The Usual Rules Summary
At the beginning of The Usual Rules, thirteen-year-old New Yorker Wendy is just getting ready for a normal school day. She says bye to her stepfather Josh and her little brother Louie, and misses seeing her mother before she heads off to work. That's for the best anyway, because Wendy and her mother are fighting over the fact that Wendy wants to take some time off of school and go to California to visit her biological dad—who has largely been absent in her life.
When Wendy gets to school, though, the teacher announces that there's been a huge catastrophe: Two planes have flown into the World Trade Center. Wendy is horrified because her mother works in one of the towers. She waits for hours while other students get picked up, and finally Josh and Louie come to get her… but they don't have her mother with them.
Wendy, Josh and Louie walk home and wait by the phone for her mom to call or return. But Janet—Wendy's mom—never comes back, even after weeks. Josh is completely bereft and overwhelmed by the task of taking care of two kids, so when Wendy's father shows up unannounced and says he wants her to come live with him in California, Josh lets her go.
And so Wendy boards a plane and goes to stay with her father, Garrett, in the little town of Davis, where he lives and works as a carpenter. She settles in, but takes on a whole new identity, one in which she's not such an obedient little girl anymore, skipping school and going to the local bookstore or Sacramento instead.
Wendy meets a girl named Violet who isn't much older than her but has just given birth to a baby, a little boy named Walter Charles. Wendy befriends Violet and the bookstore owner, Alan, although she tells them both that her name is Kitty. She spends a lot of time hanging out at the bookstore or at Violet's apartment, and calls her best friend from New York—Amelia—often to get updates on what's going on.
Wendy also gets to know Garrett's girlfriend, a woman named Carolyn who lives on a cactus farm. Garrett takes Wendy to San Francisco one weekend to meet up with her grandmother—his mother—and it's clear that his mother wants them both to be a lot fancier and more refined.
Wendy sneaks out of her hotel room to go wandering in the middle of the night, and ends up befriending a skateboarder named Todd who is a runaway; he's been traveling across the country looking for his older brother, Kevin. She lets him shower in her hotel room, and afterward she gives him her address so he can come visit if he's ever passing through Davis.
Over Christmas, Garrett's mother dies and he has to attend the funeral. Carolyn cooks for Wendy, and some of her friends unexpectedly show up. Alan shows up with his autistic son, Tim; Violet arrives with Walter Charles; and Garrett comes home with a surprise: He picked up a hitchhiker on the way home from the airport, and it turns out to be Todd, who was coming to see Wendy. What a coincidence. So they all spend Christmas together and it's a swell time.
After everyone leaves, Todd stays the night and he and Wendy even spend some time making out. He leaves the next day to go to Colorado, where he has a lead on his brother, Kevin. But he promises to write and call her when he can.
Garrett and Carolyn tell Wendy that they know she's been skipping school this whole time, but they also know she needs to do this in order to cope with her mother's death. In the meantime, Wendy hears from Josh that Louie isn't doing so well. He can't seem to understand that their mother is dead, and he keeps freaking out and throwing tantrums. Wendy also learns that Kate—her mother's best friend—has been seeing Josh. Kate decides to leave New York City for good, though, and move to Hawaii; she comes to apologize to Wendy for what happened with Josh.
Wendy also hears from Todd, who tells her that he finally found his brother and they're living together and working now. He has some semblance of a family at long last. In the meantime, Violet decides that she's too overwhelmed by motherhood and decides to give Walter Charles up for adoption—a decision that upsets both Wendy and Carolyn, who have grown attached to the baby.
For Wendy's birthday, Garrett takes her to San Francisco and to Yosemite and says that he thinks it's best if Wendy finishes out the school year before deciding where to live permanently. This upsets her because she feels like her entire life is out of her control and no one's consulting her. He apologizes and they make up.
Josh sends Wendy a box full of gifts that her mother bought for her before she died, but Wendy is afraid to open it. After going to school in Davis, Wendy decides that she's going to move back to New York City; she tells Garrett she's taking the train home—Louie and Josh need her. Before she goes, Wendy opens the box and sees that her mother bought her a plane ticket to California. Aw, she meant to let Wendy go after all.
Wendy takes the train all the way home without telling Josh and Louie that she's coming. When she gets there, no one is home so she goes straight to Louie's school and picks him up. He's delighted to see her and they walk home together, hand-in-hand.
Part 1, Chapter 1
- It's just another day for Wendy, who is now a thirteen-year-old girl living in New York City with her mom, stepfather Josh, and half-brother Louie.
- Even though Josh isn't her real dad, she considers him more of a father than Garrett has ever been since he's the one who actually helped to raise her.
- Wendy and her mother are currently having a bit of a tiff because her mother doesn't want her to go to California to visit her father—you know, since she's in school. Her mom doesn't think Wendy should just take off.
- During breakfast, they talk about Louie's preschool orientation, which is happening this Thursday. He's really excited and wants them all to be there.
- Wendy thinks about when her mom and Josh first started dating and how she wanted to hate him but just couldn't. Josh was nice to her right away and even taught her how to make brownies from scratch. Mmm…
- Now Josh tells her to go into the bedroom and say goodbye to her mom before she leaves, but Wendy says she's late and rushes out the door to get to school instead. She also says that she'll be hanging out with Amelia—her best friend—after school.
- She rides the bus to school and gets there in time for homeroom class. She thinks about how she got a letter from her father last week asking her to come visit, even though he hadn't let her come during the summer. Huh.
- Later on, Wendy will think back on this mundane time in homeroom class and wish she could press pause before everything changed.
- The bell for first period doesn't ring on schedule, and everyone is confused. Then the principal comes on the loudspeaker and announces that there's been an accident. Uh-oh… This can't be good.
- Wendy remembers the time after her father left them and how her mom had to get serious office clothes and find a job instead of following her dream of being a professional dancer.
- Janet eventually found a job as an executive secretary and worked a lot, which meant Wendy had to go to day care and didn't get to see her mom a lot. Bummer.
- Then her mom started dating other men and even got serious with a man named Tom… but it turned out he wasn't really divorced and she ended it. Close one.
- Then one day Garrett showed up and told Janet she still looked beautiful as ever. Much to Wendy's disappointment, though, Janet wasn't buying it.
- Because Janet didn't want to spend time with him, Garrett took Wendy to F.A.O. Schwarz and bought her a doll.
- And when they returned to the apartment, her mother wasn't there. Her friend Kate was there instead, and she told Garrett that Janet wouldn't be spending any time with him.
- Garrett told Wendy to write to him and visit sometime, even though she realized later that he never gave her his address—and that he didn't even know that she couldn't write yet.
- At school, Wendy has just learned that a plane has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, a.k.a. her mom's office.
- There's a lot of chaos and the students are all confused—and then the other tower goes down and it just gets worse. People are realizing this is most definitely not an accident and instead it's an attack.
- Parents keep showing up to take their kids home, but Wendy remains at school waiting for her mother, hoping she'll walk through the door.
- Then the door opens and Louie walk in. She asks them where her mother is, but Josh says they haven't heard anything yet.
- The subways are closed so Wendy walks home with Josh and Louie. There are so many people out in the streets, and when Wendy looks into stores, she can see the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center playing on TV.
- Josh tells her they need to get home now so they're by the phone when Janet calls. He keeps telling them that Janet must have gotten out and is probably trying to call them right now.
- The phone keeps ringing, but it's always people checking in to see if they've heard from Janet yet. They watch the TV for a while, but eventually Josh turns it off.
- Josh goes out on foot to check the hospitals in the hopes of finding Janet, and Wendy is left at home to take care of Louie. She reads him books and eventually he falls asleep.
- Josh calls and she tells him that Janet hasn't called yet. He says he's at the hospital, but she's not there either. Hrm.
- Wendy doesn't go to bed until past 2:00AM, and even though she waits to cry, the tears don't come. She remembers when Princess Diana died and her mother started crying even though she'd never seen her in real life.
- Even though she can't cry, Wendy suddenly realizes she can hear herself making the same noise over and over again—saying mama.
- She falls asleep and then wakes up in the morning to find Josh in the kitchen. He's looking through their photo albums and says they need pictures of Janet so they can make a flier to post around the city.
- Suddenly Wendy realizes that Josh looks so young. He's nine years younger than her mother, but it never seemed like a big deal until now.
- He writes up a flier with the pictures of Janet, a description of what she wore to work that day, and a phone number so people can reach him.
- Josh goes to Kinko's to print the fliers, but when he realizes he doesn't have his wallet, the people there let him make them for free. Everyone looks at them with pity and it's terrible.
- Louie goes to his best friend's house with an overnight bag because Josh is so overwhelmed.
- Wendy helps Josh put up the fliers; there are other fliers everywhere, and she looks at all the faces of other missing people.
- When she gets to Union Square, she sees a bunch of people gathered. They're writing poems and messages on big pieces of paper and there's a shrine with offerings set up.
- Josh's sister comes over and he tells them both the story of how he met Janet, even though they've heard it a million times before.
- School's back in session, but Wendy doesn't go. She stays at home and watches TV, even though it makes her feel sick to see the news coverage of the destroyed towers.
- The family that Louie is staying with calls to let her know his preschool orientation day went well.
- After school, Amelia comes over and cries when she sees Wendy. Then she tells Wendy what's been going on at school and all the special assemblies they've been having; Wendy's the only kid at school who had a parent in one of the towers.
- With Amelia by her side, Wendy finally lets herself cry. It's like a flood, and when she finally stops, Amelia suggests getting some ice cream.
- Wendy thinks back to last week when her mother wouldn't let her go to California and how she said all these nasty things about Janet to Amelia.
- Now she wishes she hadn't said any of that stuff. Amelia promises her that she'll never tell anyone, assuring Wendy that she knows she didn't actually want her mom to die.
- Wendy dreams her mother is stuck in an air pocket underneath all the rubble, surviving off a bag of animal crackers. She also dreams that she's on top of the mound of rubble, digging with a little spoon.
- In the dream, she calls out that she's sorry about fighting with her mom and says Janet is the best mother in the world. She just wants her to come home.
- Wendy gets dressed at night after Josh falls asleep and takes a taxi to the site of the two towers. It's cordoned off but she manages to get through; she sees all the rescue workers and the base of her mother's building.
- She recalls the last time that she was here, with Josh and Louie, to visit her mother and take her out for a cup of coffee.
- One night, Wendy wakes up to the sound of music playing and walks into the kitchen to find Josh smoking a cigarette. She tells him she should call her father to tell him what's happened, and Josh says that it's a good idea.
- Wendy calls Garrett and it's pretty obvious right away that he doesn't know Janet is missing—he just asks about Wendy and how she's doing with everything.
- Then she tells him Janet worked in one of the towers, and he goes silent. He tells her he needs to think but he'll call her back soon.
- She thinks about how she once found a painting of her mother in the closet and it was something her father had done.
- She also remembers all the fights her parents had when they were still together about how her dad wouldn't make any money to take care of his family.
- Then one time he went to New Jersey for an art show and Janet decided they were going to surprise him and show up. When they got to the hotel, though, Janet and Wendy walked into the room to find a naked woman in the bed.
- Garrett came out and kept apologizing and saying it didn't mean anything, but the next day, Janet packed up her and Wendy's stuff and they left for good.
- When Wendy comes into the kitchen, she finds Josh cooking for the first time since 9/11 and feels relieved. She tells him that she called her dad and says she wants to pick up Louie now.
- Louie asks where his mama is when they show up, and Josh tells him that they don't know yet. Then Louie has a tantrum and starts thrashing all over the place.
- It's not until they're out of the building that he says that some girl at class told him that all the people got buried under the building, and that the people are all bits of dust now.
- He starts sobbing when he sees a picture of his mother on one of the Missing fliers that Josh and Wendy put up. Poor kid.
- When Wendy hangs out with Amelia, they go do normal things like listening to CDs at the music store. Amelia asks her about talking to her dad, but Wendy says that it was weird, like talking to a stranger.
- Wendy remembers when she and Amelia were little. They liked to play this game called Pennsylvania where they planned out their future lives—in which they'd be neighbors living in Pittsburgh.
- As they're walking down the street, Amelia catches sight of a flier featuring a missing fireman named Billy Flynn. She says he's the most handsome person she's ever seen and that he's the person she'll marry in Pennsylvania.
- Wendy says this is unlikely because he was in the towers, but Amelia says they'll probably find him and Wendy's mom soon.
- Lots of people stop by to see them, but Wendy doesn't really want to talk to anyone but Amelia. Kate even takes Wendy to get her first manicure, but she just feels sad the whole time.
- Wendy goes back to school and no one says anything about her mom, but she can tell it's on everyone's mind.
- She sits with her usual friends at lunch, but a couple other girls come over and ask her if she wants to join their church group.
- After they walk away, Amelia makes a joke about how they're just trying to buddy up with Wendy because it's so fascinating that she has a mom who's been killed.
- Instead of being offended, Wendy feels relieved because someone has finally said what she suspects: that her mother is dead.
- On Saturday, they eat a quiet family dinner together and then Wendy helps Louie get ready for bed. She tucks him in and reads him a book, and then he asks her if his mama is ever coming back.
- She tells him the truth: She doesn't think their mother is coming back ever again.
- Days go by and things start going back to normal, which is disturbing to Wendy, especially when she hears a woman on the street commenting on how normal things are now.
- She realizes that people are probably carrying around a lot more emotional baggage and distress than she could ever know, though.
- If Wendy can look normal on the outside and carry on with her usual activities, then surely there are people around her who are suffering through all sorts of terrible catastrophes—there are so many people who lost family members and loved ones on 9/11.
- Wendy never really knows when the grief is going to hit her, but sometimes it comes out of nowhere and is totally overwhelming. Poor girl.
- She can't stop the memories of her mother from flooding in, like how they used to watch I Love Lucy and make Ukrainian Easter eggs together.
- She misses reading together at bedtime, too, and how her mother always did goofy things, like picking up a pair of mannequin legs off the street to take home.
- Wendy also recalls all the things they did together after leaving her father, and how her mother would always watch other happy families with sadness.
- She also remembers her mother being with Josh and how happy they were together. And of course, she remembers her mother dancing.
- Wendy wants to remember everything about her mom but it's also way too painful to think about her.
- Wendy and Amelia walk to the library and notice that the pictures of Billy are gone now. When they pass a fire station, Amelia asks about him and pretends that she knew him; the fireman there tells her that there's going to be a funeral service tonight and gives her the date and time.
- Instead of going home, Wendy and Amelia go straight to the funeral. The church is totally crowded and a lot of people talk about what an amazing person Billy was.
- At the end, Amelia says they probably won't ever live in Pennsylvania like they planned and Wendy admits it was always just a dream. Then Amelia asks her if they're going to have a service for her mom.
- When Wendy gets home, Josh is waiting for her, upset that she didn't tell him where she was going. He says he's been worried sick.
- Wendy tells him about the funeral service that she went to and says they played his favorite music. She tells him they should think about what song to play for her mother's memorial service.
- When she says that, Josh tells her that he's not ready to talk about it and that if he stopped believing Janet was coming home, he doesn't know if he could keep living. This frightens Wendy. Dude's kind of all she has, after all.
- Wendy is freaked out that Josh says that he wishes that he were the one who died instead of Janet. She also can't help but think about how it must have been for her mom after the plane hit the building.
- She thinks about how her mother was wearing a new dress on 9/11—a dress that Wendy convinced her to buy—and how maybe it made it hard for her to run down the stairs, especially with heels on.
- In her mind, she keeps imagining the plane hitting the building and yelling at her mother to run faster… but there's nothing that she can actually do.
- Then from her bedroom, Wendy hears music and wonders if she's hallucinating. When she creeps out into the hallway, she sees that Josh is sitting by the stereo and listening to her mother's favorite music. He's sobbing.
- Wendy remembers how when she was in the third grade, Janet told her that she was going to be a big sister. Wendy was beyond excited and couldn't wait.
- Wendy loved preparing for being a big sister and even carried heavy stuff around so she'd be ready to hold the baby for long periods of time.
- Then when Janet went into labor, Wendy went to the hospital with Josh and waited; she was so excited to see Louie enter the world.
- Wendy was surprised when people kept talking to her as though they expected her to dislike Louie or be jealous of him, saying things about how she was probably upset that he was around.
- But Wendy never resented Louie—instead, being a big sister was always her favorite thing ever. She always adored him, and he adored her.
- She remembers how when Louie was really little, she'd help Josh take care of him when her mother was at work and how wonderful it all was. The whole family was so happy.
- They were a normal family, and Wendy has always considered Josh her dad and Louie her real brother—none of that "half-brother" business.
- Once, Amelia asked her if she wasn't worried that her parents would get divorced and who would get Louie in the custody battle. Wendy said that she'd get Louie. She also said she wasn't worried because her mom and Josh were meant to be together forever.
- When Halloween rolls around, Amelia and Wendy discuss what they're going to do and how they'll dress up.
- Eventually they settle on taking Louie trick-or-treating and then babysitting him. Even though Louie's been having a hard time lately, he seems excited for Halloween and talks a lot about what he wants to dress up as.
- He asks them if Halloween magic is real and if there are ghosts that will come out, and Wendy assures him that he doesn't have to be scared because they'll be with him all night.
- The girls make Louie a robot costume but he decides he doesn't want to wear it at the last minute and decides to just go in his Spiderman pajamas.
- Wendy doesn't have a costume, so they go into her mother's closet to find something to wear. She hasn't been in there since 9/11 and seeing all of her mom's stuff overwhelms her.
- She's trying on one of her mother's dresses when she smells her perfume and starts to freak out. Wendy cries while Amelia waits it out patiently.
- Then they go trick-or-treating and get plenty of candy, but Louie is sad by the end of the night. He says he thought there would be Halloween magic around and he wanted to see ghosts. Poor kid.
- When Louie goes to bed, Amelia pulls out a Ouija board and Wendy tells it that she's looking for a lost parent; she needs to reach that person.
- As she's asking the board if her lost parent is there, they hear a knock on the door. And when she opens it, she's shocked to find Garrett—her father—standing in the doorway.
- Wendy and Amelia let him in and he tells them that he's been traveling all day from California to see her. He says he wants Wendy to come back and live with him.
- This shocks Wendy and she tells him that she lives here, and that she has Josh and Louie. But Garrett tells her that Josh isn't her real dad and that Louie is her half-brother, which—duh—totally upsets her.
- He also says that her grandmother talked to a lawyer who said it'll be easy for him to take Wendy back to California because he's her only living biological parent. Oh good?
- She argues and says that Josh wouldn't be the one to stop her from leaving—she'd be the one resisting, thank you very much. She doesn't want to leave her school, Amelia, or her family.
- He tells her that she can come for a trial run and that he has a dog named Shiva. Wendy isn't sure.
- The next day, Wendy talks to Josh and tells him about Garrett showing up like that. Josh seems bewildered and hurt when she tells him that Garrett said that she should be with a parent. After all, Josh considers Wendy his daughter, too.
- The next day at school, Amelia is waiting by Wendy's locker and says she can't believe that Garrett showed up like that out of the blue.
- Amelia tells Wendy she should go to California, but Wendy isn't so sure. Even though the prospect of starting over again in California is tempting, she wants to be with Josh and her brother…
- Eventually Wendy decides to leave in two days. She talks to Louie about it, even though he doesn't really understand that she'll be gone for a while.
- Kate comes over and is all upset that Garrett showed up to claim Wendy when he was never a father to her before. But Wendy just says she has to go pack for her move.
- Josh comes in while she's packing and admits that he doesn't want to do now that his life has been shattered; she says she doesn't know either, which is why she's going to California.
- He tells her that maybe Garrett will be able to take care of her better since Josh is so messed up and depressed right now.
- Wendy is surprised when he says this—she's thought this whole time that Josh would stop her from leaving. She never thought he'd actually let her go.
Part 2, Chapter 13
- All this time, Wendy has imagined that Garrett lives out in the middle of a field in a little cabin somewhere. The reality, though, is that his house in Davis looks like a normal house in a normal suburban neighborhood.
- She goes into the fridge to look for something to eat, but it's nowhere near as well-stocked as her fridge back home in Brooklyn. She settles for some Oreos.
- Garrett shows her to her new bedroom and then brings Wendy a photo of her mother—one from when Janet was pregnant with Wendy.
- He tells her that although he and her mother differed in a lot of their views about the world, he always loved her.
- Then he leaves Wendy alone to get some sleep. The plan for the next day is to take her downtown, then take her to see her new school, and then let her meet his friends.
- She imagines being back home and talking to Louie, comforting him so that he'll fall asleep okay. She's obviously worried about the little guy.
- The next morning, Garrett takes Wendy out to breakfast and she orders a grapefruit, which is something she's never eaten before. She's decided to eat a lot less in California than she normally does so she'll be skinny and unrecognizable when she goes home.
- They drive around to see the whole town with Shiva in tow. Wendy's happy to have a dog with her, but then she thinks about how her mom always said they didn't have room for a dog and feels sad.
- When they get back to the house, there's a message from Josh asking if Wendy's arrived safely. She knows that she should call him back, but she's not ready to hear his or Louie's voices yet.
- They go to the junior high school and meet with the principal. Wendy's relieved when Garrett doesn't mention what happened to her mother and just asks everyone to set her up with anew schedule so she can start ASAP.
- Wendy goes to her new school and some girl immediately asks her about 9/11 and if it was crazy to be in New York when that happened. Wendy doesn't say anything.
- During gym class, Wendy just wanders off and leaves campus. She goes into town and finds a small bookstore where she sets up and starts reading Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl.
- The bookstore owner introduces himself as Alan and asks her why she's not in school. Wendy lies and says she's homeschooled… and that her name is Kitty.
- Then Wendy walks all the way home and waits for Garrett and Shiva to return. When they do, Garrett asks her about school and Wendy says it went fine.
- He seems satisfied with this answer and tells her that his new nickname for her will be "Slim."
- Wendy's never broken a lot of rules, but now she can't help herself—she just starts skipping school. The next day, she takes the bus into Sacramento instead of returning to the junior high, spending her whole day going to the mall and the gym and walking around. Then she goes home.
- The next day, she takes Garrett's bike and rides around Davis to check out the university and go to the bookstore again. Alan sets aside a book he thought she'd like: A Member of the Wedding.
- Then she lies to him and says that her little brother was picked to be the next Dalai Lama. Alan tells her that he has an autistic son who lives in a group home.
- In the evenings, Garrett and Wendy eat TV dinners and listen to music. Sometimes they watch TV together, and every morning, Garrett drops her off at school. Wendy never goes inside, though; she just wanders around town.
- She calls Josh one day and he asks her how things are going. They make small talk and neither of them mentions if there's any news about her mother.
- Then she talks to Louie on the phone and he tells her that it's time for her to come home now. When she explains to him that she won't be coming back for a while, he starts to cry.
- One weekend, Garrett says they're going to go visit his girlfriend, a woman named Carolyn. Carolyn apparently lives on a dirt road outside of town and sells cactus plants. How very California of her.
- Carolyn is super nice and laid back, and Wendy says that she likes her when they drive back home. Then they rent another movie and watch it together.
- Garrett admits that he feels bad that he hasn't been around enough as a father and that he hasn't been a great role model. Wendy says it's okay because she had her mom and Josh.
- On Sunday, Wendy remembers how she and her family used to do fun things together, like go to the museum or the zoo, or even to an amusement park.
- But at Garrett's house, he doesn't plan anything for them to do together. Instead he goes to visit Carolyn and leaves her at home with the dog.
- Wendy calls up Amelia, who tells her that everyone at school is talking about Wendy and wants to know all about California. Amelia informs her that she's been hanging out with this boy named Chief.
- After she hangs up, Wendy thinks about her mother and reflects on how she keeps losing her over and over again—and how grief doesn't just happen in one instant and then go away. Grief has a real knack for sticking around.
- After Garrett drops her off at school on Monday, Wendy takes the bus to the hospital and gets off. She goes into the Obstetrics and Gynecology department.
- She peers in at all the newborn babies and remembers how Louie was when he was a baby. A girl is standing in front of the window and asks Wendy if any of the babies are hers.
- The girl's name is Violet and she points out her baby—a boy named Walter Charles. She's not much older than Wendy and asks for her name; Wendy says it's Kitty.
- The girl says that Wendy can pretend to be her sister and they take a taxi together to Violet's apartment. Then they set about taking care of Walter Charles.
- Violet admits that she was originally supposed to give her baby to a couple in San Francisco, but then she changed her mind at the last minute and decided she wanted to keep him.
- When it's time for Wendy to leave, Violet tells her to come back and hang out with her and the baby any time.
- Garrett is already home when Wendy returns, and he asks her how school was. Per usual, she says it was fine despite not having gone.
- Carolyn comes over and says she'll read Wendy's palm. She tells Wendy that there's a lot of love in her family line and also that there's a woman coming her way… but to be careful with her.
- Garrett says Carolyn is right: His mother is coming to visit for Thanksgiving and Wendy should definitely watch out for her.
- Wendy does like the book that Alan recommended for her, and she feels a kinship with the main character, Frankie, because they're the same age and also starting to see the world differently.
- She goes to the bookstore and talks to Alan about how she plays the clarinet; she wishes she had one here with her. She also helps Alan shelve some books.
- When customers come, she overhears them talking to Alan about Tim, his son. They sympathize with how hard it is for him to have an autistic son.
- Garrett asks Wendy why she doesn't have any homework, but she tells him that she goes to study hall at school. Smooth move.
- The school hasn't come after her yet because she wrote them a letter from Garrett stating that she would be going back to New York. Smart girl, right?
- They make plans for when Garrett's mom comes to town: They're going to drive into San Francisco and meet her at the Fairmont Hotel.
- Wendy asks what she's like, and Garrett says his mother always makes him feel like he's disappointed her. He just can't seem to measure up.
- When Wendy goes to visit Violet, she can hear Walter Charles crying from a long way off. Violet is sitting there looking harried and overwhelmed; she is totally exhausted and frustrated by new motherhood.
- The girls go to Macy's and try on lots of clothes for fun even though they don't have any money. That's when Wendy realizes she's gotten a lot skinnier from eating less.
- When she talks to Josh on the phone, he tells her that Louie has started hitting people at school and he's worried about him. Louie also doesn't want to go to see his friends anymore and keeps asking when Wendy is coming home.
- He tells her that they're just going to stay at home on Thanksgiving and watch Sesame Street together, and that they'll eat TV dinners—even though before, Josh always said that he'd lose his mind before buying TV dinners. The whole convo is pretty sad.
- Although Wendy didn't understand her parents' divorce when she was a kid, now she's starting to see why her mom broke up with Garrett.
- Even though he's super easygoing, Garrett just doesn't think things out—and that's a problem for an adult who is in a relationship. Dude can be inconsiderate and irresponsible.
- Wendy remembers with a pang how she was so mean to her mom before she died. She thinks about how she refused to watch her brother one day when her mother wanted to go see a dance show.
- Instead of staying home like she was supposed to, Wendy took Louie with her to a party where they were watching scary movies, and later that night, Louie woke up with nightmares about the movies.
- She can't stop thinking about all the things she regrets now and all the times she hurt her mother and Josh by being snide and ungrateful.
- She thinks about the time that her mother brought up Josh formally adopting Wendy and how she was so mean to them both. Her mother said that Wendy broke her heart.
- When Wendy calls Amelia to talk about how bad she feels, Amelia assures her that it's how all teens treat their parents. Then she tells Wendy that she's going on a date with Chief—that new kid at school.
- Violet admits to Wendy that Walter Charles has been crying nonstop and that she hit him the other day. This reminds Wendy of the one time that her mother ever hit her: It was after they got into that fight about Wendy going to California. When Wendy said her father was the parent who truly loved her, her mom slapped her.
- After seeing Violet, Wendy stops by the bookstore and asks Alan if he has any books about childcare. She wants something that talks about child abuse in particular. It's obviously for Violet, but Alan doesn't know that and the question worries him; he tells her to come to him if she ever needs help.
- At home, Wendy takes a shower and realizes that her boobs are growing and she's thinner. She wishes her mom could be here now to see how she's growing up and filling out.
- When she joins her father and Carolyn in the house, Garrett tells her that she's starting to look like her mother. Then they tell her that they're celebrating a new job that Carolyn landed—she'll be setting up a cactus garden for an office building in Sacramento.
- Carolyn goes to Chico the next day to buy new cacti, and Wendy decides to come along for the ride.
- During the car ride, Carolyn reveals to Wendy that her relationship with Garrett works because she doesn't expect too much from him. She also says that she had a baby boy once but gave him up for adoption. She hasn't seen him since.
- Carolyn tells Wendy that she'll never try to replace her mom, but that she'll be there for Wendy if she ever needs to talk to an older woman.
- As Wendy continues reading The Member of the Wedding in the car, she finds out that all sorts of terrible things happen to the main character.
- They reach the cacti farm and Carolyn buys a bunch of stuff, filling up the whole car. Wendy wishes she could have shown it all to Louie because he would have liked to play and pretend that the weird cacti were aliens.
- Wendy goes to visit Violet on the weekend and they watch an episode Maury together that features a girl who has sex with her mother's boyfriend.
- From the crib, Walter Charles starts crying and Violet admits that she's afraid she'll be a bad mom like the one on TV—someone who could accuse her daughter of seducing her husband instead of standing up for her child against a predator.
- Wendy assures her that she loves Walter Charles too much to be like that, but Violet says that sometimes she wants to have her old life again. She misses it.
- Garrett and Wendy drive to San Francisco to see his mother, and along the way he warns her about the kind of person her grandmother is.
- They get to the super fancy hotel early and Garrett calls his mother's hotel room before going outside to check on his car. Wendy is the one who greets her grandmother when she comes down.
- Wendy immediately gets the distinct feeling that her grandmother would like her to be like another girl in the hotel—one with a crisp school uniform and a white blouse.
- They decide to check out the Japanese garden before they eat, although her grandmother decides to wait in the cab because she hates Japanese people because of Pearl Harbor. We'd like to note that, Pearl Harbor or not, her hatred of Japanese people is also due to racism.
- Wendy really likes the garden and wishes she could spend more time there looking at the ducks and having a snack.
- When they're back in the cab, her grandmother asks her what clubs she belongs to and Wendy starts fibbing. She says she's in a stamp collecting club and a cactus club. Luckily, her dad thinks it's funny and plays along.
- They have a buffet style Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel and eat all sorts of food. Garrett gets mad at his mother for commenting on Wendy's meal choices and how she's not watching her figure.
- Then Garrett and his mother start arguing in earnest and he accuses her of being small-minded and miserable.
- In the end, Garrett refuses to stay and says he'll pick up Wendy the following morning. So she goes to the ballet with her grandmother and stays the night at the hotel.
- At the hotel, Wendy gets her very own room and orders some room service as soon as she can. She also takes a nice bath and reads some more of her book.
- She gets super upset when she realizes that John Henry—the character in the book who reminds her of Louie—dies. Then she starts to cry.
- It's late at night, but Wendy decides to get dressed and go for a walk even though she knows that her mother would not approve of her wandering around alone.
- She starts off in a nice neighborhood near the hotel, but soon she finds that she's wandered into sketchier parts.
- Eventually, she comes across a group of boys skateboarding and stops to watch. As she does so, she thinks about how she got into a fight with her mom recently and instead of being mad, her mom slipped a note under her door at night.
- The note said that her mom was sorry that she didn't understand how Wendy was feeling but that she knew that being thirteen was hard and that it would pass. And she also said that she loved Wendy madly forever.
- Wendy goes to the pier and one of the skateboarders—a boy named Todd—comes up to her and asks her what she's up to. She says that she's here visiting, and he says that he's a wanderer, a street kid.
- Then she finds herself telling him her whole story, about how she's been sent out here to live with Garrett and how she's been skipping school. He says that he's been wandering around looking for his brother all this time. His brother took off two years ago.
- Todd decides to walk Wendy back to her hotel so she'll be safe. He does a skateboarding trick along the way and ends up ripping his pant leg and hurting his arm.
- Even though he says it isn't all that bad, Wendy tells him he can come back to her hotel room to rest and wash off his arm.
- Todd agrees because he hasn't taken a hot shower in a long time. He takes a shower in her bathroom and then they watch TV together and eat her room service food.
- As they sit there, Todd tells her more about his brother Kevin and how he was the only person in Todd's family that he could count on.
- When it's almost morning, Todd says that he's going to go. Wendy gives him her phone number in New York and her phone number in Davis; she tells him to call if he's ever around.
- Wendy calls Josh and Louie from her hotel room, and Josh tells her that Louie's been going to a therapist. When she asks to talk to Louie, her brother refuses to come to the phone.
- Then Garrett picks her up and takes her to see the redwood forests before they head back to Davis. They see a Blue Angels stunt flying event overhead, and Wendy gets nervous because it reminds her of the planes crashing into the towers.
- As they drive home, Garrett admits that seeing his mother still bothers him because he can tell how disappointed she is in him—and because he's disappointed in the kind of mother she is. So much disappointment.
- Then he admits he messed up when it came to Wendy's mother; he was scared of so much responsibility.
- When Wendy goes back to the bookstore, Alan tells her he's been doing research on child abuse and has the name of someone that she can talk to.
- Wendy assures him that it's not for her—her parents don't abuse her at all. She's doing this for a friend. Then she lets go of the facade and tells him her real name and real story.
- When she finishes, Alan asks her if she'd like to go see his son. The boy's name is Tim and he likes to go to the laundromat.
- Tim doesn't talk a lot to Wendy when they pick him up, but he does like to sort and do the laundry when they get to the laundromat.
- After they drop Tim off at the group home, Wendy tells Alan that Tim reminds her a bit of Louie; she misses her brother so much.
- On the drive home, Alan explains how they didn't figure out something was wrong with Tim until his fourth birthday, and that's when they realized he wasn't like other kids.
- Later on, Wendy gets home and finds that Garrett's been at Carolyn's house. Carolyn needed him for moral support because she got a call from her son—the one that she gave up for adoption.
- Apparently he's all grown up now and has a girlfriend. His girlfriend's the person who tracked Carolyn down in the first place. Carolyn's son is named Nate and he's twenty-five years old.
- Carolyn plans to write him a letter and ask if he'll come and visit her. She's both excited and super nervous to meet him.
- Amelia continues to keep Wendy in the loop about what's going on in her life, and it has a lot to do with Chief, whom Amelia is now kissing and allowing to touch her bra.
- Wendy wants to know if he tried anything else, since she and Amelia have made a pact that they won't lose their virginity until they're seventeen. Amelia's not so sure now, though.
- Carolyn comes over for a sleepover and Wendy thinks about whether she and Garrett are having sex in his room and wonders who she can talk to about sex. She's curious now that she's getting older.
- Later in the week, Wendy and Violet go to the mall with Walter Charles. Violet says she was dumb and that's how she got pregnant—she believed her boyfriend when he said it wouldn't happen.
- In the meantime, Carolyn's busy at work writing to her son. She wants to tell him a little bit about herself and invite him out to see her. She's pretty darn nervous about the whole thing.
- Wendy keeps calling home, but Louie never wants to talk to her. He's mad at her for leaving and Josh says that he doesn't understand her absence. Makes sense given his age and what he's been through.
- When the Christmas season arrives, Wendy realizes it's the first Christmas she's spent away from her family. Usually they always went to Connecticut to cut down a tree together.
- She misses watching Louie get all excited about Christmas, but Josh was the one who really got into it. They went all out with stockings, Santa's footprints on the rug, and even Christmas sweaters.
- One Saturday, Garrett takes Wendy along with him to the job site where he's been working. He talks about how he's disappointed his mother by not going to college and having what she considers an acceptable career.
- Wendy is drawing in her room one day when Kate calls to check in on her. She misses Kate because she's been in Wendy's life for so long—since before Josh came around, even. Kate's always been her mom's best friend.
- Louie also finally calls Wendy and agrees to talk to her. He's all excited because Kate took him to a magic show and says that the magician gave him a magic wand and told him to save it for his birthday.
- The magician told him that there is one special wish in every wand, and that if he wishes really hard on his birthday, it might just come true.
- Carolyn finally gets a response from her son and it's in super formal language. Despite his formality, he does plan to stop by to see her on Christmas Eve.
- When Wendy asks Alan if Tim likes Christmas, he says that it's hard on his son because he likes a normal routine. He's even bothered by decorations because they make things look different.
- Because Alan's wife always goes on vacation during the Christmas break, Wendy invites him and Tim over to her house on Christmas. He says he might just come over with a Christmas pudding.
- Wendy sends Christmas gifts back to Alan and Louie, and she asks Violet what she'll be doing. She says that she and Walter Charles are spending Christmas with her mother; she's getting her a heart shaped pendant that she saw at the mall.
- Amelia calls Wendy and tells her some shocking news: Apparently, Josh and Kate have been going out. She's even been sleeping over. Whoa.
- After that phone call, Wendy goes to Carolyn to talk to her about these new developments, and Carolyn helps her see things from Josh and Kate's side—they've both always loved Wendy's mom and are now both dealing with the loss of her.
- She also tells Wendy that they probably won't even be serious in the long run; they're just seeking comfort in whatever way that they can. That makes Wendy feel a little better about the whole thing.
- Garrett gets a phone call from a hospital and learns that his mother has died. Wendy is surprised when he starts crying—she's shocked he's actually upset by the loss of her.
- Because Garrett has to go to the funeral, he isn't around when Carolyn's son visits. Wendy is, though, and they spend all day cleaning the house before Nate shows up with Sharon, his fiancé.
- Instead of being excited to meet Carolyn, though, Nate and Sharon just want to know her family's medical background because they're going to have a baby and want to know if there will be any genetic abnormalities. They don't try to get to know her as a person at all. Ouch.
- On Christmas, Wendy and Carolyn wake up early and start setting up the barbecue. Carolyn talks about how it's pretty clear that Nate doesn't want her to be a part of his new family.
- They exchange gifts and Wendy gets a nice cactus and some cool new clothes. Garrett also calls and says that he's flying back home and will hopefully make it back today.
- Wendy opens a package from Josh. He bought her lots of cool things, including a beautiful cherry red clarinet. This is touching because Wendy has missed playing music while she's in California.
- Then Violet calls Wendy and tells her that Christmas at her mom's house isn't going so well. She left with the baby and is now stranded at a 7-11 off the highway. Oh good.
- Wendy explains everything to Carolyn and they drive over to pick up Violet and Walter Charles so they can join them for dinner.
- Alan and Tim also show up at the house and they let Tim go down to the basement to do their laundry since he really likes this activity.
- Carolyn sets up a table outside with some Christmas lights strung about, and everyone admires the set-up and all the good food she's made. Just as she sets the turkey down, she hears the door opening.
- Garrett appears inside the house, and—surprise—he's accompanied by Todd, the skater kid Wendy met in San Francisco.
- He tells them that Todd was hitchhiking on the side of the road, and when he pulled over to pick the kid up, the address he was given was his own house. He didn't even know that Todd knew Wendy until that moment.
- So everyone sits down at the table and digs into the food. Carolyn is totally in love with holding Walter Charles, who takes to her, too.
- Garrett didn't have time to buy her a Christmas present, but he gives her a cameo pin that was her grandmother's. It had been her great grandmother's before that. Hey there, family heirloom.
- Wendy gives him a drawing she did of him fishing with Shiva next to him; in it, he's holding up a huge fish. Garrett is pleased with the picture.
- They eat Alan's Christmas pudding and some pie, and then Violet gives Carolyn the heart pendant that she meant to give to her own mother because Carolyn was kinder to her on Christmas.
- After all the festivities, Tim finishes up the laundry and he and Alan go home. Violet and Walter Charles also head out, and Garrett and Carolyn take a walk around the neighborhood together.
- This leaves Wendy alone in the kitchen with Todd. They do dishes together for a while, and he tells her that she's lucky to have such a great family—even if it's not the one she started out with.
- Then he asks her if she has a boyfriend and says that he wants to write to her while he's on the road searching for his brother.
- They go outside for a walk and Todd asks Wendy if he can kiss her. She says yes, and then they start making out.
- The next day, Louie calls and tells her that he and Josh had a sleepover at Kate's house. He also tells her about all the presents he got.
- When Josh gets on the phone, Wendy lets him know that she is aware that he's seeing Kate… and that she's okay with that.
- Todd stays the night, but then he decides to catch the train to Colorado so he can go looking for his brother. He was sighted there recently.
- As the days go by, Carolyn starts staying over at Garrett's house more and more, and then she starts bringing over some of her favorite cacti.
- Before Christmas break ends, Wendy finally admits to Garrett and Carolyn that she hasn't been going to school. To her surprise, they've already figured it out.
- Garrett says he knows she'll be a good student when she's ready to go back, and he wanted her to have this time to heal from the events of 9/11. Aw.
- Wendy decides to go back to school, so Garrett gives her a ride. She even goes to band and brings her clarinet with her. There, she meets a boy named Henry who is also a clarinet player.
- Even though Wendy can't go and see Violet during the school day anymore, she invites her and Walter Charles over for dinner on Friday.
- They spend the night, and then Carolyn drops them off at their apartment the next day. She mentions to Wendy that she feels herself getting attached to Violet and Walter Charles, but that she doesn't know if she should because she can't fix everything for them.
- Wendy goes with Alan to visit Tim, but it's not a good day for him. He's not as engaged as he can be sometimes, and they only have one load of laundry for him to do at the laundromat.
- Amelia calls to tell Wendy that she and Chief have broken up, and then she admits that they kind of did some sexual stuff—even though they didn't go all the way. Things sure are changing in their lives.
- Wendy gets a letter from Todd, saying he's in Colorado now and that he actually managed to locate his brother Kevin. They're living together and both of them have jobs.
- He wants Wendy to know how much he thinks of her and how much it meant for him to get to spend time with her over Christmas.
- Wendy calls Louie a few days before his birthday and asks him if he's excited for his presents. He tells her that he already knows what he's going to get—and he cannot wait.
- In the mail, she receives a package from Josh filled with things her mother had bought her for Christmas (she liked to do her shopping early). Instead of opening the box, though, Wendy just slips it under her bed. She's not ready yet.
- For Wendy's birthday, Garrett takes her to San Francisco so they can go to art museums and get some Chinese food.
- He tells her that he talked to Josh and they both decided that she should finish the school year in Davis and then evaluate whether to go back to New York or stick around.
- Wendy suddenly finds that she's furious; she's so mad that Josh and Garrett are making decisions about her life without talking to her first.
- She tells him that he doesn't get to make the decisions for her, especially when he hasn't been much of a father in the past ten years. Well, up until now, at least.
- Instead of being mad or defensive, though, Garrett tells her that she's right and that he's messed up a lot over the years. It's totally legit for her to be angry with him.
- After that blow-up, they're okay and Garrett decides to take her to Yosemite, the other stop on her birthday festivities.
- They camp in the beautiful park and Garrett tells her that the first time he came here, it was with her mother. Wendy can't imagine it.
- They go for a long hike, and Wendy freaks out when they find themselves on a narrow ledge that overlooks a canyon. She starts thinking about her mother being stuck in that skyscraper; she understands what it felt like for her.
- Wendy has the first dream about her mother in a long while, one in which they're going to see Peter Pan.
- Her mother plays Peter Pan and flies across the stage. Everyone is super impressed, but after the show Wendy waits for her mom but she doesn't show up. A man tells her that her mother is long gone and that she'll have to survive on her own two feet.
- At school, Wendy starts spending more time with Henry—the kid she knows from band. They spend lots of time talking about music and he's totally impressed by the fact that she's from New York.
- Louie has a party at a bowling alley for his birthday, and he's in high spirits when Wendy calls him in the morning to wish him a good one. He says he's been super good all this year.
- Wendy goes to the grand opening of the cactus garden that Carolyn installed. Even Violet and Walter Charles come with them.
- When Wendy gets home that night, she calls Josh to ask how the party went, and he admits that it was a rather rough day.
- The party went fine, but after everyone went home, they went back to the apartment and gave Louie a train. He started crying because he thought the magic wand was supposed to bring back his mama—that was his birthday wish.
- The next day, Wendy comes home from school to find a note from Carolyn on the counter, telling her that Kate called and is going to stop by to see her because she's in California.
- Kate tells Wendy that she's moving to Hawaii to live with her brother; she just needs to get out of New York now that Wendy's mom is gone.
- She tells Wendy all about how she and Josh started seeing each other because they were both so sad, and how she never even thought of it when Wendy's mom was alive. But she knows that it can't last—he's still pining for Janet.
- Then Kate leaves for the airport and bids farewell to Wendy. This leaves Wendy to think about when she got her period and how her mom took her out to ice cream and celebrated.
- Wendy spends a lot of her time playing the clarinet now and even starts inviting Henry over so they can play together.
- He kisses her and she lets him, but it's not as exciting as it was with Todd. Still, she likes him and they start hanging out together a whole lot.
- They spend more time playing duets than they do kissing, which Garrett finds hilarious. Henry turns out to be a friend more than a boyfriend, and Wendy's totally okay with that.
- When Wendy calls Josh to tell him about band, he remarks that he's started to play music again, too; they're both healing in some ways.
- Louie isn't doing so great, though. He's putting on this big act and pretending to be happy, but he always has awful nightmares and he doesn't want to play dress-up or anything.
- When Wendy calls Louie to tell him that she might visit soon over summer vacation, he says that she'll just go away again. He's one sad little kid.
- Wendy doesn't have time to go to Violet's place for a few weeks, but eventually she and Carolyn make the trip. When they get there, they're shocked to hear that Violet has given away Walter Charles to the couple that initially wanted to adopt him.
- Then Wendy gets a phone call late in the night: It's Todd, and he's crying because his brother Kevin got into a snowboarding accident.
- He tells her that Kevin damaged his spinal cord and may never walk again. Understandably, Todd is absolutely devastated.
- A big storm hits, and a bunch of Carolyn's cacti are destroyed. The bad luck just keeps rolling in, huh?
- As Wendy is playing the clarinet one day, she realizes that this isn't home—California has been good for her, but she needs to go back to where she really belongs.
Part 3, Chapter 34
- Wendy tells Garrett and Carolyn that she's going back to Josh and Louie, and they don't try to argue with her decision at all.
- After saying her goodbyes to all her friends, like Henry and Violet, she takes the train all the way across the country.
- Before she goes, though, Wendy opens the box of gifts from her mother and sees all the little trinkets and inside jokes within. There's also a plane ticket to California—her mother meant to let her go see her father after all.
- On the long train ride, Wendy has conversations in her head with her mom where she tells her about visiting California. She wishes her mom could come back.
- Wendy hasn't told Josh that she's coming, so when she finally gets to New York, she goes to their apartment and lets herself in. She sets her things down in the room and peruses her parents' room.
- She then decides to walk to Louie's school and pick him up. He looks up from where he's sitting and tells her that he dreamed that she came home.
- As they walk out of the classroom together, she tells him that she's so lucky to have him for her brother. And he tells her that he finally learned how to skip.