Aziraphale was sure that everybody would laugh at him.
Well. He had been sure. Now he was pretty sure everybody was ignoring him, which was still bad but a degree better.
Aziraphale’s dad, Mr. Metra Fell, owner of the old bookshop on Coelum Avenue, was a very odd man. Unfortunately, this mean Aziraphale had inherited some of his oddities, including his Victorian-style jackets and a love for old books.
Aziraphale clutched the book he’d brought along for interference to his chest. This was his first day at Terreville High, because Dad had bought a new store and they’d uprooted their life to Terreville. Aziraphale had been to the town a few times before, because his mom was the mayor, but usually Mom came to visit them in New York City.
Now he would be forced to learn every part of the town for the next three years. Only three years , and maybe he’d make a friend that would make those three years worthwhile. That was a very slim chance. And not one he’d bet the prophecy book he was holding against himself on.
Aziraphale continued to scan the navy-blue lockers against the wall. They had masking-tape names written on them in black Sharpie: Ana Ferr. Georgia MacDonald. Cedric Ligur. Of course they weren’t alphabetical; that would have been too easy.
In typical Metra Fell fashion, Dad had mixed up the first day of school with the second week of school, so Aziraphale felt even more out of place than he might have if he’d come on a normal day. Cliques had already been formed. Class syllabuses had already been handed out. He might even be late on homework.
Aziraphel Fell . Finally. He made a mental note to bring some masking tape in and fix the spelling error. The locker’s lock was, thankfully, set to 0000 , and he set it to 1876 , because that was when the Dewey Decimal System was first published. A bit nerdy, but hard to guess. It wasn’t as if he had anything worth stealing.
Aziraphale clicked open the locker. The previous owner had written "M ♡ G" on the wall in a messy scrawl that he thought fit quite well to locker vandalization. He slid his book, along with a notebook and a folder, into the locker. Aziraphale fished his schedule from his pocket and checked the times.
Hm. Homeroom was room 3A, which would probably be difficult to find, but it started in ten minutes so he had ample time to anxiously ask somebody for directions. “Clubs,” he muttered to himself, reading aloud the first period of the day.
Fabulous. He’d probably missed that, too, which meant he’d be shuffled into some horrendous lecture-like class with all the outcasts. Or something he’d be no good at. Like art.
Aziraphale tried to scrunch himself into his locker to avoid being seen. They couldn’t be saying hi to him , could they? Hopefully not. Drawing attention was, in his experience, not a good idea.
“I said hi.”
Maybe they were talking to him.
“Hi?” said Azirphale to M ♡ G. It was easier than turning around. His voice echoed slightly in the small metal space.
“Finally. I thought you were ignoring me. Or hard of hearing.”
Aziraphale turned around. The person who’d decided to single him out was Latina, female-shaped, with fashionably thick-framed round glasses, a calf-length skirt in deep purple, and a friendly smile. “I’m Anathema Device,” she said. She stuck out a hand.
Anathema? There was no way this couldn’t be some kind of omen . “Nice to meet you,” said Aziraphale after a slight pause. He shook the hand. It was fairly hand-like. “Anathema?” he asked, unable to simply leave the word hanging there.
“You noticed. Most people don’t.” She sounded somewhat pleased that he knew what her name meant. “My mom didn’t really know what it meant when she named me.”
Anathema: something that someone dislikes strongly. Or a curse by the Church. Aziraphale tried to remember the dictionary definition. He’d been fascinated by the word, ages ago, after coming across it in an old book. “It’s quirky,” he said, trying to find a better compliment.
That one seemed to do fine by Anathema. She hoisted her violet backpack against her shoulder, and snuck a look at Aziraphale’s schedule. “3A? My boyfriend’s in 3A. Newton Pulsifer. I don’t know where he is right now… but I can take you, I guess.”
Aziraphale nodded, gratefully. “I would like that.”
Newton Pulsifer turned out to be the exact opposite of Anathema. Where Anathema was bold, confident, and proud, Newton was nervous, confused, and decidedly ashamed of his entire self. He had messy hair that Aziraphale thought a comb would balk from, a flip phone, pale white skin, and glasses that were taped together with about an inch of masking tape.
Aziraphale felt fairly comforted by somebody even more nervous than he was, though, and they quickly struck up a conversation. He filed away the information in case he had to tell his dad later. Newton wanted to be a computer engineer, although he was worried he wouldn’t be much good at it. He’d gone to Terreville since freshman year and planned to graduate next year from Terreville as well. He was in newspaper, which Anathema was apparently the Editor-in-Chief of.
Aziraphale listened to him talk, answering question after question that he hadn’t even asked, except for the one question that was actually floating in his head. How does somebody like Newton date somebody like Anathema? Aziraphale hoped it was something like this school is open to new opportunities! instead of we were childhood friends.
It seemed like a rude question to ask, though, so it stayed in Aziraphale’s mind until the end of Homeroom.
Aziraphale had another oddity of Terreville to add to his list. (Currently, the list was: the tape on the lockers, the weird students, and the fact that first period was clubs ).
The bells were all broken, and so when every period was over, there would be a ringing noise over the intercom. But not a regular school-bell ringing that was less of a bell and more of a loud sound. It was an old-fashioned dinner bell, so every forty minutes, the students heard the tolling of an iron bell recorded from some English castle. Or so Aziraphale assumed.
“My schedule says clubs,” said Aziraphale to Newton as the homeroom students flooded towards the door. “Sorry!” he said to a pink-haired teen as he shouldered past them. “Sorry. Sorry!”
“Oh my God, shut up, dude!” shouted a boy wearing a mock basketball jersey. He had pasty white skin, and he was a few inches taller than Aziraphale. His hair was a flop of shocking white, even blonder than Aziraphale himself, and his eyes were the deep, unending brown of a wet, rotting stump.
Aziraphale started to apologize, but realized that probably wasn’t the best idea. Newton grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out the door.
“That guy is kind of creepy,” Aziraphale admitted, his face warm.
“Chris Hastur,” said Newton helpfully. “He’s… a character. I’ll see you in the news room?”
“I guess?” Aziraphale didn’t really have any intention of joining the news staff. He wasn’t really a journalist. You had to be semi-brave to be a journalist, and Aziraphale got nervous just talking to people he didn’t know.
Newton walked off.
Aziraphale was beginning to realize he should have asked Newton which room was the news room. He should have asked any of the students shoving past him, or giggling with each other, or comparing Spanish homework.
But now it was too late, because the hallways were almost completely empty and he was probably about to be asked if he had a hall pass.
Ask the next person you see. Ask the next person you see. Ask… Aziraphale walked straight into somebody.
“Hey, watch it!” he said. He was a long, lanky boy, who looked about the same age as Aziraphale. Vintage sunglasses rested on his nose, and ginger hair was short on his forehead.
“I’m so sorry. So sorry.” Aziraphale laughed awkwardly. “I can’t… I mean, do you… do you know where the newspaper is?”
“The newpaper?” Aziraphale had the impression that the boy was squinting at him behind his sunglasses.
The boy pointed. “Turn left. First door on your right. I don’t know why you’d wanna join, but have a blast.” He said it dryly, as if he didn’t really care whether or not Aziraphale really had a blast.
“Thank you.” Azirphale rushed away without thinking about asking his name.
The news room was busy and loud. There were only about fifteen other people on the staff (Anathema and Newton included) but apparently fifteen people can make a lot of noise when they’re stressed and excited.
“Hey! You made it!” said Anathema, walking away from a girl in a headscarf writing fervently on a clunky Chromebook. She waved. “Everybody, this is Azirphale…”
“Aziraphale Fell,” he muttered, sure he was going bright red. He tried to smile. “Hello. Everybody.”
He spotted Newton, writing on a piece of paper longhand, and somebody next to him who had paused shouting at a computer long enough to smile brightly at Aziraphale.
There was a chorus of “hi”s before Anathema snapped at everybody to go back to work. She turned to him. “Do you know anything about sports?”
“Sports?” he repeated, hoping he’d misheard her.
“Yeah. Our sports editor has caught the flu and won’t be able to attend school for another few days, and then he’s going to Scotland for a week … we just need somebody to do a beginning of the year profile.” Anathema handed him a piece of paper with a long list on it. “These are the articles we’re working on. Euan is the missing editor, could you take his stuff? Only one is due for this edition.”
“Um.” Aziraphale didn’t have the good sense to interrupt. “I…”
“Have you ever been on a newspaper staff before? You won’t have to be in charge of a beat. We did those assignments last week. If you want, you can do one next edition.”
Anathema pointed at the paper. “Those are the articles we’re working on. Some of them we’ll run next edition. Some of them our staff will need longer to work on, so they’ll be the edition after next, or the edition after that. Got it?”
“Sort of.” Aziraphale scanned the paper for Euan and found a disturbing number of articles next to his name. Sports profile. Demons game. Town football. Were they all sports? “I don’t have to do all of these?”
“All of Euan’s? No. Just the profiles, then we’ll assign you something else. All you have to do is go to the Demons practice - that’s our team, the Terreville Demons - and interview the players for stats.”
“...stats?” Aziraphale said, struggling to keep up.
“How long they’ve been on the team, if they’ve ever been on another team, their position. If you want, you can get statements from some of them.” Anathema started walking around the room and waved for Aziraphale to follow.
“Stats,” he said again. Hopefully this wouldn’t be a trend.
Anathema smiled sunnily. “You got it!”
The Demons’ practices were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, according to the schedule up on the newsroom corkboard. Aziraphale asked Huda, the girl in the hijab that Anathema had been talking with earlier, and she suggested he go to the closest practice from today.
Today was Monday. Which meant this afternoon.
Aziraphale wrung his hands like a maiden in a nineteenth-century romance novel and looked at his small notepad. Stats, it said across the top in Aziraphale’s neat script. He had two handwritings: this one and his note-taking handwriting, which was closer to his mom’s hurried all-caps print.
It was 3:30, and practice started at 3:35, so players were appearing on the field. The sky was cloaked with grey clouds and humidity hung in the air, but the potential rainstorm didn’t seem to discourage their warm-up sprints and chatting.
Aziraphale continued his Jane Eyre impersonation by the bleachers, hoping simultaneously that somebody would talk to him and that nobody would notice him at all.
The first hope had won out, it seemed, because Christopher Hastur was headed straight towards him with another player, who was slightly shorter than Christopher but more strongly built.
“Hey,” said Christopher. Aziraphale could almost hear him say nerd at the end, as if they were trapped in an early-2000s rom-com.
“Hey,” said Aziraphale.
“Chris,” said Christopher, but thankfully neglected to hold out his hand for a handshake. His hands looked oily.
Chris snorted. “Az-eye-raff-ell? What kind of name is that?”
“You’re mispronouncing it, actually,” said Aziraphale under his breath. “Uh, can I ask you a few questions?”
“Whatever, Raff,” said the other boy, who had yet to introduce himself.
Raff? Aziraphale held up his notepad and wrote Chris Hastur in it. “Er, what’s your name?”
“Cedric. Cedric Ligur.”
He wrote Cedric Ligur and asked the questions that Anathema had requested. Cedric and Chris answered them with matching sneers beginning to tug at the corners of their mouths. Aziraphale moved away as soon as he could.
He interviewed, with a shaking smile, Demon after Demon: one named Beelz and one named Sayt, one with bright green socks and one with long blond hair.
Finally, a coach blew his whistle and they jogged into place to play a game.
Nobody sat on the bleacher closest to him, so he scrambled up and took notes on the game they were starting to play. Soccer. Aziraphale was strangely pleased when he saw the ginger boy from earlier. At least one familiar face that had been semi-nice to him.
Only a few minutes into the game, a short kid started yelling at the ginger boy. He hadn’t even told Aziraphale his name, but Aziraphale felt badly for him anyway.
He walked towards the bleacher and sat down by himself. Aziraphale considered getting up and walking over to him. Maybe he was the friend Aziraphale had been hoping for?
No. Aziraphale had Newton and Anathema, and Huda and all the other news staff now. He didn’t need some jerk on the soccer team.
But the profiles…
Aziraphale told himself it was all for the profiles as he stood up and stepped over to where the ginger boy was sitting. Not about how that red hair wasn’t leaving Aziraphale’s mind, or how his smirk left a strange flutter in Aziraphale’s chest.
Aziraphale thought about introducing himself, then the boy turned his head. He hadn’t noticed Aziraphale yet, because he was watching the game with a vaguely forlorn look, but that wasn’t what took Aziraphale aback.
It was his eyes . He wasn’t wearing sunglasses now, probably because they were likely to fall off his face while he ran around in soccer practice. They were utterly breathtaking in the sun, which was starting to consider setting, somewhat early because it was nearly proper autumn. At first, Aziraphale thought they might be hazel, but no - they looked almost yellow , as if he was really some kind of reptile in disguise.
The boy turned his head and Aziraphale jumped. He’s cute. Without the sunglasses hiding his face, his sharp cheekbones and almost delicate jawline accentuated his tawny eyes. Aziraphale thought about the umbrella in his backpack as the humidity tried to force itself into his chest.
“Take a picture.”
The boy ran a hand through his ginger hair. He had nice hands, too - slim bones and long fingers. “Take a picture. It lasts longer.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale blushed. So he’d noticed Aziraphale staring.
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. “What?”
He sighed sharply and flung his finger at himself. “ Crowley. My name is Crowley. Yo me llamo Crowley. Je m’appelle Crowley.”
“Yeah! Crowley. Sorry.” Aziraphale liked the sound of his name in his mouth: Crowley. “Crowley,” he said again.
“Your name too?”
“No! No, Aziraphale. That’s my name. They’re calling me Raff, for some reason… like Aziraffale. Most people call me Az.”
“I thought you said your name was Aziraphale,” said Crowley.
“Then I’ll call you Aziraphale.” Crowley looked like he’d just uncovered the obvious solution. If only everybody else thought the same way.
Aziraphale nodded again, this time with gratitude.
“It was my mom’s name.”
“What?” Aziraphale looked over to the soccer players. One of them had fallen to the ground.
“Crowley. Her maiden name. She died when I was little. My dad is… weird. So I’m Crowley.”
“Your first name?”
Crowley shrugged. “Far as I know, yeah.”
“Mine is from a book. Not even like, an old book. My dad sells old books,” Aziraphale added as way of explanation. “This nineties fantasy book by a guy Dad used to like. Aziraphale was an angel. In the book.”
“Our newspaper is the Angelic Times.”
Aziraphale remembered hearing that from Huda when they’d been talking. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.”
Crowley rested his heels on the bench in front of them. “Yeah?” he said, slightly amused.
“Yeah… I have to go.” Aziraphale said, standing up suddenly. Crowley was messing with his head. He was so cute, and Aziraphale just wanted to keep his head down, for the time being. It wasn’t as if Crowley was even in his league - Aziraphale was a journalist, for Heavens’ sake, an awkward, anxious journalist in the same social circles as Newton Pulsifer. And Crowley was a soccer player, a jock, who was confident enough to grin and tell Aziraphale the story of his name.
Aziraphale didn’t like the feelings bubbling up in his chest, but if he ignored them, they would go away. He grabbed his backpack from the edge of the field, stuffed his pen and pad in the front pocket, and walked home.