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She opens her eyes to block letters in a late-summer green, crisply painted on a wall that’s clear clean white without being harsh.

“Welcome!” they read, jaunty and cheerful. “Everything is gay.”

Eleanor Shellstrop can’t remember how she got here — why she’s sitting in this bland little room, on this inoffensive couch, wearing a plaid flannel shirt that she definitely does not own. And that’s not a problem, necessarily. She can think of plenty of times when something along these lines has happened to her, although usually she wakes up on a bare mattress in a frat house, not in what looks like the waiting room for a high-end dentist. 

A door opens, and an older white man peers out at her. He radiates bowtie benevolence, and his voice is kind as he says her name and asks her to come on in.

The windows of his office are crowded with tropical plants in bronze pots, which filter the sunlight into leafy dimness that reminds her unpleasantly of camping. The man takes a seat behind a large wooden desk, and gestures to the chair across from him. And she sits, because so far this feels slightly more like a job interview than a trip to the principal's office, and any job this guy would offer her probably pays at least 70K a year. Maybe Yesterday Eleanor found him in a bar and convinced him she can be trusted with taking messages and picking up his dry cleaning. If he’s gay, he probably won’t even hit on her, which would be a nice change of pace.

“Hi, Eleanor,” he says with a gentle smile. “I’m Michael. How are you today?”

She hitches an I’m Responsible grin onto her face. “I’m great, thanks for asking,” she says. “I’m sorry, I think I got my schedule a little confused. Was I supposed to bring anything with me? Do you already have my resume?” She holds up a finger, as if just remembering. “Also all of my references have died and you can’t call them, so weird? So sad! Can’t be helped.”

The man — Michael — chuckles and shakes his head. “Oh! Oh no, I’m sorry, there’s...you misunderstand.” He folds his hands on the desk, and leans in toward her. “You, Eleanor Shellstrop, are dead. Your life on Earth has ended, and you are now in the next phase of your existence in the universe.”

“... Huh.” She purses her lips. “Cool. Cool, I have some questions.”

Michael makes an expansive gesture. “Please. Anything at all.”

“So I’m...dead.”

“Yes.”

“And this is the afterlife.”

“That’s correct.”

“So am I...like, in the...” She points down, grimacing. “Or the...” 

Michael laughs again, easy and light, as if the very idea is ridiculous. “Oh, Eleanor. No, you’re in the Good Place.” He lays his hands flat on the desktop; looks directly into her eyes. “You’re okay.”

Eleanor considers. Probably she should be more freaked by all of this, but to be honest, the thing about dying that had seemed the most fucked up and terrifying was the part where she ceased to exist. Whatever this is, she’s still her. And much like with Arizona State, while she’s not entirely sure how she skated through this admissions process, she sure as shit ain't gonna question it. 

Although, on the topic of things she got up to in college...

“Hey, so, about that sign on the wall out there...” She jerks her thumb toward the waiting room. “Do you mean like...gay as in ‘old timey happy’ or gay as in-”

Another musical chuckle. The more Eleanor hears it, the more she’d place it somewhere between sitcom bartender and shopping mall Santa Claus. “Well, both, ideally!” he says. “But in this case, we do also mean it as a playful denial of heteronormativity.” He flashes a sparkling grin. “Here in the Good Place, we accept that almost everyone is at least a little bit gay.”

“Damn straight,” Eleanor says automatically. And then, with a slow sly smile, “I mean...damn gay.”

“Oh, Eleanor,” Michael says, beatific. “I’m so excited for your first day here in the Neighborhood. I think you’re in for some pretty exciting surprises.”

*

The first surprise is that Eleanor is not supposed to be here. This definitely counts as exciting, but not in the fun “Las Vegas Rihanna concert” way. More like the “Arizona drivers trying to deal with a downpour” way.

They’re standing in the living room of a weird minimalist shoebox house — her house, apparently — as she half-listens to Michael prattle on. Mostly, she’s watching the video he’s summoned out of nowhere and wondering if she’s maybe been roofied by some unscrupulous reality TV producer, and instead of the afterlife this is actually the set of a bizzarro Truman Show knockoff.  

Michael explains that this is a recording of her memories, made available to her so that she can revisit the many good deeds which landed her here in the Good Place. But instead of playing back the time Eleanor held her roommate’s hair out of the way while she puked, or the time she filled out a comment card for a basically competent beefcake Applebee's waiter, or the time she put on a pair of headphones instead of trying to get a crying baby kicked off on an airplane by claiming to have a deadly baby allergy, the screen displays supernaturally clear recordings of barefoot children in huts. 

Michael is talking about her charitable work in the Ukraine. The hands which are offering blankets and toys, which are smoothing down locks of tousled hair and wiping grime from hopeful faces, are supposed to be Eleanor’s hands.

With a nauseating lurch, she realizes that an eternity surrounded by cursed clown portraits is probably the good outcome.

“You did so much for other people on Earth,” Michael says, in the soft earnest voice which Eleanor is beginning to hate. “I hope you’re able to relax a little, now that you’re here.” A sympathetic tilt of the head. “You’ve earned it.”

“I sure have,” Eleanor says, brandishing the cheerful telemarketer voice she perfected while selling chalk pills to old people.

There’s a knock at the door. The weather here is perfect and mild — because of course it is — so they had left it standing open. This means that nothing obscures Eleanor’s view as an Amazonian gazelle of a woman steps theatrically into the doorway, one elegant arm sweeping up to rest upon the frame. 

It occurs to Eleanor that this woman must have knocked on the outside of the house, then waited the exact right amount of time to make this entrance once Eleanor and Michael would be looking, but before they’d thought to shout “Hello?” or glance at each other or otherwise spoil the moment. Honestly, it’s pretty impressive, points for drama and also for wearing heels despite being damn near six feet tall.

“Ah, excellent timing!” Michael says, pleased. “Eleanor, this is your soulmate, Tahani.”

Tahani extends her hand, angled down and slightly curved. “Charmed,” she says, with the fanciest fucking accent Eleanor has ever heard in person.

“Soulmate! Wow!” Eleanor says. The position of Tahani’s offered hand makes her feel like she’s expected to take it in her own, bow over it, and kiss one elegant knuckle at a time, but she’s not really butch enough to pull off that kind of a Prince Charming maneuver, not even in flannel. Instead, she throws her arms open and says “Bring it in!” with what she hopes is casual-sounding charm.

“Oh my!” Tahani says. She somehow manages to convey flustered and pitying at the same time as she takes a few hesitant steps forward, folds herself practically in half to bring her torso down to Eleanor’s level, and accepts the offered hug. She smells like jasmine flowers and inherited wealth, and her skin is impossibly soft.

Then Tahani straightens, rests a hand on each of Eleanor’s shoulders to hold her at arm’s length, and glows down at her. “My dear, sweet little Eleanor,” Tahani says. “You and I have found one another across the ocean of eternity. I shall treasure you as a precious gem, nestled safe and close to my bosom, the Mackay Emerald of my heart.” Her radiant smile widens. “Although I’m certain you’ll be a far more pleasant companion, I do enjoy an afternoon at the Smithsonian as much as the next girl, but 168 carats on such a long necklace just wasn’t practical, it gives one a dreadful cramp in one’s shoulders.”

“Uh-huh,” Eleanor says, her own smile still locked in place. Her eyes shift to Michael. “Soulmates?”

“It’s fairly self-explanatory,” Michael says. “Based on everything we know about you and the lives you lived, the infallible calculus of fate has matched the two of you together. You should be perfectly suited companions.” He gestures to the screen, still populated by Ukranian orphans. “Tahani also spent most of her life helping people less fortunate than herself. In fact, I believe her foundation was responsible for funding the year you spent working on malaria prevention in Mozambique.”

“Wow!” Eleanor says again. “Small afterlife, huh?”

“Isn’t it though?” He glances at his watch — why does an angel need a watch? — and clicks his tongue. “I’m sorry, if you’ll excuse me, ladies, I have other people here in the Neighborhood to attend to. I’m sure you have so much to talk about!”

And then he’s gone. Leaving Eleanor alone with a montage of someone else’s memories and one of the most comically beautiful people she’s ever met without having to sneak into a press junket.

Tahani glides toward her, reaching out to take both of Eleanor’s hands in her own. “A soulmate,” she says in her low, rich voice. “My dear friend Ellen always told me I would find true love in an unexpected quarter, but I’d assumed that was a transparent threat to bring me onto her talk show for a spot of celebrity matchmaking. I could never have guessed that my absent half would be waiting for me here.” Tahani lifts one of Eleanor’s hands to her mouth, and presses warm rose petal lips to the knuckles. Despite being even less butch than Eleanor, she absolutely pulls this off. “You and I shall be a warm hearth for one another. An oasis in paradise.”

“Can we sit?” Eleanor says, brittle with nerves. “Let’s sit.” She plunks down onto the couch — which is shockingly uncomfortable for how expensive it looks — and her fingers twist together in her lap as she watches Tahani gracefully settle on the next cushion over. Tahani is wearing a strapless white dress, and she’s so tall, even like this, that the soft curves of her cleavage are at the exact right height for Eleanor to stare at them.

“You seem to be taking this whole soulmate thing pretty seriously,” Eleanor says.

Tahani lays a hand on her chest, which does not help at all with Eleanor’s stare-avoidance efforts. “Of course!”

“So you’ll stand by my side no matter what, right?”

“Eleanor, we are twin pines on the windy hillsides of eternity.”

She reaches for Tahani’s hands again; looks directly into those glittering brown eyes. “So you’d never betray me for any reason.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it!”

“Promise me,” Eleanor says. “Out loud. With words.”

“As I said to my dear friend Solange after that unfortunate business with her brother-in-law, I swear I shall stand by you no matter what, TMZ be damned.”

“Good enough,” Eleanor says. “So here’s the thing: those aren’t my memories, I’ve never been to the Ukraine for orphan reasons or otherwise, I only kind of know what malaria is, I hate clowns...” She draws a deep breath and blows it out. “There’s been a big mistake. I’m not supposed to be here.”

Tahani blinks several times, her expression unreadable. “I’m sorry?”

“They got my name right, but pretty much everything else seems to be bullshirt.” Now, it’s Eleanor’s turn to blink. “Why can’t I say ‘shirt’?”

Tahani extracts her hands from Eleanor’s and folds them in her lap. “Just to be clear,” She says, very slow; very careful. “What you are saying is that you have entered heaven with fraudulent credentials.”

“No,” Eleanor says, just as slow and with an edge. “I’m saying that someone else — not me — majorly forked things up. Fraud is something you do on purpose, and it’s not like I lied on my afterlife paperwork and said that I had five years experience doing a job I read about in People magazine while I was getting my nails done, to name a totally random and not-real example.”

“I see,” Tahani says. She sits up a little straighter, her shoulders back, and turns to look at the empty air beside the magical television. “Janet,” she says, which summons the chipper robot maid which Eleanor half-remembers from her tour of the Neighborhood.

“What can I do for you?” Janet asks. She gives off a vibe somewhere between flight attendant and librarian.

“Where is Michael?” Tahani asks crisply. “I would like to-”

Eleanor waves her arms around, her heart already thudding. “Woah woah hang on just a forkin’ second,” she says, “what happened to never betraying me?”

“As you said, an error has been made,” Tahani says, with what seems to be genuine puzzlement. “Fortunately for the both of us, I have a great deal of experience navigating substandard management of exclusive resorts. I’ll have this sorted in no time, you needn’t worry your sweet little urchin head about it for a moment.” She swings the spotlight of her smile back around to Janet. “Now, as I was saying. Please summon Michael to this residence at once, so that we can-”

“Wait! Jeebus Crest, just hang on a second!” She cocks her head, momentarily distracted. “Okay wow, that one’s pretty weird.”

“It’s quite clear that we must speak to the manager,” Tahani says. “We cannot abide by so grave an error in our immortal arrangements.”

“And what exactly do you think he’s gonna do when you tell him?” Eleanor hisses. 

Tahani’s posture, already perfect, somehow straightens a fraction more. “Surely he will resolve this in a fair and appropriate manner.”

“Yeah, by kicking me out on my ash!” 

Tahani’s eyes widen. “Oh, I see.” She laces her fingers together on top of her knees; stares down at them for a long moment as she considers. “Just as it was when poor Kristin and Robert were ejected after I summoned the bellman to address improper placement of my luggage. How was I to know they’d been banned from all Aman properties? They hadn’t mentioned!” She presses a hand to her mouth. “Oh, Eleanor, it was dreadful, absolutely haunting. They were forced to spend the night in a Hilton.”

“Is that what you want for me, Tahani? For your soulmate?” Eleanor asks, relentless.  “Do you want to get me kicked out of this hotel?”

“How do I know you really are my soulmate?” Tahani murmurs against her fingers. “Perhaps my true match is languishing elsewhere?”

“Do you really want to risk it?” Eleanor says. “You tell Michael, he sends me packing to the Bad Place, and you’re stuck here for a thousand years all by yourself? Knowing that you turned your back on your only chance at happiness?”

Tahani turns her head to look at Eleanor directly, her aristocratic brow knit and her lips pressed into a line. “No,” she says at last. “I promised to be your stalwart ally, and it is beneath my station and my dignity alike to break my word once given.”

Eleanor cracks a smile as some of the tension uncoils from her shoulders.

“Michael has charged me with organizing a welcome party for the Neighborhood this evening, with all residents in attendance,” Tahani says, her tone all elegant business. “As I was a world-renowned hostess, I must of course ensure this event is flawlessly executed, lest I attract suspicion.”

“Sure.”

“But come morning, you and I shall begin our quest for justice!”

“I’ll settle for not getting evicted,” Eleanor says, “but justice works, too.”

Tahani reaches for her hand again; gives her fingers a reassuring squeeze. “I know this isn’t your fault, darling,” she says, quiet and kind. “We’ll get it sorted. Cross my heart.”

*

If Tahani weren’t her soulmate, and also very hot, and also the only person here who she can have a remotely normal conversation with, Eleanor would kind of want to slap her a little. Once they figured out how to shut off the creepy memory channel (by asking Janet) Tahani summoned a palanquin to carry them back to her own house (also by asking Janet) which led Eleanor to assume it must be across town somewhere. Maybe the penthouse apartment of a building in the village. Or a glamping yurt in some picturesque forest glen. 

But no. No, it turns out that Tahani lives in the fuck-you-huge mansion directly next door to Eleanor’s clown cottage, and she simply preferred to conserve her energies for the “hosting effort” instead of walking fifty feet. 

Although given that Eleanor spent their trip pressed close to Tahani amidst the palanquin’s silken cushions, one immaculate arm draped behind her shoulders and soft waves of hair brushing her cheek, she isn’t actually all that inclined to complain. Maybe she can get used to traveling stupidly short distances on a magic flying couch with an Amazonian heiress lounging beside her like a sexy jaguar.

“Naturally, you’re welcome to stay here whenever you like,” Tahani says as she sweeps into the mansion’s majestic entryway. “Perhaps we can remodel that charming little bungalow of yours into a tea house? I once organized a retreat for soul-exfoliation in the Slovenian Alps, and my dear friend George very kindly loaned us the use of his meditation campus while he was filming...oh, I can’t remember, one of his various burglary pictures. To me, he shall always be that sweet man who lent me his handkerchief at the Met Gala.” Her laugh is like velvet, rich and soft and slightly impractical. “It’s so lovely to have a quiet place for peaceful reflection, don’t you think? Of course, the decor will require some adjustments...”

“Oh no not the clowns you can’t,” Eleanor mutters in a sarcastic monotone.

“Alas, it shall have to wait. You and I have more urgent business to attend to. Janet,” Tahani says, then cuts off the soft bong of Janet’s arrival with, “how long do we have before our guests are due to arrive?”

“Six hours, twenty-two minutes, and six seconds, as of the end of this sentence,” Janet says.

A moderately terrifying gleam sparks to life in Tahani’s eyes. “We’ll begin with table linens, then the china, the silver, the crystal, the signature cocktails, the raw bar, the passed hors d'oeuvre...” She pauses. “Will I have a staff?”

“Only me!” Janet replies, a brick wall of perkiness.

“A buffet, then,” Tahani muses. “We’ll have to make certain adjustments to the decor, reorganize the lighting, do something about this floor...” She gestures to the gleaming stone mosaic beneath their feet, her nose wrinkled. “I’ll also require an appropriate selection of gowns. Let us say...” She purses her lips. “Monique Lhuillier Resort 2016 for myself, and Zuhair Murad Spring 2014 for my companion."

Eleanor rocks her weight between her heels and her toes, her hands shoved into the pockets of her jeans. “So should I just...kind of chill here, or...?”

Tahani arches one inkstroke brow. "What was your occupation before coming here?"

"Uh..." Eleanor chews on her lip. "Sales? Sales. Yes."

“I see.” Tahani cants her hips, one hand coming up to rest on her waist. “Have you any particular enthusiasms within the hostess milieu?”

Eleanor considers. “I mean, the bit with the raw bar sounded pretty sweet. Not gonna lie, I love me some shrampies.”

“Pardon?”

“My go-to depression meal was a bottle of wine and a couple dozen cocktail shrimp.”

“Hm!” Tahani taps her chin with one finger. “Come to think of it, the character of this Neighborhood appears to be one of proletarian philanthropy, which stands in rather stark contrast to the guests I customarily entertain. Perhaps our event will be more enjoyable for all if the catering is guided by your hand, and to your taste.”

“So what you’re saying is, you want me to put together a trashy snack spread for your welcome party.”

Tahani’s legs are so long that one elegant stride brings her right into Eleanor’s personal bubble. “Darling, I merely wish for you to be comfortable,” she murmurs. She lifts a hand and brushes the backs of her fingers along Eleanor’s cheek. “And for our guests to be at ease.”

Eleanor decides, then, that she doesn’t particularly mind having Tahani way up in her business. “And for me to be out of the way while you decorate,” she drawls, although she’s smiling.

Tahani’s smirk widens to match. 

*

Everything may be gay in this Neighborhood — queer is probably a better word for it, as even the seemingly straight couples have got that specific spicy flavor — but it’s definitely not all old-timey fun. Maybe it’s just the guilt talking, but Eleanor feels like every one of them is watching her from the minute they step into the ballroom. Like they’re waiting for her to fuck up, and like nothing would make them happier.

Eleanor is wearing a cloud of coral-colored roses that’s been tailored into a shoulderless dress, which Tahani described as “tea length” while selecting metallic gold shoes to match. She stands beside Tahani’s elbow, where she’s been instructed to stay unless she wants to be sent up to her room until everyone else goes home. Unexpectedly, Eleanor doesn’t mind this at all. It’s maybe not so bad, she thinks, to be bossed around by a gorgeous sequoia.

Tahani is a little terrifying like this, deep in her element and drawing power from it; a warrior socialite on a crusade, dressed in a sleeveless column of white with blue flowers. A mermaid flare swishes softly around her ankles as she glides between islands of conversation, with Eleanor pulled along in her wake.

It’s kind of sexy, honestly. It’s possible that Eleanor has discovered a kink.

Eleanor’s glass is full of sparkling water — one joke about off-label uses for chocolate fountains got her booze privileges yanked — but that’s fine. Normally being drunk is the only thing that gets her through milestone social events, but it turns out that Tahani is a next-level smalltalker, herding the conversation away from danger zones like a sheepdog.

At first Eleanor chafes a little at being babysat like this, but as the hours tick by, she realizes that mostly? Tahani’s protecting her from the guests, instead of the other way around. Neighbors press mystery cocktails into her hand — giving off the same weird vibe she remembers from when she used to sneak into AA meetings for the wack-a-doo stories and free coffee — and without missing a beat, Tahani plucks the drinks from their fingers and disappears them via some kind of hostess sorcery.

More than once, someone wanders over to ask an escalating series of questions about the charity work she’s supposed to have done, pinning her down with more and more specific follow-ups. But every time, just as she’s beginning to feel the first prickles of stress-sweat under her boobs, Tahani’s hand is at her elbow. It blows Eleanor’s mind a little to watch this woman work, how she slides into an unwanted topic like a stiletto between the ribs. Underneath the high-class accent and polished manners is a calculated ruthlessness which Eleanor wouldn’t have expected from a certified good person. It’s as if she can tell exactly when a conversation is stressing Eleanor out, and then effortlessly murders it without anyone seeming to notice, her tinkling laugh and radiant smile wielded with brutal precision. 

There are mirrors behind several of the larger flower arrangements, and as they move around the room Eleanor sometimes catches a glimpse of their reflections — the perfectly contrasting colors of their dresses; the mahogany curve of Tahani’s arm circling her back; the graceful hand pressed between her shoulder blades, a warm weight she never stops noticing in the best possible way. Eleanor meets her own eyes in the mirror and feels an electric zing up her spine —  she may be a shithead fugitive hiding in plain sight, but in the meantime she looks fucking incredible. And Tahani looks like a goddess, like she could crush you with a glance, like she owns this place and everyone in it, literal angel Michael included. 

...Yep, yes, this is definitely a kink. Eleanor’s learning some truths about herself tonight.

*

The minute the clocks tick over to midnight Tahani summons Janet, and instructs her to shoo away the stragglers who haven’t noticed the “go home” hint ramp-up she’s been working on since eleven.

“Well, guess that went about as well as it could’ve,” Eleanor says. She’s standing in a now-empty ballroom in the tea-length dress, the gold shoes dangling from her fingers. “I’ll see you in the morning? And by morning I mean noon, I will almost definitely be up for three more hours with the fat stack of Us Weekly s I’m gonna have robot lady magic up for me. This hosting gig’s forkin’ exhausting, I need something stupid and mean in my eyeballs.” 

Tahani looks exactly as she did six hours ago, immaculate and unphased and still in her heels. “I’m quite sure that Janet can summon whatever reading material you’d like to the main house,” she says.

Eleanor can’t summon any honest annoyance at having her Icelandic closet categorized as a satellite of Tahani’s mansion. She is, however, unclear on some key details. “Are you saying you want me to...” She makes a vague sweeping gesture. “Stay? Here?”

“Of course.”

“Like overnight?”

“I expect at least one of the eight bedrooms in this house will suit you,” Tahani says, deadpan, and Eleanor laughs despite how super weird all of the situation still feels. Normally, she’d be looking for the catch  — what’s Tahani getting out of this? Why should she, Eleanor, do anything just because someone else is telling her to?

“You got some particular plan in mind?” Eleanor asks.

“We have done as Michael asked of us, and entertained the entire Neighborhood on half a day’s notice,” Tahani says. “We shall have Janet bring us champagne and strawberries and dark chocolate, and we shall lie about in our dressing gowns whilst we discuss the night’s developments.”

“You mean we’ll get crunk and bench about the neighbors.”

“Precisely.”

Eleanor snorts. “Yeah, all right, I can’t pass up that kind of offer.” She points at Tahani, mock stern. “You gotta let me braid your hair, though. Them’s sleepover rules.”

This is how they end up sprawled on Tahani’s massive bed in her marble-floored cavern of a bedroom, both of them wearing silk pajamas and robes in rich jewel colors, which Janet handed to them before blinking away to clean up the remains of the party. 

Tahani lays on her back with her hair poured across the covers, and Eleanor sits cross-legged, her chin propped on one hand while the other combs idly through those soft dark waves. She was only half-joking about the braids, but this is nice for now. Tahani’s eyes are closed, and she makes a pleased little sound whenever Eleanor’s fingernails graze her scalp.

“Of course, I didn’t want to judge based solely on appearances,” Tahani is saying, warm with champagne and relish. “For all we know, she was never afforded a genuine opportunity to learn how one must present oneself. Perhaps her personal stylist lacked the proper credentials.”

“I’m sure that’s it,” Eleanor says. She wonders if Tahani can tell she’s teasing.

“But honestly, darling, sportswear at an evening event, what could she have been thinking?” Tahani sighs. “And then she had the nerve to hound you for details as to your charitable work. Has she never met a reclusive humanitarian? Why, it’s as I always said to dear Bill and Melinda, there are indeed cases where one must serve as a prominent public face for one’s causes-”

“Like yourself, to name a totally random example,” Eleanor drawls.

“Yes, precisely,” Tahani says, not missing a beat. “But sometimes a person would prefer to remain anonymous, and it’s simply gauche to press when the spotlight has so clearly been avoided on purpose.” Tahani sniffs. “Besides, if one simply must be nosey, that’s what Michael is for. He knows everything about everyone here, it’s quite useful.”

Eleanor tugs playfully at a lock of Tahani’s hair. “So did you get the good goss on Vicky?”

“Eleanor, I may not be titled, but I do possess rudimentary etiquette,” Tahani says. “Women of my station do not gossip. We exercise our connections to gather information of relevance.”

“Uh huh,” Eleanor says. “So what’s the dirt?”

Tahani turns over onto her stomach, propped up on her elbows. “ Well,” she says, in the most gossipy-ass voice Eleanor’s heard since she left high school. “You’ll remember Victoria told us that elaborate story about how she relocated to Albuquerque to build homes for the underprivileged.”

“I think I’d stopped listening by then, but sure.”

“When Michael first introduced her to me this morning, I asked after her rather obvious limp once we'd parted ways,” Tahani says. “And can you guess what he told me in confidence?"

"No, but I bet you'll-"

"An equestrian accident!" Tahani waits a beat, leaving space for the big reaction she must have hoped this would get. When Eleanor offers only a shrug, she clucks her tongue and sighs. "Eleanor, she kept horses."

Eleanor squints. "And that's...bad."

"Well it certainly lays bare her true motivations for targeting the American Southwest. Clearly she was at least as interested in galloping across some picturesque sunset mesa as in the construction of low-cost residences."

Something has been tickling at the back of Eleanor’s brain all evening. Or maybe it’s been all day, if she’s honest — an insistent little itch she’s always half-aware of, a logic scab she doesn’t want to pick because she’s tired and she’s out of band-aids, and no one likes a scab picker, and yet! Here she is. Sitting on a rich dead girl’s bed in silk pajamas, definitely about to pick it.

“You know, speaking of Us Weekly,” Eleanor says, “I think I remember seeing you on the cover a little while back.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, weird that it took me so long to remember,” Eleanor says, grateful that she’s extremely good at bullshit. “You looked hot! For real, their retouching is top notch.”

Tahani frowns. “I’m sorry, I don’t recall agreeing to any photoshoots with American celebrity tabloids,” she says. “Are you certain you haven’t confused it was some other periodical? Vogue, perhaps, or Vanity Fair? The Atlantic recently published a rather warm profile of my foundation.”

“Nope,” Eleanor says, committed to this bit for better or worse. “No, it was definitely Us Weekly.” She makes a thinking face. “I wish I could remember the headline, something about whether your skin is naturally that dewy or if you’ve had, you know. Dew treatments.”

Tahani’s face clouds. She swings her legs around to shift into an elegant kneel, tosses her hair back over her shoulders, and calls for Janet.

“Hi there!” Janet says, abruptly beside the bed. Eleanor wonders what kind of shit she bongs in on every day. “How can I help?”

“Janet, would you please fetch me whatever issue of Us Weekly features my photograph on the cover?” Tahani winces at the title like it tastes bad, or like saying it aloud might summon paparazzi to her bedroom.

“I would love to, but I cannot,” Janet says, cheerfully regretful. “You have never been on the cover of that magazine, although you have appeared in the background of interior photos on two separate occasions. The first was when your sister, Camilla Al-Jamil, was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship-"

"Thank you, Janet," Tahani says through her teeth.

"-And the second was when she was knighted!”

“Yes, thank you Janet, that will be all,” Tahani says. Her voice has gone brittle.

“Aw darn, I’m sorry,” Eleanor says once Janet has popped away to nowhere. “Must’ve gotten my wires crossed!”

“Not a single time?” Tahani mutters to herself, her hands twisting together on top of her knees. “Is the editorial staff of this publication so small-minded, so shallow, as to not see fit to recognize legitimate charitable work? Is my life of selfless philanthropy unworthy of their attention, when so great a share of ink has been spilt regarding the private lives of my cohort?” Tahani sniffs, disdainful. “Not that those hackneyed muckrakers have any idea what they’re talking about, my friends Brad and Angelina and I have had quite a laugh at Elton’s Oscar party last year-”

“I forkin’ knew it!” The words burst out of Eleanor in a triumphant crow.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Tahani, I’m not the only shirthead who slipped in under the radar, here,” Eleanor says, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice and probably not having a lot of success. “Don’t you get it? You’re in this with me!”

“Of course I am,” Tahani says. “It’s as I said earlier, you’re my soulmate and I accept my own responsibility for ensuring your happiness and well-being.”

Eleanor leans toward her. “If I told you that Richmond von Moneybags raised twice as much as you did for charity last year, what would you say?”

“Well, to start, I’d say that I’m not familiar with that particular individual or their surname,” Tahani says, prim. “But regardless, I would of course congratulate them on their success.”

“Tahani...” Eleanor reaches out to take her hand, ducking her own head to catch the other woman’s eyes. “What are you thinking right now.” She arches her brows. “And hey. Soulmates. Be honest.”

Tahani purses her lips as she mulls the question over. “I’m thinking an audit may be in order,” she says at last, “to establish the veracity of the von Moneybags fundraising claims. Particularly as they’re unknown to me personally, which suggests an illegitimate foundation to this supposed philanthropic triumph.”

Eleanor may be an asshole, but she isn’t heartless. She squeezes Tahani’s fingers, and holds her gaze. “Babe, listen,” she says quietly. “I think you and I maybe have a couple things more in common than we thought.”

*

It turns out that another perk of the Good Place is you don’t need to sleep unless you feel like it. Eleanor figures this out at around five in the morning, which is when Tahani finally talks herself out, lays down on the bed with her arms flung out to either side, and says, “I think you may be right.”

Eleanor pats her leg. “I’m definitely right.”

“We don’t belong here!”

“No, we super don’t.”

“I haven’t trespassed since I was a teenager sunbathing at the Fairmont whilst my party was booked at the Hamilton Princess,“ Tahani moans. “And even then that hardly counted, I was well below the high-water mark.”

“Babe, we gotta focus here.”

“On what?” Tahani says, petulant. “What precisely am I supposed to do with this revelation? We’ve already agreed there’s no advantage in turning ourselves in.”

“Honestly?” Eleanor says. “I think we need professional help.”

“What profession could possibly be relevant to our current crisis?” 

“You remember that one guy from the party last night...” Eleanor makes a vague gesture. “The glasses one who was there with cheekbones monk? Philosophy guy.”

“Chidi Anagonye,” Tahani says at once, “the Senegalese moral philosophy professor who taught at St. John’s University in Sydney.”

“How do you do that?”

Tahani somehow manages a graceful shrug despite being sprawled on her back. 

“Yes, that...” Eleanor reaches, and it’s gone already. “The name you said. We need to talk to him.”

“To what end?”

“We were a couple of ashholes on Earth, and now we need to figure out how to pass as decent people in literal heaven,” Eleanor says. “That seems pretty solidly in this guy’s area of expertise.”

“I resent your characterization of my predicament,” Tahani says. “However, I grant that you have a point.”

“Hey, Janet?” Eleanor says. That one she’s got down, at least.

Once again, a bong; once again, a lady pops in out of nowhere. “Hi there!” 

“Janet, can you tell us where...” Fuck.

Tahani sighs. “Chidi Anagonye.”

“Yes, him,” Eleanor says. “Where’s he live?”

*

It’s just before six when Eleanor and Tahani set out for the walk back into town (Eleanor does not let her call a palanquin again) and the streets are all deserted. She would’ve expected at least a couple of insufferable morning joggers or maybe some yoga in the square, but no. They don’t pass a single other person, and the blinds on all the windows they pass are drawn too tightly to peek through when Eleanor has a go at peeking. 

Chidi answers less than ten seconds after she knocks. He’s still dressed in his clothes from the party last night, and he looks like he’s astral projecting out of his own body from stress. “Hey!” he says with transparently fake cheer. “Now’s not a great time, can you-”

Eleanor jams her foot in the open door to keep him from shutting it. “We really need to talk to you,” she says, and smiles with her teeth. “Ethics emergency.”

“Is that...a thing?” 

“Do you think I’d be out here at ash o’ clock in the morning if it wasn’t?”

He winces and looks back over his shoulder at something inside the apartment; Eleanor can’t see what that something is, no matter how much she cranes her neck. “Give me a couple of minutes,” he says. “I promise I will try and help you with whatever it is, just...” Another glance, and now she’s pretty sure he’s sweating. “Just hold on one second, okay?”

Eleanor withdraws her foot, the door slams, and she glances up at Tahani. “You think they’re forking?”

“Eleanor, Jianyu is a monk.”

“He could be a monk that forks, you don’t know,” Eleanor mutters. 

“He adheres to a strict vow of silence.”

“Maybe Chidi’s into that.”

Tahani makes a sharp tsk with her tongue and rolls her eyes, but Eleanor can tell it’s taking a lot of effort not to smile. Which is pretty nice, in the middle of all this other shit. There are worse ways to spend forever than trying to get a rise out of a magnificent jerk.

The door opens again. Chidi looks like he’s actively fighting off a panic attack, but he hitches a smile onto his face, and invites them in.

They’re ushered into a cosy apartment living room where every non-window vertical surface is covered in shelves of books. Cheekbones — Jianyu — is sitting on a chair in the corner with his hands on his knees, wearing the familiar monk’s robes and an unreadable expression. “So! How can I help you?” Chidi asks, a little manic. “Coffee? Maybe some coffee.”

“Actually, I would love a cup of whatever tea Jianyu prefers,” Tahani says.

“You know what, you seem like you’re in a rush, who needs drinks?” Chidi says, anxiety bursting out of him. “How about you just tell me what you need and then you can go? Away. Because I’d have helped and you’d be done being here.”

Privately dead certain these guys were fucking, now, Eleanor smiles again and says, “So, does being a moral philosophy professor mean that you have to be moral?”

He pushes his glasses up his nose. “It’s more a case of correlation than causality, but yes, I strive to do good acts and to live an ethical life.”

“So if we’re in a situation that’s absolutely not our fault, and we ask you for help,” Eleanor says, “you won’t rat us out no matter what it is?”

“Gotta be honest, I do not like any part of how you’re framing this question,” Chidi says, his voice cracking at the edges, “but again, yes. I’ll keep your confidences. And yes, I’ll help you if it’s within my power to do so.”

“Great,” says Eleanor. “Because I’m not supposed to be here, and neither is Tahani.”

“Oh,” Chidi says in a very small voice.

“Michael seems to think I was some orphan-rescuing saint whose life bears zero resemblance to mine, and Tahani...I mean, she was just kind of a low-grade self-absorbed dilettante, I guess? Not full-on Arizona garbage like yours truly, but no way was she up to the level of...” Eleanor makes a fart noise and gestures at Jianyu. “Big takeaway here is, we’re both sexy frauds and if we get caught, they’ll send us to the Bad Place and we’ll spend eternity in a bathtub full of nazi wasps.”

To be fair, Eleanor wasn’t exactly expecting Chidi to take this all in stride. But the deer-in-headlights terror on his face is kind of a surprise. 

Thing is, Eleanor has had a lot of men lie to her over the years, and Chidi has the unmistakable look of a terrible liar who’s about to lose his shit. Which doesn’t make any sense, since she’s the one dropping a bomb on this conversation, he’s just-

Out of the corner of her eye, Eleanor notices that Jianyu is looking straight at her. He’s also vibrating with the effort of repressing whatever it is he wants to say. Which... also doesn’t make any sense, because he’s a monk. A silent monk. A very hot silent monk...

...Who nonetheless has a distinctly dirtbag teen energy, come to think of it.

“Hey, Jianyu,” Eleanor says sweetly. “There something you wanna tell me, buddy?”

Chidi’s eyes go wide in naked panic. “No! No no no, he-”

But Jianyu is already on his feet, and the words are pouring out of him. “I don’t belong here, either! My name is Jason Mendoza, I’m an amateur professional DJ from Jacksonville, Florida, and Chidi says I can’t tell anyone but I hate being a monk it’s boring! People keep expecting me to have all this wisdom and stuff but I don’t wanna be wise, I wanna go to Taco Bell and play some Madden with Pillboi. I know this is supposed to be a Good Place, but the only thing that’s good about it is Chidi and the nice robot lady who brings me jalapeño poppers, everything else here sucks.”

For several beats, Eleanor only gapes at him, dimly aware that Tahani’s hand is clutching her upper arm hard enough to bruise.

And then she bursts into laughter.

*

“He told me pretty much the second we were alone,” Chidi says. They’re all sitting on his practical couches and chairs, holding the cups of tea which Tahani had Janet bring them as a “basic necessity in a crisis.”

Jason has drunk three cups of tea and is vibrating from some combination of caffeine and relief. “Chidi’s like a doctor or something,” he says, “and I think we’re married here? So we have like, attorney-client privilege and husband privilege.”

“That’s not how any of that works,” Chidi says, in a tone which suggests to Eleanor that they’ve had this conversation several times already, “but I am in fact trustworthy. And apparently I exude an aura that encourages confession.”

“So are we all to rely upon you to shelter us, then?” Tahani asks, her eyes narrowed. She is holding her teacup so precisely it’s come all the way back around into caricature. “I must say, I am curious as to your qualifications. Whilst you may be the moral authority within our cohort, and whilst I grant you have some experience with instruction-”

“I was a professor for over a decade,” Chidi says, exhaustion in every syllable. 

“It’s only that I question the very premise of this plan,” Tahani says. “How will a discussion of ethics aid us in avoiding detection? And have we not compromised your own morality by absorbing you into our conspiracy?”

Chidi sits back on the couch. “Well.” He sighs and drums his fingers on his mug. “Kant would say that since I’ve already promised to help you, I now have a moral imperative to do so. Even though by helping you I’m going to have to tell an ongoing lie of omission to every other person who lives in this town, and to Michael, by failing to report that you’re all taking advantage of a system established to reward good deeds.” A grimace and a sharp shake of his head.  “No. No, according to the categorical imperative, my responsibilities are very clear, and that is to keep my word. Although...” The grimace deepens. “Ooooooh this is giving me a stomach ache.”

“So is the idea that you would coach us in moral principles?” Tahani asks. “And by doing so, perhaps allow us to...what, precisely? Better camouflage ourselves amongst this rarified company? Belatedly earn our ill-gotten station?” She sniffs. “If a lifetime of raising millions for charity proved insufficient, I’m not certain that private philosophical tutelage will make a significant dent.”

Chidi leans forward. “Why are you so sure that you don’t belong here?” he presses. “Eleanor and Jason had lives on Earth that don’t match up with how Michael described them, but you were a philanthropist. You actually did all of those things.”

Eleanor would’ve expected that to throw Tahani off her game for a least a minute or two, but if anything she looks even more certain. “No,” she says, prim and immovable. “Eleanor is right. The moment she said it, I knew at once that it was true. I have privately felt something of a fraud all my life. Beneath the accolades and adoration, there was a small insistant voice of doubt, reminding me that I did not truly care for any of the people for whom I supposedly labored. I cared only for the eyes upon me, and for the chance to outshine my sister.” Eleanor leans toward her, gently bumping their shoulders. Tahani leans back. “If I’m honest,” Tahani says, “it’s a relief.”

“Yeah, I felt way better when I told Chidi that I’m a DJ,” Jason agrees, bulldozing the moment so completely it’s hard not to be impressed. “He was really nice, and he said I could stay at his place, and now I can eat nachos whenever I feel like it instead of pretending I like tofu.” He throws an arm around the other man’s shoulders. “Chidi’s the best husband I’ve ever had.”

This whole situation is pretty heartwarming and all — kind of a Dangerous Minds setup without the racism or the Coolio anthem — and probably Eleanor should just let it ride.  It’s barely past 7AM on their first morning in heaven. The scab is good and picked, and now they have a plan, and everyone’s on board. This is enough, right? She should leave it the hell alone. She should turn off her brain and relax against Tahani’s body on this couch and ask Janet to bring her a donut.

“Chidi,” she says, instead of doing any of those things. “Tell me a little about yourself. You taught philosophy to college kids and then you died? That about cover it?”

Chidi bristles. “That summary glosses over the years I spent educating myself in order to pursue my dream of sharing the foundational minds of the past with future generations,” he says, “but sure. I suppose that if you want to sum up my accomplishments in as trivializing a manner as possible, that pretty much covers it.”

Eleanor rests her chin on her palm. “So how do you feel about that, Chidi?” 

“Pardon?”

“Do you feel like you’re in the top half a percent of everyone on earth?” she asks, drawing out the words. “Above kidney donors and volunteer firemen and like...ebola doctors?”

Chidi stares at her.

Tahani clears her throat with a polite little cough. “Darling, I’m not sure that-”

“I’m just asking,” Eleanor says, “if Chidi thinks he made the world so much better by living in it that he deserves to be in heaven, when the rest of us don’t.”

“I...” He licks his lips; his adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. “Oh no.”

“Hey, bud, don’t get all twisted up about this, okay?” She offers a smile, and finds that she means it. He’s a good guy, and it’s not like she’s thrilled to be saying any of this. “I don’t know what the fork’s going on here, but you three are the only ones in this Neighborhood who seem remotely normal. With everyone else it’s like some Truman Show bullshirt, it’s creepy.” The corner of her mouth quirks up. “You’re not creepy, so you must be one of us.”

Chidi cants forward in slow motion, and rests his head in his hands. “Oh god.”

“Listen,” Eleanor says. “Historically I have a mooch-only policy for streaming television, but a couple years back I signed up for a thirty-day Netflix trial so I could watch all eight seasons of Real Househusbands of Oakland, and then I cancelled my subscription an hour before it would bill me, as any responsible adult would. But, here’s the thing: even though they never charged me, my account kept working.”

Chidi looks like he wants to lie down on the floor and roll under the couch. He says, “I don’t see how any of this is remotely related to-”

“Just gimme a second, chuckles,” Eleanor says. “See, it wasn’t my fault that I ended up getting Netflix for free. I didn’t scam them, I didn’t lie, this was a thing that just happened to me for no reason, and it didn’t hurt anyone else.” She looks between Tahani and Jason and Chidi, meeting each of their eyes in turn. It’s weird to be trying to talk people into something that isn’t total bullshit, but here she is. As sincere as she’s ever been. “Guys, don’t you get it? We all landed a free Netflix subscription. We all did our best, and we all died young, and then for some reason we all caught a real lucky break. So let’s just enjoy this.”

Several long seconds tick by in silence. Then Tahani sets her tea down on with a sharp ceramic click, turns her body more wholly toward Eleanor’s on the couch, and says, “Perhaps we should share at least some of this with Michael.”

“Absolutely not, that’s like calling customer service,” Eleanor says. “That’s asking to have our access yanked. We have to act like everything is totally normal and keep this to ourselves.”

“She’s right,” Jason says, very serious. “We can’t call the cops unless all four of us are married to each other for witness protection.”

“Well, then,” Tahani says, businesslike and steadfastly ignoring Jason. “Are all in favor of Eleanor’s proposed course of action?”

“My previous commitments remain the same,” Chidi says, dead serious. “I’ll help you all however I’m able to.”

Then Tahani regards Eleanor once more, and Eleanor steels herself for all of this to fall apart; for her stupid plan that stupidly relies on other people to blow up in her fucking face and leave her worse off than she started. That’s how things usually went down on Earth, after all; she’s been right in the bullseye of the Lonely Gal demo since college. She died alone in a parking lot.

“Of course I’m with you as well,” Tahani says, quieter than she often is; softer, just for Eleanor to hear. “As if it were even a question.”

*

The strangest thing about the weeks that follow is how normal they feel; how easy they are.

Eleanor isn’t entirely convinced they’re in the Good Place, but whatever kind of a place this is, it’s nice. No rent, no bills, no grocery shopping; no hangovers, no heartburn, no cricks in her neck when she lays with her head in Tahani’s lap. Janet fetches the weird cable access show Eleanor was obsessed with as a kid that’s been off the air since 1988, the wine Tahani remembers from her semester abroad in Rome, the tiny Maine blueberries they’d both always meant to try and had never gotten around to. They sleep as long or as little as they want. They live in a village with multiple rainbow-themed bagel shops, and have all the time in the world.

She doesn’t trust any of the neighbors. And the more she sees of him, the more she realizes she doesn’t trust Michael, either. Something about the way he watches her across the square; the way everyone always seems to be watching her, their eyes flickering guiltily away whenever she catches them at it. They swap notes, and it’s the same for all four members of their little dirtbag conspiracy; bad enough that even Jason notices, although his takeaway is that all the other neighbors must be cops.

By the end of the first month, Eleanor’s figured out how many hours per week she has to spend in town to keep Michael from getting suspicious — about ten, unless there’s a special event. The rest of the time she mostly spends hanging out with the other frauds.

Jason and Chidi are pretty okay guys, turns out. Like they’re both absolute human disasters, sure, but their respective bullshit all balances out in ways Eleanor would not have called. In retrospect, though, it makes a lot of sense. 

“I spent my whole life tied in knots,” Chidi tells her one afternoon. He’s sitting with her on a veranda of Tahani’s mansion, watching their soulmates play something croquet-adjacent on the lawn. “I was incapable of making the most basic decisions about how to move through the world, I made myself miserable, and ultimately the consequences of that indecision killed me.” Chidi makes a sweeping gestures to Jason — track pants and an A-shirt, swinging a mallet like a hockey stick. “But Jason? Everything is so simple for him. He makes impulsive choices about important things with zero consideration for how they might go wrong. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever seriously worried about a single thing in his entire life. And as far as I can tell, he’s happier than I ever was.” Chidi shakes his head, and smiles, and chuckles a little. “I’m sure this sounds ridiculous...”

“Nah.” Eleanor punches him gently in the shoulder. “It’s cute.”

“He’s just given me some much-needed perspective on the utility of restraint.”

“Also,” Eleanor says, “he’s a smokin’ hot himbo.”

Chidi takes a deliberate sip of his lemonade. “That’s a fair description, yes.”

“He’s pretty much moved in, right?” she asks, and waggles her eyebrows for effect. “Y’all doing some frisky business?”

“Eleanor...”

“You riding that train into the station?”

Chidi lolls his head over the back of his chair and stares at the perfect blue sky. “Eleanor.”

“Yes?” she says, singsong.

Chidi closes his eyes. “Let’s just say that not worrying and doing what feels right to him carries over into a variety of areas. Some of which I am not going to discuss with you.”

Eleanor whistles, which wins her a halfhearted glare.

“What about you?” Chidi says, eyeing her sideways. “You live here with Tahani.”

“I’ve always had roommates.”

“You’re constantly talking about how attractive you find her.”

“Am not,” she says automatically, and then remembers calling Tahani a “sexy skyscraper” about ten minutes ago. “That much,” she amends. “Constantly is an overstatement.”

“Sure.”

“And it’s a big house.”

“Yep.”

“It’s a mansion.”

“Mmmhmm.” Now full-on smirking, Chidi sits up straight again and crosses his arms over his chest. “And where do you sleep in this mansion, exactly?”

Out on the lawn, Tahani is lining up her next shot. She’s wearing an ankle-length white dress printed in large palm leaves. It flows around her like water as she moves, the drape of the fabric accentuating the graceful movement of her limbs; the curving lines of her profile. Her hair catches golden flecks of sunlight. Her skin gleams.

“You know exactly where I sleep, you nosey bench,” Eleanor mutters.

Chidi laughs, and the worst part is, she can’t even be annoyed. It’s impossible to be anything other than daydream gooey when she thinks about how she spends her nights; about watching Tahani pad barefoot across the carpet, her robe a silken puddle on the floor.

*

“Three,” Eleanor says. “Four, if you count drunken sorority bullshirt, but I don’t really remember most of that so...” She laughs, nervous. Her pulse is very fast. “Let’s just say three.”

“Well,” Tahani says. “While I did enjoy a weekend’s sapphic dalliance at the Quin sisters’ annual retreat, that was rather more a...” She presses her lips together. “Shall we say, an orchestrated series of pleasant encounters, rather than a partner in any meaningful sense.”

“I mean...” Eleanor rolls slowly onto her side; rests a hand on Tahani’s hip. “Babe, it’s not all that complicated. Kinda...” She slides her palm along the curve of a waist, up along the swell of ribs. “Kinda hard to fork up.”

“You know I’m quite capable of ‘forking up’ any number of straightforward things, and this is...” Tahani sighs, tremulous, as Eleanor’s nails graze her shoulder blades. “Darling, this is hardly straightforward...”

“I dunno about that,” Eleanor says, low and honeyed. “You’re gorgeous. And you’re smart. And you’re here.” She presses her palm to the small of Tahani’s back. “And so am I.”

Tahani shivers, and it’s amazing how far away this is from their first night together, how different Tahani is lying next to her in bed: shy and uncertain, even as her eyes go dark with desire. 

Eleanor decides she likes this version of her, too. She maybe likes every Tahani there is. 

“Are you certain this is what you want?” Tahani whispers.

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes,” Eleanor agrees, and leans in to kiss her mouth.

*

One morning, when Eleanor walks into town for coffee and rainbow bagels with Chidi, Michael is waiting for her in the village square. He sits on a bench with his arms along the backrest and one ankle crossed over his knee. It’s been eleven months since Eleanor woke up in his waiting room, and as their eyes meet across the cobblestones, she realizes that she hasn’t seen him in weeks. 

She doesn’t have time to do anything with the spike of alarm that causes. He smiles at her in a way she does not like one fucking bit, and says her name in a tone that she likes even less, and asks her to come have a chat in his office. 

“So what’s up?” she says as soon as the door clicks shut behind them. She stands in front of his desk with her hands in her pockets and watches him take a seat, unhurried. She wonders if she’s ever going to see the outside of this room again, a worry that feels both melodramatic and also, somehow, not nearly dramatic enough.

Michael snorts. “Don’t be smartash, Shellstrop, you know perfectly well what’s ‘up.’”

Her pulse is very loud in her ears as she says, “No, sorry, can’t say that I-”

“How long did it take you to figure it out this time? Two months in? Three?” He makes an angry, dismissive gesture. “No, don’t tell me, you’ll just twist the knife harder. It’s my own fault anyway, I should have called this one a wash when we couldn’t even scrape together enough material for the chaos sequence.” He runs his hands down his face, pulling at his cheeks. “This is a disaster.”

Eleanor licks her lips. “Listen, I...can’t you just give us more time to figure this out? We’re not the ones who forked up, and we’ve been busting our butts all year trying to make this work. We aren’t bothering anyone, we’re not causing any trouble, just...” She swallows through the tightness in her throat. “Just tell us what we need to do, and-”

“Oh for the love of...” His hands flop down to his sides. “Do you idiots still think you’re in the Good Place?”

Oh god. Oh god, oh fuck. “I-”

“You know what? Who cares. It doesn’t matter, none of this is working. This is the least tortured you’ve been in all the reboots to date.” He kicks his feet up on the desk, leaning back in his chair. “Well. Now we know, I suppose. Turns out ‘gay’ meant ‘old timey happy’ after all.”

She watches, confused and starting to panic, as he lifts one hand to snap his fingers.

***