Fan Fiction - Written by Paul Austin - Sam Series

10 * Pamela Grows Up
Written by: Paul Austin

This second "Full House Next Generation" fic finds the Tanners on vacation, with all their kids. Mentioned in passing near the end is stuff from the FH Sisters book "Once Upon A Mixup," which fans often point to as a sign Jeff liked Michelle.

Like "story 3, "Samantha's Great Escape," this could have gone either way in the rating. Couldn't find how the Cosby Show ep. With Rudy's first period was rated, G or PG, or that would have been the benchmark. So, it's considered K+ to be safe here.

"Are your feet in the stirrups nice and snug?" They were. "Do you want me to walk your horse a little first?" The somewhat shy five-year-old nodded. "Okay, 'Chelle, hold on, I'll stay with your horse while he starts to trot, then you just follow Elizabeth in the lead."

"Okay, Aunt Becky."

"Nice going. Woo, look at that." Rebecca Donaldson-Katsopolis smiled at her husband, Jesse and asked, "Isn't it great to see someone love to ride?"

"Yeah, if they're on a motorcycle," Jesse joked. A former musician and a rebel as a teen, he had been a radio disc jockey for almost 29 years, first on the afternoon show "Rush Hour Renegades," then with his own morning show, and then on a different station, as he moved to one that would play the rock music that had come to be known as "oldies" almost two decades ago. He'd been with the "oldies" station for around 15 years. As he neared sixty, he was only now starting to dream of retiring - if Becky and he could spend their time riding together.

He lovingly placed an arm around his wife and smiled as she stepped back outside the beginners' riding circle, gesturing with his free hand. "See, Becky, what I'd like is to take a motorcycle, and cruise along that area beyond the fence, maybe try to pop a wheelie or two, out on that trail."

"Right, and do what? Try to jump your motorbike over some downed trees?"

"No, just...well, maybe."

Becky couldn't help but laugh. "Face it, Jess, there's just some thrills that are easier to experience on a horse. Come on, let's go riding a bit after 'Chelle's lesson's over." Jesse shook his head.

"You two never change, do you?" their niece, Stephanie, said. Jesse and her dad's best friend Joey had moved in to help raise the girls when their mom died, back when Stephanie was only five. She couldn't believe that would be 34 years ago in August. Jesse and Becky had celebrated their 30th anniversary within the past year.

"Yeah, Steph, and one thing that's always gonna be the same, too. My love for this horse lover." They kissed. "Even if I don't like the animals."

Stephanie knew the feeling. She didn't dislike horses as much as Jesse seemed to at times. But, she really only enjoyed them when her younger sister Michelle or Samantha - the mother of 'Chelle and a woman to whom Stephanie was like a mom - and Samantha's family were around them. Still, she could understand why Becky had decided to take up working at the stables and teaching kids to ride after retiring from her show, "Wake Up, San Francisco" - which had been renamed "Good Morning, San Francisco" a few years ago.

"I can tell you have fun, Aunt Becky. It is great to get out and do stuff like that, or volunteering a little to teach dance like I do. It's pretty hectic raising six kids now, with the baby."

"I'm sure it is. But, you know, Steph, from all I've heard, I think your mother would have been perfectly happy at home doing what you're doing all her life, too."

Samantha and Courtney - her best friend and classmate through school - stood off to the side chatting amicably themselves. While Samantha had been married for over eleven years now, and had three children, Courtney was not nearly as far along in her family life.

Still, as Samantha played with a strand of her long, flowing, black hair that had found its way over her shoulder, she knew Courtney understood what Stephanie was talking about, in a way. "I guess now that you and your husband run a youth camp it's pretty hectic for you, too."

"I'll say. I wish we could go with you on your vacation."

"Oh, don't worry - just getting Stephanie, Michelle, and D.J., their husbands, and all their kids all able to go at the same time is a chore. As you try to add more people, I'm sure the numbers go up exponentially," Samantha joked.

Courtney agreed. She laughed and responded, "With this ministry, winter or early spring is probably the best time for us. But, at least we can get together here in San Francisco."

"True." Samantha walked toward Becky, Jesse, and Stephanie, and Courtney followed. "And, cell phones make it handy, too; it's fun to just call and share stuff. I know you and Robert are always telling Pamela to enjoy these days now, Steph, because when you get older you can't just take off on a whim and hang out," she remarked, referring to Stephanie's husband, Robert Taylor, and their oldest daughter, Pamela, who was eleven. "I mean, sometimes I guess you can, but adults have responsibilities, too, and something like this..."

Becky responded first. "That is a lot of kids that you'll have. Sure you don't need any more chaperones for your Disneyland trip?" she asked Stephanie.

"Oh, we'll be fine, Aunt Becky. D.J., Samantha, Michelle, and I, with our husbands, makes eight adults for twelve kids. And, Pamela's starting sixth grade next year and D.J.'s girl E.J. will be starting fifth. So, it's not like they can't help in a few small ways. Plus, Michelle's Jesse is twelve."

Becky looked affectionately at her husband as he eyed with awe a mint condition antique Harley that someone had ridden to the stables on this fine June day. They playfully teased each other about each other's interests. But, she loved to watch Jesse's eyes light up with youthful exuberance when he saw something like that. "When it comes to those, so is mine," Becky joked with a tender smile.

Jesse, still a little macho after all these years, tried to defend himself. "Aw, c'mon, Beck, I appreciate those like you women appreciate shopping. Or like you appreciate horses; hey, all right, 'Chelle, that's the way to ride!" he shouted enthusiastically.

"B-but I didn't want him to go faster," she said as Elizabeth pulled alongside and helped her slow the horse down as they rode in a large circle.

"Oh, so it's just me that appreciates horses?" Becky asked, a teasing grin on her face.

"Well, I like watching her ride. But, a horse, alone?"

"What about with me on it?" Becky asked as she inched closer to him. He said his typical "have mercy" before they kissed.

Samantha was inside the gate and by 'Chelle's side, too. She was very protective at times. But, she couldn't help but look away from her oldest girl for a moment, and gaze at Jesse and Becky. She considered expectantly how she'd grow old with her own husband. Colin was home watching their other two children.

At thirty-four, Samantha had outgrown most of the problems of her neglected youth, troubles which arose because nobody bothered to care about her till Stephanie - when she was in Kindergarten and Stephanie in fifth. She still was mildly fragile emotionally, but as long as she was surrounded by wonderful people like the Tanners, or those that the Tanners knew, she felt very secure allowing her children to be there.

That was one reason she was so excited for this trip to Disneyland and San Diego with all the families going together for the first time in quite a few years. They'd gone with Courtney and her husband on a few trips, and some combination of the couples had managed to get together for day trips, if nothing else. However, the carefree moments of childhood were quite fleeting at times.

It was Samantha's situation that had inspired Stephanie and her husband, Robert, a CPA, to adopt. Danny and Pam had only broached the subject a couple times about eventually adopting a baby boy if Pam produced no boys. But, Stephanie and Robert had anxiously adopted siblings, aged three and one, a number of years ago. It became final when Pamela - named after Stephanie's late mother - was six.

Stephanie, of course, had been a mother figure long before then. As Samantha and 'Chelle talked about their upcoming trip, Samantha recalled her first trip to Disneyland, many years ago, with the Tanners and Courtney's family.

Samantha, eight, held tightly to the hands of Michelle's Aunt Becky and her friend Courtney's oldest sister, Hannah. The girl - small for her age - shyly watched the crowd as they walked down the main concourse at Disneyland. The crowds were huge, and Michelle and Stephanie were trying their best just to help Jesse and Becky keep three-year-olds Nicky and Alex under control.

"It sure is exciting here, huh?" Becky asked.

"Yeah, it is." Samantha was wearing a floral patterned dress with tiny flowers all around that had been Michelle's when she was six. Samantha hoped to soon outgrow it, but her size was one reason why she felt extra timid.

After riding several rides with Michelle, she walked up to a large magic lamp used for special occasions. She was amazed at the size of it. Children rubbing it sometimes got vouchers for free soft drinks, or occasionally one free ride. But, there was one special thing that Michelle had gotten from one at Disney World in Florida two years earlier that Samantha would love. Of course, she was still fragile enough to wonder if she could ever get such a treat, though thankfully she was getting more confident.

She rubbed the lamp curiously when it was her turn, not certain what would happen. Suddenly a large whiff of smoke came out high above them, and well over a dozen balloons went up in the air. Out of the blue, a man looking strikingly like the genie in Aladdin - except he wasn't blue - stepped out and proclaimed that Samantha was Princess for a Day.

Samantha couldn't believe her fortune. It was a girl's dream come true. As she felt the crown that had been placed on her head, she looked at Michelle and her family, along with Courtney and hers. Since Michelle had had a concussion a few months before, they hadn't wanted to do a lot for vacation. But, by mid-July, they knew Michelle would be more than able to handle this. Danny was still protective enough not to let her go on roller coasters or other rides that might shake her head around, over two months after the fact. That, of course, suited Samantha fine, as she disliked anything like that, too - she needed very tame rides yet.

Michelle was more than happy just to watch Samantha enjoy everything. "Just think, Samantha, you can wish for anything."

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

Samantha had chosen some awesome rides, and one of her wishes had been a fabulous lunch with Cinderella. She had exerted tons of energy by the end of the day. It seemed like she'd managed to fill the day with a week of activities, in her mind. Having been so used to being bored, the opportunity to do and see so much was incredible.

At the end of the day, her feet worn out, her eyes getting a little heavy, Samantha lifted her hands to indicate she wanted to be picked up. As Stephanie raised the little girl up to her face, Samantha kissed her on the cheek, then shrank down and buried her head in Stephanie's breast as she lay in what she felt was the safest place in the world - her mother's loving arms.

"Will you carry me?" Samantha muttered wearily to the thirteen-year-old.

"Sure." As far as I can, anyway, Stephanie said to herself. She hefted Samantha up a little further, the girl surprisingly more lightweight than the young teen expected. As she walked, she pondered the wonderful bond that had begun to form. Stephanie still remembered her mom - she suspected that bond had been closer. She likened it more to Michelle's bond with D.J., who had been the oldest one on the 2nd floor besides their dad, with that office in the 4th bedroom. Michelle often made gifts for D.J. for Christmas or Mother's Day, especially when little. The influence of D.J. in helping Stephanie learn to be Mom-like early - part of how D.J. was dedicated to being proactive on that front -meant Stephanie did little more than tease even at the times Michelle drove her craziest. And, Michelle was very caring and polite and compassionate - just like a young D.J..

Of course, Samantha's bond with Stephanie was growing even closer than that, but it was still hard, in a way, for Stephanie to fathom that she was really a mother to Samantha.

To Samantha, of course, it was much more. The tender embrace as Stephanie carried her to the car was just one more sign that there was so much to family that she had missed out on; and yet, so much that she now had, thanks to the Tanners. Samantha was certain that she had in Stephanie what every other child she saw had. Everything about how Stephanie treated her said "mother."

"Hi, Aunt Samantha," Pamela said. Stephanie's oldest stopped her bike in front of Samantha's house when she and 'Chelle pulled into the driveway. As Samantha and 'Chelle waved while leaving the car, Pamela asked, "How do you like those horses, 'Chelle?"

"Fine. When they do what you tell them."

I know the feeling, Pamela thought to herself.

Samantha spoke, partly to encourage 'Chelle. "Her horse is really pretty good and gentle, but animals have minds of their own sometimes. So, are you excited about vacation?" Samantha wondered. Pamela was very enthused. "It'll be great to have you along, Pamela. Although I don't suppose I could convince you to take ten dollars an hour to watch our three for a while, huh?" Samantha joked.

She understood when Pamela shook her head and laughed. Three kids under six would be a challenge for any sitter. But, Samantha had been so wild the first time Stephanie babysat at Samantha's house, Stephanie had charged 10 an hour to watch her. The joke showed she had made peace with that part of her life.

"It was trying enough being a Principal's Assistant like my mom was at times," Pamela told her. "But, I always managed to make it through. Of course, it helps when you have great kids like 'Chelle in your school." 'Chelle beamed proudly at the compliment.

Pamela waved goodbye and rode onward. She considered that Samantha had been more of a challenge for Stephanie than any kid Pamela herself had dealt with. Samantha - known as Sam at that point - had never had any rules at home. That was what had made her so unruly that time Stephanie had babysat her. She'd become fairly well behaved otherwise, even by her first grade year, the year after Stephanie left.

By Samantha's second grade year, from what Stephanie had told Pamela, there were still some problems with a lack of limits, but Samantha clearly saw Stephanie as the boss, and the main difficulty was the emotional scars. That had led the girl who was Principal's Assistant during Samantha's 2nd and 3rd grade years, Missy, to have all kinds of interesting experiences.

Indeed, it inspired Missy to pursue a career in child psychology. Missy was to be a guest the next morning on Pamela's Uncle Jeff's show, "Good Morning, San Francisco." As she rode her bike toward her Aunt Michelle's and Uncle Jeff's home - Stephanie's sister and brother-in-law - Pamela pondered what might lay in her future.

Missy was on television being interviewed by Jeff Farrington the next morning. Michelle and her boys, Jesse Josetph, twelve, and eight-year-old Jeffrey - who still preferred family to call him Jeffy - watched at home.

"You used some of your experiences being a Principal's Assistant in your latest book," Jeff remarked as he picked up a copy of a book entitled "Belching Is Not An Olympic Sport! (Why it's vital to teach that others matter, and how to do it.)"

"Sure. Of course, I changed names to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the just plain weird. But it was my experience as PA that really laid the foundation for my career in child psychology."

"Did you ever find yourself scolding a kid with that comment about burping?" he asked, pointing at the tome.

"Oh, sure, burping, tooting, I don't like the word 'fart.' But, just about everything you could think of. I tried to keep it fun, of course, and I do now with my own children. But, while it's comical, in a way, to talk about belching as an Olympic sport, it also lets the parent get the child thinking about how these things in public, they're things that shouldn't be vulgar, or anything like that, because other people matter. And, when you have a fifth grade boy sneak into the office and toot over the public address system, like I mention seeing when I was PA back in '95, you soon learn there's a great need to teach people there's a right and wrong way to act in public."

Jesse and Jeffy laughed as they watched at home. "Man, that's funny," Jesse declared. "I wish I could have heard that."

"Would you really want to hear something so disgusting?" Michelle asked. Jesse decided not to answer. Instead, he picked up his bowl of ice cream and carried it to the kitchen.

Back on the show, Missy was saying, "Of course, I raise my own kids, but I take a doctoral course here and there, and I plan to have my doctorate in the next, oh...ten years." Several people in the audience laughed. "Seriously, after next semester I'll be all but degree, meaning I just have to work on my thesis. And, I'll be able to do that slowly, over the next however many years I need."

"What will you do your doctorate on?" Jeff asked.

"Something along the lines of my latest book. I think a doctorate is nice, but you can become well known enough without one. It's just something to give my work a little more prestige; I think I have important things to say. I'm one of the only PA's in our area to ever serve two whole years. I've got a diary or two full of memories there. And, ever since then, I've been having some unique learning experiences."

"Pretty much all child-rearing comes down to teaching that others matter, doesn't it?"

"I'd say so, maybe eighty percent at least. There's some stuff that doesn't directly, like don't run into the street, of course. But, most of it is teaching them to care about others. And, when I was PA, even before, in third grade I can remember thinking, I was always taught to be nice to others. I always wanted to help others, and couldn't stand to be mean or rude. And, I wondered, isn't there anyone else like me? Now, of course there were some good ones, especially your wife, Michelle; it's always great to come back here and visit. There's quite a few old friends and kids I helped while I was here who I plan to see after I leave the studio. But, it really made me wonder how many good kids there were back then at times."

"You mentioned Michelle, what about me? Wait." Jeff jokingly picked up the book. "Maybe I shouldn't ask that. Are any of my jokes I used to pull in here?"

Missy got an ornery grin, and said, "What if I said yes, but I renamed you Sue? No, seriously, names got changed, but genders always stay the same in my book."

"Okay, well, we'll be back on Good Morning, San Francisco after this message."

Michelle and her boys were giggling at Jeff's interview. "Serves him right for some of the jokes he used to pull back then," Michelle teased.

"Yeah, like that spider he put down your back around my age." Jeffy thought for a minute. "Rats, I forgot to get my spider back from the teacher last week."

"You two are just chips off the old block, aren't you?"

"Hey, I got a nice thank you from that girl for writing her a letter of apology."

Jesse added, "Yeah, Jeffy, and Dad told you what Mom told him once when he'd been bugging her." He turned to Michelle and repeated Jeff's words. "'You know, they say boys do that because they like girls. So, be careful. If you ever do that again, that girl might start to be your girlfriend right away.'"

They rose, and Michelle spoke with a grin. "That'll stop you in your tracks for another few years, anyway."

"Yeah, I already have 'Chelle," Jeffy said tiredly.

"Well...Come on, we better finish packing." She didn't quite know what to say about that. 'Chelle, who had received much help from Jeffy in school at times, had not only started to look up to him, but like Peanuts' Sally with Linus, had a small crush on him.

As they walked upstairs, Jesse thought out loud. "I wonder if I should pack some of Dad's cologne. I might meet a girl or two, you know."

"Why don't I just give you 'Chelle as a girlfriend?" Jeffy joked. He liked her, but like Sally, 'Chelle tended to be a little too exuberant about liking him. He wished she'd calm down - he didn't mind being friends, but he didn't like it when 'Chelle talked about being boyfriend and girlfriend.

'Chelle, meanwhile, was anxious awaiting their trip over at Samantha's family home. The four families would make up a caravan of three large vans as they traveled down to Los Angeles. "Can my Jeffy Bear ride with us?" 'Chelle asked as she and Samantha sat on the porch and talked.

"Well, maybe for a while," Samantha remarked gently, "but I don't think he'll want to if you keep calling him that."

"But, Mommy, he's so nice. And, Daddy's married to you already."

Samantha placed 'Chelle in her lap as Missy drove up. "Well, Honey, there are going to be a lot of other boys out there. And, you're too little to get married, anyway."

"Mommy, I'm not getting married yet. I'll wait till I'm ten." That seemed like an eternity away to the five and a half year old.

Missy noticed 'Chelle and Samantha giggling on the porch as she walked up the sidewalk. "Guess I'm just in time. Not only did I catch you in time before you left, I might have material for another book, huh?" she kidded Samantha.

"I hope you brought your laptop; she's been spouting cute sayings all morning."

Missy smiled as she listened to the story of 'Chelle and Jeffy. "It's amazing how they copy adults, isn't it, Samantha? They just want so badly to do everything we do, and yet they can't begin to grasp how complicated it all is."

"I'm glad we're in such a nice area, and have such a warm, happy family. I kind of feel bad, though. I try to spend as much time with 'Chelle as I can, but still, sometimes I worry I've just taken on too much with three kids so close in age."

Missy grabbed another of the porch chairs and sat next to her. "Kind of trying to copy off Stephanie, huh?"

"Yeah, probably. I guess I never get tired of that. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I'd done like D.J.; I told you she's about five months pregnant with her second and last, didn't I?"

"Yeah, ten years apart is a lot, though," Missy remarked.

Samantha mulled it over as 'Chelle ran back into the house.

"I guess, in a way, I copy after you, too. And Mandy, who's teaching at the grade school where we went. I mean, I looked up to you girls in the PA position so much. I told you I was nervous about 'Chelle wanting to be like Steph's Pamela last fall, but I can really see why she did. I mean, you handled lots of stuff."

"Yeah, as I said on the show today, some of it was so weird. Like that boy who tooted into the PA." They laughed. Samantha recalled suddenly hearing gross noises from the PA system in third grade, and the whole class giggling. "Funny thing is he didn't have to toot the whole time he was in the corner for timeout."

"Didn't he have some names or something listed, too?"

"Oh, yeah; thankfully he was caught before he read them. Some kids who had lice or something. I remember hearing him start to toot over the PA, too. I thought, 'You know, I'm not even going to wait for a note to come deal with this, I'm just going down there,'" Missy finished. While she didn't remember exact details of lots of cases, she remembered quite a bit from ones like this. And, her diaries helped immensely when she referred to them for book material.

"I know. You were so used to it by then. I don't remember a whole lot, but I'm sure I got you used to coming down all the time," Samantha remarked.

Missy didn't think Samantha was all that bad. "Believe me, Samantha, there were plenty of worse kids. Of course, there were times you'd come just to talk. But, I don't even know that you were the most common for that, with the divorces and stuff some kids went through," she mused.

Samantha figured she was just saying that to make her feel good. "I don't know, there was probably more emotional pain and scars from my upbringing than a lot of those kids had, especially in second grade, your first year as PA. But, by third grade it was easier because people knew what had happened to me growing up; I didn't have to fight the demons of my past alone," she concluded.

While it wasn't common for her to talk about her past like this, Missy was, in a small way, a psychologist to her. She didn't see one regularly, but it was still good to have Missy to talk to about such things, as she needed to be able to totally trust any professionals she used.

"Right. I always sensed there were some major problems back then," Missy confessed. She'd been relieved when Stephanie told her Samantha had begun to open up finally - around midway through 2nd grade if she remembered right. But, at the same time, she'd been stunned by how much there had been.

The Monday after the biggest emotional outburst, which Samantha had on a sleepover with Michelle and Courtney, Missy had had a very long discussion with her and the school psychologist. Samantha had once said, "By the time that week was over, I'd gotten a dozen hugs from probably everyone I knew."

Missy would be having such talks with Samantha for quite a while afterward. Though the school psychologist and others were certainly quite involved, Missy had felt drawn to the field of psychology even back then. But, more importantly, Missy began to sense some improvement - and it would become dramatic after a while.

"By the end of third grade, Samantha, I wrote in my diary about how you thought maybe someday you could be a class president like Michelle was a year ahead of you that year. And, I really thought you could do it, too."

"Thanks. I know, my improvement has really been incredible. Without Stephanie and Michelle, and all the others - well, if I wasn't caught early enough I'd still have a career, but probably only one kid, and I'd have taken Mr. Snuggle Bunny with me all the time on tour as a ballerina, even once I was out of high school," Samantha chided. "It's amazing how important stuffed animals are; I really liked your last book, talking about comfort objects."

"Thanks. You know, elderly people with Alzheimer's or who are just more fearful aren't the only ones who benefit from them. I think if people would just humble themselves, and look inside, they'll see that gift of childlike faith is still there. And, then they wouldn't need to turn to drugs or drinking or anything else to relieve their anxiety."

Samantha agreed. It seemed like a great help. "I'm sure stuffed animals would work for more people than we realize. But, I think finding that faith is one of the problems a lot of adults have to begin with; and, maybe that's why they start down those sad roads." Missy concurred.

Danny Tanner was one who had needed lots of faith. Losing his wife almost thirty-five years ago - when he was not yet thirty - and raising three girls had been very hard. D.J. had been the one to discipline Michelle for months past her third birthday. And yet, he went overboard with controlling some things. D.J. had really had to push for Danny to finally let her - as "team captain" as well as mother figure for Michelle - pick out some clothes with Michelle, instead of Danny always doing it. Danny had had to learn the hard way that one day of going to preschool at four with a mismatched outfit would not scar Michelle for life - it only led to the kids laughing at her choice for a short time. It taught Michelle to make better choices, and thus helped her learn to choose for herself, with her older sisters and Danny guiding her.

Danny also cleaned incessantly at times. And, while he hadn't had intense grief counseling, he'd spoken about a dozen or so times with the minister in their church, the one where D.J. had dedicated herself to being proactive when Michelle was still only a toddler. If it hadn't been for the minister following up on that, though, he wouldn't have even had the help he had dealing with Pam's death.

He was better now, but still, saying goodbye was a little rough. Even if only for a short vacation. "So long, Jeff. Bye, Michelle." He hugged each, having already hugged his grandkids before they raced to the car. "You're sure all your clients have other sitters lined up?" Michelle was certain. "I mean, if one would happen to, you know, need a sitter, they know I'm available, right?"

"I know you get lonely when you're the only one here, Dad," Michelle said. "Why not take your own little vacation?"

"Yeah, go see Joey and his wife," Jeff suggested.

"Flight attendants get a little annoyed when I go around cleaning the airplane," Danny deadpanned. More seriously, he said, "I will, I promise. I guess sometimes it's just hard because...well, it's the kind of thing I planned on doing with your mom way back when. You don't know what it's like when you go into a restaurant and you hear 'party of one' when you used to have such a full house."

"That's what takeout pizza is for," Jeff joked.

"True. I guess with you girls and your families all leaving at once - well, it's the first time you and your husbands have all had time off together in a good while. And, I know you always invite me, and I've said before I'll feel like I'm intruding, so you don't need to ask again. I've been on trips before with you."

"I know, Dad. It's one reason why I knew this would be a perfect place for my home daycare - it lets you stay right here and stay busy."

"Does it ever," Danny agreed. "I promise, I'll take some time off, and go see Joey for a day or so," he said truthfully, already planning the trip in his head, as he was still very exact. "And be back in time to make the house spotless for when you come home."

After they hugged again, Michelle, Jeff, and their kids drove to Samantha's house to pick up her and her family, thankful that Danny made the attempt to visit so many friends, both young and old. Joey had slowed down a little in his cartooning work, too, after a very mild heart attack the previous year. But, thankfully, he was healthy once more, and he and others provided great help for Danny in his retirement.

Michelle and Jeff considered that in his early sixties, Danny was at the age where it was possible - though unlikely with medical advances - that he'd be dealing with the loss of a spouse, anyway. He had adapted very well to being a grandfather and having his children out on their own now, but it was true - Michelle's business was the perfect thing for him. It was hard for Danny to adapt to change. Losing Pam around thirty was very hard, but it may have been easier, in the long run, than if he'd lost her around age sixty.

Meanwhile, D.J. and her family were at Stephanie's - since Stephanie had six kids, the natural thing to do was to rendezvous at her house, as they'd spend the most time getting ready.

As they made sure everything was packed, and started to carry things out to the car, E.J. and Pamela spoke about the PA position. E.J. would be the PA next year at Fraser St. Elementary. And, she had a few questions, after having asked numerous questions over the last few weeks. It was a big task, but it was lots of fun, too. And, like D.J., she wanted to be the best.

That was true even in the worst cases. "Soooo," E.J. began, unsure of how to bring up the question in their discussion. She'd never been spanked, so the idea was a little unsettling, though she knew she could do it if she had to. "Did you ever, you know, smack a kid on purpose?"

"Never had to on purpose, though there was this one kid I thought I might have to; really sassy boy, in your grade." E.J. knew who Pamela meant. "One time, I was giving a lecture, and at the start I said, 'You have the right to remain silent during this lecture, and anything you say may be used against your bottom.'"

E.J. couldn't help but chuckle a little at the humorous alteration of the Miranda warning, but quickly stopped as they carried several of the younger kids' suitcases out to the van. "I guess it's not so funny when you're actually disciplining the kid, huh?"

Pamela shook her head. She'd always done as she knew Stephanie had - never on purpose, but giving "reaction swats" that only hurt the feelings, and provided a little shock to the system, if need be, where her conscience just sort of stopped telling her to use her words. Stephanie hadn't had to do that much at all as a mom, but of course, not all the kids in their school were as good as Stephanie's kids, so Pamela had done it a number of times, and a few of those she gave had stung a little.

E.J. could understand why Pamela hadn't told her or her other cousins about some of the worst cases, not wanting to embarrass their schoolmates. But, she added, "Most of these kids will be the same ones you've dealt with. So, I might come talking to you about them a lot."

"That's fine. It's a job everyone needs lots of help on. I talked to the one who replaced my mom, one day they had a symposium for young leaders that they have us PA's attend. She recalled back then, her biggest mistake was not asking my mom or anyone else for advice; she figured she could do it all herself once she got in there."

E.J. agreed. She knew Missy, Mandy, and all the others after looked up to Stephanie, and had felt free to ask for her help on any issues.

They went back into the house, and Stephanie and Robert checked to make sure things were unplugged. Meanwhile the girls talked while lugging bags.

E.J. said, "My mom had to deal with July a few times, too." July was Kimmy Gibbler's only child; Kimmy was D.J.'s best friend, but very lazy and thus was very inconsistent with July. Kimmy could also be very easily tricked by July, which meant that until the last few years, she was watched quite closely by D.J., Michelle - her main caregiver during the day - and Stephanie - who was usually too busy, with her own kids. "Aunt Michelle always took care of her while her parents worked. But, Mom says July gave her big problems a few times when she babysat over at her house."

"That's too bad. Well, your mom's like mine, those problems didn't last long, I'm sure," Pamela said emphatically. "July's really nice, but it's taken a while for Aunt Michelle to really get her to be good." They carried the last of the bags out, and Pamela whispered, "I don't like to say anything, but someone said July did most of the gardening in that neighborhood as punishment for one thing or another." She didn't want to get into any more details, or say things beyond what E.J. probably knew anyway, though.

E.J. knew her mom could be tough - but tough to her wasn't nearly as tough as D.J. would have to be to a much wilder kid like July, since Kimmy had been quite ineffective at times. D.J. had worked with Michelle to put a stop to quite a few problems - sometimes having to get really tough. In the last five years or so, though, it merely meant careful monitoring. And, by now, July was quite embarrassed to even think of some of her misdeeds when younger. She was a nice, compassionate girl of thirteen and seven months, who had always had a close bond with Michelle and D.J., as well as her own parents.

That's what Pamela reminded E.J.. "It's hard to think of what could happen years from now, E.J.. But, if you do your work right, Mom says that kid who gives you lots of problems can still grow up and do a lot of great stuff. Just like July's finally settled down. Because, they'll remember that you showed them love. You did it even while you were putting them in timeout or taking a bunch of privileges away or lecturing, or," much more silently, "in those rare cases, worse," she finished, thinking of some of those much wilder kids whom she'd fwapped. "Aunt Samantha calls Stephanie Mom sometimes, after all."

"Thanks." E.J. was glad to have so many people to encourage her.

Pamela was amazed at how easy giving advice was. She'd just blurted that out without thinking much - she supposed that came with experience. It amazed her to think that she was growing up so fast - trips that seemed to last forever a few years ago now didn't seem nearly as long. And her teenage years...

She laughed at 'Chelle bugging Jeffy to sit by her. These things seemed so simple to them at that age. But, her best friend Mildred and she were starting to think about really liking boys. Indeed, she hadn't told anyone but Mildred, but there was this one boy...

"What are you smiling about?" Stephanie asked eagerly, as if sensing Pamela was envisioning some secret fantasy that Stephanie would just love her to share.

As Pamela shrugged and said "nothing" while getting into the van, she overheard one of her younger siblings spout, "She likes Ronald Moreland."

"I see you rolling your eyes at your brother." Stephanie smiled knowingly and whispered, "It's fun to think about boys, huh?"

"I only kind of sort of almost like Ronald a little," Pamela told her brother defensively, causing everyone to crack up laughing. If the secret hadn't been heard before, it was all over now. She moaned.

With an amazingly straight face, Stephanie told her, "Well, I think he's pretty nice; he's the kind I hope you continue to kind of sort of almost like a little." To totally snap Pamela out of any frustration she might have at having her cover blown, Stephanie chided, "I'll bet you didn't think I could say that with a straight face, huh?"

"You amaze me, Mom," Pamela said with a smile.

The group stopped for pizza, then began driving again. However, only a few minutes after they got back on the road, Colin pulled his lead van over, and Stephanie and Pamela rushed out of the van, with Pamela merely announcing that she needed to use the restroom.

"Mommy, why does Pamela have to run into the bathroom?" 'Chelle asked curiously.

Samantha struggled for an answer, as she could tell what had happened - Pamela's body had reached adulthood in one critical respect, one that could happen at any time, without warning. Finally, as the others got out of their vans in the restaurant parking lot, Samantha said, "Well, uh...she ate some bad oysters." Noticing Michelle's look, Samantha whispered to her, "It could happen."

"On pizza?!" Michelle muttered back incredulously.

"Sure," Jeff agreed. "It's just like when I went out to eat with the guys in college. One of them had just eaten this big chocolate dessert, and boy, did he have to go to the restroom then. Now, he was having some diarrhea from something earlier that day, but he was in the restroom for like forty-five minutes. We all teased about that later, about how fast that stuff went through him, and when he came out of that restroom, boy did it ever stink! I really pity the poor guy who had to use the restroom right after he did."

"Mommy, is Pamela gonna make the bathroom stink like Uncle Jeff's friend did?" 'Chelle asked.

"No, sweetheart, it won't be that bad; but, thanks for taking our minds off it, Jeff," Samantha said.

'Chelle wasn't totally satisfied. Since she had grasped the concept that Mommy didn't know everything since she wasn't everywhere at once, she decided to ask once Stephanie and Pamela exited the restroom. "Does it stink in there now, Aunt Stephanie?"

"Noooo," Stephanie said slowly, trying to figure out where that question came from. "Why would it stink?"

"Uncle Jeff's friend had to go potty right after eating some bad stuff. When he came out it smelled real bad," 'Chelle explained as the caravan began to get back in their vans. "Oysters must not smell too bad."

Samantha noticed Stephanie's very puzzled look, and decided to clue Stephanie in quickly. "I excused Pamela's you know what by telling 'Chelle...'Chelle, why don't you go ride with Aunt D.J. and Uncle Steve?"

"Uncle Steve will eat all the cookies."

D.J. sensed Samantha wanted to talk to Stephanie. "I'll make sure he doesn't, come on." 'Chelle and a few younger kids climbed into that van with D.J., Steve, and E.J..

Stephanie sat in the middle of one of the seats in the van Colin was driving, with Pamela on her left and Samantha on her right. "Figures it would happen at a time like this. At least it wasn't while we were on a ride at Disneyland."

"When was your first period, Mom?" Pamela asked.

"Well, it was sometime in the spring, a couple months after I turned twelve. I remember Michelle and I were out walking our dog, Comet, and he stopped at a fire hydrant. He sniffed it for a bit, and then all of a sudden it started coming. I remember joking to Michelle and Comet, 'Come on, we need to get home. I think I need a hydrant, too.'"

"At least you knew what was going on, it probably wasn't as scary for you," Samantha said.

"It was a little...disconcerting. I mean, the first time it really seems weird," Stephanie said, reassuring Pamela, as she knew Pamela had felt a little odd. "Even when you know; I mean, it was for Michelle, even though she was with me years before when mine happened. And, back then Aunt Becky and D.J. had talked a little about such things to her. When mine came she blurted, 'Is this one of those things to do with our body getting older that Dad doesn't like to talk about?'"

Pamela laughed. "That is so Grandpa, isn't it?"

"Yep. Of course, I was just as nervous about discussing those things when it came to you, wasn't I?" she asked Samantha. "I guess I really inherited that overprotective nature when it came to helping you at times."

"Yeah, you did." Samantha flashed back to her first period as she and Stephanie began quietly to discuss it with Pamela while the others were immersed in video games and movies.

Jesse Katsopolis opened the door to see his good friend and radio partner Joey Gladstone at the door with an elderly gentleman with quite a few wrinkles who wore a white coat with sequins that matched his nearly white hair. He wore sideburns, but was nearly bald on the top of his head, with rapidly thinning hair only around the sides.

"Hey, Jesse, this is that Elvis impersonator I told you about," Joey said. "He really does seem like the real thing." Jesse and Joey had lived in the Tanner home for years helping Danny raise his girls, but in the last couple years, Jesse, his wife Becky, and their family had moved out, and Joey had gotten married and moved with his wife and her kids into a different home, also in the neighborhood.

Jesse forgot for a moment that he his second grade boys, Nicky and Alex, and his adopted girl, Melanie, would be coming home from school any minute. He simply figured that Joey was acting like his usual goofy self. "What? That can't be an Elvis impersonator," Jesse cried out as the men walked in the door, with Jesse staring at them. "For one thing, he looks too old." He then noticed Becky holding a video camera to record the even.

"Thank you, thank you very much," the elderly man said, his voice cracking a bit upon being offered a chair in the family's living room. "Well, Jesse, I've aged a lot in 22 years."

Jesse continued to stare at him. "What?"

"Like I said, Jess, he seems like the real deal. He told me how he had to go into seclusion to get over a lot of problems, and then just hid out of sight," Joey explained.

Using flawless Elvis mannerisms, yet with a few small, Parkinson's-style shakes for effect, the fellow said, "That's right. I got tired of livin' the fast life. I just retired to a nice little home in a small town and I spend my days just workin' in my garden and watchin' the beautiful sunrises. I got enough to live on, but I sold the rest and used it to pay off the national debt of a small Latin American country. Graceland's actually run by a corporation."

Jesse's mouth remained agape for several seconds. "But...Joey, look, I don't know what kind of line this guy fed you, but that's the dumbest Elvis impersonation I ever saw! An Elvis impersonator's supposed to look like the king, it's why all those crazy supermarket tabloids that say Elvis is alive have him lookin' like he did back in the seventies! He should at least have hair!"

"Hey, people change over the years," Joey said as "Elvis" reached into a dish and grabbed some nuts, and they spoke for a couple minutes.

As the man ate, the children entered the house. After they exchanged hugs, the boys asked, "Who's that" in unison.

"It's not Elvis," Jesse said firmly.

"That narrows it down a little," Becky joked.

"Hey, big mama, I know it's hard to believe. I was just tellin' your dad here, boys, about my retirement. Yeah, I used to sing quite a bit, though, back in my day." He began to sing "Love Me Tender" in an Elvis manner, but with a much older voice.

Becky glanced at the calendar while Jesse commented about how Elvis impersonators were supposed to look - and sing. "This guy doesn't sound like an Elvis impersonator! They're not supposed to sound like they're in their sixties or seventies! And, Elvis surely would not have gone bald," he finished with a flourish.

Jesse stopped, though, as the man sang the last lines with the same tune but with different words. "And a Happy April Fool; from my grandson Jeff."

Joey and Becky burst out laughing, and the children giggled. Jesse's mouth stood agape for a moment as he slowly realized what had happened - and that indeed, earlier that morning his children had announced there was an elephant in the backyard. Why hadn't he thought about what day it was? "Of course. Oh, thank goodness; maybe that means Elvis still would have had his hair if he were alive today."

Jeff's grandfather introduced himself, and explained, sounding a little less old than he had when he'd done Elvis - he'd wanted to sound more ancient for effect. "Michelle and Jeff hatched the idea about the same time as Joey did. Jeff knew I could do a pretty good Elvis impersonation, except he wanted me to do an 'old Elvis.' So, they got together, told your wife about it, and we just had to record the reaction so they could see it."

"We really got you there, huh?" Joey asked.

"I'll say; man, Joey told me he was going to try to get an Elvis impersonator for our radio show today, and then you come in and I'm thinking, 'Oh my goodness, this is just not Elvis!' And the way I love Elvis..." Jesse trailed off shaking his head and chuckling in spite of himself. Though he hated to make fun of Elvis, this was one funny joke.

"That just makes it all the funnier," Becky said.

At that moment, the phone rang. Melanie ran to pick it up. "Hello?...Oh, yes, I know that school. My cousin and her friends go there....Oh, you want to talk to my Mommy or Daddy? Which one?...Okay." Melanie handed the phone to Becky. "I asked which one of you, and she said you, 'cause it's a girl thing." To Melanie, of course, it made all the sense in the world as she skipped into the kitchen - at her age there were clear girl things like playing house or sewing, and boy things like roughhousing or loving Elvis like her new dad did. She figured there must be that sort of division all through life.

Becky took the phone and spoke. She looked quite concerned as she talked to the nurse. "Thanks; that's okay, I understand. I'd probably want to come home, too. We'll be right down." Becky hung up the phone, saw that the children had all run into the kitchen for a snack, and explained. "The school tried to call Danny and the Larkins over the last fifteen to twenty minutes, but nobody was home. Samantha just had her period, and they want us to come get her." Their school let out half an hour after the elementary school.

Joey quickly grabbed his car keys. "Okay, cool," he blurted. He loved being a father figure for Samantha - who loved his sense of humor and gentleness when talking with her about things.

", that's okay..." Becky held up a hand and grinned while trying to think of how to explain this delicately. "Really, it's...well, it's a woman thing, and, remember when you offered to take Stephanie to her first mother-daughter slumber party?"

Joey laughed. "Yeah, guess it's a good thing D.J. offered and took her right away. I guess I wouldn't have been too good at racing in high heels, or doing makeovers, huh?"

"No, you wouldn't have," she said with a laugh. She explained that she'd be spending time with her before Stephanie got home. "Why don't you call the high school and have them leave a note for Stephanie so she comes right home today. Then the kids can go over to your place, Joey, and your wife can watch then while you go do your show, if that's okay." It was, and she left.

Becky drove to the Tanners' and grabbed some spare clothes; she had a key from when she lived there, and she knew between times Samantha stayed there and Michelle (though her stuff would be a bit big for Samantha) there would be enough. By the time she got to the school, students were just being let out - she decided to wait by the phones for s second, knowing Michelle and her friends and Samantha met there. Once she whispered to one of Michelle's friends to tell her they'd see her at home, she went to the nurse. She knew it was important for Samantha to have someone with her - especially because she'd had so little attention the first few years of her life. This kind of episode would be especially hard on her. Stephanie had managed to talk a little about it - but it would probably be a good bit more disconcerting for her than it had been for Danny's kids.

"Hey, honey," Becky said as she sat beside Samantha and stroked her hair. "Rough day, huh?"

"I didn't know your body could play April Fool's jokes."

Becky couldn't help but laugh at the irony. "It does sort of feel like that, huh? Although this isn't the kind of trick you'd want to see pulled on anyone, with the way you feel, huh?"

"I'd rather have someone give me chocolate covered broccoli like someone did at lunch today." Becky laughed, and asked if Jeff had done that. "Surprisingly, no. He said he'd spent all his energy getting everything right on something big this year, but I never found out what it was. I just know it had to do with Elvis."

"I know what that was. Come on, I'll bet you want a shower. We'll get you to the locker room and I'll tell you about it," she responded. "Jesse called Stephanie; she's coming home right after school. Did you want to go there or back to our house?" She suddenly realized that by the time they were done, Stephanie might be home anyway, but in the rush she hadn't thought about that.

"Thanks, Aunt Becky. I'll just go to Steph's house," she replied.

Once she had showered and changed, they went to the Tanners, where Stephanie had arrived home. "Hey, Samantha, I heard what happened," Stephanie said sympathetically. They went up to Stephanie's room and sat. Michelle was there, too, but after they talked for a moment, Samantha decided she just wanted to talk to Stephanie - Stephanie was the closest thing she had to a mom, after all.

They talked for a few minutes about what had happened, and other things. They laughed at some of the things Samantha had heard, the old wives tales that reminded each of an episode of the Cosby Show where it had happened to Rudy. At least Samantha's hadn't come during a lesson on punctuation; coming on April Fools' Day was bad enough.

As they cuddled together while sitting up on Stephanie's large bed, Stephanie remarked, "Growing up is pretty scary sometimes, huh?"

"Yeah; and I'm gonna be able to get married and have kids and all that stuff." Samantha's head spun as she thought about it. "You'll always be there for me, won't you?"

"Of course, sweetheart," Stephanie said as she lovingly squeezed her. The idea was quite scary to her - she wished she could keep Samantha young forever, let her have the childhood she'd missed. But, she knew somehow, they could get through it all - just like they always did.

Back in the present, Pamela agreed. "It's great to know I'll always have lots of people to help me."

"It was even more important for me," Samantha acknowledged. "Stephanie was a little hesitant about discussing that stuff, but D.J. and Ant Becky talked some about it, too. Like you, I at least knew what was coming. Noting can really prepare you for it, though."

Stephanie remarked philosophically, "I think there's a lot of stuff about growing up, where there's not much you can do to prepare. Sure, we play pretend things all the time, like house, or cops rounding up bad guys. It'd be easy to just keep playing pretend. But, even then, it's only a fraction as complex as it really is." Thinking out loud as much as anything, she added, "I wonder if we pretend like we do, though, because somehow, we know we have to get it right, to prepare ourselves at least a little, for life. I know for D.J with Michelle, but especially for me with you, Samantha, it was a lot more complex than I ever would have imagined. And those things you figured out as kids better work, because you don't get a second chance."

"Are you writing Hallmark cards back there, Honey?" Robert asked Stephanie with a laugh.

"She'd be good at it, wouldn't she, Dad," Pamela remarked. And, she considered that that probably summed up the PA position very well, too, not just what had happened with her own body.

Pamela whispered to E.J. what had happened at their next rest stop, away from the others. "It's hard to believe - biologically I'm a woman now," Pamela remarked. "It just happens...just, boom, like that."

"Maybe that's why they say it's so shocking and everything," E.J. guessed.

"Maybe," Pamela said doubtfully. "All I know is, I've been helping people a lot, first with Mom making sure I was a good and helpful big sister and not a rude and bossy one when I was wee little, then with what I've done in school. I feel like I've always had to be a little like one." She sighed. "There's so many problems now."

D.J. overheard, having snuck up behind them as they sat at a picnic table overlooking some of the central California valleys. "I know what you mean," she said. "I told E.J. about one time, I was one of the most self-confident girls you'd meet back when I was a young teen, and I even tried to crash diet for three days, till Stephanie told what I was doing," she concluded thankfully. She was so glad Stephanie cared so much about her.

"Yeah. There's one girl in my class, I told you about her, didn't I, Mom? She was thinking about trying to diet already, and she isn't even fat," E.J. replied. "And she wasn't even ten when this started!"

"I know, I've talked with her parents, we're working with her. That's the kind of thing that happens now; kids need to realize the models in those ads aren't even real. They're totally digitized to look so thin it's unhealthy, just so you'll buy what they have to sell. They're not real people at all anymore, but even when I was growing up they were starting to digitize things. We've had a bit of revival, but the stuff people do to sell and stuff just keeps getting worse . With that example, it was unhealthy the way they portrayed models for decades before that." D.J. shook her head. "There's so much deception and everything. But, you know, it's part of what the Bible promises - where sin abounds, grace abounds greater. We've got lots of deception but lots of goodness, too."

"We sure do. I'm glad we all live in such a nice area. And, that 'Chelle can grow up for a while not worrying about what her mom went through," Pamela said sadly. "Samantha doesn't want her to know about that for years!"

"Well, hopefully she won't," D.J. concurred.

The next morning, Samantha and her family awakened to the sweet sound of seagulls chirping right outside their window. "Oh, honey, it's so great to have a motel room right on the beach," Samantha said as she gazed out the window.

"Yep." Colin smiled as they embraced and kissed. A rather consistent churchgoer like the Tanners when Stephanie first interviewed him, he'd been involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and served as a great role model on his team. He'd grown more devout over the years as Samantha had, and both loved to view the great majesty of creation. He gazed thankfully at the beautiful sea and sky, the noisy yet friendly seagulls, and so much more. And, especially the fabulous wife he'd been blessed with. "Sure was great last night. Especially with me carrying you across the threshold."

"Yeah, although sometimes I wonder if Stephanie's still a little too protective; she kept saying, 'Careful, don't trip,'" she said as they laughed together.

'Chelle put her hands on her hips and said, "I wish she'd protected me. I asked Jeffy to do the same thing to me, and he just picked me up and dropped me into the pile of stuffed animals we brought." Between the many children, there were over a dozen fairly good-sized stuffed animals, providing 'Chelle a nice, soft landing but not the romantic feel she sensed it was for her parents.

"Well, that's really all you need to be doing right now, honey," Colin told her as he knelt down to her level. He ignored the size factor - Jeffy had only turned eight a couple months ago, but he was still a fair amount bigger than 'Chelle, who would turn six in September, so was two and a half years younger. "I know you like him and all, but we had fun just sorting out all those stuffed animals in that one bag in the van, right?"

"I guess so. Can I go over to Aunt Michelle's and Uncle Jeff's?"

"If they're up." Samantha walked 'Chelle next door, knocked on the door, and asked if everyone was decent. They were, and Jeff was just about to start breakfast. "You can eat over here," she told the girl, also asking Michelle to make sure 'Chelle ate something.

Jeff smiled as he tucked an egg into the sleeve of his bathrobe. He had done this for his children - and Michelle - numerous times, but rarely with an actual egg. It was usually just a play on words. He hoped he didn't drop the egg as he had one time last year.

He stepped out the door and raised his hands in the air. "Anyone for some flied eggs?"

"You mean fried eggs," 'Chelle corrected him, ignoring Jesse and Jeffy's giggles.

"Nope." He clapped his hands together, and unseen by the children, he pulled the egg out of his sleeve that had been blocked by his watch from rolling down. He stepped back in and showed them the egg. "I mean flied eggs."

'Chelle's eyes grew wide, and she ran to the door and looked outside. "Were those really flying around?" She thought it was a joke, but part of her didn't know what to think.

"Uncle Jeff just pulled a joke, that's all," Michelle explained.

"Yeah, it was even funnier last year at the beach," Jeffy exclaimed.

Michelle elaborated. "Jeff didn't have his watch on, and somehow the egg rolled all the way down his arm, and fell out the bottom of his robe."

"That would have been really funny," 'Chelle declared.

"I came up with it years ago. I only tried to use the egg in the last couple years," Jeff told her as he returned to the skillet and continued making eggs and pancakes. "That's the second most important part of doing comedy."

"What's the first?" 'Chelle asked.

"Keeping a straight face," he said in a strained voice as he turned around to face the children - and revealed a lobster claw was stuck to his nose! "Help, it's got me!"

The children roared with laughter, as did Michelle. "Okay, honey, settle down now, the boys are starting to eat their cereal. I don't want to have to perform the Heimlich on anyone," Michelle scolded very lightly.

'Chelle told her what she wanted to eat as Jeff walked over and let the girl touch the claw. "I was talking with the people a couple doors down after you guys all went to bed. They'd caught a lot of stuff and gave us a bit to eat for lunch today; we'll want to come in when it's super hot around noon," Jeff explained.

After breakfast, the group gathered many towels, chairs, buckets, shovels, and other items - with so many adults and kids with their toys, they looked like they were about to make an archaeological dig on the beach.

Samantha opened her bag of sunscreen. "You have more bottles than Grandpa," one of Stephanie's kids said.

"Yeah, and I probably keep it just as well organized as he does, too," Samantha replied.

She sat in front of 'Chelle and lovingly lathered her up just as Colin was dong to Joey. She reminisced as she did so - her girl was going to go into first grade next year. E.J. would be the PA - and she'd likely be there 2 years, as the plan was to move sixth graders back into the elementary school now that the population in their area was declining somewhat - though not as much in California as in some other places.

"It's hard to believe the kids are getting so big," she told Michelle. "Pamela on this trip, and going into middle school this fall, my kids are really growing, too..."

"Aunt D.J.'s growing a whole lot."

D.J. explained for what seemed like the thousandth time, "I'll be really big in a few months; Uncle Steve and I decided to have another baby. E.J. can help some with this one, too, then." She didn't reveal her hidden concern, that if something were to happen to one or both parents E.J. would be old enough to be a momlike figure like she'd been to Michelle. The effects of Pam's death weren't many, but some little things like that did linger well into adulthood.

Michelle watched as her husband, Jeff, went with Jesse and Jeffy to fetch water for their sandcastle. Her mind was on growing up, too, a little. "You're doing a great job with your kids; you'll be able to handle three," she said, indicated the baby with her head. The little girl, Hannah, wore a large hat.

"I know; I just hope I can keep them young in some small ways forever. It's great being able to hold a sleeping child in your arms." She laughed to herself. "Although letting her keep sucking her pacifier all day when she wanted even at age three was a bit much," she confessed.

"Well, I guess that's why it's great to have someone like my friend Cassie from school as a pediatrician. I think it really helped 'Chelle to have her just come right out and tell her 'no more pacifiers.' Seeing her with that big white coat and everything did make her seem like an authority figure."

"You're right. I'm glad I have so many people I can turn to for help," Samantha said.

"You're as protective as our dad ever was," D.J. told Samantha as she finished putting the last touches of sun tan lotion on 'Chelle. Or maybe even as protective as Stephanie was of you, she considered.

"You bet."

After 'Chelle was lotioned, she joined Jesse and Jeffy as they were building a sandcastle. She smiled broadly at Jeffy. "The beach is supposed to be really romantic," Chelle blurted. "That's what my Mommy and Daddy say."

"Well, nobody's perfect," Jeffy said. Jesse stifled a laugh.

"So, how do we make it romantic?" she asked as she helped formed part of the castle.

Jeffy tried to keep a straight face like his dad said, though he smirked a little, when he said, "I could pour water down your back."

'Chelle didn't catch the smirk, she assumed Jeffy really meant it. She scrunched her face up as she asked, "How can that be romantic?"

'Chelle had been bugging Jeffy and hanging around him for a couple days. Jeffy liked having her around, but her talk - the talk of a typical child learning little things about what "love" and "couples" meant - was too much for him. He wished she would simply play and have fun, just like he liked to do.

Jeffy decided to "get back" in the funny yet caring way he'd been taught to do by example from his parents. He picked up the remaining water in their bucket, and said, "Here, try it." He proceeded to splash warm sea water on her. He grinned as she jumped up, secretly enjoying playing little jokes like that to show he cared.

"Eeek." 'Chelle jumped back. "You thought that was romantic?!" Shaking some of the water off her hands, she turned to the adults and spouted, "Now I know why they say boys and girls are from different planets."

Samantha motioned her over with a look, and then whispered to her, "I think Jeffy's trying to tell you you've been hanging a little too close to him the last couple days. I know you like him. But, you need to give things time."

"Okay, Mommy," 'Chelle muttered, very disappointed but knowing her mom knew what she was talking about. Despite a few early problems with consistency in enforcing limits when 'Chelle was two, Samantha had grown into a wonderfully loving yet firm mom whose kids knew that when she said "no," it meant "no."

At dinner that evening, as the large group gathered at several tables in a family restaurant, Jeffy spoke to nobody in particular, "It's weird that 'Chelle even likes me. I mean, we're two grades apart. Mom and Dad were in the same grade." He tried to think. "What about you and Uncle Steve? You were in high school together, right?"

"Sure, but we were two years apart, just like you," D.J. explained.

Steve explained that, "We both had some of the same interests on our class trip to Spain one summer, so we started talking on tours and stuff, and I finally started to make my move."

"You asked her out?"

"No, I offered her some of my nachos."

"He did ask me out soon afterward," D.J. said with a laugh. "But, you have to remember Steve's biggest thing was eating - on the wrestling team but even otherwise."

"Yeah - if most people ate like he did they'd be the main attraction at Sea World," Jeff teased, explaining to his youngest, "That's just one of those little ways we show ladies we like them, by sharing our interests. Just like I've always loved making your mother laugh - and I used to do it all the time."

Jesse couldn't help but tease his younger brother. "And the way you bug 'Chelle..."

"What?!" Jeffy asked nervously, not wanting to say it outright but not denying it, either. "Uh...Aunt Stephanie, how did you meet Uncle Robert?"

Stephanie laughed at how fast he'd asked that before she went on. She knew he'd heard bits and pieces, as children often did of adult stories, a few times, but was only now really interested. "Well, he was a year ahead of me in college. We both liked the college's basketball team. I'd gone to the church he attended, since it was closer to campus, one Sunday. And, we ended up going as friends with a group to a few games. He asked me out for the first time something like March of our freshman year; it was after the season was over and he was like, 'Well, since there aren't any more games maybe the two of us could get together and go out to eat instead.'"

"Your Aunt Stephanie was close to asking me out, too, a bit before that, but wasn't quite ready. Her friend Darcy probably would have in that situation. But, she did invite me to a couple of the games early on, so even though it was with our group I guess in a way she did ask me out," Robert continued. Indeed, he seemed to recall that it was during the season Stephanie was making calls to find boyfriends for Samantha. If she hadn't been so occupied with that, he mused, Stephanie almost certainly would have asked him out.

Jeffy was intrigued. He'd always considered that the way his parents had done it - knowing each other since practically before they could remember - was how it had to be for him. And, most likely, the person had to be in his class - even if that wasn't till high school, like D.J. or Danny, or college, like Stephanie.

"I guess you could meet someone pretty much anywhere, huh?" he thought aloud.

"Sure. Your Uncle Joey didn't meet his wife till he was in his late thirties," Michelle reminded him. "It happens at different times for everyone."

"Why'd he wait that long?" asked one of Stephanie's younger children as he listened in. "That's like forever."

Totally going over his cousin's head with the explanation, Jesse said, "Either he wanted to stay a kid forever, like Peter Pan, or maybe he took Grandpa's advice on having a crush literally, how if you like the person you should be able to imagine yourself with them when you're really old. He just waited till he was really old."

Steve and D.J. laughed as he put an arm around her. "Wow, I didn't realize we were that old. I guess at 47 and 45 we could go any day now," Steve joked as they kissed. "I guess I better save room for dessert then."

"Yeah, who needs a diet?" D.J. added with a smirk. "Besides, you may be really old, but you work out enough you still don't have very much of a belly."

Robert asked, out of curiosity, "If you think that was old, how old do you think Mom and I are?"

"Ten," spouted Robbie, who was three.

"Nuh-uh, they'we eight," the toddler Joey said from across the aisle.

Jesse's eyes grew wide. "Whoa, now I'm the ancient one!" the twelve-year-old said. "According to Joey, I should be married with grandkids on the way!"

"Well, you thought Grandpa's friend, Uncle Joey, was really old when you were little Joey's age. I always say, what goes around, comes around," Michelle remarked. To Jeffy she said, "Age is really confusing when they're young; Robbie doesn't even grasp his parents have to be older than his oldest sister. Then when they do, they start to figure their parents have to be a whole lot older. But, there's husbands and wives who are five, ten years apart when they meet later in life. It's just that when your dad and I became friends, our class was pretty much all we had in Kindergarten when it came to making friends."

"I'm friends with some of Jesse's friends."

Jeff agreed. "Sure, son. You're close enough in age, you can play some of the same games, have some of the same interests, at eight and twelve. It was a little harder when you were younger." He smiled as Jesse and complimented, "But, you've always tried to include him as best you can, Jesse, like we taught you; and we're always really proud of that."

Jeffy pondered the notion - it was true, it had been hard, but Jesse had included him in things when he was only four, and Jesse eight. Sometimes that had meant climbing trees higher than he'd wanted, or being run ragged in games like tag, with Jesse or one of his friends letting up just enough to keep Jeffy interested at times. But, he really did love taking after his older brother. While his friends and Jesse's friends didn't mingle a lot, now that Jesse was starting seventh grade and he third, they did some, especially in neighborhood games.

This kind of friendship was one reason Michelle and Jeff - who had had brothers closer in age - had wanted children spaced closer than Stephanie and D.J. and Michelle and Stephanie had been; the boys were three years and ten months apart, and might have been closer if Michele hadn't had her hands full at times with Kimmy's girl. She had run Michelle ragged quite a bit when younger.

Michelle and Stephanie had become great friends by the time Michelle was nine, but while they did a fair amount together, their friends didn't often hang out as a group with each other - if they did, it was usually when helping Samantha; Jeffy knew Samantha hadn't had much of a home life, though he knew little beyond the fact Stephanie had cared for her. And, even that was a little confusing, with the ages.

Jeff wondered how that related to he and 'Chelle. He was eight; she was a couple months shy of six. Especially since he was used to playing and sometimes roughhousing with Jesse and his friends. Even if 'Chelle were to play baseball someday like his Aunt Stephanie had, he'd probably be in an older league by then, anyway, so even sports were out.

He thought of Linus and Sally in the Peanuts comic strips. He supposed it was possible Linus would go out with Sally eventually, but only in the more recent ones. There was sort of a dividing line - though blurry at times - between Sally's baby/toddler years when her crush on Linus started, and her Kindergarten/first grade years, as Linus didn't age much. By the end of the strip, from his late 1990s collections, he guessed she was in second and Linus in fourth. Then, maybe Linus could go from big brother to loving husband, as two years also separated his Aunt D.J. and Uncle Steve.

The same could happen to them, he pondered. But, if 'Chelle wanted to hang around him, he was going to help mold her into the kind of girl he wanted.

As the got in their vehicles to ride back to the motel, he spoke with a laugh. "I don't want you to say you're my girlfriend, but..." He nervously asked Jesse, "Is my face blushing?"

"Not yet," Jesse cracked.

"Phew; just wanted to make sure," Jeffy said with relief, thinking of how Jesse acted around a couple girls he knew "So, who are you looking forward to seeing most at Disneyland? I hope you say Goofy because he reminds you of me."

"I don't have to," 'Chelle said with a big grin, trying to imitate him. "You just did." She suddenly began to talk in a super sweet voice to a doll. "'Why don't you play with my dolly?"

"Because she doesn't look like the kind who would want to play running back for the 49ers," Jeffy quipped, referring to their home town's pro football team. 'Chelle simply shook her head.

Michelle and Samantha had spoken about how nice it would be to unite the two families by blood through marriage, even though they were already a family in their hearts. Not only that, but Samantha would want someone like Jeffy to take care of 'Chelle as a husband.

Samantha had been wary because of July's wildness - the first time Samantha watched July alone, when July was five, to avoid having to go to timeout July had tricked Samantha into stepping outside and locked her out of the house. Stephanie had come to let Samantha back in, then had really lectured July loudly before Michelle returned from some time with her family to watch July herself.

However, as Samantha saw July's incredible improvement she became much more confident. Over the last couple years, especially, she'd let 'Chelle go over to Michelle's even when July was around, unworried that July would be a bad influence.

Michelle knew Samantha was interested in seeing 'Chelle and Jeffy grow closer, so she encouraged Jeffy that, "Maybe she can be a cheerleader."

"Oh, yeah." Jeffy took the doll. Samantha shook her head but also giggled as he made the doll dance and cheer, while doing a dialogue with a pretend audience. "'Gimme an X!' 'There's no 'X' in 49ers.' 'I know, I can't spell. Now gimme a 4!' 'You're supposed to call out letters.' '49ers starts with a 4.' 'Okay, 4!'" He made a clicking sound with his tongue and the doll fell over. "Ow, who hit that golf ball? Oh, well, while the cheerleader recovers, let's go to a commercial. Do you need new carpet? Well, too bad, we don't have any!"

"What are you doing?!' 'Chelle asked incredulously, awash in giggles.

"Having fun. Do something like that with your doll." She looked at him strangely. "And here." He gave her back the doll, while also handing her a tiny rubber snake that he'd forgotten he had in his pocket from earlier. "Put this down my back." He hoped to get her attention, and show that he really did like her, while also getting her to do something that he enjoyed doing - being silly.

'Chelle looked oddly at the snake. "You want me to put this down your back?!" She shook her head. "You're weird."

"Mom, tell 'Chelle to put a snake down my back."

Michelle tried in vain to stifle her laughter at that very odd request - it was among the strangest, if not the strangest, she'd ever heard.

Jeff, meanwhile, was studying his son's look, as well as 'Chelle. "Know, what, honey?" he whispered to Michelle. "That's the same look I'd get when I tried to get your attention by acting really silly. And, I can just see you in how 'Chelle's shaking her head, calling Jeffy weird, and yet deep down seeming to love it all the same."

Michelle smiled with satisfaction as D.J. pulled their van into the parking lot. She sensed the same thing. She didn't want to embarrass Jeffy too much by hinting that it meant they were bound to be together. However, she did want him to understand that he had to accept 'Chelle for who she was, too. After all, she wouldn't have liked it if Jeff hadn't matured into a guy who could do more than act crazy.

So, she and Jeff sat down with 'Chelle and Jeffy and explained that they had to accept each other for who they were. Jeffy shouldn't make 'Chelle act crazy and tell jokes, just like Samantha had talked to 'Chelle about not acting all romantic and gushy around Jeffy. Eventually, they did begin to grow together as they learned to accept each other as individuals; by the time Jeffy was twelve they would really start on the road to being a couple.

As the families walked down the main concourse at Disneyland on their second day in L.A., Jeff said, "Okay, who wants to go where?"

"I don't know, where does he want to go?" Jesse joked.

Jeffy glanced at him. "Where does who want to go?"

"Exactly," Jesse told Jeffy.

Michelle laughed at her boys. "They sure do take after you, honey," she teased Jeff.

"Hey, you were part of that Abbott and Costello routine we did in fifth, too," Jeff noted.

"True. I suppose that would have been the real beginning of our relationship if we'd been in different classes all along," Michelle mused. Jeff liked her by then, and they likely would have played together some on the playground before, even if they'd been in different classes, till Jeff eventually invited her to do the "Who's On First" skit for a talent show. However, as it was, they met when Michelle greeted her Kindergarten class by talking like Bullwinkle. Therefore, Michelle said, "I doubt you would have put your hands up to your head like antlers and proposed to me like Bullwinkle, though, if we hadn't been in the same class."

"I don't know, you never can tell with him," Stephanie teased.

As the families around them laughed, and the group decided which way to go, Samantha heard a familiar voice call her name. She turned and cheerfully said, "Anna, it's great to see you."

"Same here," Anna said as she jogged up to Samantha while pushing a stroller. They hugged briefly. "How's retirement treating you and Colin?"

"Great. We've got a few books out now that we've written together, and I still have time to record a few talking books a year for kids." Samantha noticed 'Chelle had stayed behind with her while the others went ahead. "'Chelle, Daddy and Anna's husband were teammates with Oakland the last few years Daddy played." She was close to a number of players' wives, as with the team traveling together for over half the year, counting spring training, the players became a real family at times, and so did the vies.

"Wow, is this 'Chelle?! You're getting so big!"

"That because I eat like Uncle Steve," 'Chelle said, copying something Samantha had said once recently when she ate a lot for her age.

"I got your e-mail, I'm glad Emil is playing for the Angels now."

"Yep, he signed as a free agent this off season. We're hoping it'll be the last move, with our oldest being three now," she said, motioning with her head toward the stroller. 'Chelle and the boy had begun to talk to each other. "We'd like to have a few more kids, too. Even if it's not the last move, I think we'll stay in the area."

"You certainly wouldn't be the first baseball family to have homes in a few different places," Samantha remarked. "I'm glad Colin never wanted to go to all sorts of different teams."

"Well, he was a lefthanded reliever, teams never want to give up on those," Anna said with a laugh. Her husband, Emil Ilescu, was one of the first major league players from Romania, and a very good outfielder. "But, I think Emil's more used to it, since he and his family came over from Romania when he was fifteen so he could have more opportunities in baseball."

"Yeah, there just weren't that many even with the flood of Western things after the fall of Communism there, I bet. Wasn't it some missionaries in the late '90s that really got him interested in baseball?"

Anna nodded. Once she, Samantha, 'Chelle, and Anna's son Ion caught up with the rest of the group, and introductions were made, she explained for those paying attention. "When Emil was born, it was just after the revolution. The church there grew by leaps and bounds - you saw invitations at funerals, even at weddings, on occasion! Emil got involved in a church, and the missionary kids there were big baseball fans. He was hooked after a while, but eventually he'd outgrown the best youth leagues in Romania. His family had been trying for a few years anyway to emigrate, and they finally got to come back in '04. Emil and I met while he was in college."

As she spoke, it began to rain. "We shoulda brought our bathing suits here," one of Stephanie's middle children said absently as all walked back to their cars to get their ponchos and raincoats.

"We won't get rained out, will we?" 'Chelle asked worriedly.

"No, honey, this is just a gentle drizzle. We might not want to go on some of the rides, the seats will be all slippery and wet."

"That's okay. You get scared when I go on rides anyway," 'Chelle spouted.

Samantha nodded as she sat in the car and zipped 'Chelle's raincoat. "I know, I'm pretty protective sometimes. But, I am going to let you go on some rides. Like those spinning teacups - you like that one." Inside, Samantha was glad 'Chelle didn't like any really fast rides - even those that were only considered really fast for her age.

"Good thing we didn't go to Sea World today, Dad," Stephanie's oldest son, Mike, said. She'd adopted Mike and his sister when they were one and three, respectively. Her experience with Samantha had led her to want to adopt, and Robert had often been interested in that, too, as he loved helping others.

Robert agreed as he helped the last of their six children with rain gear, and then donned his own poncho, a thirty-year-old, ragged thing that he'd used in Boy Scouts. "Yeah, I know, going on water rides isn't as fun when you're already all wet, huh?"

"Okay, let's get back to the fun!" Jeffy declared.

Anna was amazed, as they walked down the concourse, at how well Stephanie and Robert kept track of six children, ages 11, 9, 8, 6, 3, and 1. It was clearly true what Samantha had told her once - Stephanie always said she didn't divide her love; she multiplied it.

After the groups had been split up for a while, and gathered together for lunch under a pavilion, a query from 'Chelle brought out a startling fact. "Mommy, why does Uncle Robert look like a drowned fish?"

"A what?...Oh, Robert!" Stephanie gazed at her husband, unsure whether to be concerned or laugh. Her mouth hung open as she noticed that his old poncho had a gaping hole in the hood, and that water had been dripping down for a couple hours onto his face and down his cheeks. His mustache in particular looked to be waterlogged. "Honey...what on earth happened to your poncho?"

"Oh, it's nothing, it's just got a little hole in it," Robert explained matter-of-factly.

"A little hole? The hole in the dike that boy stuck his finger in to save Holland must have been smaller than that!"

Robert laughed at Stephanie's comparison. "I guess it just doesn't rain enough for me to think about it, the few times I've had to wear it otherwise. Today, I was so busy taking care of the kids and making sure they had fun, I didn't think about the fact I was the only one getting all wet."

"Well, that old thing is going in the trash can when we get home, maybe before," Stephanie asserted. "At least the rest of you is dry, right?"

"Yeah, don't worry, it's keeping me dry otherwise."

Seeing that Stephanie and Robert were laughing, the other adults began chuckling, too, and the giggles from the children erupted into laughter. "Well, one thing's for sure; at least this shows you think a lot more about others than yourself," Steve noted.

"Yeah; of course, he may have secretly wanted to go on some water rides at Sea World today after all, from the looks of it," Jeff joked.

Pamela had drifted over to where Samantha and Anna were discussing their families. She was intrigued as she heard them at lunch - out of earshot of the younger children. She'd heard some players were real ladies' men, but that there were some, like these, who really placed a great emphasis on family and wholesome living.

She felt privileged to be able to listen in to such conversation. It was interesting to see how such people survived, traveling all the time. It sounded like Emil wanted to go into coaching when he got older. "Won't he have to move around a lot then, anyway?" she asked as she took a bite of a burger.

"Oh, no, dear, he plans to work at the high school or small college level. Although, he's helped at a number of clinics that U.S.C. puts on, and they really like his work."

"Pamela's the one I mentioned who served as Principal's Assistant last year," Samantha told Anna. "It's such a blessing to have so much family right here to help my kids as they get older."

"I know, with some of the things you told me about growing up, I'm sure it feels just like Stephanie's there herself."

Pamela surmised that Anna knew at least some of the background story behind Samantha's younger years, and asked something she'd always wondered. "Did Colin ever tell any of the other players? I mean, I know Samantha doesn't share that stuff a lot. But, Uncle Jeff does some sports interviews sometimes, and he says the guys can get kind of...well, ornery."

"That's a good term for it. He did tell others there was a lot of turmoil, just like he says in his biography. Other players just knew well enough not to ask if he wanted to join them for a night on the town or anything."

Anna elaborated on what Samantha had said. "By the time you're in the pros, guys are pretty well-behaved, at least as far as their relations with the others, because it is a family; you're in that clubhouse or on the field for hours a day almost every day for six months. Yeah, some of them will talk about all they did after a night game. But, they can sense pretty fast who's into that and who would rather call their wife or girlfriend on the cell and talk for hours on end. With most, then, it would be, 'Hey, we've got an off day tomorrow, how about bringing the wife and kids over for a cookout?' Or, they exchange home phone numbers and Emil will come home and say, for instance, 'Hey, so and so has a boy about our son's age,' and one of us wives will call the other and talk. And, of course, there's spring training, and the family seating at the ballparks, where we wives see each other. Colin was a little more protective of Samantha than most - but guys like Emil, they'd catch onto that and become concerned."

"I don't know about that 'family section' part in some ballparks," Samantha joked. "Colin always advised me, and I listened, to stay away from New York's stadiums. He said most cities are pretty nice, but that I wouldn't want to hear some of the things those fans shout."

She looked protectively at the other tables to ensure that nobody else - especially her kids - could hear, and leaned in closer to Pamela. "She's right about some of the players being really protective, though. One of my friends, whose husband played with Colin on the A's the last few years he played, grew up in a really bad part of her city. Her house was even broken into a couple times, though thankfully she was never hurt," she said reassuringly. Samantha decided she didn't want to reveal any more. But, she knew there were other baseball wives who had had traumas, too. And, thankfully, their husbands were generally very supportive, as much as Colin had been.

Pamela nodded. It was fascinating to see how broad her horizons could be. She could not only do anything, she could end up marrying anyone someday - even a pro ball player! She thought she'd rather have someone who would stick closer to home, like her dad. But, there were so many options, as she grew up, that she hadn't considered.

As the same time, her mind whirled as she tried to imagine what it would be like to live in a place like that one player's wife. One child's house had burned down a few years earlier, but even that would be a one-time thing, and the worst part would be the immediate loss. Having to live with the constant fear of break-ins and such was quite troublesome.

Samantha was glad, too, that there were some traumas she didn't have to face. She even worried some about pollution on the beach - not as much as Danny might have, but then again, not many people were as wild about cleaning as Danny.

San Diego's beach, however, was cleaner, and a little less congested. She didn't worry quite as much when they got there the next day, before their trip to Sea World.

As Colin, Michelle, and Jeff went to the beach-front motel's snack bar for some food for everyone, Samantha discussed what she'd told Pamela.

Stephanie informed her, "Pamela was mentioning that to me last night. I told her about how I grilled Colin when he came home that year to ask my permission for him to marry you, Samantha."

"Yeah, you and Grandpa," Pamela noted.

"Yeah, we were like long distance runners, except we kept challenging each other to talk longer, not run farther," Stephanie joked. "Seriously Dad had had experience with temptations, and he remained faithful in college after marrying at only eighteen. So, I knew he could probably help with Colin, help him understand what he would be facing."

Samantha kept trying to keep a close eye on 'Chelle as she was playing with some of the others. She recalled the discussions Stephanie had had and asserted, "Colin was more ready than your dad was when he married. I already knew that back then. But, I'm still glad you watched out for me."

"And still do - I am a mother after all," Stephanie said simply. "Of course, getting the news I was pregnant with you just weeks before Colin came to ask me really drove that home," she told Pamela.

D.J. elaborated. "Steve and Dad had talked, but he didn't really ask permission point blank. He said he'd really like to and talked about his plans, and Dad said that was fine. Well, he probably stuttered it, but he eventually did say it," she said as E.J. got up from playing ball with 'Chelle and a couple of Stephanie's kids to use the restroom. "Same with Jeff, he was such a part of the family, it was like we always knew him, so when he started saying 'I hope it's all right,' that was it. Well, Dad did make him promise no marriage for three years, till May of '08, when they graduated. And, they kept to that. I think Robert did ask...?" she said, looking at Stephanie. She nodded. "Anyway, it is a good tradition, and a real sign of respect."

"I can imagine Mom going through every possible thing," Pamela remarked to Samantha. "Injuries, someone dying, suddenly losing all your money when inflation goes up to like a billion percent," she said with a laugh.

"Well, once a spouse dies I don't think there'd be a question of their commitment," Steve noted. "Or do you mean how the other would raise the children?"

Stephanie said, "With the children - although actually, I don't know that we touched on that a whole lot. If we did, it was only five or ten minutes out of the hours we talked." Pamela looked amazed at her mom's comment. "Hey, Colin knew what to expect, he came over at about nine that morning. He knew it would be an all day discussion."

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised," Pamela said casually, seeming to Stephanie and D.J. so much like Steph at that age, it was uncanny.

D.J.'s next story marked even more of a resemblance. "Kimmy's reaction when Duane and she talked about that was really strange, though. She once told Duane if he died, she planned to just stuff him and sit him around the house with a sign saying 'Whatever' on him so she'd have some company."

Pamela smiled at the story, recalling that Kimmy herself could laugh at her problem very well. It was a shame that Kimmy had a learning disorder, but quite a bit of her difficulty had come from being just plain weird sometimes. Her Aunt D.J.'s story was one of those times.

"She figured that would help her get over it? Boy, that one was a real no-brainer," Pamela cracked ironically - using the term not to mean something obvious like usual, but to mean something done without using one's brain.

D.J. chuckled. "Pamela, I see and hear so much of your mom when you say that, it's incredible."

Meanwhile, 'Chelle had tired of the game, and with nobody watching, she wandered over to a more remote spot on the beach. It was hard, given how protective Samantha was, to assert independence - perhaps more so than it had been for the Tanner girls with Danny at times. However, she managed to try little things like this at times.

This time was different, however. A couple rougher kids decided to come over and knock her sandcastle over. They began teasing and taunting her till Jeffy came over and began yelling at them. "Leave her alone, you big bullies," he shouted. Not wanting to risk a confrontation, they backed off; they could tell Jeffy was quite serous.

Jeffy bent down to the still shaking young girl and let her rest in his arms. "It's all right," he said as he cuddled her and Samantha came running at the sound of her cry. "I won't let anybody hurt you, I promise."

"Thank you, Jeffy Bear," 'Chelle muttered as Samantha asked what happened.

"Oh, just a couple kids trying to stir up trouble," Jeffy remarked as 'Chelle went over to Samantha and they snuggled a moment. "It's no big deal," he said modestly.

The rest of the vacation was quite fun, but passed far too quickly in the eyes of all. Still, there was something special about arriving home, too.

"Hey, let me get a shot of my three beautiful daughters," Danny said enthusiastically as the caravan parked in front of the old homestead and the group started getting things that belonged with Michelle, Jeff, Jesse, and Jeffy out of the various vans.

Michelle, Stephanie, and D.J. obliged, but Michelle couldn't help but notice as they posed that, "You've got all kinds of pictures of us three already."

"I know, but after the time I spent with Joey and his wife, it just helped me realize how special family is." He snapped the picture.

"Breathing reminds you of how special family is," Stephanie joked.

"Hey, you're the one with dozens of photo albums already, Steph," D.J. reminded her.

"Well, we've got twice as many kids as Dad had," Stephanie said in defense. "Although, I guess I started with Samantha," she said as Samantha got into the picture after finally getting the baby changed, and Danny snapped another picture. "I'm the only mom who can say she had two first childs."

"Don't most moms of twins say that?" Jeff asked to be funny.

"They have to come out one at a time, silly," Michelle teased lightly. "Ask any woman if she'll let them both come out at once and she'll say you're nuts. One at a time is plenty!"

As the couples mingled and told of their adventures, the children and adults started to organize bags so it would be easier for the others when they left. Once that was done, D.J., Steve, and E.J. departed once hugs were exchanged. Steve had called on his cell phone and found there was a message for him in his office at the extermination business he owned - which had been the girls' Grandpa Katsopolis' - so he decided to take care of business while D.J. and E.J. unpacked.

The others sat down in the living room, which the next day would see other children for whom Michelle cared playing around. For now, though, it was just the families.

Jesse said solemnly that his main disappointment was not having enough time to meet any really nice girls. "I was having too much fun. Jeffy and 'Chelle had fun together, though."

"Super; maybe our families will be united by blood someday, too, and not just by love, if they would get married." Suddenly realizing that he might have embarrassed Jeffy, Danny apologized for blurting that.

Jeffy shrugged. "Well, actually, it would be kind of nice." He glanced at Colin. "Maybe instead of the same class, what 'Chelle will want is a big, strong, protective type. I mean,..."

Jeff could tell his youngest was a little flustered. Michelle could, too. They said almost in unison, "If you want to be strong, why don't you eat your vegetables like you should?" and laughed together at how they'd had the same thought.

"Well, not right now, of course. But, that was really nice, being able to help her on the beach. I guess I'm just a little more blunt than you were that time you tried to hang around Mom all weekend rehearsing for a play, huh, Dad."

"I'd just turned ten by then, but, yeah, you're right. I've always said that's when I first had what I consider anything like a crush, even though I liked her before," Jeff acknowledged, putting an arm around Michelle. They kissed.

"But, 'Chelle, if you really wanna marry someone else, I'll let you," Jeffy pledged. "I mean it."

Colin laughed. "Well, that's the way it should be. She'll make her own choices just like you. And, that's the key to love - giving of oneself. It's why our love's been so strong even if we're not related by blood."

A couple days passed. Samantha had just greeted Pamela, who had come over to help her and Colin a little. She was feeling a little worn out yet from all the extensive travel plus caring for the baby, too. She'd tried to be like Stephanie, but three children under six was quite a challenge.

"Hey, there's Courtney," Pamela said as Courtney pulled into the driveway. "You look excited," Pamela declared as Samantha's friend hopped of her car.

They weren't aware where Courtney had been, but as she ran up to Samantha, her words sent excited chills down Samantha's spine. "I had to stop on the way back from the doctor's. Guess what!"

"The doctor's? Are you...?" Samantha was so stunned, she couldn't finish her sentence.

"Two months along!" They embraced excitedly. "I can't believe it, I'm gonna be a mom! Oh, this is so exciting!"

As Pamela watched the best friends, she considered how she, too, would be a mother someday, if the Lord tarried. Yes, there were lots of problems in the world, despite the revival that had taken place in some areas. But, there was something special about a baby. She used to think of them as just being really cute and fun to play with, but lately, she was starting to realize there was more to it. They represented hope, life, so many positive things. They required lots of time, money, and effort, but they were very much worth it.

Pamela could sense they were both quite ecstatic. As they should be, she told herself. It had been part of life since time began. A part that she'd be able to take part in someday, too, thanks to the biological process that had begun on their recent trip.

Part of the world's problems, of course, consisted of things like what had happened to Samantha early in her life. She was glad to be able to help when Samantha felt more drained, like today. She could understand why she didn't want 'Chelle to know anything about it for a long, long time.

After Samantha and Courtney talked out on the front porch for a short while, Samantha went up to take a nap. Unfortunately, by this time, Joey was up from his, meaning Colin still felt like he was being double-teamed. He could handle it easily, but Pamela was so helpful - and, she'd had practice with her younger siblings and would be doing this anyway someday, she figured.

Samantha walked up to Pamela looking refreshed after her short nap. "I can change Hannah if you want, dear."

"Oh, that's okay, I'm good at this." Pamela pulled out a fresh diaper at the changing table. "Hannah woke up, and I don't know why, but it's almost like I'm starting to be able to tell which cry is which," Pamela said in amazement.

"No, that's okay, dear, you've done plenty. Why don't you go check on 'Chelle."

"Okay." Pamela skipped out of the bedroom and passed Colin in the den, as he tried to help Joey work on a puzzle. "Oh, 'Chelle's not here? She was a few minutes ago"

"No, she was going down to the living room to watch one of her videos," Colin reported.

Colin had set up a DVD for 'Chelle - one of the "Classic Sesame Street" ones. While the Sesame Street characters occasionally appeared on the PBS hit "Elmo's World," Sesame Street itself had slowly died off when the adults started passing on a few years earlier

However, she'd become bored, and decided to snoop into the nether reaches of her parents' home video collection. When Pamela got there, 'Chelle was watching a sad video that Samantha hadn't wanted her to see for several years, till she figured 'Chelle could handle it; though it was also supposed to be hidden till then so Samantha could try to figure out how to explain it.

.Pamela noticed the piles of videos on the coffee table, and the TV screen with Samantha, Michelle and Courtney about their hopes and dreams. The video was from the sleepover before Samantha's eighth birthday party - 'Chelle had seen the fun Princess Party, but had no idea how depressed Samantha's life had been before. Samantha and Colin had had all the home videos with places where Sam would talk about the depressing parts of her early childhood separated onto their own video. They might have erased them and deleted them entirely, but Samantha still didn't like to bring up her past too much, and so she felt having them there might make a good way of helping to explain how she felt once 'Chelle was about Pamela's age.

Pamela had been told the whole story by Stephanie. She knew Samantha didn't want 'Chelle exposed to this yet. And, she hated to think about talking with her about it. But, she supposed she might have to as she stopped the video. "Don't you want to see something a little happier?" she asked, hoping maybe 'Chelle hadn't seen too much.

"I thought Mommy's dad was always dead."

Pamela picked Chelle up and cuddled her in her lap. It was such a shame - it seemed like they'd have to tell her now. It had been hard on Pamela hearing and seeing some of the stories she did from other students, and just on the news the few times she watched, but at least that had been gradual. This would be all at once, it seemed. It wouldn't expose her to everything bad that could happen, of course, but Pamela wished, as Samantha had, that 'Chelle didn't have to see any of it.

"You always figured he died like my grandma Tanner, Aunt Stephanie's Mommy, huh?" 'Chelle nodded. "And that was why Grandma Burke worked all the time and let my mom...well, pretty much raise your Mommy, huh?"

There was a swirl of questions in 'Chelle's head from what she'd heard on the video. The pause let Pamela think there might be hope - perhaps she hadn't seen that much, could be distracted by talking about Pamela's grandma, Pam Tanner.

It wasn't to be, though. "Why didn't they want her?" 'Chelle asked, posing the most pressing of many queries she had.

"I don't know, 'Chelle." Pamela hugged the little girl and slowly rocked her on her lap.

"Why didn't Aunt Stephanie always take care of Mommy?"

"I guess you always figured she was a lot older, like some of your sitters are," Pamela said. She was ad libbing, but any child of Stephanie's was going to be good at that - Stephanie had plenty of rambling genes to pass down. "But, my mom didn't meet your mom till she was in Kindergarten, and Mom was in fifth grade. Believe it or not, my mom's only five years older than your mom. You couldn't take care of Hannah now, could you?"

"I'd try."

"Well, yeah. And, I'm sure your Aunt Stephanie would have tried real hard with your mom if she'd known her when she was a baby. In fact, I think my mom could have done it," Pamela said proudly. She still didn't understand all there was to raising children, though her play was a good deal more creative than some kids'. However, the main reason for her comment was she was so confident still that her mom could do anything. She hoped she could provide as much help for 'Chelle here as Stephanie might - because she had a feeling, from what her mom said, that Samantha would need Stephanie here. "But, nobody really knew your mom, 'Chelle. Look, I think this is something your mom would rather talk about with you. Why don't we go see her, and I'm going to call my mom."

"Are you going home?"

"No, actually, well..." How much should she reveal? "Well, 'Chelle, you know how you need your Mommy for help with lots of stuff, because you're still young. That's what Mommies are for. I mean, not that your mom's really weak, she's a great mom, and she can handle lots of stuff, and you certainly shouldn't try to take advantage of her or anything. But, this is just something that's too scary. I mean, I don't want you to feel scared, because it's all over now, but..." Pamela shook her head and chuckled at the ramble. "Mom's right. I sound more like her every day."

"She talks a lot sometimes."

"Yeah, she does. Look, let's just go upstairs." They walked up to the den, where Samantha and Colin were sitting and talking. "Aunt Samantha, you know those videos where you talk about your growing up that you didn't want 'Chelle to see for about fifty years?"

'Chelle hung her head as she heard Samantha sigh and mumble, "Oh, no, did she see one?"

'Chelle said she was sorry; she could tell from the looks it was something they didn't want her to know yet. Samantha knelt and hugged her. "It's okay, honey. Oh, Colin, why didn't I just give Michelle those videos to keep along with my early diaries when we moved in here?"

"Nobody thinks of everything, honey."

"She had a few questions; I figured I'd call my mom, too."

"Well...yeah, why don't you." Colin asked if she wanted him there. "No, it's okay, you watch Joey and Hannah. I'm going to talk with Stephanie and we can answer any questions 'Chelle has. You may as well come too, Pamela."

Samantha called Stephanie and asked her to come over, because 'Chelle had seen some of the videos Stephanie rushed over, leaving her husband to be home for the rest of the kids.

She gave Samantha a big hug upon entering. "Ready for this?"

"I guess so. Pamela's helped explain a few little things to 'Chelle, from what she says." She sighed as they walked into the living room. "Honestly, we separated those videos onto one DVD years ago, around when we bought this house, and then things were so busy with the baseball season coming up, we'd gotten married so soon before, I guess I just never even thought about giving it to Michelle. I hid the diaries at her place back when I was in high school. It took a while to ferret out which videos would have me or someone else talking about the really sad days. So, that just never got moved over."

Samantha collapsed on the couch beside Stephanie, and leaned on her. Stephanie lovingly embraced her. "In a way, I figure we can answer any questions she has, Mom," Samantha said, addressing Stephanie the way she sometimes did - and often did when sad or scared even now. It made her feel so good to know she could call her that. "But, in another way, I don't know if I want to think about any of it."

Pamela sat on the other side of Samantha, with 'Chelle in her lap. "Are you crying, Mommy?" 'Chelle asked Samantha.

Pamela figured she would be best as a color commentator. She knew from her mom that there were times Stephanie really needed to give Samantha lots of emotional support. "I think your mommy feels really sad about what happened to her."

"Sometimes she says Mom and sometimes she says 'Stephanie.'"

"Right." Pamela recited what she'd been told by her mother. "Your mom made peace with your Grandma Burke, but Aunt Stephanie will always be 'Mom' to her." Samantha confirmed this for 'Chelle.

Pamela considered the other kids she'd helped. She didn't recall a case near as sad as this one. Her mom had once said that it was in handling cases like this well that one truly matured.

A bunch of videos had been taken off their original tapes and placed onto one DVD. It had been thought it would be easier to explain this way, so Samantha wouldn't have to talk as much, when 'Chelle was Pamela's age or later. But, now things were coming that hadn't been thought of for quite a while.

Before the one 'Chelle was watching when Pamela came downstairs and caught her, 'Chelle had seen one from Father's Day when Samantha was eight, as she celebrated with the Tanners and Joey got a couple presents from her. She'd bemoaned the fact her real dad didn't care about her at all. That's when 'Chelle realized Grandpa Burke was alive at that point. Then, of course, there'd been the sleepover just before her makeover from Sam to Samantha.

Those had set the stage for explaining about Samantha's life back then; they'd been picked because they summed up how she was part of The Tanners' and Larkins' - Courntey's family had appeared for a short time in the Father's Day one - but her real parents had never had any time for her. It had been a more logical order than starting with the next video, which was the first chronologically.

The first was one of her first Honeybees meetings. Just about the only good memory from that was the Tanners making a a tape of that and of her first sleepover at the Tanners' shortly after, and the Tanners sending those to Stephanie's great-grandfaather in Greece. Papouli's wife had been sick, but after she'd died that summer, he chose to come and visit over Thanksgiving later that year. He ended up in the hospital and got a pacemaker, but it let him live a couple more years, whereas he probably would have come to visit in January or February instead, and just died in hius sleep.

"Why are the other kids calling you 'Sam,' Mommy?"

Pamela could tell Samantha didn't feel like answering - and even if Stephanie wasn't busy cuddling her, Pamela could tell her mom had trouble, too. After all, with her holding 'Chelle on her lap and hugging her, it look so much like Stephanie and Sam had back then, it was uncanny. Only 'Chelle's longer hair made some difference, and Samantha was growing it longer by first grade.

"Well," Pamela began to ad lib, "that's what everyone called her. And, I guess back then she liked the name. But, she hated how she was acting, and now she really hates thinking about her behavior back then, so Aunt Michelle suggested she change it."

Thankfully, that made sense to a child who was not yet six, and 'Chelle asked her next question. "I went in the Honeybees right away. how come Aunt Michelle had to take Mommy as a guest?"

"Well, my parents just threw the mail away, I guess, when they invited me," Samantha remarked with a shrug and a sigh.

"See, your mom turned five half a year before Stephanie met her," Pamela explained. "You start at the beginning of school or your fifth birthday. It was too hectic at the start of school, and then..." Pamela wasn't even sure about this - had it been before Samantha turned six that she started?

Samantha let her off the hook. "I probably would have gotten an invitation at my next birthday. But, thankfully, Aunt Michelle invited me." It had really been her friend Cassie, after Samantha had refused Michelle's invitation earlier, but they hadn't recalled that, and Michelle had piped in so quickly that Sam should come back then that it was stated that she was really Michelle's guest.

The questions came rather rapidly as they sat for quite a while and helped 'Chelle understand that her mom was loved, and cared for, by Stephanie and all the Tanners and Larkins, But, that she'd had lots of problems that weren't to be discussed with her younger siblings till they were about Pamela's age.

Pamela assisted a fair amount, though she didn't have to help as much as she thought she might. Some of the questions, 'Chelle answered herself in a way. When in one video Sam mourned how some kids on the playground were still afraid of her, 'Chelle simply commented that Stephanie must have had to put Samantha in timeout a lot. Since they didn't use spanking, and 'Chelle was connecting Stephanie with how her own mom acted with her, it was easy to just let her believe this and forget about it. Besides, Stephanie had only spanked Sam a few times.

After quite a while - including Colin having gone past to get some food for Joey - the four sat in the living room talking about how wonderful things were now. 'Chelle felt very good to be part of such a loving family, and Pamela was glad to have been a part of helping her understand about the early years..

Stephanie gazed proudly at Pamela. The eleven-year-old reminded her so much of her sometimes, it was uncanny. And, as she did so, a tear welled up in her eye. The blonde hair, the figure, many times the way she talked, it was so much like Stephanie when she was that age.

"What is it, Mom?"

"Oh, just thinking about Samantha...and a little about me, I guess. Thinking about how lucky we are. Of course, you know your Grandma Tanner died when I was five." Pamela nodded. "I can just see myself, if Mom had lived, talking with her about my job as PA And, I guess I still wish, just a little, that she'd been able to be there."

Pamela hugged her. As the two embraced, she said, "I'm glad you're here for me, Mom."

Pamela and 'Chelle ran off to play, leaving Stephanie and Samantha sitting in the latter's living room. "You don't think she'll have nightmares, do you?"

"'Chelle? I don't think so, not bad ones, anyway. Remember, it was just words, no action, no scary monsters or anything. And, we talked about it, and answered all her questions. I guess one's possible, but it's just as likely she'll have one where she's a little scared but turns to one of us for comfort. After all, she knows we've always done that, and we always will."

"True. I mean about me, though, even if the monsters don't go after her." Upon further consideration, Samantha said, "Of course, then you can be the one to help me."


"It's so incredible. I probably would have put that off forever, telling 'Chelle about all that. And yet, it just reminds me of how everyone's getting so big." She rested her head in Stephanie's chest, and said, "Even with all those problems, I feel so lucky to have a mother like you."

"It's a lifelong work," Stephanie agreed. "And, it's one I've been so happy to be able to do.."

"Just think; one of these days we'll all grow old, have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, if the Lord doesn't come back beforehand. And, we'll be able to celebrate forever in Heaven. And...we won't remember any of this bad stuff, will we."

Stephanie shook her head. "I don't think so. And, no matter what, nothing we remember can feel bad, 'cause there's no suffering there. But, you know, no matter what we have to go through in this life, that wonderful love that we share can get us through anything."

"It sure can. I really feel special, like I can accomplish anything, with a mom like you," Samantha exclaimed.