Pure joy.

Just before she fell asleep, she realized that those were the words she had been searching for. She was filled with joy . . . pure, undiluted, uninhibited, unspoiled joy. There was simply no better word to describe the culmination of the past few days. Now, lying here in the dark, in the loving arms of her husband, she felt her unborn child kick inside her as the man she loved breathed softly on her neck while he slept quietly, the three of them entwined. And she knew that she would always remember this as the sweetest, most joyful day of her life.

The past five days were just a bad nightmare now.

She gazed down at her nephew sleeping soundly in his crib as her sister quietly moved about his bedroom gathering clothes, diapers, and other necessities.

“Enjoy your innocence while it lasts, little one,” she whispered, stroking his cheek. Just then he sighed deeply, rubbed his head on the blanket, and made a sucking motion with his mouth. She held her breath, waiting to see if he was going to awaken. But after a couple more sighs, she heard his breathing return to normal and he was again still. She pulled the blanket up over his chest and followed her sister down the hallway into the master bedroom.

She stared at the ceiling. She had been tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position, determined to will sleep to overtake her . . . to no avail. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she heard the clock in her living room chime four times. She had thought to herself, “Four in the morning. Unbelievable” and tried once more to pound her pillow with her fist, pull the covers up over her ears, squeeze her eyes shut, and hope against hope that she would drift off to sleep. Finally, she opted to surrender. She rolled onto her back, kicked the sheet and blanket off her legs, and opted to stare wide-eyed at the ceiling.

“She wants to see you,” his father told him two days ago.

“How did you get my telephone number?” He looked over at Keith, who could not meet his gaze.

“That’s not important. What matters is that she wants to see you one last time, son.” His father spoke softly and deliberately.

He considered how long it had been since he last heard one of his parents call him “son.”

As always, Dennis knew exactly what she needed and provided it. As she stood on the deck of the little cottage at the top of the walkway leading to the shore, she marveled at how well he understood her. Leave it to Dennis to arrange for them to enjoy an end-of-summer vacation on the coast. The cottage was charming — just right for the three of them. It was located a scant mile or so outside a quaint village that tourists had yet to discover. Dennis learned about it from a colleague who rented the same cottage a couple of summers earlier. The little town was per se Americana, complete with a Labor Day fireworks display heralding the end of the summer season.

As she approached the small chapel, she heard voices speaking in a hushed tone. Checking the name in the placard on the wall in the hallway just outside the doorway, she confirmed that she was, in fact, in the right room. Quietly, she noted that a small group of five people, none of whom she recognized, were standing near the front of the chapel, talking quietly, so she turned and went back to the reception area to wait.