I LOVE BEING
I love that sense of purpose, welling in my chest. That pride that comes with knowing I’m doing good in this world, protecting those who can’t protect themselves. That satisfying sensation of my fist connecting with some demon asshole’s face.
I love doing what I do best
. Because if you can’t be the best at something, what’s the point?
“Help us, Aveda Jupiter!”
The voice rang out through the crisp morning air as I sprinted down the long slope of one of San Francisco’s impossibly steep hills, catapulting myself toward the Mission’s latest hipster brunch spot, Egg (because all hipster brunch spots need names that are minimalist yet also completely on the nose). A crowd of innocent citizens cowered near the doorway, menaced by a gigantic monster made out of cereal. I squinted at the thing. It was actually a collection of tiny cereal demons who appeared to have imprinted on a bowl of Grape-Nuts. Somehow, they’d figured out how to assemble themselves into a towering, vaguely human-shaped thing that looked like a swarm of crunchy beige flies and snapped, crackled, and popped with every move. Like Voltron, only part of your balanced breakfast.
“RAAAAWRRRR!” Cereal Monster bellowed, swinging a crumbly fist at a woman in a bright blue dress. She stumbled out of the way in the nick of time, her face twisted with fear.
“We need you, Aveda Jupiter!” she screamed.
“Thank god you’re here!” added a man in a ratty flannel shirt.
“What would the city do without you?!” chimed in a teenage girl wearing clunky glasses and an oversized t-shirt with my face on it. “Also, I love your outfit!”
I was clad in a silver tank top bedazzled with about a thousand sequins, snug leather pants, and over-the-knee boots that were ready to kick some serious breakfast-time ass. The outfit was practical enough to allow for a wide range of movement, but sleek enough to show off the toned physique I’d spent hours perfecting at the gym. And my long black hair was of course pulled into its signature power ponytail, which whipped majestically in the wind as I motored through the last few steps down the hill.
“Love the hair, too!” Clunky Glasses yelped.
I narrowed my eyes at the Cereal Monster, taking stock of the scene. The thing’s movements were labored and lumbering, but it had still managed to thoroughly destroy Egg’s whimsical oval doorway and was stomping toward the screaming people on the street, swinging its massive paws.
“Hey, you!” I yelled, skidding to a stop in front of it. Adrenaline hummed through my veins, the heady anticipation of battle heightening my senses and making me feel so present and alive and needed
“Rawr?” Cereal Monster turned to face me, its unwieldy body rustling in a way I might have been unsettled by if I hadn’t faced countless demon threats way more terrifying.
I’d take this one down like I’d taken all of them down—with badass confidence, my fabulous outfit, and a series of powerful roundhouse kicks. It was the Aveda Jupiter Way.
I straightened my spine, my joints cracking and popping, sweat beading on my shoulder blades, my field of vision narrowing until it was just me and my nutritious nemesis.
“Prepare to be destroyed, you Frosted Fakes
!” I growled.
“Whoa, excellent one-liner!” yelled Blue Dress Lady.
“You tell ’em, Aveda!” added Flannel Shirt.
“We love you so much!” wailed Clunky Glasses, practically in tears. “And your mother’s wrong, those pants are totally
I launched myself into the air, my muscles humming with pleasure, my chest swelling with heroic pride, my—
I was jerked out of my daydream by the sound of my given name. My real
name, according to some, though I still secretly disputed that. I’d christened myself Aveda Jupiter when I was eighteen, and I’d never looked back.
I couldn’t help but deflate as the action-packed scenario I’d been imagining melted away, morphing into the much more mundane existence that was my current reality. Where I was sitting at a boring breakfast table, eating Grape-Nuts that weren’t even a little bit demonic, and wearing sweatpants.
Evie Tanaka, my best friend, current co-superheroine and former personal assistant, studied me from the other side of the breakfast table. Along with the other members of our strange little household/superteam, we were sitting in the cluttered kitchen of the lower Haight Victorian we called home. When there was superheroing to do, it also served as our HQ.
But right now there was no superheroing to do. There was, in fact, nothing
to do. And as San Francisco’s leading—well, co-leading—superheroine, I need things to do. Which is why I’d given in to a perfectly good daydream.
In reality, the only Cereal Monster I was fighting these days was a stray Grape-Nut I’d been chasing around my cereal bowl with my spoon. I’d nudge the Grape-Nut, it would bounce forward. My spoon, refusing to be deterred, would follow. I was basically simulating an extremely dull miniature car chase.
Watch out, Grape-Nuts! Aveda Jupiter has a spoon. And she’s not afraid to use it.
“Annie?” Evie repeated. “Do you want another bowl of that?” She gestured to my Grape-Nut car chase arena. “Second cereal course?”
I did not want second cereal course, which came between first cereal course and chocolate pudding course. Evie had invented the breakfast course order a few weeks ago. It was quirky, adorable, and a little messy—just like her.
The truth was, I didn’t want breakfast to drag on for another two hours, which was typical of breakfasts during our current state of Nothing To Do. Three months earlier, Evie and I had prevented the apocalypse. We’d destroyed a power-hungry demon princess bent on taking over the city, shut down all portals to the evil dimension known as the Otherworld, and turned San Francisco into a demon-free haven for the first time in eight years. It was a beautiful moment, and I’d felt hope and pride and love surging through me, a potent brew that powered me through the first month of absolutely nothing happening.
The second month, I’d started feeling twitchy.
The third month, I’d declared myself officially bored.
Now we were creeping into month four, and I was ready to start climbing the walls—literally.
“Of course,” I said, forcing a smile. “Who doesn’t love second cereal course?”
(Me. I don’t.)
“Nate!” Evie called out to her hulking half-demon of a boyfriend. “While you’re up, get Annie some of that sawdust cereal she likes!” Nate, who was standing at the kitchen counter, surveying the cereal selection, turned and gave her an indulgent smile.
“Anything for you,” he said, his deep rumble of a voice contrasting with the cozy atmosphere of the kitchen.
Thanks to his six-foot-four stature, harsh features, and shock of unruly dark hair, Nate—who served as our physician and demonology expert—had been described by some as “tall, dark, and glower-y.” But when he looked at Evie, his eyes softened and the darkness receded. It was sweet, but it also made me feel like I was witnessing something intensely private and should avert my eyes. They’d been together since the events of three months ago and were as disgustingly mushy as two people in the throes of new love could be.
“Darling, you know I’m pleased as punch about your coupled-off bliss,” said Lucy Valdez, our weapons expert and personal trainer, as Nate made his way back to the table. “But the goo-goo eyes quotient has been off the charts this week.” She gave an exaggerated pout that would have melted the hearts of people who didn’t know her as well as we did. Lucy was deceptively delicate-looking, tiny and elfish with a penchant for prim, girly outfits. But underneath that innocent surface lurked a powerful fighter with an extensive knife collection. “It’s a bit rough on those of us who are tragically single,” she continued, drawing out the pout.
“And that’s everyone else at this table,” piped up Evie’s seventeen-year-old sister Bea. She shook her head, her cap of purple-streaked hair bobbing back and forth, and waved her bedazzled phone at Evie disapprovingly. “Tragically single people are the total majority.”
“I’m sorry,” Evie said, as Nate set Grape-Nuts in front of me and Lucky Charms in front of her. He settled into the chair next to her and ran an affectionate hand through her tangle of dark brown curls. She twisted sideways in her seat, draping her legs over his lap. “What would be an acceptable level of goo-goo eyes? Should we avoid looking at each other entirely?”
“Maybe take it down to one ‘goo,’ ” said Scott Cameron, our resident mage. He gave her a teasing smile and a playful nudge. “Like, the singular goo.”
“The singular goo!” Lucy chimed in. “I like it.”
“The Singular Goo sounds like a comic book villain,” Evie countered. “And a really shitty one at that.”
“Speaking of comic books,” I said, perking up. “I was thinking, we should reach out to the local comic book shops about doing personal appearances, see if any of them would be interested in an official endorsement from San Francisco’s most beloved superheroines. Endorsements represent a significant portion of our income, and given that San Francisco doesn’t require much superheroing right now...” ...this would be a fine way to ensure that we’re still earning money, that we’re making ourselves useful in some way, and that we’re doing something other than sitting on our asses, eating endless bowls of cereal and chasing permanent unemployment and oh, god, I can’t take it anymore. I. Just. Can’t.
That was the rest of what I’d started to say, unfurling in my head, punctuated by a hint of maniacal laughter. But the words died in my throat as I realized everyone was looking at me like I’d grown a second head.
“We’re totally fine on money for a while,” Evie said, giving me an amused smile. “All those endorsement deals you’ve done over the years—and the managing of our investments I’ve done over the years—have given us an excellent nest egg. Just don’t go buying thousand-dollar boots by the truckful, and we should be okay.”
“Indeed,” Lucy chimed in. “Now is the time to relax, take a breath, and enjoy life.”
“ ’Cause you never know when another demon portal’s gonna open up and send the city back into supernatural chaos,” Bea said, stabbing her phone in the air for emphasis.
“But...” I frowned at my bowl of Grape-Nuts, biting back the rest of my retort. But what if another portal never opens up? What if no one needs a superhero anymore? What if that’s the only thing I’m good at, the thing I’ve trained my whole life to be—all twenty-seven years of it—and suddenly I’m just...useless?
I couldn’t help but flash back to something I’d said to Evie during a heart-to-heart we’d had in the aftermath of world-saving. If I’m not Aveda Jupiter, who am I? No one. Not really.
She, of course, had told me I’d always be someone to her.
But given that she was finally growing into her own superheroine identity as a fire-wielding badass, given that no one in the entire city
seemed to need Aveda Jupiter at the moment, how could that be true?
I shoved down the panic rising in my chest and looked up from my bowl.
“I did put up a tweet or two that you guys were looking to do more personal appearances, Aveda,” Bea said absently. She set aside her phone and tapped away on her laptop, pausing occasionally to leaf through a big sheaf of papers she’d brought with her to the breakfast table, making notations in sparkly green gel pen. “People love seeing Evie’s fire power in action. And, uh, your stuff, too.”
“Don’t you have enough keeping you busy?” Evie said to me. “What with organizing all your superheroine outfits into different closets, and adding a few hours a day to your already incredibly intense workouts and—”
“And even in this state of non-apocalypse, she finds a way to be an overachiever,” Lucy said, arching a playful brow.
Everyone laughed and I attempted to force another smile. It was a warm laugh, an affectionate laugh— a familial laugh. Evie claimed our little crew was like a family, but I always felt a wall between me and everyone else, a wall that had originally been mostly of my own making since the team had been my staff, before Evie and I became superheroine partners. Even now, when that warm laugh was directed my way, I felt outside of it. Like I was watching a TV show about an intriguing alien species I could never hope to understand.
My gaze landed on the only other person at the table who wasn’t laughing: Scott. I didn’t know why
he wasn’t laughing, since he usually loved nothing more than teasing, making a joke out of everything. Though lately he hadn’t been doing much of that with me.
Of course my gaze lingered, reminding me that even though I’d tried to deny it over the course of the fifteen years we’d known each other, he was ridiculously hot in a way that I still found distracting.
My gaze was kind of an asshole.
He didn’t meet my eyes, as he was concentrating very hard on the orange he was peeling. As usual, he looked gorgeous in the morning: mussed golden hair falling over his forehead, blue eyes hazy with sleep, tanned surfer’s biceps contrasting perfectly with the rumpled white t-shirt he wore to bed.
Not that I actually knew what he wore to bed. I was just guessing.
He smelled good, too. Like fresh-cut grass and sunscreen and the ocean. I watched as he bit into an orange slice, the juice dribbling out of the side of his mouth. His tongue flicked out to lick it off and— No. Nope. Stop staring. You’re about to look like a drooling moron.
And that sort of behavior might be fine for Annie Chang, the ordinary girl I’d left behind so many years ago, the girl with no superpowers, the girl who was more than capable of having her heart broken.
But it was definitely not fine
for Aveda Jupiter.
Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Kuhn. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.