In the months following his beating, Luke lives in a rehabilitation center and slowly learns to walk again. His physical therapist is a short, kind man named Carlos who tells him, “You used to be a big man. You ain’t anymore. Gotta accept that it’s okay to not be a big man. It’s enough to be a good one.” In keeping with this, Luke learns that it doesn’t matter who he was “out in the world,” because in rehab he is “just like everyone else, struggling to gain control of [his] body.” While he recovers, he gets to know an elderly patient named Bill, who fought in the Korean war but “ended up at the rehab center after tripping on the sidewalk and breaking his hip.”
Carlos’s advice that Luke forget about being a “big man” liberates Luke from his struggle to be somebody he isn’t. Luke learns that being a “good man” is just as good as being a “big man,” and that the failure of the body indicates nothing about a person’s character. This is made evident by the fact that Bill, a triumphant veteran, succumbs to a simple sidewalk.
Aubrey surprises Luke by visiting him at the rehab center on behalf of the Mothers, who have asked her to deliver a blanket they knit for him. He doesn’t know much about Aubrey, other than that both his mother and Nadia like her. Sitting down, Aubrey tells him that she’s going to a local college and working at a donut shop. He asks if she keeps in touch with Nadia, and when Aubrey tells him that she does, he asks, “Is she still in Russia?” Aubrey laughs, telling him Nadia has never visited Russia, though she has been to England and France. Before she leaves, Aubrey asks if he needs anything. “You could bring me a donut,” Luke says.
When Aubrey arrives at the rehab center to deliver a blanket to Luke, Bennett casts her as a natural caretaker. Aubrey doesn’t simply hand Luke the blanket, but actually sits down and talks to him, keeping him company even though she hardly knows him. Although she’s been sent by Upper Room, her kindness seems to reach beyond simple Christian charity—after all, the Mothers themselves don’t even visit Luke, and they’re perhaps the most pious characters in the entire novel. As such, Aubrey is depicted as caring and friendly as she gets to know Luke, though readers can no doubt sense the complications that might arise between her and Nadia if she ends up getting too close to him.
Aubrey’s visits to the rehab center become quite frequent, and she brings Luke donuts, books, and a tank-top for him to wear during physical therapy. One day, he points at her purity ring and says he used to wear one when he was thirteen, but his hand outgrew it, and his father had to cut it off, nicking his finger with a saw and leaving behind a small scar. “It’s okay,” he says. “I ended up fucking a girl later that year. I would’ve done it anyway, the ring just would’ve made me feel bad.” In response, Aubrey tells him that wearing a purity ring isn’t about “feeling bad.” When Luke asks her what it is for, she says, “It just reminds me.” “Of what?” he asks, and she replies, “That I can be clean.”
In this scene, Bennett shows that Luke is a man with a history of physical pain marked by scars. Once again, readers see that his injuries are visible on his body. It is clear that Luke represents the externalization of trauma, while people like Nadia and Aubrey represent the internalization of trauma. However, Aubrey’s way of addressing her difficult past is perhaps more complicated than Nadia’s straightforward internalization. Aubrey does hide the fact that she’s been raped and seems to avoid thinking about it, but she also wears a purity ring to remind herself that she can “be clean,” which is a constant reminder of the sexual trauma lurking in her past.
After helping motivate Bill to do his exercises one day, Luke realizes he’s interested in becoming a physical therapist. To help him save money for a degree in this field, Mr. Sheppard gives Luke a job at Upper Room once he’s left rehab. Meanwhile, Luke continues to spend time with Aubrey, who sits next to him in the back pew during Sunday services. When Luke’s father lays his hands on sick people in the congregation each week, Aubrey asks Luke if he wants to go up. “I’ll go with you,” she says one day, and with that, they make their way to the front of the church together.
By this point, it’s obvious that Aubrey and Luke have formed a meaningful connection. As Luke works on giving up his persona as a “big man,” he embraces religion in a new way, allowing Aubrey to escort him up the aisle so that his father can heal him. Of course, this is out of step with how he behaved while he was dating Nadia. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this is the same person who abandoned Nadia at an abortion clinic and then callously told her that “shit” had “come up.” Giving up his identity as a tough football player has enabled Luke to accept his own vulnerabilities, a process that consequently makes him kinder and gentler.
Later that night, Luke lies in bed with Aubrey, whom—Bennett reveals—he has started dating. Their relationship has progressed naturally, but they haven’t had sex because Aubrey wants to wait until marriage. Although Luke respects this, he’s eager for her to change her mind. “Tell me a secret,” she says that night. After a pause, he says, “I got a girl pregnant once. She didn’t keep it.” A moment passes before Aubrey asks who the girl was. “A girl I used to know,” he says. “I loved her, but she didn’t want the baby.”
From the very beginning of his relationship with Aubrey, Luke keeps his history with Nadia a secret. Even in revealing the fact that he has gotten a girl pregnant, he avoids telling Aubrey the entire story. There’s little doubt that he knows how significant this omission actually is, considering that he’s aware of the fact that Nadia and Aubrey are close friends. Luke only tells Aubrey half of the truth, essentially starting his relationship with her on tenuous grounds when it comes to secrecy.
Changing the subject, Luke asks Aubrey to tell him a secret, and she says that when she was younger, she thought she had superpowers. “Like I could smell if a man was good or bad,” she says. “Or I could jump out of my skin when he touched me. And I could hear really good. I could hear him moving throughout the apartment, like a rat clicking through the pipes. I could hear him before he got to my room. And I always wondered why my mom never heard but I told myself she couldn’t. Because she didn’t have super senses.” With this, Aubrey starts crying, and Luke puts his hands around her face and kisses her before nuzzling into her neck, “wanting to keep her in her skin.”
The way Aubrey reveals that Paul used to rape her is worth examining, since she seems to work her way to the truth gradually, as if letting go of her secret all at once would be too overwhelming. At first, her “secret” seems silly, a mere childhood reverie about having superpowers. However, the nature of her story grows more and more specific, until she’s suddenly speaking not just about any man, but about the one who used to move “throughout the apartment,” “clicking” through the halls on his way to rape her. Unlike Luke, who only tells Aubrey that he’s gotten somebody pregnant before but not that this person was Nadia, Aubrey works up the nerve to reveal a painful secret in its entirety. In doing so, she begins her relationship with Luke in total honesty. Unfortunately for her, though, he fails to do the same.