Avery is driving to May Crandall’s nursing home—Avery got Ian to call ahead to make sure May is out of the hospital—with Trent following her in his own car. Avery feels a little like a kid skipping school because she’s not answering any of Leslie’s calls and Trent has closed his real estate office for the day to go with her to see May. Leslie calls again as Avery pulls up, but she still doesn’t answer. Avery knows Leslie probably just wants her to come home early to go to a press op or something, so she puts her phone on vibrate and gets out of the car.
In her quest to learn the family secret, Avery is committing a major sin by not answering Leslie’s calls; Leslie is the one who makes sure everyone keeps up the family’s public image. Just weeks ago, Avery wouldn’t have thought of ignoring Leslie, because she was dedicated to letting Leslie groom her for the Senate. Now, however, Avery is starting to lose interest in the process—she misses her old life (as she noted when she was on the phone with her friend from Maryland) and doesn’t feel fulfilled in her new role in Aiken.
Trent greets her at the curb, and they joke around about Avery’s driving. Avery likes Trent but knows they can only be friends; she let it slip that she has a fiancé just to send the message that she’s not romantically available. As they walk into the nursing home, the conversation turns to how hard it is to see a loved one living in a facility like this. Once they get to May’s room, Avery realizes she doesn’t know what to say and pauses at the door to think of how to start the conversation. Suddenly May calls out and asks who is by her door before throwing a slipper through the doorway. Avery hesitantly approaches the door, introduces herself, and asks if May remembers her. When Avery mentions Judy, May tells her to come in.
Even though Avery is determined to remain just friends with Trent, they continue to connect in ways she can’t with Elliot. Their conversation here about their loved ones is a direct contrast to the earlier moment when Avery got choked up about her father’s illness and Elliot ignored her and continued working. With Trent, Avery is able to be more open and express herself, knowing that Trent will respond in kind. In this way, Avery’s budding friendship with Trent seems to be more fulfilling than her relationship with Elliot.
May is in her bed when Avery comes into the room. Avery tells her that Judy didn’t remember May’s name but could remember there was someone named Queenie. May is unsettled by this and acknowledges that it must be difficult for Avery. Avery agrees and says that she was always close to Judy; as May points out, however, Avery and Judy were not so close that Judy ever told her about the people in the picture. Avery says she’s hoping May will tell her, but May gruffly says that it has nothing to do with Avery. Trent makes a noise outside and May tells him to come in. Avery says Trent is her friend and May says she doubts he’s just a friend.
May’s point that Avery and Judy are not close enough for Judy to tell her about the picture is meant to challenge Avery’s firm belief that she truly knows Judy. Similarly, May challenges Avery’s belief that she truly understands her new friendship with Trent by implying that they’re far more than friends. May’s words here hint at the way that Avery is starting to have to reevaluate much of what she thought she knew about her life and her relationships.
May looks intently at Trent and asks what his last name is. When Trent tells her, May says Trent has “his eyes,” but doesn’t say whose. May reaches out to touch his face and Trent blushes when May tells Avery that he’s “a keeper.” Avery mentions that she’s engaged to someone else and May retorts that there’s no wedding ring yet. Avery’s phone buzzes and May frowns at her, so Avery puts it on silent and pulls out the pictures from the office to show May. When Avery mentions the TCHS, May snaps at her. Trent gently takes May’s hand and tells her what he knows about his grandfather’s past and the files he left behind after his death. At this, May’s eyes water up, and she asks if Trent’s grandfather passed away. When Trent confirms this, May kisses him on the cheek and says his grandfather was her friend.
When May tells Avery that she hasn’t got a wedding ring yet after Avery brings up her engagement, she means that Avery isn’t bound to anyone yet—she can still change her mind. May’s reaction to Avery’s mention of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society indicates that May has personal experience with it and it is a painful memory. Trent demonstrates his ability to be sympathetic and warm—unlike Avery, who is acting more and more businesslike by the minute—and this helps May open up to both of them.
Trent asks May if his grandfather was adopted from the TCHS and she tells him he was; furthermore, she says she herself was adopted from the TCHS as well. She tells Trent that his grandfather had a different name in the TCHS and reclaimed his real name after finding out he was adopted. May shares her story with Trent and Avery, starting with the names of her parents (Queenie and Briny) and her siblings (Camellia, Lark, Fern, and Gabion). Avery is mesmerized by the tragic story of how the family was broken up in the TCHS—all except May and Fern, who were adopted together. May tells Trent she knew his grandfather as Stevie, and originally thought he was a fraud when he contacted her.
Interestingly, May talks about her family using their birthnames, but doesn’t share her own. This foreshadows the moment near the end of the book when Rill decides to embrace a new identity as May in order to let go of her tragic past and move on to a hopefully happier future.
Avery shows May the picture of the four women on the beach and asks if they are May’s sisters. May looks closely at the photo and says the picture is of herself, Lark, Fern, and Judy at Edisto Island. Avery asks if that’s where May met Judy. To herself, Avery admits that she wants an answer that doesn’t involve Judy doing penance out of guilt for the role their family played in the TCHS. May confirms that she met Judy at Edisto and that they became good friends, but Avery realizes this doesn’t explain why Judy was concerned with the TCHS. Avery decides to show May the papers about Shad Arthur Foss that Trent gave her. As soon as she tells May about them, however, May says she’s exhausted. Avery begs May to tell her if Judy was involved with the TCHS, but May says she’ll have to ask Judy.
Avery thinks to herself that she’s craving an easy answer about Judy’s connection to May and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. However, when May tries to give her one, Avery doesn’t believe it. This shows that although Avery wants the answer to be easy, she’s still not willing to turn a blind eye on the truth just to get the easy answer. More than anything, she wants the truth, no matter how hard it is for her to swallow it.
Trent tells Avery they should leave but Avery pleads with May to tell her if her family is involved in the TCHS. May tells Avery that Judy was just helping May write her memoir until she decided to keep the story to herself. Avery asks if that’s everything and May says it is, but also that she wishes she could tell Avery more. This sets off alarm bells in Avery’s head because her experience as a lawyer says that when witnesses are lying, they “have a hard time stopping on an absolute yes or no.” May looks to Trent and tells him that his grandfather helped reunite her and Fern with their sister Lark. Lark and Fern, however, have since died and their families don’t know about the past. May wants Trent and Avery not to bother their families and tells them that she’s at peace with the past.
Once again Avery asks for an answer, is given an easy or “innocent” one, but rejects it because she knows it’s not the truth. When May says she wishes she could tell Avery more, she hopes Avery will take it as meaning that May wishes there were more to tell; however, Avery realizes that it means there is more to tell, but May won’t tell it.
Avery tells May that she’s sorry for what May had to go through as a child. May tells Trent and Avery they should let her sleep before the nurses get her for physical therapy and makes a joke about how at 90 years old, she has no need for muscle tone. Trent chuckles and says his grandfather wanted to just be put in a boat to drift down the Edisto River. At this May smiles and says she’d like to go “home to Augusta” and float down the Savannah River. As they leave, Avery wonders what it must be like to live two different lives like May and wonders why May didn’t talk about her life with her adoptive family.
Trent tells Avery that the revelations May made about his grandfather make him wonder what his grandfather’s life would have been like if he hadn’t been kidnapped. Avery thanks Trent for helping her, but when their eyes meet, she blushes and wonders at the chemistry between them. Suddenly, a random thought enters her mind that she might be making a mistake with Elliot. As soon as it enters her head, however, she realizes it’s not random—it’s actually a question she’s been avoiding. She considers the possibility that she’s getting married for the wrong reasons, but also knows that it will look bad if she breaks up with Elliot now—their families are both excited and would be hurt if the wedding were cancelled.
Avery’s feelings for Trent enable her to finally confront the question she’s been avoiding for a while—whether or not she and Elliot actually should get married. Elliot makes such logical sense to Avery, but that is part of the problem. She doesn’t genuinely want to get married just because it’s the logical thing to do. However, she is afraid of what it would mean for her (and her family’s) reputation if she backed out of the wedding, highlighting the fact that she’s still very concerned with appearances.
Trent says Avery’s name, calling her out of her thoughts. She asks him what he was going to say, and he apologizes for being rude to her when they first met. Avery excuses him and to herself thinks that he wasn’t rude considering how pushy she was, and notes that she truly is a Stafford who assumes she’ll get what she wants. It occurs to Avery that this makes her a lot like the parents who bought children from Georgia Tann, who must have known how some kids were being kidnapped but believed their social status justified their decision to buy the kids anyway. This thought makes Avery question if she really deserves any of her privileges just because of her birth.
Although Avery has already considered the possibility of her family’s involvement with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann, she has put distance between herself and whoever the involved family members were. When Avery realizes how used she is to getting what she wants, however, she is forced to confront the fact that she’s not all that different from them. She’s not actually going out and buying kidnapped children, but she possesses the same privileged mindset that they did, which is unsettling to Avery.
Trent tells Avery that he should get back to Edisto. As they say goodbye, Avery hears a car pull into the parking lot. Trent thanks her for helping him find the truth and leans in to kiss her on the cheek. As Trent pulls away, Avery sees Leslie walking over out of the corner of her eye. Avery realizes how intimate the moment between herself and Trent looked and abruptly thanks Trent as Leslie walks up. Trent watches Leslie scold Avery for not answering the phone and then leaves. Watching Trent leave, Leslie tells Avery to be more considerate of her public image and remember to avoid scandal. Leslie then tells Avery that a news article about the difference between Magnolia Manor and the nursing homes being sued for mistreating residents. Avery is furious to learn the article includes a picture of Wells and Judy at Magnolia Manor.
Wells’s picture in an article about the nursing home scandal changes pulls Avery’s attention back to her family’s present-day priorities—she knows she will be responsible for helping repair the family’s image and trying to nip the backlash in the bud. When Leslie scolds Avery for her public moment with Trent, it is a harsh reminder of just how strict and constraining the life of a politician can be—Avery can’t ever just act naturally; she must always assume she has an audience.