Chapter 29:

Friends Indeed

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

Heading back downtown as the sun set, Sabrina reveals the final item on the agenda for the evening. Near the end of September every year, the city hosts a carnival. There's no particular holiday it's attached to; it's more of a last hurrah for people in town as the weather transitions from summer to autumn. Sophie nods. She remembers the carnival alright. Nice to know it's still put on every year.

As they near the area where the streets have been closed off, Sophie cranes her head back to take in the site of the enormous, state-fair-sized ferris wheel looming over the rest of the carnival. Loud music grows louder as they get closer-- not carnival music as she remembers it, but the "Rock and Roll" music that Clark enjoys. The lights are brighter, too, and there's more rides and games on the midway than she's ever seen before. It's noisy and crowded and bright. After all those years alone in that hotel, it's utterly magical.

Sophie floats upward a bit while Sabrina and Clark wait in line to buy wristbands. She watches the breaths of the living people below fog the air and takes in the familiar scents of funnel cake and hot apple cider. Stomachache or no stomachache, Clark's going to help her eat a funnel cake, and that's final! Maybe even two!

"Ready?" Sabrina and Clark look up at her, pink wristbands peeking out from the cuffs of their sweaters.

With a decisive nod, Sophie swoops down to join them.

The carnival is crowded enough that Clark, Sabrina, and Sophie can all chat openly without anyone shooting them odd looks. They take their time meandering through the stalls selling cheap jewelry and bootleg t-shirts and things. They pass through a row of games, carnies beckoning people to come try their luck to win one misshapen stuffed animal or another.

Sabrina wins at a game of throwing a small toy basketball through a hoop (Clark insists that the ball is weighted to cheat, but he's still out three dollars), and asks what prize she should get. After a moment, Sophie realizes that Sabrina is asking her.

Glancing through the array of garishly-colored animals, Sophie points to a perfectly hideous purple unicorn. "That one!"

The funnel cakes taste even more heavenly than Sophie remembered them being. Clark forgives her for getting powdered sugar all over the front of his sweater.

It takes him a little longer to forgive her for making him ride one too many spinning rides directly after eating.

He and Sabrina sit on one side of a battered picnic table while Clark recovers his bearings after an emergency dash to a trash can.

"Sorry," Sophie says, sheepish as she watches Clark sip on some water. The only way Sophie can feel any sensation from the rides is by being in a real body. You can't feel your stomach flip if you don't have a stomach, after all. Too bad Clark's is, as it turns out, of a delicate disposition.

Clark gives her the evil eye. "I told you that second funnel cake was a bad idea."

Sophie nods. "I suppose a corn dog is out of the question?"

It is out of the question.

But that's alright, because there's so much to see and do, the evening flies by. Around ten o'clock, Sabrina says, "The buses run until eleven." She points to the Ferris wheel. "Last ride?"

Sophie looks again at the wheel, towering over them and covered top to bottom in a rainbow of twinkling lights, and smiles. "Oh, yes! Let's!"

With the exception of the funnel cake incident and the fact that my wallet is crying out in agony after a day of spending money as if I can afford to, this has been a great day. It's easy to get into a rut of following a daily routine. At least, for me it is. And I can do worse than hanging out with Sabrina, even if her attention is mostly focused on Sophie. In a way, being the third wheel sort of gives me a break from having Sophie's focus on me. Maybe that's what parents of little kids feel like, someone always relying on you. Not that I mind all that much, but still.

Our gondola slowly ratchets around and upward as the ride operator lets people board the other ones. Since the ride hasn't properly started yet, Sophie leaves my body again to let herself float.

"I'm going to go higher," she says brightly, speaking equally to me and Sabrina like she has been for a lot of the day. I wonder if she's aware she's doing that. She would only talk to Sabrina to snipe at her before. "I should be able to get a great view from above the top."

"Just don't go too far," I warn her, recalling the way she pulled me off my feet the morning we discovered we were tethered together. "I don't feel like falling out of this thing."

Sophie nods. "Promise, Clark, I'll move really slow, like a little dandelion seed! Back in a jiffy!"

With that, Sophie drifts upward, slowly, like she said she would. As she reaches the limit of her range, I feel a slight upward tug, but nothing more.

Sabrina stares up after her, looking completely content. "She's so wonderful," she says, breath rising in a cloud. It's chilly now, this late at night. Her nose and cheeks are rosy, and mine must be do going by how prickly and cold they feel. "What a perfect day."

"It was fun," I agree. "Sophie seems to be enjoying herself, too."

"I wish it could have been just the two of us."

I'm momentarily confused, then realize Sabrina means she wishes it had been her and Sophie, without me.

Our gondola swings up another space, nearing the top. Sophie shouts down something about being able to see my apartment building from here.

"Well," I start, mood sinking despite myself. "You're kinda stuck with me tagging along on dates as long as Sophie's stuck possessing me." It's nothing personal, I remind myself. If I were spending time with my crush, as it's increasingly obvious Sophie is to Sabrina the same way Sabrina was to me and I was to Sophie (sheesh), I'd be less than thrilled about having an extra person along all the time, too. Three's a crowd, right?

Still, I was hoping that I wasn't just being grudgingly tolerated all day.

We get to the top of the wheel. It's a cool view, but I'm not quite in the mood anymore. The five minutes the ride lasts are going to be awkward.

"Do you think there's any way to switch Sophie over to being attached to someone else?" Sabrina is ignoring the view of the city skyline, too, preferring to look up at Sophie, who's still floating above us like a translucent kite. At least one of us is still having a good time.

I shrug. I've been wondering the same thing, but the timing of the question hits me the wrong way. "You'd have to ask Sophie. I still don't understand much about how this all works," I say, feeling more than a little bitter. "Why? If we could do that, and Sophie agreed to it, would you just drop me after that?"

Sabrina tears her eyes away from Sophie long enough to give me an arch look. "Clark, I feel I've made myself clear as to my lack of reciprocation for your feelings."

"And I think I've been pretty clear about getting over those feelings," I snap back. "You're not the only girl in the world."

To my surprise, Sabrina looks a bit taken aback. I guess she wasn't expecting me to push back. I wasn't expecting it either.

"Be that as it may," Sabrina says, scrambling to recover her composure, "You're still entirely uninteresting. If I don't enjoy spending time around you on your own merits, I'm not going to lie and pretend otherwise."

I don't want to get into an argument while we're trapped on a Ferris wheel. I really don't. It'd ruin the whole day. "Aren't you tired of not having friends?" I ask, my mind returning to Blaine's crayon drawing. I can only speculate on how that friendship ended. It could easily have been something Blaine did, because he is a jerk. But Sabrina can be kind of a jerk, too, sometimes. If my brain glossed over that while my crush was still going strong, it doesn't anymore.

Sabrina, for once, doesn't have anything to say.


We both flinch and twist in our seats to find Sophie floating just behind the gondola.

"Oh, hey," I say dumbly, reflexively trying to smooth things over. I don't want to be the reason the day ends badly.

"Sophie," Sabrina starts, then stops when Sophie pins her with a glare.

"Apologize to Clark," Sophie repeats, arms folded. She keeps pace with the gondola as we swing one space forward and down. The ride must be nearly full at this point. "Right now."

Surprisingly, Sabrina doesn't immediately do as Sophie asks. "I was only telling the truth."

Sophie's mouth thins out to a needle-sharp line. "Don't give me that load of baloney! You know," she says, putting herself between me and Sabrina on the gondola bench, "I was actually having a nice time with you, Sabrina. I was starting to think maybe I'd gotten the wrong idea about you being a heartless she-devil."

"I'm not a heartless she-devil!" It sounds more than a little ridiculous when Sabrina says it. Even more so than when Sophie does. "I just-"

"Then stop acting like that!"

Sabrina pipes down. I don't dare say anything, either. This is different from when Sophie threw her tantrum back in the hotel.

Sophie shakes her head. "Clark's a good person. He rescued me, and he doesn't complain about me staying with him even though I know I can be a bother," she says, glancing to me. "He's the best friend I've ever had."

"Thanks," I mumble, caught off guard by her sincerity. "You, too."

I'm so good with words.

Sophie turns her attention back toward Sabrina. "And you, Miss Sabrina, for all you expect other people to live up to your standards, you should spend a little time thinking about whether you live up to theirs. I enjoyed gallivanting around town with you today, Sabrina, honestly. I'll admit it. But," she goes on, holding up a hand when Sabrina opens her mouth to reply, "how can I love someone who disrespects my best friend? It's impossible." She crosses her arms, frowning out over the roofs of the carnival stalls below. "I can't abide it. I'll always stand up for anyone getting pushed around."

"I understand." Sabrina's voice is very small. I'm sure she's thinking she's blown her chances completely. I know the feeling from past experience, and even though she was acting pretty cold to me just a minute a ago, it's hard not to feel sympathy for her.

Slowly, the Ferris wheel turns for real, swooping us gracefully past the ground and back upward and around.

"I'm glad you do," Sophie says, after a moment. "Next time, I'll really be sore at you, Sabrina."

"Next time?" Sabrina moves to clasp Sophie's hands, not seeming to notice that her own hands pass right through like she's grabbing mist. "You forgive me?"

Sophie sticks her nose in the air. "If Clark forgives you. He's the one your wronged."

Giving me a desperate look, Sabrina says, "Clark? Do you?"

I'm already not mad anymore after hearing Sophie say all those nice things about me. "I mean, it'd be cool if you apologized first," I say. By Sabrina's own prior diagnosis, I need to develop more of a personality, right? Standing up for myself is a good place to start.

"Right! Of course," Sabrina stammers. "I'm sorry, Clark. I am grateful you gave up your Saturday and some of your spending money-"

"All of my spending money," I correct her.

"-to make this outing possible." Sabrina sighs. "To be honest, I'm envious of you. I went into the Kensington a hundred times, but I never got to… Anyway. I shouldn't take it out on you. Of course you're a person worth knowing, if Sophie likes you so well."

"Thanks, Sabrina," I say, ready to get back to enjoying the last few minutes of our night out.

Sophie nods imperiously. "Adequate," she says, mimicking Sabrina's usual tone. That breaks the last of the tension, and we all go back to chatting, going over the highlights of the day and making plans for next time.

Later, after we catch the last bus back to our neighborhood and part ways to walk the rest of the way home, I watch Sophie drift like a contented cloud beside me,

"So," I say, lacing my fingers behind my head. "You and Sabrina? That's exciting for you."

"I guess so," Sophie says, suddenly coy.

"Was that your intention all along? Using me to get close to a…" I fumble for the right ancient slang. "A gorgeous dame?"

Sophie bolts upright. "No! Clark, I'd never treat you that way."

Laughing, I wave off her concern. "I'm joking, Sophie. But seriously, you'll make me your best man at the wedding?"

"Don't make me go cockroach on you."

We walk in companionable silence for a few minutes. Well, I walk and Sophie drifts.

"I meant what I said before, though." Sophie moves to float in front of me. "If Sabrina can't treat you nicely, I'll kick her to the curb. Nothing comes between us as far as I'm concerned, got it?"

"Got it."

I unlock the door to my little apartment, and we go inside.

There's still time for an episode of Private Eye Poltergeist.