Chapter 1:

The New Kid on the Block

The Love Triangle Between Me, The Class President, & The Spirit Possessing Me

Goosebumps prickle my arms when I step out of the house into the early morning chill. Even though I can just barely see my breath, it isn’t cold enough to go back inside for a jacket. The temperature will rise along with the sun; in the meantime, the discomfort helps wake me up.

Walking along the cracked sidewalk, I can’t help gawking at everything from commuters on their way to the train station to litter in the gutters. This city isn’t exactly a world-class metropolis, but I’m from a small town and it’s enough to impress me. Even the noise and stench of the traffic fills me with a sense of optimism.

Passing the shuttered Hotel Kensington, I pause to check my reflection in what glass is left in a broken ground-floor window. Can’t blow my first impression in class by having my shirt buttoned up wrong or a cowlick in my hair. My school uniform is neat, but not so perfect that I look uptight. My haircut is boring, but it’s clean and doesn’t look like I spent fifteen minutes styling it, which I did. It’s a fine line to walk. Can’t look like a slob, can’t look like a total wad, either. Effortless. Normal.

Yeah, that’s me: Clark. New city, new school, new me. Everything is going to be different starting today. Better. This is the year everything falls into place.

I continue on my way to school, leaving the hotel behind. It’s one of the few local legends I’ve heard about online. People say it’s haunted, but I’m not interested in creepypastas or true crime, or whatever. It’s just some old condemned building that kids mess around with for a thrill. I guess even in a city where there’s actually stuff to do, you still have to make your own fun sometimes.

“Hey, man, what’s up?”

I’m waiting at the light of a big intersection, and apparently I’m not the only student needing to cross here. Three guys in the same uniform as mine stand around me on the curb. The guy who greeted me is pulling off effortless and normal at a level I have to admire.

“Hey,” I reply, trying to match the lead guy’s tone. “You guys go to Central High too? I’m new.”

One of the others scoffs. “Yeah, no duh.”

“Don’t be rude to the new guy,” the leader snaps, then turns back to me and grins. “Oh, new guy! I know we just met and all, but you can spot me some cash for lunch today, right? Ten bucks oughta do it.”

The uniforms are standard, but one look at the leader’s nice shoes and perfect teeth are enough to tell me he doesn’t need money for lunch. This is a shakedown. I haven’t even made it to my new school and already I’m getting pushed around. So much for my new start.

I’m about to reach for my wallet, when a new voice cuts through the noise of the traffic around us and the blood rushing through my ears.

“Good morning, Blaine.”

The leader whips his head to face the girl who’s joined us on the curb. “Class president! What’s up? Running late today?”

I can’t help staring at the girl with the same dopey look the leader, Blaine, has. She’s pretty, in a scary way. Like she’s carved out of stone. Even her long black hair has a rigidity to it, like it’s too scared of her to fall out of place. She glances at me, and the flicker of curiosity in her eyes makes my heartbeat speed up even more. Then, she turns her attention back to Blaine.

“I overslept my alarm,” she says, and I get the feeling that’s a lie. Or more like, it’s impossible. “I’m only human, after all.” The girl gestures up at the traffic signal. “The light’s green, Blaine. Aren’t you going to cross?”

Blaine flushes. “Oh, right. Of course. See you later prez.” He gives me a “friendly” slap on the back. “You too, new guy.” Then he leads his minions across the street. He doesn’t even ask the girl why she’s not crossing.

Just who is this girl, anyway? Class president? More like class avenging angel.

“You’re the new student starting today?” The girl taps her foot while we wait for the light to turn green again. Maybe she really did oversleep. “Sorry about all that. Don’t let Blaine and his idiot friends spoil your first impression of us, okay?”

“Oh,” I fumble, suddenly forgetting how to talk. “Totally! Definitely not. Er…”

“I’m Sabrina.” She says it like she’s announcing the sky is blue. What is this confidence, and how do I get some of it? “What’s your name? I can’t call you New Guy all the way to school.”

Name? I have a name? “I’m Clark.” I wince as my voice cracks. My voice hasn’t cracked in ages.

“Nice to meet you, Clark.”

The light changes, and Sabrina steps into the crosswalk. Like a puppy on a leash, I follow her all the way to school.

It’s just my luck that I’m in the same homeroom class with Blaine and his merry men. However, Sabrina is also in this class, so it’s a net positive. As class president, she has the same overbearing demeanor as the one at my old school, but that’s where the similarity ends. Sabrina is the platonic ideal of a class president, like she was an empress or a famous general in a past life. She’s not a try-hard or a poser. She’s the real deal.

She’s also crazy smart. Our classwork today includes some practice worksheets for math, and Sabrina finishes first, followed by me several minutes later. During our literature discussion for English, she’s the one taking the lead and making points that impress the teacher. I was used to being at the top of my class back home. It was kinda my thing. But I can already tell I’m going to have to step it up just to keep up with her. Looking at the posted grades from the last science exam, her marks are the highest, and it’s not close. The teachers don’t even include her in the grading curve. I never scored high enough to break the curve at my old school.

I can feel my competitive spirit awakening already. Don’t laugh! I won’t pretend I’m too cool to care about grades.

My first day of school goes by in a blur. As everyone’s packing up and heading off to clubs, part-time jobs, and home, Sabrina approaches my desk.

“I know it was a rocky start,” she says, “but did you have a good first day?”

“Oh, yeah!” I say, a little too loud. “It was great, thanks.”

She smiles. “Good. Listen, I have a favor to ask you…”

I grin and rub the back of my neck. “You’re not about to ask me for ten bucks, are you?”

She shakes her head and laughs. I immediately wonder if I can become the class clown. “No, no! I’m on cleaning duty this week, and was wondering if you’d like to help out? It’d help you get familiar with the building.” The way she asks, she clearly doesn’t expect me to refuse. Maybe I should find that annoying, but I don’t.

Of course I agree. And , I swear, I’m only a little disappointed when she suggests splitting up to make the work go faster. She clearly wants to finish up so she can have some free time, so I’m happy to help.

As it turns out, I should have told her I was too busy today. Not only do I not get to hang out with her, Blaine and his friends catch up with me outside on my way to take out the trash.

“Hey, it’s the new guy!” One of the two minions crows.

Blaine casually moves to stand between me and the dumpsters. “More like Sabrina’s new puppy. You didn’t waste any time, huh?”

“Hi, Blaine,” I say. The clueless space-cadet routine got me through middle school mostly unscathed. Mostly. “Excuse me.” I sidle around him, careful not to turn my back to him or his friends as I toss the garbage bags I’m carrying in the dumpster. That done, I notice to my dismay that Blaine’s friends are leaning against the door leading back into the school.

“Listen. New guy.” Blaine steps forward, herding me back against the side of the dumpster. “We got off to a bad start this morning, yeah? We’re all friends here. You don’t have to hide behind Sabrina all year.”

I wince, if only because I’d just been hoping Sabrina would burst through the door Blaine’s friends were blocking to see what was taking me so long. I really don’t need a girl to fight my battles for me. Really!

It’s just that she seems like she can control situations like these.

“Now,” Blaine says, casually putting one hand against the side of the dumpster, level with my head. “About that twenty bucks you were going to lend me?” He cracks his knuckles.

At least my old school prepared me for this. Before Blaine can completely fence me in, I duck around him and take off running. Is it the most dignified exit? No. Am I proud of myself? Also no. But I’m not about to get robbed or get in trouble for fighting on my first day. Especially when the odds of me winning are probably about zero.