The last chapter’s epigraph is about a hive of bees without a queen. A “queen-less colony” is sad and mournful, but when a new queen is introduced, “extravagant change” occurs.
In the final epigraph of the book, Kidd suggests that Lily is letting go of a “queen”—perhaps Deborah—and accepting a new one instead.
It’s August, and the days are hot. Lily finds it impossible to forgive her mother for abandoning her. She knows she’s being foolish, but nothing she tells herself can sway her heart. She tries to laugh at her mother, forget her mother, etc.—but nothing works: she keeps coming back to the fact that Deborah abandoned her to go to Tiburon.
Lily has made a lot of progress in the last two chapters, but she’s certainly not healed of her pain altogether. She still isn’t sure if she killed her mother (although it seems that T. Ray already affirmed that she did), and she’s doesn’t really know what kind of woman her mother was (apparently, a woman who was capable of abandoning a child for three months).
June sets a date for her wedding: October 10. It occurs to Lily that she needs to leave Tiburon soon. She’s confessed to August that she’s a runaway, and she knows August is expecting her to move on soon. Meanwhile, Rosaleen tells Lily that she’s going to register to vote. Lily is nervous, since Rosaleen is technically a fugitive. But eventually she decides that there’s no problem with Rosaleen registering. Rosaleen goes into town, and while she’s away, Lily thinks that she’s extremely proud of Rosaleen.
We’re coming full-circle: Rosaleen is registering to vote once again, just as she did in the first chapter of the book. In the first chapter, Lily insisted on accompanying Rosaleen, like a condescending babysitter. This time, however, Lily doesn’t come with her, reflecting her greater trust and understanding of her friend.
Lily calls Zach. Zach tells her that August has told him about Lily’s past, and he says he’s sorry for everything. Lily admits that she’ll have to go back to her father soon. Zach tells Lily he’s enrolled in the white high school for next year—he’ll be the first student there to break the color line. Lily realizes that both she and Zach are “doomed to misery.”
Zach is helping take baby steps toward ending racism. Not coincidentally, he begins in the world of education. In the 1960s, schools were being forcibly desegregated, often at gunpoint, leading black students to study with white peers.
Rosaleen returns to the house, having registered to vote. As Rosaleen returns, Lily tells her, “I love you,” without knowing why she’s saying it. That night, as she falls asleep, Lily thinks about how nobody—especially not her mother—is perfect, since the human heart is a “puzzle.”
Lily has gotten to the point where she can express her love for another person without thinking twice about it. Because she’s been surrounded by loving women for so long now, love is second nature to her. By loving others, Lily also trains herself to forgive her mother for her bad behavior.
The next day, Lily goes to meet August by the beehives. August shows Lily a beehive that’s missing a queen bee. As they look at the hive, August reminds Lily of the story of the runaway nun. The point of the story, August claims, was that in Deborah’s absence, the Lady of Chains could be a mother for Lily. She adds that Mary isn’t just a statue: she’s something inside Lily. Lily doesn’t understand what August means. Then, she closes her eyes, and for a few moments, feels exactly what August is talking about. When she opens her eyes again, August is gone, and she’s alone with the beehives.
The strength and weakness of a parable is that it’s so open to interpretation. Here, we see that the parable of the nun was really a story about the importance of the mother-daughter relationship, and the need for motherly love in one’s life. August clarifies what she’s been implying all along: in one aspect, religion is important because it helps people to love themselves and find a greater inner peace. Once again Lily experiences a kind of spiritual awakening among the beehives.
The next day, there’s a knock at the door. Lily is surprised to find that T. Ray is standing outside. Angrily, T. Ray says that he’s spent half his summer looking for Lily, and now it’s time for her to go home. He notices the statue of Mary, and calls it “something from the junkyard.” Lily quietly asks T. Ray how she found him. He explains that he was able to trace the call Lily placed from Clayton Forrest’s office.
Kidd ties off the final “loose end” of the novel: T. Ray. It’s significant that T. Ray compares the beloved statue of the Virgin Mary to garbage—spiritually, he’s so out of the loop on religion, love, and forgiveness that the statue literally looks different to him. Alternatively, this might also show how the reverence and love the Daughters have for Mary has transformed the statue from “trash” into “treasure.”
T. Ray asks where Rosaleen is, and Lily lies and says Rosaleen has already left the house. Then T. Ray notices the whale pin Lily is wearing. Lily, seeing his surprise, explains that Deborah used to stay in this house. T. Ray is furious, and he hits Lily. She falls to the floor. He screams, “How dare you leave me!” and then mutters, “Deborah, you’re not leaving me again.”
Here T. Ray appears at his most abusive, but also his most pitiable. Clearly, T. Ray’s life was wrecked by Deborah’s death. He’s still in love with his wife, and yet he takes out his suffering on Lily, his daughter—even confusing the names of the two women.
T. Ray starts to drag Lily toward the door, calling her Deborah, much to Lily’s confusion. Instead of fighting back, Lily calls T. Ray, “Daddy,” and says that she’s sorry for running away from home. To her surprise, T. Ray begins to cry.
Lily realizes that the best response when her father treats her aggressively is to not fight back at all. Just as Lily has been trying to forgive Deborah and forgive herself, so she forgives T. Ray—and thus breaks through his rough defenses.
T. Ray tells Lily that it’s time to go home, but Lily refuses to leave—she explains that she’s staying with August Boatwright, a “good woman.” Right on cue, August enters the room, followed by the Daughters of Mary. Lily notices that they’re looking aggressive, as if daring T. Ray to try to take Lily away. T. Ray mutters, “Good riddance,” and walks out of the house.
The tables have turned: at the beginning of the book, T. Ray was the master of his house, and seemed like a strong, mature man to Lily. Now, Lily and her female friends are the powerful, mature ones.
T. Ray walks to his truck, which is parked outside, and prepares to drive away. Suddenly, Lily comes running out of the house and cries, “Stop!” Lily asks T. Ray, point-blank, what happened the day her mother died. T. Ray replies that it was Lily who shot Deborah. It was an accident, he knows, but Lily shot her. With these words, T. Ray drives off, slowly. Lily will always remember standing outside the house, watching him drive away.
Despite everything, Lily is still feeling guilty about the possibility that she killed her mother. Now, however, it’s inspiring to see Lily ask her father, point-blank, for the truth about Deborah: it shows that Lily is ready to accept her own mistakes and forgive herself. Once again T. Ray is shown to leave his daughter immediately after delivering a “bombshell” truth.
In the months to come, Lily continues to stay with the Boatwrights. She decorates her room with blue, and goes to the Daughters of Mary meetings. Forrest tells Lily that he’s “working things out” in Sylvan, so that neither Rosaleen nor Lily has to serve jail time. Lily makes friends with Forrest’s daughter, Becca. Becca notices Lily’s whalebone pin, and Lily senses that soon she’ll be in a state of mind where she can lend the pin to Becca. Lily goes to the local high school with Zach and Becca. Although she’s unpopular for spending so much time with a black boy, she doesn’t mind.
Lily now seems to have gotten exactly what she wished—she isn’t forced to return with T. Ray, and she has a new home, dominated by femininity (as symbolized by the predominance of the color blue). It’s significant that Lily isn’t quite out of the woods yet, however: she’s not quite in a state of mind where she can part with her whalebone pin (and, symbolically, her complex feelings for her mother), even if Lily can tell that she will be soon. This reinforces one of Kidd’s most important points: faith and forgiveness aren’t programs with concrete conclusions—rather, they’re part of an ongoing process.
Lily spends much of her time writing down what’s happened to her. She thinks about the day T. Ray left her, and about the statue of Mary—a woman who lives inside her. Lily concludes that she is lucky: she has many, many mothers. She compares the mothers to “moons shining over me.”
Lily isn’t totally healed, but she can count on the love and support of the incredible group of women who live in the Boatwrights’ house. Kidd brings up the moon as an image of femininity again as she concludes with this optimistic finale—essentially Lily lives “happily ever after.”