We have a first-person, unnamed narrator in this one. She meets a man named Laurel one summer when she's in Atlanta. Laurel is there to check out a new radical newspaper, First Rebel.
The narrator really isn't into newspaper work, but when she sees Laurel, she decides to stick around. She describes him as a "country hick" and finds herself hopelessly attracted to him. Country accent FTW.
Laurel is not from the South—he's a California boy. His family grew grapes and apples. Our narrator is attracted to the dirt that he still has under his fingernails from working the orchard.
There's serious chemistry between the narrator and Laurel, but they don't have the means of doing anything about it. All the hotels in Atlanta are segregated at this time, so they (as a biracial couple) can't go that route. They're even warned not to hold hands on the street.
In the end, the narrator and Laurel can only make out—rather uncomfortably—on a bench near their dorms. But as they work for the movement, being together is all they can think about.
That is, until things in the South really get riled up. The narrator tells us that people are being murdered and colleagues thrown in jail.
And on their last night, Laurel tells the narrator that he's got a wife back home. Yikes.
The narrator thinks that this is not her problem. She's only irritated that their little "fling" will enable Laurel to settle down better with his wife when he gets home.
Well, it turns out that this wife of Laurel's is pretty cool. She's studying for a graduate degree. Laurel, however, doesn't understand why she needs to do this when she's got kids to look after.
The narrator is not devastated by this situation. After all, she has a fiancé of her own—and he's in the Peace Corps. She chalks the Laurel episode up to sex rather than love.
After they separate, the narrator gets one letter from Laurel saying he misses her. She continues to fantasize about him, even after she leaves for Africa.
In Africa, the narrator breaks up with her fiancé because he tells her that Peace Corps guys have sex with little African girls. She writes to Laurel about this. But he never writes her back.
Now that she has returned to the United States, the narrator falls into depression over everything. Then, she gets a letter from Laurel's wife. Gasp.
The narrator learns the reason Laurel never wrote: he was seriously injured in a car accident while delivering copies of First Rebel. He's been in a coma for four months.
And get this: Laurel's wife wants the narrator to come and visit him. She hopes that it will wake him up. (The wife had found her letter in his pocket.)
So the narrator goes but never meets the wife.
Laurel's sister is 100 percent sure that the narrator's presence will wake her brother. But it doesn't.
Fast forward two years. Letters from Laurel reach the narrator at her house. Which, by the way, now includes a husband.
Laurel's letters, however, pick up right where they left off. He begs her to come to him, even though she updates him on her marital status.
Now, our narrator is a bit freaked out. She tells Laurel she's pregnant. She tells him to buzz off.
Laurel tries to guilt the narrator into coming to him. He says he suffered brain damage for "her people." She attempts to plead the marriage-and-pregnancy card again.
Now, Laurel is getting a bit nasty. He finds it interesting that the narrator has married an "exotic" Jew, and he guesses that he's not interesting enough for her, even though he damaged his brain for her. You know?
In the end, the narrator can't take the letters anymore and asks that her husband intercept them for her. She has the ones delivered to her college destroyed.
Laurel decides to take a ride out to the narrator's house. The narrator (whom Laurel calls "Annie" in this letter) and her husband decide to let him come.
The narrator is nervous because she's afraid she will still have ALL THE FEELINGS she used to have for Laurel. Unfortunately, Laurel tells all the stories of their week together. All of them.
The whole situation is creepy and uncomfortable. The narrator's husband drives Laurel back to the bus station after dinner. Even though her hubby comforts her, she doesn't feel safe.
We learn that Laurel still sends the narrator letters, offering to marry her and adopt her child.
Fast forward seven years. The narrator and her handsome, kind husband are divorced and talking about Laurel.
The narrator says that if she hadn't been married, she might have gone off with Laurel. She knows her love for him was all about lust, but still.
Even though the narrator was married, she says she thought of asking to go with Laurel for a while. You know, for an "adventure."
The narrator's ex drops a bomb on her: Laurel got super nasty in his final letters to her. Very bitter.
The narrator's ex senses that she feels guilt over everything and tries to comfort her.
What the narrator really wants is for her ex to say straight up that it was fine for her not to have gone to Laurel. He doesn't say that, though.