Liz, Sam, and Carlos leave the city and check into a motel. The weather is getting cold, so they enjoy taking hot showers. However, when Carlos is talking on his new cell phone, Liz tells Sam that they need to be careful: “This whole thing feels shaky.”
Liz becomes increasingly skeptical of Carlos, both because she’s noticed his behavior around other women and because she doesn’t like being so dependent on him.
Liz asks Carlos why he disappeared for so long. Carlos explains that he needed to clear his head after collecting his father’s inheritance. He promises that he, Liz, and Sam will get an apartment soon, and shows Liz a newspaper on which he’s scrawled some phone numbers, supposedly for real estate leads. Liz begins to feel guilty for doubting Carlos’s intentions.
Liz grew up around parents who disappeared for long periods of time, and so she has no trouble seeing some of the red flags with Carlos: he, too, disappears for long periods, always making strange excuses. However, Liz also begins to doubt her own doubts, since she’s still attracted to Carlos.
The three friends go out for a night on the town, and Carlos charms Liz and Sam by ordering them expensive food from a local dim sum restaurant. Late at night, Sam goes to visit Oscar. Alone, Liz loses her virginity to Carlos. Afterwards, however, she realizes that “being with him was emptier than I’d expected, more function than joy.”
Over the next few weeks, Carlos becomes the leader of his group, in large part because he’s newly wealthy. He makes long, secretive phone calls, and women, including Liz’s friend Jamie, flirt with him. Liz begins to suspect that Carlos’s money comes from dealing drugs. She also begins to suspect that he’s cheating on her.
As time goes on, Carlos’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Partly because Liz begins to doubt Carlos’s romantic intentions, she also begins to doubt some other aspects of his story, such as his claim that he’s inherited lots of money.
Once, Liz calls Brick’s home, and Ma picks up the phone. Her voice is faint and confused, suggesting that she has dementia from the final stages of AIDS. Lisa takes the phone and angrily tells Liz that she should spend more time with Ma.
Although Liz is becoming more and more distanced from Carlos, she continues to also distance herself from her biological family, even her dying mother.
Suspicious, Liz calls one of the real estate numbers Carlos wrote down. When she does, a woman picks up the phone: she says that she’s a waitress at a pool hall. Liz begins to cry. The next day, Liz thinks about confronting Carlos. But when he smiles at her, she decides to ignore her anger and “go with the flow.”
Finally, Liz has concrete proof that Carlos has lied to her. Even now, however, she continues lying to herself, hoping that everything will work out all right. It’s devastating to accept yet another disappointment and betrayal in her life.
Carlos, Liz, and Sam go to a nearby café. As they eat, Liz notices her own grandmother walk into the café. Frantic, she tells everyone at the table to duck down—if Grandma sees Liz, she’ll report her as a runaway. But as Liz peeks at Grandma, she realizes that Grandma is confused and frail-looking. The sight makes her deeply sad. Depressingly, Sam points out that today is Thanksgiving.
Grandma’s presence in the café offers a symbolic reminder that Liz can never outrun her past or her family. Although she tries to create a new “family,” which includes Carlos and Sam, some part of her will always miss her real family (especially on a day like Thanksgiving, a holiday traditionally associated with family celebration).
Liz calls Lisa, who informs her that Ma is in the hospital. Liz decides to go to the hospital. There, the nurses force her to wear a mask while she visits her mother. This makes Liz think of all the times she watched her mother vomit and cough. In the hospital, Liz greets Ma, who’s weak and horribly emaciated. Liz tries to apologize for not visiting earlier, but Ma doesn’t respond, and it’s unclear if she even knows Liz is there. Lisa walks in, and suddenly, Ma begins to speak “gibberish.” Liz tells Ma, “We’ll get you all fixed up,” and Ma replies, “Okay, Lizzy.”
Liz finally decides to visit her mother, suggesting that she’s no longer trying to run from her past. Tragically, Liz realizes that she’s missed out on spending lots of time with her mother, and now Ma is so sick that she doesn’t always know who she’s talking to.
After Ma falls back asleep, Liz leaves the hospital. Lisa can’t believe that Liz would leave so abruptly, and begins to sob. Liz just says, “People deal differently,” and leaves.
Liz feels compassion for her mother, but she also has mixed feelings. She doesn’t want to be around her sister or mother for too long, presumably because she has so many bad memories of them both and wants to escape the toxic environment that she associates with them. Once again Liz appears detached and almost unfeeling, while Lisa is emotional and sentimental.
Later that night, Carlos decides to take Liz out to cheer her up. They go to a fancy restaurant, dressed only in their underwear. Carlos has so much money that the servers allow them to stay and order an expensive meal. Liz has a wonderful time laughing with Carlos, but she has to keep telling herself, “He does love you.”
Liz tries to forget about her family and enjoy herself with Carlos. But even when she’s having a great time and laughing, she seems to sense that her loving relationship with Carlos is something of an illusion.
For the next three weeks, Liz puts off visiting Ma again. She, Carlos, and Sam stay in a hotel while they look for an apartment. One day, Carlos doesn’t come home in the evening. This concerns Liz, because payment is due the next day: she wonders what’ll happen if Carlos doesn’t show up. The next morning, the hotelkeeper threatens to kick Sam and Liz out of the building unless they come up with some money. Because they have no money of their own, they give the hotelkeeper one of Carlos’s gold watches to cover rent for another day.
As Carlos becomes increasingly unpredictable, Liz and Sam become concerned: they have no way of supporting themselves without their benefactor.
The next day, Sam and Liz wake up early to the sound of Carlos entering the room. Carlos greets them, but doesn’t make eye contact with Sam. Liz demands to know where Carlos was, and he claims he was at a friend’s house. When he discovers that Liz and Sam gave away his watch, he becomes furious, kicking the trashcan and punching the wall. Then he passes out on the floor. Sam and Liz notice some white powder in the bathroom, suggesting that Carlos is “on coke.”
Carlos clearly knows that he’s done something wrong, and seems to feel guilty for doing so. But he’s also become less emotionally stable (which, even setting aside the white powder, suggests that he’s using a lot of drugs). Clearly, Carlos isn’t the charming, gentle man he once was: drugs are ruining his life, and he’s even growing violent.
For the next few days, Liz avoids Carlos whenever possible. She’s been trying to escape her drug-addicted parents, only to end up with another drug addict.
Here, Liz sums up her problem: she’s gone out of the frying pan and into the fire, trying to avoid her family only to end up with an arguably more dangerous surrogate family, headed by the volatile Carlos Marcano.
Then, one morning, Liz gets a call from Lisa: Ma has died. Liz rushes to the hospital, where she finds Daddy. The two of them cry together and feel their “hearts breaking.” Liz leaves the hospital and goes to meet Lisa at a diner. When she arrives at the diner and sees her sister, her heart breaks “all over again.”
Liz continues to have conflicted feelings about her mother and her family, but she also loves them, and feels guilty for having spent so much time away from them. Ma’s death marks a turning point in Liz’s life: she begins to rethink her relationship with her friends and rebuild her relationship with her remaining family members.