Page 5

They scream in reply.

The screams get louder as he reaches for the bottom of his soaked shirt. I can already see the definition of his chest through the fabric. Everyone can. I groan. Why can’t life have a fast-forward button?

Unlike the twins, I’m not a Darien Freeman fangirl. And I’m definitely not a fan of that teenage wet dream of a show Seaside Cove.

But then Darien Freeman peels off his shirt, and my mouth falls open. His abs and chest beam across Catherine’s plasma TV, piercing through my sleepy brain like a ray of hope in this godless universe.

“He…he’s certainly buffed up for the Federation Prince,” I mutter. “I’ll give him that.”

I stare longer than I want to. Longer that I’ll ever—ever—admit. Darien, clearly loving every minute, spreads his arms and then, after a moment, flourishes a bow toward the audience.

The woman cohost begins fanning herself with her water gun. “Well. That makes up for you losing! Can I touch them?”

Outside, a rumble rips through the air so loud that it quakes the pictures on the mantel and I jump. Crap. I’d know that sound anywhere.

The Magic Pumpkin is coming.

Quickly, I turn back to the TV, clasping the remote like a prayer. “C’mon, just announce who the villain is!” I beg. “Please let it be the Nox King! Please! Please!”

“So, as the hero of the galactic Federation”—big-chin guy gives his cohost a pitying little lady look as Darien pulls his T-shirt back on—“you need a nemesis…”

“Think of the monologues! Think of the OT3s!” I cry out to no one. “Just give me something, universe!”

Big Chin goes on as though I’m not making a very compelling case. “Now I hear the villain has been very hush-hush and there have been some…rumors…going around. About a certain…lady.”

My mouth falls open wordlessly. If it’s a lady, it’s not the Nox King. But then it’ll have to be…

I lean in closer to hear over the rumble of the Pumpkin, holding the candle on the coffee table to keep it from rattling in its jar. Darien Freeman says something snarky, fiddles with his blazer cuffs, and wait for it…wait for it…

I squint to read his lips. They’re nice lips, at least. And I recognize the syllables that push around them. The way his mouth forms the villain’s name, the way his tongue curves around the sound.

The Pumpkin honks from the driveway, and next door, Franco begins yapping. The horn blares again, but Sage is going to have to wait—she’s way early, anyway. I just sit back, stunned. I can’t believe it. They picked the one villain—the one character—I never want to think about again. In the original Starfield, Prince Carmindor shouts her name to the skies with fist-shaking agony, in an image you may recognize from the internet meme “Angry Shouting Soul-Crushing Angst.”

Then again, she’s the only villain who makes sense for a movie reboot. The only one who could rip your weak human heart out of your chest and use your spine like floss against the teeth of agony and bitterness. Prince Carmindor’s one and only love interest.

Princess Amara.

Big Chin looks at the screen. “And if you want to be one of the lucky few to meet the Federation Prince himself, Midlight Entertainment is teaming up with ExcelsiCon this year to host a fan competition! Dress up as your favorite Starfield character and you could win once-in-a-life-time tickets to ExcelsiCon’s masquerade ball, where the winners will be treated to an exclusive meet-and-greet with our man Darien Freeman, plus tickets to the premiere of Starfield in L.A.!”

I shake my head. The only part of that prize I’d want are the tickets to L.A. And maybe the chance to tell Darien Freeman what I think of his stupid, vapid Carmindor to his stupid, vapid face.

Darien Freeman gives the host a weird look. “I…what?”

The host just stares at him, open mouthed. There’s an awkward pause. Then Darien Freeman looks at the TV again. At me. An emotion crosses his face I can’t quite recognize—something he’s trying to hide—and millions of Americans are watching.

“You know, Darien. ExcelsiCon!”

Darien nods distractedly. “Right, right. Sorry. Of course.”

The female cohost puts a hand on his knee. “Darien, it was so nice to have you on the show and we can’t wait for Starfield, coming to theaters next spring!”

Suddenly, there’s a noise off-camera. Shouting. Someone climbs onto the stage and takes a running start for the actor. A girl in a homemade I’LL SEA YOU AT THE COVE T-shirt and bikini bottoms.

Her mouth connects to his with such force that it sends them both tumbling over the sofa. Security swoops in. The camera cuts to a Huggies commercial.

I sink even deeper into Catherine’s squishy chair. This is Starfield now? All of these SeaCos and Darienites flocking to my Starfield? Where they treasure abs and golden sunsets more than lifelong promise-sworns and celebrating your own weirdness?

Fine. If the universe thinks they can dish it, then I can dish it right back. I shove myself to my feet and thunder up the stairs, hurtling into my room. I wrench open my laptop just as Sage lays on the Magic Pumpkin’s horn in my driveway.

I ignore it and pull up my blog. Honestly, Chloe and Cal weren’t wrong—when it comes to the internet, you do need to get your reaction up as soon as possible. And if I do anything in this life, it’s this: writing about the catastrophe that will become Starfield. Documenting it. After forty years this is how Hollywood repays us Stargunners? By giving us Darien Freeman?

FAN-TASTIC OR FAN-SERVICE? I bang out into the “title” field. Perfect.

My fingers shake as they fly across the keyboard. Words just pour out of me. I don’t know where they’re coming from. Maybe years of pent-up rage of not being appreciated. Of having to watch reruns on a secondhand TV for years just to see the HD face of some idiot heartthrob wreck my father’s favorite character.

My favorite character.

The horn blares again, and I know the neighbors are wondering what a food truck is doing in the driveway.

“I’m coming!” I shout. With a click, I post the article, sending it out into the netherverse.

Thirty seconds later, I’ve pulled my work shirt over my head, slung my satchel over my shoulder, and hopped in shotgun to the ostentatiously orange monstrosity that is my place of employment.

“You’re late,” she says in a voice that matches her chlorine-green hair. Dull. Pretty weird. Not interested in talking to me. It was probably once a deep green, because she’s the type of person who would dye her hair the color of her name—Sage. “I’ve been waiting here for ever.”

“Sorry,” I say quickly. A creepy laughing pumpkin hangs from the rearview mirror that my coworker adjusts as she backs out. “I had to…do something.” In a million years, or a million universes, I would never admit to Sage that I’m a Stargunner. I’m sure she’d just laugh. “Wait, isn’t the RiverDogs stadium the other way?” I add as she turns down one of Charleston’s notorious one-way streets.

“Change of plans.”

“I…” My voice trails off as I glance at a passing street sign. “I think this is one way the other way.”

Sage says nothing, just grips the wheel tighter, a grin curving her hot-pink lips. On her otherwise expressionless face, it looks…out of place. Like a stuffed animal in the middle of a blood puddle. Demonic almost.

“Tally-ho!” Sage shouts—so loud that I jump—and yanks around on the gearshift.

I scramble for my seatbelt. I have my license, but since her mom is the owner—and thus our boss—Sage is the one who gets the driver’s seat. The downside is that she’s also a lunatic behind the wheel. And everywhere else, too. Honestly, if I could work anywhere else, I would. But since the only thing on my resume is my ill-fated stint at the country club—which I am not going to return to, no matter what Catherine says—I’m probably lucky the Pumpkin even wanted me at all.

There are worse jobs, I guess. I could be getting attacked by fangirls like poor, pretty Darien Freeman.

“I’M SO, SO, SO SORRY.” Gail hands me an ice pack as soon as I make it to the green room.

“What just happened?” I take it and wince as I press the pack against the back of my neck.

Gail shakes her head. “I thought security had her…”

“I mean, they did,” I say. “Right after she had me. On the floor. I thought I’d choke on her tongue.” My damp hair—no longer perfectly curled—sticks to my neck like seaweed.

The fangirl had come at me so fast, I barely knew what—or who—hit me until I was already flipping over the rock-hard sofa and onto my already bad back. Which is ridiculous, I know: I’m eighteen, I shouldn’t have a bad back. But after two years of carrying my costar around on Seaside Cove—it was supposed to be romantic, the fans loved it—my chiropractor told me to lay off the stunts for a while. I’m pretty sure that includes random girls lip-locking me in the middle of Hello, America.

Gail rubs her hands together nervously. “I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m sorry. Was my fault completely. I should’ve had more security. I should’ve said something.”