Melinda finds an opportune moment to escape the cafeteria at lunchtime when Mr. Neck is distracted by a couple making out by the door. She quickly steals away and wanders toward the Seniors’ Wing. Hearing the voice of Mr. Neck behind her, Melinda grabs the handle of the first door she sees and steps inside. She finds herself in a long-abandoned janitor’s closet and decides to make it her safe haven. She steals late passes from Hairwoman’s desk in order to escape to it during class.
Melinda plans to decorate her closet during the Homecoming pep rally. Unfortunately, Heather spots her before she flees the crowd. Melinda obligingly follows Heather to the rally and sits with Heather’s new friends from the school newspaper. One of them recognizes Melinda’s last name and asks her if she called the police at a party over the summer. Melinda, panicking, cannot find the words to explain her actions at the party. Heather does not defend her and the students seated near Melinda become increasingly hostile. To distract herself, Melinda watches the cheerleaders. She wonders how they can go to parties, get drunk, and have sex but still convince their parents and teachers that they are angels. At the end of the rally, Melinda is knocked down the bleachers.
The week following the pep rally is marked by a dark turn in Melinda’s art class tree portraits. Melinda paints a series of watercolors featuring a nearly dead tree that has been struck by lightning. Because there is no school on Columbus Day, Melinda goes to Heather’s house. She is impressed with Heather’s room—the décor is perfectly reflective of Heather’s personality. She is jealous, because she believes that her own room is not representative of her. Heather whines about how difficult it is to get involved in activities at Merryweather. She bemoans the fact that this would not be an issue if she were back in Ohio. Melinda nods and listens. In the heat of her frustration, Heather spills green nail polish on her new, sand-colored carpet. Melinda tries to clean it up, but only makes it worse. Heather proceeds to yell at Melinda for being negative and not caring that people talk about her behind her back. Melinda leaves without saying goodbye.
Melinda’s parents receive notice of her poor grades and confront her at the dinner table. Melinda listens to them wordlessly and leaves the table without responding. Her parents are left to scream at each other.
After the dinner conversation, Melinda tries to pay attention in class. Melinda finds this easy in biology, where she discovers that studying cells with microscopes is entertaining. She is also fascinated by her lab partner, David Petrakis. David is brilliant, but still is never targeted by bullies. Melinda wonders what his secret is. Her attempt to focus in algebra is less successful. The teacher, Mr. Stetman, is a nice man, but has difficulty exciting his students about algebra. He calls Melinda to the board to solve a problem. When she fails to do so, he asks Rachel/Rachelle to help her. Melinda hopes that if she bites enough of her lip, she can swallow herself whole.
Melinda’s parents tell her that she is too old to go trick-or-treating and she feigns disappointment and anger. In actuality, she is relieved that she is not expected to go out, for she hasn’t been invited to anything. She remembers last year when she went trick-or-treating with her group of friends. Determined to not spend the night moping in her room, Melinda checks out Dracula from the library and buys a bag of candy corn.
The School Board decides to change Merryweather’s mascot again, this time from Devils to Tigers. Members of the Ecology Club are already planning a rally to protest the use of an endangered animal. In Spanish class, the students learn that linda means pretty. Melinda endures the nickname “Me-no-linda” for the remainder of the class.
Heather finds a new clique, The Marthas. The Marthas are known for matching, preppy outfits and excessive volunteer work. Heather is a freshman member on probation and is given the task of decorating the faculty lounge for a Thanksgiving party/faculty meeting. She recruits Melinda for help. When the senior leaders of The Marthas, Meg n’ Emily n’ Siobhan, arrive at the faculty lounge, they stare at Melinda. As she is leaving the room, she overhears them calling her strange and commenting on her scabbed lips. Melinda hides in the bathroom crying.
Near the end of the first marking period, Melinda sees IT in the hallway. IT smiles and winks at her and Melinda hopes it is a nightmare. It is not. She nearly throws up.
Melinda's parents do not offer her much support or guidance. She communicates with her parents through sticky notes, and thus is not even expected to speak at home. Both of her parents work long hours and she is often alone in the house, and when they are home, they don’t get along particularly well. Melinda's home life is reflective of her school life: both are lonely and quiet, and somewhat hostile. Melinda is also not entirely comfortable at either location. Her bedroom, for example, is not representative of who she is as a person. When she turns her mirror around, we understand that Melinda does not like who she sees in the mirror and believes that this person does not fit into the bedroom and life that are hers.
Melinda thus uses the abandoned janitor's closet to create a safe space for herself. The closet indicates Melinda's desire to hide away from the world and deflect attention from herself. The closet image is also one frequently used with homosexuals. Melinda's closet functions in a similar manner. It is where she goes to hide her secret from the world, and thus one of the few spaces she feels comfortable and safe.
We learn why Melinda is an outcast at the Homecoming pep rally. Melinda does not explain, however, why she called the police at the party. There is a secret Melinda is keeping to herself. When those around her turn hostile, Melinda distracts herself by examining the cheerleaders. She describes the cheerleaders solely in terms of appearance, solidifying their role as female sexual objects. The tone of her observation that the most sexually promiscuous girls are also the most celebrated shows her discomfort with her own burgeoning sexuality, and the role it plays in the female identity. In addition, she feels betrayed that everyone assumes the worst about her phone call, and no one cares to look deeper into her motivations, even though everyone happily assumes the best about these cheerleaders who are hiding identities that Melinda believes deserve judgment.
Melinda's near-death tree paintings foreshadow the pruning of the oak tree at the end of the novel. Melinda's trees at this point in the book are so close to death that they cannot be saved, which is representative of how Melinda feels about herself. She cannot imagine either being saved or saving herself at this point, so she is hopeless about her future.
Melinda's parents also give the reader a snapshot of how Melinda has changed since August. Their surprise and anger at her low grades indicate that she was once a much better student. Her new-found apathy becomes only more apparent when she does not respond to her parents, leaves the table, and does not seriously alter her behavior. Their complaints no longer get to her. In addition, though she never explicitly says it, her walking away shows her anger at them for not seeing through her behavior to the deeper problems causing it. Halloween also highlights the change in Melinda's personality and in her circumstances. Last year, she went trick-or-treating with her friends. This year, she is happy to be told she is not allowed out.
Melinda's Spanish class serves as just another example of her loneliness at school. This time, instead of being ignored, she is outwardly bullied. Melinda's isolation becomes worse as Heather joins the Marthas. In doing so, Heather, Melinda's last social tie, has found a different group to belong to. When Melinda hears Meg n' Emily n' Siobhan insulting her, Melinda understands that this is not a group that she too can belong to, even if she wanted to. She cries in the bathroom partially because she is hurt by their comments, and partially because she knows that even Heather can join a clique, but she cannot.
At the end of the First Marking Period, Melinda sees IT for the first time. This serves as a key clue to Melinda's secret. There is someone that she has been avoiding, someone that makes her sick to her stomach. She cannot say this person's name, just calling him IT, because she is not ready to, which is part of her overall avoidance of what happened at the end of the summer.