Willow meets her savior face to face.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Early the next morning, Willow Carter jogged again. Not because her mother or sister had wanted her to. Not because she wanted to lose weight to squeeze into her maid of honor dress that would make her look like a meatball in her sister’s wedding photos regardless. She jogged down the familiar winding sidewalk lined and lit with light poles because she was looking for him.
Willow didn’t have music this time. All she had was the gentle cool autumn breeze that licked her and the sound of her own panting as she jogged.
Eventually, she stopped when she was out of breath and leaned forward with her hands on her knees. She had jogged further than she had normally would before stopping. She should have taken it as an accomplishment, but instead took it as a feat because she hadn’t found him yet.
A strange fact considering that they both had been creature of habits on these park sidewalks for three weeks straight. Most likely much longer for him.
Licking her dry lips, she walked the reminder of the path and returned to the parking lot. She walked to her vehicle and constantly glanced around her surroundings. She knew her attacker wouldn’t come back for her, but paranoia was now wired into her DNA. When she reached her SUV, she began to unzip her jacket a little to retrieve her car key from the confines of her sports bra. However, she noticed movements behind her from the corner of her eye. She reached into the pocket of her jacket and swirled around in reaction, wielding a switchblade in front of her.
She panted heavily, staring at the hoodied stranger who stood a few feet away from her.
“It’s you,” she said more to herself than to him.
“You were looking for me,” he said. His voice was deep, cool, and calm like the November air around him.
Slowly, Willow nodded her head. “I was,” she admitted, her eyes shifting over to the spot where he had beaten her attacker. “You saved me yesterday from that man and then you left. I never got to say thank you.”
“Is that all?”
His question caught her off-guard and made her feel foolish.
“Well, I wanted to know why you left just before the police arrived?”
“My job was done.”
Willow dropped her hand that held her switchblade. “You’re a man of a few words, aren’t you?”
“It’s not smart to jog by yourself this early in the morning.”
Well, at least his quantity of words within his statements increased by a few.
“I really don’t need a lecture right now about being safe and thinking smart. I’ve gotten plenty within the last twenty four hours from police officers and my parents. The last thing I need is one from you,” Willow said defensibly with a frown.
The hoodied stranger moved to walk away.
Shit, she offended him. Her pride got the best of her and now the man who took the time of his day to save her was prepared to walk away.
“Wait,” she said. “Jog with me. We are always at the park at the same time. If you jog with me, I won’t be alone. I know you jog faster than me anyway, so I’ll just tail after you. I promise I won’t be a bother.”
“You don’t know me,” the stranger said, moving closer to her. Out of instinct, she took a step back.
“You saved me,” she replied back, her voice soft. That was all she needed to trust him.
The stranger returned, “That doesn’t mean you should trust me.”
The shadows clung to parts of his face that hid within his hoodie. She chewed hard on her bottom lip and pressed herself against the SUV, realizing how close he was to her. “If I can’t trust my savior then who can I trust?”
“Is that what you think I am? A savior?”
Willow felt like a fool when he asked her that, but she nodded her head nonetheless. “Yes.”
A long silence hovered between them before she finally spoke. “There’s a diner down the street that has really good waffles. Do you want to have some?”
“I beat a man to a bloody pulp in front of you yesterday and you offering me waffles today,” he queried, his voice dripping in a dark form of amusement.
“How rude of me not to bring a ‘thanks for beating up my attacker nearly to death’ card,” she said.
He then said, “I don’t eat waffles, but I do eat dinner.”
Willow opened her mouth to speak before she clamped her mouth shut, realizing what the stranger just said. Her eyes widened at his words. Did he just ask her out on a dinner date?
“Um,” she trailed off, unsure of what to say.
“The diner has an all-day menu,” he clarified.
How could she be so stupid! Of course, he wouldn’t ask her out on a dinner date. He was just being kind. Most likely pitying her.
“Oh, right,” she nodded and pretended as if she didn’t wish the ground would swallow her whole to escape this embarrassing moment.
They walked to the diner. It was a ten-minute walk from the park and a rather quiet journey at that. Willow snuck glances at the stranger, still having not seen his face.
When they entered the diner, a silver rusted bell that hung above the entrance door rung. A middle-aged brunette waitress who was serving coffee to a customer behind the service counter told them to pick any seat they wanted and she would be there with them shortly.
Willow picked a booth by a window and slid into one side of it. As the stranger slid into the other side, he pulled his hoodie back, finally revealing his face to her.
She widened her eyes slightly as she absorbed the sight of him and the screaming details of his unmasked face.
His eyes were an intense green. He had a square jaw framed in a dark beard. A multitude of scars marred his face.
“So that’s what you look like,” she blurted out accidentally.
He lifted a bushy eyebrow that had been sliced with an old scar. “What did you think I looked like?”
“Honestly, I thought you had a Batman mask glued to your face and I am quite pleased that isn’t the case,” she said with a smile. She saw his green eyes flicker to her upward curling lips and linger there for a moment. She could have sworn she had seen them darken before they traveled back up to meet her eyes.
Was that a look of disapproval? God, she knew her smile wasn’t as picture perfect as Farrah’s, but she thought she had an okay smile.
She glanced to the diner window they sat beside and saw her smile in her reflection. Her cheeks looked like they belonged on a chipmunk. Her smile melted off of her face in that moment. She cleared her throat and tugged her bottom lip into her mouth to chew on it for a moment. “So what’s your name?”
There was a moment of silence between them. Willow noted the faint thoughtful expression that eased onto his face at her question, as if he were contemplating on answering it. She didn’t think asking for someone’s name required that much thought unless he actually was mask-less Batman and he didn’t want her to know his true identity.
“Sebastian,” he then answered.
Sebastian, she tested out his name within the depths of her mind. It was a nice name.
A fitting name.
A strong name.
She opened her mouth to speak but the waitress from earlier appeared at their tableside. She was an older woman in her late forties to early fifties. She had brunette hair with light sprinkles of gray styled into a 1920s-looking bobcut. It suited her. It made her look younger coupled with her high cheekbones.
Willow’s eyes flickered to the woman’s nametag which read ‘Maryann’.
“Mornin’ to the both of you,” Maryann said with a warm smile. “The name’s Maryann and I’ll be servin’ you today. Need a menu?”
“No,” two said in unison. Willow cut her eyes away from Maryann to look at Sebastian, who was staring her down like a hawk as if his eyes never left her. What in the hell was she doing wrong?
“Alrighty,” Maryann said. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Six shots of vodka, Willow thought. Coke or Pepsi with no ice would be her normal go-to choice of beverage at a greasy spoon restaurant such as this, but she could just see her mother’s disapproving gaze because she wasn’t being careful of her calorie and sugar intake.
“Water with ice with a slice of lemon,” Willow ordered with a weak smile.
“Absolutely, darling,” Maryann said before cutting her attention over to Sebastian. “And for you, sir?”
“Coffee. Black,” he ordered.
“I’ll be right back with your drinks,” Maryann stated before she turned on her heels and departed.
Willow rapped her fingernails onto the table for a moment as they were once again swallowed in an awkward silence that ate at her. “So how long have you been going to the park?”
“A while,” he answered short and cold cut.
“Well, I’ve been going there for three weeks now. It’s a good place to jog especially when it’s dark and there aren’t knife-wielding psychopaths around,” she teased goodheartedly, but his face showed no evidence of reacting to her slither of dark humor. “Jogging isn’t exactly my go-to choice of exercise though, but being alone a winding path is kind of peaceful. I like that because my life is anything but peaceful,” Willow rambled on. He looked at her with a deadpan face from across the table.
She frowned, “And this where I shut the hell up.”
“It’s fine,” he said.
“You’re just saying that to be kind,” Willow replied.
“I said that because I mean it,” he answered.
His response caught her off-guard and caused her eyebrows to jerk upward for a moment. “So you don’t think I am a bumbling idiot who can’t shut up?”
Maryann returned with their beverage orders and Willow was thankful for the distraction. At first, she wanted to order buttery waffles with sausage but remembered gorging down on that meal choice would return all of the calories and then some she managed to burn from her morning jogs.
She remembered that the diner had a plain yogurt with fresh fruit as a menu choice and ordered that.
He ordered a medium-rare steak with roasted garlic potatoes.
At first, she envied him for not having to worry about what to eat. However, she then realized that for a big guy like him, he most likely needed every bit of that meal.
She watched their waitress walk away to put in their orders.
“I don’t think you’re a bumbling idiot,” he then said.
Willow jerked her attention to him and blinked her eyes in confusion.
“Referring back to your earlier question,” he clarified.
“Oh,” she said with a brief laugh. “I completely forgot. That’s good because at least one of us thinks so.”
Once more, he gave her a disapproving gaze or at least, she thought he did. He was a difficult man to read. He probably didn’t like the sight of a self-pitying woman. She didn’t mean for this to turn into a pity party for Willow.
“I need to know your name if we are going to be jogging together in the morning.”
She smiled at his acceptance of her proposition.
“Willow. Willow Carter.”
Willow eased her dark blue SUV into an empty space in the parking lot. She turned off the ignition and switched off the headlights. She climbed out of the vehicle and closed the car door. It had been about two weeks since a jittery man had attacked her in this very parking lot with a sharp knife and ill intentions. Fallen leaves were still everywhere to signify the season of autumn, but November was nearing its end with Thanksgiving nearly five days away.
Today, she wore an OSU red winter cap, a long green sleeved shirt, a black hoodie, and thicker black jogging pants to combat the increasing icy temperatures as winter grew closer.
She walked across the parking lot and towards the mouth of the pathway that lead into the scenic park consumed by autumn. There stood Sebastian waiting for her with his hoodie up as always. She knew it was him.
At the diner, they had made an agreement to jog together. Well, not exactly together. It was more like he jogged his normal speed and she would attempt to catch up to him without having a heart attack or fainting from lack of oxygen.
Good news though. She lost a total of six pounds. Even though it wasn’t enough to put her into a size twelve or ten as her older sister and mother wished, her size fourteen clothes felt much looser in the waist area. Willow was very proud of that.
“Good morning,” she said with an airy chipper voice.
“Morning,” he said in a low gruff one.
She held back a smile. He was always a man of few words. She had gotten used to it now. In the beginning, it was rather off-putting trying to pry anything more than ten words from his mouth, but now she realized that it was just who he was. At least, maybe that was how he was around her. Over these last two weeks, she had learned to appreciate it and in some ways, she was kind of grateful for it.
It counteracted dealing with the talkative natures of her mother and Farrah.
It also made her less talkative, which was a plus in its own right.
Soon, he began to jog down the pathway. His movement was smooth, timely, and effective. She followed after him in a slow choppy manner. However, Willow had to give herself some credit. Her endurance had increased significantly in two weeks’ time. Sometimes, she thought of herself to be a racing greyhound and Sebastian was the plastic rabbit she had to catch up to.
Basically, watching the backside of him was great motivation … in a non-sexual way, of course.
About halfway into their early morning jogging routine, she tripped and tumbled forward to the cold sidewalk ground with a loud yelp.
Willow rolled onto her back and slowly sat upright. She flexed both of her ankles and winced as a pain ran up her left leg. “Fuck,” she whimpered as she closed her eyes and reached down to massage the pain away but it obviously didn’t work.
She opened her eyes when she felt ice cold fingers brush away hers and gently rubbed the warm flesh of her left ankle. Sebastian was knelt on one knee before her, examining the damage of her ankle.
“It’s not broken, but I think you twisted it.”
He helped her to her feet and she pressed weight onto her left foot for a moment but she shook her head while chewing on her bottom lip. “It hurts.”
Sebastian turned around and squatted low. “Climb on.”
Willow blinked her eyes. Did he just offer to give her a piggyback ride?
She shook her head. “No way. I’m way too heavy. I’d break your back.”
He chuckled, which was a rarity to her ears. “I doubt you’d do that.”
Hesitantly, she climbed onto his back and wrapped her arms around his neck. She shuddered as she felt strong hands scoop the underside of her thighs and hike her further up against his back with ease. Her chin was perched on his shoulder as she looked ahead of them.
She turned her head slightly and brushed her nose against the fabric of his hoodie that cloaked his neck. He possessed a mellow scent of some type of manly cologne that reminded her of Old Spice.
She fluttered her eyes shut and breathed in.
“I’m really sorry about this,” she said softly.
He said nothing. She expected that.
Eventually, they returned back to the parking lot. He carried her back to her vehicle.
“Where’s your car key,” he questioned as he let her down.
She leaned against the car for support and unzipped her jacket, reaching into her sports bra past her long-sleeved shirt to retrieve her key. It wasn’t until she had looked up did she realize that he had turned around and watched the whole thing. Her left ankle throbbed too much for her to worry about feeling embarrassed.
Sebastian moved aside as she opened the car door and climbed inside. With the car door open, the lights within her car automatically lit up. As she sat in the driver’s seat, her legs dangled out of the car. She hitched up the sleeve of her jogging pants and pushed down her socks.
“Do you think I should go to the doctor,” she asked.
“You’ll be fine,” he assured as he lingered close to her opened car door. “Put ice on it.”
She remembered the feel of his cold fingers when he checked the condition of her ankle back at the park. “Why would I need ice when your fingers are cold enough?”
Her hand clamped over her mouth when she realized what she had said. Her eyes wide with surprise. Where in the heck did that come from?
She dropped her hand from her mouth and said, “Sebastian, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. It was—“
The words that spewed from her mouth died in her throat as she felt cold pale fingers brush against the whimsical tattoo of a willow tree etched in black ink just above her throbbing left ankle.
Willow closed her eyes and gave a tiny intake of breath. A shiver coursed through her.
“Is this cold enough for you,” he questioned casually. Willow made a little ‘mm hm’ sound and nodded her head with a slow uncertainty. Her heart quickened in her chest as she felt his digits moved back down to her left ankle, leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake.
“Put ice on it.”
Willow nodded her head like an obedient child and croaked out a tiny ‘okay’ after she opened her eyes to stare into his face. An emotion rippled across his face, but she couldn’t figure out what for it happened too quickly and looked more like a wince.
He moved his hand away and left without another word.
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