Part of Apex of Creation
I stepped to the side and past the reception desk as I examined the welcome pamphlet and map.
Heaven was enormous - infinite, in fact - and yet the guide map managed to neatly convey its layout. The map even had a “you are here” marker that pegged me squarely in the lobby. There was a recreation level, featuring a pool, a workout gym, and fields for every organised sport ever developed by mankind - along with a few sports not developed by mankind. An activities wing was listed as including a library, spa, game room, music facilities, and more. And none of this was even part of Paradise, which was accessible via the Throne Room at the top level.
I would have to avoid that area, since reenacting the face-melting scene from Raiders of the Lost Arc wasn’t high on my list of priorities.
I entered the elevator, and went up to the administrative level. According to the pamphlet, this was where the angels had their offices, which they worked out of whenever they weren’t engaged elsewhere. Following the receptionist’s instructions, I found Raguel’s office, and knocked.
I’d barely gotten out of the coffee shop before my phone started ringing. It was my Dad
Fuck. I didn’t want to deal with this right now. Oh well. Better to get it over with.
“I saw you on the news the other day.”
“It-” I stuttered. “Not my fault.”
“I just don’t want my princess getting herself hurt.”
“Please tell me you’ll be more careful in the future.”
“Good girl. Your mother and I were thinking, we should come down to visit this weekend. Spend the day with you, have a little family time.”
“I-” Gulp. “Alright.”
“Wonderful. I love you. Take care. Bye.”
I ran back to my dorm room and cried until I fell asleep.
I emerged from Raguel’s office an hour later feeling a little more optimistic about the whole situation. I’d vented all my feelings on to him. Not only did Raguel help me calmed down, but he also pointed out the painfully obvious fact that I’d missed in my crazed hurry to avoid going crazy:
“Death is not the end, James. You’ve seen that for yourself - first in Hell, and now here.”
I had indeed seen that for myself, and been a complete and total idiot about it.
Oh well. At least I could check out the rest of Heaven while I was here. I made my way back to the elevators and down to the recreation levels. I took a tour of the athletic facilities, dipped my toes into the ocean-sized swimming pool, and eventually ended up in what appeared to be an infinite plane of weight machines.
As amazing as it was, I had a nagging feeling that I just didn’t belong there. As Cael had mentioned, I did need to get back to Earth eventually. I could leave simply by not wishing to be there any more, but I didn’t want to experience another gut-wrenching pull like the one that took me out of Hell. So instead, I found the exit of the unending weight room (it was at one end), worked my way back to the elevators, traversed the enormous lobby with the beautiful geometry-defying world map floor, and found my closet door.
One moment later, and I was back on Earth, in the familiar, musty old dorm room. Fortunately, my slacking idiot of a roommate Kevin was not around to make “coming out of the closet” jokes. I really should have thought about it more before asking Cael to put a portal in my closet.
It felt good to be back. But it was late, and so I began my usual nightly routine of getting ready for bed. For the first time since the car accident, I managed to get a full, uninterrupted night of sleep.
Calculus was going well, though it was a bit hurried.
Find the integral of f(x) = 2x^2 + 4x + 3 from x=-1 to 2
Well that was some nice timing.
I scribbled down the general integral, plugged in 0 and 2 for x, subtracted, arrived at the answer I already knew to be correct, and circled it, just as the instructor entered the classroom. I scrawled my name at the top of the homework, and rushed it up to the submission pile. Then I returned to my seat and settled in for another session of shells, rings, and other methods of integrating for volume.
There was something oddly relaxing about mathematics that I hadn’t really appreciated before. It was the language of the world, the purest descriptions of quantifiable truth. There was no good or evil in mathematics, no moral dilemmas, no complicated interdimensional conflict or eternal consequences for the dead. Just numbers, and a few clever ideas, all used to describe The Way Things Are.
Coming out of Calculus, I decided to try to meet up with Emily before heading off to Organic Chemistry. She quickly responded to my text, and I met her in the library.
Emily was looking a lot better than the last time I’d seen her. Her hair was no longer wild, and her outfit was new.
She was still hot, just not a mess any more.
“Nice to see you again. How are you holding up?” I asked, as we both started unpacking our backpacks.
“I’m ok. Hoping to go back to life as usual, you know?.”
“Trust me, I know the feeling. You sleep alright?”
“Not as well as I would have liked, but better than before.”
“That’s good… I guess.”
“Mhmm. So, these benzene ring practice problems. This one’s going ortho/para, right?”
I took a look at the problem. “Yeah, I think so. And then number two ends up in a meta configuration, I think. How did the therapist go?”
Emily didn’t take her eyes off her work. “It went well enough. I’m going back next week.”
“That’s good, I suppose.” I scribbled out the answer to the next problem. “Sorry if I pushed therapy too much the other day. My uncle is a cop and he always talked about how important that stuff is, so that was the first place my mind went.”
“It’s fine. It helped clear my mind, just like what you were talking about. Thank you.” Emily gave me a small smile.
“I saw mine too.” I offered. “He helped me figure out some ways to cope with… death… and whatnot.” For once, that didn’t feel so much like a half-lie, maybe because Raguel was at least actually a therapist.
We worked a little while longer, until I idly looked at my phone and realized we were late for class. In a rush, Emily and I stuffed our notes and laptops into our respective bags, and took off for the science building.
I was having a lot of difficulty paying attention in organic chemistry lecture. It was probably due to the fact that I was finally sitting next to Emily in the enormous lecture hall, and she was being thoroughly distracting. Taking the last seats at the back didn’t help, and on top of everything else, Kevin was texting me non-stop asking if I knew where he’d left his car keys after getting blackout drunk at a frat party.
How the hell would I know what he did with his keys?
Under the couch
Oh right. That’s how I would know.
I dunno, look under the couch or something.
Wow dude, the keys were under the couch. You’re like a psychic or something.
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I was psychic. Sort of. Not really.
“What are you smiling about?” Emily asked.
I wiped the grin off my face. “My roommate is being stupid.” I replied.
Emily gave a small chuckle. “Aren’t they always.”
Having sat in the back row, Emily and I were the first ones out of lecture. As I unlocked my bike, my stomach let out a roar.
“Do you want to go get dinner with me?” I asked.
Emily gave me an odd look. She tipped her head to the side, and scrutinized me.
Then she smiled. “Sure. I’m starving.”
I tried not to smile too much. “Sweet.”
We strolled across the quad towards the cafeteria. The sun was getting low in the sky, and a cool breeze drifted across campus.
I had absolutely no idea what to talk about. “The weather is nice today.”
An awkward silence, then Emily spoke again. “Better than the rain and snow from the other day.
“It is, yeah.”
More awkward silence. All things considered, it was not really a surprise that my love life had never seen much success.
We arrived at the cafeteria, swiped our meal cards, and went straight to ordering burgers and fries. I slathered on a healthy dose of ketchup and found a table while Emily finished adding her condiments.
“They overcooked mine.” Emily said, as she sat down opposite me.
“How badly?” I asked.
Emily picked a bit of charred meat off of her burger and took a bite. “Still edible. Did they put salt on the fries?”
I tasted one, almost replied “no”, then quickly deadpanned “Na.”
Emily gave me a funny look, and I couldn’t keep a straight face any longer. I started grinning, Emily’s face scrunched up as she connected the dots, then she put her head in her hands and broke out laughing.
“James, that was absolutely terrible.”
“But you loved it.”
“Alright, here’s another one. Argon goes into a bar. The bartender tells him to get out. Argon-“
“Doesn’t react” Emily finished with a smile. “My turn. Two chemists are at a restaurant. One says ‘I’ll have a glass of H2O’. The other says ‘I’ll have a glass of H2O too.’ He died.”
With the ice thus broken, we embarked on a series of more awful chemistry puns, bad jokes, mixed in with complaints about the food quality, bad professors, and college life in general. We agreed that organic chemistry was hard but necessary, that calculus was easy (so far), and that the nicknames of ancient failed revolutionaries were irrelevant.
We ate, chatted, got desert, kept talking, and ate some more. In the blink of an eye, two hours passed in enthusiastic conversation.
It wasn’t bad for a first date, aside from the fact that it was in the campus cafeteria and wasn’t officially a date. By the time we decided to get going, the sun had set and the breeze had turned chilly. We zipped our jackets up as we walked back to the dormitory.
Upon entering the ground floor common area, an unfamiliar female voice called out. “Emily!”
We turned to look. It was a man and a woman. Emily’s parents? But then I noticed Emily stiffen, and the happy enthusiast of bad nerd puns was gone, replaced in an instant by an emotionless brick wall.
The couple came over. “Emily, it’s so nice to see you sweetheart, we were so worried about you!”
The man wrapped Emily in a hug. “Hey there princess. You’re ok, good.”
Emily’s mom, it seemed, was not one to let a moment go by without talking. “And who’s your friend, dear? I don’t believe we’ve met.”
I stepped forward to introduce myself. “James Exosia. Organic chemistry study partner.” I offered a handshake.
She took it. “Allison Butler, Emily’s mother.”
Then I made eye contact with Emily’s father and offered him a handshake as well.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Whoever coined that phrase must have been either a Hybrid or just very lucky. As I shook hands with Nigel Butler, I saw deep inside his eyes, the sin burning within his soul like hellfire.
Emily’s father was a monster.