Chapter 1

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 The rich notes of soulful trumpet danced seductively through the room, the harbinger of the wounded beauty in Billie Holiday's song as her contralto voice lamented the words of "Strange Fruit" to the listening world. It was an odd choice for study music though it was fitting for the tastes of those gathered in the room with the blinds shut, the only light emanating from tablet screens and a small lamp.

Miguel resisted the urge to comment on the song choice since that went against the first rule of the AUX cord: no complaining about anyone's music choice. Instead, he looked up from the glow of his tablet to his friend and shook his head at Zed's furious effort to read through of his flashcards. Zed would pass the final with no problem if he just memorized all of the dates from the study guide.


Everyone knew that Mr.Mills went crazy about students memorizing all the "important" moments in United States history and that doing so guaranteed you would pass. Zed's problem was that he liked to argue that the dates weren't as important as understanding why the events happened and how they impacted the world today. He's right, Miguel mused to himself, not that it's not gonna help my grade in AP US History.

The two boys were sitting together in Zed's room at the desk he had bought two years ago from Goodwill. Both of them had just turned eighteen and were finding high school to be a less-than-convenient use of their time. Both of them struggled to balance their brimming schedules between working jobs and having graduation approaching. Both of them couldn't wait for the moment when they walked across that stage and it was all over.

In less than two weeks they would be free from all the craziness and drama disguised as the beast that some mistaken fool had christened "high school." Prom had come and gone and now finals raced towards them. Zed planned to attend the University of Illinois and Miguel would stick around to work and attend community college. Despite neither of them being partiers, Miguel (jokingly) promised to visit Zed as long as he could get them into at least one sorority party.

As Miguel looked at his friend he couldn't help but to think about when they had first met. He mocked himself for being so cliche but time was moving faster than he had thought possible. Soon he and his friend would hardly see each other anymore and now, in a brief moment of quiet, he couldn't help but take a moment to reminisce. Maybe it was the music or maybe he was just getting sentimental with graduation looming in the distance.

He thoughts dug deep into their past, to the time Kevin O'Hallon had called Miguel a "dirty bean farmer." Zed, who was Muslim, had given a response that Miguel would never forget, and had actually been the start of their friendship.

Zed had stood from his desk and slammed his palms down on Kevin's desk, glaring down at the boy that was twice his size. "You better keep your racist mouth shut," he growled, dark eyes becoming charred embers that flashed wildly, "before I Allahu Akbar your ass to whatever god you and your redneck parents serve."

Miguel could still hear the silence that had hung thick in the room as the entire study hall waited to see what would happen next. Desks creaked as students shifted in their seats to get a better look, some taking out their phones to record what they hoped would be a fight. It was in this moment that Miguel discovered that Kevin was not only a loudmouth racist, he was also a coward. The boy's porcelain skin had gone a shade of red that Miguel hadn't thought humanly possible. The flustered stood from his desk, took his backpack, and quickly shuffled out of the room.

After that moment, Miguel and Zed became close friends who were seldom seen apart. In fact, they were often confused for being brothers, both because they were always together but also because they had similar features. "Long-lost brown brothers of different spices," they like to joke. Both were raven-haired, with tawny skin, and coffee-colored eyes, with full beards to mask their boyish features, though Miguel's had taken months longer to grow than Zed's. Their shared traits had made Miguel's first visit to Zed's mosque much more comfortable than if he had been blonde-haired and blue-eyed.

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