In 2002, six-year-old Mason Evans Jr. and his older sister Samantha live with their divorced mother, Olivia, in a small town in Texas. Mason overhears Olivia arguing with her boyfriend, saying she has no free time due to parenting. In 2003, Olivia moves the family to Houston so she can attend the University of Houston and get a better job. In 2004, Mason’s father, Mason Sr., visits Houston and takes Mason and Samantha bowling. When he drops the children off at home, he argues with Olivia while Mason and Samantha watch from a window. Olivia takes Mason to one of her classes, introducing him to her professor, Bill Welbrock; Mason sees them flirt.
In 2005, Olivia and Bill have married and blended their two families. They share experiences such as playing video games and attending a midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Mason and Samantha are enrolled in the same school as their step-siblings, where Mason befriends Nicole, who has a crush on him. In 2006, Mason and Samantha bond with Mason Sr. as he takes them out for a day in Houston, culminating in a Houston Astros game and a sleepover at his house. Olivia continues her education and is initially supportive of Bill’s strict parenting style, which includes many chores for the children and an enforced cutting of Mason’s long hair. In 2007, Bill gradually becomes abusive and violent as alcoholism takes over his life. After Bill assaults Olivia and endangers the children, Olivia moves her children (but not her stepchildren, as she is not their legal guardian and she is unable to locate their biological mother) to a friend’s house and files for divorce.