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A New Chapter

updated 10/17/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/2005 01:00AM

To most people, walking hand-in-hand with Brad Pitt would be thrilling enough. But Angelina Jolie's son Maddox craved an even wilder experience during their Sept. 21 trip to Galaxyland Amusement Park at the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alta. As Jolie tended to her daughter Zahara, "Maddox was looking around at all the rides and he said, Daddy, can we go on that?'" says on looker Sarah Gardener. Pitt happily obliged, escorting him on the whirly Rockin' Rocket ride. A giddy Maddox "was laughing," says Kelly Glandon, who was riding with her own 2-year-old daughter Taylor. "He looked like he was having the time of his life."

So does Pitt, especially now that his own roller-coaster ride—his very public separation and divorce from Jennifer Aniston—has finally, and officially, come to an end. On Oct. 2 their divorce was made official under California law. While Pitt, 41, made a 2000 marriage vow to "split the difference on the thermostat," he and Aniston, 36, instead have divvied up all their belongings, putting their $28 million Beverly Hills mansion on the market (see box). Now that he's making increasingly cozy—and familial—appearances with Jolie, 30, Maddox, 4, and Zahara, 9 months, some wonder how long Pitt will even remain single, with rumors already swirling that the pair will wed next month in Lake Como, Italy. However, Pitt's spokesperson insists they're not getting married. As for the other rumors, the rep also insists Jolie isn't pregnant.

Still, Pitt has undeniably embraced his new role as a father figure to Maddox and Zahara. He has stopped smoking (though he has made frequent attempts to quit) and cut down on red meat, according to Jesse James set sources. The nicotine withdrawal has left him on edge, but Jolie "wraps him up in love and comfort," says a source, "and he just calms down." Spending time with Zahara and Maddox has also been soothing for Pitt, who was seen holding Zahara's bottle in his back pocket during a visit to the set of Jolie's The Good Shepherd in August. He also made an impromptu helicopter stop in Baltimore Sept. 11 to show Maddox the shark exhibits at the National Aquarium. Jolie, who told Vanity Fair earlier this year that she was looking for a man "who's worthy" of Maddox, obviously feels that Pitt is up to the task. At the Aquarium, "they were pretty much a family," says Bill Minarik, the Aquarium's senior director of visitor operations, who noted that a beaming Jolie "seemed to be delighted that her son was having a great time."

Pitt has also followed the humanitarian lead of Jolie, who traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 28 for a series of briefings and receptions to help combat HIV/AIDS. "We're all very aware that there needs to be a lot more done, and no one has the perfect answer," she told People, "but there's a lot of goodwill." After attending the conference, Jolie immediately returned to Edmonton, arriving at the home she's sharing with Pitt in the wee hours of the morning (and gamely signing autographs for five fans who had waited outside for her arrival). She also recently announced plans to appear in a new ad campaign for St. John Knits (she'll earn a reported $12 million), with the caveat that the clothing line also create a new charity—which she will head—supporting children's causes. Meanwhile, Pitt is highlighting world health concerns by narrating the documentary Rx for Survival which airs Nov. 1-3 on PBS.

During a brief geographical separation last month, as Jolie was wrapping Shepherd in Brooklyn while Pitt started up The Assassination of Jesse James in Edmonton, Pitt was clearly missing her. "Brad had been waiting to see Angie and the kids for a few days, and it was all he could talk about," says a set source. Jolie, Maddox and Zahara have since become a constant presence on the Jesse James set, where Maddox kicks around a soccer ball with crew members and retreats with Pitt and Jolie to Pitt's trailer for nap time. When shooting wraps each day, Pitt heads home with his clan instead of hitting the town alongside costars Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell.

As their lives continue to intertwine—and as it appears more and more plausible that they could eventually become Mr. and Mrs. Pitt—his family is giving her a thumbs-up. Pitt's brother Doug, who owns a computer store in Springfield, Mo., made it clear during a recent business speech to the junior Rotary organization Rotaract, "We've met Angelina, and my family really, really likes her. She's great." By which he means no disrespect to his brother's ex. "Of course," added Doug, "we liked Jen too.'"

Jason Lynch. Debby Waldman in Edmonton, Michael Fleeman in Calgary, Carrie Bell, Michele Stueven, Jenny Sundel and Nicholas White in Los Angeles, Linda Kramer and Susan Mandel in Washington, D.C., K.C. Baker and Joanne Fowler in New York City and Kate Klise in Springfield.

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