Novel Synopsis Example: Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt
As part of our Reedsy Live webinar on Story Structure, author and editor Caroline Leavitt made reference to the synopsis to her New York Times bestselling novel, Is This Tomorrow. Caroline has kindly given us permission to post her long synopsis to this novel — and has provided additional annotations to help authors understand her process for creating a synopsis that will guide the drafting process.
In this post, Caroline's comments an annotations will appear in italics.
You always want to start with what I call the moral question—what question is the novel asking that personally impacts YOU, and what are we reading to find out?
What does it mean to be an outsider in a community? How do we keep the ones we love safe? In 1950s suburbia, everything is supposed to be perfect.
This next bit is the inciting incident. Notice that I use adjectives to show that she has conflicts, and is having a struggle right from the get-go. We want that.
But when divorced, sensual-without-meaning-to-be typist Ava rents a house with her 12-year-old son Lewis and struggles to fit in and to afford this supposedly safe new life, it’s clear she and her son are outsiders.
They’re outsiders—we know from the first sentence that this is about being an outsider in the community.
She’s too exotic, she draws the other husbands, plus she has more pressing problems: her ex is Brian Lark, an ex-Boston Celtic player who was fired from the team because of his drinking, and he has resurfaced to threaten to take custody of Lewis, even though he hasn’t seen his son in five years and has stopped paying them child support. Lewis desperately yearns for his absent father [...]
Ah, Lewis has a ghost, the thing from the past that haunts him that is going to be worked out in the novel. It’s his love for his father who seems missing in action. Again, this resonates with the theme, what does it mean to belong?
[continued ...] who used to promise to come visit-and then would--and is best friends with the only other fatherless boy on the block, Jimmy Reardon, who in turn has a crush on Ava and is over the house all the time. Ava, lonely, likes the company. Jimmy’s 13-year-old sister Rose, who hangs out with the boys is in love with Lewis, but Lewis is still innocent. He just likes her as a friend. All three, fatherless, become blood brothers one day.
Jimmy and Lewis have a map. They plan to buy motorcycles when they are older and travel all around the country. There are pushpins in every place they want to visit. Rose is hurt she doesn’t get to go with them. One day they are having a sleepover at Rose and Jimmy’s when Lewis gets sick. They walk him back to his house, but when they see Ava there in the window with a man, Lewis is traumatized. He insists they go back to Rose and Jimmy’s and there, Rose takes care of him. Reads to him, puts a cold cloth on his feverish head.
This shows two things—that Lewis wants a larger world, that he loves his friend, and that he is embarrassed by his mother, who is clearly different.
Jimmy is in love with Ava [...]
This is in conflict with Lewis—Lewis is embarrassed, but Jimmy is in love. This will also figure into the main plot, making Ava suspect when Jimmy vanishes.
[continued...] He comes over all the time and because Ava is so lonely, she lets him. They sit and watch movies, he helps her cook, they talk. One day he asks for kissing lessons and Ava refuses and sends him on his way.
Lewis is increasingly upset about his mother. He doesn’t like the way the neighborhood fathers are always ogling her or coming over asking to help. He doesn’t like it that she wears a little two-piece to sunbathe, that Jimmy follows her everywhere, that Ava asks for advice. Most of all, he blames her for his father’s leaving, for his not coming back. He is sure it is because she is not like the other women in the neighborhood, that it must be something she’s done. He loves her (she stands up for him) and resents her.
This is a big ongoing theme in the novel. And the end, as an adult, you’ll see this pay off when Lewis realizes the struggle his mother has had, and he comes to admire her.
Ava and the rest of the neighbors are uneasy because one of the teachers spotted a man hanging around the school playground looking intently at the kids and a teacher asked him what he was doing there and he wouldn’t tell her. She complained so he left.
This was cut out in the novel. I decided I didn’t need it.
One of the neighbors makes a comment about all of Ava’s boyfriends, but Ava is not seeing anyone but Jake, a jazz musician these days. She loves Jake and he loves and appreciates her, but she’s kept him from Lewis until this night, when they will meet, and she’s anxious about what is going to happen when they meet. She’s also a little nervous about Jake, because even though he says he loves her, she has never been to his house in Sommerville. She plans for an outing for the three of them, and Jake buys Lewis a gift, a magic set because Lewis loves magic and Houdini. Ava sees at first glance that the gift is far too long for Lewis, but she knows he’s tried.
This introduces Ava’s love for Jake. He’s kind. He’s trying, and it also reinforces that Lewis wants his own dad. His real dad.
One day, after spending time with Ava, on the eve when Ava is going to finally introduce Jake to Lewis, Jimmy goes home. He’s planning to come back later and meet Lewis, when Lewis comes home from the dentist. Ava watches him leave.
Jimmy never appears again.
This is actually the first incident in the novel—the inciting incident, Jimmy vanishes. The first chapter is Jimmy at Ava’s house, Ava mulling over her problems—a custody battle with her ex, her son not wanting her close, money issues, and then she says goodbye to Jimmy, who she never sees again. The synopsis does not have to follow what unfolds in the novel, which is important to know.
In an era of Eisenhower, Cold War, bomb scares, bomb shelters in backyards, and paranoia, the neighborhood begins a watch.
Here we go, the introduction of your story world. And a deepening of the central conflict (how do you belong in a community? Ava struggles, but this incident makes things even worse.
The police question Ava—and question her past and present boyfriend, including Jake, a jazz musician who Ava has begun to love and whom Lewis worries is going to replace his father, whom the family has not seen for years. Because Jimmy was Lewis’ best friend, because Jimmy was last seen at Ava’s, and because the neighbor’s suspect Ava because she isn’t like them and has had many boyfriends, the police question her more than the other neighbors. She isn’t as welcome on the neighborhood searches.
Jake is questioned again by the cops and loses another gig. He asks Ava to take Lewis and come away with him. Ava says she can’t—she can’t take Lewis out of his school, and beside, Brian is threatening a custody battle. He’s upset she won’t leave with him. He presses her and tells he’s going to leave, and he does.
We turn our attention to the other characters and how they relate to the main story.
Meanwhile, Lewis and Rose are both gripped with guilt. The day Jimmy vanished, Lewis was supposed to have met Jimmy, but instead, Lewis, was angry with Jimmy and wondering if he only hangs around because of his mother.
This previous sentence shows us another ghost in the making—Lewis is going to blame himself. And blame his mother. And we see that Lewis is bullied himself, that he suffers the same way his mom does.
Also, Jimmy didn’t stick up for him when some kids were teasing him about having a bread sandwich, so he doesn’t deliberately show up on time, being mad at him and hurt. He is targeted and attacked by bullies (Ava has little money, and the only rented house on the block. Lewis wears clothes from Morgan Memorial and sometimes has to take bread sandwiches to school), shamed, had run off with Rose deep into the woods. Rose had made Lewis take off his mud-spattered clothes to dry, and in a scene that is sexual for Rose, but innocent for Lewis, the two lay down in the sun together
This is the beginning of their love. At the end, they may or may not end up together.
They fall asleep, waking and coming home after ten at night to find a cop car and the neighbors, gathered and they are shocked at Jimmy’s being missing.
Rose is sure Jimmy is alive (they were so close, she thinks she’d feel it if he was not. It has been her role always to watch out for her baby brother, and in some way she feels like his protector.) Dot, Rose’s mother, has always loved Jimmy best because he looks like her beloved husband who died. She hisses at Rose and blames her for not watching her brother. She acts as if the wrong child were missing.
This is important because it shows the different ways that people can relate to loss. Rose insists her brother is alive. And she suffers for it. It shapes her character.
Lewis is terrified that here is another person, like his father, vanishing.
Here is Lewis’ ghost again. They take action to find Jimmy, and it fails. A reversal. (Novels are built on reveals and reversals.)
Gripped by guilt, he blames himself for not having met Jimmy when he was supposed to.
Story world is escalating:
There is a new climate of fear. Since no body was found, Lewis and Rose tell each other that Jimmy is somehow alive somewhere, and Lewis tells Rose that he will be able to find him. He promises her. Rose also says she has always, since childhood, had a feeling about Jimmy. She knows somehow when he’s hurt, when he’s happy, and she has this feeling he is alive. She just knows it. Together, they start a search for Jimmy. It’s futile and they keep hitting dead ends, but neither one wants to give up. The search brings them closer together.
But there is a report of another incident the next town over, and then another. Rose’s mother can’t bear the grieving and the reminders, and a month later, Rose’s mother puts the house on the market and moves away to stay with a relative in Pittsburgh. Rose is panicked. She sits in her little closet in her room and writes Rose and Lewis in a heart. She promises to write when they have a real address. She tells him she’ll never stop looking for Jimmy. She knows she can find him. We see Lewis watching another important person, Rose, leaving in the car.
He waits and waits for Rose to write to him, but she never does. He has no other real close friends. No one seems to know Rose’s address (they were going to stay with an aunt, and when they had their own place, Rose was going to write him) He decides he’s going to write her anyway, save the letter, but while looking for a pen and paper, he finds an old letter from a lawyer, years ago, to his mother, saying his father gave up the custody battle for him.
This is key because it is another abandonment for Lewis. Now he really has no one. And what he wanted most—his father—is shown to have been a false belief, making him angrier at his mother (new action always comes from reveals) and at himself.
Lewis is stunned. His father, whom he has yearned for, did want him enough to fight for him, and he never knew it. He’s furious at his mother for not telling him because he’s spent all these years wondering and when she comes home they argue. Ava tells him there was no custody battle, that his father only wanted to hurt Ava, that he stopped paying for his lawyer and disappeared into the woodwork. Lewis is crushed and furious. Ava is frustrated. Their relationship deteriorates. Lewis tries to find his father without much luck, and Lewis decides he is going to leave and reinvent himself as soon as he can.
Now we see the kids as adults. Time has passed. But the initial problem is still there.
Meanwhile, we shift to Rose in Pittsburgh. She hates Pittsburgh, doesn’t like her aunt who blames her for everything. She cut her hair to look like Jimmy and begins wearing his clothes, too. She wants to write to Lewis, but she’s terrified that he doesn’t feel the way she does. He’s a year younger, and the longer she waits, the harder it is to write to him. So she doesn’t.
Here we see how the past is still impacting the present:
She can’t risk making another wrong decision like she did the day her brother vanished when she went to the woods with Lewis instead of looking after Jimmy. She gets through high school and goes to college to become a teacher, but she never gives up hope her brother is alive. She tries to write Lewis one more time, but her mother catches her, tears the envelope open and reads where Rose talked about the day in the forest. Dot tells her Lewis will hate her for reminding him—she wants Rose to move on, to forget. She looks at Rose with what Rose sees as hate.
Lewis as an adult has become the nurturer who will not let anyone nurture him. That’s good because it shouts Change can happen! Events can force him to open up and they will. He has a misconception here, he thinks he can be another person, but in the end, he cannot.
The next section takes up when Lewis is in his twenties. He’s moved out of the neighborhood and is living in Madison, Wisconsin and living a new life. He’s been determined to reinvent himself. To atone by being a caregiver. Like his mother, he breaks some rules, and is one of the first male nursing assistants, taking an intensive 6-week course and then getting on the job training. The patients love him. He feels needed. Rose never wrote. He’s estranged from his mother—he became silent and unresponsive after Jimmy vanished, lost to her much the same way Jimmy was. He feels guilty still and part of him always blamed Ava. If Jake hadn’t been coming that night, none of this would have happened. Why did Ava have to be so different? To atone for his own guilt, he’s become a nurse’s assistant, nurturing others, but has trouble sustaining relationships. He’s a prize boyfriend because he’s so kind, but the women soon realize he can’t really take in what they want to offer him. It’s as if he is in a bomb shelter himself.
Rose, too, is an adult but stuck in time. She works with kids the same age as Jimmy when he vanished.
Rose, haunted, lives in Ann Arbor and is working as a sixth-grade teacher, but every kid reminds her of Jimmy. She is overprotective, determined to keep her kids safe. Her mother Dot was able to reinvent herself, getting a job, finding a boyfriend, refusing to talk to Rose about Jimmy and urging Rose to move on. Dot has died. Rose is called occasionally with news about suspects, about leads to the case that she keeps open. It always makes it worse when a lead comes up. There’s no one to be angry with. Nothing feels settled. Sometimes she thinks she sees Jimmy grown up, walking around, but it’s never him. She travels around following up every lead, refusing to admit he isn’t alive somewhere.
Rose has a boyfriend Brady, a decent guy who is honorable and kind. She can’t talk about her past, can’t really be herself. Brady believes in everything on the table, he’s one of six sisters, but she doesn’t want to be the woman whose brother died. He is a botanist and he comes from a big normal family of six sisters and parents who dote on him, and Rose really likes him, but she can’t talk about Jimmy with him—it’s a part of her life she keeps secret now because of the way people look at her when she mentions it, because if she IS still looking for Jimmy, people think she is obsessed, and if she says she isn’t, they think she is indifferent. Brady knows she is afraid of the woods and he tries to get her to picnic closer and closer to them, but she still can’t tell him. One day, Brady is looking for something and he tips a box of photos, and there are pictures of Jimmy.
This is important because we find out later that the only person Rose trusts is Lewis.
Rose finally tells him, and Brady is hurt and angry that she didn’t trust him enough to tell him. He says he has to go and think about all of this. Rose is upset.
Now we go back to Ava, who shows growth and change through adversity, which is what you want:
Meanwhile, in the neighborhood, Ava stays in the rental house because it’s the only thing she has of her son, Lewis, who now feels lost to her. Plus, if she leaves, she feels as if she’s giving in to the town, even though she’s never been charged. Adversity, divorce, the custody battle with Brian, all have made her start to grow and change and show inner strength and courage. One day, feeling alone, she begins to bake. She was always a rotten cook, always resented having to cook, to be the wife, the whole tyranny of cooking, but she bakes a pie and it comes out great. She finds cooking sooths her. She takes one of the pies to work, and it’s gone in an hour. She begins to bring more in, and she begins to visit local cafes to test-taste their pies. She asks about ingredients, but at Bell’s café, owned by a cranky older woman, Bell refuses to tell her.
This is important because of the story world. In the 1950s women were supposed to be great cooks. But Ava is breaking the mold by getting PAID, by making this into a business, which people don’t like at first. (The at first, is important, too. Things change.) Plus, we see Ava acting—character reveals itself through actions every time.
Determined, Ava brings in one of her pies. Bell is irritated that Ava would bring a pie into a café. She asks to feel Ava’s hands, which are cold, something that always bothered Ava and bothered her ex-husband, (he called her a fly for rubbing them back and forth to warm them), but Bell says cold hands make better pie crust, that it is a sign of a white thumb. She tastes the pie, says she’ll try it out. She calls Ava a day later, says the pie is gone. She’d like more. Ava stops bringing pies to work because she is selling them. Her boss is ticked off at losing the free goodies. Bell insists that Ava has to have a meal at the café, and they begin to be friends. Bell tells Ava that the café was her husband’s, a man she adored, and when he died, everyone told her to sell it, but she refused. The two women recognize something in each other and slowly become friends.
This is important because it is Ava’s first friend, someone who actually might understand and appreciate her and encourage her.
One of the neighbors sells Jimmy’s old house, and the new people raze a lot of it, including the bomb shelter. And that’s when they open it up and find human bones, which are identified as Jimmy’s. He was in the neighborhood all along. There’s no sign of a struggle, and the door was wedged shut. The ladder that used to be there was removed, couldn’t get out, and — because the shelter was abandoned — died.
Ava calls Lewis to tell him When Lewis hears that they found Jimmy’s bones, he remembers when they were kids, running across the yard and finding the bomb shelter. They all went in and they were all terrified. It was dark and cold and Jimmy is panicked and runs out. They follow him and see he’s wet his pants. He’s so shamed, Lewis says they are going to take another blood oath. “We will never go back here again.” They all repeat it. Then Jimmy says, This never happened. We will never talk or think about it.” And they all swear. They go back to Lewis’ house and he gives Jimmy a clean pair of his pants and they throw Jimmy’s pee-stained pants in the garbage. They never did think about it.
HUGE REVEAL. The bones are found—and it’s part of the story world, too, that in the “safe” a bomb shelter, was the site of Jimmy’s death. And there is another reversal—Rose and Lewis know that Jimmy would never have willingly gone into the shelter. So what really happened? We read to find out.
He wonders about Rose. He knows, that like him, she must be torn apart by this. He wants to see her. He calls her. She’s amazed to hear from him—it makes her feel less alone. He says she’s teaching, but it is almost spring break. He should come. He can camp at her place on the couch.
Lewis has never taken a vacation because he’s a loner. Had no place to go, no money, plus he liked the community of the hospital. Now he calls in his vacation days. They say, now because the hospital is always busy? But he points out that he’s never had a vacation and so they let him take his vacation time.
We bring the lovers back. But Lewis is an adult now and it’s different. He sees Rose differently, though she has always, always loved him.
They meet. Together, they talk about Jimmy, the bomb shelter, decide there must be more to this. Jimmy wouldn’t go near that place. Plus, it’s incomprehensible to them that during the search, the cops or people didn’t think to look in the shelter. There had been such chaos back then. They remember that the cops had looked in everyone’s house, that the head detective, Mr. Maroni was barking at everyone and calling the shots and setting up crime scenes everywhere, warning people not to mess things up and getting angry when people asked questions. “Just let me do my job.”
Everyone thought they had and had found nothing. They hadn’t thought of the shelter in years. It was all grown over. None of the kids went near it. Lewis tells Rose that Ava, shocked had thought someone had looked. She never would have called the cops because of the way they had treated her in the past. She had asked more people and they all seemed to remember that someone had looked, but they couldn’t remember who. Why didn’t Bob Gallagher who owned the shelter think to look? He gave the cops free reign of his place. He thought they had looked. He wanted to go with the others to look for the places no one else had searched yet. There was a sense of time running out, of not retracing steps but needing to move forward. Rose says she talked to the cops, but Lewis wants to press, to find out what really happened because something isn’t right.
They go back to Rose’s place and they call the cops back in Waltham and ask, the way Ava did, is there a record of the cops looking in the shelter years ago? The cop sighs and goes and gets the file. He says that it was years ago, it was chaos, Hank Maroni handled it. Lewis asks if he can speak to the detective who was in charge back then. The cop he’s speaking to says that detective is no longer there, that he was fired years ago for tampering with evidence
That evening, Rose shows him photographs of her growing up, of Dot. They relive the past a bit and then in the pages, there is something of Lewis that he had given Jimmy when they were kids and he’s stunned to see it. It’s a gimp lariat (gimp was that plastic strips that kids all wove together into lariats during the 50s and put keys on it.) Jimmy had never had the patience to do it, but Lewis had made a cool one in black and silver and given it to Jimmy. Jimmy had thought he had lost it, but Rose had swiped it for herself. And kept it in a secret place—sometimes wore it under her shirt. She admits it to Lewis, admits that she loved him as a little girl, that like Ava, she was the older woman, only Lewis never seemed to have a clue.
He asks why she never wrote to him and she said she did, but her mother found the letter and tore it up. She said girls shouldn’t chase or write to boys, that it was too forward. If he wanted to write to her, he would, but if she wrote first, he’d hate her for it. Lewis never knew.
This is another example of action changing people:
He’s struck by her confessions and begins to look at her in a new way.
That night, she wakes, can’t sleep, goes into the kitchen and is surprised to find Lewis is already there. He can’t sleep either. He makes popcorn and they watch an old movie together. They stay up all night. They both feel pulled, attracted, but don’t do anything. Both are surprised, unsure how the other feels.
He goes to her class with her. They plan to talk to a detective the next day about whether they can reopen Jimmy’s case since they don’t believe he went into the shelter by himself. Plus, they have information about the other detective being fired. He talks to the kids about the science of burping. Kids love hearing about gross things, they laugh and burp. He looks up and sees Rose watching him, isn’t sure if he crossed a line being too gross, riling up the kids. She burps, too, and the kids peal with laughter.
They walk home. It’s raining. She takes off her heels and walks barefoot. They’re laughing and she steps on some glass. He takes her home instead of to the detective. Takes the glass out, treats her, kisses her toes, and then her. They sleep together.
In the morning, they’re shy about each other. They talk more at breakfast, and then go see the detective who tells them to drop it, that it is a closed case. They mention the detective who was fired, and he says, that isn’t going to help with Jimmy now. Outside, Rose is glum. They talk about finding people, and she asks him about his dad. She, who has no family, begs him to find his father. She is going to be on spring break, suggests a road trip. Lewis, who wants more time with Rose, who is reminded of the road trip he was supposed to take with Jimmy, says yes. They walk back to the detective who easily finds Brian for them.
Important because this is an echo of the road trip Lewis was going to take with Jimmy. And he’s doing it with Rose.
The road trip is only two days. Rose puts stars on the points along the way a parallel to what Jimmy and Lewis were going to do. They stop at a diner and the waitress calls them both you lovebirds, which makes them both start. The waitress has a big full figure, low neckline to show off cleavage, which makes both of them think about Ava. They start to talk about her, about how hard it was for her to stretch a dime, to be lonely in the neighborhood. Rose tells the "collecting bottles" story to Lewis, how at night, she would look out and see Ava collecting bottles for the money, and it always made Rose feel safe somehow. Lewis who has been lonely begins to feel for his mother, to understand her.
At night, they try to sleep in the car. Really uncomfortable. They get a hotel room. They are asked if they are married, if they want one bed or two doubles. Lewis says they are married. They want one bed. They sign Mr. and Mrs. Lewis tells her about how it bothered him how Jimmy loved Ava. Rose tells him a story about how Jimmy loved and admired him (second story—first is how Ava collected bottles )how he stood up for Lewis one day on the block when the kids were talking about how they could get Lewis to do something if they gave him money or even ice cream. Jimmy shoved one of the kids and they began making fun of Jimmy because he didn’t have a father, but he didn’t back down.
Rose convinces Lewis to call Ava, to find Brian—for himself, because he’s so haunted. He does, and Ava reluctantly gives him the address. They find Brian.
This is the one BIG THING that has been set up from the beginning that Lewis has always wanted. Brian has remade himself.
Lewis says, you never came to see me. And Brian says, what are you crazy? Yes, I did, and he tells Lewis how he came to find him, he was sort of drunk, and Lewis came out of the house and when Brian tried to talk to him, Lewis bit him and ran, and Brian ran after him, shouting at him. As he tells the story, there is a BIG REVELATION for Lewis. He realizes that from the description, Brian not only didn’t know his own son, he thought Lewis was Jimmy, who always came in and out of Ava’s house. He must have terrified Jimmy who ran to the one place he could find to hide—the bomb shelter.
Both are deeply upset. But Brian insists he was not to blame. Lewis realizes what kind of man he was.
Lewis finally feels the yearning has stopped. He never wants to see his father again, He regrets all the time he spent yearning for him, and he regrets how hard a time he gave his mother. She had been right about Brian, and she had protected him, never really badmouthing him to Lewis. But Brian tells him as they are leaving, “Please don’t forget your old Dad.” Lewis doesn’t bite, but Rose is afraid that he’ll want his father in his life someday, especially if they ever have children. Or what if Brian is old or dying—Lewis will want to see him, but Rose never will.
Finding his father changes the way she sees him. She can’t stop thinking of the botched investigation, the night it all happened and her brother. She has nightmares of him being in the bomb shelter, waiting for them to come to rescue him and she can never get there in time.
And one big reveal leads to another. Rose can’t be with Lewis now because it reminds her that his father killed her brother.
Lewis still has time left and he goes to see Ava. Rose has made him think about Ava differently. He wants to tell her about Brian, that she was wrong, that his father did come back for him. But he’s still angry with her, and he knows if he tells her about what Brian did, it will cut her off at the knees.
He sees her in her café, how happy she is. How calm. They talk, and he tells her he saw Rose, he loves Rose, but it didn’t work out. She comforts him and says that happens and he asks her if she felt terrible that things didn’t’ work out with Brian. She reminds him that Brian never came to see him, that he never cared, that she brought him up, and there is a moral choice for Lewis. he can tell her or not, and he decides that he is finally going to let it go. That he won’t tell her what would hurt her. Instead, he lets himself be nurtured by her—she gives him pie
RECONCILIATION. They work out their differences. And Lewis does a big adult thing—he doesn’t tell Ava because he knows it would hurt her. Because of this action, we see he has grown.
Lewis goes back to work, but he doesn’t want to be an aide anymore. It feels different. He wants more now. He thinks about going back to school, getting a loan. He can go back to school anywhere—where Rose is, if he wants. There are hospitals everywhere. He can’t stop thinking about Rose, about his father. He runs into a patient he knew on the street who doesn’t recognize him. It’s happened before, but this time it really bothers him. He wants to be known. He misses the person who knows everything, the person with whom he doesn’t have to live a secret life. He wants to be with her. She had asked him to leave her alone, to give her time, but he had waited for her to write to him all those years ago and she never had. He wants to take action this time. He thinks he can convince her. That surely she must be missing him the way he misses her. He has a day off on Friday, a long weekend. He drives to Ann Arbor hoping he can convince her. He goes to the school to find her.
Meanwhile, Rose misses Lewis. She gets up in the middle of the night and makes popcorn by herself and wishes he were there. She thinks about how none of this is really his fault. If anything, he had been kind to her and she had told him to go away. She thinks there will always be his father, but she knows Lewis wants nothing more to do with Brian, and he is suffering about this the same way she is. She thinks of her mother who made herself a new life but refused to ever talk about Jimmy, and she wonders if her mother was ever really at peace about that. Terrible things happen in life and people live with it—they find a state of grace.
She thinks she has blown it. Lewis doesn’t call, it’s the 60s—no cell phones, no answering machines, no email—she calls his home in Madison, but there is no answer (he’s on the road, something she doesn’t know.) And then she does what she should have done years ago. She writes him a letter saying she misses him. She figures the letter will reach him in another week.
The next day, she goes to scatter Jimmy’s ashes in the woods she always been afraid of. She feels like it’s a test for herself, plus Jimmy always loved the woods. She feels this sense of relief. She’s not afraid of the woods anymore, carrying his ashes. She scatters them. Thinks now that he is here, she’ll never be afraid here. She walks to the clearing, sees a man, is frightened, because no one else is around, and then she sees it’s Lewis, waiting for her. She thinks here they are all together finally, she and Lewis and Jimmy, too. She takes a step towards him. There’s a sense they will face it together.
And we have a satisfying ending. And a never-ending story one. There is a sense that they will be together, but you are not positive. But the two people who went through this, who love each other, are together in this moment.