Ashley graduates from the University of Michigan; with a passion for Social Justice she gives up studying human evolution to instead work for social justice in education; she is accepted to Teach For America. Meanwhile, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina Maureen is writing her life's destiny at UNC, prophesizing that she will one day live with her partner who works for social justice, while she teaches poetry and they both practice languages together in the evening in their home outside the Berkshires.
Ashley is placed in rural North Carolina to teach HS Spanish as a Teach For America teacher. She moves her life to Bunn, NC (pop. 400) after a year living in Hong Kong. Maureen walks around Ireland on a literature scholarship; she spends her time writing and enjoying the company of her native folk along with pints and pints of Guinness. She returns to Chapel Hill and contemplates how to make a living as a poet.
Ashley works 80 hours a week teaching, lives in a 19th century mansion with four other TFA teachers who become tightly bonded over their shared experience of living out the prime of their twenties in an under-resourced tobacco community in the rural, conservative, South. Maureen, wanting to improve educational opportunity for kids growing up in her home state, searches for teaching positions in schools where TFA places as she knows that's where she'll have the most impact & be kept sane by TFA teachers who are likely to share her underground liberal agenda. Maureen accepts a HS English teaching position in Bunn, NC and meets Ashley during a teachers staff meeting.
Ashley and her TFA housemates are excited to have a new friend in the community who 'is one of them' but doesn't live with them and who isn't all consumed by TFA. Ashley & Maureen become friends. When all the housemates are busy with their own lives and Ashley needs help moving during the summer, Ashley asks Maureen for help; Ashley is oblivious to the fact that Maureen has a mad crush on her. Maureen has never been more excited to move heavy boxes in the summer heat of the South.
School starts again at Bunn HS and the housemates & Maureen all agree to keep teaching another year. One night, Maureen stops by Ashley's classroom window on the way to her car. Ashley says she is busy with lesson planning so can't chat for long. Maureen and Ashley talk through the classroom window for more than two hours about life, love, and travel. For the next several weeks the friendship suddenly feels different. Ashley plots with her housemates how to gently let Maureen down that they are indeed just friends, but is also concerned that she may be totally misreading the situation. The housemates strategize with Ashley to navigate the friendship so she isn't 'that straight girl' who assumes Maureen likes her when she may in fact not and yet also let her know, in case she does like her, that friendship is the only option.
The strategies fail. Maureen turns Ashley gay in a matter of weeks. The housemates are slightly confused but huge supporters; the school year just got more interesting. An undercover relationship unfolds throughout the school year and there is a new energy in the teachers lounge at Bunn HS, but nobody can quite figure it out. Somehow the varsity women's soccer team is onto Ms. Olinger as it's unclear why Ms. McGrath (who has never played soccer) is 'helping out with the team'. The school year ends and Ashley and Maureen take their first trip together to hike the Andes in Peru. They almost die of hypothermia at the foot of Mt. Salkantay, but rally to eventually make it to Macchu Picchu and have the entire place to themselves along with their guide and a farm boy from Switzerland. It's the foreshadowing of many adventures to come in South America.
Ashley goes to graduate school to get a Master's degree in Social Justice and Intercultural Communication - to do so she leaves Bunn, North Carolina and goes as far North as she can get to attend the School for International Training in the 'artsy' town of Brattleboro, VT. She spends the year reflecting on her TFA experience and the culture shock from having moved from Hong Kong to Bunn to Brattleboro whilst somehow becoming a lesbian in the process. The mountains, serenity, and liberal academics provide the perfect setting for such reflections. Meanwhile, Maureen leaves Bunn for the University of Chicago to get her Master's degree in the Humanities. She spends her days in Hyde Park, freezing cold, and writing intricate papers on 16th century playwrights and poets. Ashley and Maureen talk everyday and maintain a long distance relationship courtesy of Southwest Airlines' direct flights between Hartford, CT and Chicago, Midway.
Ashley moves to Chicago to be with Maureen and to work for Teach For America while writing her Master's thesis on nonprofit organizational development & social justice movements. Ashley and Maureen move in together and get an apartment in Andersonville. Maureen soul searches for what to do with her humanities degree. She crosses paths with many characters who become tucked away in her memory as perfect muses for her future writings. She spends her time teaching at a community college, working at a fancy flower shop, and doing research & writing for two old codgers. Ashley finishes her thesis while somehow feeling like Chicago isn't big enough for her work; she has too much wine one night and emails the CEO of TFA to ask if she can have a role in her plans to start an international network of social enterprises working to end educational inequity. Ashley asks Maureen if she would be open to moving to Chile where she thinks she may have come across her dream job. Maureen remembers her prophetic writing about studying languages with her partner who works in social justice and she bids goodbye to the students, the florist, and the old codgers and the two pack up and move from Chicago to Chile.
Maureen and Ashley live together in Santiago, Chile. Ashley again works 80 hour weeks as she helps start Ensena Chile and Ensena Peru. Maureen lands a teaching position at one of Santiago's most prestigious high schools, it's a different experience than the one she had in Bunn, as somehow English literature comes to life more for Chilean students. Maureen spends her time teaching, eating avocado sandwiches and drinking tea with her new Chilean friends, learning Spanish, and traveling throughout South America with Ashley.
Maureen and Ashley continue to live the dream in Santiago, Chile. They occasionally miss the comforts of home in the US, but enjoy exploring South America together. Maureen's Spanish improves, the Chileans find it both charming and amusing. While Ashley attends a wedding in the Southern part of the country with the cast of Ensena Chile staff, an 8.8 earthquake erupts in the middle of the night leaving Ashley wondering if Maureen is okay in their 17th floor apartment back in Santiago. Maureen survives the night swinging alone in the stairwell, wearing only her t-shirt that reads 'so many books, so little time'. The two reunite several days later after being rescued by their Chilean friends who have forever become family. By the end of the year, Ashley and Maureen decide to move back to stable ground and return to the US.
Maureen and Ashley move to Washington DC where Ashley continues to work for Teach For All and Maureen is able to make a career shift out of teaching, wanting to end her memories of it on a high note with the Chilean students. They both settle into surburban life in Arlington and start to reaclimate to having their own space, a car, and jobs.
To liven up life in the burbs, Ashley buys Maureen a puppy for Valentine's Day as it is the gift that keeps on giving. Despite Maureen being a cat person, Maureen and the 100 lb Golden Retriever, Bariloche develop a strong bond, especially while Ashley is away for weeks at a time on international business trips. The two test their parenting instincts and relationship while raising Barli. They are fortunate enough to continue spending their days traveling; they visit Colombia, Vegas, Napa, and Ireland. By the end of the year, Maureen and Ashley find themselves again visiting Chile on the back of one of Ashley's business trips. Maureen proposes to Ashley under the stars of the Atacama desert. Ashley says yes. She promises Maureen she won't be crazy about wedding planning. The next day at breakfast, prior to sandboarding, Ashley begins planning the wedding processional.
Maureen and Ashley spend their weeks working long work days, cooking gourmet meals, and raising Barli. The suburbs of DC begin to feel stifling and as Ashley moves into full blown wedding planning mode, the two turn their eyes toward Vermont...after all, the Green Mountains aren't that different than the Berkshires, there is an abundance of good language and writing schools in the area, and the food is all fresh and sustainable...it's the perfect place to work for social justice, teach poetry, study languages, and for their souls to be at one with each other and the rest of their days.