Betty stood next to the bed where her body lay. Her family gathered around the emptied husk, shedding tears and holding onto each other. But Betty White didn’t look on with sadness or fear. Her soul form was too busy petting the reaper dogs that had arrived.
The woman’s love and advocacy of animals was no secret, so I’d sent three to greet her and act as escort.
Betty crouched down to vigorously pet Ytirach’s head. The reaper closed his eyes, leaning into the attention. Isey, the reaper behind Betty set her head on Betty’s shoulder. And Adaras pushed his way under Betty’s other hand.
The prolific woman had been less than two weeks from turning a hundred years old, but now she looked years younger. She resembled her physical form when she was in her forties.
When she finally noticed my approach, Betty stood. I couldn’t help but straighten my tie and then brush my hair back with a hand. My black suit was pressed perfect for this day. I knew it was coming, the whole world had known this day was coming, but it didn’t make it any less auspicious.
“Whoa,” Betty said. “You sure are a looker. I always thought Death would be some creepy skull in a hood like Skeletor. Or maybe Bea Arthur. On the set of Golden Girls, we use used to joke her scowl was borrowed from the grim reaper himself.”
“Miss White, it’s an absolute pleasure to meet you.” A smile pulled at the side of my mouth as I received her hand, laying a kiss on the back of it. My reapers all sat at her feet, looking up at her in blatant adoration.
Betty fanned herself with her other hand. “Hot pants, you are getting me a little too fired up for a dead gal. And please, call me Betty.”
I gave her fingers a squeeze before releasing them. “Betty. It is not every day I get to encounter a soul as special as you. The shine you exude is exceptional.”
“Ahem,” came a noise from behind me.
“Oh yes, excuse me, but may I introduce someone who begged me to let her tag along to meet you.” Before I could say another word, Vivien popped out from behind me.
“Sweet baby hamsters, I can’t believe it’s really Betty White,” Vivien gushed. “I’m a huge fan. Big. Huge. Massive, over the top fan.” Then as if to prove her point, a pitchy squeal escaped her mouth.
Betty’s eyebrows raised, a bemused smile playing at her lips. “She’s a vampire.”
Vivien flashed her fangs in a dazzling grin. “Guilty.”
“Well, it looks like I can still be surprised in death.” Betty said. Then asked Vivien. “Are those for me?”
Looking down at her hands, Vivien had seemed to forget she was holding a tumbler of chilled vodka and red vines.
When I said I planned to greet Betty with her favorite vittles, Vivien insisted on being the one to deliver.
Rushing forward, Vivien held out the offerings.
Betty sipped the vodka and balanced the red vines in between her fingers holding the glass. “Ah, that’s the stuff. Now where too, hot pants? And can I take the pups along for the ride?” She reached down and pet Isey this time. “We’ve just met, but we’ve agreed we are best of friends.”
The other two excitedly ran around her legs in agreement.
“Of course,” I gave a slight bow. “If you’d just follow me, Miss White.” I turned then jerked when I felt the pinch of fingers on my rear. Except Vivien was in front of me.
My vampire’s eyes widened in shock, having also caught the bold come on.
“Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I’m dead,” Betty said in that patent saucy tone of hers.
Vivien laughed. Then her expression sobered as she looked past Betty to her family, who still grieved their loss. “The world isn’t going to be the same without you,” she said softly.
Betty followed Vivien’s gaze, biting off a hunk of red vine. “Don’t you worry. They’ll be alright. But as for me, I’m ready for the after party.” Then turning to look at me, she asked, “unless I’m doomed to a hotter climate down south?”
“Florida?” Vivien asked, her brows furrowing.
I couldn’t help but chuckle at the both of them. “No, Ms. White, you are correct. You’ve done more than enough and deserve nothing less than paradise. You’ve left an indelible imprint on the world for the better. The pure joy, love, and humor you spread has seeped into a staggering number of people, into the very earth itself and that energy will continue on as an extension of you.”
She nodded. “Damn skippy. I may be gone, but they have to know they can never get rid of me. I’m like a bad case of herpes.”
Vivien snorted then sighed in satisfaction, as if Betty somehow appeased the pain she felt on the matter.
“I have a surprise for you, Betty.” I said, offering an arm. I’d been looking forward to this. My job could be exhausting, painstaking, and brutal, but this was one of those rare days one hoped to have in their line of work. A day to meet and reward someone exceptional.
Betty slipped arm through mine, and Vivien held onto my other bicep.
“That’s right hot pants, we should be on first name basis. After all, I’ve known you would come calling soon for quite some time. I know we’ve just met, but I feel perfectly at ease, as if we were old friends.”
“Well then, feel free to call me Grim,” I offered in return.
“Though hotpants is more accurate,” Vivien piped up.
With both women at my sides, the scenery swirled by a great whoosh of color. In moments we were in a marsh, filled with tall reeds.
Even though the sun shone overhead, here, Vivien was not in danger of burning. The smell of sweet grass filled the air.
The reapers trotted ahead of us, already anticipating the surprise.
We stepped into a clearing, and a shimmering river glinted like a thousand winking stars.
Hraf-hraf, the old ferryman, waited on the shore with the boat to take Betty to the Afterlife, where she could begin enjoying paradise. But the surprise stood next to the boat, on the bank.
The tumbler and remaining red vines dropped to the ground as Betty ran to meet Allen. He rushed to meet her, sweeping her up in his arms and twirling her around.
Vivien laid her head on my shoulder, as we watched the two lovers reunite.
“So they were married, right?” Vivien asked in a soft voice.
“Yes, for eighteen years before Allen passed away in 1981. Cancer.” I explained. “He has been waiting here to receive her all these years. Their love is one of the truest, and most enduring.”
“He’s been on ice here for forty years?”
“Don’t worry, time passes differently here. But they have been missing each other terribly.”
When Betty pulled away from Allen, wetness covered her cheeks from happy tears.
Vivien sighed. “I wish the world knew she was getting her happy ending. Then maybe everyone wouldn’t be so sad.”
The two got into the boat and the dogs clambered in after her. I did not expect their return to their duties for quite some time. At least until Betty got acquainted with her new surroundings. The reapers would be glued to her side, making her every bit as comfortable as she deserved.
I wrapped an arm around Vivien, pulling her tight against me. “Don’t fear. She left such a bright mark on the world, that it far outshines the darkness of her absence. And I think most people know, deep in their soul, that Betty would meet death with fearless sass. Like someone else I know.”
Vivien leaned up to kiss me, a soft searching pressure of the lips. When she broke away, she winked. “Well said, hot pants.”