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a promise

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In movies, heaven looked like a palace. Heaven was a place where golden streaks of sunlight would mark the territories of angels. It was a place wrapped in blankets of the hearth, spoonfed passionfruit, handpicked grapes. Heaven… that was where all the good souls go after death, right? Where they would enjoy time spent with angels, creating and controlling human beings on earth?

It wasn’t really the same in this world. They weren’t floating above Earth, nor were they sitting on clouds that would condense and fall as rain in the central cities. It felt more like a long queue in a clinic, or a waiting room for service.

The gates of the Heavens lead to a lobby; sofas were arranged spiralling towards the center— where a mini fountain sat with its rims painted in gold. Speakers were attached to the corners of the room, and if you don’t pay a lot of attention to the white clothes or halos, the Heavens looked a lot like a normal hotel lobby. There were stairs that led to big rooms for different generations of angels, all of which were compressed against all four sides, constructing the ‘building’: so-called the Heavens.

Slumped upon white sofas or leaned against white pillars, angels squirmed in the space. Endless chattering bounced off the walls of the Heavens.

“Yeah, but what do you think about the possibility of… maybe getting into the Whitelist this year?” A voice had been floating in and out of Jihoon’s ear as he sunk into the couch.

A whitelist— the Whitelist; it was a compiled record of every single angel that was going to descend onto Earth and transform into a human being for thirty-four days. It was, less of a quest, but more of a fun game— to Jihoon, at least.

Earth; it was the home of all humans, the piece of land located several atmospheres beneath their ground, the place where all the angels ascended from after they passed. No one really knows what happens after being thrown down to Earth; memories were wiped before descending, and before ascending. There were perpetual rumours, and at the same time, none at all.

Higher than the Heavens, the Greater Holy Spirit had determined that this semi-annual quest was a mission for angels to make a positive change in this chaotic world— and it was to make someone happy. For thirty-four days, that would be the ultimate goal; whether it was to date someone, or help them move on from grief, an angel had to continuously improve a human’s life.

In the last seventeen days, there would be a timer imprinted on the wrist of the angel, and it would count down towards the day of the angel’s return. But not every angel can return— and this was a question in the mind of all angels. There were stories of angels that never came back to the Heavens, and their connection gradually began to distance.

But the chance of an angel getting into the Whitelist was like winning the lottery. Out of maybe a few million angels, there were less than fifty to be chosen for the Whitelist.

“If we do get into the Whitelist…”

Jihoon didn’t even know whether this voice was talking to themselves or not. “I don’t think we will, Soonyoung.”

Soonyoung turned to Jihoon, who wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of going down to Earth. “There’s a chance, Jihoon!” The sofa that was wrapped in white cloth creaked when Soonyoung pressed his hand on the surface, staring at Jihoon, who had his arms crossed, looking away.

“Of what?” Jihoon challenged. “One in maybe a hundred thousand?”

Jihoon didn’t know the reason for his frustration underneath that rebuttal. He didn’t know why his eyebrows pressed together whenever Soonyoung brought up the idea of going down to Earth. Neither did he know why he didn’t want Soonyoung to go, to leave his side, even if it was only for thirty-four days.

As if water was thrown over his blazing fire above his head, he looked down to see his hand, so gently, tucked into a warm, pale one— yet shaking with coldness or fear, he never knew. Jihoon wanted to hold onto this hand like a lifeline, even if it was just for a second. He didn’t want to come to terms with his heart, which was beating faster than the most rhythmic songs he ever composed.

Above Jihoon’s line of vision, Soonyoung puffed out his bottom lip. “One in a hundred thousand is still a chance.” The slight crack in his voice reminded Jihoon of the vulnerable, weak Soonyoung when he first arrived to the Heavens.

 

Back Then

 

“Yeah, just over there, open that door!”

Jihoon felt like his ears were going to fall off just hearing Mr. Choi repeat that command over a billion times. Jihoon was in the Angel Group Thirteen, since he had turned into an angel in the thirteenth generation. A new group is formed every fifteen years, and the first one would always be the ‘supervisor’. For Group Thirteen, a young angel that went by the name of Choi Seungcheol was assigned as the role. He was just a year older than Jihoon, which made Jihoon wonder what was so important about him that he had to obey.

The door at the end of the hall had gaps that revealed light rays, imprinting silver lines on the cemented ground. It was just his second day here, and he had to open some door ? What was it for anyway?

When he gripped tight onto the door handle, he was chanting to himself, I’ll get out of here. Right after I get this door swung open, I’ll return to my room. His room; the one with a grand piano sitting in the corner by a window, the one that had its lights turned on until the irrational hours of the night, the one that he’d grown to love in the first forty-eight hours.

Jihoon opened his mouth as more light pierced into the lobby. “Wel—”

“Get me out of here.” A pleading face clutched Jihoon’s white robe in his fists, staring up at him like a bear who wanted to be freed.

An animated tiger t-shirt. Messy black hair. Dried tears. Jihoon realised that this person wasn’t even supposed to be up in the Heavens, they weren’t wearing the correct dress code – white clothes – and neither were they ready to enter! Plus, he didn’t think an angel could reject walking through the doors of the Heavens, right? It was against the rules!

With a steady hand, Jihoon curled his fingers around this person’s right wrist, and was surprised to find it bathed in sweat. “I, uh, I’m sorry, sir, you can’t ‘get out of here’, this is—”

Jihoon’s eyes widened and his hands fell to his sides when the person in front of him – who didn’t look much older, or much younger than him – fell to the floor in despair. “Tell me this is not what it’s meant to be. This is not what it is.”

A burning feeling was tempted to explode out of Jihoon’s mind. Pity filled his eyes, but what would Mr. Choi say if he finds out Jihoon didn’t open the door and let the new person in? What would other angels say about him after this?

“Look,” Jihoon started, but didn’t know how to continue, or what to say. “I… don’t think you should—”

“I shouldn’t be here.” The boy held his face in his hands, his eyes slanted and monolidded, staring straight, like he was wondering what those rays on the ground were. “Where is this…? No—” the boy’s hands scurried around, as if he was looking for something on the floor— “The dance competition. The assembly. My…”

When he didn’t continue, Jihoon exhaled. What a hard man to handle. He reached out a hand, managing the friendliest, most sympathetic voice he could. “Come on, stand u—”

The back of his hand rose in fire when the boy swatted his hand away with his full force from the floor. His eyes were closed. He was screaming. His voice was cracked, as if it was sore from all the yelling he had done in his head. “ Get away from me! I don’t want to be here!

Jihoon tasted bitterness in his mouth. His feet were planted into the ground, and he had devoted himself to bringing this person past these gates and into the Heavens.

He bent his knees, and even if his eye level wasn’t the same with the boy, he remembered who they were meant to be anticipating for. “Hi, I’m Jihoon. You must be Soonyoung.”

 

Reluctantly, Jihoon pulled his hand away from Soonyoung’s touch— no matter how much he wanted to feel it. He averted his gaze, clearing his throat like he didn’t drink water for three days.

“Jihoon?” Suddenly Soonyoung’s cracked voice didn’t feel like an emotional blow to Jihoon. Jihoon felt Soonyoung scoot closer to him on the couch. “You alright—”

He didn’t let Soonyoung finish, and he pushed the armrest to get on his feet. He didn’t dare take a look at Soonyoung, when all of his mind was filled with the scene of Soonyoung yelling in front of the gates of the Heavens. He couldn’t face him, not now.

So he took a run, to nowhere in particular.

Soonyoung had warmed up to Jihoon in the past three months or so, and they’d gotten closer because of their love for music that accompanied them from their past lives. Soonyoung often danced in Jihoon’s room, precisely pressing his feet on the ground, moving his hands in rhythmic ways that held Jihoon’s attention every time. When Jihoon always presented him with a new piece to dance to, he’d never forget the way Soonyoung’s eyes morph into crescent moons and the way his smile grows so wide it reveals his white teeth when he saw them. More often than none, Jihoon thought Soonyoung was the real angel.

Jihoon remembered the lessons that Soonyoung had given him so Jihoon could join in whenever he danced. Soonyoung’s warm touch that stopped him from falling, his stern eyes every time Jihoon turned his arms the wrong way— and the main reason these mistakes even happen was that Jihoon kept his eyes on Soonyoung this whole time.

But above all their times spent in Jihoon’s room composing and making music, in Soonyoung’s room dancing and eating chips, Soonyoung came to Jihoon several times, with the same few words tumbling out of his lips: “Do you think I can go back to Earth?”

Jihoon held his fist as he felt his heart sink to his stomach. Am I not good enough? Did the times spent with me not account for all the years we’d lost on Earth?

Why do you still want to go back? He wished he could tell Soonyoung what he thought, but he didn’t want to face that pleading look that was plastered all over his mind ever again.

When he found a pillar to hide behind, he peeked at the couch; Soonyoung had his hands laced together on his lap, maybe contemplating what he’d done wrong. The expression that hung on his face made Jihoon feel like kneeling in front of him to apologise a thousand times.

Soonyoung wants to return to Earth. He wants to try to continue living— his ‘normal’ life.

So why couldn’t Jihoon let him?

He pressed his nails into his palm, reminiscing the warmth and comfort that Soonyoung delivered to his hands in a mere second. Jihoon distracted himself by looking at the paste texture of the wall, a drowning feeling engulfing him into darkness.

Before a lukewarm droplet slid down his cheek, Jihoon didn’t realise he was crying.