forty-one

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"So you're a Muslim now?" asked a very bewildered Elijah when Nicholas stepped into their home.

Nicholas nodded, slipping off his shoes as he carried a bundle of books in his arms.

"And you're totally serious about this?"

"Yes, Elijah. I am now a Muslim man," he said, bored at the subject. Placing the books on the counter, Nicholas furrowed his eyebrows at his roomate. "Why are you so surprised?"

Elijah corralled all of his thoughts together, placing the hidden hints and stolen moments at the library all together in the puzzle that became of Nicholas Mueller. He wasn't ashamed or disgusted by his friend, but he was astonished, left speechless as his mind refused to conjure up millions of questions and explanations.

He was completely defenseless against Nicholas's announcement.

"I'm just... I... Damn," he exhaled loudly, a hand running down his face. Elijah glanced at the coffee machine that grinded and churned the heavenly aroma of stress relief. "I need my coffee."

Nicholas walked over to the machine, pressing some buttons to halt the numbing noise of brewing liquid. Bending until the clear glass was eye level with him, he tapped it, observing the dark brown steaming coffee that slowly circled in the jar, rushing with ease to the other side as the laws of physics finally forced it still.

There was something oddly comforting about the grinding of coffee beans. The noise itself was soothing to the ears, a constant tap against fragile glass like Dina and her annoying persistence in his happiness. Nicholas had once been as fragile as a crystal until he found Islam from Dina, cladding himself in armor and walls that would never break.

He shook his head, amused. Wow, I just converted and I'm already comparing coffee to religion.

Pulling two mugs out, he gently poured the steaming drink into them, careful of the occasional spill. After adding cream to both, he stirred the contents slowly, faintly aware of Elijah's burning gaze on the back of his head. Nicholas bit his lip, nervous about Elijah's reaction more than ever.

He seemed perfect towards the Younes twins and Dina, yet at the mention of Nicholas becoming a Muslim, he froze like a piercing glacier had crashed right upon them. A wintry chill fell down his spine even though it was spring outside their doors.

Keeping his back towards Elijah, Nicholas stilled his movements, gripping the counter till his knuckles turned white. He couldn't handle the deafening silence or labored breathing as each of them thought about what to say, what to do, what to feel. An unsettling sense of qualm clamored against his mind.

"Does it bother you?" he asked, squeezing his eyes shut from the burn his lips felt from even mentioning it. "Are you repulsed by my conversion that you can't even speak to me?"

At this, Elijah began chuckling.

Nicholas abruptly spun on his heels, gazing at Elijah's laughing form, shaking from the humor that Nicholas must have missed. He narrowed his cerulean eyes, pondering the sudden shift in mood.

"Please humor me, Elijah."

His roomate smiled, white teeth contrasting with his dark skin in a familiar pang of happiness, a smile that Nicholas used to scoff at. Now he breathed a sigh of relief from seeing it again.

"Nick, I'd never hate you for your beliefs," he said softly, leaning over the counter. "I'm just surprised. That's all."

"But why?"

He shrugged, brown eyes averting to the floor in embarrassment. "I guess I tried so hard to get you involved with the church that I'm surprised Dina and her brothers managed to change your view of religion completely within a year. It makes me think."

Nicholas brought the two mugs to the ebony marbled counter as well, handing Elijah his. He noticed the slumped shoulders of his usually confident best friend. Elijah's eyes stared into the distance, lost in the bustling city noise from their windows and the millions of multi-colored dots that lit the frame of urban life. It was late out, yet no one had any intention of sleeping especially Nicholas when he had so much to read about Islam.

He glanced at his bundle of books that he brought home, and he instantly pushed the thought away. It could wait, he told himself, but Elijah needs me now.

"What does it make you think about?" asked Nicholas, sipping from his mug.

Elijah deeply sighed, eyes glazing over as he stared deep into Nicholas's blue ones. "Did I do something wrong, Nick? Did I push you away from my religion unintentionally? How did Dina impact you so much that you saw religion differently within a year?"

The questions stabbed at Nicholas's chest, suffocating him with their abrupt arrival, completely out of the realm of ordinary. "I-I don't know," he stuttered.

A tense silence fell upon them, both silent in the wide space of a tiny apartment complex, where the two students spent the last four years creating lives for themselves, where late night studying gave them stress lines and endless video gaming weekends turned them into inseparable twins. This was their home.

It would be a true folly if Nicholas allowed this unease in the pit of his stomach to vanish without a settlement between them.

"Elijah," he said in a hoarse voice. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"Then why couldn't I change your perspective in four years while it took Dina one?"

"Because I fell in love with her first, Elijah," cut off Nicholas. "Love is a strong force that can become the catalyst for something more. You did nothing wrong."

"Did you convert for Islam, Nick?"

He nodded. "I may have fallen in love with a girl first, but soon after I fell in love with the religion. I swear you did nothing to push me away from anything, man. I may not have fallen in love with Christianity, but I did learn a lot from you."

"Really?" questioned Elijah with wide eyes.

"Yeah," he replied, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly, "you taught me how to believe in God, Elijah. You taught me how to chase after what I believe in. You taught me how to be a good friend, and for that I will always be grateful to you."

His best friend only smiled as the two reminisced the early college days, the late night gaming, and their heartfelt talks with one another. The two friends sat under the moonlight, sipping their coffee and laughing at old times. The end of college was near but their friendship was just beginning all over again.

----

When you go out in public and feel anxious because you know your mom is gonna call. #GrowingUpWithStrictParents.

Sorry if the chapter isn't enough #Nicna (ship name for Nicholas and Dina) for you guys. Just trying to develop my characters.

Was Elijah right to be upset?

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