Mel stood up. She followed Rich to a nearby table. He grabbed his glass, then sat down across from her. He took a drink, then pulled out a small notebook from his pocket, tearing a piece of paper from it. He handed it to her. He checked another pocket and found his pen.
“Here, write what you want to say. I will give it to her. My words won’t mean anything – she’ll think I’m just someone either bat shit crazy or trying to make a buck.”
He handed her the pen. Mel held it, staring at the blank piece of paper.
“I don’t have the words,” she looked up at Rich.
He nodded, then took a drink while looking around the rest of the room. People had started talking to each other. All of them were confused. Mel heard one of them asking another if this was a dream.
Then she saw Mike standing with them. She stared at him, numb.
“He got Mike,” she said.
Rich looked over his shoulder, then turned back to Mel, sighing. He took another drink. They sat in silence while Mel continued to stare at the blank paper.
“What happens now?” Mel asked.
“Guides will come.”
“To take us to heaven or hell – is it that sort of thing?”
“No,” Rich said.
“Then where will they take me?”
“They won’t take you anywhere. They guide. It’s your choice if you want to follow.”
“It doesn’t seem like I have a choice,” Mel said.
Rich took a long drink then set his empty glass onto the table.
“You always have a choice. You just aren’t always told about it.”
“I want to be alive again.”
Rich met her eyes.
“That’s not your choice.”
She stared down at the blank paper. Her eyes filled with water again.
“So – it’s all over now?” Mel asked.
“Life? Love? Painting?” Mel struggled with each of the words.
“I’m not a liar. I told you that you have so much to discover about yourself. And some day, you won’t be jealous of people like Mike,” he motioned toward the dance floor. “That’s still true.”
“There’s more after this?”
“What’s it like, though?”
Rich stared off into space for a few moments, then turned his attention back to her.
“If someone asked you what life was like, how would you answer it? Especially if they had never experienced it? It’s not something I can just tell you. It’s not something technical I can explain. I’ll be right back.”
Rich stood up from his chair and walked away for a moment. Mel took a deep breath, then dropped her head into her hands. She tried to focus.
Hearing footsteps, she lifted her head to see Rich sit down across from her again. He had a bottle with him, and poured himself another drink.
“This is so fucked up,” she said.
Rich took a drink.
“I wanted to protect you. I should have killed him right away.”
“You gave him a chance,” Mel said, “I wouldn’t have expected that from the devil.”
Rich met her eyes, then shrugged.
“The only unforgivable thing is to only ever be one thing.”
Rich looked down at his glass, thinking.
“Maybe I’m just unimaginative,” he said, then looked up at her. “After you go, if you think of a way to describe what it’s like – paint it for me.”
He smiled, and Mel surprised herself by smiling back.
Mel thought for a moment.
“Will there still be fuck ups?” she asked.
Rich nodded his head “yes” then raised his glass to her in a mock toast.
“Yes, you’ll discover new ways to fuck up. Just like I do.”
Mel laughed, choking on sobs.
“There’s some comfort in that,” she said.
Rich reached his hand over and clasped it around hers. She could feel it.
“The only mistakes you can make going forward are the same ones you were at risk of making before. Treat life like a lover.”
Mel noticed something flash. She turned toward the dance floor and saw little lights rising into the air.
“Oh my god … are these …”
“The guides,” Rich finished.
“Little guiding lights,” Mel said in wonder. “They’re like fireflies.”
“They are,” Rich said, still holding her hand.
“I used to love sitting on the back porch at my grandparents house,” Mel said.
They floated around the room, one light rising to meet each person. “They’re beautiful. I didn’t expect that.”
“What?” Rich asked.
Mel looked down at the blank paper.
“Do you know what you’re going to write?” Rich asked.
Mel shook her head, but began writing a short note, re-read it, then added something at the end. She folded the paper and handed it to Rich.
“The words aren’t perfect,” Mel said. “You can read it if you want.”
Rich opened the note and read it. He folded it back up and looked at Mel.
“Beauty is what makes something perfect.”
He set the note next to his glass.
“How are you going to give it to her?”
“I’ll leave it somewhere she’ll find it,” he said. “She’ll find it. Don’t worry.”
A small light floated over toward Mel and hovered in front of her.
“My firefly,” she said softly.
He stood up, finishing his drink.
“Can you stay?” Mel asked.
He looked down, meeting her eyes again.
“I’ll stay as long as you need,” he said, then sat back down and poured himself another drink.