“—or never—”

“Go answer it! Good luck!” I add as he scrambles off of the throne and closes himself in the storage area for privacy. I’m not going to say that I’m not nervous for him, because I am. I want him to get quarterback—I think he would be an amazing addition to the first yarn or whatever it’s called.

I’m really hoping things work out.

“Is something wrong, Monster?” Minerva asks as Kathy checks out the Sailor Moon customer. Minerva’s wearing her hair in a fishtail braid that slithers like a stroke of black ink down her shoulder, blending in so seamlessly with her black lace dress that it almost looks like it’s part of the outfit. “Your aura is very gray today.”

“Earl or Dorian?”

She laughs and kisses the top of my head. “You know we’re going to have to talk about what happened this weekend.”

“Ah.” I sigh. “Which part? The part where I impersonated Jessica Stone, or the part where I assaulted her costar?”

“You assaulted her costar? Which one?”

Kathy finishes with the customer and walks over to us. “We’ll definitely talk about that later, but first we need to discuss this.” She takes out her phone, which is open to Twitter, and shows me what I already know.

Early this morning, after I’d slipped out from beside Ethan and crept out of Jess’s room, because I’m terrible at goodbyes, I deleted my Twitter as I rode the elevator down to my floor. The #SaveAmara initiative—everything. I’m sure it’ll live on in other people’s hashtags and other people’s accounts, but I’m no longer the one spearheading it. I also deleted the online petition and its fifty-thousand-odd signatures (not before saving a copy, though).

I give my mothers a shrug, unable to look at either of them. “I think I’ve done everything I could, and the petition reached who it needed to. I don’t want to be one of the people riling up the masses and spreading toxicity, and Twitter isn’t the best place for nuanced conversations. I want to save Amara, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of Jess, you know?” My last word wobbles, and I know it’s because I’m on about four hours of sleep, so I bite my bottom lip to keep myself together.

“Oh, Monster.” Kathy folds me into a hug. Minerva wraps her long arms around us both, and we exist there while I try not to cry, sandwiched between the two people who love me most.

It’s not so bad being Imogen Lovelace. I’m not a movie star, and I don’t attract swaths of adoring fans, and my voice is tiny—but my dreams are big and I don’t mind being me.

The fantastical is almost over, but it isn’t over yet.

I have a boy to meet at the top of the escalators for one last time, and I have a bone to pick with him.

We break from our hug, and I dry my eyes and tell my moms I’ll be back to help pack up after the floor closes. Milo’s still in the storage closet talking to the coach.

I hope that’s a good sign.

It’s a quarter to five when I arrive at the escalators at the front of the showroom floor. I used to think that love was two people passing each other on these very escalators, heading off to different panels and different meet-and-greets, apart but together. Maybe we’d be cosplaying as Carmindor and Amara, and not Link and Zelda, and maybe we’d flash each other the Federation salute instead.

Maybe we could just smile at each other, and lock eyes, and not have to say anything at all.

Jasper slides past two cosplayers on his way up the escalators. He smiles in greeting, absolutely oblivious to the fact that he saw me just yesterday. He throws his hands into the air. “Mo! That was sick what you did on the panel! Impersonating Amara. Did she just tap you for that panel to do the stunt?”

I give him a once-over. Acid-washed jeans and his own logo on his T-shirt and messy brown hair. I can kind of see what I saw in him, but I much prefer guys in neat trousers with swept-back hair and dark eyes. “I was her for a few days,” I reply.

“Ha! That must’ve been fun,” he begins, and then his smile falters. “Wait, what?”

“‘What, you’re too good for a hug?’” I recite the same agonizing line he gave me, and it finally clicks.

His eyebrows jerk up. “You…that was you, too?”

“You’re a jerk, you know that?” I begin. “I don’t even know why I’m wasting time on you. You used me, and when you found something—or someone, I guess—better, you tossed me away like I didn’t mean anything. I waited for you for three hours at the ExcelsiCon Ball. I sat on the curb waiting—”

“Whoa, whoa, calm down.”

“No, you aren’t allowed to tell me to calm down. You’re whiny, and you’re selfish, and your videos aren’t even funny. And you know what the worst part is? I actually thought that I deserved you, but I was totally wrong. I deserve so much better than you.”

His face hardens. “Why’d I want to date some nobody like you, anyway?”

Maybe three days ago that would’ve hurt me, but now I just smile and step up into his face and say, “Because we both know that you’re the real nobody. And oh? I almost forgot. I reported you for sexual harassment, so you’ll never come to this con again.”

“Are you kidding me? How will you get me to leave?”

And then, as if materializing out of the con crowd itself, appears Darien’s ex-bodyguard Lonny and two of his security guards. Jasper sees them and hesitates.

“I suggest that you leave, Mr. Webster, and don’t come back here again.”

Jasper grits his teeth, jerking his gaze between me and the security guards about ten feet away, and then, with a last glowering look, he steps onto the escalator.

I breathe a sigh of relief as Lonny comes over to check on me.

“Are you all right, Imogen?” he asks, and I nod.

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

He nods back, and then he and his security detail fan out into the crowd once again. I sigh in relief. I should’ve reported Jasper the second he touched me but at least now I know he won’t be bothering anyone here ever again.

After he’s gone, I stand there at the top of the escalators, rubbing my arms, trying to scrub the grossness away—

And then my phone buzzes.

JESS (4:57 PM)



My eyebrows furrowing, I click on the link.

Above me, the announcement for the end of the con booms over the intercom, and around me the world slows to a stop and everyone looks up as if the man speaking is the voice of a god. He’s not—he’s just the creator of ExcelsiCon, Elle Wittimer’s father. He died about a decade ago, but it’s become tradition to run his closing announcement every year.

I scan the article on my phone, and my heart rises, happy in my chest.

“Thank you for coming to ExcelsiCon! Safe travels across the universe, and we hope to see you again next year! As our friends in the Federation always say—Look to the stars!”

“Aim!” echoes everyone on the showroom floor, and I join in for the final word:


Cheers rise up across the con, and I close my eyes and relish it, because there’s nothing quite like the possibility of another ExcelsiCon. I put my phone away and turn to descend the escalator for the final time this year, and that ride down is just as magical as the first one I ever took, the lobby of the main hotel spreading like a sea of fandom before me. It feels like leaving home for a little while, but knowing you’ll be back.

That’s when I see him.

He steps onto the up escalator, looking like he just ran a half mile, his glasses askew and his hair wild. He locks eyes with me, and suddenly there is no one else in the world. My breath hitches in my throat as we pass each other—

I turn around, trying to wrack my brain for something to say, anything, and he spins to me, too, and blurts out:

“I think I might like you, Imogen!”

I stand there dumbfounded as I’m carried down the escalator and Ethan is carried up. Then he jumps into action, scuttling down the up escalator, dodging past a Kingdom Hearts cosplayer and a sexy Dalek, taking the steps two at a time to meet me at the bottom, where he straightens himself, patting down the wrinkles on his airplane-patterned button-down and fixing his glasses.

We stand there, me holding my breath, him trying to catch his, and we are two sides of the same coin. Opposite and hopeless and—

“I think I might like you,” he says again, breathless.

My mind is reeling. “Me? That’s just because I look like Jess—”

“No, I like you as you are—as Imogen Lovelace. Not as Jessica Stone. I like that you chew on your thumb when you’re nervous, and that you know how to braid even though you have short hair, and that sometimes you slip into strange accents when you don’t mean to, and that you’re bold, and you’re courageous, and you’re good, and—Look, what I said in the pool, I meant that, too. That you aren’t nothing.” He swallows and says, more softly, “Like Amara, you’re going to be amazing.”

“I’m not already?”

“Starflame, you’re insufferable.”

I take his face in my hands and pull him down to kiss me. He tastes like Cheerwine, his hands rising to cup the sides of my face. The mass exodus from the con bends around us like spacetime around the Prospero at lightspeed. He smells so nice, like sandalwood cologne and crisply ironed shirts, and as I lean into him my heart flutters. Because he is kissing me. The disapproving, insufferable, maddeningly hot Ethan Tanaka is kissing me, Imogen Lovelace.