The viewing party winds down later in the night. Rill isn’t ready for it to end because all day she’s been able to eat cookies and sandwiches, color, and play with new toys. Rill feels bad for Camellia but thinks it’s better that she didn’t come because she doesn’t like cuddling and the adults all wanted to cuddle the kids. As much as Rill has enjoyed the party, it was a struggle for her to keep quiet while she listened to Georgia Tann tell all the adults that the kids can “become anything” prospective parents want them to be.
Rill is old enough to understand what Tann is telling the adults at the party—kids don’t have their own identities and so they can be forced into any shape by new parents. Rill, however, feels like this isn’t true and she doesn’t want the adults to think it is. However, she knows that if she speaks up then she will be punished.
As Rill and the others are getting ready to leave, Rill notices that the couple who has been playing with Gabion all day don’t want to let him go. Rill tries to tell him that they must go so they can read their book at the orphanage, but Gabion doesn’t want to let go of the woman who’s holding him. Tann tells Rill to be silent while she talks to the couple. The husband steps up and asks if they can make arrangements and Tann smilingly says they can. She orders Mrs. Pulnik to bring Rill and Fern outside. Mrs. Pulnik grabs Rill’s arm and pulls her out of the house as Tann explains that Gabion actually has a newborn sister that was adopted by a prominent family. Mrs. Pulnik throws Rill and Fern into the car while Rill wonders if she really does have a new baby sister.
Tann unwittingly plants the idea in Rill’s head that at least one of Queenie’s babies didn’t actually die. This could also mean that Queenie is still alive, despite Camellia said earlier about Briny being in prison and Queenie being dead. However, to Rill the possibility of having another sister out there in the world means that a piece of herself is missing, too.
While Rill, Lark, and Fern sit in the car waiting, Rill tries to convince herself that Tann was lying about the baby sister. Before she knows it, the car starts and begins driving away without Gabion. Mrs. Pulnik tells Rill she must behave or else she and her siblings will be put into the dark closet. The younger kids don’t say a word as the car drives away and Rill stares out the window until she can’t see the house anymore. Rill says she feels empty and lifeless. She notes that she “can’t breathe” here—only May Weathers can.
Mrs. Pulnik’s threat highlights the fact that she knows Rill must be incredibly upset about leaving Gabion behind. This means that Mrs. Pulnik knows they are hurting the kids by separating them, but supports Tann anyway by scaring the kids out of saying anything about it. Rill’s thought that she can only exist as May also highlights how her new life is eating away at her sense of her own identity.
When they get back to the house, Rill starts thinking about Camellia and how Rill is supposed to tell her about Gabion. Rill dreads the anger Camellia will feel towards her, but nonetheless, as soon as Mrs. Murphy lets her go Rill tries to find Camellia; however, she’s not in any of her usual spots and the older boys refuse to tell Rill where Camellia is. Suddenly Rill spots her—she’s dirty and sitting quietly by a porch. Rill goes up to her and asks what’s wrong, but Camellia doesn’t answer. Rill realizes that Camellia is covered in coal dust and again asks what happened. Rill notices her hand is balled into a fist, so she opens Camellia’s fingers and sees that she’s holding a bunch of peppermints. Rill tries not to know what this means, but she can’t shake the image of Camellia kicking and screaming out of her mind.
Mr. Riggs always gives the kids peppermints, so the fact that Camellia is obviously hurt and there are peppermints in her hand indicates that Riggs is the one who hurt her. This confirms all of Rill’s fears about him, and not only does she feel terrible for Camellia, but she also feels guilty herself because she’s supposed to take care of her siblings. Yet, despite her best efforst, Rill was unable to keep Gabion with her or protect Camellia from being violated by the groundskeeper.
Rill grabs Camellia’s hand and pulls her over to the rain barrel to wash her up so the workers won’t think Camellia’s been fighting. Rill tells the younger kids to leave Camellia alone and tries to take care of her, but that night Camellia refuses to eat and doesn’t say a word. When the workers try to bathe her, however, Camellia puts up a huge fight and Mrs. Pulnik asks Mr. Riggs to bring a rope. Camellia is taken away and Rill doesn’t see her again. That night, Fern wets the bed for the first time in over a year. When Rill tries to hide the dirty clothes outside of their basement window, she thinks she sees Zede and Silas across the street.
Camellia’s disappearance right after being assaulted by Riggs seems to confirm the rumors that Riggs would get rid of any kids who talked about how he hurt them. Although Camellia didn’t exactly talk about it, it would have been convenient for Riggs to get rid of her when he was called in to restrain her while she threw a fit over taking a bath.