Kris isn't really a believer, so much as he's a guy who really wishes he could believe. He believes in people being good to each other and trying to be useful to each other, and his parents say that's God's will, and everybody at church says that makes him a good Christian. But as far as God goes, like a guy who sits up in Heaven and orchestrates things and listens to prayers and cares about the fall of the sparrow, that kind of thing? He believed in that guy only slightly longer than he believed in Santa and the Easter Bunny.
He likes his church group, though, and he really likes his family, so for the next decade or so he keeps his agnosticism to himself. He goes off to be a missionary for a while and he sings the hymns and the gospel music and eventually the rock songs that are put in front of him, and for the most part he doesn't think much about God or Jesus, except as a kind of universal code for get over yourself and don't be a dick.
So, the angel in the alleyway comes as kind of a surprise.
"Hey," he says, so quiet Kris almost misses it; he does miss who it's being said to, until he looks between the piled sacks of garbage next to the dumpster. There's a man, a thin, grey, death-faced man, slumped against the wet brick wall. He looks like nothing, like a breath of air could blow him away, and beside him there's -- something else.
"Hey," that someone says again, "it's okay, don't freak out. You're okay."
"Ain't been okay in a while." Kris flinches at the voice coming from the man on the ground; it's like it's coming out of a meat grinder, red and raw.
"Well, you are now. I'm here to take you home."
It's hard at first to see the person kneeling in the dirty water by the dying man (and he's clearly dying; no one that frail and transparent could survive long in a hard-edged world) but Kris looks; he wants to understand. He keeps looking until the shape, which seems bright even in the shadows of the alley, resolves itself into the lines of a man. He's wearing a studded black leather jacket and tight black jeans and his hair is black, too, so black it gleams almost blue in the light flickering over the door that leads back into the bar. Kris edges back into the shadows, unwilling to intrude; to him it's just a break between sets, but to them, to the dying man and this other...this other man... it's something else again.
"Don't have a home," the dying man says. "If I had anyplace to go, you think I'd be here?"
"Everybody has a place to go. And everybody has a time to go there. About two minutes from now is yours."
"Who are you?"
"Nobody special. Think of me as a kind of cosmic tour guide. You've seen the ground floor; time to take a look upstairs. Come on, now. Stand up, David. We're on a schedule."
The dying man stands up. He dusts off his pants, which are already suddenly clean, and looks up with suddenly clear dark eyes and smiles. "Time to go, then?"
"Time to go."
Kris drops his beer bottle. It crashes to the concrete with a bright tinkling sound that's far, far too loud for the space. The man who isn't dying anymore says, "Who's there? Is there another one of you?"
"Sorry," Kris says, "sorry, I just." He steps out of the shadows, words tumbling over each other. "I was taking a break and I didn't want to disturb you. You obviously, I mean. You were busy." He hunches his shoulders and shoves his hands into his pockets. "Sorry."
The other man, the one who isn't actually a man, turns his face toward the light. He doesn't have to; he's already shining with a light from somewhere else. He's beautiful, like nothing or nobody Kris has ever seen before; more vibrant, more alive.
"My God," Kris breathes, and then he holds his breath; because he isn't supposed to be seeing this, he knows that now, but he can't unsee it, and he doesn't know what will happen.
"Crap," the angel says, glaring at Kris till Kris thinks he's meant to catch fire from it. "Who the hell put you there?"
"Uh. I think I did?" Kris looks around; besides the not-dying man and the angel and himself, there isn't anybody else there. "Sorry?"
"Crap," the angel says again, and sighs. "Stop staring. You never saw me. I wasn't here."
Kris blinks. "What?"
The angel reaches out, taps him at the center of his forehead. "Sorry," he says. "But this isn't how it works. Forget about me."
Kris forgets. There's just some guy in an alley, and another guy, pretty, but dressed a little weird, at least for this part of town. "You guys lost?" he says, thinking he can direct them to one of the nicer clubs down the street, or maybe just a cab.
"Fucking hell," the pretty guy says.
And then he's gone, and the other guy is gone, and Kris has a flash of a second to see that they've both vanished before he forgets that, too.
When he thinks back to that night, what Kris thinks about is this sense of peace that came over him in his second set. Nothing he can really tell anybody about, nothing big or earth-shattering, just -- a sense, an understanding, that the world is made of more than he can see or touch or feel. It should be a little scary, maybe. But instead, it's kind of like the feeling he used to get around his parents when he was a kid. They might be weird, he might not understand them, but he knew they were looking out for him, all the same. When Kris thinks back to that night he feels looked after, and he likes it. As far as midnight epiphanies in empty alleyways go, he likes his just fine.
That's what he's thinking about when he lets his fiancee break up with him and walk away, taking his grandma's engagement ring and his mom's hopes for little blonde grandchildren with her.
That's what he's thinking about at the Idol tryouts, when they call his number and want him to leave Daniel and Cale behind; when he waves himself out and walks away, it's all he can think about.
That's what he's thinking about when he stays in Conway long after he should've gone, when he renews the lease on his shitty apartment that always smells like the coffee shop downstairs, when he hangs onto the life he has instead of the one he can sometimes feel waiting for him, just around the corner.
He likes the life he has. He feels looked after.
The angel in the laundromat, all things considered, is actually kind of anticlimactic.
"Kris Allen," it says in a voice like the purest silver bells. "I'm here to bring you closer to the Lord and set you back on his course for you, which I have to tell you is fairly kick ass. There's wine and women and song and shit. I've been called on to deliver some really shitty news in my time, and this," the angel says definitively, "is not that. So I don't get why you're fucking everything up instead of embracing it."
He's floating in a vertical puddle of light in front of the one good, working washer, the one just to the left of the broken change machine. At first the light is all Kris can see, but then his eyes start to adjust and he can see a shock of gleaming ebony hair, and warm blue eyes, and a pretty, kind, pink smile. Everything else is kind of lost in the glare.
Kris says, "Uh," and stares, wide-eyed, unmoving, until he realizes he's clutching several pairs of dirty boxer-briefs to his chest in the presence of an angel of the Lord.
He knows it's an angel because the glowy light is kind of a give-away; because of the overwhelming sense of goodness and rightness and terrible purpose that floods through him; and because he remembers, all at once, everything -- the dying man, the alley, the angel. He almost drops his armload of laundry, but thinks better of it at the last minute and puts it all carefully back into the basket at his feet.
"Kris?" The angel's smile fades a little. "Kris Allen, right? Don't tell me I got the wrong laundromat again. I accidentally converted two really unwise men and a meth-head at the last one, and I don't have time for the intake paperwork if you're not Kristopher Allen."
"No. I mean, uh, yeah, I am." Kris swallows hard against the bizarreness of it all and stares some more; in addition to being a member of the Heavenly Host, the angel is also seriously pretty. "You don't remember me?"
"I remember!" The angel huffs out an annoyed little breath of air. "It was dark, and I was busy, and you, pretty little human boy, were not on the program. I remember you; I just wasn't sure the Home Office got your name right. And we didn't exactly do introductions that night. Stuff was happening!"
And then the angel stops being an angel, like the flip of a switch. Instead he's a guy again, like the time before: messy black hair and crazy laser-beam eyes and mascara, wearing black leather and chains and black boots so shiny Kris can see his face in them. He's just this guy, no glowy light, no inescapable flood of good feelings -- though he does still exude a kind of bone-deep decency, and he is still very easy on the eyes.
"I'm Adam," the previously angelic guy says. He brushes back the hair that's falling into his eyes, and offers Kris his hand. Kris takes it automatically; it's warm and smooth, a strong hand with long, pale fingers and nails polished mirror-silver. A shock goes through him, a kind of a click, like the bolt of a lock sliding into place. Adam's eyes widen.
"What was that?" Kris asks, looking down at their joined hands in wonder. "Did you feel that?"
"No!" Adam says, yanking his hand back, but there's a kind of wild look in his eyes. "Didn't feel a thing!"
Kris looks up at Adam, frowning. "You did! I think you did last time, too! Are angels allowed to lie?"
"I'm not lying!" Adam clutches at his hair. "I'm just delivering a message meant to put you back on your appropriate life path, which I accidentally steered you off of. I'm really sorry about that. You weren't supposed to see me all," and here he makes a weird circular motion over his head several times until Kris finally gets that it's meant to describe a halo.
"Oh!" Kris grins. "So you think that's why I've, uh --"
"Let your life stagnate and completely failed to fulfill your potential, yes."
"Huh." Kris tilts his head. "Well, when you put it that way. Yeah. I mean, probably."
Adam's eyebrows shoot up. "But -- seriously? I mean -- why on earth would you do that? No, wait," he says when Kris opens his mouth, "don't answer that. Just stop it. Go get married and be happy and stop making my job so difficult!"
"I am happy," Kris says. "I don't want to get married. I like my life."
"Your life sucks, Kristopher! You live in a studio! You do your laundry in a laundromat!"
"I like this laundromat. It's the cheapest one in town. Fifty cents to wash, dollar to dry."
"You're out of quarters!"
Kris laughs. "Yeah, man, my life is tragic. Tell you what -- you fix the change machine over there, and on Sunday I'll tell God you put me right back on track."
Adam just stares. There's something in the look Kris likes; he stares back, smiling, until Adam starts to blush, and then Kris just smiles wider.
"I don't get you," Adam says. He sounds a little out of breath.
"I'm really glad you came back." Kris takes a step closer. "How long can you stay?"
"I can't stay at all." Adam shakes his head. "I'm not supposed to."
"I'm not doing what I'm supposed to do either," Kris points out. "You sure you have to go?"
Adam says, "I'm sure," in a voice that doesn't sound sure at all. He takes Kris's hand in his, twines their fingers together; never takes his eyes off Kris, not for a second. "I'm sorry," he says, and his fingers tighten around Kris's.
And then they let go.
Kris forgets. He loses twenty minutes this time, maybe half an hour. Nothing ever takes its place. He tries not to think about it, but the hole in his life is there, and he pushes at it sometimes.
He never quite remembers how his laundry gets done that night, but his whites turned out whiter than they've ever been.
A year later, Kris leans against the brick wall outside the restaurant, as far away from the door as he can get without losing the shelter of the awning. He's got an unlit cigarette in his right hand, bummed from the valet just to give himself an excuse for being there. The last time he smoked a cigarette he was twelve years old, and that was just a butt swiped from his uncle's ash tray by a delinquent cousin he hasn't seen in years. He'd thrown up so hard he'd thought he was dying.
Inside the restaurant there's a girl, a pretty girl with hazel eyes and an adorable little space between her front teeth, waiting for him to come back from the bathroom. He's got maybe five minutes, he figures, and he's going to need all of them to convince himself to go back inside. It's their second date, mostly because he doesn't think it's polite to stop calling after the first. It's raining -- a slow, grim, cold drizzle that cuts right through him. He wants to go home.
Adam comes out of a curtain of rain lit golden by the street lights, his collar turned up over the back of his neck, his head down to protect his makeup, and Kris remembers like he never forgot. It floods in on him, Adam's face all but drowned out by light streaming out of nowhere; Adam ranting at him in front of the dryers, laughing at something stupid Kris had said; Adam smiling at him and vanishing between one heartbeat and the next, taking Kris's memory with him. Kris had been left with nothing but his life to slog through day to day, a good life, a pleasant life, in which nothing new or strange or wonderful ever happened.
He comes off the restaurant wall with his hand in a fist and slugs Adam, hard, in the arm. He feels bad about it right after. Adam stumbles a little, but not really that much; he's a big guy, tall, wide at the shoulders.
"Hey, ouch!" Adam says, glaring, rubbing at the spot where Kris hit him. Kris wonders if anybody has ever hit Adam before, thinks maybe not because what kind of guy goes around slugging angels; then he thinks maybe so, because if all angels are like Adam they probably get that kind of thing a lot.
"You made me forget everything again!" Kris says, glaring right back.
"I had to! There are rules, you know." Adam's still holding his arm, a hugely offended look on his face. "You think it's easy to get a dispensation to show up and reveal myself to a human? I was supposed to just pop in, put your life back on track, then leave. You weren't supposed to remember seeing me the first time. And this time you weren't supposed to remember last time! What's with you, anyway?"
"Right," Kris says, "Like I would just listen to some random guy in a laundromat telling me to get on with my life?"
Adam shrugs. "I was supposed to be really convincing. Look, this thing is all my fault. You never should have seen me in that alley. I've probably warped you."
"I'm not warped!"
"No? I guess you're standing out here in the rain instead of sitting in the nice restaurant with your nice date because you're such a normal guy."
"Well, you're out here in the rain with me when you should probably be off stealing some other guy's memory. What's that make you?"
"Warped," Adam says, rolling his eyes. "Clearly."
Kris says, "Wow," and starts to feel a lot less bad about hitting Adam.
"So, yeah. I'm back because I couldn't get you to stop dicking around with your guitar in low-rent dives and get a freaking life. They only let me come because you're screwing it all up again, and none of the other angels want anything to do with you. They think you're weird, Kris."
"Wow," Kris says again. "When you put it that way, I can't believe how thoughtless I've been."
Adam shakes his head. "You're meant for better things, is all I'm saying. Again. Why won't you go get them?"
"I like the things I have."
"No offense, Kristopher, but you're standing in the rain with a cigarette you don't even smoke to avoid the gorgeous girl inside who wants in your pants so bad that ten minutes later, she's still waiting for you to come back from the bathroom. Plus, I don't know who dressed you tonight, but that jacket is cut all wrong for you, and those shoes are hideous. The things you have suck."
"Yeah, well." Kris twirls the cigarette between his fingers a few times, then slips it into the front pocket of his jeans. "I like a lot of things that suck," he says, and gives Adam an amused, pointed look.
Adam's shoulders slump. "This is so not working."
"If I told you you're destined to marry that girl in there, have pretty babies, become a famous singer, live a long and happy life -- if I told you that, would you go back in there?"
"Probably not," Kris says. "She picks her teeth with her fingernails at the table."
"But it's your path!"
Kris just shrugs. "Sorry," he says again, but he's not, not really; sorry to disappoint Adam, maybe, but not sorry to miss out on the pretty wife and kids and fame and all of that.
"Okay," Adam says, "you know what? Fuck it."
"Yeah. Go say good night to your date, get her a cab, whatever. Then you're buying me some coffee and a sandwich, and we're having a talk."
Kris grins. "Angels eat people food?"
"Of course we do. Up there we don't need it; down here we get hungry and thirsty and tired and annoyed just like you guys."
"Well, I'm annoyed, too. Some jerk of an angel keeps showing up and bitching about my clothes and my lifestyle. So how come I'm the one buying?"
"Angels eat people food, Kris," Adam says cheerfully. "But only people carry people money."
Kris drives Rebecca home, because he comes from good people and even in a town the size of Conway, word can get around. She sits in the front seat and rattles on about some movie Kris hasn't seen with some actor Kris can't put a face to, while Kris nods and smiles and tries not to keep looking in the rear view mirror. Adam's zonked out in the back seat, his head against the window, eyes closed, mouth open; snoring. Rebecca can't see or hear him, which is good because he looks like a rock star and sounds like a buzz saw.
He doesn't kiss her when he drops her off. She only looks vaguely disappointed, and doesn't suggest going out again. Kris is fine with that, happy to let her go; she's not really his type these days. He isn't sure what his type is anymore.
After, he takes Adam to the coffee shop on the bottom floor of his apartment building, orders him a mocha the size of his head and a chicken salad sandwich (it's the only thing left in the display case) and watches him make both disappear. Adam eats like it's been a while, and Kris figures it probably has. He doesn't look thin or starved or anything -- just a little wolfish, right around the eyes.
Halfway through the coffee Adam slows down a little. He wraps his hands around the paper cup and gives Kris a long, slow once-over. "So what do you have against growing up?" he says. "Most people would really like the idea of better things up ahead."
"I told you. I'm good like I am."
"You're good like you are." Adam laughs. "You're a lunatic like you are."
"I have a job, I have good friends, a family that loves me. Why don't you give your better things to somebody who needs them?"
"Cuz that's not how it works."
"Well, it's how I work." Kris drinks some of his own coffee; it's good, really good. "Tell God I said thanks, though. It was nice of Him to think of me."
"I can't just hand your path over to somebody else, damn it! You're going to fall in love and be a rock star, whether you like it or not."
Kris raises his eyebrows. "You make that sound like a threat, man. You sure you can follow through?"
"Are you testing me?" Adam grins. "Are you daring me to wallop you with your happy freaking life, right here and now? Because that's my job, Kris, and I have to tell you -- I'm really, really good at my job."
"I'm just saying, I work in a shoe store." Kris waves his hand vaguely at his plaid shirt from Sears and his ancient, faded jeans. "If I'm meant for MTV, you better get on with it. It's gonna be a really long climb."
"You have no faith whatsoever."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you!"
Adam grins again, a swift, bright knife of a smile. He reaches out and touches Kris's cheek; Kris can't help but lean into it. His fingers trail along Kris's jaw to his chin, then tap him once, gently, on the nose.
Kris blinks, smiling back. "What's that for?"
"Signs and wonders, Kris Allen." Adam passes his hand in front of Kris's eyes. "Just you wait and see."
It's like a lost weekend, only it's not really a weekend, just a night. A single night, part of a night really, where he doesn't remember how he got his date home, how he got himself home, how he got to bed. It's weird, like that night at the laundromat, like the alley, bits of it just gone. But like those nights, the weirdness starts to fade into something better, something good, until it blends into the rest of his life like a complementary color.
He does think about it sometimes. In bed at night, alone, when he's turned away someone soft and sweet and just a shade away from perfect; between Friday night sets at the bar sometimes, when the offers come in -- a better gig, a manager, a record deal. When he says no, again and again, because the music is loud and the crowd is rowdy and the gratis beer slides down his throat smooth as water.
He goes home, makes dinner for one, calls to check his schedule at the store. He cleans up a little, just picking up around the place. He does some dishes, and he takes a shower, and he gets into bed and tries for a little while to read a book. It's all just killing time; he doesn't know what he's waiting for, but he's waiting.
One night, late, maybe morning by then, he wakes up and Adam is there.
"Hey." Kris sits up, the sheet sliding down his chest, and rubs at his eyes with the heels of his hands. Adam's still sitting on his bed when he takes his hands away, and though there's no light on in the room, Adam is lit up from somewhere; maybe from within. Probably from within, Kris figures, because he's remembering now, who Adam is and why he's there and what he wants. And maybe he remembers a little bit what he did to bring Adam back, and why he did it -- all the things he could've had, but turned away. Because there's not just Adam to remember; there's Kris, too. The person he is when Adam's there, the way he feels when Adam looks at him. The way he can't help but laugh when Adam laughs. That's what he wants, not the rest.
"What am I gonna do with you, Kris?" Adam says. He sounds mad, but he's smiling; Kris still likes the way it looks on him.
"Stop making me forget you?"
Kris leans forward, into the light that surrounds Adam. "Have you noticed yet how I feel about your rules?"
Adam snorts. "Oh, yeah. Which I don't even get -- you're supposed to be this good little Christian boy, you should totally be falling right into line. You're a contrary little bastard, Allen. You're fucking up your whole life balance."
"Actually," Kris says, "I'm not all that clear on the religion thing. I mean, angels, God, all that? Are you telling me the Bible has been right all along?"
"Bits of it are right. Bits of everything are right." Adam grins. "Me, I'm old school. I was born Jewish. But you can find truth in anything, Kris; the trick is learning to pry it out from the bullshit."
"And you're here to help me with that? Why me? What makes me so special?"
"It's not so much that you're special. I mean, you are, don't get me wrong." Adam's eyes trail over Kris's shoulders, and his grin gets wider. "It's just that I broke you, and now I have to fix you."
"Well, you know I'm not going to date any future Mrs. Allens for you. And I'm not gonna take advantage of your Instant Rock Star Plan, either. So why are you here?"
"Believe me, all that has been made abundantly clear. This time I'm in real trouble. See -- everybody gets that you don't want the deluxe package, right? But nobody wants anything particularly bad happening to you, either." Adam scratches the back of his neck, ducking his head to look at Kris from under long, black lashes. "They, uh. They've kind of made me your Guardian angel."
This time, Kris laughs out loud. "Stalker angel, you mean."
"Dude, you snuck into my bed in the middle of the night. And I don't mean to be rude, but -- you're kinda glowing."
Adam waggles his eyebrows. "Maybe I'm just happy to see you," he says, and Kris cracks up, just loses it, because geez. Adam.
"Are you?" Kris says when he can finally catch his breath. "Really?"
Kris edges closer. "I'm happy," he says. "When you're here. When I get to remember talking to you, hanging out with you. In case your people upstairs are having trouble figuring out how this works for me? That's when I'm happy."
Adam starts to move, like he's going to pull back, but Kris isn't having that. He puts both of his hands on Adam's face and holds him still. Adam's eyes are wide, wide, bright in the light coming from nowhere and everywhere at once, and he doesn't move when Kris leans in and brings their mouths together. He doesn't move away when Kris nudges his lips open and slides his tongue into Adam's mouth. When the sheet slips down Kris's chest and pools around his hips, Adam eases his hands down Kris's sides and pulls him closer, pulls him in and holds him there; holds on. Sweet as kissing Adam is, Adam holding onto him is better.
Kris's breath catches in his throat and everything is different. Adam is different; his hands tighten, strong and wild against Kris's skin, and his mouth opens, pulling Kris in deeper. He yanks Kris close, wraps Kris's legs around his waist, pushes against him, rocks against him until Kris has to make some space just so he can breathe.
When he does that Adam goes still, unbearably still. He says, "Kris," in a lost, broken voice Kris hasn't heard from him before.
"Don't," Kris says, shocked at the tremor in his own voice. He fists his hands in Adam's hair and looks him in the eye, doesn't let him look away. "Don't you make me forget this, Adam. Don't you dare. I need this."
"I'm sorry," Adam says, "I'm so sorry," and grazes his fingertips across Kris's brow.
Kris falls asleep bitterly, achingly hard. He falls asleep angry. He wakes up with streaks of dried tears painted across his face.
He has no idea why.
He spends the next year waiting. He goes back to school, for no particular reason. He gets promoted at the shoe store. He plays regular Friday night sets at the bar, but he doesn't write any new songs. He gets a lot of chances to bring a lot of pretty girls home with him, but he doesn't take them.
He stops going to church, because church makes him feel like punching people.
He has no idea why.
In the darkest, quietest, coldest part of the night, Kris wakes up to warmth and light and memory, and knows Adam is nearby. He doesn't turn over, doesn't speak. For a moment, the grey pressing emptiness of the past year makes sense.
"Kris," Adam whispers, close, just behind him. "Kris."
"Don't come back," Kris says, and pulls away, and closes his eyes.
And, for the last time, forgets.
The year Kris turns twenty-four he says no to thirteen dates, three gigs in Little Rock and another record deal. He doesn't feel like he's waiting anymore; he feels like he's finished. He is where he's been going. And if it's the same place he's been all along, well, Kris doesn't see anything wrong with that. He replaces waiting with staying, and when he thinks about the missing blocks of time in his life now, he stops, and thinks about something else instead.
He drinks more than he ought to, and he drives faster than he should, and sometimes he does both together. Sometimes he runs red lights and when he does, sometimes he feels like he's on the edge of something, an understanding of himself, maybe, or the world, or where he belongs in it.
Mostly, though, he just gets tickets. Eventually, they take away his license.
Three months before his twenty-fifth birthday, he slips and falls off his parents' roof trying to retrieve a frisbee. He lands on his back, the wind knocked out of him. For a long moment everything is lined in silver, so beautiful his heart breaks, so beautiful his gut clenches inside him when it all fades away.
Two weeks before his twenty-sixth birthday, he steps out into traffic as the crosswalk light goes out. He doesn't see the car that hits him. He's not really paying attention. He gets three stitches and a cast on his arm for six weeks, a bump on the head, some bruises. His brother picks him up at the emergency room and yells at him all the way home.
Kris's twenty-seventh birthday party winds up at a bar downtown after the neighbors start banging on the walls of his apartment. The stage is empty, but Kimber Scarlet is in the booth on DJ duty. She's hot, she's connected to the southern rock scene, and she asks Kris out to dinner when he offers her a beer on her break. It's the nineteenth time he's been asked out this year since Amy Brennan started the rush.
Kris says no.
He comes awake with a tube in his throat and a bullet hole in his shoulder, another in the fleshy part of his arm. He looks around and sees his brother in a chair by the window, reading a book. There's a reassuring beep from a monitor somewhere behind his head, and then another, and another, a regular steady rhythm.
The angel standing at his bedside isn't Adam. She says, "You got kicked in the throat, and shot a couple of times. They got away with thirty-five dollars, three boxes of Slim Jims and a couple cans of Pringles. Everybody else who was in the store stayed down when they were told to, so everybody else who was in the store is safe. Dude, what were you thinking?"
He wonders if he's dying. He remembers the alley, and the dying man who didn't really die, and he thinks, Time to go, then?
"Don't be a dick," the angel says. "You're fine. You're not dying. You're just stupid. It's going around."
In the chair by the window, Daniel turns a page in his book. He doesn't see or hear the new angel. Kris likes her; she has red and purple hair and brown eyes and a turned up nose, and she's wearing one of every accessory ever made. Who are you? Kris says to her in his head, because it seems like that's how this works.
"I'm Allison, and you're in trouble. You know suicide totally doesn't count, right? For reals, man. I mean, you off yourself, there's an assload of stuff you have to do before you even get your first interview. And even if they let you in, you only get the shit jobs for years, till they're sure you won't scare people with how fucked up you are. And just to be clear? Suicide by crackhead in a Stop N' Go is still suicide. When a hopped up junkie with a gun tells you to stay down, we expect you to stay the hell down."
Sorry, Kris doesn't say.
She hears him anyway. "He can't come. Don't you get that? He just can't. He screwed you up, and they won't let him come back down here."
Sorry, Kris tells her, and she smiles down at him, so beautiful.
"I have to go," she says. "You, you're a lost cause. You just won't be happy without him, will you." It's not a question.
Kris shakes his head. Not because he won't; because he can't.
Allison leans down and kisses his forehead. He feels sleepy, starts to drift... and then snaps back into himself, eyes wide, hands in fists at his sides. He makes a sound around the tube, and her hand comes down on his chest, stills him. Quiets him. He looks into her eyes, desperate. Thinks, Don't, please don't and locks his hand around her wrist. Please.
"It's okay, Kristopher. Don't worry. Remember," she says, and he does.
He's twenty-eight years old today, and he remembers everything.
It's a different world for Kris with the alleyway in it, the laundromat, the coffee shop, that night in his apartment. The hospital. A better one, he thinks. It feels right for him in the way it all felt wrong before, like it's all one thing again, one place, one landscape that he fits into, most of the time. The waiting is back, in the back of his mind, but he knows what it's for now. It doesn't ache quite so much, even though he thinks he'll be waiting a very long time. He thinks he might be waiting for all the time down here that he gets.
His lease is up in spring. He signs a new one for a two bedroom apartment with a big kitchen and a bath and a half, in a building just two blocks down from the shoe store. He lets his boss promote him again so he can pay for it, and since that gets him into an office in the back and away from people's actual feet, his life gets even better. He still plays gigs at the bars around town, when they invite him to; and when he does, people come from all over just to hear him. It's not the fame and fortune Adam wanted for him, but it's more than he had, and he likes it.
He plans to say no if anybody asks him out, but so far, that problem hasn't come up.
Daniel and Cale and his dad help him move in; they shift more boxes from Target than they do from his last apartment, but eventually they fill the space. He's got a guest bedroom now, which actually freaks him out a little, and a dining table with four chairs and four place mats and four of every kind of dish, just in case he ever has anybody over. He's got a couch and a coffee table, and little tables for lamps that actually match. He feels like his own little Conway-style episode of Cribs.
Around eleven o'clock on Saturday night, when the pizza and beer are gone, he shoves everybody out, turns off all the lights except a small one by the sofa and falls into the papasan chair his mom got for him at Pier 1. It's quieter here than his old building, less road noise, but he kind of misses the smell of the coffee shop. He's thinking about letting himself doze off there -- he's got the weekend off, he can wake up whenever he wants to -- when somebody knocks at his door.
"Think I left my jacket on your -- oh, hey, there it is," Daniel says, pointing.
Kris grabs it off the hook, rolling his eyes. "You'd forget your head if it wasn't attached."
"Lucky for you it is, or you'd be pitching it to me from a hook on your wall. Hard to explain to the new neighbors."
Kris makes a face, and Daniel makes it right back at him, then grins and heads off down the hallway. Kris shuts the door, and immediately there's another knock, so he opens it again. "What did you forget this time?"
Adam stands in his doorway, holding a paper plate full of chocolate chip cookies covered in cling wrap. "I never forgot anything," he says.
Kris only thought he remembered before; now it all comes back with sound and light and color. Adam was always so much brighter than the rest of the world, so much cleaner and wilder than anything Kris had ever seen. Even in the forgetting, something in him had always remembered. This Adam is not so much diminished as he is distilled; every strange unearthly part of him solidified and contained in this real body, this real person looking at Kris with hope and fear and courage, all at once.
His hair is spiked and scattered and black, hanging into his face. His eyeliner is a little worse for wear this late at night. He's wearing a long-sleeved dark brown t-shirt, faded jeans with a hole in one knee, sneakers. And he's got freckles; Kris never knew he had freckles. He was always shining a little too bright for Kris to see them. His smile is exactly the same, brave and sweet and crazy.
"Um," Adam says. "Were you...gonna let me in?"
"Oh! Uh, sorry." Kris opens the door wide, steps back. "I was just--"
"Staring at the fallen angel, I get it." Adam shakes his head. "Kind of offensive, man."
"Hey, I wasn't -- wait, fallen?"
"Well. 'Hurled' is probably a more accurate description. It's really kind of amazing, how annoying an angel can make himself to his fellow angels if he really works at it." Adam grins widely. "And I worked at it, Kris. You don't even want to know. Where's the kitchen?"
"The table is fine."
Kris watches in kind of a daze as Adam drops the plate onto his new dining table, peels off the plastic, and shoves an entire cookie into his mouth. Adam's eyes roll back into his head and he lets out a kind of porn star noise that makes Kris feel a little faint. "People food," Adam says by way of explanation. "So much better when you're actually people. I haven't stopped baking since I moved in. Do you like blueberry muffins? I have like forty of them in a basket in my kitchen."
Kris blinks. "Moved in?"
"Yeah, uh." Adam dusts the crumbs off his hands and takes a breath. "About that. I don't have a job yet or anything, but I do have some connections in high places, so... I live across the hall now. I hope that's okay."
"I need to sit down," Kris says, and his knees start to wobble and he sits down harder than he planned to in one of his brand new dining chairs.
"I'm freaking you out." Adam clutches his hair in his hands, a gesture so familiar Kris has to smile in spite of all the shocks his system has sustained in the past five minutes. "I knew this would freak you out."
"I just -- I don't get it." All this time, all this empty space in his life, and now Adam is right here, right in front of him. "Are you here to stay?"
Adam crouches down beside Kris's chair, picks up one of Kris's hands, and holds it tight between his own. He looks up at Kris from under long, dark lashes. "Here's the thing, Kristopher. I told you a while back it was my job to make you happy, right? Well, the powers that be up there, they're kind of holding me to that." He holds up a hand when Kris opens his mouth. "Note my complete and utter lack of objection before you get all self-sacrificing, okay? Nobody had to twist my arm."
"But you were an angel, Adam. That's... that's a lot. I can't make you give that up for me."
"I'm not giving anything up. I'm different, not less." Adam smiles. "And I get you in the bargain. I'm in the black on this deal, believe me."
Kris shakes his head. It's a lot to take in. "God sent you down here to be my boyfriend?" he says, just to make sure everything's perfectly clear.
"Well. It was more of a committee decision, but basically, yeah. I mean, I'm sure they thought we'd get to know each other first. Like, we could date or something. If you think you might be into that?"
Kris gives Adam a long, disbelieving look, then frees himself from Adam's hands. He pulls Adam to him by the shoulders and kisses him. He slides his hands around the back of Adam's neck, tilting him just perfect; runs his fingers into the short, soft hair at the base of Adam's skull. Adam tastes like sugar and chocolate, geez, how many cookies did the man eat before he came over, and he tastes real, wet and warm and good, so good; better than anything. His mouth is warm and soft under Kris's lips, and he makes noise, a catch in his breath, a moan; his hands come up and press against Kris's cheeks and they're smooth and soft, brand new.
"I don't date," Kris says when he finally pulls back enough to breathe.
Adam presses his forehead against Kris's and laughs, shaking them both. "Yeah, I noticed."
"I'm pretty easy, though," Kris continues. He tilts his head for another shot at Adam's mouth, just for a second, just another taste. "I can be had for a plate of cookies, maybe."
"Amazing," Adam says between kisses. "I just happen to have one. Right here."
"They could come with us to my bedroom."
Adam pulls Kris to his feet; pulls him up against his body, slides against him. Kris closes his eyes and gasps into Adam's mouth; it's just that good. Adam's hands slide down Kris's back, curve over his ass and press him close. Adam tilts his head back. "See?" he breathes. "There is a benevolent God in heaven."
"You know," Kris says, smiling against Adam's throat. "I'm beginning to think maybe there is."