Edie’s heart thudded low in her chest. She had known this conversation was going to be about that question. “I’m sorry I haven’t answered you yet.”
“It’s not just a casual question to me. I want to… I want to make sure you understand.” Annie took a deep breath, looking down at her hands. “I really, really like you. I’ve liked you for a long time. Ever since the four of you rescued me from the faeries, and I saw how brave and powerful you are when something is really important to you.”
“I’m not, though,” Edie said, feeling small and confused. “I’m not brave or powerful you are.”
Annie’s mouth curved in a tiny smile. “You are to me. You’re a very special person.”
Edie flinched and took half a step back. Leila had always told her that she was special. It had turned out not to be something about Edie herself, but about her ancestry. She had a faerie great-grandmother, and that was all that had seemed to interest Leila. She knew Annie didn’t—couldn’t—mean it the same way Leila did, but she still didn’t know what to say.
Thankfully, she wasn’t expected to respond. Annie was still going. “Maybe you don’t see it yourself. That’s okay. What I’m trying to tell you is, you’re incredibly important to me. It’s been really hard to say or do anything because I’ve been afraid of ruining our friendship.”
Edie sucked in a breath. “I don’t think anything you could do or say would ruin our friendship.”
“So I haven’t screwed it up by asking you out?” Annie finally dared to look up.
Edie had to smile. “Not at all. Unless I’ve screwed it up by failing to give you an answer.”
Annie swallowed. “I’ve been wondering if your lack of answer is meant to be an answer in itself.”
Edie shook her head quickly. She wanted to reach out and take Annie’s hand, but was afraid that would send the wrong message, when she just meant to be comforting. “It’s a struggle for me. I really like you as a friend, and I think dating you would be fun. But at the same time, I’m kind of freaked out after what happened with Leila. I know you’re not at all like Leila—in some ways you’re really the opposite of her—but she really hurt me and I’m afraid that if I date anyone else, I’ll just worry all the time that it will end up the same.”
Annie took a deep breath, her shoulders relaxing and her hands falling away from each other. “Okay. I get that.”
“You do?” Edie wasn’t sure that she got it herself.
“Yeah. You were scared and hurt, so you think the same thing will happen again, even though it isn’t logical.” Annie gestured at the building around them. “I’m happy to be living in Mary Thomas because there’s so much iron here, even though I know it doesn’t fully keep faeries out, and despite the ghost. It’s still better than being kidnapped by faeries and forced to play in their orchestra of evil.”
Edie relaxed and smiled at Annie. “And yet you face Mardalan in class three times a week. I think you’re the brave one.”
Annie laughed. “Maybe.”
“And you asked me out despite being so nervous about it.”
“Oh, well, that’s Roe’s fault.” Annie rolled her eyes. “She forced me into it.”
It was Edie’s turn to laugh. “She did? How?”
“She was going to tell you about my crush if I didn’t say anything,” Annie said. “And I know she would do it. That probably would have been even more awkward.”
Edie wanted to say that would have been okay, but then she imagined what things would be like if she had seen Annie again, knowing Annie had a crush on her but not actually having a conversation with her to get to the bottom of things. “Yeah, that’s true. I’m glad it worked out the way it did, even if I still don’t have an answer for you.”
“I’m willing to wait. As long as it doesn’t mean you want to stop being friends with me.”
“I meant what I said earlier. We are willing to do whatever we can to help you, because you’re our friend. Nothing we just talked about changes that.”
“Okay. Well, thanks.” Annie smiled at Edie again. “Now that we’ve had that conversation, I’m going to go take a nap while the sun is still up and the ghost is unlikely to bug me.”
“Good plan.” Edie grinned and waved to Annie as she headed up the stairs, then went back outside.
She took a deep breath of the cool night air. They had to help Annie. They had to do whatever it took. She deserved it.