In 1971, Marcus Distelfink is on the run again.
Broke and homeless, he needs to leave the East Coast for the anonymity of Kansas, and get back into college before the draft takes him. He confronts his boss and tells him that he can’t return to his job in Washington, but will set up an operation in another city, work through the summer, and leave in the fall for Kansas.
His boss sends him to open up Philadelphia. There, Rebecca, one of the travelers in the Red Bedford from the Summer of 1967, sees him in a TV ad for the new store, and joyously reunites with Marcus after four years. That summer, she was a precocious hippie-in-training thirteen-year-old, wandering the country in dirty bare feet. Now she’s seventeen, and has dreamed of Marcus’ return since the eighth grade.
Her family accepts him almost without reservation, and he becomes a welcome guest in their home on the Main Line of Philadelphia. The two, old friends and new sweethearts, look for a way to bring their lives together, while keeping her on track to graduate high school and move on to college herself.
But at the end of the summer, Marcus is confronted by a coordinated attack from four sides. This time, his young girlfriend’s rich and megalomaniac father, his psychotic boss, the Russian Mafia that kidnapped him in 1967, and his pregnant ex-fiancée converge on him, intending to destroy him and drive him away from Rebecca forever.
Enraged, Marcus returns to his grandmother’s farm in Kansas, this time with the bankroll from his summer in Philadelphia, to plan his revenge.
At the farm, he finds his grandmother in bad health and nearly incapacitated. He brings her back to the world for a brief time, and then loses her.
Rebecca comes to visit him to attend the funeral, and discovers among his grandmother’s things and on the farm the keys to the Distelfinks’ great mystery. She is entranced, and tells Marcus that she wants to take Hellen’s journals to college, to turn them into a creative project to establish her as a credible artist.
After the funeral, on Rebecca’s last day at the farm, a brutal stormfront moves through, and Marcus shows her the meaning and making of a tornado party. Rebecca learns how to curse the storm and dare it do its worst, and they give a final send-off to his crazy Kansas grandmother.
“In the distance, a row of trees suddenly bent over sharply, looked like they were going to flatten, snapped back up, then lay down even further. ‘Battle stations!’ cried Marcus. ‘Whoop!’
He grabbed his sweatshirt, handed Rebecca’s windbreaker to her. He stood at the edge of the porch and wrapped one arm around a porch post, told Rebecca to come to the other side of the post and do the same. A gust came right at them across the fields, and tried to knock them down.
‘OK!’ he shouted. ‘Now, we have to formally defy the elements, bébé, big time! Ready? Set!’ A violent blast hit them. ‘Fuck you, tornado!’ he crowed at the incoming squall.
‘What?’ she shouted.
‘Fuck you, tornado! Come on, ‘Becca! Fuck you! Big swig! Fuck you! Come and get us, you big prick! Raise your glass, darlin’!’
She giggled and yelled at the fierce, death-dealing, onrushing tornado, that you just couldn’t see yet. ‘Fuck you, tornado! Come get us! Ow!’ she cried, as the wind raked her with a spray of sand.”
They spend the night at peace, alone at last, listening only to the storm and not for approaching footsteps.
The next day, as Rebecca prepares for her flight home, the world stops and shifts forever. She stays over, and when she does leave, they find that they have no answers to their dilemma and that their questions are even more disheartening than before.
And now Rebecca has found a new mystery, that lies one step away, to the rock in Nester Creek.