Derek gazed down at the little bundle wrapped in pink, secure in his strong arms. Hours old, not much bigger than a football, and she had him wrapped around her tiny finger. When his eyes slid to the beautiful woman on the bed next to him, his heart clenched at the sight of his wife, the mother of his little girl.

Her eyes opened, as if she felt his stare, and she smiled. "Hey, handsome. How's our girl?"

"Hi, sweetheart," he said, leaning over to brush her cheek with a soft kiss. "She's perfect, Pen. I know I said it earlier, but thank you."

"Of course she's perfect. She's ours, Hot Stuff. How could she be anything but a perfect angel?"

They smiled as the baby made a quiet snuffling noise and then settled back down in his arms. Penelope and little Anastasia Marie fell back asleep, both snoring quietly. Derek closed his eyes and prayed for the second time in twenty-four hours.

Please, God, keep this precious, innocent little girl safe. Let her be little while she can be. Don't let her grow up too quickly.


"Derek, get the video camera and come quick!" Penelope cried from the living room.

Derek grabbed the camera from the shelf in their home office and raced to the front room. When he rounded the corner, he watched his daughter trying to pull herself up on two wobbly legs. He quickly began filming, capturing their daughter's first steps as she took three shaky steps toward Penelope.

"Good girl, Ana! What a big girl you are! Look at Daddy, baby," Penelope said proudly.

The little girl looked over her shoulder at Derek and smiled. Unfortunately, it threw her off balance, and she promptly fell on her diaper-padded behind. Tears welled up and spilled down her chubby little cheeks. Penelope pulled the little girl into her arms as Derek put the camera down and joined his family on the floor in front of the couch.

As Penelope rocked Ana in her arms, Derek watched them quietly. He reached out to brush away the falling tears with his thumb.

"She's growing up too fast," Penelope murmured softly.

Derek leaned his head against his wife's and smiled. "Don't worry, P. She'll always be our little girl."

They sat there for a few minutes, until Ana began wiggling to get down. When Penelope placed the little girl back on the floor, Ana used Penelope's legs to pull herself into a standing position once more. Derek and Penelope watched with mixed feelings of pride and sadness as their baby took more steps away from them.


Derek's eyes flew open when he felt a tugging at the blanket around his waist.

"Daddy! I'm scared!" Seven-year-old Ana Morgan's voice shook as the storm outside blew the rain heavily against the windows in the bedroom.

"What's wrong, baby?" Derek whispered, trying not to wake Penelope.

"The noise outside is scaring me," she whimpered as a particularly loud clap of thunder rattled the windows.

"There's no reason to be scared, sweetheart. It's just the wind and the storm. Wanna come sleep up here with Mommy and me?"

When Ana nodded, Derek picked her up and helped her crawl underneath the covers between the two adults. He turned over on his side, facing his family.

"Daddy? Pray with me?" Ana asked, looking up at her daddy's face.

Derek smiled and nodded, watching his daughter as she squeezed her eyes shut and folded her hands.

"Dear God, please keep me safe from the storm outside. Keep my mommy and daddy safe, too. And Grandma Fran, and all my aunts and uncles. Oh, and Henry and Jack, even though they're boys. Don't forget Clooney. Keep his house safe outside, even though he's inside with us." At a particularly hard gust of wind, Ana paused and shuddered, continuing when Derek smoothed his finger down her cheek. "Thank you, God, for my mommy and daddy. I love you. Amen." She yawned sleepily.

"Amen," Derek whispered, smiling at his daughter.

He pulled the blanket up tighter around her little body and then closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he saw Penelope watching him quietly.

He started to speak, but Pen held her finger up to her lips and looked down between them. When he looked down, he realized Ana had already fallen asleep.

Ahh, to be that little, he thought, smiling.

"I love you," Penelope said so quietly that Derek could barely hear her.

"I love you, too, mama," Derek whispered before reaching across their daughter to take Pen's hand.

He fell back asleep not long after his daughter and wife, a smile on his face.


Derek helped guide sixteen-year-old Ana down the steps from the front door since she was blind with her mother's hands over her eyes.

"Daddy, help me!" Ana laughed. "Mom, I can't see!"

Penelope giggled. "That's the point, honey. Careful, just two more steps."

They got to solid ground and then walked across the grass to the driveway.

"Are you ready?" Derek asked, knowing his daughter was more than ready for her birthday surprise.

Ana was almost vibrating with excitement. "Yes! Can I look now? Please!"

Derek laughed. "You can look, baby."

Penelope pulled her hands away, and the couple stepped back so Ana could take in the new car in the driveway.

There was a sudden loud, happy scream from the young woman in front of them as she looked over the vehicle. They'd gotten the Saturn in her favorite metallic blue color and could tell by her reaction that they'd chosen well.

In a blur of motion, Ana swung around and threw herself into her parents' arms.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she cried. "It's perfect! I love it! Can I go show it off to Kris and Steph?"

Derek pulled the keys from his pocket and held them up in front of his chest. When Ana tried to reach for them, he stopped her.

"Remember the rules?"

"Yes, Daddy," she said, rolling her eyes. "No food or drinks in the car while I'm driving because they might distract me. No more than two friends in the car at one time. Music at an acceptable level. Your acceptable level. Obey the speed limit, and pay attention to other drivers. Can I have the keys now, please?"

Derek looked at Penelope, who nodded. He handed his not-so-little girl the keys and the driver's license he'd brought out with them. He'd known she would want to leave immediately and might not think about needing to get her card from the house. Ana squealed, took the keys and license, and then ran around to the driver's seat.

Derek wrapped an arm around Pen's waist and pulled her close. They watched as their daughter buckled her seat belt, waved, and then drove away solo for the first time.

When her car disappeared over the hill near their house, Derek closed his eyes and prayed once more.

Please, God, keep my baby safe. She may not be a little girl anymore, but she's my baby.

Penelope wrapped her arms around Derek and hugged him tightly, giving him comfort without words as their daughter took one more step away from the nest.


"It's time for the father-daughter dance," the DJ called over the microphone.

Derek smiled at Penelope and then moved across the dance floor to his beautiful daughter. He reached Ana and her brand new husband and held out his hand.

"My turn," he told them with a smile.

Ana kissed her husband and then turned to her father. "I've been looking forward to this all evening," she told him as he led her to the middle of the floor.

The beginning notes of Lonestar's "Let Them Be Little" began playing over the speakers as Derek took her into his arms.

Father and daughter spun slowly around the floor, each remembering events throughout the past twenty-five years. When the song began coming to an end, Derek looked down and smiled.

"I'm proud of you, baby. You've grown into a smart, beautiful, funny young woman. I know Mark will treat you right, but remember, if you ever need us, your mother and I will be there."

Tears welled in Ana's eyes, and she blinked to keep them from spilling. "I know, Daddy. I love you."

"I love you, too, princess. Now come on. I see a very anxious young man over there. I think he'd like you back, and I know your mother would enjoy a chance to get out here and show off her moves." Derek smiled over at his wife.

He walked his daughter over to Mark, who had moved over beside Penelope. Once Ana and Mark had moved off to dance together, Derek pulled Penelope into his arms.

They moved slowly to the music as Penelope sighed softly.

"What's wrong, honey?" Derek asked, tilting her head up with a finger so he could look her in the eyes.

"Our baby's all grown up. I mean, I know she was already, but this just makes it seem so final. It seems like just yesterday that she was taking her first steps," she explained, sniffling.

Derek nodded. "Or climbing into bed with us every time there was a storm." He grinned before sobering as a few tears slipped down his wife's beautiful face. "Oh, baby, I know. But it's time. We raised her well, and Mark's a good guy. She's in good hands."

"I know. I know she's not our little girl anymore. It's just hard," she cried softly.

They were still moving slowly to the music when Derek answered quietly, "No, she's not our little girl anymore. But she'll always be our baby."

Penelope nodded and wiped her cheeks free of tears before leaning against her husband and relaxing as she enjoyed the dance.

Derek looked across the dance floor to where his daughter was wrapped in her husband's arms, smiling up at him with the same smile she used to give him aloneā€”a smile of unconditional love, respect, and almost hero-like worship. He knew that letting her go was going to be one of the hardest things he'd ever have to do, but to see her that happy, he knew he'd be able to handle it.

Thank you, God. Thank you for keeping my little girl safe and helping her to grow into the woman she's become. Thank you for my baby.

Derek tightened his arms around his wife and smiled. It had been a hell of a fun twenty-five years. Maybe in a few more, they would have a granddaughter to keep safe, to help guide as she grew into adulthood, and to love unconditionally, just as they'd loved her mother.


"Let Them Be Little"
by Lonestar

I can remember when you fit in the palm of my hand
Felt so good in it, no bigger than a minute
How it amazes me, you're changing with every blink
Faster than a flower blooms they grow up all too soon

So let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little

I've never felt so much in one little tender touch
I live for those kisses, prayers and your wishes
Now that you're teaching me things only a child can see
Every night while we're on our knees all I ask is please

Let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little

So innocent, a precious soul, you turn around
It's time to let them go

So let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little

Let them be little