AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I'm posting a Christmas fic in May. Sue me.
I almost titled this "If Pure Flix won't tell me what happens next to Ayisha then I'm writing it myself." Josh was only mentioned in the second film, but was included as a major supporting character in the third movie. If he got resolution, even if it was in a smaller role than he had in the first film, why didn't Ayisha (arguably the most interesting character in the series)?
The timeline of the God's Not Dead universe seems to be that the first two films took place in one year, the 2014-2015 academic year. The third movie, however, seems to have jumped ahead three years to possibly 2018. Josh mentions having gone to grad school but not finishing. If his freshman year at Hadleigh was the 2014-2015 academic year, then he would have been able to finish his undergraduate pre law degree in the spring semester of 2017. He then could have started grad school/his masters in the fall semester of the 2017-2018 year and have time to drop out that same semester. So then by what I'm guessing is the fall semester of the 2018-2019 academic year (from a line mentioning how cold the weather was, and then the very autumn foliage of the trees when Dave and Meg went on a kind of maybe date to the lake), Josh would be able to be the Hadleigh campus (assistant?) pastor.
Also, Keaton says she received a "God's not dead" text from the 2014 Newsboys concert when she was in high school. If she was twenty-one (and the same age as Adam) in 2018, she would have been seventeen in 2014 and logically still in high school at that time. With the way so many things tie together in this franchise's universe, it wouldn't surprise me if at least one of the "God's Not Dead 3 friend quartet" of Keaton, Adam, Teo, or Sydney went to the Martin Luther King Jr. High School at literally the same time as Brooke and Marlene.
This fic is set between God's Not Dead 1 and God's Not Dead 2. The title is from "When God Made You" by The Newsboys.
He made the sun
He made the moon
to harmonize a perfect tune
one can't move without the other
they just have to be together
The afternoon after her father throws her out, Ayisha's eyes well with tears as she looks at Margie's guest bedroom.
There is a twin-sized bed covered in a quilt, a painting of a lighthouse hangs on a light blue walls, golden sunbeams stream in through the window. In short, it is nothing like her father's apartment.
"Do you think this will be enough?" the church secretary asks.
"More than enough," Ayisha manages, voice thick, and Margie gives her an understanding smile. Well, as understanding as the church secretary can be. Ayisha hadn't exactly been talkative during the drive from St. James' to Margie's house, but it's clear the older woman has put the pieces together. "Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart."
"I couldn't let you sleep on a box on the side of the road, now could I?" Margie says honestly.
The Iranian young woman shifts her weight. "I'll make sure this is only temporary. I'll look for a second job and then try to find my own place, and then I won't be in your way-"
"You could never be in my way," Margie says, gently interrupting Ayisha's ramblings. "And this doesn't have to be temporary. I don't want you on pins and needles around me. You can stay as long as you like."
Ayisha swipes at the tear that slides down her cheek. "Really?"
Margie nods. "Really."
The eighteen-year-old sits down on the edge of the bed and cries.
When Ayisha calls her family's landline number, nerves coil in her gut.
She knows her father will be at work at this time of day; nothing ever stops Misrab from being at his factory job. But Ayisha only realizes she is holding her breath when she hears her brother's voice, and then she remembers to drag air into her lungs.
"Hello?" he says.
Her voice cracks. "Fahid?"
"Ayisha? Are you okay?"
"I'm okay," she replies, because it's true. Mostly. "Is Baba home?" his sister asks, wondering if she will ever hear her sibling's voice again after this phone call ends.
"He's at work," Fahid answers. "Where are you?"
"I need to come by and get my things," she says instead. "Can you let me in the apartment?"
Her laptop is miraculously untouched. But her old iPod is in pieces on the kitchen counter, and her Bible is ripped to shreds in her bedroom.
A lump forms in Ayisha's throat as she shoves clothes in her backpack, but she doesn't let herself dwell on the destruction of the two items. Precious belongings, yes, but they can be replaced; Margie already gave her a new Bible. But what cannot be replaced is Fahid, and so Ayisha hugs him with all her strength. A few days ago he would have protested that he was too old for hugs. But things have changed irrevocably, and he clings to her.
"I can't tell you where I'm staying for both our sakes," she says, kneeling to be at eye level with him. "But if Baba hurts you, go to the Johnsons across the hall. If they're not home, head for St. James' Church. Wherever you go, I'll find you, and I'll protect you. I promise." She brushes a curl back from his forehead. "I love you."
"I love you too," he says.
He throws his arms around her again, and she drops a kiss on top of his head. "If Baba asks you where I've gone, you can honestly tell him you don't know."
Tears slide down her cheeks as she leaves the family apartment for the last time.
Tears are again the theme of the next few days. She doesn't think she's cried this much since her mother died.
Late one evening, she's too stressed to focus on classwork. Instead, she is crying in one of the campus library's study rooms when she hears a gentle knock. She looks up at the door she thought she had closed only to find it partially open, and a young man watching her with a genuinely concerned expression. He looks vaguely familiar, and after a moment it clicks - he's Josh something or other, the guy she talked to oh so briefly at the Newsboys concert early in September, that Christian student who stood up for God to a professor.
She privately muses that a fellow Christian showing up right when she's feeling completely and utterly alone surely isn't a coincidence.
"Sorry to bother you," Josh offers, "but uh, are you okay?"
She smiles, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Not really."
He wavers by the door, clearly wondering whether to stay or leave. But then she finds herself saying, "I'm Ayisha, by the way. I didn't get a chance to introduce myself at the concert. And you're Josh…"
She doesn't normally do this. Her father, of course, had never let her date. A few times he'd brought up arranging her marriage to a man she had never met and shipping her back home to Iran. But Ayisha even talking to a guy unrelated to her before that was frowned upon; needless to say, white American boys were always out of the question. But her father isn't here, and didn't the Book of Genesis say people are not meant to be alone? Not that she's thinking of Josh romantically. They've barely met, and this is just one Christian needing support from a fellow believer-
Pull it together, Ayisha tells herself.
"Wheaton," Josh finishes. "Alright if I come in?"
She nods. "Sure."
When he officially enters the study room, he leaves the door wide open and sits on the other side of the table from her. She appreciates the respectful distance, because too many guys like to get far too close. Josh waits her for her to continue, and she decides to just come out with it. "My father disowned me for being a Christian."
She doesn't elaborate, but Josh's gaze falls to the fading bruise on her face. "I'm so sorry."
"Thanks," she manages, tears pricking at her eyes for the thousandth time.
"Is there anything I can do?"
She somehow finds it within her to smile, but it's a faint one. "Would you pray for me?"
"Of course." He leans forward on the tabletop. "Is it alright if I pray for you right now?"
All she can do is nod as he adds, "You know, it says in the Book of Matthew that when at least two Christians come together, God is with them." His gentle brown gaze meets hers. "Know that you're not alone, Ayisha."
She almost loses it all over again then and there, knowing in her bones that God sent Josh to tell her those specific words. Then her fellow college student closes his eyes and bows his head, and she is able to weep in relative privacy as he prays.
The rest of the fall semester passes in a fog.
She cries somewhat less as the days and weeks and months go by, but her soul is exhausted by the time Christmas break arrives. All she does is go to class, study, and work, repeating the cycle in almost a daze. Ayisha honestly doesn't know how she is able to continue attending Hadleigh, expecting her father to pull his funding out from underneath her. For now nothing has happened, however, and she decides to leave the details to God and do what she's at university for.
But on the first morning of Christmas break, she wakes to find an email from Hadleigh University in her inbox.
Her financial aid counselor writes about how sad he and the college will be to see her go after all of her tuition money has been removed and her attendance officially ended. Ayisha finds herself grateful that her father had even let her finish her first semester before removing his monetary support. Despite all his faults, he granted her five months at Hadleigh, which is more than most Middle Eastern girls dream of.
Ayisha blinks at the email on her phone screen, sets down the device on the nightstand, and rolls over to stare at the popcorn ceiling. No tears overflow this time, but instead she calculates her options. Does she fight her father and force him to return his own money for the rest of her college tuition? Does she piece together every scholarship she can get her hands on and put herself through the rest of her schooling? Or is God shutting the door to her university life?
Ayisha knows if the Lord wants her back at Hadleigh, that He will make her way. But there's three weeks of Christmas break looming before her. So she makes copies of her resume on Margie's printer, and heads out the door into the snow.
The only place that shows any interest in her is a local coffee shop. Even though she has never made a single cup of coffee in her entire life, her albeit brief experience at the Hadleigh University cafeteria pays off. By the end of the week, she is officially hired by the manager Meg Harvey. At six the next morning, Ayisha is donning another apron and learning the details of making macchiatos and how to run the cash register.
She just doesn't expect one of her first customers on her first day to be Josh.
After the morning rush - probably the last major one until January, given that most of the Hadleigh students are heading home for the holidays - the coffee shop is quiet. As Meg teaches a somewhat overdramatic but funny recent hire called Tom Blanchart how to make latte art, Ayisha wipes down the counter and tries to ignore the ache in her feet and knees and back. But when she hears a familiar voice, Ayisha almost drops the spray bottle and the rag she's holding.
She looks up to see Josh standing before her.
"Hey," she repeats, her first genuine smile in five months faintly turning up the corner of her mouth. But then she remembers herself, plastering on her broad, fake work smile as she shoves the cleaning supplies in the cupboard beneath the counter. "What can I get for you?"
"One Americano, please," he says. As Ayisha inputs his order into the register, Meg starts making the drink behind her while Josh pulls out his wallet and hands Ayisha a crumpled five dollar bill. "How are things going with you, Ayisha?"
The question might be casual to anyone else, but it's become a staple of their conversations over the semester. They hadn't seen each other too often, both busy with vastly different majors. But when they had time to say more than a quick hello in passing, he always made a point to check in with her. Given that Iranian society doesn't exactly encourage vulnerability, having someone actively care about how she's doing is… Well, it's new but not unwelcome territory. She's trying not to read too much into it.
"I'm okay," Ayisha replies, and this time it's true. Life isn't perfect, but she's physically safe and has a job and somewhere to live. Her basic needs are being met. "How about you?"
"Alright," he says with a hint of a sigh. She's known him long enough by now that she can read him fairly well. He's always been something of an open book, but she can also tell he doesn't want to talk about whatever he's dealing in line at a coffee shop.
"Text me if you ever want to chat," she says lightly.
The somber look in his eyes lets her know he understand her underlying meaning. He's been her sounding board for a while now, and it's time she return the favor. "Thanks," he says.
Meg sets down the Americano, and when Ayisha hands the cup to Josh, their fingers brush. She doesn't let herself react to the touch as minor as it is, because they aren't in middle school. "Are you heading home for the break?" Ayisha asks.
But then he tenses at her simple question. "Probably."
She doesn't press the issue. With his strange, almost noncommittal answer and the way he clears his throat, it's obvious she's hit a nerve. He hasn't told her much about his family, because they'd usually been discussing hers whenever they found time to talk. It's high she focused on Josh instead of always her own moping. "Have a wonderful Christmas," she offers, trying to return to neutral.
But an odd expression settles onto his features, as if he's not looking forward to the holiday. "You too," is all he says before heading out the door.
She sends up a prayer for God to look out for Josh until she sees him again in January.
Josh shows up at the coffee shop the very next day.
"I thought you'd be heading back to California by now," she carefully comments after taking his order.
He shrugs. "I didn't feeling like enduring three whole weeks of my parents telling me I shouldn't have stood up to Raddison." Josh sighs. "And I'd rather not see Kara, honestly. She and I are from a small coastal town, and we'd be bound to run into each other."
Ayisha remembers his pushy girlfriend from her days working at the campus cafeteria. But maybe ex-girlfriend is the correct term now, given the way Josh talks about Kara. But it isn't any of Ayisha's business if he's single.
Not at all.
"I was so wrapped up in my own head yesterday that I forgot to ask," he adds, "what are you doing for the holidays?"
"I'll probably just be working."
"Are you going back to the campus cafeteria in January?"
Ayisha brushes a strand of hair over her ear. "I'm, uh, not going back."
His brown eyes widen. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"It's just the way things are." She tries to be nonchalant, yet can't quite ignore the pang in her chest. "But it's hard to give up something that definitely wasn't a guarantee anyway for a girl in a traditional Muslim family."
"I'm sorry," he says genuinely.
Michael Buble's cover of I'll Be Home For Christmas starts to play over the speakers, and both the barista and the pre-law student grow solemn. The bell on the door chimes as two local high schoolers enter, and Josh steps back from the counter. "See you around."
"See you," she repeats as the teenage girls approach the counter. Ayisha is too busy taking the orders from Brooke and Marlene to notice Josh glancing back over his shoulder twice at her as he exits the coffee shop.
The following day, Josh arrives with a laptop.
"I'm not stalking you or anything," he says quickly when Ayisha comments on his computer. "It's just that the dorms are so quiet with almost everyone gone, that it's starting to get eerie."
"As long as you buy something every hour or so," Ayisha replies as she hands him his coffee, "I don't think Meg will kick you out."
The shop is quiet once again, only a handful of customers stopping by during the course of the day. When Meg puts her two newest employees on floor duty, Ayisha intentionally cleans a table right by the one Josh has commandeered. Tom looks on as she spends more time than necessary scrubbing a mug ring from the wood. "What are you working on?"
Josh closes the lid of his laptop. "Some reading for my Intro To Ethics class."
"Well, don't let me interrupt-"
"You're not." He runs a hand over his face. "I need a break anyway. I can feel my brain cells frying."
When Josh leaves that evening, Tom glances at Ayisha. "My guess is he'll ask you out by the end of the week."
"It's not like that," she counters. "We're just friends."
Her coworker rolls his eyes. "Sure."
The next day, Josh arrives at the coffee shop with another Hadleigh pupil.
"This is Martin Yip," Josh says after he and the Chinese exchange student make their orders.
"I'm Ayisha Nur Ad-Din," she says, shaking Martin's hand across the counter. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," Martin replies. She dimly recognizes him from the Newsboys concert, and she wonders if he's in a similar position that she is. Christianity is illegal in China, and perhaps he also has to hide his religious views from his family.
"He's staying on campus over the break too," Josh adds. "We're going to celebrate Christmas together, and we were wondering if you wanted to join us."
"Oh." She hesitates. "I've never actually celebrated Christmas before. I mean, I observed it secretly before I could be open about my faith. But I don't know all the customs and traditions."
"Neither do I," Martin admits awkwardly.
"That's totally fine," Josh assures them. "I can explain everything. Mainly it's just about spending time with family and friends. A usual Christmas would be exchanging gifts, going to church, and hanging out the rest of the day. It's not that complicated, I promise."
"Which one do you think I should wear?" Ayisha asks Margie on Christmas morning.
Two semi-casual dresses are laid out on the bed in the room the Iranian girl still rents. Both outfits had been purchased while she still lived with her father, so the dresses are of course modest enough for a good Islamic girl she was before. The cherry red one looks like it's straight out of a Hallmark movie, while the other is a more muted green with lace sleeves.
"I'd go with the green," Margie suggests. "Now I should get ready myself for church."
After the older woman leaves the room, Ayisha puts on the green dress and then goes to the bathroom mirror. Her father had thought any makeup other than foundation was vain, but now she puts on eyeliner and eyeshadow like the YouTube video had said. She even puts on lipstick, and wonders if Josh would like it.
You're not in high school, she thinks firmly. And you don't need to dress for a guy.
But when she and Margie go to St. James' Church, Ayisha finds herself looking for Josh, and is disappointed when she doesn't see him in the pews. He and Martin arrive at the Christmas service a few minutes later, and there's an odd feeling blooming in her chest when Josh stares at her.
"We save seats for you," Ayisha says with a smile.
As she sits down again beside Margie, the girl looks over to see Martin nudging Josh with his shoulder. The American turns red as the Chinese student whispers something, and then the two young men sit beside Ayisha. She finds herself wishing it was Josh who was sitting right beside her, not Martin.
But Martin and Ayisha do exchange a glance, bonding over the awkwardness of not knowing the hymns that the American believers sing so easily. After Pastor Jude finishes leading music, her thoughts turn from Josh as she listens to Pastor Dave's sermon. She had read the nativity story before, but she hasn't before considered that Jesus had given up the glories of heaven itself to save humanity.
"Sorry for the less than impressive tree," Josh says later that day as he, Ayisha, and Martin enter the American's dorm room.
By the window is a plastic fir tree only a foot tall. It's covered in white lights and colorful trinkets, and there are two presents wrapped in red-and-green paper beneath the synthetic branches. "I bought this at Walmart to have at least some decorations," Josh adds. "Normally I'd have a real tree."
Martin raises an eyebrow. "A real one?"
"Yeah. Basically, you chop down a pine or fir, a normal sized one, but the bigger the better. You can buy a pre-cut one if you want. Then you put it in your living room and decorate it. But you have to keep the tree alive for a month, so you have to climb under it to water the base, and the pine needles and sap gets everywhere. Sometimes there'll be a bird's nest in it. My cousin Adam once found a squirrel in my aunt's tree. But then you have to keep your dog from, you know, marking his territory, or your cat from climbing it and knocking ornaments off."
Ayisha and Martin exchange a glance. "That sounds like a lot of work," she muses.
"Oh, it is," Josh sighs. "I like the smell of real Christmas trees, but I prefer a fake one."
Martin's phone rings. "Is it okay if I get this? It's my brother."
"Go ahead," Josh says easily, but Ayisha sobers at the mention of siblings. She wants to see Fahid more than anything, but it's too dangerous with their father around. Misrab doesn't celebrate Christmas, of course, but it's almost a certainty that his American boss gave her father the day off all the same. If she called home herself, her father might hear Fahid speaking with her, and she doesn't want to put her brother in harm's way.
Martin talks to his brother in Mandarin that neither she nor Josh understand. But the American boy notices her solemn expression. "You okay?" Josh asks in a low voice.
"I'm fine," she lies.
Martin ends the call and beams at his friends. "My brother said he's been going to an underground Christian church."
"That's amazing," Josh says as Ayisha gasps.
"My father won't be happy when he finds out," Martin adds. "But apparently when I talked about Jesus during my calls home, it got my brother interested."
"I understand families not being religiously tolerant," Ayisha comments quietly, and the room falls silent. She's been so caught up in her schoolgirl crush on Josh that she hasn't focused on Martin as much. But the Chinese boy and the Iranian girl truly connect as they look at each other, recognizing the hurt in each other's eyes.
To lighten the mood, Josh takes the two presents under the small tree and holds them out to his friends. "This is for you, Martin. And this one's yours, Ayisha."
Josh's gift to her is a gold necklace with a cross pendant.
Ayisha spends the rest of the day with Josh and Martin.
Meg refuses to make her employees work on the holiday, so Ayisha is free to hang out with the boys. As the room is filled with the trio's laughter, she wipes away her tears of mirth and realizes she can't remember the last time she had been so happy. But night falls, and she glances at the time on her phone.
"I wish I could stay, but I should head out," she sighs. "I have to work tomorrow."
"I should go back to my dorm," Martin agrees.
Josh grabs his scarf. "I'll walk you both."
Leaving his room, they go into the dorm's common room. A few other students mill about as the trio starts to leave, and Josh and Ayisha reach the door together with Martin trailing behind them.
"Mistletoe alert!" someone calls out.
She turns to see a senior wearing a baseball hat backwards and a hideous knit sweater. He holds a beer can, and has the cocky attitude that would fit in well in a fraternity. "Now kiss, you two," he says with a grin to Ayisha and Josh.
Her brow furrows. "What? Why?"
"It's a stupid holiday tradition," Josh explains, pinching the bridge of his nose. "If a guy and a girl are under the mistletoe, they have to kiss."
Ayisha looks up to see a plant has been stuck to the doorframe with a thumb tack. There's a part of her that does want to kiss Josh, but not like this.
"Well, they don't have to," he adds.
"Yes, you do!" the frat boy orders.
"Leave them alone," Martin says defensively.
"Just go for it, dude," the frat boy says to Josh. "It's obvious you want to kiss her. What college guy doesn't want to play tonsil hockey with a chick?"
"One who respects my friend enough not force her into this," Josh shoots back. With that, he opens the door and strides out into the snow.
Ayisha and Martin follow as the frat boy calls, "Killjoy!"
Once the trio is safely outside in the cold night air, Ayisha releases the breath she didn't know she'd been holding. "Sorry about that," Josh sighs, shoving his hands in his coat pockets.
"It wasn't your fault," she counters evenly. "We should get going."
The walk to Martin's dorm across campus is quiet but companionable. "We should hang out again," Ayisha says as he swipes his card to unlock the door.
"I'd like that," Martin says with a smile.
"Merry Christmas again," Josh offers.
"Merry Christmas," Martin repeats, and goes into the dorm.
"I can still walk you home if you'd like," Josh says to Ayisha as snow starts to lightly fall.
"I'd appreciate it, thanks."
"Which way is your dorm?" he asks.
"I live off campus." She hesitates. "I don't actually go to Hadleigh anymore."
She almost doesn't tell him, but Josh has been decent and trustworthy so far, and she decides to be honest. "My baba- I mean, my dad kicked me out when he learned I'm a Christian. I come from a very, very Muslim family. Yeah, he was going to arrange my marriage to some old guy back in Iran I've never met, but Baba was forward thinking enough to let me actually go to college." She pauses. "Baba just wasn't open-minded enough to let me be a Christian. So he threw me out. Like, literally threw me out, hit me, everything. He pulled his money from Hadleigh at the end of this last semester, and there's no way I can continue now. So I dropped out."
Josh is quiet for a moment. "I'm so sorry."
She looks at his gentle brown eyes, and finds herself wanting to be held by him. Ever since leaving her family, she's been mostly alone, and surely it isn't a crime to want someone to lean on.
They see his ex-girlfriend further down the snow-covered walkway, and Josh tenses beside Ayisha. "Hey, Kara," he says stiffly.
"Who's this?" Kara asks haughtily.
"Ayisha," Josh replies.
"Hi." The Iranian girl smiles, but the all-American blonde doesn't return it.
"Sorry to dash, but we were just heading somewhere," Josh says. "Merry Christmas."
Kara doesn't say a word as her ex-boyfriend leaves with the other girl.
Once Ayisha and Josh arrive at her neighborhood, she slips on ice in Margie's driveway, and he catches her.
"Thanks," she breathes, very aware of close they are.
"Welcome." His hands are steady but gentle on her elbows. The falling snowflakes dapple their clothes and cling to her dark eyelashes, and neither of them move away instantly. But after a moment, he steps back, and she finds she doesn't want him to. "I should get going."
"Thanks for walking me back."
"Anytime," he says with that smile she has come to love. Deciding to risk it all, she throws caution to the wind and asks, "Would you like to go on a date sometime?"
"Absolutely," he replies. "I was about to ask you the same thing."
She'd like to stay outside longer with him, but her shivering becomes noticeable and her teeth start to chatter. "You can go inside if you want," he suggests. "I don't want either of us to freeze."
"Let's text about a day and time," she says. Then she goes up on the balls of her feet to kiss his cheek. "Bye."
"Bye," he repeats as she goes to the door.
Ayisha lingers to watch Josh walk away down the snowy street.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: There's technically no indication in canon that Meg Harvey works at the coffee shop, but there's no way running the soup kitchen pays her bills. And fine, Tom Blanchart doesn't work at the coffee shop in canon either, but I needed a boss and other employees for Ayisha to interact with.
The Josh-and-Adam-Are-Cousins AU is because it can't be a coincidence that Shane Harper and Mike Mannings look that similiar.