Chapter 19:

Rock, Paper, Scissors

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

Sophie sprints all the way back home. It's a brief, terrifying trip. With Sophie really exerting herself, it's like I'm strapped into a drag-race car with no steering and no brakes. At each intersection, we blow past the other people in the crosswalk fast enough to knock them over. Where the light's red, Sophie weaves us between the moving cars while my heart leaps into my mouth. I don't know that anyone we pass, pedestrian or driver, even get a good enough look at me to be able to tell I'm a person running by. Which is just as well, because we pass a lot of people.

The only thing spooking me worse than pelting down the street at insane speed is the fact that Sophie isn't listening to me. I yell for her to calm down a few times, then stop. She's clearly heading back to my apartment, and she's also clearly too freaked out to pay attention to anything I'm saying. Besides, I don't want to grab her attention at the wrong moment, like when she's in the middle of dodging through traffic.

When we reach my building, instead of letting the stair slow her down, Sophie leaps for the second-story walkway, grabs the railing, and heaves us up and over with my arms. She fishes my keycard from my pocket, and after a few hurried, failed attempts, manages to insert it the right way in the lock. It's a good thing the door is weighted to close on its own, because Sophie sure doesn't remember to shut it, just flings myself onto my bed, winding up the covers into a misery burrito. We're still crying; I'm going to have to wash the pillowcase we're snotting up.

After a couple minutes of blubbering and honking like a dying goose, adrenaline fading, I get a foothold to boot Sophie out of my body. She hardly seems to notice, still carrying on while I furiously kick my way free of the covers. Easier said than done.

"Sophie! What the crap was that?!" For a moment, my attempts at getting out from under my blankets wind them around my legs even more, and it's a real effort not to scream at them.

Sophie keeps wailing away. "Don't you yell at me!" she hiccups. A puddle of what I hope is just ghostly tears and not ectoplasm or something else gross I'll have to actually clean up is forming on the floor below her. "Can't you see I'm distraught, you brute?"

"I'm sorry, you're distraught?!" At last, I free myself from the coils of my covers and kick them angrily off the foot of the bed. For good measure, I huck my pillow through Sophie. She ripples like the surface of a pond and the pillow smacks against the TV screen behind her and slumps down onto the VCR. "You just took my body for a joyride and almost got me hit by a car about a dozen times! Without permission!"

Sophie wipes her nose on her sleeve, sniffling loudly. "It's not like I could leave by myself, is it? You would have sat there mooning after than stupid Sabrina all night!"

"How does that make what you just did okay?"

"I would never let you get hit by a car, Clark!"

I feel like I'm about to burst a blood vessel. What's the age limit on having a stroke? "That's not what I'm mad about and you know it!"

A knock on the door interrupts Sophie's reply. I know that knock, and reach out to snag my pillow off the VCR so I can scream into it for a moment to compose myself.

"Sorry, Mr. Ramirez!" I call out, because no, I am not answering the door for him. I don't have to, he can't make me. "I had the TV turned up! I'll turn it down!"

"Can't that nosy old man mind his own business for once?" Sophie crosses her arms and legs, still sniffling noisily. "We're trying to have a fight here!"

I lower my voice to match hers. "Seriously, he's been so annoying since I moved in. Can't he go play chess in the park, or something?"

Nodding vigorously, Sophie adds, "Or join a barbershop quartet!"

"Or volunteer at a soup kitchen."

"Or become a magician's assistant!"

To my own annoyance, I'm not as mad as I was a minute ago. "You have some strange ideas about what retirement is like. Be seriously," I go on, not willing to just let Sophie off the hook. "Don't ever pull that stunt again, or I won't let you in my body at all. Got it?"

Sophie pouts, but at least she doesn't argue back this time.

Sighing, I toss my pillow back on the floor and get up to shuffle over to the kitchenette. My limbs are shaky after that run. I wonder how many calories that burned off? I'm beyond tired, and hungry enough to eat the entire fridge. I settle for a microwaved breakfast sandwich. The rubbery egg puck and paper-thin slice of ham never tasted so good. I eat in silence, standing over the sink. When I finish the sandwich, I snag a second one out of the freezer and heat it up, too.

Sophie hovers on the far side of the kitchen table, watching me watch the microwave. "So, you really don't care for me at all, then?"

Do we have to have this conversation over my sandwich? "I don't, sorry." Now that I'm not so ravenous, I scoop the sandwich from the microwave onto an actual paper plate. I treat myself to a glass of tap water, too, and sit down at the table. "Not romantically, anyway."

Watching the last trace of hope leave Sophie's face turns the microwaved egg to ash in my mouth. I didn't realize it over the last few days, but without meaning to, I'd been treating Sophie's feelings pretty lightly, as far as I'd been aware of them at all. I'm alone in a new city, but my parents are only a phone call away, and I have a school full of people my age to talk to and make friends with. Sophie doesn't have any of that, and hasn't for a very long time. Can I really blame her for getting a little mixed up?

"I do care about you, though," I go on, trying to soften the blow. "I know this probably isn't what you wanna hear right now, but you're a good friend. Really."

Hearing that never made me feel better any time I heard it from someone else. And it occurs to me that I've no doubt walked away from what could have been good friendships if I hadn't assumed girls were just trying to spare my feelings, and didn't mean what they said.

Sophie slumps into the opposite chair. Well, she hovers more or less over the seat, anyway. "Terrific," she says, without enthusiasm. "So I just made a complete fool of myself." She spends a minute with her head pillowed on her arms while I pick at my sandwich. "Can I ask you something, Clark?" she says, lifting her head again. "Why Sabrina instead of me? It's not as though you know her better."

I shrug as I pop a bite of extremely tough croissant into my mouth. "Well, she's smart, she's interesting, she's pretty..."

Looking supremely unconvinced, Sophie points out, "And I'm not any of those things? Thanks a bunch."

"That's not what I mean! Look, it's hard to explain, but she just has this air about her, you know?"

"I really don't."

I know how likely it would be for Sabrina to sell me on thinking some other boy she liked was actually really cool, but Sophie did ask, so… "I'm not a very confident person. On my best day, I kind of go with the flow and try not to stand out too much. Sabrina's the opposite. And it's not like she's trying to be the center of attention, either." I stand up to throw away my empty plate, now translucent in the center with sandwich grease. "She seems to know exactly who she is. Even finding out she has a weird side today is just… her knowing who she is even harder. I can't help but like her."

Sulking, Sophie follows me back to the other room, watching me disentangle the mess of blankets I shoved onto the floor. "So, what, you see a girl with any sort of personality and it's love at first sight?"

"It wasn't at first sight," I say, tidying the room more out of a need to move around than any real concern about the mess. "It took most of the school day. At least until study hall."

"So, if you'd run into me first instead, you'd like me back?"

Not likely. But it's hard to tell Sophie she isn't my type when I can't even articulate what my type is. "I don't know. I didn't meet you first. I met Sabrina first."

"It doesn't sound like you've thought this through very much." Sabrina settles cross-legged on my bed, not flinching as I spread out the blankets right through her.

"It's only been a few days," I say, rewinding the tape in the VCR so I can finally watch the latest episode of Private Eye Poltergeist, even though I'm already spoiled on it. "But I already know you're in no position to tell anyone when they're not thinking something through. Besides, it doesn't work like that."

I turn on the TV and hit play, homework the farthest thing from my mind. I can deal with it in the morning. We sit in silence through half the episode. I can already tell Alfred isn't going to stay dead by then. They've pulled this kind of emotional rug-pull before, and it never sticks.

"Why doesn't it work like that?"

"Hmm?" I stifle a yawn, even though the sun only went down a little while ago. "Like what? Don't tell me you up and decided to have a crush on me."

Sophie harumphs and crosses her arms, looking away. "And what if I did?"

Okay, now I'm really confused. "But why?" I can't say I've ever looked at a girl and consciously chosen to catch feelings. It's not like going into a deli and picking between a roast beef sandwich or a reuben on rye.

Shrugging, Sophie makes a point of staring straight ahead at the TV, where Alfred is still dramatically monologuing and coughing up blood. "You were so nice to me. And hearing you say all those things, when I thought you were saying it about me instead of her, it made me feel special. I guess."

"You are special." I leave off the as a friend part, because I've already made it clear. No need to twist the knife.

Sophie mulls something over for a few more minutes. "I don't get it, but I guess you admire her the way I admire you," she says, finally. "I'll respect it, but I won't accept it."

I shrug. "That's fine. Can't help how you feel." That's one thing I do wish a girl had said to me. Acceptance, instead of making me feel like I was in the wrong for how I felt, whether intentionally or not. Sophie can't break off our own friendship as easily as I had all of those, since she can't go more than a few dozen meters away. All the more reason to try to be sensitive to how she feels.

"I hope you realize I'm not going to give up on you that easily," she adds, determination rekindling in her eyes. "I know I can't make you change your mind, but I'm going to make my case either way. This whole infatuation with Sabrina could blow over as fast as it came on, you know."

"Sure, Sophie."

The next morning, I regret that I didn't at least make an attempt on my homework. The history worksheet is easy enough to fill in by skimming through the chapter while I eat breakfast, but the pre-calculus is a lost cause, and since it's the first class of the day, I won't be able to finish it during study hall, either. I'll have to turn it in incomplete, and accept that I'll fall a little bit farther behind Sabrina in the grade ranking as a result. Still, I can't honestly say that's at the top of my priority list right now.

Sabrina is there at the bus stop again on our way to school, and this time she insists that we ride the bus with her instead of walking all the way. The minute we sit down, she takes out her completed pre-calculus assignment and hands it to me, nudging my book bag with her toe. "Go on, check your answers! I'm sure you didn't have time to do them properly yesterday." She's blushing a bit, and I realize this is her way of trying to apologize for the scene at the hotel yesterday afternoon.

"Uh, thanks, Sabrina."

While I'm copying the practice problems, Sabrina says, "I suppose I went a little overboard back there." She looks up at Sophie, who's hovering over my shoulder to avoid overlapping any of the other bus riders.

Sophie squeaks and ducks down between me and the window, half inside my right side.

"Sophie, move," I say softly, shaking my hand that's already going numb from the cold. "I'm trying to write. Sabrina's not going to bite you."

Sabrina is quick to nod her head. "I know I made a bad first impression, Sophie," she says, visibly holding herself back from going full paranormal fangirl mode again. "It's just that everything's so boring." She pulls nervously at a lock of her hair. "All the time. It's like I've been stuck in place since the first grade. And then, out of nowhere, here you are. Am I making sense?"

Makes perfect sense to me. Even Sophie begrudgingly agrees. "You were obnoxious and rude," Sophie says, idly doodling designs on the bus window with one finger. In her case, this means leaving trails of fog on the otherwise clear glass. "But for Clark’s sake, I forgive you."

Good. I'm not saying anything for the sake of not embarrassing her in front of Sabrina, but it'd be more than a little hypocritical of her to not let some rudeness and obnoxious behavior slide. But I'm going to sit this one out and copy the math homework.

"Good," Sabrina says, so relieved she actually allows herself to slouch in her seat for a moment. Then, she straightens back up. "So, we're starting over? I'm Sabrina," she says, offering her hand to shake over my notebook. "It's the greatest pleasure of my life to meet you, Sophie."

Sophie regards Sabrina's hand, but doesn't take it. She'd phase through, anyway, but it's the idea that counts. "I'm giving you a chance, but don't think I'm calling a ceasefire. I don't intend to give Clark up to you on your life!"

Sabrina stares at the two of us for a long moment. Then, she tosses her head back in a peal of laughter. I'm not expecting the sudden noise, and snap the lead of my pencil.

"Oh, is that what you thought?" Sabrina takes a minute to suppress her giggles, grinning fondly at Sophie. "Was I not clear enough yesterday? I suppose not. I was acting like a basket-case, wasn't I?" Her giggles return for a moment, and she takes a deep breath to smooth them down. "Sophie, you don't have to worry. It's you I find completely fascinating. I have absolutely zero interest in Clark."


Well, even though I'm ready to crawl into a deep hole forever, at least Sophie looks more cheerful.