Jasper finally reappears one week after Laura was killed. In the time since, Charlie has finished two books and the search teams have dissipated. The search planes are gone, and the dive teams have dived and “surfaced with empty hands” (129). Charlie attends a town meeting with his father and is struck by how isolated he feels. It hits him again, what he and Jasper have done, “the heft of it” (130). Still, the town doesn't know anything, so it seems like Jasper and Charlie are safe for the time being. Some part of Charlie is relieved and grateful that Laura hasn’t been discovered, but another is sad: “If these folks couldn’t get anywhere with their search teams and sniffer dogs and planes and dive crews and interviews, if they couldn’t unearth any clues, then what hope had we?” (130).
People mill about after the meeting eating food and gossiping until there is a commotion: “From inside the lobby of the hall, I heard a single scream, a crockery crash, the gasp of a crowd, then a sustained barrage of sobbing and screeching” (131). A woman had approached Ms. Lu serving herself tea from one of the urns. Distraught and emotional, she hit the cup out of Mrs. Lu’s hand, causing the scalding drink to fall all over the other woman’s chest. As she reaches for Mrs. Lu’s hair, she is stopped by the Reverend and led away. Nobody reaches out to help Mrs. Lu except for Jeffery who walks up to his mother and leads her home. The Lus left, and nobody at the town hall mentioned the occurrence again, but continued to gossip about Laura’s disappearance.
When Jasper’s name is brought up, Charlie grows even angrier than he was. He retires to the family car and waits for his parents in the backseat. He is “full of sadness and hate,” and wonders “how many of them had mentioned Jasper’s name over the past week” (133). Hearing Jasper’s name at the meeting quells some of his guilt, as it is reaffirmed to him that the town would pin this on him if they were able to find a reason to. Charlie’s father comes out of the meeting to drive them home. He explains the cause of the woman’s outburst, telling Charlie that the woman had recently lost her husband to the war in Vietnam and that she found out that day that her son was drafted as well. When Charlie insists that that doesn’t make the woman’s action’s right, Charlie’s father stays silent.
And finally, Jasper Jones comes to Charlie’s window. It is clear that he has been hit by someone, as his eye is swollen and his lip is cut. He beckons Charlie out of his room, and although it is late and his parents are still awake, Charlie takes the risk and follows the boy into his backyard. They creep through the neighborhood, and when a car turns onto the street, they duck behind a shrub in someone’s front yard. The car pulls into that driveway. He’s drunk and pees in his garden before going into the house. Charlie stays ducked down next to Jasper behind the bush through the whole experience even though he is convinced that a spider is crawling on him.
They walk to the same meadow Jasper took him to that first night. Jasper says the meadow feels different and he worries if people have been there. The boys sit down near the water and share some whiskey. It is hard for Charlie to look at the water. Jasper tells Charlie that it was a police sergeant who beat him up. They called Jasper in for an interview and had him locked up the whole weekend. They were trying to get him to confess to his involvement with Laura’s disappearance, but Jasper refused to say a single thing his entire time there, hence the beatings. To Jasper, this proved that they had very little idea as to where Laura could be. Charlie tells Jasper about the town meeting, to which Jasper replies they must be lying, as they “know that Laura dint pack any clothes, she dint take any money, she dint leave a note or nothing” (140). Charlie pushes back against this and tells Jasper that Laura’s parents were part of the broadcast, asking people to help search for their daughter. Jasper replies: “Laura’s old man is the worst out of the whole lot” (140). Laura’s dad had also been down at the station beating Jasper days before.
After some time, the conversation moves on to Laura. Charlie tells Jasper that he must miss her, and Jasper takes a long pull from the whiskey bottle before he answers. He tells Charlie that he knows that Laura wouldn’t have left without him, because they had a plan to leave together and make a life for themselves in the city. She would have gone to university, and Jasper would have taken a job wherever it came. He tells Charlie of fantasies of boxing, fishing for crawfish and playing poker to sustain them both. He tells Charlie that he was away picking stone fruit for two weeks before Laura’s death because he was trying to make some money for their move. As Charlie listens, it occurs to him that Jasper must be very lonely.
Charlie realizes that he is drunk. He asks Jasper whether he plans on carrying out the plan to move to the city, and Jasper responds that yes, he plans to leave as soon as this “mess is sorted” (144). When Charlie asks whether he isn’t too young for that, Jasper responds that he has been looking after himself for a long time: “it doesn’t matter how old you are. Everyone ages” (144). The conversation turns to Mad Jack Lionel, who is still Jasper’s chief suspect. He tells Charlie that he has been passing by the man’s house nightly in an effort to goad the man into inviting him in. Charlie is incredulous, but Jasper maintains that he wishes to speak to the man and that his sudden silence is a sign that he is involved somehow in Laura’s death. He reminds Charlie that Lionel has been calling Jasper’s name from his porch as the kid walked past for years and that he had seen Jasper and Laura walk past together on numerous occasions.
Jasper tells Charlie more about his theories about what happened the night Laura was killed. He left town without telling Laura, because he knew she wouldn’t want him to be away for so long, and because he needed some time to himself. The night he returned, he went straight to her window but found her room empty, so he went home, and then finally to the meadow, where he found her body. It’s clear Jasper is blaming himself for Laura’s death because if he had been with her, she never would have died. As Charlie attempts to comfort Jasper, he gets the sense that there is something Jasper isn’t telling him.
The boys continue to drink, Charlie asks Jasper about the fact that he’s half Aboriginal, and asks what that community believes in. Jasper tells him that he never knew his mom, who died when he was very young, so he never got the opportunity to learn. He opens up about his dad, who became a mean drunk through his grief. Jasper doesn’t pity him, as he thinks the man is “just wasting his life and his money” (155). Charlie shakes his head a little too hard and realizes that he has to puke. As he vomits, Jasper puts a comforting hand on Charlie’s back. They stay around for a while longer as Jasper tries to get Charlie to drink some water, but Charlie imagines that some part of Laura’s decaying body is in the water so he refuses. When Jasper stands to go, Charlie sees the word “sorry” etched into the tree where Jasper was sitting. It is the first time either boy sees the word, and it is proof that someone else has been there.
Their walk back is quiet, as both boys contemplate what the “sorry” meant. Charlie believes that the word is proof that Laura was murdered and that the murderer put the word there as part of a confession. It confirms to Charlie that the murderer is still in Corrigan and that they have been back to the site of the murder and have found her body gone.
As the boys approach the center of town, they see that the patrol is back in full force. It surprises the boys, as it had died down significantly in the past week. They sneak toward Charlie’s house to find a sight that scares them both: four police cars parked on Charlie’s lawn and a cluster of people standing out front. Jasper knows he must leave, but before he does, he warns Charlie not to say anything to the police. Charlie is terrified, and just as he is about to walk toward his house he is flooded in light. He has been found by a cop who turns on his alarm immediately. Everyone on his lawn looks, and his mother runs over, screaming and sobbing. They had been so afraid, and it is only now that Charlie can “understand the real gravity of being missing” (161). As the adults surround him, he thinks about Laura and Eliza. The fact that he could relieve Eliza of the pain of not knowing where her sister is hurts Charlie “like nothing else ever has” (161). The sadness of everything hits him and he weeps.
It is the thought of Jasper that causes Charlie to straighten his back. His mother demands to know where he has been again. Charlie is embarrassed, and then he is angry. His father breaks through the crowd and puts his arms around Charlie. He heads back to the house, where the police intend to ask him a few questions. Charlie looks at An Lu, who is walking away. He is convinced that the man is judging him poorly, and feels ashamed. As he enters his home, he resolves that he will leave Corrigan with Jasper.
In this chapter, we see the most evidence of how Charlie has changed since Laura’s death. The first relationship in his life that it has impacted is his relationship with Jeffery. Although he doesn’t know anything about Charlie’s involvement in Laura’s disappearance, Jeffery continues to allude to Charlie’s guilt. Perhaps just a harmless joke, but some part of Jeffery seems to suspect Charlie, if just a little, for his involvement, as when he tells Charlie outside of the town hall meeting: “Go in there and tell them you did it so we can all go home” (131). At the town hall meeting, Charlie also offers Jeffery more support than ever before.
The racist incident at the town hall meeting is an important moment in the novel. It places Jasper Jones into its setting, as the woman who harasses Mrs. Lu is upset about the war. Mrs. Lu became a proxy for her pain about Vietnam, as she has lost both her husband and son in the war. Jeffery was forced to play a role beyond his age as he was the only one who stood up for his mother and deescalated the situation. Charlie, silent but attentive, followed the pair out of the town hall and refused to return after they left. This incident solidifies Charlie’s disillusionment and sadness about his home town, and it is in his mind as he determines he will leave with Jasper when the whole mess is over. The fact that his father had nothing to say in response also feeds into Charlie’s growing disillusionment with his parents.
Racism also emerged at the town hall meeting when Jasper’s name surfaced with no justification as to why he might be a suspect. Although Charlie is expecting to hear Jasper’s name, he is still surprised, as no clues have surfaced implicating the boy in Laura’s death. Later in the chapter, Charlie learns that Jasper faced brutality by the police who brought him in without grounds and detained him for the whole weekend. The fact that these adults were able to detain and brutalize a child simply because he is a "suspicious character" in the community demonstrates how backward the community is. The fact that Mr. Wishart participated in the proceedings even though he is not a cop indicates the power he has in the community, which brings more weight to the conversation Charlie and Jasper have about Laura’s bad home life.
Everything that has occurred up to this point in the novel has made Charlie desperate for a change. He has been sitting with this secret for too long, and it fuels his bad decisions and rebellion. This is why he decides to leave with Jasper, even though his parents are still awake: “I’d sooner take the risk than keep another vigil, worrying and wondering” (135). Jasper is a breath of fresh air for Charlie, as there are no lies between the two of them. Jasper makes him feel like he has agency, and his presence makes Charlie feel “eager and important” (135). Charlie’s relationship with Jasper has also caused significant changes in the boy’s character, as demonstrated by how Charlie stays ducked down in the shrubs while hiding with Jasper, even though he has a spider on his neck and is therefore terrified. He is also more brazen about drinking and begins to understand why people choose to drink.
Finally, we gain more insight into Jasper’s character as Charlie and Jasper talk at the meadow. As Jasper reveals that he is good at poker, Charlie considers whether Jasper uses his poker face in other aspects of his life: “Maybe that’s how he does it. Maybe that’s how Jasper Jones navigates this world and comes out on top, in spite of the shitty hands he gets dealt over and over” (143). Charlie likens Jasper’s “poker glaze,” to a “superhero mask” (143). He realizes that Jasper must be much more hurt about Laura’s death than he lets on, thinking about how the boy cried with his back turned to Charlie and “nodded so vacantly when I asked him if he missed her just now” (143). Charlie considers how sad Jasper must be to have lost not only his girlfriend but also his best and only friend. Laura was the person he had pinned all his hopes on, and to find her dead in the woods is the worst tragedy imaginable. Charlie realizes that he might be the only one Jasper has to talk to.