Approximate ages: Mariah and Micah Buchanan are 35, Quinn is 13, Lily is 12, Ben is 7, Elijah is 5.
For Mariah Buchanan, it was an ordinary morning in what had turned out to be an ordinary life. Her story was told, a Happy Ending, and she and Micah were living out their Happily Ever After. It was better than she'd expected and more than most people could ask for.
She'd just cleaned up breakfast after having sent the kids off to school. That was when she heard the email notification on her phone. She always forgot to turn off those damn notifications. No big deal though -- it was probably just sales spam from the shoe store, spam from the bookstore, spam from the grocery store.
But for some reason, she felt worried. The school never emailed when something was wrong -- they would have called. But there was something wrong, and she knew it. She couldn't shake it. So she checked her email.
It always started with those dreaded first words. "Due to unforeseen circumstances..." She caught a breath in her throat and skimmed the rest of the letter, looking for information and skipping over the formalities. "There will be a re-write in your family. Your sister is being transferred, and you are being left in your care her two minor-aged children, Lilian and Elijah Kim, as sadly, they will not be able to join her in her story. As always, sorry for the inconvenience and your cooperation is appreciated." Signed, "With love, Your Author."
"Oh no," Mariah said out loud to her empty kitchen.
The letter described the rewrite briefly, what the children would remember from this point on, that their parents had died in a car accident several years ago. A tragedy yes, but a somber old wound. They would never know that their parents had actually been transferred back to their native story. They would never know that they weren't going too. That their births were being unwritten.
In canon, they no longer existed. Not the children, not Micah, and not Mariah either.
There was nothing to do, and yet Mariah felt like she needed to do something.
She scooped up Scott and ran down to City Hall to pull Micah out of a meeting.
"You always wanted a house full of kids, and now you've got five. Are you happy?"
"Whoa, wait? What happened?"
"Keri's gone. Or no, not Keri. She's not gone -- she went back home. We're gone, all of us. We got a rewrite."
She fished her phone out of her pocket and held it out to him. He read it calmly, not like Mariah read it, but taking in every word and giving it grave consideration. Finally, he answered. "Okay, so I guess that's it then."
"That's it? But what are we going to do? My sister, my parents. She won't remember the kids. She won't remember me."
"Honey," he said, reaching out to her arm. "There's nothing you can do." She didn't know what answers she expected him to have. These things didn't come with a negotiation clause. "I'm sorry, babe. I'm so sorry."
But there really wasn't time for discussion. In a few hours, the kids would be home from school, and they had to prep their family for the homecoming of two more.
The prepwork was more emotional than it was physical. The Author always took care of the living arrangements for them. When Mariah and Micah returned to the house, everything was ready: two extra place settings at the table, bunk beds in the boys' room, and Mariah's parents' room had been turned into a teen sanctuary for the girls.
Lily's clean clothes were piled on the dresser, and there were new memories in Mariah's mind -- Lily didn't like to put her clothes away. Mariah hadn't known that before today. She recognized the makeup and styling products that had come from her sister's house, a poster that Mariah knew was not Quinn's style. Two chairs at the desk, two beds, and a large room split into two distinct halves.
This would be all they ever knew. Their parents had died in a car accident years and years ago -- Lily would have been seven and Elijah just born. They would hardly remember their parents at all. And now they would live with their aunt and uncle, and share rooms with their cousins like siblings, like it had always been that way. Simple as that.
Mariah heard the school bus outside, squeaky brakes screeching to a halt at the end of the driveway, and she ran downstairs to find Micah in the living room. The door opened after four children were dropped off at the bus stop instead of two.
Quinn walked in first, then Lily, Ben, Elijah.
Mariah and Micah just stared at the children, unsure of what to say. "How was school? Did you have a good day? Did you learn anything interesting today?"
A chorus of voices:
"It was pizza day at lunch."
"Mom, Elijah didn't eat his applesauce."
"I didn't like it, it tasted weird."
"Lily has a boyfriend."
"I do not!"
"I saw her kiss him at her locker."
"Mom, what's for dinner?"
Lily held up two fingers at Micah and said, "Peace."
Mariah felt overwhelmed with it all, breathing quick breaths to stave off the tears.
"Are you okay?" Quinn asked her.
"Nothing's wrong," Mariah said. "Everything's fine. Everything's perfect."
Or it will be.
Then thankfully, just as quickly as the children came and threw four backpacks on the floor, they went. The girls gravitated to music videos in the living room. The boys went outside to climb trees. Within hours, cousins became siblings, and none of them knew the difference.
"Okay then," Micah said. "Do we have enough for dinner? Did you check?"
"I didn't check."
"Do we have enough money?"
"I didn't check."
"Don't worry," he said. "I'll go check."
"I think I need a bath," Mariah said.
Mariah ran a big, frothy bath and sank into it. Then, in the quiet, she let herself think about the overwhelming panic of becoming an instant mother to five. She let herself grieve her family. She had no parents now. She had no sister. She'd been written out of their lives. A memory of trying on all those purple bridesmaid's dresses for her sister -- it never happened. That time her sister was jealous because Mariah got portraits done and she didn't -- it never happened. Holding little Lily for her sister as she walked the stage for graduation -- it never happened, because Lily never happened.
There was an unspoken but overwhelming loss to be grieved that those kids would never need to know. A whole lifetime of memories and now Mariah would be the only one left to keep them.
There was a light knock at the door and Micah peeked inside. "We have food," he said. "Enough, anyway. The Author should have left us a mini-van. How are we going to drive all these kids around?"
He laughed, kneeling beside the tub -- a tense and labored laugh. Maybe the reality of it was finally starting to sink in for him, even if he was trying to hold them together. He leaned forward to stroke her arm and kiss her cheek. "We're still together," he said. "And that's the most important thing. I'm happy to have five kids."