One day Fern suddenly freezes in the middle of a room and wets herself—Victoria is talking to Georgia Tann in the parlor. Rill tells Fern to go hide and then sneaks closer to hear what they’re talking about. Tann tells Victoria that she and Darren will have to pay several thousand dollars for lawyers or else Rill and Fern’s grandma will get custody of them. Rill knows this isn’t true because she doesn’t have a grandma, but she’s afraid that if she speaks up Tann will take her and Fern back to punish them. Victoria is sobbing, but Tann tells her the only thing to do is come up with the money by the next day. Tann gets ready to leave and Rill sprints up to where Fern is and promises she won’t let Tann take them back.
Tann is evidently trying to exploit Victoria’s love of Fern and Rill in order to get more money because, as Rill notes, she doesn’t have a grandma who would be trying to get custody of her. This shows how Tann even tried to victimize her customers after selling them children. Nobody is safe from Tann’s greed and treachery.
That night Victoria tells Darren about what Tann said and Darren is furious. Victoria begs him to pay Tann, but he says he refuses to be blackmailed and decides to go to Tann himself that night. Victoria says that they should move to Augusta, but Darren doesn’t want to do that either. Instead he gets ready to leave. Rill hurries into the kitchen and grabs a basket of food that’s meant for the people working on a building for the Seviers. Rill takes the basket to the construction site and sits to eat with a boy named Arney, who’s helping build a studio. Rill decides that she needs to ask Arney to help her and Fern escape to the river to find their parents. Rill feels bad about how sad Victoria will be, but she’s desperate to get away before Tann takes them back.
Rill believes that getting back to the river is the only way she can keep herself and Fern safe from Georgia Tann, even though Tann originally kidnapped them from the river. However, this also reveals Rill’s confidence that once she gets back to her biological parents, everything will be okay and return to the way it was—even though Rill also knows on some level that she’s been changed by the trauma she’s experienced.
Rill talks Arney into running away with them by saying Zede will take care of him. Arney reveals that he’s actually a girl, but Rill says that doesn’t change anything and promises to make sure Arney is taken care of. That night Victoria says they will have a pajama party with movies and hot cocoa. Rill is disappointed because this will make escaping harder, but she’s determined to find a way to get herself and Fern down to where Arney will wait for them. Victoria is worried that Rill is sick because she wants to go to bed so early and her concern makes Rill wish Victoria were Queenie. Rill gets to her room early in the night, but has to wait for Fern.
Now that Rill has definite plans to get back to the river and her parents, she fiercely holds onto her memories of and loyalty towards them. Rill resents Victoria for mothering her because Victoria isn’t Queenie. This reveals that Rill is unwilling to truly accept a new mother figure as long as there’s a chance she can get back to her biological mother.
Victoria sings a lullaby to Fern while she carries her up the stairs and Rill notices that everything is getting “tangle[d]” in her head—her adoptive parents and biological ones, the shanty boat and the Seviers’ house. After Victoria tucks Fern in, Rill dresses them both in warm clothes and carries Fern down to the water. Arney is waiting for them and she quickly loads Rill and Fern into the boat so they can get away as quickly as possible. Arney hesitates for a moment, but Rill convinces her to keep rowing towards the river and promises Arney will be part of the family there. They travel through the night until the moon sets and then fall asleep in the boat together a short distance from the river. Rill sleeps deeply until the next morning.
Even though Rill has tried hard to maintain her loyalty to her biological parents, the love and kindness that Victoria and Darren have given her makes it difficult for Rill to separate her past life from her present. Because Darren acts like a dad, Rill gets him “tangled” up with Briny, and because Victoria acts like a mom, Rill gets her “tangled” up with Queenie. This scares Rill and fuels her desire to get back to her “real” parents.
When Rill wakes up, she is exuberant because she knows they’re close to where the Arcadia must be tied up. When Rill throws cookies to some kids who help them push their boat back into the water after sleeping on the shore, Arney gets mad, but Rill assures her that Queenie will make them dozens of cookies. Rill tells herself over and over that once they get back to the Arcadia, their lives will be truly happy again, but she begins to worry a bit as they get closer—what will Briny and Queenie think when they see it’s just Rill and Fern? As they approach the Arcadia, Rill realizes something is wrong even though Fern shouts excitedly. The boat looks uncared for, and Silas runs out to greet them. However, he tells them that Queenie died and Briny “took to the bottle.”
Rill was afraid that her parents would resent her for only being able to keep Fern with her, and her biggest fear was their disappointment. What Rill failed to consider was that Briny and Queenie didn’t think any of the kids would come back, and she didn’t fully realize how devastating that thought would be for them. Rill herself had been so sure that Briny would never stop looking for them that she is entirely unprepared to confront reality—Briny did stop looking for them, and he became an alcoholic. This illustrates how Tann’s child-trafficking ring ruined the lives of parents who lost their children and who lost hope of ever finding them again.