Chapter 20:

Study Hall Overtime!

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

The day Sabrina essentially anti-confessed her feelings for me roundly sucked, but it's not my first rodeo. I'm more used to rejection than the opposite. A week later, I've gone a long way toward picking myself back up. I've carved out enough headspace to pay attention to not just school assignments, but my classmates who aren't Sabrina. I've even started sitting with some of them during lunch break and having normal conversations. It's nice.

Sophie is on a more even keel, too. At night, she continues digging through my anime collection. She's started in on my comic books, as well, so long as I remember to grab them off the bookshelf for her. It takes most of her ghostly strength just to turn the pages. At school, she either naps inside my body, or wanders freely around within the distance limit from me, sometimes phasing through the walls to check out neighboring classes or outside into the courtyard. I've had to remind Sabrina a few times not to openly stare at her, but otherwise nothing terrible has happened. Paradoxically, loosening up a bit is making the whole situation easier to keep under wraps.

Today, Sophie wanders around all morning, finally getting bored enough in the afternoon to return to me for a rest. I'd never thought of napping as a fun hobby, but I guess it holds some novelty after a few decades of not being able to sleep. I still don't know why she can only sleep inside me, and only when I'm awake, and she doesn't seem to understand it, either. She just says that she has a funny feeling she shouldn't try to sleep otherwise.

When school lets out, Sophie is still asleep. It's no longer Sabrina's turn to clean up after school, and I catch up to her near the front entrance. "Hey, Sabrina!"

Sabrina slows so I can fall in step beside her. "Hi, Clark. Where's Sophie?"

"Taking a nap," I say, tapping the side of my temple. I'm getting used to Sabrina obsessing over Sophie, too, though I'd be lying if I said it never bothers me. To paraphrase Sophie herself: what am I, chopped liver?

"Aww," Sabrina coos, one hand to her cheek and peering at my head like she's trying to see through it to Sophie. "It's too bad she can't sleep out here in the open. I bet her face is extra cute when she's sleeping! Like a little gray kitten."

Not the analogy I'd draw, with the way Sophie snores. Maybe more like a grizzly bear. But to each their own.

"Say," I go on, smoothly changing the subject from speculation about Sophie in repose. "Do you want to come over and do homework together? I have snacks."

"Snacks, huh?" Sabrina raises an eyebrow. "Tempting, but I already finished my homework."

There's no way. School just let out. "Even the stuff we were assigned after study hall? How?"

Sabrina shrugs. "I just do it during class. I'm not sure why everyone doesn't do that. It saves a lot of time."

"Won't the teacher be mad that you're not paying attention to the lesson?"

"I am paying attention," Sabrina says breezily. "I write the notes on the opposite page in my notebook, so if they walk by, they see that I'm taking notes as they expect. They don't look too closely at the other page. It's easy."

It doesn't sound easy to me. It sounds like trying to do two different things at the same time. I wouldn't try it myself unless I wanted incomplete notes on one hand and wrong homework answers on the other. "Well, if you have all this free time, then," I try again, "you can come over and wait for Sophie to wake up. She needs to talk to someone other than me."

That gets Sabrina's buy-in, and we head for the bus stop together, Sophie snoring away blissfully unaware in my head.

Mr. Ramirez was outside smoking a cigar, and gave me the expected hard time about my "little girlfriend," which Sabrina handled with chilling politeness until the old man relented and went back inside. Amazing.

Poorly hidden behind a utility pole, Blaine sniggers over the picture he’s managed to snap with his camera phone. Little Miss Perfect isn’t quite so perfect, is she? Not that Blaine thinks they’re doing anything other than dumb nerd crap in there, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Doesn’t have to be true words. It’s only fair that Blaine get a little payback for how annoying and uppity these two have been.

All that’s left to do is email this picture to a few of the right classmates, and the school’s rumor mill will handle the rest.

Inside, Sabrina helps herself to a soda from the fridge and putters around while I get my homework done. And it's not as though I don't even start my homework before I get home. I got the English reading done during lunch, and I did what little there was for history on the bus. That just leaves math. It's the first class of the day, and study hall isn't long enough to get the whole assignment done, and lunchtime is too noisy and distracting. I work on finishing the problems while Sabrina sips her soda and wanders around the small apartment. There's not a lot to see, but at least I thought to clean the place up last night. No one wants to see laundry and a forest of water glasses and empty soda cans laying around everywhere.

The assignment is taking longer to finish than I would like. There's factoring involved in the last problem. The details are messy and boring, but suffice it to say that I hate factoring from the bottom of my soul, and I'm no good at it.

Around the third time Sabrina stops to study my bookshelf again, I turn around in my chair. "Sorry, you're probably getting bored, huh?"

"I was hoping Sophie wouldn't sleep so long, yes." Sabrina taps her fingernails against the soda can in her hand.

"In the meantime," I say, not in the mood to hear her gush about Sophie. "Are you any good with factoring? I really hate these ones where there's a number in front of the square."

Sabrina comes over to the kitchen table and sits in the other chair. "Really? Why don't you just use the quadratic formula?"

I scratch the back of my head. It's been thirty minutes and my brain is already fried. Maybe I'm staying up too late at night watching TV lately. "I know, but it takes a while and sometimes I forget which factor I have to go back and fix afterward."

Rolling her eyes like she's explaining basic arithmetic to me instead of pre-calculus, Sabrina leans over and points at the top line of the problem. "Just borrow the coefficient from the leading term, then. It's all right there."

"I can't just take that," I say, not sure why I'm bothering to argue when she's probably right for some reason I haven't caught up with yet. "That changes the whole problem; I wouldn't end up with the right answer."

"You really did come from a small town school, huh?" Sabrina shakes her head. "Then you put it back in at the end, of course. Try it."

There's no reason not to try, I suppose. It beats sitting here being stuck while Sabrina gets increasingly bored waiting for Sophie to wake up. I gnaw on my pencil eraser, staring down at the completed problem. According to the back of the book, that's the right answer. But it couldn't be that easy, could it?

Flipping through the chapter in the textbook and not finding any mention of solving this kind of problem this way, I blink up at Sabrina, who looks mildly satisfied and not at all surprised. "How did you know that? You got a private tutor, or something? I know the teacher didn't demonstrate it like that."

Sabrina shrugs. "Memorizing a certain set of actions and understanding the end goal are two different things."

"You call that an explanation?"

Another shrug. "I never quite know how to explain it. If something's put together a certain way," she says, taking my pencil from my hand and marking up the first line of the problem. "I can usually pull it apart in my mind and figure out why it's like that." With circles and underlines, she's separated the problem into different chunks. I still can't see the significance of them, but clearly it makes sense to her.

"And that's how you figured out an easier way to do these problems?" Nice talent. I wish my brain worked like that. My grades are second only to Sabrina's in our class, but I have to put in long hours of work, practicing and memorizing where it looks like she can just puzzle things out on the fly.

She nods. "When I was still too young to be at home alone, sometimes Dad would take me along to work with him after school." Grabbing another soda out of the fridge, Sabrina tosses one to me. She must be a bit of a caffeine junkie. "I could watch the assembly line floor from his office. It was the most interesting thing in the world to me, watching all these specific parts turn into working automotive engines."

This is the first thing Sabrina's shared about her personal life, other than hinting that she finds her mother annoying. "Your dad works at that automotive factory on the edge of town?" I remember passing by it on the train here when I moved, a huge, low building, painted white.

"He runs it, yes," Sabrina says, casually. "He doesn't like to be too far from where the real work gets done, or so he says."

"And you really figured out how a car engine works just by watching them get put together?"

Taking a sip from her second soda, Sabrina regards the condensation on the sides of the can. "Not just from that, but in large part. Particularly in comparing the different models against each other. Seeing how different sets of constraints in size or weight affected the individual parts, or how it didn't affect them. My real breakthrough," she goes on, more animated than when she was just exploring the apartment, "was realizing that everything else works the same way as the engines. Once you notice a pattern in something, you can use it as a key to pick it apart. Then you can understand it a lot better than you can just by learning what other people have learned about the same thing."

Well, my initial impressions about Sabrina weren't entirely wrong. Her obsession with the paranormal is pretty strange, but then again, if she really sees patterns everywhere, maybe that just misfires now and then. Most geniuses are at least a little eccentric, I've heard. "I can see how that would work really well in a math or science class."

Man, my small talk game needs work.