It’s Spring 2000, and we see Mike and Dee discussing wedding plans and their future after getting married. Mike very much wants to have the experience of living in downtown Toronto, having the big city life, maybe even starting at the very bottom with a newspaper or magazine. Dee, on the other hand, desperately wants to remain in the suburbs, possibly even returning to Milborough. When Mike asks if they could at least have a few years of city living, Dee explains that she doesn’t see that as being a healthy environment for children. Mike, confused, said he thought they had planned to wait to have children. Dee shrugs and makes a roundabout comment about how children sometimes just “happen.”
Next scene is Mike walking up towards his parents’ house. John is outside, and seems surprised to see Mike. Mike asks if he can ask him for some advice. John agrees, and the two of them sit in chairs outside. Mike tells John about how he’s wondering if he’s doing the right thing by marrying Dee. Their goals in life are very different, Dee wants things he doesn’t want, and Mike is worried that if one of them gives in to the other, then they will always resent the other.
John tells Mike he can’t tell him what to do, but he can tell him about his own experience.
We launch into a “flashback” of John Patterson in his senior year of high school. His voice over tells us that while he had known who Nancy was for as long as he could remember, the two of them had never really run in the same circles of friends. On one particular day, he overhears her telling a friend where she intends to go to university – and it’s the same university he will be attending. The two of them start to talk, one thing leads to another, and next shot is their prom photo. Nancy is fun loving, spirited, and has a true zest for life, qualities that caused John to quickly fall in love.
She and John remained together all throughout their first year of university, and as their second year began, they started to discuss their future together. John had always known that Nancy had a strong attachment to their hometown, but he had no idea of how strong it was until they actually sat down and talked. Nancy fully intended to move back, have John be a small-town dentist, and they’d live happily ever after with their family. John, who wanted to live in the Toronto area, wasn’t quite as sure, and asked her how many children she intended for them to have. She cheerily, and with complete sincerity, said “At least 6!” The look on John’s face can only be described as “gobsmacked.”
John realized that they wanted such different things in life that compromise wasn’t possible. Despite the fact they still deeply cared for each other, they made the painful and difficult decision to go their separate ways.
Mike asks whatever happened to her, and John says with a laugh that he ran into her several years back when visiting his parents. She had married a guy she met in university who wanted nothing more than to live in a small town and teach school there. They had seven children, and she was extremely happy.
John again tells Mike that he can’t tell him what to do, but tells Mike that he needs to do what’s best for him and Dee, and decide what is important for them both.
Cut to a silent strip of Mike and Dee hugging, both with tears in their eyes. Dee walks out of the room, leaving Mike with the ring.
The strips that follow show Elly reacting in disbelief – Mike and Dee were so perfect, and fate brought them together, how could they break up like they did? John doesn’t seem surprised in the least. Liz is a bit confused, being young and a bit naïve, and April just knows that everyone is sad.
Mike starts to pick up the pieces of his life, and figure out what to do next. Slowly he begins to realize that he has no obligation to remain where he is, and that this is his opportunity to go wherever he wants to go. On impulse, he applies to NYU’s Graduate Journalism program, and much to his surprise, he is accepted.
Fall of 2001 shows Mike moving to New York, much to Elly’s sorrow. She can’t understand why he would go so far away from home, but holds out hope that maybe something will bring him back. She begs John to try and convince him otherwise, but John tells her that Mike is an adult, and that this is an excellent opportunity for him to try something new in his life. Elly can't believe that John is openly disagreeing with her. John, however, had suspected that a large part of the reason Mike stuck with Dee for as long as he did because he felt pressure from Elly to marry and have children. He slowly starts to realize that Elly has goals in mind for their children that they might not want.
Strips follow showing Mike meeting new people, dealing with culture shock, seeing the not-so-nice side when he shows up to a Blue Jays-Yankees game in Blue Jays apparel, and slowly beginning to settle into his new life. It’s not always easy, and there are moments where he questions what he’s doing with his life – especially when he gets a poor grade on his first major project – but for the most part, he likes where he is and what he’s doing.
In spring 2002, Mike is taking advantage of the first truly warm day to be outside and study. While sitting on a bench, he notices a woman around his age sitting on the next bench over. He tries to be subtle about checking her out, when she calls, “Hey, why don’t you just come over and introduce yourself to me instead of trying to be sneaky?”
Her name is Melinda Tran. She and Mike sit and talk for hours, and as time goes on, a relationship blossoms between the two of them. She is a student in NYU’s law program. An only child of Vietnamese immigrant parents, she grew up in Seattle. Based on what she tells Mike of her upbringing, it was remarkably normal – her mother was a stay-at-home mom who did a lot of volunteer work, and her dad was an accountant. Rather than her parents being portrayed as stereotypical, they are just as American as anyone else, although Mindy does rave about her mother’s pho. Mindy, much like Mike, had a long term relationship that also ended because they didn’t share the same life goals.
Mike spends Christmas with Mindy and her family, and her parents are portrayed as being sincerely nice people who seem to genuinely like Mike – as opposed to the outright hostility he got from Mira. They are very supportive of Mindy living her own life, although Mindy and her mother do get into an argument in Vietnamese about her hairstyle. Rather than this being a major crisis, it’s more of a typical mother-daughter relationship. Her father is completely unconcerned, and reassures Mike that it’s a never-ending battle. The two laugh, and Mindy and her mother go on like nothing ever happened- if anything, it’s an argument they somewhat enjoy.
Summer 2003 shows Mindy traveling with Mike to visit his family. Mindy hits it off almost immediately with everyone. She is sincerely interested in Liz’s studies and her eventual plans to move to a First Nations village to teach. She doesn’t talk down to April, rather, she carries on lengthy conversations with her, and takes her seriously. She impresses John by knowing something about car engines, and even Elly finds it difficult to have actual fault in her. However, Elly and Mike get into a rather large argument concerning his future plans. Mike will be finished with his degree in a year, and plans to remain in New York City. Mindy will be finished in December, and she wishes to do the same. Elly tries to convince Mike to move back to the area, and even offers to “help” him pay for a home. Mike, having come to some understandings about his mother after living away from her for some time, realizes this is her way of trying to control him, and refuses. Mike can’t help but to compare the argument he and Elly had to the argument Mindy and her mother had … the former being a true control struggle, while the latter being more of a generation gap misunderstanding about fashion and style.
At one point, Mindy and Mike go for a walk with Lawrence, and the three have a long talk about their lives, where they’re going, and where they’ve been. Lawrence understands very well why Mike left, but he is content with staying put. Mike reflects on the fact that he hadn’t kept up with anyone from his past besides Lawrence – he had less and less in common with Gord as time went on, Weed became more caught up with the fashionable life, and everyone else just drifted apart. Mike realizes that he has more in common with his friends in NY than he ever had with the people he knew growing up, and he also realizes he is fine with that.
They return to NY and their lives there, and as they begin the wind-down of their graduate careers, they begin to discuss a future together. Their goals are in complete alignment – both wish to remain in NY, both want to wait before starting a family, and Mindy, who was content to be an only child, wishes to have one child – and Mike is fine with that. While he loves his sisters, distance and time has caused him to realize that his mother very much pitted him and Liz against each other, and he doesn’t want to repeat this mistake.
In January 2004, Mindy and Mike go walking in the snow, and he proposes by the benches where they met for the first time. She accepts.
Mike graduates in May 2004, and he and Mindy move into an apartment together. He starts a very bottom-of-the-ladder job with the New York Times, while Mindy has been working since March with a law firm in Manhattan. While they aren’t wealthy and have very little money for extras, they are happy and don’t think of themselves as being “poor.”
In June 2005, the two of them are married in a very small ceremony in Central Park. Lawrence is Mike’s best man, while Mindy’s cousin is her maid of honor. The only guests are their parents, Mike’s grandparents, siblings, Mindy’s aunt and uncle, and a handful of close friends.
Michael continues to work his way up at the NYT, and while his stories are mostly confined to local news, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Mindy mostly focuses on insurance cases, and while it’s not always the most exciting work, she loves what she does.
In late 2007, their first and only child is born, Sandra Tran Patterson. Mike is a loving, doting father, and has no regrets about only having one child. Elly complains to Connie about the situation – they need to have two children! One of each! - but knows better than to say anything to Mike. When she attempts to complain to John about it, he firmly points out that it's none of their business.
Mike’s decisions have had a trickle-down effect throughout the whole family. Liz, having seen how well Mike did by leaving and having a life elsewhere, no longer feels the pressure to go back to Anthony and live the perfect domestic life. After the assault by Howard Bunt and Anthony’s response to it, Liz is disgusted with him and who he is. She cuts off communication with Anthony, and when her mother implies that Paul clearly doesn’t care about her because he wasn’t at the trial, she firmly tells them to mind their own business. When her mother continues to push her towards Anthony, she tells her mother she has no intention of casting herself as the “other woman”, and that Anthony is a long way in her past.
With a backbone and without having family pressure to return to Milborough (Mike and Dee obviously not being there), Liz stays in Mtigwaki. Liz also doesn’t have the implied pressure to be like her brother – to marry quickly, live near Mom and Dad, and have a life exactly like their’s. The grand finale 2008 strip does indeed depict a wedding, but it is Elizabeth marrying Paul.
April’s high school years are a bit happier. Without being expected to be an on-call baby-sitter for her niece and nephew, she has more time to herself, and more time to be creative. She writes and performs her own music, and briefly considers majoring in music. However, after talking with her Uncle Phil and hearing the difficult realities of being a professional musician, she decides to keep it as her creative outlet, rather than a career. She eventually patches things up with Becky, and while the two are never as close as before, they do keep in touch after high school. Grandpa Jim leaves April enough money to finance her college education on her own, without the assistance of her parents, and allowing her to live debt-free.
Mike, Mindy and Sandra travel to Milborough to meet up with the Pattersons before traveling to Mtigwaki for Liz’s wedding. While pushing Sandra in her stroller the day before they leave, Mike runs into another person out for a walk with her children – Dee. She married in 2004, and in the four years had given birth to three children. She is happy – she is a stay-at-home mom, and her husband is more than happy to live the perfect suburban life. Mike walks away from the conversation realizing that he made the right decision seven years prior.
The “Where Are They Now?” strip shows that Mike and Mindy continue to live a happy life in NYC. Mike is a doting father, enjoying nothing more than spending time with his wife and daughter. He tries his hand at fiction, but realizes he has very little talent for it. While a little disappointed, he realizes that he loves journalism and wouldn’t want to leave it, anyway. While Mike and Mindy aren’t wealthy, they have enough money to live comfortably, and they visit Mindy’s parents on a regular basis. Mindy raises Sandra to be bilingual, although while her heritage is a part of who she is, it is never her only defining feature. They see very little of John and Elly. Mike always had the feeling that Elly viewed Mindy and Sandra as “outsiders”, and wasn’t particularly comfortable having them in the family. John did come and visit on several occasions, much to Elly’s chagrin.
Liz and Paul have two sons and remain in Mtig, content with their lives there. Liz continues to teach, although she nearly burns out after Jesse ended up with a lengthy criminal record for drugs and theft. She blames herself for enabling his behavior, but with the help of Paul, she realizes that while she may not have helped him as much as she could have done, she wasn’t the one who shoved the meth into his hand. She becomes a more conscientious teacher, realizing the downfalls of playing favorites, and her students are all the better for it. She and Paul also do not see John and Elly much, in part because they can’t afford to travel on a regular basis, but also because every time Liz sees Elly, she talks about Anthony.
April does move to Calgary to be a vet, but also plays music on the side, hitting up open mic nights on a regular basis. At a bar where she plays on a weekly basis, she gets to know the bartender, Zeek, quite well. A kind, caring, and compassionate guy, the two fall in love and marry. Elly is horrified based on his job and his appearance (more than a few tattoos), and refuses to even speak to him when April and Zeek come to visit. April often wonders if Elly would have the same attitude if she knew just how much money Zeek made, but at the same time, she also knows that nothing she ever did was good enough. Much to her surprise, John does come to their wedding and gives her away. April and Zeek elect not to have children of their own, preferring to have a house full of well-kept animals. However, Zeek being one of seven children, all in the area, they have lots of nieces and nephews that they enjoy spoiling - and then sending home to their parents.
Elly manages to completely alienate Connie after the birth of Liz and Paul’s first child. She makes a remark lamenting the fact that he looks an awful lot like Paul, and wishes she had a grandchild that looked more like she did. Connie takes offense to this slam against biracial children, tells Elly where to stick it, and storms off. Elly, having zero sense of self-awareness, doesn’t understand what she said, and decides Connie is just being unreasonable. Elly is somewhat able to rebuild a friendship with Annie, but Annie has less patience for standing around and gossiping for hours on end. Elly attempts to patch things up with Connie with Lawrence marries Nick, but then completely damages that potential by making a joke in very poor taste about this being the closest Connie will get to being the mother of the bride. Elly doesn't understand why Connie found it so offensive, it was clearly just a joke.
John still turns the backyard into a garden railway. However, it is on a much smaller scale than depicted in the original strip. He also joins a local club devoted to those interested in model trains, and makes friends with some of his fellow members. He spends much of his time out of the house and away from Elly. He misses his children and his grandchildren, and is painfully aware of his shortcomings as a father. He attempts to make up for it as he can, by sending gifts and trying to visit when he can. He and Elly end up being more like roommates than husband and wife, to the point of having separate rooms.
In the end, Mike, Elizabeth and April end up having happy lives. John’s life is a bit more tolerable, and Elly is just Elly.