Chapter Twenty: Lily – Chapter Twenty-Three: Atlas 

Chapter Twenty: Lily 

Atlas arrives at Lily’s place while she gets ready for the wedding they are attending. When Lily has her dress on, Atlas notices her heart tattoo for the first time, the one she got because of him when she was a teenager. When Atlas sees it, he backs away and leaves the room upset. Lily doesn’t understand why and fears she did something wrong. She asks Atlas why he’s upset, and he tells Lily he remembers the night in the ER when Lily had a bite on her collarbone. Figuring out that Ryle bit Lily because of the tattoo she got for Atlas, Atlas is furious. Lily realizes the difference between Atlas’s and Ryle’s anger. Atlas’s anger doesn’t make her fear for her life the way Ryle’s did. Instead, Atlas’s anger feels protective. Atlas says he wishes he could’ve been there more for Lily. Lily explains that throughout her entire relationship with Ryle, whenever something went horribly wrong or whenever he abused her, she thought about the reactions that Atlas would’ve had. She said that, though he wasn’t there, he got her through the abusive marriage. Then, finally, Atlas kisses her. 

Chapter Twenty-One: Atlas 

Atlas is upset about the scar around Lily’s tattoo. He vows to be the one to give Lily the good life she deserves. They keep kissing and have difficulty stopping to leave for the wedding where Atlas is consumed by thoughts of kissing Lily again. They slip out of the wedding early, eager to be alone together. Lily has trouble getting her shoes back on, so Atlas gives her a piggyback ride back to her apartment. Once inside Lily’s home, they decide Atlas will be late, and he calls Theo and Josh, who are hanging out together at his house. Theo teases Atlas and Atlas hangs up on him. Lily gets wine for them and marvels at how strange it is to be kid-free with Atlas for the night. 

Chapter Twenty-Two: Lily 

Lily and Atlas go into Lily’s bedroom, but when she gets there, she feels insecure because it’s been a while since she’s been with someone. Lily admits as much, and Atlas suggests that they just talk. Lily goes to the closet to change, but her dress gets stuck in her hair. Atlas comes in to help her in the dark, and they start kissing again. Atlas says that he wants to wait to sleep together until they can spend the entire night together. While they’re making out, Lily starts leaking breastmilk. She pumps and takes a quick shower before going into the living room to say goodbye to Atlas. She’s extremely embarrassed. Atlas embraces her and tells her not to worry, that the entire night has been perfect. They make love on the couch. 

Chapter Twenty-Three: Atlas 

After they have sex, Lily and Atlas talk about the legal situation with Josh. After Atlas took Josh to the hospital, they were legally obligated to report the incident to Child Protective Services. Atlas is worried he won’t get custody of Josh. Then they talk about what happened to Atlas after they slept together for the first time as teenagers. Atlas says that he was frantic to know if Lily was okay. He tried to press charges against Lily’s father, hoping that if he did, it might help Lily’s mother escape an abusive marriage. However, when the cops came, they said that if anyone was going to be arrested, it was Atlas. They accused him of forcing himself on Lily because he was legally an adult and she was still a minor. Atlas said he felt guilty for leaving Lily, but he thought it was best for her. He reflects on how he feels whole again and didn’t realize he only felt half himself the entire time they were apart. Lily falls asleep. Before going home to Josh and Theo, Atlas gets up quietly and writes Lily a letter, which he leaves on her pillow. 


The complexity of what Lily’s heart tattoo symbolizes and how it represents both Atlas and Lily’s love despite Ryle’s attempts to destroy it is expanded on in this section. When Ryle discovered the significance of the heart tattoo in the first novel in the duology, he bit it in an act of extreme jealousy and tried to force himself on Lily. Lily still bears the scar of this attack, which mirrors the mental and emotional scars of Ryle’s violence and possessive behavior towards her past love with Atlas. When Atlas learns about the tattoo, rather than feeling pleased that she commemorated him on her body, Atlas is immediately upset that Ryle used their love as an excuse to cause Lily pain. This illustrates how, for Atlas, Lily’s safety and well-being take priority over everything else, even considerations for himself. Rather than dwelling on the pain overlaid on the tattoo, Atlas focuses on making Lily happy in the future. This parallels the way that Lily and Atlas will focus on their love rather than the sorrow and angst of their violent pasts. 

This section also explores the running motif of closets, which illustrates the protective power of secrets in Lily and Atlas’s relationship. For the second time in the novel, Lily and Atlas end up in a closet, evoking a sense of secrecy and privacy for the couple. While in the past, secrecy with Ryle was dangerous for Lily, allowing her abuse to continue, with Atlas, secrecy affords the privacy that allows their relationship to take root and flourish. Removed from the chaos and uncertainty of everyday life, the closet allows them to explore new levels of intimacy. For example, finding themselves in the closet together opens the door for them to take their physical relationship to the next level. In the closet, away from the prying eyes of their families and away from the pressures of daily life, Lily and Atlas can deepen their love connection and make themselves stronger to face the challenges ahead. 

The novel’s theme of the healing power of true love is prevalent in this section. Throughout the novel, Lily and Atlas serve as ballasts for each other, supporting each other through the difficulties wrought by their abusive family members. After they make love and officially commit to a partnership with each other, Lily and Atlas also open up about some of the most painful moments in their lives and set about healing together. For example, after they make love, they talk about what happened to each of them after the first time they made love, when Lily’s father almost beat Atlas to death. Lily soothes Atlas’s concerns that he did something wrong in making love to her, a burden that he’s carried the entire time they’ve been absent. They also grapple with the difficulties of what it means that Atlas is pursuing legal means to keep custody of Josh. Though these heavy conversations contrast the passionate mood, they illustrate that both Lily and Atlas are committed to helping each other heal from the past, together.