This story is a “follow-up” to Robert’s previously posted story, “Choices.” Copyright is held by the author.
LAUGHTER PULLED Jason from an alcohol-induced sleep. The laughter sounded like it was coming from the kitchen-dining room area. “Oh, no,” he groaned. “Not again.” He struggled out of bed, scratched his belly then rubbed the four-day crop of whiskers covering his face. He wore rumpled pyjama bottoms and a grey tee shirt with a large hole ripped under the right arm.
He looked at the bedside clock: six in the morning. Too early, oh, my god, way too early. Not bothering to change clothes, Jason went into the kitchen.
Two young women, a blond and a brunette, sat at his table drinking coffee. “Good morning, Jason,” the blond said cheerfully.
“How nice to see you again,” the brunette crooned. They gave him smiles so bright he almost went blind.
Jason grunted in response, opened the fridge and pulled out a beer. He twisted the cap off and threw it on the floor. The young women raised their eyebrows at this and looked at each other questioningly. Before Jason had a chance to sit down, the brunette said, “Do you mind refilling our cups?”
Jason grunted, grabbed the carafe, filled their cups then sat down at the end of the table, took a swallow of beer and belched. He pointed the beer bottle at them but didn’t say anything. The young women waited for him to speak. He took a swallow of beer. “You two,” he said and took another drink.
“Oh, you remember,” the blond said. “How nice.”
“I knew he wouldn’t forget us,” the brunette replied.
“I remember you, all right,” Jason said. “Do I ever.” He drank more beer. “You’re the H&H Consulting team.” He pointed the beer bottle at the brunette. “You’re Hannah, Hell’s rep, right?”
“Right you are, Jason,” Hannah said. A pair of petite horns sprouted from her forehead and a tail with a triangle point shot into the air behind her and writhed with the suppleness of an octopus tentacle.
He turned toward the blond. “And you,” he said, pointing the beer bottle at her, “are Heather, Heaven’s rep.”
“Yes, Jason, that’s correct,” she said. A gold halo appeared over her head and a pair of small, white-feathered wings grew from her back, fluttered briefly then folded.
Hannah’s tail slashed through the air.
“What do you want?” Jason asked. He emptied the beer bottle and got another from the fridge.
“This is the follow-up we are required to do after the initial consultation with each of our clients,” Heather said. The white wings fluttered then stilled.
“I’m not your client. I didn’t hire you.”
They ignored his protest. “We want to see how you’ve been progressing,” Hannah said. Her tail whipped through the air.
“Progressing for what?” Jason took another swallow of beer.
“Why, toward your choice of Heaven,” Heather said. The gold halo over her head bounced up and down.
“Or Hell,” Hannah said, not wanting to be left out. Her tail stiffened then resumed dancing.
Jason tapped the beer bottle on the table. “You two have ruined my life with this heaven and hell business.” He took another drink. “Look at me. Do I look like the Jason you knew when you first broke into my apartment and ate all my food?”
“We want to ask you about that,” said Heather. “We didn’t find any cereal, milk, blueberries or strawberries.”
“The only things in your fridge are beer and a block of moldy cheese. We were expecting a nutritious breakfast, Jason,” Hannah said. “But we did find enough coffee to brew a pot.” She took a sip from the cup she held as if to add emphasis to her words.
“My life’s a mess and it’s your fault.” He finished the beer, got another from the fridge and sat down. He twisted off the top and threw it over his shoulder to the floor. Heather and Hannah watched the beer cap spin around with a whirring sound until it stopped.
They turned their attention back to Jason.
“We don’t understand,” said Heather.
“For starters, I got fired.” Jason took a drink of beer.
“What did you do?” Hannah asked.
“I made a bad choice. I didn’t lie.” Jason finished the beer and got another.
“You should never lie, Jason,” Heather said. “Telling the truth is always the best choice.” The white wings opened, fluttered briefly then folded.
“Tell us about it,” Hannah said. Her tail whipped back and forth.
“I sold used cars. I was really good at it and made good money. I just about had this car sold for top dollar. I was going to get a big commission, too. The car looked super, what we in the trade call a cream puff. It was a beautiful vehicle on the outside. Under the paint it was a piece of junk.” Jason finished his beer, got another one and took a big swig. He thought he might be getting buzzed.
“So?” prompted Hannah. She leaned forward in her seat, eager to hear Jason’s explanation.
“The buyer asked if the car was worth the money. I made the wrong choice. I told him no, said it was a beater hiding under shiny paint. I told him he was throwing his money away. Wrong thing to say. The customer went to my boss, told him what I had said and chewed him out for trying to peddle a trash can on wheels. My boss, the asshole that he is, fired me on the spot.” Jason took another drink. He began to feel less grumpy. Fortunately, Jason was not a surly drunk, but he did lean toward being a tad loquacious when he drank too much.
“You made the right choice, Jason,” Heather said. Her golden halo pulsed. “I’m sure the buyer thinks you did, too. You saved someone from being taken.”
“You should have lied, Jason,” Hannah said. “Your choice cost you big money and your job.” Her tail writhed frantically in the air.
“That’s my problem! Choices! Before you broke into my apartment last year I was happy and life was good. I never worried about the choices I made. Then you gave me that lecture on choices. Where did I want to spend eternity? Was I going to go to heaven or to hell? What did I want to do for eternity? I know you remember. I can see it in your eyes.” He drank more beer. He leaned toward Hannah. “You said if I went to Hell I’d get to do the one thing I liked most in the world, fly fish Montana’s Madison River. I’ll tell you a secret, Hannah. I hate eating fish, but I like catching them. That’s why I don’t want to go to Hell. I don’t want to eat every lousy fish I catch.”
Hannah just smiled at him.
“Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to analyze every choice you’re going to make? You end up questioning everything you do. It’s driving me crazy.” Jason drank more beer.
“Oh, Jason, I’m so proud of you I could kiss you,” Heather said. Her wings flapped so energetically four feathers flew out and floated in the air before falling to the floor.
“Heather, we’re not supposed to get romantically involved with our clients,” Hannah chirped.
“I’m not your client,” Jason said. “You guys hijacked me.”
“I was speaking metaphorically, Hannah.” Heather’s wings flapped once for emphasis then folded. Turning back to Jason, Heather said, “Telling the truth is always the best choice. You will never regret telling the truth.”
“You think so, huh? The truth will set you free, is that it?”
“Well, yes, that’s how it’s supposed to work,” Heather replied.
“Big whoop. I chose truth and it set me free from my job.”
“We’re so sorry about that,” Hannah said.
“Let me tell you what else happened then you can decide if choosing to tell the truth is always so groovy.” Jason drank more beer. He was really getting buzzed. Too many beers on an empty stomach. He shrugged and took another drink.
“Here’s the worst part. My girlfriend dumped me.” Jason shook his head. “I still can’t believe it.”
“I’m sure she will reconsider. You’re such a wonderful person,” Heather said. She gave his hand a quick squeeze.
“Can’t believe what?” asked Hannah.
“We were going out to dinner. She had a new dress she wanted to wear. It had horizontal stripes on it.”
Heather interrupted. “Oh, Jason, you didn’t.”
“Shush, Heather,” said Hannah.
“She asked me if the dress made her butt look big.” Jason took another drink. “I said it made her butt look as big as Mount Fuji. If she wore it people would think she was on a one-way train to Fat City. She was furious and dumped me. Bam! Just like that, it was over. She said she never wanted to see me again.” Jason took another drink.
Hannah laughed. “Oh, Jason, that’s a wonderful story!”
Heather frowned. “Jason, you should have lied about the dress.”
“See?” Jason cried. “That’s how you guys ruined my life. I don’t know what to say any more. I don’t know if my choices are good or bad. Before you gangsters broke in, I never had to worry about my choices. They all seemed to be just fine.” He tapped the beer bottle on the table a few times then continued. “You,” he pointed the bottle at Heather. “You tell me the right choice is to tell the truth. I do and lose my job. Then I tell the truth about my girlfriend’s dress and you tell me I should have lied. What kind of people are you?” He drained the bottle and tapped it on the table. “My life was really good until you two showed up and wrecked it. I don’t know what to do. All these choices! Who decides if my choices are right or wrong? Who is keeping track? Am I going to Hell because of my choices and have to eat fish forever or am I going to Heaven and have to do who knows what there? Who’s going to tell me these things?”
Heather looked at Hannah. “What do you think? Have we seen enough?”
“I think so. Jason is progressing nicely, working through it just as we thought he would.”
“You’re talking about me as if I’m not even here,” Jason complained.
They turned their attention to Jason. “Well, yes, we are,” Hannah said.
Heather said, “Don’t be sad, Jason. Look at those two choices as practice.”
“You’ll get better with time,” Hannah said. “Everyone does.” She smiled. “In the end, you’ll figure it out.”
Easy for you to say,” said Jason. “I still don’t know if I’m going to heaven or hell.”
The young women laughed. “Nobody knows before they die, Jason. That’s why making the right choice is so difficult,” Hannah said.
Jason fetched another beer.
“We must leave now,” Heather said. Her halo and wings disappeared. Hannah’s horns dissolved. Her tail gave one last defiant slash through the air then vaporized.
“Please, don’t come back,” Jason said.
The two young women walked to the apartment door. “Goodbye, Jason,” they said in unison.
“Turn out the light before you leave.”
They left Jason alone, in the dark, nursing a cold beer, thinking about choices.