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Fidelity

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Tareq and Juliette stood together on an ornamental bridge, watching a kayaker skim across the lake. The kayaker’s purple hair gleamed, vivid against the gold and orange leaves floating on the water.

“Your magazine didn’t want a story about Egyptian street children?” Tareq asked, hands relaxed on the bridge’s white rail.

Juliette shook her head. The leaves parted before the kayak’s prow, and drifted together again when she passed. A thin dark line of water traced the break.

“How was your cousin’s son’s wedding?” she asked.

“Good,” he said. “Good. He married an American girl.”

Juliette leaned her elbows on the rail and her chin on one hand, and looked up at him. A little more gray in his beard, now. “Is that a problem?”

“No, no,” said Tareq. “A surprise.“ He considered. “But she is Muslim.”

“That makes things easier,” Juliette said. Her lips quirked. “Mark’s - my son Mark’s - wife is second-generation Wiccan.”

“Wiccan?” Tareq said, puzzled.

“Witchcraft,” said Juliette.

He widened his eyes at her, and she laughed briefly. “It’s one of the reasons they eloped,” she said. “My son thought - I don’t know what he thought.” She shifted, pressing the heels of her hands against the rail, and brushed a yellow leaf onto the dark water. “You must not have seen your cousin’s family in many years. It was kind of you to find time to visit us.”

“Time found me,” he said. “My flight got in late so I missed the connection, and I have no family in the area, and...” he shrugged. “A gift of fate.”

They were silent. The yellow kayak paddle dipped in the water, swirling the leaves.

“She rows well,” he said. “Your daughter.”

“Daughter-in-law,” Juliette said. “My daughter hates boats.”

“Like you.”

Juliette smiled slightly, glancing at him. “I’ve changed my mind about them.”

The kayak disappeared behind a tangle of trees. “She’ll reach the dock soon,” said Juliette, and they left the bridge for the path that curved around the lake.

“What is your daughter-in-law’s name?” Tareq asked, as they walked beneath the dull gold oaks. “I’ve forgotten.”

“I never told you,” said Juliette. The leaves brushed her feet in the spaces between her sandal straps. “Delilah. And my son is Mark, after my husband.”

Tareq clasped his hands behind his back. “I’m sorry I wasn’t at your husband’s funeral.”

She shook her head. A lock of hair fell in her face. “Why would you have come?”

He had not known there was anything to come to. Perhaps he had heard through the embassy; but she had not told him when Mark died.

Tareq’s shoes were very black and sleek against the yellow leaves on the woodchip path. He walked with his hands clasped behind his back. “But still,” he said. “I am sorry. He was a good man.”

She nodded.

Just as they reached the lakefront, Delilah skimmed her kayak into the dock. Between the late afternoon autumn sun and the blue sky, her purple hair seemed almost to glow.

***

“I can’t find the towels!” Delilah shouted down the stairs.

“Try the linen closet,” Juliette called; and when Delilah turned on the shower, Juliette gently shut the kitchen door.

Tareq leaned with his back against the sink, hands splayed on the blue and white tiled counter, and looked curiously at the postcards scattered across her fridge. Outside, crows cawed. A squirrel shook the last withering trumpet flowers that Mark had planted.

“You kept my postcards,” Tareq said, not quite touching a picture of the Hagia Sophia.

“Of course,” said Juliette. She moved so they stood next to each other, contemplating the postcards hanging from the red alphabet magnets. The Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace. He had been a long time in Istanbul. Boats in the harbor at Marseilles. Two sphinxes. She had not put them on the fridge until after Mark’s death. The kitchen had seemed empty without him, and the postcards gave it life again.

No pyramids.

She kept her photos of Mark on the mantlepiece, not the fridge. She ought to dust them.

The kitchen was very quiet. “Would you like something to drink?” Juliette asked.

“Coffee,” he said.

“It’s won’t be as good as yours,” she warned. She stopped drinking coffee after Cairo, because it never was as good as the coffee at Tareq’s cafe. But she kept some on hand for her children’s visits. “It’s instant.”

He grimaced. “There probably isn’t time.”

Silence, again. The shower hummed softly upstairs. She could feel the warmth of his shoulder, inches from hers as they stood regarding the cards on the refrigerator. The air seemed taut between them.

Juliette plucked her favorite postcard off the fridge: the Basilica cistern in Istanbul, long lines of dim columns rising from shadowed water. “You’re better at sending postcards than you led me to believe,” she said.

“And you,” he replied, “are much worse.”

They smiled at each other. Through the window, the sunset sunk behind the trees. The trumpet flowers glowed crimson.

Juliette stepped back. The breeze of her movement ruffled the shopping list hanging off the freezer.

“Have you ever been to Turkey?” Tareq asked.

She shook her head, smiling down at his postcard.

“You should go. You could open your all-women cafe in Istanbul,” Tareq said, teasing gently. “More...stable, than in Cairo.”

She looked up, the postcard still in her hands. “Tareq, your family. Is everyone...”

“All right, yes.” He nodded. “It was kind of you to call.”

She turned the card over in her hands. It was the first card from Tareq she’d gotten after her husband’s death. She had almost thrown it out. It had seemed wrong, somehow, to get postcards from Tareq when Mark was dead. “I hated not knowing more than I hate telephones.”

Upstairs, the shower screeched off.

“The Black Sea, hazelnut groves, gypsies,” Tareq murmured. “I’m sure your magazine will like one of those stories better than street children.”

Vous might,” Juliette agreed. She hung the postcard on the fridge again, held up by a scarlet G. “I’d like...”

Delilah came in, purple hair wound up in a pink towel. “You two coming to dinner with me and Mark?” she asked.

Juliette glanced at Tareq. He checked his watch, and shook his head. “My flight,” he said.

“I’ll drive you,” Juliette offered.

***

It began to rain as they drove. Tareq opened his window, and the wind and cold rain blew into the car. Juliette glanced at him and smiled, then returned her eyes to the windshield wipers. “Will you miss the rain when you go back?” she asked.

“It rains often in Istanbul.”

Another glance at Tareq. Mark used to castigate her for not watching the road. “Do you spend a lot of time in Istanbul?” she asked.

Tareq closed the window. “My sister and her husband moved there,” he said. “It’s beautiful. You should see the city from a boat on the Bosphorus, the lights on the water.”

The street lights blurred in the rain on the windshield. She turned up the wiper speed. The wipers squeaked. “I’ve learned how to swim,” she told him.

It was hard to hear above the rain. “What?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Do you speak Turkish?” she asked.

“I’m working on it.”

She laughed and took the airport exit. She knew the route well: she had driven Mark to the airport dozens, hundreds of times.

Juliette almost didn’t get out of the car when they reached the terminal. But when Tareq’s door closed, she unbuckled her seatbelt and went around to the trunk. Tareq hefted his suitcase from the trunk. Juliette reached up to close the trunk again, but stopped. Rain pattered on the overhang. Tareq did not go into the airport.

“Will you send me more postcards?” Juliette asked.

“Of course.” He kissed her cheeks. Left, right. He put his hand over hers, on the trunk lid, and they closed the trunk together. He hefted his suitcase and started toward the airport.

“Tareq,” she said, and he stopped. “Vous did want the story about the Egyptian street children,” she said. “They - we sent - I sent someone else.”

“But it never appeared,” said Tareq.

“It wasn’t very good,” she said. “You checked?”

“Of course,” he said.

A gust of wind blew rain across the street. Juliet’s feet in her sandals were cold. “If we do a piece on Istanbul,” she said, “I’ll go myself.”

He smiled. He had the loveliest smile. “Will you be able to take time off? The magazine won’t fold without your twelve-hour days?” he asked.

A car honked. Juliette was taking too long to pull out.

“I’ve cut back,” she retorted, moving toward the door to the driver’s seat. “And I can find time for Istanbul. To make sure the story comes out right.”