Charlie St. Cloud retreated from life five years ago, immediately following high school graduation, when he survived a vehicular accident that claimed the life of his younger brother, Sam. Before the accident, life held much promise for Charlie, with a sailing scholarship from Stanford (which he never used). His retreat from life comes not only from guilt and grief over Sam's death but from a promise, borne out of that grief while at Sam's funeral, to meet with Sam (now a ghost) every day at sunset to play catch in a small clearing in the woods near the cemetery. Charlie eventually comes to live and work at the cemetery as its groundskeeper, becoming his entire life's focus. It isn't until Charlie reconnects with a high school acquaintance, Tess Carroll - an up-and-coming world class sailor - that Charlie begins to return to the real world, though still not at the expense of abandoning Sam. An incident with Tess and the death of his rescuer point Charlie where to go in his tug-of-war between the living and the dead.