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It’s months before she finds out what’s written inside, until the much-publicized day when the book finally comes out. There are whispers about this book, about a twist that has reviewers in a tizzy, and not all of them have positive things to say about it. Others speak of it as though it’s changed everything, and Ruby remembers a little piece of my soul and hopes desperately that it’s exactly what they had needed it to be.

 

She doesn’t know what that is.

 

What she does know:

  1. Emma Swan has disappointed all of her fans by not capitalizing on the release of the very first book since she first read Once Upon a Time and turning it into a laughingstock in advance.
  2. Emma has, however, continued to needle and provoke R.M. Queen daily, earning more and more subtweets from the writer that have captured more attention than usual in this media blitz.
  3. Ruby is relieved at every non-interaction between R.M. Queen and Th3UglyDuckling on Twitter, and takes each as a sign that they’re doing well.
  4. Mulan has stopped writing Swan Queen fanfiction altogether, which is probably the worst thing about all of this, though she is working hard on turning that epic autograph table story into an original novel.
  5. Henry is in sixth grade now and has learned the importance of not spreading every detail of his life, which is especially unfortunate now that Ruby would really like to know what that big twist in A Second Chance is.

 

At least she’d ordered her copy in advance, and it’s waiting at the local bookstore for the midnight release party. With quiet permission, she’s hosting four of her online friends for the weekend, though they’re planning more reading than partying, and she brings them along on the night of the Second Chance release.

 

“I still don’t know why we decided to fly out to Storybrooke, Maine, for this release party,” Aurora is complaining as they head down Main Street at ten pm. “I was all in for the New Orleans release that Tiana is hosting. Or Merida on Prince Edward Island! Where are we?”

 

Ruby claps her back. “Trust me on this one,” she says. “You won’t want to miss it.” She leads them down the road, side-by-side with Mulan, and pushes open the door for their modest midnight release.

 

The bookstore had done the best that it could without much funding for any kind of big party. It’s mostly kids present, though there are a number of twenty-somethings shivering in the cold December night, wearing the savior’s iconic red leather jacket or dressed with a hook on one hand. There are bowls of apples everywhere, cardboard cutouts of the characters from the movies, and the party is spilling out into the street.

 

“This is pretty happening for Storybrooke,” Ruby assures her friends, and she notices, leaning against one of the telephone poles outside, a brunette who offers her a nod and a terse smile. She’s wringing her hands unconsciously, staring into the bookstore as though she’s terrified of what might happen tonight, and Ruby offers her a quick thumbs up.

 

Jasmine watches her with interest. “Who was that?”

 

“A patron from the diner,” Ruby says. “She comes pretty often. Mulan and I are pretty tight with her son.”

 

Inside, there’s a quiz going on that increases in difficulty with each question asked about the series. A boy she knows is crowded in near the front, shouting out the answers, and he goes head-to-head with a blonde woman who makes it nearly as far as he does. The boy is close to winning when the blonde shakes her head, and he meekly steps away from the crowd, leaving the last girl remaining to reign victorious.

 

Aurora stares at the woman, agape. “If you’d told me you had Emma lookalikes in your town, I might’ve come earlier,” she says, a little too loudly, and the blonde turns and laughs, heading over to them.

 

“So these are the friends you’ve been telling me about,” she says, grinning at them. “Ruby said she’d wanted all of you to come in. How about this book, huh?”

 

All four of them: Belle, Aurora, Jasmine, Merida: in silence, shell-shocked. Mulan says, “Are you happy with it?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says, and she’s been glowing for months now, every time she’s in town and stops by the diner, but it’s rarely quite this bright. “Regina’s hiding out somewhere in front. We’re going to have to drag her in at some point. My girlfriend,” she explains to the others, who are still staring at her in shock.

 

It’s Belle who puts it together first, stabbing a finger at Ruby. “That was you in that picture!” she accuses. “You’ve been holding out on us!”

 

“It wasn’t my secret to tell!” Ruby protests. “I brought you here now, didn’t I?”

 

Aurora shakes her head in disbelief. “What other secrets are you hiding? Do you have a gym class in with Beyonce? Does Meryl Streep hang out at your diner? Is R.M. Queen in this bookstore right now?”

 

Mulan says, “Don’t be ridiculous, Aurora. Of course R.M. Queen isn’t in this bookstore right now.” She glances very briefly at the door.

 

“So was that a yes on Beyonce?” Jasmine wants to know.

 

Merida, meanwhile, is still gaping at Emma. “Is that…are you actually…?”

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Emma says, and she twists her phone around. “Come on, let’s take a release party selfie.” They all crowd in around her, a big cardboard cutout of the Evil Queen behind them, and Emma snaps the photo, uploading it to Twitter right away.

 

Belle wants to know, “Have you changed your mind on the series?”

 

“Yeah,” Jasmine says, “What happened to not reading another book by R.M. Queen if she paid you?” Mulan lets out a very quiet choked sound.

 

Aurora says, reaching out to boldly stroke Emma’s arm, “How committed are you to your girlfriend?”

 

It’s Emma who chokes now, pulling her arm away quickly. “This one is worth it,” she says to the others, finding her smile again. “It’s…it does a lot of what I wished the others would do. I think you’ll all be satisfied.” She glances toward the door, and a smile spreads across her face. “Excuse me,” she says suddenly, and she breaks away from them to hurry to the door, meeting Regina there with a kiss and a long hug.

 

Aurora watches with uncontained envy. “That should be me,” she says, scowling. “Ruby, why haven’t you snatched up Emma while you had the chance?”

 

“I’m with Mulan!” Ruby says in outrage. “Emma and I are just friends!”

 

Mulan says, head tilted fondly toward Emma and Regina while she slips her hand into Ruby’s, “She never had the chance. Look at them.” Henry has squeezed in between them, and the family stand in a huddle, watching the release party shenanigans from a corner.

 

“I can’t believe Emma never told us about a girlfriend ,” Jasmine says, shaking her head. “A serious girlfriend. I thought she told us everything.”

 

“I thought Ruby told us everything,” Belle says, shooting a sidelong glance at her. Ruby shrugs, attempting to look as innocent as possible. “I can’t believe we’re on Emma’s Twitter. I can’t believe Emma got an advance copy of A Second Chance .”

 

“She’s a celeb,” Jasmine says reasonably. “She probably knows someone in publishing who got it to her.”

 

“I wonder why she hasn’t torn it apart,” Belle muses, and not even Ruby has an answer to that. “It must be really good.”

 

They won’t find that out for another hour and a half, and so they join the celebrations, play games and win merchandise and chat together with a group where they make guesses about what might happen in the book. Henry joins the conversations, enthusiastic and nearly bouncing as they near midnight, but Emma and Regina hang back. They’re on the floor in one of the corners together, and Emma is getting drowsy, drifting off on Regina’s shoulder as Regina stares blankly into the night.

 

Around midnight, they all line up to get their copies of the book and then disperse, clearing the way for the rest of the crowd. Ruby hesitates before she steps out, flipping past the title page to see what comes next.

 

It’s a dedication page, longer than R.M. Queen’s usual.

 

To my son– my true love, my heart, who makes every single day worth living.

And to E– my soul is better for knowing you.

I love you both with all I am.

 

Regina is in the corner, still, Henry propped up against her side as he reads and Emma curled around her in slumber. Ruby watches them for a moment, and she can see Regina typing out the words in that moment, can see Emma’s tears when she’d read them.

 

She’s feeling oddly emotional by the time she makes it home, and she curls up on the sofa of the room her friends are sharing at the bed and breakfast and reads, Mulan absorbed in her own copy. She’s a quick reader, too impatient to linger on the words like Mulan does, and she fully intends to read until it’s done, until no one can spoil the big twist for her.

 

Book Six had ended with what could have been the end altogether, a happy resolution where everyone had been exactly where they’d wanted to be. Emma had complained about that, back when she’d complained about the books. what’s the point in dragging these books out any longer. they’re OVER. i hate consumerism . Ruby had privately agreed.

 

But Book Seven begins in somewhere else entirely, the small town gone and replaced with an enclave in Seattle. Everyone is cursed, even the Evil Queen, the savior is missing, and there are no explanations for a long few chapters. Ruby reads, enthralled. This book feels different, feels more focused, pandering less to the usual audience.

 

And then the savior arrives in Seattle, uncursed and determined to piece together what had happened. Her son is all grown up, and the Evil Queen doesn’t know her, but she works with them, fights demons they don’t know exist, and sinks into weary despair when no one is around to see it.


 

Then, abruptly, the book breaks into flashback, unpeeling the layers of the story where they’d only been hinted at before. The savior and the queen’s shared son leaves to another realm, off to write the stories he never has before. Soon after, there’s an attack on the town that changes everything. The savior and the queen fight together, struggle to get through the battle to find their son, and the new threats follow them to another realm.


 

There’s another curse to cast, because there always is, and the queen is forced to cast it to save their son. She sends the savior away in a rushed argument, a realization that only the savior can save them all, and they fight about it as the curse closes in on them until the queen–

 

–oh my god, the queen–


 

–the queen presses a kiss to the savior’s lips, a promise that they’ll meet again, and they have a tearful farewell as dark clouds rise around them.

 

Ruby sets the book down, closes it with a bang, and Mulan jerks up. “You’re done already?” she asks disbelievingly, and then, “Are you…are you okay?” She touches Ruby’s cheeks, brushes away tears, and Ruby blinks hard and squeezes the book in her hands as though it might be reassurance enough that she isn’t dreaming.

 

“No,” she says, and then, “No, I mean, I’m not done.” Mulan is a hundred pages behind her now, far from the reveal that has Ruby still crying, still disbelieving.

 

Because yes , that had been the story that had been missing for all this time. This is the part that makes the rest of the books make sense, that brings together all the broken pieces of who the characters had become. The savior and the evil queen are in love, and nothing has ever felt more right.

 

Ruby can’t be in the room anymore, can’t hold onto this secret that feels too immense to hold back anymore, and she hurries down to the diner instead. Their night shift watchman is sitting in one of the booths, reading his own copy of the book, and Ruby goes outside instead and whoops at the top of her lungs, the tears falling fast and joyful beneath the lightening dawn sky.


 

The rest of the book returns to the present, and it’s the harrowing story of how the savior and the queen and their son come back together. The curse ends with a true love’s kiss, the savior and the queen together at last, and their happily ever after finally within their reach. Ruby is crying again when it’s over, feeling as though the world has been shaken at its roots, as though she’s been changed forever by the book that Regina Mills had given them.

 

She hardly notices when her phone pings with a notification, a new video at the crack of dawn from Emma. No , she realizes as she clicks it. Not a new video, though perhaps they’re meant to believe that it is. Ruby recognizes the shirt Emma’s wearing as the one she’d worn on the day when Emma and Regina had first reconciled. “I guess you’re all wondering what I thought of that book,” Emma says, and there are tears spilling down her face, which only makes Ruby cry more. “Why don’t I tell you over a crock pot full of pasta and ground beef?”

 

Th3UglyDuckling sits shakily, her smile tremulous as she begins the review, and Ruby settles in to watch.