"Are you sure about this?" Eleanor asks, her perfectly sweet forehead crinkling in concern. As in, Real Eleanor (whom she's dubbed RE in her mind), the one who's supposed to be here.
"Oh, yeah, absolutely, it was made for you anyway." Eleanor waves her off like it's no big deal. As in, Fake Eleanor, the one who's still here only because she managed to con a bunch of people into being her friends. Suckers! "And you know, clowns." She gives RE a half-smile, half-grimace.
"I know!" RE is full-smile, zero-grimace. "They're just perfect!" She smiles at Chidi who smiles back at her happiness. Way to miss the point, RE. She gives Chidi an eyeroll over RE's shoulder.
"Uh… so..." Eleanor lifts her suitcase (she's not sure why she asked Janet for a suitcase instead of a whole new wardrobe of peach dresses in her new location, but with Janet still not all there, she's lucky it was an actual suitcase and not a sperm whale) and pivots on a heel toward the road. "I'm just gonna…"
RE waves goodbye and goes into her house. Her tiny eyesore of a house. And Eleanor walks, not really sure of where she's headed. Do they have hotels in The Good Place? That might have been something she could've asked before she moved out.
No time like the present. Even if Janet is two earths short of a DC multiverse, she might know that. Eleanor stops, setting down her suitcase with a thud. "Hey, J—" she just gets out when there's a tap on her shoulder.
"So where are you going to stay?" It's Chidi.
She clutches at her heart and fake-gasps-but-not-really. "Warn a girl, Chid-ster!"
He ducks his head in apology. "I was just wondering. You never said."
"I never said because—can you keep a secret? Of course, you can, what am I saying?" She leans in, hand cupped to the side of her mouth. "I have no forkin' idea."
He frowns, a slight tightening of his lips. "Okay. Hmm. So you're just going to go door-to-door asking if anyone has a spare room for you to crash in?"
Oh, good idea. "I wasn't before! Excuse me while I see if Tahani can move high tea from the knitting room to the art gallery—"
His hand on her arm stops her. "Eleanor—"
She shakes her head and pulls out of his grasp. Whatever he's going to say, no. He's helped her enough. She's distracted him enough. This is a good thing she's doing. Gotta be worth a few of those positive points. "I'll be fine. It's The Good Place, right? Even if Tahani can't take me, there's gotta be some place to crash in The Good Place."
She turns back toward the road, wincing at her own bad wordplay, and leaves Chidi to his perfect life with his perfect soulmate.
If her feet accidentally kick a few curbs in accidental frustration, that's no one's business but hers.
Eleanor picks at her Eggs Benedict with a filigreed fork. She'd usually be shoveling it down, especially here in the afterlife where she can eat anything and as much as she wants now that she's been exposed as not the Eleanor who loves starving herself for baby seals or whatever. But it's too awkward to eat. In the odd silence, Jianyu (slash Jason)'s Frosted Flakes crunch in his mouth loudly, like insanely loud, like road construction outside your bedroom window at 5AM loud. Tahani is statuesque, shoulders back, chin high, sipping at Earl Grey tea (or Eleanor assumes) and taking miniscule nibbles of buttered toast. She doesn't speak to him at all, not even when he asks if Tahani can pass the sugar. Eleanor passes it instead.
Something's been going down here recently, and it's definitely not the fun kind.
Tahani turns inquiringly toward Eleanor, voice sweet as honey. "Are the eggs all right, darling? I notice you've barely touched them. Do you prefer them on toast triangles instead? I could—"
"No, everything's fine. See?" She shovels a bite and hums with appreciation like she should have before. It's fantastic, better than anything she had in life, but she can't really enjoy it properly. "You two kids"—she gestures with her fancy fork—"doing okay?"
The temperature of the room drops at least ten degrees. Jianyu's face goes white and still as he stops chewing. Tahani takes a sip of her tea, and if looks could snub you in the receiving line at a Covent Garden gala, then Jianyu just got diiiiissed.
He looks at Eleanor with pleading eyes, but when she doesn't respond, he swallows and goes back to eating, his eyes on his bowl. He's much more quiet this time.
"It's just... " Tahani says with a regal wave of her hand, "soulmate stuff." Jianyu shrinks in his chair.
The word 'stuff' doesn't seem, you know, right, in her mouth. In fact, her full, perfectly-rouged lips twist as she says it.
Nope, she never paid for a ticket to this cinema of trouble-in-paradiso. Time to find a new place to crash.
"Janet?" she asks once she's far enough away that the chill has faded. "Show me a map of The Good Place."
What comes up, floating in the air above them, is an Escher's World of geometric shapes and lines in three dimensions. "Whoa! I mean, just this neighborhood, please."
It dissolves into a square showing buildings and streets, with place names marked helpfully on the map. "Better?"
"Definitely." Janet is almost back to herself again, thank goodness. Eleanor taps the side of her mouth. "Could I get it in the form of… I don't know, a navigator?"
The map folds in on itself and drops into Eleanor's hand. The device shows her location with a glowing blue dot, just like on Earth. "Like this?" Janet asks.
"You're the best. Or—at least better than you were."
Once she's disappeared, Eleanor plots a course to the next likely stop: Gunnar and Antonio's. They love cleaning up trash and she's been feeling pretty much like the gum on the bottom of a shoe.
They live in an apartment on the far side of the business district, which means that she has to walk through town. Pulling her suitcase. She thinks about all of her neighbors and all of the questions they'll have. One of those Good Samaritans will probably offer to carry her bag or invite her to lunch, and then she'll be stuck making small talk with people who know she doesn't belong here. She can almost hear the condescension in their voices now.
Or worse, what if they don't stop her and just watch her roll by with her sapphire Samsonite spinner?
"Janet?" she asks, not stopping.
"Is there, like, a Good Place Uber?"
Suddenly Janet is beside her in a pedicab, tipping a pageboy cap. "Where're you going, milady?"
Eleanor stops then, her face screwing up with annoyance. "Is that really necessary?" she asks, gesturing to the outfit.
"Just getting into character, milady."
Eleanor rolls her eyes but she gets in. The suitcase fits neatly beside her feet. "On, Janet!" she calls out with a forceful point.
As she rolls through town, she gets a few cheery waves, and she can't read anything but friendliness in the faces. She also catches sight of Chidi and RE eating brunch at Waffle You Have?—Chidi is laughing at something RE is saying, and she gestures with her hands, a wide smile on her face. Neither one looks up as she passes.
She keeps her head down, reading a pretend book, the rest of the way.
When she gets to Gunnar and Antonio's, there's no answer to her knock. Probably out at brunch, too, or having a morning stroll along the lake, or… She tries the knob.
It's unlocked. Of course.
And she stops at the threshold because the place is almost completely empty, though the inside is bigger than her—uh, RE's—place. Maybe it just looks bigger, with the bare walls and the single table and chairs. The bathroom is well-appointed, but that's the only sign of habitation.
"Is this really Gunnar and Antonio's place?"
"Where do they sleep?" Even the bedroom is empty of furniture.
"In a tent. They both love camping. It reminds them of their protest days, without all the rubber bullets."
"Every night?" Ugh. That sounds like living in The Bad Place, not The Good Place.
"Why not? When the weather's always perfect…" She switches back to her pedicab character. "D'you require a ride, milady?"
Eleanor tunes Janet out. She could probably squat here, but she'd have to totally refurnish the place. Without permission. And that's definitely not a point in the good ethics column. Chidi would—
She tosses the thought out. Chidi is living his own perfect life now, so he doesn't have time to be worried about her moral improvements anymore, no matter what he says. She's on her own.
The way she likes it.
With a sigh, she leaves the apartment, closing the door behind her. She pauses at the top of the steps, her suitcase spinning slightly. Now what?
Oh—the hotel idea. "Janet, are there hotels in The Good Place?"
"Quaint B&B's with way too many quilts on the walls so you feel about to suffocate?"
"No." Worth a try.
"Nothing. Not even a hostel?"
Janet perks up. "The Bad Place has those!"
Figures. "So there's nothing at all like that here."
Janet smiles and shakes her head. "Just like all the other neighborhoods in The Good Place, this neighborhood was planned to contain one domicile per resident. Michael has—"
"Michael!" That's it! He can find a solution. "Take me to his office."
He has to.
His head is in his hands, and he slowly shakes it back and forth. "No, no, no…" he groans.
"I just…" He sits up, frustration in every line of his face. "...I planned—or I thought I planned this neighborhood very carefully. Your presence here has already warped—"
Eleanor starts to get up from the chair. Fine. It was a last ditch effort to ask Michael, anyway. She'll just (shudder) sleep in a tent, then. With or without Gunnar and Antonio.
He waves her back now. "—and yes, I said you could stay for now, but I can't just add another house or apartment. The Good Place is already set up to cater to your wants and desires. I could find you a little place, something someone else is not really using, but what if it doesn't match you well enough and throws the neighborhood into even more chaos? It's a chain reaction, you see."
Oh, she sees. She's been seeing it longer than he has. "I've been staying in RE—uh, real Eleanor's house, and it's been fine."
Even as he says that, she's already wincing. "Sorry." And she actually means it—ethics lessons for the wiiiiin.
Michael's face softens. "I know you are." He stands suddenly, clapping his hands. "Okay! Let's try something. Hold this—" He hands over a glowing blue globe. "—and think of your perfect residence."
She squeezes her eyes shut. What should a recovering ashhole wish for? Nothing too fancy, something like her tiny dorm room her freshman year, or that shirty apartment right out of college. Come on, thrift-store couch and hand-me-down futon!
She opens her eyes again and instead of the rat trap she pictured, floating above their heads in three glowing blue dimensions, is a motherforkin' palace, delicate spires rising to the sky. It's the place she always imagined as a child, the place she'd have as an adult, wildly successful in every way. It probably even has…
"Hot tubs in every room," Michael says, hand on his chin.
"And a full-service wet bar with wait staff," she adds dreamily.
"This would be the biggest residence in the neighborhood, Eleanor. Where would I even put it?"
"Tahani and Jianyu have a really large lawn…"
"No, sorry, Eleanor, I can't risk the imbalance a place this size might create." He takes the globe from her and the model pops like a bubble along with her dreams.
She tries to hide her disappointment, not very successfully. "Okay, I'll just… figure something out…" Standing again, she turns to leave—
—and locks eyes with Chidi in the doorway. He looks down at the suitcase, then back up at her.
The room feels suffocating as the moment stretches a little too long. Her head pounds and her skin flushes. She's been trying to give him space, let him have the afterlife he deserves, but he just keeps popping up like spam in the inbox. And not the kind she designed to sell NasaPro, either.
Lifting her chin, she walks toward him, murmuring an "Excuse me," as she passes. He steps aside, and she can feel his eyes on her even after she's almost out of the office.
A weight lifts when she gets outside into the fresh air. She takes in one breath, then two. Her head stops pounding. "I never said you had to offer me a second chance," she sings to herself. "I never said I was a victim of circumstance... Oh, Jane—"
She composes herself before she turns around. "Heeeeyyy, Chidi, how's it hangin'?"
He cuts right to the heart of the matter. "How bad is it?"
"My housing sitch?" she answers breezily. "Think I'm going to be roughing it. Nothing better for the ol' eternal constitution than a few nights under the stars!"
"You." He gives her a flat look. "Enjoy camping."
"What's not to love? The Good Place has a perfect environment for us outdoorsy types. No insects, plentiful fresh water, and you're never more than a shout away from help."
"Eleanor, I overheard what Michael said. Not everything, but… enough." His eyes are warm; she wants to look away but she can't.
"I'll be all right. Don't worry about me, okay?"
He folds his hands. "Do you remember when we studied Kant and the ethical dilemma of the murderer at the door?"
What? She's still getting lessons? "Yeah, and I told you it was stupid—I mean, who wouldn't lie in that case! Guy has a gun, he's gonna straight up murder someone's ash—ridiculous that it's even a topic for debate."
"Well, that's simplifying things a little, but—never mind. The point is…"
"Am I lying to protect you?"
He shrugs a little.
How dare he! Call her out on this! When she's just trying to do the right thing and—! "Sheesh. What a terrible analogy! So maybe I don't have a place to stay, and maybe I didn't want to bother you with it, but it's not like it's a matter of life and death—!"
"You can stay at my place, you know. There's plenty of room."
"What, because no one's living there now?" Oh great, rub it in. He and RE are already cohabitating like socially-conscious rabbits in her multi-colored hutch.
"No. I'm still there."
He says it quietly. And she can suddenly hear a touch of pleading in his voice, hope in his eyes. Maybe she didn't want to see it before.
But… why? "Are you crazy?! You've got your perfect soulmate… right… there… and you don't want to spend every waking hour with her, getting to know her, I mean, getting to know her..."
"I know what you mean." He rubs at the back of his neck. "I do want to spend time with her. She's a lovely person. And I am getting to know her—"
"Really?" Eleanor dances forward, poking him in the stomach teasingly a couple times. "Right on, Chidi-my-man!"
He bats her hands away. "I'm getting to know her mind. Her thoughts, her opinions, her needs and wants. But." He stills and takes her hands in his. His fingers fumble with hers like doesn't quite know what to do with them, but he doesn't let her pull away. "I still wasn't finished getting to know you."
Her face flushes hot. The way he's looking at her through those black-frame glasses is not the usual teacher-student way (well, there were those profs in college who were down for a little, uh, grade padding). Her voice goes small, a little taken aback. "Chidi?"
His voice drops, a little husky. "Will you live with me?"
As he waits for her to respond, she doesn't quite know what to do. He really seems to mean it. It's not out of pity, or a sense of duty. And she didn't have to blackmail him, either (there's been more than one roommate like that). Does this mean he has… feelings for her?
She recognizes something in her own heart—the way she felt when RE was so happy, the way she felt when she saw RE and Chidi at brunch, the way she could have just stayed in that stupid tiny house forever if it were just the two of them... Huh.
She closes her eyes and leans forward, to capture his lips in a kiss—
—and she meets air. "What? No! Eleanor, not like that." He's pushing away from her and grimacing awkwardly. "Not now."
She'd been just about to pretend like she was kidding, but she heard it, the thing unsaid. It wasn't no, it was not yet.
She smiles, and cuffs him on the arm. "Okay, you convinced me. I'll live with you, be your little nerd-in-training a little longer. Apprentice nerd?"
"Eleanor," he warns, but he's smiling.
"Yes?" She stands there sans-pedicab.
"This time I do need a ride," Eleanor announces, and the pedicab is back. "To Chidi's place!"
"To our place," he corrects.
She can't resist one more cuff before she steps into the cab. "Yes, teach."