As the chapter opens, Charlie is finishing up his punishment for leaving that night with Jasper, which meant being grounded for weeks. It is the day after boxing day, December 27th. The night the police were at his house, Charlie lied convincingly about being at Eliza’s in order to comfort her. During this interaction, Charlie “discovered a gift for lies” (164). The police bought his story easily, but that didn’t stop his parents from punishing him. His mother yelled at him for some time, but it was Charlie’s father who incurred the majority of her wrath. Charlie’s mother accused his father of being “a poor parent, a useless husband,” and “of not caring for either [his son or his wife], not for anyone other than himself” (167). She thought he “was so distant and self-involved that his own son could walk out in the middle of the night and he didn’t even know” (167). Charlie felt sad and defensive of his father, like his mother was taking the opportunity to attack him. Charlie’s father just took it all in, never responding, looking at her with the same expression he looked at Charlie with when he arrived home that night: “in a faintly curious and disappointed way” (167). Although Charlie wishes his father would stand up for himself, he doesn’t, and Charlie is again left to wonder if his father “would ever stand up for what he believed to be right” (167).
Before the yelling ends, Charlie’s mother begins to pin blame on Corrigan for making Charlie insolent and disobedient. Both Charlie and his father know what she is doing, so Charlie’s father takes this opportunity to end the yelling for the night. He tells his wife, “there are things in this world that you don’t think I know, but I do,” and tells Charlie that he is extremely angry at his son and sends him to his room.
In the time that Charlie was grounded, news about Laura became more and more scarce, but he continued paying attention to any other news about other murders. He kept looking for insight on why people committed these crimes, “why any of it had to happen, why these people did what they did,” but he never received a satisfying response (168). During his time in punishment, Charlie found solace and company in reading and writing. And all this time, he continues to fantasize about leaving Corrigan and moving to the city with Eliza.
On the first day Charlie is allowed to leave the house, he goes to support Jeffery, who has finally been admitted to the cricket team. Initially he was admitted onto the team so as to participate as a water boy, but since one of the starters got sick, he has been allowed to play. Jeffery tells Charlie that there was a lot of upset about him being allowed to play, but umpires from out of town said that they had to let him play. As Charlie watches the game, he notices more spectators than usual. He asks Jeffery about it, and Jeffery tells Charlie that before the match, a town counselor addressed all the players about how great and strong Corrigan is. Someone hit the ball toward Jeffery, who caught it for a moment and then dropped it. Although he is the best player in the game, the captain was furious and yelled racial slurs at him.
Charlie notices Eliza is sitting on a hill behind him, also watching the game. He moves to sit beside her. He notices that she has lost weight, and she is speaking more properly than ever. Although he wishes to speak to her, he doesn’t know what to say, so the pair sits in silence. Eventually, Charlie notices that she is reading Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. The book inspires Eliza once more to gush about her dream of moving to New York City. They watch the game and shyly flirt with each other. Charlie asks how Eliza’s family is coping with Laura’s disappearance, to which Eliza responds that things are the same but less urgent. Eliza’s mom is still crying incessantly, but her father has decided to pretend like Laura never existed at all. Soon, Eliza is crying and Charlie offers her a handkerchief. Eliza reveals she believes her sister is dead. She asks to be distracted and made to laugh, so the pair play "would you rather?" for some time. To Charlie’s delight, she is amused by the game and engages fully.
In the cricket game, the tide is shifting just as Jeffery’s turn to bat comes. Most of the spectators have already admitted defeat, and the coach doesn’t even watch as he begins to pack up the team’s gear. Jeffery plays it “smart and sure,” executing strikes on the ball “expertly” (186). Charlie is proud of his friend, and he once again reaffirms that he believes that Jeffery is one of the bravest people in Corrigan: “In this frightened town, Jeffery Lu, its shortest, slightest occupant, is fearless” (186). The game is tense; Eliza takes Charlie’s hand in his. The crowd is finally convinced to be on Jeffery’s side, and it cheers as he runs to a base. It comes down to the last ball, and when Jeffery hits it to secure the game for Corrigan, the crowd erupts. Eliza and Charlie jump up and hug and yell. Jeffery turns to the crowd and raises both arms above his head, triumphant.
Jeffery’s bag is carried into the dressing room by someone else for him. After he leaves, Charlie and Eliza sit back down. Eliza confesses that she has gone to the bookstore for two weeks straight in the hopes of running into Charlie again. She tells Charlie she had known that he was grounded because the sergeant had told Eliza’s mother all about the incident the night after it happened. Eliza tells Charlie that she thinks he is sweet and wished that he had made it to her house that night. They kiss, and then they kiss again.
They are interrupted by Jeffery, who teases them saying that they should save all their love for him, as he has earned it. He tells Charlie that his father has arrived and asks for a ride home. The boys say goodbye to Eliza. As he walks away, Charlie considers that he feels like Superman. For the first time, he doesn’t feel weak: “Because right now I know I would save the girl. I know that I would rather risk the planet than let harm befall Eliza Wishart” (197).
As the chapter closes, Charlie thinks about Jasper. Jasper had come to visit Charlie twice while he was grounded. The first time, he was full of apologies, telling Charlie he blamed himself for Charlie’s punishment. Charlie wanted to tell him that he took responsibility for his own actions, and he also wanted to tell Jasper that he had resolved to leave town with him. The second time, Jasper came to Charlie’s home to tell him that he had proof it was Mad Jack Lionel who killed Laura. He had snuck onto the man’s property and found the same etched “sorry” on the door of a decaying car in his lawn. Jasper tells Charlie that he was caught by Mad Jack Lionel, but the man did nothing but stare at Jasper from his steps. Jasper tells Charlie they must get him to confess.
When Charlie gets home, he attempts to calm himself by doing some writing. He eventually falls asleep at his desk, but he is soon awakened by loud noises outside. He looks out his window to see four men destroying An Lu’s garden. An Lu comes out of his house with his palms up. He slowly walks towards the men, and he doesn’t fall when they hit him in the face. Charlie sees Jeffery and Mrs. Lu on their front porch and calls for his dad, who takes one look at the scene and runs out of the front door. Charlie follows. His father puts himself between An and the attackers. Another neighbor joins in and wraps his arms around one of the assailants. Soon, the situation is neutralized as more neighbors involve themselves. One of the assailants run away. As the others are sent on their way, they warn the Lu family’s neighbors that they are communists come to steal everyone’s jobs. Charlie is distraught to see this happen to the Lus, but he is proud of his dad for standing up for them.
When Charlie returns home after sneaking out, the policeman who takes Charlie’s statement is the sergeant who had been involved in beating Jasper up. His presence in Charlie’s house reminds Charlie of how many people he is up against and feeds into his growing disillusionment with regard to the adults in his town. Charlie thinks that if he hadn’t seen the wounds on Jasper’s face, he “wouldn’t have thought for a second that this burly paternal copper was capable of locking up an innocent boy without charge and beating him” (166). But Jasper showed Charlie the wounds, including marks from where they put out cigarettes across his back. Charlie is beginning to learn the truth about the adults in his town, and he is disgusted by it. Although the sergeant treats him well and compliments him to his parents, Charlie can’t forget the injustice the sergeant participated in.
Charlie’s relationship with his father has changed ever since he snuck out. Charlie notes that since he has been grounded, his father has been “a little harder... a little distant, a little less forgiving” (170). Charlie considers that his father is still upset with him, but also wonders if his father is not responding to the space Charlie himself has taken: “I might have shifted away and he’s letting me go without pulling me back” (170). This makes Charlie wonder if this is what it is “to be treated as an adult” (170). No matter what the impetus for the change is, Charlie both notes and regrets it, as when he is dropped off at Jeffery’s game and “wishes he’d wink and thumb my cowlick, but he doesn’t” (170). By the end of the chapter, Charlie feels as though something has shifted back into place between them. Charlie realizes that his father probably knew he was lying the night he disappeared with Jasper, “He must have smelled the liquor, he must have known I was drunk. And he’s seen me lie before” (199). Seeing Charlie with Eliza at the game confirmed some part of Charlie’s story, enough for his father to trust him again.
Charlie’s relationship with his mother has also changed, although it does not seem to get better in the manner his relationship with his father does. His mother is more protective and watchful than ever, but in an aggressive way: “She’d been doing this for the past two weeks: coming in tense and terse and suspicious, as though I might be digging an escape tunnel or harboring communist spies” (204). She is “more aggressive with me than ever” (204). Charlie suspects that this has to do in part with the fact that he embarrassed the family the night he snuck out, “shattered the façade… sullied the family name and her repute” (205). He knows the town is gossiping about the incident, as he “was no longer a model child and she was no longer a model mother” (205). Because he resents his mother, some part of Charlie is satisfied by this, “almost proud” (205).
Charlie almost cries a number of times in this chapter. The first time is when he watches Eliza cry about her sister. He is empathetic but doesn’t know what to say or to do, so much so that he regrets broaching the topic with Eliza. Although he isn’t the one who hurt Laura, he feels somehow responsible. This interaction is notable because it solidifies Charlie’s conviction that he must eventually tell Eliza the truth about her sister. He dreads this, as he knows that she will forever hate him for being involved in the way that he was. He wishes he could fix the whole situation: “I want to go back in time, back to that night. I want to make this all right. I want someone to tell me what to do right now” (180). Charlie is hurt that he can’t say what he wants to in order to comfort Eliza, as “to do so would be an unforgivable lie” (181).
This chapter is an important one for Jeffery’s character, as he experiences both the glory of finally being accepted by his town and the devastation of watching his father be victimized in a racist attack. Jeffery’s begrudging acceptance is painted as a victory by Charlie, but as readers we see that things are not so simple. First of all, it is inherently unfair that Jeffery had to work harder than anyone else on the cricket field in order to get a chance to play, and even then, only when it is thought that the game is lost for good. Although his talent is undeniable, Jeffery is consistently undermined and undervalued. An especially harsh instance of this is when Jeffery’s classmates take the racial slur that had been repeatedly used to demean him and turn it into a nickname. Charlie takes this at face value: “And it is with complete disbelief that I hear real encouragement from the sidelines. His teammates. In unison. Those belligerent bastards, yelling “Shot, Cong!” across the field, at once turning an insult into a nickname” (187). Charlie’s belief that a racial slur can lose its violence simply because of a changed context reveals his ignorance of the larger problems facing Jeffery and his family. This reality of the violence they face makes itself known later on, when An Lu is attacked in his front yard.
The racist attack is one of the first climaxes in the story. Charlie’s fear of standing up for his friend comes to a head, as does the subliminal fear and aggression in Corrigan towards the Lus as an effect of the war in Vietnam. The attack changes something in Jeffery, which Charlie describes as the boy turning a light out in himself. Jeffery’s behavior models that of his father: “He stays quiet, giving nothing away” (212). Charlie is devastated for his friend, and he blames the town as a whole for the action of these four men: “Jeffery Lu was a hero today and when he got to the top they dragged him back to the bottom” (216). Charlie’s father tells him that the attack happened because the men were cowardly and wanted to blame others for their failings. Charlie’s father ultimately believes that people like the attackers will get theirs one day because there will always be more people willing to stand up against injustice. Charlie is unsatisfied with this response and feels as though his parents distanced themselves from everything that happened. Charlie is unable to compartmentalize what has occurred and feels “as though there’s something squeezing my heart and I can’t breathe properly” (216).