This scene takes place at the Boston rink fundraiser shortly after Liza comes to the Cape to visit. Sergei and Liza are spending the day together alone for the first time.
“Liza, would you like some pasta?” I asked as we approached the Italian food booth at the carnival. “Emily’s Uncle Joe is an awesome cook.”
Liza’s gaze went from me to the big pot of steaming pasta then back to me. “Yes, please.”
I was still filled with amazement every time I looked at her. Seeing my own eyes on her pixie face… knowing I’d created her, this beautiful, special little girl. I had to stop myself from staring at her in wonder.
Uncle Joe gave us a big smile and wiped his hand on his red apron before extending it forward. “You must be Liza. It’s very nice to meet you.”
Liza’s tiny hand disappeared inside his. “It’s nice to meet you, too, sir.”
“Well, you’ve got some good manners there, young lady. But we’re gonna be family soon. You call me Uncle Joe.”
“Okay.” She smiled shyly.
Uncle Joe shook my hand next. “How you doing, Sergei?”
“I’m good. Just trying to figure out this dad thing.”
“You’re gonna be a pro. But if you have any questions, call me anytime. With three kids, I’ve seen it all… and more.”
He turned and filled two bowls with his pesto pasta, and I put my money on the booth. Liza’s eyes widened as she took one of the bowls and inhaled the mouth-watering aroma.
“Thanks, Uncle Joe,” I said and picked up two plastic forks from the bin.
“Make sure you stop at the cookie booth,” he said.
“Oh, we did already. Liza has a couple of bags in here.” I patted her purple backpack.
She and I moved over to the small area of tables beside the rink, and I brushed powdered sugar off two of the chairs before we sat.
Liza took a bite of pasta, and I asked, “Do you like it?”
She hummed and nodded, and I said, “Emily is a great cook, too. She has this recipe and makes it all the time.”
“Do you think she’d show me how?”
I was about to say sure, but I clamped my mouth shut. I’d promised Elena I’d help her get back in Liza’s good graces. Discouraging Liza from spending time with Em seemed ridiculous, though. I wanted them to be close. Em was going to be my wife for goodness sake. But I could see how much it hurt Elena to be shut out by Liza, so I had to somehow balance everyone’s needs.
“I bet she’d love to show you, but she’s pretty busy getting ready for Worlds, so she probably won’t be cooking much the next few weeks.”
Liza’s mouth drooped a little, and she turned to watch a small group of girls goofing around on the ice. I pushed the bowties around in my bowl with my fork and tried to think of something to bring her smile back.
“So, what’s your favorite thing about skating?” I asked.
She finished chewing and shifted her eyes toward me, brightly shining once again. “Going fast and feeling like I’m flying.”
I smiled. “I noticed when you were practicing yesterday how fast you skate. You have a lot more speed than other kids your age.”
“My dad used to call me Speedy–“ She stopped and bit her lip. “I mean, my adopted dad.”
Part of me was incredibly envious of the man who’d been able to raise Liza from birth, but I was thankful she’d had a great father. From what Elena had told me, he’d been the kind of father every kid dreams of having.
“It’s okay.” I rested my elbows on the table and leaned toward Liza. “You can still call him Dad. I’m very happy he was there for you all the years I couldn’t be. I don’t want you to ever feel like you can’t talk about him with me.”
She continued to chew on her bottom lip. “What should I call you then?”
I knew what I longed to hear her say when she looked at me, but I had to be patient. Liza was overwhelmed with enough at the moment.
“Sergei is fine. We don’t have to rush into any special titles.” I gave her a smile and was relieved when I received one in return.
Liza dug into her pasta, and I found myself staring again. What had she looked like as a baby? As a toddler? I’d missed so much of her life. Time we could never get back. How often would I see her once she and Elena returned to Russia? A couple of times a year? What kind of father could I be to her if she was so far away?
There was a potential solution – one both Em and Elena might think was crazy. But it was really the only thing that made sense. Liza should be living in the States. Just seeing how happy she’d been the past few days being back here, I knew that was the best option for her. It would be an adjustment for Elena to move here, but I could help her with the transition. The way Liza had begged me to take her out of Russia… I couldn’t stand the thought of saying goodbye to her in three weeks and making her return to a place where she was so miserable. She belonged here. With both of her parents to help her through all the changes in her life.
I just had to convince Em and Elena.