"I mean we all need a second chance sometimes." Joel Osteen
Juliette Grant took one last look in the mirror, smoothing her blonde hair, adjusting the necklace she wore. She tugged at the jacket of her black ensemble. Black always drained her but being a grieving widow, Juliette supposed she should look drained.
She didn't see him until the mourners were leaving the church. Suddenly, he was in front of her with a pretty young woman at his side. Juliette was shocked, pleased and disappointed all in the span of time it took her to see him and realise that it really was Tareq.
"Tareq." It came out as a strained whisper. She cleared her throat. "Tareq…I didn't know you'd come, I—Mark would be pleased."
Tareq bowed his head as he took her hand, squeezing it gently. "Of course I would be here, Ms Juliette. Mark was a very good friend to me," he said, hazel eyes not leaving hers. "This is my sister, Samara Khalifa."
Juliette turned her head to look at Samara and now saw the family resemblance; she was as slender as her brother, but her features softened, more feminine and her eyes were the deepest brown. "It's lovely to meet you," she said, almost feeling guilty at the relief that washed through her. Maybe there was still a chance—she clamped down on that particular line of thought; this was her husband's funeral.
Samara nodded. "I just wish it were under happier circumstances," she replied. "I am so sorry for your loss. Mark was a good man."
"Yes, he was and thank you," she said. Juliette realised that Tareq still held her hand; she placed her other hand on top of his and looked between the siblings. "I hope you will both come to the wake, I'd like that very much," Juliette finished, her gaze locked once again with Tareq's.
Samara nodded. "Of course we will, we would be honoured."
And with that, Tareq nodded and let go of Juliette's hand. The reception line moved on; Juliette barely had time to glance after him, before greeting the next mourner.
The house was full of people. Friends and colleagues of Mark's, couples they'd been friends with and a few friends of hers. Emily was here with her fiancé, Terry; Josh, their son, was here with his wife, Katelynn. Juliette watched her children for a moment as they got the slides going on the computer; it had been Josh's idea to have pictures of Mark—from personal ones to work ones, displayed on the wall.
Juliette watched, feeling disconnected from everything and everyone around her, as the pictures slid into one another. A picture of her and Mark on their wedding day. She almost didn't recognise herself or Mark—they'd been so happy then, so full of hope for their future. Pictures of Juliette pregnant with Josh, pictures of their small family, pictures of her pregnant with Emily…more pictures—their family life, in review. Pictures of Mark with friends and colleagues from his various UN postings around the world.
Sipping her wine, Juliette paused. A picture of her and Mark from Cairo—at the pyramids—she reached up and touched the cartouche necklace. She'd worn it everyday since Tareq had given it to her over two years ago. Scanning the crowd, Juliette fought against the disappointment she felt at not seeing Tareq there. She'd hoped he would come.
Juliette turned from the low noise of the crowd and walked outside, across the patio to one of the stone benches by the small fountain. She leaned over, trailing her fingers through the cool water, idly considering whether she'd even keep this house now that Mark was gone and the children moved out. She still loved it but it was huge and starting to feel too ostentatious for her tastes.
Startled, she gasped and turned to see Tareq standing a few feet from her; his face a neutral mask in the fading evening light. "Tareq," she replied, standing and setting her glass on the bench. She walked over to him and raised a hand to touch his face; he didn't pull back or move, so she cupped the side of it, his beard prickly under her fingers. "It is so good to see you again…I wasn't sure I would. That you came all the way from Cairo…."
Tareq lowered his gaze. "I did not come from Cairo. I live in Ottawa now."
Juliette's hand dropped to her side, blue eyes widening in shock. "What? Why…when?"
"We've been here almost 6 months," Tareq said. "Both of my sisters, their families and of course, my mother. The situation in Egypt…was not safe, my café was destroyed in the riots. Mark arranged for our visas to Canada."
"He never—you never told me. Why?" Juliette wrapped her arms around herself. She honestly couldn't believe Tareq wouldn't want her to know…and why hadn't Mark told her?
"I asked him not to tell you. I…" Tareq forced himself to look Juliette in the eyes. "I was a coward. I was afraid that if I saw you again that I would want more. You were married to Mark, there wasn't any way I would come between you."
Juliette laughed; a short bitter sound. "There was nothing left to come between, Tareq."
He frowned. "What do you mean?"
She glanced over his shoulder to look into the house. Reaching out, Juliette took his hand. "Walk with me," she said, leading him out into the path through the garden.
Once they were further from the house, she stopped, turning to look at him again. "This is something my children don't know about…and I see no good reason why they should now that their father is gone." Juliette paused, rubbing her thumb over Tareq's knuckles. "Mark and I were getting divorced. He was on his way home from the lawyer's when he had his heart attack."
Tareq raised his hand to cup her face. "I am so very sorry. It is not because of...of Cairo, is it?"
Juliette stroked her hand over his, relishing his touch on her face. "Oh, no, it seems that the entire time he was in Gaza, Mark had been having an affair with a British aide worker, Elizabeth Doyle. I think you knew her as well."
"I, yes, I knew her. I had no idea," Tareq said. He frowned, his hand dropping to his side. "I thought I saw her in the house?"
"Yes, she's here," Juliette shrugged. "Why shouldn't she be? She lost the man she loved."
"And you didn't?" Tareq asked, head tilting to the side.
"Oh, I loved him, Tareq but I was no longer in love with him," she said. "Don't worry, it had started well before I met you."
"Doesn't it bother you that he was unfaithful to you?"
Juliette was silent for a moment and shrugged. "Probably not as much as it should. I was surprised but I think on some level, I knew there was something going on. I wasn't even that angry at him for that long." She shrugged. "That wouldn't've changed anything and we were heading for a very amicable divorce, all things considered. Being divorced would've made me free..." Juliette paused, looking up at Tareq. "Like I'm free now," she added in a whisper.
"You are free, but you are widowed."
"Tareq, it would not be disrespectful to my children, if that concerns you. Unless your feelings have changed…."
He shook his head. "No, no they have not. You're sure, Juliette? I cannot stand to have my heart broken again."
She cupped his face again and stepped even closer to him, closer than they'd been in her hotel room in Cairo. "I've never been more sure of anything."
Sliding her hand to the back of Tareq's head, her fingers gliding through the silk of his hair, Juliette raised to the tips of her toes, leaning toward Tareq as he leant down. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she closed her eyes; this time there would be no pulling back, no hesitancy only the touch of his lips to hers.
Their mouths pressed together and it was better than anything she'd dreamt of in the time they'd been apart. Tareq slid his arms around her; one at her waist, the other cupping the back of her head, fingers sinking into her blonde hair. He licked at her lips and she opened to him, their tongues sliding together, tasting one another for the first time. Juliette pressed closer, sliding a hand under his suit jacket. She wanted nothing but to be with Tareq.
Tareq broke the kiss, taking a step back so he could look down on her face. "Juliette, we mustn't… not at Mark's wake." His voice was rough and it seemed to take all his control to move his hands to gently grasp her waist.
"Yes, of course. You're right," Juliette replied. She pressed a slow kiss to his cheek before stepping back. "I want you to stay, I need you here with me, please? I couldn't stand to be separated from you again."
Tareq nodded. "Nor I, you." He took another step back and turned toward the house. "You should probably return to your guests," he said, holding his arm out to her.
"Duty calls," she replied, slipping her hand through his arm and they walked back inside the house. Together.