Finch and Charlie are in gym class, standing beyond third base. Charlie is great at sports, and all the coaches want him on their teams—but he refuses to be a Black stereotype, so he joined the chess club instead. They discuss Finch almost drowning Roamer, and Charlie asks if Finch has had sex with Violet yet. Roamer comes up to bat and, as expected, hits the ball right at them. Charlie nonchalantly catches it and throws it back. Finch notes that Roamer and Mr. Kappel (the gym teacher and baseball coach) “die just a little” when Charlie does that.
Charlie, like Finch, enjoys annoying people by not doing what they expect him to do. He exerts control over his life and his identity by not letting the racist stereotype that all Black men are athletic dictate what he does. In this moment, Charlie and Finch also seem to be speaking more openly and honestly with each other—offering hope that after getting so close to Violet, Finch might be more willing to reach out to other people.
Later, Roamer corners Finch in the locker room once most of the other kids are gone. Roamer tells Finch that he’s dead, and Finch vows to himself to not hurt Roamer. He’s not worth it, and he remembers Violet’s look when he tried to drown Roamer at the river. Finch starts to count as Roamer slams Finch into a locker and punches him in the face. As Finch takes the beating, he wonders if counting might take him back to eighth grade, before he was a “freak” and when he was “awake” all the time. He wishes he could take Violet back with him so they could have more time together. Finch is afraid of time—and of himself. Finally, Kappel breaks up the fight. But rather than send Finch to the office, Kappel appears ready to punish Roamer.
Finch supposedly has “anger issues,” but his relationship with Violet seems to be motivating him to suppress his urges to fight back. But even as Finch seems to be making progress here by not fighting Roamer, his inner monologue nevertheless makes it clear that Finch is afraid and still in trouble. He seems to imply that his relationship with Violet, great as it may be, won’t last forever. Finch also implies that he himself (or, more accurately, his mental illness) is his own worst enemy.
When Finch gets to his locker, he discovers the rock he gave Violet sitting on his books. Brenda comes up behind Finch and asks what the rock is for and what happened to Finch’s face. They discuss Roamer for a moment and then walk to class together. Finch pretends to listen and answer Brenda’s questions, but he can’t stop thinking about Violet.
Getting out of gym class and seeing the rock from Violet shows Finch that he did the right thing by not fighting Roamer. Now, he’s acting more like the boy Violet sees, which is gratifying for him.