“Eleanor Shellstrop, of Phoenix, Arizona, born in 1982, not 1986, sent accidentally to The Good Place, also known as trash bag, dummy, Fake Eleanor —“
“Yeah, we’ve got it, thanks,” Eleanor interrupted.
Shaun, the Wise Eternal Judge Who Sits on High, peered down at Eleanor. Like, obviously he peered down at her because if you sit on high, you’re always peering down. It’s sort of in the job description. Eleanor took a deep breath. Whatever the result was, she was going to accept it and just move on with her life. Unlife. Eternity! She was going to move on with her eternity, because what the fork else was she supposed to do?
“Eleanor Shellstrop, I’ve made my decision.”
Eleanor nodded. She felt Chidi squeeze her shoulder supportively, but she couldn’t bring herself to turn around and look at him because she was definitely going to cry if she did that. And Eleanor never cried. She didn’t even cry when her crap parents sat her down at the kitchen table on Easter — Easter! — to tell her that they were splitting up. That was pretty stoic for an eight-year-old girl, right? Like Seneca said, scorn pain; either it will go away or you will. Ha! Take that, Chidi. Eleanor learned stuff and applied it to her own life. Just then, Chidi switched from a reassuring squeeze to more of a shoulder rub, and that made Eleanor feel like crying anyway.
“In your defense, you asked about a Medium Place,” Shaun-on-High said. “In reviewing your time in The Good Place, I found that you asked about that idea more than once. Despite being an all-knowing being, I have no good answer for you. When time began, and the great unknown decided to bring forth humanity, we had to make some decisions. Two places sounded like a nice easy number, so we went with that.”
“You made a Good Place and a Bad Place because it was a low bid?” Eleanor asked.
“Basically,” Shaun said. “I mean, have you seen some of the accounting that goes into figuring out your life’s number? We had to simplify somewhere. But I’ve given your idea some thought and I’ve decided you were right.”
“I was?” Eleanor asked, incredulous. “I mean, yes! Of course I was.”
“And so, after millennia of having just two options, human beings will now have a third option for their afterlives. The Medium Place will henceforth exist.” Shaun did some complicating blinking thing that reminded Eleanor of the old reruns of I Dream of Jeannie she used to watch on Nick at Night when her mother was working late. “Okay, all done. Anyway, I’d like to ask you if you’d head up our new department. Of course, you’d need to become a construct like Michael or Trevor to be in charge and no construct has ever started out as a human, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem. You’re in a unique position as someone stuck between a good and a bad place. So, what do you say, Eleanor?”
Eleanor pursed her lips. That sounded like a lot of work. She wasn't big on work. “What happens if I say no?”
“Oh, things will go back to how they were and you’ll go to The Bad Place, no question,” Shaun said. “I mean, really, you know how hard it is to get into The Good Place, right? Michael’s so funny thinking this would go any other way! But that’s the anthropomorphic representation of good for you.”
“Great!” Eleanor said. “Then yes. I’m going to be a construct and it’s going to be a heck of a good time. Bring it on.”
Being a construct meant a lot of paperwork, which didn’t make total sense to Eleanor. Like, why wouldn’t almighty beings go paperless? She did acquire some cool new abilities, though, like being able to bring things into existence with just a thought, or delivering a hundred anchovy pizzas to Michael’s neighborhood in The Good Place. Eleanor didn’t care what Michael thought about Hawaiian pizza, anchovy was the worst. She also got unlimited train rides on The Janet Train, and Train Janet wore a jaunty little striped cap, so that was cool. But Eleanor also had almost no free time for fun things like that and, well, for someone who was never a team player in life, she missed having people around. The Medium Place was getting new residents at an exponential rate, but they weren’t Chidi or Michael or Jianyu or even stupid perfect Tahani. They were perfectly nice, medium people, who were also total strangers.
Which was why she was surprised to hear a knock at her office door one afternoon. “Come in?” she said tentatively. The door opened and she leapt up when she saw who was there. “Chidi!”
“Eleanor!” Chidi said, immediately going in for a hug. It felt nice, which was kind of a relief. She didn't know if constructs really understood hugging. Michael liked giving hugs, sure, but who knew how much of that was because it was the same for him as it was for all The Good Place citizens? Chidi pulled back and looked around. “Nice place you’ve got here.”
Eleanor wrinkled her nose. “It’s okay, you can say it,” she said. “It looks like rented office space in a mall.”
“Fine. It looks like rented office space in a mall,” Chidi said. “But nice rented office space. Like, for a lawyer.”
“You’re sweet,” Eleanor said. She gestured at one of the chairs on the other side of her desk, and sat back down. “So what brings you here? Was your trip okay? Can I get you anything?”
“I wanted to see you, the trip was fine, and yes, I’d love some water.”
“Janet?” Eleanor called out. Janet appeared immediately. She was wearing a crocheted vest and a sweatshirt with a kitten’s face on it. “Can you get Chidi some water?”
Janet handed Chidi a glass of iced tea, pinched his cheek, and said, “You can’t just have water when you come visit me!” Then she disappeared again.
Chidi looked at his glass in confusion. “What just happened?”
Eleanor sighed. “Okay, so you know how we have — sorry, how The Good Place has Janet, and she provides whatever you need and knows everything that’s in any library or research facility ever?”
“And you know how The Bad Place has Bad Janet, who gives you nothing and gets all of her information from Breitbart?”
“Well.” Eleanor folded her hands on top of her desk. “Let’s back up a little. Okay, so when I was growing up, my mom’s little sister was my cool aunt. Even if I was moving all over, she’d send me gifts or just call so I could complain about my parents. She never got married, but she had this whole string of boyfriends who were all named Joe, which even then I knew was weird. Weirder still, they all had colors for last names, so like my mom would say, ‘Are we talking about Joe White?’ and my aunt would reply, ‘No, no, Joe Lavender,’ who incidentally was a real human person who might still be alive.”
“Does any of this have a point?” Chidi asked. He dutifully sipped his iced tea.
“I was getting there!” Eleanor said defensively. “Anyway, she always liked being cool, so she learned how to use the internet, but she’s in her sixties now and she does things like use Bing with search terms like ‘Google The Good Wife actress age.’ You understand what I’m saying here?”
Chidi laughed. “You’re saying Medium Janet is your sixty-year-old aunt.”
“Yes. Medium Janet doesn’t give you exactly what you’ve asked for, but it’s pretty close, and all her information is from Wikipedia.”
Medium Janet reappeared then with a little knit cap, which she plunked onto Chidi’s head. “It’s perfect!” she cooed before disappearing again.
“She also likes to knit,” Eleanor said. “Not gonna lie, I have a kickass afghan on my bed.”
Chidi wrinkled his forehead. “You can curse.”
“Sort of. We’re strictly on network tv rules here. Watch.” Eleanor cleared her throat. “Hell, crap, damn, ass, bitch, shirt, fork, god damn it, let me say fork, you stupid motherforking universe!” She shrugged. “Welcome to The Medium Place.”
Eleanor played hooky from work so she could show Chidi around, telling Janet to hold her calls while she was out, which only had a fifty-fifty chance of actually working. But whatever. What was the point of being a bureaucrat in eternity if you couldn’t slack off once in a while? Besides, what was the worst thing that was going to happen? Some of the dead people would stop being dead? Pfft.
“So this is our coffee shop,” Eleanor said.
“A Starbucks,” Chidi said, looking around. “Not exactly earning any Michelin stars, but not too offensive.”
She picked up the cups with Ellen and Chirpy written on the sides and sat at a table. It was wobbly and the chairs were too short, but it didn’t matter if they switched tables. They were all like that. Chidi looked a little put out, but really, it wasn’t so bad once you got used to it. The Medium Place had a Walmart and a Best Buy and a movie theater that got all the blockbusters. They had honest-to-god ice cream. They could watch the Oscars and had spotty WiFi. It was fine. Everything was just fine.
“So what do you do all day?” Chidi said, taking a sip from his cup. He looked at it in confusion, but that was probably because they got his order wrong. That always happened. It was a Starbucks, for fork’s sake.
Eleanor shrugged. “A little of everything, I guess. I listen to problems and fix them if they’re reasonable enough, I introduce new people to the neighborhood. So far there’s only one neighborhood, and it’s getting crowded, but what are you going to do? A lot of people are medium people and new people are dying all the time.” She took a sip of her coffee. A mocha. Not what she ordered, but nothing worth complaining over. “But the most annoying thing is the appeals process.”
Chidi pushed his coffee away. “Tell me about that.”
“It’s really annoying," Eleanor said. "Not only are people dying every day, but people were dying for, like, a million years before we died. And a lot of those jerks are in The Bad Place, and a lot of them want out. Wouldn’t you? Some of them are no-brainers, like the single mom who worked three jobs, so she was tired and yelled at her kids too much, but she put them through college and they loved her and were with her when she died. She didn’t donate half her salary to charity or spend her life writing a treatise on Kant because she had to buy her kids shoes. And she was in The Bad Place for years. It’s unfair.”
“I’d think you’d be happy helping out people like that,” Chidi said. “It’s a great application of everything I was teaching you.”
“I am happy about that! That feels great. But the appeals process also means people like Hitler can apply. Literal Hitler!” Eleanor threw up her arms. “And I have to review his case file seriously and then do a write up about why Hitler can’t hang at Starbucks. It’s never ending.”
Chidi started rustling through his bag. He slapped a piece of paper down on the table. “So I guess I shouldn’t give this to you.”
The paper read: Appeals Application for The Medium Place: Chidi Anagonye
“What the hell is this?” Eleanor asked. She scooped up Chidi’s appeal and started paging through it. Everything was written out neatly, answered thoroughly, and it was annoyingly perfect. “Is this a joke? No one applies here from The Good Place! God damn it, Chidi.”
“I still can’t get used to that,” Chidi admitted. He took the application back from Eleanor and lay it flat on the table. “It’s not a joke. It’s — it’s just that The Good Place is sort of boring since you left. Don’t get me wrong! Tahani's tried very hard to make things lively for us. I’ve attended no fewer than fifteen parties.” He sighed and shook his head. “And Real Eleanor —“
“Real Eleanor,” Eleanor muttered under her breath. She idly played with the lid of her mocha and wouldn’t look up.
“Fine. The other Eleanor is a lovely person, but we have so much in common and we’re very alike.”
“That sounds awful.”
Chidi sighed. “This isn’t going well. It’s just that everything’s a bit predictable, especially since Tahani found out about Jianyu. She’s taken over keeping his secret safe. In the meantime, she’s really taken a shine to Flaming Hot Cheetos, which is a little weird if you ask me.”
Eleanor’s eyes widened. “Tahani knows about Jianyu? Tell me all about that immediately.”
“I will! I’ll tell you everything. I just — I miss you,” Chidi said, sounding like it was causing him physical pain to spit the words out. “Every day is the same. The only life worth living is one with meaning.”
“We’re all dead,” Eleanor reminded him. “Well, you are. I don’t know what I count as anymore.”
“You know what I mean. I want to help you and we make a great team. I like paperwork. So, approve my request?”
Eleanor grabbed Chidi’s hands and looked him square in the eye; Chidi looked down at their hands. “You realize this is a permanent change, right?” she said. “We’re talking actual eternity. There’s no take backs, and you can’t go back to your charming French apartment at the end of the night. I can offer you an okay two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath condo, but I have to warn you: the toilet in the second bathroom will run unless you jiggle the handle. They all do that.”
Chidi laughed. “Jiggle the handle, got it. So do we have a deal?”
Eleanor held out her hand and a stamp appeared in it. A moment later, Chidi’s application sported a big red APPROVED across the top and it burst into flames and ash before disappearing. “The fire thing was my idea,” Eleanor said happily. “Got to make my fun where I can.”
“What’s the haps, Chidi?” Eleanor said, perching on the edge of Chidi’s desk. Medium Janet had set up Chidi’s office with stuff from Ikea, but she’d assembled most of it wrong, so Eleanor and Chidi had to take it all apart and put it back together after. The stupid L-shaped wrench thingies were the bane of Eleanor’s existence.
“Lots of rejections today,” Chidi said sadly. He always sounded sad when he had to reject people, which Eleanor didn’t completely get. She kind of loved her giant red DENY stamp. Then again, Chidi was a much better person than she was. But she was trying. “Your typical Bad Place caseload: murderers, hit-and-run drunk drivers, hedge managers who skimmed off retirement funds, and the man who originally came up with trucker hats with little foam boobs above the brim.”
Eleanor nodded sagely. That last one was obvious.
“Where have you been?” Chidi asked.
“Ugh, Chidi, the newbies are the worst.” Eleanor plopped down in one of Chidi’s office chairs and propped her feet up on his desk. He wordlessly reached across and pushed them off. “Okay, like I’m not advocating torture or anything —“
“Well, that’s good,” Chidi said sarcastically.
“Thanks. But it seems like without knowing The Bad Place was their only option fifteen minutes ago, the new dead people are super entitled. Like, I’m sorry you were a millionaire back on earth, but the only charity you ever gave to was run by Ted Nugent. Deal with your all-white appliances and get off my freaking back. At least the ones we’ve relocated know how good they have it here. Ooh! What about an introductory boot camp?”
“No, Chidi, think about it. One week of giant spiders and lava monsters and weirdly friendly twentysomethings trying to recruit you into their cult, and then you get your permanent reassignment here. Pay it forward!”
“You really have no idea what that means, do you?” Chidi asked.
The thing was, being the construct for The Medium Place was kind of like being the super for the universe’s biggest apartment complex. When Eleanor wasn’t reviewing applications, she was greeting rookies and helping them get settled in. Trevor sort of had the same gig in The Bad Place, only where Eleanor was listening to newcomers complain about their badly assembled Ikea furniture or leaky toilets, Trevor mostly resorted to torture. The appeals reviews were the highlight of her day now because at least that meant she was hanging out with Chidi. It was weird how he almost made paperwork interesting, sometimes passionately defending the potential of someone who’d scored way in the red during their time on earth. Obviously he had his novelty-trucker-hat-shaped lines, but it was like once he sort of fixed one sort of horrible person, he couldn’t help but want to fix everyone. It was… sweet, really.
Chidi stood up and clapped his hands. “Tell you what. Why don’t we put away the summer camp of torture idea aside for now, and leave a little early today?”
“Are you feeling all right?” Eleanor asked. They didn’t have set hours, since, you know, they had an actual eternity here, but Chidi was a routine guy and insisted on a schedule. Like, he’d specifically requested a time clock so he could punch in and punch out; once Eleanor caught him laughing gleefully to himself when he punched his time card for the day.
“I feel fine,” Chidi insisted. “But you seem like you could use a break. Let’s just punch out and head to Chuck-E-Cheese's.” The only pizza in The Medium Place was from Chuck-E-Cheese's, but they did have skee ball which was sort of a plus. Chidi sighed. “I’ll let you play Grand Theft Auto.”
Eleanor’s eyes lit up. “Deal!”
She was going to jack a shirtload of cars.
Chuck-E-Cheese's was exactly what Eleanor needed. Well, okay, not exactly what she needed because who needed pizza that was cold and rubbery the second it hit your table and creepy animatronic animals that sang to you twice an hour? But she had needed a break. She needed to get away from the ever-growing stack of appeals applications, and needed to avoid the new arrivals for a little while. The thing was, it hadn’t just been people complaining about their dumb furniture. There’d also been a woman who’d been in an accident with her husband, and well, her husband wasn’t there with her. Eleanor hadn’t checked into it yet, whether he’d gone up or down or lived, but all they both knew was that he wasn’t there. The woman was so distraught and Eleanor had just been lost trying to console her.
For someone who was supposed to be so wise and all-knowing and on high, Shaun sure was a dumbass. Seriously, who thought putting Eleanor in charge of anything was a good idea?
“Eleanor,” Chidi said, tapping on her hand. Eleanor startled. “I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re doing terrific work at a thankless job. It was a good idea putting you in charge of everything.”
Eleanor scoffed. “You don’t have to lie to me.”
“I’m not,” said Chidi, shaking his head. “Like, you’ve seen me try to lie, right? This isn’t me lying.” It was true; Chidi was the worst liar Eleanor had ever met, and she knew Jianyu. Chidi wasn’t fidgeting or sweating in odd places or looking like the top of his head was about to blow off because he was so stressed out. He had a soft smile on his face and he hadn’t moved his hand away from hers. Instead, he gave it an awkward little rub and added, “You just should know that you’re doing great here. It’s okay if you don’t always know what to say. No one has all the answers, okay?”
“Okay,” Eleanor agreed. “Thanks, Chidi.”
“You’re welcome. Now, do you want to go play some skee ball? Because I feel like kicking your ass.”
“You said ass!” Eleanor said delightedly.
“I did, didn’t I?” Chidi sounded proud. “Ass ass ass ass ass.”
“Slow down there, tiger,” Eleanor said, climbing to her feet. She’d be the only one kicking any asses today.
As it turned out, Chidi was a forking skee ball ringer, and Eleanor would be wincing for days over how badly she got burned. Honestly, though, she didn’t even mind. When they finished dinner, they wound up wandering down the streets, too much low-quality cheese and a crust that was probably at least fifty-percent rocks keeping their pace pretty lazy and their silence companionable. They were meandering in the general direction of Chidi’s place, but at their current rate, they wouldn’t get there for about a day. But hey, where did they really need to be? The beauty of an average afterlife, Eleanor supposed.
“Dinner was nice,” Chidi said eventually.
“No, it wasn’t,” Eleanor said.
“Yes, it was!” insisted Chidi. “The service, the food, and the vague smell of urine wafting from the ball pit, not so much, but dinner itself was nice. The company was good.”
Eleanor glanced sideways. Chidi was watching her; he had that expression she’d seen on him a hundred times, the one where he was trying to figure her out but couldn’t quite get there. In the past, that was usually because he was a Good Person and she was a Bad Person and her motivations baffled him, but right then that didn’t seem quite right. Chidi really just seemed like he was working out something in his head. But hey, who wasn’t?
“Don’t you miss, like, actually good food?” Eleanor asked. “You can’t just wander up to an animatronic mouse or our Janet and request your Grandma’s mafé.”
Chidi shrugged. “I can learn to cook it for myself,” he said. “It’s not like I don’t have the time. Hell, with the amount of time we have, I can learn and probably teach you, too.”
“Learn to cook day-old fish with the creepy eyeball looking at me?” Eleanor said. “That’s a hard pass.”
“Fine,” Chidi said amiably. “I’ll learn how to make creepy eyeball fish and jalapeño poppers, and I’ll even work on a really good frozen margarita recipe.”
Eleanor laughed. “Okay, but if I set your kitchen on fire, I have to warn you, our emergency services are very slow to respond. In that they don’t exist on account of everyone being dead and all.”
“Fair enough,” said Chidi. “Then it’s a date.”
The word was enough to send Eleanor tripping over her shoelace. At least then she had the excuse to stoop down and mess around with the laces. Did Chidi mean a date date? Had this been a date date? Had giving up a life in paradise essentially to keep helping the hot mess he’d accidentally gotten stuck with as his soulmate all been some sort of grand gesture?
“Did you forget how to tie your shoes?” Chidi asked, concern lacing his voice.
Eleanor startled and leapt back up to her feet, the top of her head managing to connect with Chidi’s chin on the way up. Chidi groaned in pain and doubled over, trying to wave away Eleanor’s frantic apologies.
“Janet!” Eleanor called. Chidi’s lip was bleeding. Come on! That wasn’t supposed to happen to dead people! “Janet, I need you.”
“Hey, sweeties,” Janet said as she appeared in front of them. “What can I get you two? Martinis, a condom, Barry White’s greatest hits compilation?”
“Read the room, Janet!” Eleanor shouted. “Ice and an Uber back to Chidi’s place, please.”
Janet giggled. “Whatever you kids are into.”
“We have Uber here?” Chidi muttered, mostly to himself. What did he expect? Obviously, they weren’t all getting flying lessons here in Beigeland. A second later, a nondescript silver sedan pulled up with Janet behind the driver’s wheel. They climbed inside. An icepack was sitting on the backseat, but Chidi pushed Eleanor’s hand back down when she tried pressing the ice to his mouth. “I’m fine, I swear,” he insisted. Sure enough, the cut on his lip was already closing up and it wasn’t swollen at all. Eleanor was relieved. Now that was how a dead guy was meant to respond to injury!
Chidi didn’t move his hand away from Eleanor’s, either. And even though that meant Eleanor’s hand was trapped between Chidi’s hand and a bag full of ice, she didn’t exactly pull away either. What was the worst thing that could happen to her? It wasn’t like she could get frostbite.
A few minutes later, Eleanor and her cold hand climbed out after Chidi, and followed him upstairs to his condo. His door was at the end of a very long hallway, very Shining-esque, though without the whole creepy twins aspect. Which was a plus. About halfway down the universe’s longest corridor, Chidi reached over and tangled their fingers together again. When Eleanor looked over, Chidi was smiling at her, kind of shyly, which worked because she was pretty sure she was doing the same. Shy hadn’t ever been her thing before, but maybe it was now.
After all, she was a completely different person now than she was before. Eleanor started out a crap loner loser, and now she was probably still a loser, but not a loser who’d pay actual money for Celebrity Baby Plastic Surgery Disasters. Because money didn’t exist in the afterlife, but that was besides the point.
“Well, this is me,” Chidi said, once they were in front of his door. He gave Eleanor’s hand a squeeze, and she found herself squeezing back. “Did you want to come in?”
Eleanor smiled and got up on her tiptoes so she could press her mouth to Chidi’s. It was a nice kiss, too — warm, sweet, and when Chidi opened his mouth a little to sigh, Eleanor took the opportunity to slip him the tongue. Come on, she was still her. She was also the one to break the kiss a moment later, using all her willpower ever to do it because Chidi had his hand pressed against her lower back, and that was a move that she was just, like, super into.
“Not that I don’t appreciate it, but I’m going to take a raincheck on that invite,” Eleanor said. “Why rush things? After all, we’ve got an eternity.”
“Literally,” Chidi said, smiling a little. “Well. If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” Eleanor said. “See you tomorrow?”
“Definitely,” Chidi agreed.
They kissed once — okay, twice — more before Eleanor took off down the hall again, only looking back at Chidi’s door once — okay, twice — as she left. And for the first time since The Medium Place came into existence, Eleanor was really looking forward to work the next day.
All in all, not that bad an ending for someone who turned out to be not that bad a person.