Benny was beginning to think cafes were the greatest human invention as he sat surrounded by pure bliss in the form of an iced lavender jasmine green tea latte and about a dozen cats, all trying with increasing effort to place themselves somewhere on his body. He had one on each shoulder, three curled into a knot on his lap, one trying to crawl up his chest, and one trying desperately to hop from the perch on the wall behind him directly onto his head.
“I take it this was a good choice, then?” One black cat, Luna, peered at Benny imperiously from her Oliver throne across the low table.
“All the purring,” Benny said with such pure, boundless joy that Oliver could almost take off his cardigan. “I feel like my entire body is vibrating.”
Oliver laughed, earning him an annoyed look from Luna that she let pass this one time.
“Only black cats ever approach me,” Oliver said. “Which is weird, right? Cats are cats, tabby, calico, Persian. Whatever.”
“You know what they say about black cats,” Benny said. “If you’re superstitious.”
“I know what they say,” Oliver said. “Do you?
Benny considered this for a moment, then yes, remembered exactly what they say about black cats as the cat on the wall hesitantly reached out for Benny’s head. He turned back as much as he could without dislodging one of the other of his clowder, then leaned his head back, closing the gap and earning him a precarious cat hat.
Oliver snorted and Luna had had it up to here with him, so she got up and padded away.
“Aw, Luna, babe, I’m sorry.” Oliver reached his hand out toward the retreating cat who curled up on a pouf on the opposite side of the room with a direct line of sight to Oliver, lest he get any ideas. “Probably for the best.”
“Tell me about… stuff, Oliver.” Benny said, blinking around a paw falling in his eye.
“Stuff?” Oliver said, leaning back and getting comfy as Benny tried to stay perfectly still. “Anything specific?”
Benny frowned at his very full cup, steaming slightly on the table between them, then back up at Oliver.
“Could you maybe, just… just hand that to me? I think I can use my arms, but leaning…”
“Ha, sure man.”
Oliver picked up Benny’s cup and handed it to him, watching as he delicately moved the cup to his lips. He took a sip and somehow managed to look even more blissful than he had when he discovered his new role of sentient cat tree.
“This is so good, Oliver. It’s really, really, so very, incredibly good.” Benny breathed in the aromas and felt all of his cares become buzzed out of him from the vibrating fur that was his new home.
A content pause passed, Oliver marveling at the oddity that was Benny, when Benny spoke Oliver’s own thoughts out loud.
“Why am I different, Oliver?”
There was that look again, like a teacher quizzing the star pupil. He knew the answer, though he imagined Benny didn’t know that he knew, but he wanted someone else to say it, he needed to hear it from a mouth that was not his own.
“Fin says I remember things quickly, and he thinks maybe I’m even more receptive to sensory things than most new angels. I think there’s more, but he hasn’t said anything yet.”
But Oliver couldn’t help him with this one.
“Honestly, Benny, I have no idea,” Oliver said. “I think it’s too early to tell if you’re inherently different or if you exist under different circumstances.”
“Ah,” Benny said, taking a sip of his latte. “Different circumstances, that could be it.”
A moment passed where they both silently agreed that Benny was certainly not simply a result of his circumstances, but best to not rule out any possibilities too early.
“How’s Fin?” Oliver said. He peered into his Americano. Benny had made a face when he ordered it, but perked up quickly when he heard what Oliver was ordering for him. “In general, I mean.”
“I think he’s fine,” Benny said, and Oliver looked up, noticing Benny’s hesitation. “Overall, he’s fine. Sometimes he’s great, and sometimes he’s really not, but I think he averages out to fine, good.”
“Good.” Oliver nodded. “I shouldn’t worry about him like I do, but… I can’t always help it.”
“Why shouldn’t you worry about him?”
Oliver shifted uncomfortably. “Not… not that he shouldn’t be worried about, just… after everything with Asha-- I mean, we’re all adults, there’s no real sides to be choosing, but. You know. If there were…”
Oliver looked up at Benny after a moment to see Benny looking confused and a little sad. As sad as one can be in a blanket of cats.
“You can’t remember anything about them, can you?” Oliver said, curiously.
Benny looked at a small grey cat on his lap, then focused somewhere beyond it.
“You were top of your class in everything,” Benny said, like recalling an ancient story from a tome he hadn’t read in years. “You weren’t great at sports, which was a little disappointing to your dad, but you made up for it when you started studying music, like he did. You had just started feeling like someone who could be your dad’s equal when the wreck happened.”
Benny looked up at Oliver who was pulling absent-mindedly at his lip and looking at Benny below his brows with an intense gaze.
“S-sorry,” Benny said. “I tried to remember… anything about people, personal stories. Yours and Hwana’s came to mind, but nothing about Asha or Fin. I kinda get why Hwana’s so...”
“She told you?”
“Not the details, but the gist.”
Benny nodded. His hat mewled.
“Not remembering Fin’s time before he fell makes sense, that would be like tapping into your own… whatever you had before you fell, since I guess angels are all for one, one for all kinda deal. But why can’t you remember Asha?”
Benny shook his head, the mewling a little louder above his forehead. “Ah, sorry.” He glanced up through his hair then looked back at Oliver. “I don’t know. I don’t remember her as a human or a demon. I did have a dream about her--”
“You had a dream?” Oliver said, sitting up very suddenly. Luna meowed from across the room.
“Yes…” Benny said. “One last night and one the night before.”
“Benny, angels don’t dream.”
Benny stared at Oliver for a long time, blinking his way through the onslaught of information he now had available about dreams and the subconscious and interpretations and REM and--
“You don’t need to dream,” Oliver continued. “Since you have literally the entire history of the universal consciousness basically lying dormant in your mind, you have nothing to review. It’s all already there, it just stays asleep until it’s needed. Dreams are a way for humans and some animals to process new information, solidify and chunk new stimulus, that sort of thing.”
“Oh.” Benny suddenly wondered if it were possible for him to be crazy. Angels can’t dream, but can they be crazy?
“I’m sure you’ve had new experiences.” Oliver now seemed to be primarily talking to himself. “But I doubt that would represent itself as a definable dream, but rather just a series of sensory--” He looked up at Benny. “What did you dream about?”
“Fin and Asha.”
“You’re sure it was a dream? Not… maybe your imagination?” Oliver said. “I’m not saying I don’t believe you but--”
“You don’t believe me.”
“I find it difficult to believe,” Oliver said. In truth, he absolutely believed Benny, but he had no idea what it meant.
“I guess it could have been…” Benny wished Fin were here. Everything inside him felt like a hurricane and the only thing keeping him from flying away were all of these cats who were now purring so loudly he could barely hear Oliver. “The first night, I saw Asha in Fin’s apartment, Fin brought groceries home and they put them up together. Last night, I watched Asha and Fin meet.”
“Meet meet?” Oliver said, still looking like this was the most groundbreaking information he had ever come across. “Like… in the park, in the trees meet?”
“Yeah,” Benny said. “Fin had told me about how they met last night, so maybe… maybe I was just imagining it.”
Oliver sat back, looking a little relieved.
“Yeah, yeah, okay that makes more sense.”
“Though I didn’t know they had dated the first night,” Benny said, musing through what he could remember from the last two days. “I actually thought they had always hated each other until last night. Then I realized Asha doesn’t hate Fin at all.”
Oliver was very torn about which avenue to go down. Part of him was feeling incredibly curious about this dreaming angel, but another part of him was equally curious about Benny’s interpretation of Asha and Fin.
“What did Fin say?” Oliver said, deciding it was too early to draw any conclusions about Benny and his dreams or imagination or whatever it was. “When he told you about him and Asha.”
“It wasn’t very detailed,” Benny said. “I thought maybe if he talked about it, he’d feel better. He seems so… sad around Asha. But mad, too.”
“That’s what he wants you to think,” Benny said, feeling very bad for leaving his friend all alone, even knowing Fin was too busy to be too down for a while. “I think he’d hate for Asha to know how very, very sad he is. And if you knew, then of course Asha would know. Does she? Does she know?”
“Asha used to be able to read Fin like a book,” Oliver said. Luna made her way back to him and hopped on his lap. “Hey again, pretty girl,” he said to his returned mistress. “They both knew each other inside out, but when Fin left, Asha was so taken aback, she didn’t see it coming at all, and… I think it eroded all of Asha’s confidence in understanding Fin. So… I guess if Asha did think she saw sadness in Fin, she wouldn’t believe herself. And even if she did, she’d blame herself for it.”
“Fin left Asha?” Benny said. Oliver tilted his head.
“Yeah, didn’t he tell you?”
“He didn’t get that far,” Benny said, a twinge of guilt at the memory of Fin shaking him off and leaving the room. “He said he had had to make a choice, and then he got really upset and needed to go to bed. He didn’t explain what the choice was, just that everything had been going really well until then.”
Oliver’s head was reeling from all of this information. When he got the text from Fin’s number only a couple of hours ago, he knew it would be Benny. He was a little surprised it came so soon, having only met him the night before, but he skipped work and prepared to unload his wealth of knowledge about the world as he understood it on this precious baby angeling. And now he sat here, feeling like he understood absolutely nothing about anything, least of all the people around him.
“His… Choice?” Oliver studied Benny’s face. He didn’t appear to make any solid connection to the question. “Can you… can you tell me exactly what he said?”
“I feel like I’ve said a lot about Fin that maybe I shouldn’t have,” Benny said. “He told me some really important things and I probably shouldn’t have told someone else, but I’m so worried about him.”
Oliver nodded in feigned understanding, but really he was working through a way to understand if his current hypothesis might be true.
“But he did call it ‘my choice,’” Benny continued, despite everything he had said. “‘When I realized she was my Choice’ and then he stopped.”
“Fuck,” Oliver said. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. Asha has no idea, she can’t. Can she? She didn’t tell me, if she did. Maybe she was keeping that a secret. It would explain why she’s been such a fucking doormat, but… damn, man.”
Benny looked around, watching a few children as they were staring at Benny and all his cats then becoming startled by Oliver’s vehement cursing.
“Benny,” Oliver said, pulling Benny’s attention back. “Do you… Do you understand what an angel’s Choice is?”
Benny blinked a few times. “It sounds like you mean something different than a menu item or what to wear to go see a movie.”
Oliver chuckled, then nodded.
“Yes, it’s very, very different.”
“Then… no. I don’t understand what it is.”
Oliver sighed and scratched Luna’s neck absently, chewing on his lip.
“I’m probably not the best one to explain this to you, but if what you understood Fin to say is true, he’s probably not going to want to talk about it, not yet.” Benny became very worried at the state of Oliver’s bottom lip. “Fuck, it would make so much more sense but double fuck I wish Fin had told us. I’ve been so pissed at him this whole time.”
“What does it mean, Oliver?” Benny asked, more than a little hesitant to find out. “An angel’s Choice. And why can’t I remember it?”
Oliver looked down at Luna who looked back up at him, You’re the one who ran your mouth, can’t back out now.
“Some of the more woo-woo stuff you have to figure out the hard way, which for you and Fin means through me. What do you know about angels like yourself and Fin?”
“Hmm. We are on earth because we fell. We… failed. At something. And we slowly remember things to help us survive on earth. Or not so slowly, in my case.” Benny thought a bit more. “And something about a gift we have, but I don’t really understand how that works, either.”
“You are right, angels are on earth because you fell. The specific nature of why and if it was a ‘failure’ as you say, are all theoretical. Not that I am an expert on angels, but I’ve known a few since becoming a demon, and I learned a lot from Fin, though I don’t think he realized he was teaching me anything.
“But whatever the reason, the general consensus is that angels are on earth because they were kicked out of heaven or whatever exists beyond mortal consciousness. Legend and lore pretty much agree on that. What it doesn’t always pick up on is that an angel’s stay on earth is not necessarily permanent. Those who prefer to attach our existence to religion rather than another essence of nature beyond what modern science is willing or able to explore would say that God is forgiving, and is willing to forgive even angels who have fallen.
“In order to be forgiven, an angel must walk his or her path on earth, experience the suffering of humans while knowing they are forever separate, and must piece their mind together bit by bit. At some point, I haven’t heard of any particular pattern, they are presented with a Choice. I’ve heard it has been described as something more than a gut feeling. It’s like your soul finally awakens and you know you are being presented with a choice of paths.”
Oliver hesitated on Benny’s look. He looked overwhelmed and incredibly stressed, and Oliver was glad he kept his cardigan on, because it was noticeably cooler in there.
“I’m… I’m sorry, do you want me to stop?”
“No,” Benny said. Oliver couldn’t hear him over the furry jackhammers attached to his person, but he made out the shape of his lips. Another three cats had crawled onto Benny’s armchair and were fitting into the space between his hips and the chair, and one was playing koala with his left arm.
“Okay.” He took a big drink, finishing off his now tepid Americano. “I uh… I don’t know how you would know what the actual Choice is, like the question. You’ll have to ask Fin, but… I don’t know. I only knew one angel who had failed his Choice, and he was… honestly, inconsolable is a polite term, and I ran into him years after it had happened. This has barely been six months…”
Benny looked like he was about to cry.
“Anyway, I guess… I guess somehow you figure it out, you have a choice to make, and one of the answers will get you redeemed and back up into heaven or whatever it is that you came from.”
“And the other?”
It took all of Oliver’s effort to keep Benny’s eye.
“The other means…” As if it needed to be specified: “It means you have failed. Again.”
Benny looked down, all the cats now trying to burrow into him, but he barely seemed to notice. Oliver watched a tear fall down Benny’s cheek and his lips form the shape of: “Oh, Fin.
Devin Overman is a screenwriter, author, and freelance writer. Her first screenplay, Immaculate, advanced at the Austin Film Festival in 2015, where she went on to consult in 2016 and 2017. Her newest project, Falling Into the Sound (Korean title: 음에 천천히 떨어지다), has been optioned by Little Studio Films in association with Nite Lite Pictures. She’s been interviewed and quoted by MTV on the cross-over between music and literature.