Violet doesn’t hear from Finch for three days. It starts snowing on Wednesday, and the roads are so slick that she falls off Leroy multiple times. When she gets home, she asks Violet’s mom if she can borrow the car to visit a friend across town. Violet’s mom stares but hands over the keys. Violet heads for the car and looks back. Her mom is crying. She explains that she’s just happy—she and Violet’s dad weren’t sure Violet would ever drive again. Violet hugs her mom and then pulls out of the drive. She’s shaky at first, but then she remembers Eleanor saying after Violet got her license that Violet could drive her around. She can almost see Eleanor in the passenger seat.
It seems like Violet is still insistent on biking to school, but she’s finally ready to accept that biking everywhere isn’t feasible or safe. This is a major step for her—and her mom’s reaction drives home how significant this is. When Violet is able to calm her nerves in the car by thinking of Eleanor, it also shows how Violet will be able to continue moving forward. She doesn’t have to forget Eleanor—indeed, she should remember her sister in moments like this, but not allow Eleanor’s memory to rule her life.
Violet is driving smoothly when she gets to Finch’s neighborhood. A woman who must be Finch’s mom opens the door, invites Violet in, and gets her water. She says that Finch should be home from school by now, and Violet realizes that she has no idea Finch was expelled. Kate comes into the kitchen to chat with her mom and Violet and then sends Violet up to Finch’s room. Finch opens his door in pajama bottoms and glasses. He smiles and lets Violet into his room, which is totally bare aside from the unmade bed and two boxes. He explains that he’s cleaning up.
Violet is starting to piece together how disjointed and unsupportive Finch’s family is. Compared to how Violet’s parents involve themselves in her life, it’s unthinkable that Finch’s mom doesn’t know Finch was expelled. The aside that Violet gets a glass of water here drives home that water, for most people, is a neutral or positive thing—though it’s something far more complex for Finch.
Violet asks Finch if he’s okay, trying to watch her tone—she doesn’t want to sound like a needy girlfriend. Finch says he was feeling under the weather, but he’s better now. Then he invites Violet to see his fort, which is in his closet. He leads Violet inside. Finch has guitar, computer, a license plate, and his comforter. Violet sits next to Finch and takes in a small Wall of Ideas. Finch explains that he thinks better in here, where it’s quiet. He’s putting positive words or phrases on his wall, while anything negative goes in a pile. He tells Violet about an Irish girl who fell in love with a boy. Other girls called her names until she hanged herself.
Pay attention to the way that Finch describes how he’s been recently: he’s been “under the weather,” and his closet is his “fort” where it’s quiet. He’s choosing his words very carefully so as to not worry Violet, though it’s unclear if he’s successful in doing this. And Violet also knows that she has to tread carefully here. Something seems wrong to her, if only because Finch’s parents don’t seem able to support him.
Violet and Finch write words on sticky notes and then either put them on the wall or throw them in the pile. Then, Finch shows Violet how he rearranges the words on the wall to make a song. After playing their song and explaining that he never writes his songs down, he writes that he’d like to have sex with Violet. They do have sex, and everything feels okay again. But afterwards, Violet notices Finch staring off—and when he looks at her, he doesn’t seem to be totally there. He asks her not to tell anyone about his fort, and Violet agrees. She scoots closer to Finch, feeling oddly like he might escape.
This exercise with the sticky notes allows Finch to do much the same thing that Decca was doing earlier in the novel by cutting mean words out of books. Finch is trying to ensure that he only has to deal with happy or positive things, since everything else feels so overwhelming right now. Asking Violet to keep his fort secret suggests that he trusts her—but he’s also essentially asking her to promise not to help him.
Finch explains that he gets in “black, sinking moods” sometimes. Violet says that’s normal for teenagers, but Finch ignores this and tells Violet about the cardinal. It kept flying into the window, and he begged his parents to bring it inside so that it would stop hurting itself. Finally, the cardinal died, and they buried it. Finch says that this was when he had his first “black mood”; he doesn’t remember anything for a little while after the cardinal died. Worried, Violet asks if Finch has spoken to anyone. She looks around, notices the pillows and water jug, and asks if Finch is living in the closet. Finch just says that he’s been here before—eventually, it works, and he comes out.
The cardinal’s death is associated with Finch’s mental illness in his memories. What’s notable about the cardinal is that Finch asked his parents for help—and they refused to help him keep the cardinal safe. Now, as a teenager, Finch still doesn’t feel safe asking his parents for help. They’ve shown him that they’re not going to support him or try to keep things from dying. So, without them, Finch has had to come up with insufficient coping mechanisms to deal with his mental illness.
As soon as Violet gets home, she goes into her own closet and sits down among her clothes and shoes. She imagines what it’d be like to live in there. When she steps back out, she feels like she can breathe again. At dinner, Violet and her parents toast to Violet driving again. Violet feels horribly guilty for lying to them.
By this point, Violet has largely healed from the trauma of losing Eleanor. So, by showing her experimenting with sitting in her closet, the novel more broadly suggests that living in one’s closet isn’t something that healthy people feel compelled to do—showing, by comparison, how mentally unhealthy Finch is right now.