Chapter 17:

Let's All Go to the Lobby

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

There's no going home until I'm as sure as I can be that Sabrina isn't going to cause a problem. At the same time, the school isn't really the best place to hash this out, since there's still faculty here who could walk in at any time.

"Can we talk about this more somewhere else? I don't know if the library is best."

Sabrina nods strongly. "Yes! Let's talk more! We could go to my house!" Before I can have a panic attack at the idea of being in Sabrina's home, she frowns. "Actually, that's no good. Mom is probably home by now."

"She doesn't like you bringing friends home?" Referring to myself as Sabrina's friend sends a weird light feeling up into my chest. But she did just spend the last five minutes gushing about how interesting I am, so I figure we're past the acquaintance stage now, right?

"More like, I never bring anyone home, so her head might explode." Sabrina taps a thoughtful finger against her chin. "Plus, you're a boy."

"Thanks, I noticed that."

Sabrina isn't too star-struck to roll her eyes. "You're lucky you're an esper, because your comedy routine needs work." She shakes her head. "No, my mom will just be extremely nosy and annoying, and we won't get a chance to talk. What about your house?"

If the butterflies in my stomach were real, I'm pretty sure I'd be able to feel Sophie squishing them. "Calm down," I scold her in my head. "I'm not bringing her to the apartment. It's a mess in there."

"How about the Kensington? It'll be quiet, and no one will be around to spy on us."

Sophie snorts. "Oh, so you'll drag her to my place instead."

I don't dignify her with a response. Better to let Sophie chill out on her own.

Sabrina, at least, seems all for the idea. "Is that where your esper powers are strongest?"

I'm already regretting the "esper" angle. Maybe I should have said I was an alien instead? I scratch the back of my head. "Eh, something like that. And we don't have to worry about damaging anything in there."

There's just enough time for me to grab my bag before Sabrina half pulls my arm out of its socket dragging me to the library doors and outside.

The walk to the Kensington from the school campus usually takes about fifteen minutes. With Sabrina rapid-firing questions about my "esper powers" the entire way, it feels closer to fifteen hours. Not that I'm mad about spending time with Sabrina! She's intense, but I like that about her. It's just that being the direct target of that intensity is more than a little tiring. And I have the feeling I'm going to lose track of the answers I'm making up for her many, many, many questions.

"Well, I'm not sure what all I can do, yet, either," I say, fielding yet another question as we round the corner on the block the Kensington is on. "It's better to be cautious in that case, right? I don't want to hurt anybody."

Sabrina nods sagely, like she's spent a lot of time thinking about what she'd do in a scenario where she developed psychic powers. She probably has done exactly that, actually. She's a whole lot stranger than I thought when we first met. "That's imminently sensible, yes. But consider: there's an emergency in which you find yourself in the best position to help keep someone from harm. In that case, isn't it better to know the exact extent of your ability?"

"Like a super hero?" I pull the hotel's front doors open. They squeal on their hinges, hanging so crooked that it's easy to prop them open against the sidewalk. The reception area looks exactly as Sophie and I left it, right down to the patches where the dust is disturbed from where I landed each time the barrier that used to be around the hotel pushed us back inside. I wonder if it's safe to bring Sophie back in here, if the barrier will re-form and trap her again, but I've already stepped inside, so I guess we'll have to handle that if and when the time comes. So far, I don't feel anything, and Sophie isn't giving me a sign that she's felt anything off, either. Mostly she's just sulking for some reason.

"Not anything as juvenile as a super hero," Sabrina replies, cheeks turning pink. Does someone have a secret comic book addiction? I'm happy to lend her some of mine, once I'm sure we have the current issue settled. Sabrina picks her way carefully across the reception area, avoiding debris underfoot or any furniture that would leave dust on her uniform. She doesn't match the atmosphere of this place at all, and yet she looks perfectly comfortable as she moves through the room.

It could just be that no one's chasing me intent on beating me up this time, but the hotel doesn't feel as foreboding as it did last time. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what's different. Sophie's existence aside, I'm not really the type of guy who goes in for reading into gut feelings or bad mojo, or whatever. That said, the mojo in here is lighter than it was before. The Kensington has gone from a true crime setting to just another abandoned building.

"I haven't been in here in a while," Sabrina says, turning a slow circle and looking up at the chandelier, which is now dark. "I've been too busy to make it."

"You've been inside the hotel before?" I knew teens used this place as a test of courage and a place to tag with spray paint that the police didn't care about, but Sabrina doesn't strike me as the type. "More than once?"

Sabrina nods, a fond look in her eyes. "There's a wonderful energy to this place. Or," she goes on, a puzzled look crossing her face. "There was. Something's different now. I hope whatever's here hasn't moved on already."

That gets Sophie's attention. Mine, too. I turn my attention inward to her. "Do you know Sabrina? Why didn't you say so?"

"I don't, she must be just..." Sophie trails off for a moment, then I feel a burst of indignation behind my stomach. "Wait!" Sophie cries. "I do know this rude girl! She wasn't barging in as often recently, but a few years ago she was in here every single weekend, driving me batty!"

Sabrina sighs, overcome with nostalgia. "This was my favorite place to go back in middle school. None of them turned out well, but I have a whole album of pictures documenting the supernatural phenomena here."

"Oh, you were a junior ghost hunter, huh?" I say, gently teasing Sabrina while I wait for Sophie to compose herself.

"She was impossible!" Sophie cries out, the urge to pace around making my foot tap impatiently. "No matter what I tried to scare her away, she'd simply giggle and snap a picture with her blasted camera!" Sophie snorts in recalled disgust. "The lights didn't work, and neither did turning into a giant cockroach, making the walls bleed, rattling the keys and the doorknobs, nothing!"

"Thanks for not making the walls bleed when I was in here," I say silently, still watching Sabrina make her reunion tour around the perimeter of the reception area, gently touching countertops and stair banisters like she's greeting old friends.

Sabrina, obviously, doesn't consider herself an old friend of Sabrina's. "Not that I can even show up in a photograph, I don't think, but still! It's so rude to take someone's picture without permission." She scoffs. "It started to make me feel downright lousy, like I was a circus bear doing tricks for her, so I stopped. It still took months for her to get bored and stop bothering me."

One hand perched on the reception desk as if she's checking in, Sabrina turns to me. "So, Clark, what did you have in mind? We've covered moving a pencil telepathically, but what else can you do?"

"See?" Sophie grouses. "She's doing it to you now, too. Why doesn't she do a trick, huh? She could do a handstand, or juggle."

"Well," I say, ignoring Sophie for the moment. "I can sort of mess with electricity, I think? Make the lights turn on and off?"

"And I suppose you want me to help you do that?" Sophie yawns, metaphorically. "It's easier to use the light switch, you know."

This whole ordeal is going to be like pulling teeth, isn't it? "Can you just tell me how to do it? I already told Sabrina I would."

With a dramatic sigh, Sophie agrees. "It's as easy as apple pie. All you have to do is..." She pauses. "You just put a little of yourself in the wires and sort of wiggle them...?"

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to do that. Sabrina coughs quietly.


I make a show of straightening my shirt sleeves. "Just getting warmed up, one second!" To Sophie, I say, "Look, can you just do me a solid?"

My answer is an equal mix of exasperation and confusion.

"I mean, leave my body and do that thing you do with the lights. Please?"

Sophie gives me the platonic ideal of a sigh and rolled eyes, but floats up out of my body to the ceiling. A moment later, the chandelier lights start flickering, first all together, then in random patterns. I can't help but feel like Sophie's showing off a little bit, despite her annoyance.

Sabrina grins and claps her hands. "Oh, it's just like middle school!" Then, her smile wilts. "Although, I can't be sure you haven't wired the chandelier to do that with a remote. Haunted houses have tricks like this, after all."

Alright, I know I've gotten paranoid at breakneck speed since meeting Sophie and having the secret of her existence to keep, but there's no way I'm as bad as Sabrina. "When and how would I have rewired the chandelier in a condemned hotel, in a city I just moved to?" She wants me to be an esper, right? Why try poking holes in her own theory now?

As if making an executive decision, Sabrina looks away from the twinkling lights to me. "I can't let myself get entirely carried away, now can I? What else can you do?" Light and shadow chase across her face and cast highlights on her dark hair. "Show me something truly extraordinary!"

Ah. No pressure, then.

"What's truly extraordinary," Sophie grumbles as she returns to my body, "is the nerve of this Miss Sabrina!"

"It's fine, Sophie." I clear my throat to cover the uncomfortable lurch of possession. Wracking my brains for another piece of "evidence" to show Sabrina I'm psychic, I land on mind reading. The C.I.A. thought that was a big deal, so it should be good enough for her. "Okay, Sabrina, think of a number between one and ten, and I'll tell you what it is."

Sabrina raises an eyebrow, but nods. "Alright. Done." She rests one hand on her hip. "What's the number, then?"

"Let's get this over with," Sophie says, leaving without me having to ask. It's pretty obvious what I need her to do, anyway.

She floats over to Sabrina, and for the first time I get to see what possession looks like from the outside. Sophie kind of liquefies as she reaches Sabrina. It reminds me of watching water go down a drain. Sabrina shudders and looks around, mouth creased in a tight line. If her reaction is anything like mine, she can't feel too great.

"Did you feel a weird draft just now?" I say, distracting Sabrina as Sophie comes back out and over to me. I'm getting better at handling Sophie leaving and reentering my body, so I can more or less keep a straight face.

Sabrina hugs her arms around herself. "I think so." The moment passes, and she get a hold of herself. In seconds, it's as if nothing happened at all. "So? What's the number?"

"Six," Sophie says in my head. "She excluded one and ten from her choices because you said a number between one and ten. She's such a smart-alack."

"Six," I say, and watch with some satisfaction when Sabrina looks impressed.

She crosses her arms. "That's pretty good, but you had a ten percent chance of guessing right. Can you do it again?" A nearly but not quite apologetic grin quirks her lips. "Sorry. I really would love it if you were an esper, but if I don't make sure I'll drive myself crazy thinking of alternative explanations."

"Like how you thought I was a gas leak, Clark?" Sophie leaves me again with that parting shot, making a beeline for Sabrina.

This time, there's a problem. When Sophie goes to possess Sabrina, she bounces right off Sabrina's head. She casts a panicked look in my direction, but it's not like I can offer her any advice or ask questions right now. I do my best not to look directly at her as she tries again, pushing with all her might against Sabrina. She can't even pass through normally now, as if Sabrina is a solid wall for ghosts.

After a few fruitless tries, Sophie gives up and returns to me. "I don't get it," she says, dismayed. "Not that I want to be inside her dumb head, but she's keeping me out somehow. I'm sure she didn't know I was in there last time, so I've no idea how she's managing it."

"It's okay, Sophie. It's better than a one in ten chance, right? You said she wouldn't pick one or ten, so there's only eight choices." I massage my temples like I'm tuning into the cosmic radio waves coming from Sabrina's brain. "And she already used six, so she'll probably pick something else this time, so really it's just seven choices. That's almost as good as rolling a die." Finally, I clear my throat and stand up straight. "You're thinking of three."

Sabrina's face visibly falls. Her arms droop at her sides. "I was afraid of that. No, Clark. I was thinking of ten." She sighs. "So maybe you're not an esper. And now I've spent the whole afternoon convincing you I'm insane." Already, she's starting to put her class president persona back up. I can see her icing over.

"Wait a second!" I cross my arms, pacing a few steps along the dirty floors. "You said you weren't going to pick one or ten. You cheated that time!"

"I never said-!" Realization dawns on Sabrina's face just as I'm also realizing that letting her think I was normal would have solved my problems, and now I've just willingly committed to this dumb scheme again. "You did read my mind!"

At least she's happy again. There's that. "Well, mind reading isn't really my specialty," I hurry to say, before she can demand I guess something else. Now that Sophie can't possess her again, we should call a halt on that stuff.

"Okay, then what is your specialty?" Sabrina's eyes are alight with curiosity.

That's a darn good question. I think for a moment over the things Sophie and I have managed to do already. "Mostly," I say, going for something that's a sure win, "I can just make myself stronger and faster than normal. That's how I messed up the basketball backboard; I wasn't ready for how high I was gonna jump. You know, like-"

"If you're about to name a super hero," Sabrina interrupts, "I won't know who you're talking about. But that sounds amazing!" She pivots, skirt twirling as she moves, and points to the far wall. "Can you knock down that wall?"

Sophie's panic sends ice shooting up my spine. "Absolutely not! Clark, my parents can't come back to the hotel if there's no hotel to come back to!"

I scuff my shoe on the ground to distract from my shiver. "Uh, isn't it a bad idea to do that when we're standing in here? Besides," I add, "that's pretty serious property damage."

Sabrina isn't convinced. "This site belongs to the city, and if they ever get around to doing anything with it, they'll just knock it all down themselves."

Boy, that sure isn't helping to calm Sophie down.

"Sophie," I try. "We're not gonna bring the whole place down, okay? We can find a wall that isn't load-bearing, or smash the reception desk, or something."

"No!" Sophie barks. "No, it all adds up! The place is getting shabbier by the year, and it's hanging on by a thread as it is!"

"Well, then maybe there'll be a news story about it getting damaged, and that will get your parents' attention and make them come back?" I feel incredibly scummy for telling Sophie this. I don't know how to break it to her that her parents aren't coming back for her. Still, I shouldn't lie just to make her go along with what I want.

Maybe she can pick up on my guilty feelings, because she only gets more obstinate. "I won't!"

Meanwhile, Sabrina is still watching me expectantly, smiling. "Are you still warming up, Clark?" She's bouncing on her toes like a little kid in line for a roller coaster. I haven't seen her this openly excited before. It's a good look on her.

"Sophie," I try again. "Don't you hate this place? You were stuck here for so long, isn't it time to put it behind you?"

Sophie bristles. "Put it behind me? And then what? You're just trying to get me to do what you want so you can impress Sabrina!" She sniffles. "Why are you ready to knock down a building for some girl you barely know? Why are you more concerned with her than me?"

That stings. And she's not wrong, but… "Sophie, I know you have a… complicated relationship to this place. I swear we wouldn't do anything major. We're so close to convincing Sabrina and keeping your secret safe."

"We could have done that without making her think you have super powers," Sophie snaps. "Why do you want to impress her so bad?"

Sabrina blinks at me, gesturing with her head toward the wall to encourage me to go ahead and punch a big hole in it.

"Um," I say to Sophie, trying to be patient. "Because I like her? I thought that was pretty obvious."

"Don't you like me?" Something cold twists in my guts as Sophie's upset gets worse, not better.

"Well, of course! But I like like Sabrina."

There aren't words for the full-body spasm that passes through me as Sophie rockets out the top of my head. Sabrina ducks and covers her ears as the lights in the chandelier above us brighten with a deafening whine and pop all at once, raining bits of broken glass down on us in the dark.