What Happened to Goodbye begins as Mclean Sweet and her dad, Gus Sweet, move to a new town. Gus works as an interim chef for EAT INC., a corporation that buys failing restaurants, makes them profitable, and sells them to the highest bidder. This job requires him to move around a great deal, and this is the fourth time he and Mclean have moved in two years.
Mclean does not mind bouncing from town to town. It gives her a chance to start over, and it is her only choice if she wants to avoid living with her mom, Katherine. Mclean grew up in Tyler, the hometown of the excellent Defriese University basketball team. Throughout her childhood, she and her dad followed Defriese basketball fanatically—until her mom had an affair with Peter Hamilton, the Defriese coach. In the messy divorce that followed, Mclean decided her loyalties lay with her dad.
With each new town she enters, Mclean has developed a ritual of re-naming herself based on a variation of her middle name, Elizabeth. As she does this, she takes on a new, fake persona to fit the name. First she was Eliza, a perky cheerleader. Then she became Lizbet, an emotional drama type. In the last town, she was Beth, “student council secretary and all-around joiner.” When Mclean and her dad leave a town, she sheds her personalities as easily as dirty clothes. She never even bothers to tell people she is leaving. Now, as she settles into her new house, she checks Beth Sweet’s messages online for the last time. A message from her boyfriend gives her a twinge: “What happened to goodbye?”
In her new town, Mclean thinks she is going to call herself Liz. She introduces herself that way to Opal, the manager of her dad’s new restaurant, Luna Blu. Later, Mclean decides that Liz might be an outgoing type and joins a party next door. She listens awkwardly to a few conversations and takes a few sips of beer. Then the cops arrive.
The police tell everyone to stand still, but Liz Sweet, it seems, is not the type to follow orders. Mclean bolts, running through backyards until a dark figure grabs her and helps her hide in a unused storm cellar. When the police are gone, Mclean’s rescuer turns on a light. She sees that he is her neighbor, a boy her age whom she has only glimpsed briefly until now. Dave seems like a very real person, and for some reason Mclean cannot tell him her new, fake name. She introduces herself as Mclean.
The next day at school, some people already seem to know Mclean’s name. She has an awkward encounter with Deb, an overly friendly girl who introduces herself as a student ambassador. A bit put off by Deb’s preppy cheerfulness, Mclean pulls away and sits with two of Dave’s friends, Riley and Heather. They say that Deb is “a spazzer freak” who should be avoided. Mclean is not sure whether she believes this, but she takes note when she sees Deb eating lunch alone.
Since the divorce, Mclean’s mom has married Peter Hamilton and given birth to twins. Unable to accept her daughter's decision to live with Gus, Katherine is always pushing Mclean to spend more time visiting and talking on the phone. One day she calls to invite Mclean to the new Hamilton beach house. Mclean does not want to go, so she promises to call back later and hangs up.
After this call, Mclean reflects that she and her mom used to love going to the beach together. They always stayed in a cheap hotel, bought silly bracelets, and generally just enjoyed being themselves. But Mclean is not the only person who has stopped being herself since the divorce. Katie Sweet was a down-to-earth, no-nonsense restaurant accountant. Katherine Hamilton is a wealthy housewife with a posh beach house and perfect clothes. Mclean feels that a luxurious vacation with this strange mother would be a betrayal of her happiest childhood memories—but she knows that she cannot explain this feeling to her mom.
A few minutes later, these thoughts get pushed entirely out of Mclean’s mind. She gets a call from Opal, who says that Gus Sweet is in the emergency room because he cut himself badly at work. Mclean asks Deb, the “spazzy” student ambassador, to give her a ride to the hospital, and Deb jumps at the chance to help. On the way, she confesses that nobody has ever asked her for a favor like this. Gus turns out to be fine, and Mclean comes out of the experience feeling that Deb is a lonely but interesting person.
The next day, on a whim, Mclean invites Deb to sit down with her and Dave’s friends at lunch. Riley and Heather are clearly skeptical, but Dave is kind. Deb soon opens up, surprising everyone with her in-depth knowledge of tattoo art and her insightful thoughts on Riley’s latest relationship disaster. Mclean leaves the conversation certain that Deb is worth befriending, and even Riley and Heather seem somewhat impressed.
At Luna Blu, Gus Sweet’s restaurant, Opal is having problems. She has promised a town councilwoman, a rival of hers since high school, that she will spearhead a volunteer project to build a model of the town in time for a community celebration. This project turns out to be far more complicated than she expected. She is supposed to have the help of many “volunteers”—juvenile delinquents who have been assigned to do community service—but most of them skip out. The only real helper she has is Dave, who has to do community service because he got caught drinking a beer at a party several months ago. One afternoon when Opal is expecting a visit from the councilwoman and a reporter, Mclean and several restaurant employees pitch in to make it appear that the project is progressing.
That afternoon, the Defriese basketball team has a game against the local university. Against her better urges, Mclean has promised to meet Peter Hamilton and her mom there. She is too nervous to break this news to her dad until the last minute, and she is...
(The entire section is 2417 words.)