There are three things Eleanor hates about being the fake-Architect (besides the part where she had to hand-deliver the man she loves to his ex-girlfriend to save the universe—that one deserves a whole rant of its own).
“Smiling all the time sucks,” Eleanor says, ticking one finger as she runs down the list. If their group planning session has turned into a complaint-fest—well, she’s earned it. “The human face wasn’t designed for this.”
“To be fair,” Michael points out, “the human face wasn’t designed for anything. Like everything about these bodies, it just wasn’t terrible enough to be phased out by evolution.”
Whatever. She ticks another finger. “It’s such hard work. I hate hard work.” She looks to Jason for support on that one, but four hours ago she gave him a Chinese finger-trap to distract him from moping and he’s still struggling to get free. “I know the fate of every single human is hanging in the balance, but come on, we should at least get sick days.”
“You can’t get sick here,” Janet says. “Would you prefer we make it so people can get sick?”
Janet sounds unusually eager to introduce some suffering into paradise. Eleanor can’t really blame her, though, what with the breakup and the Janet-babies and the whole Brent Norwalk of it all.
“Nah, you’re good.” Besides, “Sick days have nothing to do with getting sick. If you’re already miserable, you just go to work and cough on everyone.”
She waits for someone to contradict her, but without Chidi in the mix—well. She never thought she’d long for a little public scolding.
“What’s the third thing?” Tahani prompts.
She blanks. She was building up to something, too, something unrelated to Chidi, or Chidi-and-Simone, or Chidi-and-Simone-getting-to-know-each-other-probably-taking-a-romantic-walk-to-a-bookstore-together-or-some-other-gross-nerd-date-right-now, and okay, she started complaining to get a little sympathy from the remaining Soul Squad, but she doesn’t want that kind of sympathy. That kind of sympathy makes her want to puke. Or cry. Or something.
This whole lovelorn pining thing is throwing her off. She can’t even rant properly.
Jason saves her. “Owww!”
She jumps on the distraction. “Are you biting your hand?”
“It’s how you get out of a bear trap! I saw it on YouTube.”
“That’s not a bear trap.”
“It wasn’t,” Jason wails, “but now I can’t bear it.”
Tahani frees him, while Eleanor tries not to see it as a metaphor. It’s not like she’s going to chew a limb off or anything.
With her luck, even that wouldn’t get her a sick day.
She checks up on Chidi after a calculated amount of time—long enough for Chidi and Simone to bond, but still well within the period of anxious gentlemanly courtship where they probably aren’t having sex yet.
After all, back on Earth, who knows how long it would have taken them to get down to it if Eleanor hadn’t gleefully taken on the job of pushing and mocking and generally harassing him to make bolder moves with Simone? He was turning Eleanor’s life around for free—the least she could do was get him laid in spite of himself. And if she liked imagining him and Simone getting their professor freak on—who was going to judge her? She wasn’t that good a person yet.
Three days ago, she brought them together for the second time, but now she’s more than happy to let him take it slow. Like a snail. Maybe a glacier.
She finds him on a park bench reading a book. She smiles. Her face is probably going to fall off before the year is out. “Chidi! How’s it going?”
“Great!” He scootches over, inviting her to sit. “This place is amazing. Did you know that you can read books in any language here? Not even in translation! Just pick it up and read it!” She loves his eyes like that, all lit up. Ugh. “Wait, of course you know that. You designed it all.”
“I put that book thing in just for you.” If she has to be in charge, she deserves to take some unearned credit for things when she wants to. “Not every neighborhood has it.”
His expression is warm. Grateful. Soft, and it squeezes her heart, makes her want to draw closer. “You’ve done so much for me, Eleanor. I don’t know how to thank you.”
She’s definitely not going to cry. Definitely not. “You deserve it,” she says. Michael always said things like that, when he was the Architect. She’s on the other side of the conversation now, but somehow, it still feels like torture. “You’re a good person, Chidi.”
And brave and strong and self-sacrificing, and she needs to remind herself of that before she hugs him or kisses him or punches him in the face.
She punches herself in the face instead—metaphorically. “And Simone? How’s that going?”
“Good, I think. She’s not pushing people into pools anymore. And she likes me, for an anthropomorphized representation of degrading synapses. That’s good, right?”
Her throat hurts, like it’s full of bees. “Yeah, that’s good.”
Her next stop is Tahani’s mansion. Specifically, the fully stocked bar.
“Please, feel free,” Tahani says, after Eleanor already has. “Every shelf is top shelf, of course, but I must recommend: the top top shelf.”
She’s not in the mood for top-top shelf. The whiskey’s far too smooth as it is. Jason has set up camp in Tahani’s basement—maybe she should have raided whatever dreck he keeps in his mini-fridge instead.
“Ugh. I hate the smiling.” Eleanor rubs her jaw, like that’s her entire problem.
At least Tahani looks sympathetic. “Cultivating an appropriate ever-pleasant expression takes years of practice. Obviously, it’s best begun at a young age under the guidance of a personal facial expressions coach.”
“Obviously,” Eleanor echoes, and refuses to be surprised that Tahani had a personal facial expressions coach, because she’s yet to find one single fact about Tahani’s childhood she can relate to. Eleanor was raised in Phoenix; Tahani was raised on some kind of gold-plated planet made of diamonds and etiquette. Eleanor took her to a Coles one time back in Sydney for last-minute birthday candles, and Tahani’s reaction to any number of insane afterlife experiences they’ve had since pales in comparison to her first encounter with a check-out line.
“I could teach you some beginner exercises,” Tahani offers.
Eleanor pours another drink.
Then she tortures Chidi for a while. For the experiment. To save humanity.
“I see why you enjoyed this for a billion years,” she tells Michael, afterwards. She’s sitting—moping, really—on the floor of the Architect’s office. The ants brought the champagne back, with a pair of crystal flutes, but it doesn’t feel much like a celebration anymore.
Michael shrugs. “There weren’t humans a billion years ago. Torturing single-celled organisms isn’t as much fun as you’d think.”
“Yeah, I get that.” She sighs. “I also see why you stopped.”
He slides down the wall to sit on the floor next to her. “Torturing humans isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.”
“This might be my least favorite part of all this,” Eleanor grumbles. She assumes at this point that the except for being separated from the love of my afterlife while he’s blissfully swanning around with his ex-girlfriend-slash-soulmate is understood, so she doesn’t spell it out. “Let’s go, people. Brainstorm time.”
“We could… put a trampoline next to a swimming pool,” Jason suggests.
Tahani is standing, rather than slumping on Mindy’s not-quite-comfortable furniture like the rest of them. Janet promises allergies are impossible in the afterlife, but Tahani insists she’s allergic to polyester. “Isn’t that just… a more dangerous version of a diving board?”
“I hated this too,” Michael says. “The torture part was easy. Coming up with fun, heartwarming activities? The worst.”
Not for the first time, Eleanor thinks she would prefer being a fake-Architect in the Bad Place. “So how did you come up with them?” She remembers dozens of activities from hundreds of reboots, but since all of them were ultimately intended for torture, she’s trying to start fresh.
“Well, Janet has access to every desire any human has ever had. We stuck with childhood fantasies, mostly. People’s deepest desires get pretty disgusting after they go through puberty.”
Janet pipes up: “I researched forty-seven million children’s diaries and first-grade writing assignments to see what they wished for most. We skipped all the ones about exploding butts.”
“Awww, man!” Jason sits straight up, apparently just so he can fling himself back into the sagging couch cushions to underline his distress. “What about… the ones where people have tentacles instead of eyes?”
Michael gives a what-can-you-do sort of wave. “They use those diaries in the Bad Place for inspiration, too. Kids’ brains are total horror factories. Very useful.”
For a brief moment, Eleanor tries to come up with a scenario where it can somehow still be the Good Place, but Brent gets eyeball-tentacles. Just for an hour or two.
But she’s responsible, savior of the universe, blah blah, so instead she just says, “Janet? Can you summarize all those diaries into a top ten list?”
Chocolate Day is a hit.
Janet complains more than usual—her usual being not complaining at all—about the challenge of creating Chocolate Everything without the entire neighborhood turning into a sticky mess, but the sun is shining and everyone from Janet-babies to Eleanor herself are having a good time.
She approaches Simone, who’s taking bites out of a lamppost like a beaver. “I’m seeing how long it’ll take for it to fall,” she tells Eleanor. “Testing the structural integrity. Sort of an afterlife Jenga.”
It’s the kind of thing Eleanor might have done—though she’d probably have found someplace where it was more likely to fall on someone, and she wouldn’t have used the words structural integrity. It reminds her of how much she liked Simone, on Earth. They hung out, usually with Chidi and the others, but sometimes just the two of them. Simone appreciated Eleanor’s tendency toward mayhem and Eleanor liked her sense of humor, and sometimes they ganged up on Chidi—but for his own good, really, because he needed to loosen up basically more than any other human alive.
And afterlife Jenga sounds like the beginning of a future heartwarming activity. Surely Janet could come up with a magical board game night?
Eleanor picks up on something else: “Does that mean you admit this is the afterlife?”
“Oh, no,” Simone says. “I’m probably still dying on an operating table.”
“Really? It’s been almost two months.”
Simone shrugs. “Time is relative. But this chocolate is delicious, so who cares?”
Of course, Eleanor would prefer that Chidi’s post-Eleanor romantic life were full of only depressing reminders that no one else can measure up, but since he doesn’t remember her anyway… well, if he has to be with someone, Simone’s not the worst choice. “You should try the park bench. It’s candy-coated.”
Magical game night does not go as planned.
The midnight nachos, though, those few minutes of peace and quiet and Chidi—
It would be easy to forget about it entirely in the chaos that follows, but Eleanor holds on to the feeling as long as she can.
If she hates being the fake-Architect on the best of days, she really hates it when she’s doing it without Michael and Janet.
She’s scared for her friends, she’s exhausted, and thirty feet away in a lake house, Chidi and Simone are probably making out.
Well, knowing them, they’re probably just perusing the lake house bookshelves together, but that isn’t nearly dramatic enough to match up with how she feels about it.
Tahani says, “Come inside and join us.”
“Someone should be keeping an eye on Bad Janet. Someone besides Mindy.” Mindy isn’t actually helping, of course, but when Eleanor left Bad Janet was drunkenly recounting sordid examples of the internet fetish sites that Mindy didn’t live long enough to see. She assumes Mindy is still there, probably taking notes.
Tahani sees through her. “I spend a good deal of time with Chidi and Simone. They aren’t especially demonstrative. You should take the afternoon—let yourself enjoy some of what you’ve created.”
Eleanor rolls her eyes. The four humans are all inside, so there’s no need for Tahani to keep up the pretense. “You remember I didn’t actually create any of this, right?”
“Didn’t you, though?”
She comes in after all. Even enjoys herself.
Something has changed, with Simone. She’s interested now—in the neighborhood, in the other humans around her, in Eleanor.
“You seem to be settling in,” Eleanor says, not quite sure what she’s fishing for. Reassurance, maybe, that they’re finally on the right track with her. “Still think you’re fading out in an OR somewhere?”
“No,” Simone says, with a groan like it’s a little physically painful to change her opinion. “I’ve been thinking about it. It’s too consistent, all of this, to be random synapses firing at the point of death. At least, after that bit with the giant tiger and the golf balls.”
Eleanor should take it as a win and walk away, but Simone is getting to bang Chidi on the regular and live a stress-free life, while Eleanor is working around the clock for free with no sex on the horizon, so if Eleanor can have a little fun baiting her? She’s going to. “Does that mean… you were wrong?”
Simone bristles a little at that, but rallies fast. Smugly, even. “Scientific method. If the results don’t support your initial hypothesis, it’s time to start a new experiment.”
Simone pops a cuttlefish crisp in her mouth from one of Tahani’s crystal serving plates, while Eleanor broods a little. If only the Judge shared Simone’s reasoning—whatever the results, this experiment’s not getting a do-over.
“These are delicious. Strange, but delicious. Do you want one?” Simone nudges the plate toward Eleanor. “Wait—do you eat?”
Chidi didn’t tell her about the nachos, Eleanor realizes. Huh.
“I sure do,” she says, feeling a little smug herself.
Chidi is a creature of habit. It’s rare enough that he finds something he enjoys, so if he does, he repeats it to the detail, trying to recapture the experience.
Once Janet and Michael are back, there’s time for the occasional ten minute break. She knows that drawing horses into the night was a one-time affair and he has no reason to be outside when everyone else is asleep, but she starts taking walks through the village after dark anyway, in case.
She runs into him once, and then again. She doesn’t make it every night, and neither does he, but when their paths cross it’s usually in the same place he was the first time.
Honestly, she likes John. She would probably have hung out with him on purpose, back on Earth, which isn’t a ringing endorsement for either of their characters. He speaks to a particular petty side of herself that makes her really want to brag that she’s the one who drove Ryan Lochte off Instagram.
She manages to restrain herself from blowing her cover, but she’s having a rough day, so she says, in her best neutral-chipper-eternal-being voice, “Isn’t it interesting what people will choose to wear in the afterlife when they can wear anything?” and lets him eviscerate the collective wardrobe disgraces of the Janet-babies for a while.
“But, you know. I’m sure they’re all very nice people,” John says, with a dramatic sigh, which probably off-sets some of the point loss she instigated.
The obelisk in Mindy’s living room hiding the experiment totals looms large in her mind, and she tries to make up for her moment of weakness (half an hour of weakness, but whatever). “Maybe you could offer a consultation service? Since you’re going to have to look at them for eternity.”
“Ugh. They’re beyond help.”
“You do have eternity,” Eleanor reminds him, because as far as John knows, that’s true.
He rolls his eyes. “Oh, all right. Maybe. Just give me five or six years to warm up to the idea.”
Hmm. Almost good enough. “How about five or six months.”
“You’re such a pushy God-like figure,” John complains. “But you are wearing the hell out of that sweater.”
She tries with Brent, she tries, but even her greatest successes with him only get as far as managed, for another day, not to ask Janet to drop an Escalade on his head. She thinks Janet would do it, too. Brent’s been dictating a novel to her. Apparently he insists that she take it down in shorthand on a steno pad, “like secretaries in the good old days.”
“What?” Eleanor asks Michael, when he’s been looking at her across Mindy’s living room for too long.
“The look on your face just reminded me of something.”
He winces. “Of… you know. Before.” He raises his hands and gives her the my-bad expression he always has whenever it comes up in conversation that he tortured them for three hundred years. “Seems like I missed a pretty big opportunity. I didn’t even think of putting someone like Brent in the neighborhood.”
“Yeah, because we would’ve been on to you after five minutes of being in the same room with him. Tahani would’ve figured it out.”
Tahani makes a disapproving noise. Of the four of them, she’s the only one who never unmasked Michael in any of the original reboots. She’s a little touchy about it, so Eleanor reminds her every time the opportunity presents.
“As I’ve said, those in my social class are raised to ignore incongruous behavior in favor of maintaining the appearance of polite society.”
“I know, babe. You were an easy mark.” Eleanor pats her arm. Tahani makes the noise again. “But, that also means you can smile in Brent’s face without gagging, so that’s good for us.” Over lunch, Eleanor had to fake an eternal being emergency to get out of there, because it was that or start ranting obscenities at after he tried to offer her pointers on how to sound less ‘stuck-up.’
Tahani sighs. “Well, then. What do we do tomorrow?”
Eleanor considers putting her face in Mindy’s couch and screaming. Things are better, lately, but even better is relentless hard work and responsibility and new plan after new plan and she says, for the hundredth time, “I hate this.”
She eventually leaves Tahani and Jason and Michael to figure out the next step with Brent, because the longer they talk about it, the more appealing it sounds to toss all of humanity to the Bad Place and be done with it.
Days off. They seriously need to look into that. Saviors of humanity should unionize.
The town square is nearly empty, with only the restaurant still open. It’s much earlier than her usual midnight walk, though, so it surprises her to run into Chidi. She probably wouldn’t have chosen to, on purpose, with the mood she’s in.
But here he is, in the same spot where they normally cross paths, reading Rousseau. She takes a selfish moment to wonder if he comes here early every night. If he waits for her.
“‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains’?”
Of all Chidi’s expressions, this one might be her favorite—pleasant surprise. “You’re interested in philosophy?” Then, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I keep forgetting that you know everything. I think because you seem so human. No offense intended.”
“No offense taken,” she assures him. She feels that familiar tug in her heart, the one that makes her want to move closer, to sniff his sweater-vest or just bask in the way he looks at her when he knows who she is. She misses that. “And I don’t. Know everything.”
She nods that they should walk, and he gets up and falls into step beside her. “You don’t?”
She’s not sure if it’s the necessity of keeping up appearances or her regular human ego that makes her say: “Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of stuff.”
Chidi nods. She can hear him thinking. After a moment, he asks, “What don’t you know?”
“I don’t know what happens next.” She wants to be honest with him. She can’t, not really, but she wants to. “I’m not really supposed to talk about it, but—this is my first neighborhood. I’m still figuring out how to do this.”
“It seems like you’re doing a great job.”
She sighs. “I’m trying. Are you—” she pauses, debating if she really wants to know. If she were really an Architect of a Good Place neighborhood, if she were who Chidi thinks she is, this question would matter to her the most. “Are you happy?”
“Hmm.” He seems to seriously consider her question, and she remembers Jason, remembers the secret they’ve forced Chidi into keeping. He can’t tell her everything either. “Well, it’s a warm night. Just a little breeze. I’m in paradise, with a book in my hand, having a conversation with an immortal being who has an interest in human philosophy.”
She nudges his elbow with hers. “So, totally terrible. Got it.”
“What about you? Are you happy?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Eleanor says, and it’s true. She isn’t happy, and it doesn’t matter—nothing matters, except making this work.
Chidi stops next to her. “How can you say that?”
“That’s just how it works. Architects… aren’t here for us. We’re here for a more important goal. Our happiness is… the satisfaction of a job well done.”
“I don’t believe you. I saw you eat nachos.”
Eleanor laughs—she can’t help it, and it feels good. “Okay,” she admits. “Architects can be happy sometimes.”
They walk in silence for a while.
“Okay,” Chidi says. “Tell me three things you like about being an Architect.”
She wrinkles her nose. “That’s a lot of things.”
“I think you can handle it. You do know almost everything.”
She waves a hand around the closed shops and kiosks. “You don’t get beer in a glass boot back at Good Place HQ.”
He gives her a sidelong look, like he knows she’s deflecting. “That’s one.”
She grudgingly accepts that she’s not getting out of this. “I like spending time with people like you. And Tahani, and Jianyu, and Simone.” She doesn’t feel like naming the others, so she finishes Gilligan’s Island style: “... and the rest.”
“Okay, that’s two.” He smiles like he does when he’s teaching. When he’s teaching her, without the others, when he’s not managing their whole rowdy group and he can leave space for her to figure something out on her own.
She knows the answer, of course. “I like knowing I’m doing something important. That I’m helping people. That’s the most important thing, right?”
“I always thought so.”
She stops, under lamp-light, so she can see his face. She remembers seven hundred and twenty-nine reboots when they weren’t lovers, but none where he wasn’t there at all. “Thank you. I think I needed to hear myself say that.”
He smiles, and it’s a tiny, perfect moment.
“Good night,” she says, before anything can ruin it. Besides, Michael and the others are waiting for her. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
He tips his book toward her, like he’s doffing a cap. “You know where to find me.”
“Yeah. I do.”
For now... maybe that’s enough.