Aziraphale Fell was in a good mood, singing along with the radio as he steered his ten-year-old Volvo through the streets of Tadfield. As he drove, he drummed lightly on the steering wheel.
“Rikki don’t lose that number, you don’t wanna call nobody else. Send it off in a letter to yourself…”
He smiled and waved at people he knew as he drove through the little downtown area, careful to obey traffic laws. It was a gorgeous June day, and although his instinct was to let himself go a bit, he didn’t dare. He knew all of the police officers in town and was on good terms with them. Several of them were members of his church. He’d hate to put any of them in a spot by making them give their minister a ticket.
When he spotted the sign for The Witches’ Brew Coffee, Tea, and Books, he put on his indicator and parked on the street nearby. Still humming, he got out of the car and made his way down the pavement and inside.
The bells over the door jingled merrily, greeting him, as did the pleasant smell of coffee, baked goods, and books. Aziraphale took a deep, appreciative whiff.
“Aziraphale! Hi!” he heard, and looked up to see Anathema Device, the shop’s proprietor, smiling at him from behind the counter. She was young, in her late twenties, and beautiful, with long brown hair that curled down around her elbows and bright brown eyes behind her round glasses. Her attire was perfectly suited to her, a self-proclaimed witch, featuring a long, patterned skirt and neat jacket. Anathema had opened the shop when she moved to town two and a half years ago, and had made quite an initial splash amongst the population as a young American heiress (and a witch to boot), but it had died down quickly enough. She was very different from him in nearly all ways, but Aziraphale liked her a great deal. He smiled in return, happy to see her, and walked over to the counter.
She leaned across the counter to give him a hug, which he returned gladly. “How are you today? Your aura indicates you’re well.”
Aziraphale ignored the bit about his aura, just as he always did. “Oh, I’m splendid. I hope you are?”
“Can’t complain,” she replied. Then she looked up at the clock. “You’re here at an odd time. You usually come in the mornings. Can I get you your usual?”
“Oh, no. Not today. If I drank a coffee now, I’d never get to sleep tonight. Besides, I’m on my way to Tracy’s house for dinner, and she’d be most displeased if I ruined my appetite.”
Anathema chuckled. “Yeah, I imagine you don't want Tracy cross with you.”
“No, indeed. But I would like to pick up my book.”
“A History of Witch Trials in England?” she asked with a wicked glint in her eye.
“Yes, that’s the one.”
Anathema smiled. “Coming right up,” she said, then, in a swirl of skirt, she disappeared into the back room. Aziraphale took advantage of the time to look around the shop. It was quaint, homey, and a little bit witchy, which reflected the personality of its owner very well. There were crystals hanging from the ceiling and Anathema occasionally burned sage, when she felt the space needed cleansing. Aziraphale didn’t subscribe to her beliefs and never would, but he had respect for them. Anathema would similarly never subscribe to his Christian beliefs, but she seemed to have respect for him, too. They’d had many long conversations about theology and religion, and Aziraphale found her to be one of the most stimulating conversationalists in town. In another place, it would have been frowned upon for the minister to spend time in a coffee and bookshop that leaned towards the occult, but no one batted an eye in Tadfield. Aziraphale wasn’t sure he’d have minded if eyes did bat. In addition to the good conversation, the coffee and scones were to die for.
“Here you are,” she said, coming back out of the back and presenting the book to him.
Aziraphale flipped through it idly, and closed it with a smile. “Wonderful. I’ll take it.”
She took it back to ring it up, and he asked, “Has anything interesting happened? Any gossip for me?”
“No, not really. It’s been pretty quiet. Although the new landscaping guy was in here today.”
“There’s a new landscaper?”
“Yeah. At least, that’s what it said on the side of his truck. Abaddon Landscaping and Nursery, and it had a local address.”
“How interesting. I didn’t know there was such a place in Tadfield.”
“I think he took over Burns Brothers when they went out of business.”
“Ah, I see. Well, did you get to talk to him?”
“No, I didn’t, but he caused a major stir with Maisie and Bethany.”
“How did he manage that?”
She rolled her eyes. “He smiled at them, and they completely dissolved.”
Aziraphale blinked, then a small smile grew on his face. “He smiled at them?”
“Well, he is really good looking,” Anathema said, almost a little defensively.
He gave her a knowing smile. “Developing a crush, are we, dear?”
“Nah. Not me, not on him. I don’t like redheads. But I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the guy that was with him…” She trailed off, a small smile on her face and her cheeks pinkening.
Aziraphale chuckled and accepted the change and the bag with the book. “Well, I hope they come back quite soon so you get the chance to chat up the young man.”
“Yeah, me too. I’ll see you soon?”
“Yes, you will. And I’ll have more time then, I promise. We’ll chat.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” she smiled. “Bye, Aziraphale!”
“Goodbye, dear,” he replied, then went out to his car. He laid the book on the passenger seat, beside the foil-covered cake, and pulled back onto the street, headed towards Tracy and Shadwell’s house. The radio played another upbeat song, and Aziraphale sang along.
“Bring me a higher love! Bring me a higher love! Oh! Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?”
Five minutes later, he pulled his car into the driveway of his secretary’s cottage. Tracy and her quirky husband, Shadwell, had lived here since before Aziraphale had moved to Tadfield, and it was almost a second home for him. In addition to seeing him four days a week, at the church, Tracy frequently invited him over for dinner on Saturday evenings - and Aziraphale frequently took her up on the offer. With a smile, he picked up the foil-covered plate and went to the door to ring the bell.
Within a few seconds, the door swung open to reveal a glowering, wild-haired old man with a scruffy beard. “Aye?”
“Good evening, Mr. Shadwell. I’ve come for dinner.”
“Ah, yeah. Tracy said to be expecting ye. Come on in,” he said, then opened the door to let him in.
“Oh, Aziraphale, you’re here,” Tracy said, breezing in from the kitchen. She was nearing seventy, if Aziraphale had to guess, and dyed her hair a brassy red. Her clothing was a bit outlandish for a church secretary, but he never complained. He didn’t care what she wore as long as she did her job well -- and she did. “I thought I heard the bell,” she finished with a smile.
Aziraphale greeted her with a kiss to each rouge-painted cheek. “It’s good to see you. I brought cake.”
“You never need to bring anything, Aziraphale, you know that. But I thank you,” she said, taking the platter. “I’ll just put this in the kitchen and be right back. Mr. S, you make Aziraphale feel at home.”
Shadwell muttered something indistinct, but it wasn’t unwelcoming. Aziraphale didn’t mind. He’d been used to the man for many years.
The older man led him into a lounge and Aziraphale took his usual seat, glancing around at the familiar surroundings. At first glance, it appeared to be just like any other cottage of a retirement-age couple, but there were a few differences: most notably some of the knicknacks behind glass, like an ornate pin and a puritanical hat, and the ‘thundergun’ hanging on the wall that looked like a cross between a french horn and a rifle. Shadwell fancied himself a ‘witchfinder,’ although Aziraphale had no clue what that meant. All he knew was that Shadwell would occasionally go off on a tangent about how witches were the scourge of the earth, blighting crops and whatnot. He also claimed that witches were identifiable because they had too many nipples and gave their cats funny names. He took a bit of getting used to, and indeed Aziraphale had been a little wary of him for the first few years of their acquaintance, but he liked him well enough now.
He’d expected fireworks or some other response from Shadwell when Anathema had moved to town a couple of years ago, but either Shadwell didn’t recognize a real witch or he didn’t care. Perhaps he knew that Anathema’s cat was named Thomas, or he’d asked after her nipples. Whatever the reason, Aziraphale was grateful that he hadn’t caused problems.
“Here you are,” Tracy said when she breezed into the lounge a minute later with a tea service.
“Thank you, dear.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
They chatted about nothing while she poured the tea, then took her regular seat.
“Dinner smells good,” Aziraphale offered.
“Roast pork,” Shadwell said, a bit loudly.
Tracy smiled at him indulgently. “Yes, it’s just a roast pork with vegetables. Nothing to write home about.”
“My dear Tracy, everything you make is scrummy. You keep me very well fed.”
“Well, somebody’s got to!” she laughed, and Aziraphale felt a pang, thinking of his late wife. It had been almost six years since her death, and he still missed her. He always would, he knew. But he pushed the flash of sadness aside and smiled.
“I’ve been so busy this week, we haven’t even talked much about the Founders’ Day celebration coming up.”
“Well, there’s not much to tell,” Tracy said, taking a sip of tea. “Things are chugging along nicely, at the moment. Several crafters have signed up to be vendors, and we’ve gotten a few food trucks to agree to come, too. That’s basically it. Although,” she added thoughtfully, “I did hire a landscaper to come to the church and make the grounds look nice,” she said.
“Yes. He’s new in town. I thought I could help him out by giving him some business.”
“Well, that was very kind of you.” Then he made the connection within his mind. “Do you know, Anathema was just telling me about a new landscaper in town that came to the shop. I wonder if it’s the same man?”
“Did she give you a name?”
“No, I’m afraid she didn’t give me his name. Or if she did, I don’t recall it.”
“Well, this man’s name is Anthony Crowley. He owns Abaddon Landscaping and Nursery.”
“That’s the name of the company Anathema said,” he said with a smile. Then he repeated the man’s name. “Anthony Crowley. What do you know about him?”
“I googled him, of course, and it seems he was a criminal defense attorney in London until just a few months ago. Very successful. Won lots of cases and was on the news loads. He’s thirty-seven, and has never been married that I can tell. His social media was locked down, so I couldn’t see much of that,” she finished, sounding disgruntled.
Aziraphale stifled a chuckle. “What else did you learn about him? I know you, and I know you’ve done your due diligence,” he said, sure that if there was gossip about this man, Tracy would know it.
“I don’t know much, honestly. I know he bought Burns Brothers a couple of months ago and just reopened under a new name a few weeks ago. He hired young Newton Pulsifer to work for him. You know Newt?”
“I do, indeed,” Aziraphale said, thinking that meant that he was probably the young man Anathema had seemed interested in. He filed that knowledge away for later: perhaps he could indulge in a bit of matchmaking.
“He drives a classic car,” Tracy was saying. “Anthony Crowley does, that is. It’s apparently very old. A Rolls Royce, I think.”
“My goodness. That will make a splash around Tadfield.”
“Yes, I thought so, too.”
They heard a snore and turned to see that Shadwell had dropped off to sleep in his chair. Aziraphale smiled fondly, then turned back to Tracy.
“Do you know why he moved to town?”
Tracy’s eyes lit up and he knew he was about to get an earful.
“I don’t know for sure...” she hedged.
Aziraphale smiled indulgently. “Tell me what you’ve heard. I know you’re dying to.”
She smiled brilliantly. “Well, I do know for a fact that he left that fancy job in London a few months ago. It happened suddenly, and under mysterious circumstances. I’ve heard a couple of things, as to reasons why.”
She leaned forward eagerly. “I heard that he was forced out of the job because he was involved in shady dealings. With the mob. And now he’s in hiding.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that,” Aziraphale scoffed. “He would have had to change his name and all of that. And why come to Tadfield to hide? That sounds like something you saw on telly.”
“That’s just what I heard,” she said with a bit of a huff. “He was on an upward trajectory, but got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, and he was sacked. So he bought Burns Brothers and moved to Tadfield.”
Aziraphale smiled gently. “It’s more likely that he got tired of the rat race and decided to change careers.”
“I’m just telling you what I heard,” Tracy said.
“Well, you must not believe he came here for nefarious reasons, since you hired him to work on the church grounds.”
“I’m reserving judgment,” Tracy said, and Aziraphale stifled another laugh. “But I’m keeping my eye on him.”
“I’m sure he’s a perfectly respectable man, and the rumors you heard are just rumors.”
“Well, we’ll see,” she said with a little sniff.
“Have you met him?”
“I did, briefly, when he came to scout the grounds of the church and I signed the contract. I resolved not to hire him if he gave me a hinky feeling.”
“He must not have, since you did hire him.”
“He seems nice, I admit. Got bright red hair.”
“Yes, Anathema mentioned that he was ginger. She also said that he was strikingly good looking.”
“Oh, he is. Devilishly good looking. He’s going to set a fair few hearts fluttering around town, I bet. The women in Tadfield are going to be thrilled for fresh meat.”
Aziraphale chortled at the mental image.
“When is this mystery man supposed to come?”
“He starts work on Wednesday, and expects it’ll go for a couple of days. Probably to the end of the week, and possibly into next.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to step out and say hello.”
“Yes, that would be good,” Tracy said, then shifted in her seat. “I have more gossip, if you’re interested.”
“Oh? You do?”
“Yes. Matilda Perkins is single again.”
Aziraphale felt cold. “No,” he said at once, with a tone of finality.
“No, Tracy. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but it won’t work. I’m perfectly happy with my life. I don’t need a new wife.”
“Sarah wouldn’t want you to be alone,” she pointed out.
Aziraphale set his jaw, but tried not to look cross. “The answer is no, dear, and it will continue to be no.”
“Alright, alright,” Tracy said, holding up her hands in surrender. “I just thought I’d mention it.”
He softened a little. “I appreciate your care and concern for me, my dear. I really do. But I’m not unhappy with my life. There’s no need to complicate it with a romantic entanglement. Truly, I trust God. If I’m meant to be with someone, God will send them to me.”
“If you say so.”
In the kitchen, a timer went off and they all looked towards the sound. Aziraphale was grateful for it.
“Well, come on, my dears,” Tracy said with a smile, waking Shadwell, the little tiff apparently forgotten. “I’ll meet you at the table with dinner.”
Aziraphale let himself into his house an hour and a half later, flipping on the light and tossing his keys onto the table where they lived, closing the door. Then he sighed and leaned back against it, glad to be home. After a moment, he pushed off the door and went to the lounge, bag from the Witches’ Brew in hand.
His lounge looked more like a library, with bookshelves lining the walls, filled to the brim with books on all subjects. There was a telly, infrequently used, and a couch, but Aziraphale went straight to his favorite armchair and plopped down with another sigh, leaning his head back on the headrest and twirling his wedding band absently.
Tonight had been just like any other night with Tracy (and Shadwell), except for the attempt to set him up on a date. Thankfully, that didn’t happen often, or he’d have to distance himself from her. Still, for the last four years or so, it seemed she tried to play matchmaker about every two to three months. And part of him appreciated it. He really did. But he had no desire to date any other woman. He honestly didn’t know if he was capable of loving another woman.
He and his wife, Sarah, had been next door neighbors and best friends since they were toddlers. She had confessed a romantic attraction when they were teenagers, and, flattered, Aziraphale had gone along with it. He’d never had any interest in any other girl, ever, so the decision to follow everyone’s expectations and settle down with Sarah had been easy. They’d married when they were twenty-two, just after Aziraphale was finished with seminary, then they’d moved to Tadfield to take over the church there. They’d had a nice marriage, content and peaceful, if not passionate and all-consuming. But Aziraphale had told himself that that was fine. ‘Nice’ was to be envied.
Then, six summers ago, Sarah had fallen ill. The doctor had said ‘cancer’, and it had ravaged her quickly. She didn’t even have time for chemo or radiation - she’d died seven weeks after her diagnosis, and Aziraphale had been left without his best friend. He’d been destroyed to lose her, his partner for his entire life, and he’d grieved her deeply. Even today, almost six years after her death, he still grieved her. He didn't think he ever wanted to marry again. What they’d had, while not exactly passionate or fiery, had been special.
But he knew Tracy was right - Sarah hadn’t wanted him to be alone. She’d told him so twice: once when they first got the diagnosis and had been discussing all the possibilities, good, bad, and otherwise. He’d cut her off then and refused to even let her speak of it that time. Then she’d brought it up again the week she died, before she fell into a coma she never woke from. ”Grieve me, Aziraphale,” she’d said, “but don’t die with me. I want you to find someone and be happy again. Promise me.”
He’d promised her to ease her mind but hadn’t meant it. Sarah had been his best friend, and he knew no one could replace her. Besides, he had a comfortable life as a widower. He had his home, his books, and his church. He had friends and a generally happy life. But as he’d told Tracy, he also trusted God. If She didn’t want him to be alone, She would send someone to hold his hand and his heart.
But part of him hoped it wouldn’t happen. Falling in love would rock his little boat, and he wasn’t sure he wanted it rocked.
For now, he pushed all that to the side and pulled out the book he’d bought from Anathema today, A History of Witches in England, settling in to read happily until it was time for bed.