Edie waited; Leila was taking a long time to respond. Anxiety twisted her stomach, but she clutched her umbrella and said nothing. She wasn’t going to rush Leila into a response.
She didn’t want her to leave, of course. But she knew, at this point, that there was nothing she could do to stop her. So she just wanted to understand. And if Leila was just going back to her tree, why bring Edie with her? Why bring her at all, when she’d vanished so abruptly last semester with the expectation that Edie would just forget her?
It was dark in the woods, the only light coming from the moon filtering feebly through the clouds—and perhaps from Leila’s tree itself. It was quiet, the dripping of the trees still the only sound. Edie waited.
“I cannot say that I understand it entirely myself,” Leila said at last. “But you are special.”
Edie smiled, but it hurt a little to hear Leila say that, too. She’s said it a lot when they were first dating, and at the time, it had made Edie feel so happy and excited—that someone as gorgeous and glamorous as Leila had chosen her to date.
But now she knew a little more about herself and about Leila, and she didn’t think that her faerie heritage was completely irrelevant here. “How so?” she asked.
“You sparkle,” Leila said. “I’ve said that before, have I not?”
Edie frowned. “I don’t think so. What do you mean? My, uh, sparkling personality?”
Leila laughed. “You have a fine personality, for a human—you are very sweet, always accommodating, and you have always spoken quite flatteringly to me. But no, that is not what I mean.” She turned to Edie and lifted a finger, tracing it along Edie’s hairline, pulling a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “Something in you glitters. You are part faerie, yes?”
Edie nodded. “My great-grandmother. I’ve actually tracked her down. She’s a lady of the lake.”
“Yes, I see. You have her sparkle. It is what initially attracted me to you, and I believe it is what caught my sister’s attention, as well. And perhaps it is part of why I wish to bring you here, to show you this.”
“I don’t know if that’s a compliment.”
Leila looked at the ground. “Nor do I.” She took a deep breath. “But you are the only person I wish to say goodbye to, Edith, and it is not clear to me what makes you so different.”
There was a lump in Edie’s throat. “Maybe you just care about me.” She didn’t like being called Edith anymore. But she wasn’t going to say that to Leila—not now that she was leaving.
“I suppose I must.” Leila didn’t sound happy about it.
“What about your sister?” Edie asked, remembering Mardalan. They didn’t like each other… but they were still sisters.
Leila’s lip lifted in a sneer. “Don’t speak to me of her. She came and sought me out early this spring, but she only wanted to put me under her power. She thought I would help her strengthen her throne. No, I do not wish to say goodbye to her.”
Leila tilted her head up to the sky, staring without speaking. Edie thought she’d offended her. But then she turned to Edie, bent her head, and kissed her lips for the first time since she’d vanished in the winter.
It felt like the last time, too.
“Farewell, Edith,” Leila said softly. “My wish for you is that now you will find someone who treats you in the way that you deserve.”
Edie didn’t feel like crying—her eyes were dry—but the lump in her throat was too big to let her speak. She tried to swallow, but it wouldn’t be dislodged. Instead, she just nodded her goodbye at Leila. She wasn’t sure Leila was watching, anyway.
Leila walked away from her, stepping into the small clearing that surrounded her tree, walking directly to the trunk. Edie stared at her. Just before Leila touched the bark of the tree, Edie blurted out, “But where can you go?”
Leila looked over her shoulder at Edie. She had dropped her glamour; her pointed, green-tipped ears showed clearly against her bright red hair. “Somewhere you cannot follow,” she said.
Then she turned back to the tree and stepped, not up to it, but into it. Her form shimmered as it touched the trunk and the branches, and when her foot left the ground for her second step, it was gone.
It almost looked as though she had stepped through the tree, as though Edie could run around to the other side and see her there, but she stayed where she was, watching.
Then the tree’s light faded, as though the sun had gone behind a cloud, but there was no sun here. The light must have been coming from the tree itself. Edie thought it was over, that her eyes just needed a moment to adjust to the dimness, but even as she blinked her eyes back into focus, she realized that they were focused.
It was the tree itself that was blurred.
As she watched, the tree faded, like a ghost vanishing out of existence in an old movie. She could see the trees behind it through its leaves and branches. She could see just the outline of the tree. She could see—
Nothing. It was gone.
All that was left was a small hill of dirt in a clearing. It was as if no tree had ever grown there, as if nothing could grow there. Edie stepped forward and reached into the air, where the tree had been, but there was nothing.