"It's so good to see you again!" Carly exclaimed as she hugged her good friend, Darya Phillips. She and Ben had traveled to Gloucester, Massachusetts to visit Darya and her husband Denny, whom they hadn't seen since their wedding the previous summer.
"Is wonderful to see you as well," said Darya.
"So this is Joshua!" Carly exclaimed, holding her arms out to the pudgy blond toddler, who turned to hide his face in his mother's shirt.
"He is shy," Darya explained.
"How old is he now?" asked Carly.
"He just turned eleven months," Darya said.
"Miss Carly is friend," she told her young son, who turned to stare at Carly with big, round blue eyes.
"He's adorable!" Carly exclaimed.
"Doesn't it make you want one of your own?" Denny teased.
"Perhaps in a few years," said Ben.
The group walked out of the airport to Denny and Darya's car, and Denny drove to their small home.
"You don't mind sleeping on the sofa, do you?" Denny asked when they arrived. "I'm sorry, but we don't have a guest bedroom."
"That's fine," Ben assured him. Fortunately, the sofa folded out into a double bed, so there was plenty of room for two people to sleep on it.
The adults sat around talking and watching little Joshua's antics for awhile, and then Denny asked if Ben and Carly would like to go for a walk on the beach.
"Oh, yes!" Carly exclaimed. "I'm sure it's really different from the beaches in Southern California."
The adults all put their swimsuits on, Darya put Joshua's swimming trunks on him, and the group set out.
"I was right," Carly said. "The beach here is really different. It's lovely, though!"
Little Joshua ran in and out of the waves laughing.
"Would you like for me to make a sand castle with you?" Carly asked him. "I used to do that with my brother and sister when they were little."
"I'm afraid he wouldn't have the patience for that," Denny laughed.
"How old are your brother and sister now?" asked Darya.
"They just turned seven. They'll start second grade in August." Carly showed Denny and Darya a recent photo of Rebecca and Jonathan.
"Oh, they're so cute!" Darya exclaimed.
"Thank you," said Carly.
The group went to the Oyster Bar for dinner and then roasted marshmallows over a fire in the back yard.
On the second day of their visit, Ben and Carly met Darya's father, Alexei, Denny's mother, Alison, and their five-year-old daughter, Daisy.
"So how did you guys ever meet?" Carly asked Alexei and Alison.
"Alexei was on a Soviet submarine that accidentally ran aground on the beach and got stuck in the sand," Alison told her. "When they asked for help, everyone thought that the island was under attack."
"That's crazy!" Ben exclaimed.
"This was in 1966, when everybody was afraid of the Russians," Alison explained. "Anyway, I was babysitting little Annie Whittaker when suddenly I saw Alexei standing there on the porch holding a gun. He'd hurt his head, and it was bleeding. I took him back into the house and bandaged his wound and gave him something to eat. He had to leave with the submarine not too long after that, but I never forgot him, and many years later, he was finally able to come back."
"So you had to wait a really long time to see each other again," said Carly.
"But Alison was worth it," said Alexei. "I never met a girl like her before. I come to her country unwelcome guest, she show me kindness and hospitality. I never forget that."
"But you both ended up married to other people," Ben pointed out.
"I meet Nadya a few years later. She is teacher of ballet. I go to fix her computer. She is beautiful and nice as well. I fall in love with her, she is right there and available, what else can I do?"
"It was pretty much the same way for me," said Alison. "I missed Alexei for awhile, and then I got used to the idea that he wasn't coming back. One night I went roller skating and Dennis picked me for a couples' skate. I thought he was just about the cutest guy I'd ever met, besides Alexei, of course. We started going out a lot after that, and I never saw him again."
"That's terrible!" Carly gasped. "So you had to go through pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood all alone!"
"Yes," said Alison. She looked very sad. Alexei laid a comforting hand on her knee.
"So when did you guys ever get back together again?" asked Ben.
"After a few years, Nadya get cancer and die," said Alexei. "For a long time, I am single father. Then government change, finally I can get exit visa, right away I want to come to Gloucester. I think that perhaps I see Alison again. I tell myself, probably she is married now, so I will just see her again one more time, exchange greetings, I will wish her well, and then we will each go on with our lives. But that was before I knew that she was just like me, single parent with child, have to be both mother and father. When I find that out, I say to myself, I have second chance with Alison, would be a fool to let her go again."
"And you've been together since then." Carly smiled.
"It was a while before we got married, though," said Alison.
"First I have to have green card, then get job and house. Have to do things in proper order." Alexei chuckled.
"Then it was a really long time before I got pregnant," Alison continued. "They told me that my eggs were too old, that I'd have to use donor eggs. I hesitated because I didn't think I'd feel like it was really my child. By some miracle, I got pregnant anyway."
"Then one day I come home from work and find her unconscious," Alexei added. "I call ambulance, rush her to hospital. They say she have eclampsia. They have to take the baby right away."
'She was so tiny," Alison said. "Twenty-seven weeks, barely over a pound. For a long time, we didn't even know whether or not she'd live, or if she did, how normal a life she'd have."
"Look at her now. Beautiful!" Alexei said. "Look just like her mother."
"We were very fortunate," Alison agreed. "Except for a few minor developmental delays, Daisy's perfectly normal."
Alison and Alexei visited for awhile longer and then went back home.
"What an amazing story!" Carly said to Ben as they were getting ready for bed.
"That was really something, all right," Ben agreed.
"It made me cry just a little bit. Did it make you cry, Ben?"
"Of course not."
"Liar." She giggled as she watched him wipe the tears from his eyes.