“Crowley, my dear, have you been undermining the moral fabric of society?” There was a slight tremor of laughter in Mr. Fell’s voice as he called out from the front of the bookshop.
Back in the shop’s seating area, Audrey was watching a guy named Sam do Mr. Crowley’s eye makeup, painting glimmering, jade-green scales that spread from his golden snake-eye contacts up to his eyebrows and then out over his cheekbones.
“What, today?” Mr. Crowley yelled back. “Nah, I’m off the clock.”
Audrey could hear Mr. Fell talking to someone. “And I can assure you that I haven’t been doing any, ah, undermining myself, so I’m afraid we can’t help you with your, er, complaint.”
There was a sound of stomping on the bookshop floor and an angry stranger appeared out of the stacks, followed by Mr. Fell, who looked some polite version of annoyed. He wasn’t supposed to see Mr. Crowley’s makeup until it was done, so Mr. Crowley quickly put on his sunglasses.
The angry man glared at them, and Audrey shrank down into her hoodie a little, curling her legs up under her on the couch. She liked to come to Mr. Fell’s shop after high school and hang out—the rainbow flags displayed outside had drawn her in—and this was the first time she’d ever felt uncomfortable here. In a quick and strangely graceful movement, Mr. Crowley rolled his chair so that he was in between her and the stranger. Audrey hadn’t even realized that the bookshop’s big armchairs had wheels on them.
“Look at what is going on back here!” the man snarled. “You’re corrupting the youth!”
“Oh, no, no, not at all,” Mr. Crowley assured him, relaxing back into his chair. “No corrupting going on. We charge extra for that.”
The man spluttered. “You are all going to Hell!”
Mr. Fell put his hands out and spoke soothingly. “That’s...unlikely. In any case, we have found that there is a way to deal with all questions about Heaven and Hell, and that’s simply to love. Love will never lead you off the path. If you—”
“It’s perversion!” the man exclaimed. “A man wearing make—” But the second that the stranger pointed toward Mr. Crowley, he suddenly clutched at his stomach. “Loo?” he groaned.
“It’s not for the public, I’m afraid,” Mr. Fell answered, sounding quite as if he were sincerely sympathetic.
As the man turned on his heel and ran out of the shop, Mr. Crowley snorted a laugh. He rolled his chair back over to Sam, careful now to face away from his husband as he set his sunglasses back down. “That was not very angelic of you.”
“You’re a bad influence on me, dear.”
“Right. I love how when you do something rude, it’s still my fault.”
“Oh, I love it too,” Mr. Fell agreed. He turned to Audrey. “I’m sorry. I hope he didn’t upset you too much.”
Audrey just shrugged, still somewhat withdrawn into her sweatshirt.
“Do you like makeup?” Sam asked her. “I know not everybody does. Believe it or not, I married a woman who never wears it.”
“How ineffable,” Mr. Fell remarked and Mr. Crowley made a snorting noise.
“I do, but I’ve never worn it before,” Audrey said, and Sam showed her a tray of eye shadows with so many blues that it looked like a painting of the sky. Finally the words she’d wanted to say for a while came tumbling out of her mouth, quite easily, even if they did carry the weight of her world on them. “I think I’m a girl.”
Mr. Fell gave her a very fond smile. “Oh, I’m so honored that you felt comfortable sharing that with us. Do you have a name you’d like us to call you, or would you like to stick with Jacob?”
“Audrey,” said Audrey.
“Very nice,” Mr. Crowley spoke up. “Classic name.”
Audrey felt a little warmer then. As Sam started showing her how to apply eye shadow, he asked Mr. Crowley and Mr. Fell how they’d met. In answer they gave a convoluted story told with much bickering and shushing of each other. As far as Audrey could tell, the point was that their families hadn’t gotten along.
“We made a new family,” Mr. Fell said. “Right here.”
“My family’s been okay with it so far,” Audrey said. “It’s just—I feel so confused. Sometimes I wonder if God made a mistake with me.”
For a split-second, Mr. Fell seemed to almost transform in front of her eyes into something else, something huge and glowing and magnificent. “ My dear child, you are in no way a mistake. People aren’t made just male and female, that’s too limiting for God.”
And then he was just Mr. Fell again, all in mild shades of cream and blue tartan. Audrey blinked, wondering if something was wrong with her eyes or the lighting in the shop.
“Even if your family’s supportive, you’re still welcome to be part of our family too,” Mr. Fell told her. “It doesn’t matter if you’re confused, we can just all be confused together. Things can be quite lovely that way.”
Mr. Crowley changed into a black suit with a black shirt and tie for their date, and between the contacts and the makeup and something else that Audrey couldn’t quite put her finger on, he almost looked more serpentine than human. When Mr. Fell saw him, he literally blushed.
As Mr. Fell was locking up, Sam handed the tray of blue eye shadows to Audrey and refused to take payment for them. “If you want any more lessons, we can set them up at the bookshop. There’s a really strong be yourself vibe here. Even for me, a straight, cis-gendered guy who does makeup for a living. It’s a safe space.”
Mr. Crowley laughed. “Of course it is. Belongs to an angel.”
As they watched the Bentley drive away, Audrey said, “You don’t really think—”
Sam cleared his throat. “That Mr. Crowley doesn’t wear contacts? That Mr. Fell is a tartan-wearing, super-gay literal angel who curses homophobes with diarrhea? Yeah, pretty sure.” He shrugged. “Like I said. Bookshop’s a place to be yourself.”