Holy throttle, Batman, any moment now—
“And CUT!” Amon says.
Calvin lets go and bumps my shoulder. “Good footwork.”
I rub my neck. “You think you could’ve been a little gentler?”
“Then it wouldn’t’ve looked real, eh? You can take it.”
Amon motions for everyone to reset the scene as he looks at the take in a small monitor. “Okay, we’re doing good. Euci—I mean Calvin—could you look less menacing? You’re brain-dead. You don’t know what you’re doing. The Nox has control of your mind.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
“And Darien”—he doesn’t even confuse me with the Federation Prince, that can’t be a good sign—“can you be more…” He motions to the air with his hands. A PA jumps onto the set to fix the fake blood on my forehead. “More Carmindor?”
Yep. Not a good sign. I put my hands on my hips, nodding. “Yeah, sure thing.”
“Okay, good. Everyone, let’s try that again—”
Suddenly, Gail’s phone begins to ring. Amon shoots an annoyed look at her as she flounders to silence it—why doesn’t she just turn it off?—and answers the call quietly. Her face goes pale.
This is going from bad to worse.
She hops off the chair and shuffles up to me, her hand over the receiver. “It’s Mark,” she whispers. Her eyes are wide and she’s shaking her head. “You’re in the news.”
I blink at her once. Twice. Before it sinks in. “Oh, shit.”
“Hey, what’s this?” Amon asks.
“I—uh—it’s an emergency, sorry,” I say.
The director throws his hands in the air. “Fine!” he cries, suddenly sounding exhausted. “Take ten, everyone.”
The set breaks, PAs and gaffers relaxing as a bell shrills overhead. Calvin jostles his shoulder against mine as he passes to the refreshments. “Real professional, Carmindor.”
When he’s gone, Gail mouths, Your dad, and hands me the phone. Of course it is. I take a deep breath, unmute it, and answer. “Mark?”
“How old are you, Darien?” he asks in a voice so cold and clipped, I get a wind chill.
“Um, well. Eighteen, but—”
“Eighteen. So you can read?”
“I mean, yeah—”
“So when you went up to that roof, did the door say no exit?”
The muscles in my shoulder tense. I move away from Gail so she can’t hear him screaming through the phone. “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” Mark says. “I just wanted to make sure before we have this conversation, because now I know exactly how stupid you’re being.”
“What’s happening?” I ask. “What’s everyone saying?”
“Does it matter? You have an image to uphold, Darien. You have a career. You can’t be a stupid kid anymore.” He says the last part slower. “Do you understand?”
I can hear the undercurrent of his voice, the words squeezed between the ones he said. I have a part to play, I have a career, but it’s not mine to steer. I’m strapped to the pilot chair of my life, and my hands are tied. I swallow, fisting and unfisting my hands. The other actors laugh at the water cooler at something Jess said. I bet they don’t get scolded by their managers. “Yes, sir. I understand.”
“Good. Because I’m two seconds away from firing that idiot handler of yours and getting someone who actually knows what they’re doing.”
I shoot a look at Gail, who’s sitting in my actor’s chair, screwing and unscrewing a water bottle cap. “She’s not the problem. It’s me.”
“Then you make sure this doesn’t happen again, or I’m flying out there to watch you personally until the end of the shoot.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to you lat—” I begin to reply, but he’s already hung up. I press END anyway and walk the phone over to Gail.
She looks up from her water bottle and takes her phone back. “I’m sorry, Dare. What did he say?”
“He…just told me to be careful,” I lie, with a shrug. He’ll never fire Gail, not while I’m around. “It’s fine. Besides, you manage me better than he ever did.”
She goes silent, not sure what to say. She looks like she might cry.
I squeeze her shoulder. “You deserve better than Mark for a boss—”
Amon shouts that our ten minutes are up, and I crack my knuckles and walk onto the set again, for once ready as hell to play the Federation Prince. Because being Carmindor means I don’t have to be me.
“AND IN MORE STARTLING NEWS, HOLLYWOOD’S latest heartthrob had a run-in with danger this morning when he was discovered locked on a hotel rooftop…,” the radio personality’s voice blares in her I-Hate-My-Life monotone as Sage pulls the Pumpkin into her driveway.
You wouldn’t expect that inside the home on the corner of Cypress and Mulberry there would be a shrine to electrified punk rock in the basement. I must’ve biked past this house a hundred times on my way to and from work and never once did I suspect that Sage lived here. It looks so…unassuming.
Sage flicks off the radio and hops out.
“Really, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” I say. “You can duck out—”
“Elle.” She comes around to my side of the truck and extends a hand inside. “Let us flee to yonder basement room and sew thy starry helm.”
When I don’t move, she yanks the passenger door open and grabs the duffel bag, pulling me out with it. She pushes me up the steps and swings open the front door, corralling me inside, and then leads me down to the basement, which is finished and strangely cozy, with its beanbag chairs and stack of records and crooked TV stand. Covering the walls are posters of fashiony people in brightly colored clothing, some I recognize from the magazines she reads, but mostly they’re of David Bowie. The Goblin King smolders at me as I sink into a green beanbag. It hisses softly, smelling like old hackeysacks kicked around for too long. A puff of dust rushes up between the cloth.
“Okay, so give me the lowdown,” she says. “What do I need to know?”
“Um.” I’m not sure what she means. “About sewing?”
“About the show!” Sage replies. “Gimme the deets.”
“Really really. If I’m going to sew this costume for you, I want to do it right.”
“It’s, um, it’s fifty-four episodes.”
“So start at episode 1?” she asks, cueing up the TV.
“Aren’t we going to sew?” There’s a little over two weeks until the convention, and as exciting as it is to have help, I’m not super confident about Sage’s ability to stay on task.
“Yeah, but you can’t sew without the TV on. It’s, like, boring.” She unrolls the jacket and shakes it out. “You take the helm, Captain, and I’ll start working on our masterpiece.”
I shift on my feet for a moment, hesitant.
“Elle?” Sage glances back at me.
The thing is, I’ve never introduced anyone to Starfield before. It’s only ever been Dad and me, and then the internet people I sort of know from Rebelgunner, but never someone in person. A thrill begins to creep up my spine, like the Prospero warming up to light speed, heading for destinations unknown. I grab the remote off the floor.
“Actually, we’ll do the crash course starting at episode 3. Then we’ll jump back to 1, and then go forward to 12 and then hit 22 and—”
I slowly blink. Right. I’m not talking to a fan but a soon-to-be fan. I need to lay out the rules of Starfield. “The TV series was made for syndication. It didn’t follow a linear storyline, so things just happened whenever the writers decided to include them. We’re watching them in order of the history of Starfield.”
She laughs. “Right! I’ll pretend I understand that.” She goes to the little workstation in the corner—where, I note with happiness, there is a sewing machine—and gets out a bin of tools. I flick through the various streaming networks until I find one with Starfield, select the episode, and then crawl back to sit on my squishy green throne to wait for the opening credits. I can’t help but look over at Sage as she handles Dad’s jacket.
She touches it so gently, like each thread is made of pure silk, tracing her fingers across the seams as though she knows the coat as well as I do. The starched tails are no longer stiff and the collar’s kind of fraying, but she smooths it out anyway to take stock of the cut.
“Okay.” She waves me to standing. “Up.”
I hit PAUSE and get out of the beanbag. Sage nods and whips around me, lifting one arm and then another, measuring everything from my waist to my neck. When she’s done, she turns one of the jacket arms inside out, marking with chalk and pinning things into little tents. When she’s done with that, she lays the jacket flat on the ground and fishes into her tool bin for scissors. Then she lines up the scissors with the chalk, her face composed and relaxed—probably how a serial killer looks, devoid of all humanity as they begin to ruin something beautiful—