It's been a pretty great New Year's weekend thus far - highlights include finishing reading the Yuletide collections, watching two classic eps of The X-Files ("her name is Bambi?"), catching the "Whacking Day" ep of The Simpsons, and spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I've cooked a big batch of black-eyed peas, made up a recipe for peanut-butter/banana/oatmeal loaf, and shelled four pomegranates. And the lazy day continues tomorrow! Whoo-hoo!
So, now that reveals have happened, let's talk a little about Yuletide. As I said, I wrote five stories, but before we get there, let's take a look at the astonishingly good story that ChibiSquirt wrote for me: Not the Worst Story I Know [Sarah Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths]. It's Mehitabel, set when she's Stephen's consort, asked to play Porphyria Levant on stage, and so of course she starts thinking about the obligation d'âme. And that triggers her to think about Mildmay and what she thought of him then and what she thinks of him now that it's over between them, and just trust me, the story is SO smart and SO good and sounds just like Tabby.
I only hope that my recipient natacup82 felt half as pleased with what I wrote for my main assignment. It was for The Good Place, a show that has - in the space of only nine episodes so far! - continuously reinvented itself and moved every moving piece and some I thought would be fixed. If you haven't yet seen the show, you're missing out (though I'll admit that the first ep, which does a lot of table-setting, was a bit of a slog). I got lucky in that the show went to some very interesting places and resolved some questions while raising others, and then in early November announced that it was on hiatus until early January (it comes back this week!), so I had plenty of time to get my bearings and start to write. I wanted to try to hit the balance between being bad and getting better that Eleanor is negotiating plus uncertainty about what she wants her relationship with Chidi to be and what it even is right now. I had a lot of fun writing it. My girl htbthomas did a great beta on this (and I got to return the favor when she picked up a pinch-hit in the same fandom).
Fork That Clown Nook
The Morning . . . okay, EARLY Morning, Like, an Hour or So After the First Night and Stupid Tahani's Stupid British Welcome Party.
"Your last name is AGONY?" she shouted. Just being in the Good Place sheared the shrill edge off her voice but kept the disbelieving tone recognizable; that was pretty sweet. Chidi - at least she wasn't still calling him Glasses in her head like when she first met him a whole DAY ago, what was with the soulmate thing, seriously - glared at her like all her thoughts were as clearly laid out as subtitles. She looked down just to be sure there weren't any words hovering over her. The only thing she saw was that stupid (and, like, baby-seal soft) Michigan Law shirt that fit her like a dream, her own taut abs - hey, no wine belly! - and the paper on which Chidi had written his name when she'd told him to stop yelling because the wine made everything echo in her head.
"Again," he said, putting his hands in that stupid prayer pose for, like, the millionth time since they'd met, which, AGAIN, was not more than twenty-four hours ago, and the whole soulmate thing was happening way too quick, like food poisoning, "it's Anagonye." What a difference a day made - he'd been so excited to meet her. Why was he wearing such old-man pajamas? He looked different without his glasses, but not in like a She's All That kind of way; he just looked softer and a little confused. Why did he even need glasses in the Good Place – shouldn't the place have come with free Lasik or whatever nerds needed? Except, what would Michael's excuse be, then? Way to fork it up, God, if you couldn't even count on an angel/architect to have perfect vision. Poor vision was probably the only way to explain away the bowties in the first place – and that was a kind of the-chicken-or-the-egg kind of question that she could probably get answered here. What time was it anyway? Why did she always wake up after a drunken power nap with an urge to know things? "The emphasis falls in an entirely different place." Oh, right, Chidi was still blathering on, a total me-me-me kind of guy.
He could French up his name all he wanted, but she wasn't wrong. His name literally had the word agony in it. He was probably in the Good Place as a way to make up for that, because it had to be a pit of suck. Though, would Frenchies even get it? What was their word for agony, anyway? She couldn't even ask Chidi, since he thought he was speaking French to her and that meant he shouldn't have understood her question at all. God, this place sucked so hard.
She waved a dismissive hand, Chidi stalked away, and she flopped back into the bed. She could deal with all of it in the morning, after the wine stopped talking to her; by then, Chidi should have removed the stick up his ash.
A Couple of Days Later, and Why Does Everyone Here Insist on Going to Bed at 9 pm? Live a Little, Dummies! So What If You're Dead!
It was supposed to be the Good Place, right? Didn't anyone want a heaven that included nocturnal activities? Not just whatever made the downstairs clam happy, but even boring normal things like swinging around streetlamps blitzed out of your mind (there weren't even hangovers here!) or ordering one of everything off the Chinese menu when you were . . . also high as fork. So a lot of her best nights had had a little green helper, but seriously why were the streets of this neighborhood deserted when it wasn't even ten pm?
Maybe the real mix-up was that this was virgin-nerd heaven and she was supposed to be in Cincinnati Plus, giving her downstairs clam as much of the good stuff as she could get. Or maybe everyone here was happily forking their soulmate and that was why all the porch lights went off by nine-thirty. Gunnar was probably dirty-sanchezing Antonio at this very endless moment, and every other horndog had to be doing whatever Doug Forcett had foreseen in his little mushroom trip. Shirt, if Chidi wasn't basically wearing a chastity belt, she'd be down for some no-STDs, no-oops-I'm-late, no-where's-my-Plan-B boning, a real lollapaforkfest. She'd be down with doing the no-pants dance with Jianyu too - those were some grade-A cheekbones and biceps bigger than Kevin Paltonik's he was rocking, and taking something that Tahani wanted was maybe even more appealing.
Tahani was no slouch in the looks department either, despite looking like a giraffe (the neck), a cow (the eyes), and a Laura Ashley couch (that endless parade of flowered skirts) thrown in a blender and poured into human form. Whatevs. She wasn't going to sink to the level of someone who considered nose-booping an acceptable greeting.
She shouldn't have to do the chasing. She was a nine on a bad day - and there weren't supposed to be anything but good days up here - even if she didn't belong, and Chidi should have been clawing his own face off at a chance to get into her pants. Dude didn't even need game when they'd all been paired off like animals on Noah's Ark. That nerd needed to get with the program.
Except that his real perfect match had a thing for the most forking terrifying clowns in existence, which should have made him want to do some hardcore soul-searching even before he got jiggy with her.
This Place Really Put a Crimp in the Ole Vocab, Because the Epiphanies Were Coming Fast and Furious Like Vin Diesel, and All She Could Say Was "Fork."
Jianyu wasn't a monk. Jianyu wasn't even Jianyu. He - Jason - was basically a tire-fire with a second-grade intellect, and probably had had frequent-flyer points to spare at his local hospital. Chidi had taken the news about as well as he took her little revelation, which was to say, pretty dang poorly, but then again, it wasn't like he could keel over and die. Again. Who knew how he'd croaked in the first place, but he seemed like he was overall more than just baseline healthy.
It was pretty awesome that now all of them knew something that Tahani and her stupid bangs didn't know. Not that she'd expected her time in the Good Place to unfold so linearly and def not that she wanted to be rocking, like, a third eye or whatever, but it was weird that the phrase "spoiler alert" still had any meaning.
It was less awesome that Jianyu's retreat to his bud-hole meant that Tahani was taking up a lot of Chidi's time, like, way to be clingier than a factory full of Saran Wrap. They kept having conversations about books and art and stuff that - in her estimation - only became interesting about ten years after death, so they were already ahead of schedule. "Chidi" became "Chidi, dear" in Tahani's oversized mouth, and she had to watch as her soulmate - who'd never laid a finger on her - ate up another woman's endearments and declarations of "such fun!" with a spoon. That was some Kardashian-level bullshirt, and what made it even more annoying was that her schedule as Michael's assistant - what was even the point of him if he wasn't omnipotent? - kept her from investigating the way she would have been all over back when she was alive. She had to know why Chidi's smile looked brighter every time he and Tahani had a "soul-friends" outing, those forking weirdos. It wasn't fair that she had to split her time between Mr. Bowtie and Bonehead Jones (and Janet, who seemed to have both of those two on a pretty short leash) while Chidi got to bask in lame-o poetry excursions on a glassy river, rowing while Tahani held a flowery nightmare of a parasol over them, and Tahani's crystal-bells laugh cascaded over everything.
There had to be a Jerry Springer-type place where she could haul them before a disapproving audience for, for soul-cheating or something. They were so blatant about it, and, really, no one was in the Good Place to make friends. That ethics nerd was hers, and that was that.
Wow, That Escalated Quickly, and Nothing about Any of This Was Funny or Heartwarming or Whatever, Even If Trevor Proved You Could Say "Mofo" Up Here.
Chidi must never have graded on a curve. He wouldn't need to, if all it took to get students to confess their unethical behavior was his stupid disappointed-turtle face. He must have made a dynamite hall monitor, if they even had those in Senegal.
Some bible-thumper who'd come to the door once to try to bring the Dress Bitch "into the light" (which she thought might have secretly meant killing Madison, which she wasn't, like, actively opposed to) had said, while gesturing with a falling-to-pieces Gideon's number, in a floaty, wispy voice, "The truth will set you free!"
This truth – that she didn't belong up here – did pretty much the exact opposite, and she felt like she'd swallowed a bowling ball that kept spinning and getting heavier in the pit of her stomach as Chidi didn't say that of course his soulmate belonged in the Good Place, as Michael put her through some ludicrous lie-detector test that was like Steve Jobs's wet dreams, as Janet paraded around in a stripy little train-conductor's cap. The only thing that was exactly as she expected was Trevor, who was every terrible dudebro she'd ever known rolled into one MRA package.
It wasn't like she'd enjoyed being terrible - well, maybe she had. But knowing she had a sad little nerd for a soulmate had really made that side of her pipe down. Maybe he wasn't the ideal partner for some earthshaking bingety-bangety, but it made her feel funny when he laughed at her jokes.
Only he wasn't her soulmate after all. He was Real Eleanor's, and watching how easily they fit together felt like wiping with sandpaper. Hearing Chidi discount everything he'd done for her as a favor he might have done for anybody, for any non-soulmate, made her feel like that peach dress, all ripped to shreds, like civil rights and the environment under Forever-President Trump.
Real Eleanor belonged here. The obvious corollary was that she didn't. It sucked to think that Jianyu was the only one who might miss her, and only if he emerged from his bud-hole to look for someone to race him at Mario Kart.
Borrowed Time Wasn't the Worst Thing in the World. Those Forking Clowns Still Were.
Michael grew a spine and sent Trevor and his idiot-minions packing, and just because she didn't turn into a wee Disney mouse and start squeaking about the treasure that was friendship didn't mean she wasn't relieved and glad to be spared for a little longer at least. Chidi was all prim and proper, like it was inappropriate for roomies to so much as fistbump, while she heaved a sigh of relief and Tahani droned on in praise of Michael, who really could have cut to the chase a lot quicker, if you asked her.
Once they were out in the sunshine, though, Chidi hugged her, and she cuddled in, all warm and safe with her head just under his chin and his arms tight around her. It was nice, even if Bone City didn't appear to be a destination they'd be visiting together. Real Eleanor was pretty much gagging for it, not to mention having the wide-eyed candidate-for-sainthood thing going, and she wished them luck coordinating that, two inept virgins.
Chidi and Real Eleanor walked her to her door, hugged her again, and then left for his apartment, which, judging by the number of flowering plants she'd seen in her one brief glimpse, had most likely been colonized by Little Shop of Horrors plant life until it looked like one of Tahani's skirts. Well, she didn't need them judging her for crushing an extra-large Meat Lover's Stuffed Crust and her signature drink, Hawaiian Punch mixed with Goldschläger. The grease and booze felt great going down and even better when she lolled around on the couch, watching E! Maybe she should see what Janet had in her intergalactic spank bank to really round out the night. She meant to, she really did, but she conked out right there.
She woke up in her own bed – or maybe she should be calling it Real Eleanor's real bed, where RE and Chidi were gonna do the dirty one of these nights – without a kinked neck or any memory of how she'd gotten there. There was a weird smell in the air and she sniffed her pits before remembering that BO and morning breath were both things of the past. Man, she was extra glad at that moment that she hadn't been sucked down into the Bad Place.
Still, the smell lingered, and now that she was concentrating, she could hear some weird shuffling and tapping sounds coming from the main room.
If that was Trevor still skulking around, she was gonna forking lose her shirt. She silently slid open the doors that sealed off the bedroom, because it wasn't like the Good Place was even going to give her the satisfaction of flinging open the doors, and hopped out, shouting "Ha!" and arranging her limbs in as karate-like a pose as she could muster.
Chidi whirled around and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Eleanor!" he said. "You're awake!"
Judging by her reflection in his big nerd glasses, her hair was doing something that should have been impossible, but she pushed past him without thinking too much about it, because behind him was the wall on which her Gallery of Evil Clowns had once hung. Only they were now painted over, the paint still glistening and fresh. Crazyhead – who'd been in the middle – was now a portrait of her, poring over a book and writing something, probably one of the essays Chidi assigned her. She looked wicked hot, and suddenly the sexy-librarian thing made a whole lot of sense. The others were variations on the hot-mailman theme, with Freakyfeet and Nightmare George Washington, hung on adjacent walls, looking especially well-hung.
In Chidi's hand was a pink-tipped brush that he'd been using to form her absent-minded smile. He handed it over without a word when she gestured for it, and she stood in front of her portrait and signed his name in neat block letters along the bottom. "That's not – that's not how it's spelled," he said.
"That's how it's spelled in English," she said, and it took him a second before he got the joke.
"Okay, but –" he tried, and she handed the brush back. If he was going to be so fussy about it, he could fix it himself. He paused with the brush hovering just over her ANAGONYAY! lettering, then left it as it was. "Janet, turpentine?" he asked, and dropped the brushes into the can Janet provided.
"Eleanor, breakfast?" he asked, and she turned, sure that Real Eleanor had scooched in and he was trying to make up for the loss of her beloved clown freakshow by stuffing her with carbs. But it was just her and Chidi in her stupid tiny house, and she wasn't about to turn down waffles and bellinis.
"Yeah," she said, and they walked into the sunlight.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/459905.html.