Before I Fall

by

Lauren Oliver

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Before I Fall: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sam says that back then, she was “still looking for answers”—she still wanted to know why she was going through the things she was going through. She wasn’t able to see it then, but soon after, she would begin thinking about time, and its endless flow forward, “all of it leading to the same place.” Sam says that there are some people who can afford to wait—there are tomorrows laid out for them. For some people, though, there is only today; the truth is, Sam says, “you never really know” how much time you do have.
As Sam experiences her dream yet again, she muses within it on the nature of time and the unknowability of what the future holds. She laments that she did not know what would happen to her, and that she would only have a certain number of tomorrows, but she knows that this is the way things are for everyone—no one can cheat fate.
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Sam wakes up gasping, her alarm pulling her up out of sleep. Though it is now the fifth time she has woken up on February twelfth, today, she is relieved. She is happy that the events of her hellish day “yesterday” have been erased, and that she gets to start fresh. Sam lies in bed, thinking of all the things she’d still like to accomplish in her life, both fanciful and mundane. Izzy slips into Sam’s room and hops up onto her bed, waking her up for school. “I’m not going to school,” Sam says, and states that those five words would kick off the best—and worst—day of her life.
Sam, after leaning into disaster, cruelty, recklessness, and oblivion, is relieved for the first time to know that she gets yet another chance to make things right. Sam no longer wants to spend her days leaning into badness and seeing how far she can push the envelope—she wants to do the things she’s always longed to do, and live on her own terms rather than trying to beat time or fate.
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Sam playfully tickles Izzy, and the noises of their laughter bring their mother to the door. She warns Sam that Lindsay will be there to pick her up any minute. Izzy proudly declares that Sam isn’t going to school, and she herself isn’t either. As Sam watches her little sister stand in proud defiance of their mother, she wonders what Izzy will look like when she’s older, and whether people will remark that she looks like her older sister—or whether people will even remember what Sam looked like once she’s gone.
Sam has been cruel to her mother and her sister, but now, there is a tenderness which she shows them at long last. She has come to appreciate them, despite everything, having seen how fragile people are and how terrible things can get without love and support.
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Sam’s mother sends Izzy downstairs to eat breakfast, and once Izzy is gone, she asks Sam if she’s feeling okay—she knows her daughter wouldn’t want to miss school on Cupid Day. Sam begins telling her mother how stupid Cupid Day actually is, and how the whole point is just to use roses demonstrate how many friends one has—even though the whole school of course already knows how many friends everyone else actually has. Sam’s mother tells her that she doesn’t sound like herself, and Sam suggests that perhaps she’s changing. As she says the words, she realizes they might actually be true—maybe, this whole time, she has had to change.
Sam, in lying to her mother, actually stumbles into a deeper and more valuable truth. She has known all along that Cupid Day was an inane ritual with no real purpose other than to make people feel good about themselves—or bad about themselves—for entirely the wrong reasons. Sam understands now that the purpose of the time loop is to change her, to cause her to encounter truths like this one and then do something about them.
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Sam’s mother asks her if something bad has happened with any of her friends, and Sam tells a white lie—she says that Rob dumped her. She tells her mom that the two of them wanted different things, and that she thinks perhaps Rob never really liked her. Then, Sam’s mother—breaking the protocol of the last four or so years—steps over the nail polish line on the floor and kisses Sam on the forehead. She tells Sam that she’s allowed to stay home. Izzy appears in the doorway, half-dressed for school in mismatched clothes, begging to stay home with Sam. Sam wonders if the other kids at school make fun of Izzy for her lisp and her strange style, but then realizes that Izzy doesn’t care: her eight-year-old sister is braver than she is. Sam hopes wildly that Izzy’s confidence doesn’t get “beaten out of her” as the years pass.
Everything is different today already, and Sam hasn’t even left the bed. She has experienced a change of perspective, and this has caused her mother to catch a glimpse of who her daughter really is beneath the cruelty and pretension. Sam doesn’t even find Izzy’s lisp annoying anymore—she simply wants for her sister to be who she is, and to be able to live free of the torment and cruelty which calibrates so much of her own social life.
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Sam’s mother tells Izzy she can’t stay home, but Sam implores her mother to let her. Sam’s mother tells Sam that if Izzy stays home, she’ll just annoy Sam all day—she asks Sam if she’d rather be alone. Sam knows that her mother is expecting her to say yes—for years, Sam has been desperate for any alone time she can get. But “things change after you die,” Sam says, and today she does not want to be alone. Sam’s mother begrudgingly agrees to let the girls stay home together. Izzy, thrilled, immediately begins bouncing on Sam’s bed. Sam smiles at her mother.
Sam has cruelly rejected her family’s love, interest, and affection for years now—but today, profoundly changed by the things that have happened to her, Sam finds longing not just for company but also for connection, and Sam knows that she owes her little sister and her mother much more than what she has been giving them.
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Sam reflects on the things she loved as a child which she abandoned or forgot as she grew older: horses, nature, and delicious food became replaced by friends, boys, and clothes. Sam recalls her hideaway from when she was younger, a place called Goose Point which she discovered while running away from home after her parents refused to buy her a bicycle. Sam packed a bag and ran through the woods, eventually coming upon an enormous rock with a flat top, which she named Goose Point. Sam felt Goose Point was special: she believed that time didn’t move there.
It is ironic—or fateful—that the place which became a haven and a hiding spot for Sam, Goose Point, is a place where she felt she was able to manipulate or live inside of time itself. Time has come to calibrate so much of Sam’s life, and her early desires to change the flow of time seem to be too much of a coincidence to be completely random and unconnected to what is happening to her now.
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Sam returned to Goose Point over the years to reflect, to be alone, or to get away from her problems and console herself when she was sad. After her friendship with Lindsay started up, though, Sam stopped going to Goose Point. She hasn’t been there in years—until today, when she decides to take Izzy, despite the cold weather. Sam wants to see if Goose Point still feels the same.
Sam’s friendship with Lindsay catapulted her out of her childhood, and the world in her head, and into a world of popularity and banal concerns. Sam lost her connection to who she was and the things she loved, and now she wants to check for herself whether reestablishing a connection to that part of herself is still possible.
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Sam leads Izzy through the woods, and as they go, Sam is struck by how small everything is—when she was younger, the woods, creeks, and hills seemed much, much larger. As Sam nears Goose Point, she notices that the woods are being built up, and a lot of big, fancy new houses now look out on her special spot. She considers turning back, but Izzy spots the rock and runs toward it. Goose Point is just as Sam remembers, and Izzy agrees that it is a great hiding place. As she goes on and on about how wonderful it is, Sam notices her sister’s pronounced lisp.
Sam is afraid, as they approach Goose Point, that it won’t be the same to her—that it won’t be comforting or magical or safe or any of the things it was to her in her youth. However, when she arrives there with Izzy, she is relieved to see that it is the same after all these years—and, even more, that it is just as magical to Izzy.
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Sam asks Izzy if the other kids at school make fun of her for her voice—Izzy concedes that sometimes they do. Sam asks Izzy why she doesn’t try to change her lisp—there are thing she could do to help make it less noticeable. Izzy protests that her voice is her voice, and if she changed it, no one would be able to tell it was her talking. Sam can’t think of a response, and instead just wraps her sister in a hug. There are so many things Sam wants to tell Izzy, but Izzy becomes distracted by a feather at the edge of the rock. Izzy gives the feather to Sam, and Sam pockets it.
Izzy’s profound declaration that without her lisp she wouldn’t be who she is strikes a chord with Sam. Sam’s whole life has been about fitting into a mold, doing whatever she can do to make herself popular, and pleasing others—she is struck by her little sister’s independence and allegiance to the things that make her who she is, even at a young age.
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Izzy asks Sam about the necklace she is wearing—Sam replies that it was a gift from their grandmother, who died before Izzy was born. Izzy says she wishes that no one ever died. Sam feels a sad ache in her throat, but she smiles through it.
Sam knows the sad truth—she is, sooner rather than later, going to have to leave her sweet little sister behind. But she has learned from Izzy today and will carry forward the knowledge Izzy has unknowingly imparted.
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When Sam gets home, she has three new texts: Lindsay, Elody, and Ally have all texted her the same happy Cupid Day wish. Sam doesn’t reply. She has been overwhelmed this morning with thoughts of how somewhere out in the world there is a universe where Lindsay is still mad at her, and she can’t stop thinking about how easy it is for things to change—how “one false step” can totally change one’s life and reputation in the course of a day.
The loop is still managing to throw Sam for a loop—she can’t quite get her head around the strangeness of the repetitive but isolated days, and she struggles with the knowledge that though nothing that happens from one day to the next matters, the knowledge of it all lingers within her (and her alone).
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Sam feels that a thousand possibilities exist at the same time and wonders if perhaps multiple things are true—maybe she and Lindsay are best friends and hate each other at the same time, and maybe Sam is just one flirtation away from being branded a slut, like Anna Cartullo. Sam realizes that everyone in her school is just one mistake away from eating lunch alone in the bathroom, and thinks about how hard it is to ever really know the truth about someone else.
As Sam considers the time loop and its effects more carefully, she realizes how fragile the whole ecosystem of her high school—and her world—is. The boundaries which separate people from one another are thin and porous, and even small changes and happenstances can have unimaginable ripple effects.
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Sam and Izzy spend the rest of the day watching old cartoons and snacking, and when their mother gets home, they beg her to go out to dinner. Sam’s parents can’t believe she is staying in with them on a Friday night, but they gladly take her and Izzy out to dinner at a crowded neighborhood sushi restaurant. Sam has fun with her parents and her sister, and can’t believe how perfect a day she’s having despite the fact that nothing particularly special has happened. Sam thinks that she could keep living a day like this one over and over again forever.
Sam has managed to completely avoid the stressful and shallow world of her high school for a day, and she is surprised to find that she feels renewed, restored, and happy in the presence of her family, whose affection and attention she’d avoided for so long out of fear that not putting enough time in with her friends would result in her declining social status. Now, all Sam wants is a quiet day like this, lived over and over.
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A large group of freshmen and sophomores from Sam’s high school file into the restaurant—it is the swim team, fresh from a meet. Sam watches as a couple of the girls recognize her and stare at her. Sam eats dessert with her family, but hears one of the students call another by her last name: Sykes. One of the swimmers is a thin, pale, blond girl whom Sam recognizes as the Cupid who handed her Kent’s rose in math class—she realizes the girl is Juliet’s little sister.
Sam’s knowledge of how interconnected everything is has physical, tangible form in this scene, as she realizes that the people around her are more connected than she thinks—the realization that Juliet has a life and a family, too, hits Sam particularly hard, and it bursts the blissful bubble she has found herself in today with her own family. 
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Sam gets up and goes over to the girl—the whole table of students grows silent as Sam approaches. Sam asks the girl what her name is, and when the girl timidly asks if she’s done something wrong, Sam replies that she recognizes her because she looks so much like her older sister. Sam lies, and tells the girl—who introduces herself as Marian—that she and Juliet are lab partners. Izzy runs over and throws her arm around Sam’s waist, asking her to come back to the table. Before Sam leaves, though, she tells Marian to tell Juliet “not to do it.” When Marian asks what Juliet shouldn’t do, Sam replies that it’s a science project thing, and that if Marian says those words to Juliet, Juliet will know what she’s talking about. Marian smiles and says that she’ll tell Juliet tomorrow—her sister, she says rather proudly, is going out tonight.
Sam tries to manipulate things in a hands-off way by putting the onus of saving Juliet’s life, at least for tonight, on Marian—but Sam soon realizes that the burden will always fall back on her. Marian is oblivious to the extent of her sister’s suffering, and instead seems to believe that Juliet has at last made some friends—the guilt of this realization cuts Sam to the core.
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The whole way home, Sam can’t think of anything but Marian Sykes. Even after her whole family goes to bed and silence fills the house, Sam is tortured with visions of Juliet bleeding and dying. This morning, Sam swore there was “nothing in the world” that could make her go to Kent’s party again, but now, she leaps from bed and dons a jacket and sneaks out of the house. She tells herself that Juliet Sykes isn’t her problem, but she knows that if the situation were reversed, and Juliet were living this day over and over again, she would deserve to have a better ending.
Sam, disturbed by Marian’s obliviousness and her own knowledge that she cannot escape the role she has played in Juliet’s suffering, resolves to go against her better judgement, step outside of her own concerns, and try once and for all to make things right for Juliet.
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Sam dawdles on the way to Kent’s house, though, unsure of what to do, and finds herself navigating to the street where Juliet lives—she remembers hearing the name from Lindsay mentioning it a long time ago. She sees the Sykes mailbox, and as she looks at Juliet’s house, she thinks that there is nothing visibly different about it from any other house, though it exudes a “desperate” quality.
As Sam approaches Juliet Sykes’s house, she has trouble reconciling its normal outward appearance with the deep strangeness she has seen in (or, perhaps, projected onto) Juliet for all of these years.
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Sam pulls into the driveway despite knowing that she shouldn’t be there. She runs up to the door and rings the bell—Juliet’s mother answers, in a bathrobe, already dressed for bed. Sam tells Juliet’s mother that she’s looking for Juliet—they’re lab partners, she says, and she needs to pick up the work she missed in school today. Juliet’s father comes to the door—he and Juliet’s mother are both shocked that someone has come to the house looking for their oldest daughter. Juliet’s mother tells her that Juliet isn’t home, but she invites Sam in. Though Sam offers to go up to Juliet’s room and look for the “assignment,” Juliet’s mother states that Juliet doesn’t like anyone in her room, and she leaves Sam alone while she goes to the kitchen to call Juliet. 
Sam is desperate to stop Juliet, and in visiting her home at such an odd hour, Sam risks exposing to Juliet’s parents the seriousness of what is happening to their daughter. Sam knows, as one of Juliet’s primary tormentors, that she has no business visiting her home and her family, but she is so desperate to prevent Juliet’s suicide from happening that she feels she must go straight to the root, to the cradle, of who Juliet is.
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Sam considers leaving while Juliet’s mother is in the kitchen, but instead she stays and looks around. She sees a picture frame which still has the stock picture it was sold with inside—Sam realizes that perhaps the Sykes family “doesn’t have too many shiny, happy moments to remember.” Sam peeks into the living room and sees a terrifying mask perched on a side table—it scares her badly, but she nonetheless goes over to it and lifts it up. Juliet’s mother appears behind her and tells Sam that Juliet made the mask. Juliet was always crafty as a child, her mother says, but now has lost interest in “that stuff.”
Sam is entranced and also off-put by the strange and uncanny trimmings of Juliet’s family home. The eerie stock photo still in its frame suggests apathy or misery—or both--while the mask Juliet has crafted, terrifying to behold, seems to reflect Juliet’s outward externalization of her own interior torment.
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Juliet’s mother tells Sam that Juliet didn’t pick up her phone—she seems concerned, but Sam cheerfully reassures her that Juliet is probably fine. Sam is seized by a sudden desire to get out of the house—she doesn’t want to lie to Mrs. Sykes anymore. Mrs. Sykes walks Sam to the door and tells her she can come back tomorrow. As Sam walks back to her car, she decides to go to Kent’s house and find Juliet, doing whatever she can to stop her from trying to kill herself. As Sam drives to the party, she realizes she hasn’t really done something good for someone else in a long time—she remembers studying purgatory in English class while reading Dante, and wonders if she herself is in purgatory; maybe, she thinks, saving Juliet Sykes is the only thing standing between Sam and an eternity of bliss.
Sam has come to realize certain things about the time loop—one of them is that perhaps it is a mechanism purposely designed just for Sam, just to keep her repeating February 12th until she learns something, changes something, or delivers the universe the ineffable thing that it wants from her. Sam sees Juliet as her ticket out of the loop, which brings together Sam’s desire to make things right with the desire to get herself out of whatever twist of fate she’s become stuck inside of.  
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Sam parks on the shoulder of the street and runs through the rainy woods with a flashlight, toward Kent’s house. Upon entering the party, Sam is greeted with stares—she doesn’t blame her classmates, as she looks disheveled and unlike her usual self. She runs through the party, asking people if they have seen Juliet Sykes. The music is so loud, though, that everyone assumes she is looking for Lindsay, so they direct Sam her way. When Sam finds Lindsay, she asks if Juliet Sykes is here—Lindsay reveals that Juliet has already come and gone, after calling Lindsay, Ally, and Elody bitches in front of everyone.
Sam arrives at the party and questions everyone she can only to realize that she is too late—she was not able to stop Juliet from going on her tirade against the girls, and now Juliet has snuck off god knows where to do god knows what. Sam wants badly to be able to redeem herself through Juliet, and Juliet is valuable to her for this reason more than by virtue of her own precious human life.
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Lindsay calls to Elody and Ally, telling them that Sam is here, but is busy looking for her “best friend” Juliet. Sam, full of anger, reveals that she knows that it was Lindsay who was Juliet’s best friend in their younger years. Lindsay tells Sam that Juliet is a freak, and Sam fights her way back downstairs, ignoring her friends and classmates who try to talk to her. She continues asking everyone where Juliet Sykes is, and eventually someone tells her that Juliet is in the bathroom. When Sam gets to the bathroom, a girl waiting outside tells her that Juliet has been inside for a long time. Sam calls for Juliet, but there is no answer, and Sam worries that Juliet has killed herself inside.
Sam tries to confront Lindsay about the truth of her friendship with Juliet, but Lindsay is on the defensive, and is not willing to admit anything or change her position on the “freak” she has made her reputation by torturing for so many years. Sam is convinced that she can still save Juliet, despite her late arrival, but every second she grows more and more fearful that there won’t be enough time.
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Sam sends someone to get Kent—when he comes back, Sam asks him to pick the lock and get Juliet out. He uses a safety pin to do so, but when the door swings open, it is empty—the window is open, though, and Sam knows that Juliet has gone out of it. She immediately runs out of the bathroom, down the hall, and back out into the woods, searching the forest and calling Juliet’s name. The rain is coming down hard, and Sam struggles to make her way through it. Sam is overcome with anger toward Juliet for wanting to kill herself—she is angry that Juliet had a choice to live and didn’t take it, when “not all of us are so lucky.”
Sam’s desperation to find Juliet mounts as she begins to fear the worst. She wants to save Juliet, but she is also angry with her for throwing away the precious gift of life, when Sam has been living in fear every day for almost a week that her own life has been taken from her unwillingly.
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Sam hears a car honk and realizes she is close to the road. Relieved, Sam heads toward the noise, and eventually finds the main road. Juliet is huddled there, about eight feet from the blacktop, and Sam confronts her, asking her what she is doing. Juliet asks Sam the same, and Sam admits that she has been looking for Juliet. Sam offers to take Juliet back to her house, let her dry off and warm up, and talk about what happened inside the party, but Juliet doesn’t answer. She stands up and says only “Sorry.” Sam grabs her wrist, and begs Juliet to come with her. Juliet asks Sam why she’s doing all this—Sam tells Juliet that she wants to help her. Juliet accuses Sam of hating her—Sam insists she doesn’t hate Juliet, she just doesn’t know her, and would like to change that.
Sam wants to be kind to Juliet and help her—she really wants to know her and give her the chance to express her feelings. Nonetheless, Juliet is not interested in that; Sam and Lindsay’s cruelty has taken a significant toll on her, and she is unable to believe now, even for a second, that Sam would actually want to help her, connect with her, or repent for her ways.
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Juliet grimly smiles and agrees—Sam doesn’t know her at all. Another car shoots by, and Sam realizes that Juliet is very close to the road. Sam asks her to step back from it, but she already on some level knows, with a terrible sinking feeling, what is going to happen. Sam hears Kent’s voice calling her name, and sees Lindsay’s car coming down the road. Juliet turns to face Sam. “Maybe next time,” she says, “but probably not,” and then throws herself into the road, directly into the path of Lindsay’s silver Range Rover, which sails into the woods, crashing against a tree and catching fire.
As Sam realizes what is going to happen—what has always happened, and what is always going to happen—she is confronted by Juliet’s cruel but apt twisting of the words Sam and Lindsay have used to torment her for years. “Maybe next time” Sam will be able to get out the time loop—“but probably not.” Sam and her friends caught Juliet up in a loop of torment and trauma, and now Sam is caught up in one of her very own.
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Kent comes up behind Sam, and asks if she’s okay. Sam is in shock, and can only say that Lindsay, Ally, and Elody were in the car that hit Juliet. Kent pulls his phone out and calls the police as other cars passing by on the road come to a stop. People get out of their cars and stare at the “tiny crumpled body” in the road—Juliet’s. Sam feels as if she is in a dream—she can’t feel the rain, or even her body, as she realizes that the word Juliet was calling out on the previous nights was not “sit or shit or sight” but Sykes.
Sam can’t believe what she’s just seen—she can’t believe that, all along, it was Juliet seeking revenge that had caused her and her friends’ gruesome wreck. Juliet succeeded in her suicide mission and managed to effect other casualties as well, demonstrating the strength of her agency and the cruel twists of fate which Sam is still just beginning to reckon with.
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Sam hears a scream coming from the woods and watches as Lindsay stumbles up to the road, crying. Kent is supporting Ally as they walk up to the highway. Lindsay screams that Elody is still in the car and begs someone to help her. An ambulance approaches, as do police. Sam watches as everything unfolds in short, choppy moments—Juliet is placed on a stretcher, as is Elody’s lifeless body. Elody was sitting in the seat Sam was in the first night. Lindsay and Ally sob hysterically, but Sam doesn’t seem to be able to react—she doesn’t even realize that soon it is just her and Kent standing in the road.
Actually looking at the aftermath of the horrible accident in which she herself was involved is almost more than Sam can bear, and her consciousness seems almost to shut down in an attempt to protect her from what she’s seeing. She knows that Elody’s fate is her own in one of these realities—that somewhere out there, it is her body on a stretcher.
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Kent places his hands on Sam’s arms and she tells him she needs to go find Lindsay at the hospital. Kent tells Sam that she’s freezing, though, and tells her to come back to his house to get dried off and warmed up. Kent’s house is empty, but still a wreck from the party. Kent makes Sam a cup of hot chocolate and offers her a blanket. Sam, disoriented and confused, asked what happened to Lindsay and Juliet. Lindsay is fine, Sam says, and was taken to the hospital just to get checked out—Juliet, though, is dead, as is Elody, who was sitting in the seat Sam had occupied that very first night. Sam breaks down, distraught, and Kent wraps her in a hug, comforting her. Despite her grief, Sam feels a “zip of electricity” at his touch.
Horrible things have happened, and though Sam is aware that she is still in the time loop, she is torn apart by grief. She feels a lot of competing things, and on top of all her complicated feelings, there is the added strangeness of knowing that none of it is “real,” though it feels real at the time.
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Realizing that Sam’s clothes are soaking, Kent urges Sam to take a warm shower and put on a pair of fresh pajamas. Kent tells Sam that he wishes he could make everything better—Sam appreciates the honesty and simplicity of his words and demeanor. Though Sam knows that everything will reset tomorrow and both Juliet and Elody will be fine, she is still shaken up, and tries to calm herself down in the hot shower. When Sam returns to the kitchen, Kent offers to drive her home, but Sam asks to stay at Kent’s. He offers her a guest room, but Sam tells him she wants to stay in a room that feels lived in.
The benefit of the loop is that Sam is able to shake her sadness off quickly, knowing that things will reset tomorrow. The trauma of having witnessed such awful things lingers, though, and Sam wants to be comforted in order to stave off the pain of what she has seen and learned.
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Kent leads her to his own bedroom—a giant room bathed in beautiful moonlight. Kent helps Sam into his own bed, and tucks her in. Sam asks if Kent will stay with her until she falls asleep, and he agrees to. Sam asks Kent if he thinks that it’s “weird” that she’s here—Kent tells Sam that it’s all right. She asks him why he’s being so kind to her, and he reveals that, since the second grade, when Sam stood up to a bully on Kent’s behalf and acted like his “hero,” he has been waiting for the day when he can repay her and become her hero as well.
Kent’s kindness toward Sam is revealed in this passage to be the product of a kind of debt he feels he owes her. He has wanted to repay her for many years, and has simply been waiting for his chance to do so. Kent is enduringly good, even in the face of cruelty, and this makes him very different from most of his other classmates. It is not about status for Kent—it is about doing actual good.
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Sam asks Kent to promise he will stay beside her throughout the night, and he agrees. Sam thinks that as she falls asleep she can feel his lips against hers, but all too soon, she is pulled back into her dream, like a flower folding in on itself.
Sam’s day ends on a quiet, intimate note—though she has failed to change the events she wanted to avoid, she has succeeded in creating something new.
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