On the day of the ball, Cinder sits in her booth as Adri and Pearl shop for some last-minute accessories in the market. Cinder doesn’t take any business, however, as she plans to leave the city in only 12 hours. Every night for the past week, she went on homemade crutches to the parking garage to work on her car—and last night, she got the engine to work for the first time. Cinder used money from Dr. Erland’s research on a tank of gasoline; her freedom is near.
Cinder again demonstrates her intense work ethic and perseverance. Only through her hard work on the car and her self-sacrifice at the letumosis research lab is she able to get everything she needs to make her escape—even overcoming the challenge of fixing up the car on one foot.
Kai appears suddenly, wondering why Cinder hasn’t been answering his messages. When she says that she’s been busy, Kai pulls out a box with gold and white wrapping. Cinder is amazed at the gift—knowing that they could never be together, she wanted to disappear so that Kai could go on with his life. She is surprised that he still likes her even though she’s just a poor mechanic—but she knows that telling him that she’s cyborg and Lunar would be too much. She fidgets with her gloves but decides against taking them off to show him her metal hand.
Cinder recognizes the problem with her own secrecy here. Because she has been hiding parts of her identity for so long, she knows that to reveal them now would be potentially more harmful than if she had been open with Kai in the first place. Even though Kai seems to genuinely like Cinder for who she is, she’s internalized the discrimination she’s faced as a cyborg (as well as the prejudice that she and other Earthens have harbored toward Lunars) to the point that she doesn’t believe Kai could ever accept her true identity.
Kai asks again if Cinder all right—she hasn’t even stood up. Covering for her missing foot, Cinder says that she’s been here since dawn and she’s tired, so he Kai that she take a break and go to lunch with him. She refuses, saying that she can’t leave the booth unattended. Kai says that this may be the last time they see each other, and Cinder says that she’s resigned herself to that fact. Kai dejectedly tells her that he has real feelings for her, but he will have to marry Queen Levana to get the letumosis antidote and to maintain peace.
Kai’s revelation illustrates his willingness to make an immense sacrifice for his people, demonstrating that he is a true and just leader. Even though he likes Cinder, and being with her would make him happy, he chooses to marry Levana because he knows this will do the most good for the Eastern Commonwealth.
Kai pushes the box toward Cinder and says that he wanted her to have what’s inside for the ball. Hopefully, she’ll think of him when she uses them. Suddenly, Pearl returns, throwing a set of boxes at Cinder to store for her. Kai confronts Pearl for her rudeness, and Pearl’s jaw drops when she sees who he is. Kai tells Cinder that his invitation still stands, and he leaves without saying goodbye to Pearl.
Kai’s relationship with Cinder versus his reaction to Pearl highlights the value of Cinder’s kindness in contrast to Pearl’s cruelty. It is this kindness that prompted Kai to ask Cinder to the ball in the first place. With this, the novel suggests that kindness is one of the highest virtues a person can have—and that treating others well is mutually rewarding.
After Kai leaves, Pearl snatches up the gold and white box and gapes at the beautiful silver-white silk gloves inside—gloves fit for a princess. Pearl starts to laugh, realizing that Kai must not know that Cinder is a cyborg. Pearl says that if he knew the truth, he would never have given Cinder a passing glance. Pearl then throws the gloves on the floor and flips over a toolbox on top of them, sending nuts and bolts flying. When Pearl leaves with her boxes, Cinder retrieves the gloves, which are now caked with dirt and grease.
The gloves illustrate the tension in Cinder’s life. She wants to feel that she is a princess, as Kai’s gift suggests she can be, but her family’s cruelty makes her feel downtrodden and unworthy. Still, one of the morals of both Cinder and “Cinderella” is to judge a person by their character rather than their appearance or other superficial traits. Cinder’s resourcefulness and kindness makes her just as worthy of wealth and happiness as anyone else.