She was only eighteen the first time. It all happened so fast. She got knocked down hard during a hockey game and everything turned black the moment her head made impact with the ice beneath her. She floated in boundless space for moments that seemed both fleeting and eternal until she was enveloped by a light, so warm and blissful that she let herself be taken by it. When she opened her eyes, she was not alone.
A woman stood upon a resplendent dais before her, tall and ethereal. Her silver hair curled like the most elegant halo around her face. Mesmerising eyes brighter than the ocean itself regarded her pensively, filled with an old wisdom and a certain sorrow. Her proud cheekbones and jawline stood in sharp contrast to the softness surrounding her, and her lips pressed into a fine, displeased line.
“You’re too young,” she said, her smooth voice echoing perfectly despite the quiet intonation. “It’s not your time yet.”
“What?” Andy said dumbly. She took a step back, trying to take in all the flowing colours and twinkling lights and whirls of white smoke around her. “Where am I? Who are you?”
The woman’s lips twitched at the corners before she straightened her posture with a proud tilt of her chin. The elegant, long ivory robes made her seem more grand than anyone Andy had ever seen.
“I am Miranda, and this,” The woman gestured with a vague wave from her long fingers. “Is the afterlife.”
“You mean-- oh." Andy stuttered to a halt. The faint feeling of falling rushed through her like a phantom terror. "So, um, am I in heaven or- or in hell?”
“There is no such thing,” Miranda dismissed. “There are only different phases of the afterlife. And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter,” she added when Andy opened her mouth to ask more questions. “You have to go back. It is not your time.”
“Oh. Okay. How do I--”
“Just close your eyes,” Miranda instructed gently, and Andy did so.
She felt embraced by warmth, soothed by something soft against her skin, and when she opened her eyes again, Miranda was gone.
When Andy was twenty six, a drunk driver barrelled into her car, knocking her around the confines of her metal cage so violently that by the time they took her to the hospital she was unresponsive. They connected her to monitors and IV fluids and a ventilator, but she never felt any of it. She was lost in the vaguely familiar sensation of boundlessness, and when she woke, she opened her eyes to a familiar face.
“You again?” The woman asked.
“Miranda?” Andy said in disbelief. “You’re real?”
“Of course I’m real,” Miranda retorted, pursing her lips and crossing her arms, the long sleeves of her robes gliding down her torso. “Why are you here again so soon?”
“Um,” Andy stuttered, still trying to come to terms with what she was experiencing. “So this whole thing wasn’t some weird dream I had?”
“I guarantee you it is very much real,” Miranda said. “What happened this time?”
“I- I think I was in a car accident?” Andy guessed, trying to make out the blur of images as she attempted to remember. “I’m sure it wasn’t my fault though. I’m a very careful driver.”
“Well,” Miranda huffed. “I suppose that is slightly mollifying.”
Andy used the ensuing silence to look around her the way she did eight years before. This place still looked exactly as it had in her misty memories, all colours and stars and clouds of smoke.
“You know you have to return, don’t you?” Miranda suddenly spoke, her voice soft and quiet. “You are still too young, Andréa.”
“Oh.” Andy’s breath caught, and she was unsure whether it was due to the idea of returning to suffer through the aftermath of a horrific car accident or hearing her name slipping from the lips of this woman in such a foreign way. “Um, can you- can you at least - I don’t know - see how I’m doing right now? What if my body’s too damaged or something?”
Blue eyes narrowed at her, and for a moment Andy was sure her request would be denied. Miranda let out a deep breath, however, and laced her fingers together.
“Alright,” she acquiesced. “Don’t move.”
Andy stood as still as possible and watched in awe as a bright light ascended from somewhere below, encasing Miranda in a warm glow. Blue eyes fluttered shut, her skin began to shine, and her hair floated around her as if she was submerged underwater. It was breathtaking.
As quickly as it had come, the light vanished like rays of sun behind a dark cloud.
“Well,” Miranda started, brushing her forelock away from her eye. “It seems as though you’re in a coma, and quite badly hurt at that. I can’t send you back without putting you at terrible risk. We shall let your body heal first.”
Andy blinked, trying to process the new information. She wondered how her parents were dealing with this. Her mother was surely in hysterics.
“Okay,” she finally managed to say. “So, um, what happens until then?”
Miranda’s expression suddenly changed. Her composure left her for a moment as dawning realisation, followed by dread and resignation, contorted her features into the most human expression Andy had seen on her yet.
“You shall stay here,” Miranda answered after a long, heavy pause. “I cannot let you through to the afterlife, because once you do you cannot return.”
“So this is like limbo?” Andy asked, turning in a circle to get the full scope of where she would be staying for the foreseeable future.
“I suppose you may call it that, yes.”
“Huh,” Andy said. “Not bad.”
Miranda raised a sardonic eyebrow at her, clearly unimpressed by Andy’s underwhelming praise. Andy sent her a cheeky grin and a self-deprecating shrug. A roll of eyes was her response.
With a bored flick of her wrist, Miranda summoned a long couch adorned with pillows and a blanket. Andy frowned as she stared at it, trying to understand why it seemed familiar.
“Wait a minute.” With widening eyes, she looked from the sofa to Miranda and then back again. “Is this the same couch we used to have in my childhood home?” She asked, and excitedly approached, running her fingers over the soft cushions. “And is this the blanket my grandma knit for me when I was ten?”
Miranda did not say anything. She simply nodded, watching intently as Andy squealed in excitement and jumped onto the sofa. She made herself comfortable, burying into what used to be her favourite corner, and rubbed her grandma’s blanket on her cheek, revelling in its softness.
The honest gratitude visibly caught Miranda off guard. She shifted her weight and tilted her chin, forcing her focus away from her unexpected guest to resolutely stare forward. Andy grinned at the reaction, and pretended not to notice when Miranda glanced at her out of the corner of her eye.
“What are you?” Andy finally decided to ask. She had no idea how long she’d been here. It’s like time stood completely still, ceased to exist altogether. “Are you God?”
Miranda gave a derisive snort, and Andy looked at her even though the deity continued to have her eyes fixed forward.
“Goodness, no,” she said. “At least not the God you humans believe.”
Andy remained quiet, waiting and hoping that this magic being would clarify. An immeasurable moment passed between them in empty silence. At last, Miranda looked at Andy, and after a pause where Andy thought she wouldn’t get a concrete answer, she tilted her head.
“I am the gatekeeper of the afterlife. The protector of lost souls. I am the Goddess of Death.”
Andy felt lightheaded. Everything was so unbelievable that she wondered whether this was some strange figment of her imagination, a simple chemical reaction fused together by her comatose brain. She couldn’t think of anything to say, too caught up in trying to understand, so she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
“Cool?” Miranda said, her eyebrow rising in disbelief.
“I mean, uh, I don’t really know what else to say. I’m just kinda blown away.”
“Are you now?” Miranda drawled, but Andy could see a smirk curling at the edges of her lips.
“Well, yeah! I’m talking to an actual goddess! This is literally my teenage self’s dream!”
Miranda stared at her in bewildered disbelief. “Your dream as a teenager was to meet a goddess?”
“Um, well, not exactly like this, of course. I just wanted to, you know, meet a strong, powerful, beautiful woman, and now that I’ve met you it’s like a dream come true.”
She watched as Miranda’s eyes comically widened, and only then did Andy realise what she’d said.
“Oh! I- I just meant that- you know, you’re…” Andy gestured at Miranda, scrambling to explain herself. “And, well, look at where you live!” Andy thrashed her hand in the air. “It’s amazing! And, you know, you have that aesthetic--”
“Aesthetic?” Miranda crossed her arms. Andy was too flustered to even notice the growing smirk on her lips.
“Well, yeah! And I don’t want to, like, disrespect you or make you uncomfortable or anything, but you’re just, you know…” Andy drifted off, deflated. “Pretty.”
“I see,” Miranda said, her blue eyes shining with amusement at Andy’s expense. “Well, thank you, I suppose.”
“You’re welcome,” Andy mumbled, and buried her face into a pillow.
“Is this what you do all day?” Andy asked. She’d discreetly watched as Miranda stood atop her dais in silence. The only thing she really did was occasionally greet someone who was bound to enter the afterlife.
The first time it happened, it had unsettled Andy, to put it lightly. A melody had echoed around them, like a beautiful symphony of singing whales. Andy hadn’t known what it was, so when a man appeared out of thin air mere feet away from her, she’d scrambled away so quickly that she’d nearly fallen face-first off the couch. She was probably imagining it when she heard a quiet chuckle coming from Miranda’s direction.
The deity had quickly composed herself, greeted the man with a well-versed speech (Andy wondered how many times she’d had to say the same words to millions of people), before flicking her fingers in his direction. The man had suddenly elevated in place, and Andy had watched in amazement as he floated in a flash of light, up and up until he disappeared into the distance.
After that first time, Andy knew to brace herself after the whales’ harmony, and rather enjoyed observing Miranda send person after person into the afterlife. None of them really acknowledged Andy, too busy taking everything in (and probably too hypnotised by the deity addressing them, too).
“Yes,” Miranda answered her question. “Although, as I’m sure you’ve realised, there are no days here.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” Andy bit her lip, wondering whether it was worth asking her next burning question. Her curiosity for Miranda was as boundless as the space around them.
“Go on,” Miranda rolled her eyes. “I know you want to ask.”
Andy grinned, and crawled to the other end of the couch, the one closest to Miranda. From here, the goddess continued to look larger than life, but somehow became more real. Andy was close enough to see the fine lines around her eyes, the beauty marks on her neck and hands, the freckle on her pinky finger.
“So I’m guessing you’ve been here since the beginning of time,” Andy started. Miranda did not respond, so she took it as confirmation to her theory. “Does it ever get, you know, boring?”
Miranda looked directly at her then, her intense gaze thoughtful and calculating. She tilted her head in thought, as if debating whether to answer truthfully or not.
“Yes,” she finally answered.
“Do you ever get a break? Or get the chance to spend time with loved ones?”
“I don’t have any,” Miranda said matter-of-factly.
“Oh,” Andy answered. Was it possible to drown under the weight of empathy for someone? To ache at the thought of another person's loneliness? “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Miranda dismissed. “I don’t get much company here. You’re one of the few people in the last several hundred years I’ve actually conversed with.”
“Oh,” Andy repeated. She suddenly felt overwhelmed. “Is that why you let me stay?”
Miranda gave a one-shouldered shrug. “It is unusual for someone to be in a coma wherein the body is too damaged to hold the consciousness, but that with time will heal enough for the soul to survive in it. I can usually tell if a comatose person will survive or not from the very beginning, so it’s simply a matter of letting them into the afterlife or returning them to their bodies depending on the eventual outcome.”
Andy nodded in understanding. It made sense, she supposed. The more she learned about the afterlife, about Miranda, the more enthralled she became. She studied her companion closely, admiring the shimmering hair and soft, flowing robes, the porcelain skin and beautiful features. Miranda glanced at her, tensing under Andy’s scrutiny.
“What?” She snapped.
“Nothing,” Andy said, shifting anxiously at having been caught openly admiring her. “You’re just really, um…”
“What?” Miranda repeated, glaring intently.
“Fascinating,” Andy blurted, then snapped her mouth shut with an audible click of teeth.
Miranda’s entire face changed. She blinked, reeling back in surprise. It took a long, silent moment of Miranda staring at Andy in disbelief and confusion before she finally managed to reply. Just as she parted her lips to speak, the sound of whales echoed around them. Miranda sent one last mystified, contemplative glance at Andy before turning her focus to the centre of the space. She straightened her shoulders, flicked imaginary dust from her robes, and took a steadying breath to welcome yet another soul into their fate.
“So, are you all-knowing, like God is supposed to be? Do you know everything that’s happening on Earth right now?”
“Not exactly. I can tap in at any moment and learn about anything that is or has happened already. But it takes quite the toll on me if I do it too much, so I normally let humans to their own devices. I mostly only use it when there’s an unusual life-or-death situation, like I did with you."
“That’s amazing. So can you tell me - I don't know - what really happened to Jerry, for example?”
“The stray dog my parents and I took in for like six years before he suddenly disappeared.”
“When was this?”
“I think I was sixteen or so?”
“Alright. Give me a moment.”
“Jerry’s in the afterlife.”
“Um, yeah, I kinda figured that part. But what actually happened to him?”
“He chased a bird off a cliff.”
“Not a very smart dog, I gather.”
“Dumbest dog I ever knew.”
“Can you tell the future?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“That’s a shame. I was gonna ask you about the newspaper I work for. The depression is hitting it hard and there’s talk of it going under.”
“I couldn’t help you even if I wanted to.”
“That’s okay. Thanks, though.”
“Did you always want to be a reporter?”
“Yeah. Although when I was a kid I wanted to be something else.”
“What was that?”
A mirthful snort was Andy’s only response.
The words filled Andy with sorrow. Part of her was eager to return to her life, to see her family and friends again, but another part desperately wanted to stay here, in the timeless land of peace.
“Are you sure?” Andy asked.
Miranda nodded, clasping her hands before her.
“How long have I been out?” Andy said as she stood from her heavenly sofa.
“Just over a week.”
“Wow. It didn’t feel that long,” Andy frowned. The time spent here with Miranda had been filled with comfortable silences and interesting conversations, unlike any others Andy would ever be able to have on Earth. Being with Miranda was better than anything else Andy had experienced. It was thrilling and new and mesmerising.
“It has certainly been… interesting,” Miranda conceded, offering Andy a small smile.
Andy grinned, her spirits lifted at the gesture, memorising as best she could the way it made Miranda look impossibly more beautiful.
“It definitely has.”
A silent moment passed between them, before Andy sighed and moved to the centre. She looked up at Miranda, an ethereal goddess on her dais, surrounded by silver and pearls.
“Until next time, Miranda,” Andy waved, sending her one last smile.
“Yes, do make sure it’s not any time soon, hm?”
“I’ll do my best.”
At the age of thirty, she nearly drowned. She’d agreed to go surfing with some friends on the coast of Los Angeles when a monstrous wave had overtaken her, plunging her under suffocating water and thrusting her surfboard against the back of her head. This time, she easily recognised the warm sensation of floating in space, and despite her dazed state, she already felt anticipation curl in her abdomen.
When she blinked her eyes open, Miranda was staring at her with dumbfounded exasperation.
“Hey there, stranger,” Andy grinned. Miranda sighed and reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose.
“Honestly, Andrea,” she grumbled. “You have yet to make it ten years without a life-threatening incident. Do you have no self-control?”
“Nope,” she said, and walked towards the dais. Miranda waved her hand and the sofa once again took its usual place near the heightened platform. “How have you been?” Andy asked, plopping down on the cushion and lying back to face Miranda.
“The same as always,” Miranda drawled. “And yourself? Apart from not heeding my advice to be more careful, that is.”
“Pretty good. I’m on vacation," Andy said, deciding to ignore the teasing jest.
“Are you now?” Miranda humoured her, although the disapproving look had yet to leave her face.
“Some friends and I went to California on a surfing trip. Obviously, I’m not very good at surfing.”
“Hey, it wasn’t really my fault!” Andy defended herself. “There was this humongous wave, and--”
“Spare me the details.” Miranda flicked her fingers in that bored manner of hers, before abruptly changing the subject. “Do you still work at that tiny little newspaper?”
“I don’t, actually. The rumours were true, and it went under about two years ago. I recently found a job at Rolling Stone though, and it’s amazing. It’s exactly what I wanted to do,” Andy gushed, unable to suppress the joy she felt at finally talking to Miranda. Even though she loved her job and her life, everyday felt a little bit more dull, and a strange melancholy would seep into her every time she thought of Miranda spending all her endless time here alone, with no loved ones to spend existence with.
“I’m pleased to hear it,” Miranda said, and then grew contemplative.
Suddenly, Andy realised something.
“Um, Miranda? Why are you letting me stay? Is it my time now?"
“No,” Miranda answered. Andy told herself that the pang she felt was of relief, not disappointment. “Your body is in shock. Your friend is swimming towards you to drag you back to shore as we speak. If I were to send you back now, you would inhale countless amounts of water and damage your lungs. I'll send you back when you're safe.”
“Good thinking,” Andy said. “I still have some trouble taking deep breaths now and again because of the damage in my ribs after the car accident. I’d rather keep my lungs untouched.”
“You’re welcome," Miranda smirked.
Andy chuckled, happy to see an answering curl at the corners of Miranda’s mouth.
“Hey, Miranda?” She suddenly said, revelling in such a sight for sore eyes. Miranda hummed, and the lightness in her features encouraged Andy to continue. “It’s good to see you.”
Something around Miranda’s eyes softened. Her shoulders lost some of their rigidity, and her lips bloomed into a beautiful smile.
“It’s good to see you too, Andrea.”
Andy was torn. On the one hand, she had responsibilities. People who depended on her wellbeing - like her parents, who had already gotten more than enough scares from their only child to last a lifetime.
On the other, however, not a single day passed where Andy didn’t think of her. She saw her everywhere, dreamed of her at night and yearned to talk to her during the day, to keep her company and make her smile again. More alarmingly, she started to notice a certain… pattern.
She only took lovers who had blue eyes, and her longest relationship to date was an older woman with stylish silver hair. It was madness, she knew, but she couldn’t help it. Women who had certain features were simply the only ones that caught Andy's attention.
After spending a lot of her time researching near-death experiences, she came across a Buddhist meditation so profound that a person could essentially die, their soul transcending to the next realm after death while technically still remaining alive. For the next ten years, Andy spent two hours each day meditating, going to master classes, and learning from experts as much as she could. For the next ten years, Andy tried her best to live her life as best she could while ignoring the gaping emptiness in her chest.
Late one evening, she laid down upon her mattress and willed herself to go as deep into the meditation as she’d learned how, fervently hoping she would be able to do it.
When she opened her eyes to find Miranda looking back at her, she couldn’t help it. She rushed up the dais steps, not hesitating despite the alarm evident on Miranda’s face, and threw her arms around her.
After a long moment of holding Miranda’s tense body, she felt arms wrap hesitantly around her middle. Andy sighed against Miranda’s shoulder, rubbing her thumbs soothingly over Miranda’s back, and the deity finally relaxed into the embrace.
“It’s good to see you,” Andy murmured, revelling in the feeling of hugging Miranda. It was better than anything else she'd experienced. It felt like coming home.
“It’s good to see you too,” Miranda answered, reaching a hand up to cradle her head against her. “Silly girl.”
When Miranda pulled away, Andy grinned at her in delight. It was such a relief that the medidation had finally worked, that she was here at long last. She received a small but warm smile in return, until something dark crossed Miranda’s features with realisation.
“What on earth were you thinking?” She demanded.
“I just--” Andy rushed to explain, lifting her hands in an appealing manner. “I wanted to see you! I needed a break from everything, and--”
“And you thought it wise to voluntary--”
“It’s just meditation! You can send me back and I’ll be perfectly fine!” Andy exclaimed. Miranda blinked at her, rendered speechless by Andy’s vigor. “It seemed like a better idea than to take more drastic measures.”
Miranda rubbed her eyes, groaning. “Don’t you dare do something like that.”
“I won’t,” Andy eagerly reassured her, placing a placating hand on her forearm. “I promise.”
“Good.” Miranda sighed, then looked back up at Andy. “You look older.”
“Gee, thanks,” Andy snorted. She’d turned forty-one five months ago, but she tried to take good care of herself.
“It suits you.”
“Oh.” Miranda was looking at her pensively, and Andy almost blushed. “Uh, thank you?”
Miranda shrugged. She waved her hand, and the familiar sofa appeared once again. For the first time, Miranda stepped down from her dais with slow, graceful steps, her long robes cascading in her wake. Andy followed curiously, and nearly lost her mind when Miranda elegantly lowered herself onto the sofa. She looked at Andy’s gobsmacked expression expectantly, a self-satisfied twinkle in her eye, and patted the space next to her in invitation.
“Come now,” she said. “Tell me what you’ve been up to.”
Andy sat beside her, pulling her legs up and curling them underneath her as Miranda watched in amusement.
“Well, I finally got to see a real-life submarine.”
Miranda’s laughter filled the space between them in a beautiful melody that both thrilled and awed Andy. It brought her immense joy to watch the usually aloof deity lean back against the cushions, making herself comfortable and settling in to listen to Andy’s tales of life.
Visits to the afterlife became more common after Miranda was reassured that Andy was able to return safely to the land of the living. She became more and more at ease with the mortal’s company, and Andy could not be happier. Even though everyday life felt increasingly empty and dull, she had the comfort of knowing that every few months - after recovering enough strength and energy - she was able to see Miranda again.
For her forty-third birthday, Andy had no plans other than going home and falling into the deep meditation she’d become so familiar with by now. When she opened her eyes, Miranda was lounging on the sofa, her robes draping off the edge to kiss the surface of the floor. A book sat on her propped up knees, and she twirled her fingers absentmindedly, stirring flickering stars in the air around them. The moment she realised she was not alone, she looked up. A brilliant smile broke through her features when she realised it was Andy standing before her. She snapped the book shut and extended a hand in a silent invitation for Andy to approach.
“Hey, you,” Andy greeted her, grinning as she took a seat beside her and leaned close to brush their cheeks in Miranda’s preferred air kisses. “Liking the book? I told you I have sublime taste.”
“Hello yourself,” Miranda answered. “And yes, your recommendations have yet to disappoint me. I enjoyed the unexpected twist in the story. Very stimulating.”
“Oh, yeah,” Andy said. “I remember the first time I read it. Blew my mind.”
“Hm," Miranda hummed, and vanished the book with a flick of her fingers. "I must say, I wasn’t expecting you to visit again so soon.”
“I can go if you like,” Andy teased.
“No, no.” Miranda patted her knee. “It’s a pleasant surprise, that’s all.”
“Good,” Andy said. “I actually came to visit because today is my birthday.”
“Oh, happy birthday!” Miranda exclaimed. “It’s absurd how quickly a year goes by.”
Andy chuckled. It was beyond easy to lose track of time in this plane of infinite existence, so she understood why Miranda hadn't remembered. She made up for it, anyways. Last year, she had been considerate enough to summon some of the most beautiful and treasured artefacts in history as a birthday treat for Andy. It was one of the most precious memories Andy had of them together.
“Yeah, I don’t really know how people can put in the effort to celebrate their birthday on an annual basis," Andy rolled her eyes. "It’s exhausting."
“So you haven’t marked the occasion this year?” Miranda asked, tilting her head in that way of hers.
“Nope,” Andy shrugged. “Just wanted to see you, so…”
Miranda’s lips curled into a smirk, sending flutters through Andy’s abdomen.
“I have a gift for you,” she suddenly said, straightening where she sat in Andy’s usual corner of the couch. With a wave of Miranda’s hand, a beam of light fell from above onto Andy’s lap, making her jump at the sudden warmth atop her thighs. When the light receded mere moments later, a familiar, furry face stared up at her.
“Jerry!” Andy cried. “Oh my God!”
She was vaguely aware of Miranda watching her as she hugged her childhood pet and buried her face in his soft fur. The dog happily licked her face and wagged his tail in unrestrained joy. He was just as Andy remembered him.
“Miranda! How did you--”
“It took me some time to find him in the afterlife, but once I did I made sure to keep an eye on him for you,” Miranda explained. When Andy finally pulled her attention away from the small dog, she turned to see Miranda regarding her with a fond smile and a soft expression.
“Thank you,” Andy told her, trying to put as much sincerity into her words. She felt such a rush of love in that moment that it was difficult to keep her emotions under control.
“You’re very welcome,” Miranda said, and shifted closer to scratch the delighted dog behind his ears.
The day Andy’s father died, the first thing she did was secure a flight to Ohio for the following day. The second thing she did was go home and change into her coziest clothes. The third thing she did was lay down and, before she could break down, started the soothing process of meditating.
When she opened her eyes, Miranda was ready for her. There was a knowing look on her face, a somber expression that made the pressure in Andy’s chest worsen. Miranda didn’t speak, didn’t wait for Andy to say anything. She simply opened her arms, and Andy ran into them.
The moment she felt Miranda’s arms around her, her otherworldly, divine scent filling her lungs, Andy lost her fragile composure. She buried her face in Miranda's neck and lost herself in her grief. The feeling of fingers tenderly running through her hair and drawing calming circles on her back barely filtered through Andy’s mournful cries, but they tethered her to reality.
How ironic, that the Goddess of Death would comfort those grieving their lost loved ones. Miranda had never done such a thing before. She held Andy tighter against her, and closed her eyes.
That Christmas, Andy went home to be with her mother and aunt. The memory of her father seemed embedded into the house. The pictures on the walls brought a sweet sadness every time she saw her father’s smiling face; the worn sofa where he’d always sat by the fireplace still had the phantom imprints of his figure; his collection of old coins from all over the world were still displayed in their glass cases on the living room shelf. He was everywhere, and Andy was constantly reminded of his absence.
Her mother was coping better than Andy had thought she would. Two years of illness had prepared her better than Andy had given her credit for. Still, she caught the vacant expression that would often haunt her mother’s features, the dark circles under her eyes, the grief etched into them every time something reminded her of her late husband. It was almost more painful to witness her mother’s loss than to suffer her own.
On the night of Christmas Eve, Andy, her mom and her aunt decided that an early night was for the best. The moment Andy laid down on her old bed, she focused on her breathing until she felt the familiar sensation of weightlessness as she floated into her safe haven.
“Merry Christmas, Andrea,” Miranda said the moment she opened her eyes.
Andy smiled at her, and took a seat beside her. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
“How have the Holidays treated you so far?”
“Well, you know, spending it with family. It’s been hard, with my mother and all…”
“Ah, yes, I imagined it would be. Is there anything I can do?”
“Just being here helps, but thank you. You’re very sweet,” Andy reached over and squeezed her hand. Miranda’s lips twisted into a disdainful pout.
“I am nothing of the sort.”
“Uh,” Andy looked at her in comical disbelief. “Yeah, you are. You’re one of the sweetest people-- er, things-- beings I know.”
“Very eloquent,” Miranda drawled. “And you call yourself a writer?”
“Jee, sorry I feel weird calling you ‘Goddess’,” Andy snorted. “Makes me feel pretty inadequate, if I’m honest.”
“Why ever would you feel that way?” Miranda asked, her brows drawing together in a puzzled frown.
“Miranda,” Andy started. “You’re basically an all-powerful, all-knowing, magical Goddess of the afterlife, and I’m a reporter from Cincinnati.”
“Hm,” Miranda hummed, tapping her lower lip in thought. “Alright, I suppose I can understand why you would feel inadequate due to the Cincinnati part.”
“Hey!” Andy swatted her arm. “That’s, like, the least of things!”
“If you say so,” Miranda drawled.
Andy crossed her arms defensively, but was internally delighted by the twitching at the corners of Miranda’s lips as she tried to hide her amusement. A long moment passed in comfortable silence, and Andy leaned back against the cushions, closing her eyes and revelling in the sheer relief of being here again, in this timeless place, next to Miranda. She let out a deep breath that seemed to carry the weight of months’ worth of stress, anxiety, and mourning.
A warmth settled on top of her hand, and she opened her eyes to find Miranda carefully watching her with mostly-concealed worry. Miranda’s soft hand squeezed hers before lacing their fingers together.
“Are you alright?”
Andy smiled, feeling eternally grateful for the gift she’d been given.
“Much better now.”
It became tradition for Andy to spend some time each Christmas with Miranda. It felt right to be together, since Christmas was a time to spend with loved ones. Miranda appreciated the gesture, even though she herself didn’t celebrate any religious holidays (for obvious reasons). One night, Miranda turned to Andy with a serious expression, and there was something in her eyes that drew Andy closer.
“I can’t put into words how glad I am that you continue to return to me.”
Andy’s breath caught at the words, the smooth cadence of Miranda’s voice, the way ocean eyes shone divinely under the starlight. She swallowed thickly, trying to calm her suddenly racing pulse. A fortifying breath helped centre herself enough to voice the words that strained against the back of her tongue.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Miranda’s expression became something so beautiful, so unreadable, that Andy did not even try to understand it. She simply moved closer, never taking her eyes off Miranda’s. She laced their fingers together, and leaned her head on an elegant shoulder. Miranda sighed, her fingers threading through Andy's hair, and tenderly held her against her.
Despite wishing to stay for more time each visit, Miranda always made Andy return to the land of the living before she was willing. “It’s not your time yet,” she always said, and Andy would have no choice but to resign to her fate.
No matter how much she tried to lead a normal life, however, she couldn’t help but wonder when her time would come. Each time she returned to her body and stared up at the ceiling, surrounded by the sound of traffic and wails of police cars and suffocating silence, a terrible weight came crashing down on her mere moments after she’d been boundless and free.
The years went by in a dark slate of drowned out routine. The only moments when she felt truly alive was in the darkness of night, when she would ascend mortality and spend precious, timeless hours with the silver goddess. The weeks after each visit were spent recovering strength and trying to ignore how much she felt like a crucial part of her was constantly missing.
After her mother passed away, Andy knew she had nobody to stay alive for anymore. Her friends would be fine without her, and they would all be reunited eventually, anyways. The only person she had been living for had found peace, and Andy felt like it was her time to find it as well. She fell asleep hugging a pillow to her chest, and closed her eyes with a newfound sense of serenity.
When she saw Miranda, she did not recognise the expression on her face. It was unlike anything Andy had ever seen before. A calm, silent solace that made Andy’s chest tighten.
“Andrea,” she quietly said, and opened her arms.
This embrace felt different to all the others. It felt more solid than ever before. Andy buried her face in Miranda’s neck, revelling in the softness of her. A warm breath brushed against her hair as Miranda sighed against her and ran her hands over Andy’s back.
“Can I stay this time?” Andy asked quietly, holding her beloved tighter against her.
“Yes, darling,” Miranda said. She moved back enough to gaze upon Andy’s face, and brushed a strand of silky dark hair away from her face with tender fingers. “It's your time now.”
The exhilaration was such an exquisite relief that Andy felt her eyes sting with the emotion. She was so swept up by it that she could not help but lean forward and press her lips against Miranda’s soft ones. The warmth of the kiss, the gentle brushing of lips, the feeling of fingertips caressing her neck took Andy’s breath away. The delicate touch sparked a new life in her that filled her with blissful light. They remained together amidst the infinite sea of stars and swirling colours. At last, Andy was finally where she’d longed to be.