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Strange as Angels

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Tahani walks up and down in front of Michael’s office for an hour before she makes a decision.

She doesn’t have enough information about Jianyu. (Jason.) She doesn’t know why he’s here and she doesn’t know if the real Jianyu is out there. Maybe he's down in the Bad Place like Bad Eleanor should be. And she doesn’t know who Jason even is — his confession was garbled and she only caught a few words of it, but she’s pretty sure someone whose only claim to being a good person is freeing some black-market alligators that one time isn’t actually a good person.

If she just had enough information, she could make the perfect decision about Jianyu. (Jason, Tahani reminds herself.) If she knew why he was here. If she knew that her real soulmate was out there.

Janet’s still bringing people questions instead of answers, and anyway, Tahani’s not sure if she trusts that particular construct of The Good Place. Jianyu — Jason — got the malt liquor and posters of scantily-clad cars for his meditation chamber from somewhere.

But there are other sources of information. Sources like Michael’s office.

She stares at Good Place’s Best Yoghurt and makes up her mind. Her real soulmate would appreciate flavors like Sesame-Cayenne Chocolate, and Watercress Cucumber Sandwich. And doesn’t she owe it to herself to try to find out what’s going on?

It’s easy enough for Tahani to get into the building where Michael keeps his office, but his actual office — that’s harder. Tahani tries glaring at the lock to the inner office and asking the lock nicely and just twisting the knob, but there’s no movement.

“Looks like you’re trying to break into Michael’s office.”

Tahani spins on one perfect heel. “What?”

It’s Bad Eleanor, looking up from the couch in Michael’s waiting room. Her hair’s matted down on one side of her head. “I said, it looks like you’re trying to break in.”

“I am not,” Tahani says. She hides her hands. “I’m one of the good people.”

“No argument here,” Eleanor says. She scrubs at her hair. “So what are you doing here?”

“I’m not telling you that,” Tahani says. She’s not like Bad Eleanor. Her motives shouldn’t be under suspicion. “What are you doing here?”

“Chidi and the other Eleanor are staying at Creepy Clown Castle,” Eleanor says. “I tried staying at Chidi’s place, but he got really angry when I moved a couple of his dumb books around. I was trying to help! He had them all over the place.” She stretches, showing skin in the gap between her faded Michigan Law t-shirt and the top of her pajama bottoms. “And I feel safer here, anyway.”

Tahani feels the reflexive urge, left over from her life — oh, stay with us, she’d say, you haven’t experienced the Hamptons until you’ve seen it from our little cottage. Or The skiing in the Alps is divine this time of year; you simply must stay. The urge to invite someone in.

“You’re not staying in my house,” Tahani says, instead.

Eleanor cocks her head. “Didn’t ask. What brought that on?”


Tahani watches Eleanor’s face as she says it. There it is.

She figured Eleanor had to know, since she saw her coming out of Jianyu — Jason — anyway, Eleanor knew.

“Does Chidi know? And Good Eleanor? And everyone else?” Tahani’s voice is raised. She’s angrier than she has been since she was alive, when her parents cut her out of their will in favor of a condiment. “Why didn’t you tell me? He’s supposed to be my soulmate. And you were supposed to be my friend.”

“I’m sorry,” Eleanor says, looking up from the couch with her stupid dumb rumpled hair. “We didn’t know what the right thing to do was.”

Tahani’s anger leaves her like a leaking balloon. It’s not like she knows what the right thing to do is either. She sits down on the other couch, heavily. “So you —” She’s not sure what else to say.

“I’m sorry,” Eleanor says, again, and it kind of sounds like she means it. “Can I help you with anything?”

“I need to know,” Tahani says. “If there’s anything in Michael’s office that can tell me who he was, or who he was supposed to be, or… anything, really.”

Eleanor looks at Tahani, and then nods. “So you need to break into Michael’s office.”

Tahani leans back. “But….”

“But you’re a good person, so it’s not what you do?” Eleanor shrugs. “I heard you talking to the lock, dude.”

“I said please,” Tahani says.

“Still.” Eleanor flops back on the couch and stares at the ceiling.

“What are you doing?” Tahani asks, nervously. She hasn’t seen Eleanor be still like this before.

“I’m thinking,” Eleanor says. “This whole good-person shirt doesn’t come naturally to me, okay? And normally I have Chidi around, only he’s off with Good Eleanor so I’m not seeing him as much.”

She stares at the ceiling for a few minutes more, while Tahani wonders if Eleanor’s going to go get Michael. Wonders if maybe they should go get Michael.

“Okay,” Eleanor says, finally. “I think this falls into the category of a bad action for good purposes. And anyway, there’s a higher moral imperative at play here.”

“Helping me find my soulmate?” Tahani asks, hopefully.

Eleanor shakes her head. “Chicks before dicks. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the ones I’m supposed to follow.”

Tahani’s not sure how to respond. How delightful, we are breaking into the office of the man who literally made our world?

“Fine,” she says, instead.

Eleanor gets a paperclip from one of Michael’s paper clip vases in the outer office and bends it. “If this is just a physical lock, we got this.”

She bends over the door handle and starts poking at the lock. She’s got her tongue sticking out of her mouth, and her hair’s still matted on one side. Tahani pushes down her desire to reach out and smooth down Eleanor’s hair. There’s no dress code for breaking and entering.

“How do you know how to do this?” she asks, instead.

“Definitely not because I taught myself how to pick locks from YouTube to teach my grandfather a lesson after he decided to lock up his alcohol when I visited him at his retirement community,” Eleanor says. “There!” She twists the knob and the door swings open.

Tahani takes one more apprehensive look towards the hallway before following Eleanor into the inner office.

“The desk is locked,” Eleanor says. She scrunches up her nose and then crouches down with her paperclip.

“I don’t know if we should be doing this,” Tahani says. She still expects Michael to come in any second.

“No pain, no gain.” Eleanor tilts her head to one slide and then manages to unlock the desk. She pulls the top drawer out. “There!”

They look down into the top desk drawer together, and down, and down — it’s like Michael’s got a pocket galaxy stuffed in there, an enormous space folded into the opening of the drawer. It makes Tahani dizzy, looking in at it. Tiny, pin-point stars shine out of the drawer at them.

“Okay, I’m not thinking about that,” Eleanor says, and slams the drawer shut. She’s pulling the middle drawer open before Tahani can tell her not to.

The middle drawer is full of more paperclips and a selection of Superballs. The bottom drawer’s got files, but they’re all written in a script Tahani’s never seen before. It seems to shimmer above and below the page. It doesn’t look human.

Eleanor takes a bit longer to pick the lock on the other side of the desk. The first drawer’s empty. The second drawer — Tahani leans over and looks down. It’s got a couple shapes, one of which she recognizes, and a bottle of golden liquid that seems to be glowing.

There’s nothing at all on Jason. Nothing that could even begin to explain him, unless it’s hidden in the files that Tahani can’t read.

“At least we’ve got the truth cube,” Eleanor says, pulling it out. It turns green after she finishes talking. “Hey, cool! I guess the cube agrees!”

Eleanor puts the truth cube on Michael’s desk and then pulls out the bottle of golden liquid. There’s a hand-written label on the front that reads Ambrosia.

“We really shouldn’t try this,” Eleanor says. The truth cube turns green. “This would be wrong." Green again.

Tahani reaches out and grabs the bottle. If she can’t get information about Jason, at least she can have a forking drink.

The liquid in the bottle is shedding light, faintly, and when she cracks the top there’s a brief moment when it feels like she’s being suffused with a golden light.

“Bottoms up,” she says, and takes a sip directly from the bottle.

It tastes like her first Brandy Alexander, the one her parents’ gardener-bartender slipped her at a cocktail party when she was twelve. Smooth, creamy, with a hidden kick from what tastes like a superb cognanc.

“This is amazing,” Tahani says. She pushes the bottle across Michael’s desk toward Eleanor.

“I really shouldn’t,” Eleanor says.

The truth cube flashes green, but Eleanor meets Tahani’s eyes. “Oh, do try it,” Tahani says, recklessly. She’s a good person and if she wants Eleanor to drink with her, Eleanor should.

“Fine.” Eleanor picks up the bottle. The golden light makes her skin look different, creamier.

She takes a swig, not a delicate sip like Tahani.

“That’s amazing,” she says. “It’s like the Sex on the Beach that that hot bartender made that time my friend Kim’s boyfriend dumped her and I left her at the bar so we could go make out.”

Make out with the bartender, or make out with the ex-boyfriend? Tahani wonders, but she doesn’t ask. “You had a friend?” she asks instead.

“Of course I had friends,” Eleanor says. She sounds offended, but then the truth cube turns red. “Fine. I had people who thought they were my friends.”

The truth cube turns green at that.

Tahani takes another sip from the bottle of Ambrosia, longer this time. This time, it tastes like Pernod in hot chocolate after coming in from a long day of skiing in the French Alps.

It’s impossible to judge the number of drinks you’ve had when you’re passing a bottle of ambrosia back and forth, but Tahani knows she’s drunk enough not to be a very good judge by now.

The truth cube is on the floor, where Eleanor threw it after it informed them that she was lying about liking Good Eleanor. But Tahani gets that. Good Eleanor — she’s just so good, top-ten-in-the-neighborhood good, and sometimes Tahani resents her for it. Like she used to resent Eleanor, back before she knew that wasn’t who Eleanor was at all.

She wonders, briefly, if that’s how Eleanor used to feel about her, but the thought slides away on the ambrosia before she can properly pin it down.

“Look at me,” Eleanor slurs. She’s also on the floor, but on the opposite side of the desk from the truth cube. “Not having a soulmate isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

“It is.” Tahani stares morosely into the ambrosia bottle. “Why don’t you want a soulmate?”

“Have you seen Eleanor and Chidi?” Eleanor asks. “Ugh. All perfect all the time. Who’d want that?”

Me, Tahani thinks. I want that.

She pulls the bottle over towards herself instead. This time the ambrosia tastes like Pimm’s Cup, alcoholic, the recipe Tahani perfected herself for her gala to raise money for war orphans. Kate Winslet told Tahani it was the best Pimm’s Cup she’d ever had.

“Tell you a secret,” Eleanor says. She leans a little closer to Tahani. Her eyes look very blue. “I do.”

“Do what?”

“Want a soulmate,” Eleanor says. She holds one finger up to her lips and Tahani can’t look away. “Shhhhhhhh.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Tahani says.

“Know you won’t,” Eleanor says. “You’re a good person.”

Tahani nods. Apart from sneaking into Michael’s office and drinking all of his ambrosia, she is. A good person.

A good person who reaches out and takes another swig from Michael’s ambrosia bottle. It tastes like the home-bottled raspberry brandy that Tahani’s godmother used to make.

Eleanor stretches against Michael’s carpet and then looks up at Tahani. “You should probably get out of here,” she says.

“What?” Tahani leans down from the chair. “Why?”

“Because Michael’s going to be in soon,” Eleanor says. She pulls herself up and starts poking at the desk lock with a paperclip.

“Wait,” Tahani says, “you need the truth cube.”

The truth cube turns green as she passes it to Eleanor.

Tahani watches Eleanor replace the bottle of ambrosia (the level of glowing golden liquid no lower than when they’d found it) and replace the truth cube and squint at the lock and the paperclip in her hand.

“If you stay here, Michael’s going to see you,” Tahani says, slowly. “He’s going to know someone was in here.”

Eleanor shrugs. “Well.”

“Come home with me.”

Tahani’s not sure she means it until she’s said it, but then she’s sure.

“You’re not drunk enough for that.”

Eleanor says it without looking away from the desk drawer, from the lock she’s trying to re-lock with unsteady hands.

Tahani starts to say that she didn’t mean it like that, but she looks at the gap between Eleanor’s crappy t-shirt and her pajama bottoms and she realizes — maybe she did. Because she’s kept coming back to Eleanor. Even if she hasn’t wanted to admit that. Even to herself.

“Maybe —” Tahani pushes her chair back. “Maybe I’m not that drunk.” Maybe she’s just drunk enough to be honest with herself.

Eleanor stabs at the drawer lock with the paperclip and then drops back against the wall. “I can’t lock the stupid forking drawer.”

“Michael won’t notice,” Tahani says. He didn’t notice that Jason was Jianyu any more than Tahani noticed the way Eleanor had started showing up in her dreams.

“He’s going to notice,” Eleanor says. She throws the paperclip into Michael’s trash can.

“Come on,” Tahani says. She bends down to put her arm around Eleanor, who is warm and heavy as Tahani tries to lift her from the floor.

“Fine,” Eleanor grumbles, “fine,” and she lets Tahani lead her out of Michael’s office. Tahani sets the door to lock behind them and then they’re out, burglary accomplished. Mischief managed, as Jo Rowling told Tahani once after a successful gala.

Outside, the Good Place is in night-mode, and there’s a galaxy of stars overhead, like the star fire hidden in Michael’s desk has been spread out across the sky above them.

They help one another stumble back to Tahani’s house. The front door opens for them, and Tahani tries to hide behind Eleanor, only nobody’s there. She wonders, briefly, where Jason went, and then decides that she doesn’t care.

Tahani brings Eleanor to one of the guest rooms. It’s grand, spacious, and hasn’t been used since the Brunch Siege.

“You’ll be safe here,” Tahani tells Eleanor.

“Thanks.” Eleanor stretches out in the bed, on top of the raw silk comforter that Tahani remembers from the first bedroom she ever got to design for herself. She still remembers the way her mother rolled her eyes and called her taste plebian.

Tahani sits beside Eleanor, unsteadily, her weight pulling the edge of the mattress down. She’s not sure what she’s thinking. She’s wishing she’d brought the truth cube with her.

“Were we friends?” Tahani asks.

“Yeah.” Eleanor’s eyes are closed, and then she opens them and looks at Tahani, and she seems vulnerable. “I think we were.”

Tahani decides that maybe it’s the truth. “And….”

“I’m sorry about Jason,” Eleanor says. She closes her eyes again.

“I’m not,” Tahani says.

She’s surprised by that, at first. But then she thinks of the way Jason acted, of the way they failed to connect. Talking, talking, trying to find something her soulmate can connect with her about — trying to find anything they have in common. Wondering if there was something wrong with her. If she was defective. If a bottom-of-the-barrel good person really deserved someone as amazing as Michael seemed to think Jianyu was.

Tahani looks down at Eleanor, sprawled back against the pillows. She’s not Tahani’s soulmate. She’s a terrible person. She’ll never appreciate Sesame-Cayenne Chocolate, and Watercress Cucumber Sandwich frozen yoghurt, or Pimm’s Cup, or the great art museums, or any of the other things Tahani used to love.

And since they all died, she’s been the one Tahani can’t stay away from. Eleanor, with her stupid hair and her stupid face.

Tahani brushes her hand through Eleanor’s hair, where it’s matted down from the couch. Running her fingers through the strands, smoothing out the tangles. Eleanor just watches her, blue eyes wide, hardly moving.

“Is this —” Tahani pulls her hand away from Eleanor’s hair and puts her hand on top of Eleanor’s. Her skin is rough, compared to Tahani’s, but her hand is warm and —

“You shouldn’t be doing this,” Eleanor says, and it’s a warning but she sounds sad, too. “You’re a good person.”

Tahani’s told herself the same thing, but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in how she feels. Fork being a good person, she thinks, and leans in to kiss Eleanor.

Eleanor’s mouth tastes like a brandy Alexander. Like standing in front of a room of people and hearing their applause, their appreciation, because you’ve made something for them — made an event. Made something happen.

Eleanor kisses Tahani back and her hand slips into Tahani’s hair, running down to Tahani’s back. Twisting into her hair, pulling her closer.

“I’m still a bad person,” Eleanor says, once Tahani pulls back. “Still Bad Eleanor.”

Tahani brushes Eleanor’s hair back again, looks into her eyes. Eleanor’s right. And they’re both drunk. Mostly on Michael’s ambrosia, and maybe a little on one another. On admitting what’s been there between them from the start.

Tahani leans back in. All the questions she can’t answer — Jason, Jianyu, why she’s here and why she doesn’t seem to have a soulmate — they’re a problem for tomorrow’s Tahani.

For tonight, she’s going to be Bad Eleanor’s Tahani, and she plans to enjoy it.