Jocelyn and Rhea, adults now, return to Lou’s house. Twenty years have passed since the last time they visited, and the house seems too quiet. Lou is in a hospital bed with tubes up his nose. He has had two strokes. Bennie has contacted all of the old friends though the internet and asked them to visit Lou before he passes away. Jocelyn and Rhea are unsure of what to do as they stand by his bed. Jocelyn remembers Lou from a time in her life when death was not a thing she focused on, though there were instances of death, including Scotty’s mom and her own father, who died of AIDS.
In this chapter we see familiar characters but from a new perspective and after a long period of time, as Egan continues to explore the nature of time through narrative shifts. Lou, who appears as an egotistical and ambitious man in the last chapter, has been ruined by his luxurious lifestyle in the record industry. The reconnection between the old friends occurs through the internet, introducing an important relationship between technology and connection in the novel.
Jocelyn can only say “hello,” and Rhea notes that everything is the same. They both laugh at this. Lou tells them they still look gorgeous, though Jocelyn thinks he is lying. They are both 43 now. Rhea is married with three children, and Jocelyn is back at her mother’s house. She is not using drugs anymore, and is trying to finish her B.A. at UCLA. She notes that some mornings the sun looks wrong outside her window. She feels like everything has gone past her, and left her behind.
In the story “Ask me If I Care,” Jocelyn is the one connected to Lou, but her inability to speak to him now suggests a drastic change in their relationship. Rhea, who worried so much about her future, ends up married with children, and feels authentic in her life. Jocelyn, on the other hand, is seeking redemption after a ruinous drug addiction. The sun again reflects the passing of time and its often tragic effects.
Rhea shows Lou a photo of her children, and Lou says her sixteen-year-old daughter is cute. Jocelyn feels angered by this, since she herself was that age when she met Lou. She thinks of Lou’s children, remembering that Rolph was his favorite. Rolph was born on the same day as Jocelyn. Jocelyn remembers standing naked with Rolph, staring into a mirror, trying to figure out if being born on the same day had left a clue on their bodies.
Lou’s comment about Rhea’s daughter triggers the trauma of her past. Her deep connection with Rolph is explored in this section, and their intimacy is depicted in their shared moment naked before the mirror. The body here is a depiction of the past, before both Rolph and Jocelyn were devastated by the effects of time.
A nurse comes in and adjusts Lou’s tubes, and Jocelyn has to look away from Lou’s colostomy bag. She begins to cry, thinking that Lou has cost her so much time. Rhea hugs her, and Jocelyn remembers Lou telling her that Rhea is doomed because of her freckled skin. Jocelyn sobs that Rhea has three children and she has nothing. She says it’s all for no reason, but Rhea tells her she hasn’t found the reason yet.
Rhea, who fears the future, can’t bear to look at the colostomy bag because it represents the ruin of the body due to aging. Jocelyn’s memory of Lou’s comment shows a despicable side of Lou that undercuts an sincerity to his comment to Rhea on the balcony in the story “Ask Me if I Care.” Jocelyn compares herself to Rhea, and struggles to find meaning in her life.
Lou tells Rhea and Jocelyn he hasn’t been outside in weeks, so they push his bed outside to the pool. Jocelyn imagines the young Lou would be outside, and would be offended by his older self. Outside, Jocelyn sees one of the nurses, and thinks for a moment it may be Rolph. She remembers being young and hiding behind the pool with Rolph while Lou called for her. They kissed, and later had sex, and Jocelyn imagined that Rolph was her first sexual interaction.
Earlier in the novel, Lou denies the fact that he is aging, which is why Jocelyn notes that his younger self would be offended by his current state. Jocelyn has blocked out the trauma of Rolph’s suicide. Her connection with Rolph was authentic, and she finds redemption from her damaging relationship with Lou by pretending that her sexual relationship with Rolph was her first.
Jocelyn asks about Rolph, forgetting that he committed suicide years ago. Rhea shakes her head. Jocelyn remembers the way Lou treated her while they were together, having sex with her in the open while other people, including Rolph, could see. Lou begins crying and says Rolph didn’t make it. Rhea asks why Jocelyn is doing this, not realizing that Jocelyn has experienced a mental blank spot. The sun hurts Jocelyn’s eyes, so she closes them. Jocelyn imagines pushing Lou into the water and drowning him. She opens her eyes and tells Lou she should kill him—he deserves to die. Lou tells her it is too late.
In Jocelyn’s memory, the abusive side of their relationship becomes clear. Lou makes a spectacle of their sex life as a way to demonstrate his power and sexual potency. The pain of the sun in Jocelyn’s eyes is a reminder of Scotty (who stared into the sun for too long) and suggests the pain caused by the passage of time and the losses she has experienced. Lou already feels dead because his identity as a powerful record executive is gone. The person he was in the past is, in fact, dead.
Jocelyn remembers standing on the roof with Rolph, watching a party by the pool. They waited all night for the sun to rise. When it rose, Rolph said it was like a baby. Jocelyn cried, and imagined the sun fragile in their arms. Jocelyn then thinks about how her mother marks each day she is drug free on a calendar. Her mother tells her she has so much life ahead of her, and Jocelyn tries to believe her.
The shared moment as the sun rises depicts a time in life when Jocelyn and Rolph still had hope. This is depicted in the image of the sun as a baby. Now, however, Jocelyn’s days are not marked by the sunrise, but by marks on the calendar, and she struggles to believe her mother’s encouraging words.
Lou composes himself and asks the girls to stand on either side of him. He puts his arms around them and says it’s nice to be with Jocelyn and Rhea again. They look at the water and listen to the birds. He asks for another minute with them, and thanks them.
Lou is depicted without power in this moment—instead of claiming the girls as his, as he did earlier in the novel, he asks permission. The kind act of standing with him, however undeservered, is a redemptive moment for Jocelyn—a moment of compassion.