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He stood numbly in the middle of the bedroom that held such a soft cozy atmosphere. The plants hanging had leaves starting to wither from not being watered. The bouquet of sunflowers he left there were dead and shriveled up from weeks of no water. Everything was exactly how he left it. The cup knocked over and the stain of tea dripped down the nightstand to the floor. The bed a mess of sheets and the blanket on the floor. Joe just stared at the bed and wondered what to do. He doesn’t know how he got to their house, his house. He felt so many memories coming back into his mind of every single day in this bedroom. All the love, the arguments, the fits of laughter, the deep conversations. He felt the tears falling down his face as he finally let out a loud sob. He fell to his knees as he let all the anguish leave his lips. He couldn’t stomach being on the bed so he bowed his body like he was praying till his body ached. He passed out on the floor as he hiccuped from his sobs drawing down. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Habibi, have you seen my coat?” Joe asked as he peeked his head out of the closet in the hall. His favorite brown coat wasn’t hanging up and he looked everywhere else in the home, yet nothing. “I hope I didn’t leave it Andy’s or she’s gonna keep it” 

He walked into the kitchen where he left his husband, but he wasn’t there. The chopping board had vegetables half cut and the chef knife laid next to it. He walked over to the bathroom to find it empty. He pushed open the bedroom door to see the man’s back. “Nicky” He softly called out. 

He didn’t turn around so the man moved to be next to his love. “Babe” 

Nicky finally looked over at Joe and his eyes were dull and didn’t have their usual spark. “What’s wrong?" He sat down and rested his arm around his husband. 

“Nothing, Yusuf. Just felt a headache” Nicky stood up and rubbed his nose. He was lying and Joe knew it. He decided to not bug his love and followed him back to the kitchen as Nicky told him he hadn’t seen his coat. 

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“Here. Your favorite sandwich made by yours truly” Quynh set the plate down on the table in front of Joe. Andy sat across from the man with worried eyes. Her friend looked nothing like he usually did. He looked thin and his eyes were red from crying with bags under his eyes from not sleeping. Joe stared at the plate, not once making eye contact with the two women since they got to the home. 

Quynh sat down next to her wife as they quickly looked at each other. Andy looked back at Joe and asked, “Aren’t you gonna eat?” No response. “You need to eat, Joe. You’re skin and bones” Nothing. “Nicky would hate to see you not eating” 

They jumped as Joe shoved the plate off the table, making it break into pieces. He stood up and walked down the hall into the bedroom. He stared at the bed before walking out and lifelessly walking out the front door. Andy and Quynh’s calls falling deaf on his ears. 

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He strummed his guitar and paused every few minutes to write another lyric that would come to mind. He had a handful of songs recorded for his album, but it wasn’t complete. He’s already debuted his first album which went really good. One of the songs got a lot of radio play, but Joe rarely made any interview appearances since he always knew he wanted his private life, well, private. He knew people would ask what inspires his music or if he’s single. He knew about everyone thirsting over him online because of his looks and how lyrical he was. They noticed his wedding band and always cried about how someone got him before they could. He didn't post much on his social media. If he did it was about making his music or promoting any shows he was performing. He also took part in different charities and would ask for his followers to donate. He was a mystery that sang beautiful words about love and nature. 

Joe smiled as he watched Nicky place a cup of tea and a small plate of pastries on the coffee table. “Thank you, habibi”

Nicky leaned in to quickly kiss his husband’s lips. He walked down the hall to their room, probably to get some of his own work done. Nicolo Genova Kaysani ( better known as Nicky Di Genova) was an author and has released two books that were hits. His third novel was in the works and he wouldn’t let Joe read a single word. 

He spent about an hour finishing up the song he felt was finally complete. He decided to check in on Nicky so he quietly went down the hall to peak his head into the room. The Italian man was curled on top of the bed, soundly asleep. Joe smiled and quietly walked over to the bed to drape a blanket over his sleeping body. He noticed the man looked sweaty so he placed the back of his hand against his forehead. It was burning hot. 

“Babe” He softly shook Nicky awake. 

“Mh” Nicky groaned out as he kept his eyes closed. 

“You have a fever, love. I’m gonna get you water and some medicine” Joe kissed his cheek before leaving the room to get the items. 

He walked into the room to see Nicky was back asleep with the blanket pulled to his chin. He sat down on the edge of bed and felt bad waking his lover up again. “Nicky, you need to take some medicine” The man shook his head and buried his head further against his pillow. “Can you at least sit up to drink some water?” 

Nicky listened to his husband and held the glass and drank the whole cup. He laid back down and pulled at Joe’s hand for him to lay down next to him. They laid facing each other and Nicky tangled their legs together. Joe lifted his hand to move strands of hair out of Nicky’s face. He could never get tired of taking in every detail of his love’s face. Every time he stared into those beautiful eyes they were always a different shade of green or blue. 

“Hey Joe” He hummed to show he was listening. “Do you think there's an afterlife?”

It was an odd question, but not the weirdest. They had late night conversations about random topics all through their six year relationship. About what would happen if a large duck randomly appeared in town. Which one of them would last longer in a zombie apocalypse. The one Joe will always remember is when Nicky asked how long he thought it would take for someone to find them dead. He actually wrote a song about it since it was an interesting conversation. 

“I think we get reborn so we could experience life again” Joe told him.

“Really? Do you think we’ll meet again if we are reborn?” Nicky questioned. 

“Of course my love. Every single time my soul moves on to another body, it will go back to you. Even if I was reborn as a blackthorn tree I would still be felt by you” Joe moved closer to nuzzle at Nicky’s neck. The man giggled since Joe’s breath tickled him and the fact the last line was a lyric of Joe's. He melted though when Joe started to leave soft kisses. 

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“What else could we possibly do? He won’t accept any food. He looks like he hasn’t slept for days. We can’t just let him die!” Nile finally shouted as she started crying. Booker walked to her to pull her into a hug. The group were at Andy and Qyunh’s place since Quynh called for a meeting. They all took turns going to see Joe, trying to get him to eat. Each time was welcomed with a plate thrown on the floor and Joe walking out the front door. They never know where he goes and it’s not like they could ask. The man hasn’t spoken since that night. Booker watched Joe drink himself to sleep the other day. He stayed to be sure the man didn't choke on his vomit in his sleep. That was the only time Joe slept. 

“What can we possibly do? Are we just gonna need to tie him up and force feed him?” Quynh spoke up. 

Andy raised her hand and said, “I vote for that choice” 

“No babe” she pushed Andy’s hand back down as she moved to sit down. “I think we just need to get him professional help. He needs to talk to someone”

“We will have to do it together. He won’t listen to just one of us” Booker said as he kept hugging the still crying Nile. 

“Then let’s go” 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe woke up from his unplanned nap to not see Nicky next to him. He got up and started down the hall, but stopped when he heard his husband talking quietly. He tiptoed against the wall until he could peak into the living room to see Andy was sitting on the couch with the man. 

“Just promise me. He can’t know. Not right now” He quietly said. 

“But Nicky, he's your husband. He deserves to know”

“No he doesn’t. I’m telling you cause I just need to tell someone. To just get it off my chest” 

Joe listened as Andy let out a sigh. “Fine. You need to tell him soon though or I will” 

He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to not think of all the negative things. He quietly made it back to the room and laid down for a while to clear his mind. Soon Nicky will tell him or he’ll expect a call from Andy. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nile knocked on the door while the rest of the group stood behind her. They waited till the door slowly opened to reveal Joe. He was wearing his usual jeans and a random t-shirt. He seemed to have just been crying and he looked at the ground. He turned leaving the door open as an invitation. They walked in and watched as Joe sat on the couch, staring aimlessly at the blank TV. 

“Hey. We thought we should come see how you are” Nile sat next to him and rested her hand on top of Joe’s. 

“We think you need to see a therapist, Yusuf. You need to talk to someone” Andy spoke out. 

“Would you be willing to get help?” Quynh softly asked. 

Joe opened his mouth but then closed it. He wanted to say something, but couldn't. He couldn't imagine saying anything to anyone. He just wanted Nicky. He wanted his husband. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I’m home!” Joe shouted as he walked through the front door. “I brought your favorite take out” He set the bag of food on the table. “Habibi?” 

He walked down the hall to see the bathroom door closed and the light on. He knocked and didn’t get a response. “Nicky?” He reached for the doorknob to find it unlocked. He opened the door to see Nicky passed out on the floor. He ran in and fell on his knees next to him. 

“Nicolo” He pulled his husband into his lap as he tried to wake him. He looked towards the toilet to see bile in the bowl. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed 911 since he wasn’t waking up. 

He sat in the back of the ambulance as the EMT’s were checking his vitals. 

They made him wait in the waiting room where he paced and worried for his husband.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe sat on the soft couch in front of the women in a pantsuit. She had a notebook on her lap and a pen in hand. He stared at the painting behind her of the sea and the woods in the background. 

“So Yusuf, would you like to tell me what brings you in today?” She softly asked. “Yusuf?”

“Joe” he whispered out. His voice sounded strained from not talking for a week and a half now. “Call me Joe” 

The doctor gave a small smile and nodded her head. “Okay, Joe. You can start telling me anything you would like. About your childhood, your relationship, any grief you have. I’m just here to listen to you and help you process anything that would hold you back in life” 

Joe looked down at his hands and turned his wedding band around his finger. He swore to wear the ring for the rest of his life and he's going to. 

“I wanna die” 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Nicolo” He rushed to the side of the hospital bed to hold his hand. “Are you okay? I was so worried when I found you. My love, I’m so glad you are safe” He leaned in to leave several kisses on his face. 

Nicky laughed as he accepted all the kisses from his dear husband. “I’m okay, Yusuf”

Joe watched as Nicky lifted his hand to rub his nose. “You’re not. Are you?” 

He looked into Joe’s eye with empty eyes as he finally shook his head. Joe fell down into the chair left near the bed as he looked at his lover with fearful eyes. “What is it? Are you sick?” 

“I found out earlier this week. I didn’t know how to tell you Yusuf” Nicky reached for his hand to hold tightly. “It’s leukemia” Joe heard nothing else as Nicky explained everything the doctor told him. All he thought was my husband has cancer and I’m gonna lose him. I’m gonna lose the love of my life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe was walking home from his therapy appointment. Dr. Roberts had suggested that he should try doing some song writing. He hasn’t held his guitar since Nicky told him he was ill. The doctor said it was okay to grieve for his loss, but he would still have to take care of his body and mind. Trying to go back to his usual routine would help him fully move on with his life. He didn’t really know what his usual routine was without Nicky. 

As he was walking, he spotted a flower stand. He smiled as he grabbed a bouquet of sunflowers. They were always Nicky’s favorite flower and he doesn’t know how many he bought over the past year. He handed the vendor the right amount of cash for the bundle and continued on his walk. Joe decided it was about that time to visit his husband. 

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“So usually the first few will be the hardest. Your body will be fighting with you so you’ll be tired, vomiting and a change in appetite. Did the doctor explain to you about how the treatment will be?” The nurse asked. 

“I will have three days of chemo and then three days of rest” Nicky repeated as he sat down on the reclining hospital chair. Joe sat down in the extra chair while holding on to the book that Nicky told him to bring.

“So I will first give you the pre meds the doctor ordered. He is prescribing anxiety medication and a steroid. These should counterbalance the chemo, but everyone's different” She handed Nicky a container with the two pills and a plastic cup of water. He took the pills as the nurse started prepping the IV. Joe was thankful that his husband wasn’t scared of needles since it seems getting blood drawn and having an IV will be the new norm. She hooked up the treatment and told them to call if they needed anything. 

Joe reached out to hold Nicky’s hand. “Does it hurt?” 

Nicky scrunched his nose and told him, “A little. Never was a fan of a needle stuck in my arm” 

He smiled at the joke and squeezed Nicky’s hand. “You want to try reading?” 

“How about you read to me?” Nicky suggested. 

“Anything you want, habibi” Joe smiled and opened the book to read where Nicky left off at.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe made his way up the hill under the large beech tree. The couple always appreciated nature and it was proven in their work. Nicky wrote of beautiful forests with ancient trees and spirits. Joe sang of trees representing love, jealousy, and faith. A beech tree is known to boost creativity and related to wisdom and written words. It perfectly represented Nicolo and the leaves were beautiful green that will turn red and orange when autumn comes.

The man made it where his heart pulled him and looked down at the jagged stone that was made into his husband’s gravestone. 

Nicolo Genova Kaysani 

1989-2019

Son, Brother, Husband, Friend

Joe sat down next to the stone and placed the bundle of sunflowers in front of it. He stared at the inscription with sadden eyes. He tends to run to the area as soon as he feels desperate and in pain. When he was at his lowest point and wanted to be near his husband and no one else. He would lay on the dirt and fallen leaves as if he was in bed laying next to his love. 

Now he sits criss cross as he bowed his head to say a quick prayer. The same prayer he whispered every night as he held Nicolo’s hand.

“Hello, habibi. Sorry I haven’t come in a couple of days. Our friends convinced me to see a therapist. It went okay I guess. Don’t really know how it’s supposed to go so I don’t have any reference. I brought your favorite flowers since I know they would make you smile”

He stopped talking when he heard soft chirping that sounded like a song. He looked up at the tree to see a small bird that was white and had a black strip around its eyes and wings. He knew exactly what bird it was and he found it odd yet poetic. He watched the shrike fly down to grab a lizard nearby that wasn’t fast enough. It flew away where Joe was sure it would impale the lizard on a thorn somewhere. He felt similar to the small bird. Like the shrike needed those thorns to survive, he needed his Nicolo to survive. No matter where he traveled, near or far, he always returned to his love. 

Joe looked back at the gravestone with a smile. “Was that you Nicolo?” He knew out of all animals it seemed unusual for his love to be symbolised as such a deadly bird, but he felt Nicky’s spirit. His husband always held darkness in him which was proof in his writing. He wrote stories about religious men who killed people for the sake of their god. He told Joe that his writings were based off of his emotions when he was in seminary school to become a priest. He felt like the teachings there would make him a servant, not in a good way, but a murderist way. He came to realize he felt this way because he suppressed his true emotions and feelings. That he loves men and he wasn’t a sinner cause everyone was god’s people. 

Joe kissed his hand before touching it to the top of the stone. “I love you, habibi. I’ll come back soon” 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nicky wanted to just sleep when they got home from chemo. Joe, of course, laid down with his partner since he wanted to comfort him from the pain. He laid on his back with Nicky’s head on his chest with their legs tangled together. Nicky had changed to some pajamas, but Joe stayed in his clothes since he had to run to the market later on. 

He started to rest his eyes once his husband fell asleep twenty minutes ago. He was starting to drift to sleep when he suddenly felt warmth and wetness on his shirt. He opened his eyes to see Nicky crying with his hand over his mouth. He looked down at his shirt to see vomit covering all of his chest. 

“Hey it’s okay” Yusuf soothingly told him in his softest voice. The nurse told them vomiting was a symptom so he wasn’t all that surprised. 

“I’m sorry” Nicky cried out. 

“It’s okay my love” He leaned in to kiss Nicky’s temple to reassure him he wasn’t upset. “Let me get the trash bin” 

Joe went to the living room to grab the waste basket and placed a small bag to line the inside. Back in the room, Nicky laid down on his side as he tried to stop crying. Joe placed the bin next to the bed and gave a small smile. “It’s gonna be right here if you feel sick again”

Nicky looked at his husband’s ruined shirt and whimpered out, “I’m sorry, Yusuf” 

“Hey. None of that” He lifted his hand to move Nicky’s hair out of his eyes. It was a mistake on his part since it reminded him that he was gonna lose his hair. “It’s okay. Just rest, habibi”

Joe kissed his cheek before walking out of the room to the bathroom. He stood in front of the sink to stare at his reflection. His eyes casted down to his shirt and he sighed. He grabbed a washcloth and wet it with hot water. He pressed the cloth against his shirt to attempt to get the bile off of it. He wasn’t sure if the action or the image of his husband crying as he apologized kept running his head. He bit at his fist to stop himself from fully sobbing out loud. He didn’t want Nicky to hear and worry about him. That’s the last thing he wanted. He squeezed his eyes shut to try to collect himself. He threw the washcloth into the laundry basket they have in there. He pulled his shirt off and threw it into the basket as well. He splashed cold water on his face to clear his mind and to wash away the tears that managed to escape. He took a deep breath before leaving the room and going back into the bedroom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Yusuf got home and went straight to the bedroom. He picked up his guitar that was resting on its stand in the corner. He looked at the bed that he hasn’t touched for the past week and a half. He walked out to the living room and moved to the window seating area. There were bookshelves on both walls with their combined collection of literature and history. The floor to ceiling window gave a view to the forest and all the birds flying by. He sat down on the cushion and moved his blanket and pillow to the other side. He couldn’t stomach being in the bedroom so when he did nap it was in there. 

He tuned his guitar and opened up his recording app on his phone. Joe started strumming the melody he had in mind, but stopped once he realized it wasn’t what he envisioned. He kept the recording going as he kept messing around with chord changes to try to find the right tone he wanted. 

Finally he got the right sound and for the first time since that night he smiled. Joe watched as his finger’s moved effortlessly to its place for each note. He was surprised by how easy it was to transition to a softer tone for a chorus. He stopped recording after sometime and typed in ‘rough draft 25’ as its title. 

The record button was pressed again as he started playing the guitar and singing the inspiration that came to him by that small bird singing its song. He stopped after a minute since he started crying. He kept the guitar in his lap as he lifted his hand to wipe away his tears. Joe felt anger and sorrow go through his whole body and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to throw his guitar or rip all the books apart as he screamed. He also wanted to just crawl into bed and sob. He chose the latter as he numbly walked into the room he used to love so much. 

Joe crawled into the bed and reached for the left side of the bed in hopes of feeling warmth. He let out a sob as he grabbed Nicky’s pillow and pulled it close to his body. He hugged it close and pressed his nose against it to smell the remnants of Nicolo’s scent. He was letting out hiccups as his tears ran out. He felt his eyes get heavy as he felt safe and warm. He drift off to dream of Nicky and him slow dancing in the kitchen with Nicky letting out a laugh as he rested his head on Joe’s shoulder

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe sat on the floor with his knees raised to rest his head on them. He stared up at his sleeping husband so he could admire him and start to notice the differences. Nicky was starting to look more pale after the start of his second treatment. His hair was starting to thin out and he shaved off his scruff. He looked oddly similar to how Joe met him. Growing out blonde hair, no facial hair, and a hidden pain. 

He kept staring as Nicky slowly opened those extraordinary blue green eyes. “What are you doing down there?” Nicky mumbled out through his sleepy haze. 

“Admiring my beautiful husband” 

The corner of NIcky’s mouth lifted into a smile. “Don’t feel beautiful” 

“We can’t have that. Can we?” he moved closer to crease his cheek. “You are the most beautiful person on this planet and I still wonder how I got so lucky to call you mine. I can get lost in your eyes forever” 

“I’m the lucky one” Nicky whispered out as he reached out for his love to come closer. Joe went willingly and placed a soft kiss on the lips he could worship forever. He lifted Nicky’s left hand to kiss the wedding band he placed on the finger four years ago. 

“I’m gonna start making some soup. Call if you need anything” Nicky nodded as he rested his head on his pillow and felt his eyes getting heavy. Joe kissed his forehead before walking out of the room, leaving the door cracked open.

He opened the fridge to grab all the ingredients he bought to make chicken noodle soup. He called his mom last week to get her recipe and Nicky loves it. He heard a knock on the door and was confused on who could be here. He opened the door to see Quynh and Andy standing there with smiles on their faces. 

Andy is Joe’s close friend from high school. He considers her his sister after everything they’ve been through. She is a music producer and helps Joe with all his music. He would say his first album wouldn’t have been such a success if it wasn’t for her.

Quynh was Nicky’s best friend from college. She had dreams of being a writer like Nicolo, but ended up being a kindergarten teacher. She always loved children so she figured why not shape their minds. The two started dating thanks to Joe and Nicky. Nicky could tell Andy was lonely so he secretly set her up with Qyunh. They hit it off right away and they got married two years later.

“Hey. What are you guys doing here?” Joe asked. 

“I brought some soup for Nicky” 

“Can we come in?” Andy politely asked. 

“Yeah. Just be quiet. Nicky is resting” He held the door open for the women to enter the home. They lived on the outskirts of town where the trees grew wild. Joe actually built the home for his Nicolo before they got married. His father did the same gesture for his mother before they got married. 

“How’s he doing?” Quynh quietly asked as she set the container of soup on the table. 

“Okay. Just really tired. Doctor said after the next session he should start to get more energy. Lost his appetite so he’s been mostly eating soups” 

“Sorry we haven’t stopped by sooner” Andy spoke up. “We figured you both are really private so yeah” 

“We appreciate that. Booker and Nile said the same thing” Joe smiled as he went to the cabinet to grab a bowl. There was a sound of glass breaking in the bedroom. “Stay here” Joe demanded as he ran down the hall to check on his husband, He was sitting on the edge of the bed with his head down. He rushed over to see Nicky had knocked over the vase on the nightstand in his rush to vomit. He managed to miss the bin a bit which is why Nicky was crying. 

“I’m sorry” He cried out. 

“You never need to apologize, habibi” He handed Nicky a tissue to wipe his mouth before grabbing a towel to clean up the vomit on the floor. He was glad he moved the rug so it was hardwood flooring. He threw out the bag lining the waste bin in the bathroom before going back into the bedroom. He opened up the dresser to pull out a different sleep shirt for Nicky. 

“Arms up, habibi” Nicolo lifted his arms so he could take the shirt off. He helped put on the fresh shirt and smiled at seeing Nicky’s adorable face. “There you are cutie” Joe leaned in and kissed the tip of his husband’s nose. 

Nicky stayed sitting up as Joe moved to clean up the broken vase. “Andy and Quynh are here. You want to see them?” He nodded with a small smile. He truly missed his friends dearly, but was worried about them seeing him slowly grow weaker and weaker. 

Joe walked back to the living room where the couple were whispering to each other. “Hey” he softly said to get their attention. “Nicky wants to see you guys” 

Andy nodded as they walked past Joe to the bedroom. He turned to see Quynh pause at the door frame at seeing her best friend, her brother.  “Hey you” she softly spoke as she plastered a smile on. Joe walked to the kitchen to throw the bag of bile in the trash. He ran his hand through his hair to calm his nerves. He walked back to the room and leaned against the doorframe. Quynh was sitting on the bed next to Nicky as she talked about the kids in her class this year. Andy stood near them with her arms crossed. She looked over her shoulder, sensing Joe’s presence, and gave him a look that Joe just understood. 

“How are you feeling though, Nico?” Quynh asked, making the two look over.

Nicky let out a laugh as he shook his head, “Like shit. Don’t give me that look” 

“What look?” Quynh fakely smiled. 

“That sympathy look. I’m fine, Q. Just fighting an invisible enemy” 

“And you’ll win” Andy spoke up. “Like you always do” Nicky smiled at her and extended his hand asking for her to come closer. He held her hand with a smile as the other tangled with Quynh’s hand. Andy watched as Nicky’s eyes looked to be getting heavy as he fought it to stay in the moment with them. “We’re gonna go so you can rest, Nicky” 

“You don’t have to” He quietly told them. 

“It’s okay. You rest and eat the delicious soup I made for you” Quynh leaned in to kiss Nicky’s thinning cheek before getting off of the bed. Andy did the same gesture and whispered into his ear. Nicky nodded and looked up at her. 

“I’ll walk you guys to the door” Joe said as they left the room. Nicky was already moving to lay down to sleep. 

He held open the front door for the women and Quynh pulled him into an embrace. He can feel her crying so he secured his arms around her small frame to give her comfort. 

“I don’t know how you do it” She whispered out. He looked over at Andy to see she had tears in her eyes. 

“It’s not that bad” he whispered out. 

“Not bad?” She pulled out of the hug to look up at him. “He’s dying before your eyes, Joe”

“He’s not dying” Joe firmly told her with his fist clenched to stop the dam from breaking. 

“Joe, he looks like a skeleton and it’s just the beginning” 

“Exactly it’s the beginning. He’s gonna be okay” He argued. “He’s not gonna die. He’s not gonna leave me. I’m making sure he won’t by taking care of him. I’m give him my own life to be sure he lives if I have to” 

Andy pulled him into a hug since her heart broke again at seeing Joe crying. “You’re right. He’s not gonna die. We’re gonna be sure of that” She kissed his cheek and looked into his eyes to be sure he understood her words. He nodded and wiped away his tears. He would forever be thankful for these women.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe slowly but surely got better. He was starting to eat at least one meal a day and getting four hours of sleep rather than the one to two hour naps he used to have. He kept going to therapy twice a week since he still had heavy grief and guilt. He still hasn’t fully talked to his friends since he told them he needed time. They understood and they trusted him to be alone since he was getting professional help. 

His new routine was waking up in the large bed while hugging Nicky’s pillow that was slowly losing that perfect scent he misses. He would grab his guitar case and his messenger bag that held his journal, pens, and his charger. Joe would walk into town to purchase a bouquet of flowers. He tried to get different ones every day. He then would make the journey into the forest and up the hill where his Nicolo resides. 

Yusuf would set the flowers down, do his prayer, and talk to Nicky a bit. Just catching him up on everything he’s missing out on. Most importantly about Booker and Nile being engaged. 

“They miss you almost as much as I do, Nicolo. Nile started crying when they told us over facetime. She wishes you were here to walk her down the aisle” Nile lost her father and brother due to a tragedy so she only had her mother. Nicky and Joe slowly turned into her male figures to look up to even though there was only an eight year difference. 

The artist opened the guitar case and pulled out his favorite guitar that Nicky gave him as their one year anniversary. He would set up his phone to record what random chords came together to make a beautiful song. He would play the recording back over and over again as he wrote words and rhythms that the nature inspired him. 

He would leave a kiss on the tombstone before leaving to make the trek back home. He would make himself a quick small meal since he can just hear his husband telling him he needed to eat. Joe lost a lot of weight after losing his husband and started to grow out his hair. Within a month and a half his hair could now be put up in a small bun. He smiled on that special day since it reminded him so much of soft blondish hair going up into the same style. His finger’s could still remember how the strands felt; so soft compared to the strands of his guitar.

There had only been two songs completed and was in the process of the third one. He found it easier to get his inspiration by the forest and the feeling of being near Nicky. His therapist says he’s made great improvement and that she wishes she met Nicky before his passing. Yusuf spent most of the hour sessions telling stories about his husband. How they met, how he asked him out, their wedding, and how they always praised each other's work. 

He finally decided to call Andy since it was time to stay true to his husband's word. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You should be writing" Joe looked up from his sketch he was drawing of his partner. Nicky was sitting in the hospital chair with the IV in his arm. It was his third session so the man was getting use to the feeling. He wore a sweater to keep the chill away and a beanie to hide his losing thinning hair. 

“You’re the writer out of the both of us” Joe remarked. 

“You should be writing your music. I haven’t seen you hold a guitar for a month now” Joe looked back down at his sketch that was in progress. Nicky was right about him not playing his guitar. He just felt like it isn’t important right now. Caring for his husband is his first priority. 

“Just haven’t been in the mood”  Joe looked back at Nicky with a smile. 

Nicky didn’t smile back as he said, “Because of me” 

“No, because I don’t have any inspiration right now” Joe lied. He didn’t like how his husband has been feeling guilty about his illness. When he would throw up or make a mess he would still apologize endlessly. The nausea has gone away but the man still said sorry about how tired he is. 

He can see that Nicky wanted to argue about how he could tell that he was lying. He reached for the hand without the needle in his arm. He kissed his palm while keeping eye contact. “I just want to love my husband and be sure he’s okay” 

Nicky smiled and moved his hand to caress Joe’s cheek. “I want you to work on your album. When I’m better I’m expecting to be your date to the Grammy’s” 

The singer couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “I doubt they would ever consider me for such a prestige award” 

“You’re the best lyricist and guitar player in the world. I just know you’re gonna win one. Promise me you'll finish the album and get the award you deserve” 

“I promise, Nicolo”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I have to admit I’m surprised you wanted to come in” Andy said from her desk chair. Joe asked to meet at the studio since he has a few things to record. 

“Felt like it was about time” Joe added as he opened up his guitar case. 

She nodded as she watched him with wary eyes. “You look better. Have you been eating?” He looked a bit more rested, but still looked skinny. 

“Yeah. One meal. Better than nothing” Joe remarked. 

Andy wished her friend would smile. When he used to come in to record, he would crack jokes with a huge grin on his face. She wonders if she will ever see him smile again. A true smile that made his eyes squint and his laughing lines to appear more dominant. “That’s good. I already set up the mic and amp. Just need to connect your guitar and you’re all set” 

Joe nodded and walked into the recording booth. It did feel welcoming to be back at the studio. He always felt like it was a second home from how many tiring nights he spent there. He connected his guitar and pulled the headphones on so he could hear the playback. Joe looked up at the window when he heard Andy turn on the mic. 

“Whenever you’re ready, Joe” He swallowed the lump in his throat as he looked through the glass. He couldn’t help, but be struck with memories of Nicky sitting behind Andy with a bright smile. Giving a thumbs up when he finished a take to encourage him. 

He looked down at his guitar and took a deep breath before playing the chord progression his fingers were starting to remember. He stepped up to the mic and sang the words that took days to get down. 

My heart is screaming out and in a few days I would be there, love. Ever here that’s lived in me is yours just as it was” Joe sang. Andy listened with closed eyes to hide her tears. She knew this was a song meant for Nicky. 

“Eyes at the hights of my baby. And this hope at the fight of my baby. And the lights were as bright as my baby. But your love was unmoved. And the sights were as stark as my baby. And the cold was as sharp as my baby. And the nights were as dark as my baby. Half as beautiful too” Joe strummed the last note and stared at his guitar before looking up at his friend. She wiped away her tears and nodded. This was what Joe needed. To express his grief through his music and his lyrics. This album will be the rebirth that Joe was looking for. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I think it’s time” Joe looked up from his book to see Nicky in the doorway.

“Time for what? Bed?” he asked, confused. 

“No” was all Nicky said before walking away. Joe marked where he stopped reading at and got out of bed. He found Nicky in the bathroom and there on the counter was the hair clippers. 

“Are you sure, habibi?” Joe knew his husband was losing more of his hair as the chemo went on. He was on the fifth session and larger clumps of hair was being left on his pillow every night. 

Nicky nodded his head and grabbed the clippers. He stared at himself in the mirror before exhaling. Nicky turned it on and shaved off the side of his blonde hair. Joe watched as Nicky looked determined as he shaved all his hair off. He handed the clippers to him to get the back where he couldn’t reach. Joe quietly shaved the last few stray strands near his neck before turning it off. Nicky was staring at himself in the mirror and Joe could see the tears coming in. 

“Habibi” he whispered out as he placed a comforting hand on the broad shoulder. His husband turned to look into his hazel eyes before pressing his face against his chest to sob. Joe wrapped his arms tightly around him and softly said, “It’s okay. You’re okay” Joe kissed Nicky’s freshly shaven head as he swayed their bodies to calm him. Soon the sobs died down and Joe pulled Nicky away a bit so he could look into those stunning eyes. 

“You’re as beautiful as the day I married you, Nicolo” 

He was relieved to hear him let out a laugh as he wiped away all his tears. “You have to say that cause you’re my husband”

“Nonsense” He pulled Nicky close again. “You know I only speak the truth. Husband or not. You’re the most beautiful person in the whole universe. I’ve seen everyone around the world and no one could compare to you. Just the sight of your hand only enthralls me with its beauty. No sculpture of greek gods and goddesses can be as fine as the lines that form your curves and edges. Everyday I am blessed to be in your presence, my husband”

Nicky looked at Joe with sparkling eyes and a small smile. “You’re an incurable romantic”  he says before kissing the soft lips he could never go without. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yusuf was trying to figure out the lyrics for his last track. It’s been two months since he stepped into the studio and started the recording process. It was only Andy and Joe rather than the usual two other producers. He couldn’t stomach letting other people see him break down when he listens to the completed songs with piano and string instruments. He thought recording the newer slow songs were hard, but recording the songs he had before Nicky was sick was even tougher. They were more upbeat and about love which was far from how he’s feeling now. 

There was a knock on the door which confused him. Booker or Nile usually text before stopping by. He started spending a bit more time with his friends to stop them from worrying. They still haven’t seen Joe smile which broke all their hearts. 

Joe got up and opened the door surprised to see Nicky’s sister. “Marcella” He hasn’t seen the woman since the funeral so he was confused why she was at his doorstep. 

“Hey” She gave a small smile. Joe had to look away since she looked so much like Nicolo. He never noticed until now. They had the same eyes and smile which were..is..his favorite features. “Can I come in?” 

“Uh yeah” Joe stepped to the side as he held the door open. Marcella walked in and looked around. She only been in the home twice before since she was always busy traveling for work. Joe played with his fingers and asked, “Would you like anything to drink? I have tea or water” 

“I’m good. I just wanted to stop by real quick” 

He nodded as he just stood by the kitchen. “Did you go see Nicky?” 

“Um no. I can’t stomach going there. I feel like he’s still here. That he’s gonna walk down the hall and give me a hug” She kept glancing towards the hallway with downcast eyes. Marcella looked back at Joe and looked him up and down. “I just came to check on you. Make sure you’re doing okay” 

Joe couldn’t bite his tongue anymore. “Little late for that. Just like you were late on visiting Nicky when he was sick” 

“I didn’t want to see him like that. I wanted to remember him as being strong and healthy” 

Joe scoffed and shook his head. “You think I wanted to see that? That I wanted to see him dying slowly.”

“I know. I can’t imagine watching the person you love getting more and more sick” 

“You wouldn’t know since the person you supposedly love beats you” Joe knew it was a low blow, but he felt like she deserves it. Not once did she come see Nicky when he was diagnosed with cancer. She would rarely call and always made up excuses on why she couldn’t visit. 

Marcella has been with her boyfriend for two years. They were fine for the first three months and then she came knocking on the door crying with a black eye. That was the last time he saw his sister in law before all this. She took offense at him telling her to leave her boyfriend for her safety and Nicky’s state of mind. She was stuck on the idea that he loves her and he didn’t mean to hurt her. Joe even wrote a song about domestic violence to hopefully get through to her. 

“Not everyone can have the love that you and my brother had” She argued.

“Has” Joe corrected her. “You can find it though. You’re just scared to leave the bastard. Nicky would be so disappointed that you're still with someone who doesn’t deserve you”

She ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “I didn’t come here to argue about my relationship. I just wanted to check in on you. Make sure you’re alive” 

“Sadly I am” Joe remarked. 

“Have you read his book?” She questioned. 

“No. Can’t even step close to his desk” Joe noticed on the desk was a stack of papers with staples on the side to hold all the pages together. 

“You should read it. It was meant for you” Marcella’s last call with her brother was about his work. She promised him that she would make Joe read it. “It’s the closure he’s gonna need” 

“One day I will. You should go see him. I’m sure he’ll love to see how you’re doing” Joe told her. 

She nodded knowing that his words were true. “I will. I better head out. I’ll give you a call” 

“You call when you have good news” Joe remarked. She walked over to him and pulled him into a hug. She kissed his cheek before leaving the way she came.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Where’s the birthday boy?” Quynh asked as soon as Joe opened the door for the married couple. They decided to throw a small party for Nicky’s 29th birthday. 

“He’s out back. I can take the cake to the kitchen” Joe took the pastry box from Andy as they made their way to the sliding door to see the man. 

“Happy birthday!” Quynh shouted as she ran to hug Nicky. He was sitting in a chair with a knitted blanket Joe’s mother made around his shoulders. 

“Thank you dear” Nicky smiled as she kissed his cheek. Andy walked over to the two and hugged the birthday boy. 

“Happy birthday, Nicky” She had buzzed off all her hair with Joe once she heard Nicky had shaved all his hair off. She explained that she wanted Nicky to be comfortable and to know that everyone with or without hair is beautiful. 

“Thank you. Booker and Nile should be getting here soon. Ni texted saying they’re stuck in traffic” Joe knew from Booker that they were stuck at the store since Nile couldn’t decide on a gift. 

“Here’s your tea, babe” Joe placed the warm mug into his hand. 

“Thank you, dear” Nicky smiled while enjoying the warmth. 

“I always forget how peaceful it is out here” Quynh looked around the area with eyes of wonder. It always felt like an enchanted area from the tall trees and birds chirping. Joe had even made a koi pond just for Nicky since their first date was at a park with a similar pond. 

“We try to come out here whenever we can” Nicky coughed and Joe rubbed his back to try to help. The nausea and fatigue had left but now it was chills and coughing fits. 

“When do you think Book is gonna propose?” Andy wondered out loud. Booker and Nile have been dating for almost two years now. It was a bit random since none of them knew there was any attraction between the two. They really fit together though with Nile balancing out Booker’s moody attitude with her own joy and curiosity. Nile works as a visual effects artist while Booker was a stuntman. They found out that Nile had done some work on one of Booker’s movies years before they ever met.  

“I bet next month” Nicky said. 

“No way. Two years. You know how Book is with responsibility” Quynh remarked. 

“Well I hope soon. I would love to walk her down the aisle” Nicky took a sip of his tea, not seeing the look the two women gave Joe. 

Joe looked at his hands to not look at the two’s worried and scared eyes. “You’ll walk her down, babe. Now or two years from now” He reached to hold Nicky’s hand to give his support. He squeezed his hand to stop him from denying the fact like some days he does. 

“Sorry we’re late!” Nile shouted from inside the house. “Happy birthday, Nicky” She ran to hug him with the gift bag in one hand. “Here. Open it now” 

Nicky knew that she was gonna say that since Nile always got over excited when it came to gift giving. He let Joe hold the bag as he reached in to grab the first item. It was a knitted maroon jumper that felt incredibly soft. There was also a black beanie that Nicky immediately switched out for the one he was wearing. The last item was a framed picture of the six of them. It was from Joe and Nicky’s wedding and it was a candid shot of them laughing. It was perfectly them. Nicky stared at the picture with tears in his eyes before closing his eyes and hugging it close to his chest. “I want more memories with my family”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He woke up and instantly wanted to go back to sleep. He didn’t want to go through the day because it was Nicolo’s birthday. He would have been thirty years old. His morning was supposed to be with him kissing every inch of his Nicolo to wake him up. He would whisper a happy birthday habibi which would earn him a big dazzling smile that broke through the sleepy daze. He would make Nicky breakfast and spoil him for the whole day since that’s what his husband deserves. Now he’s stuck alone in an empty bed imagining the day of celebration. 

Joe pushed himself to get out of bed and shower. He was rinsing his hair when suddenly he started singing lyrics he hasn’t sang for almost two years. “Honey, just put your sweet lips on my lips. We should just kiss like real people do”

His lips turned up when he realized exactly what song he was singing. It was the first song he wrote with Nicolo in mind. He remembers sitting Nicky down in the park and playing the song for him. Every year for their anniversary, Yusuf would softly sing the words into Nicky’s ear. 

He got dressed and went to the kitchen to eat an apple. He decided on the perfect gift for his Nicolo. He called Nile and was glad she picked up. “Hey. Are you and Book busy?” 

“No. Just here at home. What’s up?” She was worried he was gonna lock himself away today. 

“I want to film something, but I need your help with the equipment. I can pick you guys up” Joe asked. 

“We’ll be ready in ten minutes” They ended the call and Joe went to the guest room to start getting everything ready. He packed the needed equipment into his car and started the drive into town. He stopped at the store to pick up a single cupcake and made sure it was Nicky’s favorite cake. 

He pulled up to the apartment to see Booker and Nile waiting outside for him. Nile took the front seat while Booker sat in the back. “Hey. Thanks for helping me out” 

“Of course. I’m guessing we’re seeing Nicky” Nile pointed out by holding the container with the cupcake. 

“Yeah. Big thirty birthday” Nile smiled and turned to look at her fiance. They were quiet to the drive to the edge of the forest. They all carried some equipment up to the hill and to the headstone. “Hi habibi” Nile’s heart broke at hearing the softness of the older man’s voice. It was the same tenderness that she hasn't heard since his death. 

“Happy birthday. I bought your flowers” Joe set down the bundle of sunflowers he got at the market. “And your favorite cake” He set the container next to the flowers with a smile. “Nile and Booker are here too” 

Nile was watching on while Booker started to set up the mic stands, one for the guitar and for the vocal. “Hi Nicky” she gave a slight wave. “Happy birthday” 

She was shocked to see Joe look up at him with the soft smile that reached his eyes.It was the first time she's seen him smile. He looked back down at the headstone and bowed his head to say his prayer. Nile helped Booker fix the stand as they let Joe have a private moment with his spouse. 

“We’re all set, Joe” Booker spoke up. Joe looked at him and nodded. He pulled his guitar into his lap and adjusted the mic’s in the right position. Nile filmed just Joe and the tree behind so the headstone was out of frame. She started recording as Joe made sure the guitar was tuned. Booker was to the side filming from that angle. 

Joe started plucking the guitar and playing the notes that were very familiar. “Honey, just put your sweet lips on my lips. We would just kiss like real people do” He kept his eyes closed as he sang the rest of the song. When he played the last note, he turned his head to look at the headstone. Nile moved closer as the camera focused on the inscription and the gift lift there for Nicky. 

They sat there as they shared the cupcake to celebrate. Later that night Joe posted on his Youtube account the performance. 

Like Real People Do (Happy 30th birthday, Habibi) 

Posted October 22nd, 2020

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I’m back, habibi. Manager was giving me a hard time” Joe told his husband as he was pulling off his jacket to hang up. He had a quick meeting with his manager about talking to the record label about his contract. He wanted to wait until next year to release a new album since he couldn’t possibly tour at a time like this. It’s been five months and Nicky just needs two more sessions of chemotherapy. The nurse informed them that Nicky would need to go through tests to check if he would need more treatment or not. 

Joe walked into the living room surprised to see Nicky standing, waiting for him. He looked at the coffee table to see a bag of food from his favorite restaurant. There were also bowls of fruit and bags of chips and candy. 

“What’s all this?” He asked, confused. 

“Surprise” Nicky gestured at the food with a big smile. 

Joe went through important dates in his head and didn’t come up with anything. “It’s not my birthday and I would remember our anniversary. So what’s the surprise?” 

“I just want to surprise you with your favorite foods and I rented your favorite movies. Including the one where Booker did that ridiculous stunt that had you laughing for hours” Joe’s heart swelled at seeing how adorable his husband looked in his baggy sweater. He moved closer so he could place his hands on his thinning waist. Joe tried not to think about just how skinny Nicky was now and thought about how he would gain all the weight back when he’s better.

“You didn’t have to do all this, habibi. I could just go for some cuddles” 

“I know you would, but you deserve to be spoiled. You’ve been taking such good care of me and I want to have a day just for you” Nicky placed his sleeve covered hands onto Joe’s muscular chest. 

“Very well” Joe pecked Nicky’s lips and held his hand to sit down on the couch. “You have to eat with me though or we have no deal” 

“Fine, but you have to feed it to me”

“Of course, my love”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe was about to get into bed when his eyes lingered over to the desk against the wall. It was neat yet messy in some way. There were a couple of pens scattered and a few stray papers. There was a cork board hanging on the wall that had polaroids of the couple or them with their friends. Nicky had put it up so he could have inspiration while he’s writing. 

He felt like he was struggling to breath as his body drew him closer to the area. He stopped right in front of the stack of papers. He grabbed it with shaking hands and read the cover page. 

Star Crossed Lovers

By Nicky Genova Kaysani

A small smile crept onto his face since it was the first time Nicky used his married name on his novel. He turned the page and was welcomed to the acknowledge page. 

To my incredible husband, Joe Al Kaysani.

I couldn’t have asked for a better person to love and spend the past seven years with. I cherish every moment we’ve shared and I’ll be waiting for you in the afterlife. For I will wait years for you to be reborn with me. For our paths will cross soon just like these star crossed lovers. I love you forever, Yusuf. Please stay strong for me and keep soothing the world with your music. 

Joe was crying and needed to put the book down. He must have written the page when they received the news. It broke his heart imagining Nicky sitting at the desk and writing his goodbye to not only his readers but to him too. 

He took a deep breath before grabbing the pages again. Joe went to sit on the bed since he wouldn’t sit in Nicky’s desk chair. He started reading the words his husband wrote to write a beautiful and descriptive world. The characters were eerily similar to them but the story was different than their own. Joe was enthralled with the tale of the two men fighting gods and spirits to be together. He turned the page and was confused to see a blank page. He kept flipping until he reached the last page. 

You, the reader, will be the ones to finish my story since my own story has come to an end. Thank you for staying with me for so long and remember to always fight the darkness within you.

Underneath was a website which struck Joe’s curiosity. He typed the address into the search engine on his phone. The link leads to a site created for the readers of the book to post their ending to share. Joe smiled since Nicky really put thought into his final novel. He got up and placed the papers back on the desk. He opened up his phone contact and made a call to the only person who can be trusted with this.

“Hey Clarie. I think Nicky’s left something for you to publish”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Joe parked the car into the driveway and didn’t make a move to get out of the car. The whole ride back from the doctor’s was silent and still was except for Nicky’s sniffles. The appointment didn’t bring them any good news, at least nothing that Joe could turn into a positive. “You can leave” 

Joe turned his head to be sure Nicky even spoke. He was still looking out the windshield with tear streaks down his cheeks. “What do you mean?”

“You can leave. You don’t have to stay. There’s no reason for you to stay” 

“No reason for me to stay? I have every reason to, Nicolo. You are my husband. I said I will see this through to the end. In sickness and in health” 

Nicky was openly crying now but couldn’t face Joe. “The end is now, Yusuf. I’m dying”

“Don’t” Joe begged as he finally let his own tears fall. 

“Please. I don’t want you to see me like this, Joe. Please. Just leave” 

“No” Joe shook his head. “I could never leave you, Nicolo. I don’t care about how you look, I will be there when you draw your last breath. I will be there to ease the pain cause you’re my husband and my heart can not go far from yours” 

Nicky finally looked at Joe with pain and fear in his eyes. “I don’t want to die” He sobbed out. Joe leaned across the middle console to hug his husband. They held each other in the car for what felt like hours as they sobbed against each other.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nile was right. Of course she was. He finished his album a few weeks ago and he hasn’t announced the news to his fans. He truly didn’t want to release the album at all since he wanted to be selfish. He wanted it to be kept between him and Nicolo, but he had to uphold his promise. He decided the only way to announce it was by going live on his Instagram account. He went to the sitting room and rested his phone against the books. He made sure he looked presentable since he didn’t want people to worry about him. He hit the live button and waited for people to join as he sipped his tea. He was reading the comments coming in. 

“Thank you. My hair grew back surprisingly fast” He moved some loose strands out of his face. He looked at the comments and saw lots of people were asking about Nicky and about them being married. 

“I’m glad you liked the performance. I won’t be performing any concerts anytime soon” He took a sip of his tea before making his announcement. “I have some good news. Uh, last week I finished my second album titled Wasteland, Baby. Later on today the link to pre order will be up on my website” 

He glanced at the comments to see people were excited for new music. “I don’t know if I will release a single before the album release. Probably not since I don’t wanna do a music video or any publicized things” 

People were asking if he was okay since he looked sad. Some people were sending their condolences for a marriage they didn’t even know existed. “I honestly didn’t feel like releasing the album since it’s really personal, but I think Nicolo would want me to” He rubbed the back of his neck as he turned his head to look out the window. 

“Um, it’, uh,” He took a shaky breath to push away his tears. “It’s been a really tough two years and I think this will be my last album until I feel more stable and um- healthy” 

Joe tried to collect his thoughts, not glancing at the comments. “I would like to keep some of mine and Nicky’s privacy. I decided to let you know about our love since I felt like the world needed to know. I expressed my love for him in my music and he expressed his love for me in his writings. We never got around to telling you guys, but we were going to. After almost five years of marriage we were gonna make the announcement, but things came up”

He bit his lip and wiped away the stray tear. “Anyway um” He took a deep breath. “Preordered the album and follow your heart. Life has a cruel way of making love last forever or very short” Joe was about to end the stream when he remembered some more news. “Oh, also Nicky’s last book will be published and available for purchase next week. Star Crossed Lovers by Nicky Genova Kaysani will be in bookstores near you” Joe made sure the release of the book will be on Nicky’s one year anniversary. “I believe that’s all the announcements so farewell”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe was preparing some soup when he heard a crash in the bedroom. He ran down the hall and into the room to see Nicky on the floor. The cup of tea he made him was knocked over on the nightstand where Nicky tried to catch himself. 

“Nicky. Nicolo” He was kneeling next to his husband making sure he was breathing. It seemed like Nicky just lost consciousness as he was getting out of bed. He dialed 911 as he kept trying to wake his love up. 

When they got to the hospital, Joe had to wait in the waiting room as the doctors made sure he was okay. “Mr Al-Kaysani” Joe stood up as soon as he heard his name from Nicky’s doctor. 

“He okay?” he asked immediately. 

“He’s awake, but I don’t know how long he has, Joe” The doctor hated to break the news to the man. He could tell just how much the two love each other and this was what made him hate his job. “As I informed you at the last appointment, the cancer has spread through his whole body. His vitals aren’t looking good right now so he could have hours maybe days” 

Joe nodded his head and tried to put a strong face on. He had to stay strong for his Nicolo. “Thank you” He whispered out. The doctor walked away and Joe pulled his phone out. He texted the group chat, ‘It’s time’ before walking down the halls to where Nicky was. 

“Hey you” Nicky whispered out the same line Joe’s used throughout their whole relationship. Joe smiled and walked into the room to sit in the chair near the bed.

“Hey. How are you feeling?” Joe knew it was a stupid question, but he didn’t know what else to say. 

“Tired” Joe nodded and placed his hand on top of Nicky’s cold one. “Lay with me” Nicky whispered out. 

Joe couldn’t resist and laid next to his husband. They were laying on their sides with Nicky’s hand resting on his warm cheek. Joe stared into his eyes, knowing this was the last time he'd look into such extraordinary eyes. He tried to memorize every inch of the love of his life’s face as he listened to Nicky’s breath get more shallow. 

“I love you so much, Yusuf” 

Joe felt tears forming which he held back. “I love you to the moon and back, Nicolo” 

Nicky didn’t try to hide his own tears as he struggled to keep breathing. “I don’t want to leave you” he gasped out. 

“You aren’t, habibi. You’ll always be with me in my heart” Joe moved Nicky’s hand to rest over his heart. Right where Joe has Nicky’s name in arabic tattooed. 

Nicky leaned in to be kissed and Joe kissed him with all the love in his body for it will be the last that should be many more. They rested their foreheads together to try to stay in the moment for however long they had. Joe could tell Nicky was fighting to stay awake, to stay with him longer. 

“It’s okay, habibi. You can rest. I’ll be right here” Nicky moved to rest his head against his husband’s chest as he let his heavy eyelids shut. Joe held his body against his own with his eyes shut and his lips pressed to the top of his head. He let all his tears fall once he heard the flatline that told him his love was gone. He let out a sob as he held Nicky’s limp body close to him. He shook his head with disbelief and prayed it wasn’t true. He listened as the doctor came in and announce the time of death which made it all too real. He laid on the bed sobbing and cradling Nicky to him, hoping that he would awake. That evening Nicolo Genova Kaysani took his last breath while being in the arms of the only man he’ll ever love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This isn’t happening” Joe whispered in disbelief. Andy and him were in the SUV dressed in their finest clothes. His agent got him a designer suit and Andy was dressing a slick suit with the no button up underneath, but a diamond bralette. Wasteland, Baby is nominated for four awards, record of the year, album of the year, best rock performance, and best rock song. The album was on top of all billboard charts and he actually won several awards from Billboard and American Music Awards. He didn’t go to any of the shows and had Andy go in his place. She deserved recognition too for helping him produce his music. He was tempted to not attend the Grammy’s since he promised he would take Nicolo as his date. He lifted his hand to feel the wedding band on his necklace. Nicky was here with him in spirit and he knew that. 

“You ready?” Andy asked as they pulled up to the carpet. They can already see all the flashing lights from the cameras. 

She was surprised when Joe actually let out a laugh. A true from his gut laugh. He shook his head and said, “No. Allah no. I don’t want to get out of this car” 

“A little too late for that. You’re performing” Andy reminded him with a smile on her face. She was stunned that Joe accepted the spot to perform. He kept true to his word and didn’t schedule a single concert after the release of his album. His agent talked him into making singles which were Nina Cried Power and Movement. Both videos didn’t have Joe in them but they were his vision. Nina Cried Power was the main track that was nominated for the most awards which was understood. The track and the video was about protesting for the rights of people of color and past people who helped with the cause. 

Joe looked at Andy and nodded his head. “For Nicky” 

She smiled and repeated, “For Nicky”

Joe got out of the car first and held a hand out to help Andy out of the car. She made sure to hold his hand the whole night to be his crutch. They didn’t have to worry about the media assuming that they were a couple since they sorted out that issue years ago. She was featured on one of Joe’s tracks which made people assume that she was his wife. They found out from Andy’s social media that she was very much married and very not interested in men. Her Instagram was filled with her sparing videos or pictures of Quynh modeling or them kissing. 

People also knew that Joe was a grieving widower who could never love another. He made sure they knew before heading to the ceremony by posting some pictures on Instagram.

(Picture: Nicky was sitting on the kitchen counter while Joe was standing between his legs. Nicky’s arms were draped over his shoulders while Joe looked up at him lovingly. Picture: A charcoal sketch of Nicky. The last one he ever did. Picture: The last picture he took of Nicky. He was in a hospital gown and one of Joe’s beanie on his head. He was looking out the window with his hand against his lips, more specifically his wedding band against his lips. He looked to be lost in thought but there was a smile on his face. Joe had asked him what he was thinking about and he said you.

@Joe_Kaysani: If it wasn’t for you my love I wouldn’t be heading to the Grammy’s. I’m glad you’re my date tonight.)

Joe and Andy went on the carpet to pose, but made no move to do any interviews. He couldn’t take the idea of anyone asking him about Nicky. They made it into the venue and sat in the assigned seats. He clapped for all the performances and the winner for best pop artist. He waited until it was time for him to go backstage to get ready for his performance. He changed out of his suit and into more casual clothes. He wore one of Nicky’s black sweaters and a pair of black denim jeans. He put his hair up in a bun rather than it being down. Andy also changed into her usual clothes to match Joe’s look. She would be playing the piano while Joe stood with his guitar. He let the worker connect his mic and place it on his collar. He asked to not have a mic stand since he wanted the performance to feel natural. 

He felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see Andy was looking at him. “You got this. Just imagine no one is here” 

Joe nodded before they walked onto the dark stage. They waited till the person introduced them while Joe closed his eyes. He envisioned that the arena was empty and right in the front row was Nicky. 

“Give it up for Joe Al Kaysani” Everyone clapped and Joe kept looking at the ground as the arena got quiet. He opened his eyes and started to play the complicated note progression for the first song he wrote for his Nicolo since his passing. He kept staring at his guitar as he started singing the first verse

He struggled to sing the chorus as the last memory of Nicky came to mind. “Words hung above, but never would form. Like a cry at the final breath that is drawn. Remember me love when I’m reborn as the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn” 

He looked up at the bright light shining on him. “And I had no idea on what ground I was found in. All of that goodness is gone with you now” 

His tears were falling as he kept singing and playing. “I was housed by your warmth and I was transformed”  He softly smiled as he thought about how Nicky basically saved his life by just walking into that bar. “by your grounded and giving darkening scorn. Remember me love when I’m reborn as the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn” 

He bowed his head as he wiped his tears away. Joe was then surprised by a loud cheering from the audience. He looked up to see people standing and wiping away their own tears. Andy stood up from the piano and pulled him into a tight embrace. He held her tightly as he let out a sob. This was his closure. His way of fully saying goodbye to his husband even if he didn’t want to let him go. 

The staff ushered them backstage where they would wait for the awards to be announced. He didn’t bother changing back to his suit since he can smell Nicky on the sweater and it brought him comfort. 

“The winner for record of the year is… Nina Cried Power by Joe Al-Kaysani featuring Mavis Staples” The crowd cheered loudly as Joe walked out from backstage. He accepted the award and the envelope and bowed his head to the presenter as she congratulated him. 

He looked at the crowd to see several people of color on their feet celebrating a huge win. He smiled and nodded his head. “Hello” He softly said into the mic. 

“Um, Mavis couldn’t be here tonight, but I’ll be sure to give this to her. I wrote this song with her two years ago before life happened. We wanted an empowering song for all us fighting for our rights. A protest song as you all call it. I hope this win will change the recording academy and even the film academy that us people of color need to be acknowledged for our work, for our art. We’ve all cried power for years and now's the time for change. Thank you” He walked backstage as the crowd shouted in agreement. 

Andy and him were ushered back to their seats as they waited for the final award to be announced. 

“And the winner for album of the year is…. Wasteland, Baby!” 

“Joe!” Andy shouted excited. Joe had his hand covering his mouth as he squeezed his eyes shut. The cheers fell on deaf ears as he tried to comprehend what was just announced. He stood up and let Andy wrap an arm around his waist to help him to the stage. She took the trophy from the presenter and passed it over to Joe. 

He exhaled shakily as he tried to get his emotions in line. He stepped to the mic and nodded his head. 

“Thank you” He simply said to stop the clapping. “I didn’t think I would win, but this is the album that deserves it” He stopped to swallow the lump in his throat. “This album started out about love and admiring beauty in the form of your lover” 

Joe sniffled and lifted his free hand to wipe the stray tears. “It then become art in the form of grief for I had lost husband of seven years from cancer” He decided to keep talking even though his eyes blurred from his tears. “I didn’t want to make music ever again, but I had to uphold my promise to Nicolo. He told me, “You better finish your album by the time I’m better cause I’m gonna be your date to the Grammy’s”. And I know he is here in spirit. This is the last time I will play the guitar and lift my pen to write lyrics, for my heart and soul can’t work without it’s muse. So this award is for my wonderful and beyond beautiful husband, Nicolo. I love you, habibi and I'll see you soon"