Chapter Thirty-Four: Lily – Chapter Thirty-Seven: Atlas 

Chapter Thirty-Four: Lily 

Lily finds a note from Atlas under her door. It’s the story of their first kiss from Atlas’s perspective. Atlas remembers how Lily took care of him when he was sick when they were teenagers. That’s when he realized he loved Lily. He wanted to tell her the entire time she was caring for him but couldn’t say the words. While they were watching Finding Nemo, he kissed her on the collarbone where she’d eventually get her heart tattoo. Atlas writes that he wants Lily to think of love when she looks at the tattoo. He closes by reminding Lily they’ve been dating for six months and asking her to move in with him. Lily calls Atlas to check on Josh, who has a stomach bug. Lily offers to come over and give Atlas a hug. He asks her if she means that she’ll come home and give him a hug. She says yes, agreeing to move in with Atlas. 

Chapter Thirty-Five: Atlas 

Lily and Atlas are moving Lily’s things into Atlas’s house. Atlas is in the parking garage when Ryle pulls up, and Marshall, who is supervising Ryle’s visit with his daughter, gives Emerson to Atlas. Marshall, who is meeting Atlas for the first time, thanks Atlas for making Lily so happy. Lily starts crying, but she hides her tears from Emerson. She tells Atlas she’s grateful Ryle was able to go through with giving Emerson to Atlas, even if it was through Marshall. They are happy to move in together. 

Chapter Thirty-Six: Lily 

Lily finishes unpacking with Theo and Josh while Emerson is with her mother and Atlas is at work. Theo tries to be discrete, saying he’s going to a parade. Josh knows he means a pride parade and asks to spend the night at Theo’s. Lily, new to parenting Josh, is impressed that Josh is nonplussed about Theo’s sexuality, realizing that Gen Z has so many great qualities. She gives Josh permission to go. Lily talks to Atlas on the phone, and Atlas says he misses Emerson. Lily’s mother drops Emerson off and admits to Lily that she knows who Atlas is and remembers him from Lily’s adolescence. She tells Lily that once, she caught Atlas and Lily sleeping together on the couch. When she went to confront him, he hugged her with genuine sorrow for her situation, compelling her to keep his involvement with Lily secret. Lily is moved by this story.  

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Atlas 

A few years have passed, and it’s Lily and Atlas’s wedding day. Theo is teasing Atlas about his wedding vows. Theo says that Josh is making out with a girl. Atlas’s vows are another letter to Lily. He talks about how the odds are that many marriages end in divorce. But he says that he feels lucky to have been the first person to fall in love with Lily and to share the heartbreak of their first love ending. He says that even if their marriage ends, he’ll feel grateful to have his heartbroken by Lily again. But, he’s hopeful and believes they will be together forever. 


Throughout both novels, the symbol Finding Nemo represents Lily and Atlas’s happy ending. For the second time in the novel, the characters watch the film. The first time, Ryle explodes in jealousy and anger after realizing Emerson’s middle name is an homage to the film. This time, Lily is surprised that the people she’s sharing the film with, Josh and Theo, members of her extended, found family with Atlas, enjoy the children’s film with her. Instead of responding with rejection or rage, Theo and Josh are engaged, curious, and make jokes about the film. This suggests that, in Lily’s new home with Atlas, she can anticipate connection and joy instead of violence and pain. The treatment of the film with humor continues in Atlas’s vows. Theo jokes that he should say “It is my wish for you to be my fish.” Theo has, throughout the novel, teased Atlas for telling Lily that they’d arrived at shore, suggesting they no longer need to swim away from life’s difficulties, that they can rest in love together. By including this joking line in his vows, Atlas acknowledges that they’ve moved so far beyond the pain of the past that they can joke about the film. This suggests that the film has grown from a source of solace for the couple alone to a source of joy for the family they’ve created together. 

This section also delves into the theme of the power of compassion to disrupt violence. Throughout the novel, Lily has been keeping the fact that she’s dating Atlas from her mother, unsure if her mother will remember him and not wanting to bring up painful memories. However, Lily’s mother, Jenny, reveals that she’s known about Atlas all along, remembered him from when Lily was a teenager. She shares a touching story with Lily, about how, when she caught Atlas and Lily sleeping together on the couch, he risked his own safety to reach out to her. He gave her a hug, and she felt within it all his compassion and tenderness, that he truly felt sadness for her situation and empathized with the fact that she was being beaten by her husband. This act of generosity stayed with Jenny all these years and was part of the reason she turned a blind eye to Lily and Atlas’s teenage relationship. Jenny also draws a direct line between that moment and Atlas and Lily’s adult life together, suggesting that his act of compassion led to a better life for Lily. Though Jenny couldn’t protect Lily from her father or help her find a different way of being, Atlas could and did. This suggests that Atlas’s compassion and love have been part of Lily’s process of escaping violence, even when she wasn’t aware of it. 

This section centers on the theme of the healing power of true love, too. Atlas’s vows begin with an acknowledgement of the heartbreak and pain that they’ve gone through already in their relationship. This suggests that, though they have suffered already – both at the hands of other people and by being separated from each other – they stand ready to make a new promise to each other out of faith in the love between them. Atlas also grounds his vows in the reality of pain and says that the real possibility of heartbreak and loss doesn’t deter him from wanting to marry Lily—in fact, it excites him. His love for Lily is so strong that he’d rather have his heart broken by her repeatedly if there’s a chance he can spend his life loving her. This proves Atlas loves Lily so much he’s willing to go through the pain of losing her again, underscoring the fact that falling in love with her again has healed the pain of that loss—and of the abandonment he’s suffered in the past. He ends on a positive note, referencing the traditional wedding vows, “in good times and bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” reiterating that though pain is inevitable in life, love will see them through.