In the beginning I had seen him nearly every day. I had never approached him though. He was clearly grieving, just as I was and looked as shell-shocked as I imagined I must.
Besides, he was clearly Middle-Eastern and that didn't sit very well with me right then.
I know that Muslims were also victims of those terrible attacks that clear September day. I know they aren't all terrorists, but when you bury the man you've lived with and loved for seven years because someone thought it was an acceptable method of political protest to fly planes into a building full of living, breathing people, then it's hard to be tolerant.
But after the months slipped by and winter came and dissolved into spring and summer renewed itself in New York, I began to notice little things. Like the grave-site he visited always had fresh flowers. That they were always exotic blooms like orchids or lush tropical bird-of-paradises. But mixed in with the expensive tropicals would be a handful of daisies or lilacs when they were in season.
By the end of summer I was nodding to him when our eyes met across the rows of tombstones.
Then it was September again and I took extra care selecting my gift from Marie, the florist. She greeted me quietly that day, and when I was ready to leave, she slipped her hand in mine and kissed my cheek.
"Say hello to Kevin, dear."
I blinked back tears and squeezed her arthritic hand. "Thanks, Marie. I will."
I got to the cemetery just after noon and he was already there. He was dressed formally today: black suit and severe white shirt, his dark hair carefully brushed and slicked back off his brown forehead.
In his hand he carried a beautiful arrangement of exquisite proteas and orchids. I watched him wipe his eyes when he knelt down and set his offering on the grassy ribbon in front of the hand carved head stone.
I could see his lips move as he bent over the grave. Every so often he would wipe the back of his hand over his eyes.
I knelt by Kevin's grave and smoothed my shaking hand over the granite face I'd had carved with the image of six geese flying in formation over a field of ripening wheat. Kevin had always loved the Fall best of all and every year he had looked forward to our annual trek to our cottage up on Lake Name in October. Always in October. It was to have been October 13th last year. I had gone up without him, trying to capture his memory, but I had been able to do nothing but cry the entire week. I had never returned. I thought about selling the place, but something held me back. I wasn't ready to let it go. My heart would tell me when it was time.
I felt him come up behind me and I rose on shaky legs to meet his somber brown gaze.
"Was she very special to you?"
"He," I corrected. "Yes. He was." I touched the lead bird in the V. I didn't care if this man got upset over my open declaration of love for another man. That was so inconsequential now. "I loved him very much."
"I too," he said softly.
He had a faint accent, though I couldn't place it. Arabic? Farsi? Did he know people who thought killing infidels granted instant passage to heaven? Don't. You can't live your life holding hatred in your heart for other people. The only one poisoned will be your own heart.
"We had only just met," he continued. "But I knew it was special. We were meant to have a life time of love. Then it was all gone."
I'd had seven years with Kevin. Not enough, but better than a few short weeks.
"How long did you know her?"
His smile was faint and bittersweet. "He. He was just transferred here from Chicago. He was on the ninety-first floor of the Tower. So many days he came home telling me I had to visit him. He so wanted to show me what a splendid place he worked at." He looked back at the well-tended grave. "I wish I had visited him that day. I would not be so lonely now. We could have been together at the end."
I don't know how many times I wished the same thing. If I had been on the thirty-sixth floor of the World Trade Center that nightmarish day, we could have died together. Death was a terrible thing, but life without Kevin was more terrible by far.
"I'm sorry," I murmur. "I know how hard it is to go on."
"You and he were lovers long?"
"Seven years." I swallowed passed a lump in my throat. "He had only started working at the Trade Center two months before. He was so excited, too. It was a magical place, he always said. You could see the world from your window."
"Yes," he said. He looked down at the book in his hand. It was the Koran. So he was a Muslim. "It was the world. And now it is nothing."
I looked down at my feet. When I looked back he was holding out his hand to me.
"My name is Ahmed Fazarah. I am pleased to finally meet you, though I sorrow for your loss. Allah is merciful though, you will see."
I gripped his hand. "Terry Forrester." His skin felt warm and alive under my flesh. His eyes were deep pools. "I've always loved the flowers you bring. So beautiful."
"Jack loved exotic flowers. He said that was why he loved me. I was an exotic bloom to him. I would always include someting considered plain, ordinary. To remind him that I was also of this earth." He blinked and withdrew his hand. "I must go now. Perhaps we will see each other again?"
I almost said, sure. I'll see you around. Then I touched his arm.
"Maybe... Maybe we could have dinner some day," I said. "This week? I live near the Village. There are lots of nice places there."
"That would be... nice." Suddenly he smiled and his whole face lit up. "I would like that very much."
He took my hand again and pumped it several times.
"Thank you, Terry."
We met for dinner two days later. We talked non-stop for hours. I told him about Kevin and he, in turn, told me about Jack Smythe, his lover and best friend and confidant. He told me his religion was much like mine, in that it did not permit such love, but he did not think God could hate anyone as sweet and devoted to goodness as Jack had been. When I dropped him off at the subway stop, he smiled and brushed my lips with his own warm ones.
"You are a sweet man, Terry. Allah has surely kissed the earth around you."
Two weeks later we visited the cemetery together. Last night Ahmed had spent the night at my place. We had held each other and eventually we made love. It was sweet and tender and afterward we clung together and wept. Then we slept, our arms wrapped around each other and our tears drying on our cheeks. This morning we had made love again.
Then we had gone together to Marie's to select flowers and old Marie's wrinkled face lit up when she saw us. She had kissed both of us on the lips and when I went to pay for our arrangements she would take nothing.
"You bring new life to this old woman's heart. Go, go and say hello to Kevin for me. Then go home and love each other."
I put my arm around Ahmed, who smiled up at me, his big heart in his brown eyes.
"We'll do just that."
And we did.
God Bless Everyone.