The gym was getting stuffy.
A slow song was playing and most everyone was dancing in couples. Layla took another sip of her punch. It was great to see everyone again, and she had a lot to catch up on. She’d spent the last year in the Amazon rainforest working to preserve the diminishing wilderness. There hadn’t been much contact with the outside world, so she was enjoying her five year high school reunion visit to Homecoming. Everyone had news and she liked being able to describe her own adventures.
But right now she was standing in a corner alone while Will danced with his fiancee (a real estate agent and a lovely woman), Ethan danced with his date, and Magenta and Zach danced together. Layla had already turned Larry down twice tonight, so it wasn't like she had no other options, still. She’d spent most of the last year outdoors, she told herself. Of course she would feel stuffy here. She just needed a breath of fresh air. That was all, really.
She drained the last of her drink and walked out into the cool night air. Wandering through the school garden she eventually found a little bench under a weeping willow near the edge of the platform. She settled down and leaned against the tree, its branches drooping lower and closer around her. She could see out through the fringes of narrow leaves to the black sky and sparkling stars.
"They said you'd wandered off, hippie, so I thought I might find you out here."
Layla jerked out of her reverie as the deep voice broke the silence. A hand parted the branches and Warren stepped through. "Warren? What are you doing here?" He had been a grade above her so it wasn't his reunion year and she hadn't been expecting to see him. She jumped up and threw her arms around his neck. She could see him raise an eyebrow but he hugged her back, warm and strong.
"Didn't you hear?" he asked as she stepped back and settled down again. "I'm teaching at Sky High. I would have been around earlier but I had to deal with some students who tried to spike the punch."
She laughed and patted the bench beside her. Warren stuffed his hands in his pockets and sat down. He was wearing a tuxedo jacket, loose and unbuttoned over a red silk shirt and black jeans. He looked even more handsome than she remembered. Layla rubbed her palms against her skirt as he sat.
"What do you teach?"
"Philosophy and ethics, and personal growth."
That made her laugh again. "Principal Boy lets you teach sex ed? Half the class must have a crush on you."
Warren smirked. "More than half."
"You really are evil."
"And you're one of the only people in the world who can get away with saying that." His smile became softer, his lips quirking just for her, eyes dark in the shadows under the tree. Layla felt a warm flush tingle through her and was glad of the darkness. She realized the branches were dropping even lower, closing the two of them off tight from the rest of the world. But Warren didn't seem to notice that.
Wanting to lessen the moment, Layla asked, "Do you like it here?"
"Yeah. The kids are all really passionate."
"That's good." She thought she was nodding too much and forced herself to stop. Warren turned closer toward her and his knees pressed against hers. Layla kept on talking. "We need people who really care about things. About society, and the environment, and..." She finally trailed off because Warren was smiling at her indulgently.
"You're doing good work down there. Are you enjoying it?"
"I really am. I love the plants, and the people, and getting to use my powers to grow instead of fight. My life is so integrated there. But I do miss all of you. I'm glad I got to come back and visit."
"I missed you." He was still smiling at her that way, and Layla's heartbeat skipped and thudded inside her chest. His expression was so soft and fond.
Warren rose and Layla lifted her eyes to watch him. He held out a hand toward her.
"May I have this dance?"
Layla smiled back at him and took his hand. He laced his warm fingers through hers and she let him pull her up to standing.
"I'd like that," she replied.
She hadn’t been expecting this at all, but it felt good, as she clasped his hand tighter in hers. It felt right.