The Quick Recap and Section-by-Section Summary for You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.
For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes.
You Love Me picks up after Joe has been in jail for nine months while being held for trial, and ultimately released, for his crimes. The Quinn family paid his legal fees because Love was pregnant with their son, Forty (named after Love's deceased brother). After his release, they paid him $4 million to walk away from Love and the child (and threatened to kill him otherwise).
Joe is now living on Bainbridge Island and has his eye on his new boss, Mary Kay DiMarco, a librarian at Bainbridge Public Library who has dreams of owning her own bookstore some day. She has a teenaged daughter, Noni. With his new start, Joe is determined to resist his impulses, and he promises himself he will not kill for Mary Kay. Joe and Mary Kay become closer. They finally kiss, but Mary Kay says she just wants to be friends. Still, Joe continues to build up a relationship in his head. Then, one day, he finds out Mary Kay is married. Joe chides himself for trying to be a "good guy" and not properly stalking her.
Joe soon learns that her husband, Phil DiMarco (Noni's father), is an 90's rock star and a former addict. Joe is determined to end their marriage. Joe befriends Phil (pretending to be "Jay", a fellow Narcotics Anonymous member and a fan of Phil's) to try to push Phil back into using drugs. Joe also breaks into their house and sabotages stuff in order to prompt fights between the two of them.
Mary Kay's close friends are Melanda and Seamus. With Joe back in full stalker mode, Melanda, catches him stalking Mary Kay's house. She attacks him, and he locks her up in his Whisper Room, an audiobook recording studio in the basement of his house built by the previous owners. Melanda admits to having a 10-year-affair with Phil in order to give Joe dirt on herself so that he'll let her go. She promises to leave quietly because she is unhappy with her life anyway. However, while Joe contemplates it, Melanda kills herself.
When Joe goes to dispose of her body, he gets caught by Oliver, a private investigator that the Quinn family sent to keep an eye on Joe. Oliver knows Joe received a big payout from the Quinns, and Oliver wants Joe to buy stuff for him in exchange for his silence. Joe agrees.
Meanwhile, Mary Kay likes Joe, but she's also trying to repair her marriage with Phil, even after she learns of his affair. Things stall until Joe (as "Jay") convinces Phil to blow off Mary Kay one night, and Mary Kay finally demands a divorce. She starts secretly seeing Joe until Phil overdoses and dies. Phil's brother Ivan, a successful life coach, then comes into town and convinces Mary Kay to dump Joe. However, Joe finds a #MeToo accusation about Ivan online and publicizes it. More accusers come forward, and Ivan unravels. Ivan ends up in rehab, and Ivan sells off the house Mary Kay was living in (which he owned) to pay his legal fees.
Finally, Mary Kay and Joe are able to really be together. After Mary Kay tells Noni about the relationship, they move in together, and Joe is delightfully happy. However, one night, Love contacts him to order him to come to Los Angeles to visit. Joe reluctantly goes to see her, where she accuses him of not loving her. Then, she shoots him and herself. Love dies, but Joe survives. Afterwards, Joe recuperates in a hospital.
When Joe returns to Bainbridge, Mary Kay is angry with him. Joe is then kidnapped by Mary Kay's friend Seamus who is angry with him for not deserving her. At first, Joe thinks that Seamus is in love with Mary Kay. Then, he realizes that Seamus has been sleeping with Mary Kay's daughter, Nomi. He thinks Joe wants her, too. Oliver, who has been monitoring Joe, stops Seamus and kills him.
Afterwards, Joe is determined to win Mary Kay back. He proposes and she accepts. They have a small backyard wedding (though they haven't filled out the paperwork yet). However, Nomi thinks, inaccurately, that Joe has done all of this to be with her. When he finally tells Nomi clearly and definitively that she is mistaken, Nomi is distraught. It results in a fight with Mary Kay where Nomi pushes her down the stairs. Mary Kay ends up in a coma, and Joe moves to Florida to open a bar slash bookstore.
The book ends with a customer walking in that sparks Joe's interest.
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You Love Me opens with Joe Goldberg waiting to meet with his attractive new boss, Mary Kay DiMarco, who is a librarian at the Bainbridge Public Library in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Joe has been detained in jail recently for nine months. The Quinn family footed Joe’s legal bills to get Joe out of jail since Love was pregnant.
Love had their son (named Forty, after her deceased brother) fourteen months ago (while he was in jail), and Joe had been looking forward to raising the child. But after Joe was released from jail, the Quinn family offered Joe four million dollars to walk away from Love and his son. Joe had wanted to refuse, but he was also been threatened with a gun. (Joe thinks about how he’s the real victim in all of this.) Joe used part of the money to make an anonymous donation to this library in order to get this job without a background check.
Mary Kay is unmarried, but has a teen-aged daughter, Nomi (who Joe nicknames the “Meerkat”). Nomi apparently has a strange fixation on Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters, which Mary Kay disapproves of. Mary Kay dreams of owning her own bookstore some day. As he and Joe flirt, Joe tells himself that Mary Kay is “the one” and promises himself that he won’t kill for Mary Kay since he doesn’t want to create another messy situation.
Chapters 2 – 5
Joe and Mary Kay’s friendship grows as he works at the library, and he learns more about her. They share jokes about books and authors, including Debbie Macomber and her Cedar Cover series. He tells her about the “Whisper Room” in his house. Joe’s house was originally owned by two audiobook narrators. As a result, it has a padded basement with soundproof glass for recording audio.
Seamus Cooley is an old high school friend of Mary Kay’s who owns a hardware store that he inherited from his parents. He’s short and middle aged. He likes to chase younger woman, but is often heartbroken about one 22-year-old girl or another. He’s also a big library donor. Joe tells himself that he won’t hurt Seamus. Later, when Mary Kay and her “bestie”, Melanda, have a girl’s/”women’s” night, Joe is tempted to crash it. But he resists, telling himself that the “good guy” move is to give her some space. Melanda is an English teacher who is also setting up an incubator for young women, set to launch early next year.
When Mary Kay invites Joe out to lunch, he’s convinced that it’s a first date, even after her friends show up. Melanda takes offense at everything Joe says, interpreting all his comments to be sexist or privileged, but Mary Kay insists that it went fine. At lunch Joe is the only one who isn’t familiar with the HBO show Succession, so he watches some of it later that night. Joe also joins CrossFit where Seamus has a membership.
Soon, Mary Kay mentions a wine bar she’s going to, and despite Joe’s promises to himself not to stalk her, he takes it as a date invitation and finds her here. As they walk in, he’s convinced they are now a couple. As they talk, Joe gives Mary Kay a heavily doctored version of his romantic history, changing the names as well. Mary Kay tells Joe about her mother leaving her father and taking her along, but how her mother was still remained emotionally attached to him. She also says that Nomi was the result of a condom breaking.
That night, Mary Kay gets drunk, and they kiss after Joe follows her into the bathroom. Joe tries to push things further, but Mary Kay breaks away and leaves.
The next day, Mary Kay doesn’t show up to work. When she finally shows, she says the kiss was a mistake, and asks Joe not to tell anyone. He agrees. When Mary Kay says she wants to go back to being friends, Joe takes that to mean that Mary Kay wants to take things slow. Mary Kay insists she’s not looking for a relationship because Nomi is her priority, but Joe still considers it to be “on hold” as opposed to not happening.
Chapters 6 – 9
After the rejection, Joe spins out a little. He decides to go for a run on a trail that goes by her house. When he gets there, Mary Kay is in the kitchen with Nomi and on the phone with Melanda. Joe listens in on her conversations. Then, he turns around to see that Nomi has spotted him.
Luckily, Nomi doesn’t suspect anything amiss. Instead, he walks with her to the local market to pick up some stuff. On the way, Nomi talks about how Mary Kay is planning on taking her to Arizona to visit Nomi’s father over Thanksgiving. He also warns her that fixations on things, like hers with the book Columbine, is not necessarily a healthy thing. Nomi also tells him about the day that Mary Kay has planned for them tomorrow.
Joe, of course, decides to crash their plans. But Joe’s surprised to find out Mary Kay and Nomi are with a man named Phil. He is apparently Nomi’s father and, more importantly, Mary Kay’s husband. A quick search reveals that Phil DiMarco is in a band (a “has-been rock star”). Joe chides himself for going soft, for trying to be a “good guy”, and not properly stalking her to find this information out.
After some research, Joe figures out that May Kay met Phil in high school, and he was in a band. She got pregnant in college, while Phil did heroin and wrote some of his best songs. After that, he wasn’t able to reach the same levels of success, but she stuck with him. Phil now hosts a graveyard-shift radio show, and Joe listens in. He hears Phil talk to Mary Kay on the phone, who he calls “Emmy”. She’s unhappy about his smoking, and they get into an argument. Despite the friction, the conversation makes Joe realize that she still loves Phil. Joe is determined to “set her free” from him, but knows that he needs to deal with her love for Phil first.
Chapters 10 – 11
By mid-December, Joe is frustrated. Mary Kay’s Thanksgiving trip to Phoenix to see her father was extended after her father fell down a flight of stairs. Howie Okin, an older library patron (who Joe refers to as a “mothball” due to his age), fills Joe in on the details of Mary Kay’s father’s health issues. Weeks later, and she’s still gone. Internally, Joe pats himself on the back for not killing Phil.
When Mary Kay finally returns, Joe has devised a plan to end her marriage. He’s going to attend the Narcotics Anonymous meetings that Phil goes to, pretend to be a fan of Phil’s, buddy up to him and push him to give in to his worst impulses. Joe attends the meeting as “Jay” and his story is that he hurt his back in a car accident, and it ultimately resulted in him getting hooked on Oxycontin. Afterwards, he chats with Phil and keeps reminding Phil of his failure to put out a new hit album.
The next day, Mary Kay mentions that her family is thinking about adopting a kitten with two siblings, and she wants to know if Joe wants to adopt one of its siblings. At the NA meeting, Joe learns that Phil does not want a cat. When Mary Kay feels unsure about cat (likely because of Phil), Joe ends up adopting all three kittens. (He’s determined to be everything that Phil is not.) Joe says that she can take one when she’s ready. He names them Licious, Tastic and Riffic.
Things are going according to plan, until Joe is out one night with binoculars stalking Mary Kay when he gets attacked by Melanda. She yells at him and calls him a pervert. Melanda is convinced that Joe is a pedophile that is after Nomi. Not knowing what else to do, Joe locks her up in his “Whisper Room”, the recording studio in the basement.
Joe looks through Melanda’s phone and learns that Melanda has been contemplating a move to Minnesota to chase some guy. Joe texts Mary Kay (as Melanda), pretending that she’s finally decided to make the move. He also texts one of Melanda’s other close friends, Netty, and insults Netty (pretending it was sent to the wrong person), to prevent Netty from checking in on her. And he tells Melanda’s school that she’s taking a leave of absence. Joe also sees that Melanda talks behind Mary Kay’s back all the time. Meanwhile, Melanda keeps yelling at him and calling him a pervert.
Chapters 12 – 15
Joe text Mary Kay from Melanda’s phone and pretends to run into her at the salon where Mary Kay says she’s going. Joe pushes her to get a drink with him. Mary Kay says that there’s something “off” about Melanda suddenly planning on leaving town. When Joe tries to convince her to get something to eat too, Mary Kay finally admits that she’s married. She says she has no intention of leaving her husband or cheating on him. She apologizes for leading him on, but says that she has a family. But she also says she never imagined she’d meet someone like Joe.
Back at home, Melanda warns him that Mary Key will absolutely call the police if she’s not picking up her phone. She says that the two of them talk constantly, so this is far from normal. Melanda says that Mary Kay will never leave Phil, a rock star, for him. (Melanda also mentions that she actually dated Phil in high school.) She also says that Mary Kay told her that Joe was a bad kisser and that Mary Kay is just being nice to him. Joe freaks out about this information, but later that night Joe texts Mary Kay as Melanda. He gets Mary Kay to talk about their kiss. Mary Kay says it was a good kiss, and Joe rests easier knowing that Melanda is just trying to mess with him.
Joe also pretends that Melanda is met a man and is newly in love. He has “Melanda” start encouraging Mary Kay to get to know Joe.
Chapters 16 – 18
Meanwhile, Joe backs off Mary Kay a little, as requested. But on Christmas Eve she comes to talk to him, and they flirt about how they want each other. Back at home, Melanda tries to convince Joe that Mary Kay isn’t the person that he’s idealized her to be. Melanda says that Mary Kay uses her and relies on her to co-parent Nomi.
For Christmas, Mary Kay gets Joe a box of chocolate-covered strawberries as a thank you for helping Nomi out with running a seminar at the library. Joe is basking in the glow of the gift when a kid on a skateboard knocks it out of his hands. The kid, who Joe nicknames the “Strawberry Killer”, said that he was sent by the Quinns as a reminder for Joe to stay away.
When Joe gets home, Melanda tries to convince Joe that she’s ready to move to Minnesota and not say anything about any of this to anyone. Melanda also admits that she has been sleeping with Phil, so that Joe has dirt on her. She says that he can find Phil’s DNA on the underwear in her laundry. She says that she wants out of this life and that her extended affair is proof that she knows how to keep a secret. Joe actually considers letting Melanda go, when suddenly Mary Kay shows up at his door.
Chapters 19 – 21
Mary Kay is dripping wet from the rain, orders him to sit down, peels off her clothes and has sex with him.
After she leaves, Joe goes back to check on Melanda, but he finds her dead. She has killed herself. In blood, she has scrawled the words “Single White Female.” Joe knows that he can’t report this to the police, even though he had footage of her killing herself, because he doesn’t trust the “injustice system”. Instead, he texts Mary Kay a suicide note. In it, it talks about all the things Melanda had told her (the Mary Kay had thrown a surprise 30th party for her that consisted entirely of married couples and all the ways that Mary Kay had hurt her over the years) and then admits to the 10-year affair with Phil.
He dumps her body and covers it up, but as he heads back he sees the Strawberry Killer has followed him and has a gun. The Strawberry Killer knocks him out, and Joe wakes up in his Whisper Room. The Strawberry Killer identifies himself as Oliver Potter. He’s a failed screenwriter who became a P.I., along with his brother Gordy. His mentor, Eric, turned down working for the Quinns, so he and Gordy agreed to work with them instead.
Oliver works for the Quinns, but money is tight for him because his mother has cancer. He wants money, since he knows Joe got paid off to leave the Quinns alone, and in exchange he’ll keep his mouth shut. He has no incentive to tell on Joe because if Joe goes to jail, he’s out of a job (since his job is to watch Joe). Oliver also says that there can be no more of this keeping-people-in-dungeons-stuff, too. Joe readily agrees to the deal (Oliver calls it the “Poor Boys Club”), and Oliver helps him clean up the Whisper Room so that it’s spotless.
Chapters 22 – 23
Afterwards, Joe checks Melanda’s e-mail to see that Mary Kay’s only response to the sordid texts that he sent is “Be well. Xo.” and Mary Kay has unfollowed Melanda. Meanwhile, Joe dislikes that Oliver keeps close tabs on him and asks for updates on what Joe is doing all the time. He also requests that Joe buy a variety of expensive stuff for him online.
At work, Mary Kay acts normal. Curious, Joe goes to her house while no one is home and sets up a bunch of cameras. He also sees that the whole house is covered in 90’s memorabilia (which is when Phil was at the height of his fame). That night, he watches as Mary Kay confronts Phil about his affair with Melanda. Phil weeps and apologies, and Mary Kay seems ready to forgive him. Then, Mary Kay hints that she has strayed as well, and Phil gets angry and it blows up into a huge fight. But when they’re done screaming they have sex and talk about meeting with the marriage counselor the next day. Joes makes a note of her name: Layla Twitchell.
The next day, Mary Kay refuses to join Joe for lunch, and Oliver continues to pester him. Joe starts to think it’s time to cut and run. However, as he’s packing up, Nomi shows up and asks if he’s moving. She says she doesn’t care in a way that shows that she cares very much, especially now that Melanda has “left”. Joe changes his mind about leaving.
Chapters 24 – 26
Joe starts playing things a little cooler with Mary Kay. He purchases drugs from a guy named Ajax in hopes of planting them for Mary Kay to find (and blame Phil). However, Oliver finds out and confronts Joe. Joe is tempted to kill Oliver, but he knows that Oliver’s brother has the incriminating evidence of him with Melanda’s dead body. Later, Joe uses reverse psychology to convince Oliver to go to a bachelor’s party, even though he’s supposed to be watching Joe, to get a temporary break from Oliver.
Joe sneaks into Mary Kay’s house and jacks off when she’s gone. He also sabotages things to try to prompt arguments between her and Phil, like leaving an empty carton in the fridge or messing up their appliances or undoing things that Phil said he would fix. They do end up arguing over these things, but then they make up.
Frustrated, Joe sneaks back in, plants some heroin in their room and reads Mary Kay’s diary. He’s lost in an entry where she fantasizes about him (Joe), but then he hears Nomi’s voice in the house. Thankfully, Joe has a book on him and pretends to be returning it. He says he heard a voice, but it turned out to be the TV. He and Nomi chat, and she mentions that she thinks her mom may have put cameras all over the house to spy on her dad. Nomi mentions Melanda again, and Joe realizes how much Melanda misses her. He blames her death on Phil for sleeping with Melanda.
Chapters 27 – 28
Just in case, Joe removed the cameras that he planted, in case Nomi really has spotted one of them. Afterwards, he realizes he left his coffee cup in the house. He hurries back, and Phil and Mary Kay are home and arguing. Joe’s able to get the cup, but he also overhears that Mary Kay is upset about Phil meeting up with his band that later that night. Joe meets up with Phil later and wrangles an invite out of him (while also encouraging him to ignore Mary Kay’s demands that he stay home) to meet the band.
That night, Mary Kay is shows up to the meetup when Phil blows her off. Joe sees her there and sneaks out, hoping she didn’t see him. She shows up at his house and he worries that she’s here to confront him, but instead she tells him that it’s over between her and Phil. Joe and Mary Kay have sex, and they trade “I love you”s afterwards.
Chapters 29 – 30
Three weeks later, and Joe is deliriously happy. He and Mary Kay are secretly hooking up all the time. Oliver is concerned because she’s married, but Joe reassures him. Mary Kay has even met with some divorce attorneys. Mary Kay notes that Joe will eventually have to meet Phil if things work out (but of course in reality Joe has already met Phil).
They go to Fort Ward together, which is Mary Kay’s favorite place on the island (and also the place that Melanda is buried), and have sex there. However, as they leave Mary Kay gets a call. Phil is dead from an overdose.
Chapters 30 – 32
After that, Mary Kay pulls away from Joe. She feels as though she pushed Phil over the edge. She blames herself for not being there, for Nomi finding him dead and for running around with another guy.
At the wake, they talk about the rumor that Melanda left because she had been carrying on an affair with a student. Seamus lies and says that he’s talked to Melanda recently (untrue because she’s dead), who sends her love and that she confirmed that she’s staying away because of it.
For the next two weeks, Joe diligently takes care of Mary Kay. Meanwhile, Nomi has been spending a lot of time in Seattle with Don and Peg, her (surrogate) grandparents. Though Mary Kay is initially too upset, after she and Joe finally sleep together again, Phil’s half-brother (Ivan) goes to visit and finds Joe at Mary Kay’s house.
Chapters 33 – 35
Ivan is a life coach in Denver with a Ph.D. who went to Yale and who both Mary Kay and Nomi seem to admire. He warns Joe to back off from Mary Kay. Ivan is wary of Joe and wants to know what his relationship is with the family. He thinks Joe is preying on vulnerable women right now, though Joe thinks the same thing about Ivan.
Soon, Joe hasn’t seen Mary Kay in a few days and she’s texted him questions about himself, seemingly trying to assess him. Then, Mary Kay posts on Instagram that she and Noni are going to Denver. Noni was supposed to be matriculating at NYU, but is taking a gap year instead to intern for Uncle Ivan.
Alarmed, Joe breaks into Mary Kay’s house again and finds her diary. She writes about being attracted to Ivan, throwing herself at him and being rejected. Joe gets into Mary Kay’s email and sees emails indicating that Ivan had been helping them out financially for years. Their house actually belongs to Ivan.
When Mary Kay finally drops by to see Joe again, she explains to Joe that she thinks Joe preyed on her when she was weak and she breaks things off with him.
Chapters 36 – 37
Joe starts researching Ivan even more until he locates a TikTok video from a woman named Megan with a #MeToo story about Ivan. She says that she did a workshop of his and he manipulated her into having sex with him by saying that it would give her confidence.
Joe quickly posts a transcript of her video on Reddit so others can find it via Google. Soon, another user accuses Megan of being a liar, but then “Sandra2001” shares a similar story about Ivan. Before long, there’s 20 accusations against Ivan, and he’s trending on twitter. Ivan’s wife, Alisa, has even chimed in with a tweet reading “#MeToo”.
Soon, Mary Kay calls and asks Joe to come over. Ivan is flipping out, kicking walls and screaming at people on the phone. Joe tries to comfort them and calm Ivan down. When Ivan has been talked down a little, he announces that he’s arranged a buyer for the house to cover his attorney’s fees.
Chapters 38 – 39
A month later, Ivan is now in rehab. Mary Kay is renting Joe’s guesthouse while she looks for a new house. Their relationship is platonic at first, but becomes sexual. They keep it secret because Mary Kay doesn’t want to upset Noni. She says that she’d like to keep quiet about it until Noni leaves for college. Mary Kay says that before Noni comes back for Thanksgiving break, she’ll tell her.
But Noni finds out anyway, and she’s fine with it, so they drop the act and Mary Kay and Noni move into the main house. Things are great, and Joe is delighted. Nomi plans on going to college in the fall, and she’s completely moved passed the whole Columbine phase of her life.
Chapters 40 – 41
One night, Love reaches out wanting Joe to come to Los Angeles to see her and their son. Joe is hesitant, but Love knows about his new life and threatens to tell Mary Kay and Noni the truth about his past. Joe knows he has no choice. He’s forced to blow off a weekend away that Mary Kay had planned to go see Love.
Joe calls Oliver angrily, since Oliver was supposed to help keep the Quinns off his back as part of their deal. But Oliver says it’s Joe’s own fault. Mary Kay has been flaunting their relationship all over Instagram, so naturally Love was not going to like that.
In Los Angeles, Love puts Joe up in a hotel, but shows up with a gun. Joe misses Mary Kay and wants nothing to do with Love. Love admits that her family thinks that she’s sequestered for jury duty right now, though she was actually dismissed after not being selected. Love accuses Joe of falling out of love with her the moment she was pregnant. After that, all Joe had cared about was the baby. Love rants on about how Joe didn’t love her. She admits that she pushed Joe away, but she had thought that he’d fight harder to be with her and their son. Love says that she’s noticed how Joe watches her Instagram stories less and less.
Finally, Love shoots Joe.
Chapters 41 – 43
Joe wakes up in a hospital with a gunshot wound. His nurse, Ashley, tells him that Love Quinn is dead. She shot herself after shooting Joe. Ray Quinn, Love’s father, then comes in and explains to Joe that they’re going to tell people that Love died of cervical cancer and that Joe was mugged in the casino.
Joe tries to convince Ray to let him raise Forty, but Ray shows Joe that he’s seen the footage of Joe burying Melanda. Ray threatens Joe, and Joe has no choice but to sign the papers to give up his rights to Forty.
Joe spends the next sixteen days in the hospital, and Mary Kay is pissed. She has blocked him and moved out. When he gets back, Mary Kay is ice cold. She explains that leaving a note about a vague “family emergency” is not good enough, and that he should have woken her up to tell her what was going on. Mary Kay insists it’s over, but Noni hints to Joe that she’ll get over it.
Back at home, Joe is on pain pills. Suddenly, he realizes Seamus has broken in to his house, and Seamus knocks him out.
Chapters 44 – 46
Joe wakes up and is tied up with a bag over his head. Seamus admits that wants Joe out of the picture, especially now that Joe has shown that he’s unreliable and doesn’t deserve her. Seamus also mentions that he slept with her while Joe was gone, but now that he’s back, she’s cut things off. Seamus makes fun of Joe for being a “bookworm” who doesn’t work out (and Jewish), as opposed to a real man like him.
Seamus straps Joe up to a tree in the woods and pours a bucket of blood on him, saying that he’s going to let the animals kill him. However, then, someone comes up to Seamus and shoot him dead. It’s Oliver. He takes the bag off Joe’s head, and cuts the ropes.
Oliver also says that Ray has fired him for withholding the video (of Joe killing Melanda) for him for so long). But he’s moving to L.A. to try to sell a pitch for a new show that he’s come up with. Joe wishes Oliver luck.
Chapters 47 – 50
Joe emerges determined to win Mary Kay back. He tells her an edited version of the truth — that he went to Los Angeles to see an ex and resolve things with her. He reassures her that he loves her and is committed to her, and then Joe proposes. Mary Kay happily says yes. A little over four weeks later, Joe is as happy as ever. Seamus’s death is chalked up to a hunting accident. He and Mary Kay are planning on opening a bookstore with the money that Joe still has. They have a 50-person backyard wedding, though they haven’t actually filled out the paperwork yet.
At the wedding, Nomi dances with Joe and puts her fingers in his hair, but he pulls away. He recognizes that something is off. Afterwards, Joe recognizes that Nomi is clearly struggling with confused feelings about the father figures in her life (i.e. “daddy issues”), and that he needs to stay away from her and avoids being alone with her.
However, a while later, four weeks before Nomi will be off to college, Mary Kay leaves the house to meet up with a new friend of hers, Erin. Nomi pretends to head out, but then comes back after Mary Kay is gone. Nomi starts talking about how Joe got rid of Seamus for her, and Joe realizes that Seamus had though that Joe was interested in Nomi. Seamus was a pedophile who had been sleeping with Nomi for a long time, and he thought Joe wanted the same thing. (Joe recalls how Mary Kay had mentioned that Seamus liked young women, but now he realizes they weren’t twenty-two-year-olds.)
Nomi talks about the times Joe was watching her and she caught him, not realizing that Joe had been stalking Mary Kay. Joe keeps trying to convince her that she has misinterpreted things, but Nomi ignores him. He tells her firmly that what Seamus did was wrong, he does not love her and that she does not love him. But Mary Kay walks in as he has her hands on Nomi’s shoulders.
When Mary Kay walks in, Nomi starts claiming that Joe came onto her, angry about him rejecting her. Mary Kay doesn’t believe Nomi, and soon Nomi lashes out at Mary Kay instead. Joe recognizes that Nomi has been hiding her pain from, 18 years of her parents’ toxic relationship that she has stored inside her. When Nomi implies that Mary Kay is a bad mother, Mary Kay angrily tells Noni the truth about Phil’s affair with Melanda. Then, she tries to hug Nomi, but Nomi grabs her and pushes her away. Mark Kay tumbles down the stairs.
Mary Kay is motionless, but alive. Joe calls an ambulance.
Mary Kay ends up in a coma. Joe moves to Florida and opens a bar + bookstore called “Empathy Bordello Bar & Bookstore”. Nomi texts him to let him know that they’re pulling the plug on Mary Kay.
Joe considers trying to get Forty back, but he knows Ray has cancer and Dottie (Love’s mother) probably has enough on her plate to deal with. Still, Joe follows Dottie (who is Forty’s caretaker now) on Instagram, and she followed him back with a message “Ssssshh” (probably implying to keep it quiet from Ray).
The book ends with a customer walking into the bookstore, and Joe being interested in her.