The Judge glares at them. “And would you be prepared to live in the system you propose?”
Eleanor glances at Chidi. “The Veil of Ignorance,” he says. “Rawls. It’s a thought experiment. The question is what society you’d design, if you didn’t know what role you’d play in it.”
“This isn’t a thought experiment.” The Judge looks at Eleanor. “If we do this — if we reform the afterlife like you want, and keep all the humans — ” (She makes a face at that.) “If we do this, you four have skin in the game. You’re going to live under this system just like everybody else.”
“And be separated?” Tahani asks, in a tone of quiet horror.
“Back on Earth, no memories. No Michael-and-Janet meddling this time around. You live, you die, and this is the system. That’s the deal.” The Judge sits down behind the bench and picks up her gavel. “Well?”
The four humans look at one another.
“It’s a fair system,” Eleanor says. She can feel tears forming in her eyes. It’s a fair system, it’s just — she had thought —
“We’ll find each other again,” Chidi says, his voice rough.
“Yeah.” Eleanor reaches out to take his hand and then pulls him into a kiss instead, and then pulls Tahani and Michael into a hug, and then Jason and Janet. Eleanor always hated group hugs on Earth and she’s going to hate them again on Earth, but for right now, she just lets herself concentrate on her friends. Her family.
One real thing — the feeling of Chidi’s hand in hers — and she’s going to forget again, but if they found one another three hundred and two times, she has to believe they’ll do it again.
A row of shopping carts are pulverized by a truck, and Eleanor’s on the ground, looking up, to see a man she doesn’t know, walking away.
Eleanor’s messy. Eleanor’s a mess. She reforms and backslides, and then reforms again — trying to be better sometimes, and other times trying to forget. Getting hammered on $1 well drinks on Thirsty Thursday and catfishing her landlord’s nephew. Volunteering for the environment people again because look, she might be a monster but koalas are cute and she wants them to survive. Going on a zoo tour with the environment people and maybe “accidentally” on-purpose seeing if the flamingos like Red Bull. (Eleanor learns two things that day. First, there is such a thing as zoo jail. Second, flamingos do not need Red Bull to give them wings.)
Everyone’s Engorgulate truck comes along in the end, and Eleanor’s third life on Earth is no different. This time she dies aged forty-three, never having discovered a haircut that really flatters her face and never having fallen in love. She’s maybe a little more upset about the first one, although that might be because that’s the one she lets herself think about.
She opens her eyes to a room that could be her dentist’s waiting room. “Everything is going to be fine,” the wall informs her.
A door opens. “Eleanor?”
Older white guy, wearing an Orville Redenbacher tie. His eyes are glistening, which is, like, weird, and Eleanor gets up to distract him from whatever emotional crap he’s about to pull.
“Yeah, dude,” she says. “That’s me.”
“I’m Michael,” he says. “Welcome to the Medium Place. Come on in.”
The Medium Place is full of people, which is the first strike against it as far as Eleanor’s concerned. People are the worst. She should know; she is one.
Michael explained the whole deal during her intake assessment, but she’s still not, like, happy about it. An afterlife where you study philosophy and learn about being a better person? What kind of monster came up with that? Eleanor always hoped the afterlife would be like one of the Kardashians’ private jets, all champagne and strawberries and bottomless shrimp served by a hunky flight attendant. That kind of shirt.
But after flailing for a while, she starts trying. Sometimes it surprises her, how much she tries. There’s that little voice inside her, telling her to be better, and now the voice doesn’t have to compete with the other voices saying things like “you need to go sell fake medicine to old people, because your rent is due and your landlord is just looking for an excuse to evict you since that time you catfished his nephew.”
She starts taking philosophy classes, which means getting to know people. She gets to know a few of the demons, too — there’s a whole backstory there that Michael explained and Eleanor mostly just glazed over for, but basically there’s a bunch of demons in the Medium Place too, working to get better, the same way all the humans are supposed to be.
Eventually, the classes Eleanor’s taking lead to a gig working in the Demon Redemption Department, which is kind of cool in spite of being a worthy and good thing to do. The demons are terrible, but in a way Eleanor finds very relatable.
“People don’t like twisting,” she explains to one of her clients for probably the tenth time. She should be getting so many good-person points for this. “It’s very painful. Do you remember having your human-suit twisted?”
“I wouldn’t mind being twisted if I were in my venomous mold form,” the demon mutters.
“So imagine something that’s painful for a venomous mold,” Eleanor says.
The demon screws up his face in a look of intense concentration. “Like… like maybe that time Shawn sprayed us with acid?”
“Exactly.” Eleanor keeps her face neutral. She’s learned not to show the demons any horror. They enjoy it too much. “Humans feel about twisting the way venomous molds feel about acid sprays.”
The demon stares at her like he’s still having trouble connecting the dots. “And that’s a bad thing?”
They’ve got time. They’ve got all the time in the world, because there is no world, and there is no time, and the only thing they’re working for is what they owe to each other. But Eleanor starts noticing how things go better when she lets people in, even just a little.
Her office-mates in the Demon Redemption Department throw her a Happy First Bearimy party to celebrate the anniversary of her death, and she doesn’t want to throw the cake at them. Not even a little.
Eleanor’s walking through the park, on her way to a counseling session, when a woman in judge’s robes appears in front of her.
“Eleanor.” The woman smiles.
“Excuse me?” Eleanor uses her “do I know you, what the fork” voice. She’s found it works on the demons, at least some of the time.
Weird-judge-lady ignores the voice. “Congratulations,” she says. “The system works.”
“What system?” Eleanor’s angry now. “What the fork are you talking about?”
“You’ll know soon,” the judge lady says, and she disappears again, before Eleanor even has a chance to yell at her.
It takes a few Bearimys, but the demons are getting, like, legit better. They’re not good, but they’re at least on the average level of a human from Florida.
Eleanor’s expecting it when they start winding down the Demon Redemption Department’s work. What she doesn’t expect is how sad she is. She hated work on Earth. Who is she, to be sad about not talking to demons (literal demons) about their feelings?
She gets the transfer notice on a perfect sunny June day, somewhere around the m on the Bearimy, because almost every day in the Medium Place is a perfect sunny June day and the m on the Bearimy is as good a time as any.
A transfer notice. Eleanor can’t believe it. She’s only just gotten used to her place in the Medium Place, and now they’re throwing something new at her.
A Janet appears behind Eleanor. “Hello!”
“What the shirt is this?” Eleanor asks, waving the letter. “I have to move?”
The Janet looks — awkward, maybe? Now that Eleanor looks closer, she’s pretty sure this isn’t the Janet from her local neighborhood. She’s never seen her Janet look nervous. She’s never seen her Janet look anything but helpful.
“The Medium Place is a place of learning and changing,” the Janet says. “That means sometimes the residents move. But you can keep in touch with all of your friends from the Demon Redemption Department.”
Eleanor groans. “I hate moving.”
The Janet smiles and snaps her fingers. Suddenly, everything around Eleanor is gone, leaving her apartment empty.
“What did you do?” Eleanor asks.
“Your things are all in your new apartment now,” the Janet says. “I think you’ll like it, Eleanor.”
Eleanor’s suspicious, but she also has, like, no shirt (and no shirts), so she gives in and lets the Janet give her directions to the train station.
She’s never been on a train before. It’s quaint, like it’s for tourists — all polished dark wood and windows. She sits down as the Janet goes to the controls.
The train moves slowly, swaying side-to-side down the tracks through a landscape that looks sun-baked and dry. But slowly, more greenery fills in around the tracks. By the time they get to their destination, it’s lush and dense, the vegetation surrounding the quaint brick train station.
The Janet gets off the train with Eleanor. Everything’s very cute — buildings like a tiny European town from an episode of a reality TV show, with cobbled, crooked streets, and charming shops, and restaurants offering everything from kebabs to ramen to frozen yogurt. It feels like there should be people, walking on the sidewalks and sitting in the chairs and watching the fountain, but instead, the streets are empty.
“What is this place?” Eleanor asks. It’s not like any part of the Medium Place she’s ever seen.
“I promise it will make more sense soon,” the Janet says.
They come out into a park. A grassy lawn slopes down gently from a central stage. There’s a man there, a nerdy-looking guy wearing a button-down shirt. Not normally Eleanor’s type, but… there’s something about him.
She walks up to him and meets his eyes, and then —
— it’s like a freight train crashing into her brain, three hundred and four lifetimes packed into a split second.
Eleanor just stands there when it’s done, staring at Chidi.
“Yeah,” she says, breathless. Is this what it was like for him, back in the Judge’s chambers? She remembers being amazed at how quickly he bounced back and managed to figure out an afterlife that might actually work. She’s even more amazed now, knowing how he must have felt, with this much history suddenly crammed into his brain.
She steps forward and kisses him, because she’s been waiting for Bearimys and she can’t wait any longer, and she’s never believed in soulmates, and she knows that he is hers.
“What took you so long,” she asks, when they come up for air.
“Me!” Chidi grins. “You were the one who took forever.”
She glares at him, and he laughs. “Yeah,” he admits. “I only got here a little while ago myself.”
“And the others?” Eleanor turns, and realizes that the Janet who brought her here — it’s been Janet, their Janet, all along. She steps back from Chidi and gives Janet a hug. “Hey, girl. I’m sorry I was weird about the moving thing.”
“Not a girl,” Janet says cheerfully. “And it’s okay.”
“Is Jason here yet?” Eleanor asks. “And Tahani? And I know I met Michael, even if I didn’t know who he was. Does he do intakes?”
“Michael’s running a major department for the Advancement of Human Morality,” Janet says. “He insisted on being the one to welcome you four to the Medium Place, though. Jason and Tahani are still working things out, but they’ll be here soon.” Janet looks wistful, for a moment. “I know Jason and I will be together again soon.”
Soon, they’ll all be together again. Eleanor savors the thought — here in the first Good Place. The place where she first met Chidi, three hundred and two times over. They’re finally here. They’re finally getting the afterlife she didn’t dream they could have together.
She kisses Chidi again. They’re going to make it the afterlife of their lives.