Warlock sighs as he goes through the footage they got on camera in the last few days.
It’s all trash. Terribly boring. He can’t upload this, people will think he’s dull and unfollow him. And he’s worked too hard for the three thousand nine hundred and something subscribers he has at the moment. He can’t risk it.
The problem is the town they’re in. It’s so fucking uninteresting. He could’ve stayed in Tadfield and saved himself the trip. What’s worse, the two friends he’s brought along are starting to get impatient, tired of taking pictures of him for his insta and helping him think of interesting takes for his next upload.
If he wasn’t so focused on getting the perfect video for his channel, he might appreciate the charm of the little town. The air smells like sea salt as they sit outside a small café. The waitress has been exceedingly nice to them; her smile never faltered as she dealt with three bratty sixteen-year-olds who kept asking her rude questions about her hometown.
Warlock watches his cousin Theodore breaking up the bread from his sandwich, mashing it into balls, and tossing it at the pigeons, luring them closer and closer to the café’s cat, who’s already wiggling its butt under one of the tables.
He’s not quite listening to Chloe, who’s going on about how she totally would have been an influencer, if she’d been old enough back when influencers were a thing. It’s a lot harder now, the competition is ruthless, and the internet is way too crowded.
“Ugh, we’re wasting so much time. Remind me why he dragged us here, Theo.” She says at her boyfriend, tugging at his oversized shirt. He stops trying to get a bird murdered just long enough to answer her.
“Because he’s read somewhere this place is special and thought he was smarter than everyone else.” He replies with a smirk. “Like, obviously if this place was actually special, it would already be in somebody’s vlog, dude.”
“You’ve told me so. About a hundred times.” Warlock snaps at him. “We’re leaving tomorrow anyway, so shut your mouth and enjoy the paid-for lunch.”
Theo scoffs but goes back to his birds, and Chloe pulls up her phone.
Warlock does too, browsing through his bookmarks until he finds the article that brought him here. He skims it over once again.
This small seaside town is sure to charm any traveller who seeks a spot of sun. What makes it unique, however, is its demographics. In the last five years, there hasn’t been a single divorce among the married couples that took residence in the town. Its natality rate is also surprisingly high, matched only by its adoption rate. Our dear readers might be wondering whether we’re describing a particularly religious, conservative community, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The town holds a yearly Pride parade, and all kinds of families can be found among its inhabitants. When asked, the locals say there’s nothing special about the place. Just a ‘strong feeling of love’ in its air. Whether they’re being honest or hiding something, it’s definitely worth a stop on your road trip along the South Coast!
He’d read it and thought, fucking duh, of course these people are hiding something. He still thinks he’s right, but he has no way to prove it.
He slumps in his chair and stretches his arms above his head, looking to his right – and that’s when he spots her. That’s her, it has to be her.
Or, well. A man who definitely looks like his former nanny. But Warlock is sure, one hundred percent sure it’s her, like he’s never been sure of anything in his young life. The hair is different, and she appears male now, but the aesthetic gives her away. Black on black with just a little red. Glasses so dark you can’t see his eyes. Angular features, a slightly hooked nose. That vibe about him like he could turn around and bite a random passer-by just because he feels like it.
Yeah. That’s his nanny, no doubt.
Warlock pulls up a pair of dark sunglasses of his own to stare at him without being noticed – he’s learned from the best, after all.
Nanny is sitting two tables over, a tall glass of iced coffee in front of him. Keeping him company is a man that looks like his polar opposite. He’s blond, dressed in tan and tartan, and he has the most delighted expression on his face as he brings a bite of strawberry cheesecake to his mouth.
Nanny watches him eat, the corners of his mouth slightly upturned in a small smile. Which, by Nanny’s standards, is quite a big smile. Warlock widens his eyes behind his sunglasses: there’s only one person Nanny ever looked at like that. Could it be…?
He supposes it could. If that really is Brother Francis, he’s looking an awful lot better. He’s had those hideous teeth fixed, trimmed his eyebrows, made a few other changes. Warlock is almost positive that it’s him, but it isn’t quite as obvious as with his nanny.
It’d make sense. Nanny and Brother Francis left the same day, just before his eleventh birthday. And besides, the staff always whispered about them. Nobody had any proof, but the two of them always had that secretive air about them, as if they were hiding something. Most of the house staff suspected they were an item. It was quite obvious, the adults would say, when they thought Warlock wasn’t listening.
Brother Francis reaches for Nanny’s hand on the table. Nanny interlaces their fingers. Oh. Seems the house staff was right after all. They were an item. They still are, five years later. And they moved here together, of all places?
Warlock’s gaze takes in his surroundings like he’s seeing the town for the first time. He can see why they’d like it. They’re a middle aged couple; they don’t need anything exciting. He supposes the town really is charming, if one gets over the fact that it’s boring as hell.
He looks back at them. Nanny is wearing his dark glasses, so Warlock can’t see his eyes, but all of his body strains towards Brother Francis like a sunflower seeks the sun. And Brother Francis, he breaks off a piece of cake and offers it to Nanny, bringing the spoon to his lips. Much to Warlock’s surprise, Nanny takes it. Then she doesn’t pull back when Brother Francis leans in and follows the cake with a kiss on the lips.
Old people in love. Ew.
He looks away and calls the waitress. He points at the table where Nanny and Brother Francis are sitting and tells her to let him know when they’re done, their bill is on him. For the first time, the smile she gives him is sincere.
It takes a while, and he has to calm down his friends by threatening Theo to post to Facebook a video of him, completely shitfaced over Christmas break, shouting at a snowman in the backyard wearing nothing but his reindeer boxer briefs.
It’s worth the wait. When Brother Francis has finished eating, Nanny pulls out his black credit card, but the waitress refuses with a smile, nodding towards Warlock.
The boy takes off his glasses and gives them a little wave. The two men freeze on the spot.
Nanny glances at Brother Francis. Brother Francis glances back at Nanny. Some very obvious secret argument seems to ensue, because he can see them talking back and forth, only their mouths moving, the rest of their faces and bodies unnaturally still. He wants to shout he can see them talking, but decides to be patient and see what comes out of it.
At last, Brother Francis, shooting a glare to Nanny when he doesn’t move, stands up and comes to Warlock’s table alone.
“That was very kind of you, young man.” He says with a smile, and both Theo and Chloe snigger at this choice of words. Warlock shoots them a glare.
“Have love and reverence for all living creatures, right?” He asks Brother Francis.
The man’s eyes widen just a fraction, then he smiles at him. “I suppose I must agree with that.” He steps back. “Have a lovely day.” He takes his leave with a nod of his head. When he gets back to his table, Nanny is already standing.
They stare at each other for a long moment, Nanny and Warlock, then he takes Brother Francis’ arm, a bit too firmly, and they walk away.
It actually wasn’t all that hard to find them. Everyone knows Mr. Fell, the charming middle aged man who lives in a lovely cottage a bit out of town. Everyone knows his supposed husband too, although information on him is a lot less forthcoming, when Warlock asks. They moved in, oh, who knows, some time ago. Mr. Fell is always very nice to everyone. His tips are always generous. He eats with gusto, and can often be found at one of the several restaurants the town has to offer. Or at a café. Or at a bakery. They are a very cute couple, always seen together all over town. Nobody’s ever been inside their cottage, though. All they can tell Warlock is that the garden outside of it is beautiful and well-tended.
He stops in front of a green gate, spotting indeed a lush array of plants on both sides of the white driveway that leads to the cottage. He’s holding a box of pastries in one hand, and he has to lodge the bottle of scotch he’s brought along between his elbow and side to free his other hand and ring the doorbell.
Mr. Fell’s voice sounds surprised over the intercom. “Yes, hello?”
“Uh, hi. It’s Warlock. Listen… could I come in?” He hears silence on the other end of the line. “Please?” He adds, although his mouth is not quite used to the word.
“Just a moment, dear.” He hears shuffling, and then Mr. Fell’s voice again, more distant now. “Crowley? The boy is here.” Something unintelligible, then, “Oh, he can hear me?”
The gate clicks open. Warlock shrugs and makes for the cottage.
Mr. Fell sits him down on a plush couch in their living room. He’s delighted by the pastries, and also by the scotch.
“Such a nice thought, isn’t it?” He smiles at Nanny—Crowley, as he’s called these days.
Crowley, sprawled on an armchair across from Warlock, raises an eyebrow. “How d’you get it? Are you old enough to buy alcohol?”
“It wasn’t a problem.” Warlock replies with his best innocent smile, and he could swear Nanny looks proud of him for a second.
Mr. Fell fidgets with the pastry box. “Anyway, what brings you here?”
Warlock tells them about his attempts at becoming a popular YouTuber, a concept Mr. Fell has some trouble grasping. Then, he explains about the article he’s read about this town, how he was drawn to it thinking he’d find something worth a vlog. A knowing look passes between the two men as he talks about the feeling of deep love surrounding the whole area. Somehow, he knows he wouldn’t get a straight answer, and refrains from asking.
The conversation flows easily between him and Mr. Fell. Soon, he’s told him all about his plans to leave school as soon as he can to pursue a career as an online presence. Mr. Fell is not sure what he’s talking about, but tells him it sounds very nice. Warlock’s father has already decided for him that he’s going to attend an Ivy League School in the US, become a lawyer. Mr. Fell assures him his father just has his best interests at heart, but encourages Warlock not to give up on his dreams (with another meaningful look towards Nanny, who looks back at him).
“Anyway,” Warlock continues. “School is for other kids. I have a trust fund in my name, I can do whatever I want. If it doesn’t turn out right, I’ll just do something else, whatever.”
Mr. Fell politely nods along, but Warlock can tell he’s a bit lost. The silence stretches for a few seconds in the room.
“Also, uh. I have a boyfriend.” Despite his casual tone, Warlock stares down at his shoes. It’s the first time he says this out loud. His friends don’t know. His teachers don’t know. His parents – especially his parents – don’t know. He’s not ashamed, or, at least, he’s pretty sure he isn’t. He just isn’t ready to tell the world. It slipped out of him here, though, because—shit, he’s not sure why. Because these two emanate so much strangeness, he figured they’d roll with anything he can throw at them. Because he didn’t want to tell everyone, but he wanted to tell someone.
Mr. Fell claps his hands together. “Isn’t that wonderful? I do hope he’s a good boy, dear.”
“Yeah, sure, he is. Uh, thank you.” Nanny is giving him a look that pierces right through him, dark glasses or not. What is he seeing?
They chat for a bit more after that. They never quite touch on the herd of elephants in the rooms – the reason they know one another, the fact that they’ve changed so much since the last time Warlock has seen them, their abrupt departure from of his life. Just pleasant small talk. He finds out Mr. Fell can go on for hours once he’s on a subject he likes. So, when he stands up to leave, Warlock’s head if full of recommendations for things to see or eat in the lovely seaside town. He doesn’t have the heart to tell him he’s leaving the next day.
Notably, Nanny hasn’t said a word after asking about the scotch. He’s poured himself a glass though. He was about to pour two, but a cross look from Mr. Fell prompted him to get apple juice for Warlock instead.
They walk him to the front door.
“What’s your channel?” Nanny asks him, his phone out. Warlock tells him. A week later, he’ll find out his subscribers have tripled, although he hasn’t uploaded anything of note.
“Do take care, dear.” Mr. Fell tells him, shaking his hand and patently holding himself back from giving him a hug. Warlock is not a child anymore, but he would have taken the hug anyway. He doesn’t say so out loud.
Just as he’s about to turn and leave, Nanny hands him a business card. It’s completely black and matte. On the front, the name Anthony J. Crowley is embossed in a glossy, slightly lighter black colour. On the back, a phone number.
“Assuming you tell your mother, get it on camera and send it over.” He gives an almost imperceptible smirk. “Always enjoyed seeing people lose their shit.”
“Crowley!” Mr. Fell chides him, but he smiles fondly even as he pokes his arm.
“And if it goes pear-shaped, you’re always welcome here.” Crowley adds. Mr. Fell’s smile for him widens, and Warlock could swear he can see the love dripping off of them, seeping into the floor, spreading into the surrounding air.
“Thanks. Sure. I’ll, uh, introduce her to him at some point.” Warlock replies, somehow sure Nanny was talking about his boyfriend. “Well, take care, you guys.”
When reaches the gate and turns back around, they’re still standing there, Crowley with an arm around Mr. Fell’s shoulders. Mr. Fell beams at Warlock, and Crowley gives him a brief wave. Warlock waves back with a grin.
He feels a warmth in his chest that definitely can’t be attributed to the apple juice. He inhales the salty air coming from the sea as he adds Crowley’s number to his contact list. He smiles to himself when, inexplicably, a picture of Crowley he did not have pops up when he saves his number.
Maybe this trip wasn’t all that boring, after all.