Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Sam Series

07 * Part of the Family
Written by: Paul Austin

After Samantha encounters a troubling situation on a date, Stephanie seeks to find a steady boyfriend for the young teen, who has some troubles adjusting to not having as close a relationship as Michelle & Jeff, but still feels more and more loved

A/N: A little changed here because of some changes early on, it was figured Samantha would move in with the Tanners a bit earlier, so some stuff is moved around, with a flashback to that now early in the story.

"Hey, nice library," fourteen-year-old Michelle Tanner joked. The young teen pointed at the stack of books carried by one of her best friends, Cassie Wilkins.

"Thanks. Although, shouldn't we be kind of quiet?" Cassie looked at Michelle's best friend and boyfriend, Jeff Farrington. "You would have said that right after me, Jeff," she told him emphatically. Jeff, the class clown in elementary school, had matured quite a bit, but was still one of the funniest people the friends knew at times.

"Yep. You need some help with those?" Jeff, a brown-haired boy of about five foot six, and Michelle, several inches shorter and with a strawberry blonde pony tail, each took a couple.

"Yeah, thanks. I need to get all these back to the school library. And, I don't have a great boyfriend like Michelle does," Cassie said without a hint of bitterness. She was genuinely happy for Michelle.

"Hey, guys." The voice coming up behind them was that of Mandy Metz, Michelle's other best friend. Cassie's blonde ponytail plopped as she turned her head. "Have you decided what you're writing your story about for English?" she asked Jeff. Mandy and Jeff had English the same period.

"I always thought it would be a challenge to do one in first person, about a vacation or something," Michelle began. She suddenly started eyeing Jeff. She knew that look in his eye, and the way he glanced at her. It almost made her crack up thinking about what he might say sometimes.

Cassie interrupted momentarily. "Yeah, third person is easy because you can tell what everyone's doing. With first you're kind of limited, yet you have to go so deep into that character."

Jeff said, "I'm writing my story in fourth person." Michelle instantly began giggling, a delighted giggle that filled every part of her body when she got going. It was the same laugh, with the same bright smile, that had belonged to her late mother, Pam.

"What's fourth person?" Mandy asked. She'd never heard of the concept.

"That's a story by someone who wasn't there, and who has no idea what happened. He's really just guessing." Seeing Michelle had already dropped her books, he continued. "Then once in a while, a character will come in and argue that that's not the way it happened at all!"

By this time, Michelle was awash in giggles, and her friends weren't far behind. Some of the other students, who had also come early and overheard them as they walked, stifled laughts themselves.

"How do you say all that with a straight face?" Michelle asked admiringly.

"Just a gift, I guess." He looked lovingly into her eyes. "Just like you are."

"Oh, thanks, Jeff."

"You know, I bet your dad was so heartbroken when your mom died back when you were a baby. Because that laugh really brightens my day," he said sincerely as Michelle scooped her books up and walked with them. He wasn't the kind to write mushy love poems - though silly ones were quite normal for him. However, since they'd known each other since Kindergarten, he could share feelings like this comfortably.

"Yeah. I'll bet. At least I've had lots of loving people around me. I know a few kids who don't have anyone."

"Yeah, like Samantha." Cassie placed the books on the return counter and continued. "Her parents don't pay any attention to her at all. And, they never taught her any rules or anything."

"Yeah. We're the only family she's got. Her dance friends and then her best friend in her grade Courtney, and her family come close, but I'm the one she sees as a big sister. And Stephanie's the mom," Michelle lamented.

"It's a good thing Steph met her in Kindergarten," Mandy said. Stephanie was the middle Tanner sister. Now nineteen, Stephanie had been a Principal's Assistant in fifth grade, as well as for much of fourth. And, among other things, she'd had to deal with some very unruly children, Samantha - then known as Sam - being by far the worst.

"I'm so glad she moved in with us late last summer," Michelle considered aloud. "Steph and I have done so much to help her over the years. I don't mind still sharing my room. It's great being the big sister, like D.J. was for Steph and Steph for me. But, more importantly, she's improved a lot, but she really neesds us at times yet."

Jeff recollected. "I remember coming over to help that day she officially moved in; you'd been family for years, but it feels a lot more like home when you live there."

Michelle opened the door with her free hand, as Samantha looked down from the second floor. "Hey, Jeff. Thanks for coming to help. The Swansons dropped off their boys here for us to watch. Cassie and Mandy aren't here yet, and Courtney and her brothers haven't come with the moving truck, either."

Jeff threw his jacket on the closest chair, and opened his arms wide for a hug. His eyes bulged as Michelle thrust two-year-old Michael into his chest.

"Hey, I said I'd help, not do everything."

Michelle looked longingly at him as he took Michael in his arms. "Please play with him a while. I still have to get his older brother settled in front of a video before we start helping Samantha get all of her stuff moved in. It was enough of a hassle getting them to drop the boys off here instead of me going over there to babysit like usual."

"Oh, boy," Jeff said, impersonating Bullwinkle. The toddler laughed. "Guess Michelle's gonna be running around like a chicken with no head." He then bounced the child in his arms and said to Michelle, "Anything for my one and only." Jeff began singing. "Chantilly lace, that pretty face, that pony tail, hangin' down."

"Jeff, my hair is all messed up, and I'm in dirty Stanford sweats right now," Michelle chided him.

"Hey, that's okay. You'll be my one and only even when you look like my grandma."

"Thanks," she said sweetly, dreaming of the same thing - forever. As Michelle walked away, she said, "By the way, his diaper's stinky." She turned long enough to see an expected funny reaction.

"AAUGH!!" Jeff screamed playfully, holding the boy at arms length - just what she'd needed to relieve her stress. As expected, Michelle erupted in giggles.

The four-year-old, Benjamin, looked up from a coloring book on the couch. "Is his diaper scary?" he wondered, greatly astonished.

"No, I just like making Michelle laugh."


Jeff carried Michael over and sat next to the four-year-old for a second. "I've loved making her laugh since we were in Kindergarten. At first it was to get attention; that's why I liked being a class clown. Then, it was because we were friends. And now, we've gone from being best friends to boyfriend and girlfriend, always wanting to make each other happy. Always wanting to be there for the other one. She means so much to me." It was something he would repeat often, with the same warm feelings, once he and Michelle married and had their own children.

Samantha smiled watching from the banister above. Michelle joined her after plopping a movie into the VCR. "Jeff's so nice. You deserve someone like him."

"Thanks, Samantha. Let me go fix my hair, then we'll start moving." Michelle inhaled deeply as they walked into her bedroom. "Being roommates will be so cool."

"Yeah, and it's not like I was over at my parents' much. I've spent all my time with you or Courtney or the ballet or my friends. And, I'll be traveling some with the ballet, too, in a few years. So, I won't miss them." Indeed, for years now, she'd thought of Stephanie, Michelle, and the others as her surrogate family. And now, Samantha had received permission to move in with the Tanners. "I'll keep praying for them. I'll still get a hefty allowance at sixteen, and the halves of my trust at eighteen and twenty-five." Samantha considered how unfeeling that last part had sounded. And yet, that was all her parents thought about - things. Things that would one day amount to nothing. She supposed that the fact she put praying for them first in the list meant that she, at least, was thinking healthily. "They never really wanted me. I'm glad someone did, though," she said with great affection.

Stephanie walked into the bedroom, having overheard from the doorway. "That's right. And, one day, you'll come across a boy who loves you for all the right reasons. We're really proud of you. And, anyone else should be, too."

"Yeah, all my ballet awards, my schoolwork. And...I know, you're going to say just for being me."

"Yep. I'd be proud of Jeff even if he wasn't downstairs actually changing a smelly diaper right now," Michelle joked.

Hours later, they had finally moved Samantha's things into the Tanner home. Danny had given a short speech about being under his rules - with Samantha remarking that she would certainly rather be under Danny's than Stephanie's, though Stephanie's tougher ones would prevail quite a bit. And, as for her parents - they had been away at a convention in New York when she moved, so they hadn't even assisted.

Michelle sat with Jeff on the couch in the living room. "Sorry we didn't get much time together today, Jeff. Between the kids, helping move things, and everything, I guess there just wasn't any."

"It's okay. That's what being together is all about, just doing stuff together. We don't have to be in the same room every second."

Michelle sighed contentedly. She wasn't sure which she liked more - the thought of just sitting and gazing at her handsome boyfriend, the two looking fondly in each others' eyes, or actually accomplishing something big together, like the move. Being a young teen, the first one was big. But, because their friendship was so ingrained already, the second was very appealing. Indeed, it seemed to come so naturally.

Samantha and Stephanie watched from a distance. "D.J. and Steve probably never felt anything like Michelle and Jeff at their age, huh?" Samantha asked.

"No. They had fun together, but they didn't really know a whole lot about each other, about the families, and so on. Even when they got back together at D.J.'s prom, it became just a friendship. It wasn't till a couple years ago that things really got serious, to where you could tell they'll probably get married."

She knew Samantha was probably thinking of how Pam Tanner married as a teen. She put an arm around Samantha and promised, "Sooner or later, it'll happen for you."

"Thanks, I hope so."

Stephanie looked at Michelle and Jeff, dreaming along with them just as she dreamed along with Samantha concerning her many talents in dancing, singing, and so on. And yet, something even more amazing popped into her mind.

"You know, Samantha, it's amazing. It's been eight years since I met you. And, all that I've seen and heard from your teachers, everyone just gives you so many compliments. You have really accomplished so much."

"Thanks." Samantha gave Stephanie a big hug. And, as they embraced, she considered that she'd really been a part of the Tanner family, emotionally if not physically, for a long time.

The friends were at Michelle's locker by the time they were done reminiscing. "I've always cared for her, even though she was a handful at first," Michelle agreed as they left the library. "But, thanks to Steph, she is a wonderful kid now."

"And you," Jeff said. "You're like a big sister to her."

Mandy remarked that their oldest sister, D.J., had helped, too. "Of course, she backed Steph up and helped a lot early, too, just because she was the mother figure, the one you and even Steph took after when you were little. Say, do you think Steve and D.J. will get married soon? I remember even back then, moving her in, we sort of thought so."

"Wellll, Steve did talk a while with Dad last night. Alone. And Dad kind of had tears in his eyes when they were done," she said slyly. The friends all got excited for D.J..

"I'll bet Stephanie's nervous about Samantha getting to be the age where she can date," Cassie remarked.

"She is. Although, she's letting Samantha go to a formal at another Middle School tonight; she met the boy at the Smash Club, and he seemed pretty nice." The girls' Uncle Jesse, who had originally moved in to help raise them when his sister Pam died, was now married with own family and living very near the Tanners'. He owned the club, which served no alcohol and had very wholesome entertainment. Samantha had been with a group of her friends when they met a few days earlier.

"That's cool. It's so great that she finally decided to move in with you guys," Cassie said. "It's great she has a wonderful family like yours now."

Early that evening, Michelle anxiously awaited news as she read for class in her living room. However, it wasn't Samantha bursting through the door to talk about her date first; indeed, she wasn't expected home for a little while. Instead, D.J., bounded joyfully into the living room. Usually, it was Stephanie who was so excited. D.J., almost twenty-four, had a much more even keel.

Not this time, though. "Steve proposed to me!" she announced.

"All right!" Michelle gave her a huge embrace, which was returned joyfully.

"He saw me as I got off my shift at the hospital this afternoon, and said he took off early from his work with Grandpa's old exterminating business." Steve had been apprenticing and hoped to buy it in a few years. "he surprised me by taking me a ways away, and we had the most romantic time! We went to a really out of the way place by the Bay, and we started talking about our lives together, how it's been so much deeper than it ever was, even before that romantic party where we rung in the Millennium. I mean, it was love, but it was just more superficial the first time, but then he came back to take me to my prom, and...listen to me. Dad doesn't even know yet, I've been so excited."

"I can tell, you're already rambling like him. I hate to think what Steph will be like when it's her turn." Stephanie had inherited that gift of gab from their dad, Danny Tanner. In fact, she'd been a chatterbox in preschool. "Have you set a date?"

"Not yet, we're thinking another year, so Steve can get a little more established. He is twenty-six, though, and he's got things pretty organized financially. He's saving up to buy a house in the area within the year. That way, he'll have a real home to move out of." She chuckled. Danny hated to see his daughters grow up, so she knew that, "Dad'll probably insist we share the bachelorette pad on the third floor."

"I saw Steve and Dad talking last night; I kind of wondered," Michelle said. "I was waiting to hear how things went for Samantha."

D.J. understood. "I hope it went well, but now I've got to get to bed fast so I can get up for my shift tomorrow, I'll be going in at seven." She sighed. "If I can get to sleep tonight. Oh boy, this is so exciting. I've been thinking about plans, and talking with Kimmy." Kimmy Gibbler was her best friend. She'd moved into an apartment herself, and was thinking of marrying a guy named Duane. "When will Steph be home?"

"She's at the college library; she planned to come home before Samantha got back." Michelle looked at her watch. "It should be pretty soon."

"Okay, I'll run to the attic and get a shower, and then come down and let her know. Thanks." She ran upstairs.

The girls' Uncle Jesse had originally moved into the third floor attic apartment to help raise them, while comedian Joey Gladstone, Danny's best friend, had moved into the basement. A few years ago, Jesse, Jesse's wife Becky, and their kids had moved out shortly before adopting a child, their third after having two twins naturally; they were starting to consider adopting again. Joey had moved out soon after, when he got married.

Moments later, Danny came home, having picked Samantha up at the party. Samantha looked a little...Michelle was sure what, but a combination of confused, concerned, and maybe a few other emotions. Danny, however, had his mind elsewhere. "Hey, Samantha, how did it go?" Michelle asked with concern, knowing she was early. When Samantha hesitated, Michelle turned and said, "D.J.'s got some great news, Dad."

"Oh, I'll bet she does!" he said, rushing upstairs and knocking on the door. D.J. let her in, as she hadn't yet stopped bouncing from her excitement, and they talked in the attic for a short time.

Michelle lounged in a large, comfy chair while Samantha collapsed wearily on the couch. "So, how did the date go, Samantha?" she repeated.

Samantha sighed, unsure of where to begin. "Well, he kissed me." It was not her first kiss - she'd been kissed a couple times before. The part that bothered her was, "It just seemed to go on so long. And, he gave me looks and, well, then he kind of, well, offered me a drink." She related what had happened as Michelle listened.

Samantha had felt rather timid, but she liked the fact that this boy was so cute, and was paying such attention to her. But, then they went into the hallway next to the gymnasium where the dance was held. She he showed her where there was some beer that would help to "cheer her up."

Samantha's hand had trembled as she took the cup. She did want to fit in, and she really was anxious. But, maybe if this boy accepted her, things would be easier. She had plenty of acceptance from the Tanners, but she needed more, much more, because of the lack of parental nurturing from her earliest memories.

Samantha considered that one cup of beer couldn't hurt compared to those multiple glasses of champagne she had drunk at a party her parents had taken her to recently - drinks that had prompted a loud lecture from Stephanie. That was something she promised herself that she'd never repeat - despite the fact those ads she saw on TV made beer seem so cool and exciting.

As she took the cup and was about to raise it to her lips, though, something startled her like nothing she could have imagined. She saw reflected on the surface of the liquid not her own face as would have been normal but the faces of Stephanie and Michelle - and neither looked happy. In fact, somehow, the hallucination's glares seemed to be quite piercing.

Even though this was a hallucination, Samantha was frightened - she spilled a little as she trembled, then threw the cup down and went off into the corner with a couple friends from dance, humiliated but uncertain of what to say. She simply alibied that she and the boy had "had a fight." Finally, she simply called Danny's cell phone and asked to be brought home.

Back in the present, Michelle nodded. Samantha had been rather sheltered, thanks to Stephanie's close protectiveness. Stephanie was the only one to set any limits for Samantha. She obviously hadn't been ready for this encounter. And yet, as Samantha described it, it sounded as if her firm "no" had kept things from going any further. Michelle shuddered at the thought that a lot more than kissing could have gone on, had Stephanie and she - with the other Tanners helping at times - not set firm boundaries on what Samantha would be exposed to, what friends she could hang around with and where, and so on. Samantha now had firm thoughts about what was appropriate when, and knew that some things were to be saved for marriage.

"Well, I know one thing, Samantha. You'd be nuts to see that guy again."

"But he was so cute...I mean cool." Samantha blushed slightly at her blunder. She did love the boy's looks, but knew Stephanie and Michelle always insisted on looking at what was on the inside. More downcast, she said, "But, yeah, I guess I want someone who will respect me a little more," she said with some doubt. She sometimes felt quite sad about her neglected upbringing, though the Tanners had tried to provide plenty of happy times, too. So, at times it could be easy to fall for someone who didn't have lots of respect for her if that boy just paid attention to her a lot. "Even the way he kissed me, it's like...I don't know, I think that's why he sensed I wasn't comfortable."

Michelle took Samantha's hands in hers. "Samantha, you need to break it off now. And, you need us to help you find the right kind of guy. This one listened when you didn't want to go any further. The next one might not. Jeff and I are best friends, and we made commitments to save ourselves till marriage. He'd never touch alcohol, ever, not even when he's an adult like everyone's supposed to wait for. That's important. Maybe more important to our dad and the others, but that stuff's very important to me, too." She didn't feel like mentioning the drunk driver that had killed her mom.

"Michelle...I want a relationship like you and Jeff, like D.J. and Steve. Like your Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky. Like your dad talks about he and your mom having. It feels like a fairy tale sometimes, since I've never heard about this from my parents." She sighed heavily. "I wish they could help, too. I don't even know how they met!"

Michelle sensed the bitterness in Samantha's voice. "I understand. But, it's important to forgive them, too. That doesn't mean someone was right. It just means you love them, no matter what."

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I should," she murmured, placing special emphasis on "guess." Then, she threw up her hands and said, "What good would it do, though. It's not like it'll affect them!"

"Maybe it will, someday." Michelle still held some of that childlike faith. "As for the drinking, I've heard Steph's voice; D.J.'s too, a few times when I've been tempted to do little things. But, if I saw her face like that, I'd be freaking, too." Michelle sized her up and said, "You don't have any alcohol on your breath. And, if you drank like that normally, you'd need a straw all the time. Since you seem to have good hand-eye coordination when it comes to that, you must be telling the truth." She motioned her to come with her, and said they would have to tell Stephanie. "Don't worry, though. Just let me remind her of the story D.J. tells about this boy throwing his glass on her once in seventh grade at a dance. She could tell D.J. was telling the truth then."

Suddenly, Stephanie came in the front door. "Hey, how'd it go?"

"Why don't you tell her about it, and we can figure out how to find you a boyfriend. We'll talk about forgiveness later," Michelle said before asking Stephanie if she remembered the incident with D.J. and the beer.

She was right that Stephanie would believe Samantha, but at first, the question made Stephanie cringe. "Oh boy; that is so not the first thing I expected to hear."

Samantha went on to explain what all had happened, and that she'd hidden her concerns at the dance itself. Stephanie told Michelle to run up and tell Danny, so he could call the school and tell them about the stash of beer. As it turned out, someone had already discovered it, but they were glad someone else had called.

Stephanie quickly expressed great concern when she learned what had happened. She tried to calm herself. She took a deep breath, though she also held a hand to her rapidly beating heart. "Oh, thank Heavens we didn't let you watch any of that sensual stuff when you were little!" She continued to talk to herself to calm herself down. "Most college kids, if they've got any problem with kids it's with potty training!" she said quite rapidly. She said that she was glad that Samantha had said "no" to all that the boy was doing, but that at the same time, she was really concerned about the possible dangers.

"I know," Samantha muttered. They talked a little about what had happened, and Samantha said, "I just didn't know what to do. His kissing didn't seem too bad at first, but it just lasted so long...I mean, a pick on the lips is fine..."

Stephanie could tell Samantha was a little concerned. "Look, you did everything right. And, even if you hadn't, we'd forgive you. Of course, if it wasn't your fault we wouldn't be near as upset, but even if you had...well, you know, on purpose, we would still love you. It's just that that's so much more responsibility, having a baby, than someone should have at your age, and I just get scared. Even when D.J. pledged to be like a mom to Michelle, she barely did a third of what a real mother would have to do, even with our dad not being comfortable and so not disciplining Michelle till she was three and a half!" Stephanie looked Samantha in the eyes. "I'm glad you are going to refuse to see this boy again, but I am going to make sure myself that he stays away from you and stays away from drinking." Stephanie had an elaborate network of friends, family, and others who watched out for Samantha.

Though she didn't admit it out loud, Samantha infinitely preferred this tender protective Stephanie to the angry yelling Stephanie of her childhood. Indeed, that was one reason she hated to think about how naughty she'd been so often, despite how loving Stephanie had seemed even back then.

Michelle came down from telling Danny, and overheard the last of Stephanie's remarks. "What are you going to do, Steph? Have Jeff tell one of the biggest kids on his baseball team to talk to the guy?" Michelle asked in disbelief, a little joking in her voice.

Though it was a joke, Stephanie took it seriously. "Great idea, Michelle. Should I call him or do you want to?"

Michelle quickly grinned, admitting a small defeat. She hadn't meant to be serious, but she graciously offered to call Jeff herself. "I know you Steph. When you say you'll do something, you do it!"

"You bet I do," Stephanie said, giving Michelle a playful squeeze. Samantha nodded her agreement. Then, they discussed what kinds of dangers could have resulted had that boy been drinking more, or had they truly been alone instead of in a hallway right near the busy gymnasium, and so on.

"I know. I kind of thought it would be nice to get alone, but...after he showed me that beer I didn't want anywhere near him," Samantha declared.

"I'm proud of you. Although, Samantha, I think Michelle's right. We need to find your boyfriends right now, just to check into their background a little. Because we want you to be safe. I really think we need to organize a search." The tone suggested that if Samantha didn't accept this, it would be forced upon her.

While many teens might have bristled at this, Samantha got a little upset, then nodded slowly. She knew she was quite vulnerable with her size. And, the protection of Stephanie and Michelle felt so good - so warm, and tender, and caring. Nothing like the cold, uncaring world she felt existed at home sometimes.

"Okay, Stephanie," she said finally, leaning against Stephanie's shoulder. Stephanie put an arm around her and squeezed. "I really don't want that feeling I had tonight."

"You felt kind of trapped, didn't you?" Stephanie asked tenderly. Samantha nodded. "You can be sure we'll find a boyfriend just for you. Someone who loves you for who you are, on the inside, and not for the money you'll get from that trust fund or for your dancing skills or anything else. Just because you're you. And, if that one doesn't work out, we'll find another one."

"Think of us as fairy godmothers," Michelle encouraged. "We're going to help you find someone so you can have a relationship just like Steve and D.J.. Just like you always wanted."

"And," Stephanie interjected, "like you deserve!"

The next day, Michelle and her friends arrived early to meet with the people in charge of their middle school graduation. "Hey, Cassie," Michelle said after overhearing. "You're going with that on your diploma instead of Cassandra?"

"Yep." She spoke quite seriously. "Ever since that incident in Colorado, where that girl named Cassie stood up and professed her faith when she knew she might get killed, the name has just meant so much to me. It just stands for courage now, in my mind."

Michelle understood. She could imagine any of them choosing to go by the more juvenile Cassie in school after that incident. But, it was probably especially true for her best friend, as Cassie had always been quite timid and more easily scared. She probably feels that name helps her to be courageous, Michelle decided.

"So, we have to find a boyfriend for Samantha, huh?" Mandy remarked, returning to a previous subject as she pictured the principal calling out "Amanda Metz." The ceremony wasn't as exciting as it would be come high school, but it was still a big step.

"Yeah. Of course, it might not be us who actually finds him. Her ideal boyfriend could be at another school. Or home schooled."

"Or, he could be half way across the country pretending to be Elvis, like your Uncle Jesse was for your Aunt Becky," Jeff kidded her.

"Let's just say we do not want someone like he was in school," Michelle said.

"What are the qualifications?" Cassie wanted to know.

"Steph and I talked about this quite a bit last night." Michelle licked her lips as they carried their school books to their lockers. "He has to be older - 9th or 10th grade - so he's more mature. A more mature younger kid is possible, Steph dated one once, but we have to have some limits, and this seems like the best thing. Samantha just turned fourteen on March 1st, and ideally this boy would be close to fifteen or have turned fifteen. Steph says an eighth grader is only okay if he's spotless."

"Right, no leopards," Jeff teased. Despite Michelle's wanting to get all this stuff out before the first tardy bell rang, she found time to laugh, anyway.

Mandy shook her head. "She doesn't mean those kinds of spots. How will we know? I mean, does Stephanie plan to conduct interviews?"

"Oh, yeah. You know her," Michelle said, with a small hint of tiredness. While she loved her sister and how she planned to help Samantha, she sometimes felt Stephanie went a little too far. She knew Samantha might feel that way, too, if she knew the full extent to which Stephanie would check the boys' backgrounds, including calling their parents. Meeting the parents did seem like a good thing to do after you'd known a guy for a little bit, but before you met him?

"Well, I'll check with the baseball team. I did talk to our starting third baseman about the guy Samantha was with; he's got a a good friend who goes to Kennedy who'll take care of things, though it sounds like since your dad called the boy's already in even more trouble. My teammate thought maybe Samantha was handicapped or something, the way you said Steph wanted him to be warned away from her," Jeff said, choosing to show his maturity. "

"No, but I'm sure Steph would be even more protective then. Which reminds me, we don't have any handicapped kids at our school, but I know Kennedy has a few. It's possible one of them won't have a girlfriend and would be right for her." Michelle always liked helping people. While it might not work out, she thought it would be a cool idea, as she'd be helping both of them in that instance. She figured some handicapped kids might find it harder to get steady girlfriends.

"Good thinking." Cassie rubbed her lip. "Our church is kind of small, but there might be a youth available in our teenage department. Usually they stay within their group, though, for that."

"Well, try anyway, it can't hurt. With Steph at college, we don't really have anyone in high school at Bayview who could help, except maybe Missy. She's in tenth." Missy, like Stephanie, had been a Principal's Assistant; she had preceded Mandy. "Mandy, why don't you give her a call."

"Sure, I'll try her this afternoon."

Samantha walked up to them, and asked if they'd found a boyfriend for her. "They had theirs early, but our Spring Formal is still only a few weeks away."

"Don't worry, D.J. didn't know about Steve taking her till the evening of her prom."

"I can't wait that long, Michelle!" Samantha said, slightly nervous.

"Cheer up, there's this guy I kind of like, and I think he might have a crush on me, but it's hard to tell," Cassie said hesitantly. "So, you're not the only one."

Mandy remembered a joke Cassie had made years before. Michelle had kidded Cassie about feeling left out - Michelle had been fourth grade class president, and Mandy had just been named Principal's Aide. And, Cassie had announced what her future plans were. "He'd better snap you up fast, considering you're a future Homecoming Queen," Mandy said.

Cassie shook her head and blushed, considering both the audacity of thinking about "holding out for Homecoming Queen" and the great honor that she really didn't think she deserved. She would remember such jokes fondly several years later, once she had been chosen. "Come on, like that's really going to happen. What boy would guess that, anyway?"

Meanwhile, Samantha was excited and nervous. Another boy had asked her out, and she'd said "yes." She couldn't believe her good fortune. And yet, she was nervous, too. Nervous because, while she had time to find a chaperone, and the boy seemed to accept that there would be one, she just didn't know what would happen after the previous date.

Stephanie also was quite relieved that Samantha and the boy who had asked her on a date next weekend would have a chaperone. One of Stephanie's best friends from the ballet company, a lady who was sometimes like a surrogate mother to the younger ballerinas, was going with them.

This allowed Stephanie to concentrate on one of the trickiest legs of this long endurance race known as pairing Samantha up with the right boy. The first boys on the list had been found by the end of the week, and she actually had to start talking to the first few candidates now.

"Hey, Steph," Aunt Becky said as Stephanie walked into the kitchen of their home down the street from the Tanners. The sound of four joyful, playful children - their birth children, Nicky and Alex, plus their two adopted ones - filled the air from outside on the lovely spring day. "So, how's the boy search going?"

"Great. I've got a few prospects, already. It's just a question of what to ask."

"Well, talking has rarely been a problem with you," Becky teased lightly.

"Right. There are just so many things to cover. I'll sort of be getting a life history, in a way." She thought for a second. "I guess I'm so happy seeing Michelle and Jeff together like they are right now, I figure that's best."

Becky nodded as they sat at the table. "I think you're right. You want to make sure the kid's not going to hide stuff. Don't forget, though, Jeff tried to cheat off Michelle once in fourth grade."

"True. But, the way he handled it...I mean, he could have forced her to decide whether to blame him, then waited to see if the teacher believed her." Of course, she knew Michelle probably would have been believed, and certainly would have told the truth. Still, "He owned up to it before Michelle even had a chance to speak. And, that really showed something in his character, even back then."

"Good point. You do want them to confess when they mess up, and not do it again. I'm just saying, don't be too demanding."

"I'll try not to be. But, she's so vulnerable right now."

"I know what you mean. I remember well your Uncle Jesse saying when D.J. was a young teen that he'd never want her going out with any kids who were like him as a teenager. We've already talked with Nicky and Alex about dealing with girls, and how to treat them with respect and dignity, and they're only nine. There will be other times we'll just slip something into the conversation on any topic to make them think. But, you know, I think they really see it with Melanie. She was bounced from foster home to foster home till we adopted her three, three and a half years ago, when she was three. And, she probably still has a few emotional scars from that. So, they're learning with her just how important that love and patience and stuff really is."

"I'll bet Uncle Jesse's going to be pretty protective of her, too."

"I'll say. He's already practicing his speech that he's going to give boys who date her," Becky joked. More seriously, she said, "You might think this old fashioned, but it's one thing Jesse thinks is a good idea. It's more common in the Midwest, though." Stephanie leaned forward expectantly. "I've told the boys that one of the biggest signs of respect you can show a girl is to ask the dad's permission to go out, like in courtship, and for other big things. Especially asking permission to marry them."

Stephanie nodded slowly as she pondered the notion. Steve hadn't asked Danny's permission as much as say he was thinking about it, and discussing it with him. Her present boyfriend probably wouldn't, though he might. Even though he was a faithful churchgoer - they'd met in his church, in fact - Stephanie's boyfriend really didn't know about such traditions. Jeff might not so much ask permission as he might, in three to five years, if things got close enough, bring it up during a deep conversation with Danny, and then say, "I mean, I figure it's okay with you if I do someday, right?" In a way, they were such close friends - the families had known each other well for several years - that adding him as a family member on a permanent basis might not seem farfetched at all by then.

With someone like Samantha, though, such a tradition seemed like a very good idea. She had nobody who cared, outside of the Tanners and Larkins. It would be easy for a boy to woo her away with promises of love, then have her feel cruelly tricked later when it didn't happen. She needed someone to protect her from that. So, it made sense that a boy would need to seek someone's permission before he did anything with her. Especially marriage.

Later that Saturday, Samantha and Michelle were discussing something similar. "You know, Michelle, last night's date was just...well, it was just bad. The boy decided everything we were going to do, and it was like I didn't have any choice in anything."

Michelle put an arm around Samantha as they lounged in their bedroom. "Don't feel too bad; Steph had dates like that, too, in eighth grade," she consoled her.

"Thanks. I figured she probably had. But, you guys had heard about stuff like that beforehand, at least. I can see why Stephanie wants to find someone for me even more now. But, it's like I don't know how to choose one on my own, because I don't even know what to look for; that guy just asked me out, and I said yes," she ranted. "You've always had family talking with you, helping you, just throwing little bits of wisdom out here and there, for years. The little bits I've heard aren't nearly enough."

"You're right," Michelle said with a sigh. "I guess that's something you really miss out on when you don't have the close family I've got. I never really thought about that part before."

"If only my parents actually cared that they had a daughter."

Michelle knew it had been rough for Samantha. "Look, the thing to do is just get those bad feelings off your chest so you can move on, and start to feel like you've really got a family that cares - ours. And, the way to do that is to forgive your parents. That doesn't mean saying they were right. It means saying you love them, no matter what."

She breathed heavily, and became somber for a moment. As she did so, Samantha reflected on how Michelle had always been able to reach her heart, ever since they met Samantha's first week of kindergarten.

"Of course, you know my mom was killed by a drunk driver when I was a baby," Michelle finally said. "I knew I had a great family. Having such loving men around it seemed like I had three dads. Being D.J.'s 'little Strawberry Shortcake,' and all the wonderful love I felt, were all great. But, there was still a part of me that missed having a mom. I think I actually understood why D.J. started hugging me and crying when I gave her a Mother's Day card I'd made in school when I was little. It was just as hard for her to have to be the one to deserve it.

"But, you know, even though the man who drove drunk that day did a very bad thing, I still forgive him. And, I hope he changed, and repented. Because, I care about everyone. It's no fun having bad feelings inside."

Samantha agreed. She didn't like feeling bad or sad at all.

"All you have to do is go to them and say you forgive them, and that you love them. Maybe it's hard to love them as parents. But, you can still love them, somehow."

Samantha nodded slowly, and agreed that she would find a way.

She'd received Christ's forgiveness several years before, but Samantha had to keep turning the idea over and over in her mind that night. She practiced a number of speeches then and on the way to church with her best friend Courtney Larkin, till she finally decided to say what was in her heart.

Somehow, she felt as though this was a turning point. Normally, she wouldn't be apprehensive of talking with her parents. Oh, nothing bad would happen, it was no more traumatic than talking to the normal brick wall would be. But, something in what she was about to do seemed hard. She didn't know why there would be such spiritual warfare, if that was what it was, around it. But, it was there a little.

Still, she remembered so much encouragement from Michelle and Stephanie over the years, that she knew it was possible to do this. And, as she expected, once she made the decision, rode to the Burke mansion - where she did still have a key - and strode up to the kitchen table after arriving home from church, the rest came rather easily.

Samantha grinned broadly as she stood in front of the table. "Mom, Dad," she said. They only half turned from the Financial sections of their papers to listen. "I didn't have a childhood because of you. I never felt loved because of you, but I do with Stephanie. I never felt like you cared, and maybe you do, maybe you don't, I don't know. But, I just wanted to say I forgive you," she said as tears inched down her face. "And I love you. And, so does Jesus."

She wrapped her arms around them one at a time, and they half hugged back, mystified at this. Samantha, meanwhile, felt a warmth go through her like she had never experienced. This is what it's like to love the unlovable, she told herself, grinning ear to ear.

Once she had done that, she left a couple church tracts on the table. "I know you're pretty busy, but here's some more on how much Jesus loves you. Put them in your cars, read them during traffic jams if nothing else." As expected, they took little note of them at that time. She had faith that someday they would have questions, though.

Samantha then got on her bike, and as she rode over to the Tanners, she couldn't help but feel something strange. It felt like the Tanner house was her real home much more so now than when she'd finally moved in. It was as if she was totally leaving the old feelings about her parents behind, and unequivocally embracing the new.

"Hey, Samantha," Stephanie said once she arrived over there. "Guess who called?" She had no idea. "The San Francisco Chronicle. They want to do a feature on you for next Sunday," she said excitedly.

"Wow. How come?"

Stephanie had expected Samantha to say something about being glad they hadn't tried to call her parents. Though she hadn't asked why they called Stephanie, an answer was provided, anyway. "What with your great dancing success, and your being in the San Francisco ballet's dance school last summer - why, it's one of the best in the world - and having a lead role in a musical soon, they figured they could get a great story on you. The dance studio they got the number from said to call your nanny; I guess they called your house, too, just to let them know. They couldn't believe how young I sounded," she finished with a large smirk. "The reporter thought I was just an older sister; or the nanny's younger one."

"Wow. When are they going to interview me?"

"I scheduled it for Monday after school. That'll give me a little break in between going over this list of boys. I think I'm going to have to make some more calls; the first few names I got haven't panned out, but I've got more leads."

"I guess some of them already have girlfriend," Samantha said dejectedly.

"Exactly. But, hey, D.J. didn't have her first serious boyfriend till Steve came along at fifteen."

Samantha knew; she'd heard the story enough. It was still disappointing, though.

"Cheer up, we'll find someone," Stephanie said with certainty.

Samantha hoped so. Thankfully, she could take her mind off boyfriends for a while; this interview would be so cool. She sometimes wondered about how good she was, but being admitted to the fabulous San Francisco Ballet's dance school once more this summer convinced her she must have some really awesome talent. And now, someone was going to write about her in the newspaper!

Courtney was equally thrilled when Samantha called her that afternoon. Samantha could get really low on herself sometimes - nothing too dangerous, but enough that if she saw something and wasn't able to figure it out, she called Michelle or Stephanie right away to enlist their help. She'd done that after Samantha lost an election in fifth grade - a result later overturned after some cheating was revealed. And, she knew she could count on them at other times, too.

The nice thing was, something like this would make those down times much less frequent - at least, Courtney hoped so. Samantha had had a very rough childhood, and there was lingering emotional damage because of the parents' neglect. But, Samantha also knew good things happened to her, too, and that helped anyone.

"It's going to be so fun to see you on stage talking again, like when you were Annie," Courtney proclaimed.

"Yeah. I was sort of getting tired of Jeff's jokes about ballet, and how I performed in another language."

"Well, dance is kind of like a language, I guess," Courtney said, unsure herself.

"Maybe a little. I just hope they don't ask about my early years. Sometimes reporters do that." Samantha brightened, telling herself that she didn't need to worry about that anymore. Ever since she'd forgiven her parents that day, she felt as if that part mattered less and less. She was practically a Tanner. "But, we can just talk about the Honeybees, and all the fun we've had there." Courtney and Samantha had been in different Kindergarten classes, so they'd really only met once Samantha joined the Brownie's-type club.

"Yeah, you're right, Samantha. We've had lots of fun times. Remember your first sleepover?"

"Yeah, that was awesome. It would have been fun to host one by myself, but Stephanie's been good about finding someone to stay with us and be a chaperone if I ever did have anyone over to my house when I was older.' She couldn't recall for sure, but figured there had to have been a few times other than the Honeybees slumber party she'd hosted. Samantha tried to look on the bright side, like Stephanie and the others taught her.

Samantha was excited about the freedom Stephanie let her have when she was being good. But, being a teen, she was beginning to think about the rest of her life, too. And, it was scary, especially for her.

Samantha thought about the interview as the day went on, and into the next school day. The interview would be like going over a summary of her life so far, in a way, as much as she wanted to focus on the present. And, it would also touch on her future, and her expectations. She really wondered just what she could do, sometimes, and just how good she really was.

She had been asked out a few times, for instance, but she still wondered how easy it would be for boys to like her. Sure, Michelle was always telling her how pretty she was. She always told it like it was. But, there was that lingering uncertainty.

Maybe it was good that she was having Stephanie help her, after all. She had tried to copy the crowd at other times, even before that beer incident, and found only problems.

Thankfully, Stephanie always praised her for her accomplishments, and not her looks. It was so confusing sometimes for her; though. Did she want to be known for what she did or how she looked? She was thankful to know that even Michelle shared those same concerns, though Michelle was a lot surer of herself than Samantha was.

Stephanie arrived home shortly after Michelle and Samantha and just before the reporter did. Michelle greeted the reporter, then ran to Cassie's mom's car; she, Cassie, and Mandy planned to spend time at the mall, allowing Stephanie and Samantha to have the house to themselves.

The scribe, named Dennis Warner, sat in a chair while Stephanie and Samantha sat on the couch. He was a man in his late fifties, dark brown hair now streaked with grey. His eyes held a keen intelligence and curiosity that befitted a veteran reporter of his caliber.

"Stephanie," he began, starting conversationally to get them comfortable with him, "I don't know if you remember our paper doing a story on your school when you first established yourself as Principal's Assistant in fourth grade. We really only asked you a couple questions, it was more focused on the school. But, you really impressed me when I read about you. It was around that time I decided to take a break and let the young cubs run around the world looking for news, and took a spot that was open in the feature department. There's plenty of interesting stuff right here int he Bay Area."

"I know; sometimes I'm amazed at how my dad and Aunt Becky keep finding guests for 'Wake Up, San Francisco.'"

"How long have you been a nanny?"

"Officially, since I turned sixteen. Unofficially..." Stephanie smiled sweetly at Samantha. "I've known her since Kindergarten, when I was in fifth grade. She'd come to my office to talk a lot." Stephanie was careful not to mention the many times Samantha had been sent there.

"I guess it's sort of a position you grew into, much like the PA one, then?" Stephanie nodded. Dennis looked at the admiring look on Samantha's face and said, "I guess she's kind of like a hero to you?" he guessed.

"Yeah...I don't know." Samantha folded her hands, unsure of how to describe it. "I mean, I guess she's more like a mom." Stephanie blushed slightly. "I've got lots of people I look up to - her, of course Michelle, then some of the adults, like Courtney's mom. Then there's Mrs. Crockett, who helps with all of us ballerinas and stuff. Her daughter, Crystal, is my dance partner in a few routines. She's been doing that with me for years; we went to New York together the summer after fourth grade." Stephanie gave him the full name of Alice Crockett, and the reporter wrote it.

"And now you're going to the San Francisco school for the second straight summer? Do you think you'll ever make the San Francisco ballet?"

Samantha hemmed and hawed a little. "I don't know, being a pro with them, that would be like making the Olympics." She'd been accepted into their school's summer session, but that was a lot different than being invited to join the ballet itself - it was one of the three most prestigious in the whole country! It sounded, from what some people said, almost as grand as Moscow's Bolshoi, which she couldn't fathom joining. It was like Jeff dreaming of playing for the major league Giants. And, while Jeff was a starter, and a solid - the coach would say very good - player, he probably wasn't even the best player on the middle school's team.

Stephanie smiled broadly at her and stroked her hair. "You got great talent. But, as long as you do your best, that's all that counts. You'll be loved no matter how you do."

The reporter grinned, and noted the motherly-type affection Stephanie seemed to show. "It's wonderful how that maternal instinct comes through."

"Thanks. My older sister D.J. did quite a bit to help Michelle early, since our mom died when Michelle was just a baby. And, she really encouraged me in that area."

As the talk turned to Samantha's ballet accomplishments and vocal abilities, her mind drifted to the mothering Stephanie had done. Something about Stephanie had made her feel so comfortable in Kindergarten. She'd often go to talk to or cry with her. Indeed, she had some health problems, such as bedwetting, that were caused by her lack of support; problems that only ceased because of Stephanie's care and concern for her.

All that had been done despite Samantha's misbehavior. That was what had amazed her the most. She could be battling Stephanie one day and refusing to sit in timeout till she was held down, and yet the very same day Stephanie would willingly talk quietly with her about her lack of friends or something else, even the first month of school. Stephanie never held any grudges, it seemed. And, she soon found Michelle was the same, though more blunt than Stephanie about the wrongs she had committed.

To Samantha, that was a mother. It was a lesson that was hard for her to understand, because of the pain she felt; even in fifth grade when running for class president. But, she had learned how to be as gracious and caring as Michelle and Stephanie. In a way, she was more proud of that than she was her dancing skills.

Dennis noticed Stephanie beaming as Samantha spoke of what she was most proud of. "It was hard for you to feel accepted, I take it?" he said, trying to draw out her feelings.

"Exactly. Stephanie, she always accepted me, just as I was. I mean, I have other friends, too, and they're great. But, when she took the time to help me read better and read to me, or helped me learn or to deal with nightmare monsters, or with one of her friends taught me how to cook, it was always like, it wasn't just rules she was showing me. She did it all because she cared."

The scribe noted that Samantha had made no mention of her parents during the entire interview. She'd hinted that she caused problems for Stephanie, and that Stephanie never held that against her. But, he wondered just how big those problems were, and how much Stephanie's involvement was.

"You mentioned that you gave her some rough times, I guess she even had to discipline you?" Samantha nodded shyly. "A lot?"

"There were some times that things got really tough, as far as her behavior went," Stephanie admitted, interceding for her. "But, I've helped her grow into the most wonderful young girl." She added later that problems with Samantha had been very infrequent since the summer before Samantha's second grade year.

"Yeah, my behavior was pretty bad at first, because my parents really didn't pay attention to me. I don't like to think about that, though, and I don't need to; I've really managed to triumph over that."

Stephanie helped by saying, "I can't remember the last time I even had to raise my voice to her."

And, it was true. As they discussed Samantha's future goals, Stephanie considered that a true lecture probably hadn't happened in months; well, not counting the episode with that boy and the kissing. She'd really gotten a little more upset than she might have because of sheer protectiveness. As for the last time Samantha had done something really wrong - maybe her attempt at dressing with so much belly showing? Or, maybe it was when she'd insisted on going to a party that Stephanie knew would have some of the same type of kids who had recently offered her that drink. Either way, it had been around a year ago, at least.

Aunt Becky had told her a while back that, ideally, the job of a mother should go from boss and protector when little to friend, guide, and confidant by the time the child turned eighteen. Stephanie didn't know how far along that continuum she was with Samantha for sure, but she decided that she was pretty close to where they should be, considering Samantha's age; she just might not quite be at that ideal stage because of the protectiveness she felt was needed.

While the interview continued, Michelle and her friends were perusing the mall. Jeff ran into them at the ice cream stand. "Hey, Michelle, hey, guys. Say, is Stephanie still looking for a boyfriend for Samantha?"

"Yep. She's talked to lots of parents. Not every boy even gets to the interview level," Michelle said.

Jeff snickered. "Wow, it sounds more like she's taking job applications instead of boyfriend applications."

Mandy agreed. "If it was anybody but Samantha, I'd say she doesn't have to be this determined. But, from what Michelle's told me, there were some big problems with Samantha earlier, and there are still worries now."

"Right. We don't want her to be scarred any more than she already is. I mean, I'm sure there's still some stuff there from the way her parents ignored her when she was little. Not much, but probably a little," Cassie finished.

"I know. I've looked in quite a few places, too; even talked with some of the parents." Jeff smiled warmly at Michelle. "You've poured a lot of time and love into that girl. I really want to help you see some fruit for that labor."

"Oh, thanks, Jeff." A warm, excited feeling welled up in Michelle's heart, as she gazed at her boyfriend and grinned broadly.

"Anyway, there's a guy I've played against, and talked to before and after games, and at baseball camp last year. His name's Colin Douglas, and he's really mature for his age; some of the guys tease him about that, in fact. He's a pitcher, so that's part of it; developing a feel for planning ahead, what to throw each batter, and so on. But, it's more than that. He's really a nice guy. He lives about 25 minutes away, so it might be a little out of the way. But, I'd say he seems like a really good candidate. I haven't talked with him in a while, but I'll let him know, just so I can find out if he's already seeing someone or not."

"Oh, thanks, Jeff. You're so sweet sometimes."

"Hey, I love doing things like this for my one and only."

Michelle smiled as he took her hands in his. "You must; when I said you were sweet you didn't even lick your hands to see if it was true like you sometimes do." They giggled. "I really appreciate it."

"Thanks. I'll call your house with the number once I get it."

Stephanie had a long line of people to call and interview. Between that, her studies, and other things, it wasn't till the following Sunday afternoon she was able to find time to call about Colin.

She'd enjoyed reading the article in their Sunday paper. "Her nanny, Stephanie Tanner, is almost as precocious as Samantha is, but with Stephanie it's in the area of her maternal instinct and protective nature," one of the lines had read. That certainly seemed fitting. She knew persistence could have been included, too. Danny had remarked proudly once that each of his girls was a leader in her own way. And, it was very true, especially when it came to something like this. Michelle was a great leader as far as friendship was concerned. But, her being a big sister could only take Samantha so far.

She called the Douglas family, and pondered some of her past dealings. She'd faced considerable internal debate about how to introduce herself - saying "I'm a nanny," which their Uncle Jesse had suggested, had sounded too pretentious, though it would have given the air of a protector and guide, too; saying she had a friend sounded too much like it was Courtney making the calls; a number of other ways made Samantha seem high maintenance when she wasn't. Samantha was really the ideal girl by now, though she needed protection from rougher elements.

After a while, Stephanie had finally reached a decision on how to approach things. After asking if she had the right place, Stephanie said, "Your son was referred to me by a friend from last year's baseball camp, Jeff Farrington."

This was actually more complicated than it had normally been, when it came to calling Colin's parents. She had often said that Missy, or Jeff, or Michelle, or someone else had referred her. If the parent didn't know who that was, that would send up a red flag, as the parents might not be watching their son close enough, and he could thus lead Samantha down the wrong path. However, Jeff was only an opponent on the ball diamond, went to a different school, and was more an acquaintance than a friend. It was easier to link him from the camp he'd mentioned.

"Oh, yes, Colin told me you might be calling." Stephanie grinned. That was a good sign. "He said you're looking for a boyfriend for somebody?"

"That's right; her name's Samantha Burke. I don't know if you've read the article in the paper, I wouldn't expect you to, but she's a really wonderful girl who just doesn't have any parental supervision. I've been watching out for her for a long time, though, and so have my friends and family. And, she's getting to the point where, she just had her first kiss a few months ago, and I want to introduce her to the right kind of boy, you know."

She knew many parents would brag at this point, but that was a chance she was willing to take. She had enough questions for this mother and others that she could get past that, and not hurt their feelings too much if a boy turned out to have too many negatives. A couple times, she'd had to simply say she would get back to the parents, when the boy didn't even merit an interview. Foul language, excessive teasing, and so on would cause her to say that that wasn't what she was looking for, but there were other times when it wasn't as easy to explain. One parent, for instance, had bragged that her son was a very nice kid, then admitted that he "had some problems that he's dealing with." The nature of those problems told Stephanie that that boy be fine a couple years down the road, but the child's mother couldn't see that her son just wasn't right for Samantha just then.

Colin's mother listened patiently and agreed. "I understand your concerns; you're right, I love to brag," she told her. "But, I'd say Jeff's right. He really is mature in his thought processes. Any girl that goes with him had better love baseball, of course."

"Oh, I'm sure Samantha will be very eager to learn; maybe too eager. She tries to please people quickly because she wants to fit in; probably a little more than what the normal teenage girl does, but of course, it was hard for her. Sometimes it feels like we're the only family for her."

"I'm sure you've done a good job."

"Thanks. Anyway, is he pretty respectful of you? Does he listen well?"

"He does. I mean, teenagers are hard, but we have a pretty good relationship."

"That's good. What I'm getting at is, will he be respectful of the rules." Stephanie elaborated. "Samantha needs chaperones, and any date might feel like he's in the 1950s at the latest with her, maybe earlier. Because of some situations she's gotten into, it's best if she's not alone with anyone."

Stephanie smiled as she listened. Colin would likely understand that quite well. She was glad. Samantha had always seemed to be more respectful and better behaved around Michelle or Courtney or Stephanie and their friends. But, get her out in public away from those close friends, and while she was way, way better than she had been, she could still fall for temptation very easily because of her desire to please people or to "fit in with the crowd." Stephanie vividly remembered a lecture she'd given after Samantha drank a fair amount of champagne because her parents encouraged it, even at age thirteen! "I may be starting to lose my voice," she'd declared, "but you will not lose this lecture!"

That tied in well with her protectiveness, in fact, as she told Mrs. Douglas. "Have you ever watched the Discovery Channel? You know what it's like when a mother lion protects her cubs? That's how I am."

"I feel the same way, too. Colin hasn't had anyone steady, but he would certainly be willing to help."

"Their Spring Formal is next weekend; I'd like to see them meet before that if things work out, although of course she wants to go to that, too. Maybe tomorrow afternoon I can drive out and we can get together. Does Colin like pizza?" He did.

After some questions about his habits and such, including schoolwork, what he's like with friends, and so on, Stephanie was satisfied; at least with the first part of the interview. Now, she would actually meet Colin.

She chuckled with delight at how Michelle had found dates for her when Stephanie was Samantha's age a couple of times. In a way, she used the same method - little kids sometimes seemed to sense when someone was nice, after all. And, while Colin's parents had passed the test, she would be using a much keener sense than Michelle ever had at this interview. It was like comparing a parrot's sense of smell with a bloodhound's.

After a few minutes of light conversation, Stephanie asked a philosophical question. It was one of those things college friends of hers would discuss as study breaks, sort of like the meaning of life. "What would you do if you suddenly were given a million dollars?"

She wasn't shocked at Colin's surprise. In fact, it was a good thing - it meant he didn't have really big ideas about partying all night and so on. Of course, it would have been okay if he'd said something like what Michelle had when visiting Stephanie at the college library - Michelle had said "I'd buy the county fairgrounds, put a roof on it, and turn it into a homeless shelter." Such a response would have shown a Michelle-like temperament of impulsiveness combined with always quickly thinking of how to help others. But, Colin's pondering meant he was not too impulsive, and Stephanie was glad about that.

"Boy, that's a toughie. Sure different than the discussions I hear on the ball team."

"I'm sure it is, Colin. Jeff mentioned you'd played against him a few times."

"Yeah. Did he mention I seem to fool him every time with my circle change?" Colin joked. "Us lefties are supposed to have a much easier job throwing that pitch to lefthanded hitters than to righties like Jeff. But, you never know; even the best hitters have average pitchers they can never hit. And, the best pitchers have had average hitters who never seem to make outs off of them."

"My younger sister has a friend like that; her friend's a potential Olympic horse jumper, yet when she comes to Golden Gate Stables, she and Michelle are almost an even match. Even though Michelle's just your average horse lover who jumps for fun. Maybe Jeff figures if you have a girlfriend you'll be distracted more."

Colin enjoyed the kidding back, and loosened up a little more than he had been. "Yeah, I kidded him about that, in fact. A million dollars, hmmm. I don't know, put some in the bank, definitely save up for a nice mid-sized car in a few years. Or maybe a small sports car. I always like the looks of the old Fieros." Stephanie nodded. Good, he doesn't want something too out of his price range, she told herself. "I'd give some to charity, help my parents with some, that's a lot of money!" He was still stunned by the idea.

"Just think if you ever became a pro."

"Yeah, man, that would be hard to imagine. Although, right now I'd say there's a fair chance, if I keep working at it, I might get a scholarship to play baseball somewhere."

Stephanie nodded, but began to think. They discussed his plans - Colin wanted to go to college and then turn pro, as he wanted that degree to fall back on. He knew there was a very slim chance he'd ever make the majors. However, Stephanie's anxiety caused her to start thinking about Colin being a pro anyway. Did she want Samantha going with someone who could be a professional athlete? What if they were to marry someday? He'd be going all over the country, while she either stayed there or went with him after her ballet career was over, or even between performances. Would she be happy staying alone at home? And, would Stephanie worry too much, or would Samantha get in trouble, if she went elsewhere? Stephanie had sort of hoped Samantha would stay near her and Michelle.

"Don't be crazy, Stephanie. What are the odds of him actually making the majors?" she chided herself. "He's only in ninth grade, too! Even if he was good enough, so many young pitchers get injured, anyway. And, he does want to go to college for sure."

She also thought back to the summer after Samantha's fourth grade year. She'd gone to a New York dance school. Steph had been so worried - there were so many temptations and ways Samantha could get in trouble. Not to mention homesickness; a couple weeks at camp with Michelle was far different than a couple months in New York.

However, not only had Samantha loved it, she'd developed a much closer friendship with her dance partner. Mrs. Crockett had been there for her the many times she felt sad over her parents not caring where she was, and not planning to come to her recital. And, Samantha had been an angel that whole time; not one bit of misbehavior.

Stephanie had been so proud. She started talking about Samantha's prospects out of the blue, once they'd discussed Colin's. "I really think she's got a chance to turn pro," she finished after relating what Samantha had done so far. "She's the most wonderful ballerina. But, as I was saying about that summer in New York, I'd get progress reports e-mailed to me. And, I know she's improved emotionally even since then. But, just to warn you, she still needs someone who's very tender and caring. And, I'm like one of those bald eagles you see on the Discovery Channel... beautifull to look at - but mess with one of my chicks and I use my razor-sharp talons to rip your eyes out!"

Though taken aback for a moment, Colin managed to say, "Well, I guess that's good. She sure hasn't had any support from her parents, it sounds like. And, I bet you haven't had any from her parents, either." Colin hadn't been told yet how much they made, or that Stephanie was actually paid to be a nanny.

"It's a good thing I was a fan of the Lone Ranger; the TV show was on my dad's station when I was little, since it was an independent one. Because, I've only had something like one hurried personal thanks in all my years doing this. And yet, I love the fact I've been able to help mold a wonderful young lady. With that lack of support, my thanks in this world better be just knowing I helped someone.

"Although, Samantha's really thankful, too. I still remember that Christmas when she was nine, she made me the most precious thing. And, I could just tell, she really felt like I was her mom; the only one she'd ever known. Mrs. Crockett sort of became like one, too. The dancers develop into a family just like you say ballplayers do. But, I'm really number one in her mind. And, that amazes me. Especially since I didn't have a mother after I was five."

"Jeff told me."

They spoke for a while longer, and Stephanie realized that this was the most comfortable she had been with any of the boys she'd interviewed. A few had seemed uncomfortable when she revealed how much Samantha had missed, and she could understand that. It would take a special person to love Samantha, just as it had taken a special woman to marry Joey, as Joey was often so into cartoons and other childlike things. The types of needs were perhaps different, but they probably required the same sort of tenderness, patience, warmth, and compassion.

Other times, of course, she hadn't really felt like getting into that aspect of Samantha at all. But, Colin seemed like the one most able to handle it. And, he also seemed very willing, too. He realized love was a commitment. And, from what she'd heard, he also realized that when he did marry, he had the duty to stay with that person no matter what, and sacrifice so his wife could be pleased, too. She'd heard stories in the news of some pretty wild ballplayers, but as they chatted she could tell he had the guts to say no to that kind of lifestyle, whether in high school, college, or - if he was one of those very rare people - the pros.

She hadn't really planned on a true athlete - at least not one who could make the major leagues someday. But, the more they talked, she decided that this boy was mature enough that he could not only be the right boy for Samantha now, but that someday, he could even be the one to marry her. And, Stephanie would be comfortable with that. After all, Samantha would be traveling everywhere anyway if she were to become a professional dancer.

"Wow, we've been talking for over a half hour," Stephanie said, glancing at her watch. 'So, would you like to meet Samantha?"


Colin was a little nervous as he walked into Anthony's Pizza with his parents. Who wouldn't be - he had gone through an exhaustive interview.

"Hi," he said to the girl Stephanie was at the counter with, "I'm Colin."

"I'm Samantha," she said in a near whisper.

"We got two booths reserved; you two can sit at one, and your parents and I will sit across from you. We just placed our orders, so it'll be a few minutes," Stephanie advised Colin.

"Thanks." He and Samantha looked at each other for an awkward moment before he said, "I hear you dance ballet?" She nodded. "I know a guy who does that. Of course, he's really a shortstop, but he's looked like it on a couple plays he's made. Do you know much about baseball?"

She wasn't sure what to answer, so she said, "Well, a little. Just from hearing Jeff. And, Stephanie lkes it, too; she played when she was a kid."

"I'm sure Colin will be very patient trying to teach you all about it," Mr. Douglas remarked jokingly.

"Thanks. Stephanie said there was a guy who did backflips every time he walked on the field." It was one of a few tidbits she'd picked up from him, but she figured maybe knowing a bit of trivia like that would be helpful.

"Yeah, Ozzie Smith. Certain Hall of Famer. Did a backflip before every postseason game, and I think at the beginning of the year...well, he did a lot." He couldn't recall how often, but he knew it was a lot. "Fans loved it."

They made small talk before and while they ate, learning about family in general - especially Colin's. Samantha didn't reveal much except for what the newspaper article had already said; and, in some places, not even that much. She was a little shy about telling too much right away, even though she knew Stephanie probably had. She was amazed how Stephanie always knew just what to do and say.

Colin swerved a little in his seat as he waved to one of his friends. "Hey, Wally," he called. When Wally came over, he introduced Samantha to her.

Samantha seemed a little shy, as she had the whole time they'd been there. She wasn't as much "gunshy" yet about dating, as she was just naturally in a bit of a shell. She had the sweetness and warmth that one would expect a typical girl to have, though.

Of course, part of her felt timid, too, because Colin seemed so mature. He had his entire life planned out, it seemed, though all he really knew was where he wanted to go to college. "That just seems so...amazing. I mean, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be a professional ballerina someday, but even so, that's just so far ahead."

"Well, I've got my fairy tales, just like you have yours." He paused for a second. "What do girls dream about anyway, when they dream of a Prince Charming? I mean, surely there has to be something to that 'happily ever after' part."

Samantha's nod slowed to a stop as her brain whirled. "You know...I never thought about that." She could not yet reveal the heartache of her youth, but thankfully, that part of her youth hadn't been totally squashed. Thanks to Michelle, she had plenty of understanding of the fairy tale ending and how awesome it was. In fact, at times she felt like she was in one herself, because of the wonderful love the Tanners had shown her.

Finally, she admitted, "Maybe it's just something where we know we want it to be perfect, I don't know." The willingness to just say whatever was on her mind, she realized, was just like Michelle. "I mean, I don't think I ever knew what Prince Charming was supposed to be like, and I don't think anyone else does, either. Except...he is supposed to be Prince Charming and not Prince Dummy." She giggled. "Now that really sounded like Michelle." Especially like Michelle had when advising her on dates.

"Jeff's told me about her. Yep, I can imagine that. I think a lot of teens are like that Prince Dummy, unfortunately, they only want to think of today. At least you're willing to think about deeper stuff than most of the other ones I know. And, that makes you special."

Samantha blushed slightly. "Thanks. I think you're special, too," she said lowly.

That summer, Michelle and Jeff continued to draw closer, while D.J. and Steve finalized wedding plans. In August, one of those times included a triple date where D.J. and Steve drove Michelle, Jeff, Samantha, and Colin to a lovely restaurant on San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. After dinner, they took a romantic walk along the piers.

They gazed into the sky at the beautiful orange sky. "Ben Franklin once said something about a breathtaking picture like this. It was hanging above the head chair during the Constitutional Convention. He said, 'I have been looking at it, and wondering if it was a setting or a rising sun.' Well, I'm with him; I believe it's a rising sun." Jeff thought for a second. "Which would mean I actually think it's hours later and we're in New York Harbor facing east, not on Fisherman's Wharf facing west."

Michelle giggled as she and Jeff caressed each other's backs. In that one statement was the essence of the three men in her life to that point - the rambling of Danny, the romantic charm of Jesse, and the humor of Joey.

"And of the course, the rising sun is our relationship."

Their lips drew closer. She'd known what Jeff meant. "Oh, Jeff, there's something so special about you."

"Thanks. You're really special, too." Michelle & Jeff's lips met for the first time, as thrilling bursts of energy and excitement surged through the young teens that summer night.

From a distance on the same pier, D.J. and Steve sighed dreamily and cuddled beneath the dimming summer sky. "Do you remember our first kiss, Steve?"

"Sure do. Looking out at the Pyrennes Mountains. I had just finished a really good quesadilla, and the evening would only get better. What a romantic setting it was."

D.J. also giggled a little shyly. Steve's mind was always on food. So, if he said the evening only got better, she knew it must have been really special to him when they first kissed on their ninth grade Spanish class's trip to Spain.

Samantha was happy for Michelle. She enjoyed seeing Michelle and Jeff becoming a wonderful couple. Part of her was disappointed, though. She wished such things could happen to her, too - and right away. She knew she had to give the relationship with Colin time; she was just entering ninth grade, they were entering tenth. And, they'd known each other forever. Still, she'd had nothing close with anyone but the Tanners and Larkins. And, that meant nothing at all the first five years of her life.

She let him hold her, sighing contentedly as she nestled in his arms. He was taking it nice and slow; they weren't ready to kiss yet. Besides, she figured his mind was on baseball. Which it was.

"Didn't you say there was a famous 'Homer in the gloamin'?'" Samantha looked up and said, "That deep blue the sky's getting now, it kind of reminds me of that. People sure wrote poetically back then. You don't hear the word 'gloaming' now."

"That's for sure. Yep, 1938. Gabby Hartnett of the Cubs won a game in extra innings. With all the doubleheaders the Cubs had played and would play, it was vital that they not have to replay that game. But, if he hadn't hit that home run, since they didn't have lights, they'd have had to call it on account of darkness and replay the whole thing."

Samantha smiled. She knew that for right now, being interested in baseball was important to keeping Colin's interest in her. It wasn't as vital as she thought; he was starting to like her a lot. However, because of the neglect of her formative years, she felt more edgy than she needed to about the relationship. The nice thing was, she at least felt secure in that if she kept learning more about baseball, Colin would appreciate her. It was a wonderful feeling, that sense of security. She was glad to have that to hold onto until the relationship felt more solid in her mind.

Especially because she really was starting to enjoy the many facets of the game. Stephanie had been a fan, and had even played. However, when Stephanie was in fifth, Samantha was just getting to know her. Besides, at five few kids understand the nuances of any game like that. When Stephanie was in eighth, she'd filled in after a flu outbreak decimated the pitching staff in the playoffs, and pitched the team to a title, though she struggled, as it was just at the edge of Stephanie's skill level when it came to pitching. However, Samantha's size meant soccer was her only good sport, so when she watched Stephanie, she just enjoyed being at the games and seeing her pitch. She hadn't understood any of the finer points of the game.

Colin thought about the difficulties Samantha must have had growing up as she leaned into him and they gazed at the darkening sky. She seemed to like being close, but not so much as to startle him. She had told him snippets about how little her parents cared that made him realize how desperate for attention she must have been at times. She hadn't gone in depth about any of that yet, but still, he suspected that it was a miracle that Samantha wasn't really high maintenance. If she needed a little more comforting and coddling at times, that was fine.

Samantha got out of the embrace, and walked to the edge of the pier. "It's amazing how peaceful it looks."

"Yep. All those stars up there, they look so close."

"Babe Ruth would even have trouble hitting it that far," Samantha joked, trying to imitate something Colin might say.

Colin laughed as he stood beside her, thankful to have found a special friend like Samantha. "Yep, even he would."

The summer had been wonderful, because when Colin wasn't playing with a local team, they could be together. In fact, Samantha attended a fair number of his games, though it was hard to attend a lot of them with her rigorous dance practices.

The fall, however, meant that the time she'd spent talking with him once again was taken up with schoolwork. The frustrating part of that was, Michelle was now in tenth grade, at Bayview High. John Muir Middle School held sixth through ninth grades, and so Samantha was once again without her "big sister." Courtney and a few other friends were the only ones there among her circle of friends.

Her cell phone came in handy when Colin was home; they were starting to become somewhat common by then. And, they wrote to each other at least once a week. But, even the fact Colin was committed enough to writing like that, if not talking to her, couldn't erase the fact that they did live 30 miles from each other. And, to a fourteen-year-old, that was a long distance relationship.

Samantha was babysitting Joey's two youngest, Wendy and Robin, one night while writing one of those letters. Wendy, nearly nine, cooed dreamily as she skipped in from where she'd been enjoying a snack and glanced over Samantha's shoulder. "Oooh, a love letter."

"Now, how can you tell that?"

"Well, for one thing, you dotted the "I" in that boy's name with a heart."

Samantha blushed. "Okay, you're right. It's like a love letter."

"You sound sad." Wendy sat beside her and asked, "What's wrong?" She had lost her biological father to cancer when she was just a toddler, and was anxious to help. Talking about things was very important to her.

"Oh, nothing. Why don't you go check on Robin?" Robin was Joey and Suzie's boy.

"Because, that's your job. Besides, you put him to bed. If you think he needs something, why don't you check on him?"

"For one thing, you might read what I'm writing. I know Stephanie did it with D.J. a few times." It would have been much more had D.J. not been so proactive as a mother figure.

Wendy grinned sheepishly. "Do you really, really, really love him?"

Samantha wished her distraction idea had worked. She thought Wendy might wonder what kind of juicy things D.J. had in there. But, her focus was entirely on Samantha.

She put the pen and paper down and turned toward the girl. Placing Wendy's hands in hers, Samantha said, "Wendy, look, I know you probably like to hear about relationships. They're probably like real life fairy tales to you. But, my life hasn't been a fairy tale one. In fact, right now I'm feeling pretty lonely. My boyfriend lives half an hour away."

"Why don't you call him?"

"I might later. Right now he's cramming for a test."

"Maybe you can move closer."

Samantha explained, "I'd need my parents' permission to move anywhere, though of course, I really stay with Michelle and her family. My parents are never there. And, when they are...well, Michelle had it right when she said talking to them would be no more traumatic than talking to the normal brick wall would be. They just don't care," she finished with a sigh.

Wendy hugged Samantha, who hugged back. "I care about you."

"Thanks, Wendy. I really need to hear that sometimes."

"...and then she said she needed to hear people cared. And it sounded like she might cry when she said that." Wendy was talking to Michelle; she'd ridden her bike over to the Tanners' the following afternoon. "I told my mom this morning before school. She said I should come tell you."

Michelle hid her concern. "Thanks, Wendy. Did you see anything she was writing?"

"Are you kidding? Of course I did."

Michelle chuckled. She could just picture Stephanie or, at rare times, herself at age eight saying the exact same thing. She had never liked to snoop herself, but she understood when children that age did it. Wendy probably did it to her older brother Justin a little. And, if it was really important, then Michelle would try to help Samantha to keep things from getting worse.

Wendy didn't need to be asked what it said. She quickly offered, "It said she really loved being with him. And, she was glad he cared, because her life might be better a long time from now."

"Okay, thanks." Michelle rubbed her chin. That didn't sound too bad; she knew Samantha had sad moments. But, Wendy had only seen part of it. And, not only might Samantha not have shown Wendy everything that was in the letter, she also might not want to burden Michelle or Courtney or Stephanie with her problems. Michelle worried that Samantha might think nobody could understand her; after all, she had held a lot of things in till she just melted years before during a sleepoever, revealing lots of things hidden in her heart to Michelle and Courtney.

She knew Wendy might just be a little more concerned, and exaggerating things a bit. But, she didn't want to take that chance. Once Wendy left, Michelle went in to ask Courtney if she'd noticed anything different lately, and also to suggest they talk to Samantha, anyway, to make sure nothing more was wrong.

Michelle learned that Samantha was over studying with Courtney. She rode her bike over, then met Samantha and Courtney in the latter's room. She quickly explained what she'd learned from Wendy.

"Oh, don't worry, Michelle, there's nothing wrong," Samantha said defensively.

"It's okay to feel sad sometimes," Courtney said. "We just want to make sure things aren't getting too much for you to handle. I told Michelle, I hadn't noticed anything wrong, but still, we really care you."

"Oh, all right. I guess I would rather tell you two than the boss," Samantha finally relented, plopping down on Courtney's bed.

Courtney noticed Michelle concerned look. "It's okay, Michelle, I know you don't think about it with your family situation. But, there's things I don't want to tell my mom about, either."

Michelle imagined Courtney was right. While it would be great to have a mother, in her mind, much of the time she recognized that she had such a large family that everyone was a little like one. She was glad Courtney was able to help her understand some of the things that went along with having a real one.

"It's not that I'm depressed or anything," Samantha explained. "I just wish I could spend more time with Colin. I want what you have, Michelle; and yet, I'm glad Colin is taking it nice and easy. Because, if he came on too strong I might get nervous. I'm just so confused sometimes."

"I think everyone dreams of what Michelle has," Courtney chided, looking at Michelle. "I mean, to fall in love with someone you've known since Kindergarten, so you already know lots of their ins and outs? It seems so easy. And yet, I'll bet Michelle can tell you it's hard."

"It is, Samantha. We have fun joking around, talking about how back in second or third grade we'd have never dreamed we could go out with each other and enjoy it. Especially me, because I figured Jeff would always be joking around. And, Prince Charming just doesn't tell jokes."

Samantha showed how much she liked Joey as a father figure; she let her mind drift to that for fun. "I wonder what kind he would tell. Maybe about how he heard there was a royal ball and figured that meant he was being invited to see a baseball autographed by the King?"

"Did you pick that idea up from Colin or Joey?" Courntey asked.


Michelle was still grinning at the idea. "Still, sometimes I wonder, will it last? Will it last someday but end now; remember, D.J. and Steve broke up for over a year before they got back together, and then they were just friends for a while."

"I guess the anticipation is pretty rough. But, he's the one person besides you guys and your families and a couple dance families that I've felt really, really close to; and, I keep thinking it's going to be so great. I only met his parents a few times, though, and...I don't know, maybe I just want to get close to everyone there, maybe I figure it's going to be one more whole family filled with people that I can feel surrounding me with love. And yet, I know what's important is how Colin and I get along."

Michelle advised her to remember that there are lots of openings for friendships. "Our church is smaller, but it's still got a nice youth group. You've got lots of people who care there, in dance, and everywhere."

"I know," Samantha said more cheerfully than she had been talking. "It's just that everywhere I look, I'm so anxious to find people who care about me. The more I have the less chance I have of feeling sad."

"At least you're trying. And, it sounds like you're doing a pretty good job," Courtney said.

"Well try to figure out a way to help you see Colin more if you like. But, remember, you told us your main goal is to be a professional dancer, right?" She agreed with Michelle wholeheartedly. "That means giving up some things. D.J. wanted to be with Steve all the time when she started tenth grade. But, she learned she had to keep him as an important part of her life, not as her whole life."

Samantha nodded. Sometimes, she did feel like she wanted Colint o be her whole life. And, maybe that was the whole problem.

"Well try to arrange for him to show up at a few more performances of yours, too, when you have them. Maybe Joey can try to attend more, too, you like it when he does that."

Michelle was right. Samantha loved having Joey around as a father figure. He was always very supportive of her. And, having come from a broken home and an adolescence where he wished he has a large family himself, he seemed to understand just how to talk to Samantha and encourage her if she felt a little down; as well as how to notice when she was.

Samantha appreciated the fact that her friends were helping her even when there wasn't a huge problem. They knew how to make her feel loved and to assist with anything. The ideas allowed Samantha to get through this rough period, and ultimately to be ready when something prayed and longed for for a long while finally occurred. Something she'd prayed for almost as much as the day when she moved in with the Tanners, as she and Colin continued to grow closer and closer.

Samantha came downstairs in a lovely red dress a few years later, just as she heard a knock on the door. Rather than answer it, Danny kept rolling his video camera. Samantha chuckled as he said, "Hey, don't feel too strange, I did this for D.J.'s prom, and then for Steph's and Michelle's, too."

"But, there will be photographers once we get there," Samantha said as Stephanie finally opened for door for Colin. She had graduated a year earlier, while Michelle was mostly done with her first year of college.

"I know, I just want to record every moment of this happy day." Danny turned to Colin and requested a quote.

"It gets late early out there," he said with a laugh. "Yogi Berra; talking about the sun setting and the shadows in left field at Yankee Stadium." He and Samantha kissed. "Although, it's appropriate here, too; it is getting later." He figured Samantha would want to hurry up and get there.

He was right, but as Samantha said, "It's lots of fun to have someone go crazy with attention over me, too."

"It sure is a great family," he agreed as he took her arm in his and escorted her to the limo that was waiting to take them there.

The ballroom was decked out in incredible splendor. The romance of the evening never seemed to end; Smantha was glad students who had graduated the year before culd still come escort their girlfriends. As she rested in his larger frame - he was a little over a foot taller than she was - she felt so secure, so loved, she could hardly believe it. Each dance was incredible.

"So, how is Stanford going?" she asked once when they were seated together.

"It's going great. I'm glad I get to play so close to you." Colin sighed. "It's going to be hard, once you start traveling the world doing ballet. But, I promise, we'll keep this relationship going," he said sincerely.

"I know. It's great you can do so many courses online now." She paused to think about that travel - and the family bond that seemed to grow between the dancers, just like that between baseball players in the clubhouse. Soon, Colin would have his own potential professional career - which meant it made sense for Samantha to keep hers up, anyway. "I guess our careers will prove how committed we are. I just wish I knew what was going to happen in ten years between us."

"Same here. But, at least we have control over it," Colin pointed out.

"Yeah, true." She leaned against him, and said, "One day, we'll be together."

"I'll still see you perform whenever I can. More during the winter and when I get to the bigs, of course, so I can afford to fly al around."

"And, I'll get to a lot of your ball games, too," Samantha pledged. "Just don't try to fly yourself, okay," she said, recalling a player a few decades back, Thurman Munson, who had been killed in a plane crash when he was practicing flying.

"I won't. Goodness knows, I haven't priced them, but I imagine even the average players can afford to charter private jets now, if they live modestly otherwise, like you want to. Besides, I don't think Munson's plane was the type you fly across the ocean, anyway."

"True." She chuckled slightly. "It's so great to be able to dream like this."

"Isn't it, though? But, you know, even if those dreams don't come true, we've got each other. That's what's important," he emphasized.

Samantha breathed contentedly, so glad to have someone like Colin. No, it wasn't a perfect situation, there would be frustration with the distance, but nothing in life was ever perfect. The important thing was the love that she felt. Love that came not only from Colin, but from the Tanners, who had poured so much effort into helping her. From Michelle, who was such a great big sister. And, especially, from Stephanie, who Samantha saw as the mother figure she always wanted, someone who was always there to love and support her, and help her through everything.