So here's what Ellen learns, very quickly:
She is in a parallel universe, but this Earth hit its climate change crisis roughly a hundred years earlier.
This parallel universe is the source of much of our world's portal mythology. They were the fairies that swapped babies in the night. They were the alien abductors. They did a lot of untoward, nonconsensual stuff to humans in the name of SCIENCE (and then they had to take a huge pause for about 75 years because they were focused on NOT DYING FROM CLIMATE CATASTROPHE) and we can already see why that is a huge problem for me as a writer because now I have to make several members of this world sympathetic.
Our Biblical creation story hinges on two people eating an apple, seeing things as they were, and getting kicked out of Eden. Their creation story hinges on two people consuming a plant that allows them to see the multiverse and finding a way to cross into another world. (Does that same plant exist in Ellen's Earth? I'm not sure yet.)
You can only cross between worlds at the "coincidences," i.e. the points in which the two parallel universes are absolutely identical. These are rare, and have become even rarer following 100 years of climate-change-related war and destruction. This is why the Banner House is the only house Ellen can see, in this parallel world, that's still standing.
But then she wanders around until she finds a giant geodesic dome, and figures out a way to get inside, and goes through a decontamination process and meets up with Robin and he tells her all of the above.
And she gets angry with him because she feels tricked, and Robin's all "I never said this was a fairy kingdom, you assumed all of that," and then Ellen says "but your name is ROBIN," and Robin is all "yeah, I chose it because my one job was to bring an Everton daughter who likes Shakespeare into our world" and THAT PART DEFINITELY FOR SURE NEEDS TO BE REWORKED. Maybe Robin's name is just a coincidence. Maybe he has a different name. We'll never get these two to fall in love if Robin was raised as a kidnap machine.
But at least they don't steal children anymore! They wait until they find genetically compatible women who are already pregnant and ask if they'd like to see another world, it's all about consent now, but IT'S STILL CREEPY, RIGHT? THIS WHOLE BOOK HINGES ON THE CREEPIEST OF ACTIVITIES.
Anyway, that's how Ellen learns that her mother is in the parallel universe (you saw that coming) and that she has a third sister.
The sister was originally named Diana, but I decided against even implying... well... that. Also, they don't have Elvis or Amelia Earhart. Everyone always asks.
So Ellen is all "I would like to leave now and never come back," except Grace wants to stay long enough for them to see their mother. That's when we learn that you don't get to pick and choose between universes; once you start eating their food and drinking their water, your body begins to adapt. You go through a period of "adaptation sickness" which is basically Super Montezuma's Revenge, and then you'll be fine—but you can't go back to the world you came from (for more than, like, a few hours at a time) because you won't be able to adapt in the other direction.
Ellen, who has a backpack filled with water and protein bars because she thought she might have to spend the night in Chicago, agrees to stay just long enough to see good old Mom. Whom she is furious with, btw, and can't understand why Grace isn't.
The three sisters (Ellen, Grace, and Mya-formerly-Diana) gather in a videochat room to videochat with their mother, who holds huge political power in the gigantic geodesic dome that serves as the nation's capital. After the polite conversation in which their mother does not once apologize for leaving them is over, Ellen says "okay let's GO," and Grace says "I think I want to stay, can you go back to my hotel in Chicago and get a bunch of my stuff and then bring it back here?"
This is where the plot starts to fall apart.
So Ellen gets Grace's stuff, and when she picks up Grace's phone she sees a text from Charles to the effect of "we can try a separation if you want, I'll still financially provide for the baby," and then she starts looking through what she assumed was a baby book but is actually Grace's pregnancy diary and realizes that Grace is both very insecure and very unhappy. (Also, Charles has been cheating on her forever.)
Before taking Grace's stuff back into the other world, Ellen stops by the assisted living home to tell Grandma Trudy that parallel universes are real, and Grandma Trudy says "take me with you, I want to see it."
So Ellen, who has to sneak around her own hometown because she's supposed to be in New Zealand, gets Trudy out of the assisted living home and into the other world. She also brings in a suitcase's worth of food and water so none of them have to get adaptation sickness, except Grace has already decided to adapt.
When Ellen apologizes for reading Grace's diary (she only read a few pages, but still feels super guilty), Grace tells her to read the whole thing, along with the new diary she started keeping in the two days she's spent in the parallel universe and GAAH THIS IS TERRIBLE I SHOULD JUST WRITE SOME OF THIS BOOK FROM GRACE'S PERSPECTIVE.
Anyway, there are a bunch of diary entries here, and they're all bad and bring the book to a cliched and screeching halt. The only part worth noting is that Grace loves living in the other world because it's like being part of a theater company. There are 132 people in this geodesic dome (of the roughly 6,000 humans left alive in this universe) and she's already started to make friends.
Then I have a bunch of scenes with no connective matter:
They do another videochat with their mom, where Grandma Trudy is all "Hello, daughter. I bet you thought you'd never see me again." It is DELIGHTFUL.
Ellen has dinner with Robin/Mya/Grace/Trudy (she eats her own food) and asks a bunch of logistical questions about the coincidences. Can you copy a structure in one world to create a new coincidence? (Yes.) Has anyone ever tried copying an airplane runway, or a giant gate that hundreds of people could pass through at once? (No.) Has this world ever successfully traveled to any place besides Ellen's Earth? (No.)
Mya shows Ellen the room where they track the Known Families (the Hayward descendants, the Estrada descendants, and so on). They can connect to Earth's internet at the points of coincidence, which is why they shoved Robin out the door as soon as they saw a pregnant Hayward descendant within 5 miles of the Banner House (but Grace, as you remember, stayed in the car). This is also why they didn't try to pick Grace up from her actual home on the West Coast; in this universe, that whole area's underwater.
Ellen asks why the parallel universe people don't just go to Earth and live there. They say "we don't want to go through all of that climate change stuff again, it's going to be horrible for you."
Ellen asks why they can't bring more people from Earth into the parallel universe. They don't have enough resources for everyone, and are trying to grow their population slowly BY INVITING PREGNANT WOMEN FROM THE KNOWN FAMILIES TO JOIN THEM, I GUESS THIS WAS THE BEST THING I COULD COME UP WITH.
Ellen has a conversation with Grandma Trudy about love.
Ellen has a conversation with Grace about love.
Ellen has a conversation with Robin where he starts off by showing her how the geodesic dome produces food (it's just The Land, from Epcot) and then shifts to being about love.
Ellen goes back into the Banner House secret room so she can call her father (while still pretending to be in New Zealand). The nurse situation is working out really well, and her father wishes the nurse could stay but they probably can't afford it long-term.
Ellen decides to fake her own death and stay in the parallel universe so her father can have her money to put towards her stepmother's long-term care. She does a bunch of research and planning.
When Ellen tells Grandma Trudy about the plan to fake her death, Trudy talks her out of it. Trudy offers to stay in the parallel universe instead, and they can use her money to put towards Ellen's stepmother's care. (Ellen says "so I have to fake your death?" and Trudy is all "No, I'm not dead yet! Just tell the home I decided to move out.")
Ellen realizes that for Trudy and Grace to stay in the parallel universe full-time, she'll still have to do a lot of caregiving and logistics management. She'll have to do their taxes, for starters. Everything's better for them but it's still the same for her.
Ellen insists on meeting her mother face-to-face. Ellen's mom says "this is what I chose, if you want to have a relationship with me in the future we have to start from this point and not try to make up for the past."
Ellen goes back to her world and tells her dad about the parallel universe. I haven't finished this scene because I don't know what to do with it yet. I know that Ellen's dad will decide to stay on Earth with Ellen's stepmother. He truly loves her and he's glad she's getting the care she needs.
Ellen has a conversation with her younger sister Mya where we learn that Mya grew up under the Chosen One narrative ("you are the special child, from the special land") and she hated it. She also wants to go to Earth, and as soon as she said that I was all "NICOLE, NOW YOU HAVE TO WRITE ANOTHER SECTION OF THE BOOK FROM MYA'S PERSPECTIVE." Which... maybe? Do we need that?
Ellen finally talks to Millicent Banner Hayward, where we learn that she sent George Hayward back to his own world after his extensive philandering, not knowing that it would cause his death. We also learn that she and George found a different parallel universe in a Midwestern cave THAT I REALLY SHOULD HAVE MENTIONED EARLIER IN THE BOOK.
Ellen goes back through the secret door, finds Robin, tells him about the third parallel universe, tells him that there must be a world out there that can support everyone from both of their universes, all they have to do is find it. Then they kiss.
Ellen announces that she and Robin are going on a world-finding mission. She'll be back in time to do their taxes, she promises—and then Grace says "I can take care of that, I'm still capable of crossing between worlds for a few hours at a time," and that way Grace can also check in with their dad and etc. Maybe she can even show Mya what Earth is like, we'll see.
ANYWAY ELLEN AND ROBIN RIDE OFF INTO THE SUNSET, THEIR SOLAR VEHICLE PACKED WITH HALLUCINOGENIC DRUGS AND PROTEIN BARS. THEY WILL FIND THE UNIVERSE WHERE THERE ARE ENOUGH RESOURCES FOR EVERYBODY AND NOBODY HAS TO DO CREEPY REPRODUCTIVE THINGS.
I can see the ways in which I could make this better—the thrust of the second half of the book could be "Ellen confronting her mother," for example, and I could put a whole bunch of obstacles in her way (like having to travel to the government center with Robin, and maybe the solar vehicle breaks down, and maybe the government dome won't let them in, and so on).
I could make it actually about plot, instead of "Ellen has a bunch of conversations with people."
But at this point I feel like I need to do nothing with it for a while, because I've tried doing so many things with it that it's stopped being interesting.... except for just now, when I wrote out the story for you. It made the draft seem like it might still have some possibility left, if I want to put in the work of working on it.
Thanks for reading. ❤️