resignedly spouting, "I plead the fifth amendment."

After several more moments of discussion, Principal Posey said, "Look, it's obvious that there are still some hard feelings on Emily's part - maybe on Samantha's, I'm not sure. We said before the others arrived that there would be a one-month cooling down period during which the Vice President would act as President. At the end of that month there will be new elections. I think, based on what I've seen, that the one-month time frame should stand. Hopefully, by then you two will have ironed out your differences."

"Right; and now we're going to call your parents," Kiersten told Emily. When Emily pleaded with Samantha to help her, Samantha just shook her head.

Once the conference was over, Samantha waited behind with Joey, Stephanie, and Michelle. "Thanks for being there for me, guys!"

"Anytime," Stephanie said.

"They'll make sure it's clean race next time," Michelle remarked. "I guess the principal understands this sort of thing. I promised no more homework when I ran in fourth grade," Michelle reminded them. All three laughed. "You do some things differently. But, I guess you really want to be just like me, huh? Of course, your emotions are a lot stronger..."

"Yeah, she's a super-Michelle," Stephanie finished. "Even more blunt, even more determined to see right triumph." She smiled sweetly and put an arm around Samantha. "And, hopefully even more honest, compassionate, and so on, huh?"

"Yeah," Samantha said with a sigh as they walked out of the building. Joey had been in the conference with them, but he'd been dropped off by Jesse. Danny was picking the girls and Joey up, then dropping Joey off at the station to do his radio show with Jesse. "I was thinking about why I did - I guess the rumors really just made me feel way too alone, like I was back then."

"You mean like nobody was there to help you?" Joey asked as they spotted Danny's car in the parking lot.

"Well, to help stop the rumors, and to just believe in me. I mean, why would everyone rather believe I'd smoke or sneak into a movie? Why can't they believe in the new me?" she declared, throwing up her hands as they got into Mr. Tanner's car.

Michelle smirked. "You're not the only one people have thought bad things about just because things looked bad." When Samantha passed her a curious look, Michelle said, "Remember that time Jeff cheated off me in math?"

"Oh, yeah, I guess I heard about that."

"Dad wasn't sure, and even Cassie and Mandy were, well...they didn't think I did it, but yet they promised they would still be my friends if I did. So it was like if I did, they were encouraging me to admit it."

Samantha squirmed a little. "Well, maybe, but you had it easy. Jeff confessed to being the one who cheated that afternoon."

"I think what she's getting at is, everyone has times when people don't believe in them," Joey noted.

"Right, and it's okay to feel upset," Stephanie said. "D.J. had some boy throw beer on her and was holding a can, and was brought home from a school dance in eighth grade. The key is, knowing it all works out in the end. Our Uncle Jesse realized she wasn't drinking then, and the boy wound up getting in trouble."

Danny completed her thought. "The same way, people are going to quickly realize now you didn't do it, and Emily's got no credibility, and couldn't even be elected dogcatcher."

"Dog catcher?" Samantha asked, totally baffled.

"Sorry, something they said about Nixon after Watergate. Guess I show my age sometimes, huh?" Danny confessed.

"Don't worry. At least Watergate's something we learn about in history. You could go way back and talk about some election in 500 B.C.," Samantha joked.

"Anyway, Samantha, you just have to look at how great things turned out. I mean, people are going to hear from you and others those rumors were false, but they'll believe you anyway, too, just because Emily was the one spreading them. I doubt they'll believe it if she says the earth is round anymore. And her vice president - boy, she's gonna dump Emily so fast; and nobody will run with her. She'll need to draw a stick figure on the chalkboard and announce it as her running mate," Joey concluded.

Samantha laughed. "Thanks, Joey. I guess you're right. Things do work out, even though with all I went through, it's easy to think they won't. I can't believe I got so carried away - trying to do the right thing the wrong way." She smiled lovingly up at Stephanie and said, "Thanks for being so understanding yesterday."

Stephanie was still amazed she was thinking it, but the way Samantha's parents were, she supposed it made sense. "That's what moms are for."

Stephanie returned home early the following June from the bank. Danny had just taken her to cash a check - she'd been getting paid as a nanny by Samantha's parents ever since her sixteenth birthday in January.

Samantha opened the door for them; she and Michelle had been discussing her graduation ceemony while seated on the couch. "Oh, Stephanie, I'm so excited. Just think, I'm going to middle school next year!"

"It's going to be a huge step," Stephanie told her.

After a brief pause, Samantha confided, "It's kind of scary. But, that's why I'm glad I'll have Michelle and Courtney and my other friends there."

Stephanie sat on the couch, with Samantha between her and Michelle. "That's not unusual. It was really hard for me, too; it was great to know I'd always start it off every morning by the phone booth with Allie and Darcy. And, Michelle was glad to be rooming with me for a few months afterward."

Danny walked into the kitchen to begin dinner as the girls continued talking. "Michelle says at least I'll be able to see through the doors; it won't seem way too big like... last time. What's the principal like there?"

"Really nice. You'll be fine. He's only been there a few years, but he really seems to understand the kids well," Michelle said. "They even have guidance counselors there, more than just one for the whole school like in grade school. I guess they figure kids our age have more stuff that bugs 'em or something," she supposed, scratching her head. It did seem a little odd, but then again, she had just completed sixth grade, and so hadn't gone through a lot of the crises young teens do yet.

Stephanie asked something their very sentimental dad often did when reminiscing at the end of a school year. "So, what was your favorite part of fifth grade?"

"I don't know, I guess being President the last half of it; although it was weird to see how many voted for me the second time."

"I think Emily's actions just caused everyone to lose faith in her," Stephanie replied.

"I'll always remember sixth as the time when Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky adopted Melanie; that sure was a fun party we had for them last Saturday," Michelle noted.

"Yeah, except for when she tried to eat up all the cake. It reminded me of that time you told me about where you went wild at the chocolate factory," Samantha noted with a chuckle.

Michelle agreed. It was just like it - except she'd probably had a much bigger tummyache than Melanie. At least at the party there had been others there eating it; nobody had grabbed samples near like Michelle at that factory, though.

"I'll always remember starting to get paid as your nanny. I mean, well...we've known for years I was the one who really cared about you and looked out for you."

Samantha agreed. "Sometimes it was like I was always being followed by this big pair of eyes and a voice that always said 'How rude.'" The girls laughed. "But, I've really appreciated it."

"As least the parents know what I've done for you. And, it sounds like they've known for a while they'd have to pay me someday." Stephanie said nothing about the tax writeoff they could have because of having to pay a nanny. What mattered was that they saw caring for Samantha to at least be worthy of payment. That in itself said something.

"I guess little kids can get a little wild sometimes." Samantha breathed deeply. "I just hope I don't have any really wild ones when I babysit. Especially if I'd have to spank - I don't think I could do that."

"I've already told Steph and D.J. I couldn't spank; it's a parents' job to me." Or whoever's like a parent, she considered, though given Samantha's early history and what Steph had needed to do, she didn't say it was a nanny's, or Stephanie's, job, too. "And, I'd have trouble giving even little fwaps as a mom," Michelle commented lowly.

"If you care, it should be very emotional." It had always been very hard for Stephanie, whether it was Samantha or another child but especially Samantha. And, one or two others had been repeats as far as the little reactions swats, but...she didn't like to think of the times she'd seen Sam act up that much. Probably half a dozen, she knew.

Stephanie hated that thought, and was thankful that it hadn't happened since Sam was in second grade, and had wandered away from school on purpose, and been throwing rocks at cars as well while wandering before making her way toward another building to explore. A building that just happened to be John Muir Middle School, where Stephanie had attended.

"Allie's the same way - and, she's found plenty of babysitting jobs. You'll each find your own niches. And, Melanie won't be that bad, they've caught the problems in plenty of time," Stephanie assured them.

At that moment, Joey, Suzie, Justin, and Wendy walked in the door. "I was excited when Joey said he'd take us out," Wendy commented. "But, coming over here is the funnest place of all to go."

"Hey, everyone. Are you joining us too, Samantha?" Suzie asked. She nodded. "Great. Justin's got baseball this evening, but I'll try to catch some of your graduation before we go. Wendy's going to stay here, Joey gets to babysit her, Nicky, Alex, and Melanie." Justin's graduation had been the night before.

"May as well add as many as you can, since our house was always so full anyway," Michelle kidded.

"Yeah, but the big question is, will you babysit, Joey, or will you just do stand-up for an hour to entertain them?"

Joey smiled at Samantha's joke; she sounded so much like Michelle anymore at times. "It depends on how they behave. Aw, what the hay, I'll probably have all of us on the ground giggling in the first fifteen minutes."

"It may be different kids, but some things never change," Stephanie declared emphatically.

Samantha didn't' mind that Joey couldn't make this graduation - she knew someone had to be the babysitter, and as she'd told him, "We know you don't want Kimmy." Actually, Kimmy Gibbler hadn't been too bad with older kids, but D.J.'s best friend often needed backup, and it wouldn't be readily available. Joey had his own family that he'd be starting soon, and that just meant more people to love. Samantha knew she'd be too busy talking with the other kids, anyway, and Joey could see the video.

"Hey, Samantha," Kiersten said warmly as they met back in the cafeteria; there was a small corridor that led to the back stage of the auditorium, through which they'd march. "It's exciting, huh?"

"Yeah." Samantha grinned. Kiersten and Mandy had each been more like friends than anything to Samantha - well, she really looked up to them, and wanted to copy them, so maybe friends wasn't quite the word. But, they rarely ever had to correct her.

Indeed, they spent time helping to soothe shattered nerves when others were upset at things Samantha had done when little. True, many of the kids had forgotten by this time, since Samantha had improved rather fast. But, some, like Emily, hadn't.

"Kiersten," Samantha asked, "I never really asked you before. But, well, what did you think of me when I first came?"

Kiersten said it was hard to say. "I don't remember a whole lot about that year. I know Stephanie was a great influence. I'm really glad I got to know her." She thought a second. "I know she encouraged me to be nice to you. But, you were in another class. So, I guess I didn't see you much. I knew you could accomplish great things, though."


"Ones like Emily, they usually don't have a lot of faith in themselves. Some are scared, sure. But, if they're scared, they're just as likely to be like that girl who moved into the school back when we were in third. I mean, she wore all leather, she just acted..." Kiersten shook her head. "Well, let's just say Missy and Mandy each had their hands full. But, she hasn't joined a gang or anything in Middle School, so there's hope," Kiersten finished with a laugh, hoping that had distracted Samantha from her concerns. It had.

"Yeah, not even the Flamingoes; and they're pretty tame compared to some. Although they wouldn't admit that," Samantha said.

"Stephanie says they've even calmed down a lot this year in high school. And, the girls in there now aren't as interested in keeping the club going, without Stephanie and her friends there. Of course, you know how that got started?" Kiersten asked.

Samantha knew the whole story - Kathy Santoni's younger sister had wanted to steal Stephanie's dad's phone card so the girls could call boyfriends; mostly so Kathy could call hers, who was across the country. "Thankfully, D.J. and Kathy have reconciled; that really upset D.J.; I think them getting badck together has helped a lot," Samantha said.

She was excited to be able to have such intelligent conversations, not only about school, but even about the more troublesome kids at times, though she wanted little to do with actually handling them. However, thoughts of such wild kids didn't bother her horribly; at least, not usually. Indeed, she'd even helped one of Michelle's friends, Sidney, when Sidney was rebelling in the previous school year.

Talk came to how Mandy had handled that. "Mandy knew how to deal with things, and work with parents; that was important." Samantha was grateful that they'd all respected Stephanie as the mother figure for Samantha, dealing only with school stuff.

Kiersten wouldn't' say it, but some of the kids, like the leather-clad girl mentioned earlier, had required some intervention as it was. She chose to keep that information private, as she knew it was important not to embarrass kids unnecessarily.

"We're almost on," Courtney reminded them, having been talking with a few other friends. "hard to believe, isn't it."

"Yeah." Samantha giggled. "We even get diplomas. They really go all out."

"More like certificates," Courtney wanted to say. However, she knew Samantha would probably feel better if she thought of it as a diploma, so she said nothing.

As Samantha walked up to receive her diploma as Principal Posey called out "Samantha Burke", she smiled broadly and looked out at the audience, especially at Stephanie and Michelle. She recalled playing with Wendy a lot yesterday while Steph - who had been babysitting - was doing other stuff. It was only part of the thrill, of course, but she could at least understand some of the joy Michelle felt having her around.

As the recessional "Pomp and Circumstance" played, she found it quite odd - she'd had so much fun with the Tanners, for the first time she could remember, she had gone through something extraordinary and not been sad at all that her parents weren't there. When she'd gone to dance school the previous year, that had been on her mind numerous times, especially before the big recital. She'd been very glad to have one of the other mothers there to talk to and cry with a few times.

But now? She not only hadn't been sad, she hadn't even thought about them. At other times, she'd at least wished they were there, frustrated that they spent so much time on things and none on her. "What do you think that means?" she asked Michelle as they walked out to the car to take Samantha back to the Tanner house.

"I guess it just means you feel safe with us."

Stephanie agreed. "Samantha, you wanted your parents to be part of your life since you were a baby. You really missed them. But now, you're starting to learn you don't need them, I guess. I guess we've filled that role for you."

Stephanie had been quite shy about introducing herself as Samantha's nanny - though officially that was her title. Samantha had been glad not many people asked; she didn't want to embarrass Stephanie like that. Although, she imagined Steph might just say what she herself felt - that she was just like a mom to Samantha.

Maybe it made sense, then, that the parents weren't needed. A few months back, she'd received confirmation that they really didn't care or plan to take any part in Samantha's life. As she rode home, Stephanie's thoughts drifted back to the first time she was ever referred to as a "nanny." It had been more of a ruse by the parents than anything, but still, it had been quite...interesting. From snippets she'd gleaned before and after, she could just imagine the scene before she arrived.

The host, Kenneth Longwell, was aghast. "Mr. and Mrs. Burke," he said in a very offended tone, "my butler informs me that your daughter, Sam, has broken an expensive Ming vase."

Sam, six-and-a-half, had just run up to the threesome after running around with someone's cane, which banged the legs of chairs and tripped a couple guests. "That thing didn't go 'ming' or even 'ping.' It just did a bunch of little tinkles' when I dropped it," she said loudly.

"I understand that your daughter is not yet seven," Mr. Longwell remarked. "But I was told that the days of her putting pepper into the punch and tucking tablecloths into peoples' pockets were over. While my wife undderstands such minor mischief, like a West Coast Eloise, the girl who lives at the Plaza hotel in the childrens' storybooks, this is well beyond what is accepable."

As the butler, Mr. Compton, approached Mr. Longfellow, Mrs. Burke simply said, "Sam, what would Stephanie say about this?" She knew Stephanie had lectured her a few times for various things Sam had done while at such expensive parties being "shown off" by her parents. They'd made sure Stephanie learned by the next school day, when Steph was PA.

But, Jen had been the Principal's Assistant for a few months now, and had not been told about such misdeeds. The thought of Stephanie lecturing her had ebbed since then. Jen just wasn't as caring, and Sam had never warmed up to her. Stephanie and Michelle had tried to help. But, Sam had begun to get a lot wilder at these posh galas. Wilder than Eloise would have ever dared to be.

"Mr. and Mrs. Burke, my butler has just informed me that an oriental rug in our family room now has a large stain on it that will almost be impossible to get out. I must insist that you and your daughter leave this instant.."

Sam was unmoved. The six year old was even more wound tonight because of her increased anger over being in a place like this and over Jen's handling of things, as she was not as tender and loving as Stephanie. Her parents' next statement, though, would make her totally defiant.

"Oh, please, Mr. Longwell, I shall ensure that an end is put to this." Mrs. Burke told Sam sharply, "I am going to call your nanny and have her come deal with you right now!" She pulled out a cell phone.

"Ha! I don't have a nanny!" Sam shrieked as she ran off. Imagine the nerve of her parents, she said to herself. First, they drag me to this dull, boring place, then they dare to try and trick me into being good by pretending to call a nanny! She ran off in search of more "fun."

"Whatever does she mean, I know that you did not have one until last year, but then at one of the parties we attended you referred to this Stephanie that you had hired," Mr. Longwell remarked.

The Burkes looked at each other, and decided that just mentioning or threatening Stephanie was not enough. They had to call her. And, they didn't know which was worse their daughter's behavior thoroughly embarrassing them, or the embarrassment of the entire upper crust of San Francisco learning their supposed nanny had not quite turned twelve.

Stephanie scurried around trying to find an outfit after being told by Aunt Becky where she was wanted. "What can I wear to this thing?" she asked in a panic.

Becky had taken the call, and gone to inform Stephanie. She remarked glibly, "Considering the parents' desparation, I'd say an appropriate outfit would be a red cape with a big 'S' across your chest."

"Aunt Becky, this is like a Cinderella ball, I have to wear something so fancy, so elegant.."

"Steph, you're there as a nanny," Becky said calmly, putting a hand on her shoulder. Stephanie sighed, and turned from her closet to look at Becky. "They wouldn't expect an actual nanny to go get her hair done, get sized for an elegant dress, and then come down. They'd expect the nanny to just quickly come there and...well, whatever you have to do."

"Maybe you're right. It's just that all these fancy people will be there, and I just feel like my whole wardrobe is blah. Even that outfit I wore to Allie's last recital."

"Well, what always helped pick me up was borrowing a dress from my older sister. Of course, you probably feel like you have to go beyond even that, huh?" She nodded glumly. "Well, that's what aunts are for. Put some safety pins in a couple places, since it's bigger, add some shoulder pads, and I think I have just the dress for you."

Stephanie had heard from Becky what all Sam had done at the Longwell mansion. As Becky drove her there, Stephanie mused that this was beyond an innocent acting Eloise who just wanted to have fun. Eloise books, the few of them there were, were quite funny because Eloise was basically a female Dennis the Menace. Both kids could be reasoned with, lectured, and had privileges reduced quite easily.

Even with the much wilder Sam, till the last couple months, just the threat of 'what would Stephanie say' by her parents had stopped Sam in her tracks. Now, though, there were big problems.

Sam was doing far more than the little things she'd done last year, at these parties where her parents showed her off like a doll. Indeed, Stephanie had considered after one such lecture at school the previous year the day after such a party that making people sneeze a lot from the punch seemed just like the kind of silly thing that would earn Eloise a timeout and lecture, but also would be delightfully funny to read about.

Stephanie knew Sam had gone too far this time, though. It was time for one of her incredibly loud, Mt. Stephanie lectures, it appeared. And, when she got to the gate, she feared she might have to do even more.

"Oh, thank goodness you're here," the valet said with incredible relief to Becky as they pulled up. "I assume you're the Burke's nanny?" He diddn't know who else would be showing up now.

"No, actually, Stephanie here is the one who has power over Sam," Becky said proudly. "I'm just her chaffeur tonight."

"I wondered, I thought I recognized you from somewhere else...are you on television?" the valet asked.

"That's right; 'Wake Up, San Francisco.' I'm Rebecca Donaldson."

"We heard about a ming vase and a rug; is there more?" Stephanie asked.

"I'm afraid so. She was last seen leaving the parlor where some delightful exotic fish were stored in a large aqairium. She had been splashing around in the aquarium, and at least three of the fish plus a bunch of water was on the floor. She'd gotten on a chair, and had pulled a couple fish out, which she was throwing up in the air and catching. The staff tried to corral her, but to no avail. She had knocked over a couple other things, too."

Stephanie was shown into the main foyer, where the butler was counting the many damages, complaining in as much a panic as a stoic English butler could have, and telling the Burkes what they would be expected to repay because of the girl they'd brought along to "showcase" so that others could see how sweet she supposedly was, and so they could be seen as great parents.

"Replacing a Ming vase, three thousand dollars."

Stephanie observed the incredibly ornate foyer it extended up two floors. From a sign telling people to watch their step, she suspected that the bannister, which went around the entire foyer except for the outer wall, was where she had dropped the vase.

"Cleaning for an expensive Oriental rug, two thousand dollars."

Water stood along the upper stairwell, as did a couple fish fish? Stephanie's eyes bulged as some of the staff walked by and picked them up, putting some of them in bags with water in them, but scooping up the remains of some into trash bags, as they had likely been stepped on or otherwise splattered.

"Finding half a dozen more very rare, exotic fish, four thousand five hundred dollars."

Sam walked into the foyer, expecting that maybe she might be sent home, along with her parents. Instead, her eyes bulged, and she suddenly got choked up. She tried to speak, but not even whimpers would come out. She instinctively covered her bottom, knowing that she'd been very bad, and that her latest tirade, disbelieving that her parents would ever do anything about that "nanny" business, might have taken her from a long time sitting in a corner to a few minutes where she might not be able to sit at all. Her face held a little relief that it was Stephanie, as Stephanie was one person who cared deeply about her, and she would at least hug her, whatever the punishment. She still shuddered immensely, though.

"The look on Sam's face upon seeing your 'nanny' priceless."

"Your nanny seems quite...young," said the dumbfounded Mr. Longwell.

"Yes, well, good help is very hard to find," Mrs. Burke said with a nervous laugh.

As Stephanie walked close to Sam, her eyes pierced right through to Sam's soul. "I'm sorry, Stephanie," Sam muttered very timidly. "Please don't hurt me."

"Sam, we are going to have a long talk about many things. And if I hear one word of disrespect or of defiance I will spank you. Otherwise, you will simply listen and learn from what I have to say, and you will have some time in the corner to let it sink in. Sir, where is a good, private place to talk?"

Stephanie was shown to one, and she took the tearful Sam by the hand and walked her there. Sam listened as she was told not because of the fear of a spanking, but because Stephane cared. Indeed, even if she'd spanked her, Stephanie would have cuddled with her later. Sam was certain of that.

As it was, Sam did not act incredibly defiant and disrespectful, as she would some other times, so Stephanie was able to get Sam to talk about her frustration and anger, and she was able to get her to see how she needed to listen. In a very firm way she explained why what Sam did was so bad, and gave numerous ideas on combating boredom. After the timeout, she sat Sam in her lap and talked a short time more with her. Sam was clearly a little frightened of Stephanie, but also held a great amount of respect for her.

The Longwells and Burkes were still talking half an hour later, when it was over; Stephanie had felt the timeout should be about fifteen minutes, considering all the damage, plus some people could have been hurt by the cane. A number of other people were around when Sam, prodded by Stephanie behind her, walked up to Mr. Longwell. She whispered an apology so low he could barely make it out.

"Good Heavens," spoke the butler, marvelling at Stephanie's age. "You have found the Mozart of nannies."

Stephanie thought about saying it was easy when she was the only one who showed Sam love and affection. But, she didn't. She was too modest, anyway, even if it wouldn't have sounded like rubbing it in. After hugging Sam again, she said, "Well, my work is done here" and left.

Samantha hadn't recalled her incredibly bad past behavior, or the anger, bitterness, and loneliness that caused it, very much that summer. She'd learned to focus on much happier times. But, as school approached, she grew more and more agitated. She wasn't all that nervous about the students, although her size did play a role. She wasn't even nervous about how teachers might act - there were plenty of people there to convince everyone that she was not the girl they'd heard about back when Sam was in Kindergarten.

Courtney had even remarked that most of the teachers probably didn't know or care who she was, anyway; how many staff members would have seen her, let alone known who she was, that day when, as Sam, she'd run off and gone into John Muir? Not many. Of course, Michelle figured that lecture would be quite memorable to the cafeteria workers, anyway. But, she held her tongue. She'd matured greatly, and knew just when to be blunt and when to be quiet for Samantha's sake.

It was that day that bothered Samantha, though. As she, Michelle, and Courtney played and talked in Courtney's room the day before school, Samantha suddenly began weeping, complaining that she was scared to go to school.

"Come on," Michelle soothed her. "It can't be that bad. The cafeteria hardly ever serves anchovies, for one."

Samantha sniffled. "That's easy for you to say. You never snuck in there before."

"Stephanie treated you with love, right?" Courtney said. She hadn't wanted to say what Stephanie had had to do, but she did want Samantha to look at the good side.

Samantha, however, knew that even if Stephanie was there to help her, it wouldn't do any good. "I'd still remember the bad times. When I was Sam. When I was so scared, so alone. I didn't think anyone loved me, so I never tried to be good. And, even later, when I knew you guys cared, I still had times when I felt it didn't matter, when I figured I might as well be bad because I thought nobody cared."

Courtney suggested they of some happy times. And, Samantha tried to recall some from that time period as they talked on Courtney's bed.

Michelle, seven then, was at a Christmas gathering over at the Larkins, along with Samantha, who had still gone by Sam then. A few other friends were over there, as well. It was perhaps a week after Stephanie had gone to the Longwell mansion.

After opening a few clothes Sam had shown an interest in dressing a little more like Michelle, but all she had were t shirts and jeans, and her parents would never buy anything but those and frilly dresses that she hated Sam opened a box with a pink yo yo in it; it even had some lights so it would glow in the dark.

"Merry Christmas," Courtney said.

Before Sam could say anything, one of the Larkins' boys had taken her hand in his and was trying to show her tricks. "This is called 'walking the dog,'" he said.

Michelle noticed Sam's puzzled look. "Walking the dog is too much for her; I think Sam just wants a goldfish right now," she joked.

"That's okay, Michelle. I don't mind him teaching me." Indeed, with how much Sam's parents ignored her, she was happy for anyone to pay attention to her.

"Yeah, this might be my best friend. But it's important for all of us to be her friend," Courtney said, putting an arm around Sam. She'd quickly sensed from the way Michelle acted at that first Honeybee meeting that Sam needed lot of affection.

Hannah knelt down to Courtney's level and confirmed Courtney's statement. "That's right. Even when I have to babysit you or come to daycare to talk to you about your behavior."

"Are you going to?" Sam was stunned. "I was hoping it would be Stephanie all the time."

"Oh, she will for the most part. But, she can't always; she might have a doctor's appointment or just be away when the daycare calls and someone has to come quickly. And, Stephanie told them that my good friend D.J. or I should be allowed, too."

Sam nodded. Steph was really tough, but at least Sam sensed compassion from her.

"And I promise, it's just like when Stephanie recommended me as a babysitter last spring, after you joined the Honeybees. She was too young to really babysit well last summer," Hannah explained. Stephanie had also been way too worn out otherwise to try and babysit Sam anyway, after that tumultuous Kindergarten year. But, Hannah didn't say that. She only added, "I'm going to handle things exactly like Stephanie if I have to."

"Sam won't be like that, right, Sam? You're always so good around Courtney and I, or with the other Honeybees."

"That's because I like you. I want to be just like you," Sam said lovingly. She didn't add that, at that point, she was still afraid Courtney might not like her if she was really bad for Hannah. Michelle had shown she'd always like her, though, even when Stephanie had to be really tough.

"You've really put a lot of time into her, dear," Mrs. Larkin complimented Michelle. "Your family must be really proud of you."

"Thanks, Mrs. Larkin. I really like doing it. Although, you know what, Sam? I bet your parents will start helping you someday. After all, they saw how much you needed them to let Steph come take care of you if you were a problem at daycare."

"Yeah, right. Only after they called their 'nanny' and Stephanie came and lectured me at that party they dragged me to at the mansion. And even then, Stephanie had to tell them she needed to be the one at daycare, too. Why can't they see it themselves? Every other kid has parents who care," Sam blurted.

Michelle nodded slowly. She wouldn't lose faith. But, she did promise this. "Sam, until they do, I'm going to keep spending time with you, and trying to help you. Because, I know you can be a good kid."

Hannah smiled at Michelle. "You know, I like having brothers. But, the coolest thing ever happened when Courtney was born. Because, I always a little sister to help. And, with two sisters of your own helping after your mom died, I'm sure you'd like to return all they've done, and help your own little sis."

"You said it," Michelle declared, anxious to see Sam continue to grow into a wonderful girl. Just as she knew she could.

"Would you feel better if Stephanie called the school?" Michelle asked, back in the present.

"Stephanie and some others have talked to the lady who will be your guidance counselor," Courtney explained. "They're going to try and make sure you have a friend with you when you can, in your classes. They know it's been rough."

Samantha refused to consider anything Courtney or Michelle were saying. "Even if Stephanie did help, it would still be a problem." She sighed. I know she always loved me. But, when I think of how she handled everything just like if she were my mom, I think about how she wouldn't have had to if my parents cared at all about me. I wanted to escape so badly, that's why I left the school in the first place that one time. But, I really wanted to escape from the way my whole life was then." She mused that, "I guess I didn't think I was worth loving then."

Michelle could tell this was one of Samantha's more depressed times. While she was sad now, Michelle was thankful Samantha wasn't as depressed as she likely got back then. Sadly, whoever had handled that situation would have made Samantha sad, Michelle considered, even if Samantha hadn't been disciplined, because that person wouldn't be the person Samantha wanted to handle things, her parents.

She tried to lighten Samantha's mood, and half-jokingly said, "Well, you can't take Mr. Snuggle Bunny. You don't want to chance him getting stolen. Or...well, I guess you could..."

"Sorry, Michelle. You're right. I couldn't let anything happen to him."

Michelle struggled for ideas. When none would come, she quickly attempted to remind Samantha of another good time. It would help ease her worries about making new friends as John Muir, too. "Remember when Amy first asked you to play with her?"

Sam was depressed. It was a clear, crisp day with just a hint of the cool of early spring still in the air, though it was now May of her Kindergarten year. But, her mind was too filled with thoughts of summer. She really wished that her parents would do something fun, that they could have a vacation like some kids talked about now that there were only a couple more weeks left in the school year. Yes, she'd likely get to go somewhere with the Tanners, and maybe even the Larkins, but that wasn't the same.

So, she stared out a knothole in the fence. She knew from what Stephanie had said how dangerous it was wandering around alone, even if it wasn't dark. But, she wondered if that included being alone while with other people. Because, though she wasn't physically alone in her house, or other places with them, she was certainly alone emotionally.

She hadn't wanted to play with Michelle or Courtney. But, then another classmate of hers, Amy walked up to her. "Hi," Amy said hesitatingly. "We were wondering if you wanted to jump rope with us. Do you know how?" Sam shrugged. "We can teach you if you don't. You know Stephanie did 104 straight twirls on a hula hoop once, I think she might hold the first grade jump rope record, too," Amy guessed.

The thought of Stephanie brought a small smile to her face. Stephanie cared about her. And, she'd probably have fun with these girls. Just the fact that someone else actually wanted to play with her made her feel really good.

Michelle and Courtney had each looked over later and seen Sam playing with totally different girls; the first graders and Kindergarten students had one recess together. "Hey, look, isn't that great?" Michelle asked. "It looks like she's starting to make some more friends."

"Yeah," Courtney added, "you didn't even had to ask them."

After that recess period, Sam couldn't wait to tell Courtney as they walked back to their classroom. "It was so exciting Courtney," Sam said with an obvious twinkle in her eye. "There's other kids here that actually like me!"

"I knew it would happen."

"You were right. This is so cool," Sam declared. Soon, and especially next year, she realized that she really could have some good experiences at school.

"That was awesome," Samantha responded as they finished discussing it.

"You were grinning for a week," Michelle added.

"Thanks, Michelle. You've always been so nice. You always knew I could be a good girl." She said dejectedly, "Even when I didn't think I could be."

Courtney agreed. "Remember when Michelle got you to go trick or treating about a month before that time on the playground, even?"

"Oh, yeah, and Stephanie dressed up as the queen of England. That was so neat," Samantha said, reminiscing.

Sam looked at herself in the cute, cuddly pink Care Bear outfit. It didn't totally seem her, but yet, she liked it in a way. Michelle wore the fairy princess outfit she originally thought Sam should have; Stephanie had suggested the care bear one might help Sam more, as they were associated with gentleness and goodness.

Sam thought about that a little as Stephanie, Michelle, Sam, and Joey - dressed as a Ninja Turtle - walked out of the Tanner house with bags for goodies. "Does everyone act like they dress?" Sam wondered aloud.

Michelle tried to say no, but Joey interjected. "Some think they should. Like the story D.J. tells about her friend, Kimmy; she was the Count on Sesame Street in first grade, and kept driving everyone nuts trying to count everything."

"Which didn't work out so well the next year when Kimmy was Count Chocula," Stephanie said glibly. "She tried to suck the chocolate out of stuff and joked that she needed that to get sustenance."

"That's fitting," Sam teased, "your dad could go as Toucan Sam with that big nose of his, Stephanie. "He could use it as a vacuum cleaner and inhale all the dust."

Michelle was saying it wasn't nice to tease like that. It wasn't all that bad, just like when Stephanie had been calling a boy "Duckface" in second grade, but she did want to stick up for her dad a little.

But, Joey took Sam seriously. "Actually, he did when he took D.J. out when she was being the leprechaun from Lucky Charms; he thought the cereal theme was so cute. Steph was the Trix rabbit, and a boy in D.J.'s class was Tony the Tiger. Then Kimmy joined the little group. You know, that's the first time Danny really started joking about how annoying Kimmy was to him," Joey mentioned.

Michelle nodded. "Oh. Well, I guess if Dad did dress like that it wasn't so bad."

"Right, he can handle jokes about that," Stephanie assured her younger sister.

Sam was a little apprehensive about going up to the first house. But, her fears were doused when the person opening the door pointed at her. "Oh, isn't she adorable. Hi, Michelle, what a cute fairy you make. You've got such a sweet looking friend there, too," the lady remarked happily.

Sweet? Sam was stunned; nobody had ever called her that. And adorable only came from the Tanners a couple times.

But, as they walked aournd the neighborhood, she found many people commenting on her and her Care Bear outfit. It even overshadowed the scarier looking costumes that Sam saw, though at one funny point Michelle put herhands over Sam's eyes. And, they decided not to go to a fw houses that were decorated like real haunted houses.. Sam was starting to feel very comfortable by the end of the day; she'd lived the experience. Everyone seemed to be saying, "Oh, how adorable." And, they were actually talking about her!

Samantha grinned at the warm, happy memories. "I was a Care Bear the next year, too, I still barely fit into that outfit." She sighed. "It was so neat. The first time I ever thought of myself as adorable."

"That's right, because you are sweet and adorable," Courtney encouraged her.

"You can have even better times at John Muir," Michelle exclaimed.

"Maybe. Or, maybe I could go to a private school, like Elizabeth, that girl we ride horses, then you wouldn't be there, and neither would Courtney, or your friends Cassie and Mandy. No, that wouldn't be any good."

Courtney reminded Samantha of the story of Michelle's first day of preschool. She told us she accidentally let the class bird fly away, and all the kids were mad at her. But, then she went back and she had a great time."

Michelle agreed. "I'd forgotten about that till you reminded me. See, the first day was rough for you..."

"My first decade was rough," Samantha countered.

"Yeah, but your second hasn't been too bad, and it'll get a lot better. Just like the Cubs - any team can have a bad century. But, they might win the World Series one year. You just have to have hope." The Cubs, she'd been told by Jeff, hadn't wona World Series since 1908, or a league title since 1945, over 50 years ago!

Courtney reminded her that she had had lots of great times, too. "Samantha, you've had fun birthdays, Christmasses, sleepovers, even vacations with your friends. You went to dance school the summer after fourth grade. And, remember that Disneyland trip we took after second."

"Oh, yeah. That was so special...'

Samantha couldn't believe it. She'd been selected as Princess for a Day. It was truly a girl's dream come true. As she felt the crown that had been placed on her head, she looked at Michelle and her family, along with Courtney and hers. Since Michelle had had a concussion a few months before, they hadn't wanted to do a lot for vacation. But, by mid-July, they knew Michelle would be more than able to handle this. Danny was stil protective enough not to let her go on roller coasters or other rides that might shake her head around, though.

Michelle didn't care. She was more than happy just to watch Samantha enjoy everything. "Just think, Samantha, you can wish for anything."

"I wish..." How would she use the first of her three wishes? She didn't know. "You know, it's funny," she told the genie witht he lamp. I thought my first wish would be for a family . But, it really feels like I've got one already," she said warmly.

"We had so much fun on that vacation." Samantha confirmed that she had enjoyed some wonderful moments, along with the sad. My ballet recitals, the way you guys have always tried to be there, at least part of your families have been. I guess I could have a pretty good time in middle school after all."

The next day, Sam felt a little reluctant about going inside as michelle and she walked up to the door. She turned to Joey and asked, "Do you think they'll really like me for sure?"

"Who knows, you might even be Princess for a Day again," Joey quipped. Justin walked in and held the door open for them as Samantha and Michelle giggled. "Hey, you never know. They might have that in some class."

"What class would that be?" Justin asked incredulously.

"I don't know, but I think we can rule out lunch. I don't know if anyone would want to reign over some of the food," Michelle quipped.

" goes nothing," Samantha said as she stepped inside the building. "I guess it can be okay."

Courtney agreed that it could. "Just remember, you can defeat your fear. Strike back against it by remembering the positive things. There's a lot to look forward to here, lots of fun stuff."

Samantha breathed heavily. "I hope so."

Samantha was surprised, as the morning went on, how well she did in some areas. Seeing other kids unable to find classrooms and such helped, of course. But, she also didn't think about her destructiveness, her waywardness, very much. She chuckled as she considered that a ballerina-type mentality was great for this, too - taking 400 kids, moving them all around every 50 minutes, and making it look effortless. Somehow, the school did it. She could tell she'd been hanging around Joey with that sort of silly comparison, but it worked.

However, there was another part of her problems from earlier years that was still there. While she didn't think about how upset she'd been back when she'd wandered into John Muir in second grade, the feeling of being unloved and unlovable was there. She knew Stephanie and the others loved her. But, even in the one class she shared with Courtney that morning, she couldn't help but wonder if anybody cared. The unfortunate side effect of everyone trying not to make sure nobody acted like they recognized her from back then was that nobody made a bg deal about her. She was thankful that Michelle and Courtney had been right, that nobody would remember her. But, she wanted to stand out, somehow. She just didn't know how. She only knew that it was so easy up on stage.

So, when lunchtime came, she decided that the best place to eat would be the place D.J. had when she entered her first day of Junior High. She grabbed a tray of food and ducked into a phone booth.

Samantha sighed. At least D.J. had had a few quarters with her her first day of Junior High school. Now, all she had was a couple sandwiches that she'd made, a small juice box, and her own thoughts.

It would have been a lot better if those thoughts weren't so depressing. Her whole life had been so hard. But, at lest she'd felt comfortable back in elementary school

"Psssst," came a tense, hushed voice out of nowhere. Whoever it was was hiding. "Did you see a blue shirt with a red 'S' on it and a cape in there? No questions."

Samantha began giggling, and almost spilled some of her juice. "I can see why Michelle likes you," she told Jeff Farrington, like Michelle a seventh grader. He and Michelle had been in the same class together since Kindergarten, and in Middle School last year and this had shared at least one class and lunch.

Jeff had begun to follow Courtney and Michelle to look for her when Courtney mentioned that Samantha should be with them. But, then he'd remember Michelle's story about D.J., and scurried over to the phone booth.

"Samantha," Courtney asked, "What are you doing in there?"

"Laughing at Jeff." It was the truth, and she didn't have to explain her feelings.

"Everyone laughs at Jeff. Not everyone does it from a phone booth, though."

"That's for sure," Jeff spouted. "If Clark Kent needed to change in that booth now, he couldn't. He'd just have to fly off to save the world in his underwear." He was pleased to see all the girls, including Samantha, laugh at the joke. He enjoyed being silly around Michelle just because he liked her. But, he knew Samantha really needed to be cheered up at times.

Come on, Sammie, you're not going to turn into Supergirl or Batgirl in there," Michelle remarked.

"No, but it might be a clear indication that she wants to join the newspaper staff," Jeff said, still on his Superman kick. When Michelle gave him a look, Jeff said, "Hey, it could be worse. If she wanted to be Batman she'd have to eat in a cave somewhere. And the Bionic Woman...well, I don't think we want to get into that." He only knew the Six Million Dollar Man had been rebuilt with many robotic parts, or something like that. He assumed that the Bionic Woman had been injured terribly and rebuilt the same way.

Michelle could tell Samantha was enjoying this comedy routine, but knew that not only would she need to talk, but also Jeff hadn't quite matured enough to always know when to stop his jokes. "Come on, Jeff, let's go back and find Olivia." Olivia was a new sixth grade friend Missy had helped find for Samantha to eat with; Olivia had already been in one of Samantha's classes, but she'd arrived late herself, unable to find the room, and so hadn't had any time to talk with Samantha.

Courtney squeezed into the phone booth and said, "What's on your mind?"

"Oh, everything, I guess. My whole life's been so hard. And, now I have to have all these new teachers at once, all these friends, never knowing whether there will be any cliques that give me problems..."

"Samantha, Stephanie knows what to look for from the problems she and her friends had with the Flamingoes. You can be sure she and her team are going to make sure you don't have any problems like that." She didn't want to say that Samantha had through enough already, but she imagined both of them had the same thought.

"Thanks, Court. I guess I might know some of these kids, but it's so different."

"Well, we're here to eat with you. And, Missy found you a good friend to eat with, too; she's got a couple of the classes you do. I'm sure you ate in cafeterias and stuff at the dance school in New York."

"But, then it was always the same girls. I felt like I had a bunch of sisters, from all over the country." She closed her eyes. "The first two weeks I stuck to our group mother Mrs. Crockett, and my dance partner Crystal pretty much, though."

"Well, it'll be the same way here. Except not every one of these kids is a ballerina." She indicated a very large football player and said, "Thanks goodness, huh?"

"Yeah, I wouldn't want to try and dance the 'Nutcracker' with him."

"Hi, I'm Olivia," a girl said as she walked up to Samantha. Michelle and Jeff were behind her. "You must be new here, too."


Olivia invited Samantha over to where she and a few friends from Frasier Street's rival elementary school were seated. Samantha hoped none of them had heard of the horrible first couple years she'd been Sam at Fraser St. - none had, it seemed.

She felt more comfortable as the day wore on. In fact, she was downright jubilant. She hadn't gotten lost like Olivia had once, or forgotten her locker combination like another girl, or been so nervous she forgot her name, as one actually had!

"Well, I survived," Samantha told Michelle and Courtney as they waited for Mrs. Larkin to pick them up. She paused a moment, then said, "It's really pretty nice."

"And you probably didn't think of needing Mr. Snuggle Bunny once," Michelle kidded her.

"No. I would have worried about him being stolen."

Courtney noticed she hadn't mentioned how juvenile it would feel, but ignored that. After all, her sister Hannah had known friends who slept with stuffed animals till they were in their teens, and who even took them with them to college. And, given Samantha's history, she might never really think it was juvenile to have him close.

"I think I might get to like it a lot."

"I'm sure you will," Michelle told her. You're good at making friends. You're nice, you're really good to others. And, you help people when they need it." Samantha smiled thankfully at Michelle. "All you need to do it just ask if you have a problem. But, I think you're going to have a great time in Middle School and beyond."

For the first time, Samantha confidently agreed.