Both Arawn and Savannah had made it through the first night together. Savannah had gotten a few hours of intermittent sleep, though it was restless and unfulfilling. She didn’t even want to try to sleep for fear of nightmares, but she knew what it felt like to not sleep for four days for fear of what her mind would brew up for her while she was asleep. Arawn had spent the night in the chair and his neck had bent in a funny way, for he woke up with a large pinch in his nerve. He was just glad to see that she had rested a little and was becoming comfortable with her surroundings.
“Hey, glad to see you’re awake. I’ll make breakfast for us, and feel free to freshen up. Everything that is mine is yours, but I wasn’t sure what you liked so I got some nice smelly lotions and stuff.” Arawn said as he leaned forward in his chair. He had only been awake for a few minutes before her and his voice was still groggy with the morning.
He got up out of the chair and stretched, the mission had taken a toll on his body and he felt pretty beat. He’d love to lay down and get some sleep, but as long as she wanted him to watch over her, he wouldn’t be getting to sleep on the couch or the bed. That didn’t matter as much to him, because Dike had entrusted him with a sensitive case, and he’d do whatever it took to help start her recovery. He knew what it was like to be in her place, and it was really scary. He commended her for being absolutely terrified but holding it together as well as she was.
Arawn stepped out of the room and into the kitchen where he cracked a few eggs into a pan, tossed some waffles into the toaster and began to brew a carafe of coffee. Meanwhile, Savannah entered the bathroom that was stocked with all new scented lotions and body washes, a fresh shower poof and a few other things just for her. It had been so long since she had seen a real bathroom, and to see that Arawn cared so much about her to go to the extent of buying her own things, made her shed some tears of joy and relief.
She spent a considerable amount of time shampooing her hair, massaging her scalp and leaving behind a squirrel-sized hairball. The hard part was detangling her curls with conditioner, but with time and careful patience, she began to recognize her hair again. She shaved her legs, she shaved her underarms, hell, she even shaved her lady mustache just because she fucking could. The steam was therapeutic against her aching bones and desperate skin.
Out of the shower, she put lotion all over her body and embraced the silkiness and scent of the products. She had almost forgotten what sweet pea had smelled like. She cleaned under her nails and plucked her eyebrows, doing everything she lost the opportunity to do in The Order of the Black Rose’s prison. Arawn was beginning to get concerned for she had been in the bathroom for almost an hour, but he kept her toaster waffles and eggs warm in the oven for whenever she was ready to come to eat.
Eventually, Savannah stepped out of her room wearing the clothes he had that he figured would fit her, and it took him back to his days fighting wars with Dike. She tucked a green long sleeve shirt into black cargo pants with a tan canvas belt- mirroring him almost exactly.
“Hey, your breakfast is keeping warm in the oven, but you can have whatever you want. Sorry, it’s just toaster waffles, but-”
Savannah interrupted him in the middle of his apology. “No, you have nothing to apologize for. Everything is perfect, Arawn.”
Savannah devoured her toaster waffle like it was the best thing she had ever tasted. But Arawn realized that maybe the waffle meant so much more than just breakfast, maybe it symbolized freedom and normalcy. Even though he was trying to do his best, he felt like that it still wasn’t enough. But her one swift reminder to him that he didn’t need to apologize took him back to reality, he was doing his best and Savannah noticed everything he did. He was the most thoughtful person she had ever met, and he did all that preparation for her, a total stranger.
He was kind. He was a survivor that knew exactly what she needed. He didn’t ask any questions or protest her weird requests, like staying with her through the night. He gave her everything she needed, and she would never ever forget what he had done for her.
After a few showers and good nights of sleep, Savannah began to return to normal on the outside. Her face was regaining color and her hair was curly and bouncy, but that just distracted everyone from noticing her deep psychological trauma. But Arawn knew. She could convince the world she was fine, but she could be suffering so deeply on the inside. Arawn understood that because it had happened to him. Savannah knew that about Arawn, and he didn’t even have to say a word, his soft eyes told her everything she needed to know.
Arawn then realized that Savannah was quite an attractive girl. She had made a transformation into a new woman in just a few days apart from The Order of the Black Rose’s chokehold, for her lips had become a shade of pink Arawn had never seen before, and her hazel eyes had flecks of gold inside them. Her cheekbones were wide, but her chin was narrow, giving her face a unique angle. Arawn could tell she was still a shell of her old self, but he considered that maybe she didn’t want to be her old self again. Arawn was going to give her a chance to become someone new.
“Hey, what are all these old pictures from?” Savannah asked Arawn as she leafed through the sepia-colored images in the photo album on the table. She gravitated towards the photographs; her curiosity piqued. He stood next to her and laid them out, explaining each meaning to her.
“These are pictures from World War 2 with my team. We fought Nazis and The Order of the Black Rose and we saved a lot of people. That’s me and Dike in the first few.”
Savannah heard the click of Arawn’s lighter after his last explanation for the pictures as he raised it to the cigarette between his lips. She whipped her head up to face him as she went ghastly pale and grabbed the edge of her seat with all her might. Arawn noticed this and raised an eyebrow, taking a drag of the cigarette before lowering it. Her expression and body language immediately changed, and he knew that something deep inside her had been triggered, flipped like a light switch.
“What just happened, are you okay?” He asked. Savannah felt as if she couldn’t breathe. Arawn lunged as if he was going to take a step towards her, but she put her arm out to stop him.
“Back up, Arawn. Don’t come near me with that.” She said, her voice barely steady enough to speak.
“Savannah, what is going on?”
Painfully, she recounted the memory and was instantly taken back to when she was 22. She was unresponsive to him until the traumatic moment passed, and even then it was difficult to talk about it. Arawn was practically a stranger, and would he even understand what she had been through? His expression told her to try it- he would be ready to listen whenever she was ready to discuss. After all, he wanted to avoid her triggers by changing his behavior.
“Savannah, we don’t have to talk about it, but I’d just like to know if there’s anything I can do.”
“No, I should talk about it, I should.”
“Do what makes you comfortable, I’m here to listen.” Arawn offered. She took a deep breath and he leaned into their conversation.
“I was a senior in college, and I was dating a neurobiologist Ph.D. student named Conrad Laing.”
Arawn immediately recognized the name. He swallowed hard and put out his cigarette, knowing that nothing good was going to come out of a story that began with Conrad Laing.
College, Savannah, and Conrad
It was a windy fall day when Savannah was rushing to class. She had her chin tucked down into her scarf and wool coat, and as she looked down at the steps and not where she was going to avoid the harsh wind against her cheeks, she ran into a student doing the same thing. They were traveling in opposite directions, he was coming down the stairs and she was jogging up to them, and they collided with a thud, their papers falling to the concrete between the leaves.
“Oh, gosh, I’m quite sorry,” The male voice apologized, and Savannah looked up to see the face that matched the voice. It was a handsome man with curly dark blonde hair and green eyes.
“It’s my fault too, here are your papers,” Savannah said, handing the sheets back to him. She caught a glimpse of the contents, and she recognized that he was a doctoral student.
“My name’s Conrad, you?” He spoke, extending his hand out to her. It was masked with a leather glove, but she reached out for it with her bare hands that were nearly frozen.
“Savannah, it’s lovely to meet you.” She returned.
“Indeed, it is, but you must be freezing. I don’t want you to be late for class, take my gloves and warm your hands up before your lecture.” He graciously took off his leather gloves and put them in the palm of her hand, placing her other hand on top so their bare skin met for a brief moment. He ran off so fast that she had no time to protest his gesture and return the gloves, so instead, she slipped the warm gloves on her hands with a smile and jogged into her lecture hall.
Each week when she was walking to her class, she passed by Conrad who was heading out of the building. It seemed like no coincidence, and it wasn’t. When Savannah was running late for class and it wasn’t timed perfectly right, Conrad would walk slowly so he could catch her on her way in. They had never really spoken, but Conrad finally was the first to break their silence.
“Savannah, so glad I caught you!” Conrad exclaimed, grabbing her attention.
“Conrad! Hey, I’m just about to head into my lecture.”
“I know, but I wanted to ask if you were free tonight.”
“What, for a date?” She smiled.
“Yes, precisely.” He clarified.
“Well, this is my last class of the day. Pick me up here after class and take me away.” Savannah agreed with a smile. Surely, Conrad met her there after class.
“So, where are we going tonight?” Savannah wondered.
“Well, I was thinking about my apartment. Before you refuse, I noticed you admire Walt Whitman’s work. I have a large collection of antique, valuable books, including the first edition of Leaves of Grass. I figured you’d enjoy the collection.”
“You really know how to get a girl going, Conrad. You had me at Walt Whitman.” She smiled.
They walked a few blocks to his apartment, the library-like coziness of his home very inviting to the two from the cold. He helped her take off her jacket and he hung it by the door, inviting her to peruse all of his books as he made them tea. There were books filling the shelves, lining the windows and laying in small piles on every flat surface. Savannah was in heaven.
Conrad handed her a cup of tea, and they sipped their drinks as he explained his collection to her and showed her his favorite books. He had untied his tie, unbuttoned a few buttons and rolled the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows.
The other portion of the night was spent laying together on his couch, discussing the philosophical and metaphysical meanings of their favorite works of literature. But, it hadn’t been that much longer before they had cozied up together in the dim lighting of his apartment. He was discussing his thesis about Macbeth to her, she was kneeling on the couch perpendicular to him, and she interrupted his academia with her lips against his. He raised his hand to meet her hair as her hands were steady against his chin. His other hand wandered to her waist to pull her onto his lap where he then laid her back against the cushions where they melted into each other.
Spring had approached the two, who had spent the long and cold winter together in a passionate, warm entanglement. Neither had ever been happier than they were with each other. There were many nights they spent together doing work, writing papers and studying, not having said a word to each other but enjoying the company.
But, Conrad needed a topic for his Ph.D. dissertation. He was behind and didn’t have one, and it was stressing him to the point of frustrating curtness.
“Why don’t you ever listen to your friend Harry?” Savannah asked during one of their lunches out together, where Conrad could only talk about his conflicting ideas. Conrad stopped cold when he heard her question. He dropped his pen and took off his glasses, resting them on the papers in front of him.
“Harry?” He asked, his voice trembling with confusion.
“Yeah, he’s been shouting out suggestions and you literally just ignore him, Con.”
Conrad was left speechless. There was no reasonable explanation for her to bring Harry up. How did she even know? Was this a joke?!
“How do you know about Harry? Who told you?!”
“Nobody had to tell me, Conrad. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Savannah answered, and there was a long pause between them.
“Savannah, where’s Harry?” He spoke plainly, trying to hold steady.
“Sitting right next to you... are you feeling alright?” She asked, getting concerned for him. She reached out gently with her hand to meet him, but he shied away from her. She was hurt by his gesture and she didn’t even understand it.
“I can ask the same for you, Sav.”
“What do you mean, Harry is right there, and I don’t know why you’re acting like he’s not there.”
“Because he’s not, Savannah! Harry is my childhood best friend who died from Leukemia last year.”
“That’s not possible, he’s right there...” she protested, but Harry’s apparition disappeared for the first time. Savannah didn’t understand what had just happened, and neither did Conrad. He never told her about Harry, and that couldn’t have been discovered anywhere. Whatever she just experienced must have been genuine. But, he didn’t know how it could have been possible.
“Conrad, I’m just as confused as you are.”
“Come with me. Now, Savannah.” Conrad spoke, grabbing her hand as he began walking swiftly to his car.
“Conrad, where are we going?”
Conrad knew they couldn’t go to any regular hospital, for if it was discovered that she actually could see Harry, Conrad would miss his chance to study her. It was then he knew what the topic of his Ph.D. dissertation would be: Savannah.
“Savannah, can I ask you a very sensitive question?” Arawn asked quietly, not sure if there would ever be a right time to ask her about what had been on his mind. It was eating away at him for weeks, ever since he rescued her. She had been through enough and poured her whole soul out to him, and he questioned if it was his place to break open a healing wound.
“I guess that depends.”
“I don’t want to cause you any more stress.”
“Why are you being so careful? What do you want to ask?”
“Well, when I went in to rescue you, they told me to first call you by your name. But, if you didn’t remember who you were, they told me to use Red Angel instead.” He paused, waiting for a reaction that didn’t immediately come. “What’s the reason behind that?”
Savannah swallowed hard and her voice became so low it was almost inaudible.
“When Conrad was torturing me, I hadn’t seen the sun in weeks. I was as pale as an alabaster statue. But, I couldn’t feel pain so I couldn’t really tell, but Conrad began calling me the Red Angel because I looked like a creepy statue that wept blood. I had blood caked in my skin, on my eyelashes, it was everywhere. Red Angel was a symbol for his destruction against me, including the use of the fact that I was near death, and I could communicate with those who were already dead.”
“Savannah, I know that must have been really difficult for you. Thanks for explaining that to me.” He spoke sincerely, then he changed the tone of the conversation.
“Now, we’ve been living together for a couple of weeks now. You’ve been in and out of the doctor’s office lately, and we haven’t done anything fun, hell, even relatively normal. All you’ve done was get more scans of your brain than I can count, bloodwork after bloodwork, and therapy. Yikes, you’re probably sick of that. How about you and I go down to that dive bar on the East Side, have a couple of drinks and just live?” He suggested.
“Arawn, I haven’t had normal in nearly two years. I don’t know if I can really do that anymore.”
“Well, now’s the perfect time to just try. I know it seems cheesy, but the whole ‘fake it until you make it’ idea totally works. I had to convince myself I was happy until I was, but it started with me just trying.”
Savannah scrunched her nose in thought.
“What do you say, Sav?” Arawn asked.
“If you don’t call me Sav ever again, I’ll go with you.”
“Okay, my bad. Let me put my sneakers on and then we can go.” Arawn smiled, grabbing his Nike shoes from the mat next to the front door. Savannah disappeared into the bedroom, changing out of Arawn’s clothes and into an outfit that she was terrified to put on. The clothing pieces resembled her old self, her old style, and her old body. But, she deserved to feel pretty, to feel comfortable in her skin. She had gone shopping for a new wardrobe since none of her old clothes fit her anymore and they all stunk of Conrad, failure, parties, and drugs. It was a fresh start, and she decided to take it because it was rare that anyone ever gets a chance to start over.
She wore a beige suede skirt, paired with a white halter top and a black leather jacket. She slipped bangle bracelets on her wrists and ankle boots on her feet. She stepped out of the room to meet Arawn in the living room, but she immediately regretted her decision.
“Nah, I look stupid, let me go change back-” She spoke, but Arawn immediately reached out for her hand to make her stay.
“Savannah, you look amazing. Come on,” He complimented, backing up towards his front door.
They walked out of his building and hopped onto his motorcycle, her arms snaking around his waist once they began moving. She rested her chin on his shoulder from behind, and the wind blew the smell of his skin in her direction. She remembered her first motorcycle ride with him, it was only a few short weeks ago and she was petrified. She held onto him for dear life and with all her might, which wasn’t much in the first place. Her whole body trembled, and she was told to trust someone simply out of blind faith. That first ride together, she grabbed onto his clothes and skin so tightly, he bruised. But now, she took a moment to enjoy the ride.
They arrived at the bar and they got off the motorcycle at the same time. Savannah placed her helmet on the seat behind her and Arawn hung his on the handlebar. Arawn openly gestured to the entrance of the bar as a welcome, and they began walking together. He opened the door for her, and she took in her surroundings. Stainless steel bar, black and white tile floor, typical dim lighting and rock music playing over the speakers. The bartender seemed to recognize Arawn and started up a conversation as he served Arawn his usual.
“Hey, Arawn, haven’t seen you in a while! Glad to see you back, man. Shock Top for you, what can I get for your lady?”
“Savannah?” Arawn directed the question to her.
“Whisky sour,” Savannah spoke. and it was only moments before they both had a drink in their hand. Arawn turned to Savannah and raised his bottle for a toast.
“To trying to be normal.”
The two clinked their glasses together in a toast, but something still wasn’t quite right. Savannah looked anxious, and he didn’t quite understand her body language.
“What’s up, Savannah?” He asked.
“There’s just a lot of strangers, and I’m afraid that any of them could hurt me.”
“Savannah, if anyone tries to hurt you, they’re done for. What can I do to ease your mind?”
“Stay close to me.” She answered without a second thought.
She was slowly starting to relax and get acquainted with her surroundings. When she knew that nobody in the whole place was going to hurt her, she was able to normalize it. Arawn knew that it would take time, and he had all the time in the world for her.
“Hey, how about we play a game of pool,” Arawn suggested, seeing that a table was open. Savannah followed Arawn over to the table and he started the game between them.
“Wait, you have an advantage!” Savannah giggled, near the end of the game when she realized she was losing, badly.
“How so?” Arawn smiled. “It’s not like the immortal god thing is doing anything special! Maybe you’re just bad at pool, didn’t you think about that?”
“Yes, and I know I’m bad because I can’t ever hit the balls right! You, on the other hand, have a precise, steady hand!”
“Then it would be selfish of me not to share.” Arawn retaliated, walking to her side of the table and standing behind her.
“The trick is getting your elbow position right.” He spoke, his cheek against hers. With his hands on top of hers, he guided her arms to a perfect hit, sinking one of her pool balls. That was as physically close as they had gotten since her first night with him and he dressed her wounds. The denim of his jacket was soft against her skin, the button of his well-fitting Levi jeans pressing into her lower back.
Their close contact was over too soon, they both thought, but they started a new game. Arawn let her win intentionally, letting her practice her new technique and so she’d feel good about winning. She cheered when she won, but saw right through Arawn and knew what he had done.
“Hey, you won that one!” Arawn exclaimed.
“It’s not genuine! You let me win! It was as if you weren’t even playing at all.” Savannah explained.
“Well, I let you win because I’ve already won.”
“Yes, you made that super obvious when you kicked my butt three games in a row!”
“No, I mean I don’t need to win a game of pool, because I’ve won something so much more important than that. By just having you in my life, I’ve already won more than I could ever ask for or deserve. I must have won the goddamn lottery.” Arawn spoke, the words running out of his mouth, desperate to escape.
Savannah couldn’t think of an adequate response to him, but she didn’t have to say anything when her lips were doing something more important than speaking.
Following her gut, her body led her actions without considering all the protective parts of her mind telling her no. Arawn’s hands immediately rested at her waist while her hand held the back of his neck, their lips equally as fervent for the other. At that point in the night, they were both sober and all their feelings were as real as real could get.
On their way back from the bar on his motorcycle, Savannah slid her hands up Arawn’s white shirt and rested them on his warm skin. She leaned into his body when Arawn turned, weaving down the streets of New York City. At his apartment, Arawn walked her inside with their hands interlocked. He tossed his denim jacket over the back of the couch and they kissed with the dim light of the kitchen casting an orange glow on their faces.
Then, Savannah had a thought. Maybe, the start of her journey to normal started and ended with Arawn. Maybe he was the key, the map that would take her in the right direction. Maybe he would guide her through her recovery, and maybe life would just be better with him in it alongside her.
She trusted him in full, without any hesitations, and he trusted her right back. Savannah finally had a place where she felt safe.
“Savannah, if you’re awake, I’m making Mrs. Robinson’s snickerdoodles,” Arawn spoke quietly, leaning over the back of the couch to the girl who had finally started to get some consistent sleep. Her therapy was helping reduce her PTSD symptoms and help her sleep better, and she wasn’t so afraid of what would happen if she let herself rest. She had taken a nap, his denim jacket from the other night draped over her shoulders and a blanket across her legs. She was beginning to wake up and did so completely when she heard the keyword ‘snickerdoodles’, and when Arawn kissed her cheek.
Savannah got up off the couch and pulled her hair back into a low bun so she could help Arawn bake cookies. He had selected his music playlist, specifically his baking playlist. Savannah joined him in the kitchen just as he was tying his apron, and she could tell he was dead serious about baking Mrs. Robinson’s snickerdoodles.
“How can I help, Arawn?” Savannah asked, ready to get started.
“Hand me that bowl of flour,” he gestured to her. She passed him the bowl and he added the flour to the growing mix.
“Remember not to turn the mixer up too high or we’ll have flour all over the place.” Savannah reminded.
“I know, I’ve tried these cookies a hundred times,” Arawn tried to defend himself, but in his distraction, he turned the mixer up too high and flour went everywhere, just like Savannah predicted.
“I told you!” Savannah laughed, after her initial surprised shriek. Arawn leaned into the flour cloud to turn off the mixer, and he rolled his eyes knowing that she was right. Savannah brushed the flour off her face and her hair, but she couldn’t avoid the rest of the mess.
Arawn scooped out some more cookie dough onto the baking sheet for the next batch of cookies, and he pressed his lips to her neck as he continued to sing. He scooped out a bit of extra dough that he scraped off the spoon and directly into Savannah’s mouth, then he went back and got more cookie dough for himself.
Arawn slid a pan of cookies in the oven, setting the timer and then his playlist switched to the next song. Suddenly, Arawn got serious.
“Savannah, are you happy?” He asked. Savannah raised a hand to his cheek, brushing his hair behind his ear and her fingertips finding a resting place on his beard.
“Yes, Arawn, I couldn’t be happier.”
Savannah finally found a place where she could lick her wounds, with someone who understood that recovery wasn’t a linear process. She met someone who was willing to understand, and who had been through the same thing she had.
They both had found something special, something priceless: they found a new start in each other.