What am I doing? This isn’t an eyelash-length competition. Weirdo.

I put my phone away and clear my throat. “Well, um. You know, just the usual.”

He nods. “Uh-huh.”

From across the room, I hear Vance chuckle at something the volunteer says. It’s smooth like honey and makes my entire body go rigid. I can’t believe I fell for that—for him. How naive could I be?

Darien glances over his shoulder at Vance and then back at me. “You know, he disguises himself pretty well for a bag of dicks.”

My eyes widen. “Darien.”

“I can say it,” he replies, and takes a bottle of water offered by a volunteer. “He’s a piece of trash. He shouldn’t have tricked you like that.”

He’s in on the plan, too. After apologizing to Ethan, Jess’s second order of business was to find Darien because we couldn’t pull this off without him. Jess shot him a text, and we reconvened in Jess’s suite so she could freshen my makeup. By the time we made it back to Jess’s suite, Darien and a girl with crimson hair were waiting outside her door.

She had grinned at us—that kind of troublemaking grin I recognized from the gossip news proclaiming her Geekerella—and brandished a box of red hair dye. “So who needs to become a princess?”

And that is how I met Elle Wittimer.

If I ever shipped people in real life (which I don’t, because it’s weird to me, unless it’s me and someone really hot and it’s only in my head), then she and Darien would be my FOREVER OTP. But I totally don’t ship real people.

…except maybe them.

“I just hope this plan works,” I mutter to Darien, eyeing Vance as he and the volunteer break out into a flirtatious laugh. “I’m kinda mostly afraid that Bran won’t get his phone number in time. And…”

I hesitate, because this part I hadn’t really wanted to say out loud. I don’t want to jinx anything.

“And even if we do expose him, Jess will still take the blame for throwing the script away in the first place. And even though she said she wanted to take the blame, I don’t understand why she would.”

Darien nods. “I know. But let’s trust her, yeah? She’s not the brightest witch of her age for nothing.”

I gasp, fake-shocked. “Darien Freeman, did you just refer to something other than Starfield?”

“I know, right? It’s like I’m multidimensional or something.”


Then he checks his phone. “Oh gosh, look at the time. It’s distraction o’clock!”

He winks at me and hurries to the exit of the waiting area. A volunteer stops him, but when he says he has to go to the bathroom, she lets him escape into the hallway.

I quickly text Jess.

IMOGEN (5:55 PM)

—The Carmindor is in motion.

THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE SAID WHEN the actress playing the new Amara in the reboot devises a plan to steal the original Amara’s gown from a coffin case while half of the con watches.

Although I don’t know what that something to be said would be, honestly.

I guess I’m about to find out.

The dress is located in the center of the exhibit, beside the original Carmindor’s uniform, which is, as Dare once pointed out, the perfect shade of blue. A hue that matches the swirls in Amara’s dress exactly.

There are three booth attendants patrolling the exhibit, orbiting one another in bored rounds. Fans take photos in front of the cases, posing beside their favorite uniforms. There is a constant crowd in front of Amara’s dress that I had hoped would ebb as it grew nearer to the big Starfield panel—where they’re supposed to announce the title of the sequel—but the crowd doesn’t seem to be letting up at all.

I share a bag of popcorn with Imogen’s beefcake of a brother while we watch from the edge of the showroom. Bran is back at the booth, hopefully hacking into the Twitter account. It’s just a few keystrokes, he assured me. Just ask for password retrieval, get a glimpse of the characters in the Twitter profile’s phone number, and go to work on a phone directory site. He stressed that there was a program to test out hundreds of thousands of phone numbers—or whatever. I’m not even going to pretend to understand it. I had half a mind to ask him to purge the entire account—delete every tweet until no trace remains—but that won’t help my narrative.

No, people already know that Amara is dead and Carmindor dies. What they don’t know is the ending to the story, and that is something I do not intend to give them. At least not yet.

Endings can always change.

Amara’s dress is the last piece of the plan. This part was my idea, actually. I don’t just want to expose Vance as the the insufferable jerk he is. If I’m going to back Imogen and save Amara, I need to convince the fandom that Amara needs to be saved.

Not only that, but I know that I would look like perfection in that dress. The new Amara in the dress she could never live up to. And in it I will prove to everyone that there are stories yet to tell, and stars to cross, and shipper wars to wage, and if a fandom can’t shift a narrative then nothing can.

At the beginning of all this I was against #SaveAmara, but now I realize that Imogen and I are on the same side. We both want meaningful narratives, less flavor-of-the-week female characters, more legitimacy as a genre. We want to save Amara—but we want to save our future, too.

“So what’ve I missed?” Dare asks, jogging up beside me. He has on a pair of Ray-Bans, as if that really disguises him in the crowd. People are doing double-takes the longer he stands beside me.

Imogen’s brother gapes at him. “You…you’re…”

“’Sup, my man,” Dare says coolly, and gives Milo the finger guns.

“I think I’m going to die,” Milo whispers.

Nerds. The lot of them.

I toss another piece of popcorn into my mouth. “Cause a distraction while Milo and I get the dress. You think you can do that?”

“Can I do that,” Dare scoffs and looks at me from over his Ray-Bans. “I was born ready.” He wiggles his eyebrows and saunters out into the hallway, opening his arms like, Ladies.


But it seems to work. The first girl who notices him screams and comes running, and then another and another, until he’s surrounded by fans asking to take his photo and pose with him. He treats them all so graciously, I’m kind of a little annoyed.

It doesn’t work for long, however, and by the time Milo and I get to the case, a volunteer appears, red-faced and panicked. “Mr. Freeman! You’re on a panel, like, now!”

Oh, no.

Two of the booth attendants are beginning to separate from the crowd, and neither Milo nor I have even opened the case yet. I mutter under my breath and work my hairpin into the hinges. The first screw pops out. I start on the bottom one. Imogen’s brother blocks me with the hulk of his body, but that isn’t going to help if the booth attendants look over and see me unhinging the door to the case.

“Um,” I hear Dare say to the volunteer, “I mean—I’ll be there in a—I have to—can we wait a few—”

Ugh. I forgot how Hufflepuff he is. Pushover.

But then another voice cuts through the crowd. I recognize it, but I can’t put my finger on where exactly I’ve heard it before. It’s rough and gravelly. Definitely an older gentleman.

“Skipping out on a panel? In my day, I’d never do such a thing.”

It sounds like the pretzel guy. Henry or whatever.

I look around the case to the commotion. It definitely is Pretzel Henry, but without his pretzel stand and no longer wearing his pretzel smock. He stands across from Dare, wearing a tropical shirt with a white undershirt peeking out and beige trousers, his face is clean shaven and his graying hair is pushed back over his head.

Imogen’s brother makes a strangled noise in his throat. “Holy George Clooney’s bat nipples. That’s…”



That’s where I recognized him from!

Now that he and Dare are in the same spot, the likeness is almost uncanny. Dare’s nose is a little bigger, and his eyebrows are much more expressive, but the two of them could be cut from the same cloth. Natalia Ford and I look a little alike, but this is like that scene in the new Star Trek where the new Spock, Zachary Quinto, meets the old Spock, Leonard Nimoy. This is probably the single strangest unscripted thing I have ever seen in my life.

I don’t think they’ve ever been in the same room before, although Dare knew he was here. David Singh hasn’t been in the spotlight for years. According to what I’ve read, he’s done humanitarian work supporting disaster relief and charities across the world. And, apparently, he’s been here. At ExcelsiCon. As…a pretzel guy.

I watch as Dare stares, unabashedly, at the elder Carmindor. “I’m…you’re…sir!”

“Skipping out on your panel, you should be ashamed,” Pretzel Henry—I mean, David Singh—says, shaking his head. “That isn’t very princely of you, Mr. Freeman.”

“I—but I wasn’t—I’m not—”

David Singh turns his gaze ever so briefly to Milo and me and then back to Dare. He knows what we’re doing. He’s…distracting them for us? Dare darts his eyes from us, to David Singh, and then back to us again as if trying to piece together this hectic turn of events. But all I can give him is a helpless shrug because this is not going as planned. Come on, Dare, improv a little.