In the last chapter of the novel, Charlie, Eliza and Jeffery have reentered school. Jasper has left Corrigan for good, and, as he predicted, Charlie knew when it happened, even though there was no public realization of his absence. Everyone at school is gossiping about everything that happened that summer. Everyone shushes when Eliza appears, and Jeffery has become a minor celebrity for his success at cricket. Charlie feels as though everything and nothing has changed.
Charlie decides to make a deal with Warwick Trent. He bets Warwick that he can get five peaches from Mad Jack Lionel’s tree. If he does so, he will be granted immunity for the school year, and Jeffery will get to play the remainder of the cricket season. If he fails, the bullies will chain him naked to the door of the Miner’s Hall overnight and pelt him with eggs, flour, sugar, and water.
They walk over to Lionel’s with a crowd of onlookers. Jeffery is terrified for his friend. They run into Eliza on the way to Lionel’s house, and she tells him she has somewhere to be. She tells him he will soon see where she is headed. Charlie continues on to Mad Jack Lionel’s with two dozen onlookers in tow. When they arrive, they gather in an arc at the gate.
Charlie walks through Lionel’s gate with his back straight. He walks through Lionel’s yard completely in the open. He makes it to the peach tree only to see there are no peaches left. For a moment, he is distraught. Then, Lionel speaks to Charlie through a window. He tells Charlie that all of the peaches have already fallen. Charlie looks down. At his feet, dozens of peaches, covered in insects. This will be a test of his bravery after all.
Charlie has an idea. He has Jack grab the rifle on his wall and pretend to burst onto the porch, catching Charlie. He has Lionel yell and threaten him. His schoolmates are terrified, and Jeffery screams for Charlie to watch out. Charlie drops his peaches and runs at Lionel. He snatches Lionel’s rifle and pretends to push Lionel back onto the ground. He gathers the fruit and leaves, and he is met with surprise and excitement from his classmates.
The celebration does not last long, as one of the kids notices a thick pillar of smoke coming from town. Charlie recognizes that it is coming from Eliza’s house, so he drops the peaches and runs there as fast as possible. He runs until well after it has started hurting to do so. When he arrives, he sees Eliza and her mother out on their lawn, watching the house burn. Her father lies across the lawn, clearly having been pulled out of the burning home. Charlie walks up to Eliza and feels as though he finally has the right words to say to her, and he whispers them "in her ear as flakes of ash settle around us” (310).
This final chapter demonstrates how much Charlie has changed and grown since the beginning of the summer. One of the main ways that this happens is through the improvement of his self-image, particularly in regard to feelings of courage. On his way to Mad Jack Lionel’s house with a hoard of onlookers, Charlie feels like “Clark Kent in a gunfight”—he is “invincible,” because he has “got nothing to lose” (297). Even after he realizes that grabbing the peaches will require a test of courage, after all, Charlie is able to make himself face his fear. Charlie knows that being brave is a state of mind, and not something you can prepare for like Jeffery claims: “If you want to be brave, you’ve got to be smart and you’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to know shit” (299).
Jeffery once again proves he is a good friend to Charlie. When he convinces Jeffery that he will be going for the peaches, Jeffery offers to join him: “If we go down, we go down together” (300). Charlie knows he really would follow Charlie onto Lionel’s property, even though he doesn’t know what Charlie knows: “I have no reason to be afraid, but he does. He’s as transfixed by the myth of Jack Lionel as anyone in this town, yet he’s willing to put that aside to see me through safely” (300). Charlie thinks that Jeffery must be the bravest person he knows. He tells Jeffery: “You’re the best friend I’ll ever have. You’re like a brother to me. You should know that” (301). Charlie finally tells his friend just how much he means to him.
When Charlie sees the insects on the rotting peaches, he is terrified. We can compare his reaction here, which is to stand still and brace himself, to his reaction when he thought he had a spider on him in the same yard weeks before. Charlie is certainly afraid: “My skin tightens. I feel as though I’m already covered in them. Like they’re crawling all over my body, scratching and slithering. I clasp my hands together and grind my palms” (303). But Lionel tells Charlie to pay the bees no mind, as they are drunk off the fermented fruit. Charlie braces himself. He tells himself that he has no choice but to “get brave” (304). And so, while his classmates watch with bated breath, thinking he is more afraid of Lionel than anything else, Charlie picks up the fruit: “I get them, all five of them, into the crook of my arm, hot and soft and mushy, and it feels incredible, like something has clicked into place, like how you feel when you can finally ride a bike or you trust yourself to swim in the deepest part of the river” (304).
The final way that Charlie has grown is that he is able to use something he used to be derisive of to his advantage. Although he hates Corrigan’s judgmental and gossipy nature, he uses the rumor mill to his own advantage in this chapter. His show with Jack Lionel is “destined to become the stuff of legend,” and it thrills him that “only Jack Lionel and I will ever know the truth” (304). A new myth will be born, and “the events will grow grander and broader and more daring; the story will go its own way and with it my name” (304). Charlie is able to find glory through this, and so he finds a way to immortalize the moment in which he finally became brave.