It was a Saturday like any other when the unthinkable happened-I slept in.
Yes, I am aware that sleeping in on the weekend is a highly revered tradition, a simple respite after the long grind of the work week. It's just never been an option for me-after years of strict discipline, my body has trained itself to wake up at six a.m. on the dot. And as a superheroine, I don't have a traditional work week. I must be awake, alert, and ready to go whenever duty may call.
In my case, it calls quite a lot.
It had, in fact, been calling so much recently that my body actually moved its wake-up time to five a.m. I suppose some might be flummoxed by this, but I welcomed it. It gave me one more precious hour in which to get shit done.
Take the morning when said sleeping in occurred-there was so much I could have used that extra hour for. I'd spent the previous night taking down a whole mess of demons who'd disguised themselves as an artisanal meats and cheeses display at a quaint corner butcher shop in the Mission. And I'd had to do it solo, as my best friend and partner in superheroing, Evie Tanaka, wasn't feeling well. Evie was five months pregnant, and while her morning sickness (or, as she liked to call it, "all-the-time sickness") had subsided somewhat, she still had bouts of nausea when confronted with certain foodstuffs. And one of those foodstuffs was cured meat products.
I didn't want to dodge impressive amounts of vomit while trying to defeat a throng of evil, fanged salamis, so I'd tactfully suggested I take this mission on alone. Evie told me to maybe try calling Shruti, one of our superpowered friends who helped us out from time to time, but I was extremely confident in my ability to handle the situation myself. And I'd been correct.
Even the most evil of salamis cannot help but quake in their casings when confronted with San Francisco's premier superheroine-that would be yours truly, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang).
After this meaty fracas, I'd returned to Team Tanaka/Jupiter HQ-a crumbling Victorian in the lower Haight-and spent the next few hours going through various reports about suspected supernatural activity in Maui. At some point, the taxing events of the day caught up with me, and I fell asleep right there at the kitchen table, my cheek pressed against the reports, a trail of drool besmirching their fine data.
I'd briefly stirred awake to my husband Scott gently scooping me up and carrying me to bed, murmuring in my ear that whatever I was doing could wait until tomorrow.
Now it was tomorrow. And I was already late.
While my occupation of choice is always demanding, it had become even more hectic the past few months. This was thanks to 1) the threat from the demonic dimension known as the Otherworld taking on some all-new and exciting layers, 2) the hiring of more staff at Team Tanaka/Jupiter, which I'd taken upon myself to manage, and 3) Evie's pregnancy, which had thus far been extra nerve-wracking as it was the first known offspring of a superheroine and a half-demon (that would be Evie's husband, Nate). Oh, and we'd been tipped off that some of the most powerful demons in the Otherworld were after the baby. I'd already been feeling extra protective of Evie, but this kicked me solidly into Mama Bear territory-another reason I'd suggested I take down the evil salamis all by my lonesome.
In any case, all of this meant my days were currently packed to the gills, and sleeping in was not part of my agenda. Hell, "sleeping" was barely part of my agenda, period.
"Annie," Scott mumbled as I popped up in bed and began scrolling through my phone, trying to get a handle on the day. His eyes were still shut tight, his voice thick with sleep as he reached out for me, his hand landing somewhere in the vicinity of my arm. "You should rest more."
"Nonsense." I shook my head even though his eyes were still closed and he couldn't see me. "A good three hours and I'm perfectly rested. I need to finish looking over those reports from Maui, give Nate everything he needs to write up the butcher shop incident, go over the week's tasks with our intrepid Tanaka/Jupiter, Inc. employees, triple check that Evie actually rescheduled her doctor's appointment rather than merely thinking about it and then forgetting entirely-"
"And all of that does not need to be done first thing Saturday morning," Scott countered, his hand finally landing on mine. He tugged gently on my hand, pulling it away from my phone and twining our fingers together. Then he lifted his head, one brilliant blue eye finally popping open. "Put the phone down. And come here."
"But I'm not tired," I insisted-only for a massive, traitorous yawn to interrupt me mid-tired.
Scott laughed-a warm, familiar sound that still made my heart flutter after all these years. I'd loved this man since we were both awkward teenagers hopped up on angst and hormones, and time had only made that love more fierce and true than I'd ever imagined. Even now, when my attention was still firmly fixed on my schedule and my to-do list, my gaze couldn't help but linger on him: those sun-kissed muscles rippling over his shoulders, that tousled golden hair. And those blue eyes that looked at me with such pure adoration, making me melt every time.
When he pulled me against him-as he did now, my head fitting perfectly against his shoulder-I always felt like I was coming home.
"Just close your eyes for a minute," he murmured, his intoxicating summertime scent of ocean and green and sunscreen washing over me. His hand flexed against my back, molding me more firmly against him. "The world's not going to end just because you slept in on one freaking Saturday."
"But what if it does," I sighed as my eyes fluttered closed, visions of fanged salamis and supernatural incident reports and pregnant Evie in peril dancing through my head. "What if it does."
The world did not end that day, but I don't like leaving anything to chance. So when I woke for the second time, I immediately ejected myself from the bed. I was unwilling to give Scott an opening to tempt me with further slumber-not when it was already nine a.m. and I had a full day of things to do.
After showering and dressing, I pulled my long black hair into its sleek signature power ponytail and marched down the hall. Tanaka/Jupiter HQ was quiet and eerie, the old floorboards creaking under my feet. Everyone else in the house was still asleep, apparently.
These days, that wasn't many people. At one point, the Victorian had nearly burst with an unruly assortment of residents-always busy, always bustling, always alive. But a few months ago, Evie's younger sister (and fellow superheroine) Bea had transplanted herself to Maui to assist with the area's newly formed demon unit. And Lucy Valdez, our trainer/weapons expert/occasional bodyguard, had gotten married and moved in with her wife, Rose. I had campaigned to have the newlyweds relocate to HQ-we had plenty of space, and our sprawling found family of a team had become such a well-oiled unit, it seemed a shame to split us up so . . . definitively. But Lucy had given me a very gentle lecture about boundaries and the healthiness of change, and how this didn't mean she and Rose weren't part of the team anymore, they just wanted some space to exist as themselves. I'd nodded along, but I had to admit-I held out hope that they'd move home eventually.
At least I still had Evie. And as I marched down the hall to the bedroom she shared with her husband, Nate, a spark of pride ignited in my chest. Even though the team we'd built was currently scattered, we were still that well-oiled machine. And much of that was thanks to the partnership Evie and I had forged-we'd worked our way through toxic best friend drama and codependence, her tendency to be a doormat and mine to be a steamroller. We'd fought demons of every stripe, saved the city countless times over, and we'd even managed to survive Evie's disastrous grad school reunion several months ago.
That ill-fated reunion was where we'd gotten a troubling clue regarding some of the more recent demonic shenanigans.
It was difficult to imagine a time when there hadn't been demonic shenanigans in San Francisco. It all started fourteen years ago, when the very first Otherworld portal opened up in the city. Said portal had actually been opened by aspiring demon queen Shasta-who just so happened to be Nate's mom. Shasta had been attempting some sort of invasion situation, but her portal was so unstable, it snapped shut immediately, killing her raiding party of humanoid demons-and sending their powers directly into the bodies of various San Francisco residents, like mine and Evie's. Evie was gifted with a rather impressive fire power, although at first she found it to be not so much "impressive" as "absolutely terrifying."
I'd received a rather weak bit of telekinesis, which I had initially downplayed as part of my superheroing persona since it simply wasn't that powerful. A supernaturally enhanced earthquake, however, had given many of us power level-ups, and my telekinesis had grown much stronger. And since I am not one to rest on my laurels, I'd also practiced and trained diligently over the years, honing my power into something worthy of the Aveda Jupiter mantle. Now I could lift and move so many things, and while I still had to concentrate to maintain a telekinetic hold, it had come to feel like second nature, a simple bit of instinct that switched on whenever I readied for battle.
In any case, it was a good thing some of us had been given powers, because Shasta's original portal led to aftereffects we were still dealing with all these years later. First it had been the aforementioned "puppy demons," who disappeared for a while, but now seemed to be back. More recently, we'd learned that the walls between our world and the Otherworld had rubbed perilously thin in certain spots, giving the demons all-new and exciting ways to cause trouble-and they also seemed to be showing up in new locations, like Maui.
Three months ago, Evie and I had investigated a series of mysterious hauntings and ghostly appearances at Morgan College, Evie's alma mater (well, sort of-technically, she'd dropped out of the graduate program after her burgeoning fire power had burned down the entire library). As it turned out, these "ghosts" were also powered by our not-so-friendly Otherworld demons, and the ultimate culprit was a minion of Shasta. Said minion revealed a larger plan at work: Shasta was most definitely after Evie's baby. We weren't sure what her ultimate scheme was, just that she believed the future Tanaka-Jones offspring would allow her to create a permanent portal between our dimensions.
Thankfully, I was more than ready for her-as was that well-oiled machine of a team. Despite this recent ramp-up in danger, I'd never felt more confident.
As I raised my hand to knock on Evie's door, my spark of pride turned into a full-on blaze.
I knocked sharply, and was momentarily distracted by my phone buzzing in my pocket. I fished it out as I listened for the telltale sound of Evie's feet padding to the door. And when I glanced at the screen, the smile that was already spreading across my face got even bigger.
"Whuzzah?" The door creaked open, revealing Evie's bleary-eyed face. Her mass of dark brown curls was matted on one side, and she looked half asleep.
"Wake up!" I exclaimed, clapping my hands together. She winced at the sound. "We have to go brief our adorable employees on the week's tasks."
"And why do we need to do this first thing on a Saturday morning, again?" she protested, running a hand over her face. She shook her head and blinked her cloudy hazel eyes a few times, trying to wake up.
"It's not 'first thing.' It's nine o'clock, practically lunchtime!"
"I . . ." She blew out a long breath and cocked an eyebrow at me. "I am definitely not talking you out of any part of this, right? I should just give up now and get dressed?"
"Only if you want to," I said, putting on my most innocent face and batting my eyelashes at her. "I have become much more skilled in the areas of productive listening and drawing boundaries to prevent a return to the toxicity that once defined so much of our relationship. So if you really want to disappoint the bright-eyed college students who look up to us so much-"
"No, no." Evie held up her hands and laughed, finally looking more alert. "I love how I skipped the argument and you're still trying to convince me of something I already agreed to. Just give me a moment to get myself together." She gestured to her unkempt state-faded sweat shorts and a giant old t-shirt of Nate's that draped like a black curtain over her growing baby bump. "Little Galactus Tanaka-Jones has been kicking up a storm, so I might as well get up."
"Please tell me you are not going with Bea's baby name," I said, shuddering. "I still think-"
"We're not naming the baby Aveda Junior," Evie said, swooping an authoritative finger in my direction. "You need to give up on that dream now."
"Spoilsport," I said, sticking my tongue out at her. "But hey, speaking of dreams . . ." I waved my phone around. "My mom actually texted me in a complimentary manner, can you believe that? She saw photos of me kicking that evil salami's ass on 'the social media,' and wanted to tell me that my hair looked very 'neat'-but she's sending me some oranges because citrus has been known to increase shine and body."
"A more Asian Mom compliment I have never heard," Evie said, giving me a little salute. "See you downstairs."
Still grinning to myself, I bounded down to the kitchen. It was an Asian Mom compliment-which were usually more like non-pliments-but that was progress for me and my mom. We'd always had a very contentious relationship, but we'd managed to reach something of an understanding over the past few years. She tried to show me she was proud of me, and I tried to be gracious about letting her into the superheroing part of my life. And given that oranges were one of the purest demonstrations of Asian Mom love, well . . . I was deeply happy that we'd come this far.