2009. Louisa Clark walks home from work as slowly as possible. She arrives at her house to the usual whirlwind of activities, while her mother, Josie Clark, rushes about cleaning the house and her father (Bernard) plays with Thomas, the toddler son of Louisa’s younger sister Treena. Lou (Louisa) says hi to her mom and then sets about getting a glass of water for her Granddad, who has suffered a stroke and can no longer care for himself.
It is not yet clear why Louisa still lives with her parents as an adult, but Moyes shows that Louisa’s life centers around her family. Lou quickly shows her tendency to take care of other people by helping her grandfather.
Lou’s mother, Josie, quickly makes Granddad a cup of tea, chattering to Lou about Lou’s boyfriend Patrick. Patrick has called to make further plans for the holiday that he and Lou have planned. Lou reluctantly tells her mother that the holiday probably won’t happen because she has just been fired from her job—the café she works at is closing.
Josie acts as Granddad’s caretaker, but she also ignores Granddad’s wishes, as when she gets him tea instead of water. Josie also seems more invested in the relationship between Patrick and Lou than Lou is, suggesting that Lou is not very excited about her long-term boyfriend.
Lou loved working at the café, chatting with the regular customers who came in daily. She especially liked talking to Dandelion Lady, an older woman who spent every morning in the café. She also enjoyed working for her boss, a sweet man named Frank. Yet Frank knows that his small café won’t be able to compete with the larger café coming in at the castle up the road from their small town. He closes the café and gives Lou three months severance pay.
Though Lou did not have a prestigious job at the café, she did enjoy the work. This happiness is also complacency, as Lou has no ambitions to go elsewhere. Lou wants to help people, like the Dandelion Lady, who are on the fringes of society, another sign of Lou’s big heart.
Lou’s mom tries to be optimistic about Lou’s prospects, but Lou’s dad is angry that Lou has been fired after working so hard for Frank for 6 years. Lou knows that her family desperately needs the wages that she brings home, given the precarious state of her dad’s job in the current economic recession. She promises to go down to the job center and get a new job tomorrow.
As the wage earner of her family, Lou feels a responsibility to ignore her own wishes in order to do what is best for her family. Though Lou says she is not ambitious, she may just be sacrificing her own dreams for her family because she loves them.
Lou goes to tell Patrick the bad news while he runs laps at the athletics club. Patrick won’t stop to talk to Lou, so she runs alongside him and tries to tell Patrick how lost she feels now that she is unemployed. Patrick tells her to stop moping around and retrain for a new career, the way entrepreneurs like Jeffrey Archer and Richard Branson did. Yet Lou can’t think of anything she wants to retrain to do.
Patrick’s obsession with fitness defines his character from the beginning, as he can’t even stop running in order to comfort his girlfriend. Patrick’s advice, while practical, likewise does not recognize how Lou must be feeling. Lou’s complete lack of ambition seems to bother Patrick.
At the job center, Lou tries out every entry level job she is qualified for. She wears what she calls “civilian clothes” so that she will make a good impression. After the chicken processing factory, the home energy consultant, and the fast food cashier positions do not work out, Lou’s personal advisor, Syed, suggests that Lou try the entertainment industry. Lou likes to wear “theatrical clothing” but she draws the line at becoming an exotic dancer.
While Lou may not have big ambitions, she does have standards for what she wants from her life. Syed, like many people, does not understand why Lou dresses in such an adventurous fashion. Lou’s style of dress catches attention and suggests that she really wants more than her small town can offer.
Finally, Syed tells Lou that she needs to accept something or she will no longer be eligible for job seekers’ allowance money. Lou desperately wants a job, sick of moping around the house and missing the comforting atmosphere of the café. She daydreams about seeing Dandelion Lady again until Syed interrupts to tell Lou about one more opportunity: care and companionship for a disabled man.
Lou craves a sense of purpose, so much so that Lou’s quality of life suffers once she feels useless, unemployed and seemingly unemployable. Lou does not seem to realize her own potential as a caretaker, evidenced by how much she continues to care for people like the Dandelion Lady.
Lou has no experience with caregiver, as Lou’s mom does all the work for Granddad at home, but she knows that she has to try this job because it’s good money. Lou’s dad, Bernard, laughs when Lou tells them, thinking that this poor man had the bad luck to end up in a wheelchair and the worse luck to get Lou as a caregiver.
Lou may not have practical experience with caregiving, but she does seem to have a latent talent for it. Lou’s family has a teasing way of showing affection, as Bernard pokes fun at Lou’s lack of skills instead of supporting her in this new job.