On the last day of the school term, after classes have all been completed, the boarding students prepare to be picked up by their parents and chat amongst themselves about fond memories of the year. Most of the other boarders are retrieved by their parents and filter out until only Adeline and her two best friends are left, Rachel Yu and Mary Suen. Although Adeline loves her friends, she can never bring herself to tell them the truth about her family, since she has spent so long repressing those thoughts. Adeline reasons that both Mary and Rachel have their own problems as it it is: Mary’s father is an adulterer who rarely spends time with his own family and Rachel’s father orients his whole life around her, causing her to feel “smothered by his expectations.”
Though it appears that Adeline is now able to recognize the value of sharing her pain with her close friends, she has practiced repressing those emotions for so long that it seems impossible to resurface them. Also, now older and more aware of the problems of other children, Adeline’s compassion becomes a way to justify her secrecy; she does not want to burden Rachel or Mary on top of their own problems, which they have obviously shared. Even so, the author implies that she wishes she were able to share the truth of her family, suggesting that sharing one’s struggles with close friends is an important and valuable practice.
Adeline is struck by a growing headache. Although she never admits it, everyone knows that she is the only student who remains at the school all summer rather than going home to her family, and she suspects that her friends have stayed behind as long as possible to keep her company. As they stand on a balcony together overlooking a harbor, Adeline expresses that her greatest desire is to grow up, be independent, and travel away to “see the world.” The three girls make a pact together to “always be there for each other, wherever we may be.”
Adeline’s yearning for independence is another sign that she is growing up. Though she has not yet realized that she alone can define her self-worth, this move towards independence—and thus away from the governance of Father and Niang—is critical step towards becoming her own person and will ultimately help her to see herself in light of her own qualities and abilities, rather than by what she has been told by Niang and Father her whole life.