Like literally everyone I know. Except for me.

Milo quietly hands a passing Deadpool a pin before he says, “Okay, so I know this probably isn’t the best time to tell you this, but I saw him.”

I give another pin to a guy in a Dragon Ball Z cosplay—Goku, and he’s definitely over 9000 on the hot-o-meter. “Saw who?”


I try not to react when he tells me. I try not to look bothered at all. “What now?”

“I saw him today. On the YouTube Gaming panel. He’s got some groupie following him around with a camera. You can’t miss him. He’s just exudes jerkoff.”

“Oh,” I say. My voice is small.

“You deserved so much better, Mo.”

I really don’t want to hear this right now. It’s easy for him to say—he happened upon his perfect soulmate. They have the perfect relationship.

I take off walking but he catches me in two quick strides. I keep handing out pins, trying to ignore him.

“Look, Mo, I just wanted to tell you—”

“And you did. He’s here. That’s great.”

But it’s not.

So, a brief history of Imogen Lovelace’s love life: I’ve only been in love once, and it was with—you guessed it!—He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named. We’d been dating for about a year. It was long distance. He lived in Ohio, I lived in North Carolina, but we saw each other almost every month on the con circuit and we just kind of…hit it off. We loved the same horror flicks and laughed at the same scenes on Galaxy Quest and played Overwatch together. We were supposed to go to the ExcelsiCon Ball last year (as the Tenth Doctor and Rose), and everyone knows what happened at last year’s ball, but because he didn’t show up I didn’t get to witness the most important moment of Starfield fandom. The moment Prince Carmindor—I mean Darien Freeman, the actor, the stud muffin, the legend—fell in love with one of us.

A girl. A normal, everyday girl.

And I missed it, sitting on the curb bawling my eyes out because some guy I thought loved me decided to ghost me. I’d actually gotten dressed up for him—makeup! Heels! I never wear heels, I never put on mascara. But I did for him.

Because, stupidly, I thought I loved him.

I always had it in my head that love was kinda like two people passing each other on opposite escalators at the front of the convention hall as you hurry to your next panel, they dressed as Link and you as Zelda…

“Kick some butt, babe!” they say.

“I’ll tell Calamity Ganon you’ll be there shortly!” I’d reply.

That is love.

…but maybe I’ve spent too much time on the internet.

I reach into my bag and fish out a handful of pins for a group of Steven Universe gems. Milo quietly follows behind. We don’t talk for a long while.

There’s a big Starfield display near the middle of the showroom. If I didn’t know better, it looks like the Prospero—the spaceship in the series. The back of it, with the cargo door down. Maybe it’s a photo op? To one side there’s an exhibit showcasing Starfield’s original costumes—one of the main reasons the original Carmindor (David Singh) and Amara (Natalia freaking Ford) are going to be here on Sunday, to talk about the original series and celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary. On the other side is a larger-than-life Styrofoam mountain for a popular new fantasy TV series called Blades of Valor. All I know about it is that there’s a hottie in the main role. You know the kind: big blue eyes, windswept blond hair, and a raging poison sword of doom aflame in his hands, ready to fight the coming apocalypse.

Exhibits rise up like skyscrapers from the art deco carpet. ExcelsiCon is known for its horrific hotel carpets, but the showroom’s is the literal worst. Coupled with the often zany but dazzling installations, I don’t think a year goes by that I’m not in awe of this place. People running around, arms full of swag and collectibles, trying to get to a panel or an exhibit or a restroom.

That’s usually one of the longest lines. Which is why I went up to the second-floor bathroom in the first place.

In hindsight, that was the worst idea I’ve ever had.

I shiver, rubbing my hands across my arms. Jessica Stone was a total and complete b—

I shake off my thoughts and break the silence. “Have you heard from the coach yet?” I ask Milo. “About the quarterstaff position?”

“Don’t play dumb,” he chides, sending off a text and sliding his phone back into his jeans pocket. “It’s quarterback, and not yet.”

I kinda hope the big oaf’ll get it. He’s been practicing like mad since last year, and when the current quarterback busted his leg jumping off a rooftop into a pool, the coach had his two backup QBs try out against each other. Milo’s going to be a junior, and he’s tortured himself on the field long enough. He deserves it.

But I don’t tell him any of that. Instead I just raise my hands and say, “Yay, sportsball!”

He laughs and elbows me in the arm.


“Oh come on, that was barely a tap.”

“I’m delicate.”

He snorts. “Bull.”

“Save Amara!” I yell, tossing a sexy Xenomorph a pin. She thanks me and hurries on.

He flips over a #SaveAmara pin. “Can I ask you a question without you getting mad?”

“Sure.” I lie because we both know I always get mad because usually it’s a clueless question, like “why do you dye your hair?” or “why didn’t you date that cute guy in your trig class last year?”

“Why do you want to save a fictional character so badly?”

I stop in the middle of the busy aisle and study him. I know he’s asking earnestly—my younger brother is nothing but sincere and well meaning. See? He’s perfect. All my life I’ve been in his shadow, and I can’t even hate him for it because he’s so nice and caring and thoughtful. I’d feel like a brat if I did.

I can’t exactly say that I want to save Amara because I want to prove I’m not a waste of space. I’m not no one. I might not be good at many things, I suck at trig and chemistry and grammar. But even though I’m not vice president of the student body like Milo, or salutatorian like his boyfriend Bran, I can still be exceptional. I’m not just a raindrop in a pond but a comet plunged into the ocean, and I can make waves the size of skyscrapers because I’m not just here, I’m living.

Just like Amara saying she didn’t want to be a princess. She was terrible at it. She wanted to do something more, to make her father, the Nox King, proud.

So I started a hashtag and wrote articles and think pieces and put a #SaveAmara petition online that got over fifty thousand signatures. And I set money aside to split a booth rental. Last year’s ExcelsiCon was moderately attended, but this year Harper practically had to beg to get us a booth in Artists’ Back Alley. The movie just came out last month, and Starfield’s already broken almost every box-office record set by the Jurassic Worlds and Avengers of the world. It’s kinda incredible.

Anyway, I want to save Amara to let her prove that she can be somebody outside of her father’s or Carmindor’s shadow.

Like me, I guess.

I can’t really tell Milo the truth, so instead I say, “I’m just sick and tired of princesses being either damsels in distress or the foil for a male character’s emotional growth, and I know people want her back.”

I know because when I was Jessica Stone, no one booed me off that stage. Fans want to see her unfridged.

Amara is important.

Milo rolls the pin between his fingers, like he’s trying to find a good reply, but I’m a little afraid to hear it. Maybe he’ll think it’s stupid. Maybe he’ll not understand. Or, worse, maybe he’ll agree with Jessica Stone—that Amara should stay dead. And that’s the last thing I want to hear from my overachieving little brother.

“Hi, Pretzel Henry!” I call as we pass near the back of Artists’ Back Alley, deciding to try to change the subject. An older gentleman—in his mid-fifties probably, with a peppery black beard to match his peppery black hair—looks up from a customer. When he sees us his eyes light up. He waves a salt-less pretzel.

Milo waves back. “He’s literally here every year.”

“Some heroes don’t wear capes,” I say, and shove another pin in the direction of a guy sipping a red ICEE. “Save Amara!” The guy scowls in disgust.

I stick out my tongue at him after he passes.

After a few more minutes of pushing through the showroom, the crowds finally break and the Nox King stands triumphantly above us.

Under him is a booth displaying collectibles in glass cases and figurines still in their plastic packaging. Lounging on a throne made of FunkoPops is a gothic goddess of death, her bat-print dress spilling like blood onto the puke-green hotel carpet. She’s tapping her maroon claw on the box of a Hulk Pop, her glittery eyeshadow sparkling in the fluorescent lights.

Minerva cracks open an eye when she hears us approach. “Ah, so my prodigious progeny returns,” she purrs, although there’s only one prodigious child between us, and it’s not me. “Did you save the world or did you get lost?”