“There is something in there with you!”
The white-haired man who’d come to the door of Mr. Fell’s Bookshop looked at Lela curiously. “I’m sorry?”
It was dark outside, but there were lights on in the bookshop and Lela could see a few other people inside, all of whom were looking at Lela like she’d lost her mind.
“I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I saw something in your shop. Some—monster. Back in the shadows.”
The man at the door got an understanding look on his face. “Ah. Well. He’s actually—”
And then Lela saw it again. Well, saw him. Because now a man with red hair walked into the lighted area, and despite the fact that he no longer had huge black wings sprouting from his shoulders, despite the fact that his yellow eyes were now hidden behind dark glasses, Lela recognized him. She shrieked and backed away a few steps.
And then the red-haired man was at the door, looking at her, speaking to her. “You need to come in.”
That was the last thing Lela was going to do.
The white-haired man gave the man-monster an irritated look. “Really, Crowley—”
“What, you don’t feel that?” He made an exasperated noise. “No, right, of course you don’t. Angel, convince her to come in. Now.”
What happened next was a little odd. The red-haired man—thing —Crowley— stepped away from the door and then the white-haired man extended his hand to Lela. And Lela took it, not knowing why it suddenly felt safe to do so, not entirely sure why she also now knew that this man was the owner of the bookshop, Mr. Fell. Then she was inside the shop, surrounded by the other people who’d been there, all of whom looked sympathetic.
The lamps in the shop turned off, making the street beyond visible. Crowley said quietly, “Angel, your lights,” and that was when Lela realized that Mr. Fell, who was still holding her hand, was glowing slightly. The glow faded as she looked at him. He just smiled at her, as if that wasn’t just one more extremely weird thing.
Everything went quiet until a man in black walked past the shop, lingering, looking into the window.
“You know him?” Crowley asked.
“I passed him a few blocks back,” Lela answered.
“All right, don’t worry. Let a professional handle it,” Crowley said, as he stepped out onto the street in the direction that the man had gone.
And Lela couldn’t help but ask, “Professional what?”
There were five other people in the shop: two men, a woman, and two teenaged kids. Lela got five answers, all spoken at once:
After this performance, all eyes trained themselves on Mr. Fell, who had raised his eyebrows in a bit of surprise. To everyone’s clear disappointment, the bookshop owner corrected no one.
The woman, who was a rather attractive brunette, put a hand on Lela’s shoulder, leading her back to a seating area. “Hey, my name’s Rylee. This is Eli, Sam, Audrey, and Lloyd. That was Mr. Fell’s husband, Mr. Crowley. It’s all right. He really is a nice guy.”
Noticing then that Mr. Fell was still standing at the window, the other people gathered close. “What did you see?” one of the teenagers asked Lela quietly.
Lela wondered if they’d all gone crazy. “I saw that Mr. Crowley’s got black wings and yellow eyes!”
The regulars fell into whispering with each other.
Anybody else seen wings? I thought I did once. No, not me, I just saw the snake version. Like the snake-eyes version? No, the full-on twelve-foot snake version. Oh, man, I haven’t seen that yet. Well, I still say he’s a vampire. Vampires don’t have wings! Sure, they do, they turn into bats. They don’t turn into snakes, though, do they?
Finally Lela asked, “So what’s Mr. Fell?”
The answers on this were clear.
“Ah,” Lela said.
The whispers died off as Mr. Fell came into the seating area. Lela tried to ask the kind of question that one would normally ask a person, if that person weren’t an angel whose husband was a 12-foot snake. “So how long have you...been married?”
Mr. Fell sat down on the couch. “Six years. We’ve been together far longer than that, though.”
Lela noted how the regulars were trained on Mr. Fell, clearly hungry for information.
“How did you meet?” Lela asked.
This apparently was pay dirt. Mr. Fell smiled and started talking. “We met in a garden, actually. You know, I loved Crowley almost from the beginning. I wasn’t supposed to, of course. We’re star-crossed, you could say. Oh, but he was just so handsome and brave and clever and—well, you know, he took care of me. When things were bad, I could always count on him to cheer me up and talk me through my own worries.”
Mr. Fell’s gaze sharpened slightly, and Lela was suddenly sure that the bookshop owner was well aware of the regulars’ gossiping. “You have to understand,” Mr. Fell said, “that I love Crowley not in spite of what he is, but because of it. He’s been through so much, and that has really shaped him. The reason he’s so kind and loving is because he’s been denied that so often and he knows what it’s like to have to try to live without it. But of course, my side—ah, my family —can’t see any of that, they can only see that he’s a—”
“Angel, write a book, why don’t you?”
Everyone jumped as Mr. Crowley walked back into the seating area, and some of the regulars groaned at the ill-timed interruption.
Mr. Fell smiled. “Sorry, my dear. How did it go?”
“Nice and easy. Didn't even get blood on my claws.”
One of the teenagers—Lloyd—asked breathlessly, “You have claws?” and then immediately clapped his hand over his mouth.
A very amused and rather impressed look spread over Mr. Crowley’s face. He brought his hands up and wiggled his fingers, which were clearly not clawed or bloodstained. “It’s funny, though,” Mr. Crowley said, “the poor man did suddenly develop a terrible aversion to following women around.”
“Thank you,” Lela spoke up, and her voice sounded oddly loud. “And I’m sorry.”
Mr. Crowley smiled, crossing his arms over his chest. “Nonsense. You tried to protect my husband and our friends. We’re good.”
Lela stayed for tea, which was excellent. When the bookshop finally closed, Rylee stood with her on the sidewalk. “That was very brave of you,” she said.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t really stop to think it through,” Lela admitted.
“Well, that’s even more impressive, honestly. Just rushing in to save us.”
Lela gave a little nervous laugh. “Okay, so while I’m being brave—would you like to go get coffee sometime?”
“Oh!” Rylee said. “I’d love to. I’ve gotten into the habit, though, of making sure people know I’m ace before I go on dates. That means—”
“Oh, I know what it means. That’s cool with me. I kind of had a feeling.”
“Ah.” Rylee’s face colored a bit and it was lovely. “Your radar’s better than mine, then. I guess you have a radar for lots of things.”
“Yeah, you know, vampires, angels, pretty ace women.” Lela cleared her throat. “My other hobbies include saying embarrassing things.”
But Rylee was laughing. “Oh, so this is coffee and entertainment, then. Sounds perfect.”