forty-six

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There were a few things in life that Nicholas could say no to, however, saying no to the Younes twins seemed like a death sentence. They had smothered him in cloaks of kindness, giving Nicholas no time to react before he was dragged to a popular Muslim buffet, trapped between both twins and their parents sitting right across from him.

Nicholas gulped.

Dina and Dunya, the youngest Younes sibling, sat near their parents on the opposite side of the table, laughing along with their mother at something Dina had said. Nicholas glanced at the three girls. Their mother wore a face veil, covering everything but her eyes, the same light-colored eyes like Haroon's, a warm hazel that emulated the maples of an autumn day. Dark, yet alluring khol lined her eyes, emphasizing her youthful lashes as they fluttered like wings with each blink.

He was appalled by the ease and regality their mother carried dressed in her black abaya and ocean-blue scarf. Every so often, she would slightly lift the veil in order to eat before dropping it back down. Her veil did not hinder her in the slightest.

His eyes then moved to Dina's youngest sister. Dunya matched her sister in every possible way from her sassy remarks to her infamous smile. He noticed the hijab neatly wrapped around her head, a simple lavender cloth that matched her evening gown, a flowy garment that fell to her feet in ruffles, reminding him of a spring meadow from his childhood home.

"Did Dunya start wearing a hijab?" asked Nicholas aloud without meaning to. Almost immediately all eyes were on him, especially Dina's father, who had stopped chewing to quietly observe the white man across from him.

"She wanted to be like our mom and Dina," said Haroon, smiling at his little sister. "Isn't that right, little sis?"

"Yup," she chirped happily.

Their father had not taken his eyes off Nicholas. He fidgeted in his seat, unsure of what he had done to deserve such watchful eyes. Their father was the eagle and Nicholas was the prey, a helplessly meek mouse. However, their father's gaze was not one of suspicion, but rather a look of awe.

Nicholas cleared his throat.

"You recently became a Muslim right, Nicholas?" their father questioned.

He nodded, averting his gaze away.

"MashAllah (God has willed it)," he praised, stroking his graying beard thoughtfully. "May I ask what pushed you to convert?"

Nicholas's heart fluttered within his chest as their father gazed at him with a fatherly love, a supportive glance that warmed his very being with a small smile. Those brown eyes swirled with respect, something that was like a foreign language to him. Nicholas's father had never respected Nicholas enough to care about him, to ask him how he was doing, or to sympathize with him when his friends had died in that tragic accident.

Nicholas pushed the thought away, forcing a wall between his past and his present. Although the internal demons threatened to shatter their cages within him, he tried to forget the horror, the blood, the frozen terror from that night. His eyes were blinded with his roaring past, the sounds echoing against his skull.

Not now, he pleaded. Please, not now.

"Nicholas?" asked Humaid, a worried look entering his eyes.

"Sorry," he apologized, thinking back to the question. What pushed you to convert? The answer rested in his heart like a dormat force that awaited his purpose. "I converted because I found peace in Islam."

At this, their father raised his brow, more curious than a black cat during midnight hours.

"I'm not sure why or how it all happened, but I know Allah had given me a blessing by bringing me to His path. At first, I didn't want to acknowledge Islam. It meant giving up everything I was raised with, yet for some reason I was constantly reminded of Islam from your sons and the world around me."

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