The rain let up later that afternoon, but the clouds didn’t clear away, so Edie didn’t trust it. She and her friends went to the dining hall for dinner, and then she went back to the front gate with all of her rain gear, even though she was very early to meet Leila. She wanted to be sure she didn’t miss Leila or make her wait.
Leila wasn’t at the gate when Edie arrived, so she pulled out the book she’d put in her pocket, making sure that her four-leaf clover and phone were both where she’d left them in another pocket. She didn’t want to get caught without any protection or a way to reach her friends. She’d also made sure that not only Corrie, but also Dawn, Annie, and Roe knew where she was going. She knew Leila wouldn’t hurt her—she was fairly certain of that—but it was still good to know that if she was gone for a long time, her friends would know what to do.
She opened her book and read a page, but before she could get any further than that, she heard her name being called and looked up. Leila was walking up the paved pathway as though she’d just come from the road to West Ashburn.
Edie frowned as she put away her book. Had Leila come from West Ashburn? What would she have been doing there?
She met Leila in the middle of the gate and took her hand as she reached out. “Hey. What’s going on?”
“You’re early,” Leila said, looking at her without any expression that Edie could identify.
“I didn’t want to make you wait.”
“That is kind of you. Let us walk.” Leila gestured back toward the town.
“You want to go to West Ashburn?”
Leila shook her head and bent so she was closer to Edie’s ear to speak. “It should appear that we are going that way, so that no one wonders why you have not returned to campus. I asked to meet at the gate because I feared that if we missed sunset, you would not be able to come with me.”
Edie nodded, mildly surprised by Leila’s foresight—but maybe she had thought of that all along; it was only recently that Edie would have been unable to leave campus after sunset, and every time they’d met last semester, they’d come and gone just by going into the woods. She’d never before had to wonder whether the guards would look for her.
Was it even part of their job to look for students who didn’t return to campus? Maybe they didn’t worry about it, since they didn’t know about the faeries… or did they? The security officers had certainly given dire warnings about going into the woods. No one had looked for Annie—but everyone had forgotten her, and she hadn’t left through the gates anyway.
“That’s a good idea. I was worrying about whether the guard would look for me, since I was chatting with her earlier.” They started to walk toward the road, and Edie waved at the guard. She thought she saw her wave back.
“Good.” Leila squeezed her hand. Leila’s skin felt clammy and warm. “I promise that you will be safe, though we are going into the woods.”
Edie smiled. “I know I’ll be safe with you.”
They didn’t speak for a few moments as they walked along the road, then Leila said in a low voice, “I am surprised you still trust me, Edith.”
Edie took a deep breath. “I know you won’t hurt me or allow anyone else to hurt me. I remember you attacking Mardalan to rescue me. I don’t think that’s changed.”
Leila smiled. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.” She turned into the woods, and Edie walked with her. They were quiet again, listening to the trees drip onto the ground. The leaves and flowers were thick enough above to have held plenty of water, but Edie didn’t open her umbrella. It would just get caught in the branches.
Leila finally spoke again once they were getting closer to her tree. “I’m leaving, Edith.”
Edie nodded, feeling a sinking sensation in her stomach, but no surprise. “I thought you might be.”
“You don’t seem as unhappy about this as you did when I first returned.”
“I guess I’ve kind of gotten used to the idea.” They skirted around a heavily-dripping oak tree. “I didn’t want you to leave, but you’re right—the college has changed while you were gone. And maybe while you were gone I got used to not having you around anymore.”
They had reached Leila’s tree. It was bright and lush, the green of its leaves standing out against all the other trees around as though it were illuminated.
Edie turned to Leila as she came to a stop, staring at her tree. “Why did you bring me here?”