Home > The Princess and the Fangirl (Once Upon a Con #2)

The Princess and the Fangirl (Once Upon a Con #2)
Author: Ashley Poston

 DAY ONE

THURSDAY

* * *

“Is that how you greet your new ruler?

With a pistol and a sassy catchphrase?”

—Princess Amara, Episode 13, “The Queen of Nothing”

PRINCESS AMARA IS DEAD.

In a perfect universe, I wouldn’t care. My character dies a noble and brilliant death at the end of Starfield, when she rams her spaceship into the Black Nebula (which is more like a black hole, but whatever) to save her one true love, the dreamy Federation Prince Carmindor.

In a perfect universe, I would’ve cashed my check and used Starfield as a springboard to more Oscar-worthy roles. Roles that mean something, roles that tell invaluable stories, that aren’t me looking hot in a suffocating dress while running in heels.

In a perfect universe, I would be happy.

But this universe is not perfect and neither am I, although I’ve tried to be. I’ve tried so, so hard. And it all might be for nothing.

Because today I made three unforgivable mistakes.

The first one:

During a presser (a presser is basically a marathon of filmed interviews with different media outlets back to back to back…I can usually endure them for hours, but these nerd ones are a different beast entirely. How I long for questions about Darien Freeman’s new diet or my glittery pumps), held in a small room in a hotel, I accidentally let this slip:

“I certainly hope Amara doesn’t come back.”

Which, I know.

Bad answer.

The interviewer had been coming for blood for the past thirty minutes, poking and prodding at our airtight answers until something had to give, and the bright lights were giving me a headache.

So of course it was me who slipped first.

I wasn’t paying attention. For hours Dare—Darien Freeman, my costar—had been entertaining the interviewers. He lived and breathed Starfield—he was a fanboy before he became Prince Carmindor, and that’s stellar publicity. The world eats it up. It’s adorable.

What’s decidedly less adorable is Princess Amara, poor dead Princess Amara, played by a girl who’s never even seen the show.

I don’t make good press fodder.

Or, at least, I didn’t think I did.

The interviewer’s eyes widened behind her candy-apple-red glasses. She was petite and blond, stylish in a ’60s pinup meets Revenge of the Nerds sort of way. “But thousands of fans would love to see you back! And your character, too. Have you heard of the #SaveAmara initiative?”

I shook my head.

Dare jumped at the chance to inform me. “Oh, it’s a Twitter hashtag created to rally the fandom and save the princess from her fate.”

The interviewer nodded enthusiastically. “The user who created it claims that Amara deserved better, especially in this reboot. She deserved to live, not to be fridged for Prince Carmindor’s character development.”

“Oh.”

It was all I could say.

I curled my fingers tightly around the phone in my lap. It buzzed again. Another Instagram comment. Or Twitter. I wished it was neither.

The interviewer went on. “Natalia Ford, the actress who originally played Amara, whose shoes you stepped into, has already voiced solidarity for the movement, pleasing a lot of older fans. She has also recently criticized your interpretation of Amara, saying that you don’t embody the spirit of the character. Does that bother you?”

For other people to not like you? The fandom to not like you? That’s what she didn’t say, but I saw it in her eyes. I was surprised, really, that it had taken this long for an interviewer to bring it up.

I’m a girl in Hollywood, I wanted to tell her. I’m either too fat or too skinny or too pretty or not pretty enough. Nothing bothers me.

But that would’ve been a lie, as evidenced by my death grip on my phone.

“Erin, right?” I said, when I should’ve not taken the bait. But I was too tired to stop, and I wasn’t paying attention to Dare’s signals to shut up. If you know anything about my overly enthusiastic costar, it’s that he’s never subtle about anything. I just didn’t care. “Tell me, Erin, what has Natalia Ford done since she played Amara, what, twenty years ago? Another one-off Starfield special? Ms. Ford doesn’t have a career. I do, in spite of what everyone says. That’s all that matters—”

“I must be early,” a calm voice interrupted. “That tends to happen to people without careers.”

My blood ran cold.

In the doorway stood a woman with piercing brown eyes and peppery-gray hair pulled back into a bun. Her face was heart shaped, eyebrows dark and severe, her lips pursed. Though she was short, standing in that doorway she commanded the room. Trade her monochromatic pantsuit for a dress made of galaxies and starlight, and she was still the princess of the universe. In her arms sat a hairless cat who surveyed the room with narrow emerald eyes, looking almost as dour as his owner.

So, yeah, my second mistake was insulting Natalia Ford.

And my third mistake?

Well.

After that disaster of an interview, I needed to take a breath. Dare warned me that we had to be at a panel in ten minutes. It felt like every one of my days at this loud overcrowded convention was planned down to the second, squeezing as much of Jessica Stone out of my appearance as possible. But I needed quiet. I needed to breathe.

So I excused myself to the restroom to collect myself, and that was my third mistake. If I’d never gone to the bathroom, if I’d never left Dare’s sight, if I’d followed him straight onto that stupid panel—

My phone dings, wrenching me out of my panic spiral. It is Ethan Tanaka, my assistant and best friend (only friend, if I’m being truthful).

ETHAN TANAKA (3:03 PM)

—[pic]

—THIS ISN’T YOU.

—WHERE ARE YOU.

—JESS.

—JESSICA.

Pulling down my black beanie in the hopes of passing unnoticed, I elbow my way into the ballroom, where the Starfield panel has already started. The one I’m supposed to be on. The lights are off and the audience is quiet—such a drastic shift from the thundering noise of the hundreds if not thousands of people in the Marriott hotel lobby. My ears are ringing with the silence; I can’t even hear myself think.

My eyes slowly adjust as I gaze over a sea of anxious fans, panic prickling at my skin.

“I’m Jess—Jessica Stone,” says a girl on the stage, but it isn’t me.

This isn’t happening.

This is impossible.

I stare at the girl sitting between Dare and Calvin. There, in my chair. Behind my name tag. She’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. Where I need to be. But instead I’m in the audience, mute and invisible, and all the lights are on her.

And to my mounting horror, no one seems to realize that she isn’t me.

I MUST BE DREAMING.

That’s all there is to it. I’m dreaming, and in like three seconds everyone’s going to turn into Daleks and ANNIHILATE me and I’ll have to run away with sexy David Tennant and help fight the Borg in a netherverse and duel against Sith Lords bent on conquering the empire, only to fall to the hands of the Nox King and—

Whoa, I’m getting ahead of myself. How did I even get here? On a Starfield panel when I am most definitely, one hundred and ten percent not Jessica Stone? Well, lucky for you, I can totally, absolutely explain this.

Yep. I can definitely explain this.

I can…mostly explain this?

Okay, you got me. I can basically explain only ten percent of this and none of it is my fault.

Well, maybe a little of it.

Oh, starflame, I’m dead.

Dead dead.

Like, I-am-masquerading-as-a-famous-actress-and-will-be-found-out dead.

I stare out at the crowd in the largest room of the entire con. There must be three thousand pairs of eyes staring back at me. It’s standing room only. I can tell by the constant murmur—when you go to enough cons and sit through enough panels, you just know. You know that there are six thousand eyes staring at you like you’re some god of fame and fandom. The audience is shifting in their chairs, the smell of the con so strong and distinct, it reminds me of a thirteen-year-old boy’s bedroom.

I should know—thirteen was a rough year for my brother Milo. You never forget that smell.

Just like you never forget the sight of this stage from the audience. It’s fifty feet long, set up with a white table draped in a cloth bearing the ExcelsiCon logo. There are three microphones for the five people on the panel, and paper nameplates at each chair identifying each star. (Although how can you not know who they are?)

No one notices that I’m not the girl whose name is on the card in front of me. They don’t realize that I am not Jessica Stone. At least not yet. Because as the actors of Starfield—the same Starfield I saw fourteen times in theaters this summer (a fact I wear as a badge of honor)—go down the line introducing themselves, none of them calls me out.

They don’t notice.

I mean, I do get the occasional “You know who you look like?” from strangers who feel the need to tell me that I look like Jessica Stone. And since Starfield came out, I’ve been stopped in Starbucks more times than I’m comfortable with. Which, come to think of it, is probably one of the major reasons I dyed my hair last weekend and basically killed my entire bathroom with neon pink. But you can’t see my hair under my black space queen beanie—the same one Jessica Stone had on in the bathroom when I met her—and with the way the stage lights are shining down so harshly, I probably look more like Jessica Stone than usual.

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