Edie didn’t want to get up and go over to Leila, to bridge the small space between them. She was upset—she was mad at Leila, and she wasn’t getting answers that satisfied her, so she didn’t want to do what Leila said.
But she also missed her girlfriend badly, and she couldn’t bear to let Leila sit there reaching for her when they were finally together again. So she got up, walked over, and sat down next to Leila, resting her shoulder against Leila’s arm and not letting her skin touch the tree.
Leila lifted her arm, forcing Edie to shift over, then put that arm around Edie’s shoulders and gently guided her down onto her lap. Edie sighed, settling in, her head resting on Leila’s knee. She felt Leila’s hand stroke hairs back from her face and closed her eyes. This was comfort.
“Tell me about that barrier,” Leila said softly.
Edie swallowed, opening her eyes again. “Well, it started when Mardalan… it’s a long story, actually. I don’t know if you want all the details. But they put it up so that Mardalan and her faeries can’t get onto campus to mess with the students, and students can’t accidentally go off campus to get trapped by them.”
Leila chuckled. “Of course it is Mardalan’s fault. But it will not allow you to go out there, either, will it?”
“No. I can’t get past it. If I want to leave campus, I have to go out through the front gate, when it’s open.”
“Yes, I found that. The barrier surprised me.”
“Wait, when did you find it?” Edie wanted to turn and look at Leila’s face, but she was so comfortable where she was, with Leila lightly finger-combing her hair, that she couldn’t be bothered. “Did you… did it let you through?”
“When I came from my tree, I found it. I walked into it, in fact.” Leila laughed again.
Edie smiled. Leila was so elegant and poised that it was hard to imagine her running into something, even an invisible barrier, but if Leila was laughing at herself, she would, too. “So you came through the front gate.”
“Yes. It… it let me in.”
Edie frowned. “What does that mean? Why wouldn’t you be able to go in?”
“There is no barrier there?”
“No, the barrier goes around campus, but not past the gate. There has to be a way for people to get in and out, after all—like our parents, and professors coming for job interview, I guess. And students have to be able to leave when they need to.”
“Professors coming for job interviews? What do you mean?”
“Oh.” Edie sighed. “Professor Strega is leaving. She doesn’t like working here anymore, I guess. So they’re going to have to find someone new to teach her classes next semester. I don’t know if they’ve actually started looking.”
The hand stroking her hair had paused. “She is leaving? Has no one stopped her?”
“The professors tried. But, uh.” Edie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “There’s a lot to explain. We should go in order. The barrier stopped you when you came from your tree? Then what were you doing in the woods just now?”
“Before you found me?”
“I was seeking the barrier again from the inside. I could not find it.”
Edie nodded. “This isn’t something widely known, but Professor Strega told us. For students, and I guess professors and workers, too, it stops you from going from the inside to the outside, but if you’re already outside, you can go through. For faeries and people from outside of campus, it works the other way around.” She swallowed. “So I guess the magic is treating you as someone from off campus.”
“That should not be the way it works.”
“I guess it makes sense. You weren’t on campus when the barrier went up. You’d separated yourself, or whatever it is that you did to make people forget you.”
“Yes, but I intended to come back. This time, I mean. Normally, when I leave my tree and decide to return to campus, it allows me back on.”
“Oh. That might be because of Elrath, then.”
“Elrath? What has he done?” Frustration crept into Leila’s voice. “Edith, please just tell me everything.”
“I’m trying, but there’s too much to tell! And you won’t answer all of my questions, either!” This time, Edie did try to turn, to roll over so she could see Leila’s face, but Leila held her down, one hand on her arm.
“What question did you have? I’m sorry, please repeat it.” Leila’s voice was soothing.
Edie took another deep breath, trying to recall her comfort. “What did you think was going to happen when you came back to campus, if I’d forgotten you?”
“I thought I would be making a new start. You and your friends should not have remembered me. I though for certain by now someone as lovely as you would have a new girlfriend. You would have forgotten that you ever met me in the first place.”
Edie couldn’t help smiling at the compliment, but she wasn’t happy with the answer. If the magic had worked on her mind the same way it worked on everyone else’s, would she have forgotten Leila’s friends? Would she have forgotten Marlin? That might have been easier.
But she was glad it worked the way it did. She would rather keep her memories.