Mr. Crowley looked down at them through his sunglasses, making Caroline feel even smaller than she was at the age of nine. Oliver was the one who’d asked the question. He was six, and he didn’t seem to have picked up as much on the I-don’t-like-people vibe that Mr. Crowley gave off, so he was braver. Plus, Oliver hadn’t seen all of what had happened, Caroline had pushed him away before Mr. Fell had been—
“Like Mr. Fell,” Oliver prompted.
“Oh.” Mr. Crowley shook his head, adjusting a book on one of the store’s shelves. “Mr. Fell isn’t really an angel, it’s just a nickname.”
Oliver gave the tall, red-headed man one of those looks that he would give Caroline when he thought she was being the dumbest person alive. Caroline elbowed him, but her arm was shaking so badly that Oliver just brushed it away. “Why does he have wings, then?” he asked.
Mr. Crowley froze in his movements. “What?” When he didn’t get an answer, he focused on Caroline. “Where is Mr. Fell?”
Caroline finally found her voice, although it was very small. “They took him. At the back door. Two men, they—”
Mr. Crowley seemed calm. But at the same time he seemed to change a little, like he was suddenly a larger person inside the same body. “Where did they take him?” he asked patiently, and Caroline realized that Mr. Crowley was angry, but that he was trying very hard not to frighten her more than she already was. She found a little more courage then.
“I think he wanted me to give this to you. He didn’t say it, but he saw me and he dropped it—maybe you can find him with it?” Caroline handed him a single white feather. All that was left of sweet Mr. Fell, who liked just about everybody, who smelled like peppermints, who recited The Jabberwocky while acting out all the parts, whom Mr. Crowley called angel. It made perfect sense that it was no nickname.
“Are you an angel too?” Oliver repeated.
When Mr. Crowley answered, he seemed to have entirely too many teeth. “No.”
Caroline let out a shaky breath. “Good.”
After that the bookshop was closed for weeks. But finally, one day, as their family walked by, Mr. Fell appeared in the doorway, smiling at them. He looked pale and tired, and there was a bandage on his neck above his collar and one on his wrist. Mr. Crowley stood next to him, a hand around his waist.
Their parents somehow got distracted in another aisle and Mr. Fell called Caroline and Oliver close. “I owe you great thanks,” he said. “You were very brave.”
“Who hurt you?” Oliver asked.
Mr. Crowley guided Mr. Fell to sit down in an armchair, and hovered next to him. “Well,” said Mr. Fell, “Mr. Crowley and I did something that made some people very angry.”
“Was it a bad thing?” asked Caroline.
“We don’t think so, no.”
“Oh, you got married,” Oliver said knowledgeably. “Not supposed to. Cause you’re two boys.”
Caroline hissed at him to be quiet, but Mr. Fell and Mr. Crowley exchanged an amused glance. “That’s…actually not terribly far off,” Mr. Fell said. “Anyway, I wanted to give you these.” He handed them each a book: for Oliver The Complete Winnie the Pooh and for Caroline The Tale of Despereaux.
As the children said their excited thank-you’s, Mr. Crowley groused, “Not Goodnight Moon?”
“My dear, they’re a little old for—”
“It’s a classic, angel, you’re never too old for Goodnight Moon, for Somebody’s sake.” Mr. Crowley’s hands were empty, and then he was suddenly holding a copy. He handed it to Oliver. Oliver’s mouth fell open.
“So if you’re not an angel,” Caroline said softly, “Then—”
“He’s something scary,” Oliver spoke up.
Caroline shoved him but Mr. Crowley was laughing. “Oh, Mr. Fell’s much scarier than I am.”
Mr. Fell gave him a look of surprise. “I am not!”
“Oh, really?” Mr. Crowley grinned at the children. “Let’s do some math, then. Mr. Fell, how many eyes do I have?”
For some reason Mr. Fell looked extremely displeased by this question. “Two,“ he answered.
“And how many eyes do you have?”
“Two…at the moment.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Crowley. “But how many eyes do you actually have?”
“How many?” Oliver whispered in excitement.
Mr. Crowley whispered right back to him. “Sixteen!”
“Oh, for—” Mr. Fell pointed a finger at his husband. “I’m not the one who has to go about wearing sunglasses.”
Mr. Crowley made a face like he was pretending to be upset, and Mr. Fell laughed. “You started it, my dear. Go on, then.”
With a furtive smile, Mr. Crowley leaned in close and lowered his sunglasses. Bright yellow snake eyes looked back at them. Oliver got so excited he jumped a couple of times. Mr. Crowley just winked.
When Caroline got home and opened her new book, she was surprised to find a tiny feather pressed inside the front cover, and a note: In case you ever need help.
The feather was black.
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