“I hate this,” I whisper, and quickly shove my phone into my pocket. I want to rake my hands through my hair but I can’t because I have this stupid beanie on. The convention is so loud, I can’t hear myself think. People stare at me even though I don’t want them to. Nothing is private. There’s nowhere I can escape.

Ultimately, my feet find their way back to Harper’s booth. She looks up from her Obi-Wan commission. “Something up?”

Another chance for me to tell her the truth. That I’m Jessica Stone. That I’ve lied to her, and I’m sorry, and my life is falling apart and I’m not even present to watch it crumble.

And deep down, I don’t want to be.

“No,” I lie.

“Well, whatever is not up,” Harper tries to soothe me, “it’ll be fine. There’s a quote that I like to always remember—”

“‘It’s fine’?”

She scowls good-naturedly. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“It is a leaf on the wind—”

“‘You are not alone, ah’blena,’” she says, quoting a line I know all too well. It’s what Carmindor says to Princess Amara during one of the Nox King’s infamous galas. Two-thirds into the movie, before the Black Nebula ruptures and the princess has to sacrifice herself to save the galaxy.

And it’s the exact quote that makes my lips wobble. I push up my glasses and look away.

Harper closes her sketchpad in alarm. “There is something wrong.”

“You won’t understand.”

“Try me.”

“I can’t,” I reply, pushing my fingertips under my glasses to wipe away the tears I am definitely not shedding right now. Keep it together, Jessica. Keep it together. “You won’t understand.”

Harper exhales an aggravated sigh. “You’re right—if you don’t tell me, I’ll never understand. I don’t know what’s come over you these past few days, but you definitely aren’t as happy as you seemed to be, and I know something’s wrong.”

Oh, was Imogen that much of a ray of sunshine?

I shake my head. “Do you know what it’s like to put everything you have into something—like a project, or a character—and it’s just never enough for anyone? Knowing that, no matter what you do, you’ll never live up to the expectations in other people’s heads?”

“That’s a tough spot to be in,” Harper says, cocking her head and taking a moment to consider her response. “I think you should just live up to the expectations in your own head first, because you’re always hardest on yourself. At least that’s how I feel when I’m trying to write my comics.”

I fidget uncomfortably and chew on my bottom lip. “It is?”

“I think it’s bullshit that the only meaningful stories are the ones that are deep and pondering and boring, saying all this nonsense without ever saying anything, and you’re supposed to, like, read meaning into the yellow wallpaper or something.” She rolls her eyes. “You know what I think? I think sometimes the stories we need are the ones about taking the hobbits to Isengard and dog-human dudes with space heelies and trashy King Arthurs and gay ice-skating animes and Zuko redemption arcs and space princesses with found families and galaxies far, far away. We need those stories, too. Stories that tell us that we can be bold and brash and make mistakes and still come out better on the other side. Those are the kinds of stories I want to see, and read, and tell. ‘Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite’—that means something to me, you know?”

No, I don’t. But…I want to.

Harper takes my hand and squeezes it tightly, giving me the courage I need. “Harper, I need to tell you something—”

“Jessica Stone?” a voice interrupts.

I glance up, and on the other side of the booth table is that interviewer from my first day at this con—the woman with the candy-apple-red glasses and the off-script questions. The journalist who made me humiliate myself in front of Natalia Ford. I quickly push my glasses up on my face. “I think you have the wrong—”

“You are! I’d know that face anywhere. What’re you doing here?” Her eyes grow hungry as she drinks me in like her next paycheck. She’s starting to attract the attention of other people in the aisle.

“Dude, I think that’s her,” a Deadpool says to another Deadpool. “Look at the mole on her left cheek!”

I quickly jump to my feet, covering the mole with my hand. Really—now is when people notice it?

The journalist presses on. “Aren’t you supposed to be at a meet-and-greet?” Then her eyes slip to Harper. “And who’s she?”

“Imogen?” Harper asks, giving me a strange look. “What’s happening? Who’s this woman?”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, and my eyes burn because I’m on the verge of tears, and this is not how I want to be seen in public. This is not how Jessica Stone is seen in public. My chest begins to tighten as I stumble out from behind the booth. “I’m so sorry—”

The first phone camera flashes and I flinch.

I can barely breathe. No, I think. No, this isn’t how this is supposed to happen.

“Excuse me,” I mutter, forcing my way through the gathering crowd, leaving Harper at her booth, surrounded by the chorus of my name.

“Jess! What do you think of the script?” someone shouts.

“Isn’t she at a meet-and-greet?”

“Can I have your autograph?”


But all I can hear are the Instagram comments, and all I can see are the Photoshopped images from trolls online. The crowd begins to follow me, and even more people turn to watch. My brown hair is slipping out of my beanie, and I don’t have time to push it back up again.

I break into a run—and they follow.

Please stop, I beg. Stop following me.

Turning down the last artists’ aisle, where the plushies are, I mutter a plea for forgiveness before I toss the entire rack onto the floor in the hopes of blocking the crowd from pursuing me—or at least slowing them down.

The girl in the booth looks up from her smartphone just in time to see me knock over the rack and squawks, “NO!”

But the plushies tumble across the floor, and I sprint toward the emergency exit twenty feet away. The art-deco carpet swims in my vision, and I can’t seem to catch my breath.

If I’d never thrown away that script, if I’d never thought of this foolish idea to have Imogen impersonate me, if I’d just breathed and kept to myself and pushed my feelings down beneath my toes and not fallen for Harper Hart, then I wouldn’t be in this situation.

But I can’t get the look on Harper’s face out of my mind, the confusion morphing into betrayal as she realized who I was. The kind of person I am. How long I’ve lied to her. Oh God, I lied to her and that’s unforgivable and I can feel a bit of my heart breaking because I remember how she looked this morning as the sunlight poured through the curtains, her face inches from mine as we whispered to each other, “Good morning.”

And it hurts.

It hurts so much because I was—

I was—

I was happy.

And now I am unraveling stitch by stitch.

I don’t stop running until I shove open the hotel doors and stumble out onto the sidewalk. It’s pouring rain outside. My flats get soaked the second I step into a puddle, but I can’t stop because a few people are still following me. Haven’t they gotten the hint?

Just leave me alone!

I wrap my arms around myself as I bound off the curb and make my way across the street to my hotel—

A car horn blares.

I jerk toward the sound, headlights blinding, tires squealing. The burning smell of tires punctures the scent of muggy rain on asphalt as a black car screeches to a stop just inches away from me.

I stare at the car.

The back passenger door opens and out steps Natalia Ford, her gray hair pinned into a bun atop her head. She’s wearing a shirt covered in a pattern of tiny artistically rendered middle fingers and a blood-red ascot.

I swallow the lump in my throat.

A clash of thunder rumbles overhead, reverberating between the tall buildings. Behind me, a few fans and the journalist burst through the doors in search of me.

Natalia tilts her head and steps back into the car, which I take as a sign to join her. I round the car, open the door, and slide in. The car drives away before my fans realize which way I’ve gone; I watch them disappear in the rear window as we take a side street out of downtown Atlanta and away from the convention.

“You know, I’ve heard rumors that you dislike conventions,” Natalia says, “but sweetheart, tossing yourself into traffic isn’t quite the best way to get your point across.” She crosses one leg over the other and I notice Stubbles perched in her lap, staring at me with jaded green eyes.

“I wasn’t looking,” I reply. I don’t realize it at first, but I’m shivering.

Natalia turns up the heat. The windshield wipers knock back and forth, the constant thrum of the rain dampening the sound of my chattering teeth. Her white-goateed driver faces forward, wearing a slick black suit. There are rumors that he’s also her, um, boyfriend, which reminds me a little too much of The Princess Diaries—except with Julie Andrews replaced by Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada.