In the year 2007, a man has a conversation with a woman who appears to be his girlfriend. The conversation takes place while she lies in bed and watches him get ready to leave for work on a stormy London morning. The woman argues with him about his chosen destinations for their vacation. While all of his destinations involve extreme sports, adventure and the outdoors, she would prefer a more relaxing trip— perhaps, she requests, to a spa. Before the man, whose name is Will, leaves, the woman, whose name is Lissa, also reminds him that she would prefer for him not to use his Blackberry on their next date. The two argue playfully about his attachment to his phone, and then the man leaves, electing to catch a cab rather than take his motorcycle because of the storm. As he walks to catch a taxi, he takes a call from a man named Rupert, a colleague who urges him to come into work and deal with some obstacles that have arisen. The man gets into the cab and, as the driver sets off, sees a looming shape emerge out of the rain. He panics, sensing that he cannot prevent it from hitting him, and then registers the car being struck by a motorcyclist before he loses consciousness.
Chapter 1 begins by announcing that it's set in 2009, two years after the prologue. In addition to the time jump, it becomes clear that something else has changed as well. We have a new first-person narrator, whose name is Lou Clark (short for Louisa). Lou walks home from the bus stop, counting the steps between the two familiar locations. She notices the Stortfold castle in the distance and the houses and roads she associates with childhood memories, but today she's not in the mood to get lost reminiscing. Instead, she walks into her house and greets her father, who is searching for a lost Lego piece. The owner of the Lego is Lou's five-year-old nephew, Thomas. Lou's father wants to know why she's home so early, but she ignores him and goes to the kitchen, where her grandfather is sitting. Her grandfather is supposed to be doing Sudoku puzzles to help him mentally recover from a series of strokes, but Lou notices that he never makes any effort to get the correct answer. Next, we meet Lou's mother, an energetic woman who loves to clean and who busily chats with Lou while sorting laundry. After a short conversation she points out that Lou looks pale, and Lou tells her that she has lost her job. The owner of the café where she works has decided to close up and has given her three months worth of pay.
Next, Lou reminisces about the events of the day. She describes how much she enjoyed working at the café, the Buttered Bun, and working alongside the owner, a kind man named Frank. The café is, in Lou's recollection, a cozy, unpretentious place filled with a mixture of local regulars and tourists in town to see the castle. Louisa keeps a caring eye on the regulars and loves making conversation with customers. When we return from this reverie to Lou's crowded house, she is talking to her frazzled parents. It becomes clear that Lou isn't the only one relying on her job. Her mother stays home to care for her grandfather and for Thomas. Thomas's mother, Lou's younger sister Treena, makes very little money working in a flower shop. And Lou's father works in a furniture factory, where employees are getting laid off at alarming rates. Lou's parents discuss potential job options for her, but Lou is too upset even to think about her next steps.
The next day, Lou goes down to the athletics club to visit her boyfriend Patrick. She knows he'll be there because he goes at the same time every day from Monday to Thursday. Patrick asks Lou to run with him while they talk, and she does, even though she hates running. Lou complains about how frustrated she feels by being stuck at home, but Patrick urges her to find another job immediately. Patrick, Lou shares with the reader, was named "Stortfold Young Entrepreneur of the Year" several years before, and the honor appears to have made an impression on him. He presses Louisa to ignore her feelings of loss and spring back as soon as possible, perhaps by going to the local Job Center. He also offers to pay for the vacation the two had planned, provided Lou pays him back eventually.
At the Job Center, Lou is matched with a series of new jobs, none of which suit her. She works nights at a chicken processing factory, which gives her nightmares, and briefly works for an energy company whose ethics she condemns because they ask her to confuse elderly people into using their services. She is fired from a fast food restaurant for being too chatty and honest with a four-year-old about the toys that come with her meal. Her adviser, Syed, starts to grow exasperated and tries to convince her to take up pole dancing, but Lou refuses to take any job that will upset her father. This leaves Lou with pretty much one option, as Syed explains it: becoming a care assistant. Lou resists, both because the job she really wants is her old position at the Buttered Bun and because she doesn't particularly like caring for people. She points out to Syed that she isn't much good at taking care of her grandfather, but Syed isn't discouraged and finds a position in town caring for a disabled man. The job pays well, and, assured that she will not be responsible for "bottom wiping," Lou agrees to interview for the position.
The prologue lays out the background for the action of the rest of the novel. Firstly, by portraying Will— the man in the scene—two years before Louisa meets him, the prologue allows readers to get a sense of what Will was like prior to his accident, and of how he has changed subsequently. This scene shows a busy, somewhat self-absorbed man, torn between the demands of his relationship and his high-intensity job but skilled at balancing these facets of his life. When readers see him in later scenes, they will recognize how much his life has changed and understand simultaneously why his recovery has been so emotionally difficult and why his previous life in London may not have been sustainable to begin with.
The prologue also creates suspense. The distant third-person narrator declines to reveal the names of the man in this scene or anything about him other than his actions in this immediate moment. When the narration is handed over to Louisa in the next chapter, readers are left hanging, wondering what has happened to the man from the novel's opening. When Louisa and Will finally meet and readers make the connection that Will is, in fact, the man from this chapter, an interesting tension develops. On the one hand, Moyes is using dramatic irony: readers know certain things about Will's previous life that Louisa does not know, from details of his relationship to the circumstances of his injury. On the other hand, as Louisa and Will get to know each other, it becomes clear that there is more to Will than was on display in this short scene. By watching the moment of Will's accident and presuming to understand him based on that, we have inadvertently made the same mistake as others, including Will himself. We have, in effect, reduced a complex human to a single tragic moment. Therefore Moyes implicates us in the novel's conflict, showing how easy it is to reduce Will to his disability.
In Chapter 1, we are introduced to Lou, her family, and the setting of most of the novel. We learn that our narrator is a lively, outgoing girl. Lou is naturally sensitive, but her circumstances don't give her much room to wallow in her feelings. Her family's finances require her to work diligently, and her loving but loud family doesn't leave her much quiet time to think. Her boyfriend also doesn't give her much time to dwell on her feelings. He prefers to keep moving forward, both in terms of his long runs and his professional achievements. Because her family needs her to keep making money in order to keep them afloat, though, it seems that Lou can't worry too much about her own interests. She just takes the most tolerable thing that comes her way. In her quiet village, that doesn't leave a lot of options either. The chapter starts with Lou counting her steps between the bus stop and her house, which tells us that she knows every little thing about this town, or at least about the parts of it she has reason to visit. Her memories of the Buttered Bun make it clear that she has plenty of affection for the place, but it also restricts her and sometimes bores her. The same is true of her family. Though they are clearly supportive and loving, their material circumstances and interpersonal dynamics never allow Lou to put herself first. This is why Moyes' choice to use a first-person narrator is important. Though Lou never seems to think about herself on the outside, readers are given privileged access to her fears, opinions, and priorities.
This chapter also reveals Lou's perception of Will, and of disabled people more generally, before she even meets him. Readers have of course already encountered Will in the prologue, but may not even connect that energetic young man to the figure Lou conjures in her head. She imagines a helpless person, someone similar to her grandfather, whose mental state has deteriorated and who is uninterested in conversation. Her primary concern is that she might feel uncomfortable helping him with physical tasks. Lou is not unkind in her thoughts towards the man she has been hired to help, but she underestimates the complexity of his mental life and anticipates feeling uncomfortable when faced with his disability.